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    • Torture creates enemies and radicalizes people
      This article is a must read: And we’ve documented that torture creates more terrorists.   Indeed, Salon notes: Among the most notable victims of torture was Sayeed Qutb, the founding father of modern political jihadism. His 1964 book, “Milestones,” describes a journey towards radicalization that included rape and torture, sometimes with dogs, in an Egyptian […]
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Happy Solstice 2014

“In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that…
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

- Albert Camus

Here comes the sun!

My favorite Christmas movie scene

This scene has nothing to do with Christmas:

The Polar Express is my favorite Christmas movie. Oh sure, Rudolph has its charms but the 60s sexism just grates on me. I love How the Grinch Stole Christmas but living with an unreformed Grinch sucks. For music, nothing will ever surpass Vince Guraldi’s score for A Charlie Brown Christmas but I don’t believe the Luke version of the Christmas story. Sorry Linus. Weirdly enough, I’ve never seen the Heat Miser piece. I can’t even think of what it’s from but I hear a lot of good things about it.

Still, I’m sticking with The Polar Express. It’s about the true spirit of the season and thoughtfulness and kindness. I’m going to watch it again tonight while I’m doing Christmassy things.

What about you? Take the poll and share your favorite.

Serial: Yes, innocent people in jail have been incredibly unlucky

Lucky people do not end up jailed for life plus thirty years. Why do we need to state the obvious? You’re either guilty or innocent and unlucky.

This is what makes jailing innocent people for life so tragic. It is the culmination of a set of unlucky events.

The convicted knew the victim.

The convicted is the victim of a snitch or state witness with a plea bargain.

The convicted was stoned at the time of the murder, hadn’t eaten all day and can’t remember what he was doing.

The convicted was turned in by someone with a grudge or had heard a rumor.

The convicted left his car and cell phone with an untrustworthy friend.

The convicted had a track coach that didn’t take attendance.

Bad luck happens. It happens frequently enough that there’s an Innocence Project.

So, Serial came to a kind of conclusion today. Sarah Koenig says that as a juror, she would have to acquit even if she thought Adnan was guilty. But she doesn’t exonerate him because she still has doubt.

I don’t have that much doubt. I think the kid was just a convenient suspect without a reasonable alibi. He was convicted on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of one, if not two, people who were clearly lying. The only persons with a motive in this story are the police department and the prosecutor, Kevin Urick, who wanted to pin this murder on someone and to clear their books.

The recollections of Don and Jay’s other friend who were interviewed are interesting but say more about the actions of the state than Adnan. Don says the prosecution was angry that he didn’t make Adnan look like a creep on the witness stand. Jay’s friend says Jay was terrified but it sounds to me like he was more afraid of the cops since they were coming for him. The rest might have been a figment of his overactive imagination. The Pakistani connections could have been to a sticky black tar of THC for all we know. It’s hardly unusual.

I’m sticking with one of my original theories. The Baltimore police department wanted to wrap up this case, found an incredibly unlucky suspect and constructed a narrative to make him guilty. They threatened Jay, probably gave him information, intentionally or not, and ignored any other exculpatory evidence.

I don’t have any problems understanding why a high school kid would lend someone else his car or cell phone. Adnan sounds like he lent his car out to Jay frequently, maybe to make contact with those Pakistani connections. As for the cell phone, back then, and still today, you couldn’t bring your cell phone or pager to class with you. Teachers would confiscate them and you sometimes had to get your parents to get them back for you. It made perfect sense to me that you would leave your phone in the car while you were in school.

Sarah solved the Nisha call issue. I think we’ve all done butt dials, especially before the days of flip phones and smart phones. We often found ourselves questioning our bills or finding ourselves still connected to a call long after we had hung up.

But in the end, all the state had against Adnan was circumstantial evidence, a lying witness and a weak motive. Serial talked about that motive today as well but Adnan was never in love with Hae. Hae wrote about that in her diary. She loved him but it was disproportional to his feelings for her. He liked her and was fond of her but didn’t love her. Well, not like Don did anyway. It was a teen romance, they broke up, he found other girls to snog and made one of them, Nisha, the first entry in his speed dial. That’s not a person who has been pining over unrequited love.

Yes, Jay and Adnan probably did something that morning besides shopping. I’m guessing they scored something very powerful that wiped out Adnan’s memory synapses for that day. But in the end, there were many thousands of people in Baltimore that couldn’t account for their whereabouts January 13, 1999. Except for their lack of acquaintance with the victim, they could have all been murderers. In fact, one of them was. We just don’t know which one.

So, you know, Sarah, I’m just not buying it. I believe he’s innocent and I can’t resurrect my doubt until I see some physical evidence that suggests otherwise. The state hasn’t got it.

Sir William Blackstone said in 1765, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer“. Blackstone’s principle is a cornerstone of criminal law. That’s why we presume people to be innocent until proven guilty. John Adams expanded on that principle and predicted the state we are in now:

It is more important that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world, that all of them cannot be punished…. when innocence itself, is brought to the bar and condemned, especially to die, the subject will exclaim, ‘it is immaterial to me whether I behave well or ill, for virtue itself is no security.’ And if such a sentiment as this were to take hold in the mind of the subject that would be the end of all security whatsoever

It’s a tragedy that so much of our American justice system seems determined to thwart that principle these days. We are so intent on throwing people into jail that guilt or innocence doesn’t much matter.

What Serial and Koenig have done is give Adnan the thorough grilling that he didn’t get in his trial. And what we come find there are lies, innuendos, discredited cell phone testimony and not much else. What we find is a normal teen, a compassionate and good friend who made some seriously unlucky decisions one day in January 1999.

I vote to acquit Adnan. Release him already.

The Neuroscience of Creativity

James Joyce: creative and a bit crazy

Spoiler alert: It’s not about your IQ.

According to the fascinating article in The Atlantic, Secrets of the Creative Brain, by Nancy Andreason, you can be a creative genius with an IQ of 120. That doesn’t mean that an IQ of 170 puts you at a disadvantage, only that extra points are unnecessary.

So, what is the extra something that contributes to creativity? It helps if you’re a bit mad but I’ll get to that later. There are more traits associated with creativity. For example, your personal “verbal lexicon”, the way you associate language to other information is very important to creativity.

Here’s another finding that I can relate to:

When eureka moments occur, they tend to be precipitated by long periods of preparation and incubation, and to strike when the mind is relaxed.

This has been my personal experience when I have had rare flashes of insight at work. I have no idea what my IQ is and would hardly put myself in the genius category. But I do have a strategy I call it “putting an elf on it”. Here’s how it goes: There’s a period of intense concentration and learning. I tend to learn better when I’m thrown in the deep end of the pool and have to struggle to keep my head above water (assuming there’s nothing else for me to worry about). The learning curve needs to be sufficiently steep and I need to be fully engaged. And then, just when I can’t focus on a niggling problem anymore, I need to stop doing that and do something completely unrelated for awhile. Sometimes that means surfing the net mindlessly or playing some mind numbing word game or listening to a book in an unrelated genre. Before I do that, I mentally gather the elves that are lazily sitting around in my mind and tell them I’m going home for the day and I’m assigning them the task of figuring the problem out or I send one down into the archives to retrieve that missing piece of information. Then I disengage and do something else while the elves do their thing without my supervision. It’s not long before the elves start forwarding their information. It usually arrives in bits and pieces, phrases or some nugget of an idea. Some assembly is required. I have some elves that are particularly busy at night and like to put little puns and riddles in my dreams.

My elf solution sounds a bit like what Andreason would call “random episodic silent thought” or REST. It’s like free association in a relaxed state.

Some other findings: the more associations you can make, the better your chances of doing something creative. Polymaths are more creative because they have a lot of interests and do multiple things well. Nurturing may have something to do with creativity. Did your parents indulge your creative whims with trips to the craft store, museums or other places of interest? It helps if your family also valued education and study. Creative people tend to work harder at their jobs because they love their work. I have to say that I really fell in love with my job during the last two years at work. This is when I felt like I was most creative and it was so much fun. Who knows if it would have lead to any breakthroughs but this study should be read by the people who are running R&D into the ground right now. True innovation requires happily engaged people who are allowed to disengage periodically without fear of being laid off.

What about madness and genius? Andreason says there is a link. The families of highly creative people are chock full of mood disorders. Many highly creative people have at least one relative who is schizophrenic, though schizophrenia itself could derail creativity. The reason why mental illness is important to the highly creative is because the brain is more easily unmoored and can find connections that other people can’t.

These are only a few of the findings of Andreason’s study. After having spent a good deal of time in the past twenty five years around scientifically creative people, I’d say she is on to something. Read the whole thing.

Happy Hanukkah!

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. As Jewish holidays go, it’s not the most significant but it is seasonal in that like many religious holidays at this time of year, there is an emphasis on light. Wait, the date of Hanukkah is not based on the solar calendar, right? So, what does that mean? For answers to this and other burning questions about Hanukkah, let’s go to YouTube.

I found two topical videos on what Hanukkah is all about. The first is from the Christian perspective:

Hokay, moving right along.

These two know the whole story of Hanukkah and are inspired by Taylor Swift?

And that’s what Hanukkah is all about, Charlie Brown. I’ll bet you’ll be singing that tomorrow. I know I will.

Anyway, Happy Hanukkah to all my illuminated friends in Squirrel Hill.

Who could have predicted??

I haven’t written much about the Cromnibus bill because it snuck up on us, didn’t it? It probably didn’t spring fully formed from the head of Zeus overnight. The various political movers and players had to have been working on it for some time, probably before the election. Nothing should be shocking anymore but I do admit to being surprised at how thoroughly the pension system has been undermined and how much ground the bankers have gained back. You would think that Democrats would have put up more of a fight because it’s not going to end well for a generation of people my age who played by the rules, lived within their means, paid in advance, and still got laid off and ripped off.

In any case, it was all pretty predictable back in 2008. Here’s one of my posts from May 2008 as we watched the party invite the vampires in and the level of peer pressure, vicious attacks on the Clintonista holdouts and accusations of racism directed at us reached a crescendo. I was not entirely correct about the result of these attacks on us. Back then, I thought there would be a backlash from the party faithful that got chucked overboard. There was but it was a very bad idea called the Tea Party. That was a waste. It’s only made things worse.

Note that we were pretty spot on about who had taken over the party.

Here’s the gist of it from Bird Brains, May 2008:

It looks like people higher up in the food chain are considering a protest vote as well. Taylor Marsh writes that even Geraldine Ferraro is disgusted. And, predictably, the accusations of political immaturity are not far behind.

Let me set the record straight for those of you who don’t understand where this is coming from (referring to a video link now lost). This DNC and the Obama campaign have conducted the campaign season as if they took lessons from the Enron boys from the movie, The Smartest Guys in the Room. There’s something distinctly unDemocratic about the whole thing. It doesn’t pass the smell test.  Cokie Roberts (of all people) mentioned it a couple of days ago. The process for picking a candidate is deeply flawed and *could* be easily manipulated to thwart rather than confirm the will of the people. It’s like the California deregulation plans that were just sitting there waiting for some clever traders to game the system for fun and profit at “granny’s” expense.

The system is flush with cash and one can almost imagine the operatives sitting at their monitors hearts pumping with adrenaline while they pull out all of the stops, reaching deep down into the modern American psyche in order to power play off all the weaknesses there that will result in a maximum payoff. Assertive women, men with hardhats, hillbilles, grannies ripe for rapping, gays and lesbians all provide targets for the aggressive young, male and pretentious to exercise their new social hierarchy. The level of viciousness is reaching a fever pitch.

Who is giving them permission to set aside their ethics and shuffle off the standards of acceptable behavior? Who is running the party that allows for the brutal suppression of one half by the unleashed id of the other half? I put the blame at the top of the party and Obama himself.

There is a price to be paid for such aggressive and insensitive behavior. People do have free will. The party belongs to the people who believe in its principles. Those principles of social justice, equality and shared responsibility can not be discarded for Change! without the party suffering some severe blows to its foundation. Going forward, the party becomes a fragile shell, easily blown to bits by outside forces because its foundations of support have been carelessly undermined.

This is where we are. The foundations of support, the people and principles that made the Democratic party viable and strong, are being callously destroyed by those who have been given permission to rig the system for one candidate over the other. Those of us who stayed with the party and our country through decades of movement conservatism, who volunteered our time and our voices, who suffered withering criticism and family divisions for not adopting Republican values, who protested the war, the attacks on science, the regression of women’s and GBLT progress in the public sphere, the subjugation of the working class have all been told that we’re not wanted anymore. Our party has evolved and we, like neanderthals, didn’t make the cut.

And Voila! The Cromnibus bill.

It’s not looking good. I don’t watch cable news. Katiebird does. She says the level of propaganda on MSNBC is just as bad as it is on Fox News. I’m glad I’m missing it.

No, I don’t think Elizabeth Warren can save us.  We’re going to have to save ourselves, from ourselves.

The Second Annual Nigel Tufnel “Lick My Love Pump” Award

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 10.29.11 AMYes, it’s that time again. It’s time to select the winner of the most hummable song with lyrics most likely to come out of the singer’s erotic fantasy.

Previous winner, Bruno Mars, received this honor for Gorilla last year. Gorilla’s explicit, leave nothing-to-the-imagination lyrics were set to soaring vocals in an addictive hook. That, my friends, is the sign of a true winner. You will catch yourself singing along in spite of your best efforts.

This year’s winner is Beyonce. But she had so many entries that it was hard to narrow the award down to one song.

Was it the way TMI musical meditation that was Drunk In Love? The lyrics were competitive. We learned that we probably do not want to go anywhere near the kitchen if we are invited to a Christmas party at the Carters’ house. Yep, pass on the canapés.

But drunk in Love is very wordy and dense. The only catchy part of the song is the “swerving on my surfboard” segment. It’s too stream of consciousness for this jingle to connect to any broader melody.

What about the moodier, darker Haunted? I’m unimpressed with the song. It’s mediocre melodically and serves more as a carrier for the bizarre images in the music video. If you haven’t seen it, think Madonna’s Justify My Love crossed with Donnie Darko, The Shining and that Japanese import horror move, The Ring. It’s definitely sexual and you can dance to it but, I dunno, Dick, you don’t really want to sing to it. The video evokes Hotel California without the desire to sing about how “we’re all just prisoners of our own device”.

That leaves me with the true winner, Blow. It’s got all the ingredients for a Lick My Love Pump Award winner. In fact, the song is all about licking, but we don’t have to go there. I mean, you can if you want to. There’s nothing wrong with that. This award is not about prudishness. It’s about singing wildly inappropriate songs at the wrong moment because you can’t help yourself. I blame my middle school music teacher who taught me how to harmonize. Now, I can harmonize to just about anything. I can sing the top notes, the bottom notes, the high lonesome harmony (really great with Ricky Skaggs bluegrass). It’s annoying, probably more so for the people who have to listen to me.

So, when I heard Blow, I immediately recognized it for what it was. A bright and poppy, catchy, melodic ditty with explicit lyrics that was sure to float around in my mind with my harmonic elves doing little riffs on:

Can you eat my skittles
It’s the sweetest in the middle
Pink is the flavor
Solve the riddle

I’m a lean back
Don’t worry it’s nothing major
Make sure you clean that
It’s the only way to get the
Flavor

It’s deadly. Before long, you’re waiting for someone to “turn that cherry out”. What the hell does that even mean?? I had to look it up. But by the time you’ve heard the song a couple of times, you can’t help yourself.

So, this year, Mrs. Carter wins the prize. I just hope that she and JayZ come up for air and take a break. I’m feeling like a voyeur and it’s exhausting.

 

 

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