Friday, November 16

Anthrax Redux: Did the Feds Nab the Wrong Guy?

A fascinating story son. It was worrying at that time. Biowarfare is terrifying because you cannot see the danger. White powder? Spores in the wind? Very frightening. 

But see how they tracked down the killer. One of the reasons why USA is very difficult to defeat. This awesome combination of leadership, technology, and money. Unbeatable. 



Anthrax Redux: Did the Feds Nab the Wrong Guy?

Illustration: Goñi Montes

Illustration: Goñi Montes

Finally, the investigation was over. The riddle solved. On August 18, 2008—after almost seven years, nearly 10,000 interviews, and millions of dollars spent developing a whole new form of microbial forensics—some of the FBI’s top brass filed into a dimly lit, flag-lined room in the bureau’s Washington, DC, headquarters. They were there to lay out the evidence proving who was responsible for the anthrax attacks that had terrified the nation in the fall of 2001.

It had been the most expensive, and arguably the toughest, case in FBI history, the assembled reporters were told. But the facts showed that Army biodefense researcher Bruce Ivins was the person responsible for killing five people and sickening 17 others in those frightening weeks after 9/11. It was Ivins, they were now certain, who had mailed the anthrax-filled letters that exposed as many as 30,000 people to the lethal spores.

Thursday, November 15

Deep Intellect

Here is a question for you kids, how do you decide that other species are intelligent? :)



Deep Intellect

Try Orion

Deep Intellect

Inside the mind of the octopus

by Sy Montgomery

Published in the November/December 2011 issue of Orion magazine

Photograph: Brandon Cole

ON AN UNSEASONABLY WARM day in the middle of March, I traveled from New Hampshire to the moist, dim sanctuary of the New England Aquarium, hoping to touch an alternate reality. I came to meet Athena, the aquarium’s forty-pound, five-foot-long, two-and-a-half-year-old giant Pacific octopus.

For me, it was a momentous occasion. I have always loved octopuses. No sci-fi alien is so startlingly strange. Here is someone who, even if she grows to one hundred pounds and stretches more than eight feet long, could still squeeze her boneless body through an opening the size of an orange; an animal whose eight arms are covered with thousands of suckers that taste as well as feel; a mollusk with a beak like a parrot and venom like a snake and a tongue covered with teeth; a creature who can shape-shift, change color, and squirt ink. But most intriguing of all, recent research indicates that octopuses are remarkably intelligent.

Wednesday, November 14

The Brain on Trial

Quite an interesting discussion on free will son. And whilst its concentrating on outliers, the question arises about how does the law treat the question of free will and/or free wont. 

Not sure about the answer but the certainty I had about libertarianism and free will is a bit more nuanced now. 



The Brain on Trial

Adrianna Williams/Corbis

On the steamy first day of August 1966, Charles Whitman took an elevator to the top floor of the University of Texas Tower in Austin. The 25-year-old climbed the stairs to the observation deck, lugging with him a footlocker full of guns and ammunition. At the top, he killed a receptionist with the butt of his rifle. Two families of tourists came up the stairwell; he shot at them at point-blank range. Then he began to fire indiscriminately from the deck at people below. The first woman he shot was pregnant. As her boyfriend knelt to help her, Whitman shot him as well. He shot pedestrians in the street and an ambulance driver who came to rescue them.

The evening before, Whitman had sat at his typewriter and composed a suicide note:

I don’t really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I can’t recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.

By the time the police shot him dead, Whitman had killed 13 people and wounded 32 more. The story of his rampage dominated national headlines the next day. And when police went to investigate his home for clues, the story became even stranger: in the early hours of the morning on the day of the shooting, he had murdered his mother and stabbed his wife to death in her sleep.

It was after much thought that I decided to kill my wife, Kathy, tonight … I love her dearly, and she has been as fine a wife to me as any man could ever hope to have. I cannot rationa[l]ly pinpoint any specific reason for doing this …

Along with the shock of the murders lay another, more hidden, surprise: the juxtaposition of his aberrant actions with his unremarkable personal life. Whitman was an Eagle Scout and a former marine, studied architectural engineering at the University of Texas, and briefly worked as a bank teller and volunteered as a scoutmaster for Austin’s Boy Scout Troop 5. As a child, he’d scored 138 on the Stanford-Binet IQ test, placing in the 99th percentile. So after his shooting spree from the University of Texas Tower, everyone wanted answers.

For that matter, so did Whitman. He requested in his suicide note that an autopsy be performed to determine if something had changed in his brain—because he suspected it had.

I talked with a Doctor once for about two hours and tried to convey to him my fears that I felt [overcome by] overwhelming violent impulses. After one session I never saw the Doctor again, and since then I have been fighting my mental turmoil alone, and seemingly to no avail.

Whitman’s body was taken to the morgue, his skull was put under the bone saw, and the medical examiner lifted the brain from its vault. He discovered that Whitman’s brain harbored a tumor the diameter of a nickel. This tumor, called a glioblastoma, had blossomed from beneath a structure called the thalamus, impinged on the hypothalamus, and compressed a third region called the amygdala. The amygdala is involved in emotional regulation, especially of fear and aggression. By the late 1800s, researchers had discovered that damage to the amygdala caused emotional and social disturbances. In the 1930s, the researchers Heinrich Klüver and Paul Bucy demonstrated that damage to the amygdala in monkeys led to a constellation of symptoms, including lack of fear, blunting of emotion, and overreaction. Female monkeys with amygdala damage often neglected or physically abused their infants. In humans, activity in the amygdala increases when people are shown threatening faces, are put into frightening situations, or experience social phobias. Whitman’s intuition about himself—that something in his brain was changing his behavior—was spot-on.

Tuesday, November 13

India's Vanishing Vultures

Dear Kannu. Remember the vulture you flew? Two actually, Ronnie and Reggie if I recall correctly. Ugly looking birds eh? But they are very important in the biosphere. 

So it's a bit sad to see how these birds are heading for extinction in India. Well, they don't care about humans itself, on cannot say much about animals. 

One of the reasons I joined Mayhew was because it has an animal focus and also does work in India. It's a sad state of affairs. Bigger stronger people have a responsibility towards weaker smaller people. Humans don't do that, they really treat animals badly. 

It's a difficult area. After all, we eat meat so for me to say that I care about animals is a bit foolish. So the ethical grey areas are very many. 

One to think son. 



India's Vanishing Vultures

India’s Vanishing Vultures

Meera Subramanian

Can the world’s fastest growing nation restore its prime scavenger before there are untold human consequences?

At first, no one noticed they were missing.

Vultures—massive and clumsy, their naked faces buried in rotting flesh along the roadside, on the banks of the Ganges, lining the high walls and spires of every temple and tower—were once so ubiquitous in India as to be taken for granted, invisible. And something in us didn’t want to see them. Vultures are cross-culturally uncharismatic—with their featherless gray heads, their pronounced brows that make for permanent scowls, their oversized blunt beaks capable of splintering bones. They vomit when threatened and reek of death. In South Asia, their broad wings can reach up to eight feet tip to tip, casting a great shadow from above as they circle, drawn by the distant smell of carrion. The world over, these voracious scavengers are viewed with disgust and associated with death—and we, instinctually, look away.

Monday, November 12

What I Learned in Two Years at the Tea Party

You know kannu, I liked the tea party to come out. Just like I like the salafis and muslim brotherhood to come out in Egypt and across the Arab spring. As I preferred the BJP in India. There are two elements to it. First is that we should have freedom of speech and religion and association. So if people want to make a religious movement into a political movement, they should have the right to do it. That's what classical liberalism is all about. 

But more importantly, the second reason is that people are frequently morons. Organised religion almost always fucks up the well being of countries when it gets into power. But people down the ages have always relied on piety and god and religion to help pull them out when the situation demands basic human good behaviour. So they should be allowed to commit the stupendous mistake of letting religion rule their heads, countries and economics. The Indians the Pakistanis the Arab and Muslim countries and USA all need to elect and run their countries on fine old religious principles. It's Darwinian. If you are stupid enough to believe that some prophet / guru / priest somewhere sometime was so amazing that his works and his followers can lead their current citizens and followers to nirvana then well, as a libertarian I insist that you bear the fruits of your beliefs and end up towards the shallow end of the human intelligence pool. 

Over the coming 3 months, you will see the finest examples of self destructive behaviour in the USA. Think about Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or India or Egypt where religion based policy is enacted and laugh at these idiocy and short sell :) if you can't, then buy gold!

Beware of organised religion son. Anytime anybody says or professes admiration for organised religion, know you can sell a bridge to them. Having faith is good and needed. Not that being an atheist is bad either. But followers of organised religions are gullible sheep :)



What I Learned in Two Years at the Tea Party | The Awl

When I started going to Tea Party meetings two years ago, I was sympathetic. Just after attending one in North Dakota in August of 2009, I wrote: “Most tea partiers are not bad people. They’re just mad. In many meaningful ways, today’s Tea Party attendees’ lives have gotten consistently worse for the last 20 years, regardless of which party was in power.” I concluded that trying to figure out what they wanted was a dead end because what they wanted was simply to complain—that the Tea Party “is not a group of listen and respond; this is a group of respond and respond.”

Two years of Tea Party functions later, and I finally know what the Tea Party wants: A Christian nation.

When S&P downgraded the United States debt, the political difficulties it underlined are embodied in Kim Simac, the candidate for Wisconsin state senate. A founder of Tea Party group Northwoods Patriots, Simac is challenging incumbent Democratic state senator Jim Holperin for the District 12 “Northwoods” seat. Holperin now has the indignity of being the only state legislator in history to face a recall twice—in 1990 for supporting a Republican governor, and in today’s election for opposing one.

Holperin, a “flaming moderate,” has the endorsement of the NRA, despite Simac having authored a pro-Second Amendment children’s book.