MonthDecember 2008

How apocalypse makes us dumb, and the futility of survivalism

children of men

Via this post at WorldChanging I found two excellent older posts:

The Apocalypse Makes Us Dumb:

A subset of the rule that the Elect will survive is that survivalists survive, that bunkered individuals or remote farming communities or whatever have an edge, and that when the crazy starts, it’ll be the people holed up in the hinterlands who will survive and that the rule we can observe all through history — which is that these people are simply prey to larger, better-organized groups — suspends itself for the duration (unless a savior is needed to fight off the Humungous and his mohawked thugs or something — see #2 above).

And The futility of survivalism:

But real apocalypses are sordid, banal, insane. If things do come unraveled, they present not a golden opportunity for lone wolves and well-armed geeks, but a reality of babies with diarrhea, of bugs and weird weather and dust everywhere, of never enough to eat, of famine and starving, hollow-eyed people, of drunken soldiers full of boredom and self-hate, of random murder and rape and wars which accomplish nothing, of many fine things lost for no reason and nothing of any value gained. And survivalists, if they actually manage to avoid becoming the prey of larger groups, sitting bitter and cold and hungry and paranoid, watching their supplies run low and wishing they had a clean bed and some friends. Of all the lies we tell ourselves, this is the biggest: that there is any world worth living in that involves the breakdown of society.

A related older post: The Outquisition

I mostly look to the periphery for an idea of what dystopias will look like, so my favorite dystopian movies are movies like Salvador, Hotel Rhwanda, and City of God. One sci-fi dystopia that I like is Children of Men, because it seems to be based very much on the reality of the periphery.

Top Ten Green Architecture Projects Of 2008!

Top Ten Green Architecture of 2008, Green Building, Green Architecture, Green Design, Eco Architecture

“As the holiday season winds to close we’re counting down the days to the new year with a look at some of Inhabitat’s most exciting stories of 2008! It’s been an outstanding year in green building and today we’re looking back at ten of the most impressive green architecture projects of 2008. From LEED platinum superstructures to innovative recycled and reclaimed buildings to ground-breaking monuments that integrate incredible new technologies, read on the year’s best and brightest developments!”

(via Inhabitat)

Ruining It for the Rest of Us

“Stories of people who ruin things for everyone else…or who are accused of that. [..] A bad apple, at least at work, can spoil the whole barrel. And there’s research to prove it. Host Ira Glass talks to Will Felps, a professor at Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, who designed an experiment to see what happens when a bad worker joins a team. Felps divided people into small groups and gave them a task. One member of the group would be an actor, acting either like a jerk, a slacker or a depressive. And within 45 minutes, the rest of the group started behaving like the bad apple.”

(via This American Life)

Burning The Year Away: New Year’s Traditions

Hugo Chávez dummy

“In many South American countries, it has become a tradition to burn human shaped representations of the previous year, as a way to get rid of everything bad that the year brought, and leave way for the new. The following videos show some of these traditions and some of the controversy soome of them have sparked. The image above is from cirofono and represents Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chávez. The image is used according to Creative Commons Attribution License. In Guatemala, the burning takes place in December, on the 7th, the day when they state that the virgin defeated the devil. What they do is burn everything old, broken and useless in their houses, since they believe that the devil hides in those objects throughout the year, and on that day, when he is the weakest, they can cast him out of the houses. Many others, however, purchase piñatas or effigies of the devil to burn, to keep the tradition.”

(via Global Voices Online)

(Related: “Pagan Party: New Year’s Traditions That Hail From The Depths Of Antiquity” via The Vancouver Sun)

Six questions for Matthew Alexander, author of How to Break a Terrorist

You are correct that relationship- (or confidence-) building approaches are not new and have been known to law enforcement for decades. Even World War II interrogators used relationship-building approaches to great success, but we can build on that. Interrogation is an art and a science and, like every discipline, can be improved upon. My group began to integrate relationship-building with other criminal investigative techniques, always tailoring it to the culture at hand. This is what made our techniques new. I watched day in and day out as my group of interrogators used American ingenuity in adapting these approaches for each individual detainee and they were highly effective. Interrogation is about being smarter, not harsher.

Why these techniques have not yet been integrated into intelligence interrogation is a mystery to me. I made a list of criminal investigation techniques that would be effective in interrogations and included it in my “after-action” report. The next administration needs to institutionalize this approach by contracting a cadre of experienced law enforcement officers to help train our intelligence interrogators. This same relationship already exists between civilian and military criminal investigators.

Full Story: Harpers

See also: Matthew Alexander’s WaPo editorial

(via Schneier)

Religion may have evolved because of its ability to help people exercise self-control

Self-control is critical for success in life, and a new study by University of Miami professor of Psychology Michael McCullough finds that religious people have more self-control than do their less religious counterparts. These findings imply that religious people may be better at pursuing and achieving long-term goals that are important to them and their religious groups. This, in turn, might help explain why religious people tend to have lower rates of substance abuse, better school achievement, less delinquency, better health behaviors, less depression, and longer lives.

Full Story: Physorg

(Thanks Cliff!)

Scientists plan to ignite tiny man-made star

man made star

While it has seemed an impossible goal for nearly 100 years, scientists now believe that they are on brink of cracking one of the biggest problems in physics by harnessing the power of nuclear fusion, the reaction that burns at the heart of the sun.

In the spring, a team will begin attempts to ignite a tiny man-made star inside a laboratory and trigger a thermonuclear reaction.

Its goal is to generate temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius and pressures billions of times higher than those found anywhere else on earth, from a speck of fuel little bigger than a pinhead. If successful, the experiment will mark the first step towards building a practical nuclear fusion power station and a source of almost limitless energy.

Full Story: Telegraph

(Thanks Cap’n Marrrrk)

Terry Pratchett knighted

The author Terry Pratchett – whose novels have sold millions of copies worldwide – has been made a knight in the New Year Honours list.

The writer, 60, who is best known for his hugely popular Discworld series of comic fantasy novels, received the honour for services to literature.

Sir Terry announced in December 2007 that he had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

He has since campaigned to raise awareness of the condition.

Full Story: BBC

(Thanks Cap’n Marrrrk!)

How to Make Barack Obama Keep His Promises

Of course, this could all turn out to be hype. Most of my friends have strong doubts that the “Change” Barack Obama represents means anything beyond being an effective ad slogan. My own view is more complex. Personally, I don’t see the next President as a token figurehead or a liberal messiah, but as a dedicated political realist. As Obama himself explains, “since the founding, the American political tradition has been reformist, not revolutionary.” He appears to be actutely conscious of the comprimises he makes and the games he’s playing, and he’s got a larger vision behind everything he’s doing.

Here’s the good news: if I’m wrong, I’ll find out very quickly. The online organizing and social networking that engineered Barack Obama’s rise to the White House wasn’t just an expensive tool, it was a culture. A culture of people who are motivated, informed and demanding, and a culture that will turn on Obama once they suspect they’ve been used.

In fact, we might watch Obama alienate his fan base before he even gets sworn in.

Full Story: HTML Times

See also:

Obama Haters: you’re missing the opportunity of a lifetime

Obama Haters redux

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