Saturday, May 31, 2014

Shelter from the Storm -- Bob Dylan

I was in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
"Come in" she said
"I'll give you shelter from the storm".

And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured
I'll always do my best for her, on that I give my word
In a world of steel-eyed death and men who are fighting to be warm
"Come in" she said
"I'll give you shelter from the storm".

Not a word was spoke between us, there was little risk involved
Everything up to that point had been left unresolved
Try imagining a place where it's always safe and warm
"Come in" she said
"I'll give you shelter from the storm".

I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail
Poisoned in the bushes and blown out on the trail
Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn
"Come in" she said
"I'll give you shelter from the storm".

Suddenly I turned around and she was standing there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
"Come in" she said
"I'll give you shelter from the storm".

Now there's a wall between us, something there's been lost
I took too much for granted, got my signals crossed
Just to think that it all began on a long-forgotten morn
"Come in" she said
"I'll give you shelter from the storm".

Well the deputy walks on hard nails, and the preacher rides a mount
But nothing really matters much, it's doom alone that counts
And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn
"Come in" she said
"I'll give you shelter from the storm".

I've heard newborn babies wailing like a mourning dove
And old men with broken teeth stranded without love
Do I understand your question man, is it hopeless and forlorn?
"Come in" she said
"I'll give you shelter from the storm".

In a little hilltop village they gambled for my clothes
I bargained for salvation and they gave me a lethal dose
I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn
"Come in" she said
"I'll give you shelter from the storm".

Well I'm living in a foreign country but I'm bound to cross the line
Beauty walks a razor's edge, someday I'll make it mine
If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born
"Come in" she said
"I'll give you shelter from the storm".

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bellevue: Inside Out

"I hate this place. Nothing works here. The medications don't work. I've been here seven years. I hate this place. Nothing works here. The medications don't work. I've been here seven years."

Somebody put this entire film on YouTube, God bless 'em. Required viewing in my Abnormal Psychology course.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Isla Vista Shooter

CS Monitor

“Although mass violence committed by people with mental illness is horrifying and galvanizes public attention, most instances of multiple murder are not perpetrated by people with mental illness, and only around 4 percent of the violence in this country is attributable to mental illness,” says Paul Appelbaum, director of the division of law, ethics, and psychiatry at Columbia University in New York, in an e-mail response to questions.

The vast majority of even those individuals with a serious psychiatric disorder never commit violence of any sort, he adds, and “in the absence of a previous history of violence, which has been true for most of the recent mass shooters, it is almost impossible to determine who will commit violence and who will not.”

Under federal law, individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or “adjudicated as a mental defective” are prohibited from possessing firearms, but relatively few people – including Rodger and the perpetrators of the Sandy Hook and Aurora movie theater shootings – fall into that category.

California law goes further: Individuals are temporarily banned from gun possession if they’re placed on a psychiatric hold or if they’ve made a specific threat to an identifiable person to a therapist, who is then required to report the threat to law enforcement.

But none of those instances applied in the case of the Isla Vista shooting.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Politics by Plane Crash

Same newspaper, same week. UN Secretary General might have been murdered in 1961. Laotian Defense Minister's plane goes down in May 2014.



UNITED NATIONS—The United Nations is considering reopening its investigation into the mysterious 1961 plane crash that killed then-U.N. chief Dag Hammarskjöld after new evidence of possible foul play emerged.
The U.N. General Assembly put the case back on its agenda in March at the recommendation of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after more than half a century of speculation that the Swedish diplomat's plane was either sabotaged or shot down.
Mr. Ban's recommendation came after a report by the independent Hammarskjöld commission, formed in 2012 with the participation of South African jurist Richard Goldstone. The report in September raised the possibility the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies have a tape-recorded radio communication by a mercenary pilot who allegedly carried out an aerial attack on the secretary-general's plane.
BANGKOK—Laos was dealt a major blow after an air force plane crashed on Saturday morning, killing a number of its senior government ministers and officials, including Defense Minister Douangchay Phichit.
The Prime Minister's Office in Laos on Saturday issued a statement confirming that the air force's aircraft AN-74TK300 crashed at 7 a.m. local time in Nadee village in the Paek district of Xiangkhouang province, located around 435 kilometers (270 miles) northeast of capital Vientiane.
The plane, carrying 18 passengers on board, crashed and killed Mr. Phichit, his wife, and Vientiane Gov. Sukan Mahalad, as well as Minister of Public Security Thongbanh Sengaphone, said Sek Wannamethee, a spokesman for Thailand's Foreign Ministry.
And then there are these blasts from the past: Lin Biao, Hale Boggs, Dorothy Hunt, and, yes, Ron Brown. Oh, don't forget Teddy Kennedy (near miss). All of these crashes have been the focus of speculation by persons sane and insane.

Do people who denounce "conspiracy theories" actually believe that people do not conspire? That people do not seek to increase their own wealth and power, at the expense of others if necessary (or convenient)? Maybe they should read more history. People plot and, as Don Delillo wrote in White Noise, "All plots tend to move deathwards. This is the nature of plots."

I am reminded of the White House meeting where various folks pondered "discrediting" columnist Jack Anderson, who was unfriendly to President Nixon. People were shocked when G. Gordon Liddy suggested simply killing him, "making him another victim of Washington's high rate of street crime." [paraphrase from memory] Sometimes murder appears to be the simplest solution.


Monday, May 26, 2014

The Last Laugh -- Wilfred Owen

‘O Jesus Christ! I’m hit,’ he said; and died.

Whether he vainly cursed or prayed indeed,
The Bullets chirped—In vain, vain, vain!

Machine-guns chuckled—Tut-tut! Tut-tut!

And the Big Gun guffawed.

Another sighed,—‘O Mother,—mother,—Dad!’
Then smiled at nothing, childlike, being dead.

And the lofty Shrapnel-cloud

Leisurely gestured,—Fool!

And the splinters spat, and tittered.

‘My Love!’ one moaned. Love-languid seemed his mood,

Till slowly lowered, his whole face kissed the mud.

And the Bayonets’ long teeth grinned;
Rabbles of Shells hooted and groaned;
And the Gas hissed.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Drummer Hodge -- Thomas Hardy

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined -- just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around:
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the drummer never knew --
Fresh from his Wessex home --
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.          

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Folsom Prison Blues -- Johnny Cash

I hear the train a comin'
It's rolling round the bend
And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when,
I'm stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin' on
But that train keeps a rollin' on down to San Antone..

When I was just a baby my mama told me, Son,
Always be a good boy, don't ever play with guns.
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry..

I bet there's rich folks eating in a fancy dining car
They're probably drinkin' coffee and smoking big cigars.
Well I know I had it coming, I know I can't be free
But those people keep a movin'
And that's what tortures me...

Well if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine
I bet I'd move it on a little farther down the line
Far from Folsom prison, that's where I want to stay
And I'd let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.....


Friday, May 23, 2014

Johnny Cash & Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) for OCD

Washington Post


How a brain treatment for OCD turned a man into a Johnny Cash fanatic

Here’s a title you can’t help but read, even though it’s in a highly technical scholarly journal: “A case of musical preference for Johnny Cash following deep brain stimulation of the nucleus accumbens.”
Johnny Cash in 1977. (AP)
Johnny Cash in 1977. (AP)

It’s published in the May issue of Frontiers of Behavioral Neuroscience.

And it’s one of the more unusual tales recently from the field of neuroscience, already famous for stories so fantastic that not even the authors can fully explain them, which is the case here.

Here’s what happened: A patient identified only as “Mr. B,” age 59, was referred to doctors at a hospital in the Netherlands for treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) from which he had suffered for 46 years.

He had made little or no progress with conventional treatment. So, in 2006, he was treated with deep brain stimulation (DBS), better known for making life easier for patients with Parkinson’s disease, but also used for OCD.

According to the authors, Mariska Mantione and Martijn Figee of the University of Amsterdam’s psychiatry department and Damiaan Denys of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, electrodes were implanted in his brain targeting the nucleus accumbens, which plays a role in pleasure as well as fear.

Within six weeks, Mr. B felt better, reporting that “he felt very confident, calm and assertive.” He also started to call himself “‘Mr. B. II,’” a “new and improved version of himself.”
But something else happened. Mr. B had had only a modest interest in music — mostly in Dutch songs, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. His tastes had always been “very fixed,” the authors reported, with his preferences staying “the same throughout decades.”

Then about a year after DBS surgery, Mr. B was listening to the radio one day when he heard Johnny Cash singing “Ring of Fire.”
Love is a burning thing. And it makes a fiery ring.
Bound by wild desire. I fell into a ring of fire.
I fell into a burning ring of fire, I went down, down, down as the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns. The ring of fire, the ring of fire.
Gradually he began listening to more Johnny Cash. His favorites? “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”

He said the songs, with their fast tempos, moved him and made him feel better.

Before long, however, Mr. B would only listen to Johnny Cash — “simply and solely” to Johnny Cash, the authors reported. Nothing else. No more Dutch songs, Beatles or Rolling Stones. He went out and bought all of Johnny Cash’s CDs and DVDs.

From that moment on, it was all Johnny Cash.

The authors write:
When listening to his favorite [Johnny Cash] songs he walks back and forth through the room and feels like he finds himself in a movie in which he plays the hero’s part. He reports that there is a Johnny Cash song for every emotion and every situation, feeling happy or feeling sad and although Mr. B. played almost simply and solely Johnny Cash songs for the following years, the music never starts to annoy him.
It gets more interesting still.

When the implanted electrical stimulators run down or accidentally go out, so does Mr. B’s interest in Johnny Cash. The Man in Black is ignored, and Mr. B’s “old favorites are played just once again, just as it was for the past 40 years.

But when the electrical stimulators’ batteries are replenished, it’s back to Johnny Cash, with the Rolling Stones, Beatles and Dutch songs “banned.”

What’s the explanation? The nucleus accumbens ”plays a fundamental role in the rewarding properties of music,” the researchers note, and Mr. B’s experience reinforces that understanding.
But why Johnny Cash? Why Johnny Cash and only Johnny Cash?

Was Mr. B perhaps just obsessing over Johnny Cash? Was this just another manifestation of his OCD?

No, the researchers say. “The patient does not feel obsessed with Johnny Cash, nor compelled to listen and his behavior does not result in reduction of anxiety or tension.” Perhaps, they speculate, the Johnny Cash songs match his “‘new’ confident self.”

They really don’t know, they concede. “More research is needed” to figure it out.

Perhaps the patient came as close as anyone to figuring it out. Mr. B told the researchers:

“‘It seems as if Johnny Cash goes together with DBS.’”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"Mad Jack" Churchill, killed Nazis with a sword and longbow

"Mad Jack" on the far right, clutching a claymore sword.


The first thing the Nazi garrison on Vågsøy Island, Norway, would have heard when the British No. 3 Commando battalion landed on December 27, 1941, was the sudden blaring drone of bagpipes. One commando stood at the fore of the landing craft, facing the impending battle and playing the peppy, martial “March of the Cameron Men.” Upon coming to a halt onshore, the soldier jumped from the craft, hucked a grenade at the Germans, then drew a full sword and ran screaming into the fray.

That maniacally fierce soldier was 35-year-old Lieutenant Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill, and his stunts at this battle, known as Operation Archery, were hardly the most bizarre and semi-suicidal of his life. Over the course of World War II, “Mad Jack,” as he came to be known, survived multiple explosions, escaped a couple of POW camps, captured more than 40 Germans at sword point in just one raid, and in 1940 scored the last recorded longbow kill in history.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

VMI Cadets at the Battle of New Market

Ruined barracks at the Virginia Military Institute after Hunter's Raid.

 Ruined barracks at the Virginia Military Institute after Hunter’s Raid.

Of all places, a wonderful re-telling of the Battle of New Market in the New York Times:

On the evening of May 10, 1864, on the first anniversary of the battlefield death of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who had been a professor at the Virginia Military Institute before the war, some 300 V.M.I. cadets paraded the lush grounds in full dress while bands played and nearby townsfolk came to pay their respects. “Groups of girls in filmy garments set off with bits of color came tripping across the sod; and children and nurses sat about the benches at the guard-tree,” one cadet recalled.
The scene of secluded peacefulness in Lexington, Va., stood in sharp contrast to the pitched and bloody fighting only miles to the east. Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was moving south into central Virginia with an enormous army, and at that very moment was locked in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House with the forces of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Back in Lexington, however, the cadets had retired for the night, only to have their youthful dreams interrupted by a nocturnal roll call. The cadet corps stood at a sleepy parade rest as the adjutant read the unprecedented orders in his hand. By direct order of Maj. Gen. John C. Breckenridge, under authority from General Lee himself, the Corps of Cadets — some as young as 15 — was ordered to march immediately to Staunton, Va., to support Breckenridge’s forces, now preparing to meet an impending Union advance up the Shenandoah Valley.
A major advance it was. In the past, numerically superior Union forces had insufficiently coordinated their attacks, thus allowing more nimble Confederate forces to rebound quickly from one engagement to meet the next. Grant determined to mount concurrent assaults on Confederate positions in several theaters, stretching the Confederate defenses beyond their ability to respond.
In the West, Gen. Nathaniel Banks, in cooperation with naval forces under Adm. David Farragut, would move against Mobile, Ala., one of the last functioning Confederate ports. Meanwhile, Gen. William T. Sherman chased Joseph Johnston’s Army of Tennessee from Chattanooga, Tenn., toward Atlanta. Gen. Benjamin Butler would attempt to move against Richmond, Va., via the James River, while major engagements took place with Gen. George Meade and Grant confronting Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. But one more attack was called for.
Since the beginning of the war, the Shenandoah Valley — the Breadbasket of the Confederacy — had funneled needed food and supplies to hungry Confederate troops, with Staunton as the neck of the funnel. Staunton in 1860 had a population of about 4,000, but with strategic influence far surpassing its size. Staunton was located at the intersection of the Valley Pike (which for centuries provided easy north-south access through the Shenandoah Valley) and the east-west Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. The Virginia Central Railroad also offered transportation through Staunton directly to Richmond.
From Grant’s perspective, until that funnel could be closed, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia could continue to fight. Thus, as part of his spring 1864 offensive, Grant ordered newly promoted Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel to rid the Shenandoah Valley of Confederate troops, shutting off that vital supply lifeline.
Sigel was a curious choice for such a critical mission. One of many “political” Union generals — he was promoted to appease the loyal German population — Sigel had a conspicuously undistinguished military career, with several defeats to his credit. In addition to lackluster strategic and tactical skills, he had a tendency under stress to bark orders in German, mystifying most of his command. Nonetheless, as Grant’s choice, and with almost 9,000 troops under his immediate command, Sigel began his march up the valley to Staunton.
Lee understood the need to hold Staunton, and he ordered Breckenridge to assemble what troops he could find and repulse the expected Union campaign. A political general in a different sense, Breckenridge was a former speaker of the Kentucky House, a United States representative and senator and the vice president under James Buchanan. He ran second to Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election. But as the war gathered momentum, Breckenridge resigned from the Senate and accepted a commission in the Confederate army. Despite a lack of military training and experience, he distinguished himself at Chickamauga in the western theater and made an able choice to protect the valley.
Breckenridge quickly consolidated the available troops, and moved his command to Staunton in early May. But still he was woefully undermanned. As Union activity along the pike increased, on May 10 he finally accepted an offer from Maj. Gen. Francis Smith, the V.M.I. superintendent, to supply 250 well-trained cadets “fully equipped … [with] abundance of ammunition, tents, knapsacks, shovels & picks, and … prepared to march at a moment’s notice.”
As the half-moon and lanterns barely illumined the institute grounds, Breckenridge’s order was read aloud to the corps. As they were dismissed, Cpl. John S. Wise and his classmates scrambled to prepare for battle. “As company after company broke ranks, the air was rent with wild cheering at the thought that our hour was come at last,” Wise recalled. Dressed, provisioned and on their way at 7 a.m., 247 members of the corps left schoolboy duties behind and began the 35-mile march to Staunton in drenching rain.
At least twice before, in 1861 and 1862, V.M.I. cadets had marched in support of General Jackson, but they never engaged in battle. Even on this occasion — with the need plain and their youthful enthusiasm spoiling for a fight — there was no guarantee the cadets would see action. Breckenridge had informed the cadet commander that “he did not wish to put the Cadets in if he could avoid it.” He then departed Staunton, advancing north through the valley to confront Sigel.
Some 45 miles away, the little town of New Market sat astride the Valley Pike along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. Here the New Market Gap led east through Massanutten Mountain and the Blue Ridge Mountains, one of a handful of such access points in the valley, and both generals knew that he who controlled those gaps controlled access to the valley.
Though Sigel began his advance up the Valley with 9,000 men, he inexplicably spread his troops,
so his actual fighting force in New Market was far fewer. When Breckenridge arrived at New Market before dawn on May 15, much of the Union army was already in place, occupying the high ground at Bushong Hill, just north of the little village. Settled in, still with superior numbers (7,000 men to about 5,000), of the Union Army, on paper, had the odds overwhelmingly in its favor.
Breckenridge’s troops occupied the ground around Shirley’s Hill, just west of New Market, and about two miles south of Sigel’s main force. To confuse the Union commanders, Breckenridge employed an old trick, countermarching his troops over the crest of Shirley’s Hill and back again, multiplying the apparent size of his force. The strategy worked, as even after the battle, Sigel reported that his forces had engaged a much larger Confederate army.
At about 10 a.m. Breckenridge surveyed the field with cavalry commander Brig. Gen. John Imboden. Despite the unfavorable troop-strength ratio, Breckenridge quickly realized that the unique topography of the battlefield — sandwiched between the Shenandoah River and Smith’s Creek — would protect his flanks if he struck first. Since Sigel showed no signs of aggression, Breckenridge declared: “We can attack and whip them here, and I’ll do it!” He ordered all his troops to advance as quickly as possible, and the artillery batteries on both sides thundered in earnest.
The cadets’ role was to march in reserve, several hundred yards behind the main forces. By the time they crested Shirley’s Hill, Union artillery had found its range, and solid shot and rifled shells burst among the cadet ranks. Five cadets, including Corporal Wise, went down injured in the first salvo. Wise was knocked unconscious, awakening in a pouring rainstorm. But his injury proved not serious, and he later remarked, “‘Hurrah!’ I thought, ‘youth’s dream is realized at last. I’ve got a wound and am not dead yet.’” In his 1899 book “The End of an Era,” Wise would recall New Market as “The Most Glorious Day of My Life.”
By the time Breckenridge’s infantry had advanced almost two miles to the base of Bushong’s Hill, Union artillery shells had opened a dangerous gap in the middle of the line, a gap Sigel could soon exploit. Breckenridge’s aides pleaded with him to put the cadets into the fray to close the gap, and he at last relented, reportedly saying: “Put the boys in. And may God forgive me for the Order.” The cadets immediately marched into line of battle squarely in the center, facing furious Union artillery and musket fire.
Laying low behind a simple wooden fence, the cadets waited for the final charge. One cadet, John Howard, recounted later: “It was an ordinary rail fence, probably about four feet high, but as I surmounted the top rail I felt at least ten feet up in the air, and the special object of hostile aim. But in clearing this obstruction, I was leaving all thoughts of individuality behind.”
The order was given to advance at “double quick,” and the entire Confederate line, with the V.M.I. cadets holding its center, began the grueling and murderous march through a muddy wheatfield and up the hill. The cadets’ commander quickly went down, and he was succeeded by cadet Capt. Henry Wise, who led the final assault. The cadets, many losing their shoes in the thick mud of the wheat field — remembered as “The Field of Lost Shoes” — continued their attack, closing ranks each time a comrade went down, never allowing a gap in the line. Even Union troops marveled at their discipline and training. Though they were just a small portion of the total troops in the field, the cadets found themselves the point of the spear, finally cresting Bushong’s Hill, routing the Union artillery detail and capturing prisoners and a Union cannon.
Sigel had had enough. He withdrew his forces, retreating across the rain-swollen Shenandoah River and burning the bridge behind him. Breckenridge pursued as far as he was able, but his troops and ammunition were exhausted, and the Shenandoah proved a more formidable foe than had the Union commander.
The modest Confederate victory at New Market was one of the South’s last in the valley. And the cost of that triumph was enormous for the cadets. Because of the corps’ placement in the battle, of 43 Confederate battle deaths, 10 were cadets. Of 474 wounded, 45 were cadets. Three weeks later V.M.I. was burned in retribution by Union Gen. David Hunter, and classes did not fully resume there until the fall of 1865.
Beginning in 1887, V.M.I. has marked its role at New Market with a solemn roll call beneath the statue “Virginia Honoring Her Dead,” a gift of the world-renowned sculptor and New Market cadet Moses Ezekiel. Near the graves of 6 of the 10 cadets killed in the battle, and with today’s corps as a silent honor guard in full dress review, each squad and company reports the names of those absent from their ranks. A current member of the corps — when possible a descendant of the family of a New Market cadet — is assigned to answer for each of the 10. The names pass forward by platoon to company to the regimental commander, who reports to the commandant of cadets the following names: “Atwill, Cabell, Crockett, Hartsfield, Haynes, Jefferson, Jones, McDowell, Stanard, Wheelwright.” And to each name comes the grave reply: “Died on the Field of Honor, Sir.”
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Sources: John Sergeant Wise, “The End of an Era”; William C. David, “The Battle of New Market,” William Couper, ed., “The Corps Forward”; Mark Grimsley, “And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May-June 1864.” Special thanks to Col. Keith Gibson and Maj. Troy Marshall of the Virginia Military Institute and the Virginia Museum of the Civil War for their assistance on this article.
Jed Morrison
Jed Morrison is a lawyer and Civil War enthusiast in San Antonio.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Core Curriculum -- Belmont Abbey College, NC

Pope Center

This semester, first-year students at Belmont Abbey College are being introduced to an exciting new core curriculum.
What’s new about it? Essentially nothing.
The required courses that comprise the new core curriculum (constituting 50 to 53 of the 120 hours needed to graduate) are the following:
  • First-Year Symposium
  • Rhetoric I & II
  • Introduction to Scripture
  • Introduction to Theology
  • Classic Texts in Political Philosophy I & II
  • Western Civilization I & II
  • Literary Classics of the Western Tradition I & II
  • The U. S. Constitution
  • Mathematics
  • Two science courses with labs
  • An introductory course in psychology, sociology, or economics
  • Fine Arts
 I like it. The symposium doesn't seem necessary to me, but it might help boost retention and get students aligned with the school's core values. (Not many schools put an emphasis on promoting Virtue. Good for them.) I think a one semester World Religions course could substitute for the year of Scripture and Theology, but it is a Catholic college. Cool idea to have a whole course on the Constitution, from Federalist Papers to recent SCOTUS decisions. The Mathematics course depends on your major:

B. Quantitative Thinking, 3 credits
One of the following, appropriate to the student’s major:
Mathematics 135 Mathematics for Liberal Arts
Mathematics 151 College Algebra
Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus
Any 200-level Mathematics course
Any Statistics course
Any Calculus course

The updated, full version of the Core Curriculum is here.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Is Boko Haram Leader Insane?


ABUJA, Nigeria—When he appeared in a video on Monday boasting of having abducted more than 200 schoolgirls, the leader of terror group Boko Haram took the occasion to egg on the U.S. Army and get in a dig at ancient Egypt.

"We don't fear any American troops," shouted Abubakar Shekau, whose Islamist insurgency has terrorized northern Nigeria and recently drawn search-and-rescue advisers from the U.S. and other countries. "Let even the Pharaoh himself be sent down here! We will deal with him squarely!"
Now, Mr. Shekau, believed to be in his late 30s or early 40s, is finally getting a perverse kind of recognition—even becoming America's most wanted man in Africa. The $7 million bounty offered by the U.S. State Department is the largest ever offered for a single individual on the continent.
Mr. Shekau has achieved this ignominious rank through a willingness to slaughter. Boko Haram has killed more than 7,000 people in the past two years alone, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Most of the group's victims are Muslims deemed too close to the Nigerian state or insufficiently devout. Boko Haram loosely means "Western Education is a Sin" in the local Hausa language.
"Even his mother—his own mother—said he was insane," said the adviser. "They are not on speaking terms." Mr. Shekau's mother couldn't be located for comment.
U.S. officials also see Mr. Shekau as mentally unstable.
"Any impartial observer—especially those who have watched his public statements over the years—would be left wondering about Shekau's mental state, especially after his most recent video appearance," the U.S. counterterrorism official said.
In his latest speech, Mr. Shekau pointed out that in the international outrage over the kidnapped girls, no notice has been paid to his abduction of three times as many boys in the past year. "Why is the world not talking about that?" he asked.
His video diatribes often veer into the absurd. He has shouted threats against Margaret Thatcher, the late British prime minister. In a tape released in April, he called Abraham Lincoln an infidel three times. Queen Elizabeth II also is a recurring target of his harangues.
He also issues instruction to fellow jihadis across Nigeria. "Just pick up your knife, break into homes and kill," he demanded in a message in January. "Slaughter anyone in their sleep you come across."
With the abduction of the schoolgirls, news organizations and social media beyond Nigeria finally gave Mr. Shekau the attention he believes he merits.
"A poor guy from Maiduguri, he never thought that the U.S. president would be calling him [out] by name," said Fatima Akilu, director of behavioral analysis in the office of Nigeria's national security adviser. "He's on the lips of everybody and he can't believe his luck. And he will continue to hit out wherever he can to keep himself relevant."
Mr. Shekau has frequently welcomed efforts to hunt him down. "You can see I'm a radical!" he said in a video last year. "You should kill me!"

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ulysses -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

But Not For Me -- Ella Fitzgerald

They’re writing songs of love - but not for me
A lucky star’s above - but not for me
With love to lead the way I’ve found more clouds of gray
Than any Russian play - could guarantee

I was a fool to fall - and get that way
Hi ho alas and also lackaday
Although I can’t dismiss
The memory of his kiss
I guess he’s not for me


I was a fool to fall - and get that way
Hi ho alas and also lackaday
Although I can’t dismiss
The memory of his kiss
I guess he’s not for me

Friday, May 16, 2014

Psychological Consequences of Solitary Confinement


In the 1950s and 1960s, China was rumoured to be using solitary confinement to “brainwash” American prisoners captured during the Korean War, and the US and Canadian governments were all too keen to try it out. Their defence departments funded a series of research programmes that might be considered ethically dubious today.

The most extensive took place at McGill University Medical Center in Montreal, led by the psychologist Donald Hebb. The McGill researchers invited paid volunteers – mainly college students – to spend days or weeks by themselves in sound-proof cubicles, deprived of meaningful human contact. Their aim was to reduce perceptual stimulation to a minimum, to see how their subjects would behave when almost nothing was happening. They minimised what they could feel, see, hear and touch, fitting them with translucent visors, cotton gloves and cardboard cuffs extending beyond the fingertips. As Scientific American magazine reported at the time, they had them lie on U-shaped foam pillows to restrict noise, and set up a continuous hum of air-conditioning units to mask small sounds.

After only a few hours, the students became acutely restless. They started to crave stimulation, talking, singing or reciting poetry to themselves to break the monotony. Later, many of them became anxious or highly emotional. Their mental performance suffered too, struggling with arithmetic and word association tests.
Sensory deprivation can cause hallucinations - sometimes starting with geometric shapes or points of light, and then getting stranger... (Akuei/Flickr)

But the most alarming effects were the hallucinations. They would start with points of light, lines or shapes, eventually evolving into bizarre scenes, such as squirrels marching with sacks over their shoulders or processions of eyeglasses filing down a street. They had no control over what they saw: one man saw only dogs; another, babies.

Some of them experienced sound hallucinations as well: a music box or a choir, for instance. Others imagined sensations of touch: one man had the sense he had been hit in the arm by pellets fired from guns. Another, reaching out to touch a doorknob, felt an electric shock.
When they emerged from the experiment they found it hard to shake this altered sense of reality, convinced that the whole room was in motion, or that objects were constantly changing shape and size.

Distressing end

The researchers had hoped to observe their subjects over several weeks, but the trial was cut short because they became too distressed to carry on. Few lasted beyond two days, and none as long as a week. Afterwards, Hebb wrote in the journal American Psychologist that the results were “very unsettling to us… It is one thing to hear that the Chinese are brainwashing their prisoners on the other side of the world; it is another to find, in your own laboratory, that merely taking away the usual sights, sounds, and bodily contacts from a healthy university student for a few days can shake him, right down to the base.”

In 2008, clinical psychologist Ian Robbins recreated Hebb’s experiment in collaboration with the BBC, isolating six volunteers for 48 hours in sound-proofed rooms in a former nuclear bunker. The results were similar. The volunteers suffered anxiety, extreme emotions, paranoia and significant deterioration in their mental functioning. They also hallucinated: a heap of 5,000 empty oyster shells; a snake; zebras; tiny cars; the room taking off; mosquitoes; fighter planes buzzing around.

A clip from BBC Horizon’s Total Isolation experiment – read more information about the programme here.

Why does the perceptually deprived brain play such tricks? Cognitive psychologists believe that the part of the brain that deals with ongoing tasks, such as sensory perception, is accustomed to dealing with a large quantity of information, such as visual, auditory and other environmental cues. But when there is a dearth of information, says Robbins, “the various nerve systems feeding in to the brain’s central processor are still firing off, but in a way that doesn’t make sense. So after a while the brain starts to make sense of them, to make them into a pattern.” It creates whole images out of partial ones. In other words, it tries to construct a reality from the scant signals available to it, yet it ends up building a fantasy world.

Such mental failures should perhaps not surprise us. For one thing, we know that other primates do not fare well in isolation. One of the most graphic examples is psychologist Harry Harlow’s experiments on rhesus macaque monkeys at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during the 1960s, in which he deprived them of social contact after birth for months or years. They became, he observed, “enormously disturbed” even after 30 days, and after a year were “obliterated” socially, incapable of interaction of any kind. (A comparable social fracturing has been observed in humans: consider the children rescued from Romanian orphanages in the early 1990s, who after being almost entirely deprived of close social contact since birth grew up with serious behavioural and attachment issues.)
We may crave solitude occasionally, but in the long term it's not good for us physically or mentally (Getty Images)

Secondly, we derive meaning from our emotional states largely through contact with others. Biologists believe that human emotions evolved because they aided co-operation among our early ancestors who benefited from living in groups. Their primary function is social. With no one to mediate our feelings of fear, anger, anxiety and sadness and help us determine their appropriateness, before long they deliver us a distorted sense of self, a perceptual fracturing or a profound irrationality. It seems that left too much to ourselves, the very system that regulates our social living can overwhelm us.

Take the 25,000 inmates held in “super-maximum security” prisons in the US today. Without social interaction, supermax prisoners have no way to test the appropriateness of their emotions or their fantastical thinking, says Terry Kupers, a forensic psychiatrist at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California, who has interviewed thousands of supermax prisoners. This is one of the reasons many suffer anxiety, paranoia and obsessive thoughts. Craig Haney, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a leading authority on the mental health of inmates in the US, believes that some of them purposefully initiate brutal confrontations with prison staff just to reaffirm their own existence – to remember who they are.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Geopolitics: Containment -- Chinese version



This map appeared in the Wall Street Journal back in December 2013. Nothing has changed with regard to tensions between the US and China since then, except that the US appears even weaker now than then in Chinese eyes. The reason the map is interesting is that it answers these important questions:

1) Why has the U.S. kept troops in South Korea for over half a century? [Hint: It's not (just) about North Korea.]

2) Why does the U.S. insist on backing relatively puny Taiwan? [Hint: It's not because we love an underdog.]

3) Why is the U.S.-Japanese alliance as crucial as the U.S.-U.K. alliance? Why is the main U.S. base on Okinawa, way out in the middle of the ocean? [Hint: Don't hold your breath waiting for Russian tanks to stream through the Fulda Gap.]

4) Why does China regard the U.S. as an adversary whose primary strategic goal is to keep Chinese influence boxed in on the Asian mainland? [Hint: Because we are, and it is.]

Extra credit (requires another map):

5) Why did the U.S. fight a ten-year war in Vietnam (Indochina)?

6) Why did the U.S. take over the Philipines in 1898 and brutally suppress an insurrection there (1899-1902)? Why was closing U.S. bases on those islands after the Mount Pinatubo eruption so strategically perilous? Why are we quietly re-establishing a military presence in the Philipines?

Answer(s): It's all about containing the Chinese!

Wonder how long we can keep it up?

To Ponder: Is President Obama's much bally-hooed "pivot" from the Middle East and towards Asia intended to telegraph a desire to maintain this policy of Chinese containment? When I hear the word "pivot," the only thing I think of is boxing. Could the President really be suggesting "avoiding a strike (in the Middle East), and landing a counterstrike (in Asia)"?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Oscar Pistorius -- Psychiatric Evaluation

So they are sending Oscar Pistorius to a mental hospital for a month for a psychiatric evaluation. I really, really want to read that report (even though I doubt that it will have any bearing on the outcome of the trial). Even his own psychiatric witness testified that she doesn't think that he was insane at the time of the crime. It might have some mitigating effect on his sentencing, however.

I've got a big problem with the "generalized anxiety disorder" diagnosis that his shrink is trying to say applies to him. Most importantly, GAD has no known association with violence risk. As a matter of fact, it might be a protective factor against violence.

What she is describing is Paranoid Personality Disorder ("mistrustful and guarded person"). There is a genetic component to that condition (mother slept with gun under pillow). And it is certainly associated with violence. Might his traumatic amputations have contributed to the development of PPD? Sure. Does it mean that he was an automaton who is not responsible for his actions on the night he shot his girlfriend? C'mon.

ABC News

Oscar Pistorius' own psychiatric witness told a court today that the paraylmpic sprinter could be a danger to society if armed with a gun because of a life-long battle with a mental disorder that stemmed from having his legs amputated while he was an infant.

The testimony of Dr. Merryl Vorster prompted prosecutor Gerrie Nel to indicate that he will ask that Pistorius undergo psychiatric evaluation. If the requested is approved, Pistorius would have to spend a month in a hospital being evaluated.
Pistorius' murder trial appeared to enter the final week of testimony today. He is charged with killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp before dawn on Valentine's Day 2013. Pistorius, 27, claims he mistook his lover for a burglar. He could face at least 25 years in prison if convicted.
Vorster told the court that Pistorius suffers from generalized anxiety disorder brought on by difficulties handling the amputation of his lower legs, his mother’s death and his growing fame.
Pistorius’ legs were amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old. Vorster highlighted the impact of Pistorius’ double amputation at the “pre-language” stage of his development, saying without the ability to understand language, the boy would have experienced the amputation of his lower legs as a "traumatic assault.”
Vorster said Pistorius "appears to be a mistrustful and guarded person," a tendency that went back to his mother who slept with a gun under her pillow. She said that the star sprinter displayed "escalating levels of anxiety" as he got older.
The psychiatrist said under cross examination that Pistorius knew right from wrong, but his generalized anxiety disorder could have influenced his actions the night he shot Steenkamp because of his constant state of fear.
Vorster testified that Pistorius' physical vulnerability also meant that his first impulse when it comes to a fight or flight situation would almost always be to fight since it was physically difficult for him to flee. Pistorius was on his stumps when he shot Steenkamp.
The prosecutor asked Vorster if a person who is suffering from a general anxiety disorder would be a danger to society if he had access to a gun, and Vorster replied, "Yes." [Ed., I strongly disagree with that assessment.]
Vorster described Pistorius as a person acutely affected by losses during his life.
Despite the surgeries to amputate his legs, Pistorius was brought up to believe he was normal, giving him little opportunity to find peace with his situation, Vorster said.
“Concealing his disability made him less able to access the emotional support he needed,” Vorster said.
His mother died when he was 15 years old, a crushing loss for the teen, Vorster said. He later became estranged from his father at age 21.
The psychiatrist testified that Pistorius’ anxiety increased as his fame rose and that he grew increasingly more concerned about crime. At the time of the shooting, she said, his physical vulnerability and his anxiety disorder would have converged.
She also told the trial court that since shooting Reeva Steenkamp, Pistorius suffered from depression and that she believed his vomiting in the courtroom was a genuine sign of emotional distress.

World's best final exam question


"...the Internet has made the teaching of literature a sad and disheartening mess.
Search engines and electronic information storage have made us all empty and stupid. Memory is externalized and disembodied in the cloud; imagining is externalized in film, TV, and Google images. As a result, many students find reading uncomfortable because they have been fed images all their lives and can no longer “make pictures” in their heads. Diverted by entertainment, gaming, and social media, students no longer develop the religious, historical, or cultural knowledge essential for literary study. The “laterally associative” nature of electronic linking replaces the “vertically cumulative” richness and linearity of print. When that happens, everything that depends on the linear disappears: grammar, logic, history, narrative, and morality. Nor do students develop the necessary vocabulary from using email, Twitter, blog posts, and comment threads. These losses make literary comprehension and appreciation, much less literary interpretation, impossible. Mark Edmundson relates a story “about a Columbia University instructor who issued a two-part question at the end of his literature course.  
Part one: What book in the course did you most dislike?   
Part two: What flaws of intellect or character does that dislike point up in you?” 
The format and content of the Internet creates an environment seemingly designed to cause students to fail as readers, to dislike books and, consequently, to suffer from books’ demands."

What is most sad about all this is that the functionally illiterate college graduates of today don't even realize that they are illiterate. They actually think that they "read" the books assigned (because they googled a synopsis of it, or watched a movie version, or kinda listened to a few minutes of a class lecture on it). Ask any college student, "When is the last time you sat down, alone in a room, with no phone, or earbuds, or music, or other distractions, and read a difficult, worthwhile book -- what some professor around here might call "a classic" -- without interruption, for at least an hour?"

In my experience, unless the student is religious and the book is the Bible, the typical response to that question is incredulity.

The thing today's students have got to realize is illustrated in the (hopefully genuine) final exam question above: The problem isn't that the books are boring or the authors irrelevant -- it's that you don't have the cognitive abilities necessary to read and understand challenging material. You can't pay attention to anything for more than seven minutes. You have an arid vocabulary and are largely ignorant of the cultural knowledge necessary to read great works. You don't have the capacity to tell something of value from crap. Thinking is painful to you, so you avoid it all costs.

Want a gut-check? Go check out J.S. Mill's On Liberty (1869) from the library, or better yet buy a copy on Amazon. Here's an on-line version you can peruse until your copy arrives. Print out a few pages, sit down, and read it for 15 minutes straight. Difficult? For most college students, it's impossible, like a young adult version of the marshmallow test. If you were able to read it for a whole quarter hour, how do you think you would do on an oral exam of the content? Remember, Mr. Mill is neither stupid nor boring -- and if you think he is, then You Are.

Monday, May 12, 2014

"Why Science Does Not Disprove God" (Book Review)

A useful reminder that there isn't any evidence for "multiverses," minds are nowhere near ready for "uploading," and that no biologist has ever been able to create life from non-life.

In the 1850s, Darwin's theory of evolution removed the need for a god to have designed all living things. Then a century of brilliant scientists cracked the mysteries of physics, cured feared diseases and explained inheritance through DNA. Science was on a roll and, to atheists, must have seemed to be on the verge of finishing off religious belief. By the 1950s, life, it was said, was about to be made in a test tube, artificial intelligence in computers was just around the corner, and the mind would be fully accounted for by behaviorist psychology and brain chemistry. It must have seemed that the Sea of Faith was enduring, as Matthew Arnold feared, its "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar."
Then the going got tough for the atheists. While the amount of successful science done increased enormously, the spectacular breakthroughs of the previous century dried up. That was especially so in the areas that were supposed to make the world uninhabitable for religious belief or for any non-materialist view of humanity. The process of making life from nonlife, which was believed to have happened by chance near the beginning of the earth's history, could not be replicated in the laboratory even in the most favorable conditions. Artificial intelligence has remained rudimentary; even its signature success— victory over the world chess champion in 1997—was mostly a demonstration of the uniqueness of human intelligence. The computer Deep Blue played chess by searching hundreds of millions of moves a second, assisted by rules cloned from human experts. It could not think about the game like a human. The programmers' inability to make computers imitate understanding, that most human of mental activities, exploded our naïve and simplistic views of the mind.
To make matters worse, physics unexpectedly created trouble. (Physics? Et tu, Brute?) Physics is the science of matter itself, the foundational science for all the other natural sciences. In the 1960s and 1970s, it gradually became clear that the universe was very "fine-tuned" for the existence of life. If the basic physical constants, like the strength of gravity, had been very slightly different, the universe would be unable to support life. The fine-tuning is very, very fine: for the strength of gravity, perhaps one part in 10 to the power of 40. In the physicist Freeman Dyson's words, "it almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known that we were coming."
For those who prefer not to have a Divine Engineer tuning the dials, the alternatives are unpalatable. The most natural are multiverse theories, according to which all possible universes exist simultaneously and we simply find ourselves in the one that makes our existence possible. This is not out of the question, but there is no actual evidence for it. It is just an "atheism of the gaps," calling imaginary entities from the vasty deep to plug a theoretical hole. The postulation probably involves gods, too—maybe not the omnipotent creator of the Abrahamic religions, but surely some unlikely combination of quantum fluctuations could produce Zeus and his colorful activities? Zeus is just a very big superman (physically, of course, not morally) up on Olympus and thus something that physics could manage to account for. The other possibility is to hope that there is some unknown mathematical reason why the constants are locked in as they are—again, a possibility, but one for which there is currently no other evidence.
The book will be quite satisfactory as a generally reliable introduction for readers who know nothing about the subject. But those who are prepared to try something more nuanced would be wise to consider three recent books by serious philosophers: "There Is a God" by the former noted atheist Antony Flew; Ronald Dworkin's "Religion Without God"; and Thomas Nagel's "Mind and Cosmos." They reach similar conclusions to Mr. Aczel's, but the authors are all top-flight (yet generally accessible) philosophers. None of their arguments make revealed religion any more likely. But the days of triumphalist scientism are over.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Unquiet Grave -- Anonymous

“The wind doth blow today, my love,
And a few small drops of rain;
I never had but one true-love,
In cold grave she was lain.

“I’ll do as much for my true-love
As any young man may;
I’ll sit and mourn all at her grave
For a twelvemonth and a day.”

The twelvemonth and a day being up,
The dead began to speak:
“Oh who sits weeping on my grave,
And will not let me sleep?”

“’T is I, my love, sits on your grave,
And will not let you sleep;
For I crave one kiss of your clay-cold lips,
And that is all I seek.”

“You crave one kiss of my clay-cold lips,
But my breath smells earthy strong;
If you have one kiss of my clay-cold lips,
Your time will not be long.

“’T'is down in yonder garden green,
Love, where we used to walk,
The finest flower that e’re was seen
Is withered to a stalk.

“The stalk is withered dry, my love,
So will our hearts decay;
So make yourself content, my love,
Till God calls you away.”