Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Steve Hsu's blog -- Information Processing

Is it tacky to repost something in its entirety from someone else's blog? Maybe.

But this item from Steve Hsu's blog is certainly worth reading and pondering, and is his older post on Gladwellism. Browse Dr. Hsu's blog for posts on IQ and you will learn a lot. If you prefer, watch him lecture here.



Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A new paper from David Lubinski and collaborators looks at spatial ability measured at age 13 to see whether it adds predictive power to (SAT) Math and Verbal ability scores. The blobs in the figure above (click for larger version) represent subgroups of individuals who have published peer reviewed work in STEM, Humanities or Biomedical research, or (separately) have been awarded a patent. Units in the figure are SDs within the SMPY population.
Creativity and Technical Innovation: Spatial Ability’s Unique Role
DOI: 10.1177/0956797613478615

In the late 1970s, 563 intellectually talented 13-year-olds (identified by the SAT as in the top 0.5% of ability) were assessed on spatial ability. More than 30 years later, the present study evaluated whether spatial ability provided incremental validity (beyond the SAT’s mathematical and verbal reasoning subtests) for differentially predicting which of these individuals had patents and three classes of refereed publications. A two-step discriminant-function analysis revealed that the SAT subtests jointly accounted for 10.8% of the variance among these outcomes (p < .01); when spatial ability was added, an additional 7.6% was accounted for—a statistically significant increase (p < .01). The findings indicate that spatial ability has a unique role in the development of creativity, beyond the roles played by the abilities traditionally measured in educational selection, counseling, and industrial-organizational psychology. Spatial ability plays a key and unique role in structuring many important psychological phenomena and should be examined more broadly across the applied and basic psychological sciences.
Note that SAT composite accounted for 10 percent of variance in research success even within this already gifted subpopulation. This non-zero result, despite the restriction of range, contradicts the Gladwellian claim that IQ above 120 does not provide additional returns. In fact, the higher the IQ score above the 99.5 percentile cutoff for this group, the greater the likelihood that an individual has been awarded a patent or has published a research paper.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chappaquiddick: America's Selective Memory

Excerpts from a remarkably clear-eyed piece by Carl Cannon:
"It was just a car accident, really, albeit one involving alcohol, excessive speed, and the late-night machinations of a married man partying with an unmarried woman. Although traffic fatalities happen all-too-frequently in this country, the reverberations of this one reached far beyond the families of the driver who escaped without injury and the passenger who perished. There's no way to know for sure, but the accident at Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island on July 18, 1969 probably cost Edward M. Kennedy the presidency. It certainly cost Mary Jo Kopechne her life.

The one-car mishap was Teddy Kennedy's fault, of course, no one disputes that. And his actions that followed – not summoning emergency personnel who might have saved her life, the cover-up of the facts, not even reporting the accident until the following morning – likely would have landed a man without political connections in prison. That thought has stuck in the craw of Kennedy critics and assorted conservatives for forty years. It was heartbreaking for her family and friends to experience the loss of a lovely, devout, and socially committed 28-year-old woman. For millions of Americans who never knew her, the tragic incident has fed a festering cultural grudge.

The idea that Edward M. Kennedy could be a viable national politician – let alone a much-admired and lionized political figure – has convinced millions of everyday citizens and succeeding generations of conservative activists that among the elites of academia, politics, and the media two standards of behavior exist: One for liberal Democrats and another for conservative Republicans. Along with sweeping changes in immigration law, soaring oratory, and strengthening the nation's social safety net, this reservoir of class resentment is also part of Kennedy's legacy.

Liberals in the media pretend not to see this. Or rather, they blame those who feel aggrieved. This very morning, my old friend James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly employed the usual euphemisms about Kennedy's behavior in his post – and then launched a preemptive strike against anyone who might view Teddy's life with gimlet eyes. "A flawed man, who started unimpressively in life -- the college problems, the silver-spoon boy senator, everything involved with Chappaquiddick -- but redeemed himself, in the eyes of all but the committed haters, with his bravery and perseverance and commitment to the long haul," Fallows wrote.

I like Jim Fallows, and stand in awe of Kennedy's effectiveness as a politician myself. But hold on a minute: The "college problems" were serial cheating. The "silver-spoon" stuff, I suppose refers to, among other things, the speeding and reckless driving that ominously foreshadowed Chappaquiddick. And that phrase "redeeming himself in the eyes of all but the committed haters," well, the problem with that is that to many people, redemption implies that a sinner has come clean.

Certain theological questions present themselves here, ones that are well above, as our president memorably said, the "pay grade" of most political writers. One of them is whether one can completely atone for a sin that is not truthfully confessed. Kennedy did say, in a wrenching 1976 interview with the Boston Globe, that his behavior that night was "irrational and indefensible and inexcusable and inexplicable."
Americans are free to furnish their own adjectives. Here is what is known:

On July 18, 1969, Kennedy and five other men – all but one of whom was married – met six single young women who had worked on Robert Kennedy's 1968 campaign. The women were known as the "Boiler Room Girls" for their tireless work in a windowless office in that ill-fated campaign. All of them, especially Teddy, had grieved hard when Bobby had been killed 15 months earlier. Although he was only 37 years of age, Teddy had lost all three of his brothers; two to assassin's bullets, one in the skies over England in World War II. Mary Jo Kopechne had felt gut-shot by Bobby's murder, too. For all of those people who met in the cottage in the island off Martha's Vineyard, getting together must have been cathartic.

Sometime late at night after an evening of drinking, Kennedy and Kopechne went for a drive in his 1967 Oldsmobile. Kennedy placed the time he left at 11:15 p.m. A local cop who believed he saw the car put the time at 12:40 a.m. – significant at the time because Kennedy testified that he was taking Kopechne to a ferry that ran to Edgartown, a ferry that stopped running at midnight. In any event, Kennedy wasn't headed toward the ferry landing when his car careened off Dike Bridge and into the inlet known as Poucha Pond; they were heading toward the beach.

Kennedy got out of the car alive, Mary Jo Kopechne did not. He said he dived down several times to try and rescue her, before walking back to the cottage where his friends were staying. To do so, he passed at least four houses with working telephones, including one 150 yards from the accident with a porch light on – as well as a firehouse with a pay phone. When he got to the cottage, none of the women were told what happened. According to the 763-page coroner's inquest, this was just the first of a series of appalling decisions Kennedy made that night, decisions that stretch credulity.

First of all, he and two of the men, a cousin named Joseph Gargan and a friend named Paul Markham say they returned to the bridge to try and rescue Mary Jo. (If the Edgartown constable who believes he saw Kennedy was accurate, this was impossible.) Next, the men claimed that they drove Kennedy to the Chappaquiddick ferry landing, where he told them not to tell the other women for fear that they would try to rescue Mary Jo – at great peril to themselves – and assured them that he would report the incident to authorities. Then, the men said, Kennedy dove into the water and swam across the sound to Edgartown himself.

Upon reaching Edgartown, Kennedy went to his room at a local inn – it was now 2:25 a.m., -- where he spent the night, and the following morning engaged in small talk about sailing with a local yachter and agreed to have breakfast with the man when Gargan and Markham showed up about 7:30. They asked him who he'd called about the accident only to receive the astounding reply: no one. Kennedy explained it this way at the inquest: "I just couldn't gain the strength within me, the moral strength, to call Mrs. Kopechne at 2 in the morning and tell her that her daughter was dead." But he hadn't called the cops, either, and wouldn't until 9 a.m.

Not reporting a fatal traffic accident is a felony in most places. On Martha's Vineyard, if the driver is a Kennedy, it's not even a matter of official curiosity: The local police chief never even asked Kennedy why he waited nine hours to report what had happened. The state of Massachusetts, citing Kennedy's excessive speed on the bridge, suspended his license for six months. That was it."


Monday, July 29, 2013

Abraham Maslow -- "Psychic drabness beneath a pert exterior"

Here's an excerpt from an interesting article on Abraham Maslow ("hierarchy of needs") from the Fall 2011 edition of The New Atlantis:
In May 1945, tired of “fussing along for some years,” Maslow began in dogged earnest his formal investigation of optimum functioning, and started a GHB (Good Human Being) notebook. At first he thought that students would be the primary subjects of his study. Observing them in class, checking their emotional security evaluations, interviewing them, reading their memoranda of the interview, and conducting Rorschach tests were the basic procedures. Maslow encountered problems straightaway, by his own judgment. Among the prospects he picked many more girls than boys, and most of the girls he picked were good-looking; nasty, smug specimens often scored high on security; nearly every candidate pulled a pretty twisted Rorschach; whether American twenty-year-olds could even be GHBs was a problematic question. Most of his students, especially the women, disappointed him, with their psychic drabness beneath a pert exterior. “Their faces look so much more promising than they actually are. They’re all well enough adjusted, happy, psychiatrically untroubled, etc., but still they have no flame, spark, plan, excitement, goal dedication, feeling of responsibility.” He despised some of the kids for their numbing blandness: being well-adjusted to a stifling culture was often evidence of deep-rooted sickness of soul.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock -- T.S. Eliot

S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

. . . . .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

. . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep… tired… or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: "That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all."

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all."

. . . . .

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

You're the top -- Louis Armstrong (Cole Porter)

At words poetic, I'm so pathetic
That I always have found it best,
Instead of getting 'em off my chest,
To let 'em rest unexpressed.

I hate parading my serenading
As I'll probably miss a bar,
But if this ditty is not so pretty
At least it'll tell you
How great you are.

You're the top!
You're the Coliseum.
You're the top!
You're the Louvre Museum.

You're a melody from a symphony by Strauss
You're a Bendel bonnet,
A Shakespeare's sonnet,
You're Mickey Mouse.

You're the Nile,
You're the Tower of Pisa,
You're the smile on the Mona Lisa

I'm a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop,
But if, baby, I'm the bottom you're the top!

Your words poetic are not pathetic.
On the other hand, babe, you shine,
And I can feel after every line
A thrill divine
Down my spine.

Now gifted humans like Vincent Youmans
Might think that your song is bad,
But I got a notion
I'll second the motion
And this is what I'm going to add:

You're the top!
You're Mahatma Gandhi.
You're the top!
You're Napoleon Brandy.
You're the purple light
Of a summer night in Spain.
You're the National Gallery
You're Garbo's salary,
You're cellophane.

You're sublime,
You're turkey dinner,
You're the time, the time of a Derby winner.

I'm a toy balloon that's fated soon to pop
But if, baby, I'm the bottom,
You're the top!

You're the top!
You're an Arrow collar
You're the top!
You're a Coolidge dollar.

You're the nimble tread
Of the feet of Fred Astaire.
You're an O'Neill drama,

You're Whistler's mama!

You're camembert.

You're a rose,
You're Inferno's Dante,

You're the nose
On the great Durante.

I'm just in a way,
As the French would say, "de trop".
But if, baby, I'm the bottom,
You're the top!

You're the top!
You're a dance in Bali.
You're the top!
You're a hot tamale.

You're an angel, you,
Simply too, too, too divine,
You're a Boticcelli,
You're Keats,
You're Shelly!

You're Ovaltine!

You're a boom,
You're the dam at Boulder,
You're the moon,
Over Mae West's shoulder,

I'm the nominee of the G.O.P.


But if, baby, I'm the bottom,
You're the top!

You're the top!
You're a Waldorf salad.
You're the top!
You're a Berlin ballad.

You're the boats that glide
On the sleepy Zuider Zee,
You're an old Dutch master,

You're Lady Astor,
You're broccoli!

You're romance,
You're the steppes of Russia,
You're the pants, on a Roxy usher.

I'm a broken doll, a fol-de-rol, a blop,

But if, baby, I'm the bottom,
You're the top!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Summer Reading for College Guys -- Part II

I have already received a few comments about the Summer Reading for College Guys list that I posted on Monday. A couple of people noted the preponderance of fiction (10 out of 14 titles). So here's Part II, with a preponderance of non-fiction (14 out of 19 titles).

I make no claims that this is a "best books" list of any kind -- it's just a list of books that I have enjoyed and that I believe most male undergraduates (and many female undergraduates) would enjoy as well. I also think that they will feel good about having read them, unlike some time-wasting, platitude-ridden, ghostwritten memoir by an NFL coach. À chacun son goût.

1. With the Old Breed: On Peleliu and Okinawa, Eugene Sledge

2. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

3. My Early Life, Winston Churchill

4. Goodbye to All That, Robert Graves

5. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris

6. 1776, David McCullough

7. The Face of Battle, John Keegan

8. Citizen Soldiers, Stephen Ambrose 

 9. The Anatomy of Motive, John E. Douglas

10. Holidays in Hell, P.J. O'Rourke

11. Once an Eagle, Anton Myrer

12. Will, G. Gordon Liddy

13. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson

14. Hellhound on His Trail, Hampton Sides

15. Flashman, George MacDonald Fraser

16. Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl

17. Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington

18. I, Claudius, Robert Graves

19. Piece of Cake, Derek Robinson


1. Modern Times, Paul Johnson

2. The Civil War, Shelby Foote

3. The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Norwegian heavy metal musician arrested for "pre-crime"


Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2013

PARIS—French police Tuesday arrested Norwegian heavy metal musician and far-right extremist Kristian "Varg" Vikernes on suspicion he was preparing a mass killing, police said.

Police officers raised a red flag after Mr. Vikernes's wife legally bought four rifles, said Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor's office, whose antiterror division is examining the case.

French police had Mr. Vikernes under surveillance and had identified him as the author of aggressive racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic comments on Internet forums, said Ms. Thibault-Lecuivre. Mr. Vikernes has been living in France since 2010. "He is held on suspicion of preparing acts of terrorism," she said.

Mr. Vikernes's lawyer in Norway John Christian Elden said he was aware that Mr. Vikernes had been apprehended. He said Mr. Vikernes "has expressed extreme views on race mixing for several years, built on Norse teachings."

Mr. Vikernes's French wife, Marie, was also arrested.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls told reporters the police acted in a preventive way. "The couple undisputedly constituted a danger, now we must wait for the results of the investigation."
French authorities feared that the 40-year-old Mr. Vikernes might have been preparing a killing spree similar to the one carried out in Norway by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik in July 2011, a French police officer said.

Police searched Mr. Vikernes's home and found five guns, including the four rifles bought by his wife, and many boxes of ammunition, the police officer said. Mr. Vikernes is likely to be transferred to Paris later Tuesday from the town Brive-la-Gaillarde in central France where he was held after being arrested in a nearby village.

French police can hold suspects in terrorism cases for up to 96 hours before bringing preliminary charges. Mr. Vikernes and his wife haven't been charged.

A father of three, Mr. Vikernes was sentenced to 21 years in prison in Norway in 1994, the maximum penalty at the time, for stabbing his bandmate Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth to death a year earlier, and for setting several churches on fire. Mr. Vikernes was 21 years old at the time of the sentencing. He was released early from prison, as per usual Norwegian procedure.

Mr. Vikernes was one of many individuals to receive a 1,500-page manuscript from Mr. Breivik in July 2011, though he has railed against him, claiming that the mass killer, knowingly or not, worked for "the Jews."

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it didn't have any information about Mr. Vikernes's arrest. The Norwegian Police Security Service declined to comment.

For more on Mr. Vikernes' "pre-Christian" ideology, see this article from the International Business Times. Excerpt:

Vikernes has dubbed his extreme right-wing views “odalism,” which he describes as fiercely anti-modern, heavily based on pre-Christian pagan values, and openly racist. Vikernes’ ideology is largely based on pre-Christian Nordic and Germanic beliefs of honor and the fatherland, and he sees himself as constantly on the offensive against any beliefs deemed a threat to a pre-industrial European pagan society, including but not limited to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, capitalism and materialism. Several of Vikernes’ writings hint at the possibility of violent conflict with these forces, leading to his terrorism arrest.

For more on pre-crime and the false positive problem in massive data screening programs, see this article from The Atlantic. Excerpt:

The U.S. Department of Homeland security is working on a project called FAST, the Future Attribute Screening Technology, which is some crazy straight-out-of-sci-fi pre-crime detection and prevention software which may come to an airport security screening checkpoint near you someday soon. Yet again the threat of terrorism is being used to justify the introduction of super-creepy invasions of privacy, and lead us one step closer to a turn-key totalitarian state. This may sound alarmist, but in cases like this a little alarm is warranted. FAST will remotely monitor physiological and behavioral cues, like elevated heart rate, eye movement, body temperature, facial patterns, and body language, and analyze these cues algorithmically for statistical aberrance in an attempt to identify people with nefarious intentions. There are several major flaws with a program like this, any one of which should be enough to condemn attempts of this kind to the dustbin. Lets look at them in turn.
First, predictive software of this kind is undermined by a simple statistical problem known as the false-positive paradox. Any system designed to spot terrorists before they commit an act of terrorism is, necessarily, looking for a needle in a haystack. As the adage would suggest, it turns out that this is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Here is why: let's assume for a moment that 1 in 1,000,000 people is a terrorist about to commit a crime. Terrorists are actually probably much much more rare, or we would have a whole lot more acts of terrorism, given the daily throughput of the global transportation system. Now lets imagine the FAST algorithm correctly classifies 99.99 percent of observations -- an incredibly high rate of accuracy for any big data-based predictive model. Even with this unbelievable level of accuracy, the system would still falsely accuse 99 people of being terrorists for every one terrorist it finds. Given that none of these people would have actually committed a terrorist act yet distinguishing the innocent false positives from the guilty might be a non-trivial, and invasive task.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summer Reading for College Guys

Esquire magazine has a list of "75 Books Every Man Should Read" on its website. I have excerpted from that list the books that you really should read, as soon as possible. I think that every undergraduate (and particularly male undergraduates) would enjoy/benefit from reading these books. Let me put it this way -- if you don't take pleasure in reading any one of the following books, there's something lacking in you.

I'm serious about that last comment, by the way. Somehow people have been led to believe that their subjective response to a literary work is all that matters, and that if they do not like a book, well, that means that there is something wrong with that book. This is not so. If you read and do not appreciate a book from this list, then there is probably something wrong with you. I suggest that you seriously contemplate the defects in your intellect and/or character revealed by your reaction.

These aren't in any particular order -- for my personal favorites, start the list from the bottom up.

1. Deliverance, James Dickey

2. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien

3. Hell's Angels, Hunter S. Thompson
4. All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren

5. The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain

6. The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara

7. Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey

9. This Boy's Life, Tobias Wolfe

10. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

11. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John le Carre

12. The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe

13. American Tabloid, James Ellroy

14. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry


1. Dubliners, James Joyce
2. The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky
3. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
4. Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson
5. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
6. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

 Man Reading, John Singer Sargent

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rise of the Warrior Cop



On Jan. 4 of last year, a local narcotics strike force conducted a raid on the Ogden, Utah, home of Matthew David Stewart at 8:40 p.m. The 12 officers were acting on a tip from Mr. Stewart's former girlfriend, who said that he was growing marijuana in his basement. Mr. Stewart awoke, naked, to the sound of a battering ram taking down his door. Thinking that he was being invaded by criminals, as he later claimed, he grabbed his 9-millimeter Beretta pistol.
The police say that they knocked and identified themselves, though Mr. Stewart and his neighbors said they heard no such announcement. Mr. Stewart fired 31 rounds, the police more than 250. Six of the officers were wounded, and Officer Jared Francom was killed. Mr. Stewart himself was shot twice before he was arrested. He was charged with several crimes, including the murder of Officer Francom.
The police found 16 small marijuana plants in Mr. Stewart's basement. There was no evidence that Mr. Stewart, a U.S. military veteran with no prior criminal record, was selling marijuana. Mr. Stewart's father said that his son suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and may have smoked the marijuana to self-medicate.
Early this year, the Ogden city council heard complaints from dozens of citizens about the way drug warrants are served in the city. As for Mr. Stewart, his trial was scheduled for next April, and prosecutors were seeking the death penalty. But after losing a hearing last May on the legality of the search warrant, Mr. Stewart hanged himself in his jail cell.


Really dude? A machine gun? And do the cheesy moustaches serve some kind of tactical purpose?
 On a related note, here's a news story on home invaders pretending to be police.


Monday, July 22, 2013

H.M. (Henry Molaison) -- anterograde amnesia

This is a very well written and interesting review of a recent book on patient H.M. (Henry Molaison), whom you cannot help but to learn about in Intro Psych, Biopsych, Neuropsych, etc. Hint: He's the guy without the hippocampus who couldn't form new memories. See also this post, which suggests that HM's doctors probably caused his unnecessary brain damage..

Memory creates our identity, but it also exposes the illusion of a coherent self: a memory is not a thing but an act that alters and rearranges even as it retrieves. Although some of its operations can be trained to an astonishing pitch, most take place autonomously, beyond the reach of the conscious mind. As we age, it distorts and foreshortens: present experience becomes harder to impress on the mind, and the long-forgotten past seems to draw closer; University Challenge gets easier, remembering what you came downstairs for gets harder. Yet if we were somehow to freeze our memory at the youthful peak of its powers, around our late twenties, we would not create a polished version of ourselves analogous to a youthful body, but an early, scrappy draft composed of childhood memories and school-learning, barely recognisable to our older selves.
Something like this happened to the most famous case of amnesia in 20th-century science, a man known only as ‘H.M.’ until his death in 2008. When he was 27, a disastrous brain operation destroyed his ability to form new memories, and he lived for the next 55 years in a rolling thirty-second loop of awareness, a ‘permanent present tense’. During this time he was subjected to thousands of hours of tests, of which naturally he had no recall; he provided data for hundreds of scientific papers, and became the subject of a book (Memory’s Ghost by Philip Hilts) and a staple of popular science journalism; by the 1990s digital images of his uniquely disfigured hippocampus featured in almost every standard work on the neuroscience of memory. Since his death his brain has been shaved into 2401 slices, each 70 microns thick, compared in one account to the slivers of ginger served with sushi. Suzanne Corkin, an MIT neuroscientist, first met him in 1962 and after 1980 became his lead investigator and ‘sole keeper’. Permanent Present Tense is her account of Henry Gustave Molaison – his full identity can finally be revealed – and the historic contribution he made to science.
Corkin had a reputation for strict policing of access to Henry, a charge she happily concedes: ‘I did not want him to become a sideshow attraction – the man without a memory.’ After the death of his mother, his last thirty years were spent at a Connecticut nursing home in strict anonymity, with staff sworn to secrecy and filming prohibited. More than a hundred carefully screened researchers were admitted over the years to perform brain scans and cognitive tests, but were never told his name. Corkin’s lucid, well-organised telling of Henry’s story merges intimate case history with an account of the current scientific understanding and how it was reached.
Henry’s surgery was undertaken in an era of freewheeling experiment in pursuit of the idea that memories were indelible snapshots of sense experience, stored in chronological sequence like the frames of a celluloid film. Over the course of his decades as a test subject, the field was colonised by information theory, the processes of memory divided like those of a computer into encoding, storage and retrieval. Now the post-mortem scanning and mapping of Henry’s brain is exposing the artificiality of these divisions and revealing complexities that no computer can emulate.

Henry had his first epileptic episode in 1936, at the age of ten; by 1953 his seizures had become increasingly frequent and debilitating. His family doctor referred him to William Beecher Scoville, a leading neurosurgeon at Yale Medical School. When massive doses of medication failed to quell his attacks and EEGs revealed no obvious locus of brain damage, Scoville suggested a novel surgical procedure. Using a trepanning drill he had constructed himself from auto parts, he cut two coin-sized holes in the skull, ‘doorways to Henry’s brain’, and suctioned out most of his medial temporal lobes, the front half of the hippocampus and most of the amygdala. After recovery, Henry’s seizures were significantly reduced, but it soon become apparent that the operation had vacuumed away any recollection of his hospital stay, and indeed most of the significant events of the previous few years. Catastrophically, it had also created a global anterograde amnesia: the loss of the ability to form new memories of any kind.
The holes that Scoville cut to expose Henry’s brain to his instruments stand as a grisly metaphor for the science that underpinned the operation: small patches of illumination surrounded by an uncharted expanse of darkness. In 1953 the hippocampus was believed merely to support the sense of smell: its role in memory was unsuspected. Yet neurosurgery seemed to be banishing the darkness at an astonishing rate. The inspiration for Scoville’s work was the Canadian surgeon and researcher Wilder Penfield, who had pioneered surgical interventions for epilepsy at McGill University in the 1930s. Penfield had discovered that by moving an electrode over the brains of patients while they were conscious under local anaesthesia he could sometimes identify the source of their seizures. But the technique also produced some unexpected, even miraculous responses. As the electrode passed across the temporal lobes, patients would twitch, vocalise and describe strange sensations, and some would experience intense ‘flashbulb’ memories such as childhood scenes or long-forgotten songs.
By plotting the sites that provoked these responses, Penfield generated brain maps that led him to new theories of ‘functional localisation’. Lavishly funded, first by the grateful families of patients whose epilepsy he had relieved and later by the Rockefeller Foundation, he expanded from remedial surgery into an intoxicating programme of research, teaching and experiment. His operating theatre was customised with cameras and EEG facilities, and he worked intensively with his ‘memory patients’ to harvest their recollections and match them to the moment of their formation. All experience, he came to believe, was perfectly preserved in memory, and perfectly recoverable: a ‘library of many volumes’, organised in an orderly record along ‘the thread of time’.
Penfield’s work suggested to Scoville that Henry’s seizures might be localised in his temporal lobes, but it also exposed the risks of operating on them. By 1953 Penfield had established a standard procedure for epileptic patients: the partial temporal lobectomy, in which the cortex of the temporal lobe was removed along with deeper tissue from the amygdala and the hippocampus. The procedure’s success rate was impressive, but in two patients, ‘F.C.’ and ‘P.B.’, it had for some reason produced severe amnesia. Extensive cognitive testing on the pair had begun to sketch the role of the hippocampus in memory formation; but should these alarming and unpredicted cases have stayed Scoville’s hand? Corkin accepts that the dangers and abuses of psychosurgery were becoming more conspicuous by the early 1950s but cautions against condemnation with hindsight: ‘Scoville arguably saved Henry’s life, even if he took his memory.’
It seems Scoville’s judgment on himself was harsher. His grandson, writing about Henry’s life and death for Esquire in 2010, characterised Scoville in his early career as a risk-taker with a love of fast cars, a history of daredevil medical-school stunts, a disdain for Freudian theory and bottomless confidence that the brain sciences were on the point of overturning it: the stereotype of the postwar neurosurgeon. But he never repeated the procedure, and in later life admitted it had been ‘a tragic mistake’. By the 1970s he was arguing against neural implants on the grounds that ‘we are more aware of the disastrous effects that sometimes occur in neurosurgery.’
For the long remainder of his life Henry was blandly unaware of his own story. He would readily volunteer that he had ‘a lot of trouble remembering things’; if pressed, he might speculate that ‘I have possibly had an operation or something.’ His short span of consciousness led to repetitive behaviour – making the same observation repeatedly, or mechanically eating two lunches in a row – but his conversation was characterised by a gentle wit and quizzical, punning exchanges that seemed to test every statement for possible meanings. (When Corkin commented on Henry’s love of crosswords by dubbing him ‘the puzzle king’, he responded: ‘I’m puzzling!’) He had occasional episodes of frustration, anger or panic, but was usually good-natured and accepting of the scene around him. In many respects he displayed the serenity and detachment promised by the Buddhist ideal of living in the now, freed from regrets about the past or anxieties for the future. He was certainly more content than his most extreme opposite, Solomon Shereshevsky, the subject of A.R. Luria’s The Mind of a Mnemonist. Shereshevsky’s inability to forget became a life-destroying torment. ‘The trail of memory can feel like a heavy chain,’ Corkin observes, ‘keeping us locked into the identities we have created for ourselves.’ Henry was, by contrast, ‘free from the moorings that keep us anchored in time’, though Corkin also wonders whether his lack of anxiety and emotional churn might have been related to the partial loss of his amygdala.

It was fortunate that Henry’s condition allowed him to tolerate without complaint the lifetime of intensive testing that makes up a large part of Corkin’s book: physical scans that progressed from EEG to CT to MRI, and cognitive tests of everything from memory and attention span to reaction, IQ, image recognition, maze-learning, reflex conditioning, perceptual learning, pain tolerance and language fluency. Although he responded to each test as if it were his first, he may have developed a vague undertow of déjà vu; he once remarked to a researcher with characteristic drollery: ‘You just live and learn. I’m living, you’re learning.’ Yet some aspects of his inner life remained mysterious. Did he, for example, remember his dreams? He would often recount them if prompted on awakening, but Corkin suspects that they were confabulated: real dreams must have taken place beyond his thirty-second window of recall. EEG monitoring showed that he reported dreams from both REM and non-REM periods of sleep, and his brain damage may have meant that he never dreamed at all.
Unwittingly snatching ‘dreams’ from the recesses of his waking mind was consistent with the ways Henry, always intelligent and perceptive, became adept at filling the gaps in his memory with hunches and canny guesswork. Sometimes this would baffle his researchers: one day he astonished Corkin by knowing that he was in the MIT laboratories, only to reveal that he had deduced his location from a passing student’s sweatshirt. When asked a question beyond the reach of his memory, he would often pause and then reply, ‘I’m having an argument with myself’: a range of possible answers would come to him, whether from intuition, partial recall or informed guesswork, but he would have no means of deciding between them. Although he was unable to recall specific events, regular routines would prompt him in ways that eluded conscious recognition: walking a familiar route, he might turn the correct way without knowing he had done so. A situation that recurred often enough seemed to create a ghostly outline. In 1977, after the death of Henry’s father, a lab researcher noticed that he kept in his wallet a handwritten note to himself – ‘Dad’s dead’ – to anchor his recurring feeling of absence.
Over five decades, Henry established himself as the experimentum crucis for an emerging model of mind; as Corkin puts it, ‘the purity of his disorder made him a perfect focus for the investigation of memory mechanisms in the human brain.’ Time and again he provided proof that memory was a complex of circuits and systems, each underpinned by substrates in different brain areas. His short-term memory functioned normally, except that he lacked any means of preserving it; it could be extended briefly beyond its thirty-second span with tasks such as repetitions and calculations that used his working memory, or ‘mental workspace’. His episodic memory was almost non-existent even of his life before the operation: it turned out to be a bricolage of familiar routines, locales and characters rather than specific incidents. His semantic memory – facts about the world, as opposed to incidents in his life – was stronger: while he could not recall any of his childhood birthdays, he could rehearse the events of the Wall Street crash of 1929. He could acquire new forms of procedural memory such as motor skills, and adapted happily to using a walking frame in later life. He showed that declarative memory – the storage and retrieval of facts – was dependent on the hippocampus. Non-declarative memory – ‘knowing how’, rather than ‘knowing that’ – functioned independently of the temporal lobe structures he had lost.
Henry’s death in 2008 triggered an elaborately planned logistical operation. His body was transferred from its hearse to an MRI scanner, where a vast 11 gigabytes of brain images were taken, then rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital for autopsy, where Scoville’s trepanation holes were still faintly visible as the skull was lifted away from ‘the most famous brain in the world’. After 53 hours of dissection, live-streamed on the web, its slices were frozen and preserved in a block of gelatin for microscopic examination; a digital version rotates in high-resolution 3D on a dedicated website. But this neuronal level of resolution is no longer expected to hold all the answers. Wilder Penfield’s vision of each cell ‘containing’ a memory or percept has long been abandoned, and the computer-based model of domain-specific storage is increasingly qualified by the language of ‘emergent properties’ and the ‘system as a whole’. As Corkin observes, ‘we have learned – initially from Henry – that memory does not reside in one spot in the brain.’
In life, too, the world’s most studied memory retained its inscrutable aspects. From time to time Henry would inexplicably form new memories: ‘little islands’, as Corkin calls them, ‘like driftwood washing up from an empty sea’. He would suddenly know what contact lenses were, or recall that Skylab was ‘a docking place in space’ where people were weightless. These anomalies may perhaps indicate that the vestigial stumps of Henry’s hippocampi were occasionally able to flicker into life; or they may hint at unknown levels of neuroplasticity that allow the brain to reassign tasks from its damaged regions; or they may simply have been inspired hunches, arrived at in ways impossible to describe or repeat, and invisible to the finest biological scrutiny.
Henry Molaison was memory’s sacrificial martyr, though he remained largely unaware both of his own suffering and of the ways in which it was being turned to the common good. In life, he was a stranger to himself; in death, his brain is the closest that science approaches to a saint’s relic. The triumphant unveiling of memory’s secrets is inseparable from the double violation of his identity: first the act by which his memory was taken, and then the long process whereby it became the property of all the world but him. Since his death, Corkin tells us, ‘I have dedicated my work to linking 55 years of rich behavioural data to what we will learn from his autopsied brain.’ Her account is not sentimental. She celebrated his birthdays and treasured the craft works he gave her, while recognising that he could never have felt more than ‘a vague sense of familiarity for me’. When colleagues commiserated with her after his death she reminded herself that ‘my interest in Henry … had always been primarily intellectual; how else would I explain why I had stood on a chair in the basement of Mass. General, ecstatic to see his brain removed expertly from his skull?’

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies -- Edna St. Vincent Millay


Edna St. Vincent Millay

Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age
The child is grown, and puts away childish things.
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.

Nobody that matters, that is. Distant relatives of course
Die, whom one never has seen or has seen for an hour,
And they gave one candy in a pink-and-green stripéd bag, or a jack-knife,
And went away, and cannot really be said to have lived at all.

And cats die. They lie on the floor and lash their tails,
And their reticent fur is suddenly all in motion
With fleas that one never knew were there,
Polished and brown, knowing all there is to know,
Trekking off into the living world.
You fetch a shoe-box, but it's much too small, because she won't curl up now:
So you find a bigger box, and bury her in the yard, and weep.
But you do not wake up a month from then, two months
A year from then, two years, in the middle of the night
And weep, with your knuckles in your mouth, and say Oh, God! Oh, God!
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies that matters,
—mothers and fathers don't die.

And if you have said, "For heaven's sake, must you always be kissing a person?"
Or, "I do wish to gracious you'd stop tapping on the window with your thimble!"
Tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow if you're busy having fun,
Is plenty of time to say, "I'm sorry, mother."

To be grown up is to sit at the table with people who have died,
who neither listen nor speak;
Who do not drink their tea, though they always said
Tea was such a comfort.

Run down into the cellar and bring up the last jar of raspberries;
they are not tempted.
Flatter them, ask them what was it they said exactly
That time, to the bishop, or to the overseer, or to Mrs. Mason;
They are not taken in.
Shout at them, get red in the face, rise,
Drag them up out of their chairs by their stiff shoulders and shake
them and yell at them;
They are not startled, they are not even embarrassed; they slide
back into their chairs.

Your tea is cold now.
You drink it standing up,
And leave the house.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered -- Ella Fitzgerald

Lyrics by Lorenz Hart

Men are not a new sensation
I've done pretty well I think
But this half-pint imitation
Put me on the blink

I'm wild again, beguiled again
A simpering, whimpering child again
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

Couldn't sleep and wouldn't sleep
When love came and told me I shouldn't sleep
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I

Lost my heart, but what of it
He is cold I agree
He can laugh, but I love it
Although the laugh's on me

I'll sing to him, each spring to him
And long for the day when I'll cling to him
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

He's a fool and don't I know it
But a fool can have his charms
I'm in love and don't I show it
Like a babe in arms

Love's the same old sad sensation
Lately I've not slept a wink
Since this half-pint imitation
Put me on the blink

I've sinned a lot; I'm mean a lot
But I'm like sweet seventeen a lot
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

I'll sing to him, each spring to him
And worship the trousers that cling to him
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

When he talks, he is seeking
Words to get off his chest
Horizontally speaking, he's at his very best

Vexed again, perplexed again
Thank God, I can be oversexed again
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

Wise at last, my eyes at last
Are cutting you down to your size at last
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered no more

Burned a lot, but learned a lot
And now you are broke, so you earned a lot
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered no more

Couldn't eat, was dyspeptic
Life was so hard to bear
Now my heart's antiseptic
Since you moved out of there

Romance, finis, your chance, finis
Those ants that invaded my pants, finis
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered no more

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tibetan Sand Mandalas


I very much enjoyed reading this article on Tibetean Buddhist sand mandalas, exhibitions of which are now touring the U.S.

Until relatively recently, if you were not a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the chances of seeing a sand mandala were slim. Today, however, opportunities abound. In July alone, monks from the Atlanta-based Mystical Arts of Tibet will create shimmering, colorful sand mandalas in New York, California, Pennsylvania and Virginia. As I discovered earlier this year at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center of Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, even more entrancing than the end result is the three-to-five-day process: A slow-paced feast of religious ritual, symbolism, performance and temporal art.
It begins with sound: Preternaturally low, vibrating notes energizing the air like the complex tones of a pipe organ. They emanate from nine Tibetan Buddhist monks dressed in dark red and golden saffron, eyes lowered. Punctuated by the wail of horns and the clash of cymbals, their rhythmic chanting dispels harmful spirits and invites the blessing of the Buddha—for it is here that they will build him a palace.
When the senior monk, or vajra master, steps forward, he visualizes the symbolic rendering of that divine abode. The chanting then drops away, the horns, cymbals and drums are stored, and the monks embark on a transfixing exercise in memory, precision and what Buddhists refer to as mindfulness, a state of being present in the moment.
Each manifestation of the Buddha has its own particular design, and they always begin by drawing the axes in the four cardinal directions using chalked string that has been blessed. With large wooden compasses, small metal calipers, and lots of rulers and pencils, they then create an explosion of radiating spokes, overlapping circles, concentric squares and parallel lines. Just when the confusion seems overwhelming, a monk wipes away the excess chalk guides, and an elegant blueprint of the mandala emerges.

Next come slender metal funnels and pots of finely ground marble sand. White, salmon red, blue and black, orange and yellow—symbolizing the elements of water, fire, air and earth, as well as the four directions. Along with pots of green, the colors also represent the five aspects of our lives, Vajra Master Chungstan Rinpoche explains. The aspects are form, sensation, perception, response and consciousness, and "when they are in balance," he adds, "we are healthy."
The best way to appreciate the mandala is to stop in every day and linger. At first you notice the basic technique. The monks scoop up sand with the broad end of a funnel that has a ridged strip running down its length. When they're ready to "paint," they rub the strip with a thin metal rod, producing vibrations that cause a trickle of sand. When four monks are working together, it's like listening to a chorus of crickets.
At the Mattie Kelly Arts Center, a clever curator set up a table in another room where visitors could practice. Brilliant. It makes you appreciate the skill involved—monks typically need five years to master the technique and memorize designs. And the repetitive task makes you realize that some meditation is no more esoteric than bypassing the voices in your head in pursuit of the task at hand.
As the work progresses, note the symbols the monks paint around the central Buddha figure, how the background colors form a harmonious balance and denote cardinal directions. When they draw the palace walls, try in your mind's eye to see the T-shaped outcroppings as tall gates—the mandala may appear flat, but it represents a tall, multistory structure. Watch, too, how the design grows increasingly complex, how different colors interact, and how the layering of sand gives the surface three-dimensionality, like decorative frosting on a cake. And watch the monks: There is much to be learned from their teamwork.

For centuries, only the initiated were allowed to see such mandalas, just as only those with the requisite preparation can receive communion in the Roman Catholic Church. But in 1988, almost three decades after Chinese troops marched into Tibet, the Dalai Lama broke with tradition. He sent four monks to make a sand mandala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York as part of an effort to raise awareness about the culture, religion and plight of Tibet.
The ritual monks perform today is removed though not unmoored from its religious meaning and context. At initiations, the opening ceremony alone can last up to three hours. Here the opening lasts 30 minutes, and instead of being out of sight, the monks work like artists in an open studio: people wander in and out, snapping photos and exchanging comments. "We talk about creating mandalas for different purposes," says Rinpoche who, like all teachers, is traditionally addressed by his honorific alone. "This one is for cultural sharing," he explains, likening it to retreats; some are in isolation and silent, others communal and less strict. Truncated or not, however, this remains a spiritually charged activity. Monks always "follow the steps in the proper way," Rinpoche adds. "We believe that by seeing the mandala people will receive its blessing."
Once completed, the monks chant to invite the Buddha to enter. This is when, Tibetan Buddhists believe, the mandala is most powerful and beneficial. But, says Geshe Yeshi of the Mystical Arts of Tibet, "we don't ask the deity to stay forever." At a monastery, monks meditate upon it for several days, using it to explore the teachings of the enlightened mind. Here, it rarely lives more than an hour. Amid more chants that deconsecrate the mandala, the vajra master scores it, then another monk sweeps the sand into a swirl reminiscent of a galaxy: the Tibetan symbol of primordial energy and unity.
Later, as the master pours what is now just a grayish mix of sand into a nearby river, the mandala ritual yields its final lesson: The perceiving of impermanence, the Buddha taught, "removes and abolishes all conceit of 'I am.'"

 Carl Jung was a big fan of the mandala.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Brazilian Police Apparently "Take No Prisoners"

This is an eye-opening article on police killings in Brazil from the Wall Street Journal. Some choice excepts:
Brazilian "police kill more suspects than almost anywhere else in the world. Police in São Paulo state killed one suspect for every 229 they arrested last year, according to government figures, compared with one per 31,575 in the U.S. in 2011."
That sounds pretty bad. So who do more than half of Sao Paulo residents believe that police officers who are found to be members of grupos de extermino (death squads) should NOT be punished?
Paulistanos live on high alert when it comes to crime. Robbery-homicides have soared this year from already high levels, and newspapers here are filled with accounts tinged with vengeful brutality. In a new trend this year, three victims were set ablaze in separate crimes, apparently because they didn't have much cash. Regular newspaper fare relegated to the back pages: clean-out jobs by armed crews who take over entire restaurants, or even whole buildings, and rob everyone inside.

Few of these crimes are solved, while cases that are prosecuted can take years to come to trial. Criminals who are jailed go to prisons dominated by the Primeiro Comando da Capital, or PCC, a gang big enough to challenge the police head-on. Last year, the PCC put a bounty on police after officers killed a PCC leader. More than 100 police were killed.

The key fact about the graphic below is not the lack of correlation between number of homicides and number of justified police homicides, but rather that as recently as 2002, this one state in Brazil (Sao Paulo, population 40 million) has nearly as many annual homicides as did the entire United States (population +311 million).

We should hear more about this during the run up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero.
By the way, UFC fighter Paulo Thiago is a member of Brazil's "special police," which is why I always pick him to win his bouts.
"UFC welterweight Paulo Thiago comes into the UFC with an uncommonly unique background. With six years experience as a B.O.P.E. officer on the deadly streets of Brazil, hand-to-hand combat inside the Octagon is merely "fun and joy" for Thiago. The real danger is on the streets where he's conducted hostage rescues, bomb diffusions, gun seizures and drug busts.

So what is B.O.P.E.?

B.O.P.E. (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, Portuguese for Special Police Operations Battalion) is the elite special forces unit of the Military Police for the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Due to the nature of crime in favelas (Brazilian Portuguese for slum), B.O.P.E. units have extensive experience in urban warfare as well as progression in confined and restricted environments. They also utilizes equipment deemed more powerful than traditional civilian law enforcement. Utilizing more than 400 soldiers, B.O.P.E. is believed to be one of the most efficient military forces in the world.

Best said by Captain Wesley Santos, "When society needs help, they call the Police. When the Police need help, they call B.O.P.E. Thiago is a true B.O.P.E officer." Santos describes his best characteristic as being able to remain tranquil in dangerous situations."