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December 13, 2014

I’ll sing the anthem that banishes doubt
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:06 AM * 140 comments

I was all but crying with laughter after watching this video (via @mgedemin on Twitter). Astronaut Tom Marshburn has entirely forgotten about gravity—not as an intellectual concept, of course, but as an everyday physical reality. He unconsciously expects that an object placed midair will stay there. And when it doesn’t, his first searching glance is upward.*

In some ways, it reminds me of the excellent “Shtetl Days” by Harry Turtledove, with its subtle, clever examination of how practice shapes what we believe and who we are.

In other ways, it makes me ask again what habits of thought and behavior can make a police officer look at a person he’s supposed to protect and serve and see a demon. How many jokes, off-the-cuff comments, and casual slurs scoured those channels of his mind and created his immediate, unthinking reaction when the moment came?

And it makes me conscious of how much culture shapes a society’s attitudes toward torture: enabling it, believing it works, studiously ignoring it as long as possible, justifying it when it becomes unignorable. This is why all of the protestations that “this is not who we are” ring hollow: if it were not who we are, we would not have done what we did. Our unmindful behaviors reveal us.

But also, I think about a recent team-building session at work, which led me to explain how I use my blue light box to bridge the gap between developers and non-coders. My partner in the exercise, a fairly senior person in my company, has now asked me to come tell him more about the ways I experience these gaps. He wants to figure out whether they can be reduced.

Because the pen drops, whether you expect it to or not. The demon remains a person, and his community resents his death. The people you torture are thereby motivated to fight you. Actions have consequences.

And yet all is not lost. This may be who we are, but it is not who we must always be. We should choose our habits with care, for we will become them. We can be watchful and mindful and willing to change, aware that our beliefs and the actions that spring from them shape the world. This is a possible thing.

* Given that the channel is a satirical channel, this may be an act. I’d assumed the snarky link material was the channel’s contribution to the video, since there are so many context-dependent unconscious habits that we develop in our lives. But my point stands, even if this is an amusing riff on a human tendency rather than an expression of it.

Comments on I'll sing the anthem that banishes doubt:
#1 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 10:27 AM:

I'd love to hear more about how you use your blue light box to bridge the gap between developers and non-coders. (I apologize if you've already discussed this online and I missed it!)

Right now, my thoughts in response to this post are mostly about habits learned from families of origin, and how when I formed a new family with another person, both he and I had to learn how to become explicitly aware of the assumptions we were making, because they often turned out to be incompatible. Like, to take one example, I assumed that we would eat dinner together every night around 6 PM, and that we would both start considering dinner plans earlier in the day -- because that was the habit in my parents' house. Meanwhile, in his parents' house, everyone had always had widely varying schedules with work and school. One parent always worked second shift while the other usually worked first shift, the kids had after-school and weekend jobs plus clubs and things, and so forth. So once the kids got old enough to cook on their own, the assumption had been that everyone would fix dinner for themselves when they got hungry. Sitting down all together was more for special occasions, when everyone had off work/school. So he wouldn't think about dinner until he got hungry for it, close to 9 PM most days.

I felt hurt that he didn't care about sharing food and conversation with me. To me, it meant he must think of me as just a roommate, not a partner. Meanwhile, he wondered why I insisted on getting so formal about dinner all the time. Finally, I opened my mouth and said something about it, and we both started to realize the assumptions we were making.

It took time and introspection and communication, but we eventually developed new dinnertime habits that work for our household (as it is right now, anyway). We don't get to eat together every night, and some nights we eat late, around 9 PM. And we often eat and watch Netflix/Hulu and discuss the TV show we're watching, rather than sitting more formally at the table. (I'm OK with this because we're still having a conversation. In fact, we often pause the show for long stretches of time while we converse.) But now we both think in terms of planning for dinner together.

In this case, habits and assumptions changed because I -- we both -- cared about the other person and tried purposefully to remain open and empathetic, even when we really didn't understand. I think there's a lesson there.

I also think about David Bohm's book "On Dialogue," which I highly recommend. It gets at a lot of these themes.

#2 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 11:17 AM:

The thought manifests as the word,
The word manifests as the deed,
The deed develops into habit,
And the habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its way with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings.

#3 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 11:27 AM:

An account of how one person stopped favoring torture

As for who we are, there's a lot more in popular culture about torture working than about it not working or about the damage it does.

There's the idea of making hard choices and breaking the rules, but is there any fiction about someone getting good results for their own side by being kinder than the rules permitted to a prisoner?

More generally, I'm pretty sure that what fries me about arguing about torture is dealing with people who are so obviously wrong. They seem so intractably cruel and stupid, and I feel angry and hopeless and give up.

I'm pretty sure the solution is to not expect to win in the short run, but I'm not sure how to do that on this particular issue. Thoughts?

#4 ::: Nickelby ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 12:09 PM:

It's been 15 years since our Camelot,the SFRT, fell to the orcs.There was a long fantastic thread on "tribes". I've often wished I'd saved it or someone else had and made it available. It would be a great asset to many discussions here.

Where's Yog?

(Only cell phone for access atm & typing is the pits.)

#5 ::: Stephan ZIelinski ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 02:08 PM:

On the point of popular positive depictions of torture: Matthew Gault - Face It, We Loved Watching Torture.

#6 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 02:22 PM:

I note with annoyance that not only does Instructables require signup for commenting, but when I tried to sign up, it insisted my CAPTCHAs didn't match, despite there being no CAPTCHA box visible on the page.

This is happening to me more often over the past year or so, and it's getting annoying. I'm shy of signing up for accounts at new sites anyway, and when I decide to go through the trouble and it won't let me (most likely because I'm on a minority OS), that seriously undercuts my interest in participating.

The comment I wanted to respond to was "And are these LEDs on the ribbon simply LEDs that are blue in color? Not some high-techy kind of light?" I'm old enough to remember when blue LEDs were exotic....

Way back at my first Boskone, the inimitable "Hobbit"¹ had a box with a blue light on it, which he called a "nerd detector". Anytime someone asked him "oh wow, is that a blue LED?", he'd thumb a hidden switch to make it go BEEPBEEPBEEP -- the box had successfully detected another nerd.

¹ Alan Walker -- his mother Barbara Walker is better known in knitting and Pagan circles.

#7 ::: kimiko ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 02:24 PM:

I am reminded of the saying "if you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other."

Also, I'd love to hear the gap bridging story. Anyone's gap bridging stories, for that matter.

#8 ::: JaniceG ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 03:13 PM:

While I certainly agree with your overall point, I'd like to clear astronaut Tom Washburn's name: if you read the explanatory note that accompanies this video on YouTube, it says ""This is JSC" is a satirical series created by students at NASA Johnson Space Center."

#9 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 03:58 PM:

"Stupid gravity"


#10 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 04:10 PM:

The description of the clip is "This is JSC" is a satirical series created by students at NASA Johnson Space Center." So it was staged for effect? Still funny though, and I agree with the sentiment of the top post. If you act the part of an asshole long enough, you become an asshole. Even if you don't, to the outside observer there is no difference.

So for me, there is importance to what the concept of a "cop" is, especially to the police officer. I cannot help but look at our own police force in New Zealand who generally adhere to the Peelian Principles. They also don't patrol armed though have ready access to sidearms (in the car lockbox), tasers & pepper sprays. Very different to the (undoubtedly biased) view I get of US police.

#11 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 04:54 PM:

The tribes of science fiction talke/essay I think is Teresa's.

The default of most people is "Everyone else is just like me in size nd shae nd ttitudes and values and gender orienttion ..." (Note I wrote most, not all)>

I get reminded of constantly with what I call "the curse of the six foot male" -- the assumption that default adult person person in the USA is a hetero six foot tall white male in the USA who is interested in sports and mentally undresses women with any clothing on and never does any cooking or cleaning around the house as an ordinary daily task.... The height of signs, of sinks and mirrors and paper towel dispensers and shelves and glass jars in grocery aisles in supermarkted and the height of checkout counters and credit card reading and signing the electronic thing machines.. ao cmofrotable for a six foot male. My reaction gets murderous at times from not being able to reach, see, access, read, etc., and being pisses as water running down my arms trying to get a paper towel to dry my hands!

I do not own a US car. I do not WILL NOT buy a vehicle I can't see over the dman dashboard of, or out the rear window of. And anyone designeing cars that don't fit people my size [ill-wishing deleted].

#12 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 05:47 PM:

Shtetl Days was good; thanks for mentioning it. It made me think of the one scene I always remember from Kingsley Amis's Russian Hide And Seek, which is set in a far-future 21st-century England long occupied by Russian forces ("Get yourself another crystal ball!"—M. Thatcher); a long-retired vicar of the defunct Church of England reenacts an 'authentic' religious service. It's being staged for irreligious cultural-historical reasons but he's taking it absolutely seriously.

#13 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 06:00 PM:

"Shtetl Days" was a good story, but rather hard on my suspension of disbelief-- I think the Nazis would have required the "Jews" in the reconstruction to match anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Paula, there's one thing that doesn't accomodate 6-foot males (or females)-- typical airplane seats.

#14 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 06:03 PM:

Stephan, #5: That's absolutely damning, and should be made as viral as possible in the hopes that perhaps a few of the people who most need to read it* will actually do so.

There was an episode of early-season Bones (which would have been around 2005-2006) in which FBI agent Booth went off on an absolute tear about torture being something the bad guys do, and not something our government should be doing. But that was like Sisyphus, trying to roll his rock uphill.

Paula, #11: I honestly don't think the default person is assumed to be 6 feet tall. I'm only 5'6", and things designed for a 6' person would certainly give me problems -- that 6" (15cm) of height really does make a difference.** But I find that kitchen counters, checkout counters, paper-towel dispensers, etc. are well-enough adjusted to my height that I don't have any issues using them. And while I've encountered cars I couldn't see out of, that certainly doesn't encompass all of them -- although the "high rear wedge" fad in the early 2000s came closer than most design flaws.***

* Which maps rather nicely to my bitter characterization of "people who think 24 is a fucking documentary".

** I'm forever grumping at my partner, who is 6'3" and routinely uses the top-level kitchen shelves for storage of everyday-use items which I then can't reach. To me, that's where you put things like the special holiday serving dishes!

*** Driving a Daewoo Nubira rental in 2002 was Interesting, in the "bad language" sense.

#15 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 06:14 PM:

Those top shelves were where my mother stored the 'best' stuff, the bone china and etched glass that had been her mother's. (Bavarian bone china, at that. Nice stuff, white with gold trim.)

#16 ::: Jenavira ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 06:20 PM:

There's an episode of Criminal Minds where they discover the location of a ticking bomb through careful application of food and water, concessions for prayer, polite conversation, and allowances of dignity. (It won an award from Human Rights First for portraying effective, humane interrogation methods. It was, alas, a drop in the bucket.)

#17 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 06:33 PM:

Jenavira@16: I remember my great enjoyment of NYPD Blue fifteen or so years ago being tempered frequently by having to watch Sipowicz slapping a suspect around yet again.

#18 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 07:49 PM:

I'm not fond of the argument that if we damage our society to stop terrorism, the terrorists won. To the extent that I understand Islamist terrorists, they don't care if the US becomes a non-Islamic dictatorship.

If that happens, it isn't that they won, it's that we lost.

#19 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 08:44 PM:

There are two processes going on. One is the process by which black people are seen as superhuman demons (the 'bulking up to run through the gunfire' trope is part of of that; and I dearly wish that the murdering thug Wilson had been haled before a court to explain just how Michael Brown was going to do that). The other is a concomitant process of subhumanisation -- being a demon is as much about being less than human as it is being more than human. If we can characterise members of group X as demonic then we read them out of the human race and we can treat them as not even entitled to the kinds of respect which we would give to the categories of beings that my father called 'dumb animals'.

It isn't only white people who do this. The Yaqub Theory, promulgated by the Nation of Islam, categorises white people as subhuman, demonic beings.

It is time, I think, to go back to Hannah Arendt, who stated that liberation begins with each of us asserting our humanity against the pressure of totalitarianism. We have, also, to assert our humanity against those who want to dehumanise some of us in order to create solidarities of the rest. That's the old totalitarian impulse in, well, post-modern dress.

#20 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 10:03 PM:

Nancy, #18: This seems to be a classic example of "a difference which makes no difference is no difference". If we destroy our own freedom in the name of "anti-terrorism" -- if we become what we hate and fear -- then the terrorists have indeed won, because the America they fought against is no more. How it happens is irrelevant.

#21 ::: Cynthia W ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2014, 11:59 PM:

Paula @11, Lee @14 - I believe most things in the US are optimally designed for 5'8" to 5'10" - essentially the average-to-slightly-tall American male. Once you break 6', things start getting awkward again - showers are too short, things start impacting with your head if you don't watch out, and things like that.

#22 ::: Paul Lalonde ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 12:17 AM:

What frightens me isn't that that we have choose our habits well, but rather that, like Tom Marshburn, we frequently don't have the choice of our habits because our environment forms them.

Stupid racism.

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 05:44 AM:

So. The story of the light box as a builder of bridges.

Before my recent apotheosis to the role of Product Owner, I was a QA Lead. That means that I was responsible for designing the tests to be done on software, overseeing the execution (or doing the tests, depending), and signing off when a release was ready to go to production. By this time last year, I was QAL for seven teams. As a consequence, I did very little of the testing and went to a lot of meetings. But I still had to sign off.

One of our offices has a very...developer-led culture. One consequence of this has been a tendency to place People Who Don't Code lower on the social hierarchies than people who do. For example, teams collected metrics about what proportion of developer time was spent on jobs they didnt' like (their Brown Score). At the time of this story, I had spent a good year trying fruitlessly to get rid of a task that was not at all in my role, ate time I didn't have, and made me miserable and exasperated. But that was not a metric that was collected or valued.

The problem with being lower on an unstated social hierarchy is that marginal judgment calls will reliably go against you. It's an excusable form of reinforcement. The effect of this on individual factors in signoff decisions can safely be left to the imagination of the reader. (To be clear, it was not everyone, nor all the time, but when a decision was marginal or questionable, that was one of the sharks that was in the water.)

So I went to that office in the depth of winter, and I brought my little blue light box with me. And two or three developers came by and asked what it was. I explained it in engineering terms: here was the problem (insert science); here's how I tackled it; here are the weaknesses in the initial solution; here's how I overcame them; here are my plans for the next iteration. I'd disassemble it and point out the component pieces, and mention that I'd learned to solder from YouTube to complete the project.

And suddenly the fricitonal coefficient of my work there dropped drastically. Because I'd demonstrated that I thought like they did. I was part of the tribe.

#24 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 07:45 AM:

I'm not sure whether this link fits better here, or in the Open Thread.

How modern art became trapped by its urge to shock, an article on the BBC website. It's talking about the difference between lies and fakes, and about the way so much of the worthiness of recent art seems to depend on the approval of the critics. Of course, a lot of classical art had a pretty heavy dose of symbolism there, but you could admire the craft of the artist even if you didn't spot the memento mori. There's something to those geometric patterns of Mondrian (and he had the skills to paint realistic art), but so much is lost in the pictures of the works in a gallery which we see. Our view of art, visual and otherwise, gets filtered before we can see it.

And, going on from that, A Point of View: The strangely enduring power of kitsch. We're being told what is bad, with some reason, but, when you think about it, that definition of "kitsch" would apply to pretty well all the book covers we see. I can just remember more abstract SF covers from the Sixties, and then there were a lot of Chris Foss spaceships.

I wonder what cover you would put on Ulysses. Isn't a part of the point of the book that Leopold Bloom is a depiction of a particular viewpoint of reality. I don't think you could just pick a picture from an image library, but would a realistic painting of a man of 1904 Dublin really be kitsch in that context?

No, it's not Stranger in a Strange Land, but I happened to see some of the old covers today. They're not abstract, they're not outright unrealistic in that faces and figures are still recognisable as faces and figures, and they fit with the novel.

Do those two articles talk about the extremes? There's another one due next weekend; will it deal with the middle ground?

#25 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 08:43 AM:

Abi @ 23... So you actually blinded them with Science. Science!

#26 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 09:26 AM:

About Mondrian and his ability to be realistic: I chanced randomly upon a piece of his between the two while walking through an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was a small painting, maybe 6" in its long axis, landscape-oriented, showing a bucolic sort of scene (thatched cottage, hay pile, tree; one of Those).

What gripped my attention was that it was entirely in tones of slightly-orangey yellow and electric, actinic pale purple.

The lines vibrated. It looked like a weird Instagram filter, but he'd painted it. I was riveted.

Unfortunately, I can't find anything of his from that period online; all the images are either from before it (more realistic color choices) or after he's gone full-abstract. The Art Institute doesn't offer it on a postcard/umbrella/plaque/necktie, either.

#27 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 11:16 AM:

I remember in my art-appreciation class, seeing a slide of one of his not-quite-abstract paintings of a blooming tree: grayed-pink and grayed-blue and near-black for the tree trunk and branches. (I also remember having to read some of his philosophical writing on 'plastic art' and 'pure plastic art'. That was not fun.)

#28 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 12:10 PM:

Dave Bell #24: My own thinking is that "kitsch" properly refers to a reaction -- specifically, the response to an over-familiar (but not otherwise objectionable) stimulus. Thus, simplified and/or conventionalized images of children and animals are kitsch because we've all seen a million of them in similar styles.

But this response can also be complicated, as when when an artist mixes new material in with elements known to provoke the kitsch reaction.

That statue of MJ and Bubbles is a nice example, or there's a book I saw a while back whose cover portrayed Lincoln in the style of saintly iconography. (Not ironic -- IIRC, the title was something like "Lincoln: The Good Man". Alas, the book was in poor enough condition that it got tossed.)

Of course, trying to provoke particular reactions, including setting up internal conflicts in the viewer, is a well-established game in art, enough so that many artists play it without quite realizing it. On one hand, Worhol tossed a few new pieces to the game with malice aforethought, and that duly exploded over the landscape. But on the other hand, consider poor Jackson Pollock, channelling some inchoate intuition into works that move without speaking, based on visual principles that wouldn't be properly understood until decades after his death.

#29 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 02:39 PM:

Dave Bell @24: I continue to recommend Howard S. Becker's Art Worlds as an analysis of how things come to be called "art." It's a communal process. And while there are a lot of covers that appear mimetic on SF, there's long been a tradition of not-really-mimetic artwork on SF books: Jack Gaughan, Paul Lehr, Richard Powers, Kinuko Craft, Leo and Diane Dillon.... sometimes, I think we decide that Chris Foss spaceships are "realistic" because they're drawn in a photorealistic style, not because of their content (similarly with Chesley Bonestell, if you want to look back).

Looked at from a design sense, Mondrian's linear paintings are definitely abstractions from older styles of painting: the areas defined represent points of interest within other paintings, and so are in one sense a precis of another work, with the distractions removed. Figuring that out made his work much more accessible to me.

And the Dadaists are very much worth mentioning here, so fish.

#30 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 04:17 PM:

I do notice, reading that second article, that he doesn't actually define "kitsch" in anything other than a subjective way -- kitsch is entirely in the eye of the beholder. And he really dances around the definition: it's not explicit in any usable form. It's pornography all over again (and most porn is clearly kitsch, but some isn't for some people).

#31 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 07:24 PM:

Tom Whitmore #30: Well, yes. "kitsch" is one of those ideas that is usually treated as if it were a primary perception, but in fact is defined by "collective opinion", which in turn boils down to social negotiation and flocking.

#32 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 07:34 PM:

The astronaut forgetting about gravity is not a prank video or any kind of gag.

I know a guy who used to work at NASA/Johnson Space Center and he mentioned this habit after debriefing a flight crew. There's a reason the guy in the video is holding a stout plastic spill proof cup. All astronauts do this. It takes them a while to adjust, too. The wife of one, in an interview about the spouses of astronauts, mentioned her husband trying to move their sleeping pre-teen by pinching the kid's shirt between a finger and thumb and lifting gently.

It's a learned reflex. The more they switch between full and micro gravity, the easier they remember how to act in gravity.

#33 ::: Robert Glaub ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 08:06 PM:

The reason I quite the Republican Party was over their glorification of torture. To them it became a manhood contest. A patriotism test. If you were against torture you were unpatriotic and pro-terrorist. I am disheartened as to how many so-called born-again Christians are in favor of torture.

What many people do not know. What they don't want to know. Is that the FBI, using standard interrogation techniques, got more and better information out of suspects than the CIA did using torture.

#34 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 09:42 PM:

An older version of the astronaut conundrum: a widespread story about Harry Stubbs (author Hal Clement), who learned to fly (WWII bombers) before he learned how to drive, reports that he said learning to drive was difficult because he kept trying to pull back the steering wheel to get over hazards. I have my doubts about this story (I never thought to ask Harry about it), but it's a good story....

abi @ 23: a fascinating story. ISTM that developers with their heads outside their ventral orifices would value product input from someone who \doesn't/ think like them; at times in my career, I felt that getting fellow developers to look at how users would react to the developers' enhancements was indeed Sisyphean. But office cultures can bend ... interestingly.

#35 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2014, 09:51 PM:

CHip @34: Jay Freeman, a small-plane pilot, told me about doing the pull-back-on-the-wheel trick while going home from an aerobatics run. He noticed it wasn't working in plenty of time, but still -- it's a genuine problem.

#36 ::: Susana S. P. ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 08:22 AM:

Dave Bell@24: Do those two articles talk about the extremes? There's another one due next weekend; will it deal with the middle ground?
I read those articles as talking from the extremes: though he nods to the genesis of modernism as seeking a positive, his whole language is one of a person standing themselves against a coterie of fakery-endorsing, and the fakeness is just assumed. I do hope the next, which is about finding the genuine amid the fake, will do less of that. It's a genuinely interesting and important problem, as is that of originality in pursuit of itself.

I've been hanging out with a bunch of (incredibly well-intentioned) students and teachers of modernist and contemporary poetry, who couldn't be farther from Scruton's uncharitable image. It's hard to get them to talk about fakery and fraud, but that's a problem of the critical discourse, and mostly born of openness and other admirable positions.

And they, too, can be annoyingly ungenerous in their depiction of more traditional forms of poetry as they worship at the altar of openness and freedom .

(In tiny gap-bridging gestures I've made, I've been acutely aware of fighting the reactive urge to mock and stereotype myself.)

So what I'm thinking, from that and the great stories and talk here, is that maybe the thing is to think "that's not who I want to be", and that the largest gaps are often on the inside.

#37 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 11:37 AM:

I've been thinking a lot about the way so much political discussion is focused on generating outrage. (The whole genre of blog posts that amount to "get a load of this idiot" or "get a load of this evil bastard" exists for just this purpose.) I wonder if that's teaching people, especially day-to-day involved political people, to react to the other side with outrage and derision.

And that basically kills any possibility of actual discussion, or finding common ground, or changing anyone's mind, or learning anything. It's a way that we've found to make ourselves dumber and meaner. And yet, it also broadly pays off--the "get a load of this idiot" genre is a pretty good way of quickly writing a political blog post, much easier than actually engaging with a different opinion. It's entertaining to get mad at someone for whom you're not required to have any sympathy because they're on the other team and the other team is evil evil evil.

#38 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 11:40 AM:


Yeah, the questions "does torture work?" and "is torture morally acceptable?" have become questions about political identity--who's side are you on? And that's always a disaster--no moral or factual question can be answered by deciding who's for and against it.

For some subset of people, God help us, the question of whether torture is morally acceptable has become linked to their identity as Americans, and to be anti-torture is (to those people) to be anti-America.

#39 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 12:50 PM:

albatross @38 I've been thinking a lot about the way so much political discussion is focused on generating outrage. (snipped) And yet, it also broadly pays off--the "get a load of this idiot" genre is a pretty good way of quickly writing a political blog post, much easier than actually engaging with a different opinion.

It's not just political discussion, although that's especially prone to it. I've been noticing it in online news headlines as they become more designed for click bait. Newspaper headlines have always been that way, but if you're online a lot you see far more of them now. Their purpose is seldom to engage the rational brain. It's to engage the Fear! Horror! Outrage! or perhaps Awwww, cute! emotional reaction. They don't want nuanced response, they want a visceral click-through. (Well, my viscera don't manipulate the track pad, for which I'm duly grateful, but you know what I mean.)

#40 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 01:08 PM:

"The people you torture are thereby motivated to fight you. "

To echo the findings at the link in the original post, note that imprisonment with Mandela on Robben Island was known as the Robben Island University.. all the future ANC leaders gathered together in one place, each lecturing to the others on their area of expertise. Outside of prison, all of these leaders would have been 'banned persons', forbidden to meet with more than one other person.

Apparently we constructed a similar ISIS University in the Iraq detention centers. The CIA knew all about Robben Island University but I guess its institutional memory failed.

#41 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 01:40 PM:

In SF, would the Doctor Who episode Dalek count as torture not working ? In it the Doctor and Rose take opposite approaches to a captive Dalek.

#42 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 02:57 PM:

In a discussion elsenet, in a private forum, I found myself saying something that I want to share here:

There's a concept in American law that might be useful in this discussion: evidence obtained by illegal methods is called "the fruit of the poisoned tree", which makes it inadmissible. Information obtained by torture is even more poisonous -- we sweeten it with justifications, and that makes it so much more tempting to eat it again. And that encourages others to try it as well.

I'm a pragmatist on a lot of levels -- and torture makes no pragmatic sense, if you talk to professional interrogators. It works so much better in movies and on TV -- but those interrogators have the author on their side. In real life, we don't.

#43 ::: Darth Paradox ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 03:40 PM:

Robert Glaub @ 33:

Do you have a reference source for the FBI's standard interrogation techniques being more effective? (Was that part of the CIA torture report? I haven't read the whole thing; the summaries I've seen say that the torture-derived intelligence was not generally reliable, but I hadn't heard about the comparison with the FBI approach.)

I don't doubt your assertion at all, but I'd love to have something specific to point to next time I'm arguing this with someone from that unfortunate subset albatross @ 38 mentions.

#44 ::: Robert Glaub ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 05:00 PM:

Darth Paradox #43

I've been in the IC for over 35 years. I've seen the reports. The FBI ones were good. The CIA's weren't. We didn't know how tainted the information was at the time because we didn't know about the techniques. Every single one of the CIA's reports had to be rescinded because it was found that the information they had gotten was unreliable.

Read Jane Meyer's book THE DARK SIDE that came out in 2008.

#45 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 05:55 PM:

Tom, #42: I would be very happy to see a ruling that information obtained by use of torture is inadmissible (in any context that applies)! Unfortunately, what we're seeing a lot of is people arguing that the "poisoned tree" rule should itself be rescinded, especially in cases where someone who "got off on a technicality" goes on to commit more crimes.

"If we'd only been able to pay attention to that thrown-out conviction" is the whine -- or sometimes "he'd have been off the street if they hadn't let him off on a technicality" -- but that's approaching the situation from the wrong side. The correct complaint is "if that prior conviction had only been clean enough not to have been thrown out".

#46 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 06:07 PM:

I once had a colleague who is* an astronaut and talked about the training astronauts' partners got for after they returned. iirc you'd organize the house as if a very tall toddler was visiting for a few days:
* nothing interesting and breakable within reach.
* no spillable drinks
* no letting them hold small children or babies until they regravitated.

* -- "astronaut" is like "president" in that it's a title for life.

#47 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 06:16 PM:

David Harmon @28: But on the other hand, consider poor Jackson Pollock, channelling some inchoate intuition into works that move without speaking, based on visual principles that wouldn't be properly understood until decades after his death.

Say more about this please? I know about the fractal dimension, but I'm sure there's other stuff that comes into play. Pollock totally works for me (whatever the hell that means), but I still don't "get" Mondrian, or at least the abstract stuff.

"Art," is a very bizarre thing.

I'm not even of the "I'll know it when I see it" school, but there are...differences. There's a bakers-dozen art galleries along the Pearl Street Mall, and the "quality" of the art definitely sifts out, and seems (to my eye) to correlate with price. To the degree that I can tell the difference, there does seem to be a range in the quality of the workmanship, as well as a refinement of the vision. Beyond that, I couldn't tell you why a piece belongs in one gallery but not the next.

29 ::: Tom Whitmore @29: not-really-mimetic artwork on SF books

Except that, to my eye, the artists you cite (with the exception of the Dillons—and Craft, who's more fantastical in sensibility) read very much as "memetic," to me.

Victoria @32: It's a learned reflex.

Directly analogous to "sea legs."

Which is a remarkably compelling state of mind. When my buddy Pete and I were touristing around San Francisco one afternoon, we chanced upon a fountain which had a path of concrete posts, the tops just at the water line, which led under the arc of the waterfall. He couldn't walk on them, because his brain insisted that they should be floating, and they just didn't move right, and he got terribly dizzy every time he'd start across. I (not having been on a boat at all in over ten years, and then only briefly) had no trouble at all walking across the path—until he mentioned this problem. Whereupon my brain abruptly decided they should be floating, too, and I got dizzy trying to walk on them. Exceedingly weird experience.

CHip @34: learning to drive was difficult because he kept trying to pull back the steering wheel to get over hazards

I'm inclined to believe it, simply based on my experience switching between graphics softwares (esp. 2D vs 3D), and having to reset my navigation habits with every change. Sketchup has a particularly twisty effect on my brain.

#48 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 06:29 PM:

I had a time adjusting to a car with the stick on the dash, after 20 years of the stick on the floor. I still find myself reaching down, occasionally, 12 years after that change.

#49 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 06:36 PM:

So here's an interesting ruling (pdf). A managing director of a British investment bank has been found "not a fit and proper person" and barred from his profession...for habitually fare-dodging on the train.

Given the approach that the finance industry has taken to following the law when there's a [quid/buck/Euro*] to be made in breaking it, I approve. Too much time out of the gravity field of ethics and compliance and a person should not be handed a baby, you know?

(Don't pity Mr Burrows, who almost certainly will still have enough resources to limp along, or contacts to find some other role if he so desires.)

* I do wish people would hurry up with the slang for the Euro. I feel so formal referring to it by the same name in the parlour and in the den. Like going by one's middle name all the time.

#50 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 07:28 PM:

Jacque @47 (on artists) -- all right, how about if I say "representational"? Powers (except in his landscapes, which most people in the field who didn't go to the Worldcon where he was GOH haven't seen) is one of the least representational artists the field has ever seen. Here's a gallery of his work. The Ballantines took a big risk using his work on their early SF titles. Contrast with Ed Emshwiller (link may not work other than in Firefox -- warning), who was surrealistic in a realistic fashion.

#51 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 07:38 PM:

Cheering - because that kind of thing really should be stepped on.

#52 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 08:37 PM:


My understanding is that torture is inadmissible, and that this (along with our wiretaps without any of those bothersome warrant things) is one reason the last two administrations have been so careful not to let various terrorism suspects have real trials as opposed to military tribunals with ever-shifting rules and very limited public scrutiny. They have a lot of people that they're convinced are guilty, but they were led to the information that convinces them by illegal searches or torture and so they would not be able to get a conviction in a civilized court.

#53 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 10:11 PM:

Jacque@47: I'm inclined to believe it, simply based on my experience switching between graphics softwares (esp. 2D vs 3D), and having to reset my navigation habits with every change.

This brought up a brain-twisting memory for me: some years ago I went through a period of playing a lot of Descent (an early 3D first-person shooter from the point of view of a flying craft), using keyboard navigation. This was in alternation with programming work in Emacs, using the same navigation keys. I pretty much quit playing for good the day I switched into Emacs mode, hit the up arrow key, and saw the Emacs window narrow at the top as my vision automatically compensated for the keystone effect it expected from turning downward in Descent.

#54 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 10:38 PM:

albatross, #52: My understanding is that it's far worse than that -- that in fact, a number of those people are actually, provably NOT guilty of whatever they were "suspected" of having done. If they were allowed a real trial, this would inevitably come out, as would the fact that once their lack of guilt was established, they were (and are still) kept prisoner, in some cases for years. That's the REAL "ticking time bomb" for people who don't want to find themselves facing war-crimes charges.

#55 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 10:59 PM:

Have some very fine contemporary art by Bruce Pollock.

#56 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2014, 11:11 PM:

albatross@52: Most of them aren't even getting military tribunals. The laws there really aren't as loose as people expect, and most of the people tried in them got off, so they're instead just holding them indefinitely.

My first search found:

"Even though Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has held nearly 800 prisoners since being established 11 years ago, only seven individuals held there have ever been tried and convicted by a military commission. Only three are still in jail. Two of those were overturned and three more have already been released and deported to other countries. Six others, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was captured more than 10 years ago, still await their tribunals. Yet, the Justice Department claims to have over 300 prisoners currently serving sentences in regular U.S. prisons, with no deaths or escapes. Meanwhile, there are 166 prisoners currently at Guantanamo—and half are actively trying to kill themselves."

#57 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 12:47 AM:

Some of the prisoners at Guantanamo will never have trials, because they're no longer mentally capable of participating in their own defense, after being tortured. Khalid Sheik Mohammed is one of them.

#58 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 02:38 AM:

Jacque #47: Re: Jackson Pollock Say more about this please? I know about the fractal dimension, but I'm sure there's other stuff that comes into play. Pollock totally works for me (whatever the hell that means), but I still don't "get" Mondrian, or at least the abstract stuff.

Indeed, I am thinking mostly about the fractal dimension, which was defined well after his time. (I have a lot of background knowledge about art, and fractals for that matter, but I'm no expert on either.) Looking at a Pollock, I am "moved", in much the same way as by some natural scenes or objects. But the experience is completely averbal; it's not "like" any actual natural scene, it doesn't "remind" me of anything -- that's why I say it "moves without speaking". And that's its essential power, to provide a glimpse of the ineffable.

By comparison, my mother paints abstracts (in more conventional fashion), but her work does remind people of this or that -- aerial views of various landscapes, machines, creatures, whatever. And much as I love her, I have to say that her work doesn't have nearly that level of depth, of moving the viewer.

And the thing is, Pollock was doing this on purpose, with some sense of the effect he was trying for -- but still, hardly understanding what he was doing, and clearly working in a "non-ordinary state of consciousness". But that last part isn't unique to him as an artist, indeed it's a very old thing. Remember that the word "genius" originally referred to a possessing spirit, which the ancient Greeks said was sent by the gods to deliver inspiration. But such spirits also could bring madness.... From what I've heard of Pollock's life, I'd certainly call him "godridden" -- tormented by an inspiration beyond his own understanding, and compelled to somehow let it out into the world. Sometimes I wonder what he might have left us if he'd survived longer.

dotless ı #53: Sounds like a form of the Tetris Effect.

#59 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 02:42 AM:

PS: To compare Mondrian, he knew exactly what he was trying for, and explained it -- he was abstracting out the visual rhythm of formerly representational scenes. Of course, that makes his work somewhat opaque if you don't already look for visual rhythm in scenes.... ;-)

#60 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 04:09 AM:

David Harmon @58: I'd certainly call him "godridden" -- tormented by an inspiration beyond his own understanding, and compelled to somehow let it out into the world.

I have a model of "inspiration" as follows: the "ideas" are entities that live on some other, parallel plane that have (for whatever reason) a burning need/desire to instantiate on this plane. The only way for them to do this, however, is for an artist of some other kind of creative craftperson, to manifest them. The artist is, in this way, a kind of a door. And functional doors are apparently somewhat rare, given the fracas that tends to develop around one that is discovered to be "open." (In my own case, I commonly have to swat away five or six of the really aggressive ones before I can pick one and settle down to work on a piece of art.)

Elizabeth Gilbert has a wonderful TED talk on this topic.

Sometimes I wonder what he might have left us if he'd survived longer.

Though one wonders if he could have; genius has a way of vaporizing its conduit, when running full throttle.

#61 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 06:51 AM:

abi @23

Fascinating, and oh-so-familiar. One of the challenges of working in the finance function in Financial services is that everyone thinks they know your job better than you do, and that you're just a "back office" person, who ranks lower in the heirarchy. I found some conversations like this worked wonders:

Me: "I hear you're launching a new xxx fund"
Them: "Yes it's really great, and the business is going to do X, Y and Z and make A, B and C returns!"
Me: "Wonderful: I do have some concerns though..."
Them: "Oh yes? What [Thinks: what does this guy know about funds. Besides we've run it past all the lawyers and tax advisers]"
Me: "I think it meets the criteria for being a Variable Interest Entity under FAS 167 in US GAAP, and, as you've structured it, I think we might be in danger of being the primary beneficiary"
Them: "Sorry, I don't understand"
Me: "I think with the transfers into this structure, you may be about to put $25Bn of debt on the firm's balance sheet"
Them: [Oh shit: he doesn't just draw graphs of the P&L, I should have pulled him in earlier!]

New found respect then ensues...

#62 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 07:50 AM:

Jacque #60: Though one wonders if he could have; genius has a way of vaporizing its conduit, when running full throttle.

Or at least progressively damaging them -- note that his alcoholism arguably led to his death (drunken car crash), and he may have had other "issues" that would rate a diagnosis these days. But to the ancient Greeks, that would have all fallen under the heading of "genius": inspiration and madness intertwined. The alcoholism too -- Dionysius was a for-real god, and like the others could be "terrible" as well as kind. (terror -- the paralyzing awe and fear that mortals experience in the presence of a god).

#63 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 09:11 AM:

Just as an awful lot of specific dysfunctions (some of which are individually treatable/curable) concatenate into what used to be called "dying of old age," there are a raft of non-neurotypicalities and mental pathologies that people used to either self-medicate to greater or lesser success with the substances available to them, or die from.

It's awesome that we can get longer productive (creative) lifespans from, say, diabetics and the depressed than we used to, but it also tempts the non-affected to eyeball the expanding universe of "diagnoses" and "special cases" and feel daunted or disbelieving.

This leads to, "In MYYYY day, we ..." comments. Didn't get autism. Just sucked it up and carried on. Didn't give anyone trouble about "just one drink". Negotiated sexual needs very differently. Stoned the different to death ...

As we begin to see more carefully into the full range of human variation, society is shifting.

#64 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 09:55 AM:

Elliott Mason #63: Didn't get autism. Just sucked it up and carried on.

Or went off to live in the woods, or set up as a inventor/thaumaturge, or even got revered as a "wise child" sage. Or maybe they didn't carry on: Committed suicide, or got killed for offending someone important or for acting "witchy".

The exanding roster of diagnoses cuts both ways: There are diagnoses and sometimes treatments, but that also carves away at the territory that was accepted as "that's how they are". In some ways modern society has a much narrower standard for "normal" ("acceptable office behavior/appearance/performance"), and fewer hideouts and niches for the folks who don't meet the standard.

Autism is currently on the "good list" because of the connection to computers and other tech, but depression is still fighting for a place, and OCD has an even tougher row to hoe. Let alone schizophrenia, retardation, and other conditions that are commonly considered "broken people", whether or not they're treatable. Similarly, the response to drug (ab)use depends on whether your drug of choice is favored by the "right folks".

And then there's some diagnoses that barge directly into the traditional territory of moralism: Psychopathy, gambling or sex "addiction" (compulsion?), or some Personality Disorders (Narcissistic, Borderline, Peck's "Evil PD"). We're still figuring out how to respond sensibly to those....

#65 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 10:54 AM:

I do wish people would hurry up with the slang for the Euro. I feel so formal referring to it by the same name in the parlour and in the den. Like going by one's middle name all the time.

The alternative name for the euro (no capital E necessary) is, of course, the wallaroo. Really.

On the astronaut thing: I had a split second of the same thing, after doing a lot of scuba diving (as in many hours per day) - I woke up one morning when my alarm went off and tried to float upwards out of bed by inhaling deeply.

#66 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 10:54 AM:


My impression is that our society has moved toward one in which everyone is more likely to be categorized in various ways, and any weirdness goes into your permanent file. At the same time, we've broadly moved toward more centralized/top-down control everywhere--more decisions made at Corporate and fewer made by the local boss, with both good and bad consequences. And I think both of those lead to the drive to categorize people who would formerly have just been labeled as "a little odd" and left alone. There's a funny and complicated story in your permanent file (which tracks you from childhood and is sometimes even more or less accurate), and it needs an explanation. Someone in the HR department needs more documentation to explain why they should let you have a job your boss thinks you're qualified for, when you don't have the right resume for it.

#67 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 11:01 AM:

An interesting article by a law professor on some of the difficulties of teaching the law that applies to rape cases. Basically, discussion of these cases tends to be pretty hard on rape victims in the class, and tends to offend people left and right, and yet, it seems pretty important for folks studying criminal law to know something about the law in these cases.

I don't know enough about either law school or the relevant law to be entitled to an opinion about any of this, but it seems like an interesting problem, and one that probably has broader application. My guess is that in any society, there is a set of topics that are very hard to discuss. Sometimes, that isn't very important--it probably doesn't really matter all that much if the average elementary school teacher doesn't really understand evolution, say. Other times, that means that critically important stuff can't be discussed in public, because it upsets everyone and gets everyone angry and brings the trolls out of the woodwork. Think about the kind of frank discussions of sex, homosexuality, and condoms that were needed to respond to the AIDS epidemic--my guess is that one reason why we didn't respond more effectively, and why a lot of African countries responded *really ineffectively* early on, has to do with this phenomenon--those discussions were uncomfortable and awkward, and so didn't happen or didn't work very well.

#68 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 11:12 AM:


I wouldn't be surprised. I remember the weird public debate, early in Obama's first term, about whether KSM (the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks) could be brought to trial. There was this weird PR campaign from the right demanding that he not be brought to trial, and then a sort of capitulation by the administration, but the whole thing had a distinctly artificial flavor to me.

My guess then and now is that Obama and Holder, perhaps pushed by the CIA and others, decided that they didn't want to have to try KSM in civilian court, and then found a way to cave in to whatever protests were raised by the right. My best guess is that this was because a civilian trial would make it clear what kinds of things were done to KSM, but it's also possible that the evidence for him being the 9/11 mastermind is very weak. Lots of people staked a lot of their credibility on him being the 9/11 mastermind, and I would not be the least bit surprised if some of them were content to see a low-level nobody locked in Guantanamo forever rather than be embarrassed in public.

Indeed, the disclosures that have come out in the war on terror, from both the Bush and Obama administration, don't give a whole lot of support to any kind of faith in human decency on the part of the decisionmakers overriding their immediate interests. Perhaps in their normal lives, they aren't sociopaths, but their incentives reward sociopathic behavior where their exercise of power in concerned. And it's pretty plain at this point that they respond to those incentives.

#69 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 11:27 AM:


One reason to expect the FBI to be better at interrogations than the CIA is that they do a lot of them in conditions where later, there's some reasonable procedure to find out whether they were told the truth. There's at least some useful feedback for them to find out whether or not they're doing a decent job.

#70 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 12:21 PM:

Without medications, my most-senior-aunt would have died decades ago, in an institution. (She's bipolar, and still needs them adjusted every so often. Plus she developed rheumatoid arthritis, and the two different sets of medication don't always play well together.)

#71 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 01:17 PM:

More polling data on torture, including a huge partisan divide. This is very, very bad, because it means that:

a. A Republican can openly make use of torture and get a political benefit, though I very strongly suspect this works only so long as the details of the torture mostly stay hidden. (The CIA was wise to destroy their videotapes, since clearly they're above the law w.r.t. destruction of evidence in a criminal case.)

b. A Democrat can "move to the center" on this issue and benefit from capturing more Republicans' votes.

#72 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 02:15 PM:

'Shine, Perishing Republic' - Robinson Jeffers, 1925

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.

You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine, perishing republic.

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains.

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught — they say — God, when he walked on earth.

#73 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 03:22 PM:

(That poem captures for me, at least, the feeling and tone of my adoring and despairing love affair with America.)

#74 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 03:36 PM:

And an op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal came out strongly in favor of torture. Bret Stephens is not sorry about the torture. He thinks the torture clearly got results. He's working from the same hearsay evidence I get. We reach very different conclusions. The article itself is behind a paywall: this Gawker summary does not misrepresent it in any substantial way, from my reading of both.

#75 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 05:56 PM:

abi @49: Yes, I saw that - really pleased about the ruling.

#76 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 06:36 PM:

(not about torture)

dotless ı@53: "I pretty much quit playing for good the day I switched into Emacs mode, hit the up arrow key, and saw the Emacs window narrow at the top as my vision automatically compensated for the keystone effect it expected from turning downward in Descent."

I installed a new computer keyboard last week. The key caps were printed with non-italicized letters, unlike all the keyboards I've been using for the past decade. This led to an unsettling optical effect, described here:

The illusion is fading, but it's not gone yet.

#77 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 07:31 PM:

abi@49: that ruling made the A-head (the odd human interest story on the front page) of the Wall Street Journal this morning. Clearly, other people are finding it interesting as well.

#78 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 08:54 PM:

Tom, #74: From the article, quoting the column in question:
As for his waterboarding, it never would have happened if he had been truthful with his captors. It stopped as soon as he became cooperative. As far as I'm concerned, he waterboarded himself.

This is the inevitable endpoint of a fallacy which begins with a parent saying, "Don't MAKE me come over there!" It's the same fallacy as the claim that women are responsible for their own rapes, or that the victims of bullying and abuse could stop it if they really wanted to.

In effect, it's a claim that the perpetrator has no control over their own behavior, that the victim is the one with all the power in the situation. "She MADE me hit her!" "He didn't pay the vig, so I HAD to burn his house down."

NO. Our government representatives were the ones with all the power in the situation. We could have stopped at any time. We chose not to. We chose, over and over again, to torture people. This is a point which must not be allowed to be obscured by victim-bashers.

As a side note, I notice that he also uses the excuse that because our people are exposed to waterboarding as part of their training, it can't possibly be torture. Carefully not mentioning that this is done to teach our people how to RESIST torture. The training itself acknowledges that this is a torture tactic! That's a huge lie-of-omission.

#79 ::: Robert Glaub ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 09:10 PM:

I just spent all day on the 'battle bridge' at my agency with the Director and Deputy Director dealing with the latest outrage,

Goddamn the Taliban. Goddamn them all. Even the Afghani Taliban have disavowed them.

The Pakistani Taliban have made a big mistake by killing the children of high-ranking Pakistani army officers. This was an act of desperation. The Pakistani army has been pressing them harder and harder and drone strikes have been taking the toll on their leadership. Now they have given the Pakistani a real incentive to fight. The battle cry will be 'No Quarter. No Mercy. No Prisoners.'

#80 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 09:22 PM:

Those two 'psychologists' they bought? They reversed-engineered the survival training program in order to develop the torture program.

#81 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 11:21 PM:

Lee @78: I couldn't agree more.

#82 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2014, 11:51 PM:

#78 ::: Lee

Absolutely. There's another variation when the torturer says "you have the key in your hand" when actually the torturer has the key.

I'm working on not saying "x needs to y" when what's actually going on is that I want x to y. For example, the cat doesn't exactly need to stop nipping me-- I want the cat to stop nipping me.

#83 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2014, 12:34 AM:

If he'd been more co-operative...

Which means he wasn't saying the things they wanted to hear. When he started doing that they stopped punishing him.

Funny how that works.

Given the stated number of reports from the torture/interrogation of KSM (hundreds) and the time frame (at least three years), most of it was patent bullshit.

There is no way a marginally less than totally incompetent group would be trying to carry out plans three years after he was captured which were anything like the stories he told.

Simple entropy (this person got sick, that car broke down, this bunch of money wasn't available, the target stopped going to that cafe for morning pastries, etc.) will make it so that the plans aren't anything like the same.

A big thing (something as complex as 9/11) will be redesigned the moment someone who has real knowledge gets arrested/captured.

So no, the "it saved lives" crap is just that.

#84 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2014, 03:06 AM:

... it never would have happened if he had been truthful with his captors. It stopped as soon as he became cooperative.

How can someone say these things, without immediately realizing the fallacy? If his captors are going to stop the torture as soon as he tells the truth, that means they have the ability to determine whether he's telling the truth, which means they already know the truth, so why do they need to torture him to find out the truth?

Notice also the conflation in the above quotation of "being truthful" with "being cooperative". Because no prisoner, subjected to torture, would ever conceive of feigning cooperation in order to deceive his captors, right?

#85 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2014, 07:57 AM:

Jeremy Leader #84: Or send his captors on false trails to buy time at his own expense.

#86 ::: quercus ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2014, 01:11 PM:

David @85: Right. I can't imagine why a 'ticking time bomb' torture scenario wouldn't go like this:

Square-Jawed Heroic Agent: We know you've stolen a nuclear bomb and hidden in the city. Where is it?
Dark-skinned Terrorist from Somewhere Else: Ha! Never! And it is set to go off in one hour!
Agent: How about now, after I have, regretfully and sorrowfully, of course, fulfilled several sadistic fantasies upon you?
Terrorist: Ow! Ouch! OK, stop. I'll tell you, the bomb is under a seat in the Local Sports Arena on Main Street! I don't know which seat.
[One hour later]
Agent: That's strange, we've searched the entire Arena and haven't found the anythi..
Bomb Hidden in Parking Garage a Half Mile Away: BOOOOM !!!

#87 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2014, 02:19 PM:

albatross @68: A request: if you could please add the comment number to the atribution in your responses, it would make it much easier for those of us following along to track back and refresh our memories of the subthread. Otherwise, one just has to scroll up and scan, which is awkward.

#88 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2014, 08:58 PM:

And if you're feeling really energetic, you can not only put the comment number but also a hyperlink to it. If you mouseover the part of the comment header with the date and time stamp, you'll get a 7-digit number -- for example, Jacque's is 3742670. Then you can use standard href syntax with "#[7-digit number]" as the target.

Example, using Jacque's comment: <a href = "#3742670">Jacque@87</a> yields Jacque@87.

albatross @68 was referencing Lee @54.

Someone here came up with a workflow for Mac computers to help automate this process. I use it, and it pains me that my failing memory prevents me from giving proper credit.

#89 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2014, 10:15 PM:

David: Only on some browsers, evidently. That mouseover trick doesn't work on Safari, Chrome, or IE7, that I've noticed. If you click on the timestamp, though, the full url appears in the address bar, and one can just copy it out and paste it into a link. (Except on whatever mutant version of IE I was dealing with this afternoon, which didn't, far as I could tell, acknowledge hashed addresses. In half an hour of fiddling with it, I couldn't find any adjustment that would fix that.)

One can also click on the favicon and drag the url into a desktop folder, thereby making a handy shortcut for later use. This is how I bookmark where I'm at in comment threads.

#90 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2014, 10:33 PM:

Jacque: When you mouseover a link, do you have something in your browser that tells you where the link is going? In Safari for Mac it's called a "Status Bar" and can be toggled with ⌘-/. The Chrome I have, doesn't have it, but does the equivalent by automatically showing the link destination at the bottom of the window, on mouseover.

#91 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2014, 12:15 AM:

David: Oh, that. Yes, I have status bars. So: are you typing the hash address? If so: are you remembering the comment number between mousing over and clicking into the comment window? If so, how? (asks she of little RAM.)

#92 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2014, 01:01 AM:

jacque: If I were going to to that, I'd just (using FF), click the comment link, and then use the address bar text as the link code.

#93 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2014, 01:42 AM:

The Automator workflow keeps me from having to remember the number: I just triple-click the header line to select the whole line, then right-click and select "Making Light reply". That generates the appropriate HTML in the clipboard, which I can then paste. I don't have the workflow on my laptop, so when I'm traveling I usually just put comment numbers.

#94 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2014, 03:05 AM:

Jacque @91: You can also right-click on the timestamp, and select "Copy Link Location" (using Firefox, I believe other browsers offer the same behavior, possibly described differently). I think on a single-button Mac mouse, you'd Option-click instead of right-clicking.

You can paste the whole link, or you can delete the part before the hash/pound/octothorpe character, to make it a "relative" url.

#95 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2014, 07:09 AM:

David Goldfarb, I'm a Mac user, but a very basic one; I don't know anything about Automator. Would you be willing to give me a crash intro, so I can use this workflow you've described?

#96 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2014, 12:16 PM:

Terry Karney @92: Yeah, that's my tactic.

David @93: What is this Automator workflow of which you speak?

I'm willing to bet it doesn't exist on Windoze; which is where I do most of my MLing. :-(

Jeremy Leader @94: right-click & "relative" url

Yeah, it occurred to me only yesterday that I could do that. I've only been using these long?

octothorpe?? What a delightfully silly word.

#97 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2014, 12:44 PM:

I want to loop back to the OP, and highlight abi's remark, "The demon remains a person." Crossing threads with Nancy Lebovitz's comment over on the DFD thread:

Apparently, I go off balance just at having emotions that would be unwelcome if I mentioned them.

I don't go off balance (thank Ghu), but I am conscious of having thoughts and feelings that run counter to the zeitgeist.

Prime example: Adolph Hitler. I can't think of anyone more universally reviled as evil incarnate (with the possible exception of Osama Bin Laden). And yet, when I think of Hitler the person, what I feel is more sadness than hate or revulsion. But this is something I'm very charry of bringing up because, well.

Demonizing a population: I catch those thoughts running through my head. I think I'm generally pretty successful at spotting them and putting them back in their kennel. What I don't do is revile myself for having those thoughts. This, I gather, is somewhat unusual.

But for anyone who doesn't have a functional way to deal with unchosen internal states (not only the state itself, but also all the meta-stuff that goes along with it), I can see that this would be a real challenge.

We should choose our habits with care

The catch is that "choice" is often actually a pretty elevated state of mind. One that can (in many cases) require a major shift in thinking and/or refined skill and/or resources not always available.

If one goes off-balance, as Nancy reports above, that can make the whole proposition so much harder—possibly even impossible, depending on the context in which one finds oneself.

I love the quote highlighted at the top of this blog page:

You are not the king of your brain.

You are the creepy guy standing next to the king going "a most judicious choice, sire."

#98 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2014, 08:31 AM:

About Abi's lightbox...

I'd like to build one for my dad - he's mentioned recently that he gets depressed in winter, and I've somehow managed to live 40+ years on this planet without ever soldering anything. Seems like I can address both with one project.

A question for Abi, or anyone with electrical engineering ability: the lights I'm looking at come as a 5m, 300 LED strip (cuttable every 3 LEDs, as per the instructable) and the seller wants me to hook up a 12V, 2A power supply. Presumably that's 2A to drive 300 lights - but if I'm only going to use 30, do they only draw what they need, or do I need to drop the amperage of the input to avoid breaking/exploding them?

#99 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2014, 10:48 AM:

Russ @98:

If they're the same kind of strips as I've got, they have a resistor on every three-LED segment. I've plugged as few as three lights into such an adapter and never had any trouble whatsoever.

My super-awesome thing this year was finding 5V LED strips, which means I now have a box I can plug into my USB port. I can also use it with my portable charge-yer-iPhone USB battery (that was the arrangement that I had at the offsite meeting). This innovation has increased my spoon supply a lot this December, since I do spend rather a lot of time in meetings at work.

#100 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2014, 11:09 AM:

I bought a string of 20 rice-grain-sized LEDs with a battery pack, sewed the strip of lights down to a piece of felt, and glued the felt into the lid of my Altoids tin. The battery pack just fits.

When the ad copy said that the LEDs in question were "super bright", BTW, they were not kidding. It's actually a little painful to look directly at the thing when it's on.

If I may ask, abi, where'd you find your 5V LEDs?

#101 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2014, 12:05 PM:

Carrie S @100:

I'd love to see a photo!

One thing I tend to do (and I should update the instructable with it) is to put a piece of white cardstock (you can use an index card, preferably one without lines) in front of the lights to act as a diffuser. Takes the OMG BRIGHT LIGHT edge off of things.

As for the 5V LEDs, it was kind of a pain to find them. Took some targeted Googling, because most of the suppliers are in China and Dutch customs have been pretty energetic about charging for imported goods. I found these guys, who are UK-based and thus not subject to duty. The strip is water-resistant, which is to say I had to carve off some rubbery stuff at the electrodes to make the connections.

#102 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2014, 08:39 PM:

Here is Warren Zevon singing a prayer I agree with.

The intro is great too.

Don't Let Us Get Sick

Don't let us get sick
Don't let us get old
Don't let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave
And make us play nice
And let us be together tonight

The sky was on fire
When I walked to the mill
To take up the slack in the line
I thought of my friends
And the troubles they've had
To keep me from thinking of mine

Don't let us get sick
Don't let us get old
Don't let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave
And make us play nice
And let us be together tonight

The moon has a face
And it smiles on the lake
And causes the ripples in Time
I'm lucky to be here
With someone I like
Who maketh my spirit to shine

Don't let us get sick
Don't let us get old
Don't let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave
And make us play nice
And let us be together tonight

I miss him.

#103 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2014, 08:40 PM:

Oops, wrong thread.


Warren Zevon is almost always worth it.

#104 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2014, 01:48 AM:

Russ @98:

Your question regarding the power supply is exceedingly common. The TL;DR answer is that you don't need as big a power supply for a smaller set of lights. A smaller rated amperage will do. For a single segment, you aren't likely to need more than 20mA or so.

The rating on the power supply is a maximum available current rating. Using the ever-popular hydraulic metaphor for electricity, the power supply is like a water pump. The voltage is equivalent to the hydraulic pressure the pump can handle (or, alternatively, how high the pump can pump), while the amperage is the gallons-per-minute (or cubic meters/second, for metric usage).

If you bought a pump that could do 10 gal/minute at 40 psi but connected it to a sprinkler that would only use 1 gal/minute at 40 psi, the pump would be fine. It would be running well below design capacity, but it would get the job done without a problem.

The same is true with the electronic power supply. If you hooked a 12V/2A power supply up to a device that drew 0.2A at 12V, the power supply would be fine. It would be able to handle any weird surges that might happen without a hitch.

The only place it might be a problem is if something goes wrong. If the 12V/0.2A circuit developed a fault, the 12V/2A power supply may be perfectly happy continuing to provide high current to the device even as the magic smoke escapes, where a lesser power supply would quit when the circuit suddenly drew 1.5A of current.

#105 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2014, 02:56 AM:

Buddha @104

PSUs have changed since I dabbled in electronics, though regulator chips were available even then. With the modern stuff, I don't think you're wrong, but something like a battery can mess you up.

Essentially, a battery can be modelled as a constant voltage source in series with a resistor, and Ohm's Law will tell you the voltage across the load and the current that can flow for varying load resistance. Drop the load resistance, and the power dissipated in the load rises. Drop the load resistance low enough and things get hot and catch fire.

The problem with batteries and old-style power supplies is that drawing a low current means that the voltage is high. That was bad for the old TTL logic gates, so circuits needed a voltage regulator. Analogue transistor radio circuits used voltage-divider circuits to get the right voltage to a transistor, and the voltage-divider had to carry more current than the transistor used so as to be stable.

Now you just bang in another chip.

Things have changed a lot, and even the cheapest wall-warts have a regulated output. But you still need to be careful with batteries. Though those USB power-packs have to have a regulated output to meet the USB standard. And, since they charge from USB and then deliver a usable USB output, same voltage/current limit both ways, they need to do something rather clever. It's not just a battery.

I once soldered an extra 32 kilobytes of RAM into a computer. (No, I don't have a Yorkshire accent.)

#106 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2014, 06:48 PM:

Buddha Buck@104: Ah - so it's a little like having too large a fuse in? I read that providing the LEDs with access to more current shortens their life...but then, you read a lot of things on the internet. Thank you for your lovely attempt to explain, but unfortunately explaining power in terms of hydraulics just swaps one thing I don't grok for another - I mean, I can follow what you're saying, but it doesn't resonate. Your summary still makes perfect sense to me though.

Anyway - success! I will post some pictures up somewhere if anyone is interested, but to cut a long story short I have a 36 blue LED lightbox to give to my dad. It has some of the dodgiest soldered circuit joins I imagine have ever been created (including one where the gap would not accept even the finest credit cards*), but all the blue light-y things did their blue light-y thing on the first try. Informations that may be of use to those who follow:

- I went with a 1A power supply in the end, which seemed equally happy with 3 lights or 36. It was from the river based vendor and claimed to be intended for CCTV.

- I realized after I'd cut & stuck the LEDs that my box was actually long enough to do rows of 6 at a 90 degree angle to the suggested rows of 3, which would have cut down on my soldering considerably

- "third hands" are awesome and make you look a bit like a mad scientist when you use them

Abi/anyone: I can (and will) google, but do you have a favourite set of instructions for how to use the box? I plan to print something out and include it with the gift (so a one pager with a bit of background and recommended usage would be perfect). Again - thank you. I probably could have bought something off the shelf for the setup costs of My First Soldering Kit (tm), but this felt much more meaningful.

* awful joke gleefully stolen from "Good Omens", if memory serves.

#107 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2014, 12:42 AM:

Russ@106: "third hands" are awesome and make you look a bit like a mad scientist when you use them

Are you talking about this kind of dingus?

I have one for which I have an unreasoning love. (OTOH, I have a vague memory that it got cannibalized for parts, some while back.) It has longer "wrists" than the pictured one. I didn't realized that they came with mag glasses! I may have to upgrade.

An acquaintance asserted, some years ago, that soldering was absolute proof of extraterrestrial influence on human civilization: soldering couldn't have been invented by anyone with less than three hands.

#108 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2014, 12:59 AM:

Russ @106:

It's like having too large a fuse in in that it won't limit the current when you aren't using all that is available, so substituting a larger fuse won't make anything that is working properly work any differently.

The trouble with using any other analogy besides the hydraulic one is that electric current, hydraulics, and any of the other analogies are all precisely analogous in the same way. If you can't understand electronics via analogy to hydraulics, you are likely to not understand it via analogy to thermodynamics, mechanics, etc. (for those interested, mathematician John Baez (cousin to Joan) has a page at describing a bunch of these analogies).

Diodes, including LEDs, are interesting beasts. They will allow an extremely large amount of current flow in one direction, with only a (relatively) constant voltage drop across it. If you hook a blue LED up to a 12V car battery, it will try to drop 4V across it, thus asking the system to drop 8V across the lead wires. 10ft of 12 gauge wire will require about 500 A of current to drop 8V. A car battery could do it, at least until the diode explodes.

It's not high current, specifically, that kills diodes. It's high heat. But running current through a diode generates heat, and diodes are limited by their size in their ability to dissipate heat -- and because of their size, they get hot fast.

To take an extreme example, the 500 A through the blue LED above would use about 2000 W of power, 600 of which goes to light (about as much as 12 high-intensity stage lights). The remaining 1400 W of heat is about as much heat as an electric space heater. But this is a space heater the size of a grain of sand. The little chunk of silicon will boil away in about 1/200 seconds. And it will be (briefly) happy to do so.

A fuse would be less expensive.

A resistor, on the other hand, is designed so that the current through it is proportional to the voltage across it. So if you put a 400 ohm resistor across a 12V battery, then only 30mA of current will flow through it. If you put that 400 ohm resistor in series with the blue LED above, and connected it to a car battery, the 8V not dropped by the LED would have to be dropped by the resistor, which it will do at 20mA of current. The blue LED will glow brightly for its rated service lifetime at that current, assuming it isn't put into an insulated hot-box.

#109 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2014, 11:20 AM:

abi @101: Is there a link to that instuctable? I've gotten a request for info on these things, and it would be a delight to simply hand the party in question a finished item.

Also: since the site you link to sells USB powered LEDs, would it be reasonable to just install them in a tin, and plan to run them off one's computer's USB port? (For my user, it would be convenient to have battery back-up, but possibly not necessary....)

#110 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2014, 06:52 PM:

Jacque@109, computer USB ports limit how much power they'll put out, usually to 500 mA, and standard USB-powered devices also limit how much power they'll consume. If a powered device need more power than standard, for instance for battery charging, there are ways to signal that, but that means the device has to be slightly non-dumb, and the power source needs to have more power available. (Alternatively, the power source can be dumb and put out more power without signalling.)

So if you want to put out a lot of light, you'd probably want to use a charger widget that you plug into the wall or (for cars) a cigarette lighter socket.

#111 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2014, 05:06 PM:

Russ @106:
do you have a favourite set of instructions for how to use the box? I plan to print something out and include it with the gift (so a one pager with a bit of background and recommended usage would be perfect).

I don't have anything, mostly because one of the major lessons of using these dinguses is that Your Mileage May Vary. What I do is to use it as long as possible during daylight hours, starting no earlier than about 9:30 am. This latter condition is because I tend to wake up a couple of hours before my regular light start time, so using it earlier means ot getting enough sleep. And if I use it too late, I have trouble falling asleep.

Basically, I use it to shift the ambient light of my life toward the blue. I don't look directly at it all the time, and I've learned to tell when I've had enough and want to stop. But I don't have any actual instructions.

Jacque @109:

Link to the instructable is here; it's also in the OP.

since the site you link to sells USB powered LEDs, would it be reasonable to just install them in a tin, and plan to run them off one's computer's USB port?

That was the reason I made it, and it's the way I use it most of the time. It works fine. The battery back-up thing is an unexpected variant.

(Generally: me no good with electronics. All these specialist comments notwithstanding, I just do the thing and the lights go on. The LED strips have their own resistors built into them, so that they don't get too much current and go pop. The place I bought the 12v ones told me that I should use one kind of wall wart for up to n LEDs, then another for the next quantity up, etc, etc. I blindly followed that when I bought those. With the 5v strips, I just plug them into USB because they can plug into USB, you know? And it works.)

#112 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2014, 07:14 PM:

abi @111: it's also in the OP.

Geez, I am such a potato. Sorry 'bout that. (I did read the OP, I swear I did. But the thread has covered so many topics, I lost track of where it started.)

Anyway: thank you!

#113 ::: Lady Kay ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2014, 11:37 PM:

I use a lightbox and have a prescription from a psychiatrist for it.

I use it for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes in the morning (for me that can be anywhere from 6am to 10am, but I try to aim for 8am). I sit fairly close (about 6-8 inches). The goal is something on the order of 10,000 lux? This is the product I use

I don't usually *look* at it, but I will read something held fairly close to it. The retina is involved in the pathway for the effect, so your eyes need to be open and aimed nearish to the light.

I am a bit of a morning person--sleeping until 10am isn't a sign of health for me. And midnight is bedtime. It sounds like Abi is more of a night owl, so her timing is different.

I only use it seasonally from about Oct to March-ish.

#114 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2014, 06:22 PM:

Jacque@107: Indeed, exactly that. I'm so pleased that I had not only an excuse to acquire one but *used it for an appropriate purpose*!

Buddha Buck@108: If you can't understand electronics via analogy to hydraulics, you are likely to not understand it via analogy to thermodynamics, mechanics, etc.

I suspect this is in fact the case, and is no reflection on your explanation, but rather the setup at my end. As with abi@111, I hope that if I simply do as I'm told by those who do actually understand this stuff I will constitute minimal danger to myself and others.

Merry Christmas to all :D

#115 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2014, 07:11 PM:

Russ: I hope that if I simply do as I'm told by those who do actually understand this stuff I will constitute minimal danger to myself and others.

"Repeat the incantations exactly as written, and perform the genuflections exactly as instructed, or unintended conjurings may result." :-)

#116 ::: Stuart in Austin ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2014, 11:21 AM:

From: LED Lighting: Technology and Perception

As can be seen from Figure 2.30, human activity exhibits a 24 h cycle which is controlled by light. In other words, light is an important zeitgeber (literally from German: “time giver”). But how does this timing mechanism work in the human neural system? In 2002, the discovery of a new photoreceptor in the eye, the socalled intrinsically photoreceptive retinal ganglion cell (ipRGC), was published [30]. It turned out that 2% of all ganglion cells contain the photosensitive protein melanopsin which has a different spectral sensitivity from the sensitivity of the rods and the cones, see Figure 2.6. The ipRGCs are distributed nonuniformly across the retina: in the lower retinal area (where light sources in the upper part of the viewing field are imaged), ipRGC density is much larger than in the upper area. Light sources emitting from homogeneous large areas in the upper half of the viewing field cause an increased circadian effect (i.e., timing effect of optical radiation) compared to punctual light sources and those in the lower half of the viewing field.

[30] Berson, D.M., Dunn, F.A., and Takao, M. (2002) Phototransduction by retinal ganglion cells that set the circadian clock. Science, 295, 1070–1073

Also, see the Wikipedia article on Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I am using 3 Watt LEDs at 470-485 nm (sky blue) and 490-505 nm (cyan) and mounting them on an aluminum rail at the top of the wall above my desk. I plan to start at 500 lumens and increase luminance as necessary to get results.

#117 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2015, 11:45 AM:

Stuart in Austin, abi, anyone else experimenting: do you know whether any work has been done on long-term effects of light therapy for SAD? I'm old enough that it probably won't make a difference if I start, but I'm wondering whether it will turn out that human bodies in temperate zones (i.e., with lots of light in the summer) some-value-of-need some downtime in the winter, and if so whether the light that refreshes is enough to interfere with this. (I was thinking initially of apple trees, which I've read won't germinate without some weeks of serious cold beforehand -- but Wikipedia says that high-altitude orchards in Uruguay get two crops per year due to year-round temperate conditions.) I doubt this will ever be settled -- even highly-rated long-term studies such as Framingham are being questioned by new research (what is \your/ conclusion about daily aspirin?) -- but SAD is enough of a problem that long-term monitoring of solutions would be a Good Thing, if only to know whether there are tradeoffs.

#118 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2015, 12:37 PM:

It strikes me that (particularly for older people like you, CHip) palliative care that works without drugs is likely to have better short-term effects than ones with drugs -- and long-term, we're dead anyway. If it makes the next 5 years good with a problem happening 20 years later: actuarially, a larger number of people will experience the positive effects than the negative ones, because a lot of them will die off for other reasons. This entirely without looking at measurements -- and it's also true if the effect is entirely a placebo effect. The placebo effect is underused.

#119 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2015, 02:38 PM:

Chip, the reason those apple trees are producing two harvests per year is that those trees are getting two "chill" seasons per year which triggers bud production. They don't need to go completely dormant, they just need the right cold/light cycle.

#120 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2015, 06:43 AM:

CHip @117:

I'm wondering whether it will turn out that human bodies in temperate zones (i.e., with lots of light in the summer) some-value-of-need some downtime in the winter, and if so whether the light that refreshes is enough to interfere with this.

I don't know of any studies, but here's my amateur take, based on my growing awareness that (for me at least), SAD is really about the color of light as well as/more than the quantity of it.

The reason that light is redder in the winter is that it's traveling through more atmosphere, because the hemisphere in question is inclined away from the sun, right? And a blue light box is just shifting the color mix as though the sun were not so doing by adding back those elements that are being filtered out.

There's another context in which light varies in color, for the same reason: living nearer the poles rather than nearer the equator. Even in high summer up here in the Netherlands, the sun is not truly overhead at noon. So the light is still going through more layers of atmosphere, and is redder, than it is at high noon in midsummer at the equator.

In other words, there are many fully functional humans who spend their entire lives under bluer light than I am likely to get from using my little blue light box. And they seem to be doing OK. So it's not something I've been worrying about too hard.

(If it's about the quantity of light rather than its color, we're back to the interesting topic of the effect of artificial lighting on humans. I know Patrick has talked about this in the past, and I think it's an interesting topic. It's possible that we're all desperately sleep-deprived because we're not following the diurnal rhythms any more. But I'm not convinced that I'm any more screwed for bluing up my winter light. Indeed, I sleep better in winter when I use light therapy, partly because I'm more awake during the days.)

#121 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2015, 02:16 PM:

abi, #120: Also, WRT artificial lighting extending the diurnal period -- we've been living with that since humans first began using fire! I think it's a little late to start questioning our adaptation to it at this point; we've had millennia in which to do so.

#122 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2015, 10:08 PM:

Lee #121: The thing is, firelight is generally a lot redder than high-sun+blue skylight.
That's why falling asleep in front of a fire is a lot more comfortable than falling asleep under flourescents.

#123 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2015, 12:24 AM:

David Harmon@122, also, fires have nice crackling noises instead of 60-cycle hum,

#124 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2015, 03:25 AM:

me @120:

Even in high summer up here in the Netherlands, the sun is not truly overhead at noon. So the light is still going through more layers of atmosphere, and is redder, than it is at high noon in midsummer at the equator.

This is actually not correct. The sun is not directly overhead at high noon at midsummer on the equator. It's directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer, assuming we're talking about northern hemisphere midsummer. (Otherwise, the Tropic of Capricorn) It's directly overhead at the equator at equinox.

Please let me out of the rigging now, Inner Jack Aubrey.

#125 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2015, 08:12 AM:

Re the affect of artificial lighting on sleep, this entire podcast episode (apparently no transcript, alas; just the audio) is about the nature of defining time in American history, and specifically the segment "Til' Morning is Nigh" is about a phenomenon by which, apparently, before ubiquitous artificial lighting, agricultural humanity 'naturally' slept in two chunks with an hour or two of wakefulness between.

Now that sleep pattern is a diagnosable kind of insomnia, and given that our go-to-bed times have moved far into the darkness, usually results in inadequate sleep.

It's interesting to me that "everybody" used to do it the old way, with most people content with how they slept; now "everybody" does it the new way, and while a lot of people are underslept many have adapted to a no-gap sleep schedule.

Humans are adaptable, man. Though I still think we're pre-adapted Martians, given our tendency to migrate to a 25-hour circadian if deprived of all time cues.

#126 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2015, 08:13 AM:

Oh, and for further reading on the subject, the book by the guest for that podcast segment is At Day's Close, by Roger Ekirch.

#127 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2015, 09:09 AM:

Bill Stewart@123: I've heard electronics make nice crackling noises like that, but they tend not to work as well afterward.

#128 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2015, 01:48 PM:

One thing I am noticing is that LED replacement lighting includes "cool white" units. That means a bluish white, it runs the opposite way to colour temperature, since we perceive the redder light from a fire as warm.

LED lights are appearing in all the standard fittings, just as CFL did to replace incandescent, and do have some energy-efficiency advantage as well as greatly-increased operating life. You can even get replacements for fluorescent tubes, but they need some rewiring of the fitting.

It might be a good idea to have a cool white light in a room you use on winter's days.

I've seen in a CES preview report, a mention of a wake-up light that uses redder light at the end of the day, bluer light in the morning, but I am sceptical about that. It sounds advertising-plausible, but that doesn't make it real.

If you're doing something where colour-matching matters, even nominal daylight fluorescents or LEDs might let you down, although they have improved a lot. You can still get incandescent bulbs which have a blue coating to correct the colour temperature. Your eyes adapt to small changes, and you may need to tweak your computer monitor settings.

Anyway, domestic lighting is changing, and you can choose to avoid the blue-deficient lighting of the past. That could be worth doing for all of us.

#129 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2015, 02:42 PM:

Dave Bell (128): Blue(r) light is not always a good thing for everyone, though. I bought a very expensive "daylight" lamp several years ago* and had to return it because it gave me terrible eyestrain. Fortunately, the new, blueish LED lights that we just got at my workplace have not been a problem so far.

This is not to contradict anyone's experience with being helped by blue light, for whatever reason.

*when they were the New Thing, a Cure for Every Ill™

#130 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2015, 02:48 PM:

Dave Bell @128, re: light color balance -- I bought a dozen specific-brand-and-wattage incandescent light bulbs a few years ago when it became apparent that they would soon no longer be available, to install in one lamp, because my husband needs a specific color temperature light in order to properly color balance photographs. (He's a photographer.) Other than that one lamp, we use CFLs throughout the house, and will probably switch to LEDs as the CFLs burn out....

#131 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2015, 02:53 PM:

I'm cautious about using blue light too near sleep time (too early in the morning, too late in the evening), because it seems to affect my ability to fall and stay asleep.

I found out the "stay asleep" thing when I tried using my blue light box first thing in the morning, when I just woke up (7ish). WIthin a couple of days, I was waking up at about 5, unable to go back to sleep. So I don't use the light box before about 9:30 or 10 in the morning.

I've got less evidence of evening blue light being an issue, but honestly, I really don't want to risk it in winter, and I don't need blue light at all in the summer. But still, most of the lighting in my evening spaces is golden or "soft white". (In point of fact, I have a strip of soft white LEDs across my ceiling, because my attic workspace is otherwise a little underlit.) And I use f.lux on my laptop, which gradually changes the screen color to be less and less blue as the evening wears on.

This kind of experimentation is hard for me, because the consequences of screwing up my sleep cycle are miserable. Insomnia, once it starts, can last for weeks, and the impact on everyone around me (family, friends, colleagues, net community) can be pretty severe. So I'm quite cautious.

#132 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2015, 04:15 PM:

I've also been using f.lux on my computers for a while now. I haven't attempted to fiddle with the configuration, which means I usually only notice it when I have to turn it off for something where I care about color matching, like looking at images; this is usually in the evening, and it's only when turning it off that I notice just how much redder the screen has gotten.

#133 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2015, 11:47 PM:

abi 124: This is actually not correct. The sun is not directly overhead at high noon at midsummer on the equator. It's directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer, assuming we're talking about northern hemisphere midsummer. (Otherwise, the Tropic of Capricorn) It's directly overhead at the equator at equinox.

For me the cool thing is that the sun is always directly overhead somewhere, just as it's always (sidereal/local apparent) high noon somewhere. That spot spirals up to the Tropic of Cancer, taps it at whatever longitude is high noon at the moment of the solstice, and spirals down to the Tropic of Capricorn.

If I had an app that would tell me where the sun is directly overhead whenever I looked at it (giving longitude and latitude, maybe nearest place on land), I would play with it ALL the time.

Also, the sun has never been directly over my head. I have never been further south than Key West, and the Tropic of Cancer is well south of there.

(And yes, I know this is more complicated than the simplified version given above, that the tropic drifts a bit and stuff, but I honestly don't care.)

#134 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2015, 04:07 PM:

One of the things about these LED lights worth remembering is that they're not dreadfully blue. I get varying colour temperature numbers but they are all just slightly bluer than the noonday sun. They're the sort of colour that you get on an overcast day. It's not as blue as the light in the shadows on the bright sunny day. It's not the special blue of Abi's box.

Oh, there is a visible difference between "day light" and "cool white", and that does matter for things such as matching colours. An incandescent object does have a smooth curve, while a fluorescent or LED white is a spikier spectrum. Fluorescents are notorious for messing up the colour of images on film. The technology has improved.

The point is that you're not limited to the ruddy glow of domestic incandescent lamps. You can give yourself something close to ordinary daylight.

I think that can help a lot, without anything exotic. You might still need a SAD light, I can't tell, but it could make a difference just to avoid those red lights that have dominated artificial lighting since the days we discovered fire.

I'm going to see what the cool-white LED bulb does for me before I try the blue of those anti-artificial lights.

#135 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2015, 07:01 PM:

@132 and ff, the f.lux thread: I often notice in the evenings that f.lux is at work, because on this screen, the "view all by" links and the "(date)" links on every comment, which are visibly different for anything I've clicked in daytime, become basically the same color at night. (I keep track of what comments I've read by clicking the date link for each comment as I read it, so any unfollowed links are unread comments)

Most confusin'.

#136 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2015, 07:21 PM:

Elliott: My color sense is slightly weird anyway, so I turned all "visited" links purple on my computer. It helps me, anyway.

#137 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2015, 07:40 PM:

Thanks to ten minutes on their help forums, apparently the only way to change the default visited-links color on my install of Chrome is to navigate the file tree to one particular default .css file and HAND-EDIT in the hexadecimal code.

Bugger that for a frelling game of soldiers! It used to be (Netscape/firefox/something) an option in the Settings menu somewhere under Advanced! Gorram stupid Chrome with its "i'm going to make default choices and then if you don't like it you're screwed" mentality. :-|

Or maybe it's the "if you can't read fluently you don't deserve our software" ubergeek entitlement.

#138 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2015, 08:11 PM:

Elliott: It's doable, but annoying. After I spent all the time necessary (a half hour?) to find the right file, you can bet I wrote down the path so i can find it again in my own personal system.

The hand-editing part isn't so bad; just save a copy of the old one under a different name Just In Case. The * means a line is a comment and won't be used.

This is what that section of my userContent.css looks like:

* a:visited {color:#398D1B !important;}
* (note: 990099 is purple)
* (note: 398D1B is dark green)

a:visited {color:#990099 !important;}

If you do a search on "userContent.css" you might be able to shortcut all the searching through trees.

I've found that, for me, the one-time annoyance was greatly overwhelmed by the whole being-able-to-see-visited-links thing. Even though I have to have two different color settings because once a year Scalzi changes his website's theme to an autumnal one in which unvisted links are an orange that's too close to my purple for me. (Did I mention my color sense is weird?)

Good luck!

#139 ::: Stuart in Austin ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 08:33 PM:

CHip @ #117

I suspect that suffering an inability to synchronize with the diurnal cycle is more of a disability than anything you could do to yourself by overusing the lights.

My personal interest extends beyond SAD. My daughter has been diagnosed with atypical narcolepsy. Her impetus to see a doctor and do the sleep test lay in the years she had spent watching my sleep patterns. I am most likely also narcoleptic. An overcast winter day switches me off. A sunny day improves my mood and lessens my need for sleep.

Do download and read the article from Science that is referenced by the passage I quoted. It certainly explains the phenomena of blind people, whose doctors have removed their eyes, losing their diurnal synchronization.

#140 ::: Stuart in Austin ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2015, 08:59 PM:

Dave Bell @134

The cool white LED lights are a blue LED driving a yellow phosphor. Even the ones that have been tweaked to improve their color rendering index (CRI) are deficient in red and in the cyan range of the spectrum but they have quite a peak in the blue region. There are white LEDs available with color temperatures of 10,000 K and 20,000 K, not anything you would want to use for household illumination.

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