Sunday, November 30, 2003

I recently picked up a rather interesting collection of essays entitled "Militarizing the American Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and the Police", edited by Peter Kraska. While I'm certainly not on of those so far on the Left as to compare Bush to Hitler or our current government to a totalitarian "police state", I do think there have been some important trends in military/police relations the past 20 years which deserve further study. This book has done a great job so far addressing some of the major issues. A good starting point for this discussion is the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. The purpose of Posse Comitatus was to prevent military forces from becoming involved in civilian police matters, except in extreme cases. (Note: this only includes federal armed forces, not the National Guard, Coast Guard, etc. Check out this for details.) Unfortunately, this act has been watered down with subsequent legislation (beginning during the Reagan Administration's "War on Drugs") to the point of being almost entirely ineffectual. Military and police cooperation is now routine. Here are 2 great arguments against this type of development:

- From the military perspective: It's bad to have troops in a police situation since it goes against military training, and can have lasting negative effects on basic combat skills. In the words of one colonel: "combat trained Marines shouldn't be diminishing hard-learned skills by squeezing off warning shots." Military personal have to suppress their combat instincts to be good policemen, leaving their skills dangerously eroded should they be needed in a real combat situation.

- From a civilian perspective: In simple terms, "it's hard to believe that a soldier with a suspect in his sights is well positioned to protect that person's civil liberties." This introduces a fundamental difference in views on police and military targets. Military targets are enemies to be killed, police targets are citizens with rights who are innocent until proven guilty. When a difficult situation arises military personnel tend to revert to a combat-oriented model, giving rise to a number of potential violations to police procedures which are crucial in our democratic society.

Here is something I found particularly interesting in one of the essays: "A plan has been proposed - though scrapped for the moment - to establish a single commander with authority to oversee domestic defense in the event of a terrorist attack. According to press reports, this "homeland defense commander" would have the "know-how and authority to quickly dispatch technicians and troops, who could help deal with terrorist attacks that officials fear could inflict thousands of casualties and disrupt whole cities." That was written 3 years before the genesis of the Department of Homeland Security.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Things I'm thankful for today:

A day off work
Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata
The delicious turkey I had for dinner (courtesy of my roommate D)
My lovely K, for visiting me this morning and cheering me up
The perfect crescent moon hanging outside my window

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

In response to the comment "Marijuana makes you grow breasts" - I didn't have a chance to check out the NPR link, but this sounds like the old "Marijuana causes a drop in testosterone levels" argument (I don't believe anything else would cause a man to develop breasts other than a sharp decrease in testosterone and a corresponding increase in estrogen). Further research has shown that pot smokers do not experience any significant long term changes in hormone levels ( see this or this or this). There is a minority of reports which suggests a short-term reduction (measured in hours) of LH/testosterone levels, but these seem to be a much higher doses than normal.

Check out this site for a good overview of many of the myths out there about cannabis.

I've always been a "people watcher", so my morning train ride is usually interesting (when I'm coherent/awake enough to enjoy it). When I lived in Ithaca, I would spend hours just sitting on a bench in Collegetown, watching the crowds go by. As you can imagine, the crowds here in NYC offer infinitely more variety than those in Upstate New York - and hence infinitely more satisfaction for my purposes. But here, I have to be a bit more sly in my observations; privacy is a rare commodity. Its seems as if most take great pains to act as if there was no one else in that crowded subway car with them. They simply stare off at a spot somewhere near the ceiling or the floor, or perhaps bury their nose in a newspaper. So I carefully try to take in what I can from my periphery, from hasty glances and reflections dulled by dirt and scratchitti. But I find it almost impossible to avoid a full on stare for very long with the unending diversity of humanity on display before me. Every person is a unique expression, and I try to appreciate the beauty in them. Each wrinkle like a line of subtle poetry, each face a verse unspoken. What stories do these eyes tell? Sometimes I find myself smiling in appreciation, but I usually put my Gotham scowl back on quickly lest someone catch me smiling at them. "I hate taking the train", says a coworker - "to many damn people staring at you."

Monday, November 24, 2003

Came across an interesting article today, which introduces a novel perspective on so called "amotivational syndrome" and cannabis. The traditional definition of amotivational syndrome is "... apathy, loss of effectiveness, and diminished capacity or willingness to carry out complex, long-term plans, endure frustration, concentrate for long periods, follow routines, or successfully master new material. Verbal facility is often impaired both in speaking and writing. Some individuals exhibit greater introversion, become totally involved with the present at the expense of future goals and demonstrate a strong tendency toward regressive, childlike, magical thinking[1]." Current clinical research seems to validate my suspicion that amotivational syndrome is nothing more than one of those bogeymen still with us from the days of "Reefer Madness". I have to admit though, a good portion of that definition is descriptive of me at this period in my life (although I don't believe my verbal capacity to be diminished - I never was very eloquent). However, what really struck a chord with me in the article was this:

Pharmacologically, when cannabis is ingested the primary psycho-active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), rapidly disappears from the blood plasma and is taken up in fat where it remains with a half life decay rate of 5-7 days. This means that following a single dose of THC, less than 1% of the primary active ingredient remains in fatty tissue after approximately 35-50 days [10]. THC's oil solubility, and thus its high affinity for fatty tissue, probably accounts for its attraction to neural tissue with its high lipid content. Although, in the case of light to moderate cannabis users THC can be detected in body fluids for approximately 30 days after the last consumption, it is quite difficult to detect perceptual-motor effects this long after a given average single dose (1-3 mg THC in cannabis to be smoked).

In a nutshell: given my current cannabis usage pattern, I would say there's a good chance I'm moderately to slightly intoxicated at all times. That's pretty disturbing to me. As of today, 11/24/03, I'm officially beginning a 30-day smoke-free period. God help me!

The finished song can be downloaded here.

Dekalog (The Decalogue) is a series of ten shorts created for Polish Television, with plots loosely based upon the Ten Commandments, directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. I managed to watch one of these today (Part 2), and was quite impressed. I also got quite a bit of work done on the clip I posted a few days ago, it's starting to sound like a real song now. Will post another clip soon...

Friday, November 21, 2003

One of the things that intrigues me about the weBlog format is it's virtual "message in a bottle" aspect. I toss a thought-scrap out into the High Seas of Data, and I don't necessarily wait for a response. Anyway, today's randomness:

Freenet is an interesting file-sharing program/network. It's supposed to be completely anonymous, accomplished through a decentralized architecture and encrypted transmissions. It's an exercise in pure freedom of speech, and all the dangers that come with that. Once you are node on the network, for all you know people are using a portion of your harddrive/bandwidth to trade kiddie porn or bomb-making materials. The creators of Freenet believe that the risk of such activities in inherent to true free speech, and any attempt to censor is unacceptable.

A few years ago I would have agreed whole-heartedly, but lately I've been uncomfortable with such rigid idealisms. For example, take my post of a few days ago on whether same-sex couples should have the right to adopt. Later, the co-worker with whom I had the discussion pointed out to me that I supported affirmative action, and wasn't this a form of discrimination against whites? How could I rectify this apparent logical contradiction in my argument (that discrimination is OK in the case of affirmative action, but bad in the case of same-sex couples)? Without going into details about how I feel about affirmative action (in short, I believe it should be tempered with a goals and a timeline towards it's discontinuation), I believe it's a mistake to take the concept of "discrimination" as an absolute. "Discrimination" is not static, rather it requires a specific situational context for you to talk about any moral/ethical implications of it's use. Try as I might, I couldn't come up with a single good reason to disallow same-sex adoptions - but there seem to be plenty of reasons to attempt to redress several hundred years of institutionalized racial suppression through affirmative action. (Aside: How can one rectify a bias in one direction without a corresponding bias in the opposite direction?)

Yet still, the thought of a white student being denied admission to a university because of the color of his skin leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And the thought of pedophiles operating freely so we can all enjoy unrestricted free speech bothers me more....

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Picked up a complete anthology of Robert Frost's poetry today. Here's a relevant one:

My November Guest

My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list;
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Same-sex couples and adoption

Got in a debate today with someone at work over whether or not same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt. As far I'm concerned, the only question that need be answered sufficiently for a couple to adopt a child is "Will the couple be able to provide the love, attention, stability and money it takes to raise a child?". Some of the arguments against same-sex adoption from my co-worker:

Argument) It's "unconventional".
Response) Since when is conventionality any sort of factor in determining the ability of a potential parent to raise a child? My parents certainly were unconventional in many ways, and I seemed to have turned out fine. In my opinion, conventionality is some sort of nebulous gray area where my co-worker likes to hide his anti-gay bias from himself.

Argument) It's not "wholesome".
Response) This is nothing more than an attempt to force a set of morals into the adoption process.

Argument) The child would be ridiculed by his/her peers, perhaps causing psychological issues.
Response) I agree that this is a potential problem any couple should consider, but in the end, I believe the same-sex couple should have the right to adopt regardless. I make the following analogy: suppose an interracial couple wants to adopt a child. This child may very well be subject to ridicule by his peers, but in this day and age most people would agree that the protests of a few racist individuals shouldn't stop us from allowing that couple that same rights as other couples.

Argument) It's not "biologically feasible" for a gay couple to have children, so they shouldn't be allowed to adopt.
Response) As far as I know, parents seeking to adopt are not given fertility tests - in fact many of them can't have children of their own, which is why they are interested in adoption in the first place. At this point, my co-worker tried to retreat to some sort of idealized notion of the heterosexual couple to sustain his biologically-based argument, but it's just so far removed from the reality of things it doesn't hold up very well.

Argument) It's not just about the rights of the parents, it's about the rights of the potential adoptee.
Response) This is absolutely true. But until someone can explain to me how being raised by a same-sex couple infringes on the adoptee's rights, I can't really see how this applies. It seems to be the transference of my co-workers own opinion to an orphan - "Well, I wouldn't want to be stuck with gay parents". It a blessing that the adoption process already attempts to filter out those who will not likely to provide for a child financially, or those who do not have a stable home environment, or those with a history of violence or criminal-behavior. That certainly is plenty more protection than a child gets from his biological parents. A related observation: If you would have asked me when I was younger, I do believe at a few points in my life I would have not chosen my own parents!

Perhaps someone out there can enlighten me as to the dangers of same-sex parenting. It just doesn't seem like such a scary proposition to me...

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Clipman strikes again!

As Clipman, I have all the powers of Superman. Unfortunately, these powers only work in minute long bursts.

Of course, I had a reasonably productive afternoon of rhythmic explorations only a day after bitching and moaning about a "creative void" - a timely reminder of the old maxim: "The night is darkest a moment before dawn".

Saturday, November 15, 2003

I really feel like I've slipped into a creative void. I have plenty of moments of inspiration, but I can't seem to translate those moments into meaningful action. Thinking back, the last time I was very creatively productive was immedietely after moving to NYC (Fall/Winter 2001). I was writing plenty of music and poetry, reading a great deal and exploring new topics, putting records out on the label, djing, etc. Things have been slowly winding down since then, and in the past few months it's all come to a slow and painful halt. Of course it was easier 2 years ago, when I was unemployed and didn't have to expend my energy at a job. Now I work 40-60 hours a week in the finance world, and when I come home I don't feel like doing anything but staring at the wall or sleeping. On the weekends I barely manage to get my chores done around the loft, let alone have a creative breakthrough. I intend to start going to the gym regularly again next week, which probably isn't going to help. Time to take inventory and determine where I can conserve energy.

Friday, November 14, 2003

D.C. Sniper Trial

There's been quite a bit of media coverage on the trial of Lee Malvo, the yonger defendant in the sniper shootings case from last fall (Today from NYTimes or CNN or Case analysis at CNN). I'm quite curious as to how the jury will sentence him. Malvo's lawyer, Craig S. Cooley, has put forth the idea that Lee should not be held responsible for his actions, as he was brainwashed by his older companion John A. Muhammad. To any of you not familiar with the mechanisms of indoctrination, I suggest "The Manipulated Mind" by Denise Winn. From what I remember of the initial reports after the defendants capture, I would say that there certainly is a good case to be made that Lee Malvo was "brainwashed". For one thing, he was kept on a very strict diet by Muhammad, which left him in a state of near malnutrition. Studies have proven that such a diet puts the subject in a psychological state conducive to indoctrination. Another important step in the conditioning process was that Muhammad kept Lee isolated from his family and peers. The is a classic technique whereby a person's power stucture and social norms are broken down, leaving them in an extremely vulnerable state. Ultimately, I believe Lee Malvo has to accept some responsibility for his actions, but the brunt of the punishment should be on Muhammad's shoulders. Further reading: check out this link on the Milgram Experiment, which any psychology student should be familiar with.

Comrades! A gift from your benevolent blogCzar!

I have added the ability to comment on posts. Now you, the great unwashed masses who flock to this blog, have a voice! Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

This morning I had a realization: some of the lowest, and highest, states that man can aspire to have a commonality - the lack of experiencing a strong sense of will. On the lower end of the spectrum, for example: you light up another cigarette, even though you've promised yourself you would quit smoking yesterday. The sensation of will is minimal, it's as if you're compelled by some inner force. Another example: some weekends, if I find myself inside of the Union Square subway station, I will fall into my pattern of walking to the uptown 4 train as I do when I'm going to work during the week. My mind gets to wandering, and I end up on the wrong platform before I "snap out of it". Again, the sensation of will is very weak, it's as if my body slipped into it's usual program without much conscious effort on my part. Some examples on the other end of the spectrum: many times when I'm DJing, or really doing any other skilled activity which I've trained for often (dancing, playing a sport, etc), I can slip into a mode where I'm not fully consciously aware of my actions. The instinct I've developed takes over, and sense of will is not well connected to the individual actions. During many of these activities, things are happening so fast it's actually physically impossible for the sensation of will to keep up. Many athletes and artisans have reported similar states when they play music, paint, etc. Another example: creativity and deep insight almost always occur without the sense of will. Try as we might to unravel a riddle, the effort seems to only tighten the knot of mystery - and then, lying in bed later that night, it comes to us in a flash! An apple falls on Newton's head, and he has a sudden insight into the nature of gravity.

One good thing that has come of all this thinking about will and causality is that it's helping me become more aware of the process which I experience as existence, as well as expanding the boundaries of my perception of said process. I've been trying for a long time to put some sort of mental construct in place, a framework which will allow deeper insight into the function of my own psychological programs. This is just another step towards that end, another cog on the gear.

The Nature of Will

The nature of Will and the concept of Free Will - there are few things which are more instinctively intuitive and a priori in our everyday experience. I'm currently reading a book entitled "The Illusion of Conscious Will" by Daniel Wegner, and it's a fascinating look into the psychological and physiological mechanisms of Will. The crux of his argument is that:

"The experience of conscious will arises when we infer that our conscious intention has caused our voluntary action, although both intention and action are themselves caused by mental processes we do not feel."

There is evidence to support this, the first of which was Benjamin Libet's work in 1983. By way of a cleverly designed experiment, Libet and colleagues were able to determine that the subject's brains began to execute a physical movement (in this case the lifting of a finger) before the subject was himself aware of the experience of consciously willing it. Further research indicates that it does indeed seem to be the case that the brain compares any actions we take against our internal set of plans, beliefs, and desires - and if the action taken is a reasonable match with these internal indicators, we experience the sensation of will. Researchers have been quite successful at making people believe they had willed an action when they had not, and cases of people acting in ways which are at odds with their conscious will are well documented (hypnosis, alien hand syndrome, spirit possession, glossalia or speaking in tongues, etc).

This is quite a deviation from the way we typically intuit will. Will is experienced as the motive force in the mind, the causal agent which animates our actions. In the model outlined above, the experience of will is not unlike feeling a burning sensation when you touch a hot pan - the experience of will is entirely distinct from and only sometimes indicative of the internal causal agent.

Something tells me that experiencing will in this way is a biological necessity. I don't believe it would be efficient, or even possible, for humans to be fully aware of the myriad factors which determine our activities. Yet at the same time, we need a system available to us for determining which actions we perform are willed and which ones are not.

The question I'm grappling with at this point is: how should this bit of information change the way I perceive my thoughts, my actions, and my world? A part of me would like to believe that this insight shouldn't change anything. The experience of will may be secondary to the antecedent event which actually causes the activity, but I still caused the activity either way, right? But I can't help but feeling a bit disconnected at this point. Although I am experiencing the sensation of consciously willing my fingers to type these words, I know that something in me commands my fingertips before I experience the sensation of actually willing them to type. My actions seem relegated to the subconscious, that shadowy world of obscurity outside my control. My conscious Self is just along for the ride, all the while conspiring to trick itself into believing it's in the drivers seat.

My body is telling me it's tired, and I'm following it to bed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003


meta - A prefix meaning between, with, after, behind, over, about, beyond, transcending.
ken - Perception, understanding, range of vision, sight.
metaken - Hebrew wording meaning to repair, fix, or improve.

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