Celebration and Reflection

Happy Christmas! Since the domination of Christianity in Rome, it has replaced the pagan holiday of Saturnalia though now has become just as secular as surely Saturnalia must have been during its decline. Let us celebrate our lives, friends, and families. Let us exchange tokens of our affection in examples of the wonderful progress that humanity has achieved after the brilliant collaborative effort by learned and well-intentioned people of science: iPods, computers, cell phones, DVDs, what have you.

When you have finished, take some time to reflect on the mentalities of those who worked to bring you the iPods or the ability to read this blog: people such as Galileo Galilei, Issac Newton, Allan Turing, James Maxwell, Benjamin Franklin, etc. Then take some time to reflect on the political leaders that have tended to dominate while the scientists progressed to our current state. Surely the scientists had a great deal more to do with our current quality of life than did those politicians and rulers and those rulers who did give us progress did so only through listening to the scientists and technocrats.

As we close 2006, let us all recognise that humanity has tried its very hardest to spite the unquestionably positive phase it has entered in the information technology revolution and revert to: a) the Dark Ages of ignorance by religious fundamentalism and jihad; b) the breakdown of the International political system of diplomacy between cooperative sovereign nation states as seen in the run up to the Great War with the war in Iraq. c) the utter fecklessness of International negotiation and treaty organisations a la mode de League of Nations in performing their vital roles to coordinate and enforce basic regulations for the peace and prosperity of mankind on the planet. I refer of course to the collapse of the Kyoto Protocols or any system to limit and reduce the emission of Greenhouse gases and other factors in the sixth extinction currently taking place. As with the League, the non-participation of the United States in climate protection was the decisive factor in its ineffectiveness. d) the erosion of civil liberties and the enforcement of basic constitutional law with a popular nationalistic, jingoistic mobilisation for war against innocuous innocent bystanders with the ultimate aim of seizing military position, valuable resources, and as some sort of unholy experiment in a backwards and ill-founded ideology disturbingly similar to the Fascism or Communism of Eurasia in the 20th Century. Iraq has lost on the order of 600,000 people as a result of the Invasion, only one order of magnitude below the relative losses witnessed in 20th century conflicts.

As we approach January, let us remember Janus, the god of mirrors, the god of doorways, the god of two faces - one looking forward, one backward. New Years, the modern acknowledgement of Janus is coming soon, and so let us reflect.

So far the twenty-first century since the birth of Jesus, which was to be the payoff for the ~10 millennia of human effort and suffering that went before has been a reminder of the lessons of the previous century. We can either choose to learn those lessons the easy way, through an intellectual study of the past and a willingness to cooperate and act properly as responsible, sentient, civilised beings, or to continue to give in to our racial, sectarian, and nationalistic passions on a clear path toward self-destruction.

That having been said, Robert X. Cringely, one of the technocrats, points out in a much less dramatic way some simple examples of how our resources could have been better applied this second millennium since Jesus. It seems almost non sequitur after all I have said, but believe it or not, this post has provoked my end of year meditation.



A friend of mine this week participated in an Army research study to test the effect of low dose ketamine on functional and cognitive ability. This research may have implications to administering ketamine as a less impairing analgesic for soldiers than opiates. The doses were so low that he experienced none of the effects of anaesthetic levels such as dissociative or out of body experiences to his chagrin. He was quite pleased to have tried this controlled substance in a safe and legal context whilst being paid and contributing to the advancement of medical science. Ketamine perfectly illustrates the deleterious effect of puritanical political leaders and lawmakers on medicine, scientific research, freedom, and safety. To paraphrase Orwell, the 'War on Drugs' is a war by the State upon its own citizens, and has little to do with the destructive impact of drugs on people's lives. Fearful of corrupt local law enforcement, and unable to access proper medical care or quality drugs as ravers and other users have been driven deeper underground. In such a miasma, Scientific researchers are unable to properly analyse the effects of the drug over the relatively large preexisting population of users. This translates to loss of life, poor health, and needless suffering for soldier and citizen alike.

I have previously mentioned ketamine.


Johnny Hallyday

French music legend, Johnny Hallyday, has decided to leave his Fatherland to live in Switzerland. Hallyday's sole reason: he is fed up with the cut-throat tax structure in France. As Thomas Jefferson once said, "The power to tax is the power to destroy." The general socialist attitude particularly pronounced among the French is one of contempt for people of wealth. In addition to taxes on income, citoyens are taxed again on aggregate wealth. I am reminded of Ayn Rand's endless ranting novel 'Atlas Shrugged' in which the wealthy and productive captains of industry, disillusioned with the contempt the socialist society has for them and unwilling to watch all of their fortunes nationalised, bankrupt their industries which underpin the economy and escape to a mountain fortress to live in libertarian peace. Charles Bremner's say.

See also the classic Tom Baker 'Doctor Who' episode 'The Sun Makers.'



Yet another illegal drug proves its medical benefits. Psilocybin has been shown an effective treatment for some people suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Psilocybin, or "Magic Mushroom," is a commonly used hallucinogen which greatly influenced thinkers like Terrance McKenna and is an important sacrament for many aboriginal Americans. This relatively safe substance should be decriminalised the world over along the Dutch model. Additional funding should be granted to studying the potential medical uses for this and other criminalised substances.

New Scientist article on Psychedelic Medicine.



This weekend I saw Gibson's 'Apocalypto.' I came away extremely impressed. I was very surprised to learn that this is in fact a Disney film. How often does Disney sponsor works of such brutal violence or cultural awareness? I guess it takes Mel Gibson, the man who made 'The Passion.' The film displayed all the best features of a Hollywood epic in terms of elaborate sets, costumes, soundtrack and exquisite cinematography and yet was very unorthodox in its subject matter: a Mayan civilisation with dialogue from its now dead language and its sacrificial victims. While not much is explained about the theology, outlook, rich science, and technology of this civilisation because it is told from the perspective of a fringe hunter gatherer, living a traditional tribal lifestyle in the jungle. The film is aesthetic, visual, visceral, forcing the viewer to evaluate and relate to this completely foreign society and civilisation on purely emotional and instinctual level rather than an intellectual one. If nothing else, I took from it a much deeper appreciation for traditional human lifestyles and the warrior, hunter gatherer within all of us, whose role is largely destroyed in modern society. However, be assured that if all our our technology disappeared in a civilisation ending event, such is the life to which we would return.

If you cannot tolerate violence do not see his film. A lifetime of brutal violence and human suffering is displayed in a mere 2 hours. However, it was not as extreme as Gibson's 'Passion of the Christ' which enthralled so many Christians.

I reject the harsh criticisms I have read or heard about this movie. Mel Gibson is a very sick man, but a genius film maker all the same. For a better understanding of Gibson and his controversial work, I highly recommend the South Park episode, 'The Passion of the Jew.'


Carl Jung

Man's relation to God probably has to undergo a certain important change: Instead of the propitiating praise to an unpredictable king or the child's prayer to a loving father, the responsible living and fulfilling of the divine will in us will be our form of worship and commerce with God.

His goodness means grace and light and His dark side the terrible temptation of power.

Man has already received so much knowledge that he can destroy his own planet.

Let us hope that God's good spirit will guide him in his decisions, because it will depend upon man's decision whether God's creation will continue.

Nothing shows more drastically than this possibility how much of divine power has come within the reach of man.

-Carl G. Jung, Letter to Elined Kotschnig, 1956

Documentary 'Matter of the Heart' on Carl G. Jung.

De France en Anglais

A French 24/24 news station broadcast in English will be a very important advancement for humanity. Like it or not, most of the World's power and wealth is tied up in the hands of English speakers. France must reach out to anglophones if they wish to maintain relevance in the world. The French people have an important and unique perspective to share with the world, but it is not enough to be self-riteous, smug, and otherwise complacent. Unless they engage the rest of the World in the Universal Language, they will continue to be ignored by the wealthy but ignorant unwashed masses of America and elsewhere with potentially devastating consequences à la mode d'Iraq.

This issue highlights the sad state of English proficiency in France, a situation resulting as much from misguided governmental policy as cultural pride. France has a centuries old responsibility to play a leadership role in the World. Such responsibility now demands a nationwide fluency in English. Même si les Anglais sont les ennemis culturels, la France doit bien connaître son ennemi.

Genetic Diversity

New genetic data reveals what most of us already know intuitively, genetic diversity is much more varied and complex than previous studies and textbooks would suggest - statements like "We share 99.5% of our genes with one another." Previous studies did not properly measure the level of copies or deletions among individuals. The existence of high genetic variation makes sense given the large differences seen among humans, but similarly reflects the overall health of our species. Genetic diversity can be thought of as genetic wealth. Genetic poverty, a lack of diversity, comes from intense stress, isolation, or bottlenecking of a population which surely has occurred in the past for almost every species alive today. Indeed, the eugenicists of the twentieth century had their priorities completely backwards. This new understanding of genetic diversity will also help to better treat genetic diseases which are rapidly becoming the limiting factor on human health as infectious disease and malnutrition wane.

Income Distribution

Most socialists view income equality alone to be a positive contributor to social welfare. I disagree with such an evaluation in theory, but among for example wealthy European nations, I agree in practice having preferred the lifestyle and culture I have experienced there to that of any other place.

This FT article gives a spattering of inequality statistics which helps to put capital distribution into some perspective.


Autistic Savants

The line between extreme mental capability and extreme handicap is a very thin one. I recommend this documentary "Brainman" featuring particularly Daniel Tammet who is lucky enough to be both extremely capable in memory and calculation while remaining relatively well adjusted to society and able to communicate his thought processes normally. The documentary features the real Rainman as well as Cambridge Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen, a renowned authority on autism and second cousin to legendary comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen.


Advance in Genetic Engineering

While many lament and fear the development of genetically engineered crops or animals or even people, the potential benefits far outweigh the costs. The latest example is the cotton plant. Cottonseed contains a toxin, gossypol, rendering it inedible to animals. Cotton farmers harvest as much mass of useless cotton seeds as useful cotton fiber. New genetically engineered cotton does not contain gossypol in the protein-rich seeds, thus making the seeds edible by animals and humans alike. This will have the potential to greatly increase the food supply, especially for some of the World's poorest. Cottonseed may prove a culinary delight as well.

Aside: While the spread of new engineered genes into the native populations is something generally to be avoided, let us not forget that almost all crops and livestock are the result of the slow process of genetic engineering through artificial selection, or breeding. Very few human engineered crops fare very well against the time-tested rigors of the Darwinian wilderness.