Push to Window – 3 links

James Fallon is a neuroscientist. Once day while working on a project into Alzheimer’s, using his own family’s brain scans as raw data, he discovered that his own brain was, in clinical terms, the brain of a psychopath. That is to say, he quite accidentally, discovered that he was to all intents and purposes a psychopath. So he wrote a book about it. This link is an interview with him. Fascinating.

Again, I was joking around, but it was a real danger. The next day, we walked into the Kitum Caves and you could see where rocks had been knocked over by the elephants.  There was also the smell of all of this animal dung—and that’s where the guy got the Marburg [a fatal virus]; scientists didn’t know whether it was the dung or the bats.

A bit later, my brother read an article in The New Yorker about Marburg, which inspired the movie Outbreak. He asked me if I knew about it. I said, “Yeah. Wasn’t it exciting? Nobody gets to do this trip.” And he called me names and said, “Not exciting enough. We could’ve gotten Marburg; we could have gotten killed every two seconds.” All of my brothers have a lot of machismo and brio; you’ve got to be a tough guy in our family. But deep inside, I don’t think that my brother fundamentally trusts me after that. And why should he, right? To me, it was nothing.



This is the text of Maciej Ceglowski’s talk at this year’s Webstock. Under the guise of exploring the moments when the future makes itself known to us he treats us to the story of Lev Sergeyevich Termen. And it really is a treat. Termen was a soviet scientist, first under Lenin, then under Stalin. He also invented the Theremin, technology that was a distant precursor to the touch screens we all carry around today.

There’s a very important rant about 2/3rds of the way through about the centralisation of power, as a result of the current internet architecture. Its long but also very entertaining.

Why make such a big deal of electrification?

Well, Lenin had just led a Great Proletarian Revolution in a country without a proletariat, which is like making an omelette without any eggs. You can do it, but it raises questions. It’s awkward.

Lenin needed a proletariat in a hurry, and the fastest way to do that was to electrify and industrialize the country.

But there was another, unstated reason for the campaign. Over the centuries, Russian peasants had become experts at passively resisting central authority. They relied on the villages of their enormous country being backward, dispersed, and very hard to get to.

Lenin knew that if he could get the peasants on the grid, it would consolidate his power. The process of electrifying the countryside would create cities, factories, and concentrate people around large construction projects. And once the peasantry was dependent on electric power, there would be no going back.



This last link is also a small trip back into recent history, telling the broad story of former congressman Otis Pike who died earlier this year. Pike was the unfortunate soul who in 1975 led the house committee investigating the American security apparatus, both the NSA and CIA, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. He was an earnest man and he tried to do the job properly, not that it did him any favours. If you have found yourself wondering why no American politicians are putting their neck on the line with regard to the problem’s with the NSA as revealed by Snowden, this piece may help explain why. Parts of the rhetoric read as if they are written about 2013 not 1972.

Meanwhile, an even more radical subcommittee on privacy in the House, headed by Bella Abzug, targeted the NSA’s domestic spying program, subpoenaing government officials and the heads of the major telecoms and cable telex firms—AT&T, ITT, Western Union and RCA. The more the House dug into the NSA’s foundations, the more they discovered about the murky extralegal arrangements and deals made between private telecom firms and the National Security State apparatus. In the late 1940s, as the NSA was being formed out of the Army Security Agency and other military signal intelligence branches, Truman’s top defense officials cajoled the major US cable telex firms to agree to let the nascent NSA tap into all international communications. Some of the firms were more reluctant than others; all asked for written legal assurances and legislative action, but were given less than they were promised

There was a price to pay, and Pike paid it.

American public opinion proved to be fickle and shallow, and the reactionaries in the intelligence community took advantage of this fickleness to destroy Pike and others like him. When in January 1976 the Pike Committee approved its draft report slamming the intelligence community as a dangerous boondoggle, calling for radical budget reductions, the abolition of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other radical structural reforms, the special counsel to CIA director George H. W. Bush called Pike’s office and warned that if the report was approved, “we’ll destroy him for this.”…..And so they did



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