Reading Feb/March 2014

Missed a month. I doubt anyone noticed.

 

A Life Decoded – Craig Venter

Autobiography by Venter, the scientist who led the team which sequenced the human genome, and is now the only scientist since Louis Pasteur who has his own research institute and enough funding to do whatever he wants. Fascinating insight into the process of big science – the pressures and corruption in both government and private funding – the truly other world billionaires exist in – big pharma being evil, etc. (Venter has been right at the heart of gene patenting issues, since he has identified more genes and synthesised more DNA than anyone else.) It is also an extreme introduction to the state of the art in biotechnology, as he explains what they did and how they did it (which involved inventing techniques and methods etc – forefront of science type stuff.)

Venter himself is an intense, interesting guy. Seems to deal with life crises by going on reckless dangerous boat adventures and achieving epiphanies. Definitely framed by his experiences as a medic in Vietnam. One of the people alive right now to watch, as what he does next has genuinely potential to change the world forever. Currently he is trying to synthesise life in the lab, and create custom bacteria to do useful things.

Richard Yates – Tao Lin

I didn’t finish this tale of a dysfunctional relationship between deeply dysfunctional people. The book reads like Tao Lin is probably mentally ill, and at least autistic. (So did the last one of his I read a few years back, Eeeee Eee Eeee, which I liked a lot more.) Unique prose and sensibility. Occasionally quite funny. But this one was ultimately broken and not giving enough back.

Mockingjay – Suzanne Clark

Last of the Hunger Games books, first I read, as I didn’t feel like waiting for two years and two more movies to find out how it ends. Fast easy enjoyable read. Bloody and surprising. Jennifer Lawrence nails Katniss. Definitely pleased this is mainstream, as it raises enough issues about mediated society and social control etc to make people think a little.

The Charwoman’s Shadow – Lord Dunsany

A classical fairy-tale style novel from Dunsany, steeped in old-fashioned magic and a bygone era. Gorgeously told, simple and wise. The magician is something else; a truly disturbing rendering of an archetype. He looms over the whole story, and at the end, we realise it was his all along.

ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age – Andre Gunder-Frank

Had been meaning to read this for about 15 years. Economic historian argues persuasively that there has been a global economic system for hundreds if not thousands of years, which was always centred on Asia except for the blip of the past two hundred years. Further, he argues that the West’s recent success was not due to Western exceptionalism – ie not due to our values talents or character, in the process demolishing the axiomatic framework of most pillars of western social theory (Marx, Weber, etc) – but rather to the macro scale forces of the global economic system. Excellent stuff. Summation of a life’s work. Gunder-Frank probably died too soon after this came out to really push it as far as it deserves to go. The historical analysis is essential to any serious student of the world, and what is going on.

The Four Hour Body – Tim Ferriss

Life hacking to the extreme. There’s a lot in this volume, and yeah, it seems quite major changes and improvements are possible with surprisingly little effort, but the real value is the underlying philosophy of the Minimum Effective Dose, and finding out what that is for whatever it is your goals are, and just doing that. Definitely recommended for anyone into hacking their diet, fitness, health, etc.

Total I Ching – Stephen Karcher

Kind of the ultimate I Ching book from my favourite interpreter of the I Ching. Great. Though really just opens a window into another culture and world, and makes one realise how vast, complex and coherent it is, and how much further one would have to travel to really grasp it.

Enochian Vision Magick – Lon Milo DuQuette

DuQuette’s introduction to Enochian magic (part of the magical system channelled via angelic communication by Dr John Dee and Edward Kelley several hundred years ago.) Grounded, lucid, practical.

The Vision and the Voice – Aleister Crowley

Crowley’s account of performing the Enochian Aethyrs while travelling through North African desert in the early 1900s. Eye-opening.

Poor Charlie’s Almanac – Charles Munger

Sort of legendary book of business and life advice from the guy who is silent investment partner to Warren Buffet. Haven’t quite got to the meat of it yet, but definitely a sharp, if dry, mind.

[untitled]

First read through of the draft of the non-fiction book I wrote late last year which I’m not really talking much about. Pleasingly solid.

The Ebony Tower – John Fowles

Short novel. Astoundingly good piece of fiction addressing big questions about life and art and relationships and meaning and love and the intensities we experience along the way. This ranks way up there as a prose work. Highly recommended.

 

top 3′s of 2013

 

…or a half assed year in review just while it occurs to me off the top of my head and before they crop up everywhere; I am pretty culturally out of sync so this will be stuff I encountered this year maybe rather than was definitely released this year.

 

Film

1. The Act of Killing

Perhaps the most astounding, powerful and indescribable documentary – and film in general – I have ever seen. Reviewed back here. Incredible. See it.

2. War Witch (Rebelle)

Phenomenal film about a young girl forced into becoming a child soldier in Africa. And then it goes deeply weird, entering another magical yet completely grounded African reality. Wonderful, intense, bizarre.

3. John Dies at the End

Ridiculous amounts of fun from Don Coscarelli. Not actually sure when this came out but I saw it early this year. Really really fun. Reviewed back here.

 

TV

1. John From Cincinnati

Stoner surfer mystic madness. Possibly the best thing ever. Ten episodes of sheer joy. See it.

2. I think Game of Thrones is the only other thing I have watched.

 

Books

Ouch. Now this will be challenging. These are probably the three that have stayed with me and formed the basis of multiple conversations.

1. Exterminate All the Brutes – Sven Lindqvist

Incredible and unsettling account of the Western colonial expansion and genocide of Africa; and so much more. Reviewed in detail here.

2. The God Problem – Howard Bloom

Bloom is perhaps the most multidisciplinary genius thinker out there, and this is his magnum opus; a synthesis of human exploration and insight into the nature of the universe and its workings, told as a rollicking story through a historical anthropological historical scientific humanistic philosophical biological conceptual &c blend, with remarkable verve and vigour. Epic learnings.

3. Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master Speaks

Singapore’s eminent respected genius leader’s take on pretty much everything that matters about the current state of play in world affairs. An absolute masterclass in what is going on, from someone who knows all the key decision makers, and has been wildly successful at negotiating power at the highest levels for forty years, all in under 200 pages.

 

Music

1. 3 Organic Experiences – Aglaia

Ambient. Lush. Beautiful.

2. Ambiant Otaku – Tetsu Inoue

Ambient. Serene. Beautiful.

3. Toucan Stubbs.

Don’t know that they have released anything. Most interesting live act in Wellington at the moment. Multi-instrumentalist folk duo doing… things. Live. Wonderful things, in strange places.

 

reading September 2013

Stealing Fire From the Gods – James Bonnet

Very much in the Jungian side of archetypal story analysis, building from Joseph Campbell et al but generating a quite remarkably comprehensive model of the nature of story. A hell of a lot in it, perhaps my favourite of these kinds of books* (though hi recency bias), along with The Seven Basic Plots; though I suspect this one is a great deal more practical. Something I will return to. Though also, he crams a lot of high concept stuff into not many pages, and if you don’t already have a solid grounding in Jung/Campbell etc it may be a bit much.

* On the whole I get more out of ones focused on story as a whole rather than script-focused story-structure books, as I don’t think film really matters per se, and the modern era of film introduces many artificial limitations into the nature of stories told; whereas stories themselves, and why we tell them, do matter; story is an essence which pours itself into many forms.

Shoninki: the secret teachings of the ninja: the 17th century manual on the art of concealment – Natori Masazumi

Comes across as strangely humorous several centuries later. I guess if you were raised as a cold-war kid the levels of paranoia and subterfuge around spying that seem normal are high. This ninja manual is oddly genteel, though has its moments of insight.

Magic For Beginners – Kelly Link

Joyously wonderful fresh and weird short stories. Deliriously delightful. The title story in particular is extraordinary. Her voice is idiosyncratic and lively and her stories are very weird, and not always successful, but those that are win so hard it is frightening.

Brain Magick – Philip Farber

NLP, neuropsychology and magick rolled into one, with a particular focus on invocation, by one of the most lucid explorers of these realms. Found it a fun and easy read, but I am primed for these areas.

Stranger Things Happen – Kelly Link

Earlier short story collection from Link. Still enjoying them. Which is an achievement, since short fiction is not my medium, and for me to read two books by anyone in a row is pretty rare. A real and definite original.

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In other media, watched Season One of Battlestar Galactica. Really enjoyed the pilot and first episode. Descended into episodic malarkey and hokey-ness a wee bit, but still pretty solid. A curious blend of SF and fantasy/metaphysical elements, saddled with some heavy handed commentary on the war on terror which plays more absurdly now than it would have at the time it came out. Will probably keep going with it, since the finale made a right mess of things. And yes, Tamsyn, the music is amazing.

 

june mutants

Israel Defence Force “live tweeting” the 1967 6 day war as it happened. Which just seems weird.

Interview with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

Hey, wouldn’t it be neat if you could look at 30 years of satellite images of earth in time lapse? Yup.

Why I am no longer a skeptic. Long but fascinating and balanced account of why a dude is fed up with the skeptic movement. This was just the first interesting/quotable thing in it.

That’s right: the nerds won, decades ago, and they’re now as thoroughly established as any other part of the establishment. And while nerds a relatively new elite, they’re overwhelmingly the same as the old: rich, white, male, and desperate to hang onto what they’ve got. And I have come to realise that skepticism, in their hands, is just another tool to secure and advance their privileged position, and beat down their inferiors. As a skeptic, I was not shoring up the revolutionary barricades: instead, I was cheering on the Tsar’s cavalry.

History and maps:

During the age of exploration there were two kinds of maps: Some were intended for general consumption, others were tightly held state secrets. The maps Magellan used to circumnavigate the globe, for example, were of the latter sort. Although Magellan’s maps were rife with blank spots showing the limits of Spanish exploration, they contained more detail than the public maps. The Portuguese and Spanish empires’ secret maps revealed landforms and trade routes the rival empires sought to hide from one another. Other, deliberately inaccurate, maps were produced and “leaked” from one empire to another in elaborate disinformation and deception campaigns.

You can download Psychedelic Information Theory by James Kent for free. Based on that title, you know if you want to or not.

Cosmologist Lee Smolin’s piece on Edge is mindfuckingly interesting, if the interrelation between science and metaphysics interest you: Think About Nature.

eg:

 So that’s the first conclusion—that the methodology that works for physics and has worked for hundreds of years—there’s nothing wrong with it in the context in which its been applied to successfully—but it breaks down when you push to the limits of explanation, reductionism breaks down. It also breaks down when you push on the other end to larger and larger systems to the universe as a whole. I mentioned several reasons why it breaks down, but there are others. Let me mention one. When we experiment with small parts of the universe, we do experiments over and over again. That’s part of the scientific method. You have to reproduce the results of an experiment so you have to do it over and over again. And by doing that, you separate the effect of general laws from the effect of changing the initial conditions. You can start the experiment off different ways and look for phenomena which are still general. These have to do with general laws. And so you can cleanly separate the role of initial condition from the role of the general law.

When it comes to the universe as a whole, we can’t do that. There’s one universe and it runs one time. We can’t set it up, we didn’t start it and indeed, in working cosmology in inflationary theory, there’s a big issue because you can’t separately testing hypotheses about the laws from testing hypotheses about the initial conditions, because there was just one initial condition and we’re living in its wake. This is another way in which this general method breaks down. So we need a new methodology.

I don’t even know where to start with this piece, it deserves its own post and ruminations.

 

And this just to remind me to watch it at some point: the complete McBain movie hidden throughout clips in the Simpsons

 

Remember where you are and why you are here.

Go out one clear starlit night to some open space and look up at the sky

at those millions of worlds over your head.

Remember that perhaps on each of them swarm billions of beings,

similar to you or perhaps superior in their organization.

Look at the Milky Way. The earth cannot even

be called a grain of sand in this infinity.

It dissolves and vanishes, and with it, you.

Where are you? And is what you want simply madness?

.

Before all these worlds ask yourself what are your aims and hopes,

your intentions and means of fulfilling them,

the demands that may be made upon you and

your preparedness to meet them.

.

A long and difficult journey is before you…

Remember where you are and why you are here.

Do not protect yourselves and remember that no effort is made

in vain. And now you can set out on the way.

- Gurdjieff

sunday mutants april

Hmm. Printing this manuscript is taking a few hours. Ah! Twitter!

 

The Web We Lost – short and fascinating look back at how much has changed online in ten years.

Weirdly fascinating breakdown of China’s online gaming industry, and other internet businesses.  It is evolving differently in isolation  over there.

use LinkedIn smarter I’m not on, but figure it to be inevitable.

 

The answers to this year’s Edge question are out: 192 smart people’s replies to the question

“What is your favourite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?”.

Pretty much a selective must read.

 

On cold reading, and why it still exists

Sundberg’s study highlights one of the difficulties in this area. A fake, universal sketch can be seen as a better description of oneself than can a uniquely tailored description by trained psychologists based upon one of the best assessment devices we have.

 Life as a Mexican drug gangster’s moll

Mattermap – contextual tool/app to create maps about issues, debates, conversations

 

sunday mutants

Or, my last hour on twitter, reading the last few days of my /mutants list. Really, if you aren’t using Twitter for awesome, you are failing at the interwebs.

 

Dude stops eating food for a month.

There are no meats, fruits, vegetables, or breads here. Besides olive oil for fatty acids and table salt for sodium and chloride nothing is recognizable as food. I researched every substance the body needs to survive, plus a few extras shown to be beneficial, and purchased all of them in nearly raw chemical form from a variety of sources.

Ratting. Dudes remotely hacking your webcams and messing with you. It’s a thiing.

Pornstars before and after makeup.

Microsoft getting closer to figuring out what makes shit go viral. [video]

Magic mushrooms and transhumanism

according to this peer-reviewed paper indexed by the National Institutes of Health, magic mushrooms could be the way to help posthumans retain or regain the morality needed to be good transpersonal godling/citizens.

Human brain cells make mice smart

A team of neuroscientists has grafted human brain cells into the brains of mice and found that the rodents’ rate of learning and memory far surpassed that of ordinary mice.  Remarkably, the cells transplanted were not neurons, but rather types of brain cells, called glia, that are incapable of electrical signaling.  The new findings suggest that information processing in the brain extends beyond the mechanism of electrical signaling between neurons.

A quote that turned up: “Lewis Mumford berated suburban life as “an asylum for the preservation of illusion.” ”

 

avatars and orgasms

 

Two random talks I watched the other day from TEDxSF. Very different, but both pretty fascinating.

The first is virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier talking about all kinds of stuff and managing to be interesting the whole time. He starts by blowing some ancient weird instrument and then explaining how it created the computer maybe, and from there goes all over the place, the unexpected possibilities of avatars, and man who knows what. An interesting mind.

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The second is Nicole Daedone talking about orgasms. First encountered this lady and her work via Tim Ferriss talking about 15 minute female orgasms. Here she talks about her work and what it means.

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Somehow I feel like this blog’s audience is people who will find both of these talks interesting.

 

Pharmaceutical industry even more corrupt and evil than previously suspected

We of the dancing moose have been tracking the fucked-up-ness of the pharmaceutical industry for quite a while, and even blogged some of it over the last six or seven years. For instance, the inappropriate medicalisation of minor conditions and attendant hard-sell of prescription remedies, manipulating lawmaking, the general desire to screen and drug the whole population, the corrupt links between drug-makers and the psychiatric experts who determine what drug shall be the default prescription, their insane profit driven priorities (erection pills over medicines), noting that legal drugs kill more than illegal, the insane PR lengths the industry goes to, and so forth.

But the latest revelation is actually beyond the fucking pale.

The Guardian’s piece from last week, The drugs don’t work: a modern medical scandal is a really extraordinary expose of big pharmaceutical companies’ practices.

Essentially, those psychiatric drugs that are tested and proven effective? That testing process is dodgy. Intentionally, consciously.

Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials throw up results that companies don’t like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug’s true effects. Regulators see most of the trial data, but only from early on in a drug’s life, and even then they don’t give this data to doctors or patients, or even to other parts of government. This distorted evidence is then communicated and applied in a distorted fashion.

The pharmaceutical companies exercise controls over the process, so that they can kill studies that aren’t going the way they want. They engage in selective reporting – just plain not reporting studies (often larger and more significant than those on which the effectiveness is claimed) which fail to show positive effects.

How broken is this? Industry funded studies are four times more likely to report positive results. This is a total rape of scientific methodology for financial gain. This is dishonesty leading directly to suffering so fucking corporations can make money.

I did everything a doctor is supposed to do. I read all the papers, I critically appraised them, I understood them, I discussed them with the patient and we made a decision together, based on the evidence. In the published data, reboxetine was a safe and effective drug. In reality, it was no better than a sugar pill and, worse, it does more harm than good. As a doctor, I did something that, on the balance of all the evidence, harmed my patient, simply because unflattering data was left unpublished.

Nobody broke any law in that situation, reboxetine is still on the market and the system that allowed all this to happen is still in play, for all drugs, in all countries in the world.

The author goes on to examine the systemic failings of the system of drug testing and prescription. It is hella worth reading.

 

 

What particularly gets me angry is the misapplication of the disease model of mental illness. We are being lied to about our nature, about our minds, and being drugged with horrible shit that has hideous side effects and often doesn’t help – and this is being done knowingly.

What goes on in our heads is not just a question of brain chemistry; our brain chemistry, and our general state of being, is a result of being human beings embedded in the world, acting and receiving feedback from those actions. Our troubles and their solutions are both to be found in that same domain, not a pill.

-=-=-

Bonus note: most of our drugs are synthesised from plants. The general reductionist belief in isolating a single active ingredient from a plant itself is largely driven by profit, and to make researcher’s lives easy. However, we are complex beings, and plants are complex, and the interactions between them are complex. See this article from Dr Andrew Weil: Why Plants are (usually) better than drugs for some examples of how whole plant remedies work.

a simple choice: the economy or the planet

From Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, Bill McKibben’s latest blunt assessment of where climate, fossil fuels and politics intersect:

We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.

Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically above ground – it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide – those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It’s why they’ve worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada’s tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians.

So yeah. If we use one fifth of our available fossil fuel reserves we will blow the 2 degree temperature increase that is our bare minimum safety estimate, at which things will be pretty fucked, and beyond which things will be kinda catastrophically fucked.
And he points the finger at the fossil-fuel industry as those whose business model is killing the planet, and urges means to target them, and engage a carbon pricing system that will keep 4/5ths of remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Which is a big ask.
But hey, it seems a simple choice. We can choose a broken economy or the ecological system that allows life as we know it.
The economy, economic value, and money, are not real. The ecological system on which our lives depend is.
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