Hump Day Art

Zander Olsen’s Tree, Line project is 

almost preposterously simple. 

He wraps segments of tree trunks in 

white linen so that, when photographed 

from a particular distance, this 

negative space lines up 

perfectly with its surroundings. 

Jailed For Not Believing

Recently reported in the news was this interesting article…

Barry Hazle is an atheist who was incarcerated for a year due to a drug charge before he was released on parole. As a condition of his parole, however, Hazle was required to attend a 90-day residential drug treatment program. Although Hazle did not object to attending such a program, he did object to the fact that he was assigned to a 12-step program with explicitly religious content referring to “God” and a “higher power.” 

As Hazle wrote in an official challenge to this placement, “I have committed myself to a full and lasting secular recovery and complete abstinence from illegal drugs,” but he objects to “forced participation in any spiritual/religious activities.”

Despite his objections, Hazle remained in the religious 12-step program, all while unsuccessfully trying to get transferred to a secular program. A little over a month after he entered the program, however, the program complained that Hazle was “sort of passive aggressive.” Hazle was charged with a parole violation, arrested, and incarcerated for another 100 days.

Though the state later claimed that he was removed from the 12-step program due to his own behavior, a federal judge rejected this claim, explaining that the state’s “argument rings hollow in light of the undisputed facts showing that Plaintiff was only ‘disruptive’ in the program ‘in a congenial way.’”

Bravo for the Judge but can you believe how all this intelligent minded, well intentioned people simply act without thinking…  or, without thinking it through completely.

And, here is the real wonder of it all…  the article on Hazle continues with the following:

…the Constitution forbade the state of California from placing him in a religious program against his will in the first place. As the Supreme Court explained in the 1947 case Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing.

Boy, this revelation is a zinger and clearly someone did not do their homework.  But, we are not done yet, because the article continues with this mind boggler:

…the federal appeals court which oversees California was even more direct. “For the government to coerce someone to participate in religious activities,” the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit explained in Inouye v. Kemna, “strikes at the core of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” So Mr. Hazle could not be given a choice between participating in a religious program or being put back behind bars.

When will it ever end, asked rhetorically.

Unethical Marketing Techniques

The following is an excerpt from a recent Huffington Post article:

Ever wonder why your iPhone seems to slow down after a few years? Why the once-amazing device gets cranky and struggles to perform basic tasks or load apps?

The answer lies in Apple's software, and it's a key part of the company's strategy to keep millions of people buying new iPhones.

Apple releases a new mobile operating system every year, and that keeps a powerful cycle in motion. Each fall for the last few years, people have rushed to download the latest and greatest version of iOS, which is designed for -- and, as a result, works best on -- the newest hardware that is also released around the same time. In the months leading up to the release, many app developers furiously update their apps for the latest operating system.

But, this is not a new phenomenon that we are experiencing but a marketing strategy that has worked over and over again for years.

Microsoft follows the same strategy with their Windows OS and do the manufacturers of computers like Dell who have to develop larger and harder HDD’s in order to keep up with the latest and greatest programs taking up more and more space.

But again, nothing new.

In 1980, I was in Business Grad School and we were informed by our Marketing instructors that it would be our jobs in the future to convince people to buy our products knowing they did not need them nor could they afford them.  We were also told about a strategy called, “built in obsolescence.”

This engineering concept simply stated means teach your engineers to design products and have them build so that they will need to be replaced in 3-5 years because they no longer function correctly.

But this concept has underlying ethical issues, so the change took place to build better and better products that needed to be replaced but not because they were worn out but because they needed to be upgraded in order to function better than they did before.

No ethical concerns here…


Transracial Parenting

Mom of three Rachel Garlinghouse joined HuffPost Live Tuesday to talk about the challenges that come along with parenting children of another race.

Garlinghouse and her husband decided to adopt children after she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. 

All three of their children are black, and since mom and dad are white, Garlinghouse says her family doesn't have the privilege of being "color blind."

"When my family walks into a room, everybody knows my kids are adopted," she told host Marc Lamont Hill. "Everybody knows I'm white. Everyone notices my kids are black. 

There's no holding hands, there's no tolerance. There's none of that. That is the first thing people see. My kids have seen color since they were 2 years old. They know they're brown and I'm pink."

The hardest part, Garlinghouse says, is preparing her children for the racism they might encounter down the road -- something she does not have the experience to do alone.

"I'm white. I have to go to the community that we've created around ourselves to help because truly when you adopt transracially, it does take a village," she said. "I am not enough for my children to prepare them for the racism they're going to encounter because I haven't experienced it myself. I have to go to those we've surrounded ourselves and say, 'Hey, I need help with this.' Transracial parenting, it takes humbleness and it takes help."

She said that she has a mentor that has been with the family for over two years and has been invaluable.

"I wanted a long standing relationship with someone who could help me parent my children." Garlinghouse said. "She's not only mentoring the girls, she's mentoring me. It's been an incredible experience."

Today, approximately 40 percent of adoptions in America are transracial — and that number is growing. In decades past, many American parents of transracial adoptions simply rejected racial categories, raising their children as though racial distinctions didn't matter.

"Social workers used to tell parents, 'You just raise your child as though you gave birth to her,' " Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, tells NPR's Neal Conan. "An extreme majority of transracially adopted kids ... grew up wishing they were white or thinking they were white, not wanting to look in mirrors."

Pertman's organization has conducted extensive research on transracial adoption in America. He says turning a blind eye to race wasn't good for anybody. "We don't live in a colorblind society," he says.

Are We There Yet?

NK Labor Camps

UNITED NATIONS (AP)€” North Korea publicly acknowledged the existence of its labor camps, an admission that appeared to come in response to a highly critical U.N. human rights report earlier this year.

Diplomats for the reclusive, impoverished country also told reporters that a top North Korea official has visited the headquarters of the European Union and expressed interest in dialogue, with discussions on human rights expected next year.

North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador Ri Tong Il said the secretary of his country's ruling Workers' Party had visited the EU, and that "we are expecting end of this year to open political dialogue between the two sides." The human rights dialogue would follow.

In Brussels, an EU official confirmed a recent North Korea meeting with the EU's top human rights official, Stavros Lambrinidis, but said any dialogue currently planned is limited to rights issues.

Choe Myong Nam, a North Korean foreign ministry official in charge of U.N. affairs and human rights issues, said at a briefing with reporters that his country has no prison camps and, in practice, "no prison, things like that."

Click on image to enlarge

But he briefly discussed the "reform through labor" camps. "Both in law and practice, we do have reform through labor detention camps, detention centers ” where people are improved through their mentality and look on their wrongdoings," he said.

Such "re-education" labor camps are for common offenders and some political prisoners, but most political prisoners are held in a harsher system of political prison camps.

The North Korean officials took several questions but did not respond to one about the health of leader Kim Jong Un, who has made no public appearances since Sept. 3 and skipped a high-profile recent event he usually attends.

The officials said they don't oppose human rights dialogue as long as the issue isn't used as a "tool for interference." Their briefing seemed timed in advance of the latest resolution on North Korea and human rights that the EU and Japan put to the U.N. General Assembly every year.


The Fix Is In

A fix is set for all major currencies every day by taking the median price of trades that occur 30 seconds before 4 p.m.

London time, and 30 seconds after. 

The exchange rates set by the fix determine the prices that most big investors will pay. 

They're also used by banks to value their positions.

Bloomberg first reported in June that banks and selected trading partners were colluding to trade at certain rates in order to try to influence the day’s fix so they could sell currencies to clients at an elevated or deflated level.

Traders shared a private online chat room to communicate about trades that would affect the fix.

The key to understanding the currency trading scandal is the difference between the fix, and fixing.

The fix is institutionalized, normalized, transparent, and important to regulators, traders, and investors.

Fixing, according to the Times report of the DOJ investigation, was institutionalized and normalized.

It was transparent, if you were in the chatroom. 

It was important to some traders, seemed to be tolerated by regulators, and apparently was unknown to investors.

In short, fixing corrupted the fix.

There’s a reason the head of the Bank of England said in March that the currency scandal was “as serious as Libor, if not more so.”

The foreign exchange market is the largest and most liquid in the world. Daily volume is $5.3 trillion, and prices are quoted to four decimal places. 

The harm in this case -– beyond the notion of sullying fair markets -– is mostly to very large currency funds, and is hard to quantify.

Speaking to Bloomberg in June, the London School of Economics’ Tom Kirchmaier went straight to the theoretical: “Any rigging of the price mechanism leads to a miss allocation of capital and is extremely costly to society.”

Retail clients are hurt in the currency exchange market by absurd fees and unfavorable exchange rates.

There is a way the behavior of the banks under investigation reflects the behavior across financial markets. 

When the scandal first broke, the Financial Times’ Izabella Kaminska pointed out that big traders concentrating transactions within a short time to move markets is a characteristic of most markets. 

“In some sense,” she wrote, “that’s what trading is about.”

The difference here is that this wasn’t just traders using these tactics to boost their own portfolios, but to beat clients to the punch and make them buy for more and sell for less.

I know I left it somewhere....

Space Molecule

Scientists have found the beginnings of life-bearing chemistry at the center of the galaxy.

Iso-propyl cyanide has been detected in a star-forming cloud 27,000 light-years from Earth.

Its branched carbon structure is closer to the complex organic molecules of life than any previous finding from interstellar space.

The discovery suggests the building blocks of life may be widespread throughout our galaxy.

Various organic molecules have previously been discovered in interstellar space, but i-propyl cyanide is the first with a branched carbon backbone.

The branched structure is important as it shows that interstellar space could be the origin of more complex branched molecules, such as amino acids, that are necessary for life on Earth.

Dr Arnaud Belloche from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy is lead author of the research, which appears in the journal Science.

"Amino acids on Earth are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are very important for life as we know it. The question in the background is: is there life somewhere else in the galaxy?"

The molecule was detected in a giant gas cloud called Sagittarius B2, an active region of ongoing star formation in the centre of the Milky Way.

As stars are born in the cloud they heat up microscopic dust grains. Chemical reactions on the surface of the dust allow complex molecules like i-propyl cyanide to form.

The molecules emit radiation that was detected as radio waves by twenty 12m telescopes at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Alma) in Chile.

Each molecule produces a different "spectral fingerprint" of frequencies. "The game consists in matching these frequencies… to molecules that have been characterized in the laboratory," explained Dr Belloche.

"Our goal is to search for new complex organic molecules in the interstellar medium."

Previously discovered molecules in the Sagittarius B2 cloud include vinyl alcohol and ethyl formate, the chemical that gives raspberries their flavor and rum its smell.

But i-propyl cyanide is the largest and most complex organic molecule found to date - and the only one to share the branched atomic backbone of amino acids.

"The idea is to know whether the elements that are necessary for life to occur… can be found in other places in our galaxy."


T. G. I. F. Solitude

It May Be Possible

What happens to us after we die?

No one knows for sure…  not even theologians who rely entirely on their beliefs…

But a provocative new study on near-death experiences suggests that a brief version of "life after death" may be a reality.

For the study, researchers at the University of Southampton in England examined more than 2,000 cases of cardiac arrest from 15 hospitals across the U.K., the U.S., and Austria. They found that of 360 people who had been revived after experiencing cardiac arrest, about 40 percent of them had some sort of "awareness" during the period when they were "clinically dead."

And that's not all. One man's memory of what he saw "after death" was spot-on in describing what actually happened during his resuscitation. The 57-year-old reported hearing two beeps come from a machine that went off every three minutes -- indicating that his conscious experience during the time he had no heartbeat lasted for around three minutes. 

According to the researchers, that suggests the man's brain may not have shut down completely, even after his heart stopped.

"This is paradoxical, since the brain typically ceases functioning within 20-30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn’t resume again until the heart has been restarted," study co-author Dr. Sam Parnia, a professor of medicine at Stony Brook University and former research fellow at Southampton University, said in a written statement.

Parnia added that it's possible even more patients in the study had mental activity following cardiac arrest but were unable to remember events during the episode as a result of brain injury or the use of sedative drugs.

What do others say about the study? Some experts say it coincides with emerging ideas in resuscitation medicine about how the body dies, and the potential to reverse the dying process.

"We used to think dying was black-and white, 'bang-bang, you're dead,'" 

Dr. Stephan Mayer, director of the Institute for Critical Care and Medicine at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, who was not involved in the study, told The Huffington Post. 

"Dying is a huge gray area. It is actually a shockingly gradual process that plays out over hours."

The study was published Sept. 7 in the journal Resuscitation.


Wired to Cheat

You may be oblivious to your partner's cheating ways, but that doesn't mean everyone else is. In fact, a fascinating new study suggests that strangers can quickly spot a cheater just by watching how couples get along.

"People can determine whether complete strangers were cheaters or non-cheaters by simply watching them interact for a short period of time," Dr. Nathaniel Lambert, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University's School of Family Life and the lead author of the study, told The Huffington Post in an email.

For their study, researchers rounded up 51 undergraduate students at Florida State University and their romantic partners. Each student completed a questionnaire about his/her emotional and physical infidelity in the relationship. Then the couples were videotaped for about four minutes as they did a drawing task in which one partner was blindfolded and the other guided his/her partner on what to draw.

The videos then were shown to six strangers, who were asked to assess how likely each student was to cheat on his/her partner.

What did the researchers find? The strangers' guesses were strongly correlated with the students' self-reported infidelity. The researchers conducted a second experiment with 43 other couples and five other strangers. Once again, the same correlation was observed. The strangers weren't right every time, Lambert said, but their ability to spot cheaters was significantly above chance.

More research is needed to determine what causes strangers to suspect this; but, co-author Dr. Frank Fincham, director of Florida State University's Family Institute, offered an explanation as to why humans have this surprising ability.

"Possibly because it confers an evolutionary advantage," Fincham told The Huffington Post in an email. 

In other words, the ability to spot infidelity may help ensure that we don't wind up spending our time and energy raising offspring that aren't our own.

The study was published online in the journal Personal Relationships on September 18, 2014.