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Robert Anton Wilson Week on Boing Boing

“I regard belief as a form of brain damage.”
― Robert Anton Wilson

Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of Robert Anton Wilson's death. Bob was a writer of fiction and non-fiction, most notably the Illuminatus! trilogy (co-written with Robert Shea) and the non-fiction memoir Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati. In all, he wrote 35 books, countless articles and essays, and a couple of plays and screenplays.

Bob was an intensely curious, intellectually playful, and profoundly insightful person and his writing and talks influenced my world view more than any other writer. He wrote about conspiracy theories, government nuttiness, the future, Freemasonry, quantum physics, magick, occult and paranormal phenomena, human behavior, mental models, psychedelic drugs, cult psychology, and the nature of reality. He had a knack for giving straightforward explanations of hard-to-grok concepts without stripping them of their power or complexity. Before I read RAW's books, the world was confusing and mysterious. After I read his books, the world became much more confusing and mysterious -- but in a good way! Bob converted me from atheism to agnosticism (which, in his words, means "never regarding any model or map of the universe with total 100% belief or total 100% denial").

One of my favorite things about Wilson was his skepticism towards skeptics. From Wikipedia:

Wilson also criticized scientific types with overly rigid belief systems, equating them with religious fundamentalists in their fanaticism. In a 1988 interview, when asked about his newly-published book The New Inquisition: Irrational Rationalism and the Citadel of Science, Wilson commented: "I coined the term irrational rationalism because those people claim to be rationalists, but they're governed by such a heavy body of taboos. They're so fearful, and so hostile, and so narrow, and frightened, and uptight and dogmatic... I wrote this book because I got tired satirizing fundamentalist Christianity... I decided to satirize fundamentalist materialism for a change, because the two are equally comical... The materialist fundamentalists are funnier than the Christian fundamentalists, because they think they're rational! ...They're never skeptical about anything except the things they have a prejudice against. None of them ever says anything skeptical about the AMA, or about anything in establishment science or any entrenched dogma. They're only skeptical about new ideas that frighten them. They're actually dogmatically committed to what they were taught when they were in college..."

Philip K. Dick spoke for many RAW readers when he said, "Wilson managed to reverse every mental polarity in me, as if I had been pulled through infinity. I was astonished and delighted." Over the next week, Boing Boing will be posting a series of remembrances, interviews, videos, and other material about Robert Anton Wilson that we hope will astonish and delight you, too.

Here's the link to the page that will have all of our RAW Week posts.

Ron Paul Newsletters, 140 characters at a time

Following the RP_Newsletter account is great, because 140 characters of the Ron Paul Newsletters is about as much as I can stand in one gulp. The Twitter account publishes actual quotes from the presidential candidate's publications.

Here's one: "I've urged everyone in my family to know how to use a gun in self defense. For the animals are coming." And another: "If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet of foot they can be." Wait, one more: "The criminals who terrorize our cities -in riots & on every non-riot day- are not exclusively young black males, but they largely are." Okay okay wait, just one more! "At least 39 white women have been stuck with used hypodermic needles -perhaps infected with AIDS- by gangs of black girls."

There's a blog with scans, if you can handle it. He finished second in the New Hampshire primary tonight.

(via @lizardoid)

Crocheted Vulcan ears


Croshame's just posted a pattern for making your own crocheted Spock ears, which are both logical and very toasty-warm.

Well, Christmas has come and gone and you’ve already gotten all the fancy stun guns and tricorders and communicators your heart could desire, so why not try out some of that fabulous Star Trek fashion sense with my pattern for crocheted Spock Ears?

Wishing you a Very Logical New Year (via Craft)

TSA's brags about not catching any terrorists, proves its own irrelevance

Bruce Schneier looks at the TSA's brag sheet, documenting the "Top 10 Good Catches of 2011" and finds "mostly forgetful, and entirely innocent, people. Note that they fail to point out that the firearms and knives would have been just as easily caught by pre-9/11 screening procedures."

That's right; not a single terrorist on the list. Mostly forgetful, and entirely innocent, people. Note that they fail to point out that the firearms and knives would have been just as easily caught by pre-9/11 screening procedures. And that the C4 -- their #1 "good catch" -- was on the return flight; they missed it the first time. So only 1 for 2 on that one.

And the TSA decided not to mention its stupidest confiscations:

TSA confiscates a butter knife from an airline pilot. TSA confiscates a teenage girl's purse with an embroidered handgun design. TSA confiscates a 4-inch plastic rifle from a GI Joe action doll on the grounds that it’s a "replica weapon." TSA confiscates a liquid-filled baby rattle from airline pilot’s infant daughter. TSA confiscates a plastic "Star Wars" lightsaber from a toddler.

Meanwhile, the TSA literally cites preventing snakes on a plane is one of its top-ten catches.

The TSA Proves its Own Irrelevance (via Beth Pratt)

(Image: Knilly and his Snakes on a Plane T-Shirt - Good Friday - The Angel on St. Giles High Street, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from charliebrewer's photostream)

Why the raw cannabis juicing trend may not be all it's juiced up to be

Earlier today, I posted a quick link to an LA Weekly item about a new round of media attention devoted to Dr. William Courtney, and his research on juicing cannabis for health benefits.

The tl;dr of his idea: with raw cannabis juice, you don't get high, but you do get various health benefits.

Hmmm. I was curious about the largely uncritical internet coverage I was seeing, and wondered about the science—so I asked Michael Backes and Amy Robertson of Abatin Wellness Center of Sacramento what they thought. Abatin is a medical marijuana collective you may have heard of because of its link to MS sufferer and med-can advocate Montel Williams; they're also very legit and science-oriented, and Backes has a long history in technology and the sciences. The tl;dr of their response is: it's not quite that simple, and cannabis juicing could even pose some risks for certain patients. "The raw plants have substances to discourage critters from eating them that can cause allergic reactions in some," explains Robertson, "And can you imagine how unpleasant this would taste?"

"The throat irritation is based on the fact that the stems of cannabis have sharp little hairs," explains Backes. "Typically, this wouldn't be a problem for those juicing the plant, but make chewing on a cannabis stems a no-no."

More below.

And, a disclosure: the topic is of personal interest to me because I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and I'm undergoing chemotherapy. Chemo sucks, and I have learned that medical cannabis is a very effective aid for related side effects—but not all delivery methods are equally helpful.

Read the rest

Lego Heroica: fun adventure gaming for kids

Heroica

In episode 34 of the Gweek podcast, I mentioned Lego Heroica and how much my 8-year-old daughter enjoys it. It's a simple-rule-set role playing game that uses Lego pieces for the characters, board, and even the six-sided die. We have the 101-piece Draida Bay ($14.99 on Amazon).

It took Jane about 15 minutes to put the board together and we were off and running. Jane played the barbarian (special skill: kill all adjacent monsters) and I played the wizard (can kill a monster up to four squares away, including around corners). Our quest was to defeat the Goblin General and make off with his beloved Golden Crystal of Reflection. Game play was about 10 minutes.

The Heroica line consists of four different games, which connect together to form a super Heroica game. Draida Bay is the smallest of the four games. There's also Waldurk Forest, Caverns of Nathuz, and Castle Fortaan. The complete series connected together looks like a lot of fun. I know what I'm getting Jane for her birthday in a few months!

Monster-movie drive-in poster


A near-perfect example of the monster-movie drive-in poster-maker's art.

"The Biggest THING in Town!"

Run your business like a crime-boss

Donald DeSantis explains how an unnamed "crime boss" mentored him through his first high-tech startup. The piece is a little oblique, thanks to a lack of specifics ("The other business was transactional and lacked any customer loyalty or love." -- OK, what was it?), but it's still an entertaining read:

Cut out the middleman
As Kobayashi’s businesses grew, he was in a position to start bypassing middlemen. Instead of dealing with distributors, he went straight to producers. Instead of hiring contractors, he purchased required equipment and moved people onto payroll. Everywhere he saw a third party making money, he figured out a way to replace that person or bring them in-house. He reduced costs at every step. He constantly encouraged me to do the same.

Interesting things happen when we cut out the middleman. In addition to reducing cost, we often end up creating an internal byproduct that can be productized and sold to a completely new customer. (Amazon Web Services is an example of this.) Sometimes the middleman’s market is so huge, that a freaking enormous business can be built simply by providing their customers a lower cost and more efficient option. Two-sided marketplace businesses are a textbook example of this type of disruption.

Everything I need to know about startups, I learned from a crime boss (via Kottke)

(Image: Chopping off my little finger, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from nihonbunka's photostream)

Testament of humanitarian aid worker who spent seven years being held and tortured in Gitmo


The NYT gives space to Lakhdar Boumediene, a humanitarian aid worker who was arrested on secret evidence that he was planning to blow up the US embassy in Sarajevo. Despite the fact that the case was found without merit by Bosnia's highest court, he was kidnapped to Guantanamo Bay by US forces and held for seven years, subjected to torture and isolation from his family. A US court finally freed him. You remember when they started releasing Gitmo prisoners and there was all that hand-wringing on how these dangerous,dangerous people couldn't possibly be released because they were all jihadis? Yeah, that.

I left Algeria in 1990 to work abroad. In 1997 my family and I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of my employer, the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates. I served in the Sarajevo office as director of humanitarian aid for children who had lost relatives to violence during the Balkan conflicts. In 1998, I became a Bosnian citizen. We had a good life, but all of that changed after 9/11.

When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer questions. I did so, voluntarily — but afterward I was told that I could not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo. I had never — for a second — considered this.

My Guantánamo Nightmare (via Beth Pratt)

(Image: Capitol Rotunda & Statue Of Freedom, Orange Jumpsuit & Black Hood (Washington, DC), a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from takomabibelot's photostream)

Inside NASA's Venus machine

This chamber, currently under construction at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, will be able to reproduce the temperature, pressure, and chemical conditions on the surface of Venus. Scientists will use it to find materials and lander designs that can withstand the 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures on that planet.

In a story on the chamber for WIRED, Dave Mosher points out that a similar chamber already exists. The trouble is, it's too small to fit a life-size model of a Venusian lander. The new chamber will be big enough to test out equipment at the size it will be used. Better yet, the new chamber could also be used to replicate conditions on other moons and planets, as well.

Thanks to its thick walls, it can simulate all conditions experienced during a trip to Venus: launch, the cold vacuum of space and even atmospheric entry.

In the future, operators could simulate conditions found in Jupiter’s outer atmosphere, the Martian equator and even vents near volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io. Seven- and 10-foot-wide additions to the first chamber (below) could also make room for prototypes designed for ultra-cold conditions on the moons Europa, Ganymede and Titan.

Tonsillectomy Confidential: doctors ignore polio epidemics and high school biology

Tonsil-Article

Seth Roberts is the author of The Shangri-La Diet and posts at Seth's Blog about personal science, self-experimentation, and the scientific method.

In 2008, Rachael Hoffman-Dachelet's eight-year-old son started having frequent sore throats. He'd run a fever, feel stiff and tired, and miss a few days of school. After six sore throats in a year, her pediatrician said This is crazy. I'm going to refer you to an ear nose and throat specialist. I think he'll recommend a tonsillectomy (tonsil removal).

Rachael and her son saw the specialist, who did recommend a tonsillectomy. Tonsils are part of the lymphatic system, a network of tiny tubes and nodes all over the body. It is mostly a drainage system. Lymph drains into the tubes, which carry it to the heart, where it reenters the blood. En route to the heart, lymph passes through nodes. How can lymph move through the system if you remove part of it? Rachael asked the specialist. If there were any bad long-term consequences we'd know because so many tonsillectomies have been done, he said. The correct answer is that lymph does not pass through the tonsils. Rachael asked about the benefits of the surgery. Your son will miss a lot less school, he said.

Rachael teaches art at a Minnesota middle school. Her experience with doctors had made her skeptical of their predictions. To decide for herself if a tonsillectomy was a good idea, she googled "pubmed tonsillectomy meta-analysis" and found a Cochrane Review about tonsillectomies and tonsillitis. There are thousands of Cochrane Reviews. Each tries to summarize the evidence about the effect of a treatment on a health problem (e.g., "Antibiotics for sore throats"). They are meant to be practical -- to help everyone, including outsiders like Rachael, make treatment decisions (such as "should my son have a tonsillectomy?"). They are produced by the Cochrane Collaboration, a British non-profit, which says its reviews are "internationally recognised as the highest standard in evidence-based health care".

The Cochrane Review that Rachael found ("Tonsillectomy or adeno-tonsillectomy versus non-surgical treatment for chronic/recurrent acute tonsillitis") was published in 2009. It describes four experiments that compared tonsillectomy to the care a sick child would otherwise receive. All four involved children like Rachael's son, and all four had similar results: Tonsillectomies had only a small benefit. (Contrary to what Rachael was told.) During the year after random assignment to treatment -- the point at which some children had their tonsils removed, other children did not -- children whose tonsils were removed had one less sore throat than children who were not operated on (two instead of three for children like Rachael's son). Because the benefits were small, the decision was easy. "The time, expense, and risk of surgery vs. one [sore throat]," Rachael wrote on my blog, "Not a tough choice."

Read the rest

Chalkboard banquet-table

I like this idea for a banquet table: cover it with black construction paper and then chalk on place-settings and namecards for all the guests.

Fall 2006, Blackboard-Chalk Reception Table (via Craft)

What happens to your luggage after you check it at the airport?

Okay, yes. This is an ad for a Delta "track your luggage" app. And, yes, it blacks out the part where your luggage goes through security.

But it's also a nifty little video that reminds me of the how's-it-made genre of Sesame Street videos that I loved as a child. There's just something about stuff riding on conveyer belts, know what I mean?

It was also interesting to get a reminder that luggage is loaded into and unloaded from the airplane by hand. So all the times I've stood around getting cranky at waiting for my luggage to show up on the carousel ... there's some people doing their best to get it to me fast and without throwing it around everywhere. I think, next time, I'll have a little more patience.

(Thanks, Andrew Balfour!)

Giancarlo Esposito (Gustavo Fring on Breaking Bad): Reddit AMA with video

"I am Giancarlo Esposito. I've had a few people tell me Reddit would be a great place to have a discussion with fans. And what does a man do? A man provides." Reddit AMA here.

Response videos shot by BB pal Joe Sabia are embedded below: one in which Esposito lovingly recounts stuff he stole from the set of "Breaking Bad," and one in which he shares some of his own personal influence on the character of Gustavo Fring. Another about Gustavo's fastidiousness, and another about his family. More will be posted here.

If you have never watched it, you are missing one of the best shows to ever air on television, and you should fix that right now. Can't wait for the final season! (thanks, Joe Sabia!)

Read the rest

Marijuana is the new Wheatgrass

Drink your cannabis, say some raw-pot advocates. It won't get you high, but it's good for you. I'm skeptical, but I know one thing: unless you're growing your own, it is likely not good for your wallet. Xeni