Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Power of Nightmares

I was just cleaning up my hard drive by deleting some files to make space. I found I had downloaded the 2004 3-part documentary The Power of Nightmares produced by Adam Curtis for the BBC, and I am deleting that. I don't think I ever mentioned it on this blog, but it tracks the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and Neoconservatism as a kind of parallel and symbiotic phenomenon.
(BBC, Wikipedia,, Information Clearing House, Google/YouTube 1, 2, 3)

Waldseemüller Map

Tuesday December 4, 06:31 PM
Map that named America is still a puzzle

The only surviving copy of the 500 year old map that first used the name America continues to be a puzzle for researchers.

The 1507 Waldseemuller map is due to go on permanent display this month at the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

Researchers want to know why the mapmaker named the territory America and then changed his mind, how he was able to draw South America so accurately and why did he put a huge ocean west of America years before European explorers discovered the Pacific?

"That's the kind of conundrum, the question, that is still out there," said John Hebert, chief of the geography and map division of the Library of Congress.

The 12 sheets that make up the map, purchased from German Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg for $US10 million ($A11.4 million) in 2003, have been mounted in a huge 1.85 metre by 2.95 metre display case machined from a single block of aluminum.

The case will be flooded with inert argon gas to prevent deterioration when it goes on public display on December 13.

Researchers are hopeful that putting the rarely shown map on permanent display for the first time since it was discovered in the Waldburg-Wolfegg castle archives in 1901 may stimulate interest in finding out more about the documents used to produce it.

The map was created by the German monk Martin Waldseemuller.

Thirteen years after Christopher Columbus first landed in the Western Hemisphere, the Duke of Lorraine brought Waldseemuller and a group of scholars together at a monastery in Saint-Die in France to create a new map of the world.

The result, published two years later, is stunningly accurate and surprisingly modern.

"The actual shape of South America is correct," said Hebert.

"The width of South America at certain key points is correct within 70 miles (100 km) of accuracy."

Given what Europeans are believed to have known about the world at the time, it should not have been possible for the mapmakers to produce it, he said.

The map gives a reasonably correct depiction of the west coast of South America. But according to history, Vasco Nunez de Balboa did not reach the Pacific by land until 1513, and Ferdinand Magellan did not round the southern tip of the continent until 1520.

"So this is a rather compelling map to say, 'How did they come to that conclusion,'" Hebert said.

The mapmakers say they based it on the 1,300-year-old works of the Egyptian geographer Ptolemy as well as letters Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci wrote describing his voyages to the new world. But Hebert said there must have been something more.

"From the writings of Vespucci you couldn't have prepared the map," Hebert said.

"There had to be something cartographic with it."

Waldseemuller made it clear he was naming the new land after Vespucci, describing how he came up with the name America based on the navigator's first name.

But he soon had misgivings about what he had done. An atlas Waldseemuller produced six years later shows only part of the east coast of the Americas, and refers to it as Terra Incognita - unknown land.

"America has gone out of his lexicon," Hebert said. "(No) place in the atlas - in the text or in the maps - does the name America appear."

His 1516 mariner's map, on the same scale as the 1507 map, steps back even further, showing only parts of the new continents and reconnecting the north to Asia. South America is labelled Terra Nova - New World - and North America is labelled Terra de Cuba - Land of Cuba.

"Essentially he's reconnecting North America to the Asian mainland, suggesting a continual world of land mass rather than separated by those bodies of water that separate us from Europe and Asia," Hebert said.

Why the rollback? No one knows.
I don't understand how this map can be displayed in the Library of Congress and how the story can be reported on all the major news services worldwide (AAP, AFP, BBC, National Geographic) without someone (a reputable geographer, maybe?) offering an explanation to resolve the mystery. There are only a few good hypotheses that I can think of.
  • The map is a fraud and was not made at the date which is claimed for it. This seems unlikely if it has been decided to display it in the Library of Congress.
  • The map used sources from the Aztecs, possibly a document which they had acquired from an earlier, higher (mathematically) civilization (Mayan or another lesser-known one). All but a handful of documents from the Aztecs have been destroyed, but we know they had universal male education, probably making them one of the most literate civilizations on the earth at that time, along with the Japanese.
  • The map was produced from Egyptian sources. In this scenario, Columbus and other explorers may have had knowledge of the maps even before they went on their voyages, which were then undertaken to confirm the knowledge revealed from the long-lost Egyptian documents. Egypt had many different eras over the millennia of its existence, and cartography and navigation could have reached a high level during one of these periods, only to be subsequently lost in a famine-driven revolution and purge of the priestly/educated class.
  • The map was reproduced from a map by a much earlier civilization from before the last ice age.
  • Extraterrestrial input. The map was beyond human technology and came from a non-human intelligence.
The Piri Reis map is another map that needs explanation. I think the most likely explanation lies in the fact that human civilization over the last tens or hundreds of thousands of years has been very poorly recorded. If the human species has been fundamentally human since we began using fire, tools, making art and digging graves, that leaves perhaps a million years of human history, of which only a few thousand years, less than one percent that has been fairly well recorded. There seems to be a mental block to recognizing other cultures, imagining the vastness of time and space in human history, and a kind of taboo on imaging that human civilization has had ups and downs in the past, and has fallen at times in the past, just as it is taboo to suggest that future human civilization will have lower populations and lower levels of technology than we have now.

The inability to explain this seems to be an ego problem. It is the same kind of arrogance that finds it incredible that chimps have better memory and visual skills than humans. Look, we are just hairless tail-less fire-monkeys. We have fire, mathematics, and language. For anything else there is probably another species that is better at it. I think Kurt Vonnegut said we were animals that did multiplication or something like that. Put another way, we have symbols and tools. Tools are extensions of our hands which birds, dolphins, and elephants were not so lucky to have. We do barn-raisings better than chimpanzees. Otherwise we are just a slightly more successful animal that has dominated the planet surface for 1% as long as the dinosaurs did.

Update 2008-02-11: The ultimate source of information about the Waldseemüller Map seems to be Library of Congress cartographer John Hessler, who maintains a blog on his research, WarpingHistory.

Friday, December 28, 2007


Since I was a child, I have thought that evolution must have accelerated, due to deaths from alcohol, drugs, firearms, automobiles, obesity, other modern hazards and their combinations (armed fat people on meth driving drunk, for example). However, I would occasionally hear or read some educated person going on about how evolution had now stopped, since nearsighted people could wear glasses and wouldn't be eaten by tigers or fail as hunters (I guess the idea was). I didn't want to reject that idea out of hand, however wrong it sounded. After all, if the infant mortality rate were 50% or higher back in the day, then maybe they were being selected for something like "fitness" whereas in modern times most babies that are born can reach maturity.

It seems like I have waited a few decades for someone to clear up this question. Finally I have some strong new evidence on the accelerated side of the argument. A study published earlier this month (Dec 10) by actual geneticists and anthropologists, not the armchair variety, determined that human evolution has accelerated by up to a hundred times as human populations increase and move into new environments with new diets and new conditions. Authors are John Hawks, Eric T. Wang, Gregory Cochran, Henry C. Harpending, and Robert K. Moyzis. The article mainly refers to changes in human evolution since the beginning of agriculture, not the industrial age, but the same rules should hold true for recent centuries. Math is involved here as well as actual gene frequencies. Recommended reading: The original article at PNAS. John Hawks weblog. BBC. SciAm. U of Utah Press release. Utah pdf. ScienceDaily. LAT. SMH.

Strength Through Peace

Whether I use the VoteMatch2000 Quiz (2008 edition) or the Pick Your Candidate quiz it comes up Kucinich. Dodd and Clinton are down a notch, and Gravel, Edwards, and Obama another click down. I am not optimistic about Dennis's chances. I don't think Dodd has appeal either, and Clinton gains a point for being a woman but loses a point for being a dynastic candidate, ridiculing Obama's overseas kindergarten remark, and using the phrase "straight out of the Republican playbook" once too often. I don't want to hear that, "vast rightwing conspiracy", or see her used on Lou Dobbs to support a point of his. I think Edwards will end up on the ticket somehow or another, and possibly Obama or Richardson.

A few days ago I googled Dennis Kucinich and google suggested that what I really wanted was Dennis Kucinich wife. But when I googled him again today that didn't happen. This is an interesting story, though.

First they kicked out Gravel; then they kicked Kucinich out of the Democratic Debates. The DMRegister says Dennis was rejected for not having a campaign office; the Kucinich campaign says it was rejected because the campaign operates out of a private home, not a rented office.

Dennis needs to accomplish something if he wants to leap to the top of the polls. Success in impeaching Cheney, Bush, or shutting down the war in Iraq would shoot him up to the top of the polls. In order to do this, he would actually have to have actions outside of the DC beltway. Motivating 1% of the American people to put down their tools and occupy City Halls, State Capitals, Halliburton and other corporate HQ (that haven't been moved to Dubai), and universities, this would lead to an end of the war within weeks as forces moved home to re-assert control of state and city governments, re-open universities, and take back the corporate headquarters. Basically 1968 all over again, but people don't care as much as they did in 1968 because there isn't the death toll of that time or the draft. The post-9-11 psychology takes time to process through, too.

Somehow, Dennis Kucinich looks Chinese. It's probably a past life of his. He would have been a Taoist poet and government official. He also reminds me a little of Popeye for no good reason that I can think of other than being small of stature, being vegan and therefore presumably liking vegetables including spinach and rhyming with "spinach". "We'll vote for Kucinich, 'cause he eats his spinach; He's Dennis the Congressman." Dennis may not get strong by having a peace platform, but may need to show some strength first to get peace that would then allow him to get stronger.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Friend or FoE?

Friends of the Earth Japan is still doing Tokyo-area hikes, I see. These are nice for meeting new people and getting to know some places for hiking around Tokyo if you are capable of waking up early on Sunday mornings.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Babyfinder and Owl Dreams

I usually find there are easily a dozen or or so bloggable moments in a day, things worth recording and expanding on. Many of them may be reactions to news that could just as easily be written by someone else. Others are more unique. I haven't been able to write at a fraction of the rate I would like to. My blogging tapered off in July as I got busier at work. Then, in the summer holiday, I attacked my to-do list, which didn't really include blogging. When I went back to work, I was too busy for blogging again. That's why I never have got around to writing about this dream. It is probably the most memorable dream of the year; actually I can't remember many others right now. It either woke me up or just stayed with me when I woke up. It was unusually vivid. About a week later I read a news story about US soldiers in Iraq finding a baby, but the circumstances were very different: under a piece of sheet metal on some rocks after the parents were killed by ethnic conflict. Still later I saw a television documentary abut progeria. Then, in the fall, a student asked me to help her with a speech about a girl with progeria. Memory of the future? At the very least, these things made the dream more memorable.

In the dream, I was walking up to a convenience store across a row of parking spaces. The place resembled West LA near the 405 where the Persian neighborhood around Westwood meets the Japanese on Sawtelle with the Mexican and American background, but with a bit of a Detroitized abandoned feel. As I got closer, I saw something crawling toward the store's glass about two spaces from the door. At first I thought it was an animal, but as I got closer, I saw it was like a human baby. Strangely, it had the body proportions of an older child, but about the size and mass of a small baby maybe six months old, or of a large cat. The heel of its foot had gotten stuck in some tarry asphalt that had been used to patch some small hole in front of the store. It was pulling its foot and fussing with it as it tried to get the tar off. I picked it up as I walked up, and turned it over so I could see its face. The body seemed emaciated, which was the first shock, but the face was another shock. The tiny face was almost alien, but was recognizable as a middle-aged Asian woman. The hair was black and a little on the big side (Kim Jong Il?) and there was a streak of white coming back off the forehead locks. The eyes were mean, squinting, ornery, and distrustful-looking. You could almost understand why the parents might have dropped it out of their car. And if the girl had been abandoned then it was natural that she would be distrustful. I tried to make sense of what I was looking at and decided it was some kind of freak of nature, probably a baby girl suffering from progeria, accelerated aging. I carried her in to the convenience store and found they had running water in a sink and cottony paper towels right around the corner to the right inside the door. I used the towels to try to clean most of the tarry stuff off of the girl's heel. The cashier guy seemed Iranian and was trying to be cool but watching me fairly closely; he would be able to file a police report. I was thinking about it because I had this idea about finders-keepers and was thinking that I would have to bring the police into this but also thinking that nobody would ever love this little girl who probably would not even live long, so that I should be the one to care for her. I was thinking that I might be able to persuade the police to let me keep her, but I knew that wasn't likely and she would be in a hospital or institution of some sort. In this timeline the convenience stores also served as restaurants. People would buy food and then go to sit down and eat it in an adjoining indoor area that was a little like a food court or a garage but really a floor of a seemingly abandoned building. There wasn't any electricity, heating, cooling, lighting or sanitation in there but it was just there for you to use if you wanted to get out of the sun or rain. I was thinking about whether to go in there to wait for the cops but it seemed like the cashier wasn't really going to call the cops but would be the type to answer questions if the cops came around asking them so I might as well call them myself. It seems I woke up before anything else happened. Possible dream interpretations: The baby was actually an alien making me think it was a baby and want to take care of it -OR- as one dream interpretation site said, the baby represents the self. (Doesn't everything in a dream represent your self?) The tar-heel thing represents either North Carolina or any experience that leaves an indelible imprint. Scene from a future war where genetic weapons induce accelerated aging?

Second memorable dream of 2007: I was flying or maneuvering through some kind of cubistic grid or matrix, perhaps tree branches, minding my own business, when I was suddenly attacked from the left by a large gray owl, about 3 feet or nearly a meter tall. I'm not sure if it killed or ate me. (Am I a bird?) This woke me up. My interpretation: avoid libraries. A deranged senior may attack me from out of the shelves.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Collagist Charles Farrell

I found the collage art of Charles Farrell the other day, on Blogger, during a google search. Preliminary estimates show that his pictures may actually be worth twenty-three thousand words, far more than the usual one thousand. I met the artist formerly known as "Chuck" when I was a teenager, knew him in Iowa City and New York City and haven't heard from him since.

Another mutual friend from that time, Dan Perkins, is in the public sphere with his comics, but whatever happened to Peter Williams? Austin… Baltimore… The Bees (?) … Jesus Was Just ET… Impossible Industrial Action… "with known waste reserves rapidly dwindling"… Illinois… 647 E. 11th St NY, NY 10009: none of these terms seem to go very far on Google. I last heard from Peter in the late 1980s or 1990.

It'd been about 25 years since I had seen or heard from Charles Farrell. It's fascinating what changes and what stays the same. You don't need to know the artist to appreciate the art, so check it out. Similar artists:

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Hey! - what'd they do to my banner? When did that happen? Happy Holidays to you, too. Turn your back for a second and some googlebot crops your banner. Why do I have to keep changing the code just to keep it the same?
Update 1:45 a.m. Less fugly-bugly werkaroun implemented.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Months on Mars

I was looking at the Mars Rovers page the other day and came across this classroom activity:

Mars Calendar Project

Learning Goals: Students will learn how time is measured on Mars by creating a Martian calendar.
Overview: Students are grouped and given ideas on how the Martian calendar would differ from that of Earth’s.

  1. Mars rotates slightly slower than Earth — one Mars solar day, or sol, equals 24.6 hours or 24 hours, 40 minutes.
  2. Mars orbits the Sun in 687 Earth days or 670 Mars sols.
  3. Mars’ rotational axis tilts towards the Sun at an angle of 25 degrees. Earth has a similar tilt of 23.5 degrees. This tilt causes the seasons on both planets.
  4. Mars has two moons. Phobos travels around the planet 3 times in one sol. Deimos travels around Mars once every 30.3 hours.

From this information, the groups will design a Martian calendar.

It is important to take into account such questions as:
• Will you use days, weeks, months?
• What makes a month a month on Mars?
• What will you call a month?
• Will there be a leap year? If so, when will it fall?
• What about Earth holidays? Mars holidays?
• When will the calendar begin (i.e., when is year “0”)?

I was interested in whether I could use it sometime although I do not teach science classes (it's not really just a science question anyway) so I was saving a copy of it and decided I should try it before I consider asking someone else to try it. I got a little obsessed with it then for a while and this is what I came up with. I'm sure there are some other Mars calendars out there somewhere but this is my first impression. It's a little sketchy. FWIW.


Sols are divided into 24 Martian hours or “horas” of 60 Martian minutes or “minuta” of 60 Martian seconds “secunda?” each. The units of time will be given slightly different names to distinguish Earth time units from Martian ones. It is based on the close similarity of the Martian sol to the Earth day. This makes people feel more comfortable. Each minute is just 1.6 seconds longer, each hour only 1.6 minutes longer, so we just feel it is a little off from Earth. Digital watches need to have a "Mars" setting.

Weeks are of seven days, in keeping with Earth traditions. These will become out of synch with Earth days. To keep the difference to Earth clear, they could be called Sunsol, Mercsol, Venussol, Earthsol, Marssol, Jupitersol, and Saturnsol. this celebrates the sun and 6 inner planets, renews a tradition, and keeps Sunsol and Satursol as familiar anchors at the week’s ends.


There will be 10 months of 67 days each. These will not be called months since they are not based on the moon. They should be called "deciannums" or something like that. Perhaps decigaod? (from the Russian word for “Year”) would do.

The months will be named for the Russian numerals 1 through 10 in honor of Russian attempts to explore the red planet: adeen, dvah, tree, chetyreh, pyat, shest, sem, vosem, devyat, desyat. Or maybe not. Whatever. They need tweaking so maybe we can just take the first three letters or so. Dates will be expressed either as the day of the year as if a fraction as in Sol 167/670, or with the month system. The expression “01-09-62-Sunsol” would mean Year One, Deciannum 9, Sol 62, a Sunsol, easily converted and recognizable as the 665th day of the Martian year ((9x67)+62).

Although it creates a long month, base 10 is handy and it creates 10 months of equal length, as opposed to the possible (nightmare) alternative of 20 months of different lengths (33 and 34 days). Since there is no moon, months have no real reference. Also, it would be hard to even name and remember the names of 20 months. Many things are kept the same, but this is one difference people would have to adjust to (different months, longer seasons, a longer year). For the more "everyday" units of time of up to a week, the Earth traditions are (nearly) followed.

That means every 67-sol month will have 9 weeks plus 4 sols (that final week having at least 2 holidays).

The year will begin on the day of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. The first day of the sixth month will therefore be the day of the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. Solstices and equinoxes will be holidays. Spring equinox would fall near 3/33 (the 33rd day of the 3rd month, and autumn equinox near 8/33).

The 66th day of each month will be a day of celebration, and the 67th day a day of quiet reflection on the past deciannum (or whatever it is called).

Saturnsols and Sunsols may be holidays as on Earth. However, people may have their own days off and develop their individual holiday patterns, partly because of the demands of rotational scheduling.

People will maintain an awareness of the Earth calendar and celebrate many holidays of Earth, the home planet, synchronously.

The day of closest approach to Earth will be celebrated with many activities and exchanges of messages with Earth and celebrations of Earth cultural heritage.

The days when Earth is behind the sun and out of contact will also be some kind of a holiday since communication with Earth is not possible (or difficult, at least until a network of sun-orbiting communication satellites are established); at this time it is important to commun(icat)e well with one’s local fellows. Local Martian cultural heritage, autonomy, and unity is celebrated on these days.

There will be a similar festival for the closest approach to Mars’ other neighbor, Jupiter, which shall be celebrated by Jupiter-viewing parties.

Local meteor showers and other annual celestial events will be celebrated -- probably by tunneling deep underground-- but also perhaps by viewing parties.

Year One will be the first year of human landing and living on Mars.

Events such as the date of the first human birth on Mars, and the date of the first human death on Mars, will become holidays.

Mars, like Earth, will have 24 time zones, based on a yet-undetermined Greenwich point which would probably be the first long-term human settlement.

Not much attention will be paid to Phobos and Deimos in the design of a calendar as they are quite unlike Earth’s moon.

Leap years would be added if the moment of the winter solstice were not going to fall on the first sol of the year. A day would be inserted or removed from the 10th deciannum (decigaod?) as needed.
Afterthoughts: OK, now I've googled around. I realize my 7-sol week makes a non-perpetual calendar, but I like it that way. There needs to be some chaos. However, some other good ideas were to use a 24-month calendar of 28 sols, with leap year day variations in the final month. Two justifications for hanging onto a 28-day month are that the Earth and its moon may be visible, and the human menstrual cycle. Twenty-four also echoes the 24-hour day. It is also familiar, and the Martian year can be divided into two earthlike years. For example, the year could begin with Janearly, Febearly, and Marley, while the 13th, 14th, and 15th months could be called Janulate, Feblate, and Marlate. I would suggest getting rid of the broken ruins of Latin Roman months like Sept, Oct, Nov and Dec unless they mean 7, 8, 9, and 10 again.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Fear of Speaking

I noticed some time ago that the Prelinger Archives have made it easier to embed videos. At one time, it (the code for embedding, I mean) wasn't there. Hmmm… Is this working?

I enjoy the work of Centron Productions, which was, like William Burroughs, out of Lawrence, Kansas. Something in the water, I guess, kinda like Hope, Arkansas. They seem to have made three films on public speaking, which could be useful if you want to make a speech the way people did 50 years ago in 1957. You can hear the whirring of the projector in some of these, which is either very cool and nostalgic, or rather annoying, depending on your outlook. I wonder if those wavelengths could be isolated and removed without too much trouble.

Update: Removing the embed code because it isn't working right and is annoying when it briefly autoplays.

Mister Cheney demolishes the case for invading Baghdad

In April 1994, Dick laid out his top 10–or at least 4– reasons for not invading Iraq. He should properly be wearing a turban and sit in front of a crystal ball in this clip, for his prognostications were right on the mark.

What I heard:

  • US would be alone with no support from Arab allies.
  • Problem of what to replace the government with
  • Problem of Iraqi national integrity vis-a-vis Syria, Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey
  • Casualties
Was he saying what he believed then and not in the 2000s? Or did he just parrot the Bush 41 line then and do what he really wanted with 43? Or did the opportunity to squirrel away billions of dollars in war profiteering for himself and his buddies in Halliburton present an irresistible business opportunity?

Brazzaville Tour Bus