May 2004

The Way We Eat Now by Craig Lambert

by Limbic on May 28, 2004

“Ancient bodies collide with modern technology to produce a flabby, disease-ridden populace.”

Last year, Morgan Spurlock decided to eat all his meals at McDonald’s for a month. For 30 straight days, everything he took in—breakfast, lunch, dinner, even his bottled water—came from McDonald’s. Spurlock recorded the results on camera for his film Super Size Me, which won the Best Director prize for documentaries at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Super Size Me is also a kind of shock/horror movie, as viewers see the 33-year-old Spurlock’s physical condition collapse, day by day. “My body just basically falls apart over the course of this diet,” Spurlock told Newsweek. “I start to get tired, I start to get headaches; my liver basically starts to fill up with fat because there’s so much fat and sugar in this food. My blood sugar skyrockets, my cholesterol goes up off the charts, my blood pressure becomes completely unmanageable. The doctors were like, ‘You have to stop.'” In one month on the fast-food regime, he gained 25 pounds. MORE

Must Read Article


“Forget Constance Garnett — the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation makes the most cryptic of existential cult classics stranger, funnier and more alive than ever.”


This came in on the Metafilter feed a few days ago:

“The wisdom of crowds and the miracle of aggregation, arguably, are the reasons why markets and democracy work as well as they do. As New Yorker James Surowiecki explains in his new book, “consider the show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. When a contestant on the show is stumped by a question, he has a couple of choices in asking for help: the audience or someone he’s designated as an expert. The experts do a reasonable job: They get the answer right 65% of the time. But the audience is close to perfect: It gets the answer right 91% of the time, even though it’s made up of people who have nothing better to do than sit in a TV studio and watch Regis Philbin.” The new, new tipping point? ” [Link]

The Wisdom of Crowds is out on June 4th in the UK and is avialabale on Amazon / .com

The post above was coincidental with a post over on about collctive decision making using the KJ technique: how not to analyse data – by yourself

“Back in the late 1970’s, the US government commissioned a study to look at effective group decision making. In the study, they asked 30 military experts to study intelligence data and try to construct the enemy’s troop movements.

“Each expert analyzed the data and compiled a report. The commission then “scored” each report on how well it reported the actual troop movements. They found that the average military expert only got 7 out of a 100 elements correct.

“Each expert then reviewed all of the other experts’ reports and rewrote their initial assessment. The average accuracy for these revised reports was 79 out of a 100.

“What was different between the first report and the second? The experts didn’t have any new information. All they had were the perspectives of the other experts. When they added those perspectives to their own, their accuracy increased ten-fold.” [MORE]

I thought the two would be happy together in one post.


I love attending lectures. Between the Policy Exchange, The Royal Institution, mailing lists from institutions like the South Bank Centre and Time Out, I can usually keep abreast of who is speaking in London. Now a fine new tool has been added to my armoury:

This website has extensive and searchable lists of lectures across the UK on every subject.

Until now it has been surprisingly difficult to keep up to date with the huge number of challenging and stimulating discussions and debates that take place in this part of the world every day. The Lecture List is designed to make it much easier to keep track of all of this activity.

The Lecture List provides a moderated listing service for lectures around the UK, and enables registered users to keep up to date with talks by their favourite speakers, on their favourite subjects, in their favourite venues, and in their geographical area.

Organisers pass on information using online forms, which is then made available for the public to search through.

Members of the public can browse the site or register for a superior, customised service which makes it easier to pick out the talks that best match their interests. Registered users also receive regular emails keeping them informed abut relevant talks in their area.

Also see:

How the chattering classes turned to talk – The Guardian

All over Britain people are flocking to lectures. They queue in the rain for the brainiest of topics. Accused of dumbing down, how is it that we have become a nation of talkers?


Columbine Killers Deconstructed [Slate]

by Limbic on May 24, 2004

The Depressive and the Psychopath : At last we know why the Columbine killers did it. By Dave Cullen

Five years ago today, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered their classmates and teachers at Columbine High School. Most Americans have reached one of two wrong conclusions about why they did it. The first conclusion is that the pair of supposed “Trench Coat Mafia outcasts” were taking revenge against the bullies who had made school miserable for them. The second conclusion is that the massacre was inexplicable: We can never understand what drove them to such horrific violence.

But the FBI and its team of psychiatrists and psychologists have reached an entirely different conclusion. They believe they know why Harris and Klebold killed, and their explanation is both more reassuring and more troubling than our misguided conclusions. Three months after the massacre, the FBI convened a summit in Leesburg, Va., that included world-renowned mental health experts, including Michigan State University psychiatrist Dr. Frank Ochberg, as well as Supervisory Special Agent Dwayne Fuselier, the FBI’s lead Columbine investigator and a clinical psychologist. Fuselier and Ochberg share their conclusions publicly here for the first time. MORE

If this piques your interest in those most fascinating and terrifying people, Psychopaths, then you ought to get hold of the bible on this topic: “Without Conscience” by Robert D Hare. If you though psychopaths were insane or irrelevant to you or even rare, you are wrong. This book is a must read.


To the average person, the connotations of the word “Pornography” have always brought forth a mental picture of a depraved person leering at filthy pictures. To the scholar, the word meant simply “The description of prostitutes and their trade”. Later other definitions were added, attempting to encompass the term “obscene”. We now consider Webster’s “Writing and pictures intended to arouse sexual desire” as an appropriate statement of meaning. Would it surprise you to know that all the major combatants involved in World War II used pornography as part of their psychological operations (PSYOP) strategy? MORE


I am convinced that the Psy-Ops people in Iraq are under new management. Since mid-April the media have suddenly been full of reports about enemy dead. Every day now I read about massive enemy casualties. This is a smart move. It lends perspective to the situation and shows that for every coalition soldier killed, dozens of their adversaries die.


Horrible road rage murder [Scotsman]

by Limbic on May 20, 2004

A driver murdered in an apparent road rage stabbing was named tonight as 22-year old Armando Gjikaj.

Mr Gjikaj, of Felbrigge Road, Seven Kings, east London, who is thought to be Kosovan, was brutally beaten, knifed and had his head “kicked around like a football”.

It followed a minor traffic accident, described by detectives as a “small bump”, in Ilford, Essex, at 7.30pm yesterday.

…A police source said: “They stabbed him, pushed him down, jumped up and down on him and witnesses said his head was kicked between them like a football.”

The victim is believed to have tried to run for help before he was stabbed by one of the occupants of the Fiesta.

It was unclear how many people were in the Fiesta but they are all believed to have been black.

…The victim’s face is believed to have been left unrecognisable following the savage attack. He was taken to King George’s Hospital in Goodmayes, where he later died.
Det Chief Insp David Brown said: “This was a brutal attack and we are appealing to anyone who saw the initial collision or the victim being attacked.

…“This man was murdered over what appears to have been a very minor road accident and it is essential that we apprehend those responsible a soon as possible.”

A 36-year-old man from the Ilford area was being questioned at a north London police station.

This sort of savagery is just a particularly vicious example of the low level thuggery and savagery is common in London now. I regularly see people expectorating on the sidewalk or spitting wherever they choose. On the buses I have seen (and rebuked) 10 year old schoolboys sitting oblivious to convention and basic decency whilst elderly ladies struggle to stand right in front of them. Vulgarity and violence (verbal, physical and aural) is an every day experience for most Londoners. Public transport concentrates much of the filth and taints my sample, but I see drivers are less mannerly and too hasty to beep their horns after mere seconds of delay.

A great pox is the imported habit of beeping salutes to pedestrian acquaintances or to get pretty girls to turn around and be viewed.

I am thinking hard about a swift punishment I can use against these noise polluters. Perhaps a paintball gun? RPG?


The Tyranny of Choice [Alternet]

by Limbic on May 20, 2004

“”Although some choice is undoubtedly better than none, more is not always better than less….They found that increased choice and increased influence have been accompanied by a decrease in well-being.” We know too much choice troubles children but it appears that it troubles adults too.

Because free will is the very thing that makes us human, we naturally assume choice is a good thing. And from there, it’s logical, perhaps, to think that because having options is good, the more choice we have the better.

Well, stop the presses. Scientific American is reporting that recent research “strongly suggests” that, psychologically speaking, that assumption is wrong.

In an article titled, ‘The Tyranny of Choice’, Barry Schwartz, professor of social theory and social action at Swarthmore College, wrote: “Although some choice is undoubtedly better than none, more is not always better than less.”

Schwartz, who is also the author of “Maximizing Versus Satisficing: Happiness is a Matter of Choice,” points to studies by David Myers of Hope College and Robert Lane of Yale University, who conducted surveys on individual well being.

They found that increased choice and increased influence have been accompanied by a decrease in well-being.

“As the gross domestic product more than doubled in the past 30 years, the proportion of the population describing itself as ‘very happy’ declined by about 5 percent, or some 14 million people,” Schwartz writes. And more Americans are clinically depressed than at any other time in our history. Schwartz is quick to point out that no single factor explains America’s blues. However, “a number of findings indicate that the explosion of choice plays an important role.”

Schwartz conducted his own research and, in doing so, categorizes his subjects into “maximizers” and “satisficers.”

Maximizers are “those who always aim to make the best possible choice” and satisficers are “those who aim for ‘good enough’.”

Through Schwartz’s study, it was found that maximizers are the least happy. “Naturally, no one can check every option, but maximizers strive toward that goal, and so making a decision becomes increasingly daunting as the number of choices rises.

“In the end, they are more likely to make better objective choices than satisficers but get less satisfaction from them,” Schwartz writes. MORE

See also “Overloaded, overdosed, overstimulated, ultimately just plain unclear

The new Scientific American has an article suggesting that we’re all half psychotic with too many choices. The piece is called THe Tyranny of Choice’–research shows that the notion that more choice is always better is wrong. They’re not talking about dualistic choices like a woman’s right to choose, or whether or not to get married, they’re talking about the vast numbers of choices available in daily life: shopping choices, vast numbers of media choices, schooling, career directions, appearance, therapy or not and what kind, business deals, decorating, ballot measures, vacation choices, choice of health care modes and insurance, technology choices and on and on. THeir study concluded that having no choices makes people very unhappy, having some choices make them happy–but too many choices makes them depressed, crazed with uncertainty, miserable. They suggest there are two basic types of choosers, Maximizers and Satisficers. The former aim to make the best possible choice in a near obsessive way, the latter tend to settle for ‘good enough’. Maximizers spend a long time shopping, can’t make up their minds what to buy for a gift, channel surf like a cokehead searching through the rug for fallen powder…

Maximizers in particular are prone to unhappiness in our society–there are too many choices, just too damn much input in general, and they can’t deal with it. Satisficers are having a hard time too; they tend to go to lower stress options–and those are harder to find. But they’re less likely to be depressed and suicidal


All good people agree
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They.
–Rudyard Kipling
“We and They”

The term “political correctness” is such a familiar piece of moral shorthand that it is easy to forget that the phrase has been with us for only about a dozen years. “John or Mary or the University of Lagado is so PC”–it’s never a compliment, but exactly what does the charge of political correctness imply? To a large extent, the familiarity of the phenomenon has bred, if not contempt, then at least an unhealthy indifference. Political correctness–the phrase and even more the idea–has had a curious and circuitous career, and the more we know about it the more distasteful and alarming it seems.

Indeed, we are often assured that political correctness–whether or not it posed a threat in the past–is no longer a menace. It has, the argument goes, either been defeated or simply faded away like a Cheshire cat with a scowl. Oddly, however, this soothing assurance generally comes from people who approve (or approved) of political correctness, so their relief at its disappearance is both disingenuous and unpersuasive. They succeed only in making one feel like the female water-skier on the poster for Jaws II who is unaware of the huge shark surfacing behind her over the words “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water.” MORE