Your Lying Eyes

Dedicated to uncovering the truth that stands naked before your lying eyes.

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23 August 2007

Researchers Induce Out of Body Experience

Cool article in the Times describing how out-of-body sensations can be induced in healthy test subjects using virtual-reality goggles. It seems that by altering one's perceptions dramatically from what the body is actually experiencing, a feeling of disembodied then ensues. This likely explains these sensations that people report in near-death circumstances.

The article also described another phenomenon called the "rubber hand illusion."
In that illusion, people hide one hand in their lap and look at a rubber hand set on a table in front of them. As a researcher strokes the real hand and the rubber hand simultaneously with a stick, people have the vivid sense that the rubber hand is their own. When the rubber hand is whacked with a hammer, they wince and sometimes cry out.
What I want to know is if we tried this on suspected terrorists, would the Times cry about it?

16 August 2007

West Nile Virus - Looking on the Bright Side

When I was a kid growing up in the same town I live in now, the avian creatures that shared our backyards were robins, cardinals, blue jays and sparrows. Occasionally, a crow would announce itself with his "Caw-Caw" trumpet and perch on a power line. When I returned to this same town as an adult homeowner, I found that crows were everywhere, often rousing whole neighborhoods awake with their awful cacophony. And not a robin or blue jay ever to be found, though the occasional cardinal would make a much celebrated appearance.

But then in 1999, West Nile virus arrived on our shores, apparently striking first in the NY Metro area. Ominously, crow carcasses were being found strewn about Central Park, and these were soon linked to the new fatal disease. As it turned out, West Nile is not particularly deadly. I am convinced my daughter had it that year when she became so sick that I had to retrieve her mid-week from camp and rush her to the doctor. But it has been very deadly for crows, and recently scientists have discovered why.

News reports continue to report West Nile as a scourge in our midst. But here in my small corner of the earth, the robins and blue jays and cardinals are back the way I remember them - constant companions in our gardens. Crows are nowhere to be found or - more importantly - heard. I know that people do die from West Nile, and anyone who's lost a loved one to it will find cold comfort in the pleasure I take in the re-balancing of my local airborne fauna. But I thought I might give one, small contrarian cheer for West Nile virus.

08 August 2007

Mr. Levitt's Terror Idea

In his brand new Freakonomics blog, Steven Levitt tells us his father's idea for a nifty terror tactic:

[T]he best terrorist plan I have heard is one that my father thought up after the D.C. snipers created havoc in 2002. The basic idea is to arm 20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrange to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.

Well, it's a good thing Mr. Levitt is an economist's father and not a terror master mind. But terrorists really don't go in for this kind of thing. Pretty consistently, they opt for blowing things up - killing lots of people at once. In Iraq, with automatic weapons everywhere, Levitt's approach is not used - they opt for bombings. In the U.S., I'm guessing profiling of firearms purchasers is pretty routine. I doubt there are very many Mideastern men buying guns without the authorities finding out about it. It's just not a good plan for a terror attack.

But here's the problem with the way Levitt and his old man think: they think the terrorists are some non-descript set of individuals. Of course they're anything but non-descript - they are almost exclusively Muslims from the Mideast (at least those threatening the U.S.). Loners - solo or in pairs - commit acts of terror all the time, from highway snipers to school shootings. They're tragedies, but the numbers of victims are small compared to highway fatalities or drownings, and we learn to live with them. An effective act of terror must rise dramatically above the background mortality by killing huge numbers at once and inflicting monumental physical damage.

Just two weeks ago, a couple of losers armed with little more than BB-guns and gasoline broke into a home in a well-to-do Connecticut neighborhood, raped a woman and her two daughters over several hours, then murdered them while the alerted police were setting up road blocks down the street (story here). With everyday competition like that, terrorists clearly have their work cut out for them. A couple dozen guys riding around with hunting rifles ain't gonna do it.