Various Sources 3

"A world-changing idea is rare indeed. When it happens, the founders are both happy and rich. Then they sell out—to investors, to Microsoft, to Wall Street. Suddenly, in order to stay both happy and rich, the founders need to add one more thing to their list of objectives: predictable, profitable growth. The obvious way to do that is to milk the current cow. To push the current business model, squeeze it, adjust it, nurture it and make it work more effectively. Productize your services and servicize your products. …

Not getting stuck. Thinking big. Changing the world a second time. Western Union couldn't do it. RCA did. CompuServe couldn't do it. Neither could AOL. Apple, surprisingly, did it three times (personal computers, graphical interfaces, digital music)." [What Should Google Do? (PDF)]

"Among Chuang-tzu's many skills, he was an expert draftsman. The king asked him to draw a crab. Chuang-tzu replied that he needed five years, a country house, and twelve servants. Five years later the drawing was still not begun. "I need another five years," said Chuang-tzu. The king granted them. At the end of these ten years, Chuang-tzu took up his brush and, in an instant, with a single stroke, he drew a crab, the most perfect crab ever seen." [Italo Calvino, quoted at How we work: Chuang-tzu, artist]

"Rogue waves that rise as high as 10-story buildings and can sink large ships are far more common than previously thought, imagery from European Space Agency (ESA) satellites has shown. …

Three weeks of data from the early months of 2001 showed more than ten individual giant waves around the globe of over 80 feet in height.

Previously, ESA said, scientists believed that such large waves occurred only once every 10,000 years.

ESA said that severe weather had sunk more than 200 supertankers and container ships exceeding 650 feet in length over the past two decades and that rogue waves were believed to be a major cause of such accidents.

Current ships and off-shore platforms are built to withstand maximum wave heights of only 50 feet, ESA said." [Yahoo! News]

"Two men who were arrested for walking through a Wal-Mart while wearing women's thong underwear …

The men, ages 35 and 36, bought two pair of underwear at the store Tuesday, went into a bathroom and came out wearing only the thongs and T-shirts, police said.

Witnesses said the men walked through the store and out to their car.

Police caught the men in the parking lot, and reviewed a surveillance tape before arresting them for public indecency and disorderly conduct.

When asked why they were wearing thong underwear, one of the men said a friend 'triple-dog dared' them. They will not be prosecuted, authorities said." [Yahoo! News]

"A surgeon killed his wife and leapt from a bridge with his two-year-old son after he read her e-mails and became convinced she was having an affair.

Dr Jaya Prakash Chiti, 41, grabbed his son Pranau and jumped off the 160ft bridge over the River Orwell near Ipswich, Suffolk. Both died.

Earlier Dr Anupama Damera, 36, had been stabbed at the family home in Ipswich.

The inquest at Ipswich Crown Court was told the tragedy unfolded in February 2004 after Mr Chiti had read e-mails from one of his wife's colleagues. He believed they proved she was having an affair." [BBC News]

"[Robert] Morris [former chief scientist at the NSA] began his talk [at Blackhat Briefings] describing the successes the English and Americans had in cracking the German's Enigma code machine. He gave full props to the English mathematicians involved, but then began to describe some of the wartime "social engineering" and simple carelessness on the part of the Germans which also contributed to a nearly steady diet of decrypted Enigma traffic for the Allies.

One example Morris cited was that of German weather ships. During the war, they were very active in the North Atlantic. They used Enigma machines to send their weather reports back home. The Americans realized that they could save considerable time and effort in decrypting Enigma traffic if they could get their hands on the key lists aboard those weather ships. So they managed to sink three or four of them and salvage the needed keys without the Germans ever becoming aware of what the real target of the attacks was.

As another example, he described a relatively unimportant military installation inside Germany which sent a daily status report via an Enigma link. Since nothing ever happened at the installation, the report was invariably the same. Once this discovery was made, Allied cryptoanalysts were able to recover the key used on a daily basis since they had both plain-text and encrypted versions of the message." [NewsForge]

"For real security, [Robert] Morris [former chief scientist at the NSA] described the use of one-time pads, which are virtually unbreakable—unless stupidity is involved, that is. Then he proceeded to describe how one government intelligence agency decided to use one-time pads for their traffic. To obtain the keys, they went to the lowest bidder, who promptly provided them. A second agency soon decided to do the same thing, and again they turned to the same source for the keys. As a cost-saving measure, the vendor decided to send the second buyer the same keys they had sent the first. The one-time pads became breakable ""two-time" pads.

The two government agencies involved were the KGB and the GRU." [NewsForge]

"Traces of the antidepressant Prozac can be found in the nation's drinking water, it has been revealed.

An Environment Agency report suggests so many people are taking the drug nowadays it is building up in rivers and groundwater. …

It quotes the Liberal Democrats' environment spokesman, Norman Baker MP, as saying the picture emerging looked like 'a case of hidden mass medication upon the unsuspecting public'. …

Experts say the anti-depression drug gets into the rivers and water system via treated sewage water." [BBC News]

Hynagogic: Lying in bed half awake & half asleep. [The Guardian Unlimited]

"The English historian EP Thompson, in his classic book The Making Of The English Working Class (1963), argues that the creation of the job is a relatively recent phenomenon, born out of the Industrial Revolution. Before the advent of steam-powered machines and factories in the mid-18th century, work was a much more haphazard affair. People worked, yes, they did 'jobs', but the idea of being yoked to one particular employer to the exclusion of all other money-making activity was unknown. …

Thompson writes: 'The work pattern was one of alternate bouts of intense labour and of idleness.' A weaver, for example, might weave eight or nine yards on a rainy day. On other days, a contemporary diary tells us, he might weave just two yards before he did 'sundry jobs about the lathe and in the yard & wrote a letter in the evening'. Or he might go cherry-picking, work on a community dam, calve the cow, cut down trees or go to watch a public hanging. Thompson adds as an aside: 'The pattern persists among some self-employed—artists, writers, small farmers, and perhaps also with students [idlers, all]—today, and provokes the question of whether it is not a 'natural' human work-rhythm.'" [The Guardian Unlimited]

"One morning going into the workshop of Giotto, who was at his labours, he showed him the mind of the Pope, and at last asked him to give him a little drawing to send to his Holiness. Giotto, who was a man of courteous manners, immediately took a sheet of paper, and with a pen dipped in red, fixing his arm firmly against his side to make a compass of it, with a turn of his hand he made a circle so perfect that it was a marvel to see it." [How we work]

"There's an interesting effect here that I've noticed over the years—smart people don't make the same mistake twice while REALLY SMART people don't make the same mistake three times. Since they tend to make fewer mistakes to start with, really smart people tend to repeat the mistakes they do make because they are initially convinced that the outcome was someone else's fault or perhaps because of cosmic rays." [I, Cringely]

"Or take the notion of "political correctness". It is true that movements of conscience have piled demands onto people faster than the culture can absorb them. That is an unfortunate side-effect of social progress. … Thus the invention of public relations, which is a kind of rationalized irrationality. The great innovation of conservatism in recent decades has been the systematic reinvention of politics using the technology of public relations. … Public relations aims to break down reason and replace it with mental associations. One tries to associate 'us' with good things and 'them' with bad things. …

For contemporary conservatism, a political issue—a war, for example—is a consumer product to be researched and rolled out in a planned way with continuous empirical feedback from polling. So far as citizens can tell, such issues seem to materialize everywhere at once, swarming the culture with so many interrelated formulations that it becomes impossible to think, much less launch an effective rebuttal. …

Simply put, knowledge is best produced in a liberal culture. This is why the most prosperous and innovative regions of the United States are also the most politically liberal, and why the most conservative regions of the country are also the greatest beneficiaries of transfer payments. Liberals create wealth and government redistributes it to conservatives. This is, of course, the opposite of the received conservative opinion in the media, and indeed in most of academia. But it is true." [What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It?]

A Blobject is commonly defined as 'an object with a curvilinear, flowing design, such as the Apple iMac computer and the Volkswagen Beetle.' But computers and cars are just end products, they're not the process. The truth about a blobject is that is a physical object that has suffered a remake through computer graphics. It was designed on a screen with a graphics program. A blobject is what a standard 20th century industrial product, a consumer item, looks like after your crowd has beaten it into shape with a mouse. …

So now you know what a blobject is, if you didn't already. Now I'm going to lean way back at the podium, and really wave my big visionary futurist hands here, and invoke the full grandeur of my vision: Blobjects, Ruling the Earth. Not just littering it: ruling it. This is an imperial paradigm, a grandiose myth, a historical thesis, a weltanschauung and a grand schemata. …

In my grand vision, there's a history of the relationship of objects and human beings. It goes like this. Up to the present day, during previous history, we humans have had. and made, four different classes of possible objects. These classes of objects are called, in order of their historical appearance, Artifacts, Machines, Products, and Gizmos.

The lines between Artifacts, Machines, Products and Gizmos aren't mechanical. They're historical. The differences between them are found in the material cultures they make possible. The kind of society they produce, and the kind of human being that is necessary to make them and use them.

Artifacts are made and used by hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers.

Machines are made and used by customers. in an industrial society.

Products are made and used by consumers, in a military-industrial complex.

While Gizmos are made and used by end-users, in whatever today is == a 'New World Disorder,' a 'Terrorism-Entertainment Complex,' our own brief interregnum. …

Blobjects tend to be a subset of the class of Gizmos. Not all blobjects are Gizmos, but most gizmos have insane amounts of functionality in them, and they are designed on computers. …

Not a consumer. An end-user. An end-user is the historically evolved version of a consumer.

A Gizmo is not manufacturable by any centrally planned society. A Gizmo is something like a Product, but instead of behaving predictably and sensibly for a mass market of obedient consumers, a Gizmo is an open-ended tech development project.

In a Gizmo, development has been deputized to end-users.

End-Users, who are people like practically everybody in this audience, do a great deal of unpaid pro bono work in developing Gizmos. The true signs of a Gizmo are that it has a short lifespan and more functionality crammed into it than you will ever use or understand. A Gizmo is like a Product that has swallowed a big chunk of the previous society, and contains that within the help center and the instruction manual.

A Gizmo, unlike a Machine or a Product, is not efficient. A Gizmo has bizarre, baroque, and even crazy amounts of functionality. This Treo that I'm carrying here, this is a classic Gizmo …

… a Gizmo is delicately poised between commodity and chaos.

The next stage is an object that does not exist yet. It needs a noun, so that we can think about it. We can call it a 'Spime,' which is a neologism for an imaginary object that is still speculative. A Spime also has a kind of person who makes it and uses it, and that kind of person is somebody called a 'Wrangler.' At the moment, you are end-using Gizmos. My thesis here, my prophesy to you, is that, pretty soon, you will be wrangling Spimes.

The most important thing to know about Spimes is that they are precisely located in space and time. They have histories. They are recorded, tracked, inventoried, and always associated with a story.

Spimes have identities, they are protagonists of a documented process.

They are searchable, like Google. You can think of Spimes as being auto-Googling objects. …

When you shop for Amazon, you're already adding value to everything you look at on an Amazon screen. You don't get paid for it, but your shopping is unpaid work for them. Imagine this blown to huge proportions and attached to all your physical possessions. Whenever you use a spime, you're rubbing up against everybody else who has that same kind of spime. A spime is a users group first, and a physical object second. …

In the future, an object's life begins on a graphics screen. It is born digital. Its design specs accompany it throughout its life. It is inseparable from that original digital blueprint, which rules the material world. This object is going to tell you—if you ask—everything that an expert would tell you about it. Because it WANTS you to become an expert. If you become an expert in wrangling that object, then, just like the gurus of SIGGRAPH, you will contribute to the advancement of the industry. The object will evolve faster, the industry will evolve faster. It's like a SIGGRAPH that never ends.

So—as long as you could keep your eyes open—you would be able to swiftly understand: where it was, when you got it, how much it cost, who made it, what it was made of, where those resources came from, what a better model looked like, what a cheaper model looked like, who to thank for making it, who to complain to about its inadequacies, what previous kinds of Spime used to look like, why this Spime is better than earlier ones, what people think the Spime of Tomorrow might look like, what you could do to help that happen, the history of the Spime's ownership, what it had been used for, where and when it was used, what other people who own this kind of Spime think about it, how other people more or less like you have altered or fancied-up or modified their Spime, what most people use Spimes for, the entire range of unorthodox uses of Spimes by the world's most extreme Spime geek fandom, and how much your Spime is worth on an auction site. And especially—absolutely critically—where to get rid of it safely. …

We are facing a future world infested with digital programmability. A world where our structures and possessions include, as a matter of course, locaters, timers, identities, histories, origins, and destinations: sensing, logic, actuation, and displays. Loops within loops. Cycles within cycles.

Are there dark sides to this vision? Oh yes indeed. Genuine menaces. You can see them right now in a website like, a site I recommend highly. Spiming is an ideal technology for concentration camps, authoritarian regimes, and prisons.

We'll have to wrangle with:

  • spime spam, pushiness, abuse of customers, intrusion
  • spying and eavesdropping capabilities
  • brooms that bellow ads, mops that demand money
  • subtle software faults that make even a simple shovel unusable
  • unstable software
  • security flaws, hacking, theft, fraud, malware, vandalism and pranking
  • identity theft
  • Industrial hazards: spime kitchens that fry the unwary, spime cars that follow outdated software maps and drive right off broken bridges
  • technological lock-in, wicked monopolists, corrupt regimes in on the take *Intellectual property hassles
  • Organized spime crime
  • unpredictable and emergent forms of networked behavior from clouds of objects *bad interface design
  • underclasses of illegals not allowed to use spimes
  • legal, ethical and social responsibilities for semi-autonomous objects
  • objects that used to be inert, and are now expensive, fussy, fragile unpredictable, too fluid, hopelessly complex, and subversive of established values
  • And just plain ugliness: tacky, goofy, tasteless, cheesy, lethal, vulgar, dirty, worthless, obscene, impractical, and dangerous spimes.

Sterling, Bruce. "When Blobjects Rule the Earth". BoingBoing (August 2004). Accessed 23 August 2004.

Landau: There are three basic human entertainment experiences that go back to the cave: storytelling, game-playing, and music. People are looking for a hybrid of those things.

Glaser: There's a fourth—which is being part of the tribe. A lot of the power of reality programming is not simply about the storytelling; it's about the global switchboard. The fundamental social desire to have a common context is still there. [Wired05|2004]

"Schneier's Law: 'any person can invent a security system so clever that she or he can't think of how to break it.' …

At the end of the day, all DRM systems share a common vulnerability: they provide their attackers with ciphertext, the cipher and the key. At this point, the secret isn't a secret anymore. …

The only way to find the flaws in security is to disclose the system's workings and invite public feedback. But now we live in a world where any cipher used to fence off a copyrighted work is off-limits to that kind of feedback. …

When Sony brought out the VCR in 1976, the studios had already decided what the experience of watching a movie in your living room would look like: they'd licensed out their programming for use on a machine called a Discovision, which played big LP-sized discs that were read-only. Proto-DRM. …

This is the overweening characteristic of every single successful new medium: it is true to itself. The Luther Bible didn't succeed on the axes that made a hand-copied monk Bible valuable: they were ugly, they weren't in Church Latin, they weren't read aloud by someone who could interpret it for his lay audience, they didn't represent years of devoted-with-a-capital-D labor by someone who had given his life over to God. The thing that made the Luther Bible a success was its scalability: it was more popular because it was more proliferate: all success factors for a new medium pale beside its profligacy. The most successful organisms on earth are those that reproduce the most: bugs and bacteria, nematodes and virii. Reproduction is the best of all survival strategies.

Piano rolls didn't sound as good as the music of a skilled pianist: but they *scaled better*. Radio lacked the social elements of live performance, but more people could build a crystal set and get it aimed correctly than could pack into even the largest Vaudeville house. MP3s don't come with liner notes, they aren't sold to you by a hipper-than-thou record store clerk who can help you make your choice, bad rips and truncated files abound: … Yet MP3 is outcompeting the CD. …

New media don't succeed because they're like the old media, only better: they succeed because they're worse than the old media at the stuff the old media is good at, and better at the stuff the old media are bad at. Books are good at being paperwhite, high-resolution, low-infrastructure, cheap and disposable. Ebooks are good at being everywhere in the world at the same time for free in a form that is so malleable that you can just pastebomb it into your IM session or turn it into a page-a-day mailing list. …

Technology that disrupts copyright does so because it simplifies and cheapens creation, reproduction and distribution. The existing copyright businesses exploit inefficiencies in the old production, reproduction and distribution system, and they'll be weakened by the new technology. But new technology always gives us more art with a wider reach: that's what tech is *for*. …" [Cory Doctorow: Microsoft Research DRM talk]

"Charles Weinstein's signature is more legible than many—it is just that it appears to be upside down.

upside_down_signature.jpg: Charles Weinstein's upside-down signature

And this is a problem for the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles, which informed Weinstein on Monday that his signature was 'unacceptable.' Weinstein said a clerk told him he would not get a new driver's license until he agreed to sign it 'right.' …

He said he trained himself to write his name in this unusual way, working right-side up, as a way to make his mark unique. He said he has been signing his name this way for more than eight years on all official papers, checks, credit cards—even his old driver's license. It was never a major problem until this week, he said, when he went to the DMV office on Airport Road to change his address. …

He said the DMV did not issue him a new license and refused to give him back his old one. …

[Drewry Fennell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Delaware] said she knows of no provision in the law requiring a signature to be legible. And if you can't read it, who is to say if it is right-side up or upside down. 'There are many, many people with illegible signatures,' she said. …

On Wednesday, Weinstein said, he wanted to send a notarized copy of a letter of protest to the DMV, but he couldn't meet the notary's requirements.

He didn't have a photo ID to prove who he was." [The Delaware News Journal]

Norman Mailer: "The war against the corporation is profound, as it should be. They are deadening human existence. That, I think, is the buried core of the outrage people feel most generally. There is, after all, a profound difference between corporations and capitalism itself, at least so long as capitalism remains small business. The small businessman is always taking his chances. He leads an existential life. He's gambling that his wit, his energy, and his ideas of what will work in the marketplace will be successful. He can be a sonofabitch, but at least he's out there in the middle of life. … He could be creating something that's awful. But at least he's taking chances. Whereas the corporation is the reverse. The corporation turns capitalism inside out. The majority of them no longer give their first concern to the quality of their product. Since they have the funds to advertise on a large scale, that diminishes their need for a good product. Marketing can take over by way of language and image. Over the years this has produced a general deterioration of the real value of products for the same real money." [New York]

"What we've learned during this thirty-year grand experiment is that men can be cajoled into doing all sorts of household tasks but they will not do them the way a woman would. They will bathe the children, but they will not straighten the bath mat and wring out the washclothes; they will drop a toddler off at nursery school, but they won't spend ten minutes chatting with the teacher and collecting the art projects. They will, in other words, do what men have always done: reduce a job to its simplest essentials and utterly ignore the fillips and niceties that women tend to regard as equally essential." [Flanagan, Caitlin. "The Wifely Duty". The Atlantic (January/February 2003): 173-74]

"Copyright and intellectual property are the most important issues now. If you don't have something that assures fair use, then you don't have a free society. If all ideas have to be bought, then you have an intellectually regressive system that will assure you have a highly knowledgeable elite and an ignorant mass. …

Trying to own intellectual products and creating an economy of scarcity around them as we do with physical objects is very harmful to the development of culture and the ability to speak freely, and a very important principle not talked about much, which is the right to know. I think we have a right to know. It shouldn't be something we have to purchase. …

Any time you engage with information, the reality that you extract from that information is shaped by the tools that deliver it. Microsoft's information presentation is such a monoculture that it edits out a lot of other realities. So you have a new kind of monopoly that affects the way people think in ways that are invisible to them. …

The multinationals have reached the point where they are essentially replacing the nation-state. I look at a multinational as an organism. It is not a human being and doesn't have any characteristics of a human being. It is as much unlike a human being as a coral reef is unlike a coral polyp or an anthill unlike an ant.

It is an extremely advanced piece of evolutionary design that is capable of having its way in the world and competing with human beings for the world's resources. From a multinational's standpoint, the best thing that can happen is the best thing that can happen right now. They have to deliver maximum shareholder value today, next quarter, which means that they don't worry about whether there are going to be resources for them to exploit in 10 years. …

You now have two distinct ways of gathering information beyond what you yourself can experience. One of them is less a medium than an environment—the Internet—with a huge multiplicity of points of view, lots of different ways to find out what's going on in the world. Lots of people are tuned to that, and a million points of view have bloomed. It creates a cacophony of viewpoints that doesn't have any political coherence at all, a beautiful melee, but it doesn't have the capacity to create large blocs of belief.

The other medium, TV, has a much smaller share of viewers than at any time in the past, but those viewers get all their information there. They get turned into a very uniform belief block. TV in America created the most coherent reality distortion field that I've ever seen. Therein is the problem: People who vote watch TV, and they are hallucinating like a sonofabitch. Basically, what we have in this country is government by hallucinating mob." [Reason Online]

"One of the main obstacles to productivity today is the growing problem of information overload. Information overload results because we lack effective tools for automatically organizing information collections into meaningful and relevant chunks. …

In other words, we can start to objectively analyze interactions between ideas as well as the impact that various ideas have on people, organizations and events in the 'real world' and in turn the impact that those things have back on ideas. …

A good example can be found in nature—specifically frogs. Frogs have interesting visual systems. They are tuned to focus on things that move. They are most sensitive to size and velocity, but they also notice changes in velocity. Things that are small and that don't move are not of particular interest to them. Things that move in erratic ways are most interesting. Humans are slightly more sophisticated—we notice momentum, a measure of the 'mass' or 'size' of things and the way they change over time. …

Here is a formula that provides an overview of my heuristic for filtering news articles:

Rank of item (such as an article) in a list = function of (keyword relevancy of item to query, reputation of publisher or source, date of publication, relevancy of source to query, 'document momentum' of item with respect to memes in corpus).

The last item, 'document momentum' is the key to it all. The document momentum is a measure of the cumulative real-time momentum of the memes that occur in the document. …

Here is a formula that provides an overview of my heuristic for filtering news articles:

Rank of item (such as an article) in a list = function of (keyword relevancy of item to query, reputation of publisher or source, date of publication, relevancy of source to query, 'document momentum' of item with respect to memes in corpus).

The last item, 'document momentum' is the key to it all. The document momentum is a measure of the cumulative real-time momentum of the memes that occur in the document. …

… we humans are excellent at picking out the important patterns in complex information. We quickly zero in on the most important memes, even in highly cluttered, chaotic and noisy environments. …" [A Physics of Ideas: Measuring The Physical Properties of Memes]

meme/meem/ [coined on analogy with 'gene' by Richard Dawkins] n. An idea considered as a {replicator}, esp. with the connotation that memes parasitize people into propagating them much as viruses do. Used esp. in the phrase 'meme complex' denoting a group of mutually supporting memes that form an organized belief system, such as a religion. This lexicon is an (epidemiological) vector of the 'hacker subculture' meme complex; each entry might be considered a meme. However, 'meme' is often misused to mean 'meme complex'. Use of the term connotes acceptance of the idea that in humans (and presumably other tool- and language-using sophonts) cultural evolution by selection of adaptive ideas has superseded biological evolution by selection of hereditary traits. Hackers find this idea congenial for tolerably obvious reasons. [The Hackers' Dictionary of Computer Jargon]

"Like previous versions of MyDoom, this one too seems to be listening on certain ports for commands. Ullrich pings each port, but the virus does not react. He suspects a certain ping sequence or HTTP header code is needed to awaken the virus." [Network World Fusion]

Peer-to-peer networking has the following advantages over client/server networking:

  • Content and resources can be shared from both the center and the edge of the network.
  • A network of peers is easily scaled and more reliable than a single server.
  • A network of peers can share its processor, consolidating computing resources for distributed computing tasks.
  • Shared resources of peer computers can be directly accessed.
  • Allows for efficient multipoint communication with having to rely on IP multicast infrastructure.
  • Peer-to-peer networking enables or enhances real-time communications (RTC), collaboration, content distribution, and distributed processing.

[Microsoft TechNet]

… And the history of modern torture tells us that governments can't license this corruption—even in the cause of spreading democracy—without reducing the quality of their intelligence, compromising their allies and damaging their military and bureaucratic capabilities. …

Advocates of torture believe that more physical pain stimulates more compliance, but this view is not based on science; it is medical nonsense. Pain, as noted clinical psychologist Ron Melzack has shown, is far more complex than that. Injury does not always produce pain. In one study, 37 percent of people who arrived at an emergency ward with injuries such as amputated fingers, major skin lacerations and fractured bones did not feel any pain until many minutes, even hours, after the injury. Similarly, soldiers with massive wounds sometimes do not feel their pain for a long time.

In addition, human beings differ widely in their ability to endure extreme pain. Clinical psychologists and some torturers in colonized nations agree that past experiences and cultural beliefs (for example, 'suffering is divine') enable some human beings to endure pain others could not. People also vary in their ability to use psychological states like distraction or anxiety to reduce pain.

Moreover, pain, unlike heat, is not a single sensation but, as Melzack observes, can variously feel like burning, throbbing or cutting. Victims can play these different sensations against each other, using one pain to distract themselves from another, much like a person might bite his hand as someone extracts a thorn.

Last, pain is not constant. As the body is damaged, its ability to sense pain declines. Torturers run out of places where they can apply pain effectively. …

Since the 1970s, a large body of research has shown that unless the public specifically identifies suspects to the police, the chances that a crime will be solved falls to about 10 percent. Only a small percentage of crimes are discovered or solved through surveillance, fingerprinting, DNA sampling and offender profiling. …

Torture is a sign that a government either does not enjoy the trust of the people it governs or cannot recruit informers for a surveillance system. In both cases, torture to obtain information is a sign of institutional decay and desperation—as Saddam Hussein's Iraq clearly demonstrates. And torture accelerates this process, destroying the bonds of loyalty, respect and trust that keep information flowing. As any remaining sources of intelligence dry up, governments have to torture even more. …

In fact, as George Browder explains in his powerful book 'Hitler's Enforcers,' 'the Gestapo, like police anywhere, could not do its work without public support.' The Gestapo's enormous success against the resistance, first in Germany and then elsewhere, depended heavily on bureaucratic files, police informants (G-men or V-men) and collaborators in foreign countries. 'Increased reliance on interrogation through torture during the war years reflects the declining professionalism of an overextended staff much watered down with neophytes,' Browder writes. … [Salon]

… Whoever authorized torture in Afghanistan and Iraq also destroyed the soldiers who were ordered to perform it. Studies of torturers show that they would rather work as killers on death squads, where the work is easier. Torture is hard, stressful work. Many torturers develop emotional problems, become alcoholics, beat their families and harbor a deep sense of betrayal toward the military brass that hangs them out to twist in the wind. … [Salon]

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