Sunday 5 December 2010

Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom ...

or the Cosmic Axis Of Evil,
or Bing, Bang, Boom! or even ... Bada-bing, Bada-boom.
Up, Down, Appendices, Postscript.
(There wasn't gonna be no Postscript this week, pretentious nonsense, but I guess there has to be.)

John Lee HookerJohn Lee HookerJohn Lee Hooker (1912-2001): Boom Boom Boom Boom on YouTube from the early 60s sometime.

John Lee HookerJohn Lee HookerAnd also about that time, Ahmad Ahmad the Ethics prof, and the Marketing Director for Benson & Hedges, and a beautiful young Jewish woman, and a devotee of Wanda Landowska, used to gather on winter evenings in a room at Sir George Williams University, to discuss ethics. ... Maybe it was 1964 (?)

It wasn't stricctly-speaking in the ethical bailiwick, but somehow or other we got round to Thomas Aquinas and his five arguments for the existence of God; which as I remember boiled down to the notion that infinite regression is a logical impossibility:
"But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand."

"But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false."

"Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes."
Vahe GurzadyanVahe GurzadyanRoger PenroseRoger PenroseNow I am reading that Vahe Gurzadyan & Roger Penrose, eminent scholars both, opine that an infinite regression is about exactly what we have got!

Here's something from Universe Today, a science news site; and the paper itself (surprisingly accessible for once): Concentric circles in WMAP data may provide evidence of violent pre-Big-Bang activity by V. G. Gurzadyan1 and R. Penrose Abstract and the original (pdf).

Need a Glossary:
       WMAP Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe
       CMB Cosmic Microwave Background
       ILC Internal Linear Combination

Kate LandJoão MagueijoJoão MagueijoThe expression 'Cosmic Axis of Evil' seems to have originated with Kate Land and João Magueijo in their 2005 paper The Axis of Evil, and again in 2006 The Axis of Evil Revisited. I have a suspicion it was Kate Land who came up with the language (and gat-toothed too!); but João Magueijo definitely likes his metaphors & figurative language; again with Rafael Sorkin in 2006 Occam’s razor meets WMAP.

Outside the very universe yet! :-)Maybe the Portuguese from Portugal get a bad rap? He seems more like a Brasilian to me than what the Brasilians told me about the Portuguese. (Um Português estava de carro quando viu uma placa. 'Devagar Quebra Molas'. Acelerou bastante passou pelo quebra molas e destruiu todo o carro. Saiu do carro, foi até a placa e escreveu: 'Rápido também quebra'.) Definitely outside the box.

Edvard Munch The ScreamWMAP Image HinshawWMAP Image Gurzadyan PenroseWMAP Image NASAThe 'Axis of Evil' caught on (as it would) and was repeated; Three-Year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, Gary.F.Hinshaw et al 2007 (see Section 8 page 49 & images on page 107).

João Magueijo caught on too. His Big Bang video on the Science Channel: (here from YouTube) parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and a couple of books: Faster Than the Speed of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation in 2003; and, A Brilliant Darkness: The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Ettore Majorana, the Troubled Genius of the Nuclear Age in 2009 (the links are to Abe's Books where there are some cheap copies).

João Magueijo Inaugural LectureThere is another video (with the appealing icon at the right) but I can't get it to play: Professor João Magueijo Inaugural Lecture 23/1/08 Anarchy and the Laws of Physics ... ahh ... it will run in IE if you have already got Java going (?). This is above the heads of some Internet users so I have inquired and maybe it will eventually show up on YouTube.

Going to oology (if I may be permitted such a tenuous symmetry) some of these images begin to look almost like yin-yangs & universal eggs. In the development of children's artwork (according to Olivier Marc in his Psychanalyse de la maison / Psychology of the House, and carefully observed by myself) the path often moves from dots, simple repeated poundings of the instrument onto the paper, to waves, to closed shapes, to spirals. So if, as Vahe Gurzadyan & Roger Penrose suggest, the vibrations of the previous boom leave traces in the current one, then ... it may not be strictly cyclic ... but spiral, no?

Yeah, that's it - a hoax! :-)I do look at the order of author names on these reports. Pecking order and what not. The big name is not always first. Why is that I wonder? Hedging their bets are they? And so many of the younger scientists are smiling so broadly? They're not all young though - Penrose is 79 ... but, wazizname James Lovelock is even older and he still has his devotees ... so ... maybe the whole thing is a hoax then eh? Like Gaia?

COP16 CancunCancun. Or should it be Can'tcun? Or Won'tcun? Will the UNFCCC (or the UNFCUK or the UNFUCT) make any progress? I would say not. The most serious interest will be seeing who gets the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate awards - k-k-Canada is racking them up of course, three on the first day! That, and watching the bureaucrat maggots as they try to find a nook to slide into or a rock to hide under where they will continue to be paid.

C.C.C.    Copenhagen December 7-18 2009; Cochabamba April 19–22 2010 & Cancun November 29 to December 10 2010.

COP16 Christiana FigueresCOP16 Christiana FigueresCOP16 Christiana FigueresCOP16 Christiana FigueresCOP16 Christiana FigueresCOP16 Christiana FigueresCOP16 Christiana FigueresChristiana Figueres, not such a pushover as Connie Hedegaard maybe - I will bet she does not leave the meeting in tears - but nowhere near the class of Yvo de Boer (he wept but after that he did stay the course). Another woman of a certain age, career bureaucrat, too many years spent at the UN to ever again be good for anything whatsoever. (And I didn't say a word about her height.)

People's Assembly On Climate Justice, June 23 2010.People's Assembly On Climate Justice, December 4 2010.There, look what I've done! And I promised myself not to pay any attention to it. It is TOTELY REFUDIATED! I will not post links. There is a candle burning on my table as there was during Copenhagen. That's all I'll do.
Big birds flying across the sky throwing shadows on our eyes that leave us helpless helpless he-e-elp-less. Baby can you hear me now?
Long may you run. :-)(My son really doesn't like this particular Neil Young song but he might like this one, and I know he likes this one.)
I missed the June 23rd People's Assembly On Climate Justice (video) because I didn't know about it - that's not quite true, I knew. I missed yesterday's because of bad feet - and, I'll admit some relief that the gout came on just then; mind you, half a forty-oz. of Lamb's Navy and eggnog is about guaranteed to bring it on.

Bunch more C-words: Congo, Coltan, Christmas. ... Concupiscent? Complacent?

Boaz HirschDavid Kassel Abbey ChikaneSeveral diamonds in the hands of a smuggler.One diamond in the hand of a miner.Boaz Hirsch, Chairman of the Kimberley Process, and Deputy Director General for Foreign Trade at Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor; David Kassel, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Reclam and 'leader' of Mbada Diamonds, a joint venture set up by the Zimbabwe government through its mining arm Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation; Abbey Chikane, Chairman of South African Diamond Board (and ANC military & intelligence veteran).

It was a surprise to find this in the Globe: Smartphones: Blood stains at our fingertips; just before Christmas and all - the retailers will whinge & complain that the Globe is stalling the 'recovery'. Then I read it and noticed the strangely exaggerated imagery. It was 'including dismemberment' that set me off; making me back up to appreciate the incredible complacency & hubris of “I’d like to see that when my kid buys an iPhone or an iPod Touch that I can and any Canadian can rest assured that they’re rape-free.”

Can we convene a Munk debate please: Resolved that no one needs any of these products.

Paul Dewar Julia SneydHands sifting for Coltan.Perfectly symmetrical with the ludicrous Kimberley Process vis-à-vis Zimbabwe and Marange. And I thought: this is just what the self-indulgent bourgeois twits do. They want their toys but they don't want any bad vibes, so they get some NDP schmuck (Paul Dewar, a handwringer and the son of a handwringer) and maybe a Hollywood director or two, and presto-whiffo, under-the-rug it goes! Into an Act of Parliament and thence into the henhouse of the cringeing bureaucrats (stuffed with foxes, crocodile tears, &etc. animal figures) ... and Google, which urges me to buy diamond rings and cellphones as I rummage among the news.

Cholera in Zimbabwe 2008No scale on this map - Zimbabwe is about 450 miles across. The cholera situation has undoubtedly improved since 2008, as it has in Haiti. The Marange diamond fields are in Manicaland province, capitol Mutare.

None of this may seem very well connected - but it is! I wouldn't have posted this at all, except I watched a film today by mistake: Route Irish by Eamonn Crudden. I thought it was Ken Loach's latest when I downloaded it and since the credits are at the end I had only vague misgivings to go on until then. Eamonn Crudden's narration is what held me. His observations - boiling down to: "What's your stake? And if you haven't got a serious one on the line, then, What are you doing here?" captured my attention.

Facebook Not!Facebook Not!This article by Julie Zhuo, Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt, was in the NYT Op-Ed collection a week or so ago. I thought it was too fluffy (and I still do) but I marked it for return because she is an up-and-comer at Facebook. If you have been watching here you will know that I have as little as possible to do with Facebook, but I am still curious ... I fear it and I don't understand it, so I am curious.

This wonderment (here & now) is happening because after I wrote about the UNFCCC above I looked at the awful hatefulness in it, slept on it, and woke wondering what ever happened to the glad hippie who once was me?

Julie ZhouJulie ZhouJulie ZhouJulie ZhouAnd I thought maybe Julie would have a clue, and so re-read her fluff more carefully. In the process I did as I always do - looked for photographs of her. I think this behaviour is well within her paradigm; but I came away from it amazed!

Name, address, marriage details ... it just goes on and on and I realized that she lives quite a bit of her life directly on the web. Isn't that dangerous? (I thought) ... I guess not. If she's a Facebook peep she must have the web figgured out to that degree at least?

Indeed, her approaches to disarming trolls are thoughtful, compassionate even: highlight thoughtful and valuable opinions; an 'audition' system; 'trusted commenters' - all good. She is not the only one thinking about it either. I have noticed that the Globe and Mail has recently adopted a modified version of her trusted commenters notion - they call it 'Globe Catalysts - Featured Commenters'.

If AI were farther along than I know it is, someone could write one of these 'apps' to ferret out troll remarks. A Gordian solution might be to actually employ human beings, say, some of these 20% unemployed Masters Arts graduates (part-time at minimum-wage, call them 'McTroll Flippers'). Or if, as Ivan Illich says of the Good Samaritan, the essential is un-varnished gut reaction ...

Ken LoachKen LoachThis may not seem to follow either, but it does: I have been watching Ken Loach movies. Last night it was Which Side Are You On, impressions of the UK miners' strike of 1984-5. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) lost big-time. I wasn't quite certain of that fact as I was watching though, which may have influenced how it affected me.

Pius Power & Pius PowerPius Power & Pius PowerOr maybe it was the recent G20 exercise here in Toronto that set me up. Or, longer term, hearing of the deaths of friends after the 1992 closure of the inshore cod fishery in Newfoundland.

I could imagine that Ken Loach knew what he was on about. There were clues - a certain reticence. I have watched enough of his films now to have a notion of how smart he is and what moves his heart, or at least that he has one still.

It all folds into my musings on the climate deniers too; and from there right back around to the humble rage I feel as I watch (as I imagine?) my planet dying, my planet being raped and pillaged and burned and murdered. A minha querida Terra! Some Neanderthal, some Homo neanderthalensis some where, some when, might have shared these feelings as he or she watched Homo sapiens taking over. Eh? Do you think?

Something is gained and something is lost and something remains with each changing of the guard. How can I think that this isn't exactly what is called for? That picture of Julie Zhou tossing her derby hat reminds me of a carefree hippie. I think she may also represent a whole new shift showing up on the job, the last one maybe, but who can say?
Fogo Twillingate Moreton's Harbour
We could sing a few bars together of Let The Circle Be Unbroken ... or All Around The Circle ... Fogo Twillingate Moreton's Harbour ...

Debbie HarryDebbie HarryDebbie HarryDebbie HarryDebbie HarryOh, what the hell, let's have one more round eh? How about a dance tune? A memorable one from 1979: 'Once I had a love and it was a gas, soon turned out to be a pain in the ass.' Yeah, that's right, Blondie, Heart of Glass.

I thought I had survived it but I was mistaken. :-)I've been called 'toxic' and 'venomous' - didn't survive it. I've never gotten over a single thing since then. Just keeps adding up.

Lillian GlassLillian GlassLillian GlassLillian GlassSo here's some heart-throb advice coming from Lillian Glass via Zosia Bielski, Dr. Lillian Glass mind you - this has real authority: Do you know how to identify a toxic man?.

Worth your life to mention toxic women I suppose? Or, say, blondes?

If all the world were apple pie
And all the sea were ink
And all the trees were bread and cheese
What would we have to drink?

Be walkin' again in no time flat! :-)That's the ticket! Bread & cheese; and water; steady for a few days'll clear that ol' purine right outa' there!

Be well.

So, it's one thing to buy two coffees at Tim's pretending to imagine that the second one is for a friend, but it's quite another to have passed on the assenbly yesterday. Watching Eamonn Crudden's film, listening to his remarks, I felt justified for a few minutes - I'm not the only one!

I will watch it again and take notes and maybe post the notes here and maybe find some light ...


1. Before the Boom, NYT Editorial, November 30 2010.

2. Penrose: WMAP Shows Evidence of ‘Activity’ Before Big Bang, Nancy Atkinson, November 22nd 2010.

3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, First Part, Question 2, Article 3: Whether God exists?

4. Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt, Julie Zhuo, November 29 2010.

5. Do you know how to identify a toxic man?, Zosia Bielski, December 2 2010.

6. Smartphones: Blood stains at our fingertips, Iain Marlow & Omar El Akkad, December 3 2010.

7. Zim's rich pickings, Barnabas Thondhlana, December 4 2010.

Before the Boom, NYT Editorial, November 30 2010.

Astronomers and astrophysicists have given us insight into what happened in the first trillionths-of-a-second after the Big Bang, nearly 14 billion years ago. But the current cosmological hypothesis is that before the Big Bang there was nothing.

Now Roger Penrose, the eminent British mathematician, is arguing that there is physical evidence that may predate the Big Bang. In a recent paper, he and his co-author, the physicist V. G. Gurzadyan, describe a pattern of concentric circles detected against the universal backdrop of cosmic microwave radiation generated by the Big Bang. These circles, they say, may be gravitational waves generated by collisions of superbig black holes before the Big Bang.

The two scientists go even further, claiming that the evidence also suggests that our universe may “be but one aeon in a (perhaps unending) succession of such aeons.” What we think of as our “universe” may simply be one link in a chain of universes, each beginning with a big bang and ending in a way that sends detectable gravitational waves into the next universe.

The argument is highly controversial. But if the circles the two scientists have detected stand up to further examination — if they’re not the result of noise or instrumental error — it could radically change the way we think about our universe. And the notion is no more radical than that of some cosmologists who argue that our universe is only one in a multiverse — a possibly infinite number of co-existing, but undetectable, universes.

The question is: What do we do with these possibilities? Our answer is to marvel at them and be reminded, once again, that we live in a universe — however we define it — that contains more wonders than we can begin to imagine.

Penrose: WMAP Shows Evidence of ‘Activity’ Before Big Bang, Nancy Atkinson, November 22nd 2010.

Have scientists seen evidence of time before the Big Bang, and perhaps a verification of the idea of the cyclical universe? One of the great physicists of our time, Roger Penrose from the University of Oxford, has published a new paper saying that the circular patterns seen in the WMAP mission data on the Cosmic Microwave Background suggest that space and time perhaps did not originate at the Big Bang but that our universe continually cycles through a series of “aeons,” and we have an eternal, cyclical cosmos. His paper also refutes the idea of inflation, a widely accepted theory of a period of very rapid expansion immediately following the Big Bang.

Penrose says that inflation cannot account for the very low entropy state in which the universe was thought to have been created. He and his co-author do not believe that space and time came into existence at the moment of the Big Bang, but instead, that event was just one in a series of many. Each “Big Bang” marked the start of a new aeon, and our universe is just one of many in a cyclical Universe, starting a new universe in place of the one before.

Penrose’s co-author, Vahe Gurzadyan of the Yerevan Physics Institute in Armenia, analyzed seven years’ worth of microwave data from WMAP, as well as data from the BOOMERanG balloon experiment in Antarctica. Penrose and Gurzadyan say they have identified regions in the microwave sky where there are concentric circles showing the radiation’s temperature is markedly smaller than elsewhere.

These circles allow us to “see through” the Big Bang into the aeon that would have existed beforehand. The circles were created when black holes “encountered” or collided with a previous aeon.

“Black-hole encounters, within bound galactic clusters in that previous aeon, would have the observable effect, in our CMB sky,” the duo write in their paper, “of families of concentric circles over which the temperature variance is anomalously low.”

And these circles don’t jive with the idea of inflation, because inflation proposes that the distribution of temperature variations across the sky should be Gaussian, or random, rather than having discernable structures within it.

Penrose’s new theory even projects how the distant future might emerge, where things will again be similar to the beginnings of the Universe at the Big Bang where the Universe was smooth, as opposed to the current jagged form. This continuity of shape, he maintains, will allow a transition from the end of the current aeon, when the universe will have expanded to become infinitely large, to the start of the next, when it once again becomes infinitesimally small and explodes outwards from the next big bang.

Penrose and Gurzadyan say that the entropy at the transition stage will be very low, because black holes, which destroy all information that they suck in, evaporate as the universe expands and in so doing remove entropy from the universe.

“These observational predictions of (Conformal cyclic cosmology) CCC would not be easily explained within standard inflationary cosmology,” they write in their paper.

Read Penrose and Gurzadyan’s paper: “Concentric circles in WMAP data may provide evidence of violent pre-Big-Bang activity” - Abstract,
Complete Paper (pdf).

The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, First Part, Question 2: The existence of God, Article 3: Whether God exists?

I answer that, The existence of God can be proved in five ways.

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence---which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But "more" and "less" are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in [Aristotles's] Metaphysics ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt, Julie Zhuo, November 29 2010.

THERE you are, peacefully reading an article or watching a video on the Internet. You finish, find it thought-provoking, and scroll down to the comments section to see what other people thought. And there, lurking among dozens of well-intentioned opinions, is a troll.

“How much longer is the media going to milk this beyond tired story?” “These guys are frauds.” “Your idiocy is disturbing.” “We’re just trying to make the world a better place one brainwashed, ignorant idiot at a time.” These are the trollish comments, all from anonymous sources, that you could have found after reading a CNN article on the rescue of the Chilean miners.

Trolling, defined as the act of posting inflammatory, derogatory or provocative messages in public forums, is a problem as old as the Internet itself, although its roots go much farther back. Even in the fourth century B.C., Plato touched upon the subject of anonymity and morality in his parable of the ring of Gyges.

That mythical ring gave its owner the power of invisibility, and Plato observed that even a habitually just man who possessed such a ring would become a thief, knowing that he couldn’t be caught. Morality, Plato argues, comes from full disclosure; without accountability for our actions we would all behave unjustly.

This certainly seems to be true for the anonymous trolls today. After Alexis Pilkington, a 17-year-old Long Island girl, committed suicide earlier this year, trolls descended on her online tribute page to post pictures of nooses, references to hangings and other hateful comments. A better-known example involves Nicole Catsouras, an 18-year-old who died in a car crash in California in 2006. Photographs of her badly disfigured body were posted on the Internet, where anonymous trolls set up fake tribute pages and in some cases e-mailed the photos to her parents with subject lines like “Hey, Daddy, I’m still alive.”

Psychological research has proven again and again that anonymity increases unethical behavior. Road rage bubbles up in the relative anonymity of one’s car. And in the online world, which can offer total anonymity, the effect is even more pronounced. People — even ordinary, good people — often change their behavior in radical ways. There’s even a term for it: the online disinhibition effect.

Many forums and online communities are looking for ways to strike back. Back in February, Engadget, a popular technology review blog, shut down its commenting system for a few days after it received a barrage of trollish comments on its iPad coverage.

Many victims are turning to legislation. All 50 states now have stalking, bullying or harassment laws that explicitly include electronic forms of communication. Last year, Liskula Cohen, a former model, persuaded a New York judge to require Google to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger who she felt had defamed her, and she has now filed a suit against the blogger. Last month, another former model, Carla Franklin, persuaded a judge to force YouTube to reveal the identity of a troll who made a disparaging comment about her on the video-sharing site.

But the law by itself cannot do enough to disarm the Internet’s trolls. Content providers, social networking platforms and community sites must also do their part by rethinking the systems they have in place for user commentary so as to discourage — or disallow — anonymity. Reuters, for example, announced that it would start to block anonymous comments and require users to register with their names and e-mail addresses in an effort to curb “uncivil behavior.”

Some may argue that denying Internet users the ability to post anonymously is a breach of their privacy and freedom of expression. But until the age of the Internet, anonymity was a rare thing. When someone spoke in public, his audience would naturally be able to see who was talking.

Others point out that there’s no way to truly rid the Internet of anonymity. After all, names and e-mail addresses can be faked. And in any case many commenters write things that are rude or inflammatory under their real names.

But raising barriers to posting bad comments is still a smart first step. Well-designed commenting systems should also aim to highlight thoughtful and valuable opinions while letting trollish ones sink into oblivion.

The technology blog Gizmodo is trying an audition system for new commenters, under which their first few comments would be approved by a moderator or a trusted commenter to ensure quality before anybody else could see them. After a successful audition, commenters can freely post. If over time they impress other trusted commenters with their contributions, they’d be promoted to trusted commenters, too, and their comments would henceforth be featured.

Disqus, a comments platform for bloggers, has experimented with allowing users to rate one another’s comments and feed those ratings into a global reputation system called Clout. Moderators can use a commenter’s Clout score to “help separate top commenters from trolls.”

At Facebook, where I’ve worked on the design of the public commenting widget, the approach is to try to replicate real-world social norms by emphasizing the human qualities of conversation. People’s faces, real names and brief biographies (“John Doe from Lexington”) are placed next to their public comments, to establish a baseline of responsibility.

Facebook also encourages you to share your comments with your friends. Though you’re free to opt out, the knowledge that what you say may be seen by the people you know is a big deterrent to trollish behavior.

This kind of social pressure works because, at the end of the day, most trolls wouldn’t have the gall to say to another person’s face half the things they anonymously post on the Internet.

Instead of waiting around for human nature to change, let’s start to rein in bad behavior by promoting accountability. Content providers, stop allowing anonymous comments. Moderate your comments and forums. Look into using comment services to improve the quality of engagement on your site. Ask your users to report trolls and call them out for polluting the conversation.

In slowly lifting the veil of anonymity, perhaps we can see the troll not as the frightening monster of lore, but as what we all really are: human.

Julie Zhuo is a product design manager at Facebook.

Do you know how to identify a toxic man?, Zosia Bielski, December 2 2010.

She taught Dustin Hoffman how to sound like a lady in Tootsie. Now psychologist Lillian Glass is teaching women how to avoid duds.

And there are many varieties, says the body-language expert in her new book, Toxic Men: 10 Ways to Identify, Deal with, and Heal from the Men Who Make Your Life Miserable. There’s the “Emotional Refrigerator.” And the “Angry Bullying Control Freak.” And don’t forget the “Wishy-Washy Spineless Wimp.”

Dr. Glass says women become “toxic men magnets” when they convince themselves they can tame “bad boys” – that’s the ego talking, she says. Others quietly believe their love is like no other – that’s naiveté. Others still are addicted to drama, mistaking intensity for love.

But the habit can be broken, writes Dr. Glass. She urges women to identify toxic men through their body language, voice and speech patterns. Liars, for instance, will shrug their shoulders when they speak. Bullies tense their jaws. Jerks will tell you they’re jerks early on in your dating career – don’t dismiss their sheepish admission.

A resident expert on the talk show Chelsea Lately, Dr. Glass also manages to get a word in on the justice-affairs show Nancy Grace. She spoke with The Globe and Mail from Beverly Hills.

You say upfront that the book isn’t about “male bashing.” Have you heard that criticism?

It’s not about male bashing at all. It’s really about healing relationships. There are wonderful men out there but unfortunately too many women go for the bad boy.

What’s the reaction from guys?

There was one ignorant person from Singapore who didn’t even read the book and he just went off on a tirade. He got all crazy. All toxic, I should say. People bring their own issues to it. But men who have read it say, “Boy, I can apply that to my ex-wife.”

You write about women who are “toxic men magnets” and argue that they come from all walks of life. Yet we seem most fascinated when successful women pick rotten apples.

A lot of women are “changers.” They change their children and they’re responsible in professions where they can make a huge difference. They think they can do it in their relationships. They think they’re the ones who can change them or that their love is the most powerful. Unfortunately, they’re mistaken.

You say that women working in the helping professions forget that, unlike their clients, their maladjusted lovers “did not come to them for help and have no intention of being helped or changed in any way.”

Teachers do it, psychologists – even attorneys. People who have changed others in the past have to realize they can’t do it in their personal lives. What you see is what you get. Women have all these illusions. It’s based on what they want, not what is.

You map out 11 types of “toxic men.” Which is most common?

The cheating liar and the bully are the most common. Charlie Sheen is the self-destructive type: He’s got everything going for him and he destroys himself. Mel Gibson is the bullying control freak. Kanye West is the me-myself-and-I narcissist. Then you have the jealous competitor – that’s Chris Brown. The backstabber, that’s Michael Lohan. John Mayer is the emotional refrigerator. If you look at photographs of him with all these beautiful women, he’s not the one who’s affectionate or demonstrative. And we see the socio-psychopath: Bernie Madoff.

Which of them is the most hopeless?

The socio-psychopath. He has many other toxic traits: He’s a liar, he’s often a control freak and a narcissist.

But you argue that a man who behaves abusively with one woman might be an angel with another.

What’s toxic to one person is not to another. I’ve seen cases where the man and the woman were really at each other’s throat. The man leaves the woman, marries another, is married to her for decades and they’re happy as clams. Look at Mel Gibson: He was with [Robyn Gibson] for 30 years. He may very well have been toxic to her, but it appears there was tolerance between them. He’s with Oksana for less than a year and it’s World War III.

You write that one can never hope to change a toxic partner. So why stay?

Usually you hear, “Just walk away.” You can do a lot more now than walk away – you have options. Sometimes a bully needs to be bullied. Sometimes someone needs more love and kindness. Sometimes you need a direct confrontation. Sometimes you can fantasize about what you’d like to do to that person, but don’t carry it out. Unplug if there’s been physical violence.

You offer some unconventional advice for women battling the last of the toxins after a break-up. You condone anger, and even a dash of hate: “Even though you have been raised and conditioned not to think these hostile thoughts, they are perfectly healthy given the situation you’re in.”

These are unconventional techniques in terms of healing, and that’s the most exciting thing. If you’ve just broken up and you’re in pain, eat that chocolate cake. You can have the whole cake if you want, as long as it makes you feel good.

Smartphones: Blood stains at our fingertips, Iain Marlow & Omar El Akkad, December 3 2010.

On April 11, 2009, NDP MP Paul Dewar’s plane touched down in what is sometimes referred to as the rape capital of the world: The Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was there to talk about a mining industry that has helped finance a vicious war that has left some seven million people dead since 1998. The voracious international appetite is centered on an obscure mineral, coltan, which many Canadians have never heard of and yet would not be able to live without.

To see the other side of that war, Mr. Dewar could have remained in Canada and taken a trip to the nearest mall. In the next few weeks, millions of electronics will be yanked off store shelves during the busy holiday shopping season – computers, smart phones, electronic book-readers. Almost every single one of the gadgets Canadians purchase will, in turn, help extend Congo’s misery, because inside the circuitry of those gadgets is coltan.

Coltan has become one of the world’s most sought-after materials because it is used to create tantalum, a key ingredient in electronic circuitry. The global tantalum capacitor market is worth about $2-billion (U.S.) annually. You’ll find them in computers, cell phones, home appliances and myriad other electronic goods.

“I’d like to see that when my kid buys an iPhone or an iPod Touch – any of these technologies – that I can and any Canadian can rest assured that they’re rape-free,” says Mr. Dewar, who has just tabled the Trade in Conflict Minerals Act with Liberal Party support. The act would pressure companies to ensure the raw materials they purchase don’t end up putting money in the pockets of warlords. But the proposed law’s future is likely also dependent on Canadian consumers’ willingness to pay a few dollars more for computers that aren’t built using conflict minerals -- something that’s far from certain.

Whereas blood diamonds have shamed many of the world’s biggest miners into more ethical practices, the notion of blood tantalum has so far had no such effect. Not only are most consumers unaware of the mineral or its background, but there are currently no reliable means of ensuring that the tablet computer you just purchased wasn’t made using conflict coltan.

The U.S. government is leading a push to embarrass the world’s biggest coltan purchasers into cleaning up their act. The Dodd-Frank law, a sweeping Wall Street reform act that leverages the might of the Securities Exchange Commission and is expected to take effect in the next few months, contains a clause that would pressure companies to say where they’re buying minerals such as coltan.

About 80 per cent of the world’s coltan is in Africa, and the vast majority of that store resides in war-torn Eastern Congo. With an estimated $25-trillion in potential value, Congo is, in terms of untapped mineral wealth, perhaps the richest country on Earth. However the country’s mineral trade is a complex and violent web. Rebel groups from within the Congo and neighbouring countries have set up shop around the coltan mines, sometimes with the implicit support of the local military – which experts note are sometimes little more than criminal warlords in uniform.

Numerous government and human rights groups have drawn a direct line between coltan mining profits and the ongoing atrocities in the region, including dismemberment and gang-rape.

“This obscure mineral has had the distinction of effectively becoming a kind of blood diamond of the digital age,” professor Jeffery Mantz of George Mason University wrote in a 2008 Social Anthropology article exploring Congolese coltan mining.

As with the diamond trade, there are some potential solutions to the conflict-coltan problem, but their implementation is far from assured. For example, manufacturers could be forced to declare where their raw materials are coming from, or to implement a fair-trade program such as some coffee producers have done. In part, the clauses in the Dodd-Frank act seek to impose some of these solutions on companies – and because, unlike in Canada, there exists a countrywide securities regulator in the U.S. to enforce the law, hardware manufacturers are taking it seriously.

In theory, under the proposed law, suppliers who adhere to ethical practices will be able to market their wares as conflict-free – a potentially effective marketing strategy. But as in the case of fair-trade coffee, such initiatives are limited by the number of companies willing to buy in, and the number of consumers willing to pay extra for the product. However the coltan trade is more difficult to clean up partly because of the lawless nature of mining in the Congo and partly because of the general public’s ignorance of the commodity’s use in most modern technology.

There are other large deposits of the mineral in countries such as Australia. But Australian “conflict-free” coltan comes at a higher price, adding to the final retail cost of a high-end personal computer or cellphone. As such, Australian mines have largely been unable to compete with Congolese operations. In fact, the presence of “conflict-free” coltan has in some ways made the conflict variety more difficult to detect.

“Recent reports state that Rwanda and others are using the war in Congo to continue the exploitation of coltan. Once it is extracted, we are told, it is then sent down to Australia, where it is mixed with Australian coltan – where 20 per cent of the world’s coltan comes from – before being processed into tantalum,” U.S. Senator Sam Brownback said in a 2008 speech on the senate floor. “Unfortunately, it is impossible to say with any certainty that the tantalum supply coming out of Australia is conflict free.”

The U.S. government has moved more aggressively in recent years to combat the use of conflict minerals. The Dodd-Frank act, passed in July, contains a clause that would put intense pressure on U.S. public companies to state the source of certain minerals – including coltan’s derivatives – used in the manufacturing process. Because companies will be forced to report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the need to ensure legally sound and accurate compliance is immense.

Mr. Dewar hopes Canada follows that lead. In late September, he introduced Bill C-571, which would create a “due diligence mechanism” to ensure Canadian companies are not purchasing conflict minerals. In Canada, the mining finance capital of the world, such rules would go a long way toward disrupting the conflict coltan trade. However, because Canada has no national securities regulator, Mr. Dewar was unable to lodge responsibility with a financial agency with teeth and has to rely instead on an ombudsman and an annual report he hopes will shame companies that continue to use conflict minerals.

But in the U.S., many manufacturers and retailers, including Wal-Mart and Target, have fought against these new rules, arguing that it is simply too difficult to accurately trace the origin of such raw materials. Some worry the Dodd-Frank act may have the unintended effect of shifting Western corporate money away from an already impoverished Congolese population.

Indeed, it appears few if any major technology firms are able to say with certainty that their devices don’t contain coltan sourced from the mines fuelling Congo’s brutal war.

Rick Goss, as the vice-president of environment and sustainability at the Information Technology Industry Council, has been helping the high-tech industry try to stay ahead of the public relations disaster that befell the “blood” diamond industry. His industry lobby group represents huge interests – RIM, Apple, Microsoft, Dell, Nokia, HP and many others – but Mr. Goss seems earnest as he describes the sector’s voluntary efforts ahead of the deadline for the Dodd-Frank provision to take effect on April 17. The group is test-piloting an audit system for the Chinese and Indonesian smelters that buy shipments from conflict zones, and it has started implementing a “bag-and-tag” process whereby the raw minerals are sealed as they are mined, aggregated through village traders and then sent off abroad in larger shipments.

Goss admits there’s no fool-proof process. In the chaos of the Congo, where even the military is being implicated in atrocities and kick-back schemes, it is simply impossible to ensure armed militias don’t get at least some of the cash, by erecting impromptu road tolls to extract illegal taxes on even legitimate shipments of “conflict free” minerals.

“There’s no paper trail when an illegal tax is applied,” Mr. Goss says. “Can you avoid every leak into the system? It’s never going to happen. No more than the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) here can make sure that no one ever cheats on their taxes.”

For years, hardware manufacturers have essentially relied on the word of their suppliers that minerals such as coltan have been conflict-free. However it appears that more and more people are deciding such assurances aren’t good enough. A campaign is under way to establish “conflict-free campuses” in universities across the U.S., and earlier this year hundreds of people peppered Intel’s Facebook page with queries about where the company gets its raw materials.

Ultimately, however, the movement to end the use of conflict coltan will largely rest on whether consumers come to acknowledge the link between sleek, state-of-the-art electronics and brutal violence in one of the most war-torn nations on Earth – and whether “blood phones” will become as current a phrase as blood diamonds.

In Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, that came into sharp focus when Mr. Dewar asked the Minister of Mines and Natural Resources about the lack of governance that has led to the violence. Couldn’t the government take a more active role in policing the mining sector, to ensure that mineral wealth didn’t flow to murderous thugs, he asked? “I remember the Minister just looking at me and saying flatly, ‘What is your role?’”

Iain Marlow is the Telecom Reporter and Omar El Akkad is the Technology Reporter for The Globe and Mail.

Zim's rich pickings, Barnabas Thondhlana, December 4 2010.

Reports confirm that Marange diamonds could elicit fabulous wealth

Diamond output from the controversial Marange fields could easily reach 40 million carats by 2013, catapulting Zimbabwe to top global gem producer and earning US$2-billion a year for the cash-starved Southern African nation, a government adviser on diamonds said.

Zimbabwe sold its first stockpile of diamonds from the notorious Marange last month, when it was allowed to auction 900 000 carats by the Kimberley Process certification scheme, which regulates global gem trade.

The Ministry of Mines says the country holds more than five million carats from Marange, where it has been running two joint-venture mining operations, Mbada Diamonds and Canadile Miners (now cancelled), with two little known South African firms and a Chinese diamond harvester.

Belgian diamond expert Filip van Loere, who is advising Zimbabwe's unity government to ensure full compliance with the Kimberley Process, said Harare could become a major player in the global diamond industry within three years.

"With the new diamond find in Marange, we're estimating 40 million carats per year and $2-billion per year in revenue," van Loere said this week.

"Zimbabwe has been propelled to the number one spot as the world's most important player and it will be number three in value. That is estimated to come along within the next two to three years."

That would be good news for the coalition government, formed by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, which has struggled to win donor support to fully revive the economy.

The government has said it needs at least $10-billion to resuscitate the economy, which fell apart after a decade of hyperinflation and foreign currency shortages.

Zimbabwe is expected to sell the second tranche of Marange diamonds soon, when South African Kimberley Process monitor Abbey Chikane returns to the country.

Van Loere said Zimbabwe could surpass traditional top diamond producers like Russia, Botswana and South Africa, but warned that a sudden increase in output on the global market could cause a glut of the gems and push prices down.

"The main issue for Zimbabwe is to be careful in harvesting this resource. Zimbabwe might add 20% to global trade, but then prices will go down at least 60%-70%, so we have to be responsible.

"Zimbabwe should not become the main producer just for the sake of it," van Loere said.

He said there was room for more players to exploit the Marange diamonds, which some experts have said are the biggest find of the century. The sprawling Marange fields span more than 66 000 hectares with the prospectors working less than 6 000 hectares.

Witnesses say the fields outside Mbada and Canadile are being manned by the army, who they accuse of working with illegal diggers to siphon diamonds worth millions of dollars in a well-orchestrated operation.

Critics say a powerful military and political clique close to Mugabe is running a cartel and analysts fear that Zimbabwe's diamonds could be a major source of conflict in future.

Over 30 000 illegal panners descended on the Marange fields in 2006, but the government deployed the army two years later in a bid to stop panning and smuggling of gems. Rights groups say the security forces committed atrocities during the crackdown on the panners.

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