Moulton Lava

Moultonic Musings

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Ramsey Clark and Fair Trials

Ramsey Clark, the one-time US Attorney General under the Johnson Administration, has joined the defense team in the trial of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

I met Ramsey Clark in the 90's, when he showed up to defend the late Phil Berrigan and the Prince of Peace Plowshares.

Clark has labored long and hard to ensure that anti-war activists got a fair hearing in the US criminal courts. His efforts, I am sorry to say, were largely in vain.

What interests me about the trial of Saddam Hussein isn't the characters who are in the dock, but the venue.

Iraq is the modern day country that claims to be the cradle of Western Civilization. The Garden of Eden is presumed to represent the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, where humans first began to till the soil and domesticate their livestock at the dawn of the Agrarian Culture, some ten thousand years ago.

The advent of the Agrarian Culture brought with it the notion of ownership (of land and the fruits of the land), and the institutionalization of commerce and trade. Hammurabi of Babylonia is remembered today as one of the early founders of the Rule of Law, some 3750 years ago.

The Rule of Law is in some disarray these days, partly from political corruption and partly from systemic flaws in the concept itself. Corrupt rulers are ubiquitous in the annals of history. But the systemic flaws in the Rule of Law itself are more difficult to fathom, since they correspond to subtle errrors in mathematical reasoning. Hammurabi was hardly a mathematician, and so he can be excused for crafting a flawed system.

Indeed, we had to wait for modern mathematicians like Poincaré to reveal that Law and Order is a pipe dream.

Today, most educated people have at least heard of Chaos Theory, even if they haven't read James Gleick's book on the subject. What we learn from Chaos Theory is nothing short of an astonishing revelation. Rule-driven systems are not inherently orderly, stable, and predictable (as almost everyone blithely assumes or imagines). Rule-driven systems are inherently chaotic (in the technical mathematical sense of the term). In street language, a better term would be high drama.

The NBC series, Law and Order, is really about Hammurabism and Drama. The Hammurabic Method of Social Regulation is one of the most reliable sources of high drama known to journalists and scriptwriters.

One of these days, a courtroom trial (such as the one in Iraq) will reveal the mathematical truth about Hammurabism to the general public. And when that happens, a major myth will be shattered — the myth of Law and Order.

And then, just maybe, Western Civilization will begin to evolve to the next stage — the search for more functional methods of social regulation.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Solving for the BackStory

Woody Allen wrote a funny comedy called Zelig about a guy who was so malleable, he became a clone of whoever he found himself in the company of. Within weeks of hobnobbing with a new partner, Zelig not only thought like them, felt like them, dressed like them, and acted like them, he even began to resemble them physically. It was a remarkably insightful caricature of mimesis.

Emotions are contagious. If you don't believe that, pay attention to any drama — especially a situation comedy.

There is a musical genre in Portugal called Fado, which means fate or destiny. The songs tend to be ballads, with stories of characters whose lives play out some fore-ordained destiny.

Greek myths also typically begin with an oracular prediction of the ineluctable destiny of the heroic character who is fated to embark on an epic quest.

It's not until we get to Shakespeare do we begin to see the mathematical linkage between character and destiny. That's also the subject of John McCain's new book, Character is Destiny.

Drama is undeniably a part of the culture of human civilization. Every culture has its creation myths and epic dramas.

One is obliged to ask (as Joseph Campbell did): What are the functions of myth and story and drama in our culture?

There is more than one answer to that question, but one of the emerging answers is that drama serves to shape, elicit, define, and reveal character. This is especially true of character-driven dramas.

How does that process work?

Consider the shreklisch onion-layer model of a storybook character.

According to that model, the Action/Reaction (or Transference/Counter-Transference) of two or more characters engaged in an Agonistic Drama are governed by the parameters of their respective multi-layered character models — by their dreads and emotions, backstory and issues, beliefs and practices, desires and intentions.

Therefore, given such a drama (a sufficiently protracted sequence of actions and reactions), one should (in theory) be able to eke out the underlying character model of the cast of characters generating the drama at hand.

By training, I'm a systems analyst. Mostly, I spent my career studying technology systems (including systems with humans in the loop). It was our job to model, analyze, diagnose, and improve the functional operation of the systems that we were assigned to study.

I hadn't spent any time studying drama systems, for the simple reason that they had little or nothing to do with the technology systems that my employer (the Bell System) had been building to support the telecommunication infrastructure of the nation.

But the same tools for thought that grounded analytical reasoning in the engineering of technology systems can be fruitfully applied to human systems as well, including drama systems where the technology component is nil to non-existent (except as a passive medium of communication).

To engage in a drama is to expose one's character to discovery and analysis. It's an unavoidable (i.e. mathematical) feature of drama, like solving a problem in algebra. The unknowns are the parameters that fill in the character models of each character in the cast.

I'm far from the best analyst on the planet. I'm hardly in the same league as Freud or Jung or Rogers or Peck. But neither am I totally incompetent at constructing system models — even when those models include elements of human psychology.

If someone comes to me and reprises a drama — either from their own personal issues and (untold) backstory, or (like Zelig) as a proxy or clone for someone else whose beliefs and practices they are temporarily reprising, I'll probably lay awake at night (as I did last night) trying to solve for the parameters of the Clanciatic Vexagon Diagram.

Wittgenstein famously concluded: That which cannot be spoken of in words must be passed over in silence.

Marcel Marceau and other actors of the silent screen might revise that by saying: That which cannot be spoken of in words must be passed over by making phunny phaces.

The dramatic story (or backstory) which we cannot narrate in words must be perennially reprised by re-enacting it as many times as necessary until the vexagonistic character model falls out like the long-sought solution to an algebraic equation.

After all, that is the destiny of a mathematician — to solve for the unknowns.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Legal Abuse Syndrome

Yesterday I was invited to attend a small meeting at Boston College, hosted by a faculty member of the Department of Psychology.

The people at the meeting all had something in common. They all lived in condominiums in Massachusetts, and they all had hair-raising horror stories to report regarding the corruption and racketeering they had encountered while dealing with the politics and legal wrangling in their condo associations. The stories all had a common denominator — each of the unit owners had become ensnared in a dysfunctional, costly, corrupt, and crazy-making legal process that spiraled out of control without resolving the basic issues that the unit owners had been fighting over.

One of the participants at the meeting was Chester Chapulowski, whose horror story has been made into a novel, a play, and even a movie. He describes his experience in terms of Legal Abuse Syndrome — a variety of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder arising from going through the meatgrinder of dysfunctional legal process.

Legal Abuse Syndrome is defined by Karin Huffer, who has written a book about it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Looking for Info on the Theory of Polionic Systems

Do any readers here know anything about Polionics (or the Theory of Polionic Systems)?

As I understand it, Gray M. Arrow developed the Theory of Polionic Systems to study the curious (but apparently ubiquitous) phenomenon of those systems which manifest the bizarre Emergent Property (in the course of their normal operation) of tieing themselves up in knots and becoming hopelessly paralyzed and dysfunctional, such that they can't even breathe.

In other words, a Polionic System is one that has the Emergent Property of becoming Self-Paralyzing.

Government Bureaucracies and Greek Pantheons may be the best known varieties of Polionic System, but Arrow evidently wanted to model the phenomenon in as general a way as possible, in the tradition of System Modeling.

Polionics is the study of this curious and ubiquitous phenomenon.

Does anyone on this forum know where I can find out more about Polionic Systems? A Google search doesn't turn up much.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Oxytocin Deficit Dishonor

There were several stories in the news recently about the role of the neuropeptide, Oxytocin, in regulating levels of affection and disaffection.

Oxytocin has long been recognized as the hormonal neuropeptide associated with "Cupid's Arrow" — the palpable phenomenon of feeling "lovestruck."

Recent research indicates that Oxytocin is also correlated to issues of trust. High levels of Oxytocin correlate to high levels of trust. Low levels of Oxytocin correlate to wariness and mistrust.

This correlation is not too surprising, since Fear (Apprehensiveness) and Trust are opposites (as are Fear and Love).

What's surprising is how strong the correlation is. The scientific findings showed that trust levels could be dramatically manipulated by exposing subjects to aromatic doses of Oxytocin.

A precipitous plunge in Oxytocin levels evidently corresponds to the emotionally devastating experience of a "broken heart."

It breaks my heart to say it, but I fear our culture is suffering from Oxytocin Deficit Disorder, as people become increasingly disaffected, wary, and mistrustful of others.

Trust-Building is one of the key goals of Community-Building.

But we seem to be in an era where the seeds of fear and mistrust are being widely sown by nefarious political operatives throughout the political culture.

Where has all the Oxytocin gone?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

All About Redheads

Some time ago, I saw an episode of Nova on PBS that was all about Man's Best Friend.

One of the interesting tidbits of scientific data had to do with breeding wolves (and dogs) to be tame.

As successive generations became tamer, their coat color also lightened up.

Whyizzat?

Turns out that wildness/tameness has to do with conditioning the Fear Response. When an animal is in the wild, things are a lot more dicey, a lot more dangerous. The Fear Response System pumps a lot more Adrenalin in a wild animal than in one that is tame and docile.

As the body's need for stores of heart-pumping adrenalin subsides, the metabolism of adrenalin production eases back proportionately.

So breeding out wildness and breeding in tameness changes the body chemistry in such a way as to reduce the production of all the metabolic products of Phenylanine and Tyrosine, including Adrenalin, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Melanin.

Adrenalin, like all proteins and neuropeptides, is assembled out of Amino Acids -- the building blocks of life. There are about 22 Amino Acids. They are like the letters of the alphabet. And, like the letters Q and X, some are found in only a few unusual words (like Quixotic and Toxique). Two Amino Acids in particular go into the making of Adrenalin: Phenylalanine and Tyrosine. Phenylalanine is an essential Amino Acid, meaning we obtain it through dietary intake. Tyrosine is a nonessential Amino Acid that is synthesized in the body from Phenylalanine.

But Tyrosine has other uses in the metabolic life of the animal. It's also an essential building block of Dopamine, Oxytocin, and Melanin. It also plays a role in the production of Serotonin.

Melanin? Why ain't that the pigment that turns your skin and hair dark?
Why it sure is.


In humans, redheads are way over-represented in Math, Logic, Science, Philosophy, and Comedy.

Whyizzat? High levels of Adrenalin (Epinephrine) are associated with Athleticism and Anxiety. Low levels of Adrenalin are associated with Scholarship and Coolness. And one of the markers for that is the associated low levels of Melanin — e.g. redheadedness.

If you watch that PBS Nova episode, you will notice something remarkable. About half the scientists and dog-lovers featured on the show are blonds and red-heads. As are the tamer breeds of dogs and wolves.

Socrates, Galileo, and Darwin were redheads. So was King David, Vincent van Gogh, Mark Twain and Thomas Jefferson. Queen Elizabeth I and Winston Churchill were redheads. The legendary King Arthur was said to be a redhead. JK Rowling is a redhead. So is Jane Goodall.

For years I've wondered why so many of the people who share my interest in science, math, philosophy, comedy, and the bardic arts were redheads like myself. On the other hand, redheads make lousy soldiers, since soldiers need lots of Adrenalin. There was only one notable redheaded General in American history, and he was one of the worst Generals the US Cavalry ever had. His name was George Custer.

Now I have a credible theory to explain it.

Here are photomicrographs of Tyrosine and Phenylalanine:

 
  Tyrosine

Hydroxyphenyl amino acid that is used to build neurotransmitters and hormones.

Tyrosine is metabolically synthesized from phenylalanine to become the para-hydroxy derivative of that important amino acid. This hydroxylated amino acid participates in the synthesis of many important biochemicals including the thyroid hormones, the melanin biological pigments, and the catecholamines, an important class of biological regulators. Tyrosine is incorporated into proteins and enzymes at the molar rate of 3.5 percent with respect to the other amino acids.

 
  Phenylalanine

Most common aromatic amino acid found in proteins.

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that is also one of the aromatic amino acids that exhibit ultraviolet radiation absorption properties with a large extinction coefficient. This characteristic is often used as an analytical tool to quantify the amount of protein in a sample. Phenylalanine plays a key role in the biosynthesis of other amino acids and some neurotransmitters. It is the most commonly found aromatic amino acid in proteins and enzymes with a molar ratio of 3.5 percent compared to the other amino acids, about double the amount of any other aromatic amino acid.
Micrograph Sources: http://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/aminoacids/index.html


11 Facts About Redheads — BuzzFeed

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Amusing Helicopter

Once upon a time there was an amusement park where you could go for a ride in a helicopter.

Oh, it was a wonderful ride, because they let you fly the helicopter yourself.

Or I should say yourselves.

You see, these were specially designed helicopters, custom-made for the amusement park.

Some were two-seaters, and some were three-seaters. There were no one-seater helicopters in this amusement park. You'll soon understand why.

It was easy to spot the two-seater helicopters, because they had two rotor blades, 180° apart. And the three-seater helicopters had three rotor blades, spaced 120° apart, just as one would expect.

What made these amusement park helicopters special was how the controls worked. The pilot sitting in a given seat only controlled the pitch angle of one of the blades. Each pilot controlled the pitch angle of a different blade. That's why the two-seater helicopters had two blades and the three-seater models had three blades.

Now if you know anything about helicopters (or airplane or ship propellers), you know that the pitch or bite angle of the blade determines how big a slice of air it grabs as it whirls around. If you 'feather' the blade, you set the pitch angle to zero, and it has no 'bite' at all. If you set the pitch angle to 90°, the blades would just churn up the air without generating any lift or propulsion. The pitch angle has to be set to some ideal value for the propeller to do its job.

In the amusement park, most of the visitors who go on the helicopter ride don't know very much about flying a chopper. They have no idea what pitch angle to set their blade to.

But what makes the ride fun is that each pilot is independently controlling just one of the two or three blades. So, unless they are coordinated, they typically have the various blades set to different pitch angles.

And as you might expect, this unbalances the helicopter and prevents it from flying very well, if it flies at all.

Mostly, the chopper just sits on the ground, bouncing spastically, shaking and shimmying, and going nowhere.

The operator of the helicopter ride never explains to the visitors how to coordinate their piloting to uniformly set all the rotor blades to the same well-chosen pitch angle. Nope nope nope. That would spoil the show.

Now usually there is one pilot who knows better than the others which pitch angle is best if you really want to get the chopper off the ground. But the other pilots don't have a clue. They set the pitch angle of the blade under their control to some arbitrary and capriciously chosen value which, in all likelihood, is unsuitable for flight.

And so the question is, what should the more knowledgeable pilot do?

Should he set his own blade to the optimal pitch angle and just keep it there, waiting for the other pilot to catch on?

Should he match his own blade to the setting of his moronic co-pilot, just to keep the chopper from flipping over on the ground? Moulton's Purple Helix

Or should he set it to something partway between those two values in an effort to coax his partner to discover the two fundamental laws of smooth ascent — that the blades have to all be balanced against each other and they all have to be set to a functionally efficient absolute pitch to achieve liftoff?