This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


November 12, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Too Bad…

November 12, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

In Keeping With The Theme

November 12, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Psychology Today:

People who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens have always resided at the farthest fringes of science, and the recent claim by a UFO cult known as the Raelians that they had cloned a human being does little to endear abductees to the mainstream. The sect’s leader, Rael, maintains that he was plucked from a volcano by almond-eyed aliens who granted him an audience with Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad, each of whom confirmed that humans are descended from extraterrestrials.

But for every Rael, there are hundreds of workaday individuals who claim to have been abducted by aliens. These individuals do not flower into gurus; they struggle alone with memories of unintelligible messages, temporary paralysis and humanoid creatures hovering over their beds. Their stories don’t always check out, but their minds do: Psychological tests confirm that abductees are rarely psychotic or mentally ill. Some 3 million Americans believe they’ve encountered bright lights and incurred strange bodily marks indicative of a possible encounter with aliens, according to a recent poll.

It is a quandary that polarizes researchers at Harvard University. One embattled psychiatrist, John Mack, M.D., argues that these experiences cannot be understood in a western rationalist tradition of science; researchers in the department of psychology, Richard McNally, Ph.D., and Susan Clancy, Ph.D., counter that the explanation–though multifaceted–is hilarious in its fundamental simplicity.

Mack, of Harvard Medical School, is a long-time champion of alien abductees and a paranormal philosopher king of sorts. His 1994 bestseller, Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens, drew international attention with the argument that “experiencers,” Mack’s term for the men and women he has debriefed, probably are being abducted by aliens.

More recently, McNally and Clancy introduced alien abductees to the laboratory to study trauma and recovered memory in an experimental setting. They believe their subsequent findings explain the entire abduction experience, including abductees’ refusal to accept the fact that transcendent, technicolor encounters with aliens are no more than five-alarm fires in the brain.

Harvard’s ideological clashes over the interpretation of anomalous experiences date to William James’ tenure at the university one century ago. Both Mack and James studied psychology after training in medicine and tried to bridge the gap between psychology and spirituality, only to be rebuffed by Harvard’s powers that be. For James, this culminated in Varieties of Religious Experience, which rejected a rigorous standard of evidence for divine experiences. “There is a clinical literature and an experimental literature, and they don’t refer to each other,” states Eugene Taylor, Ph.D., a biographer of James and a historian who lectures on psychology at Harvard Medical School. “Mack is a clinician making observations about human experience, as opposed to cognitive behavioral scientists, who say that if you can’t measure it in the laboratory, it doesn’t exist.” When it comes to people who believe they’ve been abducted by space aliens, the two camps agree on only one thing: “These people are almost never psychotic,” says McNally. “They’re not lying. But Mack entertains a range of explanations that are farfetched at best.”


Will Bueche, a 34-year-old media director, has long had nighttime paralysis and visions that “have no resolution and seem out of place.” For years, he considered them merely suggestive–until he began witnessing beings while wide awake. Some abductees had far more traumatic encounters. Peter Faust, a 45-year-old acupuncturist, believes he endured years of sexual probing by hooded creatures who implanted chips in his anus and stimulated him to ejaculation. After eight hypnotic-regression sessions with Mack, and a battery of psychological tests in the early 1990s, Faust concluded that he is yoked to a female alien-human hybrid with whom he has multiple offspring.

The abduction narrative is a strange hybrid in its own right: humiliating surgical invasion tempered by cosmic awareness. Experiencers travel through windows and walls, tunnels and space-time to reach the starship’s examining table, where young women’s eggs are extracted and men’s sperm are siphoned off. Despite waking bruised and violated, abductees say their love for beings in the alien realm can surpass any human bond and generate a sense of oceanic oneness with the universe that rivals the experiences of a world-class meditator. Faust says he “realized we’re not alone in the universe. There are beings out there who care about us. But getting to this point is a long, arduous journey, with a lot of people who want to deny your experience…”

Read it all.

Foreign Policy:

We’re Still Paying For Bush’s Cave-In To Hezbollah

Just a few years ago, Lebanon appeared to be a foreign-policy success for the United States. Outraged by the brutal 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, likely at the hands of Syria and its allies, the Lebanese people, bolstered by international support, succeeded in expelling Syrian military forces and asserting Lebanese sovereignty for the first time in decades. Again in 2009, the Lebanese affirmed their support for the pro-Western ruling coalition, awarding it a solid majority of seats in parliament during the May general elections.

These days, however, the country looks headed for a frightening crisis. The March 14 coalition, as the ruling group is known, has been unable to capitalize on its popular mandate due to the overwhelming force wielded by Hezbollah, which is funded, trained, and armed by Iran and Syria. But it’s not just Hezbollah’s fault. U.S. policy toward Lebanon is significantly to blame for being unwilling to back up bold words with actions. Far from protecting America’s allies, consecutive U.S. administrations have not only failed the pro-Western government but also empowered its worst enemies.

The slow-burning confrontation is about to reach a boiling point over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, charged with bringing Hariri’s killers to justice. The court, established by agreement between the U.N. Security Council and the Lebanese government, is expected to issue indictments against members of Hezbollah in the coming months. As the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, up to six members are slated to be indicted by year’s end, including Mustafa Badreddine, a senior Hezbollah military commander and brother-in-law of the infamous Hezbollah mastermind Imad Mugniyah.

In an effort to pre-empt what would surely be a massive blow, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has launched a war against the tribunal, and U.S. officials believe that Hezbollah will stop at nothing to prevent indictments from being handed down. The risk of war is palpable, and if Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons — and their Syrian puppets — unseat the elected government and take control over Lebanon, it will be a grave blow to U.S. security and credibility around the world.

It would also bolster the reach and credibility of Iran. Fred Hof, deputy to U.S. Middle East special envoy George Mitchell and point man on U.S.-Syria policy, speaking to the Middle East Institute in the midst of the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, put it bluntly in assessing the Iran connection: “Whether most of his organization’s members know it or not, and whether most Lebanese Shiites know it or not, [Nasrallah] and his inner circle do what they do first and foremost to defend and project the existence and power of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The rise of Iranian influence in Lebanon is particularly dangerous at this moment, when moderate Arab countries are desperately looking for the United States to contain Iran. From the perspective of America’s Arab allies, if the world’s superpower can’t contain the mullahs before they have a nuclear weapon, how could they themselves be expected to contain the mullahs should they get the bomb?

It’s difficult not to lay the blame for this dire situation at the feet of former U.S. President George W. Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. The Bush administration was eager to hold up Lebanon as an example of its successful Middle East policy: “We took great joy in seeing the Cedar Revolution. We understand that the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the street to express their desire to be free required courage, and we support the desire of the people to have a government responsive to their needs and a government that is free, truly free,” Bush said in April 2006. However, when push came to shove, the president did little to help his Lebanese allies when they needed him most.

Judgment day came May 7, 2008, when an emboldened Hezbollah, alarmed that the government was moving to control the group’s illicit private communications network, invaded the streets of Beirut and the Chouf mountains to the south, forcing Lebanon’s democratically elected leaders to concede to a power-sharing agreement at the point of a gun. The result was yet another capitulation by the Bush administration, which signaled its acquiescence to the Doha agreement, signed on May 21 of that year, formalizing Hezbollah’s veto over any government decision — including its own disarmament.

But if the Bush administration opened the door to Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon, President Barack Obama’s administration is holding that door ajar, doing little to support the United States’ erstwhile allies in the March 14 coalition out of fear that such a move would damage any chance of engaging with Syria…

What Makes Countries Corrupt

November 12, 2010

The Atlantic:

The United States and other advanced nations are stepping up their efforts to combat corruption in poorer, less developed nations by publicizing the corruption and by punishing their own companies when they engage in it. The U.S. Congress added a bipartisan amendment to pending financial reform legislation, requiring oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose every payment they make to foreign governments, according to a recent report in The Economist.

But can such efforts stem the tide? My own analysis suggests that before we can deal with systemic corruption we must first come to grips with the fact that it doesn’t occur in a vacuum — it is a symptom of deeply rooted economic and social maladies.

The map above shows how the nations of the world stack up on Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perception Index or CPI, which tracks government bribes, kickbacks, embezzlement, and other forms of public corruption. Topping the list as the world’s least corrupt nation is Denmark, followed by New Zealand, Singapore, Finland, Sweden, and Canada. The United States ranks 22nd. The BRIC nations–Brazil, Russia, India, and China–rank in the bottom third of the CPI, even though they are among the fastest-growing nations in the world. Countries like Angola, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq are at the very bottom.

To get a better handle on all of this, my colleague Charlotta Mellander and I compared how a nation’s rank on the corruption index compares to its standing on a series of other standard measures–economic development (economic output per capita), the transition to a more highly skilled knowledge economy (human capital levels and the creative class share of the workforce), social tolerance (as measured by Gallup World Poll surveys which track attitudes to gays and ethnic and racial minorities), and the overall level of happiness or life satisfaction (also from Gallup surveys). Note that the CPI ranks countries in reverse order; the higher its score, the less corrupt the country. As always, we caution readers not to make too much of these findings. Our analysis can only identify relationships among variables and in no way implies causation.

The chart above summarizes the key results of our analysis. Generally speaking, the associations we found between corruption and economic and social development are quite striking…

Read it all.

That Explains It

November 12, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


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