The benefits of meditation

Meditation really is good for you and your brain it turns out. I have tried some meditation, but of the Hindu, not the Zen kind. Didn’t do much for me, but I didn’t stick with it very long. Plus concentrating on the air going in and out your nose really doesn’t occupy your mind much. I just kept drifting away. Maybe I’ll add it to my New Year’s Resolutions.

Science, fundamentalism and climate change

Scientists need to stop ignoring fundamentalists and start explaining themselves, according to the president of the Royal Society. Otherwise, climate change is going to be downplayed and we’re all doomed.

Seems an odd argument, given there are environmentally friendly fundamentalist Christians out there campaigning for CO2 reductions and more. The trouble is he uses the word “fundamentalist” to mean all kinds of fundamentalists, not just religious fundamentalists. His definition is so loose, it applies to anyone with a firm belief. As a result, his argument is woolly and obvious: we need to stand up for what we believe or else people who believe different things will get the upper hand.

Thanks, Lord May, for clearing that one up.

Nevertheless, he has a point. In 20 years’ time, when we’re all melting in heat waves, freezing in Winter and the sea level is slowly rising, what will you say to your kids if they ask you what you did to stop it happening? Do something now and don’t let people who simply know how to shout loudly win the argument. If you’re a CIO or IT manager, incidentally, you might like to read my article on how to make your computing facilities more environmentally friendly: save power, stop using so many resources and you’ll save money as well as the planet.

Reprieve for cosmological constant

It’s been “reprieved” a few times before, but Einstein’s cosmological constant has more observational support. Einstein originally added the constant to general relativity to ensure a static universe, but by changing the sign of the constant, it creates an expanding universe consistent with the proposed “dark energy”.

The results aren’t exactly clinching evidence, but maybe “Einstein’s greatest mistake” won’t be seen as such in a few years.

Gullible people required

If you don’t live in SE London, you probably don’t get this rubbish through your door:

Mr. Yousaff

International Spiritual Healer God Gifted

Born with this Knowledge

I can give help and advice no matter what your Problem is,

I can solve them with one visit. I can help you with Practical solutions concerning marriage, business and court cases and sexual problems. I can improve your life and I can bring back your lost friends, loved ones and relations, I can make your marriage better and I can give instant good luck in family Problems, I can remove from your life black magic, illness and eliminate habits like Drinking and smoking etc.

Anyone who has these problems contact

Mr. Yousoff Now


First thing this guy needs is a magic wand to fix his punctuation and capitalisation. If he can bring back the dead, a full stop shouldn’t be too hard. The second thing he needs to do, of course, is decide whether he’s Mr Yousaff or Mr Yousoff.

However, my burning question is: “Does Mr Yous(a/o)ff actually make money?” If he fixes everything with just one visit, he must have higher call-out charges than the average plumber, just to break even. And are there really enough staggeringly gullible people to support him? Sure, there’s a reasonable number of Africans living here, who I’m guessing are his target market (insert disclaimer about Africa not being a single country, all have different cultures, etc). But they can’t all believe this stuff surely, any more than 100% of the locals round here watch Second Sight on Living or the French are a homeopathy-only nation? I could do a vox pop to find out, but that would involve stepping out into the oh-so-cold air. So maybe I won’t. (Gosh, what a fantastic journalist I am. In mitigation though, I wouldn’t be paid for it and I do have a lot of deadlines to meet right now – all of which will pay me.)

Even if any of them do believe, though, is a psychic sticking his badly phrased flier from the 18th century in someone’s letterbox the cultural equivalent of an undertaker driving around town in his hearse, shouting into his loudhailer about two for one offers – that is, possible but not the done thing? I’m sure there’s a case study for a marketing mag in there somewhere.

Sunday magazine round-up

It’s Sunday, so why don’t we look at what’s been in some of this week’s magazines?

The Economist and the New Statesman both had articles on Venezuela which came to surprisingly similar conclusions in some respects. Both magazines concluded Chávez’s treatment of the foreign oil companies drilling in Venezuela was reasonably justified. Odd that, given that New Statesman’s article was written by the highly left-wing John Pilger and The Economist is pretty much a standard-bearer for right-wing neo-liberal economics. I guess the one thing we can conclude is the oil companies had it coming.

New Statesman is an odd magazine that proves the rule that 90% of everything is rubbish. Apart from the Pilger piece, there were only a couple of stand-out pieces: new columnist Ziauddin Sardar’s look at Hizb ut-Tahrir; and Charlotte Raven’s review of Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit? a book I suspect, despite my best attempts at sunniness and optimism, will be a must-have on my Christmas present list. Otherwise, pretty much everything in NS was as the book suggested. It’s the first time I’ve ever read it through, other than to skim bits in WH Smith, so I might try their trial offer (13 issues for £4.99) and see if it grows on me.

The ever-excellent Economist also had an intriguing article on language development, which raises as many questions, if not more, than it answers. The only thing more surprising was that New Scientist didn’t cover the study to perk up what was a relatively limp issue this week.

Last item of note this week was from The Guardian’s Bad Science, looking at why the BBC’s science coverage in the news is so embarrassingly bad. The particular story cited took my breath away in its science-fiction stupidity. How can they let this rubbish on the air?!

Oh well.

Another new sign language is born

Deaf people, left to their own devices, invent languages all by themselves it seems. You only have to look at the history of BSL and some of the Central American sign languages to see that. Nice article in the New Scientist on one of the latest sign languages created by the deaf, this one in the Middle East.

Stories from the frontiers of language

Interesting couple of stories in the New Scientist this week. I was particularly interested in the second, which reveals “An American mother will say: ‘Look Billy, a truck. It’s shiny and has wheels.’ The focus is on the object… By contrast, Japanese mothers stress context saying things like, ‘I push the truck to you and you push it to me. When you throw it at the wall, the wall says ‘ouch’… To Westerners it seems obvious that babies learn nouns more easily. But while this is the case in the West, studies show that Korean and Chinese children pick up verbs – which relate objects to each other – more easily.”