The Null Device
New Scientist has an article on a new generation of sleep-control drugs, which promise to radically change the need for sleep, eroding this primal biological obstacle to an always-on society:
Modafinil is just the first of a wave of new lifestyle drugs that promise to do for sleep what the contraceptive pill did for sex - unshackle it from nature. Since time immemorial, humans have structured their lives around sleep. In the near future, we will, for the first time, be able to significantly structure the way we sleep to suit our lifestyles.
All the indications are that modafinil is extremely safe. The drug can have side effects, most commonly headaches, but up to now there have been no severe reactions, says Vaught. In fact, it is hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about modafinil, except that there may be unseen problems down the line as the drug becomes more widely used. "I think it's unlikely that there can be an arousal drug with no consequences," says Foster. In the long run, it is possible that casual users might have to keep upping their dose to get the same effect. Stanley has similar worries. "Is it a potential drug of abuse?" he asks. "Will it get street value? We'll see."And modafinil isn't the latest; new drugs under development for the US military promise days of alertness with no degradation or side-effects, while other efforts are aimed at finding drugs to change the architecture of sleep; allowing one to get a dose of refreshing slow-wave sleep (normally only reached through hours of the less profitable fast-wave variety) in a short session:
Deadwyler kept 11 rhesus monkeys awake for 36 hours, throughout which they performed short-term memory and general alertness tests (Public Library of Sciences Biology, vol 3, p 299). At that level of sleep deprivation, a monkey's performance would normally drop to the point where it could barely function at all, but Deadwyler found that CX717 had remarkable restorative powers. Monkeys on the drug were doing better after 36 hours of continual wakefulness than undrugged monkeys after normal sleep.
"It is possible that pharmaceuticals will allow you a condensed dose of sleep," he says, "and we are not that far away from having drugs that put you to sleep for a certain length of time." He predicts you could soon have tablet combining a hypnotic with an antidote or wakefulness promoter designed to give you a precise number of hours' sleep. "A 4, 5 or 6-hour pill."The article finishes with the warning that, as soon as these drugs become available, many people may eliminate most of their sleep. Which makes sense, though the question arises of long-term side-effects; might the lack of downtime during which the brain performs various housekeeping tasks not increase the likelihood of neurological problems? And if you're competing (as we all are, at least in the Anglosphere) against people who sleep 30 minutes a day, can you afford to worry about coming down with Alzheimer's or schizophrenia 20 years down the track? Then again, perhaps sleep will become an artefact of conspicuous consumption, with the crassly wealthy bragging about how much they can afford to sleep, in the way that today's celebrity aristocracy show off their Hummers and diamond-studded BlackBerries?
Last Friday was the 30th anniversary of Melbourne community radio station RRR's first broadcast. In those 30 years, it has escaped death several times, locked horns with critics and censors, and (along with other community station PBS) nurtured Melbourne's unique music scene. (If you're wondering what Melbourne would have been like without community radio, look at Sydney in the decade or so after 2JJ was ripped out of its community and made into a deracinated national "yoof" broadcaster, cutting off the city's live music scene from its fan base.) The Age has an article about the history of RRR:
The station's evolution into an example beloved of politicians boasting about Melbourne as Australia's cultural capital is ironic, given that for many years it had to fight for survival in an environment unsympathetic to its more outre tendencies.
In an attempt to reduce "accidental" broadcast of unsound material, white nail polish was used to paint over questionable tracks in the station record library, but use of the word "f--k" proved difficult to eradicate when popular culture had embraced it.
Some details are lost to history - such as whether the station went off air for a few hours each afternoon in its early days to let the ancient transmitter cool down or to let the RMIT electrical engineering students have a go. One thing that won't be forgotten is the massive public support that enabled Triple R to narrowly escape one of several death sentences when in 1981 the board voted to close it down, before agreeing to give staff and volunteers five weeks to raise $50,000.Nowadays, RRR's desperate struggles for survival are largely in the past; the station now owns its new premises, and, the article says, has attained "the veneer of middle-aged stability". The programmes still have the same feel of passionate amateurism they have had for as long as I've been listening (since the 1990s). As for political controversy, I suspect that, as Australia's commercial media become increasingly concentrated and dumbed-down and government-funded media become more timid and/or propagandistic, more attention (both sympathetic and hostile) will focus on stations like RRR, and there may be more battles ahead.
There is now a book on the history of RRR, titled Radio City, by Mark Phillips. It is available from the station.
It has emerged that the Church of Scientology has been feteing the City of London police with lunches and regular invitations to Scientologist-connected entertainment events, including Tom Cruise blockbusters and an all-Clam "hot jive" band.
A spokeswoman for the Church has claimed that the hospitality is completely benign, part of a constructive relationship stemming from the Church's clean-up campaigns in drug-ridden areas. Meanwhile, a London-based
psychlo psychiatrist has claimed that there are sinister motivations to it; though, given that psychiatrists are evil puppets of Xenu, he would, wouldn't he?
Conservative Catholic youth flock to Glastonbury to "cleanse" it of its pagan influences.
Maya Pinder, the owner of the shop, said: "We've had to hear comments such as 'burn the witches', we've had salt thrown in our faces and at our shop, people were openly saying they were 'cleansing Glastonbury of paganism'.
"It was as if we had returned to the dark ages. This is hugely damaging to Glastonbury ... it is hard enough to trade in Glastonbury as it is, if you were to take away the pagan element it would be a dead town." The Somerset town is known for having a large population of resident and visiting pagans.The Youth 2000 group, a conservative Catholic youth group which organised the pilgrimage, has publicly distanced itself from the incidents.
An Australian branch of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a pagan/occult group founded in the early 20th century by (in)famous occultist Aleister "the Great Beast" Crowley, has been accused of participating in child abuse and human sacrifice:
According to OTO's statement of complaint, Dr Michaelson said it was not a religion but a child pornography and pedophile ring, that its members practised trauma-based mind control, sexual abuse and satanic rituals to discourage its victims from complaining to the authorities, and that it condoned kidnapping street children and babies and children from orphanages for sex and sacrifice in religious rituals.
The article, still accessible on a website run from NSW, suggests senior politicians and television celebrities are part of a top-level pedophile ring and have been protected by some police. It says some members of the ring pretended to support Dr Michaelson's campaign and became board members of her group to subvert it from within.The OTO is suing the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program under Victoria's religious-vilification laws.