31 December 2011


From Sexbots for Women ~ "What do females want in a cyborg lover?  Androids that provide erotic pleasure for humans, a.k.a. 'Sexbots', are destined to end up in our beds in the future .... Typically, such sexbots are regarded as machines designed for men.  But don't women also desire cyborg stimulation?  When will their plastic paramours arrive?  What will they look for in a mechanized lover?  How will female lust for robotic romance impact relationships and society?"

What follows is a lively, provocative interview between Ethical Technology's Hank Pellissier and two women with an avid interest in alternative sex ~ IEET Program Director Kristi Scott, and transhumanist author Dominique Mainon.  Their conversation is wide-ranging and provocative, and not to be missed.

No less provocative is the opening of a new science fiction-themed bordello northwest of Las Vegas.  Alien Cathouse will feature sex workers imaged after Star Wars, Star Trek, and other famous sci-fi and fantasy characters.  I have never been intimate with a hooker, and don't intend to.  Still, the thought of a close encounter with one of the women from Firefly/Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, or X-Men is, well, titillating.  Add ten-foot-tall Neytin from Avatar, and the possibilities grow exponentially.

30 December 2011


"Do you think like a polymath?  Here's a quick test ~ Are you more of a rational or an experiential/intuitive thinker?  If you cringed as you read the question and thought to yourself 'I love constantly shifting between both modes of thought', then you're on the polymath path.

"According to psychologist Seymour Epstein's cognitive-experiential self-theory, humans have two parallel but interacting modes of information processing.  The rational system is analytic, logical, abstract, and requires justification by logic and evidence.  In contrast, the experiential system is holistic, affective, concrete, experienced passively, processes information automatically, and is self-evidently valid (experience alone is enough for belief) .... According to the theory, neither mode of thought is absolutely more important, and neither mode is intelligence.  Instead, the key to intelligence is the ability to switch flexibly between modes of thought depending on the task at hand."

Dr. Barry Scott Kaufman's essay How Renaissance People Think goes on to list specific advantages and disadvantages for each mode of thought, and to demonstrate how integrating them heightens creativity and enhances social relationships.  He concludes thus ~ "Those who are open to experiencing both analytical thought and experiential thought and are flexible enough to switch between the two .... have the greatest chances of not only changing the world for the better, but also forming deep, empathic connections with others .... So, want to be a Renaissance person?  First step, start thinking like one."

A cautionary note ~ the rational/intuitive dichotomy should not be confused with left brain/right brain thinking.  The latter concept has been discredited.  We perform both modes of thought on both sides of our brain.

On a slightly different train of thought ("All aboard for the Southwest Zephyr!"), check out How to Ace a Google Interview.  The Internet giant relies not only on standard job interview questions, but also on puzzles and riddles which test an applicant's lateral thinking and ability to deal with ambiguity. Their brain teasers require you to not only examine clues within the question, but also to examine your own assumptions about the question.  Click on the link to be walked through several sample questions, and to learn why "the best answers to many questions begin with 'It depends'."

29 December 2011


For those few who still doubt that human-generated greenhouse gases are causing runaway global warming (and also for those of us who have understood the danger for several decades), the PBS NOVA special Extreme Ice is jaw-dropping.  The program demonstrates with compelling video and scientific data the extent to which glaciers around the globe are disappearing ~ rivers of ice disintegrating faster than they can be replenished by snowfall.  The same holds true for the vast ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.  As ice on a glacier or ice sheet melts, gravity channels it to low-lying hollows which become temporary lakes ~ temporary because the combination of water pressure and the water's warmer temperature cleave fissures into the underlying ice, fracturing it to depths up to a mile.  The water flow reaches bedrock and proceeds to carve its way downhill toward the sea, lubricating the flow of the overlying ice.  It is a self-perpetuating cycle on a monumental scale, beautiful and terrifying.  

Okay, you ask, it's all very impressive, but so what?  After all, Earth has always gone through periods of warming and cooling, influenced mostly by shifts in the planet's orbit.  But this is different.  Due to man-induced global warming, the ice melt has accelerated more quickly, over a much shorter period of time (since the start of the Industrial Revolution, when we began pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere), surpassing ANY recorded changes in the geologic record.  The likelihood is real for a rise in sea level of three feet (one meter) or more by the end of this century, flooding coastal cities worldwide (see image above, click to enlarge), and altering the circulation within the world ocean and within the atmosphere, with climate consequences we cannot yet imagine.

Please click on the link and watch for just a few minutes.  You'll be hooked.

By coincidence, earlier this month a NYTimes article examined another, somewhat overlooked aspect of global warming and ice melt ~ the thawing of permafrost in the world's arctic regions.  Permafrost "underlies nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, and contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere."  Melting permafrost will release not only carbon dioxide, but also methane, a gas which traps even more of the sun's heat.  

Even if we had begun to rigorously rein in our greenhouse gas emissions in 1980, it would have been a toss-up whether we had already passed the point of no return.  Now .... this observer is certain that we have already passed the threshold.  We have set in motion processes which we understand but poorly, and which are irreversible.  Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

28 December 2011


No, gentle reader, the title does not refer to recipes for stewing, braising, or broiling local members of the genus Canis ~ in North America, including wolves, coyotes, and foxes, not to mention domestic dogs.  Rather, it refers to our increasing understanding of how and to what extent certain canids (especially wolves and coyotes) interbreed to produce viable offspring.  A Scientific American blog post addresses interbreeding with illustrated descriptions of the species and their hybrid offspring.  (An image of a coywolf appears above ~ click to enlarge.)

It is a fascinating and well-told story.  My only quibble is with the author's portraying the wolf as "romantic and charismatic", while the coyote is described as a "pest."  But perhaps that is just how much of our society sees them.  I happen to have high regard for both species.  Each is a top predator, meaning that each has survived over thousands of years by hunting using intelligent tactics.  Further, the coyote has proved to be more adaptable to human intrusion ~ efforts to eradicate coyotes have actually increased their range and numbers.  During my years living in the southern Arizona desert, it was always a thrill to hear coyotes howling at night.  I haven't had the pleasure of hearing wolves yet, a circumstance which stands in need of remedy.

Regular visitors to this forum know that I am a strong proponent for restoring as much of the globe as possible to a natural state, including the healthy presence of native predators.  Conservationists face an uphill battle in persuading ranchers, farmers, hunters, and others that it is not only feasible but desirable to co-exist with all of nature's megafauna in a state of dynamic equilibrium.  

There are success stories, notably in areas where predators like wolves have been re-introduced to parts of their former ranges.  The wolves thrive, and over-populations of prey like elk and deer are winnowed to a healthy size as happened during all the millennia before the arrival of humans. Many human opponents refuse to adapt, going so far as to take the law into their own hands by killing any wolf in sight.  Other former opponents take a more enlightened approach, cooperating with state and federal game agencies and conservation groups to selectively eliminate those predators who repeatedly kill livestock.  Some former opponents, once they realize that there are ways to minimize predation, become defenders of the predators they once reviled.  Some Montana ranchers who live near Yellowstone National park are among them, as documented in the PBS special Wolves in Paradise.

I recently came across an article which describes a potent solution to the conflict.  The experiment took place in Africa, in an effort to dissuade lions from preying on villagers' cattle.  The method is simplicity itself ~ conditioned taste aversion.  Lions were allowed to eat beef which had been "treated with the deworming agent thiabendazole in doses large enough to make them temporarily sick to their stomachs .... After a few meals of treated beef, the lions were once again offered untreated meat."  They refused.

The report states that conditioned taste aversion is "a natural defense mechanism enabling predators to survive encounters with prey with toxic [antipredator] defenses.  When mammalian predators experience nausea after consuming prey with toxic defenses, they form an aversion to the taste and scent of these toxic animals. Long after recovering from the effects of a [sub-lethal] dose of the toxin, predators avoid offending prey wherever they are encountered."  This result has implications for predator-human relations on every continent.

27 December 2011


I was fortunate to tune in to the PBS talk show Charlie Rose last week, when he interviewed actor Angelina Jolie on the occasion of the release of the first film she's directed, In The Land of Blood and Honey.  I have enormous respect for Jolie as both an actor and a humanitarian.  She is falsely portrayed in tabloids as egocentric and shallow, when in fact the 37-year-old actor has not only won numerous awards for her work, but is also a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The film's premise is a love story set during the Bosnian War, when Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Christian Serbs, and Catholic Croats ~ ethnic factions which had lived as friends and neighbors and had intermarried in pre-war Yugoslavia ~ became alienated and polarized.  Murder, rape, and ultimately genocide were the result.

This is not ancient history.  The war occurred between 1992 and 1995, and for most of that time the world stood by and did nothing.  Precisely because these events happened so recently (as have similar wars and genocides in other parts of the world), Jolie "wrote and directed the film to rekindle attention for the survivors."  The movie was shot on location, using Bosniak, Serb, and Croat actors who had lived through the events protrayed.  

I invite you to watch Rose's interview with Jolie and three of her actors.  A disturbing subject is discussed with empathy and intelligence.  Simply click here for the web page, then click again on Jolie's picture to start the video.  A written transcript appears below the video.  

26 December 2011


"Imagine that you are French.  You are walking along a busy pavement in Paris and another pedestrian is approaching from the opposite direction.  A collision will occur unless you move out of the other's way.  Which way do you step?"

This is the set-up for The Wisdom of Crowds ~ The Strange But Extremely Valuable Science of How Pedestrians Behave.  Our decisions while moving through crowds are frequently subliminal, based on the culture in which we grew up, on the subtle calculus of the movement of objects in space, and on the equally subtle interplay of eye contact and personal presence.  

But there is more going on, as the article explains.  The movements of individuals become naturally subsumed into the flow of groups, not unlike a collective mentality at work.  The probability of the movement of particles is overlaid by the fleeting yet sophisticated judgments of intelligent minds.  Dense crowds have a propensity to spontaneously break into lanes that allow people to move more efficiently in opposite directions.  They also have a propensity to respond in a predictable fashion to obstacles like intersections.  Interesting reading.

Speaking of crowding and compression, here is a splendid video which presents 300 years of fossil fuels in 300 seconds.  Cleverly done and intensely informative, the inevitable upshot is that we must stop thinking and behaving in reaction to events, and start thinking and behaving proactively ~ taking a hard look at the harm we've caused, where it's going, and how we can turn things around to arrive at a healthy and sustainable future.  Even if we didn't have our grandkids to consider (we do), we still owe it to our mother (Mother Earth) to make things right.

25 December 2011


I first learned in high school Latin that for several centuries, the exact day of the birth of Christ was not precisely known.  Originally his birth was celebrated on January 6, the day of epiphany.  Later, in a move calculated to win converts, the date was officially moved to December 25 in order to coincide with the Roman festival Saturnalia, as well as with the pagan Scandinavian festival Yule, both of which approximated the winter solstice and the gradual return to longer days and shorter nights.  Thus was Christmas  born.

The customs and trappings which we associate with the holiday similarly are rooted in distinctly non-Christian origins.  The video The Unwrapping of Christmas ~ Its History, Myths and Traditions casts light on why we give gifts, decorate Christmas trees, light Yule logs, hang mistletoe (my favorite), and why we teach our children to believe in Santa Claus.  The Wikipedia article also looks at the holiday's origins and history, including controversies surrounding the holiday.  (One of those controversies centered on the very name Christmas, or 'Christ mass', an inference which deeply offended early Puritan Protestants.  Another controversy arises from the secular holiday shopping hysteria which has come to attend gift-giving, seemingly forgetting any focus on the spiritual message of peace and good will toward all peoples.  Yes another controversy addresses the emphasis on the Christian holiday, to the exclusion of equally important non-Christian traditions such as Kwanzaa, Hannukah, Samhain, Festivus, and other winter festivals.

Here is a lovely alternative way of looking at the season ~ Carl Sagan's narration of A Universe Not Made For Us.  His soothing voice and gentle application of intellect are a refreshing breeze, taking us back to a broader perspective on being human.  You listen, you watch, and you can't help thinking, "Oh yeah, that's right.  I'd forgotten."

Winding up on a lighter note, here's a brief Marx Brothers clip, The Sanity Clause.  Cheers.

24 December 2011


Here are two true stories which portray, far more than frenzied gift buying or ritual sentimentality, the selfless, human meaning of this season. Each is understated, and genuine, and touches the heart.

The first story is celebrated in a ballad written and performed by John McCutcheon.  It tells the story of a spontaneous Christmas Eve truce that took place 97 years ago today, during which German, British and French troops found respite from the cold, muddy, bloody trench warfare of World War I.  How?  By discovering their common humanity.  The event was reenacted in the 2005 film Joyeux Noel.  I was first introduced to the song nearly 20 years ago, by my good friend Dale Evarts, and it brought tears to my eyes.  It still does.

The second story is told in a video showing "one of the most heartbreaking and beautiful" animal rescues ever filmed.  The small dog in the video is clearly lost, terrified, starving, and probably abused ~ yet the gentle persistence of the rescuer eventually saves her from a grim fate.  More tears of devastation and joy.

The common theme is clear ~ by reaching outside our lives, our assumptions, even our hatreds, we transcend circumstance and in doing so, become more sublime, more caring, more truly human.

23 December 2011


As most of us know, security checks while traveling are not limited to airports.  Those entering the U.S. at highway border crossings are subject to similar scrutiny ~ including the need to have upon your person a current passport, even if you are a U.S. citizen returning to this country.  One aspect of security searches has always troubled me, because of the potential for physical damage to one's belongings.  That is using Xrays or other radiation detection on cameras, computers, and other film or digital devices (not to mention the cumulative carcinogenic effect upon the human body).  TSA is quick to assure us that the screening devices used are used at sufficiently small strengths as to be harmless.  This is not true. Anecdotally, back in the days of film photography, I've had exposed film fogged so badly that the images were useless, which is why I started carrying my rolls of 35mm film in lead-lined containers, easily opened for visual inspection, but not to be sent through a scanner.

Times have changed, but the threat of damage and issues of privacy remain.  Hence the timeliness of an online guide called Defending Privacy at the U.S. Border:  A Guide for Travelers Carrying Digital Devices.  You can navigate through the document by using the scroll bar at the right, or by using the arrows at the bottom.  It is a thorough and informative read, especially for those who may not be well-informed about (a) their rights, and (b) technical issues associated with our computers, cameras, and mobile phones.  Table of contents headers include ~

~  Why can my devices be searched at the border?
~  How the government searches devices at the border
~  Deciding how to protect your data (the bulk of the document)
~  Interacting with border agents

Travel safely, travel wisely, and travel well-informed.  By the way, did you know that if you live within 100 miles of any land or coastal section of the U.S. border, your rights under the U.S. Constitution might be summarily suspended in the name of national security?  Further, did you know that 2 out of 3 Americans (197.4 million people) live within that 100-mile strip?  Click on the map above for a better view.

Speaking of border security, it's useful to remind ourselves how we became Fortress U.S.A. in the first place.  Gone are the days when your verbal assurance of American citizenship was sufficient at the Canada border, or a simple visa was adequate at the Mexico border.  Here is a lively, provocative video entitled "9/11~ A Conspiracy Theory", complete with transcript.  It is worth reminding ourselves repeatedly that the events surrounding that tragic day are shrouded in secrecy and double-dealing at the highest levels of our government, and that the resulting war in Iraq was justified by layers of lies, half-lies, and damned lies, spreading fear of non-existent weapons of mass destruction and terrorist cells, when the true driving force was assuring the flow of oil from that country.  Terrorism undeniably exists ~ but we ourselves, by our words and deeds, are too often the cause of its being directed at us.

22 December 2011


"At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest.  Now I realize I am fighting to save humanity."  ~  Chico Mendez.

On this day in 1988, Brazilian environmentalist and human rights advocate Chico Mendez was assassinated.  He was one of nineteen rural activists murdered that year, but certainly the most well-known ~ which also made him the greatest threat to the ranchers, rubber plantation owners, and government officials who felt threatened by his insistence on protecting native habitat and native peoples.  His story was made into an award-winning documentary, as well as a cinematic drama.

The winners of the prestigious National Geographic 2011 photo contest have been announced, and here they are.  The exquisite Grand Prize winner appears above (you'll definitely want to enlarge this image by clicking on it.)

Ever wonder what happened to the art of the insult?  I refer not to the crude profanities which prevail today, but rather to the artful verbal stilettos wielded by piercing minds like those of Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, and Winston Churchill.  Despair not, gentle reader ~ I refer you to the most prolific linguist (and author of veiled and not-so-veiled insults) in the English language, Sir William Shakespeare.  Here is a "tastefully offensive insult kit" ~ you have only to "combine one word from each of the three columns, prefaced with 'Thou'."  Delicious.

Finally, this title speaks for itself, and it is fascinating reading ~ How Germany Builds Twice as Many Cars as the U.S. While Paying Its Workers Twice as Much.  Small wonder that the German economy is the strongest in the entire European Union.  

21 December 2011


Yesterday's post featured visual images with brief captions.  Today's post follows the trend, but today each image title is a link to an explanation of the picture.  Please do check each link ~ the information is quite fascinating.  (As always, click on any image to enlarge for full clarity.)

The scale of Saturn ~ you won't believe your eyes.

When Bubbles Get Comfortable ~ wait, aren't they supposed to be round?

U.S. Federal Budget Infographic ~ notice the only years we had a budget surplus.

20 December 2011


(Please click on any image to enlarge.)

Artist's concept of an underworld city.

Creation myths and the evidence supporting them.

Oops.  Santa forgot to activate his transponder.

Graph comparing percent of Americans who support environmental protection with percent of Americans who prioritize the economy.  Note that the environment was ascendant until the election of George W. Bush in 2000.  After that, his disastrous political and fiscal policies put the U.S. into a tailspin, with a corresponding shift in public focus to the economy.

Safety vs. freedom.

Some days are like this.

Being a baby-boomer, I'd never considered this until I saw the graph.  No wonder Christmas songs have become so boring. 


The ongoing effects of Reagonomics.


Is that a light saber you have in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

Typogram of a human skeleton.

19 December 2011


Like many of us, I was bullied as a child ~ by an individual and by a pair of individuals.  The experience shook my self-esteem for years, until I received training in martial arts and the self-confidence that comes with knowing that you can defend yourself if need be.  The experience also contributed to my clear positions on social justice for individuals, groups, and nations.

Recently Hogan Sherrow summarized recent research in his Scientific American article "The Origins of Bullying".  The behavior has received increased public attention in recent years, as a result of the twin tragedies of victims committing mass shootings at schools, and victims committing suicide.  To understand bullying, it helps first to define it.  "According to psychological sources, bullying is a specific type of aggression in which (1) the behavior is to harm or disburb, (2) the behavior occurs repeatedly over time, and (3) there is an imbalance of power, with a more powerful prson or group attacking a less powerful one.  this asymmetry may be physical or psychological, and the aggressive behavior may be verbal (e.g., name-calling, threats), physical (e.g., hitting), or psychological (e.g., rumors, shunning/exclusion).  The key elements of this definition are that multiple means can be employed by the bully or bullies, intimidation is the goal, and bullying can happen on a one-on-one or group basis."

Sherrow goes on to establish that bullying is cross-cultural (not specific to any region or tradition), and that in fact it spans the entire order Primates ~ apes, monkeys, and humans.  Humans, however, carry bullying several orders of complexity further.  "Humans have taken an ancient behavior that used to provide an advantage in survival and reproduction, and altered its intensity and impact through language and culture.  While physcal bullying is a serious issue and targets of bullying are beaten all too often, humans have intensified and expanded the impact of bullying by incorporating language.  Language allows us to communicate abstract ideas, coordinate behaviors and express thoughts and feelings to others.  Language also allows us to gossip, and gossiping is a key psychological element in bullying and can have serious, lasting effects.  

"Language, combined with a phenomenal social memory that allows us to remember scores of individuals and their attributes, which we inherited from our primate ancestors, allows bullies to spread rumors about their targets, and inflict harm on them, without putting themselves at risk physically.  Text and online bullying are extensions of this behavior, and further remove the bullies themselves from immediate risk.  It is not anonymity that texting and online interactions provide, but rather the opportunity for individuals to distance themselves from potential conflict and risk that provides them with a platform to be cruel.

"Humans have further altered the impact of bullying-like behaviors through cultural practices and norms that celebrate violence and demand conformity to a narrow view of what is acceptable and normal .... the most intensive bullying is found in countries where violence and social intolerance are the most commonplace.  In the U.S., views on violence, sexuality and what is normal impact the actions of our youth, and play on our inherent tendencies to coerce others into conformity .... Still, cultures do not 'create' bullies, and bullies are not found only in those cultures that practice social intolerance and glorify violence.  The tendency to bully or coerce others is natural and deeply rooted in our evolutionary history, and emerges in any group of toddlers playing freely.  However, when cultures condone, and in some cases celebrate violence and aggression, while suppressing or demonizing aspects of humanity that are equally natural such as homosexuality, they unwittingly give license to and encourage bullies.

"Bullying was there during the birth of our species, having been inherited from the earliest of our social ancestors.  Species ranging from rats to chimpanzees regularly engage in bullying-like behaviors, and those behaviors provide advantages to the individuals who engage in them.  However, the combinatory effects of language and culture on bullying in humans have distorted its effects, pushing it beyond individually advantageous to socially venomous.  The result has been the crisis we see played out in our schools, shopping malls and social media websites ~ children and young adults bullying each other with devastating results.  While nearly all anti-bullying programs are well-meaning and can show progress in the short term, they fail to get at the root of the problem.  Addressing bullying through culturally-based social programs is like taking the flowerhead off a milk thistle.  You will slow the growth and spread of the plant, but not for long.  It is only through incorporating a deeper understanding of the antiquity of a behavior like bullying in our policies that we can hope to alter its impact on society.  Like milk thistle, bullying must be pulled up by the root if we hope to remove it from the fields where our children grow and develop."

18 December 2011


Today's post is a tribute to Time Magazine's choice for their annual Person of the Year.  For 2011 the editors chose The Protestor (see image above) ~ "From the Arab Spring to Athens, from Occupy Wall Street to Moscow," it has been a monumental year for social change initiated not by political leaders or prominent public figures, but rather by ordinary people gathering together in one voice, demanding that dictators be ousted, and that corrupt holders of economic power be held accountable.  We haven't seen this much public participation in shaping our own destinies since the antiwar protests of the 1960s and 1970s.  If this trend were to continue, who knows ~ we might see the day (after bitter resistance by those in power) when government of, by, and for the people is once more a reality.  

17 December 2011


From AP News ~ "Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans ~ nearly 1 in 2 ~ have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income .... Paychecks for low-income families are shrinking. The inflation-adjusted average earnings for the bottom 20 percent of families have fallen from $16,788 in 1979 to just under $15,000, and earnings for the next 20 percent have remained flat at $37,000. In contrast, higher-income brackets had significant wage growth since 1979, with earnings for the top 5 percent of families climbing 64 percent to more than $313,000."

Here are the official U.S. Census guidelines for poverty status in the contiguous United States ~

~ family of 1 ~ $10,890
~ family of 2 ~ $14,710
~ family of 3 ~ $18,530
~ family of 4 ~ $22,350
~ family of 5 ~ $26,170
~ family of 6 ~ $29,990
~ family of 7 ~ $33,810
~ family of 8 ~ $37,630
(each additional person, add $3,820)

By any measure of economics, politics, or morality, this is an untenable situation.  The figures buttress what I've maintained often ~ that the gap between the wealthy top 5 percent and the remainder of the population has been widening for thirty years, to the point where not merely social unrest (like the Occupy movement) but social upheaval will occur unless our elected officials get off their collective behinds and institute revolutionary reform.  Which is unlikely to happen, since most of those same officials are either wealthy themselves, or are in the pockets of the wealthy.

We frequently hear politicians and commentors (I refuse to use the term 'commentators', since it is a ridiculous construct to suppose that people 'commentate') describe our situation as varying degrees of economic recession.  No one wants to be the first to use the D word, but I suggest that we are already verging into a very real depression ~ one created by Reaganomics to favor the wealthy, and one from which it will take us another thirty years to fully recover, even given the best of intentions by all parties.  That latter given is a stretch in credulity.  Most of the wealthy do not spread their wealth.  A few donate to charitable causes (and then take the tax write-off), and even fewer voluntarily suggest that the American tax structure be revised to see to it that those making vast sums of money contribute a more significant portion to the common good.  It is a disingenuous myth that these are the "job creators".  They're in it for more, and more, and more wealth.  Period.  

Meanwhile, the numbers of impoverished continue to make up a larger and larger proportion of our population.  It isn't so in every developed country.  It is definitely so in America's distorted version of capitalism.  We know that poverty is the foundation for poor education, poor health, and high levels of crime.  It is in everyone's interest to hold the feet of the super-wealthy to the fire, and to hold them accountable for shouldering more responsibility for contributing to the commons.  Failure to do so will only hasten our descent from the company of the informed and influential nations of the world.

16 December 2011


I was shocked to learn that Christopher Hitchens died yesterday, at age 62. He was an author, journalist, critic, and one of the world's foremost intellectuals. The NYTimes described Hitchens as "a slashing polemicist in the tradition of Thomas Paine and George Orwell who trained his sights on targets as various as Henry Kissinger, the British monarchy and Mother Teresa, wrote a best-seller attacking religious belief [God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, a book which everyone, believer or non-believer, should read], and dismayed his former comrades on the left by enthusiastically supporting the American-led war in Iraq."

According to Wikipedia, "Identified as a champion of the 'New Atheism' Movement, Hitchens described himself as an antitheist and a believer in the philosophical values of the Enlightenment. Hitchens said that a person 'could be an atheist and wish that belief in cod were correct,', but that "an antitheist is someone who is relieved that there's no evidence for such an assertion. He argued that the concept of god or a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, and that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilization."

The Huffington Post notice features a video of Hitchens holding forth on "the benefits of reading your own obituary." He wrote in Vanity Fair that "In whatever kind of 'race' life may be, I am very abruptly become a finalist. He died of pneumonia as a complication of esophageal cancer.

Hitchens was an original thinker with a rapier wit. Here are two videos featuring him addressing audiences on religion in general, and evangelical bullies like Jerry Falwell in particular. Hitchens did not suffer fools gladly, and did not hesitate to call a space a spade. He will be missed.

Erratum ~ Yesterday I celebrated Beethoven's birthday a day early. To my knowledge it is the first time in the history of this forum that I've beat the other horses out of the gate so terribly. I'm not certain which troubles me more, that I posted a day early, or that no one appears to have noticed. In any event, happy birthday (again), Ludwig.

15 December 2011


Today marks the 241st anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, the musical giant who spanned the chasm between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music. Most people have their favorite Beethoven pieces, even if they're not aware of it. Among mine are theMoonlight Sonata for piano (which is also transcribed beautifully for classical guitar), and the Symphony No. 7, Second Movement (Allegretto). The second piece illustrates Beethoven's signature instrumentation, including French horn, oboe, cello, violin and trumpet. Enjoy.

Last week's episode of Rober Ebert's PBS series At The Movies was divided into three segments, each devoted to how African-Americans have been included and depicted in films. The first covers the time period pre-1960s. The second addresses 1960-1990. And the third discusses 1990 to the present. The half-hour presentation is timely, given that this year, not one black actor or director has been nominated for an Academy Award. To me this is an egregious omission and a step backward, given the wealth of talent in the black, Asian, and Latino communities. Memo toAMPAS ~ it's the 21st century. Time to join the rest of us.

14 December 2011


My thanks to Facebook and G+ friend Andrea Kuszewski for the link to a column by Michael Machalko, titled Twelve Things You Were Never Taught In School About Creative Thinking. Below are the items on the list ~ you can click on the link to learn more about each item.

~ You are creative.

~ Creative thinking is work.

~ You must go through the motions of being creative.

~ Your brain is not a computer.

~ There is no one right answer.

~ Never stop with your first good idea.

~ Expect the experts to be negative.

~ Trust your instincts.

~ There is no such thing as failure.

~ You do not see things as they are. You see them as you are.

~ Always approach a problem on its own terms.

~ Learn to think unconventionally.

~ Creativity is paradoxical.

The tone and information attached to each item are both informative and encouraging. Let the ideas flow through you, play with them, and have fun !

In the spirit of lists, here's a very different one ~ 15 Crazy Things About Vaginas, written by OB/GYN physician and author Lissa Rankin. Her facts are not so much crazy as stunning (and far from common knowledge) ~ the human body never ceases to amaze me. What field could possibly be more fascinating than biology, the study of life?

13 December 2011


I consider myself to be reasonably well acquainted with anatomy (structure) and physiology (function) in humans and other organisms. Even so, I came across a few surprises in Nine Stubborn Brain Myths That Just Won't Die, Debunked By Science. Each one comes with the background for the myth, and the reasons why the myth just is not true. Check out the article for a fuller picture. Here are the myths, to whet your appetite ~

~ Left-brained people are organized, right-brained people are creative.

~ Your memory is an exact account of what you see and experience.

~ You only use 10% of your brain.

~ Alcohol kills brain cells. (It's effect is actually more insidious.)

~ The Internet is making us dumber.

~ Listening to classical music turns babies into geniuses.

~ Brain games make you smarter.

~ Your IQ is fixed and stays the same throughout your life.

~ Your brain works better under pressure.

Now get out there and use both sides of your entire brain, stop drinking, improve your IQ, and see about lowering the stress in your life. A relaxing hour of classical music is a good start !!

Here's another misconception with a surprising explanation ~ well, surprising to me, anyway. Have you ever wondered why mirrors appear to reverse left-right, but not up-down? As Matthew Francis explains, mirrors actually do neither. They reverse what you see front to back. What?? Sounds insane, but the explanation makes sense when you read it carefully and with an open mind. Which I cordially invite you to do. Mirror, mirror, on the wall ....

12 December 2011


"The U.S. has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners." Phrased another way, the U.S. "has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. The only other major industrialized nation that comes even close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates. England's rate is 151. Germany's is 88. Japan's is 63." These figures come from a NYTimes report datelined April 2008. If you look at the current Wikipedia comparison of incarceration rates by country, little has changed. For a graphic representation, see the image above (click to enlarge).

Why does the U.S. have 1 out of every 100 adult citizens in jail or prison? Part of the answer can be found in an NPR analysis, The Root: The Price of Funding Jails Over Schools. This country's prison population skyrocketed with the introduction of the misguided war on drugs (see image below). Rather than tackling the disease (poverty, lack of education, poor health care), the government tackled one of the symptoms (drug use). The result was that by 1994, 1 million Americans each year went to prison on a drug charge.

American prisons and jails are so overcrowded that incarceration is often outsourced to private, for-profit detention centers. Conditions in both government and private facilities are a disgrace ~ staff brutality, poor food and healthcare, violence and rape among prisoners, and subhuman living conditions only scratch the surface. Imprisonment is also expensive, with the annual cost to taxpayers per prisoner averaging $24,000 ~ meaning that in some locations, the cost is much higher.

As the NPR report states, "Largely as a result of the War on Drugs — which includes police stops, arrests, and mandatory minimum sentences — more than half of all prison and jail inmates — including 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners, and 64 percent of local jail inmates — are now those with mental health or drug problems .... While Americans of all races and ethnicities use illegal drugs at a rate proportionate to their total population representation, African Americans are imprisoned for drug offenses at 13 times the rate of their white counterparts .... According to "Unlocking America: Why and How to Reduce America's Prison Population," if African Americans and Latinos were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, today's prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50 percent."

The NPR report also notes that "dollar for dollar, drug treatment is seven times more effective than incarceration for rehabilitating those suffering from drug addiction." Further, drug arrests and convictions do not differentiate between harmful drugs like heroin or crack cocaine, and relatively harmless substances like marijuana. Between one quarter and one half of all those incarcerated for drug offences, are in prison for marijuana. This is like tossing someone in slam for buying alcohol. Which raises the obvious comparison ~ wouldn't it make infinite sense to treat marijuana like alcohol ~ legalize it, regulate the quality of the product, and tax sales. But that's another story.

Bottom line, at a time when federal, state and local governments are cutting funding for education, we continue to spend nearly $70 billion annually on imprisoning more of our population than any developed country in the world. What's wrong with this picture?

11 December 2011


Whenever I come across an interesting or informative article, news item, or image that might be suitable to publish in this forum, I send the link to my desktop for future reference. Sometimes I write about an item immediately, sometimes I don't, and things accumulate. Today I'm clearing out the links related to politics. Now don't just move on to some other online activity just yet ~ scan the titles below first. If even one catches your eye, it will be a worthwhile investigation. 'Sides, some of them are so silly that they're fun.

The first entry is nine days old, but still an eye-opener. In The Bomb Buried in Obamacare Explodes Today ~ Hallelujah! we learn that one provision should have a long lasting and powerful impact on the future of health care in our country.

"That would be the provision of the law, called the medical loss ratio, that requires health insurance companies to spend 80% of the consumers’ premium dollars they collect—85% for large group insurers—on actual medical care rather than overhead, marketing expenses and profit. Failure on the part of insurers to meet this requirement will result in the insurers having to send their customers a rebate check representing the amount in which they underspend on actual medical care.

This is the true 'bomb' contained in Obamacare and the one item that will have more impact on the future of how medical care is paid for in this country than anything we've seen in quite some time. Indeed, it is this aspect of the law that represents the true 'death panel' found in Obamacare ~ but not one that is going to lead to the death of American consumers. Rather, the medical loss ratio will, ultimately, lead to the death of large parts of the private, for-profit health insurance industry.

Why? Because there is absolutely no way for-profit health insurers are going to be able to learn how to get by and still make a profit while being forced to spend at least 80 percent of their receipts providing their customers with the coverage for which they paid. If they could, we likely would never have seen the extraordinary efforts made by these companies to avoid paying benefits to their customers at the very moment they need it the most.

Today, that bomb goes off."

Next, consider The Top 10 Federal Contractors, All Working for the Military. "These corporations received $138.4 billion in taxpayer funds .... these ten corporations paid for the services of no fewer than 109 different lobbying firms deployed to Capitol Hill", with many lobbyists working for more than one contractor. The sheer audacity of all concerned in engaging in multiple levels of conflict of interest, at taxpayer expense, is staggering. Why are these funds not being devoted to public works projects like the WPA or the CCC, to lower unemployment?

Mostly because the majority of people in this country don't want to know, don't want to be bothered. They would rather numb their minds and trust those in economic, military and political power to make decisions for them. We the people are the decision-makers. All those highly-paid CEOs, generals, and politicians work for us. They are our employees. Yet, according to Ignorance Is Bliss When It Comes to Challenging Social Issues, "The less people know about important complex issues such as the economy, energy consumption and the environment, the more they want to avoid becoming well-informed, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association. And the more urgent the issue, the more people want to remain unaware." That is just sad.

It is also disturbing when you consider the 24 Policies That Republicans Supported BEFORE They Were Against Them. Government by principle, or government by expediency? We, the voters, must decide.

So what do you think ~ are we moving in the direction of becoming a police state? Given the assaultive behavior of police officers in multiple cities toward members of the Occupy movement, one could be forgiven for wondering. Here are Five Things That Have Civil Rights Advocates Nervous ~

~ Indefinite military detentions of U.S. citizens.

~ Targeting U.S. citizens for killing.

~ Arresting witnesses for recording police actions.

~ Using GPS to track your every move.

~ Surveillance drones spying on U.S. soil.

Sound paranoid? Every one of these acts has taken place, or is proposed to take place in the near future. Thankfully the third issue is already being addressed. Here is the detailed finding in Federal Court Rules That Videotaping Police Is A First Amendment Right. Those last three words are key to most of the volatile issues being played out on the streets and in Congress ~ rights guaranteed to individuals by the U.S. Constitution. Too many of those in politics, the military, and law enforcement seem never to have heard of that founding document, much less read and understood it.

Lastly, two articles on the gruesome imbalance of wealth distribution and taxation in our fair land ~ Taxing the 1% ~ Why The Top Tax Rate Could Be Over 80%, and Finally, A Rich American Destroys the Fiction That Rich People Create the Jobs. Hint ~ millionaires and billionaires seek only to increase their wealth by maximizing profits by any means necessary, up to and including firing portions of their workforce. "What creates jobs is the company's customers, who create demand for the company's products, which in turn creates the need for the employees to produce, seel and service those products. If those customers go broke, the demand for the company's products will collapse. And the jobs will disappear, regardless of what the entrepreneur does." In an economy with high unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, and stagnant wages, with jobs being outsourced to other nations, it is rather difficult to wave a magic wnd to generate customer demand. Thank you, Reaganomics. Thank you, Republican presidents and legislators since 1980 who have led us down the garden path.