31 August 2011


Philosopher George Santayana famously remarked, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." With this thought in mind, how many readers are old enough to recall the Watergate scandal, a series of presidential crimes and coverups which led to the resignation of Richard "I am not a crook" Nixon on August 9, 1974 (the only resignation by a U.S. president)? One feature of Nixon's deviousness, paranoia, and disregard for the protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution was his famous enemies list, whose official purpose was "to 'screw' Nixon's political enemies, by means of tax audits from the Internal Revenue Service, and by manipulating 'grant availibility, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc.'" The original list of 20 names was subsequently expanded to include an additional 576 individuals. As the black and dishonorable nature of the Nixon administration revealed itself, people singled out for inclusion on the enemies list came to consider it a positive achievement to be grouped among those who spoke out to defend civil liberties and free speech.

Fast-forward to 2011. Marie Diamond reports that "In recent weeks GOP congresmen have resorted to all sorts of underhanded schemes to avoid interacting with their angry constituents back home over August recess. Now two Republican freshmen, Reps. Daniel Webster (R-FL) and Tim Griffin (R-AR), are taking this trend one step further, using distributed intimidation tactics and 'watch lists' to discourage constituents from asking them questions .... While Webster and Griffin are ostensibly making these lists to screen out paid activists, the people they are targeting are regular constituents who have simply spoken up and expessed their disagreement about important policy decisions."

On one level, is it profoundly disturbing that such draconian tactics are still a part of the conservative public relations strategy. On another level, I suppose their consistency is oddly reassuring ~ at least we know what to expect. It's a shame that these and other Republicans who have held the nation hostage for months through obstructionism and stonewalling vital legislation, appear not to remember their own recent history, and thus are condemned to repeat it. The losers? The American public.

The article GOP Losing Latino Voters with Immigration Politics suggests that perhaps intentional deception and myopia go hand in hand. By playing to fears that the U.S.-Mexico border is insecure and out of control (when in fact the border has never been more secure), rather than addressing the real issue of what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country (immigrants who contribute to the U.S. economy by providing cheap labor and who, incidentally, possess a strong work ethic and clear family values), Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot. Deporting such a large chunk of the work force is economically and logistically self-defeating. It would make more sense to offer amnesty, conditional upon these immigrants either obtaining temporary work permits, or applying for and becoming American citizens. It is clear that for generations, Mexican immigrants have wanted to do just that. Whatever happend to "Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"?

None of which in any way deflects from the reality of increased violence along the U.S.-Mexico border. But that violence stems from drug trafficking (into the U.S.) and gun trafficking (into Mexico). In fact, high-ranking U.S. officials in the Justice Department and ATF have been implicated in escalating the violence. Clearly U.S. foreign and domestic policy deserve close scrutiny before certain Republican presidential contenders start blowing smoke to bolster their images to the voters.

One such contender, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, just can't seem to help himself. Smoke and mirrors are this man's stock in trade. Take his "jobs miracle", for instance. He claims credit for the relatively rosy employment rate in Texas, compared to the rest of the nation, and assures us that he can translate that "miracle" to the nation as a whole. In point of fact, most of those new jobs in Texas are an artifact. "The bulk of new jobs in Texas were actually government jobs as the state itself grew population-wise. The population of Texas has risen almost 21% over the course of the last decade and these new residents require government services as a matter of course." Texas miracle? Texas b.s., more like it.

So we have deception, myopia, aiding and abetting criminal behavior. What about lack of accountability? President Bush has still not clearly answered on 9/11 with the order to shoot down commercial airliners on that day ~ and new information calls into question his claims. Given that George Bush is a pathological liar (encouraged by fellow conspirators Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld), and given that his manipulations got us into two catastrophic wars and nearly bankrupted the nation, it then comes as not surprise that Bush would dearly love to rewrite the history of the tragic day which launched his ascendancy in the White House. The article provides a riveting account of incompetence, confusion, and evasion of responsibility, panic responses similar to those depicted in the movie United 93. Ultimately, it falls upon those rare individuals steeped in integrity and courage to salvage the day. Such individuals are, among politicians, exceedingly rare. Add dedication to the Constitution, and you've eliminated many Democrats and nearly all Republicans. The twin corruptors, power and greed, have blinded our elected officials at all levels of government to their true mission ~ to serve the people.

30 August 2011


Recent studies reported in the NYTimes conclude that the current paradigm for a healthy lifestyle in in complete ~ i.e., if you eat nutritious foods and exercise regularly, you will avoid joining the epidemic of overweight and obese people in America. There is an additional component which affects our caloric balance ~ sitting. How many hours per day each of us sits (whether at work or at home), and the amount of movement we unconsciously perform while in repose, play a significant role in whether or not the diet/exercise balance results in having a toned body, not to mention a role in how many years we may add or subtract from our lifespan.

Curious, but it makes sense. A series of rigorously-controlled studies at the Mayo Clinic examined the question "Why do some people who consume the same amount of food as others gain more weight?" For reasons metabolic or neurological, the answer appears to be that those who don't gain weight are simply moving around more (apart from formal exercise). They spent less time sitting. Here's how one of the researchers described it ~ "This is your body on chairs: electrical activity in the muscles drops .... leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of becoming obese. The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall.

" .... Sitting, it would seem, is an independent pathology. Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin. Excessive sitting is a lethal activity" .... The death rate among sedentary men may rise as much as 20 percent. The death rate among sedentary women may rise as much as 40 percent.

"The good news is that inactivity's perils can be countered .... [researchers James Levine is] exploring ways for people to redesign their environments so they encourage more movement .... His is a war against inertia itself, which he believes sickens more than just our body. 'Go into cubeland in a tightly controlled corporate environment and you immediately sense that there is a malaise about being tied behind a computer screen seated all day. The soul of the nation is sapped, and now it's time for the soul of the nation to rise."

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go do some stretches and take a walk. Rise and shine.

29 August 2011


The more you learn, especially about science, the less you need to resort to superstition. The graphs illustrate the point. The image above depicts the responses to the title question among those U.S. residents who do not have a high school diploma. The image below depicts the responses among those who have a bachelor's degree (four years at a college or university).

In his landmark TV series Cosmos, astrophysicist and cosmologist Carl Sagan pointed out that the doctor in attendance at one's birth exerts a greater gravitational pull than any of the celestial bodies which allegedly influence our personalities within the byzantine beliefs of astrology. My thanks to Sheril Kirshenbaum for the graphs (click on the image to enlarge).

28 August 2011


I'm taking a day to relax from controversial issues and cutting-edge ideas. Instead, here are three rather mind-boggling visual experiences.

The first (see above, click to enlarge) is a stunning full- disk image of Earth, showing Hurricane Irene as it approached the U.S. east coast on August 26. The image was captured by the NASA/NOAA GOES-13 satellite. Check out the GOES website for current and archived satellite images of the weather and landforms of our planet.

The second is a stunning animated video (2:36) created by Animatrix. It features "a muscular man and an athletic woman engaged in a blindfolded swordfight in a virtual-reality dojo .... where with each slice of their swords they remove another piece of each other's clothing." The choreography is sensual and riveting, the feeling of suspense builds until .... well, you'll have to view the video to see for yourself.

The third is another Hurricane Irene image, this one of a shark (see below) swimming through the streets of a coastal Puerto Rico town, carried there by the storm surge. Here is a brief newscast of the event.

27 August 2011


The editors of Seed Magazine online posed this question to eleven scientists (their disciplines ranging from evolutionary biology, neurology, and astrophysics to mathematics, political science, and international relations) ~ "If you only had a single statement to pass on to others summarizing the most vital lesson to be drawn from your work, what would it be?" Here are their answers. I find the responses of Paul R. Ehrlich, Enric Sala, and George Sugihara to be the most compelling, but that's my bias as an ecologist and evolutionary biologist.

Seed's survey was prompted by physicist Richard Feynman's speculation ~ "If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?" It is a wonderful, dreadful challenge, one which I invite the gentle reader to take up. Think about your life experience, your training, your worldview, all that you've learned over the years, and try to sum it all up in one concise, cautionary statement. I welcome you to share your thoughts using the "comments" prompt below.

My own thought runs something like this ~ "Plan ahead, far ahead, and do not allow your numbers or your behaviors to outrun the ability of your environment to sustain them." For me this embraces not only runaway industrial activity or the quest for wealth and power, it also embraces the root cause of nearly any problem which humans face ~ our own overpopulation. Our numbers are currently approaching 7 billion (that's 7,000,000,000) globally. It's fair to say that the earth could sustain roughly one-tenth of that number indefinitely, while safeguarding sufficient land, air, and water to allow all other species to flourish. Wilderness and wildlife have just as much right to exist as we do. In fact, all life forms and the traits of their environment are interdependent upon each other. We push other species to extinction at our own peril, such is the intricacy of the web of life.

On a more cheerful note, check out the PBS Nova episode titled Hunting the Hidden Dimension. You can view the entire 53 minute feature (summarized by the header, "Mysterious beautiful fractals (see image below, click to enlarge) are shaking up the world of mathematics and deepening our understanding of nature") by simply clicking on the "play" arrow. I love the portrayal of out-of-the-box thinking, ideas crossing disciplines, demystifying both math and science as we watch researchers try out new concepts and get blown away by the results. It happens that I am acquainted with two of the people who appear in the episode ~ ecologist James Brown, under whom I studied island biogeography at the University of Arizona in the 1980s, and science writer Jennifer Ouellette, whom I met at the social network Google+. Both individuals are dynamic and original thinkers ~ as are the others who appear in the feature. Click on the link and fasten your seatbelt, it's going to be a wild ride !

26 August 2011


Because we like it that way! One could also propose that if sex weren't fun, if it didn't feel so damn good, procreation would be in trouble. But humans, like a number of species, are richly sexually active above and beyond the call of making babies. We love to fool around whether or not we are fertile, and in all sorts of situations, some of which land us in social, marital, or legal hot water. So what is it?

A Discovery Channel presentation ~ Why Is Sex Fun? ~ hosted by Maggie Gyllenhaal (see above) explores possible answers. Click here to see video exerpts.

Zoologist and anthropologist Desmond Morris approaches the question from a more academic angle in part 4 of his "The Human Animal" series, titled The Biology of Love. You can watch the entire 49 minute episode, but even the first few minutes are arresting ~ depicting how a quantum leap in social and biological dynamics took place when men and women evolved from movement on all fours to standing and walking upright ~ thus visually exposing our sexual organs for the first time. The implications for "pair-bonding, genetic survival, courtship, the aesthetics of physical beauty, and the anatomical mechanics of sexual arousal and copulation" were revolutionary.

In a different setting entirely, Catherine Hakim has written a book called "Erotic Capital", in which she advocates for women using sex appeal to level the workplace playing field. Jessica Bennett reviews the book, explaining the idea of erotic capital as "more than just sex ~ a combination of beauty, style, social skills, and charm .... men have erotic capital too, but women's sex appeal has always been more prominent." Bennett then takes issue with Hakim's premise by noting that "It's one thing to say that women should use what they've got. But women already navigate a culture that holds them to an unattainable beauty ideal ~ one that eschews aging and advances only those who can afford the lates and greatest artificial products. Buying into the belief that we must keep up with that ever-changing archetype is not only bonkers, it complicates the problem." Check out the entire review, and tell me what you think by clicking on the "comments" prompt at the end of this post.

Finally, my thanks to G+ friend A.V. Flox for her blog post Three Interactive Ways to Spice Things Up In Bed. From creating an abstract painting with your bodies while having sex, to a board game which introduces "activities ranging from the entertaining to the erotic", to a sex toy designed for use by both partners simultanously, it's all good clean fun.

25 August 2011


On this day in 1916, the U.S. National Park Service was created. It currently oversees 58 designated national parks, as well as an array of military and historical parks, memorials, monuments, recreation areas, wild and scenic rivers, trails, lakeshores and seashores. The world's first national park, Yellowstone NP, was established in 1872, preceding the NPS by 44 years.

Of those 58 parks, I have visited a mere 21. Two parks hold high spiritual value for me ~ Glacier NP in Montana, and Grand Canyon NP in Arizona. I grew up on the northern prairie, close enough to the Rocky Mountains and the Canadian Border that Glacier was virtually in my back yard. I could not begin to count the number of individual, family, and Boy Scout outings into Glacier during my childhood ~ the most memorable being a week-long, 50-mile hike through the back country, away from tourists, roads, civilization. We packed our food and gear in the low-tech manner prevalent in 1962, saw an amazing variety of wildlife and alpine scenery, and created indelible memories vivid to this day.

After my military service, I moved to Arizona, a six-hour drive south of the Grand Canyon. I've visited probably half a dozen times, and that crenellated, stratified magnificence has never ceased to leave me breathless. One can stand on the south rim and clearly see the north rim ten miles distant, or (at the right overlook) spy the Colorado River winding a vertical mile below. It is an experience not to be missed in one's lifetime.

Each of our nation's national parks has its own story, its own spectacle, its own mystery. As with so much else in nature, the main threat to the parks is that we may love them to death. They have become so heavily visited that traffic jams are common, and lodgings must sometimes be booked years in advance. To protect their natural value, it may someday become necessary to limit the number of visitors per day, based on a reservation system. Until that time comes, check out the list of national parks, and make it a priority to see one, or two, or twenty.

24 August 2011


The battle for Tripoli may be entering its final stages, as members of the rebel National Liberation Army seize control of key locations in the Libyan capital. But the question remains: where is former dictator Muammar Gaddafi? Andy Borowitz thinks he knows the answer ~ Gaddafi is reportedly in the U.S., where he announced that he is running for the Republican nomination for president of the United States. An aide to Gaddafi allegedly remarked, "In those final days in Tripoli, he was becoming increasingly disconnected from reality. So I think he'll fit right in." Some Republicans "felt that his rhetoric needed to be toned down, especially his closing line about fighting for the Republican nomination 'until the last drop of blood'. But others gave him high marks for his grasp of history and geography, which most agreed were stronger than Michele Bachmann's. Unfortunately for Muammar Gaddafi, he might be out of step with the current crop of Republican candidates .... There's a perception that he's too moderate."

Here's an analysis that brought a twinkle to my eye ~ Why Liberals Are More Intelligent Than Conservatives. According to Satoshi Kanazawa, "one may reasonably define liberalism (as opposed to conservatism) in the contemporary United States as the genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others .... Humans (like other species) are evolutionarily designed to be altruistic toward their genetic kin, their friends and allies, and members of their deme (a group of intermarrying individuals) or ethnic group. They are not designed to be altruistic toward an indefinite number of complete strangers whom they are not likely ever to meet or interact with. This is largely because our ancestors lived in [small bands] of 50-150 genetically related individuals, and large cities and nations with thousands and millions of people are themselves evolutionarily novel.

" .... it may be reasonable to infer that sharing of resources with total strangers ~ that is, liberalism ~ was not part of our ancestral life. Liberalism may therefore be evolutionary novel, and the hypothesis would predict that more intelligent individuals are more likely than less intelligent individuals to espouse liberalism as a value [in an evolved society]. Analysis of large representative samples, from both the United States and the United Kingdom, comfirm this prediction. In both countries, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to be liberals than less intelligent children." (see graph below)

Naturally, one must interpret this as a trend, to which there are exceptions. But looking at liberals (more tolerant toward change and diversity) and conservatives (less tolerant toward change and diversity) through the lens of social evolution does appear to carry some weight.

23 August 2011

This Is My Beloved

Entry September 17
by Walter Benton

See, I alter nothing. This is you and I in dark-gray lead,
on plain white paper. No flattering
magenta colors. No accompaniment in minor key ~ or brilliant arpeggios.

Just sit as you are, or stand .... and do whatever you are doing, while
the kokak shutter winks you into permanence.
Just turn the last flight of stairway as I open the door ~ and say hello.

Just slip into your nightdress, stumble into bed,
say goodnight .... and go soft all over. Turn, drape yourself over me
like a lissom python, our smooth bodies touching everywhere.
Sleep rising from you lulls me like the sweet smoke of hashish.

Leave everything exactly as it is: the undone hair clouding the pillow
and the small ears lost snugly somewhere in the clouds. The little
blue veins under your breasts and the brown birth marks inside your thighs.
The bittersweet climbing the beech
and the partridge berry trailing on the ground.
The early crocuses and the second-flowering hawthorn.

You see, this needs no retouching. The colors are natural and the shape
universal. Therefore
I shall never forget you .... nor will your memory be ever free of me.
For your arms are my home ~ and my arms the circle you cannot leave,
however far you go.

22 August 2011


Humbly offered, here are four provocative pieces to evoke laughter, or wonder ~

Think Different ~ 1:07. An affectionate collage of "crazy ones, misfits, rebels, troublemakers" who have enriched our lives on all planes of experience. To be included in their company would be a transcendent honor.

Bulworth TV Interview ~ 4:55. An exerpt from the 1998 political satire Bulworth, a film which made us laugh with delight, and made us think "damn, that's just about right." Warren Beatty's criticism of our social and political hypocrisy, presented in rap style, is brilliant. Be aware, crude language is present, but that's part of the message in talking about obscene greed and obscene thirst for power.

Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale ~ 3:04. The virtuoso vocalist McFerrin elicits delighted audience participation, as they discover their own intuitive musical abilities. This man is a national treasure.

Beethoven, Symphony No. 7, Second Movement, Allegretto ~ 8:19. This music played during the climactic scene in the movie The King's Speech, but long before that it has been one of my favorite passages in classical music. The experience is both aural and visual. As you watch, the musical score scrolls from the right, not unlike a sonogram. It is color-coded to represent the different instruments in the orchestra, and the placement and length of each line corresponds to the notes and rhythms being played. As you associate what you see with what you hear, you'll be able to predict what sounds are coming next as the score approaches the center of the screen. It is an altogether delightful way to experience music.

21 August 2011


I've been an atheist since age 17, much to the disappointment of my parents. As I began to see and understand the internal contradictions built into Christianity and other world religions, and as I began to grasp that a superstitious explanation for life and the universe is not only inadequate but irrelevant, I chose to shed belief in a god (or gods), and focused instead on explanations which make more sense to me ~ those derived from the sciences.

Religion has served a few useful purposes over the millenia ~ providing a cohesive set of rules for social behavior, providing a sense of community and comfort, and serving as a sanctuary for much of Europe's written knowledge during the Dark Ages. But all of those functions can equally, or even better, be served by secular agencies. The concept of parsimony applies ~ the simplest explanation is probably the correct one. And an anthropomorphic, inconsistent, and often cruel deity is far from a simple explanation.

Let's return for a moment to that word "comfort". It is brought to bear most significantly when a loved one dies. It is an undeniable (if mistaken) comfort to think that the person didn't really die for eternity, that they persist in some sort of divine afterlife, perhaps (in some traditions) to be reincarnated into this world. But since atheists don't generally believe in an afterlife, from where do they derive comfort? Speaking only for myself, the loss is lessened by recalling all the good the deceased person performed while alive, all the lives that person touched, all the ways that person left the world a better place. I hope that when I die, that is how my friends and loved ones will honor me ~ with celebration and fond remembrance, no need for any assurance that I've made it into some ancient, fabled version of heaven. We each make our own heaven and our own hell, right here in this life. If divinity exists at all, it exists in us. We are the creators of our own reality.

All of which resonates in a treatise called Memo to Religious People: Many Atheists Don't Want to Hear That Their Loved Ones Are "In Heaven". As Greta Christina explains, "How do you deal with death ~ your own, or that of people you love ~ when you don't believe in God or an afterlife, especially when our culture so commonly handles grief with religion in ways that are so deeply ingrained, people often aren't aware of it? A new online faith-free grief support group, Grief Beyond Belief, is grappling with that very question .... The group is open to atheists, agnostics, humanists, and anyone without a belief in a higher power or an afterlife, to share memories, photos, thoughts, feelings or questions, and to give others support, perspective, empathy, or simply a non-judgmental ear. It's also open to believers who are questioning, struggling with, or letting go of their beliefs. As long as you don't offer prayers, proselytize for your religious beliefs, or tell other members their dead loved ones are in 'a better place', you're welcome to join.

"So why do atheists need this?

"For some grieving non-believers, the comforts offered by religious believers are neutral, and can even be positive. These atheists don't agree that their dead loved ones are in heaven and that they'll see them again someday, but they can accept the intent behind the sentiments, and can feel connected with and supported by believers even though they don't share the beliefs.

"But for many non-believers, these comforts are actively upsetting. They are the antithesis of comfort. They rub salt in the wound.

"For many grieving non-believers, the 'comforts' of religion and religious views of death present a terrible choice. Either pretend to agree with ideas they reject and in many cases actively oppose .... or open up about their non-belief, and start a potentially divisive argument at a time when they most need connection and comfort.

" .... in a time of grief, the need for others who understand, others with a similar outlook on lie and death, is powerful .... [Many atheists] point out that many religious beliefs about death are far from comforting ~ hell being the most obvious ~ and that many former believers welcome atheism as a profound relief. We point out that religious beliefs about death are only comforting when you don't think about them very carefully. We point out that a philosophy that accepts reality is inherently more comforting than a philosophy based on wishful thinking .... since it doesn't involve cognitive dissonance and the unease of self-deception. And we point out that there are many godless philosophies of death that offer comfort, meaning and hope ~ with complete acceptance of the permanence of death, and without a belief in any sort of afterlife."

The treatise goes on to describe the harm inflicted by believers, from automatic expressions of deistic sympathy to the planning and execution of religious funerals, often against the express wishes of the deceased. It also quotes the experiences of a number of Grief Beyond Belief members, when they lost a loved one, and describes the isolation felt by atheists in a culture which devalues them (as is common with any social minority). It is an evocative piece. My thanks to my friend Irene for providing the original link. (Click on any image to enlarge.)

20 August 2011


Today's post is a melange of curiosities, absurdities, and a dash of actual reality.

15 Shocking Exercise Facts ~ this is the reality bit. Mortality risk, dark chocolate, erectile dysfunction, depression relief, level of education, music, gender, casual Friday, smoking, swimming, astronauts, teens, race, and running all have a correlation with regular exercise. To see what the correlation is, check out the article.

12 NASA Blueprints ~ more reality, but on the fun side. Click on a blueprint to enlarge for details ~ everything from a Saturn 5 rocket booster to the Hubble telescope, an Apollo moon lander to the space shuttle. Very cool.

Optical Illusion Revealed ~ demonstrates how unreliable our eyes/brains are as light meters. The famous checker shadow illusion is created as we watch, yet our senses are still fooled. Here's the video.

Cocktail Party Physics ~ Jennifer Ouellette shares nine wildly varied "I didn't know that"s, with links to supportive research. Yeah, why DO mirrors reverse left and right, but not down and up?

A Short Thesaurus of Academic Phrases ~ satire with a sharp edge of truth from Sheril Kirshenbaum ~ when you hear a professor or grad student say "X", he/she is really saying "Y". Why? Because we like you !!

Science Reveals Women Who Wear Less Clothing Live Longer ~ alas and ah me, this is a put-on, but an amusing one. Besides a guy can fantasize, can't he? I mean, the writer sounds credible. Never mind that he doesn't address whether men who wear less clothing live longer. Sigh.

The Difference ~ between normal people and scientists, that is. An xkcd installment that has the absurdist ring of truth. I know Andrea Kuszewski will back me up on this.

I Love xkcd ~ this is the first time I've encountered the distinctive artwork of xkcd in animated form. Winsome and whimsical. Win times 1000.

The 7 Types of Republican Idiots ~ what, only 7? This isn't just conservative-bashing, it's a thoughtful analysis of the factual and logical fallacies indulged in by each "type", along with what to remember when debating them. Assuming you have the inclination. Caution: not all Republicans are idiots, and not all Republican idiots fall into these 7 types. Some fall into multiple types. You're on your own.

5 Best Political Gaffes of the Week ~ so much lunacy, so little time. I'm not picking on Republicans (well, not too much, they're just so easy). Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry (among others) just happened to be in this week's news more than Democrats, largely due to the cat fight among Republican contenders for their party's nomination for president in 2012. But Obama shows up on the list as well, so hey.

Tea Party Movement Getting Americans Steamed ~ what? Finally? It's taken this long? I'm not certain to attribute this slow awakening to indifference, lassitude, drugs, boredom, or simply being so worn out by what passes for politics that the public stopped paying attention. In any event, if the Tea Party is indeed wearing out its welcome through lies, distortions, drama, and manipulation which all conspired to bring us to the brink of fiscal collapse and humiliation in the eyes of the world, then it is about f***ing time that people started to question their legitimacy. IMHO.

19 August 2011


In a particularly arresting conversation thread on Google+, blogger and editor A.V. Flox opined that "sexting has a somewhat bad reputation which is entirely unfair. Sensual missives are a literary tradition and an art form. Now that mobile technology has made it easy for us to communicate instantly, now that smart phones allow for messages that go far beyond the 160-character limit, there are no boundaries to what we can experience in exploring our desires, our imaginations, and our lovers. Why not give it a whirl?"

She provides a link to her article Can Sexting Really Help You Spice Things Up?, in which she illustrates that sexting is not inherently harmful, any more than texting, talking on a cell phone, or reading a book. "None of these things, we know, is inherently bad, distracting or rude. It's our actions that give them context .... Sexting is not inherently inappropriate or shameful. In fact, it can be an excellent way to communicate with those with whom we're intimate."

She goes on to quote from passionate love letters penned by well-known writers, and to provide sensible, creative guidelines for sexting, including ~

~ You don't have to use bad words to sext. You don't even have to use graphic language to conjure sensuality.

~ Consider the audience. Never send a sext to someone who has not expressed the desire to receive this sort of communication from you.

~ Consider what you will say. Timing, creativity, and sensitivity to the desires and comfort level of the recipient all count.

"That's the thing about the timeless art of the erotic exchange ~ the medium doesn't matter. Text messaging is just one more tool with which we can express our adoration and desire. Why not put it to use?" To which I would only add, for your own privacy, consider the vulnerability of the medium (mobile phones). It is possible for your messages to be intercepted by others with less than honorable intent, or for a message to be sent to an unintended recipient by accident, or (heavens forfend) your recipient may forward your message to others. If you are confident in the security of your connection, fine. Otherwise, be careful about transmitting suggestive text or revealing photos that could end up on the front page of the NYTimes. Just ask Anthony Weiner.

Caveat notwithstanding, I agree with A.V. Flox that sexting is not inherently wrong, and in fact can add a dimension of suspenseful interest to a relationship. As with phone sex or cyber sex, sexting is simply a medium for expression. It will never replace the sublime pleasures of sharing sex in the flesh, but it can serve as an enjoyable supplement. Don't believe me? Check out 4 Things You Might Not Know About Sexting. While it needn't be everyone's cup of tea, it should not be frowned upon, either. To each his/her own.

18 August 2011


Of the six or eight (depending on who is counting) Republicans vying for their party's nomination for the upcoming presidential election, at this point in time three individuals lead the pack. None of them has either intellectual credibility or persuasive rhetoric ~ at least not to this observer. And almost certainly the lead will shift over time. Still, it is instructive to regard recent proclamations by each of the three, to get a feel for what our choices might be in 2012.

Michele Bachmann ~ Minnesota Representative whose surreal rhetoric has eclipsed even that of the Tea Party darling Sarah Palin, would like to see our democracy replaced by a Christian theocracy. She is allied with Wallbuilders, which "advocates for the submission of political authority to the doctrines of the Bible (or at least their interpretation of the Bible)." Oh? What about the millions of citizens who happen to be non-Christians ~ Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists? What about one of our essential founding principles, the separation of church and state? Perhaps it's time that Bachmann and her fundamentalist Christian thugs find a nice unoccupied tropical island, and start their own nation. My nation is not for sale.

Like many of her predecessors, Bachmann has an eerie talent for providing non-flattering photo ops. Witness the very strange image of her unfortunate attempt to navigate a corn dog at the Iowa state fair (see above), which prompted one wag to comment that her favorite hero in literature is Fellatio Alger. Or witness the proliferation of photoshopped images which place her disconcerting eyes onto the faces of other celebrities, with truly eerie results. Just about her only redeeming feature is the ability to provide so much material for late night comedians.

Rick Perry ~ Texas Governor who conveniently declared his candidacy too late for voters in the Iowa straw poll, believes that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional. Again, a candidate's imcompetent failure to grasp even the simplest elements of the U.S. Constitution is dazzling. But then, this Texas-centric showman has a history of promoting social policy which can charitably be regarded as regressive at best, catastrophic at worst. For instance, both he and Bachmann have ties to dominionism, the movement (mentioned above in connection with Wallbuilders) whose goal is "a nation governed by Christians, or a nation governed by a conservative Christian understanding of Biblical law."

Like most of his fellow Republicans, Perry appears terrified of antagonizing the radical Tea Party, and like them, his top 15 financial donors list is dominated by big business (see chart below, click to enlarge). And wait ~ didn't we just go through the debacle of electing a mentally-and-ethically-challenged Texas governor to the presidency? Can you spell George W. Bush? Once again, somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot.

Mitt Romney ~ former Massachussetts Governor who lost the Republican nomination to John McCain in 2008, wisely stood back and let the other candidates savage each other during the most recent Republican presidential debate. His politics are true to the hyper-conservative mold of the times, another cookie-cutter obstructionist who advocates cutting spending, cutting taxes, cutting benefits to the elderly and disabled, perhaps even (tacitly) wishing those who disagree with him would cut their own wrists.

Or am I being uncharitable? Stay tuned, as the lo-o-ong campaign season plays out.

17 August 2011


Here's an interesting phenomenon ~ one of America's wealthiest individuals, Warren E. Buffet, calling for increased taxation on the rich. His reasoning is sound. "While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as 'carried interest,' thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they'd been long-term investors.

"These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It's nice to have friends in high places."

Buffet goes on to establish how the current widening chasm between America's privileged few (who control nearly all the nation's wealth) and the disadvantaged and suffering remainder (who control a tiny percentage of the nation's wealth). He suggests an obvious fix, one which most conservatives resist ~ increase the tax burden on the rich and super-rich. Stop coddling them, and require that they pull their weight. The twelve members of Congress who will soon begin negotiations to reduce the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion, could easily start right there, increasing revenues without placing an undue burden on those already struggling. It remains to be seen whether common sense and bipartisanship are even possible in the toxic atmosphere of Washington. But at least one wealthy individual is calling a spade a spade.

David Brin turned me on to this article in The Atlantic ~ The Consumption Economy Is Dying ~ Let It Die. Brin suggests that "We must focus on production, not consumption. This essay decries emphasis on consumer confidence and debt-fueling buying sprees that shift jobs overseas. We need to invest in science, cutting-edge technology, infrastructure and human capital. Beware 'supply side' voodoo. The real key? Innovate, educate, protect IP and stay rich enough to hire the world." Another point of view.

Finally, on last night's PBS Newshour, Warren Buffet made a brief appearance on Paul Solman's financial segment Land of the Free, Home of the Poor. Solman examines the distribution of wealth in this country, and compares that distribution to several other nations, using unlabeled pie charts to see whether ordinary Americans can identify the distribution in their own nation. Most chose the chart which actually represents Sweden, driving home the point that they'd prefer to live in a much more equal and still prosperous country. A country which the U.S. is not. You can see the segment and read the transcript here. And you can test your own perception of American wealth distribution by taking the Wealth Quiz (including those colorful and surprising pie charts) here. Prepare for a few surprises.

16 August 2011


Last night I watched a re-broadcast of the American Experience episode titled Earth Days. The two-hour special traced the history of the early-to-mid 20th century conservation movement, including the seminal influences of Rachel Carson's iconic book Silent Spring, and Paul Ehrlich's revolutionary book The Population Bomb. That movement transformed virtually overnight into the modern environmental movement on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day.

I lived through that history, so it was magnetic to me ~ the personalities, the events, the politics, the passions, the protests, the issues which linger with us today. Images of the horrific air and water pollution of those times, together with footage of the depredations visited by humans on wilderness and wildlife, help one to understand the value of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency ~ all steps which today's generation takes for granted. This may be the finest American Experience episode ever produced, and that's speaking volumes for this sterling PBS history series. You can watch it in its entirety here.

For those of us who have remained engaged in the environmental movement over the years, one of the touchstone issues is sea level rise induced by global warming, itself accelerated by human activities like burning fossil fuels. A NYTimes book review illuminates one consequence ~ the loss of many of the world's habitable and recreational beaches. In The World's Beaches: A Global Guide to the Science of the Shoreline, the authors point out that "A beach, simply, is the end product of sediment (sand or gravel or even pebbles or cobbles), wave energy to move it around, and a place where it can accumulate .... Unfortunately, the future holds many threats to the world's beaches, the worst from human activity, intentional or accidental. People 'groom' beaches with rakes or even tractors, destroying the homes and food supplies of tiny crabs, sea birds and other animals that rely on beach habitat. Pollution ~ everything from giant oil spills to oceanfront septic tanks ~ mars many beaches. But those problems are minor compared with sea level rise, induced by global warming, and the efforts people make to fight its effects.

"If experts are correct and seas rise by two or even three feet by the end of the century, cities like Miami, New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, Venice, Lagos, Tel Aviv and places like the Gold Coast on Australia's eastern coast may suffer significant, chronic flooding. Island nations already feeling the effects of rising water may literally disappear.

"Beaches that are unfettered by human infrastructure do not disappear when sea level rises. They simply move inland. When sand on a barrier island is washed into the lagoon behind it, or when the base of a beachfront cliff erodes and the bluff slumps down to the water's edge, the beach is, in effect, moving to higher ground inland.

" .... Around the world people eager to protect valuable hotels, condos and other infrastructure respond to the threat of rising seas by building concrete walls or rock revetments. When rising water reaches this armor, as it inevitably does, the beach is drowned .... Rising seas will make sand-pumping operations untenable, and tourists will amuse themselves by promenading on top of a seawall ~ already the principle activity in too many coastal resorts."

Goodbye, Cannes. Fairwell, Waikiki. We loved you, yet we drowned you.

15 August 2011


Every day is science day, and this is no exception. I love this article forwarded from my Chicago friend Bill ~ Do Trees Communicate? Why yes, Grasshopper, it appears that they do. Kevin Beiler "found that all trees in dry interior Douglas fir forests are interconnected, with the largest, oldest trees serving as hubs .... within the mycorrhizal network (see image above) .... survival of [younger] establishing trees was greatly enhanced when they were linked with the network of the older trees .... increased survival was associated with belowground transfer of carbon, water and nitrogen from the older trees."

This research provides one more link in the chain of evidence favoring protection of old-growth forests ~ all things are connected. "You cannot pick a flower without disturbing a star."

Thanks to Sheril Kirshenbaum for sharing this brief video, How Are Hubble Images "Created"? It's not about magic, it's about the blending of technical and artistic skills to show us things we would otherwise never have seen.

Finally, professor of population studies Paul Ehrlich warns that Scientists Must Leave the Ivory Tower and Become Advocates. He talks about the "urgent need for scientists to take their research results and use them to inform the public about the threat of global environmental collapse .... Calling ecology the most important science today, Ehrlich said that ecologists have a singular responsibility to get their work into the public eye .... To try to head off environmental collapse, he has joined with hundreds of other ecologists, social scientists and scholars in the humanities to start the Millenium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere in an effort to influence government policy and societal behavior.

Given that U.S. policy makers are mostly lawyers, with very few trained as scientists or engineers, this seems like a good first step. Nor does such formal effort relieve the rest of us from our responsibility as planet stewards. As with every significant social movement ~ civil rights, feminism, antiwar ~ two paths toward change are called for. The moderate path (The Nature Conservancy, Audubon), works within the system, promoting education and electing representatives who are enlightened and committed to reform. The radical path (Greenpeace, EarthFirst!) works outside the system, forcing nonviolent confrontation and employing selective direct action to bring public attention to the corporate miscreants who are despoiling the earth. Each path is justified, and each is most effective when both are active.

Gracias to Andrea Kuszewski for the article link.

14 August 2011


In a briefer format, here's a followup to yesterday's post ~ Fidelity, Fertility and More, Revealed in Your Lover's Face. The link to this book review is courtesy of Andrea Kuszewski.

Wouldn't it be great if we could read people's true intentions from their facial expessions? It turns out that some of us can, consciously or subconsciously. Author David Perrett's premise is this ~ "people's faces tell us plenty about their real motivations and personalities .... phenotypes show in our faces, and over evolutionary millenia, we have actually become pretty adept at reading others' countenances. While some people are natural face readers and others are less good at it (it turns out that the cynical and less optimistic people are actually better face readers), we all have some ability to correctly identify basic characteristics from faces."

The reviewer found, after taking a few of the tests in the book, that her results matched those of the author's. Sounds intriguing, especially to someone who (delusionally?) fancies himself to be fairly skilled at reading people's faces and body language. I can't wait to get hold of a copy ~ I'll report back when I do.

Do You See What I See? I recall wondering as a wee sma' lad whether people see colors the same way. This video suggest that the way we perceive color and the way we process language are connected. Thanks to Zuleika B. Yanez for the link.

Lastly, Jennifer Ouellette shared this link to Geekiest Pin Numbers ~ while 1701 caught my imagination, I think the list is way too short. I mean, where's 9 (the original number of men, elves, dwarves, and hobbits on the quest to destroy the One Ring)? Okay, too short and easily guessed. What about pi? Hmm, with an infinite number of digits, too long. Alright fine, YOU come up with some ideas -- leave them at the "comments" prompt below.

13 August 2011


Through Google+ I've become acquainted with a prolific writer and highly original thinker, AV Flox. Her posts cover a wide range of science and social topics, but today I'd like to present three installments from her blog, Sex and the 405. All deal with differing dimensions of the temptation to become sexually involved with someone outside one's primary relationship.

Playing With Fire: When You're the One Who's Tempted is part personal anecdote, part reflection on the no-win struggle between the moral strictures imposed by society and religion on the one hand, and the very natural and healthy biological urges we feel on the other. Here's a teaser ~ " .... you can't avoid biology in this. You can't just say humans are blessed with free will and frown upon those who fail to toe the line when we're wired to be this receptive. We're unprepared to deny biology's drive. We choose instead to see it as a weakness, a gross manifestation of our lack of faith and inner strength. We suffer this almost inevitable shame to eventually ~ given enough shame and public penance ~ be told it happens to good people and be assured that we can get through it if we find our path again and work together as a couple. There is no prevention, only damage control. There is no script in place that spells out how to avoid it, no sensible dialog, certainly no amulet or potion, and no real guidelines other than: thou shalt not....

"My mother is right, just because you're married doesn't mean you're dead. You will desire. And just because you're attracted to someone physically or intellectually doesn't invalidate the oath you've made.

"It's what you do about desire that defines who you are and what that oath means to you .... In the pursuit of clarity, many have embraced various kinds of asceticism ~ some in seclusion, others within the world ~ living life with strict discipline in order to achieve lucidity .... Monogamy is a form of asceticism, a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various worldly pleasures, not because these are inherently evil, but because restraint brings focus.

" .... I would much rather discipline myself on the quest for balance, giving myself room to err and learn, in the hopes of one day being a complete human being. That, in the end, is all we can be."

The Proper Mistress illuminates how (if one so chooses) to go about choosing a safe lover. She or he "must have as much to lose as you do." In a clean extramarital affair, a lover must be discreet. "She must be able to abide by what she has agreed the relationship to be, able to manage her emotions, and equally committed to keeping the affair in the vault." The same applies to a male lover. He/she must be able to satisfactorily answer three questions ~

1. Do you understand what it means to have [or be] a mistress? You need a clear head and an understanding of how to compartmentalize.

2. Do you love your wife [or husband]? You need an unequivocal yes. If they hesitate, you can't do it, no matter how attracted you are. They're on their way out if they don't love their wife .... A mistress who's an exit is no mistress at all.

3. Would you leave your wife? The more reasons they have to stay, the better.

"Whatever you're looking for, she has to understand that she's a supplement, not a replacement .... You might fall in love. You can't help it. You can't stop it. What you have to understand is that you have to let it be just that .... the most important question you have to ask is of yourself ~ do you have what it takes to satisfy your cravings in a precise and measured way so you don't bring your home and everything in it crashing down? Tread with care."

Three Types of Mistresses: Which One Could You Become? helps us to understand that few aspects of temptation or infidelity are simple or easily pigeonholed. "There is a special chemistry to desire, which becomes even more complex when passion becomes love.

" .... It's a terrible fate to be a mistress if you love. A mistress will destroy a man's life if he loves her and leaves his family, but that love starts with a fracture, not a victory. Of course, if he doesn't leave, that mistress will be condemned to a live that is only a half-life."

The author lays out three women's stories as examples of three possible courses an affair may follow. The Accidental Mistress becomes a confrontational train wreck for everyone involved, through sheer ineptitude which verges into malice. The Devoted Mistress also ends in tragedy, even with the best of intentions. The One Who Ends Up a Wife takes a surprising turn, with not entirely satisfactory results. The point of each story is not to moralize. Quite the opposite ~ "Look beyond. Dare to be made uncomfortable by the complexity of a situation and understand that unless you're standing where they're standing, you'll never fully understand their reasons."

Each of the above links is a full article, and each article is provocative and candid. In sharing them, I take no stance for or against having an affair. Each of us has particular needs (met or unmet), particular values (instilled or self-discovered), a particular vision of a life well lived. In my lifetime I've left a former loved one, and I've been left. I've been the partner who followed desire outside my relationship, and I've been the one whose partner did so. I've also made the conscious decision to remain true to my partner. It is both possible and desireable to notice when attraction arises, enjoy it for what it is, and decline to act on it. Nurturing a single relationship with the Quality it deserves requires time, energy, imagination, and caring. Nurturing more than one, at this point in my life, would be unrealistic and draining, even if all involved were open to the arrangement. I've experienced variety. I want ~ no, I need ~ to experience and learn more about depth, with a single partner. It is a strong, primal urge in me. I don't expect others to choose my path. I hope that one particular person will.

12 August 2011


Just a little. No lacerations, concussions, or broken hearts, please. But calling it like it is? You bet.

For instance, Appathy, a Mobile App That Takes You Down a Notch ~ zinger IMs (instant messages) which are lurking in the ether, thought but not transmitted. Until now.

The Rich Are Different, And Not in a Good Way ~ twelve separate studies reveal that "the life experience of the wealthy makes them less empathic, less altruistic, and generally more selfish." Thanks to Clarity Sanderson for the link.

100 Things You Can Say to Irritate a Republican ~ these are priceless, and every entry is accurate, transcending party ideology (with a few hand grenade opinions thrown in to spice things up). From "A Socialist wrote the Pledge of Allegiance" to "Republicans complain about immigrants taking American jobs, then freely give American jobs to foreigners overseas" to "The Republican Party began as a liberal party", there is plenty of food for thought, and more than a few ironic chuckles.

The Facebook Song and The Google+ Song (the latter courtesy of Jennifer Ouellette), sum up the respective atmospheres of the two social networks, with razor satire.

Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in the U.S. by Race (2011), via Andrea Kuszewski. Speaks for itself. Left-click on the graphic for documentation.

Crimes Through Time, and the Punishments that Came With Them ~ this is just plain scary, especially considering many of the punishments are still enforced today. Another contribution from Andrea Kuszewski's prolific sharing.

Finally, an anniversary ~ 30 years ago today the IBM Personal Computer was introduced, becoming the first popular and widely available home computer of its time. Compared to today's laptops and notebook computers, it may look bulky and dated with its twin 5.25-inch floppy disk drives and monochrome monitor (see below). But every revolution starts somewhere. Cheers.

11 August 2011


This is a sweet and soulful idea ~ take a treasured photo taken years ago ~ now hold it in front of the scene the photo depicts ~ and shoot a second image, photo-in-photo, showing the changes. I learned of Dear Photograph from Andrea Kuszewski. Click on the link, scroll down, and be sure to look for archival images as well. Your heart will thank you. A sample image appears above.

NPR Books just published readers' picks for the Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books. Scrolling down the illustrated list, it's surprising to discover how many titles have transcended sci-fi/fantasy and entered mainstream reading. The list is subjective, and omits a number of obvious authors and titles, but it is a useful starting point. Thanks to John Scalzi for the recommendation.

Another list of quite a different nature appears at the Smithsonian website ~ reader submissions for The Smithsonian Life List ~ 43 Places to See Before You Die. It is a mouth-watering collection, subdivided in "adventure", "great natural vistas", "in the presence of gods", "portals into the past", "scale new heights", "sites and cities", and "wildlife watching" categories, and includes an interactive map. One destination, Machu Picchu in Peru, appears below. This list is similarly subjective, omitting some destinations I would have included. It also includes places I might not have thought of. Peruse and enjoy. I've only seen 3 of the 43. Time to pack and get started !!

10 August 2011


There's a wonderful article in the NYTimes Book Review, called The Mathematics of Changing Your Mind. I was hooked in the first paragraph ~ "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" ~ John Maynard Keynes.

The author, Sharon Bertsche McGrayne, introduces us to the philosophical theorem of Thomas Baynes, a theorem which addresses the elemental question: "How do we modify our beliefs in the light of additional information? Do we cling to old assumptions long after they've become untenable, or abandon them too readily at the first whisper of doubt? Baynesian reasoning promises to bring our views gradually in line with reality and so has become a valuable tool for scientists of all sorts and, indeed, for anyone who wants .... to sync up with the universe. If you are not thinking like a Baynesian, perhaps you should be.

"At its core, Baynes' theorem depends upon an ingenious turnabout ~ if you want to assess the strength of your hypothesis given the evidence, you must also assess the strength of the evidence given your hypothesis. In the face of uncertainty, a Baynesian asks three questions ~ How confident am I in the truth of my initial belief? On the assumption that my original belief is true, how confident am I that the new evidence is accurate? And whether or not my original belief is true, how confident am I that the new evidence is accurate?"

Paraphrasing the thought process, the revised probability of a hypothesis is equal to the product of (a) the original probability of the hypothesis and (b) the conditional probability of the evidence given the hypothesis, all divided by (c) the probability of the new evidence.

Sounds a little obscure, right? Not when you think it through. Consider an initial hypothesis ~ "if I flip a coin, the probability that it will land showing heads is 50 percent." But what if I happen to toss the coin five times in a row, and get five heads? Should I revise the probability of heads to 100%? No. We require a much large sample size (number of tosses) in order to arrive at a meaningful average of the occurence of heads and tails. If we toss the coin several hundred times, we are likely to discover that the incidence of heads is quite close to 50 percent.

Now consider another initial hypothesis ~ "global warming does not exist." Our original assigned probability is more complex, and depends heavily on systematic, convincing evidence such as the presence of human-generated greenhouse gases, as well as on evidence from the geological record. If the new evidence is compelling, we are required to revise the probability of our initial hypothesis .... or not. It is worth noting that "people wedded to their [assumptions] can always try to rescue them from the evidence by introducing all sorts of dodges. Witness die-hard birthers and truthers, for instance."

The discussion and illustrations are provocative, and I encourage you to read the entire article. The concept of belief vs. disbelief reminds me of another discussion ~ The Dignity of Skepticism. "Being a responsible believer requires one to have reasons for one's beliefs. In fact, it seems that having reasons for one's beliefs is a requirement for seeing them as beliefs at all .... We may say that beliefs are supposed to be not only reason-responsive, but reason-reflective. Our beliefs should be based on our evidence and proportional to the force of our evidence. And so, when we hold beliefs, we take ourselves to be entitled to reason to and from them. So beliefs must be backed by reason. Reason backing has a curious pattern, however. Each belief must be backed by reasons. But those backing reasons must themselves be backed by still further reasons. And so on. It seems, then, that every belief must be supported by a long chain of supporting reasons.

"This is a point familiar to anyone who has spent time with children. Why? is a question that can (and often is) asked indefinitely. The child's game of incessantly asking Why? may not be particularly serious, but it calls attention to the fact that, for every belief you hold, you ought to be able to say why you hold it."

The discussion elaborates on the regress problem by describing several variants ~ circular chains of reasons, finite chains of reasons, and infinite chains of reasons ~ and the strengths and weaknesses of each. It also notes belief systems in which reason-backing is (for reasons mostly frail) suspended ~ religious, cultural, or commonsensical beliefs. Long story short, in epistemological terms it pays to be a skeptic, forever testing hypotheses and assumptions, lest one be led down the garden path of fallacy or superstition ~ particularly as new events and new evidence present themselves.