30 September 2010
29 September 2010
MEMORY. David Hirschman summarizes in a clear and accessible manner current research on how memory is recorded (and lost) in the human brain. This information is relevant to nearly every human activity, from raising a child, teaching in school, learning a new skill or name, to the loss of memory with aging. Here is a summary of the article:
"Memory isn't like a video or film, faithfully recording a sequence of minute details and storing it all intact. Rather, it's a far more complex procedure, which preserves brain space by filtering out extraneous details while still allowing us to pull together pertinent information about specific events. So a memory is a set of circumstances, details and characteristics strung together -- the brain can recreate events by activating specific strings in "convergence/divergence" zones and then accessing all the scattered details attached to the string.
"We begin to lose memories as we age when our brains have too much of certain molecules called beta amyloids. While at low levels these molecules are required for our normal memory system, high levels hurt intra-brain communication."
For a fuller, more detailed understanding of memory gain and loss, please click on the link to the article.
COYOTES. Among my most vivid memories from twenty years living in southern Arizona is the haunting, howling, yipping chorus of coyotes at night, declaring their territory. Their vocal talents are such that one or a few coyotes can sound like many. Whether viewed as mythic trickster, as God's dog, or as vermin, the coyote is far and away the most adaptable predator in North America. Efforts at eradication have only produced smarter, more elusive, and more numerous populations of coyotes. They are versatile in their hunting -- going it alone, or in packs, or even cooperatively with other species. Unlike the unfortunate wolf, which still hovers within an eyeblink of extinction, coyotes have expanded their range to include forays into towns and major cities.
Because they are so wary and elusive, wildlife ecologists find that acquiring a deeper understanding of their way of life is "like working with a ghost species." The NYTimes article Mysteries That Howl and Hunt summarizes current research into this virtuoso singer and versatile survivor.
RELIGION TEST. This cracks me up -- and at the same time does not surprise me in the least. A basic religion test administered to a cross-section of Americans revealed that "most people are deeply ignorant about religion. Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life. On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed questions about their own faith. Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities, Jews and Mormans."
How can this be, especially given that most questions had multiple-choice answers? Simple. Blind faith equates with poor knowledge. Most atheists and agnostics were raised in religious homes, but learned to examine, question and ultimately reject the moral hypocrisies and internal contradictions of religion through reading, thinking, and informing themselves. As Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, explained, "I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than most religious people. Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That's how you make atheists."
For a more thorough description of the survey and how various religious groups fared in their responses, as well as a sampling of the survey questions which you can answer for yourself, please check out the Basic Religion Test article.
28 September 2010
27 September 2010
26 September 2010
- Facebook is used mostly by college kids.
- Facebook keeps changing to help sell advertising.
- Facebook users are up in arms about privacy.
- Zuckerman stole the idea for Facebook from other students at Harvard.
- Facebook could soon go the way of Friendster and MySpace.
It is remarkable to realize that Facebook has grown to include over 500 million active users globally, since the website's launch in February 2004. I happen to be one of them, and am grateful for the opportunity to have become good friends with people in places as far-flung as Greece, Portugal, Sweden, England, Slovakia, and Lebanon, as well as all parts of the U.S.
WHO'S IN CHARGE? Last week our hard-working servants in Congress once again managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by failing to rescind the military's discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which denies gays and lesbians the right to serve their country openly. Had Congress acted according to the wishes of 82 percent of Democrats and 64 per cent of Republicans, our military would be in a position to avail itself of an untapped resource of intelligent, dedicated men and women (whose sexual orientation is nobody's businesss, and irrelevant to their ability to serve). During his satiric monologue the day after the Senate vote, Jon Stewart rhetorically asked, "Are We Being Led by A**holes?" In many instances, definitely yes. The posturing and petty politics being played out in Washington do not serve the interests of the country or the military. The fact is that one out of every ten people is a gay man or a lesbian woman, whether openly or secretly. This includes everyone YOU know. Think about that. Your friends, relatives and coworkers, good people all, include a substantial number of homosexuals. Does that mean you should drop them from your life? Hell no. It means that, if you haven't done so already, it is high time you reconsider your biases toward gays. My circle of friends around the country includes a number of gays and lesbians, and I treasure them equally with my straight friends. Too bad I can't say the same about certain politicians.
25 September 2010
24 September 2010
So how does Republican rhetoric make any conceivable sense? If the party's plan for reducing the deficit makes no mathematical or fiscal sense, why are they proposing it? Well, for much the same reason they trotted out their "Contract with America" in 1994 -- in a naked grab for power. The American electorate is gullible to pompous promises (Nixon's "secret" plan to end the war in 1968 comes to mind), and in 1994 the electorate swept Republicans into power in both houses of Congress. As Krugman documents, modern conservatives make no bones about it -- being in power trumps responsibly serving the people every time. Once in power, conservatives also make no bones about their real goals -- "privatizing and dismantling Medicare and Social Security."
Yeah, that's what I really want to see, LESS accountability, FEWER governmental services for my tax dollars, and MORE money falling into the welcoming pockets of already-obscenely-wealthy CEOs (who donate handsomely to Senators and Representatives who serve them). The truly dispiriting aspect of all this? Voters had such a short memory, and so little interest in really informing themselves about the issues, that they'll likely swallow the conservative bait, as if they had not already tasted that barbed hook before.
A MILESTONE. I began posting on this blog on 13 February 2008. Yesterday, for the first time, the number of daily visitors reached 100 !!! Small potatoes for many widely-read blogs, but an encouraging achievement for this modest e-epistle. Thank you, gentle readers. Spread the word, and please feel free to click on "comments" at the end of each post to leave your remarks or questions. Below you will find graphs showing (as of this hour) the number of daily visitors for the past month, and the number of monthly visitors for the past year. Click on the image to enlarge.
23 September 2010
22 September 2010
21 September 2010
20 September 2010
18 September 2010
17 September 2010
16 September 2010
15 September 2010
14 September 2010
13 September 2010
10 September 2010
09 September 2010
It seems that even the most bigoted fundamentalist clerics can be sensitive to public opinion. Terry Jones, a pastor from Gainesville, FL, announced earlier this week that he intended to burn copies of the Koran this Saturday, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The outcry from religious leaders of all faiths, from political leaders of all persuasions, from US military leaders, and from citizens of countries around the world, was a tsunami. One hopes that Mr. Jones was suitably chastened (though I doubt it) when he announced earlier today that he is cancelling the proposed burning. Is it coincidence that ultimately it was the voice of Prsident Obama that appears to have tipped the scales? Obama rightly pointed out (as would occur to anyone with an ounce of common sense) that such a brazen act of religious vilification would endanger the lives of Americans at home and abroad, including US troops in Muslim countries. The justifiable outrage which would spread across the Muslim world would provide a perfect recruiting tool for a new generation of terrorists. It's called throwing fuel on the fire.
What was this delusional man thinking? (A) It makes no sense to commemorate an act of violence (the attacks) with another act of violence (the burning). (B) What would be the reaction of Christians if an allegedly holy man from another religion started burning Bibles? Sacrilege is sacrilege. (C) Book burning in any form (think Nazi Germany) is the signature of cowardice, weakness and paranoia -- no one has the right to censor what others read. The last time I looked, we live in a land where freedom of choice is still intact -- at least in theory.
So the upshot is that Mr. Jones is to meet with the imam of the proposed Muslim cultural center located over two blocks from Ground Zero. Jones claims to have assurances that no mosque will be incorporated into the center. The presence or absence of a mosque is frankly none of Mr. Jones' business. What would Mr. Jones think if a Muslim leader were to tell him where he could or could not build a church? I wonder if he is just trying to save face. There should be NO limitation on e inclusion of a mosque. It's called freedom of religion, remember?
One of the tired refrains that keeps popping up is that a mosque would be an insult to the victims and family members of the 9/11 attacks, and to Americans in general. Whenever anyone claims to be speaking for all Americans, I automatically discount his/her credibility. Our origins, culture, politics, religions and opinions are simply too diverse (gloriously so) for anyone to suppose they know what "America" wants. I doubt that person's ability to grasp what "America" even stands for -- tolerance, diversity, respect for others. Voltaire said, "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Mr. Jones, the Tea Party, anti-war activists, and all other citizens benefit from that right. But with every right comes a responsibility. Freedom of speech is not absolute. It is against the law (and common sense) to yell "FIRE" in a crowded public place, when there is no fire. Making a public display of burning Muslim holy books (or any holy books) is just as incendiary, and should be just as criminal.