This Is Your Brain on Metaphors

Robert Sapolsky in the New York Times:

14stone-custom2 Despite rumors to the contrary, there are many ways in which the human brain isn’t all that fancy. Let’s compare it to the nervous system of a fruit fly. Both are made up of cells, of course, with neurons playing particularly important roles. Now one might expect that a neuron from a human will differ dramatically from one from a fly. Maybe the human’s will have especially ornate ways of communicating with other neurons, making use of unique “neurotransmitter” messengers. Maybe compared to the lowly fly neuron, human neurons are bigger, more complex, in some way can run faster and jump higher.

But no. Look at neurons from the two species under a microscope and they look the same. They have the same electrical properties, many of the same neurotransmitters, the same protein channels that allow ions to flow in and out, as well as a remarkably high number of genes in common. Neurons are the same basic building blocks in both species.

So where’s the difference? It’s numbers — humans have roughly one million neurons for each one in a fly. And out of a human’s 100 billion neurons emerge some pretty remarkable things. With enough quantity, you generate quality.

Neuroscientists understand the structural bases of some of these qualities.

More here.

The Windiest Militant Trash Important Persons Shout Is Not So Crude…

Lilla-1-120910_jpg_230x420_q85Mark Lilla on Glenn Beck, in the NYRB:

…after reading these books and countless articles on the man, I’m coming to the conclusion that searching for the “real” Glenn Beck makes no sense. The truth is, demagogues don’t have cores. They are mediums, channeling currents of public passion and opinion that they anticipate, amplify, and guide, but do not create; the less resistance they offer, the more successful they are. This nonresistance is what distinguishes Beck from his confreres in the conservative media establishment, who have created more sharply etched characters for themselves. Rush Limbaugh plays the loud, steamrolling uncle you avoid at Thanksgiving. Bill O’Reilly is the angry guy haranguing the bartender. Sean Hannity is the football captain in a letter sweater, asking you to repeat everything, slowly. But with Glenn Beck you never know what you’ll get. He is a perpetual work in progress, a billboard offering YOUR MESSAGE HERE.

As anyone who witnessed his performance on the Washington Mall can attest, what makes him particularly appealing to his audience is not his positions, it is that he appears to feel and fear and admire and instinctively believe what his listeners do, even when their feelings, fears, esteem, and beliefs are changing or self-contradictory. This is the gift of the true demagogue, to successfully identify his own self, rather than his opinions, with the selves of his followers—and to equate both with the “true” nation.

To understand someone like Beck, and the people who love him, you need to stay on the surface, not plumb the depths or peek behind the curtain.

Hooked on Classics

ID_IC_MEIS_TRADI_AP_001 Morgan Meis on how to think like the ancients, in The Smart Set:

The entry for 'Television' laconically states that, “In its first decades television did not share cinema's appetite for the classical world.” This comes from a new publication by Harvard Press called The Classical Tradition. The situation for television changed in 1967 as “the future of the ancient world [was] resolved in an episode of Star Trek when the crew of a 23rd-century spaceship destroys the last surviving Olympian god on a distant planet.” Wonderfully laconic, once again. The entry for 'Sparta', by the way, the place from which we get the term 'laconic', begins with the sentences, “Sparta, for better or worse, is a brand, not just a name. Whenever we casually drop into our everyday conversation the two little epithets spartan and laconic, we are, unwittingly, paying silent tribute to our Spartan cultural ancestors—or rather to the Spartan 'tradition'.”

The Classical Tradition is billed as neither an encyclopedia nor a dictionary, but a guide. It is edited by a couple of classicists (Anthony Grafton and Glenn W. Most), and one art historian (Salvatore Settis). Its stated goal is to take the reader through the thickets of classical reference in Western culture from the classical era to the present. We do not learn our classics as we used to, argue the editors. But the modern world is still rife with classical references. Thus, the need for such a guide.

The Critic as Radical

T_S_Eliot_Simon_Fieldhouse George Scialabba on T.S. Eliot's conservatism, in The American Conservative:

What kind of “system” did Eliot want? A Christian society, of course—his critique of capitalism strikingly parallels that of Rerum Novarum, Centesimus Annus, and other papal encyclicals. But like those venerable documents, Eliot’s writings, though they could be pointedly negative, were not vividly affirmative. He thought there should be a lot more people living on the land. He thought people should have to spend fewer hours working for a living. He enthusiastically endorsed this description of the goal: a “new type of society, which would give fullest scope both to the individual—thus securing the utmost variety in human affairs—and to the social whole—thus stimulating the rich, collective activities which would surely come to life in a society free to express its invention, its mechanical skill, its sense of the earth in agriculture and crafts, its sense of play.”

This sounds much more like William Morris than like Margaret Thatcher. But beyond these, he offered virtually no details. He was neither a visionary nor an activist but a critic.

I said that Eliot had much to teach us about two matters of contemporary relevance. About the first, distributive justice, he wrote much, directly if not programmatically. About the other, he wrote scarcely a word—not surprisingly, since it was hardly visible on the horizon before his death. I’m referring to the steady erosion of inwardness—Eliot would have said “spiritual depth”—resulting from the omnipresence of commercial messages (the “nightmare” of “advertisement”) and electronic media.

I have no doubt that Eliot would have reacted strongly and negatively to this development, so discordant with his sensibility and practice. As described in his critical essays, the gradual surrender of the artist’s personality to tradition, which is at the same time the mastery and transformation of the tradition, resembles the attitude of the narrator of the Four Quartets toward Being and history. In both cases, the prescribed motions of the spirit are inward and downward, the virtues prescribed are humility, gravity, receptiveness. The refrain of “Burnt Norton” has become a meme: “the still point of the turning world.”

A New Cold War in Asia?

GettyImages_106648562_jpg_210x594_q85Pankaj Mishra over at the NYRB blog:

Is Asia about to enter a new cold war? Accusing the United States of undervaluing the dollar, China has, after its mainly “peaceful” rise, recently assumed an aggressive posture toward its neighbors. In recent visits both to longstanding American allies (Korea, Japan) and to erstwhile enemies (Vietnam, Cambodia), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has proposed the US as a counterpoint to China. Seeking to match the Bush administration’s landmark nuclear agreement with India in 2005, Barack Obama is also supporting India’s case for permanent membership on the UN Security Council.

The columnist Thomas Friedman interprets such moves as “containment-lite,” invoking George Kennan’s proposal in 1947 that Soviet expansionism “be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points.” Apparently, such counter-force against China is already being applied. An Indonesian political scientist told the New York Times last week that his government feels the US is putting “too much pressure” on Indonesia and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “to choose sides.”

Battered by the mid-term elections, and aware of America’s diminished economic clout, Obama himself has been more circumspect in his pronouncements. The US, he said in Indonesia last week, is “not interested in containing China.” But many politicians, journalists, and strategists seem excited by the prospect of a dramatic new standoff, especially as the “war on terror” and the “struggle against Islamofascism”—campaigns deeply shaped by nostalgia for the cold war’s ideological certainties—enter an uncertain phase.

“India’s emergence as a great Eurasian power,” Robert D. Kaplan asserts, “constitutes the best piece of news for American strategists since the end of the cold war.” Charles Krauthammer argues that since China “remains troublingly adversarial,” India “must be the center of our Asian diplomacy.”

Towards a Critical Theory of Society: The Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse

David Ingram reviews Herbert Marcuse's Towards a Critical Theory of Society: The Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse: Volume Two, edited by Douglas Kellner, in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

As a philosophy graduate student, political activist, and close acquaintance of Herbert Marcuse (1898 – 1979) during the last seven years of his tenure at UCSD I was continually perplexed by his deep reverence for the classics – especially Aristotle – and his equally self-deprecating attitude toward all variety of theoretically untutored political activism. Unfortunately, he adopted the same attitude with respect to his own work, which he simply refused to discuss. However, the famous professor who could be cajoled into conducting private readings of Hegel only with the greatest reluctance (but who would most willingly teach Aristotle’s Metaphysics), could be persuaded at a moment’s notice to speak at virtually any student demonstration, no matter how humble the cause.

The lectures, essays and correspondence assembled in this volume – the second in a projected series of six volumes containing both previously published and unpublished works (including photographs) – reflect not the famous academic scholar of Hegel, Marx, and Freud, but the personally engaged political firebrand who was rightly regarded as the guru of the New Left and student anti-war movements. Together, they span a period that began with the pessimism of the late McCarthy era and end with the pessimism of the post-Watergate era, broken only by a brief period of revolutionary optimism in the late sixties. They chronicle both the development of Marcuse’s mature critique of “one-dimensional society” and his most utopian yearnings for a liberated society.

Several signature traits of the Marcuse style immediately come into view when reading these essays. They reflect an astounding synthesis of philosophy, social science, economics, and literature. Yet they are not academic works intended to persuade intellectual skeptics of the cause being argued for. Since almost all were written during the emotion-charged period spanning the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the student movement, they have the rhetorical ring of political manifestos. Most were clearly intended for consumption by student activists and like-minded professors who would have shared Marcuse’s Marxist slant on the state of global capitalism.

Therein lies their appeal (or lack thereof, depending on one’s political perspective). Marcuse had a knack for combining “high” culture and “low” culture in his writing in a way that defies easy description. True to the Marxist credo linking theory and practice, he could soar to the dizzying heights of speculative theory (mainly Freudian and Marxist) – interlaced with a good dose of Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche, or any other philosopher who caught his fancy – and then just as swiftly dive to the depths of popular counterculture, replete with the poetic (and occasionally scatological) argot of the young people he so adored.

The Neuroscience of Time

500x_shutterstock_6756820Annalee Newitz in io9:

When you watch the seconds tick by on a digital watch, you are in the realm of objective time, where a minute-long interval is always 60 seconds. But to your brain, a minute is relative. Sometimes it takes forever for a minute to be over. That's because you measure time with a highly subjective biological clock.

Your internal clock is just like that digital watch in some ways. It measures time in what scientists call pulses. Those pulses are accumulated, then stored in your memory as a time interval. Now, here's where things get weird. Your biological clock can be sped up or slowed down anything from drugs to the way you pay attention. If it takes you 60 seconds to cross the street, your internal clock might register that as 50 pulses if you're feeling sleepy. But it might last 100 pulses if you've just drunk an espresso. That's because stimulants literally speed up the clock in your brain (more on that later). When your brain stores those two memories of the objective minute it took to cross the street, it winds up with memories of two different time intervals.

And yet, we all have an intuitive sense of how long it takes to cross a street. But how do we know, if every time we do something it feels like it a slightly different amount of time? The answer, says neuroscientist Warren Meck, is “a Gaussian distribution” – in other words, the points on a bell curve. Every time you want to figure out how long something is going to take, your brain samples from those time interval memories and picks one. “You randomly sample from it,” says Meck. “So you might pull a 25 out of distribution, or a 36. You're only accurate in the mean.”

The good news is that, on average, you will predict correctly how long it takes to cross the street. The bad news is that occasionally, you'll pull an outlier memory from that bell curve and decide to cross the street much more slowly than you should.

Once upon a life

Shappi Khorsndi in The Guardian:

Shappi-Khorsandi-006 My first day at secondary school and I had come prepared for a game of French elastic. My mum had even found a shop which sold the elastic in red so that was bound to win me even more new friends. Blissfully unaware that my thick, black toilet-brush hair, my chubby legs and my bubbly posh voice were any kind of barrier to popularity in a state comprehensive, I bounced into my new school. Almost immediately I realised I was to keep the elastic deep in my bag. I was never to play French elastic again. The other children looked much older than 12. The girls had make-up on and permed hair. Their legs were shaved and the uniform they wore was not from the shop recommended in the letter sent by the school. They spoke confidently to boys and frequently found reasons to link arms and cackle wildly.

Other children from my primary school had transformed themselves over the summer holidays. They spoke a little cockney, they had gel in their hair and none of them, not a single one, asked another first year if they wanted to play “it” at playtime. Despite coming from a very cosy primary school and all knowing each other since we were five, my former friends now gave me a wide berth. Association with my unfashionable clothes, unruly hair and lack of street smarts would have been social suicide. So, although they didn't join in with shouts of “Oi! Mophead!” or “Look! It's The Incredible Bulk!”, they severed all ties. There was a cluster of us misfits who clung to each other like shipwreck survivors to a plank of wood. These weren't friendships. We hung around together, ate lunch together because there was safety in numbers. When one of us was singled out and hounded like a lone gazelle, the rest would turn away, glad that, for now, it wasn't us. Waiting in the line for lunch one day, one of the brashest of the girls decided it was my turn. “Whatchoolookin' at?” was the 80s battle cry, then in a flash my hair was in a fist which was leading my head hard and fast into a metal locker. What this girl did not know about me, and was about to discover, was that I grew up scrapping with my older brother. You wouldn't have known to look at me, but I could fight.

More here.

Evolutionary Relationships Hold, Even in Our Guts

From Science:

Gor The human body is coated with bacterial cells. They live on our skin and between our teeth. They particularly like our warm, nutrient-filled gut, where they help digest food, make vitamins, and produce some seriously smelly gas. But when it comes to these gut bacteria, we are not what we eat. A new analysis of feces from humans and several other primates finds that evolutionary history, not diet, determines the makeup of our intestinal bugs.

Babies are born sterile, then they start picking up bacteria from their mothers. These microbes multiply and fill the intestines; one adult's gut can hold a thousand species. But it's not clear what exactly influences the makeup of that community—that is, what particular species of bacteria, in what quantities, hang out in our guts. It could depend mainly on what we get from our mothers, on what we eat, or on some other factor. Scientists have started using new genetic techniques to work out whether different species of animals have different communities; some studies in recent years have concluded that animals with similar diets have similar microbial communities.

To find out if diet was really key, Yale University evolutionary biologist Howard Ochman gathered samples of feces from 26 animals in the wild, representing three subspecies of chimpanzees, two species of gorillas, and two humans—one from Arizona and one from the Central African Republic, whose poop had originally been misidentified as belonging to an ape. Ochman didn't go out in the field for these samples; most were in freezers of colleagues who had collected them for other studies. “Basically, you get them by telephone,” he says. Ochman and colleagues sequenced the bacterial DNA in each sample and focused on a particular gene whose sequence varies from species to species. The primates varied in both the types of bacteria their guts contained and the number of bacteria of each type. The team used this data to construct a tree of the bacterial relationships among the primates. Primates with many of the same number and kind of gut bacteria were placed close together on the tree, and vice versa. To Ochman's surprise, the tree matched the evolutionary relationship of the primates.

More here.

Wednesday Poem

Called Poetry

…………In honour of Aldo Pellegrini

Called poetry is everything that closes the door on fools, yes.
Everything, on the other hand, that opens
the world’s vision and secret to the innocent,
to those who stake all on nothing,
those who don’t hoard, don’t look after themselves, don’t lie in wait
or calculate, and still are always on the verge of finding
as if by mere chance love, death, life itself even.

Called poetry is everything that pulls our feet
after the impossible. That which reveals the other side of things,
and sings at the end of disaster for no reason.
That which mercilessly blows you outside your being
or silently invades – an alien tide –
the inside until drowning your eyes.

Called poetry is everything that suddenly bursts in the word,
without warning and without logic. That which cannot be explained
properly to the smart, to those who are always right.

Called poetry is everything that comes back after exile,
defeat, the fears. The light that one day returns to the closed rooms
of old memory: the ancient, recovered simplicity of days.
The wind that revives a flame in the night. What survives us,
what always remains to us this side of the wound, the deepest loss,
like an ultimate, silent, hidden strength.

by Pedro Arturo Estrada
from Oscura edad y otros poemas
publisher: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Medellín, 2006
translation: 2010, Laura Chalar

Read more »

Stalin, Our Contemporary

Dr2586_thumb3Timothy Snyder in Project Syndicate:

Eighty years ago, in the autumn of 1930, Joseph Stalin enforced a policy that changed the course of history, and led to tens of millions of deaths across the decades and around the world. In a violent and massive campaign of “collectivization,” he brought Soviet agriculture under state control.

Stalin pursued collectivization despite the massive resistance that had followed when Soviet authorities first tried to introduce the policy the previous spring. The Soviet leadership had relied then upon shootings and deportations to the Gulag to preempt opposition. Yet Soviet citizens resisted in large numbers; Kazakh nomads fled to China, Ukrainian farmers to Poland.

In the autumn, the shootings and deportations resumed, complemented by economic coercion. Individual farmers were taxed until they entered the collective, and collective farms were allowed to seize individual farmers’ seed grain, used to plant the next year's harvest.

Once the agricultural sector of the USSR was collectivized, the hunger began. By depriving peasants of their land and making them de facto state employees, collective farming allowed Moscow to control people as well as their produce.

Yet control is not creation. It proved impossible to make Central Asian nomads into productive farmers in a single growing season. Beginning in 1930, some 1.3 million people starved in Kazakhstan as their meager crops were requisitioned according to central directives.

Sholay, the Beginning

6526.salim-khan In Open the Magazine:

Hindi cinema’s biggest blockbuster officially completes 35 years this 15 August, but it was actually born in 1973 in a small room. Screenplay writer Salim Khan remembers how Sholay was conceived.

When Javed [Akhtar] and I wrote Ramesh Sippy’s Andaaz and Seeta Aur Geeta, we weren’t partners. We worked on it as part of the Sippy story department’s team and received a salary of Rs 750. We had to fight for credit, and when we didn’t get it for Seeta Aur Geeta, we left the Sippys. Writers had no izzat (respect) those days. I still remember how posters of Zanjeer didn’t have our names. So we hired a man with a jeep and got him to paint Salim-Javed in stencil font on all theZanjeer posters from Juhu to Opera House. The man probably was a few drinks down, so he painted Salim-Javed on Pran’s face or Amitabh’s [Bachchan] hands!

After six months, we again got in touch with GP Sippy and [son] Ramesh, but now as the writing team of Salim-Javed. We had two narrations for them. One was the four-line idea of Sholay and the other the complete script of Majboor. GP Sippysaab wanted to make a film with a large canvas. When he heard Majboor, he said, “Filmchalegi (it will work), but there’s no sense in making this in 70 mm and with stereophonic sound.”

We said, “If that’s what you have in mind, listen to Sholay.” Most of Sholay was inspired by Magnificent Seven and also Dirty Dozen, The Five Man Army, Once Upon A Time In The West—a lot of Westerns. Ramesh was more attracted by the fact that Majboor was a complete script with dialogues. But Sippysaab said no. AfterAndaaz and Seeta Aur Geeta, the company was doing well; he wanted to take that risk.

Ground Zero Revisi­­ted

Sadik J. Al-Azm in Reset DOC:

While trying to follow, at great distance, the news and sharp controversies about the project to construct an Islamic Center and Mosque near Ground Zero in New York City, another telling occurrence deflected my attention in the direction of Washington DC. On August 28, a host of right wing Americans, neo-conservative crowds and Tea Party multitudes demonstrated at the Lincoln Memorial in the American capital in favor of “American Dignity Restored” and implicitly against that part of the country that had elected a black President for the first time ever, with a Muslim for a father and a Hussein for the obligatory American middle name, to boot. The demonstration took place exactly where the American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, had delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech 47 years ago to the day.

Liberal and Civil Rights America was appalled at such tactics, timing and protestations regarding the whole affair as a deliberate provocation of and an intended affront to the best in American values in general and to America’s blacks and its other ethnic minorities in particular. At this point, I thought to myself: Is not the same logic of provocation and affront applicable to the Muslim construction project and Mosque in the Ground Zero zone? I do not want to answer the question simplistically. Obviously, the intention of the New York project is forgiveness and reconciliation and not just to insist no matter what on exercising, in a certain way, the constitutional right guaranteeing to all Americans the freedoms of religion, conscience, worship and expression. At the same time, it is no less clear that the intention behind the TeaParty demonstration in Washington DC is out and out provocation, at least to all those who hold dear the memory of Martin Luther King’s speech and the epochal shift it triggered in American life. I say this with all due respect to the inalienable right of all people to assemble, congregate, demonstrate and express themselves and their grievances peacefully.

In my estimation, the Ground Zero Muslim construction project shows, at its best, lack of tact, inconsiderate approaches and bad live-and let-live strategies and tactics.

Scientific Regress: When Science Goes Backward

11-15-AirFranceConcorde John Horgan in Scientific American:

To celebrate the ends of years, decades and other milestones, science publications often churn out “Whither science?” predictions. Just last week, The New York Times Science Times section celebrated its, um, 32nd birthday with a special issue on “What's next in science”. What I found fascinating was the issue's overall tone of caution rather than the traditional boosterish enthusiasm.

Gina Kolata recalled a job interview 25 years ago with U.S. News and World Report, an editor of which asked her, “What will be important medical news next year?” Kolata replied that “next year gene therapy will be shown to work.” Gene therapy, of course, has been a big bust. Kolata goes on to say that the best answer to “Whither science?” is to expect the unexpected. (Fortunately for her, Kolata didn't get the job with what a mean friend of mine liked to call “U.S. Snooze and World Distort,” the print version of which just died after years of terminal illness.)

My favorite answer to the Science Times “What's next?” query was James Gorman's list of things that scientists won't accomplish. They won't find ET or the ivory-billed woodpecker, clone Neandertals, download our psyches into computers, and so on.

If the Times had asked me to chime in, I would have pointed out areas of science, technology and medicine that are regressing. I don't mean what the philosopher Imre Lakatos referred to as a “degenerating research program,” which produces diminishing returns. That's merely declining progress. I mean fields of research that actually go backward, as measured by some specific benchmark.

A Case of Bogus Science

Pervez Hoodbhoy Pervez Hoodbhoy in Dawn:

Comstech’s magnificent headquarters are located on Constitution Avenue in Islamabad. It has been headed by Dr Atta-ur-Rahman since 1996. Although its performance has been consistently mediocre, the organisation has now descended to an all-time low.

Recently Dr Rahman published an eye-popping article entitled HAARP (Dawn, Oct 17). The article claims that a physics research project, based in Alaska, may have been used by the US to trigger earthquakes globally, and could also have caused the catastrophic floods in Pakistan. Dr Rahman concludes with a chilling question: “Is the HAARP then, a harmless research tool — or a weapon of mass destruction far more lethal than nuclear weapons? We may never know.”

Given Dr Rahman’s prominent place in Pakistani science, and that he is fellow of the Royal Society, one must consider seriously his claim that HAARP can cause earthquakes and floods. But even the briefest examination makes clear his claims make no scientific sense.

HAARP stands for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme. Its website states it is a research programme run by the University of Alaska in collaboration with various US colleges and universities. If HAARP is a secret military project conceived by evil and diabolical minds, it is hard to see why visitors, including foreign nationals, are said to be allowed on site. The website says that the last open house was on July 17, 2010.

At least on the face of things, HAARP does not have the trappings of an American secret weapons facility. (Google Earth, which I used, blacks these out.) Readers will see a field of antennas, as well as some cars and two ordinary looking buildings.

No security barriers are visible. This does not appear to be a classified project.

But, of course, appearances can be deceptive. So let us simply use common sense and physics. Assume therefore that the power of the transmitters is many times that declared on the website (3.6MW). This may mean HAARP could potentially disrupt radio communications during war, or blind incoming missiles. But science cannot accept Dr Rahman’s claim that “It (HAARP) may also affect plate tectonics causing earthquakes, floods through torrential rains and trigger tsunamis.”

late night


Carter gives the last words, or almost the last, of his book on the Leno-O’Brien wars to Jerry Seinfeld. To Seinfeld, O’Brien’s letter to the People of Earth promising never to desecrate the “Tonight” legacy suggested a man who was indeed lost in space. “There is no tradition!” Seinfeld says. “This is what I didn’t get. Conan has been on television for sixteen years. At that point you should get it: There are no shows! It’s all made up!” O’Brien gave up a time slot on network television in the name of a fiction. And what are the stakes, anyway? Seventeen and a half million people, Carson’s nightly average back in the late seventies, is more than twice the number who now watch “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “The Late Show with David Letterman” combined. Measured in constant 1972 persons, “Tonight” is watched by a smaller audience than “The Dick Cavett Show” was when it was cut back to one week a month. The late-night talk-show potatoes have got very small. But today the original networks are like gigantic and benign marine creatures, relics of an earlier time on earth, swimming in a sea filled with more nimble and opportunistic predators, all competing for the chance to alarm, to titillate, and—if such a thing is still possible—to offend.

more from Louis Menand at The New Yorker here.

obama is the new first bush


In his inaugural address, in which he studiously eschewed the folksy populism of Carter, Obama pledged that Americans were “ready to lead once more.” Similarly Bush predicted a “new world order” led by America, a phrase that would come to haunt him in the 1992 primaries. “Is George Bush merely an idealist or are there now plans underway to merge the interests of the US and the Soviet Union in the United Nations,” Pat Robertson drooled in his campaign book, “and install a socialist ‘world order’ in place of a free market system?” If that rings a bell, it may be because you’ve been watching clips of Glenn Beck. There is also a rhetorical similarity between the two presidents. Obama is better spoken and more inspiring than was Bush, but, like Obama, Bush’s central rhetorical fault — how he eventually lost the public — was that he was always cool, always rational. He knew what he wanted, and what he’d done, but, like Obama, he was almost bashful about explaining as much to Americans, going so far as to cross many of the I’s out of his addresses. Bush press secretary Marlin Fitzwater lamented that his boss’s approach to message politics was “If I am doing the right thing, I can take any punishment.” Bush himself admitted, “I’m not good at expressing the concerns of a nation — I’m just not very good at it.” Like Obama, Bush had a cerebral, deliberative, occasionally paradoxical way of speaking.

more from James Verini at the Boston Globe here.

Here’s where things get really weird


Most science papers don’t begin with a description of psi, those “anomalous processes of information or energy transfer” that have no material explanation. (Popular examples of psi include telepathy, clairvoyance and psychokinesis.) It’s even less common for a serious science paper, published in an elite journal, to show that psi is a real phenomenon. But that’s exactly what Daryl Bem of Cornell University has demonstrated in his new paper, “Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect,” which was just published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Bem’s experimental method was extremely straightforward. He took established psychological protocols, such as affective priming and recall facilitation, and reversed the sequence, so that the cause became the effect. For instance, he might show students a long list of words and ask them to remember as many as possible. Then, the students are told to type a selection of words which had been randomly selected from the same list. Here’s where things get really weird: the students were significantly better at recalling words that they would later type.

more from Jonah Lehrer at Wired here.

Tuesday Poem


What'll it be?

Roast beef on rye, with tomato and mayo.

Whudduhyuh want on it?

A swipe of mayo.
Pepper but no salt.

You got it. Roast beef on rye
. . . You want lettuce on that?

No. Just tomato and mayo.

Tomato and mayo. You got it.
. . . Salt and pepper?

No salt. Just a little pepper.

You got it. No salt.
You want tomato.

Yes. Tomato. No lettuce.

No lettuce. You got it.
. . . No salt, right?

Right. No salt.

You got it. — Pickle?

No, no pickle. Just tomato and mayo.
And pepper.


Yes, a little pepper.

Right. A little pepper.
No pickle.

Right. No pickle.

You got it.

Roast beef on whole wheat, please,
With lettuce, mayonnaise and a center slice
Of beefsteak tomato.
The lettuce splayed, if you will,
In a Beaux Arts derivative of classical acanthus,
And the roast beef, thinly sliced, folded
In a multi-foil arrangement
That eschews Bragdonian pretensions
Or any idea of divine geometric projection
For that matter, but simply provides
A setting for the tomato
To form a medallion with a dab
Of mayonnaise as a fleuron.
And — as eclectic as this may sound —
If the mayonnaise can also be applied
Along the crust in a Vitruvian scroll
And as a festoon below the medallion,
That would be swell.

You mean like in the Cathedral St. Pierre in Geneva?

Yes, but the swag more like the one below the rosette
At the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.

You got it.

by Paul Violi
Shiny Magazine; Number 13
and The Best American Poetry, 2006

The dramatic decline of the modern man

From Salon:

Man “Manthropology,” a tongue-in-cheek look at the science of maleness, examines what recent discoveries in the fields of archaeology and anthropology can teach us about the state of modern masculinity. Ice Age aboriginal tribesmen, he discovers, were able to run long distances at approximately the same speed as modern-day Olympic sprinters. Classic Grecian rowers could attain speeds of 7.5 miles an hour, which today's rowers can only attain for short bursts of time. Our culture may be obsessed with muscles: He notes that, since 1982, G.I. Joe's Sgt. Savage has gotten three times more muscular and Barbie's Ken now has a chest circumference attainable by only one in 50 men, but the luxuries of our contemporary lifestyle have caused a steady decline in genuine physical power. The book may be a light, breezy work, but it puts our current debate around masculinity into fascinating context. Salon spoke with McAllister on the phone from Australia, about the current state of American manhood, hypermuscular toys and whether the recession is bringing back old-school masculinity.

You make the very intriguing argument that muscularity and aggression are increasingly being weeded out of the gene pool.

I've cited some studies of children of the Viking Berserkers [a group of notorious Norse warriors known for their aggression], and found that these are hyperviolent men and actually did have more children than comparable warriors in that society. In the past when muscular strength was everything, there was a real likelihood that genes would be spread by that kind of behavior. With the society that we live in now, that kind of self-destructive thing gets people out of the gene pool. Young males that have nothing to lose — they're hyperaggressive, they get into gang violence, they're liable to die at a very young age. Aggressive men go to prison and they go for longer periods of time, and they commit more offenses that keep them in there, which impedes their ability to have a family life and reproduce. And thanks to the rise of reproductive control, like the pill, when women have liaisons with muscular males, it doesn't have the reproductive consequences that it did. That's good news for the cuckolded husbands of old, because studies show that they're often stuck raising the children that result from women's liaisons with the beefcakes.

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