Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Universe [complete season 1]

I'm posting this here mostly to have access to it when I want to see it, but it is pretty damn cool. Each episode is broken into 4-6 segments making them easier to manage -- and they are all embedded in this video.
This series takes a fascinating new look at a very old universe. Fifty years after man first ventured into outer space, we examine the greatest secrets of the heavens. Each episode outlines how humans have explored the universe, and scrutinizes the discoveries they have made.


Episode list:

Secrets of the Sun
The End of the Earth
The Moon
Spaceship Earth
Inner Planets
Alien Galaxies
The Outer Planets
The Most Dangerous Place in the Universe
Search for E.T.
Beyond the Big Bang

Positive Psychology News Daily - Healthy Minds Reside in Healthy Bodies

Western dualism sees a separation between body and mind, and much of the population thinks that way, even though they are not aware of it. But science, despite its own beliefs, keeps breaking down that dualistic stance, and I'm grateful for that.

Even those who are trying to break down that barrier still talk as though the dualism exists (as in this article), but the reality is that mind and body are the same thing, which is why the interconnection is so intense.

From Positive Psychology News Daily comes this post: Healthy Minds Reside in Healthy Bodies.

Healthy Minds Reside in Healthy Bodies

By Emiliya Zhivotovskaya Emiliya Zhivotovskaya's website Emiliya Zhivotovskaya's email
Positive Psychology News Daily, NY (Emiliya Zhivotovskaya) - August 21, 2008, 12:00 pm

Editor’s Note: This is the first article by Emiliya Zhivotovskaya, and we are delighted to have her writing. In the past week, we have also had first time articles by Kirsten Cronlund and Louis Alloro, whom we are also thrilled to welcome as authors.

Have you ever been:

  • So nervous that you made your stomach churn?
  • So excited about something that you could hardly sit still?
  • So worried you wound up sick over it?

These phenomena refer to the psychosomatic principle, that is, the mind’s ability to have physiological effects on the body. There may have been no physical reason for you not sitting still. Electrodes were likely not stimulating your muscles forcing you to be antsy. Your thoughts caused your experience.

A less prevalent concept is the somatopsychic principle (a term introduced by psychologists Nanette Mutrie and Guy Faulkner), and refers to the way in which the body affects the mind. Positive psychology goes hand-in-hand with positive physiology. Having a healthy body supports having a healthy mind. Countless studies support the many benefits of physical activity such as reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and increased bone, muscle and joint health. Physical activity releases positive brain chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin. Other benefits include increased subjective well-being, positive mood and affect, decreased stress and anxiety, improved self-esteem and self-perception, improved sleep quality, and cognitive functioning.

Dog doing yogaHuman beings are mammals meant for movement. A recent study shows that sitting for too long can increase risk for diseases because it has a negative effect on metabolism. Most Americans do not meet the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity, 5 days a week. Not only does exercise counteract health concerns and act as an antidepressant; not exercising is like taking a depressant. Imagine that. Would you take a pill everyday that would make you depressed? Of course not. Sadly, however, many people do.

The other day I was driving through New York City and saw a man walking his dog across the street. However, the man was the only one doing the walking! The dog was sitting in a baby carriage merrily looking around, grinning and tongue hanging out, while his owner pushed him around. I did a double take. It is one thing for adults to make excuses about not exercising enough, but dogs have four feet instead of two for a reason. Could this signal an onset of puppy obesity, potentially escalating at the same frightening rate as childhood obesity?

Walk & Work Treadmill

What are some things you can do to encourage your somatopsychic life?

  • Go for a walk or a bike ride.
  • Call a few friends and get a basketball game together.
  • Have a lot of e-mails to catch up on? Consider creating a treadmill walk-station. Businesses are buying these cleaver contraptions at $6,000+, you can make your own at home with a treadmill, a lap top, hospital tray table (or piece of wood), keyboard and mouse. See this picture of my Walk-Station. I absolutely love it; I walk while I work.

Image: Dog Yoga.


* Mutrie, N. & Faulkner, G. (2004). Physical activity: Positive psychology in motion. In Linley, P. A. & Joseph, S. (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 146-164). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
* University of Missouri-Columbia (2007, November 20). Sitting May Increase Risk Of Disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 15, 2008.
* For more on treadmill workstations visit the Mayo Clinic which originated the research.

Dumb Little Man - How to Overcome Emotional Abuse

A great post from Evelyn Lim, writing at Dumb Little Man.

How to Overcome Emotional Abuse

Written on 8/22/2008 by Evelyn Lim. Evelyn is a certified NLP practitioner and life coach. She wants to be rich, not only monetarily, but in life, love, health, etc. Visit her popular blog at Attraction Mind Map.

Emotional abuse may not leave scars, but it can cause pain for much longer than physical harm. Many women especially believe that just because they do not suffer from physical abuse by their spouse or partner, they are safe. However, it is not necessarily the case. The scars are mental and can cause a lot of grief and unhappiness. Although more women appear to suffer from emotional abuse, this does not mean that men do not experience mental torture either.

Emotional abuse happens when the other party erodes your sense of self esteem and literally, has a hold over your mind. Your sense of self worth shrinks so much that you no longer dare to challenge what is being said about you. You believe in the stories that are being told. Unfortunately, most of them are not true to begin with. Your partner spins a web of lies to control your behavior and for his or her own selfish motives. It is possible that he or she has an inferiority complex to begin with.

Perhaps, there comes a time when you decide that enough is enough. You refuse to be held hostage by your mental torture. And you want to move on. Fortunately, it is possible to overcome emotional abuse and regain the confidence and control that you may have lost to an abusive partner.
Read the rest of this post to see the list of ways one can recover from emotional abuse.

Obama Picks Senate Veteran Biden as Running Mate

It's official, Obama goes with a Washington insider, Joe Biden, as his VP choice, leaving the whole "change we can believe in" idea buried in the mud the McCain people have been flinging his way.

What we need is vertical change (redefining the way politics works), but it seems we will have to settle for horizontal change (more of the same in different clothing, with different slogans) -- see this post for an explanation of what this means.

Anyway, here is what the Washington Post has to say:
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has chosen veteran Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, a leading voice on international affairs, as his vice presidential running mate, his campaign said on Saturday.

Biden, 65, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is one of the most knowledgeable Democratic experts on foreign policy -- an area where Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, has been criticized as inexperienced.

Ending days of speculation, Obama announced the decision on his Web site, featuring a photo of the two.

"Barack has chosen Joe Biden to be his running mate," the announcement said. "Joe Biden brings extensive foreign policy experience, an impressive record of collaborating across party lines, and a direct approach to getting the job done."

Obama's camp also sent a text message and e-mail to supporters.

Biden, a Roman Catholic originally from the battleground state of Pennsylvania, will bring not only foreign policy expertise to the ticket but strong working-class roots.

That could help Obama connect with the blue-collar voters he has failed to attract in the run-up to the November 4 election against Republican John McCain. Obama and McCain are neck and neck in opinion polls.

Biden's 2008 presidential bid fell flat but he proved a forceful and aggressive debater, firing off some of the toughest criticisms of President George W. Bush and the Republican contenders for the White House.

The choice of Biden, who has served in the Senate since 1972, indicates Obama was more interested in filling gaps in his foreign policy experience than in finding someone who could reinforce his message of bringing change to Washington.

The Delaware senator emerged as a strong possibility late on Friday after three other contenders -- Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton -- reportedly were told they had not been selected.

Others in the mix had included Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Texas Rep. Chet Edwards.

Read the rest.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Photography - 2008 Olympics

Found this page, with no credits given to any of the photographers, through a link on FriendFeed -- some pretty cool pics.

Here are a few I liked. There are dozens more at the site.

Psychedelic Drugs Could Heal Thousands

A cool post from Boing Boing took me to the original article in The Guardian UK:

As an aside, this info from the article at Boing Boing:
Andrew Feldmár (the Canadian psychotherapist who was denied entrance to the United State last year when a US border guard Googled his name and found a research paper in which Feldmár described two acid trips he took 1967) has an essay in the Guardian about psychedelics as a useful took in psychotherapy.
On to the article:
Psychedelic Drugs Could Heal Thousands

New research into the benefits of hallucinogens alongside psychotherapy is welcome: in my experience they change lives

There is a horrible sense of meaninglessness and chaos that comes from the extreme loneliness of being cut off. Trauma, whether sustained in the family, or in the military during combat, renders millions feeling unsafe, insecure, mistrustful, and in the end isolated, lonely and desperate. Judith Lewis Herman, who wrote the definitive book on trauma and recovery, stated that all so-called mental illness and suffering could be seen as a person's misguided attempt to survive trauma. Fear separates, love unites. We all wish to grow to freedom, to belong, to participate. Hatred is like gangrene, shame is deadly. Forgiveness is but a faint hope.

Sandoz began to market LSD in 1947 as a psychiatric panacea, the cure for everything from schizophrenia to criminal behaviour, sexual perversions, alcoholism, and other addictions. During a 15-year period beginning in 1950, research on LSD and other hallucinogens generated over 1,000 scientific papers, several dozen books and six international conferences, and LSD was prescribed as an adjunct of psychotherapy to over 40,000 patients. The current research using psychedelics heralds a reawakening to the magnificent healing possibilities of these now prohibited substances. After over 40 years of repression or oppression, Rick Doblin of Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (Maps), and others are spearheading a more enlightened, less hysterical and terrified approach to the use of these substances. I am participating in what hopefully will be Canada's first government approved clinical trials in 40 years, sponsored and organised by Maps, evaluating MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for subjects with treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are many other applications of psychedelic psychotherapy, such as ibogaine, or ayahuasca for the treatment of substance abuse. Large numbers of people could benefit from the use of psychedelics as entheogens, introducing people to spiritual experiences, reducing pain and suffering due to isolation, by the irresistible realisation that each of us is a small part of something much greater than any of us, that separateness is an illusion, there is nothing to fear, and love is accessible, shame can be left permanently behind. Rites of passage, responsibly organised, could benefit everyone.

Despite prohibition, people have often asked me to attend their own psychedelic experiments, to keep them safe, to guide them towards liberation, the end of automatic habit patterns, kneejerk reactions, towards heartfelt responses, love, acceptance and forgiveness. After one session with MDMA, people were able to sustain insights gained, without further assistance from the drug. Psychotherapy proceeded faster and deeper than before: the debilitating effects of shame have been annulled, heavily defended hearts opened, and stayed open, and people acquired the ability to enjoy the sacrament of every living moment without distraction by past regrets or future worries. No small gains!

After three LSD sessions, a patient emerged from what was labelled chronic psychotic depression (she had attempted suicide three times, had been hospitalised, and given several courses of ECT, major antipsychotics and antidepressants), and was able to hold a job, derive pleasure from her days, and look forward to cultivating a varied garden of delights. She moved from cursing me for not letting her die to blessing me for the surprising freedom that opened up for her as a result of her LSD experiences. Psychotherapy, without LSD, would not have been enough, I'm afraid.

I can only hope that if new research with psychedelics proceeds in a responsible, careful and creative manner, the powers that be can begin to support and foster further research into this fascinating realm. I was 27 when I first tasted this incredible substance called LSD. Now I am 68 and for the last two years have been persona non grata in the US, because a border guard Googled my name, and found an article I wrote many years ago on entheogen-assisted psychotherapy. I hope I will be invited into the US before I die to teach professionals how to use psychedelics for the benefit of all.

Toward an Analytic Theory of the Self: Studying the Buddhist “Non-Self” in Practice

Psychological, philosophical, and Buddhist geekiness all in the same paper -- how can you go wrong?
1. Pagis, Michal. "Toward an Analytic Theory of the Self: Studying the Buddhist “Non-Self” in Practice" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal Convention Center, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Aug 11, 2006 Online <PDF>. 2008-08-21
Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript

Abstract: The Buddhist doctrine of non-self offers an intriguing conception of selfhood often contrasted with the western- modern conception of the self. Though much attention has been given to the study of this doctrine through Buddhist texts, the Buddhist negation of the ‘self’ is not well captured in the scarce ethnographies that investigate Buddhist practice. By introducing an analytic standpoint to the study of the ‘self’, this paper distinguishes between three levels: the analytic concept of the self used by the researcher, the emic cultural conception of the self, and the actual experience of selfhood. Based on an ethnographic research among practitioners of Buddhist meditation (Vipassana) in Israel and the United States, this paper uses the above analytic distinctions in order to shed light on the Buddhist concept of non-self. By using the analytic (etic) concept of the self as produced through social relations, this paper reveals how the practices of meditation and renunciation can dismantle emotional and cognitive identifications and aim to de-construct some aspects of the differentiation between the “self” and the “other”. Since this differentiation is crucial for the experience of a sense of self, Buddhist practices have a strong influence towards an experience of selfhood that can be understood as a “non-self” experience.
The link takes you to a PDF of the paper. Seems to me (and I have only just skimmed the paper due to time constraints) that the author is trying to bring multiple perspectives to this topic, which is cool and needed.

Obama Sued in Philadelphia Federal Court on Grounds he is Constitutionally Ineligible for the Presidency

Wing-Nuttiness. Among the claims is that Obama's birth certificate is a forgery.

Rolling Stone - How Bush Destroyed the Republican Party

Rolling Stone continues a recent trend of quality journalism.

How Bush Destroyed the Republican Party

A president driven by ideology. A Congress rife with corruption. A political party hellbent on a "permanent majority." A leading scholar examines the radicals who hijacked the GOP — and wrecked the longest conservative ascendancy in American history

By Sean Wilentz

The failure of the administration of George W. Bush — and the accompanying crisis of the Republican Party — has caused a political meltdown of historic proportions. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Bush enjoyed the greatest popularity ever recorded for a modern American president. Republicans on Capitol Hill, under the iron rule of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, fattened their coffers through a fearsome operation overseen by corporate lobbyists and GOP henchmen that functioned more like an empire than an old-fashioned political machine. "Republican hegemony," the prominent conservative commentator Fred Barnes rejoiced in 2004, "is now expected to last for years, maybe decades."

Now, only four years later, Bush is leaving office with the longest sustained period of public disapproval ever recorded. No president, at least in modern times — and certainly no two-term president — has risen so high only to fall so low. Indeed, Bush's standings in the polls describe one of the most spectacular flameouts in the history of the American presidency — second only, perhaps, to that of Richard Nixon, the only president ever forced to resign from office. And in Congress, the indictment and downfall of DeLay and a host of associated scandals involving, among others, the Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, have badly damaged the party's image. The supremacy of the GOP, once envisioned by party operatives as a "permanent majority," may be gone for a very long time to come.

At first glance, the collapse of the Republican Party seems rapid and unexpected. When viewed within the larger context of American history, however, the party's breakdown looks familiar, even predictable. As in earlier party crackups — 1854, 1932, 1968 — the demise has involved not a single, sudden explosion but a gradual unraveling followed by a sharp and rapid deterioration amid major national calamities. If Bush and the Republican majority in Congress accelerated the demise of Ronald Reagan's political era with their assault on traditional American values and institutions — including the rule of law itself — it is a decline that began two decades ago.

Read the rest of this article.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The McCain Worldview

"Come on kid, pull my finger."

OK, just playing. Here's the real article, which is also funny, in a "we're all screwed if this guy wins" kind of way.

McCain: ‘I Still Believe The Fundamentals Of The Economy Are Strong’

On her radio show today, conservative talker Laura Ingraham asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) what he believed should be done to address the struggling U.S. economy. Ingraham listed several economic indicators that have declined in recent years to make her point. McCain dismissed the premise of Ingraham’s question, saying, “I still believe the fundamentals of our economy are strong”....
Read more.

The Misshapen Mind: How the Brain's Haphazard Evolution Left Us with Self-Destructive Instincts

From AlterNet -- A good review of two recent neuroscience books (both of which I own). I've read Kluge and loved it -- great look at the lack of intelligent design when it comes to the human brain. Looking forward to reading The Science of Fear.

The Misshapen Mind: How the Brain's Haphazard Evolution Left Us with Self-Destructive Instincts

By Sasha Abramsky, The American Prospect. Posted August 20, 2008.

Evolution didn't quite hit perfection when it comes to human thought processes.

The human mind, we like to think, is an embodiment of perfection. For those with a religious inclination, our ability to think through issues logically, to construct narratives about our surroundings, and to recall events that happened decades earlier is proof positive of a divine hand at work. For the nonreligious, the mind is a secular miracle, an indication that, left to its own devices, evolution produces something akin to a Panglossian vision of the best outcomes in the best of all possible worlds.

Two new books beg to differ. The first, New York University psychologist Gary Marcus' Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind (Houghton Mifflin, April 2008) sets out to show the many ways in which the human mind is an evolutionary hodge-podge, a series of good-enough solutions to the problem of understanding and responding to our environment. The second is The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't -- and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger (Dutton, June 2008), by the Canadian journalist Daniel Gardner.

I recommend you read them as a package. While both deal with complex psychological theories -- how memories can be triggered and manipulated and how our understanding of events is influenced by what other people think, by our existing preconceptions, and even by seemingly random factors such as the mentioning of a particular number before we're asked to provide the answer to a question -- Marcus clearly understands the psychological theories better. As a trained scientist, he's also somewhat more fluent in his explanations of why our brains are so easily influenced by irrational considerations.

A kluge, Marcus tells us, is an improvised engineering response to a problem. It is the product of a tinkerer playing around with odds and ends and creating a functional machine. That, he writes, is what the brain and its package of emotional, intellectual, and logical tools is. It is a series of good but imperfect methods for processing and acting on information, developed over hundreds of millions of years.

Evolution, in other words, produces things that work. That, Marcus argues, is the case with the brain, with how we store memories and how we respond to information. Were our memory systems better designed, they'd store and retrieve memories in the same way computers do. Instead, we rely on context to access snapshots from the past. Moving beyond memory, the logical aspect of higher thought is simply the icing on the cake, Marcus explains -- something that has evolved in an evolutionary microsecond and set up residence in the brain's frontal lobes. The older parts of the brain, call them our reptilian legacy, had much longer to mature. As a result, in many situations, especially when quick responses are demanded, they simply overwhelm our rational side, stampeding us into actions that don't really stand up to serious analysis.

Thus, we see an act of violence in the media (whether it be a single person being kidnapped and murdered, as with the 1993 celebrated Polly Klaas case in California, or mass slaughter, as with September 11), and we respond with a potpourri of inchoate fear, panic, and rage. We feel that the certainties governing our lives have been shattered. Rarely do we successfully step back and analyze the likelihood or unlikelihood of such an event impacting us.

For both Marcus and Gardner, the result is the emergence of an increasingly irrational political system, a sort of Truman Show in which reality is continually altered by an omnipresent media superstructure.

Read the whole review.

Evolutionary Psychology - A Touch of Generosity

A cool article from The Economist that takes a look at how touch may have aided our evolution. We know from premature infants just how crucial touch is to health and survival -- seems it also aided in the evolution of culture and generosity.
Evolutionary psychology - A touch of generosity

Aug 14th 2008
From The Economist print edition

Touch can inspire munificence towards those you trust

PEOPLE touch each other a lot, even strangers. We shake hands, slap backs, kiss and caress. Such behaviour can increase co-operation, which is good from an evolutionary point of view. It has even been shown that waitresses who touch patrons tend to be tipped more generously.

It is known that stroking rats can raise the level of oxytocin, a hormone active in the brain and implicated in various social interactions, such as maternal attachment. In humans higher oxytocin levels have been linked to physiological phenomena like contractions during childbirth, or orgasm. But the link to physical contact is so far unclear. Interestingly, the level of hormone appears to rise in people who are trusted. And more of it seems to inspire greater generosity towards strangers.

This prompted Vera Morhenn of the University of California, San Diego, and her colleagues, to examine the physiological mechanism underlying this and to see whether munificence towards strangers could be manipulated through touch. In their experiment, published in Evolution and Human Behavior, they split 96 male and female graduate students into three groups. The first and second received a professional massage but the third did not. Then the first and third group took part in a “trust game”.

Participants were paired at random and seated in front of a computer, physically removed from their anonymous partner. Each also got $10 in cash, supposedly for showing up. The rules stipulated that for each pair, one person, the giver, could cede a part of their money to the other, the trustee. This amount would then be tripled and credited to the trustee, who was subsequently prompted by the computer to sacrifice a part of his stash by returning some to the giver.

Standard game theory predicts that in an anonymous one-off exchange like this the trustee ought to keep the gift and not reciprocate. The giver, too, ought to refrain from donating, since his sacrifice is bound to remain unrequited. Yet that is not what tends to happen with real people. Givers often give and trustees frequently return the favour. (Studies of identical and non-identical twins suggest that co-operative behaviour in trust games is heritable.) In effect, the giver’s donation reflects his confidence in the trustee’s willingness to reciprocate. In other words, it signals trust.

To test the physiology, Dr Morhenn took blood samples at the start and end of each game and looked for changes in oxytocin levels. She found no effect in the massaged group who did not participate in the game, implying that trust does indeed act as some sort of trigger. But in the players the hormone rose in those who were massaged and fell slightly in those who were not.

Despite receiving statistically identical trust signals from givers, the massaged trustees with their higher oxytocin levels returned a whopping 243% more than their unrubbed counterparts. A clue to why evolution might favour such a double-trigger mechanism may come from the other finding that women appear more susceptible than men to tactile manipulation. Perhaps that is to ensure maternal care of their own brood. If so, such effects seem to extend beyond the mother’s bosom.

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BBtv WORLD (Tibet): Inside Lhasa

A cool video posted at BoingBoing yesterday, a look inside Tibet. I found this yesterday on someone else's blog, but now I can't find the original post to give credit, so if it was you, thanks!
Today's episode of Boing Boing tv is a new installment of our "BBtv World" series, in which we bring you first-person accounts of life around the world. In this episode, I travel to Lhasa during an annual Tibetan Buddhist festival.

The first thing that hits you when you arrive in Lhasa is just how close to the heavens you are. Literally. The average elevation in Tibet is 16,000 feet. The fact that this place is known as the “Roof of the World" makes sense as your newcomer lungs and blood struggle to adjust to the altitude.

Beijing says Tibet is historically part of China, not a sovereign nation. China’s army invaded Tibet in 1950. Years of bloody conflict followed. In 1959, Tibet’s traditional spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India. China has governed over Tibet since then.

During the fourth lunar month in the Tibetan calendar, ethnic Tibetans celebrate the annual festival of Saga Dawa. Tibetan Buddhists believe that on the full moon in this month, in various years of his life, the Buddha was born, achieved enlightenment, and died.

A large armed police presence surrounded the festival during the year I shot the footage you'll see in this episode. When we asked one pilgrim why, she said “Because when too many Tibetans gather in one place, they are afraid we’ll rise up.”

In 2008, Saga Dawa fell on the heels of a violent government crackdown on pro-independence protesters throughout Tibet, during the run-up to the Olympics. Thousands of armed troops filled Lhasa and outlying towns, and large numbers of "suspects" were rounded up and jailed. Widespread reports of human rights abuses filtered out, despite a virtual communications blackout. This year’s Saga Dawa festival also fell near the anniversary of the Tiananmen democracy protests, and authorities cited fears that this would inspire more protest in Tibet.

While first-person accounts were hard to come by, there were many reports of ethnic Tibetans being blocked from the traditional pilgrimage route around Lhasa in the name of state security.

McCain's Warped Worldview

McCain's Warped Worldview - "McCain's campaign is an irrational mix of patriotic swagger and blindness to reality that's proving scarily successful with uninformed voters."
The lesson McCain should have learned is that the world is a complex place, that today's enemies may be tomorrow's negotiating partners -- as Obama has at times dared to suggest -- and that the neoconservative idea of a Pax Americana is a dangerous fantasy. And a costly one at that, not only in lost lives and blowback from the regions we destabilize, but also in the dollars that American taxpayers must waste.
You don't say? Read more.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Moving + Busyness = Decreased Blogging

Life at the gym has become very busy again, plus I'll be spending the next 10 days or so packing and moving. I'm looking forward to being in the new place, with my new roommate(+), but I hate the actual moving part. SO many books, so few boxes.

In the meantime, I'll blog as much as I can, but responses will be limited. And I'll be posting quick links and such, videos, and whatever else, all viewable at FriendFeed.

Lama Tharchin Rinpoche - Five Ways to Reconnect with Your Peaceful Inner Self

This post showed up on The Buddhist Channel yesterday -- good advice. At the end of the article is some info on attending a retreat with Lama Tharchin Rinpoche.

There is some "magical" thinking in this viewpoint that is part of the Tibetan tradition, but the basic ideas are metaphors for how we can deepen our sense of inner peace.
Fast Five: Tibetan Lama Tharchin Rinpoche offers five ways to reconnect with your peaceful inner self

BY DANA OLAND, Idaho Statesman, Aug 19, 2008

Boise, ID (USA) -- Peace is elusive for many of us, even in the best of times. Now with escalating concerns about the environment and the economy, and the world political situation, peace may seem next to impossible to achieve.

The reality is that we already know the way - we have just forgotten the path that winds down ancient roads, says Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, a Tibetan teacher and yogi who will teach at a Buddhist retreat Aug. 29-Sept. 3. He also will give a public class Wednesday, Aug. 27, titled "Creating Peace in Ourselves and Our World."

"The wisdom exists in ourselves in a perfect form. We just need to recognize it, become aware that peace is a natural state that lies within us," he said recently from his California home.

At 72, Lama Tharchin is one of the oldest Rinpoches in the West. Rinpoche means "precious one" and is reserved for special teachers.

Tharchin was born in and lived in Tibet until he was 25. He escaped to Nepal in 1960 and moved to California in 1984.

His connection to the dharma - the teachings of Buddha - is called the Nyingma school and is mingled with the old ways of Tibetan mysticism.

Many younger Lamas today simplify the practice, said LiAnne Hunt, who is helping arrange the Boise retreat. That is a necessary evolution for our busy lives, but if someone wants and can handle more complex ideas, Lama Tharchin is here, she said.

Tharchin draws on the rich history of his practice, finding that the journey into the future leads back to his ancient teachings.

For this week's Fast Five, Tharchin offers five ways to reconnect with your peaceful inner self.

"I was surprised to hear you wanted five," he said.

The number five is sacred and mystical in Tibetan Buddhism. The mandala symbol has a center and the expressions of four directions for a total of five, Tharchin said.

In Buddhist thought there are five elements - inner and outer- five emotions, five wisdoms, five colors and five directions that all work together to connect our inner and outer worlds.

Tharchin offers five things to meditate on or just ponder that may unlock the way to peace.


There are five outer and five inner elements that correspond to one another. Becoming aware of them helps us find our place in the flow of things.

The five outer elements are earth, water, fire, wind and space.


The five inner elements are flesh, blood, warmth, breath and mind.

Here is how the inner and outer elements connect: earth-flesh; water-blood; fire-warmth (body temperature); wind-breath; space-inner mind.

"They are interdependent and connected," Tharchin said. "What we must do now is become aware of this connection so we can positively manifest in the world."

These have negative and positive manifestations that become both the impure and what Tharchin calls the "perfect aspects" of wisdom, he said.


There are five secret, afflictive emotions that are at the root of suffering, he said. These are the impure aspects of wisdom. Understanding them is the first step in mastering them, instead of letting them master you, he said.

Ignorance, anger, pride, desire and jealousy: These negative aspects can undermine our path to peace.


Here are the five pure aspects of wisdom. In Buddhist teaching, "wisdom simply means awareness," Tharchin said. "Having awareness of why we are suffering, recognizing it will mark the beginning of the journey to peace."

Dharmadhatu wisdom (Chying Yesh, color blue, at the center of the mandala), is the most secret and divine aspect of awareness. It is the pure expression of the afflictive emotion of ignorance. It is knowing in the profound and vast sense. Lack of awareness (ignorance) of our true nature creates great turmoil, Tharchin said.

Mirror-like wisdom (Mlong Yesh, color white, direction is east) is the pure form of anger. It is clear, luminous wisdom that is objective and simply reflects and accepts what is.

Wisdom of Evenness (Nyam Nyee Yesh, color yellow, direction is south) is the pure side of pride. Being prideful creates unevenness.

Discerning wisdom (Sor-tok Yesh, color red, direction west) is the pure form of desire. This is understanding the nature of a phenomenon by simply knowing, being aware, without intellectualizing it.

All-accomplishing wisdom (Ja-droob Yesh, color green, direction is north) is the pure form of jealousy. It is the natural base of the mind that will allow the accomplishment of everything without effort, Tharchin said.

To think of these aspects as opposites is too simplistic, Tharchin said. "It is not that dualistic. There is a pure and impure form of each. One helps you. The other creates suffering.


To make it practical is the work, Tharchin said.

The outer, inner elements and pure aspects of wisdom become clear when you put them into practice.

So, understanding that maintaining and caring for the environment, or the outer elements, is a way of nurturing our inner elements, or physical health.

Tharchin recommends meditation as a way to help people recognize how the five inner and outer elements, secret emotions and wisdoms live within ourselves.

"The journey inward will lead you to the manifest peace in the outer world," he said.

If you go

WHAT: Lama Tharchin Rinpoche "Creating Peace in Ourselves and Our World"
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 27
WHERE: Nazareth Retreat Center, 4450 N. Five Mile Road
ADMISSION: $10-$20 at the door. Proceeds benefit the Pema Osel Ling Retreat Center, which was damaged during the Santa Cruz, Calif., fires.


WHAT: Dakini Heart Essence Retreat with Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, Aug. 29-Sept. 3, Nazareth Retreat Center.


$475 for full five-day retreat.
$315 for three-day retreat Aug. 30-Sept. 1.
$115 for one-day retreat, does not require preregistration.
$40 for evening teaching sessions.
INFORMATION: (888) 517-7121.

Satire - Basketball Rolls To Stop At Cheney's Foot

Hilarious, from The Onion of course.

Basketball Rolls To Stop At Cheney's Foot

'Let's Do This,' Says Vice President

August 20, 2008 | Issue 44•34

NEW YORK—Mere seconds after a hotly contested rebound during a game between the vice president's biggest on-court rivals, a mishandled basketball rolled across the blacktop of "the Cage"—New York's infamously tough West Fourth Street courts—before being brought to a stop by the wing-tipped foot of Dick Cheney. Witnesses at the scene, whose gazes drifted slowly upward from the loose ball to Cheney's determined face, said they observed the vice president set his unblinking eyes on the assembled players, pause in the sudden silence, and utter the challenge, "Let's do this."

Enlarge Image Cheney On Basketball

The vice president prepares to bring it.

In the heavy stillness brought on by his challenge, Cheney sized up the assembly of players. The collection of local court legends reportedly ranged from hard-grinding seven-footers to tricky, loose-limbed ball handlers, all of whom instantly recognized Cheney from their last meeting: an all-out clash of the titans in late March that ended prematurely when the vice president suffered severe heart palpitations and was shamefully laughed off the court.

It is not known whether the vice president, as he stood on the edge of the court, composed an internal, possibly sound-tracked montage of scenes from the endless hours of training that had brought him back to the Cage. Some experts have said that, even months later, it is likely his opponents' taunts of "How's that pacemaker, old man?" "Too slow!" and "No. 2 in the executive branch, No. 2 on the court!" still rang in his ears.

As Cheney remained utterly still, apparently evaluating the scene without reaction or emotion, a sudden gleam of sunlight, which some in attendance claimed was accompanied by a keening high note, reflected from the rim of his trademark glasses.

Cheney On The Court

Cheney On The Court

Eyewitnesses also said Cheney's nostrils may have flared almost imperceptibly at this time.

Having thoroughly gauged the skill of his opposition, and displaying no evidence of his opinion thereof, Cheney shifted his eyes to the expectant crowd of roughly 300 people, every one of them also motionless and silent. But the former defense secretary remained impassive, moving neither his head nor his facial muscles and reacting in no way whatsoever to the mounting tension, the gathering electricity in the air, or the general feeling that those assembled were about to witness a watershed, possibly life-affirming display of tenacity and heart.

Adding to the tension was the unspoken understanding between the athletes that if Cheney proved triumphant, and managed to somehow outmaneuver his younger, faster rivals, he would win back control of the beloved city landmark he played on as a boy, and could finally have the entire park bulldozed.

Although almost no time has passed since Cheney's foot came in contact with the basketball, details of the developing scene continue to pour in: A drop of sweat reportedly formed on the temple of one of the more handsome competitors, tracing a line down through the grit on the side of his face, dripping off his jawbone, and splashing on the blacktop in slow motion; an apprehensive young female spectator took her daughter's hand and protectively drew her closer in anticipation of the epic battle; and a flock of pure white birds suddenly took flight from the roof of a nearby church, their beating wings unusually loud in the moment's eerie calm.

No other action or motion was reported, save for the whisper of a hot wind.

While it is not known when or if anyone in the tableau will move, analysts predict that the almost timeless moment of buildup will finally end when the most talented of the local hoop stars issues an aggressive yet stoic statement accepting Cheney's challenge, most likely "Come on if you're comin'," "Let's see what you got, then," or even simply "Yeah."

Aides close to Cheney have confirmed that the vice president will then kick the ball to the top of his foot, bounce it to the inside of his left elbow, pop it to his right hand, dribble through his legs while simultaneously executing an ankle-breaking spin move, take two steps to the foul line, leap to the hoop, and dunk the basketball up to his elbows, sending pieces of the chain-link net scattering into the crowd as Master P's "Make 'Em Say Ugh" echoes throughout the park.

CNN: 'Is Obama the Antichrist?'

I am not sure that this was just a coincidence of phrasing and content in McCain's online video -- I'd put NOTHING past the corrupt and manipulative people running McCain's campaign. I'd be willing to bet that the video was designed to tap into the evangelical fears outlined in the segment.

Makes me wonder, though, why CNN gave such nonsense any air time. They just successfully transmitted that dumbass meme to millions of people who otherwise would not have seen it.

Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture by Alan Sokal

Powell's Books (the world's greatest bookstore, in case you've never been there) ran this review that originally appeared in The New Republic.

Alan Sokal gained some fame a few years ago by making up some academic sounding bullshit and sending it to the radical "postmodernist" journal Social Text, who then published it, not recognizing it as a hoax, thus the infamous Sokal Hoax of this book's title.

This book builds on that "social experiment" and w
Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture
by Alan Sokal

Truth's Caper
A Review by Simon Blackburn

Every reader of this magazine is likely to have heard of the "Sokal hoax," the most celebrated academic escapade of our time. Everyone is also likely to know the story in outline: how in 1996 the radical "postmodernist" journal Social Text published an article submitted by Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist at New York University, with the mouthwatering title "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity." Sokal then revealed the article to be a spoof, a tissue of nonsense that he had painstakingly assembled in order to parody the portentous rubbish that flew under the colors of postmodernism. By publishing Sokal's submission, the emperors of that tendency revealed themselves to be as naked as the rest of academia had always suspected, and with this one coup Sokal himself became the toast of the town, a celebrity, a hero of the resistance.

Since then, he and others have written extensively about the hoax and its significance. Some have attempted to defend the editors of Social Text, but they could not do much to stop the laughter. Some pursed their lips at the impropriety of hoaxing, but ridicule is a good weapon. Most thought that the editors had brought it on themselves. Sokal himself has written numerous essays, and also a book about it, with Jean Bricmont (Impostures intellectuelles, published in America in 1998 as Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science). His new book brings together ten essays, beginning with a thoroughly annotated text of the hoax submission itself. Most of these essays have been published at various times since the hoax came out, and the hoax itself, in all its delicious pottiness, is easily available on the Web.

For dedicated followers of the aftermath of Sokal's useful mischief, there may be a sense of deja vu here. Indeed, Sokal begins his preface somewhat defensively: "I have a visceral distaste for books that have been confected by pasting together a collection of loosely connected, previously published essays.... So the reader may legitimately wonder: Am I not now publishing just such a compilation?" The answer, he assures us, is that he is not, because the essays form a coherent whole. I expect most authors of collections feel the same, viscerally or otherwise.

But the more pressing problem is that the kind of postmodernism that was Sokal's special target is now widely held to belong to yesterday. Before September 11, the story goes, academe allowed its "anything goes" tendency to grow unchecked. With long prosperity, the disappearance of the Cold War, and the lack of any great causes to substitute for it, a certain playfulness--an ironic, aesthetic, and disengaged attitude to life -- was quite tolerable. This was history's leisure time. We did not need too much self-scrutiny, and certainly not nervous and serious books about who we are and what we stand for and where we may be heading. The relativist could hold court as the lord of misrule. You disagree with me? Whatever. That's your view, and who's to say? I expect it is true for you.

It didn't do to thump the table or insist too much: philosophers, it was supposed, had taught us to see any such exhibition of critical reason as nothing more than a bid for power, a rhetorical trick for imposing ourselves on others, and with such bad manners, or worse. Especially it would not do if the ones who were being thumped at were victims of the colonial past, or descendants anxious to claim the status of victim. In that sacred sector, respect was the order of the day, even if it meant smiling politely at creationist timetables of earth history, Hindu versions of science, homeopathic medicine, and any other stumbling pre-scientific attempt at understanding the world. In fact, the only proper targets of disrespect were those "metaphysical prigs," as Richard Rorty liked to call them, who wanted to keep the inverted commas off words such as truth, reason, or knowledge.

Relativism can certainly go along with complacency, and I think it is fair to say that even philosophers more serious than Rorty were tainted by that. The philosophy of the right, mainly market triumphalism, is of course an old friend, and still survives, even if it now looks a little battered; but consider in this connection also "political liberalism," the heading under which John Rawls could imagine the peoples of the world willingly leaving their ideological and cultural differences at the door and coming into the political arena carrying only that which they hold in common. What they had in common turned out to be a birthright of reason sufficient all by itself to enchant them with a nice liberal democratic constitution, amazingly like that of the United States, or perhaps western Europe. Conflict could be talked through and violence abated. When the philosophers explained the right way to live, everyone would fall happily into line. Innocent times.

But no longer. The present decade is different. The United States has had its wake-up call, and may have others just as loud. It has been told, brutally, that disagreement matters, and that if our grasp of what we need to defend is feeble enough, there are people out there only too happy to wrest it away from us. It has reacted even more brutally to that alarm by declaring war on people who had nothing to do with it in the first place, and then conducting that war with counterproductive barbarity. It has learned that there is not much common reason that is everyone's birthright -- that when disagreement comes, people cannot afford to shrug.

There are times when we have to do better than "whatever" and "anything goes." A country needs to understand what is good, and also what is not good, about its preferred ways of living. It needs to understand what is good, and why, about its science, history, and self-understandings; and it even needs to understand what was good, and why, about the politics and the ethics that it may have, let us hope temporarily, abandoned. When we behold a postmodernist White House where the president and his advisers sneer at the "reality-based community," then carnival time in academe is well and truly over.

I greatly enjoyed Sokal's hoax. There is little in academic life more irritating than people pretending to understand things that they do not understand. Who cannot want to explode the long lines of intellectuals posing as having a close acquaintance with iconic items of twentieth-century progress -- relativity theory, of course, but also quantum mechanics, set theory, Godel's theorems, Tarski's work on formal logic, and much else? Custard pies are exactly what is needed.

Still, I found myself not quite as wholehearted as some of my colleagues. I felt a little guilty about laughing, even if the joke was a good one.
Read the whole review.

While I find the Sokal Hoax amusing, I suspect I might have made the same mistake as the editors. And while it revealed some problems in postmodern academics, it threw out the baby with the bathwater. I agree with this passage:
I also found something a shade distasteful about the position of those triumphalists who were crowing about the hoax. Very few of them would be able to make head or tail of a page of any contemporary physics journal. So when Sokal tells them that some sentences in his hoax were physically perfectly correct, while others were egregiously false or nonsensical, they have to take him on trust, and this alone puts them in a rather poor position from which to crow over the hapless others who took all of them, including the wrong ones, on trust.
A lot of conservatives reject all postmodernism because it's postmodernism, not because they can tell why it's wrong. And that's just silly.

Saudi Girl Drinks Bleach to Escape Marriage

This story makes me sick to my stomach.

Now obviously, the government didn't do this, but they allow stuff like this to happen all the time. As far as some Saudi men are concerned, women are less than human, mere property. They should in no way be our allies, no matter how much oil they have.

From the Al Arabiya news service.
Father was 'swapping' her for a 13-year-old bride
Saudi girl drinks bleach to escape marriage


A 16-year-old Saudi girl drank a bottle of bleach in an attempt to commit suicide to escape a forced marriage to a 75-year-old man, press reports revealed Sunday.

The girl identified only as, Shaikha, said her father was forcing her to marry the old man so that he could marry his 13-year-old daughter in an exchange deal, Bahrain's Tribune reported.

Shaikha described how her father took her to meet the old man and his 13-year-old in a marriage office where they all had pre-marital tests done, the Tribune quoted the Saudi Gazette as reporting.

Shaikha told the paper how she begged and pleaded not to be forced into marriage but both of the men ignored her pleas.

The 16-year-old appealed to the National Society of Human Rights to intervene and stop the marriage, the Tribune said, adding Shaikha, whose parents are separated, asked to live with her mother.

Shaikha’s mother said she should be protected from her father and demanded the marriage contract be cancelled because Shaikha was threatened to marry the man, the paper said.

“Judges can punish men who force their daughters to marry like this," Sheikh Abdul Mohsin Al Obeikan, Shura Council member said, adding the marriage contract was void because it violated Shariah law, the Tribune reported.

Islamic law states that for a marriage to be legal both parties must consent. If a marriage is performed without consent or under coercion the union is considered void and must be annulled.

The Truth About Coffee

A surprisingly reasonable assessment of coffee's benefits from CBS News. I love coffee, and drink at least two cups a day, often more.

They don't mention some of the other health benefits of coffee, which you can find here (WebMD) and here (Harvard), just so you know I'm using reliable sources.
The Truth About Coffee
Good For You? Bad For You?
Dr. Holly Phillips
Addresses Myth And Reality

Nothing like the smell of coffee to start off the day!

With so many studies out there about coffee, it's hard to remember whether our morning cup of Joe does the body any good -- or harm.

On The Early Show Monday, Dr. Holly Phillips of CBS station WCBS-TV in New York went through some commonly-circulated beliefs about the health effects of one of the nation's most popular beverages.


Well, I would have to say, all things in moderation. There do definitely seem to be some health benefits. The more we're learning, research is leaning on the side of it being good for you. It lowers the risk of Parkinson's disease and Type 2 diabetes. It mediates depression. But the benefits are dose-related.


It's better to limit their caffeine intake. They'll get caffeine in other things -- chocolate, sodas, but particularly in kids, it's linked to attention problems and hyperactivity, so it's better to avoid it.


It depends on the dose. We think of coffee as a diuretic. But recent studies have shown it's only a diuretic at high doses -- above 575 milligrams. Have some water if you exceed that amount.


575 milligrams is a little less than three cups of coffee, but that's three regular size cups. But we have to remember the cups we have nowadays are big cups. So, it's easy to have more than 575 milligrams.


Coffee does increase your blood pressure, but only for a few minutes. What's interesting is that recent studies show it doesn't increase your likelihood of getting hypertension. I would caution that anyone who has high blood pressure that's not under control should avoid caffeine.


Unfortunately, this doesn't work. Caffeine does speed up your metabolism for awhile but, in long-term studies, people who drank coffee had no better weight control than people who didn't.


This one is a little controversial. It doesn't make our body lose more calcium or lose calcium from the bones, but some studies have shown coffee drinkers do have more brittle bones. I suggest all of my patients, especially women, supplement with a calcium supplement or, if you're going to have a great deal of coffee, make sure you put some milk in your coffee.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Brilliant Blogs

My friend Isabella nominated IOC as a brilliant blog, for which I am honored and appreciative. It's nice to be noticed, and especially to be noticed by a person/blogger I deeply respect.

So now my job is to nominate seven other blogs for this award. Tough to narrow it down to just seven when I read and enjoy so many blogs.

Awardees, when you read this post, here is what you are invited to do:

  1. add the logo of the award to your blog
  2. add a link to the person who awarded it to you
  3. nominate at least 7 other blogs
  4. add links to those blogs on your blog
  5. leave a message for your nominees on their blogs
So, on to the list:

, always interesting and one of my favorite bloggers
Danny Fisher, compassionate and fun to read
DatingGod, Katherine is one of the most interesting people on the web
hokai's blogue, Hokai exemplifies integral Buddhist blogging
The Daily Goose, Matthew is one of the most intelligent men I know
Buddhist Geeks, the best podcast on the web
Psychology, Transformation & Freedom Papers,

What Color Glasses Do You See the World Through?

You See the World Through Blue Colored Glasses

You live your life with tranquility. You have faith that things will work themselves out with time.

You judge all your interactions through the lens of hope. You try to get all the facts before forming your opinion.

You face challenges with wisdom. You know that all bad things pass, and you have the confidence to see problems through.

You see love as the utmost expression of trust. Your relationships tend to be peaceful and stable.

At your worst, you can be cool, melancholy, and detached. You sometimes have to step back from emotionally charged situations.

You are at your happiest when you are able to reflect and relax.

Oh, were that true!

Mental Floss - Playing God: Lori Nix

This was posted over at Mental Floss a few days ago -- cool art.
Playing God: Lori Nix
by Andréa Fernandes - August 16, 2008 - 1:16 PM

New Feel Art Again.jpg


Contemporary photographer Lori Nix creates images that she hopes will trick the viewers, if only for a few seconds. Her images, many of which appear to depict the destruction resulting from human or natural disasters, are actually photographs of tabletop models that she creates in her apartment. A bit about this fascinating modern artist and her work…

1. Lori Nix “has a God complex,” asserts the Randall Scott Gallery. “The creation and destruction of the world she creates from scratch electrifies her.”

2. Much of Nix’s work is influenced by her experiences growing up in Kansas in the ‘70s, as well as Kansas-based movies and books such as “Wizard of Oz” and “In Cold Blood.” According to her web site, not only is Kansas geographically in the middle of the U.S., the state “also represents the moral middle of the road as a state of mind where conventional family values and good citizenship go hand in hand.” Nix’s images “question conventional codes of society” while also allowing her to reflect on and explore the place where she grew up.

3. On the Internet, Nix has gained some fame for throwing frozen frogs in her youth. She recalls, “It was a late freeze, and I remember being at this farmer’s house and all these frogs’ bodies were frozen into the pond. My brother and I started chipping them out and throwing them at one another and then at my sister.” In another interview, she mentioned that the incident was one of many “strange and gruesome animal fatalities” she saw growing up, all of which seemed to be symptomatic of “an uncaring Nature.”

4. Like the chalk art of Julian Beever, Nix’s work is both time-consuming and designed to be photographed from one specific point of view. All of Nix’s dioramas are hand-crafted, and the images undergo no digital editing or Photoshop manipulation. The intricacy of the dioramas’ components, such as a chandelier the size of a softball, mean each model can take from three months to two years to complete, even with the aid of her girlfriend/assistant Kathleen Gerber and other friends. The dioramas can be as large as 4 x 5 feet, and are then captured on 8 by 10 film, producing prints ranging from 20 x 24 inches to 40 x 65 inches.

A larger version of Nix’s “Natural History” (from her City series) is available here.

Fans should check out Nix’s official web site; her self-published book “Small Dangers;” Cool Hunting’s video of her studio; and the virtual tour of her 2004 exhibit at the California Museum of Photography.

“Feel Art Again” appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with artist suggestions or details of current exhibitions.

More of her images - from the City series: