Saturday, February 07, 2009

Shrink Rap Radio #194 - Life Among The Piraha - An Amazonian Psychology with Daniel Everett

I really enjoyed the book by Daniel Everett, Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazon Jungle. So then this podcast from Shrink Rap Radio was a fun listen. Even if you haven't read the book, it's an interesting discussion.

Shrink Rap Radio #194 - Life Among The Piraha - An Amazonian Psychology with Daniel Everett

photo of Dr. Daniel Everett

Dan Everett, Ph.D. is author of Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazon Jungle, as well as Professor of Linguistics, Anthropology, and Biological Sciences and Chairman of the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. He received his Sc.D. from the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil, in 1983. He has taught at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Manchester, England. He is also a frequent Visiting Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. He has conducted research in the Amazon jungle of Brazil for more than thirty years and has authored nearly 100 scientific articles and six books. His most recent book is Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazon Jungle from Pantheon Books in the US and Profile Books in the UK. It will appear later in 2009 in Korea, Germany, and France, among other countries. His research on the Piraha Indians of Brazil and his conclusions on the evolution and nature of human language have sparked tremendous controversy internationally. He has been featured in the New Yorker magazine, New Scientist magazine (three times), Scientific American, Science News, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, The Independent, El Mundo (Spain), and other newspapers in countries from Holland, India, Japan, and elsewhere, including extensive coverage in most major Brazilian newspapers and news magazines. PBS Nova and the BBC are planning a documentary on his research. He speaks Portuguese, Piraha, Spanish, and English.

A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

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Ken Wilber - Big Mind + Evolution = The (New) Bodhisattva Vow

A free teaching from the Integral Life site. As regular readers know, I have some issues with Big Mind, but this is still an interesting piece. For the record, there is nothing truly non-dual about the Big Mind process.

Big Mind + Evolution = The (New) Bodhisattva Vow

What is the relationship of evolutionary consciousness in relationship to the bodhisattva vow? Ken responds that, traditionally, the bodhisattva vow is a vow to “liberate all sentient beings” so that they may recognize their own ever-present Big Mind and True Self. What evolutionary awareness does is reveal a second dimension of the Enlightenment process that must now be a part of how a bodhisattva functions in the world, because although pure nondual Emptiness does not evolve or change, sentient beings do. With each new structure of consciousness, Spirit has a new way to understand itself, which is not simply recycled samsara dressed up to look like something new, but a stunning and grand act of emergent creativity on a Kosmic scale—one which you are invited to participate in, if you really want it. Only an Integral Approach understands that the higher you progress up structures of consciousness, the longer you will be able to rest in the recognition of your own Big Mind and True Self, and thus have the chance to co-create, in earnest, Spirit’s moment-to-moment manifestation of the evolving Great Perfection we call home.

TED Talks - Sherwin Nuland: A meditation on hope

A nice TED Talk lecture from a man who is better know for his medical knowledge than his feelings about "softer" ideas.
Surgeon and writer Sherwin Nuland meditates on the idea of hope -- the desire to become our better selves and make a better world. It's a thoughtful 12 minutes that will help you focus on the road ahead.

Nuland was a practicing surgeon for 30 years and treated more than 10,000 patients. Now he is an author and speaker on topics no smaller than life and death, our minds, our morality, aging and the human spirit.

His 1995 book How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter demythologizes the process of dying. Through stories of real patients and his own family, he examines the seven most common causes of death: old age, cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, accidents, heart disease and stroke, and their effects. The book, one of 10 he has written, won the National Book Award and spent 34 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. His latest book is The Art of Aging: A Doctor's Prescription for Well-Being.

"He’s delved deeply into his sense of wonder at the human body’s capacity to sustain life and to support our pursuits of order and meaning."
National Public Radio

Friday, February 06, 2009

Rep. Ackerman on Madoff Fraud

This is what all of our representatives should be doing - this guy is my new hero. This comes after the Madoff whistle-blower testified about how many briefs he had filed (over 9 years) and how each of them fell on deaf ears.

First the whistle-blower:

Now the interrogation by Ackerman of those involved.

This morning, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises is holding a hearing to assess the alleged $50 billion investment fraud engineered by Mr. Bernard L. Madoff. This is the second in a series of hearings that will help to guide the work of the Financial Services Committee and the Capital Markets Subcommittee in the 111th Congress in undertaking the most substantial rewrite of the laws governing the U.S. financial markets since the Great Depression. Rep. Gary Ackerman questioned witnesses from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Learn more at:

Slate - Must-Geek TV - Is the world ready for an Asperger's sitcom?

The Big Bang Theory is my favorite sit-com. Well, actually, it's the ONLY sit-com I watch religiously. So I enjoyed this Slate article looking at the fact that one of the main characters is clearly someone suffering from a relatively extreme case of Asperger's Syndrome, one of the autistic spectrum disorders.

Here's a clip that they discuss in the article:

Here is the article:

Must-Geek TV - Is the world ready for an Asperger's sitcom?

Sheldon and Leonard from THE BIG BANG THEORY on CBS. Click image to expand.

Picture a man and a woman in a car. The woman appears hungover and irate, and the man maintains a nonstop patter to engage her, oblivious to her fraying temper: "I'll say an element, and you say an element whose name starts with the last letter of the one I said." No response. "I'll start!" he blurts, ignoring her body language. He heedlessly bores through helium, mercury, ytterbium, molybdenum, and more until he reaches mendelevium—and her last nerve. "Get out!" she commands. When he does, he's startled to find that she's not asking him to look at the car engine.

For some therapists, this is a familiar scene: a guy enthusiastically firing on all conversational cylinders at precisely the wrong moment and then puzzled by a hostile response. But it's not an autism spectrum disorder case study—it's a clip from The Big Bang Theory.

How do you build a sitcom around a neurological condition without uttering its name? That's the challenge CBS faces in its show about the travails of four Caltech researchers: experimental physicist Dr. Leonard Hofstadter (played by Johnny Galecki), engineer Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg), astrophysicist Dr. Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar), and theoretical physicist Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons). The running joke of The Big Bang Theory is that these guys are brilliant at understanding the workings of the universe, yet hopeless at socializing with Penny (Kaley Cuoco), a waitress who lives next door. But a more subtle theme is that Sheldon—flat-toned, gawky, and rigidly living by byzantine rules and routines—appears to have Asperger's syndrome.

It's a resemblance that has not gone unnoticed in online forums by Aspies and those around them. "I'm the mom of a kid who has Asperger's," comments one respondent at the blog My Favorite Autistic. "I happened upon this show tonight, and I was glued to the t.v. watching it." A Canadian blog reader marvels: "It's never stated, but golly! How could he NOT be an Aspie?" And while not everyone with the condition appreciates the character, others respond in ways that simply speak volumes: "This is the first show I really get and laugh at," reads one post in a U.S. Asperger forum.

Sheldon is an exaggerated sitcom characterization, granted, and yet how else does one describe a string theorist who insists on playing Klingon Boggle and Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock? A prodigy who experimented with his home's staircases to find the exact variant in height at which his father would trip? Who discourses at length upon the precise parameters of Christmas gift-giving? Or who refers to engineers as "semi-skilled labor"—and is then surprised when they take offense?

"I know all of these guys," attests Discover science columnist and avowed fan Dr. Phil Plait in a phone call from his home in Boulder, Colo. Plait, a former astronomy professor who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, recalls some colleagues who were so obliviously brusque and arrogant that "you'd want to push them into traffic"—and yet who were brilliant thinkers. "Whoever wrote The Big Bang Theory understands geeks."

He's right.

"I had a short-lived career as a computer programmer," admits co-creator Bill Prady on the phone from Warner Bros. Television. "I was a college dropout in New York City, working at a RadioShack, and I got involved creating the FilePro software for the TRS-80 at my friend Howie's place in Brooklyn." That would be Howard Wolowitz—whose name is now immortalized as one of the show's main characters.

The Big Bang Theory updated itself by making its protagonists into physicists and tossing in wheezes like the spherical cow joke—the kind of in-joke that only a science audience would even get. The tangles of equations on Sheldon and Leonard's apartment whiteboard are an actual ongoing problem written for the show by a UCLA physics professor, and there's talk of Nobel physicist George Smoot making a cameo on the show. It's a series laughing with geeks, not at them—and it's humor that finds its perfect vehicle in the geekiest of neurological conditions.

So why is Asperger's never mentioned? Producer Chuck Lorre has denied that Sheldon is meant to be on the autism spectrum. But whether intended or not, the show's writers have been asked about Asperger's so often that they're clearly aware of its subtext when having a crowd of postdocs debate whether Superman jumps or flies.

"I just think of his actions as 'Sheldony.' Some things feel instinctively correct for his character," says Prady, who recalls one software colleague who couldn't go anywhere alone that he hadn't been to before. "He'd say, 'I can't go to 47th Street Photo by myself.' And it was maybe three blocks away. It was never questioned. Quirks were never challenged—they were simply accepted as a quality of the person."

"Are these things Asperger's?" he asks. "I don't know."

Asked point-blank in this video response on a Variety blog, though, actor Jim Parsons says that he was startled when fan questions led him to descriptions of Asperger's syndrome that perfectly matched the character he'd been hired to play. So does Sheldon have it?

"The writers say no, he doesn't. ..." Parson shrugs in his response, "[But] I can say that he couldn't display more facets of it."

In the hands of lesser writers, Sheldon Cooper would simply be a perpetual straight man to the world's madcap social codes—a sort of neurological Margaret Dumont. And yet what's remarkable about The Big Bang Theory is that it actually cares about its smart characters. All its male protagonists are geeks. But instead of the geeks serving as a foil to polished Hollywood protagonists, it's the perpetually exasperated Penny—the one typical character—that is the foil for them as she explains why women might not want their advice on buying tampons.

While characters like Mr. Spock and Data hold a certain honorary status in the Asperger's community, Sheldon is different: He's a human puzzling over the fascinating life-forms of Pasadena. And with Big Bang now shown everywhere from Iceland to the Philippines, he's poised to become a pop-culture emblem of the Aspie. That might not be such a bad thing. As exasperating as he can be, Sheldon's remarkably well-adapted to his world. Beneath the sitcom pratfalls, The Big Bang Theory is a meditation on how bright people work with the absurdly mismatched abilities that they've been given. For a comedy, that's an inspired—even noble—premise to work from.

For fun, here is another clip, this one is of Sheldon at the DMV.

Does Ann Coulter Have Opposable Thumbs?

What an excellent and entertaining book review!

Margaret and Helen (Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting…) is a funny (and sweet) blog. But this review of Ann Coulter's latest moronic screed is the best.

Does Ann Coulter Have Opposable Thumbs?

Margaret, you are the only person for whom I would do this. Reading Ann Coulter’s book is like chewing aspirin without water. I just finished another chapter and I am sitting here wondering if anyone has actually seen Ann using complex tools like a ball point pen or say… I don’t know… a toaster? After reading the 4th chapter of her book I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she actually doesn’t even have opposable thumbs. I could be wrong, but it is hard to believe that the person who wrote this book is also capable of fine motor skills.

You might have to read these next lines more than once. It is very difficult trying to summarize the logic being used by Coulter in this chapter titled: Witless Witnesses to History. Try typing that 10 times with no opposable thumbs and a size 17 foot in your mouth! I can only assume she was under deadline and needed to fill some pages.

According to Coulter, some Republicans are idiots because they write books calling other Republicans idiots. Now Margaret, help me out here. Ann is calling some Republicans idiots for writing books where they say nasty things about other Republicans, but in this chapter alone Ann trashes about a dozen Republicans for doing this. So doesn’t that make Ann an idiot a dozen times over? I hope you can follow that because I read the whole chapter and I am still confused.

Now if the chapter was written by say - a sloth - then I might understand. But this book is written by a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author. It says so right there on the jacket cover above the picture of Ann. Come to think of it, Ann is not only hiding her feet in that picture, she is also hiding her thumbs. I wonder…

Basically the chapter is making the case that the media loves it when Republicans turn on one another but tends to ignore it when a Democrat turns on a Democrat. I guess Ann never turned on the TV or opened a newspaper during the 100-year war otherwise known as the Clinton-Obama primary elections. Of course turning on a TV and opening a newspaper is more difficult when you don’t have opposable thumbs.

Look folks. This latest chapter is just stupid and I am not going to waste any more time trying to explain it. If you buy the book skip pages 111-135. Ann must have been off her meds while writing them.

And there is another chapter I would like to close as well. That would be the chapter in history where anyone cares what Dick Cheney has to say. I feel bad too because Dick and I are both senior citizens, although at age 103, he now has 20 years on me. You realize, of course, he is now aging in dog years. That happens to you after you pee on the White House lawn a few times.

You know what Dick? Shut the hell up. You had eight years to scare the American people into hysteria so that you could get away with murder. And I use the word murder not to complete an expression, but rather literally. It was an illegal war. If it were up to me we’d throw you in a cell and read Chapter 4 of Ann Coulter’s book to you non-stop.

Sorry I got off-topic there everyone, but you seem to do it all the time in the comments so you can’t hold it against me. Three chapters to go and then we can leave Ms. Coulter behind. Hang in there. I mean it. Really.

There are several more Coulter-related posts over at their blog (Helen is summarizing Ann Coulter’s new book for Margaret so she doesn’t have to buy it herself) - Wow! What a friend.

William Irwin Thompson - Postscript on the Shift from a Capitalist to a Noetic Economy

A while back, I posted this article from William Irwin Thompson on the Shift from a Capitalist to a Noetic Economy. Here is a follow-up piece recently posted at Wild River Review.

Postscript on the Shift from a Capitalist to a Noetic Economy

When a system malfunctions, or becomes dysfunctional under new evolutionary circumstances and environments, it goes bump in the night and makes a lot of noise. The accumulation of noise helps to draw the system from one basin of attraction to another. We are now in this period of shift. An "out of the blue" attractor is emerging and drawing the noise of the old system toward a new basin--sort of like a black hole beginning to form a new galaxy. This will take time, so continue to breathe.

Our national crisis is all about the cultural evolution of Money. Barter was a symbolic system in which one concrete object stood for another concrete object. Coinage was a symbolic system in which metal stood for all concrete objects. Paper was a symbolic system that stood for metal; and now we are evolving a new system in which X stands for money. X may be an unknown, but we do know it is not the old industrial nation-state. Hitherto, the Chinese et alia bought nation-state futures in the form of U.S. Treasury bills; now fear is making them lose their confidence, so rich folks everywhere are looking for other currencies in which to park their fortunes, but are finding all monies in crisis: Euros, Pounds, Yen, Yuan, even Swiss Francs.

So liquidity is turning into a volatile gas and not back to a solid. As a gas, or atmosphere, it is both local and global, so some larger emergence is probably invisibly in front of us as well as the return of local currencies. Great Barrington, Mass.--where the Schumacher Society is located--already has a local currency to protect local businesses from the threat of Wal-Mart. Interestingly, Big Box stores are closing in this crisis.

In the evolution of the cell, when poisonous oxygen began to accumulate, mitochondria were incorporated as endosymbiotic organelles because they could consume the poison and generate ATP as the new energy that made larger cells with nuclei possible. By packing our genes into a nucleus and dividing genomes through meiosis, generations became different from one another in diploid reproduction, and so sex served to accelerate the rate of evolutionary change and the emergence of even greater complexity and diversity. So the little made the large possible, and mitochondria with their ancient DNA remain in charge of the health of multicellular organisms through their role in cell death (apoptosis).

So the question for our new "out of the blue" attractor of this Gaia Politique is how do we turn the poisons of all that bad debt into energy for evolutionary transformation? (Republicans, close your ears now!) Yes, government needs to get larger. But society will also get smaller at the same time in micro economies and local currencies. We shouldn't give money to banks hoping that they will extend loans to businesses in the hope that they will hire rather than fire workers. We need to integrate the toxic banks in the new cell by taking them over with a Federal Board of Governors, while letting solvent banks continue as free agents, much in the same way that UPS and Fed EX compete with the U.S. Postal Service. And instead of just giving money to the executives of GM and Chrysler, the government should buy their stock, vote on their board of directors, compel them to make greener vehicles, and place its stock in a U.S. Citizens Mutual Fund in which all taxpayers have a share. This mutual fund would exist alongside other private funds, and would be an asset for citizens along with their Social Security.

Now just as the cell is a messy conglomeration of molecules, amino acids, and cytoplasmic organelles, and not an empire run from the capital of the nucleus, so would this Gaian cell not be a linear socialist system run exclusively by the government. The large and the little would be in a mutually energizing complex dynamical system, for local currencies would be springing up in "dependent co-origination" with the national currency.

Just as eukaryotic cells did not outgrow their need for mitochondria, with their ancient DNA and conservative ways, so we never outgrow our need for Republicans. Without Republicans, governments would become bureaucratic and Kafkaesque. Without liberals, business would be what it became under Bush and the neocons: a Wild West of tax cut libertarians, deregulating outlaws, opportunists like Thain, and sociopaths like Madoff.

The old attractor was the heat of greed and the Brownian motion of random agents called individuals. The new attractor would appear to be community and self-organizing, autopoietic cells: subscription farming, local farmers' markets, the greening of towns and small cities, and local noetic institutions energizing new community enterprises of bakeries, restaurants, micro-breweries, and artisanal productions--communities like Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Ithaca, New York, or Burlington, Vermont.

Thinking of retiring? Forget about Republican condos with golf courses in Fort Lauderdale or Scottsdale; think college town.

Cultural Historian William Irwin Thompson writes regularly for Wild River Review

The Daily Show - Why Are You Such a Dick? - Audio Tape

Dick Cheney lets everyone know that Barack Obama will be responsible if there's another terrorist attack. What an asshat. Jon Stewart is in good form in this piece.

In The Know: Are Reality Shows Setting Unrealistic Standards For Skanks?

The Onion News Network looks at the skank standards being set in reality TV shows. Yes, this is satire.

In The Know: Are Reality Shows Setting Unrealistic Standards For Skanks?

Anthony B Kelly - Aristotle, Teilhard de Chardin, and the Explanation of the World

An interesting and thought-provoking article from Quodlibet Journal.

Aristotle, Teilhard de Chardin, and the Explanation of the World

Aristotle, some three hundred years before Christ, noted the fact that everything which existed in the world was contingent, that is, it depended on something else for its existence. From the contingent nature of everything in the world he argued that there had to be a non-contingent or self-existent entity, a God, to account for those contingent things. He also argued that God could not love man. He had analysed friendship and love and he concluded that the only true love or friendship was between beings who were similar and equally good. This ruled man out. God could only love another being, another entity, who was similar to God.

While Aristotle was able to argue from the world up to God, he was unable to argue his way back down again from God to the world. God had to be perfect, but the world was obviously imperfect. Why would a perfect God make an imperfect world? Aristotle could not find a satisfactory explanation for our imperfect world.

The imperfection of the world has also been a problem for religion. A common religious explanation has been that God made the world perfect but that man messed it up. Now that we know that the world has evolved, this explanation no longer works. It never really worked. The buck would still have stopped with God, who made man.

A self-existent and good God could only love another self-existent and good entity, in effect another god. How could there be another god? God could not create another God. A created entity, a creature, would not be self-existent.

So we have a complex problem. A perfect God could need nothing. Love, not need, can be the only motive for God to act, for God to do anything. God could only love another self-existent and good entity. But the only explanation of the existence of our contingent world is God. So why would God make an imperfect world?

There is a possible resolution to this problem. While God could not create another god, He could initiate a process which could possibly lead to the self-creation of such an entity. A process involving self-creation, particularly one which extended its self-creation to the sphere of goodness, could possibly lead to the production of an entity which was both self-created and good, and so appropriate for God to love. Such a process of self-creation would have to be largely free from Divine interference, and would have to have the potential to lead to the production of an entity similar to God.

While God is spirit, and something which also had a spiritual nature would be the desired outcome of the process, a self-creating process which aimed at a spiritual outcome would have to be initiated at a lower level than spirit. It could then possibly work its way towards a more spiritual outcome by stages.

Something would have to be created as the basis upon which the self-creating process could be initiated. This initial stage would not need to be able to exercise very much freedom. It could be made subject to rigid deterministic laws, but the interaction of these deterministic laws could lead to a variety of possible outcomes. If initiated on a sufficiently large scale, and extending for whatever time was necessary, this initial stage could eventually produce an appropriate platform for the initiation of a subsequent stage, or stages, which in turn could exercise greater degrees of freedom.

A series of such stages could eventually provide a platform for the introduction of a spiritual stage which could exercise total freedom in the sphere of goodness. Such a totally free stage could possibly give rise to an entity which was perfectly good, a self-created and good entity which it would be appropriate for God to love.

Aristotle failed in his attempt to provide an explanation of man and the world. He did not have a progressive concept of the world and he did not have an accurate picture of the world, such as we have gained from Science.

What do we know that Aristotle did not know? Two things come immediately to mind. Most obviously, Aristotle did not know about the Big Bang or about evolution. Less obviously but more importantly, he did not possess the concept of a progressive process. His world was a static world, where any processes were circular rather than progressive, being based on the circular biological model, from seed to tree to seed.

We owe our progressive evolutionary perspective on the world primarily to Teilhard de Chardin.
Read the rest of the article.

Steven Pinker at Big Think

A series of short videos featuring Steven Pinker has been posted over at Big Think. Here are a few that I found interesting. As usual, I don't entirely agree with him on a lot of his views, but he is a fascinating and challenging thinker.

What is your outlook?

On absolutes and relatives

What do you believe?

Who are we?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Slate - Coraline Will Freak Out Your Kids in Both Good and Bad Ways

Coraline sounds like an intriguing film, based on the work of very good (and strange) writer, Neil Gaiman. This is one of those animated films that needs to be seen in the theater for the full experience. Trailer below the review.

Based on the trailer, I think the style of this film owes a lot to the freakishly disturbing stop-motion work of the Brothers Quay. To see an example of their work, check out this video, Push It, from Tool.

Button EyesCoraline will freak out your kids in both good and bad ways

Coraline (Focus Features), an animated feature based on the young-adult novel by Neil Gaiman and directed by Henry Selick, sticks a colorful crazy straw into the well of children's literature and drinks long and deep. Like Alice in Alice in Wonderland, the heroine, an 11-year-old only child, goes down a hole and emerges in another world. Like the siblings in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, she discovers that portal in a forgotten corner of her own house. The alternate universe she visits at first seduces her with its seemingly unlimited pleasures—shades of Pinocchio's Land of Toys—but like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, she's soon desperate only to go home.

As it moves into its ghoulish second act, though, Coraline has less in common with these nursery classics than with Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The world that Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) enters through that bricked-up wall is an uncanny double of her own, minus (or so it seems) all the bad parts. Her crabby and work-obsessed parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) have been replaced with jolly sycophants eager to satisfy her every desire: Suddenly, her mother whips up perfect dinners, her father has planted a fantastical garden in the shape of Coraline's face, and the dining room chandelier doubles as a milkshake dispenser. The Jones' eccentric neighbors, a Russian acrobat (Ian McShane) and two aged burlesque dancers (Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders) have been transformed into younger and kindlier versions of themselves who put on fabulous shows each night for Coraline and her friend Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.). The only downside to this Land of Cockaigne: All of its denizens have flat, glossy black buttons instead of eyes. A detail Coraline's willing to overlook, until the "other mother" starts demanding that Coraline take a nice sharp needle and sew on some eye-buttons of her own: "Soon, you'll see things our way." Uh-oh.

Coraline is at its best in this middle section, before the somewhat muddled cosmology that links these twin universes begins to unravel. The film's groundbreaking animation technique—it's the first stop-motion feature film to be made in three dimensions—is uniquely suited to re-creating the sensory overload Coraline experiences as she steps into this brave new world. Unlike CGI, stop-motion animation is a tactile medium, its textures and volumes vividly palpable. The pink, gabled house in which Coraline and her parents live looks and feels like a dollhouse full of marvelous small objects (a tiny stuffed toy, a hand-stitched sweater) that the viewer wants to reach in and touch—and the subtly realized 3-D effects make that interaction with the image seem almost possible. The skinny-limbed, blue-haired Coraline and her castmates are actual dolls, figures that had to be moved against real (if computer-enhanced) backgrounds by human hands. For fans of the old Rankin-Bass holiday specials who've never quite been convinced by the shimmering gradients of computer-generated animation, this puppetry aspect of Coraline is deeply satisfying. While it's way more visually sophisticated than Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, it has a touch of that show's endearing wonkiness.

It's impossible to get into just why and how Coraline's last third falls apart without giving away too much of the story. But it's not revealing to say that Coraline's enchantment with the alternate universe needed a more gradual rate of decay for the shift to be convincing. When she discovers the real motivations of the other mother, the film abruptly turns from an allegory about childhood longing into a routine escape-from-the-bad-guy adventure (albeit one with fabulously nonroutine visuals, including a Matrix-like moment in which Coraline reaches the edges of the alternate universe and runs through a featureless, all-white no man's land). Moment by moment, the film is a font of pleasures, yet there's something about it that keeps the audience at an aesthetic remove. Like Coraline in the doppelgänger world, we swoon over all the neat stuff without ever making ourselves at home.

One last note: Coraline's PG rating should have come with an asterisk, specifying that it's up to each individual parent (or her psychoanalyst) to gauge whether her child is old enough to deal with the appallingly scary premise of a mother replaced by a fiendish, insatiable double bent on stealing her child's eyes. I'm 42, and I'm not sure I can handle that yet. Is there such a thing as PG-43?

Trailer, in wide-screen format:

Weekend America - Women Power Lifting

Very cool - women can be damn strong and still be, well, women. Very inspiring!

Women Power Lifting

Larger view
Faith Ireland
(Jeannie Yandel)
View the Slideshow

Jeannie Yandel

This weekend a woman in Seattle is trying to lift 290 pounds. She's a former Washington State Supreme Court justice. And she's also a member of the best women's masters powerlifting team in the country. Masters means over 40 years old. In two weeks, Faith and the rest of her team will defend their title at the USA Powerlifting Women's Nationals in Miami. Jeannie Yandel explains how Faith went from being one of the most important judges in Washington to one of the best powerlifters in the country.

Faith Ireland's used to being a pioneer. In 1999, she was one of the first women on the Washington State Supreme Court. Before that, she was one of the first female superior court judges for King County - that's the county Seattle's in. Today, she's a different kind of trailblazer. She takes a deep breath as she lifts a 275 pound barbell off the ground and up to her hips. She exhales as she puts it back down on the ground. She's successfully completed a deadlift.

"That's the American record for women my age in weight", says Faith. "I hold that record, and I want to break it in this next meet. If I hit a personal best, you'll hear me jumping around and squeaking."

Faith Ireland is 66, about five-foot-three-inches, and 135 pounds. She looks healthy, but not overly muscular and veiny like you might expect. She discovered powerlifting by accident, literally.

"I was in a car wreck in 1983, and I spent 15 years in agony with my back," says Faith. "Then I actually had a juror talk about lifting weights to overcome back injury when he was talking with the lawyers about his back injury." Faith had tried lifting weights for her back before. But she was so inspired by what the juror said, she was determined to try again. She found a new trainer, a guy named Willie Austin. He was a powerlifting coach, so Faith hoped he'd push her to lift through her pain. Faith was 55 and in her first year on the Supreme Court when she started training with Willie. She was also 30 pounds overweight.

"Willie was the person who got me out of pain and strong and starting to lose weight, so I would do whatever he told me," Faith says.

What Willie told Faith to do was compete in a local powerlifting match. She didn't win, but she found she loved challenging her body that way. She entered women's nationals and lost again. But the experience galvanized her to get ready for next time. For many people, two losses would have been enough to make them stop powerlifting. But not Faith.

"I've never been a quitter," laughs Faith. "When I start something, I stick with it."

Sticking with it meant Faith had to perfect three moves. The deadlift, or pull, is what Faith did when she lifted that 275 pound barbell. There's also the squat, where you hold a barbell above your shoulders and slowly bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground, and then you stand back up. Then there's the bench press, or the push. That's probably the most well-known of the powerlifting moves. You lie on your back on a bench and push a barbell up from your chest and back down.

None of these moves are easy to do right. But everyone in Faith's gym stops what they're doing to cheer on another lifter during a tough push or pull. The place almost feels like a secret clubhouse. The gym's in the basement of an office building in downtown Seattle. It's not visible from the street. And you can't get in unless someone lets you in. Faith is an elite member of this club.

So is her teammate, Natalie Harmon. Nat looks like Justine Bateman - if Justine Bateman could deadlift 330 pounds. Nat has an unconventional method to pump up for tough deadlifts. "I get a kick out of a smack", she divulges with a smile. "If I'm pushing I'll smack my face. I'll often leave with a handprint on my leg."

Sometimes the person who smacks Natalie is the women's masters' coach, Todd Christensen. He's been a powerlifting coach for 25 years. And he first met Faith when she needed help putting on a bench shirt. That's a tight shirt powerlifters wear for support during the bench press. He was pulling it over her head, his hand slipped, and he smacked her upside the head.

"I thought, 'That's great, my introduction to the Supreme Court justice.'" Todd shakes his head and chuckles at the memory. "Then she looked at me and said, 'Look Todd, I'm tough. I'm not a…'" He stops and looks at me. "Are you gonna edit this?" he asks. I say yes, and Todd then uses a word for wimp we can't use here. "I'm like, 'That's great, you're my kind of gal,'" Todd says with a grin.

Todd's coaching made Faith more than a stronger powerlifter. The physical discipline and the concentration the sport requires made her a more focused justice. In 2005, after six years on the Supreme Court, Faith decided to step down. Justices are elected here in Washington State, and Faith did not want to go through another campaign. She says she doesn't miss being a judge, but she misses her colleagues at the Supreme Court. She's OK with that, though.

Faith smiles as she describes life with her new colleagues, her fellow powerlifters. "We get together at holidays, we get in tiffs, we have irritations. But there is a closeness. And they're my most immediate peer group, even beyond lawyers and judges. We're like family."

This weekend is Faith's last heavy deadlift workout before Women's Nationals. Next weekend, she'll gear up and work on heavy squats and bench presses. After that, she and her second family will back off the heavy lifting to rest up and heal before heading to Miami to defend their title as the best women's masters powerlifting team in the United States.

The Ecologist - Life, Religion and Everything

Rupert Sheldrake, an outcast among "real" scientists, thinks we need the help of religion to save the planet. I'm sure this stance is enough to make Sam Harris pen another book extolling the relative virtues of atheism.
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Laura Sevier 21/01/2009

Biologist and author Rupert Sheldrake believes that the world’s religions have a crucial role in restoring the earth’s ecological balance. Laura Sevier meets the man trying to broker a better relationship between God, man, science and the natural world.

A long, low drone fills the air. We are all chanting the same sound: OOOOOOOHHHHHHHH. Whistling overtones start to ring out above the group sound and then a lone female voice sings out:

Where I sit is holy
Holy is the ground
Forest mountain river listen to my sound
Great spirit circling all around.

The voice then invites everyone to join in and we sing this verse seven or eight times. Then there is silence.

It’s not often you attend a talk given by an eminent scientist that begins with a session of Mongolian overtone chanting followed by a Native American Indian song about the holiness of the earth. It’s especially surreal given that we’re sitting on neat little rows of chairs in a Unitarian Church in Hampstead, in London.

I was there to listen to renowned English biologist Rupert Sheldrake talk about how the world’s religions can learn to live with ecological integrity. The chanting, it appears, is the warm-up act, led by Sheldrake’s wife, Jill Purce, a music healer.

So far so extraordinary, but then Sheldrake is no ordinary man. A respected scientist from a largely conventional educational background, he’s devoted much of the past 17 years of his life to studying the sort of phenomena that most ‘serious’ scientists dismiss out of hand, such as telepathy, our ‘seventh sense’. But religion? Given the current trend for militant atheism within science, I’m amazed. Besides, isn’t religion incompatible with science? Not according to Sheldrake, an Anglican Christian. ‘One of my main concerns is the opening up of science. Another is exploring the connections between science and spirituality,’ he says.

His take on religion – and science – is refreshingly unorthodox precisely because it factors in a crucial new element: nature. ‘The thrust of my work is trying to break out of the mechanistic view of nature as inanimate, dead and machine-like.’ In fact his 1991 book The Rebirth of Nature: the Greening of Science and God (Inner Traditions Bear & Company, £11.99) was devoted to showing ‘how we can once again think of nature as alive’ – and sacred.

The sacred earth

Our culture seems to have lost touch with any idea of the land as being alive and sacred and anyone who considers it to be so is often branded a tree-hugging hippie and treated with ridicule or suspicion. Land is mostly valued purely in economic terms. Yet no value is attributed to the irreplaceable benefits derived from the normal functioning of the natural world, which assures the stability of our climate, the fertility of our soil, the replenishment of our water.

Religion has, until recently, remained pretty quiet on the issue.

As Edward Goldsmith wrote in the Ecologist in 2000, mainstream religions have become increasingly ‘otherworldly’. They have ‘scarcely any interest’ in the natural world at all. Traditionally, religion used to play an integral role in linking people to the natural world, imbuing people with the knowledge and values that make caring for it a priority. ‘Mainstream religion’ Goldsmith wrote ‘has failed the earth. It has lost its way, and needs to return to its roots.’

So if the world’s religions are to play a part in saving what remains of the natural world, they not only need to return to their roots but also to confront the threat and scale of the global ecological crisis we now face. This means being open to a dialogue with science. ‘No religions, when they were growing up, had to deal with our present situation and ecological crisis,’ says Sheldrake. ‘People thought they could take the earth more or less for granted. Certainly the idea that human beings could transform the climate through their actions was unheard of. This is a new situation for everybody, for religious people and scientists, for traditional cultures and modern scientific ones. We’re all in this together.’

Environmental sin ‘Religion and Ecology’ is now a subject of serious academic study. The Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, for example, recently explored the ecological dimension of all the major world religions. The ongoing environmental crisis has sparked a ‘bringing together’ of the world’s religions in a series of interreligious meetings and conferences around the world on the theme of ‘Religion, Science and the Environment’, exploring the response that religious communities can make. These brought together scientists, bishops, rabbis, marine biologists and philosophers in a way that, according to Sheldrake, ‘really worked’.

Within many religions, including all branches of Christianity, there’s an attempt to recover that sense of connection with nature. ‘There’s a lot going on,’ says Sheldrake, ‘even within the group seen as lagging the furthest behind – the American Evangelicals, who are somewhat retrogressive in relation to the environment.’

Some evangelicals who believe in the Rapture and think the world is soon to end have expressed the view that there’s no point in attempting to save the environment because it’s all going to be discarded like a used tissue.

But a more environmentally friendly view is held by the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), a group of individuals and organisations including World Vision, World Relief and the International Bible Society. An Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation, its landmark credo published in 1991, begins: ‘We believe that biblical faith is essential to the solution of our ecological problems... Because we worship and honour the Creator we seek to cherish and care for the creation. Because we have sinned, we have failed our stewardship of creation. Therefore we repent of the way we have polluted, distorted or destroyed so much of the Creator’s work.’

It then commits to work for reconciliation of people and the healing of suffering creation.

The belief that environmental destruction is a sin isn’t a new concept. The spirituality of native American Indians, for instance, is a land-based one. In this culture, the world is animate, natural things are alive and everything is imbued with spirit.

In the words of John Mohawk, native American chief: ‘The natural world is our Bible. We don’t have chapters and verses; we have trees and fish and animals… The Indian sense of natural law is that nature informs us and it is our obligation to read nature as you would a book, to feel nature as you would a poem, to touch nature as you would yourself, to be part of that and step into its cycles as much as you can.’

Most importantly, environmental destruction is seen as a sin.

Loss of the sacred

The question is, how did we lose the sacred connection with the natural world? Where did religion and culture go wrong? According to Sheldrake, the break began in the 16th century. Until then there were pagan festivals, such as May Day, that celebrated the seasons and the fertility of the land; there were nature shrines, holy wells and sacred places.

But with the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century there was an attempt by the reformers, who couldn’t find anything about these ‘pagan’ practices in the Bible, to stamp them out. In the 17th century the Puritans brought a further wave of suppression of these things – banning, for example, Maypole dancing (Maypoles being a symbol of male fertility). ‘There was a deliberate attempt to get rid of all the things that connected people to the sacredness of the land and it largely succeeded,’ says Sheldrake.

Another factor he believes severed our connection is the view of nature as a machine. ‘From the time of our remotest ancestors until the 17th century, it was taken for granted that the world of nature was alive, that the universe was alive and that all animals were not only alive but had souls – the word “animal” comes from the word “anima”, meaning soul. This was the standard view, even within the Church. Medieval Christianity was based on an animate form of nature – a kind of Christian animism.’

But this model of a living world was replaced by the idea of the universe as a machine, an idea that stems from the philosophy of Rene Descartes. Nature was no more than dead matter and everything was viewed as mechanical, governed by mathematical principles instead of animating souls.

‘This mechanistic view of nature,’ Sheldrake says, ‘is an extremely limiting and alienating one. It forces the whole of our understanding of nature into a machine metaphor – the universe as a machine, animals and plants as machines, you as a machine, the brain as a machine. It’s a very man-centered metaphor, as only people make machines. So looking at nature in this way projects one aspect of human activity onto the whole of nature.’

It is this view, he says, that led to our current crisis. ‘If you assume that nature is inanimate, then nothing natural has a life, purpose, or value. Natural resources are there to be developed, and the only value placed on them is by market forces and official planners. And if you assume that only humans are conscious, only humans have reason, and therefore only humans have true value, then it’s fine to have animals in factory farms and to exploit the world in whatever way you like, and if you do conserve any bit of the earth then you have to conserve it with human ends in mind. Everything is justified in human terms.’

The mechanistic theory has become a kind of religion that is built into the official orthodoxy of economic progress and, through technology’s successes, is now triumphant on a global scale. ‘So,’ says Sheldrake, ‘this combination of science, technology, secular humanism and rationalism – all these philosophies that dominate the modern age – open the way for untrammelled exploitation of the earth that is going on everywhere today.’

The living universe

It seems like a pretty bleak vision. But there is an alternative: to allow our own experience and intuition to help us see nature and the universe as alive. ‘Many people have emotional connections with particular places associated with their childhood, or feel an empathy with animals or plants, or are inspired by the beauty of nature, or experience a mystical sense of unity with the natural world,’ Sheldrake says. ‘Our private relationship with nature presupposes that nature is alive.’

In other words, we don’t need to be told by science, religion or anyone that it is alive, valuable and worthy of respect and reverence. Deep down, we can feel it for ourselves. Many people have urges to get ‘back to nature’ in some way, to escape the confines of concrete and head for the hills, the sea, a park or even a small patch of grass. These impulses are moving us in the right direction.

Another way forward is through new revolutionary insights within science. ‘Science itself is leading us away from this view of nature as a machine towards a much more organic view of living in the world,’ says Sheldrake. ‘The changes are happening in independent parts of science for different reasons, but all of them are pointing in the same direction: the view of a very organic, creative world.’

The big bang theory gives a new model of the universe that is more like a developing organism, growing spontaneously and forming totally new structures within it. The concept of quantum physics has broken open many of our ideas of the mechanistic universe. The old idea of determinism has given way to indeterminism and chaos theory. The old idea of the earth as dead has given way to Gaia, the living earth. The old idea of the universe as uncreative has given way to the new idea of creative evolution, first in the realm of living things, through Darwin, and now we see that the whole cosmos is in creative evolution. So, if the whole universe is alive, if the universe is like a great organism, then everything within it is best understood as alive.

Encouraging dialogue

This has opened up new possibilities for a dialogue between science and religion. ‘These changing frontiers of science are making it much easier to see that we’re all part of, and dependent on, a living earth; and for those of us who follow a religion, to see the living God as the living world,’ says Sheldrake. Such insights breathe new meaning into traditional religions, their practices and seasonal festivals.

For example, all religions provide opportunities for giving thanks, both through simple everyday rituals, like saying grace, and also in collective acts of thanksgiving. These expressions of gratitude can help to remind us that we have much to be thankful for. But as Sheldrake points out, ‘It’s hard to feel a sense of gratitude for an inanimate, mechanical world.’

Helping people see the land as sacred again Sheldrake maintains, is one of the major roles of religion. ‘They all point towards a larger whole: the wholeness of creation and a larger story than our own individual story. All religions tell stories about our place in the world, our relation to other people and to the world in which we live. In that sense all religions relate us to the earth and the heavens.’

Sheldrake thinks we need stories: ‘It’s part of our nature. Science gives us stories, too – the universe story. So does TV, fiction, books.’ And these stories, in his view, unify us in a way that, for instance, some New Age practices (such as personal shrines) don’t. While those things have personal value, they don’t have the unifying function that a traditional religion does. ‘When you go to a Hindu festival or pilgrimage, you see thousands of people coming together, the whole community united by a common story or a celebration of a sacred place.’

The fascinating thing about Rupert Sheldrake is his ability to assimilate ideas from an array of different subjects that are normally kept separate, draw new connections and conclusions and open up new dialogues. He’s certainly not afraid to explore new territory or use new metaphors. Thus the big bang is like ‘the primal orgasm’ or like ‘the breaking open of the cosmic egg’.

When talking about the discovery that 95 per cent of the universe is ‘dark matter’ or unknown, he says, ‘it is as if science has discovered the cosmic unconscious’. He embraces the idea of ‘Mother Nature’ – in fact he believes the old intuition of nature as Mother still affects our personal responses to it and conditions our response to the ecological crisis. ‘We feel uncomfortable when we recognise that we are polluting our own Mother; it is easier to rephrase the problem in terms of “inadequate waste management”.’ He sees the green movement as one aspect of ‘Mother Nature reasserting herself, whether we like it or not.’#

One of the most significant implications of Sheldrake’s worldview is that it connects people to the natural world and ‘if people feel more connected to the world around them, they might be less likely to accept its destruction,’ he says. Reframing our view to encompass a world that is alive also, effectively, puts humans back in our proper place in the scheme of things.

Sheldrake’s scientific and philosophical investigation is fuelled by a passionate concern for all of life, and his vision of life expands to the cosmos. If the earth is alive, if the universe is alive, if solar systems are alive, if galaxies are alive, if planets are alive, then causing harm to any of these systems really is a sin; one that we have committed all too willingly for far too long.



• The Vedas (ancient Hindu scriptures) describe how the creator god Vishnu made the universe so that every element is interlinked. A disturbance in one part will upset the balance and impact all the other elements.
• Three important principles of Hindu environmentalism are yajna (sacrifice), dhana (giving) and tapas (penance).
• Yajna entails that you should sacrifice your needs for the sake of others, for nature, the poor or future generations.
• Dhana entails that whatever you consume you must give back.
• Tapas commends self-restraint in your lifestyle.
• Mother Earth is personified in the Vedas as the goddess Bhumi, or Prithvi.
• Hindu businessman Balbir Mathur, inspired by his faith, founded Trees for Life (, a non-profit movement that plants fruit trees in developing countries, to provide sustainable and environmentally-friendly livelihoods.


• Allah has appointed humankind khalifah (steward) over the created world.
• This responsibility is called al-amanah (the trust) and Man will be held accountable to it at the Day of Judgment.
• The Qur’an warns against disturbing God’s natural balance: ‘Do no mischief on the earth after it hath been set in order’ (7:56).
• Shari’ah (Islamic law) designates haram zones, used to contain urban development in protection of natural resources, and hima, specific conservation areas.
• The Islamic foundation for ecology and environmental sciences publishes a newsletter called Eco Islam and organised an organic iftar (the evening meal during Ramadan) in 2006.
• In 2000, IFEES led an Islamic educational programme on the Muslim-majority island of Misali, in response to the destruction to the aquatic ecosystem by over-fishing and the use of dynamite in coral reefs. The environmental message based on the Qur’an initiated sustainable fishing practices.


• The Torah prohibits harming God’s earth: ‘Do not cut down trees even to prevent ambush, do not foul waters, or burn crops even to cause an enemy’s submission’ (Devarim 20:19)
• It teaches humility in the face of nature: ‘Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you; the fish of the sea, they will inform you’ (Job 12:7-9)
• The Talmudic law bal tashchit (do not destroy) was developed by Jewish scholars into a series of specific prohibitions against wasteful actions.
• The Noah Project (www. is a UK-based Jewish environmental organisation, engaged in hands-on conservation work, and promoting environmental responsibility by emphasising the environmental dimensions of Jewish holidays such as Tu B’Shevat (New Year of the Trees).


• Genesis gives a picture of God creating the heavens and earth – and when it was all finished, ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ (1:31) Having made man, he ‘put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it’ (2:15).
• Romans 8:19-22 has been interpreted as a message of redemption for the environment, calling on Christians to work towards the time when ‘the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay’.
• At the UN Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the World Council of Churches formed a working group on climate change. Their manifesto expresses a concern for justice towards developing countries, who are disproportionately affected by climate change, to future generations and to the world. represents Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. It includes links and a daily prayer guide with references both to the Bible and to scientific and news data. Operation Noah is the climate change campaign.


• Buddhist religious ecology is based on three principles: nature as teacher, as a spiritual force, and as a way of life.
• Buddhists believe that nature can teach us about the interdependence and impermanence of life, and that living near to and in tune with nature gives us spiritual strength.
• Buddha commended frugality, avoiding waste, and non-violence.
• Buddhists believe that man should be in harmonious interaction with nature, not a position of authority.
• Philosopher Dr Simon James, based at Durham University,has studied the Buddhist basis of environmentalism and virtue ethics. A spiritually enlightened individual shows compassion, equanimity and humility – qualities that are intrinsic to an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
• The Zen Environmental Studies Institute ( in New York runs programmes in nature study and environmental advocacy, informed by Zen Buddhist meditation.


• Bahá'u'lláh, founder of the Baha'i faith and regarded as a messenger from God, stated ‘nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world’ (the Tablets of Baha’u’llah).
• Baha’is believe that the world reflects God’s qualities and attributes and therefore must be cherished.
• The Baha’i Office of the Environment states: ‘Baha’u’llah’s promise that civilisation will exist on this planet for a minimum of 5,000 centuries makes it unconscionable to ignore the long-term impact of decisions made today. The world community must, therefore, learn to make use of the earth’s natural resources… in a manner that ensures sustainability into the distant reaches of time.’
• The Barli Rural Development Institute in India was inspired by Baha’i social activism. It has trained hundreds of rural women in conservation strategies such as rainwater harvesting and solar cooking. is the newsletter of the Bahai international community.

• Rupert Sheldrake:
• Forum on Religion and Ecology: – the ecological dimension of various religions
• The Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC):