Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche - Unite the teachings with your life


by Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche,
trans. by B. Alan Wallace
and Sangye Khandro


Dharma Quote of the Week

The basic principles and precepts of all true religions are very pure. What you see as impure is simply the inability of those who adhere to them. So as Buddhists, for instance, if you fail to embrace and internalize the basic principles and precepts of the practice, then your mind is always going to be overrun by the five mental afflictions. These negative afflictions are desire, hatred, jealousy, pride, and ignorance. They are the basic obstacles which impede you from making any true progress on the path. It is, in fact, the function of the preliminary training to prepare the field of the mind so that you are actually able to put to rest the gross delusions and give rise to your innermost qualities. This allows you to actualize your true bodhicitta nature, the mind which cares about others more than self.

Leaving aside the idea of the so-called spiritual path, or religion, if you are able to uproot these delusions, the stones and boulders, from the field of your mind, then you will become an honorable person, respected in the world, with an easier, flexible attitude toward yourself and others. If you are able, through your development of wisdom and skillful means, to unite the teachings with your life, then true results will be achieved. (p.96)

--from Meditation, Transformation, and Dream Yoga by Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche, trans. by B. Alan Wallace and Sangye Khandro, published by Snow Lion Publications

Meditation, Transformation, and Dream Yoga • Now at 5O% off
(Good until April 29th).

Andrew Wakefield and the "MMR Vaccine Causes Autism" Deception

The New York Times Magazine has a long feature on the post-disgrace life of Andrew Wakefield, the titular head of the anti-vaccine crowd who has lost his license to practice medicine and been cast as an unethical scientist as a result of his fraudulent study. He was even forced to drop his libel suit against Channel 4 in England because, well, they told the truth (which meant he also had to pay their costs).

P2P Foundation founder Michel Bauwens shared the link on his Facebook page and it created an animated debate between two people who represent the opposing views in the autism debate.

One view, best represented by Jenny McCarthy, is the "science is all lies" and "we can't trust the medical establishment" perspective. She now claims to have cured Even (her son) of autism through diet, an approach saner people have been arguing for decades.

The other view is that "science is the only answer" and "medicine is the only way to discover answers" perspective, best represented by the scientific community who largely dismissed Wakefield's "proof" from day one.

I'm not sure why I weighed in on the discussion, but I did - and it seems to me this is simply one manifestation of how ignorance about science (in general) and the inability to use discernment (in particular) are causing all kinds of problems in our culture. I think this is as true for scientists sometimes as it is for the general populace.

Here is some of the article from the NYT magazine:

The Crash and Burn of an Autism Guru

Published: April 20, 2011

As people streamed into Graceview Baptist Church in Tomball, Tex., early one Saturday morning in January, two armed guards stood prominently just inside the doorway of the sanctuary. Their eyes scanned the room and returned with some frequency to a man sitting near the aisle, whom they had been hired to protect.

The man, Andrew Wakefield, dressed in a blazer and jeans and peering through reading glasses, had a mild professorial air. He tapped at a laptop as the room filled with people who came to hear him speak; he looked both industrious and remote. Broad-shouldered and fair at 54, he still has the presence of the person he once was: a conventional winner, the captain of his medical school’s rugby team, the head boy at the private school he attended in England. Wakefield was a high-profile but controversial figure in gastroenterology research at the Royal Free Hospital in London when, in 1998, he upended his career path — and more significant, the best-laid plans of public-health officials — by announcing at a press conference that he had concerns about the safety of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (M.M.R.) and its relationship to the onset of autism.

Although Wakefield did not claim to have proved that the M.M.R. vaccine (typically given to children at 12 to 15 months) caused autism, his concerns, not his caveats, ricocheted around the world. His belief, based on a paper he wrote about 12 children, is that the three vaccines, given together, can alter a child’s immune system, allowing the measles virus in the vaccine to infiltrate the intestines; certain proteins, escaping from the intestines, could then reach and harm neurons in the brain. Few theories have drawn so much attention and, in turn, so much refutation: a 2003 paper in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, which reviewed a dozen epidemiological studies, concluded that there was no evidence of an association between autism and M.M.R., and studies in peer-reviewed journals since have come to the same conclusion. In Britain, the General Medical Council revoked Wakefield’s medical license after a lengthy hearing, citing numerous ethical violations that tainted his work, like failing to disclose financing from lawyers who were mounting a case against vaccine manufacturers. The Lancet, which published the original Wakefield paper, retracted it. In a series that ran early this year, The British Medical Journal concluded that the research was not just unethically financed but also “fraudulent” (that timelines were misrepresented, for example, to suggest direct culpability of the vaccine).

Andrew Wakefield has become one of the most reviled doctors of his generation, blamed directly and indirectly, depending on the accuser, for irresponsibly starting a panic with tragic repercussions: vaccination rates so low that childhood diseases once all but eradicated here — whooping cough and measles, among them — have re-emerged, endangering young lives.

You can read the article for yourself - it's actually pretty fair.

The following is my comment from this FB discussion - I try to ground my views in the facts, as well as some science that is often not recognized as part of the debate. I have expanded my thoughts a bit here, since this is an easier format to write in than the FB comments box, and I have included links to relevant articles.

* * * *

The facts of the case speak for themselves:
I hate big pharma as much as the next person (and I totally distrusted their flu hysteria last year), but I really HATE greed masquerading as a science and seeing gullible people who do not understand science being sucked in by a weasel. Wakefield is a weasel who will never back down as long as he is making millions from the anti-vaccine crowd in the U.S.

People seem to lack discernment (as well as knowledge) around issues like these.

For example, it's entirely possible that some kids with autism do also have an intestinal disorder (we know the gut contains many of the
same neurotransmitters as the brain - and that bacteria in the gut can influence brain function). It's entirely possible he was on to something with his gut hypothesis, but he went the wrong direction and has refused to change direction.

There has never been any evidence that the MMR vaccine is involved in gut disease. Even his own lab could not replicate the results linking the measles vaccine to "
autistic enteropathy." At this point, most scientists feel the MMR vaccine is the only thing we can rule out as a cause of autism - Wakefield's original paper spurred tons of research, none of which confirmed or replicated his results.

It's also alarming that Wakefield's supporters fail to consider the incredible lack of ethical integrity he exhibited with that paper and his defense of it. It's one thing to generate research that is disproved - that happens to a lot of great scientists and it's why the scientific method relies on replication of results, so that an anomalous finding can be checked and rechecked.

However, it's a whole other thing to manipulate the research to provide the results you are looking for - and to have a financial interest in those results. Not to mention the use of unwarranted invasive procedures:

including colonoscopies, colon biopsies and lumbar punctures ("spinal taps") on his research subjects without the approval of his department's ethics board and contrary to the children's clinical interests (BBC News, 2007)
Two of the commentators on FB seem to me to be arguing form the extremes of each perspective, but science, while not the answer to everything, is more reliable than general distrust of science, especially when we are dealing with physiological systems - so Science Guy (SG), in my opinion, is on more solid ground, although I am more skeptical in general than he is

To me, Anti-Vaccine Girl (AVG) is offering the type of argument that wants "intelligent design" to be taught as an equal theory to evolution. She distrusts science and medicine so she attaches to anything that confirms her distrust. But the scientific method works incredibly well, even if she does not believe in it. As proof, she drives a car, uses electronic devices, does not have polio, and so on, including having food in cupboards that does not rot - all of which resulted from the scientific method

Where I see the current science heading is toward the kind of systems model SG advocates. For example, we are learning more about how nutrition impacts brain function (if your kid has ADHD, s/he should eat only whole natural foods, get plenty of omega-3 fats, and consume little to no sugar, including fruit sugar/juices, only whole fruit such as berries). We are also learning that the enteric nervous system (the gut) is highly integrated in brain function - all of this points to the mind = brain/body, not just the brain.

It saddens me to so little understanding of science in those who could most benefit from it (parents of autistic children) - and so little discernment when people become emotionally involved in a cause.

* * * *

There are a lot more perspectives to the autism issue than just these - we would also need to be looking at:
  • Environmental toxins such as xenoestrogens
  • Epigenetic influences from the mother and father before the pregnancy, and from the mom during pregnancy
  • More research into nutritional status
  • Some follow-up on the connection (if any) between the function of the enteric nervous system and autism
  • Likely over-diagnosis of the disorder in recent years because parents pressure doctors into explaining why their kid is not gifted
  • Lack of complete understanding of developmental processes and pacing even in healthy kids (some kids grow out of being autistic)
  • The subjective experience of the autistic child might offer a huge insight
  • What role does Big Pharma play in promoting autism as a disorder for which they hope to have a drug - lots of autistic kids are already drugged with antipsychotics to keep them docile
The list could go on for days - the point is that we need to take an integrative (or integral) approach to this very complex problem.

Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny - The Evolution of Human Altruism

UCTV - via the University of California, San Diego and the Salk Institute - has uploaded a series of videos from the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA) symposium on The Evolution of Human Altruism. This post offers three of the lectures - with more to come - the speakers in bold print below are included in this post (Churchland is in the first video, Hrdy is in the second video, Nesse is in the third one).
CARTA Symposium Title: "The Evolution of Human Altruism"

CARTA Symposium Title: "The Evolution of Human Altruism"

Date: Friday, December 10th, 2010

Sponsor: UCSD/Salk Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA)

Co-Directors: Ajit Varki, UCSD; Fred H. Gage, Salk Institute; Margaret J. Schoeninger, UCSD

Associate Director: Pascal Gagneux, UCSD

Symposium Co-Chairs:
Randolph Nesse, The University of Michigan; Sarah Hrdy, University of California, Davis; Patricia Churchland, University of California, San Diego


Randolph Nesse, The University of Michigan
"The Evolution of Human Capacities for Altruism"

Christopher Boehm, University of Southern California
"Social Selection Versus the Notorious Free Rider"

Sarah Hrdy, University of California, Davis
"How Humans Became Such 'Other-Regarding' Apes"

Peter Richerson, University of California, Davis
"Evolution, Cultures and the Capacities for Altruism"

Peter Hammerstein, Humboldt University, Berlin
"Partner Choice, Markets and the Evolution of Cooperation"

Steve Frank, University of California, Irvine
"Social Evolution in Microbes, Animals and Humans"

Donald W. Pfaff, The Rockefeller University
"Neural Basis of Altruism"

Patricia Churchland, University of California, San Diego
"Brain-Based Values"

Please visit the CARTA website for Announcements about future Public Symposia:

Sponsored by the G. Harold and Leila Y. Mathers Charitable Foundation and Annette C. Merle-Smith.

CARTA: Human Altruism - Brain and Behavior, Trade and Cooperation

Explore the variety of approaches being used to understand the evolution of human altruism, how the mammalian brain contributes to the development of social behaviors and how the concepts of trade and markets apply to understanding the development of cooperation in humans. Series: "CARTA - Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny" [4/2011] [Science] [Show ID: 20476]

CARTA: Human Altruism - Golden Rule, Caring Apes, Tribal Instincts

Explore mechanisms that compel us to obey the "Golden Rule", why humans are such "other-regarding" apes and how tribal social instincts influence cooperative behavior. Series: "CARTA - Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny" [4/2011] [Science] [Show ID: 21109]

CARTA: Altruism - Evolution of Human Capacities for Altruism

Friday, April 22, 2011

NPR Science Friday - Listening To Wild Soundscapes

Nice . . . a little something for Earth Day - the sounds of nature (enjoy them now - they may not be around much longer at the rate we arr going as a species).

Listening To Wild Soundscapes

A new field of biology called 'soundscape ecology' has scientists recording all the sounds in a given habitat and listening for patterns and changes. Ecologist Bryan Pijanowski and bioacoustician Bernie Krause discuss what we can learn from listening to natural soundscapes.

Copyright © 2011 National Public Radio®.


This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. Hope you are enjoying our Earth Day, your Earth Day today. And you know, one of the catalysts for the first Earth Day back in 1970 was the very influential book "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson.

Remember that? Remember the point of the book? By listening to the sounds made by living creatures or the silence of the silent spring, we get a better understanding about the state of the environment.

Well, since then ecologists have turned on their microphones and have been recording all kinds of sounds coming from a landscape. Biologists in the past tended to focus on the sounds of a single species made, but what - the sounds they made.

But now there's a new field of biology, and it's looking at all the sounds of a habitat as sort of like a symphony. And what they are hearing is very revealing about the overall health of a habitat, and we hope to share some of those sounds with you.

My guests have spent decades listening to and recording what they dub soundscapes, all the sounds coming from a given habitat. Bryan Pijanowski is associate professor of forestry and natural resources at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. His work is published in the journal Bioscience, describing this new field, soundscape ecology. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Dr. Pijanowski.

Professor BRYAN PIJANOWSKI (Purdue University): Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Bernie Krause is a bio-acoustician and CEO and president of Wild Sanctuary in Glen Ellen, California. He's also the author of the upcoming book "The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places" (2012). He joins us from KCRB(ph) in California. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Mr. BERNIE KRAUSE (Bio-Acoustician): Happy Earth Day, Ira.

FLATOW: Happy Earth Day to you. Bryan, can you tell us what this new field is all about, soundscape?

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: Yeah, I mean, you know, ecologists, like you said, have really focused on recording and trying to understand the biological significance of a single species. And what we're trying to do here is look at all of the sounds in the landscape.

And so we're proposing in this paper to really launch a new field that we call soundscape ecology, which is a branch of spatial ecology called landscape ecology.

So basically what we want to do is look at various sources of sound that is kind of emanating from a landscape, and those sources are biological in nature. We call that biophony. And geological or geophysical, that we call geophony. And of course humans produce sounds as well, and we call that anthrophony.

So what we want to do is understand those sounds and then relate it to ecosystem health.

FLATOW: Bernie Krause, what can you learn about the health of an ecosystem from there?

Mr. KRAUSE: Well, as Bryan said, you know, we're contrasting older expressions like acoustic ecology, and soundscape ecology assumes that the natural soundscape is an ongoing, profoundly informative narrative. It's the world's first theatrical, acoustic manifestation that among other things kind of provides us with instant feedback as to how we're treating the natural world.

Biophony and geophony together make up the voice of the natural world, and Bryan and his team at Perdue, and others at Michigan State, like initiated by Stuart Gage(ph), were among the first to academically recognize the scientific value of using holistic natural soundscapes rather than species-specific recordings.

FLATOW: And with so much to choose from, Bryan, how do you figure out just where and what you're going to record and listen to?

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: Well, you know, in the last couple of years there have been great advances in technology. So we've been able to take digital microphones and put them out in different kinds of habitats and record continuously.

And what we do is we take that information, bring it back to the lab and begin to analyze it and look at different patterns. And some of the things that we summarized in the paper is that the acoustics, the biophony in natural environments, was very rich. But as we moved into more human-dominated landscapes, like agriculture areas and urban areas, we kind of lost kind of a biological signature.

And so we're calling - one of the things that we're trying to do is look at what I call the rhythms of nature. How do these signals change over time? So in the morning, for example, we have a dawn chorus that's very prominent in natural landscapes, and a dusk chorus.

So those are reflective of, we believe, of very, very healthy ecosystems.

FLATOW: (Unintelligible) as we say in radio, a sound is worth a thousand pictures. So it's better if I play - let me play a sample of what you're talking about so our audience can get an idea. And let me give out the number first, 1-800-989-8255 if you'd like to talk about this new soundscape ecology.

Let me play the first cut, and this comes from the Madagascar jungle.

(Soundbite of jungle)

FLATOW: It's beautiful. That could put me to sleep at night, soothing.

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: It absolutely beautiful, and this is one of Bernie's wonderful recordings.

FLATOW: Tell us about it, Bernie. What were we listening to there?

Mr. KRAUSE: Well, actually, it's a recording made by Doug Quinn(ph). But you know, what's happening here - he was a colleague of ours. And what's happening here is - it's as if Darwin himself was defining the sonic timelines of evolution.

These choruses in a healthy habitat, like the one we've just heard, they go kind of like this: First you hear the insects, and they establish their acoustic territory within the frequency spectrum, and then you hear the reptiles and the amphibians. They join the chorus, establishing other niches.

And once those are set, then come the birds and finally the mammals and all of the critters together, creating not only frequency bandwidth but temporal niches as well. It's kind of like the first proto-orchestra.

FLATOW: Do they know they're playing together?

Mr. KRAUSE: You bet they know, because if they don't stay out of each other's way, then their voices are masked. So they have to learn to sing in relationship to one another, just like instruments in an orchestra.

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: You know, what I think is very interesting here is - you know, I'm an ecologist, and you know, one of the things that Bernie has been using is all these metaphors related to music, composition, orchestration.

And, you know, I struggled for a long time, as I began to listen to many of these recordings, mine and Bernie's and Stuart Gage's. And I really had to kind of go back to music to be able to begin to describe what I was listening to.

So as a scientist, I thought that was kind of interesting that I really had to use maybe another field to help me understand what it was I was listening to in my ecosystem.

FLATOW: Interesting. Let me go on and play a couple of more cuts that sort of demonstrate how you can tell when things are happy in the critter world and when things are not working out so well.

And let me go to one about that we have a coral reef. You can actually record underwater? We have a coral reef in Fiji, and let's listen to that now.

(Soundbite of coral reef)


Mr. KRAUSE: That's a healthy coral reef, Ira. That's one that has maybe, oh, 15 or 16 species represented, lots of different fish and crustaceans and so on.

FLATOW: And so if we now listen to the next one, that's going to sound like this.

(Soundbite of coral reef)

FLATOW: Very different.

Mr. KRAUSE: That's a part of the same reef that's about, oh, a quarter-mile away, and that reef is beginning to die. And all you're hearing there are snapping shrimp and the surface noise of the waves.

FLATOW: So you really can, by listening to the environment, tell how healthy it is or whether it's headed down or not.

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: That's right.

Mr. KRAUSE: Yeah, an acoustic snapshot of 10 seconds can tell you whether a habitat is healthy or it's under stress or it's, you know, kind of destroyed altogether.

FLATOW: In how many places around the world are people collecting sounds like this?

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: Well, you know, there are efforts in Europe, Canada, United States, Japan, Australia, South America, Central America. There have been a lot of efforts.

Unfortunately, it hasn't been well-coordinated. We're hoping to do that in the near future here. There have just been just a lot of parallel efforts, and it's been very interesting to hear about, you know, new studies.

All of them are very similar to the ones that, you know, I've been doing, Stuart Gage at Michigan State and others, and what we want to do is begin to compare ecosystems around the world.

You know, sound is really one of those unifying variables that I've been searching for for most of my career here, being able to understand both the biological activity - how do the ecosystems function - but as well as human activities. What are humans doing on the landscape? Because we do make sound. And it really does kind of capture both of those.

FLATOW: Sounds very powerful. Sounds are very powerful, and at the same time, what you're doing is preserving for us sounds of a healthy world.

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: That's right. I mean, this is - the sounds that we have, and Bernie's had, for many, many years, are really - it's a digital record of the ecosystem. You know, it's - and sounds are really the heritage of our planet.

You know, what's really kind of disturbing is that, you know, many of the places that Bernie has gone and recorded, and he's just got some marvelous recordings from all over the world, him and his colleagues, many of those places no longer are in a natural state.

Mr. KRAUSE: Yeah, I'd like to point out, along with what Bryan is saying, that I've been recording since 1968. I've been recording soundscapes since 1968. And fully 50 percent of my archive comes from habitats that are no longer acoustically viable in a natural state, 50 percent.

FLATOW: Half of it's gone.

Mr. KRAUSE: Half of it's gone in my lifetime. That's just 40-some-odd years.

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: And, you know, one of the other aspects is that it is very difficult nowadays to go and find a place where it is indeed quiet, where we are only isolated with the natural sounds.

And so the spatial reach of the noise that we're producing all around the world is just continuing. It's just increasing. And so I think that's something that we need to pay attention to.

FLATOW: All right, we're going to come back and talk lots more with Bryan Pijanowski and Bernie Krause. Our number, 1-800-989-8255. We'll get you to listen to the sound of elephants trumpeting in the Congo when we come back and talk more about soundscape ecology, disappearing sounds reflecting disappearing ecosystems.

Stay with us. You can tweet us @scifri, @-S-C-I-F-R-I also. We'll be right back after this break.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about listening to soundscapes with my guests Bryan Pijanowski, associate professor of forestry and natural resources at Purdue; Bernie Krause, bio-acoustician and CEO and president of Wild Sanctuary in Glen Ellen, California. Our number, 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to Adeline(ph) in San Francisco. Hi, welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

ADELINE (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call. I'm a musicologist. So I'm very interested to hear the specific terminology that's being used in this new field. It's really fascinating.

And I had two questions for the guests. First which was: Is there anything you could say you - the acoustic soundscape reveals to you that you can't get from just looking and being physically in the space and using your eyes?

And then the second question is: Have you enlisted the help of any musicologists or other musical experts in your research? And I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.

FLATOW: Thank you. Bryan, Bernie?

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: Let me just jump in here. That's an excellent question. You know, one of the things that we're finding is that when we stick a microphone out and record continuously, we are recording things that are happening in the morning and in the afternoon, at night.

And one of the things that we reported in the article is that there's a lot of activity in the middle of the night. And so as ecologists we might be missing really an important part of the ecosystem. So there is quite a bit.

We have microphones down in Costa Rica in very, very remote areas. And so we can pick up a lot of different kinds of patterns that, just going out and looking, or just being there in a traditional survey, would not pick up.

Mr. KRAUSE: You know, one of the first subtitles of my new book, called "The Great Animal Orchestra," which - well, one of the first subtitles was "How Animals Taught Us to Dance and Sing."

And what the caller was referring to was, you know, what's the relationship kind of between the natural world sounds and music. It's exactly that.

You know, it's a collective - these collective voices of living organisms were the very things that inspired us and kind of invited us into song and dance in the first place. And it's really interesting to see how that all comes together.

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: Well, yeah, let me also comment that, you know, Murray Schaffer(ph) back in the '60s, a musician by training, really began talking about soundscapes and really defined the term.

But he also introduced a lot of other kinds of terms, like sound marks and key notes, that are very characteristic of different sounds in an ecosystem.

I also think that musicians are great listeners. I think as a scientist we have a lot to learn about kind of tuning our ears to nature. And I think musicians can help us a lot. A lot of musicians that I've talked to that have used natural sounds in recordings are great at setting up microphone systems in forested ecosystems, for example, in ways that really do capture, like, almost the three dimensions of sound.

So to answer the second part of that question: Yeah, I mean, I think there's a lot that can be learned from some folks in the humanities.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Do you have a catalog of these sounds, and are they available to any of us to listen to them, Bernie?

Mr. KRAUSE: Sure. They're on our website,, and you can see them. But there are also many catalogs out there of different kinds of ways of looking at the sonic world, the acoustic world. Some of them can be found in institutions like Cornell and others just from private individuals. There's some wonderful work out there.

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: Yeah, and our website, if you just go to Purdue Soundscape Ecology Project website, we have 156,000 recordings that you can go and you can query, you can - it's all online.

Every recording that we've made in Indiana and some in Costa Rica in collaboration with Conservation International have now been put on the Web, and you can go through and scroll and listen to and actually look at some of the visuals of the recording. So you can begin to listen and see at the same time.

FLATOW: Let me get to our final sound here. We have a sound of elephants trumpeting in the Congo.

(Soundbite of elephants)

FLATOW: You could have fooled me. They would have been lions if - it's like roaring, that trumpeting.

Mr. KRAUSE: What's amazing about them, Ira, is that we have 32 different kinds of elephant vocalizations from that very site.

FLATOW: Thirty-two?

Mr. KRAUSE: Yeah.

FLATOW: And each one has a separate use, I'm sure. If I were an elephant, I'd know.

Mr. KRAUSE: That's right.

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: You know, that also brings up another point, in that, you know, what we just listened to I think is fairly unique, you know, if you listen to the rest of the recording. What I worry about is that there are probably many other places around the world where we kind of have very unique soundscapes, and once they're gone, that's it. They're irreplaceable.

I do worry that we haven't paid enough attention, especially to what Bernie's been doing for these many years, and you know, half of his recordings no longer - you can no longer go to those places and listen to that. So I think we need to think about conservation of these soundscapes, and we haven't.

There is no plan to do that, and so I'm hoping maybe in the next 10 or 20 years - you know, maybe in SCIENCE FRIDAY from 10 years from now we can talk about what we've been doing about preserving these, but...

Mr. KRAUSE: You know something, Bryan? That's a great point. One of the things about that is that if we preserve the soundscape, we preserve the habitat.

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: That's right.

FLATOW: Let's go to Natalie(ph) in South Lake Tahoe. Hi, Natalie.

NATALIE (Caller): Hi.

FLATOW: Hi there.

NATALIE: How are you?

FLATOW: Go ahead.

Mr. KRAUSE: Doing great.

NATALIE: Yeah, I was in Darjeeling, India a couple of years ago, and I just -you had talked earlier in the show about the soundscapes of human activity and healthy ecosystems, and that just sort of hit me because we were staying on the second floor of a small hotel that was up above sort of a central square, and there were no cars, no mechanical vehicles around that particular area.

And it was a very unique sound that I had really never heard before, and it was very comforting because you were sort of part of this community. You could hear conversations going on. You could hear people selling in their shops. You could hear laughter. But none of it was very - you know, nothing stood out. It was just sort of a background, soft hum of activity.

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: Yes, go ahead.

NATALIE: Go ahead.

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: No, I was I'm getting excited about what you're just saying. I mean, there are other dimensions to what we're suggesting, and that is, you know, there are cultural soundscapes that are also important to humans, that we value them.

You can jump online and listen to some of ours. You know, the sounds of a church bell, for example, in a very rural area is something that's very pleasing, the sound of a market, the sound of a marina.

You know, there are human environments that are actually good. So, you know, one of the things we say in the article is that not all human-produced sounds are bad, and maybe we shouldn't even label them all as noise. They become part of the way in which we associate the human being with the landscape, with nature or the environment.

And so there is an acoustic link, and some of it's good that's related to human-produced sounds.

FLATOW: Can you tell from your sounds, evidence of global warming or climate change, from what you've been recording?

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: Well, you know, Bernie's done some of that work already. (Unintelligible) listened to it earlier.

Mr. KRAUSE: We've recorded in places like Alaska, where we actually see some evidence of global warming. I did a trip there in 2006 with two colleagues, Martin Stewart and Kevin Colver from Utah. And we found that when we were at these sites, the sites had already begun to be compromised by early warming.

And apparently the soundscape had changed quite a bit because there were many more birds of a particular species that shouldn't have been at some of the sites we were at, yet they were there.

And we can't make a direct link with global warming because we haven't done the baseline material studies to figure this out.

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: We're starting to do that, because we now have four years of continuous data around Purdue. But you know, some of the things we say in the article, there are a lot of organisms that are regulated by climate, by temperature - you know, insects and frogs, for example, amphibians.

So if we warm them - warm up the planet a little bit, then the timing of their chorusing and sound production will be earlier. And then there are other organisms that are more photo-period driven. So there could be a reshuffling of the soundscape as a result of climate change.

FLATOW: Gentlemen, I want to thank you for taking time to be with us today. Good luck, and thanks for sharing your sounds with us.

Prof. PIJANOWSKI: Thanks, Ira.

Mr. KRAUSE: Thank you.

FLATOW: Bryan Pijanowski, associated professor of forestry and natural resources at Purdue. Bernie Krause, a bio-acoustician and CEO and president of Wild Sanctuary in Glen Ellen, California, author of the upcoming book, "The Great Animal Orchestra.

Poem - "At the Blue Note" by Pablo Medina

At the Blue Note

by Pablo Medina
for Karen Bentivenga
Sometimes in the heat of the snow
you want to cry out

for pleasure or pain like a bell.
And you wind up holding each other,

listening to the in-between
despite the abyss at the edge of the table.

Hell. Mulgrew Miller plays like a big
bad spider, hands on fire, the piano

trembling like crystal,
the taste and smell of a forest under water.

The bartender made us a drink
with butterfly wings and electric wire.

Bitter cold outside, big silence,
a whale growing inside us.

TEDx Duke- Dan Ariely on Self Control

Another Dan Ariely TED Talk - he's like the "house" speaker on behavioral economics. His topic here is Self Control: The Problem and How to Get Over It. You can read a selection of his research articles here.
  • Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at the Fuqua School of Business, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and the Economics Department and Senior Fellow in the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. As a behavioral economist, he studies how people actually act in the marketplace, as opposed to how they should or would perform if they were completely rational. Dan recently wrote a general audience book on Behavioral Economics, “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions.” He is also a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. He is currently working on a new book titled “Dining Without Crumbs: The Art of Eating Over the Sink.”

The Shifting Political Landscape - Government, Taxes, Independents, and Debt

Here are a few recent articles on the economic and political situation in the U.S. at the current moment. Things are not looking good economically - and it seems that Obama has lost independent voters.

But on the bright side, a new form agit prop called pranktivism is rising with groups like the Yes Men and US Uncut. Grass roots protest, flash mobs - this is the hope I have for the future.

The Other 98%

This is from Common Dreams/FireDogLake:

Majority Think Wealth Should Be More Evenly Distributed

Fifty-seven percent of Americans think wealth and money should be more evenly distributed and don’t think the current situation, with a hyper-concentration of money in the hands of a few, is fair, according to the latest Gallup poll.

 Do you feel that the distribution of money and wealth in this country today is fair, or do you feel that the money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people?

While there is a strong belief that wealth should be more evenly distributed, the country is more divided on whether or not the government should correct this problem by heavily taxing the rich and redistributing the wealth.

People feel differently about how far a government should go. Here is a phrase which some people believe in and some don't. Do you think our government should or should not redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich? April 2011 results

I personally think the question exhibits an unfair bias when it uses the phrase “heavily taxing.” That could mean anything from a 40 percent to a 90 percent tax rate. Given that because of the carried interest and other similar tax loopholes you have some of the richest people in America often paying lower tax rates than teachers, you could redistribute a lot of wealth by even just modestly taxing the rich. I suspect if the poll used the actual number of a 49 percent tax rate, the rate for billionaires proposed by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, it would have gotten a better response.

Regardless, we basically have half the country supporting the “socialistic” idea of heavily taxing the rich to pay for direct government wealth redistribution. That is huge, mainstream support for an idea most politicians and the traditional media would label as radically left wing.

In a political system that wasn’t so totally dependent on donations from the ultra-wealthy to finance campaigns, you would actually expect this “tax the rich to redistribute the wealth idea” to be part of the platform of one of the two major parties.

Jon Walker

Another reminder that we aren’t a center-right country. We are just a left-wing country that happens to have a center-right government because of a rigged political system that disproportionately distributes political power to the wealthy and status quo.

Jon Walker is political writer and blogger for FireDogLake. He is an expert on health care policy and the politics of health care reform.

This is also from Common Dreams, via The Nation. I have include the videos with this post - the flash mob video at the Bank of America in San Francisco is pretty cool. I hadn't heard about these agit prop actions, now called pranktivism.

US Uncut launched another nationwide day of protest this week involving around forty participating chapters. The activism strategies again ranged from traditional protest to more creative forms of occupations such as San Francisco’s flash mob in a Bank of America.

This latest campaign follows a busy week for the fledgling organization. US Uncut, along with the Yes Men, have been at the center of the media’s attention following their successful pranktivist duping of the AP.

The anti-corporate tax dodging movement is growing momentum during a time when GOP leaders such as Eric Cantor, Michele Bachmann, and Tim Pawlenty propagate daily the lie that corporations are already overtaxed in America. While corporations claim they’re taxed at 35 percent, their actual effective tax rate is much, much lower after deductions, credits, and write-offs.

During the 1950s, the decade in which more people joined the middle class than at any time in history - before or since - corporations paid 49 percent of their profits in taxes. Last year, it was about half that rate, a decidedly more modest 26 percent. In 2010, corporate tax collections totaled $191 billion - down 8 percent from $207 billion as recently as 2000.

Perhaps a more telling yardstick, corporate tax revenue in 2009 came to just 1 percent of gross domestic product - the lowest collection level since 1936, or three-quarters of a century ago. In 2010, it edged up to a puny 1.3 percent - the second-lowest since 1940. Even worse, the shriveled tax collections came at a time when corporations were registering an all-time high in profits. At the end of 2010, corporations posted an annualized profit of $1.65 trillion in the fourth quarter. In other words, the more they made, the less they paid.

America has a revenue problem because of a two-tier taxation system that steals from the poor and offers corporate welfare to the rich. While tax evasion has always been an American business tradition, the practice has now reached frenzied proportions where the government is no longer simply turning a blind eye to the practice, but actively facilitating it.

The Fed gave hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to hedge funds and other investors with addresses in the Cayman Islands during the bailout. The addresses belong to companies with American affiliations like Pimco, Blackstone (Pete Peterson’s company that seeks to privatize Social Security,) and Waterfall TALF Opportunity, a company owned by Christy Mack, wife of John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley. The government is now actively subsidizing tax evasion by using citizen dollars to fund corporate stealing for companies like Blackstone that seek to privatize Social Security, which would rob poor Americans of one of their last great social protections.

The legend of welfare kings and queens is true, but these societal parasites don’t live in the ghettos. They live in the Hamptons and on Wall Street. Many Americans now realize this and are beginning to fight back.

Thousands turned out this week to protest Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget cuts in Michigan.

"The script Gov. Snyder has written for his Republican cronies is not the kind of Michigan we want to live in," Herb Sanders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers told the crowd. "If the politicians won't listen to us at the Capitol, then we're prepared to take the fight to them in their home districts."

Sarah Palin graced Wisconsin with her presence for the sole purpose of stating approval of Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to strip unions of the right to collectively bargain. She was enthusiastically booed by a counter-protest, a response that so flustered right-wing mouthpiece Andrew Breitbart that he rushed the podium to scream “GO TO HELL!” at the crowd before encouraging a community that had organized the event to ironically applaud the death of community organizing.

Every week, there are more teacher and students protests opposing education cuts, labor protests demanding the right to collectively bargain (not the right to higher wages or safer working conditions, but the mere right to a seat at the table,) and more citizens gather to oppose the two-tier America where the poor suffer while rich corporations raid the Treasury.

As reported at Big Think, Obama has lost the independents - according to a new Gallop poll, 35% of independents have abandoned Obama.

Independents Abandoning Obama?


A (Gallup) study shows that only 35% of our independents now approve of the work our president is doing.

There are a variety of reasons for that. But here's the one that might be most troubling from Obama's view: Something like STAGFLATION is kicking in. Rapidly rising gas and fuel prices have pushed the the effective rate of inflation to about 6%. Meanwhile, economists say that we don't have "core inflation," because other prices and wages are basically not going up at all. So the spending power of the average American is dropping. Meanwhile, productivity numbers are disappointing. Can any of this be turned around by November, 2012? I have to admit I don't know.

We can also add there's a widespread skepticism that government can be the cure for what ails us these days, combined with the perception that the president spoke at length but didn't say much in his speech on the deficit. More and more "swing voters" are questioning the president's competence.

Good news for the president: Ryan's budget proposal is a big gamble for Republicans. In general, all entitlements in our country have been moving from DEFINED BENEFIT to DEFINED CONTRIBUTION. That is--the move, for example, from the pension to the 401k gives the individual more choice (that's good) but also sticks him or her with a lot more risk (that's bad). Ryan proposes to make that switch for MEDICARE. Given our DEMOGRAPHIC CRISIS (which I've discussed before), many responsible experts say there's no other way to make Medicare sustainable over the long term. But the change is still pretty scary for our aging population, and our president may be able to campaign effectively against the Ryan proposal.

The move from DEFINED BENEFIT to DEFINED CONTRIBUTION may be the only way to at least retard the implosion of our safety nets. It is part of a new birth of freedom understood as enhanced individual responsibility. But many or most Americans might not join THE TEA PARTIERS in regarding that move as change they can believe in.

Finally, I want to include a new article from Daniel O'Connor at Catallaxis on our monetary future. This is a long but important article, so I am only including the beginning - please go read the whole piece.

Debt Trapped: Exploring Monetary Futures

Daniel O'Connor | Integral Ventures, LLC


With the US economy caught in a system-wide debt trap rooted in the design of its currency, our economic future is contingent upon the policy decisions currently being made by US monetary authorities and their international counterparts. An inquiry into the primary monetary policy uncertainties yields a set of diverse, yet complementary scenarios for our immediate future. These scenarios provide an interpretive frame-work for strategic decision making by entrepreneurs and executives, investors and consumers, citizens and activists.


“There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.”

— John Maynard Keynes

“The process by which banks create money is so simple that the mind is repelled.”

— John Kenneth Galbraith

In the midst of what many Americans understand to be a modest, though genuine, recovery from the Great Recession officially dated from December 2007 to June 2009, there remain enough lingering indicators of recession, from chronic unemployment to falling home prices, to alarm all but the most politically compromised economic pundits. While the financial crisis that punctuated this Great Recession becomes better understood through a spate of recent books and one compelling documentary, in my opinion there remains a widespread lack of appreciation for the root cause of the crisis and the continuing crisis-potential it presents. I presented my concerns about the crisis-potential in the US economy in a host of articles written from 2002 to 2006, one of which, entitled Debt Trap, explained in the simplest terms possible a fundamental flaw in the design of our monetary system for which there is no inherent fix and no easy exit.1 2

The Monetary Debt Trap

From 1971 through 2010, the total debt in the US economy—Total Domestic Debt—has grown from $1.7 trillion to $50.5 trillion, with an average annual growth rate of 9.2%. This remarkably high rate of debt accumulation is well above the 6.9% average annual growth rate in the inflation-saturated Nominal Gross Domestic Product, which grew from $1.1 trillion in 1971 to $14.7 trillion in 2010. Thus, even fully inflated economic growth has not kept pace with the growth in debt over the past 40 years. What this means, on the surface, is that the debt accumulated by all the sectors in the US economy—governments, businesses, and households—is getting progressively more difficult to service by the annual income we are all producing, regardless of whether the economy is in recession or expansion.3 4

Economic growth and debt accumulationWhile it has become clear to most economic observers that the US and many other developed economies face an overwhelming debt burden, it is far more important to understand why debt has been relentlessly accumulating at a rate beyond that of fully inflated economic growth. The reason is to be found in the design of our currency. The US dollar, like all national currencies these days, is a debt-based currency created, not by the government’s printing press, but through the extension of credit from the central bank, via the fractional-reserve banking system, to borrowers in the government, business, and household sectors. As each new dollar is created, a new dollar of debt is also created, and as the supply of dollars accumulates over time, so too does the balance of debt.

How does the growth in debt-based money relate to overall economic growth? The answer to this begins with a closer look at what happens when new money is created. Each new dollar makes its first appearance as a new asset on the books of some bank and a new liability on the books of some borrower. But there's a catch. When new dollars are loaned into existence, they are recorded on the books of both the lender and the borrower, or creditor and debtor, as the principal amount of the loan. However, the interest that the debtor will have to pay back to the bank along with the principal is not created as part of the transaction. As everyone with a 30-year mortgage should know, the interest payments can be even greater than the principal payments over the life of the loan. Few people realize, however, that our entire monetary system is structured in a similar fashion, with the total supply of money currently in circulation being dwarfed by the total future debt service payments—both principal and interest—that must be paid by all government, corporate, and household debtors.

Where do these debtors find the additional dollars required to pay interest on their loans? In the existing supply of money already in circulation at the time of the loan, as well as any future net increases in the supply of money that precede each future interest payment. If the central bank holds the supply of money fixed from this day forth, then every debtor in the economy will be forced into a highly competitive zero-sum game to get what each one of them needs to make their debt service payments before the others get what they need. So the only way to ensure a sufficient supply of money to meet the demand of today's debtors is to systematically increase the supply of money each and every year in the future by an amount roughly equivalent to the average interest rate on all existing debt. This way there will be just enough money in circulation to ensure that just about every one of today's borrowers can get what he or she needs to pay principal and interest on their loans as it becomes due.

But there's another catch. The only way to increase the supply of money in the future is to extend additional credit and thereby create new debt over and above whatever debt is being repaid through principal payments. As we've seen, this brings with it the same constraint on future debt service, which means that the central bank will have to facilitate the creation of even more money for all the new debtors whose new loans are helping the old debtors pay their interest. So we take care of the older generation of debtors by creating a new generation of debtors who will suffer immeasurably unless the next generation of debtors fully participates in the system. Thus it continues, seemingly without end, until we have an economy so choked with old debt and so dependent on new debt that the most we can hope for is perpetual, debt-based growth in output that keeps pace with the perpetually growing debt service obligations of the entire monetary system.

Generally speaking, as central banks use the policy techniques at their disposal to promote perpetual economic growth—setting discount rates for their own lending to banks, setting federal funds rates for inter-bank lending, setting reserve requirements for banks' lending to households, businesses, and governments, engaging in open market purchases of government bills, notes, and bonds, and shaping people's perceptions of monetary policy and economic performance—they distort prices for borrowing, saving, production, consumption, employment, trade, and currency in unpredictable and unsustainable ways. Furthermore, the debt-based monetary system forces them to use all these policy techniques to achieve a sustainable rate of monetary inflation via credit expansion sufficient to provide enough money in circulation to fund the debt service obligations of the entire system. Finally, as this monetary policy is implemented through the profit-oriented fractional-reserve banking system, it results in progressively more complicated forms of credit creation inflating progressively more dangerous asset price bubbles—e.g., mortgage securitization and housing—the periodic deflation of which reveals the instability of this monetary system.

Therefore, the monetary system is designed with a built-in demand for an ever-growing supply of debt-based money that actually creates more inherent demand, enforced by an ever-growing threat of debt deflation should that supply fall too short of demand. As if defying this reality, central bankers must navigate an increasingly treacherous route between the Scylla of deflationary depression and massive debt defaults and the Charybdis of hyperinflation and currency collapse.

Go read the whole article.

Buddhist Geeks 213: The Stories We Tell Ourselves (w/ Rev. Danny Fisher)

In this week's Buddhist Geeks podcast, Vince interviews the hardest working Buddhist blogger around - Reverend Danny Fisher. I have had the pleasure and good fortune to interact with Danny online over the years - he's a wonderful human being who, to me, embodies the Buddhist path of compassion and humility. Strangely, I think this is the first time I have heard his voice.

BG 213: The Stories We Tell Ourselves

BG 213: The Stories We Tell Ourselves

18. Apr, 2011 by Danny Fisher

Episode Description:

Buddhist scholar and Chaplain Danny Fisher, joins us to explore various stories, or narratives, that run through the Buddhist world. There are a variety of different kind of stories in the Buddhist tradition, including those that are more traditional and those which are more modern. Included in those narratives are Buddhist hagiographies (traditional teaching stories about important figures), historical narratives, and more modern narratives. Listen in as we try and piece apart what some of these stories are, and find out how the stories that we believe in affect us as individuals and communities.

Episode Links: