Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

Your New Year's Resolutions

1) Get a pet rooster

2) Eat more cotton candy

3) Travel to Spain

4) Study Latin

5) Get in shape with stripping classes

It doesn't matter what you put into the question box, these are randomly generated, which makes it more fun, sort of.

I don't do New Year's resolutions, although a pet rooster, a trip to Spain, and some stripping classes might be fun. I resolved many years ago, probably as some kind of reaction against too many years of Lent, to never make date-dependent promises of any sort. I don't even like to plan for the future, preferring instead to let life unfold however it will.

How about you -- what are your New Year's Resolutions?

On Developing Compassion

This is the Dharma quote of the week from Snow Lion Publications:

Dharma Quote of the Week

The practice of compassion begins at home. We have our parents, our children, and our brothers and sisters, who perhaps irritate us the most, and we begin our practice of loving-kindness and compassion with them. Then gradually we extend our compassion out into our greater community, our country, neighbouring countries, the world, and finally to all sentient beings equally without exception.

Extending compassion in this way makes it evident that it is not very easy to instantly have compassion for "all sentient beings." Theoretically it may be comfortable to have compassion for "all sentient beings," but through our practice we realize that "all sentient beings" is a collection of individuals. When we actually try to generate compassion for each and every individual, it becomes much more challenging. But if we cannot work with one individual, then how can we work with all sentient beings? Therefore it is important for us to reflect more practically, to work with compassion for individuals and then extend that compassion further.

~ From Trainings in Compassion by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche translated by the Padmakara Translation Group, published by Snow Lion Publications.

On Dying Languages

There is an interesting editorial in The New York Sun from last week on the death of languages. According to the author, John McWhorter, who is a linguist, it has been estimated that in a hundred years 90% of the current 6,000 languages will be extinct. McWhorter argues that this is a nothing to be alarmed about.

The death of languages is typically described in a rueful tone. There are a number of books treating the death of languages as a crisis equal to endangered species and global warming. However, I'm not sure it's the crisis we are taught that it is.

There is a part of me, as a linguist, that does see something sad in the death of so many languages. It is happening faster than ever: It has been said that a hundred years from now 90% of the current 6,000 languages will be gone.

Each extinction means that a fascinating way of putting words together is no longer alive. In, for example, Inuktitut Eskimo, which, by the way, is not dying, "I should try not to become an alcoholic" is one word: Iminngernaveersaartunngortussaavunga.

After briefly mentioning how Eliezer Ben-Yehuda nearly single-handedly saved Hebrew, McWhorter continues:

Yet the conventional wisdom is that we must strive to have as many future Hebrews as possible, since supposedly one's language determines one's cultural outlook. But a simple question shows how implausible that notion is. To wit, precisely what "cultural outlook" does English lend its speakers?

Thinking about the broad heterogeneity of people using this language, it is obvious that the answer is none, and the academic literature on the topic yields little but queer little shards of faint support for the "language is culture" idea. Which brings us back to languages as, simply, languages.

The language revivalists yearn for — surprise — diversity. What they miss is that language death is a healthy outcome of diversity.

If people truly come together, then they speak a common language. We can muse upon a "salad bowl" ideal in which people go home and use their nice "diverse" language with "their own." But in reality, almost always the survival of that "diverse" language means that the people are segregated in some way, which in turn is almost always due to an unequal power relationship — i.e., precisely what "diversity" fans otherwise consider such a scourge.

He concludes, of course, that the one final language will be English -- a risky proposition at this point in history, but one that Bill Bryson also proposed a few years back in his look at the English language. I think there is a far greater chance that we will all be speaking Mandarin or some other version of Chinese, but that's just me.

Anyway, I think that I agree with McWhorter to a point, especially since he seems to support any and all efforts to maintain some kind of database of dead languages -- presumably so that we will always have access to their structures and rules, if not their sounds.

His argument centers around language as a force that keeps people stuck in an ethnocentric perspective (the Amish in America who still speak German, Jews in Russia who spoke Yiddish at home, and so on).
If people truly come together, then they speak a common language. We can muse upon a "salad bowl" ideal in which people go home and use their nice "diverse" language with "their own." But in reality, almost always the survival of that "diverse" language means that the people are segregated in some way, which in turn is almost always due to an unequal power relationship — i.e., precisely what "diversity" fans otherwise consider such a scourge.
In this argument, the only way to develop a worldcentric population is to have a widely agreed upon base language -- this part I am not so sure about.

Do we need a worldcentric language to hold a worldcentric viewpoint? McWhorter questions the idea that language determines one's cultural outlook, so why would we need a common tongue to "truly come together"?

These are interesting questions for integral developmentalists. I'd be curious to here what others think about this editorial and it's propositions.

Friday, December 29, 2006

More "Best of" Lists

Top ten films of the year from James Rocchi at Cinematical. The Departed didn't make the list, which makes me skeptical.

For a bit of good news, Top 10 Wildlife Conservation Success Stories of 2006, brought to us by

And finally, I found this list on one of the social networking sites. The Rolling Stone Greatest 500 Albums of All Time. I must say the list seems a little tilted toward the sixties and seventies, maybe reflecting the tastes of the editors.

Cool Cave Pictures

These were hosted at Dark Roasted Blend. It appears to be, from the little text that is included, a living cave (still growing new formations). These pictures are very cool, and somewhat rare since photography is often limited or banned in living caves so as not to damage the structures.
This amazing stalactite and stalagmite cave, known as the Soreq cave, is a few kilometers east from Bet Shemesh in Israel. There are many caves in the area, but the Soreq cave is no doubt unique in its beauty.

Discovered accidentally in 1968 after the mining explosion, it only has one 90-meter cavern, but the stalactite and stalagmite growth still continues, as the water keeps flowing down the rocks...
Here are a few pictures -- there are more at the site:

Project Censored

Project Censored is a media research group out of Sonoma State University which tracks the news published in independent journals and newsletters. From these, Project Censored compiles an annual list of 25 news stories of social significance that have been overlooked, under-reported or self-censored by the country's major national news media.
That's from the About Us page of their site. These people keep an eye on the news that the mainstream media either refuses to look at or is too blind to see. I've been following the work they do for about ten years, which I think is how long they've been around.

Here are the top 25 news stories that didn't get much attention from the MSM (mainstream media). After the first one, you'll have to go to the site to read the details, which is well worth doing.
#1 Future of Internet Debate Ignored by Media

Sources:, July 18, 2005
Title: “Web of Deceit: How Internet Freedom Got the Federal Ax, and Why Corporate News Censored the Story”
Author: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D.

Student Researchers: Lauren Powell, Brett Forest, and Zoe Huffman
Faculty Evaluator: Andrew Roth, Ph.D.

Throughout 2005 and 2006, a large underground debate raged regarding the future of the Internet. More recently referred to as “network neutrality,” the issue has become a tug of war with cable companies on the one hand and consumers and Internet service providers on the other. Yet despite important legislative proposals and Supreme Court decisions throughout 2005, the issue was almost completely ignored in the headlines until 2006.1 And, except for occasional coverage on CNBC’s Kudlow & Kramer, mainstream television remains hands-off to this day (June 2006).2

Most coverage of the issue framed it as an argument over regulation—but the term “regulation” in this case is somewhat misleading. Groups advocating for “net neutrality” are not promoting regulation of internet content. What they want is a legal mandate forcing cable companies to allow internet service providers (ISPs) free access to their cable lines (called a “common carriage” agreement). This was the model used for dial-up internet, and it is the way content providers want to keep it. They also want to make sure that cable companies cannot screen or interrupt internet content without a court order.

Those in favor of net neutrality say that lack of government regulation simply means that cable lines will be regulated by the cable companies themselves. ISPs will have to pay a hefty service fee for the right to use cable lines (making internet services more expensive). Those who could pay more would get better access; those who could not pay would be left behind. Cable companies could also decide to filter Internet content at will.

On the other side, cable company supporters say that a great deal of time and money was spent laying cable lines and expanding their speed and quality.3 They claim that allowing ISPs free access would deny cable companies the ability to recoup their investments, and maintain that cable providers should be allowed to charge. Not doing so, they predict, would discourage competition and innovation within the cable industry.

Cable supporters like the AT&T-sponsored Hands Off the Internet website assert that common carriage legislation would lead to higher prices and months of legal wrangling. They maintain that such legislation fixes a problem that doesn’t exist and scoff at concerns that phone and cable companies will use their position to limit access based on fees as groundless. Though cable companies deny plans to block content providers without cause, there are a number of examples of cable-initiated discrimination.

In March 2005, the FCC settled a case against a North Carolina-based telephone company that was blocking the ability of its customers to use voice-over-Internet calling services instead of (the more expensive) phone lines.4 In August 2005, a Canadian cable company blocked access to a site that supported the cable union in a labor dispute.5 In February 2006, Cox Communications denied customers access to the Craig’s List website. Though Cox claims that it was simply a security error, it was discovered that Cox ran a classified service that competes with Craig’s List.6
court decisions

In June of 1999, the Ninth District Court ruled that AT&T would have to open its cable network to ISPs (AT&T v. City of Portland). The court said that Internet transmissions, interactive, two-way exchanges, were telecommunication offerings, not a cable information service (like CNN) that sends data one way. This decision was overturned on appeal a year later.

Recent court decisions have extended the cable company agenda further. On June 27, 2005, The United States Supreme Court ruled that cable corporations like Comcast and Verizon were not required to share their lines with rival ISPs (National Cable & Telecommunications Association vs. Brand X Internet Services).7 Cable companies would not have to offer common carriage agreements for cable lines the way that telephone companies have for phone lines.

According to Dr. Elliot Cohen, the decision accepted the FCC assertion that cable modem service is not a two-way telecommunications offering, but a one-way information service, completely overturning the 1999 ruling. Meanwhile, telephone companies charge that such a decision gives an unfair advantage to cable companies and are requesting that they be released from their common carriage requirement as well.

On June 8, the House rejected legislation (HR 5273) that would have prevented phone and cable companies from selling preferential treatment on their networks for delivery of video and other data-heavy applications. It also passed the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement (COPE) Act (HR 5252), which supporters said would encourage innovation and the construction of more high-speed Internet lines. Internet neutrality advocates say it will allow phone and cable companies to cherry-pick customers in wealthy neighborhoods while eliminating the current requirement demanded by most local governments that cable TV companies serve low-income and minority areas as well. 8

Comment: As of June 2006, the COPE Act is in the Senate. Supporters say the bill supports innovation and freedom of choice. Interet neutrality advocates say that its passage would forever compromise the Internet. Giant cable companies would attain a monopoly on high-speed, cable Internet. They would prevent poorer citizens from broadband access, while monitoring and controlling the content of information that can be accessed.

1. “Keeping a Democratic Web,” The New York Times, May 2, 2006.
2. Jim Goldman, Larry Kudlow, and Phil Lebeau, “Panelists Michael Powell, Mike Holland, Neil Weinberg, John Augustine and Pablo Perez-Fernandez discuss markets,” Kudlow & Company CNBC, March 6, 2006.
4. Michael Geist, “Telus breaks Net Providers’ cardinal rule: Telecom company blocks access to site supporting union in labour dispute,” Ottawa Citizen, August 4, 2005.
5. Jonathan Krim, “Renewed Warning of Bandwidth Hoarding,” The Washington Post, November 24, 2005.
6. David A. Utter, “Craigslist Blocked By Cox Interactive,”, June 7, 2006.
7. Yuki Noguchi, “Cable Firms Don’t Have to Share Networks, Court Rules,” Washington Post, June 28, 2005.
8. “Last week in Congress / How our representatives voted,” Buffalo News (New York), June 11, 2006.

Despite the fact that the Court’s decision in Brand X marks the beginning of the end for a robust, democratic Internet, there has been a virtual MSM blackout in covering it. As a result of this decision, the legal stage has been set for further corporate control. Currently pending in Congress is the “Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006”(HR 5252), fueled by strong telecom corporative lobbies and introduced by Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX). This Act, which fails to adequately protect an open and neutral Internet, includes a “Title II—Enforcement of Broadband Policy Statement” that gives the FCC “exclusive authority to adjudicate any complaint alleging a violation of the broadband policy statement or the principles incorporated therein.” With the passage of this provision, courts will have scant authority to challenge and overturn FCC decisions regarding broadband. Since under current FCC Chair Kevin Martin, the FCC is moving toward still further deregulation of telecom and media companies, the likely consequence is the thickening of the plot to increase corporate control of the Internet. In particular, behemoth telecom corporations like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T want to set up toll booths on the Internet. If these companies get their way, content providers with deep pockets will be afforded optimum bandwidth while the rest of us will be left spinning in cyberspace. No longer will everyone enjoy an equal voice in the freest and most comprehensive democratic forum ever devised by humankind.

As might be expected, none of these new developments are being addressed by the MSM. Among media activist organizations attempting to stop the gutting of the free Internet is The Free Press (, which now has an aggressive “Save the Internet” campaign.

#2 Halliburton Charged with Selling Nuclear Technologies to Iran

Global, August 5, 2005
Title: “Halliburton Secretly Doing Business With Key Member of Iran’s Nuclear Team”
Author: Jason Leopold

Faculty Evaluator: Catherine Nelson
Student Researchers: Kristine Medeiros and Pla Herr

#3 Oceans of the World in Extreme Danger

Mother Jones, March /April, 2006
Title: The Fate of the Ocean
Author: Julia Whitty

Faculty Evaluator: Dolly Freidel
Student Researcher: Charlene Jones

#4 Hunger and Homelessness Increasing in the US

The New Standard, December 2005
Title: “New Report Shows Increase in Urban Hunger, Homelessness”
Author: Brendan Coyne, March, 2006
Title: “US Plan to Eliminate Survey of Needy Families Draws Fire “
Author: Abid Aslam

Faculty Evaluator: Myrna Goodman
Student Researcher: Arlene Ward and Brett Forest

#5 High-Tech Genocide in Congo

The Taylor Report, March 28, 2005
Title: “The World’s Most Neglected Emergency: Phil Taylor talks to Keith Harmon Snow”

Earth First! Journal, August 2005
Title: “High-Tech Genocide”
Author: Sprocket

Z Magazine, March 1, 2006
Title: “Behind the Numbers: Untold Suffering in the Congo”
Authors: Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski

Faculty Evaluator: Thom Lough
Student Researchers: Deyango Harris and Daniel Turner

#6 Federal Whistleblower Protection in Jeopardy

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility website
Titles: “Whistleblowers Get Help from Bush Administration,” December 5, 2005
“Long-Delayed Investigation of Special Counsel Finally Begins,” October 18,2005
“Back Door Rollback of Federal Whistleblower Protections,” September 22, 2005
Author: Jeff Ruch

Faculty Evaluator: Barbara Bloom
Student Researchers: Caitlyn Peele and Sara-Joy Christienson

Special Counsel Scott Bloch, appointed by President Bush in 2004, is overseeing the virtual elimination of federal whistleblower rights in the U.S. government.

# 7 US Operatives Torture Detainees to Death in Afghanistan and Iraq

American Civil Liberties Website, October 24, 2005
Title: “US Operatives Killed Detainees During Interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq”

Tom, March 5, 2006
Title: “Tracing the Trail of Torture: Embedding Torture as Policy from Guantanamo to Iraq”
Author: Dahr Jamail

Faculty Evaluator: Rabi Michael Robinson
Student Researchers: Michael B Januleski Jr. and Jessica Rodas

#8 Pentagon Exempt from Freedom of Information Act

New Standard, May 6, 2005
Title: “Pentagon Seeks Greater Immunity from Freedom of Information”
Author: Michelle Chen

Newspaper Association of America website, posted December 2005
Title: “FOIA Exemption Granted to Federal Agency”

Community Evaluator: Tim Ogburn
Student Researcher: Rachelle Cooper and Brian Murphy

#9 The World Bank Funds Israel-Palestine Wall

Left Turn Issue #18
Title: “Cementing Israeli Apartheid: The Role of World Bank”
Author: Jamal Juma’

Al-Jazeerah, March 9, 2005
Title: “US Free Trade Agreements Split Arab Opinion”
Author: Linda Heard

Community Evaluator: April Hurley, MD
Student Researchers: Bailey Malone and Lisa Dobias

#10 Expanded Air War in Iraq Kills More Civilians

The New Yorker, December 2005
Title: "Up in the Air"
Author: Seymour M. Hersh

Tomdispatch, December 2005
Title: "An Increasingly Aerial Occupation"
Author: Dahr Jamail

Community Evaluator: Robert Manning
Student Researcher: Brian Fuchs

#11 Dangers of Genetically Modified Food Confirmed

Independent/UK, May 22, 2005
Title: Revealed: “Health Fears Over Secret Study in GM Food”
Author: Geoffrey Lean

Organic Consumers Association website, June 2,2005
Title: “Monsanto's GE Corn Experiments on Rats Continue to Generate Global Controversy”
Authors: GM Free Cymru

Independent/UK, January 8, 2006
Title: GM: New Study Shows Unborn Babies Could Be Harmed”
Author: Geoffrey Lean

Le Monde and Truthout, February 9, 2006
Title: “New Suspicions About GMOs”
Author: Herve Kempf

Faculty Evaluator: Michael Ezra
Student Researchers: Destiny Stone and Lani Ready

#12 Pentagon Plans to Build New Landmines

Inter Press Service, August 3, 2005
Title: “After 10-Year Hiatus, Pentagon Eyes New Landmine”
Author: Isaac Baker

Human Rights Watch website, August 2005
Title: “Development and Production of Landmines”

Faculty Evaluator: Scott Suneson
Student Researchers: Rachel Barry and Matt Frick

#13 New Evidence Establishes Dangers of Roundup

Third World Resurgence, No. 176, April 2005
Title: “New Evidence of Dangers of Roundup Weedkiller”
Author: Chee Yoke Heong

Faculty Evaluator: Jennifer While
Student Researchers: Peter McArthur and Lani Ready

#14 Homeland Security Contracts KBR to Build Detention Centers in the US

New America Media, January 31, 2006
Title: “Homeland Security Contracts for Vast New Detention Camps”
Author: Peter Dale Scott

New America Media, February 21, 2006
Title: “10-Year US Strategic Plan for Detention Camps Revives Proposals from Oliver North”
Author: Peter Dale Scott

Consortiium, February 21, 2006
Title: “Bush's Mysterious ‘New Programs’”
Author: Nat Parry

Title: “Detention Camp Jitters”
Author: Maureen Farrell

Community Evaluator: Dr. Gary Evans
Student Researchers: Sean Hurley and Caitlyn Peele

#15 Chemical Industry is EPA’s Primary Research Partner

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, October 5, 2005
Title: “Chemical Industry Is Now EPA’s Main Research Partner”
Author: Jeff Ruch

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, October 6, 2005
Title: “EPA Becoming Arm of Corporate R&D”
Author: Jeff Ruch

Community Evaluator: Tim Ogburn
Student Researcher: Lani Ready and Peter McArthur

#16 Ecuador and Mexico Defy US on International Criminal Court

Agence France Press News (School of the Americas Watch), June 22, 2005
Title: “Ecuador Refuses to Sign ICC Immunity Deal for US Citizens”
Author: Alexander Martinez

Inter Press Service, November 2, 2005
Title: “Mexico Defies Washington on the International Criminal Court”
Author: Katherine Stapp

Faculty Evaluator: Elizabeth Martinez
Student Researchers: Jessica Rodas, David Abbott, and Charlene Jones

#17 Iraq Invasion Promotes OPEC Agenda

Harper’s in coordination with BBC Television Newsnight, October 24, 2005
Title: “OPEC and the economic conquest of Iraq”
Author: Greg Palast

The Guardian March 20, 2006
“ Bush Didn’t Bungle Iraq, You Fools: The Mission Was Indeed Accomplished”
Author: Greg Palast

Faculty Evaluator: David McCuan
Student Researcher: Isaac Dolido

#18 Physicist Challenges Official 9-11 Story

Deseret Morning News, November 10, 2005
Title: “Y. Professor Thinks Bombs, Not Planes, Toppled WTC”
Author: Elaine Jarvik

Brigham Young University website, Winter 2005
Title: “Why Indeed Did the WTC Buildings Collapse?”
Author: Steven E. Jones

Deseret Morning News, January 26, 2006
Title: “BYU professor's group accuses U.S. officials of lying about 9/11”
Author: Elaine Jarvik

Faculty Evaluator: John Kramer
Student Researchers: David Abbott and Courtney Wilcox

#19 Destruction of Rainforests Worst Ever

The Independent/UK, October 21, 2005
Title: “Revealed: the True Devastation of the Rainforest
Author: Steve Connor

Faculty Evaluator: Myrna Goodman
Student Researcher: Courtney Wilcox and Deanna Haddock

#20 Bottled Water: A Global Environmental Problem

Source:, February 5, 2006
Title: “Bottled Water: Nectar of the Frauds?”
Author: Abid Aslam

Faculty Evaluator: Liz Close
Student Researchers: Heidi Miller and Sean Hurley

#21 Gold Mining Threatens Ancient Andean Glaciers

Source:, June 20, 2005
Title: “Barrick Gold Strikes Opposition in South”
Author: Glenn Walker

InterPress Service, February 15, 2006
Title: “Chile: Yes, to Gold Mine But Don’t Touch the Glaciers”
Author: Daniela Estrda

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Roth
Student Researcher: Michelle Salvail

#22 $Billions in Homeland Security Spending Undisclosed

Congressional Quarterly, June 22, 2005.
Title: “Billions in States’ Homeland Purchases Kept in the Dark”
Author: Eileen Sullivan

Faculty Evaluator: Noel Byrne
Student Researchers: Monica Moura and Gary Phillips

#23 US Oil Targets Kyoto in Europe

The Guardian UK, December 8, 2005
Title: “Oil Industry Targets EU Climate Policy
Author: David Adam

The Independent UK, December 8, 2005
Title: “How America Plotted to Stop Kyoto Deal”
Author: Andrew Buncombe

Faculty Evaluator: Ervand Peterson
Student Researcher: Christy Baird

#24 Cheney’s Halliburton Stock Rose Over 3000 Percent Last Year

Raw Story, October 2005
Title: “Cheney’s Halliburton Stock Options Rose 3,281 Percent Last Year, Senator Finds”
Author: John Byrne

Senator Frank Lautenberg’s website
Title: “Cheney’s Halliburton Stock Options Soar to $9.2 Million”

Faculty Evaluator: Phil Beard
Student Researchers: Matthew Beavers and Willie Martin

#25 US Military in Paraguay Threatens Region

Upside Down World, October 5, 2005
Title: “Fears mount as US opens new military installation in Paraguay”
Author: Benjamin Dangl

Foreign Policy in Focus, November 21, 2005
Title: “Dark Armies, Secret Bases, and Rummy, Oh My!”
By Conn Hallinan

International Relations Center, December 14, 2005
Title: US Military Moves in Paraguay Rattle Regional Relations”
Sam Logan and Matthew Flynn

Faculty Evaluator: Patricia Kim-Ragal
Student Researchers: Nick Ramirez and Deyango Harris

Speedlinking 12/29/06

This the M42 galaxy:

~ The effect of the holiday season on body weight and composition in college students.
~ Study: Many Kids Too Fat by Preschool -- Wow, that's scary. This is more scary: 1 in 3 low-income preschoolers obese.
~ Horticulture therapy: the power of plants and flowers to heal.
~ Reveal those abs with crunches, cardio and diet -- And weight training, damn it, don't forget the weights.
~ Belly Fat Matters More than BMI When Determining Your Heart Disease Risks -- If you are shaped like an apple (lots of intra-abdominal fat), your risk is much higher than if you are shaped like a pear.
~ Spices and herbs may help you avoid disease -- It's about time medicine gets with the natural cures.

~ Reading Shakespeare Has Dramatic Effect On Human Brain -- The Bard rocks my brain as well as my soul. Very cool.
~ High-Quality Marriages Help To Calm Nerves.
~ Virtual Experiences Can Cause Embellished, False Memories.
~ Humour Helps You Live Longer -- That extra "u" in there is funny.
~ Glass Half Empty Overfilled -- It seems adults struggle with grasping volume the same as children do -- and it makes them eat more.
~ Sea Slug Offers Clues to Human Brain Disorders -- "Beneath a slimy fa├žade, the sea slug is somewhat of a brainiac. At any given time within a single brain cell, more than 10,000 genes are hard at work."
~ Preventing Teen Suicide a Tough Challenge -- "Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens, but doctors are far from figuring out how to spot and treat teens who might try to take their own lives."
~ Good News About the Blues: Scientists Discover Gene Therapy for Depression -- "Scientists have discovered a new gene that makes mice happy, a finding that suggests another avenue of drugs for improving depression in humans."
~ Aaron at Anxious Living has been reading about Generalized Anxiety.

~ From Time: The Bests of 2006, in 25 different categories.
~ John Edwards, 2.008 -- Has Edwards matured since 2004?
~ Australians Support Mandatory Fitness Testing To Combat Childhood Obesity -- I put this in culture because it seems to me an effort to impose cultural values (thinness) on kids. Reminds me of the presidential physical fitness tests from my childhood -- made a lot of kids hate exercise and feel bad about themselves.
~ A review of a new review on William James: The buzzing blooming life of William James.
~ A cult of wrongness -- Glenn Greenwald on Mark Steyn on Iraq and stuff.
~ Most Americans Want Public Policies to Prevent Obesity -- I sometimes favor these, but not as an across the board approach. We need to create some kind of personal responsibility, which means that smokers and the obese pay more for insurance -- a lot more.

~ The fuel tax America needs?
~ Oil Industry Blamed for Polluting India's Assam -- "Oil companies in India's northeastern state of Assam are responsible for polluting rivers and destroying rainforests and have been told to clean up their act or face closure, authorities said on Thursday."
~ Norway Wants U.S. Politicians to See Warming Arctic -- "Norway will invite U.S. politicians to visit a group of fast-thawing Arctic islands in 2007, hoping to win converts for tougher action against global warming, its foreign minister says."
~ Scientific American: In Focus: Most Important Science Stories of 2006.
~ Ice shelf collapse sends chill. Canada's North changing. Global warming suspected cause of huge breakup on Ellesmere Island.
~ Jefferson researchers uncover new way nature turns genes on and off -- From Kurzweil's blog.
~ From P2P Foundation: Attention Economy Recap and commentary from John Hagel.

~ From Mystery of Existence: Big Mind process and the belly center.
~ From Gary at Integral Seattle: Heroes and Monsters.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Firefox Issues

Is anyone else having problems with Firefox since the "upgrade"? At least once a day the thing crawls to a near dead stop and runs slower than ice. It was a pain in my arse that I had to shut down every couple of days before the upgrade, but now it's every day.

That blows.

I wish Flock would get their act together and finish version 1.0. I might have to resort to IE7 if this continues.

Naw, just joking.

Review: Beowulf & Grendel

Back in June (trailer and an early review to be found in that post) I was excited about the American release of Beowulf and Grendel, finally. But of course, it never came to Tucson. So I was surprised to find it at Blockbuster of all places.

The reviews have been nearly split, tending toward the "worthy effort, but sucked" side of the scale. I think it was a worthy effort, but that it didn't suck. Film critic Kim Voyner (whose witty husband is a blogger, by the way) wrote a review that I am down with.

My only real problem with the film is that they tried to make an epic tale filled with violence "safe" for a contemporary audience. And they took a few liberties with the plot, but that always happens when a novel, or more rarely an epic poem, is converted to the big screen. Even with those flaws, and the "f-bombs" some reviewers were offended by (prudes!), I liked this movie quite a bit. And as always, even though I liked that Beowulf displays some compassion and a sense of justice, I sided with Grendel, the misunderstood troll seeking revenge for the murder of his father.

The bigger morality tale here is what many reviews have commented on. It seems there is something in human nature, especially in the more primal worldviews that quickly resort to war, that dehumanizes the "other" so that it can be killed without remorse. Grendel is a monster, and only the witch, Selma, sees his humanity and can communicate with him.

The Danes kill Grendel's father because they crossed paths, for no other reason. The father hides his son, Grendel, who is discovered and then spared by the warrior who later becomes king. When Grendel begins to take his revenge, the king is never harmed even though as an aging drunk he is an easy target.

Beowulf, in a manner foreign to the author of the original tale -- and maybe owing much to novelist John Gardner -- wants to know WHY Grendel is attacking the Danes and slowly pieces together the story. But even that is not enough to stem the flow of blood and prevent the tragedy from being passed down.

As I watched the film, I could see the conflict of values memes playing themselves out on the screen. The original story is of a much different meme than the filmmakers, and the hero of the original epic is a different man than the hero of this film. It's fascinating to see how this works in the story, and sometimes doesn't.

All that said, I recommend this film.

Acoustic Guitar: Antoine Dufour - Trilogie

Another cool guitarist I found at YouTube.

Learning to Slow Down

This was yesterday's Daily Om:
The Time of Your Life
Learning to Slow Down

Throughout our lives, we are taught to value speed and getting things done quickly. We learn that doing is more valuable than merely being, and that making the most of life is a matter of forging ahead at a hurried pace. Yet as we lurch forward in search of some elusive sense of fulfillment, we find ourselves feeling increasingly harried and disconnected. More importantly, we fail to notice the simple beauty of living. When we learn to slow down, we rediscover the significance of seemingly inconsequential aspects of life. Mealtimes become meditative celebrations of nourishment. A job well-done becomes a source of profound pleasure, no matter what the nature of our labors. In essence, we give ourselves the gift of time—time to indulge our curiosity, to enjoy the moment, to appreciate worldly wonders, to sit and think, to connect with others, and to explore our inner landscapes more fully.

A life savored slowly need not be passive, inefficient, or slothful. Conducting ourselves at a slower pace enables us to be selective in how we spend our time and to fully appreciate each passing moment. Slowness can even be a boon in situations that seem to demand haste. When we pace ourselves for even a few moments as we address urgent matters, we can center ourselves before moving ahead with our plans. Embracing simplicity allows us to gradually purge from our lives those commitments and activities that do not benefit us in some way. The extra time we consequently gain can seem like vast, empty stretches of wasted potential. But as we learn to slow down, we soon realize that eliminating unnecessary rapidity from our experiences allows us to fill that time in a constructive, fulfilling, and agreeable way. We can relish our morning rituals, linger over quality time with loved ones, immerse ourselves wholeheartedly in our work, and take advantage of opportunities to nurture ! ourselves every single day.

You may find it challenging to avoid giving in to the temptation to rush, particularly if you have acclimated to a world of split-second communication, cell phones, email and overflowing agendas. Yet the sense of continuous accomplishment you lose when you slow down will quickly be replaced by feelings of magnificent contentment. Your relaxed tempo will open your mind and heart to deeper levels of awareness that help you discover the true gloriousness of being alive.
This has been one of the crucial lessons for me over the past couple of years. I used to think of time not spent being productive as being lazy. So even when I tried to get off the treadmill of responsibilities, I gave myself a hard time for it and never really relaxed into being present in the moment. My inner Critic and inner Pusher still get uneasy if I take two hours out of my afternoon to watch a movie (like I did yesterday) instead of reading or blogging.

Still, it's a work in progress. I tend to move as though I am late, always, and when I step back and look at myself, I see someone who is too tied to the clock, too focused on getting things done rather than actually doing them.

I think we can be slower and more relaxed and still be doing, rather than having to unplug completely. We simply need to be mindful and present in the moment instead of living in the next moment and the next.

Periodically, I rededicate myself to being mindful in my daily life. It's that time again. With the craziness that is January in the gym soon to arrive, cultivating the ability to stay centered and mindful amid the chaos is necessary.

Great Books: Good News and Bad News

For the third time (1985 and 1997 being the first two), the Siena Research Institute has conducted a survey of college freshmen and faculty to see which books they have read from the list of 30 great works they use as a reference.

The bad news is that in each year, freshmen have read fewer books from the list.

"In every case, the expectations by faculty what they believe college freshmen should have read in high school exceeds the reality of what they've actually read," said Tom Kelly, a Siena history professor emeritus. He conducted the survey with Douglas Lonnstrom, director of the Research Institute.

"There's a continuity of decline," Kelly said. "When you get to the bottom 10 of the 30 books, they're being read by fewer and fewer students."

For example, Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" was read by only 3 percent of freshmen surveyed, Tolstoy's "War and Peace" by just 4 percent and Aristotle's "Politics" by 5 percent.

The Bible dropped from 80 percent to 56 percent between 1985 and 2006 among surveyed faculty who recommended that freshmen should have read the Scriptures in high school.

Among novels read by freshmen, "Great Expectations" and "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens and George Orwell's "1984" dropped the most, with double-digit declines from 1985.

On the upside, the survey revealed a Brad Pitt factor and the power of Hollywood.

Kelly attributed sharp increases among students surveyed regarding those who've read Homer's "Odyssey" and "Iliad" (up from 43 percent to 59 percent) to the 2004 release of "Troy," a film adaptation of Homer's epic starring Pitt.

Similarly, a 2005 movie of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" starring Keira Knightley caused that book's stock to rise from 14 percent in 1985 to 23 percent among students surveyed in 2006.

The good news would seem to be that if they make a movie from a classic work, young people are more likely to read it. This is somewhat scary, since Hollywood isn't known for tackling heavy works too often. Still, if Brad Pitt can get people to read Homer, then more power to him.

Other bloggers
have felt that the good news is that fewer people are reading books on the list because the list was created by William Bennett during the Reagan years. I think that is stupid. The list has its flaws and is missing many things I'd like to see (maybe it should be 50 works), but all of the stuff on the list is material that an educated person should have read.

Here's the list:
1. The Works of Shakespeare
2. The Declaration of Independence
3. Twain, Mark, Huckleberry Finn
4. The poems of Emily Dickinson
5. The poems of Robert Frost
6. Hawthorne, Nathaniel, Scarlet Letter
7. Fitzgerald, Scott F., The Great Gatsby
8. Orwell, George, 1984
9. Homer, Odyssey and Iliad
10. Dickens, Charles, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities
11. Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Canterbury Tales
12. Salinger, J.D., Catcher in the Rye
13. The Bible
14. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden
15. Sophocles, Oedipus
16. Steinbeck, John, The Grapes of Wrath
17. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays and poems
18. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice
19. Whitman, Walt, Leaves of Grass
20. The novels of William Faulkner
21. Melville, Herman, Moby Dick
22. Milton, John, Paradise Lost
23. Vergil, Aeneid
24. Plato, The Republic
25. Marx, Karl, Communist Manifesto
26. Machiavelli, Niccolo, The Prince
27. Tocqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America
28. Dostoevski, Feodor, Crime and Punishment
29. Aristotle, Politics
30. Tolstoy, Leo, War and Peace
I've read 90% of what's on there -- never a big Dickens fan and never made it through Tolstoy. There's nothing on the list that should not be there. There are things that maybe should be there, which is why I'd like to see it expanded to 50.

Among the stuff missing: Poems of T.S. Eliot, Invisible Man by Ellison, Zen Mind Beginner's Mind by Suzuki, Varieties of the Religious Experience by James, Poetry of Allen Ginsburg, On the Road by Kerouac, and The Greek Myths by Robert Graves.

What else is missing?

Speedlinking 12/28/06

This morning's image is from Live Science -- I love old house like this one.

~ TBT vs. Splits: An Analysis -- this is cool. "Lately there's been much discussion about whether it's more beneficial to do total body training (TBT) or some version of a split system where parts of the body are separated for different workouts. " I side with the total body approach since I am athlete and not a bodybuilder, because my schedule sometimes requires a missed workout, because it keeps me lean, and because I spend less total time training by using supersets.
~ Expanding Our Knowledge About Expanding Waistlines.
~ Pet Owners Are Sick More Often And Exercise Less Than Other Working-aged People -- interesting study.
~ Energy Bars: Health Food or Candy? Look for higher protein and less than ten grams of sugar. Also avoid bars with soy as the only protein and with collagen or hydrolyzed collagen as a primary protein source -- it is not digestible as a protein.
~ Protection Against Cancer May Begin During Pregnancy -- Good pregnancy diet protects one's child much later in life.
~ Popular supplement fails to lower cholesterol -- Policosanol fails in this study. The best supplements for cholesterol are fiber, garlic, cinnamon, and fish oil.

~ Do Men Have Less Psychological Gender Than Women?
~ Experience Sculpts Brain Circuitry To Build Resiliency To Stress. "It's long been known that experiencing control over a stressor immunizes a rat from developing a depression-like syndrome when it later encounters stressors that it can't control."
~ Orexin reinforces the euphoria felt when drinking alcohol -- “Orexin reinforces the euphoria felt when drinking alcohol, so if a drug can be developed to block the Orexin system in humans, we should be able to stop an alcoholic’s craving for alcohol, as well as preventing relapse once the alcoholic has recovered.”
~ Cellular Killer Also Important To Memory -- "A protein known primarily for its role in killing cells also plays a part in memory formation, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign report." The body is amazing system where everything is interconnected.
~ Brains Can Recover From Alcoholic Damage But Patients Should Stop Drinking As Soon As Possible.
~ Acupuncture Not a Viable Treatment for Depression.
~ Positive Psychology & Happiness -- I'm not a big fan of positive psychology. It feels to me like repression of anything dark and unhappy, which makes for a big fat shadow and lots of unconscious projection.

~ Rabbi Gellman: Christians Must Reassert Holocaust Truth -- How Christians should respond to Holocaust denial from a Jewish leader.
~ Web Glitch Causes John Edwards to Announce Candidacy A Day Early -- John Edwards makes it official.
~ Dispel The Top 10 Myths About Evolution.
~ Court sides with government in steroids probe -- Pro baseball is about to get spanked -- 100 players who tested positive three years ago can be used in the govt's steroid case.
~ In Mecca, more than 1.6M ready for hajj. And from Beliefnet: Your Guide to the Hajj Pilgrimage.
~ Gratitude Comes Through Service.
~ Top Ten Stories of 2006: 10) US Elections Yield Calls for Civility, Honesty.

~ FDA Set to OK Food From Cloned Animals -- In theory, this seems like a no-brainer, two animals with the same DNA should be identical. But in practice, cloned animals seem to be much more prone to cell mutations that could be disease causing when consumed. There needs to be more research.
~ Living near busy street ups breathing problems -- The joy of urban life.
~ Stabilizing Southern Africa Through Information Technology.
~ Will Polar Bears Catch a Break? Looks like they will be listed as endangered.
~ Dow tops 12,500 and two-thirds -- or more -- of Americans are still living paycheck to paycheck.
~ Two-Headed Reptile Fossil From Age of Dinosaurs Found.
~ Talking Fish: Wide Variety of Sounds Discovered -- "At least 1,000 species communicate by sound, and scientists are only beginning to discover the range of bizarre noise-making and listening techniques."
~ Ten Simple Things You Can Do to Go Green.
~ Youth Worldwide Raise $40,000 to Help Orphaned Chimps.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Review: Ballad of Jack and Rose

The Ballad of Jack and Rose isn't a new film, but when it made the rounds back in 2005, it never came to Tucson. So like many other "art" films, I had to wait for the DVD. The only reason this film even hit my radar was because Daniel Day-Lewis, the star, and his film maker wife, Rebecca Miller, were on Charlie Rose this summer.

I liked this film. It's a strange little parable, and I like parables. The story is telegraphed early on, but the actors carry the tension so well that I was captivated. All the performances are great, especially Lewis who lost a lot of weight for this role.

The atmosphere is the film is palpable, but part of that may be that I grew up in an area where the commune movement of the sixties and seventies was just dying out as I was growing up. I know these people, my friends lived in homes like this with radical enviro fathers like Jack. The conflict of progress and ideals that sets the stage for this film, and works as the backdrop against which the drama is enacted, is all too familiar to me. I watched land that was once limited to parcels no smaller than five acres be carved up into subdivisions.

But as the title characters, the real drama is between father and daughter. Rose is seething with adolescent energy, all the while struggling with the ideals in which she was raised. Her mother has been gone for many years, so until Jack's girlfriend moves in, it was just the two of them. When the new woman enters the scene, unconscious or preconscious shadow material erupts, especially in Rose.

This film seems to have been almost universally dismissed -- it has a 46% rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes (Roger Ebert liked it and that's good enough for me -- caution, he reveals a lot more plot than I do). It's worth noting that Miller has recently received a reprieve from the bad reviews Ballad earned after rewriting Proof for the big screen.

I guess I am in the minority who enjoyed this film. Well, not so much enjoyed, maybe was moved by it. Or, rather, it left me sitting in silence watching dark clouds crawl across the sky outside my window.

That doesn't happen often.

You can see the trailer here.

Imagining the Tenth Dimension

This is a simple, but cool, attempt to explain the ten dimensions of string theory and/or super string theory. I found this at Cool Stuff.

It feels a bit incomplete to me, like they left out a few logic steps, but then I am no physicist.

Bird Brains

That's actually the title of a book about corvids, but as much as it pains me to say this, parrots may be the smarter birds. A raven can take a parrot in most situations, including problem solving. Yet it seems that parrots have the market cornered on verbal skills.

This is from the BBC:
Parrot's oratory stuns scientists
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

N'kisi on chairback   Grace Roselli
Feathered prodigy: N'kisi leads the field

The finding of a parrot with an almost unparalleled power to communicate with people has brought scientists up short.

The bird, a captive African grey called N'kisi, has a vocabulary of 950 words, and shows signs of a sense of humour.

He invents his own words and phrases if he is confronted with novel ideas with which his existing repertoire cannot cope - just as a human child would do.

N'kisi's remarkable abilities, which are said to include telepathy, feature in the latest BBC Wildlife Magazine.

N'kisi is believed to be one of the most advanced users of human language in the animal world.

About 100 words are needed for half of all reading in English, so if N'kisi could read he would be able to cope with a wide range of material.

Polished wordsmith

He uses words in context, with past, present and future tenses, and is often inventive.

One N'kisi-ism was "flied" for "flew", and another "pretty smell medicine" to describe the aromatherapy oils used by his owner, an artist based in New York.

When he first met Dr Jane Goodall, the renowned chimpanzee expert, after seeing her in a picture with apes, N'kisi said: "Got a chimp?"

N'kisi with picture card and teacher   Grace Roselli
School's in: He is a willing learner
He appears to fancy himself as a humourist. When another parrot hung upside down from its perch, he commented: "You got to put this bird on the camera."

Dr Goodall says N'kisi's verbal fireworks are an "outstanding example of interspecies communication".

In an experiment, the bird and his owner were put in separate rooms and filmed as the artist opened random envelopes containing picture cards.

Analysis showed the parrot had used appropriate keywords three times more often than would be likely by chance.

Captives' frustrations

This was despite the researchers discounting responses like "What ya doing on the phone?" when N'kisi saw a card of a man with a telephone, and "Can I give you a hug?" with one of a couple embracing.

Professor Donald Broom, of the University of Cambridge's School of Veterinary Medicine, said: "The more we look at the cognitive abilities of animals, the more advanced they appear, and the biggest leap of all has been with parrots."

Alison Hales, of the World Parrot Trust, told BBC News Online: "N'kisi's amazing vocabulary and sense of humour should make everyone who has a pet parrot consider whether they are meeting its needs.

"They may not be able to ask directly, but parrots are long-lived, and a bit of research now could mean an improved quality of life for years."

All images courtesy and copyright of Grace Roselli.

The Simpsons Movie Trailer

Coming in July, 2007, D'oh! on the big screen.

Gerald Ford Passes Away at Age 93

Here are a few obits gathered by Jonathan Singer at MyDD:
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the passing of Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States. For those interested, there are a number of thoughtful and comprehensive obituaries online at this hour, including from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit Free Press, The Grand Rapids Press, The Palm Springs Desert Sun, McClatchy, The Associated Press and Reuters.
In These Times notes that he will be remembered almost solely for his pardons of GOP criminals.

Poem: Jane Kenyon

Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper. . . .

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. . . .

I am food on the prisoner's plate. . . .

I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . .

I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden. . . .

I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge. . . .

I am the heart contracted by joy. . .
the longest hair, white
before the rest. . . .

I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow. . . .

I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . .

I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name. . . .