Saturday, August 02, 2008

John McCain Sucks

Andrew Sullivan hits the nail on the head.


Yes, the last couple of weeks of the campaign, even from my remote perch, were pretty uninspiring on the GOP side. Here's my brief take, for what it's worth. Obama's fortnight was an objectively miraculous one: Maliki and then (almost) Bush endorsed his withdrawal timetable from Iraq (game, set and match to BO), he conducted himself with foreign leaders flawlessly, burnished his international rep, and proved the force of his soft power potential. (By the way, 200,000 in Berlin was less, it seems to me, about the celebrity of Obama than about the disaster of Bush-Cheney. Obama is the vehicle for the world's hope for the return of the America they remember.) But the flipside of this kind of success is always an attempt to take the dude down a few pegs and I can't get too worked up about that. Of course a candidate being greeted the way Obama was in Europe will prompt a raspberry from the back-row when he gets back home. I don't see anything that awful about that. It's actually quite healthy in a democracy.

Still, it also had the hallmarks of the usual boomer dust-ups. The arrogant-celebrity meme is a variation on the usual Rovian fare: empty of actual policy substance but evocative of playground loyalties and resentments. Basically, McCain called Obama a girl, to appeal to the jocks, and then called him arrogant to flatter the nerds.

Paris Hilton is a two-fer. Choosing a female celebrity is integral to the usual attempt to feminize the Democrat. I could see nothing racist whatever in the message, mind you, but it was, as Weaver noted, pretty asinine.

Less asinine was McCain's two-pronged lie that Obama would rather lose a war than a campaign and that he snubbed injured troops in Germany. The former is repulsive and you can tell McCain knows it because he has a weird habit of saying it and then grinning broadly and humming a little to himself as a semi-laugh. He doesn't own the statement even as he says it. The charge itself is about as uncivil as it is possible to be, close to calling Obama treasonous, right? And the troop snub jibe is simply, demonstrably untrue, as the McCain camp was forced to semi-concede.

So McCain's main moves these past two weeks have been either childish or disgusting, and both times he has signaled he didn't really believe his own message.

He doesn't seem like a serious president to me.

(Cartoon from yesterday's WaPo by the great Tom Toles.)

Ethics? Nope.
New ideas? Nope.
A politics of hope? Not a chance.
Karl Rove puppeteering another empty-suit candidate? Check.

Susan Piver - We’re So Close, It’s lonely

Susan Piver had this nice article on relationships as a Buddhist in the Fall issue of Buddhadharma. She was kind enough to post it online. Even Buddhists can act like children in relationships, and learn powerful lessons from the experience.

We’re so Close, it’s lonely
By Susan Piver

Relationships are lonely. Even good ones. My relationship with my husband is lonely. My relationship with my guru is lonely. They’re the same kind of lonely. And these are the good relationships.

The other day, we had a fight (my husband and me, not Rinpoche and me). It was a bad one. Super bad. Bad like leaving-the-house-at-1 a.m.-to-go-sleep-on-the-couch-in-my-office bad. It’s so cliché to say I can’t even remember what it was about, but I sort of can’t. Well maybe I can, but I just don’t want to believe that something so unbelievably stupid (someone not telling someone else that they bought a new camera, for example; I mean it only cost $200 and I needed it for work) could cause two normally sane people to absolutely lose their minds and jump all up and down yelling at each other. I mean for goodness sake.

I dragged myself home at 6 a.m., dreading seeing him, but also hoping I would so he could see that I was still ignoring him. As I let myself in and walked up the stairs to our bedroom, he was exiting the shower, towel around his waist. Although I was still angry, I could see that he no longer was. He came toward me and held his palms up to me like two “hold it right there” signs or, possibly, two “OK, OK, I give up” signs. My palms spontaneously rose to mirror his, whether to stop him from coming closer or to hold him to me, I also couldn’t tell. In that moment, I realized I was trapped. I couldn’t push him away, nor could I hold him close enough. I couldn’t keep him at bay because our lives are no longer two separate-but-parallel tracks as they were when we began living together. No. We’re living one life together now. I don’t know how or when this happened.
Go read the whole article - it's only a page.

Behind the Scenes: Amanpour 'transfixed' by Dalai Lama

CNN has been taking a look at the Dalai Lama and the Tibet situation as the China Olympics approach. Some interesting stuff.
Behind the Scenes: Amanpour 'transfixed' by Dalai Lama

By Christiane Amanpour
CNN Chief International Correspondent

In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events. CNN's Christiane Amanpour meets the Dalai Lama and some of his unruly flock in "Buddha's Warriors" airing Saturday and Sunday, 8 and 11 p.m. ET

Dalai Lama and Christiane Amanpour

The Dalai Lama cracked jokes and chatted when a storm knocked out power during his interview with CNN.

DHARAMSALA, India (CNN) -- I never knew much about Buddhism, and was not expecting much, spiritually, from covering the Dalai Lama. But what happened just goes to show how the unlikeliest events can affect you at the unlikeliest times.

I flew from covering the historic visit of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in North Korea to Dharamsala, India. This is the home-in-exile of the Dalai Lama and his government, as well as thousands of Tibetan monks and supporters.

Our visit coincided with the events that commemorate each March 10, the date the Dalai Lama fled Tibet on horseback in 1959. He managed to evade the Chinese Communist forces, disguised as a soldier and escaping at night. The somber remembrance is a little like what the Palestinians do every year. They call it al-Nakba, or "catastrophe," which marks 1948 when they lost much of their land as the state of Israel was founded.

This year, however, the March 10 anniversary took on a more ominous tone. It was the first time the growing split among Tibetan exiles burst into the open. Some of the younger generation of exiles are losing faith in the Dalai Lama's abandonment of the dream of Tibetan independence. Some want action, even if it might mean abandoning their peaceful Buddhist way.

I wanted to ask the Dalai Lama about this and where he thought it would lead.

Read the whole article.

Additional links:

Video Watch: Amanpour investigates new breed of Buddhists »
Photo See behind-the-scenes photos from Buddha's Warriors »
Learn about Tibet's history of conflict »

Buddha's Warriors: The split
Buddha's Warriors: The March
Hidden Burma

Cardio in a Pill?

This story hit the news a couple of days ago, but I wanted to post the actual press release.

I can see one obvious downside in that this substance triggers fast twitch muscle fibers (associated with strength and power) to switch to slow twitch muscle fibers (associated with endurance). No one who wants a good physique would want to use this drug. Would you rather look like a sprinter?

Or a marathoner?

But for those who are overweight and only concerned with improved health, this could be very useful.

However, I can see this being abused by cyclists and marathoners by next season.
First performance-enhancing drugs for exercise endurance?

While steroids can help build the bulky muscles that lend athletes and body builders power and speed, there hadn't been a drug capable of building the endurance needed to run a marathon or to ride a bike through the Alps. Now, there just might be, suggests a new study in mice reported in the journal Cell, a Cell Press publication.

The report shows that a drug developed for the treatment of metabolic disease, when taken in combination with exercise, gives mice the ability to run farther than exercise training alone can.

"When we gave the mice a small amount of daily exercise in the presence or not of the drug, all showed an increased ability to run. But those on the drug gained an additional hour," said Ronald Evans of the Salk Institute.

Moreover, they found, treatment with another compound endowed mice with greater endurance, even without the exercise. "It's tricking the muscle into 'believing' it's been exercised daily," Evans said. "It's basically the couch potato experiment, and it proves you can have a pharmacologic equivalent to exercise."

Both chemicals work by tapping into the molecular pathways that normally reprogram muscle in response to exercise. The findings could be a boon to those with health problems that make exercise difficult, he said. However, they also have a "high potential for abuse" by athletes, despite the fact that the effects seen in the mice may or may not work as well in highly trained individuals who may be "pushing the limits" already.

Skeletal muscle comes in two main types: bulky fast twitch muscles for power and speed and slender slow twitch muscles for endurance. Fast twitch muscles burn sugar that must be stored in the muscle itself while slow twitch muscle burns fat.

Earlier studies by Evans' team showed they could genetically engineer, or "pre-program" mice to produce more of the fat-burning slow twitch muscle fibers, turning them into "marathon mice" with nearly 100 percent greater running endurance as untrained adults. The key was ramping up activity of a gene in muscle called PPARd, known to control other genes important to skeletal muscle metabolism.

But could you re-program rather than pre-program the muscles of adult animals by simply giving a drug that acts on PPARd?

To find out, they gave mice an experimental drug, known only as GW1516, that increases the activity of PPARd. The drug is being tested for the treatment of metabolic disease, but Evans wanted to know what effects it might have on muscle.

"It was a spectacular failure," Evans said. "The drug by itself had no impact on running ability" even though their were changes in muscle gene activity.

Something was missing from the equation, so the researchers took a different tack. They gave the PPARd drug to mice that were undergoing exercise training. The same dose and duration of GW1516 treatment that previously failed to alter performance, when paired with four weeks of exercise training, increased the animals' running time by 68 percent and their running distance by 70 percent over trained mice given a placebo, they report.

The muscles of those mice also showed a unique "endurance gene signature," including patterns of gene activity not seen with either the drug or exercise alone. That pattern did bear a striking resemblance to the one seen years earlier in the genetically engineered marathon mice, they noted.

Since PPARd on its own wasn't enough, the researchers decided to try one more thing: a chemical known as AICAR that was known to act on a gene called AMPK. Evans group suspected AMPK might be the link between exercise and PPARd.

To their surprise, even in sedentary mice, four weeks of AICAR treatment alone induced metabolic genes and enhanced running endurance by 44 percent. "We were blown away that AICAR alone mimicked exercise—not to the same level but a healthy boost," Evans said.

"In this study, we revealed that synthetic PPARd activation and exercise or more importantly AMPK activation alone, provides a robust transcriptional cue that re-programs the skeletal muscle genome and dramatically enhances endurance," the researchers concluded. "We believe that the strategy of re-organizing the preset genetic imprint of muscle (as well as other tissues) using exercise mimetic drugs has therapeutic potential in treating certain muscle diseases such as wasting and frailty as well as obesity where exercise is known to be beneficial."

Given the potential for abuse by athletes set on winning at any cost, Evans said his group has already spoken to the World Anti-Doping Agency and is developing a test aimed at detecting use of the PPARd-boosting drug. That test won't be available in time for this summer's Olympic games, he said. It also wouldn't detect the use of AICAR, a chemical that is available but isn't an FDA-approved drug.

While the potential for important health benefits is substantial, "both [compounds] are very logical targets for athletic abuse, and we need to be aware of that," Evans said.


The researchers include Vihang A. Narkar, Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA; Michael Downes, Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA; Ruth T. Yu, Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA; Emi Embler, Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA; Yong-Xu Wang, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA; Ester Banayo, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, La Jolla, CA; Maria M. Mihaylova, Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA; Michael C. Nelson, Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA; Yuhua Zou, Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA; Henry Juguilon, Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA; Heonjoong Kang, Marine Biotechnology Laboratory, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea; Reuben J. Shaw, Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA; and Ronald M. Evans, Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, La Jolla, CA

Lou Reed in Concert from NPR

I've recently discovered NPR's music podcasts, often featuring whole concerts -- and some of my favorite performers. A couple of weeks ago it was Lou Reed, live at Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, NJ on April 24, recorded by his engineer, Chris Bailey. Great show.

Lou Reed in Concert

Hear the Legendary Rock Artist Recorded Live at the Paramount Theatre

Lou Reed 300, May 6, 2008 - If we asked all the musicians featured on All Songs Considered to name their biggest influence, I bet the most popular answer would be Lou Reed. His songwriting in the Velvet Underground, and 40 years of songwriting since, is filled with street-life poetry and train-throbbing rhythms absent from rock and roll in the mid 1960s.

So when we saw that Lou Reed was touring this spring, we just had to record one of his shows for our live online concert series. It looked like the best chance was his April 22 set at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club.

Lou Reed is 66 now but gave a remarkable performance. There was music from The Velvet Underground, including "Sweet Jane" and "I'm Set Free" and "I'm Sticking with You."

There was music from this decade, including a stunning version of "Ecstasy," with Lou Reed's voice in fine form, and "Guardian Angel" from The Raven, his exploration into the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe. Reed also performed a new song called "Power of the Heart."

All the musicians in his band were craftsmen, including long time guitarists Steve Hunter (remember the opening guitar riffs on the Rock and Roll Animal album?) along with guitarist Michael Rathke, bassist Rob Wasserman, drummer Tony "Thunder" Smith, electronics by Sarth Calhoun and keyboards, accordion and mandolin by Kevin Hearn.

We did record Reed's entire performance at the 9:30 Club and planned to post it here. But in the end, he decided to share a different show with us and the All Songs Considered concert series. The performance featured here was recorded at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, NJ on April 24 by his engineer, Chris Bailey.

Our photographs from Joel Didriksen are from the 9:30 club performance.

Sweet Jane
I'm Set Free
I'm Sticking With You
Power of the Heart
I Wanna Know
Halloween Parade
Video Violence
Guardian Angel
Magic and Loss

Pale Blue Eyes

The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn

Another good free article from the current issue of Scientific American Mind. This feature article looks at the history and importance of story telling and what it reveals about human beings and our psyches.

While a lot of people see our intelligence or our culture, or maybe even our ability to ask questions about who we are, as the defining feature of human beings, I tend to think that it is our ability to tell stories -- about ourselves, about our family or community, or about our species and the world around us -- that makes us distinctly human. So this article is wonderful in that light.
The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn
Our love for telling tales reveals the workings of the mind
By Jeremy Hsu

Key Concepts

  • Storytelling is a human universal, and common themes appear in tales throughout history and all over the the world.
  • These characteristics of stories, and our natural affinity toward them, reveal clues about our evolutionary history and the roots of emotion and empathy in the mind.
  • By studying narrative’s power to influence beliefs, researchers are discovering how we analyze information and accept new ideas.

When Brad Pitt tells Eric Bana in the 2004 film Troy that “there are no pacts between lions and men,” he is not reciting a clever line from the pen of a Hollywood screenwriter. He is speaking Achilles’ words in English as Homer wrote them in Greek more than 2,000 years ago in the Iliad. The tale of the Trojan War has captivated generations of audiences while evolving from its origins as an oral epic to written versions and, finally, to several film adaptations. The power of this story to transcend time, language and culture is clear even today, evidenced by Troy’s robust success around the world.

Popular tales do far more than entertain, however. Psychologists and neuroscientists have recently become fascinated by the human predilection for storytelling. Why does our brain seem to be wired to enjoy stories? And how do the emotional and cognitive effects of a narrative influence our beliefs and real-world decisions?

The answers to these questions seem to be rooted in our history as a social animal. We tell stories about other people and for other people. Stories help us to keep tabs on what is happening in our communities. The safe, imaginary world of a story may be a kind of training ground, where we can practice interacting with others and learn the customs and rules of society. And stories have a unique power to persuade and motivate, because they appeal to our emotions and capacity for empathy.

A Good Yarn
Storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history. Anthropologists find evidence of folktales everywhere in ancient cultures, written in Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Chinese, Egyptian and Sumerian. People in societies of all types weave narratives, from oral storytellers in hunter-gatherer tribes to the millions of writers churning out books, television shows and movies. And when a characteristic behavior shows up in so many different societies, researchers pay attention: its roots may tell us something about our evolutionary past.

To study storytelling, scientists must first define what constitutes a story, and that can prove tricky. Because there are so many diverse forms, scholars often define story structure, known as narrative, by explaining what it is not. Exposition contrasts with narrative by being a simple, straightforward explanation, such as a list of facts or an encyclopedia entry. Another standard approach defines narrative as a series of causally linked events that unfold over time. A third definition hinges on the typical narrative’s subject matter: the interactions of intentional agents—characters with minds—who possess various motivations.

However narrative is defined, people know it when they feel it. Whether fiction or nonfiction, a narrative engages its audience through psychological realism—recognizable emotions and believable interactions among characters.

“Everyone has a natural detector for psychological realism,” says Raymond A. Mar, assistant professor of psychology at York University in Toronto. “We can tell when something rings false.”

But the best stories—those retold through generations and translated into other languages—do more than simply present a believable picture. These tales captivate their audience, whose emotions can be inextricably tied to those of the story’s characters. Such immersion is a state psychologists call “narrative transport.”

Researchers have only begun teasing out the relations among the variables that can initiate narrative transport. A 2004 study by psychologist Melanie C. Green, now at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, showed that prior knowledge and life experience affected the immersive experience. Volunteers read a short story about a gay man attending his college fraternity’s reunion. Those who had friends or family members who were homosexual reported higher transportation, and they also perceived the story events, settings and characters to be more realistic. Transportation was also deeper for participants with past experiences in fraternities or sororities. “Familiarity helps, and a character to identify with helps,” Green explains.
Read the rest of this article.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Jon Stewart Names McCain 'Dick of the Week'

And well deserved. He also takes on the MSM for their ignorant coverage.

Hat tip to AlterNet for posting this.

Obama On Energy Rebates And The 'Race Card'

Via NPR, an interview with Barack Obama.
Obama On Energy Rebates And The 'Race Card'

Listen Now [7 min 56 sec] add to playlist

Sen. Barack Obama
Mark Carlson -Illinois Sen. Barack Obama speaks during a town hall meeting in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Aug. 1, 2008. AP

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says the recent spate of attack ads from Republican John McCain's campaign distracts from the pressing issues facing Americans.

"You know, that, I think, is an indication that they don't have many good ideas in terms of actually solving problems for the American people," Obama told NPR's Michele Norris. "And my goal is to keep talking about the issues that matter."

Obama spoke to Norris from St. Petersburg, Fla., where earlier on Friday he unveiled a proposal for a new $50 billion economic stimulus package, which would be funded by deficit spending and through a new tax on oil company profits.

"If you continue to see an economic slide, that is going to cost far more in terms of tax revenues, because businesses aren't selling, taxes aren't being collected," Obama said. "And what we're going to end up with is a much worse situation."

Obama's economic plan would send $1,000 "emergency" rebate checks to consumers struggling with increased energy costs. The goal, he said, is to offset the cost of gasoline and heating bills over a four-month period.

Obama and Norris discussed the details of his short-term stimulus plan. The Illinois senator also addressed charges recently leveied by the McCain campaign that he is "playing the race card." Below are excerpts from their conversation.

MICHELE NORRIS: This morning you announced a new emergency economic plan. It includes a $50 billion package. Can you promise to pay for all that without increasing our debt? Where will this money come from?

BARACK OBAMA: When it comes to a stimulus package, typically you are not looking at offsets, because what you are trying to do is to prevent the economy from going into a further tailspin, which will cut tax revenues. So hopefully, just by stimulating the economy, the stimulus is paying for itself.

On the short term, this is $50 billion that is financed by the deficit. But what I've said is that we need a short-term stimulus and then we need a long-term policy for fiscal restraint, and that means eliminating waste in government. It means rolling back the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. It means beginning to wind down the war in Iraq, where we're spending $10 billion every single month. But when it comes to short-term stimulus, the key is just making sure that we avoid the economy going into a further tailspin.

But with the deficit as high as it is right now, is it responsible to propose something that is likely to increase deficit spending?

Well, Michele, understand that if we continue on the trends we're on right now, where unemployment keeps on going up -– I'm in Florida, where they are in recession for the first time in 16 years — if you continue to see an economic slide, that is going to cost far more in terms of tax revenues, because businesses aren't selling, taxes aren't being collected. And what we're going to end up with is a much worse situation when it comes to our deficit.

You know because of the timing of our program that many of our listeners are in their cars. And so I want to ask you about your proposal to force big oil companies to share their record-breaking windfall profits. It's hard to find an economist who supports the idea of a windfall profits tax. Most argue that this would stifle investment in oil discovery and oil production precisely at the moment when the U.S. should be encouraging more.

Classic economic theory says you don't meddle in the markets. Look, I mean, most economists buy into that approach. Exxon Mobil made $12 billion last quarter. They made $11 billion before that, and $11 billion before that, and not all of this is going into research and development — and families need some relief.

Now, I am the first to admit that what we need is a comprehensive plan, and that's what I've been putting forward for the last 18 months — making sure that we're increasing fuel-efficiency standards on cars drastically, investing in the retooling so that we can have plug-in hybrids. I have set a goal that we reduce our oil consumption by 30 percent over the next 20 years. So that's the long-term answer to rising gas prices.

But in the short term, the notion that oil companies that have been making record profits, hand over fist, can't give a little bit of that back to make sure that not just drivers but senior citizens on fixed income are going to have the ability to pay for heating this winter, which is going to be a huge potential problem — I don't think that's too much to ask.

Before I let you go, senator, I just want to ask you about this sparring that's been going on back and forth between the two campaigns. Yesterday, the John McCain campaign accused you of playing the race card. This morning, one of your top strategists, David Axelrod, acknowledged that you were referring to race among other things when you talked about how you present a different image than the faces that we now see on our currency, on our $1 bills and on our $5 bills. I just want to be clear about what you were trying to say in that comment. How has the GOP or the McCain campaign been using scare tactics, particularly when it comes to race?

This notion that somehow I was playing the race card is ridiculous. What I said in front of a 98 percent conservative, rural, white audience in Missouri is nothing that I haven't said before, which is, I don't come out of central casting when it comes to what presidential candidates typically look like. And it doesn't just have to do with race. It has to do with my name. It has to do with my biography and my background. It has to do with our message of change.

And so in no ways do I think that the McCain campaign has targeted race issues — although I will say that the way that they've amplified this, you know, has been troublesome. And the eagerness with which they've done it indicates they think they can exploit this politically, but in fact, what I have said – and there's not doubt about this, they've said it themselves — is that they want to make me appear risky to the American people. I don't think there's any doubt that people are still trying to figure out what's this young guy doing running for president. Our job is to make sure that they understand that the changes we are promoting are changes that have to be made — that if we don't make them, that's the riskier course.

Because race is such a tricky thing –- you yourself acknowledged that in your speech in Philadelphia — to the extent that they do try to exploit this, how do you inoculate against that? How do you, as a candidate in a historical position, given that some Americans may feel some discomfort about crossing that historical threshold, how do you deal with that?

You know, I have great confidence in the American people. I mean, if you look at the campaign that John McCain has run over the last month, it's been "Paris Hilton, Britney Spears." This latest episode just recently, the false accusation that I refused to visit troops [during Obama's recent trip to Germany] because the cameras weren't with me, suggesting that I would rather lose a war so I could win a political campaign. You know, there have been a — just a sustained caricature of me and character attacks against me.

You know, that, I think, is an indication that they don't have many good ideas in terms of actually solving problems for the American people. And my goal is to keep talking about the issues that matter.

You can also listen to David Brooks and EJ Dionne pontificate on the interview.

Brooks, Dionne Dissect Obama Interview

Listen Now [4 min 28 sec] add to playlist

All Things Considered, August 1, 2008 · Regular political commentators E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times offer their insight on the interview with Sen. Barack Obama. They also discuss the rest of the week in presidential politics.

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How Marriage Has Changed Over History

Psychology Today reposted an old article on the history of marriage, an "institution" that has changed greatly over the centuries.

Conservatives nearly always argue that they want to preserve "traditional" marriage (especially when arguing against the rights of gay men and lesbians to marry), but they seldom specify which tradition they want to preserve.

I wonder if they would prefer the Ancient Greek model? Or maybe the 12th century European model?

The reality is that "tradition" is just another name for the old way of doing things. Change is the only constant in the universe (well, OK, gravity seems to be a constant as well), and it's time that conservatives deal with the reality that ALL things change, including our ideas of marriage.
Marriage, a History
Long ago, love was a silly reason for a match. How marriage has changed over history.

Through most of Western civilization, marriage has been more a matter of money, power and survival than of delicate sentiments. In medieval Europe, everyone from the lord of the manor to the village locals had a say in deciding who should wed. Love was considered an absurdly flimsy reason for a match. Even during the Enlightenment and Victorian eras, adultery and friendship were often more passionate than marriage. These days, we marry for love—and are rewarded with a blistering divorce rate.


What's love got to do with it? In early history, politics and money trumped emotions.

  • Ancient Greece: Love is a many-splendored (manly) thing. Love is honored—especially between men. In marriage, inheritance is more important than feelings: A woman whose father dies without male heirs can be forced to marry her nearest male relative—even if she has to divorce her husband first.
  • Rome: Wife-swapping as a career move—Statesman Marcus Porcius Cato divorces his wife and marries her off to his ally Hortensius in order to strengthen family bonds; after Hortensius dies, Cato remarries her.
  • 6th-century Europe: Political polygamy—The Germanic warlord Clothar, despite being a baptized Christian, eventually acquires four wives for strategic reasons, including his dead brother's wife, her sister and the daughter of a captured foreign king.
  • 12th-century Europe: Marriage is good for loving...someone else—Upper-class marriages are often arranged before the couple has met. Aristocrats believe love is incompatible with marriage and can flourish only in adultery.
  • 14th-century Europe: It takes a village—Ordinary people can't choose whom to marry either. The lord of one Black Forest manor decrees in 1344 that all his unmarried tenants—including widows and widowers—marry spouses of his choosing. Elsewhere, peasants wishing to pick a partner must pay a fee.
  • 16th-century Europe: Love's a bore—Any man in love with his wife must be so dull that no one else could love him, writes the French essayist Montaigne.
1600s-Victorian Era

It's a family affair: Married love gains currency, but for intimacy and passion, people still turn to family, lovers and friends.

  • 1690s U.S.: Virginia wasn't always for lovers—Passionate love between husband and wife is considered unseemly: One Virginia colonist describes a woman he knows as "more fond of her husband perhaps than the politeness of the day allows." Protestant ministers warn spouses against loving each other too much, or using endearing nicknames that will undermine husbandly authority.
  • 18th-century Europe: Love gains ground—In England and in the salons of Enlightenment thinkers, married love is gaining credibility. Ladies' debating societies declare that while loveless marriages are regrettable, women must consider money when choosing a partner.
  • 1840, England: Virgin lace—Queen Victoria starts a trend by wearing virginal white, instead of the traditional jeweled wedding gown. Historically thought of as the lustier sex, women are now considered chaste and pure. As a result, many men find it easier to have sex with prostitutes than with their virtuous wives.
  • Mid 19th-century U.S.: Honeymoon suite for three—Honeymoons replace the older custom of "bridal tours," in which the newly married couple travel after the wedding to visit family who could not attend the ceremony. Even so, many brides bring girlfriends with them on their honeymoons.
20th Century-Today

We worship the couple. Intimacy shrinks to encompass just two, and love becomes the only reason for marriage.

  • 1920s U.S.: How Saturday night began—Dating is the new craze—in restaurants and cars, away from the oversight of family. Popular culture embraces sex, but critics fear that marriage is on the rocks.
  • 1950s U.S.: Marriage is mandatory—Marriage becomes almost universal, and the nuclear family is triumphant: Four out of five people surveyed in 1957 believe that preferring to remain single is "sick," "neurotic" or "immoral."
  • 1970s U.S.: All you need is love?—Self-sufficient women and changing social rules mean marriage is no longer obligatory. Quarreling couples split up rather than make do, and the divorce rate skyrockets.
  • Today: Bride pride—Marriage is the ultimate expression of love, leading gays and lesbians to seek the right to marry, but also encouraging couples to cohabit until they're sure about their "soul mate." Marriage rates fall—but the fantasy of the perfect wedding is ubiquitous.

Based on research from Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, by Stephanie Coontz.

New McCain Ad Refers To Obama As Messianic

I find it interesting that McCain's ads have nothing to do with what he can offer America -- they're only attacks on Obama, designed to make people fear him and misrepresenting the truth. How pathetic.

From Huffington Post.
John McCain debuted another stinging attack video targeting Barack Obama Friday, this time mocking his White House foe as "The One" -- a quasi-religious figure who "anointed" himself to lead the world.

"Can you see the light?" the hard-hitting negative ad asks, following up on Republican McCain's new campaign theme that the Illinois Democrat is arrogant, transfixed by his own celebrity and not yet ready to lead.

Read more about it here and watch it below:

The Obama campaign has issued a response. Read it from Ben Smith:

Barack Obama's campaign responded sharply to a new McCain web ad depicting Obama as a parody of a biblical prophet.
"It's downright sad that on a day when we learned that 51,000 Americans lost their jobs, a candidate for the presidency is spending all of his time and the powerful platform he has on these sorts of juvenile antics," said spokesman Hari Sevugan. "Senator McCain can keep telling everyone how 'proud' he is of these political stunts which even his Republican friends and advisors have called 'childish', but Barack Obama will continue talking about his plan to jumpstart our economy by giving working families $1,000 of immediate relief."

This ad is keeping with the dumbass editorials coming out of the Weekly Standard and National Review.

I think it's funny that the conservatives can talk about Reagan as though he was the actual Messiah, but that when the liberals find their own leader who inspires that kind of hope and loyalty it somehow becomes a bad thing.


Tibet's Unique Buddhist Heritage

Go check out Danny Fisher's blog for a great discussion by Robert Thurman and Sogyal Rinpoche at the Aspen Institute:
Tibet's Unique Buddhist Heritage: The Aspen Institute and the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture present conversation between author and philosopher Robert Thurman and Buddhist teacher from Tibet Sogyal Rinpoche.

Daily Om - Not Everybody Will Like You

This was the Daily Om from a couple of days ago, and it deals with a topic many people struggle with -- wanting everyone to like us.

Disapproving Faces
Not Everybody Will Like You

It is not necessarily a pleasant experience, but there will be times in our lives when we come across people who do not like us. As we know, like attracts like, so usually when they don’t like us it is because they are not like us. Rather than taking it personally, we can let them be who they are, accepting that each of us is allowed to have different perspectives and opinions. When we give others that freedom, we claim it for ourselves as well, releasing ourselves from the need for their approval so we can devote our energy toward more rewarding pursuits.

While approval from others is a nice feeling, when we come to depend on it we may lose our way on our own path. There are those who will not like us no matter what we do, but that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with us. Each of us has our own filters built from our experiences over time. They may see in us something that is merely a projection of their understanding, but we have no control over the interpretations of others. The best we can do is to hope that the role we play in the script of their lives is helpful to them, and follow our own inner guidance with integrity.

As we reap the benefits of walking our perfect paths, we grow to appreciate the feeling of fully being ourselves. The need to have everyone like us will be replaced by the exhilaration of discovering that we are attracting like-minded individuals into our lives—people who like us because they understand and appreciate the truth of who we are. We free ourselves from trying to twist into shapes that will fit the spaces provided by others’ limited understanding and gain a new sense of freedom, allowing us to expand into becoming exactly who we’re meant to be. And in doing what we know to be right for us, we show others that they can do it too. Cocreating our lives with the universe and its energy of pure potential, we transcend limitations and empower ourselves to shine our unique light, fully and freely.

BBC - Brain Story

A cool six part BBC series on the human brain, that remarkable and mysterious 3 lb lump of soft tissue in our skulls.

Biology, Psychology – Brain Story – “All in the Mind” 1/6

Biology, Psychology – Brain Story – “In the Heat of the Moment” 2/6

Biology, Psychology – Brain Story – “The Mind's Eye” 3/6
This episode on optical illusion is missing from Google Videos.

Biology, Psychology – Brain Story – “First among Equals” 4/6

Biology, Psychology – Brain Story – “Growing the Mind” 5/6

Biology, Psychology – Brain Story – “A final mystery” 6/6

Sacred Science: Using Faith to Explain Anomalies in Physics

Michael Shermer (of The Skeptic fame) wrote this article for the June issue of Scientific American. This is a review of Stuart Kauffman's Reinventing the Sacred, a book I am looking forward to reading. Shermer refers to Kauffman's version of God as God 2.0.

I think I tend to side with Kauffman in general, as a fan of emergence. So I was pleased to see this nice review from Shermer.

Sacred Science: Using Faith to Explain Anomalies in Physics

Can emergence break the spell of reductionism and put spirituality back into nature?

By Michael Shermer

In the early 17th century a demon was loosed on the world by Italian mathematician Galileo Galilei when he began swinging pendulums, rolling balls down ramps and observing the moons of Jupiter—all with an aim toward discovering regularities that could be codified into laws of nature.

So successful was this mechanical worldview that by the early 19th century French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace was able to “imagine an Intelligence who would know at a given instant of time all forces acting in nature and the position of all things of which the world consists.... Then it could derive a result that would embrace in one and the same formula the motion of the largest bodies in the universe and of the lightest atoms. Nothing would be uncertain for this Intelligence.”

By the early 20th century science undertook to become Laplace’s demon. It cast a wide “causal net” linking effects to causes throughout the past and into the future and sought to explain all complex phenomena by reducing them into their simpler component parts. Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg captured this philosophy of reductionism poignantly: “All the explanatory arrows point downward, from societies to people, to organs, to cells, to biochemistry, to chemistry, and ultimately to physics.” In such an all-encompassing and fully explicable cosmos, then, what place for God?

Stuart Kauffman has an answer: naturalize the deity. In his new book, Reinventing the Sacred (Basic Books, 2008), Kauffman—founding director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics at the University of Calgary in Alberta and one of the pioneers of complexity theory—reverses the reductionist’s causal arrow with a comprehensive theory of emergence and self-organization that he says “breaks no laws of physics” and yet cannot be explained by them. God “is our chosen name for the ceaseless creativity in the natural universe, biosphere and human cultures,” Kauffman declares.

In Kauffman’s emergent universe, reductionism is not wrong so much as incomplete. It has done much of the heavy lifting in the history of science, but reductionism cannot explain a host of as yet unsolved mysteries, such as the origin of life, the biosphere, consciousness, evolution, ethics and economics. How would a reductionist explain the biosphere, for example? “One approach would be, following Newton, to write down the equations for the evolution of the biosphere and solve them. This cannot be done,” Kauffman avers. “We cannot say ahead of time what novel functionalities will arise in the biosphere. Thus we do not know what variables—lungs, wings, etc.—to put into our equations. The Newtonian scientific framework where we can prestate the variables, the laws among the variables, and the initial and boundary conditions, and then compute the forward behavior of the system, cannot help us predict future states of the biosphere.”

This problem is not merely an epistemological matter of computing power, Kauffman cautions; it is an ontological problem of different causes at different levels. Something wholly new emerges at these higher levels of complexity.

Similar ontological differences exist in the self-organized emergence of consciousness, morality and the economy. In my recent book, The Mind of the Market (Times Books, 2008), I show how economics and evolution are complex adaptive systems that learn and grow as they evolve from simple to complex and how they are autocatalytic, or containing self-driving feedback loops. It was therefore gratifying to find corroboration in Kauffman’s detailed explication of why such phenomena “cannot be deduced from physics, have causal powers of their own, and therefore are emergent real entities in the universe.” This creative process of emergence, Kauffman contends, “is so stunning, so overwhelming, so worthy of awe, gratitude and respect, that it is God enough for many of us. God, a fully natural God, is the very creativity in the universe.”

I have spent time with Stu Kauffman at two of the most sacred places on earth: Cortona, Italy (under the Tuscan sun), and Esalen, Calif. (above the Pacific Ocean), at conferences on the intersection of science and religion. He is one of the most spiritual scientists I know, a man of inestimable warmth and ecumenical tolerance, and his God 2.0 is a deity worthy of worship. But I am skeptical that it will displace God 1.0, Yahweh, whose Bronze Age program has been running for 6,000 years on the software of our brains and culture.

Note: This story was originally printed with the title, "Sacred Science".

Jakob Dylan On Mountain Stage

A cool concert from NPR.

Jakob Dylan On Mountain Stage, July 28, 2008 - Currently on hiatus from his platinum-selling band The Wallflowers, Jakob Dylan recently released his first-ever solo album, Seeing Things.

Recorded with the help of uber-producer Rick Rubin, the songs from Seeing Things, filled with stark musings and optimistic threads, bring Dylan back to the core of his songwriting — voice and acoustic guitar — while intentionally making studio post-production invisible.

Recorded here in live performance on Mountain Stage, Dylan and his band The Gold Mountain Rebels masterfully convey the record's acoustic approach.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

new poem - voices


mountains speak
with a voice
of cedar

Satire - Britney, Paris Air Savage Anti-McCain Ad

Andy Borowitz on the campaign trail -- go check out the slick new blog.

Britney, Paris Air Savage Anti-McCain Ad

Party Gals Slam Mac in Negative Spot

One day after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) broadcast an anti-Obama ad in which he compared the presumptive Democratic nominee to celebrities Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, the two tabloid mainstays fought back with an eviscerating anti-McCain spot of their own.

While Mses. Spears and Hilton said they had planned to remain on the sidelines during the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. McCain's negative ad "left us no choice," the notorious party gals said today.

"We don't mind John McCain going after us if he sticks to the facts," Ms. Spears said at a New York press conference. "But we are sick of the distortions about our record."

Ms. Hilton said that the McCain ad appeared to link herself and Ms. Spears to Sen. Obama, leading the casual viewer to conclude that the three of them had "the same energy policy."

"Nothing could be further from the truth," said Ms. Spears. "Both of us strongly favor off-shore drilling to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

Ms. Hilton said she was also "offended" by the implication that she and Ms. Spears favor a tax on electricity: "We have both been very clear on that issue."

In their anti-McCain spot, the two starlets fight fire with fire, comparing Sen. McCain to the Joker from the smash-hit film "The Dark Knight."

"It's perfectly fair," Ms. Spears said of the ad. "They both have pasty white faces and totally creepy smiles."

Elsewhere, Chinese Olympic officials confiscated the poles of the pole vaulting team to prevent athletes from going over the wall.

Elsewhere, visit the new

Thanks to an amazing new site redesign, is now the only website you will ever need. See for yourself at

What's New in Psychology Books

Yet another installment of what is essentially a list of books added to my Amazon wish list. Follow the links for full reviews.

* * * * *

The Immeasurable Mind: The Real Science of Psychology
by William R. Uttal
Prometheus, 2007
Review by John D. Mullen, Ph.D.
William Uttal has had a long and distinguished research academic career as Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan and as Professor in Arizona State's Department of Industrial Engineering. When a person of his standing and orientation takes on the question of the scientific status of psychology, it's worth taking a look. If you do, you won't be disappointed. Utall's writing is clear, relatively free of jargon and he has the confidence not to fudge his points of view or his conclusions. The issues he tackles were more actively addressed at the philosophy/psychology border area in the 1970s and 1980s than recently, but that does not render them out of date. No doubt the absence of Burrhus Skinner has dampened some of the interest.

Uttal's thesis is easily put though not so easily understood. "Psychology is a science in the usual sense of the word to the degree that it is behaviorist." (245) Part of this he makes very clear. By "behaviorist" he means the approach that eschews any reference to cognitive or mentalist concepts. It is the behaviorism of Skinner and not of Tolman or Hull and certainly not the "behavioral decision theory" of a Daniel Kahnemann or Amos Tversky. For Uttal it's not enough to anchor mentalist concepts (expectation, belief, desire, mental mapping, intelligence etc.) in empirical observations, one must avoid them. We'll get back to why.
Read the whole review.

* * * * *

What is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect
by James R. Flynn
Cambridge University Press, 2008
Review by Christina Rawls
What is Intelligence? Beyond the Flynn Effect explores the problem of ever-rising IQ scores over the past hundred years, particularly the last few decades. What is better is that the book's author, James Flynn, is the person responsible for the research leading to what is known in intelligence testing as the "Flynn Effect." Briefly, this is the label given to the increase in IQ scores over time, but weather this effect automatically includes increasing rates of actual intelligence and wisdom is highly controversial. Flynn takes on this controversy for the first time head on and discusses the many facets he feels are missing when the majority evaluates intelligence testing and IQ scores. He writes, "The IQ score is only as valid as the test the person takes, and the test is only as valid as the standardization sample on which it is normed."

The book is saturated in philosophical and sociological insight. He writes that it took him a long time to write about the seeming massive IQ gains because of "...unused brain capacity. My mind was so compartmentalized, I ignored everything I knew from another discipline, namely sociology." Flynn asks us to temporarily place aside the general intelligence factor, what is know as the "g factor," as it only measures limited, static elements of cognitive awareness and ability and cannot accurately assess an individual's ability to function in the world with critical acumen. Flynn covers scientific, as well as psychological ground regarding the nature of intelligence testing.
Read the whole review.

* * * * *

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

by Mary Roach
W. W. Norton, 2008
Review by Robert Scott Stewart, Ph.D.
Males, it seems, tend to be much more focused and less easily distracted when it comes to sex. As Alfred Kinsey discovered, "Cheese crumbs spread in front of a copulating pair of rats may distract the female, but not the male" (252). Interestingly, this 'fact' helps to explain why Viagra works well for many men but attempts to find a 'female Viagra' have been far less successful. In men, there tends to be a strong connection between mind and body with respect to sexual arousal. Hence, an erection is a sign of arousal, and lack of one usually means there isn't any arousal. Women tend to be more complicated: vaginal lubrication, e.g., doesn't necessarily mean that a woman is sexually aroused, and the lack of lubrication doesn't necessarily mean she is sexually uninterested. (No wonder we men are so often confused.) Hence, if a man has trouble getting or maintaining an erection -- "erectile dysfunction," or "ED" in current parlance -- it is typically some sort of problem 'of the body,' which can be cured by a purely chemical intervention. When women complain of a lack of interest in sex, however, the problem is not so straightforwardly corporeal and hence a cure isn't likely to be purely chemical. As Roach puts it, "it is the mind that speaks to a women's heart, not her vaginal walls" (255).

Due to this complexity, it is often perilous drawing sexual conclusions based solely on bodily responses to various stimuli. Roach reports on one fascinating (and disturbing) study carried out by Canada's National Defence Medical Centre in the 1950's and 1960's.

Read the whole review.

* * * * *

Psychotic Depression
by Conrad M. Swartz and Edward Shorter
Cambridge University Press, 2007
Review by Marion Ledwig, Ph.D.
The authors of this cutting edge volume on psychotic depression with its eight excellent chapters and two appendices are the board-certified psychiatry professor and practicing psychiatrist Conrad M. Swartz from the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and the historian of psychiatry and health practitioner Edward Shorter from the University of Toronto. According to the authors (p. xi this volume) "Psychotic Depression is an alloy of psychosis and depression that is not separable into psychosis and depression. Psychosis is a symptom that thought and behavior have become unrelated to reality. It is, in other words, a symptom of madness just as biological as delirium."

This book deals with all aspects of psychotic depression covering such diverse areas as its clinical history, current state-of-the-art diagnostic, and treatment protocols. It includes two appendices: The first is a summary guide to psychiatric concepts with respect to the disorder and the second is a summary guide to different kinds of medication for treatment and/or management of psychotic depression. While the book is mainly aimed at physicians, it is written in such a way that even patients themselves, their friends, and families and everyone else who is interested in the subject matter can understand it including many case studies so that one gets a realistic and vivid picture of the illness.
Read the whole review.

* * * * *

Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration

by Keith Sawyer
Basic Books, 2007
Review by Justine Johnstone, Ph.D.
Keith Sawyer's latest book takes aim at the 'myth of the lone genius', the idea that creativity is essentially about flashes of individual brilliance. This is hardly a new idea -- both the 'bolt from the blue' and the individualistic account have been called into question before -- but Sawyer is after something bigger. He wants to convince us that new ideas are always the result of social interaction, that 'even the insights that emerge when you're completely alone can be traced back to previous collaborations'. Essentially written for the management market -- creativity rapidly turns into 'innovation' -- this is a readable work of popular psychology that rounds up and summarizes a welter of real-life and laboratory evidence on the social side of human ingenuity. Sawyer's colorful background as jazz pianist, video games designer, industry consultant and academic psychologist provides rich pickings. Jazz and theatrical improvisation make an appearance alongside the origins of the Monopoly board game in Quaker anti-capitalism and decision-making in a Brazilian manufacturing firm where employees read the accounts and determine strategy.

The book is slightly strangely organized, the three sections dealing with teamwork, thinking and organizations. Some interesting links are forged across the different topics (conversation turns out to be key in both teamwork and individual problem-solving, and improvisation turns up everywhere) but there are hints of intriguing tensions and paradoxes that are not followed up. Small teams in tune with one another and with similar levels of skill make for musical or sporting excellence, but multi-functional groups or loose networks are better for generating new products. Planning, structure and improvisation have to happen in just the right combination -- but what that is depends heavily on task and context. Improvisation is inefficient and expensive but also the secret of success. Sawyer's anecdotes and examples are always entertaining and sometimes inspiring but don't always lead him on to deeper questions. Bizarrely, the book lacks a conclusion, whether because the author ran out of steam or perhaps just gave up on trying to unite his material.
Read the whole review.

* * * * *

Standing at Water's Edge: Moving Past Fear, Blocks, and Pitfalls to Discover the Power of Creative Immersion
by Anne Paris
New World Library, 2008
Review by Sandra L. Ceren, Ph.D.
This book is written for the creative person who from time to time may feel stuck in the creative process and seeks help in order to regain creative energy. It is for those seeking fulfillment of their creative potential--whatever that may be. It may also benefit psychotherapists treating such people for it provides an understanding of the hurdles creative people often confront.

To immerse oneself in any creative pursuit can be a delight when you are in "the zone"--at one with your muse. Another way to describe the zone, is to recall and consider exceptional experiences in which you felt deeply moved; a concert, a visit to an art gallery or museum, sexual attraction-- events that cause arousal of the senses.

When the work doesn't come easily to the artist, composer, writer, sculptor, it is as though a dark curtain has fallen. Paris's familiarity with creative people enables her to help lift the fallen curtain, first by understanding what is blocking the creative process, and then through the guide she presents as a compass to help one find renewed inspiration.
Read the whole review.

* * * * *

The Continuity of Mind (Oxford Psychology)
by Michael Spivey
Oxford University Press, 2008
Reviewed by Debbie A. Foster

The cognitive and neural sciences have been on the brink of a paradigm shift for over a decade now. The traditional information-processing framework in psychology, with its computer metaphor of the mind, is still considered to be the mainstream approach. However, the dynamical-systems perspective on mental activity is now receiving a more rigorous treatment, allowing it to move beyond the trendy buzzwords that have become associated with it. The Continuity of Mind will help to galvanize the forces of dynamical systems theory, cognitive and computational neuroscience, connectionism, and ecological psychology that are needed to complete this paradigm shift.

In this book, Michael Spivey lays bare the fact that comprehending a spoken sentence, understanding a visual scene, or just thinking about the day’s events involves the coalescing of different neuronal activation patterns over time, i.e., a continuous state-space trajectory that flirts with a series of point attractors. As a result, the brain cannot help but spend most of its time instantiating patterns of activity that are in between identifiable mental states rather than in them. When this scenario is combined with the fact that most cognitive processes are richly embedded in their environmental context in real time, the state space (in which brief visitations of attractor basins are your ‘thoughts’) suddenly encompasses not just neuronal dimensions, but extends to biomechanical and environmental dimensions as well. As a result, your moment-by-moment experience of the world around you, even right now, can be described as a continuous trajectory through a high-dimensional state space that comprises diverse mental states.