Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Edge - On Black Swans

Liked this quote, wanted to share it.
"Globalization creates interlocking fragility, while reducing volatility and giving the appearance of stability. In other words it creates devastating Black Swans. We have never lived before under the threat of a global collapse. Financial Institutions have been merging into a smaller number of very large banks. Almost all banks are interrelated. So the financial ecology is swelling into gigantic, incestuous, bureaucratic banks – when one fails, they all fall. The increased concentration among banks seems to have the effect of making financial crisis less likely, but when they happen they are more global in scale and hit us very hard. We have moved from a diversified ecology of small banks, with varied lending policies, to a more homogeneous framework of firms that all resemble one another. True, we now have fewer failures, but when they occur ….I shiver at the thought."

— Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan (2006)
Sounds about right . . . .

Going Green to Save the Economy: A Q&A with Thomas L. Friedman

Excellent Q&A with Thomas Friedman from the current issue of Scientific American. Key quote: “Change your leaders, not your lightbulbs.” Yep.

Going Green to Save the Economy: A Q&A with Thomas L. Friedman

Why strategies to tackle climate change will boost the economy

By Steve Mirsky

Some politicians and pundits fear that addressing global warming will drain the U.S. economy and hurt the nation’s competitive edge. But going green and clean is the best way to remain an economic powerhouse, argues Thomas L. Friedman in his new book Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Renew America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). We asked Friedman, a New York Times op-ed columnist, to explain his thinking.

Click here for an extended version of this inteview

What do you mean by the title Hot, Flat, and Crowded?
It refers to the convergence of three big seismic events. The first is global warming. Second is what I call global flattening: the rise of middle classes all across the world that increasingly have the kind of energy and consumption patterns, demands and aspirations of Americans. Crowded refers to global population growth. These events are like three flames that have converged to create a really big fire, and this fire is boiling a whole set of problems.

You say that going green is a national security imperative and that green is the new red, white and blue. Can you explain that?
Clean power is going to be a source of power generally in the world—every bit as much as tanks, planes and nuclear missiles have been during the cold war. The country that takes the lead in clean power and clean tech is going to be an economic and strategic leader in the 21st century. If we take the lead in that in­dustry, we will be generating the kind of innovation, competitiveness, respect, security and breakthroughs to help the world. In so doing, we will make ourselves more respected, stronger, more secure, entrepreneurial, richer and competitive.

You argue for an overhaul of our energy system. Why is such a drastic measure needed?
If you don’t do things systematically, you end up doing corn ethanol in Iowa and thinking you solved the problem, when all you have done is drive up food prices and encourage more people to plant, say, palm oil in the Amazon. Right now we have a system. It is the dirty-fuel system. One mile from your house, you can probably find a gas station....

One block, actually.
Exactly, so this system works really well, and it gets that dirty fuel from the oil well to the tanker to the refinery to your neighborhood and into your car. Of course, we now know in doing that we are also despoiling the environment, strengthening petro dictatorships, driving biodiversity loss, et cetera. We have to replace that system with a clean-fuel system.

So what will we need to start changing the system?
Innovative breakthroughs that we just do not have right now. What we don’t have in energy today is a real market that would encourage 100,000 Manhattan Projects in 100,000 garages with 100,000 ideas.

How do you get to a market that rewards innovation?
You’ve got to shape it in two ways. One is with the right price signal. We have to have a tax on carbon that is long-term, fixed and durable. So those 100,000 inventors know if they do come up with that breakthrough, that if OPEC lowers the price of oil, it won’t knock them out of the game. And the second thing is to rewrite the rules around our utilities, as people started to do in California and Idaho. Specifically, the utilities have to be paid not for kilowatts sold but for watts saved.

But how could a politician running for election sell a new gas tax?
So let’s imagine you are in a campaign. Let’s imagine the discussion, and your opponent says, “There goes my opponent, Mr. Friedman. Another tax-and-spend liberal; now he’s for an energy tax. He’s never met a tax he didn’t like; now he wants to tax your gasoline more.” What I would say is, “Let’s get one thing straight. My opponent and I, we’re both for a tax. I just prefer my taxes should go to the U.S. Treasury, and he does not mind that his taxes go to the Saudi, Russian or Venezuelan treasuries. Let’s not fool ourselves that we’re not paying a tax here [with our existing energy system].” If you can’t win that debate, you don’t belong in politics.

So what can the average citizen do to help alleviate the problems brought on by a hot, flat and crowded planet?
My mantra has been, “Change your leaders, not your lightbulbs,” because leaders write the rules. The rules shape the market. The markets give you innovation at a speed, scope and scale that we need.

Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Green Pay Dirt".

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week - Consciousness

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week from Snow Lion Publications:

I remember most vividly my first lesson on epistemology as a child, when I had to memorize the dictum "The definition of the mental is that which is luminous and knowing." Drawing on earlier Indian sources, Tibetan thinkers defined consciousness. It was years later that I realized just how complicated is the philosophical problem hidden behind this simple formulation. Today when I see nine-year-old monks confidently citing this definition of consciousness on the debating floor, which is such a central part of Tibetan monastic education, I smile.

These two features--luminosity, or clarity, and knowing, or cognizance--have come to characterize "the mental" in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist thought. Clarity here refers to the ability of mental states to reveal or reflect. Knowing, by contrast, refers to mental states' faculty to perceive or apprehend what appears. All phenomena possessed of these qualities count as mental. These features are difficult to conceptualize, but then we are dealing with phenomena that are subjective and internal rather than material objects that may be measured in spatiotemporal terms. Perhaps it is because of these difficulties--the limits of language in dealing with the subjective--that many of the early Buddhist texts explain the nature of consciousness in terms of metaphors such as light, or a flowing river. As the primary feature of light is to illuminate, so consciousness is said to illuminate its objects. Just as in light there is no categorical distinction between the illumination and that which illuminates, so in consciousness there is no real difference between the process of knowing or cognition and that which knows or cognizes. In consciousness, as in light, there is a quality of illumination.

--from The Universe in a Single Atom: Convergence of Science and Spirituality by H.H. the Dalai Lama

Big Think - Can Dan Gilbert Make Me Happy?

The Harvard psychologist on discovering your own personal contentment, from Big Think.

Clusterf#@k to the Poor House - Bailout Bill Passes

Jon Stewart gives his take on the Bailout Bill.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Gauging Biodiversity by Listening to Forest Sounds

I read this cool Scientific American article the other night and wanted to share it -- fortunately, it was online, and free. I especially liked the music metaphor early in the article.

Gauging Biodiversity by Listening to Forest Sounds

Noise from human activity threatens an animal's reproductive success
By Michael Tennesen

The eureka moment for Bernie Krause, a bioacoustics expert, came when he was on the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya recording the natural ambient sounds of birds, animals, insects, reptiles and amphibians for the California Academy of Sciences. As a former player of the Moog synthesizer for George Harrison, the Doors and other 1960s rock musicians, he had made a spectrograph of a natural soundscape and realized that “it looked like a musical score,” he recalls. “Each animal had its own niche, its own acoustic territory, much like instruments in an orchestra.”

How well these natural musicians played together, Krause concludes, says good deal about the health of the environment. He argues that many animals evolved to vocalize in available niches so they can be heard by mates and others of their kind, but noise from human activity—from airplanes flying overhead to rumbling tires on a nearby road—threatens an animal’s reproductive success.

Since the late 1960s Krause has collected over 3,500 hours of soundscapes from Africa, Central America, the Amazon and the U.S. He finds at least 40 percent of those natural symphonies have become so radically altered that many members of those orchestras must be locally extinct. “Forests and wetlands have been logged or drained, the land paved over, and human noise included, making the soundscape unrecognizable,” says Krause, who heads Wild Sanctuary in Glen Ellen, Calif., an archive of natural sounds. Lately he has traveled to Katmai National Park and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to look for unpolluted sound and still had to get away from roads to find it.

Thomas S. Schulenberg, a neotropical bird specialist at Cornell University and one of the authors of The Birds of Peru, agrees that sound is a useful tool for assessing the natural environment. Schulenberg traveled to Vilcabamba, a wilderness of wet cloud forest in eastern Peru, which Conservation International wanted to access for possible protection. Although the ornithologist carried a pair of binoculars, he showed up to their dawn chorus with a directional microphone and recorder. As Schulenberg puts it: “You can hear many times more birds than you can see.”

Schulenberg believes animals can adapt to some noise pollution, but there are limits, especially if the noise becomes a permanent feature of the environment. Writing in the Journal of Animal Ecology, biologist Henrik Brumm of the Free University of Berlin found that male territorial nightingales in Berlin had to sing five times as loud in an area of heavy traffic. “Does that have effects on the musculature they need to sing?” Schulenberg wonders. “Can they sing even louder, or are they going to eventually hit a wall and be washed out by human noise?”

The U.S. National Park Service, under its Natural Sounds Program, wrestles with similar questions. Karen K. Trevino, the program director, cites studies showing that when exposed to the sounds of planes and helicopters, bighorn sheep forage less efficiently, mountain goats flee and caribou do not successfully reproduce as frequently. Senior acoustic specialist Kurt Fristrup of the National Park Service notes that human sounds cause problems other than acute annoyances. Namely, they can “mask some of the quieter yet important sounds of nature like footfalls and breathing—the cues that predators listen for to catch prey and that prey use to escape predators,” he says.

According to Krause, sound can also help determine how habitat destruction alters species populations. He did a 15-year study in Lincoln Meadow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a region that was selectively logged and of which loggers insisted there would be no change. Photographs showed little change, Krause found, but audio revealed a drastic drop in species diversity and density. Says Krause: “The transformation from a robust natural symphony to almost silent was quite alarming.”

Go read the rest of the article.

Make-Believe Maverick

Another biting Rolling Stone article (this Sarah Palin article was fun), this time bringing John McCain into the proper context. He claims to be a maverick, but claims are seldom reality.

The truth is that McCain may be seriously more narcissistic than the right claims Obama to be, and in more dangerous ways for the nation.

Make-Believe Maverick

A closer look at the life and career of John McCain reveals a disturbing record of recklessness and dishonesty

By Tim Dickinson

Posted Oct 16, 2008 7:00 PM

Here is one section:

This is the story of the real John McCain, the one who has been hiding in plain sight. It is the story of a man who has consistently put his own advancement above all else, a man willing to say and do anything to achieve his ultimate ambition: to become commander in chief, ascending to the one position that would finally enable him to outrank his four-star father and grandfather.

In its broad strokes, McCain's life story is oddly similar to that of the current occupant of the White House. John Sidney McCain III and George Walker Bush both represent the third generation of American dynasties. Both were born into positions of privilege against which they rebelled into mediocrity. Both developed an uncanny social intelligence that allowed them to skate by with a minimum of mental exertion. Both struggled with booze and loutish behavior. At each step, with the aid of their fathers' powerful friends, both failed upward. And both shed their skins as Episcopalian members of the Washington elite to build political careers as self-styled, ranch-inhabiting Westerners who pray to Jesus in their wives' evangelical churches.

In one vital respect, however, the comparison is deeply unfair to the current president: George W. Bush was a much better pilot.

This, of course, is not the story McCain tells about himself. Few politicians have so actively, or successfully, crafted their own myth of greatness. In McCain's version of his life, he is a prodigal son who, steeled by his brutal internment in Vietnam, learned to put "country first." Remade by the Keating Five scandal that nearly wrecked his career, the story goes, McCain re-emerged as a "reformer" and a "maverick," righteously eschewing anything that "might even tangentially be construed as a less than proper use of my office."

It's a myth McCain has cultivated throughout his decades in Washington. But during the course of this year's campaign, the mask has slipped. "Let's face it," says Larry Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. "John McCain made his reputation on the fact that he doesn't bend his principles for politics. That's just not true."

We have now watched McCain run twice for president. The first time he positioned himself as a principled centrist and decried the politics of Karl Rove and the influence of the religious right, imploring voters to judge candidates "by the example we set, by the way we conduct our campaigns, by the way we personally practice politics." After he lost in 2000, he jagged hard to the left — breaking with the president over taxes, drilling, judicial appointments, even flirting with joining the Democratic Party.

In his current campaign, however, McCain has become the kind of politician he ran against in 2000. He has embraced those he once denounced as "agents of intolerance," promised more drilling and deeper tax cuts, even compromised his vaunted opposition to torture. Intent on winning the presidency at all costs, he has reassembled the very team that so viciously smeared him and his family eight years ago, selecting as his running mate a born-again moose hunter whose only qualification for office is her ability to electrify Rove's base. And he has engaged in a "practice of politics" so deceptive that even Rove himself has denounced it, saying that the outright lies in McCain's campaign ads go "too far" and fail the "truth test."

The missing piece of this puzzle, says a former McCain confidant who has fallen out with the senator over his neoconservatism, is a third, never realized, campaign that McCain intended to run against Bush in 2004. "McCain wanted a rematch, based on ethics, campaign finance and Enron — the corrupt relationship between Bush's team and the corporate sector," says the former friend, a prominent conservative thinker with whom McCain shared his plans over the course of several dinners in 2001. "But when 9/11 happened, McCain saw his chance to challenge Bush again was robbed. He saw 9/11 gave Bush and his failed presidency a second life. He saw Bush and Cheney's ability to draw stark contrasts between black and white, villains and good guys. And that's why McCain changed." (The McCain campaign did not respond to numerous requests for comment from Rolling Stone.)

Indeed, many leading Republicans who once admired McCain see his recent contortions to appease the GOP base as the undoing of a maverick. "John McCain's ambition overrode his basic character," says Rita Hauser, who served on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 2001 to 2004. But the truth of the matter is that ambition is John McCain's basic character. Seen in the sweep of his seven-decade personal history, his pandering to the right is consistent with the only constant in his life: doing what's best for himself. To put the matter squarely: John McCain is his own special interest.

"John has made a pact with the devil," says Lincoln Chafee, the former GOP senator, who has been appalled at his one-time colleague's readiness to sacrifice principle for power. Chafee and McCain were the only Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts. They locked arms in opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And they worked together in the "Gang of 14," which blocked some of Bush's worst judges from the federal bench.

"On all three — sadly, sadly, sadly — McCain has flip-flopped," Chafee says. And forget all the "Country First" sloganeering, he adds. "McCain is putting himself first. He's putting himself first in blinking neon lights."

This is the McCain some of us see (especially here in Arizona), but McCain has successfully snowed most of America into believing the myth. Read the whole article for the real story.

5 Great Science Books to Expand Your Mind

A nice selection of books here, only one of which I have read, so I have some more books for my reading list.

From The Best Article Every Day:

5 Great Science Books to Expand Your Mind

Written by Alex Iskold

From the dynamics of social networks to market bubbles, science has a lot to say about the world of technology.

One of the great discoveries of modern science was the realization of how interconnected the world is. The deterministic, Newtonian view of a clockwork Universe was replaced by the much more dynamic, uncertain and entangled world of Quantum Mechanics. The new world is the one where Godel forever cut hopes for completeness in mathematics and Turing showed that computation, like the future, is fundamentally unpredictable. Despite these unexpected setbacks, modern science is wonderful, powerful and thought provoking - and relevant to technologists.

The recently discovered science of complex systems is about common patterns that span diverse disciplines from physics to biology, from ecology to economics. This recent science of patterns is directly relevant to what we are doing around the Web. In this post we will discuss 5 different books that will get you fired up about modern science.

1. Godel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter

This Pulitzer Prize winning book is a mind-opening journey that spans science, computation, zen, art, music and much much more. The book is most unusual in the way it tells its story. Some chapters are dialogs between Achilles and Tortoise. Other chapters are focused on Bach’s fugues and the theorems of great German mathematician Kurt Gordel.

Throughout the book, Hofstadter discusses the work of M.C. Escher, a painter famous for his paradoxical paintings that question how the mind perceives space. In addition, the book features chapters about modern genetics, zen buddhism and neuroscience. All of these seemingly diverse topics come together to discuss recursive structures, the mind, artificial intelligence and computation.

2. Complexity by Mitchell Waldrop

Stephen Hawking once said: “I think the next century will be the century of complexity.” Complexity science is one of the most important breakthroughs in recent history. Unlike the traditional specialized approach to science, complexity focuses on patterns and properties that exist across different branches.

Mitchell Waldrop’s book introduces readers to complexity by telling a story about the people who brought it into the spotlight. Among the characters we meet are economists, physicists, biologists and computer scientists responsible for establishing the Institute of Complex Systems in Santa Fe New Mexico. Through their stories, Walldrop introduces the reader to the wonderful and profound world of complex systems.

3. At Home in the Universe, by Stuart Kauffman

Dr. Stuart Kauffman is one of the characters in the Walldrop’s book. He is one of the most passionate, dedicated and original thinkers about Complex Systems. A few decades ago, while in medical school, he wanted to understand gene networks and came up with a model known as K-N nets. Fascinated with the ideas, he choose science instead of medicine and went on to work on complexity.

In this book he explores a range of fascinating topics - like gene networks, auto-catalytic sets, rugged landscapes. It ultimately leads to the question of the origin of life. In this challenging book, Kauffman postulates that life is not an accident, but an expected and even inevitable consequence of the laws of self-organization.

4. The User Illusion, by Tor Norretranders

During the twentieth century scientists made amazing discoveries about the brain. They also discovered just how little we know about the function of what is likely to be the most interesting and powerful object in the universe. Among the large number of books written on the subject, this book written by Danish journalist Tor Norretranders is a standout.

The books builds on physics, particularly thermodynamics, to explain the fascinating aspects of human consciousness. While the first few chapters are somewhat challenging, the crux of the book will give you a unique, eye-opening perspective on the interplay between the human brain and mind. Among the shocking things in the book is a notion that it takes a half a second for our consciousness to process an event. Knowing that, it is difficult to think about the world in the same way.

5. Programming the Universe, by Seth Lloyd

Quantum Information Theory is one of the hottest topics in science and Seth Lloyd is one of the hottest figures in the field. Famous for his bold predictions about the computational capacity of the universe, Dr. Lloyd belongs to the club that thinks that we live inside of a gigantic quantum computer. Sounds interesting? It is!

The book works the readers through the ideas of quantum information theory, explaining qbits, quantum superpositions and computation based on atoms. He argues that random fluctuations in the quantum foam produced higher-density areas, then matter, stars, galaxies and life. His conclusion is the same as Kauffman’s - life is not an accident nor its divine. Rather, life is a consequence of the laws of computation and self-organization.


There are so many great science books on topics ranging from physics and biology to economics and social science. These books discuss patterns in the world around us. And many of the themes are very familiar to us, technologists. This is why it is important for us to keep up and know what is going on in the world of science. Besides being fascinating, it is increasingly applicable and useful.

And now, please share with us your favorite science books - the ones that made a big impact on you and helped expand your mind.

Colbert - The Word: Future Perfect

Good stuff . . . .

Stephen Colbert takes on the McCain campaign’s recent attempt to “pre-report” last week’s presidential debate—“He was getting his version of the story out before the press could mangle it with what happened“—and suggests that other public figures may want to follow suit:

Thursday, October 02, 2008

NPR - Ex-CIA Operative Discusses 'The Devil We Know'

This was an excellent interview on Fresh Air earlier this afternoon.

Ex-CIA Operative Discusses 'The Devil We Know'

Listen Now [37 min 59 sec] add to playlist

Fresh Air from WHYY, October 2, 2008 · In his new book, The Devil We Know, former CIA operative Robert Baer argues that Iran is an up-and-coming — and often misunderstood — superpower, with strong influences throughout the Middle East.

"The sooner we understand the Iranian paradox — who they are, what they want, how they want to both humble us and work with us — the sooner we'll understand how to come to terms with the new Iranian superpower," writes Baer.

Baer's previous book, See No Evil, was the basis for the George Clooney film Syriana.

Refuting Conservatives on the Meltdown

The conservative right seems to want to blame the financial crisis and Wall Street meltdown on poor people who couldn't pay back loans, and on the "liberals" who passed the The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 -- too bad they are dead wrong.

Here are the key points from Law for Poor Didn't Cause Meltdown by Froma Harrop.

The most obvious clue that CRA did not cause the mess is its date. The musical "Annie" opened in 1977, and the Eagles' "Hotel California" was the No. 1 song. That was a long time ago, 31 years to be precise. If the CRA created this time bomb of lousy loans, why didn't it go off in 1980 or 1996?

The writing of crazy mortgages for low-income people -- loans with exploding interest rates, brutal fees and no demands for documentation -- was a post-2003 phenomenon. In 2004, the Bush administration actually slashed CRA regulation, freeing small banks and thrifts from its toughest standards.

"These institutions no longer had to make subprime loans to low-income people," Mark Thoma, an economist at the University of Oregon told me. "That should have reduced the volume if the CRA was driving it." On the contrary, subprime lending increased.

CRA was a minor player in the mortgage orgy. Since the late '90s, half of subprime loans have been made by independent mortgage companies not subject to CRA rules, University of Michigan Law School professor Michael Barr told Congress in February. Another 30 percent came from affiliates of banks or thrifts with little CRA supervision. That left only one in five subprime loans fully governed by CRA.

Furthermore, companies not covered by CRA made subprime loans at more than twice the rate of lenders that were, according to Janet Yellin, president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. The idea that CRA brought the banks down is "just ridiculous," Thoma said.

The ugly truth is this: The redlining that led to the passage of CRA has been replaced by reverse-redlining. Lenders didn't have to be dragged into low-income neighborhoods. They rushed in. It was there that they could push their complicated mortgages onto the elderly, blacks and Hispanics, and then sell the loans to somebody else. At least 40 percent of the holders of subprime mortgages could have qualified for cheaper prime mortgages, according to one study.

Far from being spurned by financiers, low-income Americans have become their cash cow. Payday lenders are listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Operators go into poor neighborhoods pretending to be retailers. The product they "sell" -- be it a used car or new sofa -- is just a hook to saddle the trusting buyer with a loan that eventually costs them several times the ticketed price.

Yes, low-income people can be credit risks. That cannot be ignored. But this financial scandal is the work of fat cats, enabled by a permissive government. There's something highly indecent about blaming it on an innocuous law meant to remove some of the unfairness in the lives of the working poor.

"Nuf said.

Common Ground - Power to the Gym Rats

Common Ground posted this short by cool article on Adam Boesel’s new Green Microgym, which helps convert people-power into electricity. Very "green" that we can turn those hours in the gym into power for the grid. Portland continues to be the place for excellent new ideas -- must be all the coffee they drink.

Power To The Gym Rats

If you’re gonna workout to burn calories, why not power up the grid while you’re at it? That’s the premise behind Portland’s Green Microgym, a new power-from-the-people eco-facility created by fitness trainer Adam Boesel. This 3,000-square-foot gym is tricked out with energy-efficient treadmills, non-motorized elliptical machines and spin bikes that convert human power into electricity.

That extra human energy — plus the gym’s solar arrays and other eco features — means that the Green Microgym uses only about half the energy of conventional gyms, in Boesel’s estimation. Exact figures aren’t available since the gym hasn’t even received its first electric bill yet, but Boesel already plans to get his elliptical machines hooked up to generators next month. His ultimate goal is to bring the net electric bill down to zero.

The Green Microgym is already finding fans in its eco-conscious neighborhood, whose denizens walk or bike over to sweat it out atop the facility’s cork and recycled rubber flooring. The members are even good about turning off fans and lights when they’re not in use. “Everyone [in this neighborhood] is green-friendly at least,” Boesel says. “And it’s very simple for people to do.” The idea is such a no-brainer, hopefully it catches on in other cities soon.

— Siel

Trailer for Small Comforts

Hannah Dallman (one of the POLYSEMY folks) has put together this trailer for her new short film, Small Comforts, that is making the rounds on the film festival circuit, including the prestigious Los Angeles International Children's Film Festival and Kids First! Film Fest. Matthew did the music for the film.

It's a short trailer for a short film, but I for one look forward to seeing it in the near (I hope) future.
The trailer for the film, Small Comforts, directed by Hannah Dallman.

Eggs, They Do a Body Good

Eggs have gotten a bad rap over the years due to their cholesterol content. And yes, they do have a fair amount of cholesterol. But the reality is that cholesterol in the diet only has a 3-5% correlation to serum cholesterol (in the blood). Most serum cholesterol is made from saturated fats (which is made worse by the presence of high glucose levels, resulting in high triglycerides).

Tom_Venuto at Iron Magazine takes a look at the whole egg controversy and sheds some light on the issue.
Whole Eggs: Dietary Evil or The New Superfood?
Written by: Tom Venuto

It's overly simplistic to say that the saturated or animal fats cause heart disease. It's even more simplistic and incorrect to say that foods high in dietary cholesterol such as egg yolks, will always lead to an increase in cholesterol in the blood. Many other factors are involved, including the type of saturated fat, individual genetics, current health status, exercise and the big picture of what else is consumed in the rest of the diet.

Recent research has been showing that the cholesterol in eggs is handled by most people's bodies in a way that doesn't cause heart disease and that dietary cholesterol does not necessarily translate to increased blood cholesterol or an unfavorable ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol.

Dr. Udo Erasumus in his book, Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill, said that "In 70% of the affluent populations of the world, increased cholesterol consumption decreases cholesterol production in the body through a regulating feedback system that protects them. The other 30% of the population may not have adequate feedback, and are wise to limit their dietary cholesterol consumption."

After a recent study published in The Journal Of Nutrition, Dr. Robert Nicolosi at the University of Massachusetts said, "Our data show that eating an egg a day isn't a factor for raising cholesterol."

A study reported at the 2006 experimental biology meeting in San Francisco made similar findings. The researchers discovered that when people ate three or more eggs per day, the amount of low density lipoprotein (LDL) in their bloodstream did in fact increase as previously reported.

However they also found that the subjects actually made bigger LDL particles which were less likely to enter artery walls and build up as artery-clogging plaque.

As a result of these and similar findings, head researcher Christine Green said that a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that eggs shouldn't be considered a "dietary evil."

Whole eggs have a lot going for them nutritionally speaking. The egg yolks contain a highly bioavailable source of lutein and zeaxanthin which are carotenoids that protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.

Eggs are a great source of high biological value complete protein and the protein is split almost evenly between the yolk and the white. One large egg contains 6.3 grams of protein with 3.5 grams in the white and 2.8 grams in the yolk.

Although whole eggs appear to have been exonerated, it may be premature to suggest to the entire general population that eating yolks in "unlimited quantities" is safe for ones health. 30% of the population are hyper-responders who may experience a potentially harmful change in blood lipids as a result of eating dietary cholesterol.

It's also not wise from a caloric perspective. In a fat burning program, you need to consider calories as well as nutritional value and health impact.

Whole eggs are not low calorie foods - they are very calorie dense, while egg whites are extremely low in calories, which is why egg whites are one of the top choices for lean protein on fat loss and bodybuilding diets.
You can read the rest for some info on including eggs in a healthy diet.

Personally, I don't eat much in the way of carbs (aside from berries and such), so I eat my eggs whole, all of them. I eat six eggs at a time, for about 420 calories, 42 grams of protein and 27 grams of fat, 9 of which are saturated. Sometimes I'll add some liquid egg whites to this to bump up the calories and protein. And I always use organic eggs.

Later in the article, Venuto sites former bodybuilder Vince Gironda, who has trained many well-known actors in his day (including Carl "Apollo Creed" Weathers):
Gironda had been saying from day one that the whole egg was "nature's perfect food" and he compared them to "natural steroids."

On some of his low carb "muscle definition" diets, he said you could eat as many whole eggs as you wanted and even scramble them in butter. He said that he had some of his champion bodybuilders on up to three dozen eggs a day!
Sounds good to me.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Seriously? Sarah Palin Is a "Joe Six-Pack American"

Do you want "Joe Six-Pack American" to be next in line for the presidency? I sure as hell don't.

I want a smart person, someone Palin would name an elitist because s/he is well educated and well-read. When the hell did it become a virtue among GOP politicians to be ignorant?

We don't need another dumbass.

Seriously? Sarah Palin Is a "Joe Six-Pack American"

Palin explains what kind of American she represents

Posted October 1, 2008

"It's time that normal Joe Six-Pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency, and I think that that's kind of taken some people off guard...but it's motivation for John McCain and I to work that much harder to...put government back on the side of the people of Joe Six Pack like me."

—Sarah Palin on the Hugh Hewitt show

In Memoriam: Hayden Carruth (1921 - 2008)

Another tough loss, this one for the poetry world. Carruth died September 29, 2008.

Hayden Carruth
Photo by Sara Barrett
Hayden Carruth

Hayden Carruth was born on August 3, 1921, in Waterbury, Connecticut, and educated at both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Chicago, where he earned a master's degree.

His first collection of poems, The Crow and the Heart, was published in 1959. Since then, he published more than thirty books, including Toward the Distant Islands: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2006) and Doctor Jazz: Poems 1996-2000 (2001).

Other poetry titles include Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey: Poems, 1991-1995 (1996), which received the National Book Award for Poetry; Collected Longer Poems (1994); Collected Shorter Poems, 1946-1991 (1992), which received the National Book Critics' Circle Award; The Sleeping Beauty (1990); and Tell Me Again How the White Heron Rises and Flies Across Nacreous River at Twilight Toward the Distant Islands (1989).

Known also for his criticism, Carruth is the author of several prose collections, including Selected Essays & Reviews (Copper Canyon Press, 1996) and Sitting In: Selected Writings on Jazz, Blues, and Related Topics (1993), as well as nonfiction works, including Beside the Shadblow Tree: A Memoir of James Laughlin (Copper Canyon Press, 1999) and Reluctantly: Autobiographical Essays (1998).

He is also the author of a novel, Appendix A (1963), and has edited a number of anthologies, including The Voice That Is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century (Bantam, 1970).

Informed by his political radicalism and sense of cultural responsibility, many of Carruth's best-known poems are about the people and places of northern Vermont, as well as rural poverty and hardship.

About Carruth and his work, the poet Galway Kinnell has said, "This is not a man who sits down to 'write a poem'; rather, some burden of understanding and feeling, some need to know, forces his poems into being. Thoreau said, 'Be it life or death, what we crave is reality.' So it is with Carruth. And even in hell, knowledge itself bestows a halo around the consciousness with, at moments, attains it."

Carruth received fellowships from the Bollingen Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and a 1995 Lannan Literary Fellowship. He was presented with the Lenore Marshall Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Vermont Governor's Medal, the Carl Sandburg Award, the Whiting Award, and the Ruth Lilly Prize, among many others.

He taught at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and at the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Syracuse University.

Carruth lived in Vermont for many years before residing in Munnsville, New York, with his wife, the poet Joe-Anne McLaughlin Carruth. He died September 29, 2008.

A couple of his poems:
Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey
by Hayden Carruth

Scrambled eggs and whiskey
in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes. And
weren't we fine tonight?
When Hank set up that limping
treble roll behind me
my horn just growled and I
thought my heart would burst.
And Brad M. pressing with the
soft stick and Joe-Anne
singing low. Here we are now
in the White Tower, leaning
on one another, too tired
to go home. But don't say a word,
don't tell a soul, they wouldn't
understand, they couldn't, never
in a million years, how fine,
how magnificent we were
in that old club tonight.

* * * * *

by Hayden Carruth

The great poems of
our elders in many
tongues we struggled

to comprehend who
are now content with
mystery simple

and profound you
in the night your
breath your body

orbit of time and
the moment you
Phosphorus and

Hesper a dark circle
of fertility so
bloodthirsty for us

you in the world
the night breathing
asleep and alive.

TED Talks - Noah Feldman: Politics and Religion Are Technologies

An old (2003) but interesting TED Talk -- Noah Feldman: Politics and religion are technologies.
Noah Feldman makes a searing case that both politics and religion -- whatever their differences -- are similar technologies, designed to efficiently connect and manage any group of people.

As Islam becomes a more powerful cultural force throughout the world, Noah Feldman studies the ways that Islamic law intersects with Western-style democracy. A law professor at Harvard and a contributing editor at the New York Times Magazine, Feldman recently wrote a much-discussed think piece about how Shariah law might be made to work within the British court system. His nuanced argument lays out the rigorous roots of Shariah justice (yes, it is more than the Western caricature of stoning women and cutting off thieving hands), and his conclusions have drawn admiration and criticism. But he's never less than fearlessly honest -- as in another piece for the Times Magazine, where he exposes a troubling strain of anti-Muslim sentiment, both outspoken and implied, in modern Europe.

Feldman is an adjunct fellow at the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations. His most recent book is The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State.

Toxic Fat - New Book by Barry Sears

Barry Sears created a storm of controversy, not to mention an empire, with his Zone Diet approach. But he hasn't stopped researching and writing. His new book, Toxic Fat, suggests that obesity may be a radical form of cancer caused by inflammation. Those of you who know about nutrition can see where this is going -- some fats cause inflammation, some reduce it.

Here is the story from Medical News Today.
New Book By Zone Diet Creator Takes A Controversial Look At Obesity

For the past three years Dr. Barry Sears, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Zone, has been compiling research for his revolutionary new book, Toxic Fat: When Good Fat Turns Bad, which landed on shelves September 30, 2008. Dr. Sears' 12th book re-examines how we treat the obesity and diabetes epidemics in America.

Rather than looking at obesity as a condition resulting from sloth and gluttony, Dr. Sears explains obesity as a form of cancer driven by silent inflammation. Additionally, the epidemics of weight gain and diabetes in America are primarily caused by the genes in susceptible individuals being activated by recent changes in the American diet. Once those genes are turned on, obesity and diabetes are the inevitable outcome, resulting in the rapid increase of toxic fat in our bodies.

Compelling and controversial, Toxic Fat explores how the greatest threat to our country does not come from external forces, but from what we are eating. "Over the last few decades, the increased consumption of cheap, refined carbohydrates and vegetable oil, combined with the decreased consumption of healthy Omega-3 fish oil, has led to the epidemic of inflammation driven by increasing levels of toxic fat in the blood," explains Dr. Sears.

In Toxic Fat, readers will learn why people with a genetic predisposition for a "fat trap" are becoming heavier simply by having bad genes that can be activated by toxic fat. The book goes on to explain the driving force for eating more calories is not improved food advertising, but hormonal changes in the brain that are creating a constant state of hunger. Toxic Fat offers practical advice on how proper nutritional protocols can help reverse this troubling trend in less than 30 days, including:

The Hand-Eye Method

The Hand-Eye Method provides dieters a simple way of portioning out the contents of their meals. On one-third of the plate, put enough low-fat protein (chicken, fish, very lean beef, etc.) to match the size and thickness of a palm. Realistically this is about three ounces for a typical female and four ounces for the typical male. Fill the other two-thirds of the plate with carbohydrates, such as colorful non-starch vegetable and fruits.

The 1-2-3 Method

Following the 1-2-3 Method makes it easy for dieters to create a meal providing the right amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates your body needs. For every one gram of fat consumed, eat two grams of protein and three grams of carbohydrates.

Zone in on Meal Timing

Always eat within the hour of waking. By coming off an eight- to ten-hour fast, the body is running on empty. Additionally, don't let more than five hours go by without eating a meal or snack. Consistently providing the body with small meals prevents storing excess food for later, which can turn to fat.
I'm not a fan of the zone diet, but I do tend to agree with his assumptions regarding the intake of fat and protein. It sounds like this new book should be interesting.

Scientific American Mind - The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn

Excellent article from Scientific American Mind.

The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn

Our love for telling tales reveals the workings of the mind

By Jeremy Hsu

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.

Other research by Green has found that people who perform better on tests of empathy, or the capacity to perceive another person’s emotions, become more easily transported regardless of the story. “There seems to be a reasonable amount of variation, all the way up to people who can get swept away by a Hallmark commercial,” Green says.

Go read the whole post.

How Do Mudras Affect Meditation?

An interesting post from axel g - personal development that works, on mudras in meditation. I personally do not use mudras, but I have no doubt that there is some power to the way we hold our hands in meditation.

How Do Mudras Affect Meditation?

One could probably put together a whole book about mudras and go into a deep theoretical discussion about symbolism and the possible affects on meditation. Here, I'll limit myself to my personal experiences of the use of mudras in meditation. But first let's take a look at what a mudra is.


Have you ever seen a Buddha image sitting cross-legged with his hands resting one over the other, by the lower abdomen, and with the thumbs joined? This is referred to as a mudra. There are many many kinds of mudras having evolved from a broad base of spiritual traditions. Anyway, why use mudras in meditation? Let me share my first-hand experiences with you.

The Mind

When the mind becomes very still, for example after a week of intensive meditation. We tend to open up to subtle sense impressions that normally pass by unnoticed. One could say that intensive meditation increases awareness of the physical body and mental energy.

Meditation And Mental Energy

Now, let's start by taking a look at the use of mudras in day to day meditation. When I meditate, I'm always aware of subtle mental energy. Meditation generates mental energy which can be felt as a presence in and around the abdomen.
Go read the whole post.

Get Your New, Free Version of StrongLifts 5×5 eBook

Medhi at StrongLifts has released the newest version of his 5x5 eBook, which was excellent in its first incarnation and sure to be much improved. This is a great intro-level workout, but also a great periodization break for long-time lifters. Four to six weeks of only three-day-a-week lifting -- with low volume -- can be a good active recovery period.

Best comeback I could make after the long hiatus. I’ve got 5 things for you.

New, Free eBook. I rewrote the StrongLifts 5×5 eBook: 57 pages with more than 90% new material. I’ll keep it short: this eBook is easily worth $97 but I’m giving it away for free. To get your free copy, click here (instant download).

New StrongLifts 5×5 Program. I also rewrote the StrongLifts 5×5 Beginner Strength Training Program. Check out the post and vote for it on stumbleupon,, etc. so more people get to know about StrongLifts 5×5.

New StrongLifts 5×5 Spreadsheet. The new StrongLifts 5×5 spreadsheet now includes goals based on your body-weight and graphs to track strength gains and body recomposition. Download it from the StrongLifts 5×5 post (bottom).

New StrongLifts 5×5 FAQ. The StrongLifts 5×5 Forum category also has its FAQ: the StrongLifts 5×5 FAQ. It contains about 80% of what you’ll find inside the StrongLifts 5×5 eBook.

New Newsletter. Until now I used Feedburner to send blog posts like this one by email & RSS. One problem with Feedburner, is that you had to wait for the next blog post to get StrongLifts 5×5 eBook.

That’s one reason why I added a new service: AWeber. When you subscribe to get your free copy of StrongLifts 5×5 eBook, you’ll now get it right after you confirm your subscription. No more waiting.

Go download your copy now.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Matt Taibbi - Mad Dog Palin

Matt Taibbi (of Rolling Stone) shreds the idea that Sarah Palin is even remotely qualified to run for the second highest office in the nation -- and he does so with Hitchensesque verbiage.

Alternet posted the whole article, but I am only offering some fun pieces of it. He's a bit hard on the American electorate, but he is, nonetheless, correct.
Here's the thing about Americans. You can send their kids off by the thousands to get their balls blown off in foreign lands for no reason at all, saddle them with billions in debt year after congressional year while they spend their winters cheerfully watching game shows and football, pull the rug out from under their mortgages, and leave them living off their credit cards and their Wal-Mart salaries while you move their jobs to China and Bangalore.

And none of it matters, so long as you remember a few months before Election Day to offer them a two-bit caricature culled from some cutting-room-floor episode of Roseanne as part of your presidential ticket. And if she's a good enough likeness of a loudmouthed middle-American archetype, as Sarah Palin is, John Q. Public will drop his giant-size bag of Doritos in gratitude, wipe the Sizzlin' Picante dust from his lips and rush to the booth to vote for her. Not because it makes sense, or because it has a chance of improving his life or anyone else's, but simply because it appeals to the low-humming narcissism that substitutes for his personality, because the image on TV reminds him of the mean, brainless slob he sees in the mirror every morning.

Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern United States. As a representative of our political system, she's a new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical masterwork of puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the total surrender of our political power.

Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she's the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV -and this country is going to eat her up, cheering her every step of the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation.

The Palin speech was a political masterpiece, one of the most ingenious pieces of electoral theater this country has ever seen. Never before has a single televised image turned a party's fortunes around faster.

Until the Alaska governor actually ascended to the podium that night, I was convinced that John McCain had made one of the all-time campaign season blunders, that he had acted impulsively and out of utter desperation in choosing a cross-eyed political neophyte just two years removed from running a town smaller than the bleacher section at Fenway Park. It even crossed my mind that there was an element of weirdly self-destructive pique in McCain's decision to cave in to his party's right-wing base in this fashion, that perhaps he was responding to being ordered by party elders away from a tepid, ideologically promiscuous hack like Joe Lieberman -- reportedly his real preference -- by picking the most obviously unqualified, doomed-to-fail joke of a Bible-thumping buffoon. As in: You want me to rally the base? Fine, I'll rally the base. Here, I'll choose this rifle-toting, serially pregnant moose killer who thinks God lobbies for oil pipelines. Happy now?

Taibbi offers up a nice collection of facts after this diatribe, then closes with another fine and biting commentary on the American voter, or at least the ones sucked in by lame ass stunts such as nominating Palin.

So, sure, Barack Obama might be every bit as much a slick piece of imageering as Sarah Palin. The difference is in what the image represents. The Obama image represents tolerance, intelligence, education, patience with the notion of compromise and negotiation, and a willingness to stare ugly facts right in the face, all qualities we're actually going to need in government if we're going to get out of this huge mess we're in.

Here's what Sarah Palin represents: being a fat fucking pig who pins "Country First" buttons on his man titties and chants "U-S-A! U-S-A!" at the top of his lungs while his kids live off credit cards and Saudis buy up all the mortgages in Kansas.

The truly disgusting thing about Sarah Palin isn't that she's totally unqualified, or a religious zealot, or married to a secessionist, or unable to educate her own daughter about sex, or a fake conservative who raised taxes and horked up earmark millions every chance she got. No, the most disgusting thing about her is what she says about us: that you can ram us in the ass for eight solid years, and we'll not only thank you for your trouble, we'll sign you up for eight more years, if only you promise to stroke us in the right spot for a few hours around election time.

Democracy doesn't require a whole lot of work of its citizens, but it requires some: It requires taking a good look outside once in a while, and considering the bad news and what it might mean, and making the occasional tough choice, and soberly taking stock of what your real interests are.

This is a very different thing from shopping, which involves passively letting sitcoms melt your brain all day long and then jumping straight into the TV screen to buy a Southern-Style Chicken Sandwich because the slob singing "I'm Lovin' It!" during the commercial break looks just like you. The joy of being a consumer is that it doesn't require thought, responsibility, self-awareness or shame: All you have to do is obey the first urge that gurgles up from your stomach. And then obey the next. And the next. And the next.

And when it comes time to vote, all you have to do is put your Country First -- just like that lady on TV who reminds you of your cousin. U-S-A, baby. U-S-A! U-S-A!

A little harsh, but true.