Monday, April 30, 2012

the invisible borders that define american culture

TheAtlantic | When we think about borders, we tend to think of administrative boundaries. Those demarcating lines, often grown out of rivers and mountain ranges or diplomatic quirks, govern our daily lives, and that’s doubly so if we live near a neighboring country or state.

We know that these boundaries are on some level unnatural. Driving around Kansas City, where I live, makes this abundantly clear. Gas price differences aside, it can be difficult to tell which state you’re in, Missouri or Kansas, and the small street of State Line Road does nothing to make it clearer.

But are there more organic borders, brought to life by our own actions and activities? I recently set out, along with a team from MIT and AT&T, to see if I could find an answer. Previously, members of our group had collaborated to use mobile phone call and text message records to determine how tightly connected different counties are to each other. But communication is far from the only way in which we are connected or separated. We can be connected based on where we move, how we speak, and even what sports teams we root for.

So our research team, consisting of DeDe Paul of AT&T, Vincent Blondel of Belgium’s Université catholique de Louvain, IBM's Dominik Dahlem*, and myself, set out to understand how a variety of cultural and social properties create borders, and whether or not these borders actually overlap. Are there in fact natural boundaries to the borders that we create as social creatures? Fist tap Prof. Geo.

mental-egoic tools for mental egoic connectivity

Guardian | I first noticed it in a restaurant. The place was strangely quiet, and at one table a group seemed deep in prayer. Their heads were bowed, their eyes hooded and their hands in their laps. I then realised that every one, young and old, was gazing at a handheld phone. People strolled the street outside likewise, with arms crooked at right angles, necks bent and heads in potentially crippling postures. Mothers with babies were doing it. Students in groups were doing it. They were like zombies on call. There was no conversation.

Every visit to California convinces me that the digital revolution is over, by which I mean it is won. Everyone is connected. The New York Times last week declared the death of conversation. While mobile phones may at last be falling victim to etiquette, this is largely because even talk is considered too intimate a contact. No such bar applies to emailing, texting, messaging, posting and tweeting. It is ubiquitous, the ultimate connectivity, the brain wired full-time to infinity.

The MIT professor and psychologist Sherry Turkle claims that her students are close to mastering the art of sustaining eye contact with a person while texting someone else. It is like an organist playing different tunes with hands and feet. To Turkle, these people are "alone together … a tribe of one". Anyone with 3,000 Facebook friends has none.

The audience in a New York theatre now sit, row on row, with lit machines in their laps, looking to the stage occasionally but mostly scrolling and tapping away. The same happens at meetings and lectures, in coffee bars and on jogging tracks. Children are apparently developing a dexterity in their thumbs unknown since the evolution of the giant sloth. Talk is reduced to the muttered, heads-down expletives brilliantly satirised in the BBC's Twenty Twelve.

Psychologists have identified this as "fear of conversation". People wear headphones as "conversational avoidance devices". The internet connects us to the entire world, but it is a world bespoke, edited, deleted, sanitised. Doubt and debate become trivial because every statement can be instantly verified or denied by Google. There is no time for the thesis, antithesis, synthesis of Socratic dialogue, the skeleton of true conversation.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

neurobiological sickness...,

Romanity | From Roman racism to Orthodox equality.

All humans suffer from this short-circuit "since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23) The difference among humans is not equality or inequality of race, but whether one is being cured or not. Within this context we have a complete reversal of the above foundation of the Hellenic paganism of the Roman Empire. The great struggle between paganism and Christianity in the time of Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) is reflected in the difference between Roman Greeks (meaning Pagans) and Roman Christians. All Pagan Romans were defending their aristocratic ancient Hellenic identity and traditions which was being torn apart by the aristocratic identity of the cure of glorification which was open to all Romans, both gentis and non-gentis, and to all non-Romans.[ 66 ] The "Aristocracy" of Glorification is no respector of the aristocracy of birth. [ Return ](b) Examples of racism even in the theology of Pan-Germanism and Pan-Slavism.

Having conquered the West Romans the Franco-Latins called themselves the "gentis" and their Roman slaves "serfs" and "villains". Pan-German ideology was clearly expressed to an extreme degree by the followers of Hitler who were out to enslave at least the Slavs. But a theological expression of this Germanic racism is found in Albert Schweitzer's book, "The Quest Of The Historical Jesus." For example, on the first page of Chapter I he claims that,

"When, at some future day, our civilization shall lie, closed and completed, before the eyes of later generations, German theology will stand out as a great, a unique phenomenon in the mental and spiritual life of our time. For nowhere save in the German temperament can there be found in the same perfection in the living complex of conditions and factors — of philosophic thought, critical acumen, historic insight, and religious feeling — without which no deep theology is possible."

"And the greatest achievement of German theology is the critical investigation of the life of Jesus. What it has accomplished here has laid down the conditions and determined the course of the religious thinking of the future.."

"In the history of doctrine its work has been negative; it so to speak, cleared the site for the new edifice of religious thought. In describing how the ideas of Jesus were taken possession of by the Greek spirit, it was tracing the growth of what must necessarily become strange to us, and, as a matter of fact, has become strange to us."[ 67 ]

All this has been done without the slightest knowledge of what glorification in the Lord (Yahweh) of Glory is (in both Old and New Testaments). This is ignored equally by both Germans and their Protestant and or 'Catholic' colleagues. Because of Augustine's Neo-Platonism, both Protestants and Latins have always imagined that the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils accepted both the analogia entis between God and His creation and analogia fidei between God and the Bible. This created not only their Biblical fundamentalism, but also made Greek philosophy the foundation of their understanding of the History of Dogma which is certainly not that of the reality of the Roman Ecumenical Councils. The reason for this is that Western Biblical and doctrinal scholars are ignorant of the Four Patristic Keys to the Bible and the Dogmas of the Roman Ecumenical Councils explained earlier. But even many "Orthodox" scholars follow either the Protestant or 'Catholic' scholars by "sniffing."

Albert Schweitzer and his students saw clearly where their quest for the "historical Jesus" was leading, i.e. to the dissolution of the doctrinal fabric of what passes off as Christian Tradition in the Franco-Latin West. One typical Orthodox reaction has been to become proud that the Fathers of the Church had supposedly Hellenized Christianity thereby making it acceptable to the Hellenic mind of the Roman Empire.

The Slavophil branch of Pan-Slavism also believed that the Slavs understood the Bible better than other races. But the supposed reason for this is that among the Orthodox the Greco-Roman Fathers of the Church belong to the historical manifestation of the Kouchite movement in history, whereas the Slavs belong to the Iranian movement in history.[ 68 ] In other words the Slavic Orthodox are a superior brand of Christians than the Roman Fathers of the Church, not because they may have reached glorification, but simply because they are Slavs.[ 69 ]

with the dopamine flowing like this, you knew the booty popping couldn't be far behind...,

CNN | After focusing on "green cars" in recent years, carmakers are wowing visitors at the Auto China 2012 car show with vehicles that are big, bad and gas-guzzling.

"I would definitely be interested if the price was right," says Wang Xizhen as he ogled a deep purple Aston Martin DBS.

Aston Martin launched its Dragon 88 China-only limited edition this week. With gold dragon emblems embroidered onto its leather seats, the car also carries a hefty price tag - more than 5 million yuan (nearly $800,000).

Jeep also launched a China-inspired car -- a flashy Wrangler concept car emblazoned with a long silvery dragon across the hood.

"Jeep brand sales in China in 2011 increased 81% over the prior year and China," said Mike Manley, CEO of Jeep Brand, Chrysler group, at the unveiling on Monday. "Last year, more Jeep vehicles were sold in China than in any other country besides the U.S. and Canada."

Manley said because the brand is committed to China, it's important to design and tailor vehicles specifically to Chinese tastes. But some consumers, like Wang, disagreed.

"Just because it has a dragon on it, doesn't mean Chinese people will love it. After all, we're after going after a western brand," said Wang. "I like the subtlety of Aston Martin's dragon design, but to put a huge dragon across the entire car is going overboard."

Jeep and Aston Martin are among many foreign automakers hoping to woo hundreds of thousands of Chinese consumers visiting the show this week, especially as China has become the world's largest auto market amid a sales slump in Europe and tepid growth in the United States.

Despite the push in green cars in previous years following government subsidies for cleaner vehicles, this year's focus turned to gas-guzzling SUVs. Crowds swooned over the new Lamborghini Urus SUV concept car -- a potential competitor to the popular Porsche Cayenne.

Ford also unveiled three SUVs at the show, including the EcoSport, which is expected to be manufactured at the company's China factory in Chongqing.

"SUVs are a strength for Ford globally and here in China, the SUV segment is one of the fastest growing segments in the industry," said Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford's Asia Pacific and Africa region. "So you put the two's a very exciting time."

Automakers have turned their attention to bigger cars and flashier cars to attract consumers since there are fewer government-backed incentives to pursue green technology, analysts say.

Friday, April 27, 2012

left in the dark: plant/human symbiosis and the fall of humanity

realitysandwich | “I believe that the lost secret of human emergence . . . the undefined catalyst that took a very bright monkey and turned that species into a self-reflecting dreamer . . . that catalyst has to be sought in these alkaloids in the food chain that were catalyzing higher states of intellectual activity.”
--Terence McKenna

Tony Wright and Graham Gynn are authors of Left In The Dark--the book that presents Tony’s research outlining a radical re-interpretation of the current data regarding human evolution and, they contend, our recent degenerated state we call “civilization”. You can read the book for free here. Despite such a young and extreme proposal positive reactions are growing and include such minds as Dennis McKenna, Stanislav Grof, Colin Groves, Michael Winkelman and many There are many mysterious anomalies about human evolution yet to be adequately explained. These include the human brains rapid expansion in size and complexity, why this accelerating expansion suddenly stalled roughly 200,000 years ago and our brains have been shrinking ever since, and why our rare glimpses of genius goes hand in hand with our species wide insanity.

The following is a discussion with Tony Wright on these anomalies and more, followed by some further information on his theory.

TS: After two decades of research and radical self-experimentation you’ve come to a synthesis between the ancient data and information coming out of modern science. Paradoxically this all seems to indicate a humongous problem, and simultaneously explains why we would be oblivious to it in the first place: we are all suffering from species wide neural retardation, and are now too deluded to even realize when faced with the mountain of evidence. Is this the general idea?

TW: Yes. It should be virtually impossible to find any supporting evidence for such a profound theory if there was no real problem with the development and structural integrity of our neural system in the first place. If there were only ancient accounts of the diagnosis, or any supporting biological data, or initial support from some of society’s sharpest minds, then it should at least ring alarm bells. That all those elements exist and in addition our collective behavior has long been thought by many to be insane indicates something really serious just doesn’t add up. If everything is fine then the theory would be a no-brainer to refute, and we should at least have no fear in thoroughly checking it out.

So during millions of years of evolution in the African tropical forest we developed a symbiosis with fruit, and your proposing that it is no coincidence the most complex tissue in the known universe evolved during a symbiosis with perhaps dozens of species of the most complex chemical factories on the planet. How did this occur?

I’m proposing that the accelerating expansion of the neo-cortex was due to a runaway feedback mechanism driven by our own hormone system in combination with the complex plant bio-chemistry provided by our diet. What has been overlooked is the profound effects of flooding our brains 24/7 for thousands of generations with this highly advanced molecular engineering formula. Fruit is essentially a womb-like developmental environment for the seeds and has very unique, highly complex hormonally active chemistry. Our early development is dictated by the transcription process whereby changes in how the DNA is read dictate the type of structures that develop. Steroids like testosterone are the key players here, but by incorporating more and more of these DNA-reading plant chemicals into our diet we basically shifted from a typical mammalian developmental environment to more of a plant developmental environment.

Along with regulating gene transcription many of these molecules increase brain activity, modulate the endocrine system including the pineal gland, inhibit mono amine oxidase (MAO inhibitors), are antioxidants and also inhibit the activity of our own hormones such as testosterone and oestrogens. Just altering the activity of these two hormones has a dramatic affect on many aspects of our development, physiology and neural structure. For example, decreasing they’re activity extends juvenility and the window for brain development by delaying the onset of sexual maturity.

All this coming together would have many interconnected affects and, being that this bio-chemistry would be present in the developmental environment it would dramatically impact what develops at this most sensitive and rapid stage of brain/endocrine system growth in the uterus.

This carried on after birth through breastfeeding, and then afterwards through directly ingesting this highly advanced molecular engineering cocktail we call fruit. Each generation would pass down a progressively modified neuro-endocrine system as a result. So after millions of years of ever more entangled co-evolution nearly all of the transcription chemicals present during our early development and on through life that were essential to our optimal design/functioning were lost and replaced by progressively worse substitutes irrelevant to our evolution . . . all the way until we reach today’s ‘junk’ food. Ironically much of this actually has the opposite effect of fruit bio-chemistry on our hormones, causing the unique process to reverse.

All of this sounds complex but at its foundation it’s just really basic engineering principles: If you change the design (transcription) and construction materials that a system or technology is built from and fueled by, then the structure and functionality of that system will inevitably change as a result. This logic is obvious when applied to any of our technologies but paradoxically we haven’t applied it to the thing involved in generating our perception, which just happens to be the most complex piece of kit we know. Our perception is directly correlated with and ‘effectively’ a product of the extremely sensitive structure and bio-chemistry of our brain and this has changed out of all recognition in a very short time. (more on this symbiosis)

scenes from internet rising...,

Thursday, April 26, 2012

from fracking to water rights: how foreign interests are cleaning out africa

treehugger | There are a lot of misconceptions about Africa, including that the continent needs help from the rest of the world in order to overcome the economic challenges it faces. It doesn't need help, though, so much as to be on equal footing with the rest of the world. Yet it continues to be seen not only as the 'dark' continent, but also a resource-rich one whose wealth is there for the taking. Foreign countries and companies are racing to claim not only the continent's mineral resources, which often fuel conflict and environmental disasters, but also arable land to grow water-intensive crops for export. That's no small problem, considering the droughts that African countries already face and how vulnerable the region is to climate change.

These resource grabs often proceed in the name of development, but all they develop are gains for foreign countries. In the process, they make every problem that the continent already faces a lot worse. Fist tap Dale.

huge water resource exists under africa

BBCNews | Scientists say the notoriously dry continent of Africa is sitting on a vast reservoir of groundwater.

They argue that the total volume of water in aquifers underground is 100 times the amount found on the surface.

The team have produced the most detailed map yet of the scale and potential of this hidden resource.

Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, they stress that large scale drilling might not be the best way of increasing water supplies.

Across Africa more than 300 million people are said not to have access to safe drinking water.

Demand for water is set to grow markedly in coming decades due to population growth and the need for irrigation to grow crops.

Freshwater rivers and lakes are subject to seasonal floods and droughts that can limit their availability for people and for agriculture. At present only 5% of arable land is irrigated.

Now scientists have for the first time been able to carry out a continent-wide analysis of the water that is hidden under the surface in aquifers. Researchers from the British Geological Survey and University College London (UCL) have mapped in detail the amount and potential yield of this groundwater resource across the continent.

Helen Bonsor from the BGS is one of the authors of the paper. She says that up until now groundwater was out of sight and out of mind. She hopes the new maps will open people's eyes to the potential.

"Where there's greatest ground water storage is in northern Africa, in the large sedimentary basins, in Libya, Algeria and Chad," she said.

"The amount of storage in those basins is equivalent to 75m thickness of water across that area - it's a huge amount." Fist tap Dale.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

e.o.wilson; what is art?

HarvardMagazine | The utilitarian theory of cave art, that the paintings and scratchings depict ordinary life, is almost certainly partly correct, but not entirely so. Few experts have taken into account that there also occurred, in another wholly different domain, the origin and use of music. This event provides independent evidence that at least some of the paintings and sculptures did have a magical content in the lives of the cave dwellers. A few writers have argued that music had no Darwinian significance, that it sprang from language as a pleasant “auditory cheesecake,” as one author once put it. It is true that scant evidence exists of the content of the music itself—just as, remarkably, we have no score and therefore no record of Greek and Roman music, only the instruments. But musical instruments also existed from an early period of the creative explosion. “Flutes,” technically better classified as pipes, fashioned from bird bones, have been found that date to 30,000 years or more before the present. At Isturitz in France and other localities some 225 reputed pipes have been so classified, some of which are of certain authenticity. The best among them have finger holes set in an oblique alignment and rotated clockwise to a degree seemingly meant to line up with the fingers of a human hand. The holes are also beveled in a way that allows the tips of the fingers to be sealed against them. A modern flutist, Graeme Lawson, has played a replica made from one of them, albeit of course without a Paleolithic score in hand.

Other artifacts have been found that can plausibly be interpreted as musical instruments. They include thin flint blades that, when hung together and struck, produce pleasant sounds like those from wind chimes. Further, although perhaps just a coincidence, the sections of walls on which cave paintings were made tend to emit arresting echoes of sound in their vicinity.

Was music Darwinian? Did it have survival value for the Paleolithic tribes that practiced it? Examining the customs of contemporary hunter-gatherer cultures from around the world, one can hardly come to any other conclusion. Songs, usually accompanied by dances, are all but universal. And because Australian aboriginals have been isolated since the arrival of their forebears about 45,000 years ago, and their songs and dances are similar in genre to those of other hunter-gatherer cultures, it is reasonable to suppose that they resemble the ones practiced by their Paleolithic ancestors.

what is money?

BBCRadio | We dream about it, argue about it, worry about it, celebrate it, spend it, save it, we transfer it from one emotion to another. But what exactly is money? And why do we trust it? Frances Stonor Saunders takes a journey through some of the fundamentals of money. During her journey she dips her toe into the world of quantitative easing. How is that money invented? Is it as real as the pieces of paper in our wallets? And she explores some of the reasons for the calls to return to a gold standard. Essentially, she tries to gain a better understanding of what this stuff which we call money is really about; how and why do we maintain our faith in it, or has it just become too complicated? Read the transcript.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

a separative lesion in consciousness...,

The process which we are considering may be regarded as the development of individual personality and it was only during the first millenium B.C. that this degree of self-consciousness became widespread. It is to this new mental-egoic substitute self to which we must turn our attention because there is one common characteristic that underlies the overwhelming majority of mental-egoic activity. It is a very simple characteristic. Most mental-egoic activity refers to and is based on the past. That is to say, mental-egoic activity is based on the memory of past actions, past experiences, past events. As you are now thinking about all this, you are working largely with and from memories - because it is from memories that you draw words, names, and concepts. (why I said "lying" is harsh word for it, but often useful)

The nature of mental-egoic processes are not bad in-and-of themselves, it is through this attentive use of memory that you humans have been able to pull yourselves up out of the archaic cameral state. Odd as it sounds, memory and the mental-egoic attention to the same is a form of transcendence inasmuch as it has allowed you humans to escape the panoramic fluctuations of the moment. As the human "self" began to shift away from the cameral sympathos toward mental-egoic thought and language - it likewise began an inevitable shift away from the present moment and toward memory. The mental-egoic self is a memory self, and that is what allows it to rise above cameral sympathetic fluctuation.

What you humans refer to as "consciousness" is before everything else just memory.

There are three basic problems with that.

First, after the mental-egoic self is formed, it is very difficult to escape. Attending to word/name/concept memory becomes all that you have, and all that are. Short of chemically induced submergence into the cameral sympathos, i.e. forced attention to otherwise subliminal fluctuations of the moment, you are sound asleep to what is present and real. The mental-egoic attention to memory becomes so stable and strong that it not only escapes the subconscious cameral sympathos.

Second, the mental-egoic also begins to deny or even destroy access to the superconscious, i.e., conscience or the memory of emotion, the all important recollection and experiencing of the cameral sympathos or feeling "all at once" that is the next step in possible human evolution. The mental-egoic has to be very badly shocked in order to open itself to momentary glimpses or experiences of conscience or "feeling all at once".

Finally, as if the above wasn't bad enough, the mental-egoic has one other fundamental disability derived from working with memory, it tends to be static and to deal most effectively with unreal, unnatural static constructs. As these humans began forming static Euclidean notions about fundamental reality - and paying attention principally to the recording, thinking, and remembering aspects of mind, it began to separate from the spontaneous, impulsive, moving world from which it emerged.

Mental-egoic human awareness followed a path of developing thought based on static concepts of nature and of the self which long ago ceased to conform to the underlying living matrix from which it arose. The mental-egoic "self" is a separative lesion in consciousness.

alone together

alonetogetherbook | Facebook. Twitter. SecondLife. “Smart” phones. Robotic pets. Robotic lovers. Thirty years ago we asked what we would use computers for. Now the question is what don’t we use them for. Now, through technology, we create, navigate, and perform our emotional lives.

We shape our buildings, Winston Churchill argued, then they shape us. The same is true of our digital technologies. Technology has become the architect of our intimacies. Online, we face a moment of temptation. Drawn by the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy, we conduct “risk free” affairs on Second Life and confuse the scattershot postings on a Facebook wall with authentic communication. And now, we are promised “sociable robots” that will marry companionship with convenience.

Technology promises to let us do anything from anywhere with anyone. But it also drains us as we try to do everything everywhere. We begin to feel overwhelmed and depleted by the lives technology makes possible. We may be free to work from anywhere, but we are also prone to being lonely everywhere. In a surprising twist, relentless connection leads to a new solitude. We turn to new technology to fill the void,but as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down.

Alone Together is the result of MIT technology and society specialist Sherry Turkle’s nearly fifteen-year exploration of our lives on the digital terrain. Based on interviews with hundreds of children and adults, it describes new, unsettling relationships between friends, lovers, parents, and children, and new instabilities in how we understand privacy and community, intimacy and solitude. It is a story of emotional dislocation, of risks taken unknowingly. But it is also a story of hope, for even in the places where digital saturation is greatest,there are people—especially the young—who are asking the hard questions about costs, about checks and balances, about returning to what is most sustaining about direct human connection. At the threshold of what Turkle calls “the robotic moment,” our devices prompt us to recall that we have human purposes and,perhaps, to rediscover what they are.

the flight from conversation?

NYTimes | WE live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.

At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work executives text during board meetings. We text (and shop and go on Facebook) during classes and when we’re on dates. My students tell me about an important new skill: it involves maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile connection and talked to hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances about their plugged-in lives. I’ve learned that the little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are.

We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being “alone together.” Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be. We want to customize our lives. We want to move in and out of where we are because the thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention. We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party.

Our colleagues want to go to that board meeting but pay attention only to what interests them. To some this seems like a good idea, but we can end up hiding from one another, even as we are constantly connected to one another.

A businessman laments that he no longer has colleagues at work. He doesn’t stop by to talk; he doesn’t call. He says that he doesn’t want to interrupt them. He says they’re “too busy on their e-mail.” But then he pauses and corrects himself. “I’m not telling the truth. I’m the one who doesn’t want to be interrupted. I think I should. But I’d rather just do things on my BlackBerry.”

A 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything says almost wistfully, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”

In today’s workplace, young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones. Walking through a college library or the campus of a high-tech start-up, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. A senior partner at a Boston law firm describes a scene in his office. Young associates lay out their suite of technologies: laptops, iPods and multiple phones. And then they put their earphones on. “Big ones. Like pilots. They turn their desks into cockpits.” With the young lawyers in their cockpits, the office is quiet, a quiet that does not ask to be broken.

In the silence of connection, people are comforted by being in touch with a lot of people — carefully kept at bay. We can’t get enough of one another if we can use technology to keep one another at distances we can control: not too close, not too far, just right. I think of it as a Goldilocks effect.

Monday, April 23, 2012

the real scandals of Double-O's latin american summit...,

Guardian | President Barack Obama's re-election campaign launched its first Spanish-language ads this week, just after returning from the Summit of the Americas. He spent three days in Colombia, longer than any president in US history. The trip was marred, however, by a prostitution scandal involving the US military and secret service. General Martin Dempsey, chair of the US joint chiefs of staff, said:

"We let the boss down, because nobody's talking about what went on in Colombia other than this incident."

Dempsey is right. It also served as a metaphor for the US government's ongoing treatment of Latin America.

The scandal reportedly involves 11 members of the US secret service and five members of the US Army special forces, who allegedly met prostitutes at one or more bars in Cartagena and took up to 20 of the women back to their hotel, some of whom may have been minors. This all deserves thorough investigation, but so do the policy positions that Obama promoted while in Cartagena.

First, the war on drugs. Obama stated at the summit:

"I, personally, and my administration's position is that legalization is not the answer."

Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told me that, despite Obama's predictable line, this summit showed "the transformation of the regional and global dialogue around drug policy …":

"This is the first you've had a president saying that we're willing to look at the possibility that US drug policies are doing more harm than good in some parts of the world."

He credits the growing consensus across the political spectrum in Latin America, from key former presidents like Vicente Fox of Mexico, who supports legalization of drugs, to current leaders like Mexico's Felipe Caldéron, who cited the rapacious demand for drugs in the US as the core of the problem. Nadelmann went on:

"You have the funny situation of Evo Morales, the leftist leader of Bolivia, former head of the coca growers' union, lecturing the United States about – essentially, sounding like Milton Friedman – that 'How can you expect us to reduce the supply when there is a demand?'

"So there's the beginning of a change here. I don't think it's going to be possible to put this genie back in the bottle."

Then, there is trade. Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos also announced that the US-Colombian Free Trade Agreement would take full force 15 May. Colombian and US labor leaders decried the move, since Colombia is the worst country on Earth for trade unionists. Labor organizers are regularly murdered in Colombia, with at least 34 killed in the past year and a half.

When Obama was first running for president, he promised to oppose the Colombia FTA, "because the violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements." That year, 54 Colombian trade unionists were killed. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the announcement "is deeply disappointing and troubling". Republicans, on the other hand, are offering grudging praise to Obama for pushing the FTA.

On Cuba, Obama took the globally unpopular position of defending the US embargo. Even at home, polls show that a strong majority of the American people and businesses support an end to the embargo. The US also succeeded, once again, in banning Cuba from the summit, prompting Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to boycott the meeting this year.

Responding to overall US intransigence, other western hemisphere countries are organizing themselves. Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at New York University, told me:

"Latin Americans themselves are creating these bodies that are excluding the United States, that are deepening integration, political and economic integration. This seems to be a venue in which they come together in order to criticize Washington, quite effectively."

Grandin compared Obama's Latin America policies to those of his predecessors:

"The two main pillars of US foreign policy – increasing neoliberalism and increasing militarism around drugs – continue. They feed off of each other and have created a crisis in that corridor, running from Colombia through Central America to Mexico. That's been a complete disaster, and there's no change."

It will take more than a prostitution scandal to cover that up.

economists calculate that 23% of all national income is going to the top 1%

FT |This spring, an intriguing pattern has developed in the real estate market in Aspen, the upmarket Colorado ski resort. Properties that are worth more than $10m – those sold to mega-oligarchs – have generally held much of their value in recent years. Meanwhile, condos (or flats) that are valued at less than $1m are continuing to sell to vacation companies, albeit for less than five years ago.

However, properties worth between $1m and $10m are seeing a dearth of bidders. The reason? Locals are apt to blame the “bonus belt” problem. More specifically, although some global oligarchs appear protected from economic swings, the top- tier bankers who were splashing around their cash before 2007 – and who typically bought those $1m-$10m ski lodges – no longer feel so flush. Bonuses have been squeezed, jobs are being cut, and many wealthy residents have suffered paper losses on their assets – including real estate in places such as Aspen.

Don’t expect the rest of mainstream America to shed any tears about this. On the contrary, the whole issue of wealth is currently stirring up unusually strong emotion there. Never mind the wave of protests that has occurred in the “Occupy Wall Street” camps, where the “99 per cent” are railing against the richest 1 per cent. What is really sparking polarisation now is a call by President Obama and other Democrats to tax the rich more heavily. Republicans claim that this is tantamount to “class war”.

But in spite of all this emotion – or rather, because of it – what is happening in Aspen is thought-provoking. In recent years there has been growing evidence that income inequality is rising in America. Economists calculate, for example, that 23 per cent of all national income is now going to the top 1 per cent of Americans, double the rate seen 25 years ago. That top 1 per cent also hold around 40 per cent of all wealth. But although such statistics have caused hand-wringing, what is less clear is what has actually caused this trend, who precisely is receiving this cash – or, for that matter, what might change the pattern in the years ahead.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

introducing france's new NHIC and his campaign soundtrack - global système of black supremacy indeed...,

slate | The first round of the French presidential election went exactly as expected for the top two slots. The socialist challenger François Hollande eked out a victory over incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, marking the first time since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1958 that a French president running for re-election failed to win the first round, notes the BBC. With around half of the votes counted, Hollande had 27.6 percent of the vote, compared to Sarkozy’s 26.6 percent in an election that included 10 candidates, reports the Associated Press.

walmart parasitism and subversion in mexico...,

NYTimes | In September 2005, a senior Wal-Mart lawyer received an alarming e-mail from a former executive at the company’s largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico. In the e-mail and follow-up conversations, the former executive described how Wal-Mart de Mexico had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance. In its rush to build stores, he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country.

The former executive gave names, dates and bribe amounts. He knew so much, he explained, because for years he had been the lawyer in charge of obtaining construction permits for Wal-Mart de Mexico.

Wal-Mart dispatched investigators to Mexico City, and within days they unearthed evidence of widespread bribery. They found a paper trail of hundreds of suspect payments totaling more than $24 million. They also found documents showing that Wal-Mart de Mexico’s top executives not only knew about the payments, but had taken steps to conceal them from Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. In a confidential report to his superiors, Wal-Mart’s lead investigator, a former F.B.I. special agent, summed up their initial findings this way: “There is reasonable suspicion to believe that Mexican and USA laws have been violated.”

The lead investigator recommended that Wal-Mart expand the investigation.

Instead, an examination by The New York Times found, Wal-Mart’s leaders shut it down.

Neither American nor Mexican law enforcement officials were notified. None of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s leaders were disciplined. Indeed, its chief executive, Eduardo Castro-Wright, identified by the former executive as the driving force behind years of bribery, was promoted to vice chairman of Wal-Mart in 2008. Until this article, the allegations and Wal-Mart’s investigation had never been publicly disclosed.

But The Times’s examination uncovered a prolonged struggle at the highest levels of Wal-Mart, a struggle that pitted the company’s much publicized commitment to the highest moral and ethical standards against its relentless pursuit of growth.

walmart and alec...,

TheRoot | Until a few weeks ago, many of us didn't know the name ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. But the Trayvon Martin tragedy and debate around Florida's "Stand your ground" law has uncovered the nationwide, systematic work by ALEC to advance cookie-cutter legislation that disproportionately hurts communities of color. ALEC, with the support of corporations like Walmart, has promoted and advanced this agenda.
Hearing the outrage from consumers, many corporate giants like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Kraft Foods have withdrawn their support from ALEC. This week, ALEC responded to the public pressure by disbanding its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which had been the target of much of the criticism. This isn't enough. Both ALEC and members like Walmart need to do much more to distance themselves from these attacks on our communities.

Right now, the country's largest retailer and employer, Walmart, and the Walton family, which largely controls the company, remain supporters of ALEC. Looking a little closer, we can see why. Encouraging gun possession and sales is good business for Walmart and for the six Walton family members who inherited the company. Walmart is the nation's largest seller of guns and ammunition, and we know that gun violence has disproportionately affected communities of color.

Not only are Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation members of ALEC, the company played an active role in helping advance the "Stand your ground" law. In 2005, Walmart executive Janet Scott co-chaired ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force (it later became the Public Safety and Elections Task Force in 2009) when the National Rifle Association successfully lobbied the task force to support the "Stand your ground" legislation.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, "justifiable homicides" have tripled since the passage of the law. FBI data shows similar increases in other states that have adopted the law.

growing state surveillance

democracynow | In his first television interview since he resigned from the National Security Agency over its domestic surveillance program, William Binney discusses the NSA’s massive power to spy on Americans and why the FBI raided his home after he became a whistleblower. Binney was a key source for investigative journalist James Bamford’s recent exposé in Wired Magazine about how the NSA is quietly building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah. The Utah spy center will contain near-bottomless databases to store all forms of communication collected by the agency, including private emails, cell phone calls, Google searches and other personal data.

Binney served in the NSA for over 30 years, including a time as technical director of the NSA’s World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group. Since retiring from the NSA in 2001, he has warned that the NSA’s data-mining program has become so vast that it could "create an Orwellian state." Today marks the first time Binney has spoken on national television about NSA surveillance. This interview is part of a 4-part special. Click here to see segment 2, 3, and 4. [includes rush transcript]

facial expressions of emotion are not culturally universal

medicalxpress |For most of history, people have assumed that facial expressions are generally universal; a smile by someone of any cultural group generally is an expression of happiness or pleasure, for example. This whole line of thinking was backed up by Charles Darwin who proposed that all humans have six basic facial expressions, which correspond to six general types of emotions: anger, sadness, happiness, fear, disgust and surprise. Unfortunately, new research by a team looking into whether this common assumption is true has found, as they discuss in their paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that such perceptions are likely distorted by the fact that most studies on the subject don’t look at the differences between cultures, and that when subjected to study, don't appear to hold up under scrutiny.

After perusing available literature on the subject, the team began to suspect that something was amiss. Virtually every study they encountered focused on the various facial features people present during different emotional states, rather than comparing such expressions between cultures. Thus to find out if there are differences between cultures the team had to conduct an experiment of their own.

Rather than conduct an expensive and time consuming comparative survey, the team instead built a simple computer application that was capable of displaying animated faces on a computer screen capable of showing up to 4800 different facial expressions. For their experiment, they created one group of faces that looked western, and another that looked Asian. Then, they had volunteers look at the faces and offer their opinions of what the facial expressions meant.

To no one’s surprise, when the volunteers were westerners looking at expressions on faces of either culture, they tended to follow along with Darwin’s assumptions. But when the volunteers were non-westernized Asians, their view of what the expressions represented tended to be slightly different from those of westerners, particularly when looking at faces that were supposed to represent fear, surprise anger or disgust. This, the researchers say, is likely due to cultural based connections between emotions such as shame, guilt or pride which can result in people putting on a different face than would those from other cultures. In Asian cultures, they say, more use is made of subtle widening or narrowing of the eyes, for example.

While the team did find that general facial expressions such as those of people smiling or laughing appear to be universal, they note that others are not so clear cut and that the underlying assumption that facial expressions are universal is simply not true. More information: Facial expressions of emotion are not culturally universal, PNAS, Published online before print April 16, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1200155109

Since Darwin’s seminal works, the universality of facial expressions of emotion has remained one of the longest standing debates in the biological and social sciences. Briefly stated, the universality hypothesis claims that all humans communicate six basic internal emotional states (happy, surprise, fear, disgust, anger, and sad) using the same facial movements by virtue of their biological and evolutionary origins [Susskind JM, et al. (2008) Nat Neurosci 11:843–850]. Here, we refute this assumed universality. Using a unique computer graphics platform that combines generative grammars [Chomsky N (1965) MIT Press, Cambridge, MA] with visual perception, we accessed the mind’s eye of 30 Western and Eastern culture individuals and reconstructed their mental representations of the six basic facial expressions of emotion. Cross-cultural comparisons of the mental representations challenge universality on two separate counts. First, whereas Westerners represent each of the six basic emotions with a distinct set of facial movements common to the group, Easterners do not. Second, Easterners represent emotional intensity with distinctive dynamic eye activity. By refuting the long-standing universality hypothesis, our data highlight the powerful influence of culture on shaping basic behaviors once considered biologically hardwired. Consequently, our data open a unique nature–nurture debate across broad fields from evolutionary psychology and social neuroscience to social networking via digital avatars.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

sociopathy is running the u.s. - part two

zerohedge | If I'm correct in my assessment, it would imply that the prospects are dim for conventional investments – most stocks, bonds and real estate. Those things tend to do well when society is growing in prosperity. And prosperity is fostered by peace, low taxes, minimal regulation and a sound currency. It's also fostered by a cultural atmosphere where sociopaths are precluded from positions of power and intellectual and moral ideas promoting free minds and free markets rule. Unfortunately, it seems that doesn't describe the trend that the world at large and the US in particular are embarked upon.

In essence, we're headed towards economic and financial bankruptcy. But that's mostly because society has been largely intellectually and morally bankrupt for some time. I don't believe a society can rise to real prosperity without a sound intellectual and moral foundation – that's why the US was so uniquely prosperous for so long, because it had such a foundation. And it's also why societies like Saudi Arabia will collapse as soon as the exogenous things that support them are pulled away. It's why the USSR collapsed. It's the reason why countries everywhere across time reach a peak (if they ever do), then stagnate and decline.

This isn't a matter of academic contemplation, for the same reason that it doesn't matter much if you're in a first-class cabin when the ship it's in is taking on water.

Economics and Evil
When I was a sophomore in college, I asked my father – a worldly wise man but one of few words – some cosmic question, as sophomores are famous for doing. His answer was, "It's all a matter of economics." Some months later I asked him another, similar question. His answer: "It's all a matter of psychology." They were unsatisfactory to me at the time, but those simple answers stuck in my mind. And I've since come to the conclusion that they comprehend most of what drives human action.

Let's look at the "matter of economics" only briefly, because it's covered at length elsewhere and because it's not nearly as significant as the "matter of psychology."

One definition of economics is: The study of who gets what, and how, in the material world. Unfortunately, it's been distorted over the years into the study of who determines who gets what, and how, in the material world. In other words, economic power has gradually been transferred from producers to political allocators. This has had predictably bad results, including not only the bankruptcy of the US government but of large segments of US society.

But what's happening today is much more serious than an economic bankruptcy; you can recover from financial woes by cultivating better habits. We're talking about psychological and spiritual bankruptcy. The word psychology comes from psyche, which is Greek for soul. When you look at the word's origin, it's clear that psychology is about much more than mental peculiarities. It's not just about what a person has or what he does. It's about what he is. The real essence of a man, his soul, is revealed by his philosophy and his beliefs.

In any event, it's rare that anyone goes bankrupt because of a single bad decision. It takes many missteps, and consistently bad decisions aren't accidents. Consistently bad decisions are the product of a flawed moral philosophy. Moral philosophy guides you as to what is right or wrong. The prevailing moral philosophy has so degenerated that Americans think it's OK to invade other countries that not only haven't attacked it but can't even credibly threaten to attack it. I'm not talking just about Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya – pitiful non-entities on the other side of the world. They were preceded by even weaker prey, closer to home, like Granada, Panama, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Not only that, but they think coercion should be used to steal wealth from the people who produce it, and give it to those who've done absolutely nothing to deserve it.

the ascendence of sociopaths in u.s. governance

zerohedge | What the ascendancy of sociopaths means isn't an academic question. Throughout history, the question has been a matter of life and death. That's one reason America grew; every American (or any ex-colonial) has forebears who confronted the issue and decided to uproot themselves to go somewhere with better prospects. The losers were those who delayed thinking about the question until the last minute.

I have often described myself, and those I prefer to associate with, as gamma rats. You may recall the ethologist's characterization of the social interaction of rats as being between a few alpha rats and many beta rats, the alpha rats being dominant and the beta rats submissive. In addition, a small percentage are gamma rats that stake out prime territory and mates, like the alphas, but are not interested in dominating the betas. The people most inclined to leave for the wide world outside and seek fortune elsewhere are typically gamma personalities.

You may be thinking that what happened in places like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Mao's China, Pol Pot's Cambodia and scores of other countries in recent history could not, for some reason, happen in the US. Actually, there's no reason it won't at this point. All the institutions that made America exceptional – including a belief in capitalism, individualism, self-reliance and the restraints of the Constitution – are now only historical artifacts.

On the other hand, the distribution of sociopaths is completely uniform across both space and time. Per capita, there were no more evil people in Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany, Mao's China, Amin's Uganda, Ceausescu's Romania or Pol Pot's Cambodia than there are today in the US. All you need is favorable conditions for them to bloom, much as mushrooms do after a rainstorm.

Conditions for them in the US are becoming quite favorable. Have you ever wondered where the 50,000 people employed by the TSA to inspect and degrade you came from? Most of them are middle-aged. Did they have jobs before they started doing something that any normal person would consider demeaning? Most did, but they were attracted to – not repelled by – a job where they wear a costume and abuse their fellow citizens all day.

Few of them can imagine that they're shepherding in a police state as they play their roles in security theater. (A reinforced door on the pilots' cabin is probably all that's actually needed, although the most effective solution would be to hold each airline responsible for its own security and for the harm done if it fails to protect passengers and third parties.) But the 50,000 newly employed are exactly the same type of people who joined the Gestapo – eager to help in the project of controlling everyone. Nobody was drafted into the Gestapo.

What's going on here is an instance of Pareto's Law. That's the 80-20 rule that tells us, for example, that 80% of your sales come from 20% of your salesmen or that 20% of the population are responsible for 80% of the crime.

As I see it, 80% of people are basically decent; their basic instincts are to live by the Boy Scout virtues. 20% of people, however, are what you might call potential trouble sources, inclined toward doing the wrong thing when the opportunity presents itself. They might now be shoe clerks, mailmen or waitresses – they seem perfectly benign in normal times. They play baseball on weekends and pet the family dog. However, given the chance, they will sign up for the Gestapo, the Stasi, the KGB, the TSA, Homeland Security or whatever. Many are well intentioned but likely to favor force as the solution to any problem.

But it doesn't end there, because 20% of that 20% are really bad actors. They are drawn to government and other positions where they can work their will on other people and, because they're enthusiastic about government, they rise to leadership positions. They remake the culture of the organizations they run in their own image. Gradually, non-sociopaths can no longer stand being there. They leave. Soon the whole barrel is full of bad apples. That's what's happening today in the US.

It's a pity that Bush, when he was in office, made such a big deal of evil. He discredited the concept. He made Boobus americanus think it only existed in a distant axis, in places like North Korea, Iraq and Iran – which were and still are irrelevant backwaters and arbitrarily chosen enemies. Bush trivialized the concept of evil and made it seem banal because he was such a fool. All the while real evil, very immediate and powerful, was growing right around him, and he lacked the awareness to see he was fertilizing it by turning the US into a national security state after 9/11.

Now, I believe, it's out of control. The US is already in a truly major depression and on the edge of financial chaos and a currency meltdown. The sociopaths in government will react by redoubling the pace toward a police state domestically and starting a major war abroad. To me, this is completely predictable. It's what sociopaths do.

There are seven characteristics I can think of that define a sociopath, although I'm sure the list could be extended.
  • Sociopaths completely lack a conscience or any capacity for real regret about hurting people. Although they pretend the opposite.
  • Sociopaths put their own desires and wants on a totally different level from those of other people. Their wants are incommensurate. They truly believe their ends justify their means. Although they pretend the opposite.
  • Sociopaths consider themselves superior to everyone else, because they aren't burdened by the emotions and ethics others have – they're above all that. They're arrogant. Although they pretend the opposite.
  • Sociopaths never accept the slightest responsibility for anything that goes wrong, even though they're responsible for almost everything that goes wrong. You'll never hear a sincere apology from them.
  • Sociopaths have a lopsided notion of property rights. What's theirs is theirs, and what's yours is theirs too. They therefore defend currency inflation and taxation as good things.
  • Sociopaths usually pick the wrong target to attack. If they lose their wallet, they kick the dog. If 16 Saudis fly planes into buildings, they attack Afghanistan.
  • Sociopaths traffic in disturbing news, they love to pass on destructive rumors and they'll falsify information to damage others.
The fact that they're chronic, extremely convincing and even enthusiastic liars, who often believe their own lies, means they aren't easy to spot, because normal people naturally assume another person is telling the truth. They rarely have handlebar mustaches or chortle like Snidely Whiplash. Instead, they cultivate a social veneer or a mask of sanity that diverts suspicion. You can rely on them to be "politically correct" in public. How could a congressman or senator who avidly supports charities possibly be a bad guy? They're expert at using facades to disguise reality, and they feel no guilt about it.

Political elites are primarily, and sometimes exclusively, composed of sociopaths. It's not just that they aren't normal human beings. They're barely even human, a separate subspecies, differentiated by their psychological qualities. A normal human can mate with them spiritually and psychologically about as fruitfully as a modern human could mate physically with a Neanderthal; it can be done, but the results won't be good.

Friday, April 20, 2012

a kid with skittles

Kunstler | The crucial moment in this recent history of race relations, it seems to me, must be located in the events between 1966 and 1970. This was the historical moment that followed the deconstruction of legal race codes with the passage into law of the Public Accommodations Act of 1964 and then the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These two legislative milestones, promoted and signed by Lyndon Johnson, were supposed to conclude the unfinished business of the Civil War and emancipation, which had festered so long in the Jim Crow inurement.

The expectation was that the removal of legal obstacles to full citizenship would hasten economic justice and cultural equality, but just then something curious happened: the youth revolt of the late 1960s was underway and young black America immediately opted for separatism. Opposition to anything and everything was the motif for my generation back then. A few years after the 1964 Public Accommodations Act passed, the black students at my college demanded (and were given) their own separate student union building. During the riots that followed the Kent State shootings in the Spring of 1971, somebody burned the building down - a mystery never solved.

I believe the black separatist movement of that time derived largely from anxiety around the issues of cultural assimilation - that is, of black and white America forming a true and complete common culture. In any case, it was at this moment of history that the multicultural movement presented itself as an "out" for white America. Multiculturalism allowed white America to pretend that common culture was not important. It also promoted the unfortunate idea that we could have a functioning civil society with different standards of behavior for different ethnic groups. It has left the nation with the unanswered question of black America's self-evident failure to thrive, and an enormous body of narrative affecting to explain it away as "structural racism."

Bill Moyers did not even attempt to address the failure to thrive question in his interview with Angela Glover Blackwell. Both of these people are about as well-intentioned as anyone in the country where race relations are concerned, but neither of them were able to honestly confront the issue. My own opinion is that it's about behavior at least as much as its about race and probably more, and we continue to make tragic decisions in this country about what behavior is okay and what's not. Are there proportionately more black men in prison than members of other races in America? Yes there are, and most of them behaved badly enough to get locked up, whether our drug laws are stupid or not. Is something preventing black children from learning in school? Probably a number of things, but I would begin absolutely with the duty to teach them to speak English intelligibly - something that nobody expresses any interest in, especially white Progressives. Do white people fear black males who affect to act as if they are dangerous? Maybe black men should stop trying to scare people. Are these "racist" observations or exercises in reality-testing?

I doubt even that question can be settled conclusively in our time. The truth is that white America is too uncomfortable with the discomfort of black America and white America will do anything, and will bend any view of reality, in order to avoid the most frightening outcome of all, which is the possibility of race war.

the fastest growing and most profitable form of incarceration in the u.s.

aljazeera | Immigration is a key issue in the US presidential election, with the Republican candidates trying to demonstrate their tough stance on undocumented immigrants.

But under the Obama administration, the detention and deportation of immigrants has reached an all-time high.

Every day, the US government detains more than 33,000 non-citizens at the cost of $5.5mn a day. That is a lot of money for the powerful private prison industry, which spends millions of dollars on lobbying and now operates nearly half of the country's immigration detention centres.

Fault Lines travels to Texas and Florida to investigate the business of immigrant detention in the US and to find out how a handful of companies have managed to shape US immigration laws.

the evolutionary roots of the base revisited...,

In the above CDC map, the key indicates the number of births for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19 in a state. For example, in dark green states, there are 50 or more pregnancies for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19.

TheAtlantic | In 2009, a landmark study found a strong correlation between religion and teen pregnancy. The CDC's newest data suggests not much has changed. Teen pregnancy closely follows the contours of America's Bible belt, according to the map (above) from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

There is good news: teen births are at their lowest level in more than 60 years (10 percent lower than 2009, 43 percent below their peak in 1970). But the geographic variation is substantial.

Teen birthrates are highest in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas, and New Mexico,. There are slightly lower concentrations in the neighboring states of Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Arizona. New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have the lowest rates of teen births.

What factors lie behind this geographic pattern?

With the steady statistical hand of my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Charlotta Mellander, I took a quick look. Of course, the correlations we found are not the same thing as causation. Other factors we have not considered may come into play.

Teenage births remain high in more religious states. The correlation between teenage birthrates and the percentage of adults who say they are “very religious” is considerable (.69). The 2009 study posited that attitudes toward contraception play a significant role, noting that "religious communities in the U.S. are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself."

Teen birthrates also hew closely to America’s political divide. They are substantially higher in conservative states that voted for McCain in 2008 (with a correlation of .65) and negatively correlated with states that voted for Obama (-.62).

Class plays a substantial role as well. Teen births are negatively associated with average state income (-.62), the share of the workforce in knowledge, professional, and creative class jobs (-.61), and especially with the share of adults who are college graduates (-.76). Conversely, teen birthrates are higher in more working class states (with a positive correlation of .58).

Overall, teen birthrates remain highest in America’s most religious, politically conservative and blue-collar states.

the case against kids: is procreation immoral?

TheNewYorker | In “Why Have Children?: The Ethical Debate” (M.I.T. Press), Christine Overall tries to subject that decision to morally rigorous analysis. Overall, who teaches philosophy at Queen’s University, in Ontario, dismisses the notion that childbearing is “natural” and therefore needs no justification. “There are many urges apparently arising from our biological nature that we nonetheless should choose not to act upon,” she observes. If we’re going to keep having kids, we ought to be able to come up with a reason.

Of course, people do give reasons for having children, and Overall takes them up one by one. Consider the claim that having a child benefits the child. This might seem self-evident. After all, a child deprived, through some Knowltonian means, of coming into existence, loses everything. She can never experience any of the pleasures life has to offer—eating ice cream, say, or riding a bike, or, for the more forward-thinking parents among us, having sex.

Overall rejects this argument on two grounds. First of all, nonexistent people have no moral standing. (There are an infinite number of nonexistent people out there, and you don’t notice them complaining, do you?) Second, once you accept that you should have a baby in order to increase the world’s total happiness, how do you know when to stop? Let’s say one kid eating ice cream represents x amount of added pleasure. In that case, two kids eating ice cream represents 2x, four kids 4x, and so on. The family with eight kids could perhaps afford to buy ice cream only half as often as the one with four. Still, provided the parents were able to throw in a bag of M&M’s, they (or, at least, the world) would fare better, total-happiness-wise, with the larger brood. And, from a strictly utilitarian perspective, things would be even better if the parents kept pumping kids out. Generalize this process, and the world would teem with more and more people leading less and less satisfying lives, until eventually the happiness of each individual would start to approach nil. This reductio ad Duggar Family was first articulated by the British philosopher Derek Parfit; it is known in academic circles as the Repugnant Conclusion. Overall considers it dispositive: “A simplistic utilitarianism is wrong about the ethics of having children.”

Overall finds most of the other frequently invoked rationales to be, philosophically speaking, similarly inadequate. Some people justify the decision to have children on the ground that they are perpetuating a family name or a genetic line. But “is anyone’s biological composition so valuable that it must be perpetuated?” Overall asks. Others say that it’s a citizen’s duty to society to provide for its continuation. Such an obligation, Overall objects, “would make women into procreative serfs.”

Still others argue that people ought to have children so there will be someone to care for them in their old age. “Anyone who has children for the sake of the supposed financial support they can provide,” Overall writes, is “probably deluded.”

Finally, lots of people offer the notion that parenthood will make them happy. Here the evidence is, sadly, against them. Research shows that people who have children are no more satisfied with their lives than people who don’t. If anything, the balance tips the other way: parents are less happy. In an instantly famous study, published in Science in 2004, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman asked nine hundred working women to assess their experiences during the preceding day. The women rated the time they’d spent taking care of their kids as less enjoyable than the time spent shopping, eating, exercising, watching TV, preparing food, and talking on the phone. One of the few activities these women found less enjoyable than caring for their children was doing housework, which is to say cleaning up after them.

But none of this really matters. Procreation for the sake of the parents is ethically unacceptable. “To have a child in order to benefit oneself is a moral error,” Overall writes.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

apocalyptic daze

CityJournal | Around the turn of the twenty-first century, a paradigm shift in our thinking took place: we decided that the era of revolutions was over and that the era of catastrophes had begun. The former had involved expectation, the hope that the human race would proceed toward some goal. But once the end of history was announced, the Communist enemy vanquished, and, more recently, the War on Terror all but won, the idea of progress lay moribund. What replaced the world’s human future was the future of the world as a material entity. The long list of emblematic victims—Jews, blacks, slaves, proletarians, colonized peoples—was likewise replaced, little by little, with the Planet, the new paragon of all misery. No longer were we summoned to participate in a particular community; rather, we were invited to identify ourselves with the spatial vessel that carried us, groaning.

How did this change happen? Over the last half-century, leftist intellectuals have identified two great scapegoats for the world’s woes. First, Marxism designated capitalism as responsible for human misery. Second, “Third World” ideology, disappointed by the bourgeois indulgences of the working class, targeted the West, supposedly the inventor of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. The guilty party that environmentalism now accuses—mankind itself, in its will to dominate the planet—is essentially a composite of the previous two, a capitalism invented by a West that oppresses peoples and destroys the earth. Indeed, environmentalism sees itself as the fulfillment of all earlier critiques. “There are only two solutions,” Bolivian president Evo Morales declared in 2009. “Either capitalism dies, or Mother Earth dies.”

So the planet has become the new proletariat that must be saved from exploitation—if necessary, by reducing the number of human beings, as oceanographer Jacques Cousteau said in 1991. The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, a group of people who have decided not to reproduce, has announced: “Each time another one of us decides to not add another one of us to the burgeoning billions already squatting on this ravaged planet, another ray of hope shines through the gloom. When every human chooses to stop breeding, Earth’s biosphere will be allowed to return to its former glory.” The British environmentalist James Lovelock, a chemist by training, regards Earth as a living organism and human beings as an infection within it, proliferating at the expense of the whole, which tries to reject and expel them. Journalist Alan Weisman’s 2007 book The World Without Us envisions in detail a planet from which humanity has disappeared. In France, a Green politician, Yves Cochet, has proposed a “womb strike,” which would be reinforced by penalties against couples who conceive a third child, since each child means, in terms of pollution, the equivalent of 620 round trips between Paris and New York.

“Our house is burning, but we are not paying attention,” said Jacques Chirac at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. “Nature, mutilated, overexploited, cannot recover, and we refuse to admit it.” Sir Martin Rees, a British astrophysicist and former president of the Royal Society, gives humanity a 50 percent chance of surviving beyond the twenty-first century. Oncologists and toxicologists predict that the end of mankind should arrive even earlier than foreseen, around 2060, thanks to a general sterilization of sperm. In view of the overall acceleration of natural disorders, droughts, and pandemics, “we all know now that we are going down,” says the scholar Serge Latouche. Peter Barrett, director of the Antarctica Research Centre at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington, is more specific: “If we continue our present growth path we are facing the end of civilization as we know it—not in millions of years, or even millennia, but by the end of this century.”

One could go on citing such quotations forever, given the spread of the cliché-ridden apocalyptic literature. Environmentalism has become a global ideology that covers all of existence—not merely modes of production but ways of life as well. We rediscover in it the whole range of Marxist rhetoric, now applied to the environment: ubiquitous scientism, horrifying visions of reality, even admonitions to the guilty parties who misunderstand those who wish them well. Authors, journalists, politicians, and scientists compete in the portrayal of abomination and claim for themselves a hyper-lucidity: they alone see clearly while others vegetate in the darkness.

The fear that these intellectuals spread is like a gluttonous enzyme that swallows up an anxiety, feeds on it, and then leaves it behind for new ones. When the Fukushima nuclear plant melted down after the enormous earthquake in Japan in March 2011, it only confirmed a feeling of anxiety that was already there, looking for some content. In six months, some new concern will grip us: a pandemic, bird flu, the food supply, melting ice caps, cell-phone radiation.

genetic roots of civilization? partial explanation of why civilization is not found equally across different "cultures"?

Vanderbilt | The codification of social norms into laws and the institutionalization of third-party punishment “is arguably one of the most important developments in human culture,” the paper states.

According to the researchers’ model, which is based on the latest behavioral, cognitive and neuro-scientific data, third-party punishment grew out of second-party punishment and is implemented by a collection of cognitive processes that evolved to serve other functions but were co-opted to make third-party punishment possible.

In the modern criminal justice system, judges and jury members – impartial third-party decision-makers – are tasked to evaluate the severity of a criminal act, the mental state of the accused and the amount of harm done, and then integrate these evaluations with the applicable legal codes and select the most appropriate punishment from available options. Based on recent brain mapping studies, Buckholtz and Marois propose a cascade of brain events that take place to support the cognitive processes involved in third-party punishment decision-making. Specifically, they have localized these processes to five distinct areas in the brain – two in the frontal cortex, which is involved in higher mental functions; the amygdala deep in the brain that is associated with emotional responses; and two areas in the back of the brain that are involved in social evaluation and response selection.

According to Buckholtz and Marois’ model, punishment decisions are preceded by the evaluation of the actions and mental intentions of the criminal defendant in a social evaluation network comprised of the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ).

While it is often assumed that legal decision-making is purely based on rational thinking, research suggests that much of the motivation for punishing is driven by negative emotional responses to the harm. This signal appears to be generated in the amygdala, causing people to factor in their emotional state when making decisions instead of making solely factual judgments.

Next, the decision-maker must integrate his or her evaluation of the norm-violator’s mental state and the amount of harm with the specific set of punishment options. The researchers propose that the medial prefrontal cortex, which is centrally located and has connections to all the other key areas, acts as a hub that brings all this information together and passes it to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), where the final decision is made with the input from another rear-brain area called the intraparietal sulcus, involved in selecting the appropriate punishment response. As such, the DLPFC may be at the apex of the neural hierarchy involved in deciding on the appropriate punishments that should be given to specific norm violations.

The current model focuses on the role of punishment in encouraging large-scale human cooperation, but the researchers recognize that reward and positive reinforcement are also powerful psychological forces that encourage both short-term and long-term cooperation.

Marois adds: “It is somewhat ironic that while punishment, or the threat of punishment, is thought to play a foundational role in the evolution of our large-scale societies, much research in developmental psychology demonstrates the immense power of positive reinforcement in shaping a young individual’s behavior.” Understanding how both reward and punishment work should therefore provide fundamental insights into the nature of human cooperative behavior. “The ultimate ‘pot of gold at the end of the rainbow’ here is to promote a criminal justice system that is not only fairer, but also less necessary,” said Marois.

This work is the latest contribution of Vanderbilt researchers to the newly emerging field of neurolaw and was supported by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, directed by Owen Jones, New York Alumni Chancellor’s Chair in Law and professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt.