Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 29th, 2010

Charisma’s effect on others

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Andy Coghlan reports an interesting phenomenon in New Scientist:

When we fall under the spell of a charismatic figure, areas of the brain responsible for scepticism and vigilance become less active. That’s the finding of a study which looked at people’s response to prayers spoken by someone purportedly possessing divine healing powers.

To identify the brain processes underlying the influence of charismatic individuals, Uffe Schjødt of Aarhus University in Denmark and colleagues turned to Pentecostal Christians, who believe that some people have divinely inspired powers of healing, wisdom and prophecy.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Schjødt and his colleagues scanned the brains of 20 Pentecostalists and 20 non-believers while playing them recorded prayers. The volunteers were told that six of the prayers were read by a non-Christian, six by an ordinary Christian and six by a healer. In fact, all were read by ordinary Christians.

Only in the devout volunteers did the brain activity monitored by the researchers change in response to the prayers. Parts of the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices, which play key roles in vigilance and scepticism when judging the truth and importance of what people say, were deactivated when the subjects listened to a supposed healer. Activity diminished to a lesser extent when the speaker was supposedly a normal Christian (Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsq023).

Schjødt says that this explains why certain individuals can gain influence over others, and concludes that their ability to do so depends heavily on preconceived notions of their authority and trustworthiness.

It’s not clear whether the results extend beyond religious leaders, but Schjødt speculates that brain regions may be deactivated in a similar way in response to doctors, parents and politicians.

I thought about this and realized that I actually have been associated with people generally thought to be charismatic (teachers, psychologists, et al.), and I can recall a specific reaction from me: unease and a definite feeling of keeping my distance. Indeed, if anything, I felt a heightened skepticism. As a result I never became much of a follower.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 4:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Watch European air traffic get back to normal

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And what a LOT of air traffic there is! Thanks to TYD for the pointer. Video here.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

How suspects are treated in the Obama Administration

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This is disgusting. Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:

Welcome to the first courtroom logjam of what officials here call military commissions 4.2.

Omar Khadr’s pre-trial hearing this morning experienced an unexplained hour-long delay. Court officers filtered in at 10 a.m., without a certain important individual: Omar Khadr.

Prosecution promptly called a Marine Corps captain, Laura Bruzzese, to testify that she informed Khadr at 5:15 a.m. that there was a hearing scheduled for this morning. Khadr had a blanket over his head and complained of pain in his left eye, which has been sightless after an injury sustained during his 2002 capture in Afghanistan. She had him escorted to the infirmary, where he received an eyedrop for the pain, and in Camp Delta security officers attempted to load Khadr into a van to transport him to court. Part of that transfer involved putting what Bruzzese called “Eyes and Ears” on Khadr: blackout ski goggles and earmuffs to block out his senses while in transit.

Only Khadr refused. When Bruzzese asked him why he wouldn’t wear the Eyes and Ears — standard operating procedure for transiting a detainee, she testified — Khadr responded, “The only purpose is to humiliate me.” Under cross-examination, she testified that the van used for transport has no windows. Khadr wouldn’t, in other words, be able to understand where he was going even without the Eyes and Ears. [I think Khadr is clearly right: humiliation is the purpose. – LG]

Khadr’s aggressive defense lawyer, Barry Coburn, contended that Khadr was not voluntarily absent from the hearing. “My understanding is that this has never been done before,” Coburn told Col. Patrick Parrish, the military judge, referring to the placement of the Eyes and Ears on a detainee in the van.

Parrish didn’t appear sympathetic. “This court is not going to second-guess the security requirements” placed by military officials here for detainee transfer, he said. Parrish denied Coburn’s requests to call witnesses to testify as to the involuntary nature of Khadr’s refusal to attend.

But then Parrish returned from a brief recess arising from an unrelated issue with new facts. Court reporters verified that the prior judge in Khadr’s case, Col. Peter Brownback, did not inform Khadr during his 2007 arraignment that a defendant has the right to attend every hearing in his case and that the proceedings will not stop if he declines to attend.

“I don’t feel comfortable proceeding until it is clear on the record that he has been so advised,” Parrish said, preparing to bang his gavel down for a recess. “The Manual says it is so fundamental.”

Before he did, Parrish urged defense counsel to visit Khadr at Camp Delta and “advise him of his fundamental rights.” If Khadr affirms to his lawyers that he understands and still doesn’t want to attend, Parrish said he’d accept that outcome. Alternatively, Parrish said he would “have him forcibly brought” to court to inform Khadr of his rights. (One of the most knowledgeable reporters here, Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, said that judges don’t necessarily have the authority to order a detainee movement, as it’s been challenged in prior cases.)

So thanks to an obscure procedural snafu from 2007, Coburn and his partner, Kobie Flowers, are racing to Camp Echo, where detainees meet with their lawyers, to talk to Khadr. Neither would tell me in the confusion of the courtroom which option they’d choose. But they brought along Steve Xenakis, a mental health expert, to evaluate Khadr — most likely so that if Khadr declines to attend, they could proffer an expert statement about how voluntary he considers his absence.

“How quick can we get on the road, guys?” was the last thing I heard Coburn say before his team raced out the door.

The court reconvenes at 1 p.m. One potential problem: Camp Echo is outside the wire of Camp 4, the facility for “compliance” detainees, where Khadr resides. Conceivably, security officers could force Khadr to put on the Eyes and Ears, even to talk to his lawyers at Echo.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 12:35 pm

Major difference between the two parties

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And a difference that seems invisible to mainstream media. Steve Benen:

Ron Fournier, the Washington Bureau Chief for the Associated Press, had a couple of items this morning on Twitter that fit into a larger, depressing pattern.

The topic was Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s apparent decision to leave the Republican primary and run for the Senate as an independent. It prompted Fournier to write:

What does Crist’s decision say, if anything, about state of the political middle in US?

It’s a fair question, certainly worth of consideration. But it was soon followed by another question.

In other words, is there room for moderate candidates and moderate voters in either party?

On the day yet another very high profile Republican moderate is driven from the party ranks for being insufficiently conservative, the head of the AP’s Washington bureau wonders whether "either party" is willing to make room for moderates.

Sigh.

This gets awfully tiresome. In the House, there are more than 50 "Blue Dogs" in the House Democratic caucus. Is there a comparable group of centrist or left-leaning Republicans in the House GOP caucus?

In the Senate, Democratic moderates are more than a little plentiful. Ben Nelson is obviously no liberal, and if Fournier is looking for centrists in the Democratic ranks, I’d also recommend taking a look at Baucus, Landrieu, Bayh, Conrad, Lieberman, Lincoln, and Pryor, among others. For goodness sakes, the party elected Harry Reid the Senate Majority Leader, and he’s not even pro-choice.

Granted, Senate Republicans have Snowe and Collins, but two isn’t an especially big number, and neither of the Maine moderates have been willing to break party ranks on major issues lately.

At the same time, in a more general sense, Democrats continue to recruit moderate candidates and reach out to the American mainstream, while Republicans continue to run hard to the right.

"Is there room for moderate candidates and moderate voters in either party?" Seriously?

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 11:09 am

Mississippi School Erases Lesbian Student

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Ed Brayton:

If you thought the Constance McMillen story was bad, another Mississippi school has simply scrubbed the very existence of a lesbian student out of the school yearbook.

When Veronica Rodriguez opened Wesson Attendance Center’s Yearbook on Friday, she didn’t find a trace of her lesbian daughter Ceara Sturgis after a long battle with school officials to include a photo of her daughter wearing a tuxedo in the school’s 2010 yearbook.

"They didn’t even put her name in it," Sturgis’ mother Veronica Rodriguez said. "I was so furious when she told me about it. Ceara started crying and I told her to suck it up. Is that not pathetic for them to do that? Yet again, they have crapped on her and made her feel alienated."

They didn’t just refuse to post the picture, they didn’t even list her name as one of the graduating seniors. And the school is refusing to budge:

The ACLU wrote an October letter demanding officials use Sturgis’ submitted photo in the yearbook, but Copiah County School District officials refused. Rodriguez said she expected the yearbook to at least contain a reference to her daughter on the senior page. What she discovered on Friday, when the yearbook came in, was that the school had refused to acknowledge her entirely.

"It’s like she’s nobody there, even though she’s gone to school there for 12 years," Rodriguez said. "They mentioned none of her accolades, even though she’s one of the smartest students there with wonderful grades. They’ve got kids in the book that have been busted for drugs. There’s even a picture of one of the seniors who dropped out of school.

"I don’t get it. Ceara is a top student. Why would they do this to her?"

Copiah County School District spokeswoman Martha Traxler refused to comment on the school’s reason for excluding Sturgis from the senior page, and referred all questions to Copiah County attorney Olen Bryant, Jr. Bryant did not immediately return calls.

Last year, the school gave no indication that it would withhold Sturgis’ information, but said it had legal justification to not rub Sturgis’ photo.

"We have had our legal counsel research the validity of the position of the School District on this matter," Copiah County Superintendent Ricky Clopton said in the statement. "We are informed by counsel that this exact issue has been litigated in federal court. The decisions of the federal courts completely support the policy of the district in this regard. It is the desire of the Copiah County School District to inform, first, the patrons of the district, and second, all other interested parties, that its position is not arbitrary, capricious or unlawful, but is based upon sound educational policy and legal precedent."

The school district’s attorney is a moron. The case they referred to is one in which the school actually settled the case and agreed to change their policy.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:58 am

Inconvenient facts about Arizona immigration

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Ed Brayton:

Steve Chapman has a compelling piece at Reason.com about Arizona’s draconian new anti-immigration law and the emptiness of the excuses being made for it. Here’s the excuse:

Arizona legislators are fed up with being terrorized by illegal immigrants, and they have passed a law to get tough. Under the measure, passed this week and sent to the governor, police would have to stop and question anyone they suspect of being in this country without legal authorization.

The bill passed after the fatal shooting of Robert Krentz, a 58-year-old rancher whose killer apparently entered illegally from Mexico. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu says police are also under siege: "We’ve had numerous officers that have been killed by illegal immigrants in Arizona."

Even Sen. John McCain, once a supporter of immigration reform, has called for the immediate placement of 3,000 National Guard soldiers along the border.

And here’s the reality:

The state has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants. But contrary to myth, they have not brought an epidemic of murder and mayhem with them. Surprise of surprises, the state has gotten safer.

Over the last decade, the violent crime rate has dropped by 19 percent, while property crime is down by 20 percent. Crime has also declined in the rest of the country, but not as fast as in Arizona.

Babeu’s claim about police killings came as news to me. When I called his office to get a list of victims, I learned there has been only one since the beginning of 2008–deeply regrettable, but not exactly a trend.

Truth is, illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native Americans. Most come here to work, and in their desire to stay, they are generally afraid to do anything that might draw the attention of armed people wearing badges.

El Paso, Texas, is next door to the exceptionally violent Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and easily accessible to illegal entry. Yet it is one of the safest cities in the United States.

In 2007, scholars Ruben Rumbaut and Walter Ewing investigated the issue for the Immigration Policy Center and concluded that "if immigrants suddenly disappeared and the country became immigrant-free (and illegal-immigrant free), crime rates would likely increase."

So much for that excuse. The people of Arizona have far more to fear from proto-fascist law enforcement officers like Joe Arpaio than they do from illegal immigrants.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:55 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Interesting comment about the Arizona immigration law

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First, this post from Andrew Sullivan:

Here’s something the Christianist right won’t bring up in the immigration debate (although they often refer to it when it comes to marriage equality). Leviticus:

Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV)

When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.

A reader adds:

Also see:

Leviticus 19:33

Exodus 22:21

Exodus 23:9

Deuteronomy 24:17-18

Leviticus 19:9-10

Deuteronomy 24:19-22

Deuteronomy 10:18-19

Hebrews 13:2

I have to say I am very proud of my church in this instance. Human dignity matters.

And read this post for a variety of reader reactions to the law.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Law, Religion

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