Archive for December 4th, 2009
I really like this poem by James Dickey:
THE HEAVEN OF ANIMALS
Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.
Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.
To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.
For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,
More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey
May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk
Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain
At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.
One of the most regularly recited pieces of popular neuroscience is that women are more likely to use both hemispheres of the brain to process language while men tend only to use one. It turns out, this is a myth – it is simply not supported by the current evidence.
In 2008, a meta-analysis study looked at all the evidence for differences in the balance of language processing in the brains of men and women. It looked at studies on sex differences in handedness, brain structure, on perception of words heard exclusively in the left or right ears, and neural activity recorded by brain scans during language tasks.
When you look at all the studies together, there are no reliable sex differences in word processing or language-related brain activity. Men and women did not differ in how their brains processed language.
She notes how an initial study, published in Nature in 1995, did find results in line with the common myth, but that these results were not replicated.
At the time, however, they got widely publicised – making headlines around the world – and they remain the basis for the common claim despite numerous subsequent studies that suggest this is not the case.
This, notes Eliot, is a common pattern in sex difference research. Results that confirm our stereotypes get widely reported, others are largely ignored by the media.
I really recommend her talk over at Fora.tv and I will look forward to reading the book once I get my hands on a copy.
Pop quiz — name the political leader who said the following:
“We must be willing to pull the plug before sinking more dollars into weapons that do not provide what our warriors need.”
Now name the leader who said this:
“(W)e cannot track $2.3 trillion in (Pentagon spending) … We maintain 20 to 25 percent more base infrastructure than we need to support our forces, at an annual waste to taxpayers of some $3 billion to $4 billion … There are those who will oppose every effort to save taxpayers’ money … Well, fine, if there’s to be a struggle, so be it.”
I’m willing to bet many self-described “conservatives” guessed Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich. I would make that wager based on the enraged response to my recent column about government data showing that our waste-ridden, $600-billion-a-year defense budget will cost about seven times more than the health care legislation currently before Congress.
In e-mails, letters and Web site comments, right-wingers didn’t vent anger at Pentagon profligacy, but at the criticism of Pentagon profligacy — as if brazenly throwing away billions on outdated weapons systems and obsolete military programs is now a “conservative” value. Notably, the vitriol didn’t include contrary numbers disproving the figures I referenced (none exists) — the responses just used Fox News-ish slogans like the cost of freedom to deride all criticism of Pentagon spending as unpatriotic ultraliberalism.
Of course, if that’s true, then Stephen Colbert’s refrain that “reality has a well-known liberal bias” is now less a laugh line than a devastatingly accurate commentary on the deranged terms of America’s political discourse. I say that because here are some objective, nonpartisan, non-ideological facts:
— The 2010 Pentagon budget means “every man, woman and child in the United States will spend more than $2,700 on (defense) programs and agencies next year,” reports the Cato Institute. “By way of comparison, the average Japanese spends less than $330; the average German about $520; China’s per capita spending is less than $100.”
— “(The Pentagon budget) dwarfs the combined defense budgets of U.S. allies and potential U.S. enemies alike,” reports Hearst Newspapers.
— “President (Obama) is on track to spend more on defense, in real dollars, than any other president has in one term of office since World War II,” reports National Journal’s Government Executive magazine.
— In 2000, the Pentagon admitted it has lost — yes, lost — $2.3 trillion. In 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a subsequent Department of Defense study said it was only $1 trillion. To put such numbers in perspective, contemplate what those sums could finance. $1 trillion, for instance, could pay the total cost of universal health care for the long haul. $2.3 trillion would cover universal health care plus the bank bailout plus the stimulus package…
Continue reading to find answers to the quiz.
For many religious people, the popular question "What would Jesus do?" is essentially the same as "What would I do?" That’s the message from an intriguing and controversial new study by Nicholas Epley from the University of Chicago. Through a combination of surveys, psychological manipulation and brain-scanning, he has found that when religious Americans try to infer the will of God, they mainly draw on their own personal beliefs.
Psychological studies have found that people are always a tad egocentric when considering other people’s mindsets. They use their own beliefs as a starting point, which colours their final conclusions. Epley found that the same process happens, and then some, when people try and divine the mind of God. Their opinions on God’s attitudes on important social issues closely mirror their own beliefs. If their own attitudes change, so do their perceptions of what God thinks. They even use the same parts of their brain when considering God’s will and their own opinions.
Religion provides a moral compass for many people around the world, colouring their views on everything from martyrdom to abortion to homosexuality. But Epley’s research calls the worth of this counsel into question, for it suggests that inferring the will of God sets the moral compass to whatever direction we ourselves are facing. He says, "Intuiting God’s beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber to validate and justify one’s own beliefs."
Epley asked different groups of volunteers to rate their own beliefs about important issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, affirmative action, the death penalty, the Iraq War, and the legalisation of marijuana. The volunteers also had to speculate about God’s take on these issues, as well as the stances of an "average American", Bill Gates (a celebrity with relatively unknown beliefs) and George Bush (a celebrity whose positions are well-known).
Epley surveyed commuters at a Boston train station, university undergraduates, and 1,000 adults from a nationally representative database. In every case, he found that people’s own attitudes and beliefs matched those they suggested for God more precisely than those they suggested for the other humans.
Of course, correlation doesn’t imply causation – rather than people imprinting their beliefs onto God, it could be that people were using God’s beliefs as a guide to their own. Epley tried to control for that by asking his recruits to talk about their own beliefs first, and then presenting God and the others in a random order. And as better evidence of causality, Epley showed that he could change people’s views on God’s will by manipulating their own beliefs.
He showed some 145 volunteers a strong argument in favour of affirmative action (it counters workplace biases) and a weak argument opposing it (it raises uncomfortable issues). Others heard a strong argument against (reverse discrimination) and a weak argument for (Britney and Paris agree!). The recruits did concur that the allegedly stronger argument was indeed stronger. Those who read the overall positive propaganda were not only more supportive of affirmative action but more likely to think that God would be in the pro-camp too.
In another study, Epley got people to manipulate themselves. He asked 59 people to write and perform a speech about the death penalty, which either matched their own beliefs or argued against them. The task shifted people’s attitudes towards the position in their speech, either strengthening or moderating their original views. And as in the other experiments, their shifting attitudes coincided with altered estimates of God’s attitudes (but not those of other people).
For his final trick, Epley looked at the brains of recruits as they in turn attempted to peer into the mind of God. While sitting in an fMRI scanner, …
With GOP lawmakers blasting the Democrats’ health care reform bills as a giant step toward socialized medicine, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) will soon let them put their money where their mouths are. The Oregon liberal announced today that he’ll introduce legislation prohibiting all members of Congress from receiving government-sponsored health coverage until health reform, providing coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, becomes law.
“It has become clear,” Blumenauer wrote in a letter to his fellow lawmakers, “that some of our colleagues lack proper perspective on the urgency of health reform because, ironically, as members of Congress we enjoy some of the best health security in the world through our government-administered health care.”
What government-administered health care? Well, all members of Congress are eligible for the taxpayer-subsidized Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. On top of that, Blumenauer points out, 150 lawmakers are eligible for single-payer Medicare, while another 121 are armed-forces veterans eligible for Tricare, another government-backed health care program.
These government-run health programs have successfully provided countless Senators and Representatives with life-saving medical treatments, but as we all know, most Americans don’t have this kind of protection.
“Until health reform is enacted,” Blumenauer added, “Members of Congress should get to experience the tender mercies of our fragmented, complex and exploitative health care system.”
In 2007, Congress passed the 9/11 Act mandating the government implement the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. As part of this, they required that, by 2012, all shipping containers be scanned before they get to the United States. Only, DHS is balking at this, calling it unachievable. So GAO did a study of efforts to scan shipping containers to see whether DHS really knows whether it is achievable or not. The study shows that DHS has basically refused to even figure out whether 100% scans is feasible, and instead plans on just granting all ports a waiver from this law.
Basically, DHS is refusing to follow the law because it doesn’t want globalized trade to pay for the costs of making such trade secure.
As a reminder, the 9/11 Commission recommended scanning all shipping containers for WMDs (really, nukes, since they’re not doing chemical or biological scans). But scans would be valuable, as well, for hindering the importation of other things–drugs, arms, and people. Basically, scanning shipping containers would address one of the security risks of globalized trade that all sorts of illicit groups are currently exploiting. It would be asking importers to pay the full cost of importing foreign goods.
But no one wants to do this. GAO describes the complaints about the mandate to screen shipping containers: …