30 November 2006

Failing US Government Schools Corrupt--Bypass Methods Needed

Across the United States, government school districts are plagued by incompetence and corruption. The education of students is too often secondary to lining the pockets of teachers' union officials and other corrupt participants in the taxpayer funded system.

In St. Louis, Missouri, charter schools are booming as an alternative to the corrupt and violent school districts.

In Baltimore, Maryland, where many government schools are in critical condition on life support, applications for new charter schools are multiplying rapidly.

In Denver, Colorado, a successful virtual charter program is under attack by corrupt politicians, at the behest of the Colorado teachers' unions.

In Los Angeles, California, billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad is donating over US $10 million to charter schools to bypass the corrupt California Board of Education, and the LA Unified School District. Both institutions are fighting to hold onto every taxpayer dollar they can funnel into their incompetent and corrupt grasp.

In Arizona, the Goldwater Institute is calling for abolition of government school district monopolies.

Single sex education is another alternative to traditional government schooling that may help many students. Given that students often do better with instructors of the same sex, same-sex classrooms may become more prevalent.

The range of alternatives varies from charter schools, school choice options and vouchers, virtual schools, home schooling, and other approaches that may not have been imagined yet. The need to bypass the corruption and near complete incompetence of government schooling is acute.


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29 November 2006

An Interesting Approach to Teaching Science to Children

North American children are lagging in science behind children in other parts of the developed world. A lot of the blame for that belongs with the standard government school approach to teaching science--memorizing facts and formulas.

Imagine a school where children learned scientific concepts hierarchically, in a logical progression much as they were originally discovered? What if science classes consisted almost entirely of experiments?

One day, I taught my students the principle that water pressure increases only with depth. I gave them a powerful demonstration by poking holes at the same depth in two vessels of dramatically different diameters, and observing identical jets of water coming out of the holes. They were shocked and fascinated, and when one student’s mother came to pick him up, he immediately went to the board and started drawing diagrams and testing her about this principle to see if she understood it as well as he did. Such enthusiasm springs from a first-hand grasp of relevant principles, which can be achieved only by means of a hierarchy-driven curriculum.

The principle of hierarchy is just as crucial in teaching more abstract scientific knowledge to older children as it is in teaching the simplest scientific knowledge to younger children. Consider the subject of physics.

Most science teachers present the highly abstract laws of physics as if they are self-contained truths, unrelated to the long history of scientific development. For example, Newton’s discovery of universal gravitation, one of the most extraordinary discoveries in the history of thought, is usually presented as an out-of-context commandment to be memorized—as knowledge that, along with Newton’s apple, fell from the sky.

A proper science teacher, by contrast, recognizes what the students must know for this law to be intelligible. He explains the steps in Newton’s reasoning, and ensures that the students have already learned the discoveries leading up to Newton’s theory, the principles they must know if they are to follow his reasoning.

In the famous incident with the apple, Newton asked himself if the same attractive force from the Earth caused both the apple’s descent and the moon’s orbit. In order to check the idea, Newton needed to know the acceleration of the apple (which he learned from Galileo), the size of the Earth (which had been measured by Eratosthenes), and the distance to the moon (which was calculated by Aristarchus). If the students are to grasp the law at hand, they must first grasp these facts—as did Newton.

Further, in arriving at this hypothesis, Newton was relying on Galileo’s principle of inertia, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, and the law of circular acceleration (which Newton himself had discovered a few months earlier). Without this knowledge, Newton could not even have raised the question. Therefore, without this knowledge, the students cannot grasp the question and they certainly cannot understand Newton’s final answer.

Having been taught physics as it progressed historically, the students at VanDamme Academy know the discoveries of Aristarchus, Eratosthenes, Kepler, and Galileo. When guided through the ingenious process by which Newton integrated this knowledge and built upon it, the students thoroughly grasp the principle of universal gravitation: They see that it is true and why it must be true. The law of gravitation is, in their own minds, connected to reality. It is real knowledge.

Does the hierarchical approach to teaching science require that students be taught the entire history of science, including every detail of every experiment ever performed? No. A crucial part of teaching in accordance with the principle of hierarchy is to select only the essentials. This is in contrast to the common view, expressed in a local newspaper by a high school biology teacher, that the hardest part of his job is keeping up with all the latest discoveries in his field. The latest developments in biology are properly the concern of Ph.D. biologists who have the context to understand them and the need to apply them.

High school students should be taught a carefully selected list of the most essential discoveries in the field, and should be taught them in hierarchical order. Only if they are taught by this method will they emerge with a sound understanding of the fundamental concepts of science and a genuine ability to think. Anything else deprives them of independently grasped, real knowledge, in favor of passively accepted pseudo-knowledge.

For more about the VanDamme Academy--a modified Montessori approach--go here.

Children need to learn science and technology experimentally. Educational methods need to exploit the strengths of the child's mind and motivation, but too often education is designed to undermine a child's confidence and prevent the acquisition of competence.

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28 November 2006

Europe to World: "I'm Shrinking, I'm Shrinking!"

Everyone who keeps up with world demographics understands that European populations are shrinking due to low birth rates. While immigration into Europe from dysfunctional third world countries helps slow the drop of population in absolute numbers, low quality immigration will likely do little to support the future productivity and prosperity of Europe.

Pastorius uses a "Funny Condom Ad" on YouTubeas a springboard to discuss the European dilemma. Will Europeans choose to fade into obscurity through population implosion? Would the rest of the world even notice?

There is no major Western European country that is producing enough children to replace the current population. Instead, they are replacing their population with Muslim immigrants.

Here are the birthrates per couple in various European countries:

Remember the birthrate for a population that is neither increasing nor declining is 2.1 babies per woman of childbearing age.

Ireland - 1.87
Germany - 1.3
Austria - 1.3
Italy - 1.2
Russia - 1.2
Spain - 1.1.

At a replacement rate of 1.1, Spain is at half the stable population replacement rate. This means Spain's population is halving every generation. The magnitude of the numbers is difficult to comprehend. In 2000, the total population of Europe was 728 million. By 2050 at the present rate of births, it will be less than 600 million, a loss of a staggering 125 million Europeans.

Nobody likes changing diapers or disciplining young children. But the alternative for a society is to simply fade away. How stupid is that?

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Kinder, Gentler Robocop--and Other Robot News

Robots are coming out of the labs and into the workplace. Sohgo Security Services in Japan is putting a security robot into service at a Tokyo shopping mall.

While on patrol, four cameras mounted in the robot’s head and shoulders record video, and its sensors detect the presence of humans, water leaks and fire. When the robot encounters something suspicious, it alerts a computer in the security room and sends video. Human security guards view the video footage sent by the robot and determine how to respond.

Equipped with communication functions, the robot can also provide services to the people it is watching. A touch-screen embedded in the robot’s chest can be used to display information about lost children and other data about the surroundings, and a voice synthesizer enables the robot to tell the time, provide weather data and make promotional announcements.

Another Tokyo company is hiring out their robots for US $445 an hour. No doubt for that price the robot will be used mainly for PR functions.

Aerial robots, or UAVs, may soon be put to use patrolling the US-Mexican border. UAVs have accrued a significant track record in Iraq, and may prove useful in North America domestically.

Robots may soon find greater use helping rehabilitate stroke (CVA) patients and helping the development of autistic children. Robots also may soon find a use as companions for the elderly and disabled.

One blog that tries to keep up with robot trends, is Robot Gossip blog. Other useful robot links can be found on the Al Fin main page sidebar under the Androids, Robots . . . heading.

Very little is needed in terms of robot/android development, beyond the improvement of robot personality, including more human emotional expression. The ability to balance and ambulate like humans will eventually be useful, but robots that can safely roll from room to room inside a home or building could provide most of the services mentioned above, given the appropriate hardware and software.


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27 November 2006

Shortchanging Students: Boys Need Male Teachers, Girls Need Female Teachers

Boys learn better from male teachers, and girls learn better from female teachers. That should not be surprising, given that statistically males and females use different thinking strategies to perform the same mental tasks. A male teacher can teach boys male thinking strategies better, and a female teacher can better teach girls female strategies. Eide Neurolearning blog looks at the improved performance of students when schools provide teachers of their own gender.
What to do about this? There probably will be no quick fix, as gender differences among teachers are fairly steady. It might be that the gender divide among teachers might make it more difficult for students to buck gender predictions - like girls in math and science, or boys in language arts. Parents would do well to be on the alert for this - and if appropriate, search for tutors, mentors who could help.

Male teachers are becoming an endangered species. According to this CS Monitor story:

There seem to be fewer than ever these days. Just 21 percent of the nation's 3 million teachers are men, according to the National Education Association (NEA). Over the past two decades, the ratio of men to women in the classroom has steadily declined. Today it stands at a 40-year low.

"The teaching profession is definitely dominated by females," says Donald Washington, senior program analyst for the NEA.

The shortage of male teachers is most pronounced in elementary school, where men make up just 9 percent of teachers, but middle schools and high schools also suffer from a male-female imbalance.

Currently, in secondary schools, about 35 percent of teachers are men - the lowest level ever for the profession.

There are many ways that government schools fail students and their families, and the gender imbalance--whether from anti-male bias or no--adds significantly to the injury that society suffers from its schools. If you want a reason why the proportion of males in universities in North America is dropping, this gender disparity is one important one.

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26 November 2006

Kurzweil Predicts Human Immortality

At the recent SCO6 supercomputing conference, Ray Kurzweil predicted human immortality by way of nanomedicine, and more. "Nanobots" in our bloodstreams will repair cellular and tissue damage as fast as it occurs. Affordable computers will be a thousand times more powerful than a human brain . . . Kurzweil clearly believes in "singularity now!"

According to Kurzweil, here's what we can expect in the not-so-distant future:

—Doctors will be doing a backup of our memories by the late 2030s;

—By the late 2020s, doctors will be sending intelligent bots, or nanobots, into our bloodstreams to keep us healthy, and into our brains to keep us young;

—In 15 years, human longevity will be greatly extended. By the 2020s, we'll be adding a year of longevity or more for every year that passes;

—In the same timeframe, we'll routinely be in virtual reality environments. Instead of making a cell call, we could "meet" someone in a virtual world and take a walk on a virtual beach and chat. Business meetings and conference calls will be held in calming or inspiring virtual locations;

—When you're walking down the street and see someone you've met before, background information about that person will pop up on your glasses or in the periphery of your vision;

—Instead of spending hours in front of a desktop machine, computers will be more ingrained in our environment. For instance, computer monitors could be replaced by projections onto our retinas or on a virtual screen hovering in the air;

—Scientists will be able to rejuvenate all of someone's body tissues and organs by transforming their skin cells into youthful versions of other cell types;

—Need a little boost? Kurzweil says scientists will be able to regrow our own cells, tissues, and even whole organs, and then introduce them into our bodies, all without surgery. As part of what he calls the "emerging field of rejuvenation medicine," new tissue and organs will be built out of cells that have been made younger;

—Got heart trouble? No problem, says Kurzweil. "We'll be able to create new heart cells from your skin cells and introduce them into your system through the bloodstream. Over time, your heart cells get replaced with these new cells, and the result is a rejuvenated, young heart with your own DNA";

Kurzweil as author, is an example of an uber-synthesist. He sifts through mountains of information to find technology trends. He predicts the future, without bothering to have tongue in cheek.

His biological predictions may even be timid, but Kurzweil's predictions of nanotech healers and machine super-cognition may be more than a little optimistic--from his point of view.

Humans are certainly not ready for super-intelligence, and computers have no point of reference. Human intelligence is based on emotions, which are based on biological survival drives. Computers have nothing similar to build on, other than (anthropomorphizing alert!) an unconscious "need" for electricity, more memory, and faster processors. As soon as computers begin to understand the need for speed and power, we may all be in trouble. Computers are not bound by billions of years of kludgy evolution--they can evolve exponentially.

So it comes down to: how soon can engineers/scientists build emotions and drives into computers--computers with actuators and power to act in the physical world? Because that is when Kurzweilian things start happening. Only computers can program massively parallel computers. They simply need a good reason to do so.

Kurzweil uncharacteristically provides a caveat: terrorists may learn to use this advanced technology. But more realistically, modern terrorists would like nothing more than to take human societies back to the stone age, where merely talking about Kurzweil's predictions would get your head chopped off.

Cross-posted at Al Fin Longevity.

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25 November 2006

My Favourite Blog Carnivals

What is a Blog Carnival, you ask? A Blog Carnival is simply a blog posting that brings together in one place links to some of the best recent blog articles on a given topic.

My Favourite Blog Carnivals are:

Tangled Bank Excellent Science Carnival
The Synapse Neuroscience Carnival
Grand Rounds Medical Carnival

Blog Carnivals typically travel from blog to blog, which is an excellent way of getting to know new blogs. Following the carnival links themselves is a fine way to acquaint oneself with new and worthy blogs.

Carnivals come and go. The Carnival of Tomorrow is a fine blog carnival for futurist and singularitarian bloggers that is temporarily in stasis. Al Fin was fortunate to be included in a few COTs during COT's vibrant phase.

Go ahead and look at lists of carnivals here and here. You may very well find carnivals that suit your taste, and that might become your favourites. I hope so. The web has many fine features for which we should be grateful, and blogs and blog carnivals are some of the finest.

: Go here for the latest edition of Synapse. Thanks to Dr. Serani.

Update 2: Another good neuro-carnival is Encephalon. I am not certain how long both Synapse and Encephalon will continue to exist "in competition," but there is certainly enough new information in neuroscience and cognition to support two carnivals.


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Five Minds for the Future? One Good Mind Would Do Wonders

Howard Gardner is a prolific author, Psychologist, and Harvard Professor. Gardner is perhaps best known for his tendency to multiply intelligences beyond what most experts feel is necessary. (apologies to Occam) Gardner's latest work, Five Minds for the Future, might at first seem to be following in the footsteps of his previous Multiple Intelligences work. Here is the distinction:

The five minds—disciplined, synthesizing, creating, respectful, and ethical—differ from multiple intelligence in working in a more synergistic fashion as opposed to separate categories of intelligences.
If you look at the graphic above, you will see that Gardner is actually describing the way "one good mind" would function at its integrated best. Gardner seems to have hit on some valuable principles of mind formation here.

The mind must be DISCIPLINED in three senses. The person must be able to think in terms of the major scholarly disciplines (history, mathematics, science, and the arts); he/she must have at least one area of expertise; he/she must have those habits of continued application so that learning can continue throughout life.

Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann argues that in the 21st century, the most important mind will be the SYNTHESIZING MIND. Individuals are subjected to huge amounts of information. We must be able to decide what is important; how best to organize it for ourselves; how best to communicate it to others. Almost everything that can be automated will be.

The last frontier for the mind is that of CREATING New Ideas.... thinking outside of the box. Such thinking presupposes a certain discipline and considerable synthesizing ability but it cannot be constrained by what has been thought or done before.

The first three kinds of minds are cognitive. The last two relate to the world of other individuals, and are thus more social and affective.

The RESPECTFUL MIND goes beyond mere tolerance. Respectful persons welcome human diversity, seek to understand and work with others, and cultivate an atmosphere of openness and reciprocity.

The ETHICAL MIND builds upon respect but entails a more abstract attitude. Ethical individuals ponder their roles as workers and citizens. They carry out good work... work that is excellent, ethical and personally meaningful. They consider their roles as citizens of their community, their region, and the globe and act in constructive, non egocentric ways.

Gardner heads up Harvard's Project Zero educational research group. Certainly if the abysmal failure of government education in North America is to be salvaged, new ideas and approaches will be vital. It appears that government education has failed in developingevery single one of the five minds that Gardner highlights. Instead, schools develop the resentment mind, the entitlement mind, the addicted mind, the dependent mind, the lazy mind, indiscriminate mind, and the credulous mind. There is certainly a lot of work to be done, and one hopes that Gardner and his group will lend a hand.

Gardner's 11/10/06 (11 October) lecture on audio and transcript (scroll halfway down)

Hat tip The Mouse Trap blog.


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24 November 2006

What Do You Get When You Combine a Tumour-Eating Clostridium Bacteria with Liposome Packaged Doxorubicin and Irinotecan? More Dead Tumour Cells

Scientists at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have been using Clostridium Novyi against tumours in mice for over five years now. But by combining genetically modified C. Novyi-CT with liposome confined chemotherapy agents Doxorubicin and Irinotecan, the scientists learned how to kill even more of the tumour cells.

Combining C.novyi-NT and liposomes filled with chemotherapy seems to have its synergistic effect on tumors owing to the presence of an enzyme found lurking in C. novyi-NT cultures, which Ian Cheong, Ph.D., in the Vogelstein lab dubbed liposomase. It destroys fatty membranes and may disrupt the outer layer of liposomes releasing their drug contents.

“Drugs contained in these ‘Trojan horse’ compartments are specifically released at the tumor site by the C-novyi-NT bacteria which may improve the effectiveness and safety of the therapy,” says Cheong who is the lead author of the study.

The scientists note that liposomase could be used in a variety of other targeted therapies besides the bacteria combination. Such approaches could include attaching liposomase to antibodies that have an affinity for specific tumors or adding its DNA code to gene therapy. As many drugs can be packaged within liposomes, the investigators say the approach could have general utility.

In a companion study published in the November 19 online issue of Nature Biotechnology, the Hopkins team decoded the entire C.novyi-NT genome which Zhou says “was instrumental in identifying liposomase and will help improve our bacterial-based therapies.”

Preliminary safety tests of injected C. novyi-NT alone are under way in a small number of cancer patients.

....The likely explanation for the greater cancer cell kill by the combination treatment is that the bacteria expose the tumors to six times the amount of chemotherapy than is usually the case by improving the breakdown and dispersal of the chemotherapy’s fatty package at the tumor site.

The investigators repeated experiments using two packaged chemotherapy drugs -- doxorubicin and irinotecan -- and observed similar tumor-killing effects of both when used in combination with the bacteria.

“Packaged” cancer drugs currently are available in microscopic fatty capsules called liposomes which gravitate to tumors because they are too large to fit through the skins of tightly-woven blood vessels surrounding normal tissue and small enough to get through tumor vasculature.

Using bacteria and viruses against tumours is a biological form of nanotechnology medicine. It is actually the enzymes and other nano-sized molecular machines that assist human scientists in killing the tumours. Eventually scientists will learn to make improved versions of these nano-machines. For now, it is nice to be able to use the deadly spore-forming bacteria as a force for life.


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The Real Reason France Prohibits Women Cyclists from Le Tour

The French have always seen themselves as being somewhat "progressive" in comparison to most other people, particularly the British, the Germans, the Americans, . . . Feminists have long wondered why the French, as progressive as they clearly are, continue to deny women cyclists the opportunity to compete in Le Tour de France. Finally, science has learned the true reason for the prohibition.

Women who participated in prolonged, frequent bicycling had decreased genital sensation and were more likely to have a history of genital pain than women runners, researchers in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine and The Albert Einstein College of Medicine report in the current issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

The researchers compared 48 women competitive cyclists to 22 women runners. They used non-invasive techniques to evaluate the possible effects of bicycling on genital sensation and sexual health. Participants in the study were women bicyclists who consistently rode an average of at least 10 miles per week, four weeks per month. Women who ran at least one mile daily or five miles weekly were chosen as a control group because they represent an active group of women who were not exposed to direct pressure in the perineal region.

....“This is the first study to evaluate the effects of prolonged or frequent bicycling on neurological and sexual function in women,” said Guess. “While seated on a bicycle, the external genital nerve and artery are directly compressed. It is possible that chronic compression of the female genital area may lead to compromised blood flow and nerve injury due to disruption of the blood-nerve barrier.”

Although the researchers deny that women cyclists suffer adverse effects to their sexual health or performance, one tends to question such glib reassurances. Particularly since male cyclists can suffer from genital numbness and erectile dysfunction.

Leave it to the French to be progressive even when it looks like they are being bigots and chauvinists.


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23 November 2006

Surprise! New Genetic Map Shows We are Not All the Same Genetically, After All

Recent research published in Nature, Nature Genetics and Genome Research shows that humans can be significantly different from each other, genetically--a fact that has been strenuously denied by social scientists for decades. The new genetic map, a Copy Number Variant (CNV) map, indicates that instead of being 99.9 per cent identical, humans can vary genetically by up to 10%.

One person's DNA code can be as much as 10 percent different from another's, researchers said on Wednesday in a finding that questions the idea that everyone on Earth is 99.9 percent identical genetically.

They said their new version of the human genetic map, or "book of life," fills in many missing pages and chapters to explain how genes are involved in common diseases.

"This important work will help identify genetic causes of many diseases," Dr. Mark Walport, director of Britain's Wellcome Trust, said in a statement.

Instead of showing single variations in human DNA that make people unique, the map looks at differences in duplications and deletions of large DNA segments known as copy number variants or CNVs, which can help explain why some people are susceptible to illnesses such as AIDS and others are not.

"We're a patchwork of DNA sequences, gains and losses," Dr. Charles Lee of the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts told a news conference.

Scientists from more than a dozen centers around the world identified about 3,000 genes with variations in the number of copies of specific DNA segments. The changes can affect gene activity, including susceptibility to diseases.

The Human Genome Project mapped the billions of letters that make up the human genetic code. Scientists later refined the map by looking for single variations called SNPs or single nucleotide polymorphisms.

The CNV map gives researchers a different way to look for genes linked to diseases by identifying gains, losses and alterations in the genome.

"We estimate this to be at least 12 percent of the genome, similar in extent to SNPs. This has never been shown before," said Dr. Matthew Hurles of Britain's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

CNV mapping is a different way of looking at the human genome which can more powerfully elicit genetic differences between humans and between humans and other animals.

This new approach casts a new light on recent research that reveals IQ differences between human groupings. IQ and other genetic differences between nation populations and groups might go a long way toward explaining different behaviours. With these new tools for studying the genome, far more genetic differences between human groups should be revealed.

Hat tips to Fatknowledge blog and Intelligence Testing blog.

This will place even more stress on western liberal values of egalitarianism, but as long as the primary focus of equality is equality of opportunity and equality before the law, the problems can be worked out. Only when society attempts to guarantee equality of outcomes does egalitarianism become completely unworkable--given the genetic differences in aptitudes and interests between groups of people--even between genders.

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22 November 2006

Journalists May be Unintelligent, But They are Certainly Biased

Journalists are a lot like actors in many ways. Generally flakey and prone to superstition and groupthink. Few journalists have the talent and courage to stand out from the crowd, and present original, fact-based stories. The more we learn about how modern journalism is done, the more typical Jayson Blair seems to be of journalists. Most simply do not get caught.

James Q. Wilson, an expert in government and public policy, takes a look at how the media has presented the Iraq military action by the US coalition.

Between January 1 and September 30, 2005, nearly 1,400 stories appeared on the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news. More than half focused on the costs and problems of the war, four times as many as those that discussed the successes. About 40 percent of the stories reported terrorist attacks; scarcely any reported the triumphs of American soldiers and marines. The few positive stories about progress in Iraq were just a small fraction of all the broadcasts.

When the Center for Media and Public Affairs made a nonpartisan evaluation of network news broadcasts, it found that during the active war against Saddam Hussein, 51 percent of the reports about the conflict were negative. Six months after the land battle ended, 77 percent were negative; in the 2004 general election, 89 percent were negative; by the spring of 2006, 94 percent were negative. This decline in media support was much faster than during Korea or Vietnam.

....Thankfully, though, the press did not cover World War II the way it has covered Vietnam and Iraq. What caused this profound change? Like many liberals and conservatives, I believe that our Vietnam experience created new media attitudes that have continued down to the present. During that war, some reporters began their coverage supportive of the struggle, but that view did not last long. Many people will recall the CBS television program, narrated by Morley Safer, about U.S. Marines using cigarette lighters to torch huts in Cam Ne in 1965. Many will remember the picture of a South Vietnamese officer shooting a captured Vietcong through the head. Hardly anyone can forget the My Lai story that ran for about a year after a journalist reported that American troops had killed many residents of that village.

....Reporters and editors today are overwhelmingly liberal politically, as studies of the attitudes of key members of the press have repeatedly shown. Should you doubt these findings, recall the statement of Daniel Okrent, then the public editor at the New York Times. Under the headline, is the new york times a liberal newspaper? Okrent’s first sentence was, “Of course it is.”

What has been at issue is whether media politics affects media writing. Certainly, that began to happen noticeably in the Vietnam years. And thereafter, the press could still support an American war waged by a Democratic president. In 1992, for example, newspapers denounced President George H. W. Bush for having ignored the creation of concentration camps in Bosnia, and they supported President Clinton when he ordered bombing raids there and in Kosovo. When one strike killed some innocent refugees, the New York Times said that it would be a “tragedy” to “slacken the bombardment.” These air attacks violated what passes for international law (under the UN Charter, people can only go to war for immediate self-defense or under UN authorization). But these supposedly “illegal” air raids did not prevent Times support. Today, by contrast, the Times criticizes our Guantánamo Bay prison camp for being in violation of “international law.”

....mainstream outlets like the New York Times have become more nakedly partisan. And in the Iraq War, they have kept up a drumbeat of negativity that has had a big effect on elite and public opinion alike. Thanks to the power of these media organs, reduced but still enormous, many Americans are coming to see the Iraq War as Vietnam redux.

....This change in the media is not a transitory one that will give way to a return to the support of our military when it fights. Journalism, like so much scholarship, now dwells in a postmodern age in which truth is hard to find and statements merely serve someone’s interests.

The mainstream media’s adversarial stance, both here and abroad, means that whenever a foreign enemy challenges us, he will know that his objective will be to win the battle not on some faraway bit of land but among the people who determine what we read and watch. We won the Second World War in Europe and Japan, but we lost in Vietnam and are in danger of losing in Iraq and Lebanon in the newspapers, magazines, and television programs we enjoy.

Not many people are motivated to look beyond exclusively negative media coverage, to the "new media" outlets run by veterans of Iraq. Fewer still are motivated to look at the history of the various political and religious movements that come together in the current violence in today's Iraq, and neighboring countries. The multi-level truth of Iraq and today's middle east (including Lebanon, Syria, and Iran), is somewhat beyond the interest and comprehension of most people--who are otherwise occupied.

Iraq is a disaster, no question of that. The entire arab world is a disaster, if the truth be known. Oil wealth conveys a false image of progress in some arab states that fools many.

The trick is to find better ways to keep the disaster of arab countries contained to the arab countries--without paying too high a cost in western lives. Because if the arab madness escapes to the world at large, many intelligent people will look back on the current "quagmire" in Iraq with nostalgia.

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20 November 2006

Growing Cholinergic Nerve Circuits to Fight Alzheimer's

Most current medical treatments for Alzheimer's involves preserving brain cholinergic nerve function as long as possible. Nerve growth factors that improve brain cholinergic nerve growth might be very helpful for Alzheimer's Disease patients. Recent research has narrowed the search to the neurotrophins--and neurotrophin 3 in particular.

Richard Robertson, professor of anatomy and neurobiology, and other researchers from UCI's School of Medicine found that cholinergic nerve fibers grow toward sources of neurotrophin-3 during early development. In experiments with mice, without neurotrophin-3 to direct growth, the developing cholinergic nerve fibers appeared to not recognize their normal target cells in the brain. Because of this, the axon nerve fibers aided by these circuits grew irregularly and missed their specific target neural cells.

This finding, according to Robertson, has significant implications for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. Cholinergic neuronal circuits play a key role in the proper information processing by the cerebral cortex and other areas of the brain. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that determines intelligence, personality, and planning and organization, and these actions are compromised by neurodegenerative diseases.

"Studies on the brains of Alzheimer's patients have shown a marked decline in these cholinergic circuits. Our work demonstrates that neurotrophin-3 is essential to maintain the connections to cerebral cortex neurons," Robertson said. "This study shows that a neurotrophin-3 therapy may be able to induce nerve fibers to regrow in the cerebral cortex, which would be beneficial to people with Alzheimer's."

In further studies on this subject, supported by a recently awarded three-year grant from the Alzheimer's Association, Robertson and his colleagues are testing the respective roles of nerve growth factor and neurotrophin-3 in a laboratory model of Alzheimer's disease. Laboratory rats with experimental damage to forebrain cholinergic circuits will be treated with either nerve growth factor or neurotrophin-3, or a combination of both, to determine their ability to produce anatomical, molecular and behavioral recovery.

Study results appear in the Dec. 1 issue of the journal Neuroscience.

Tissue growth factors and their cell receptors are vital for ongoing tissue growth and repair, in both developing tissue and in mature tissue function and maintenance. While there is much more to Alzheimer's Disease than mere cholinergic brain function, there is little question that the preservation of cholinergic cortical circuits will help preserve much of the brain function lost in Alzheimer's Dementia.

Understanding the role of adult stem cells and brain derived tissue growth factors will change the outlook for dementia patients and patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

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19 November 2006

Arab Illiteracy and Other Omens of a Stormy Future

The causes of Arab underdevelopment identified in the report are lack of freedom, marginal participation of women in public life and educational backwardness.Arab people enjoy least freedom compared to any other region in the world — less than even the countries bordering southern Sahara. Civil rights are mostly ignored though they are incorporated in constitutions and legislations in those countries. There are several impediments for the free functioning of the agencies that are supposed to ensure these rights. Arab women get the least opportunity to participate in the economic and political activities compared to any other place in the world. The level of education among Arab women is the lowest in the world. More than 50 percent of them are illiterate. One of the most alarming facts revealed by the report is the backwardness of Arabs in the field of science. The level of education in the region is falling while the per capita spending on scientific research and development is the lowest in the world. In 1996, it was 0.4 percent of the GNP which is one-third of what Cuba spent on scientific research. In 1994, Israel allocated 6.35 percent for the GNP for research programs while in Japan it was 6.9 percent. Naturally, the educational backwardness increases the rate of illiteracy among Arabs. More than 65 million people, which accounts for 43 percent of the Arab population, are illiterate.Source.

* Islamists who do not recognize that humanistic ideas can serve as a basis for society. In their view, everything has existed in the past, and is present in the holy text [the Koran]. The present and future are not in our hands, but in the hands of a force that propels us like puppets. According to these Islamists, the proper way to live is to return to the times of our forefathers, in the seventh century, and to adopt the principle of the Shura [the consultative council] of early Islam.

When it is argued that the Shura never convened in the early Islamic era, that its representatives were appointed and not elected, that the idea of a society like that of the forefathers is imaginary with no basis in historical fact... they have no answer except to curse those raising these questions and to accuse them of heresy.

Al-Houni concludes that there is no point in arguing with Islamists so long as the starting points are different. The Islamists consider the past to be the pinnacle of humanity, whereas Al-Houni's starting point is human experience and history as an unending process.

Arabs seem to be caught in their own traps of illiteracy and primitive modes of thinking. There may be no escape whatsoever. Sadly, the younger generation of arabs is not only huge, but illiterate, and oddly drawn to violent and irrational strains of Islam. It does not look good for the arab world, and anyone who must deal with it.

Of all the sins Bush is guilty of, over-optimism in dealing with the arab and muslim world may be his greatest.

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Is Iraq a Debacle?

de·ba·cle Pronunciation (d-bäkl, -bkl, db-kl)
1. A sudden, disastrous collapse, downfall, or defeat; a rout.
2. A total, often ludicrous failure.
3. The breaking up of ice in a river.
4. A violent flood. Source

A lot of web commenters have labeled the US coalition military action in Iraq a "debacle." Is it possible the word does not mean what they think it means?

After 9/11/2001, it was obvious that Afghanistan was the rat's nest--it had to be cleaned out and disinfected. Iraq seemed like a ludicrous target to me. But it seemed that the US President Bush was in a hurry to depose Saddam. Only after Saddam's government collapsed did the US government seem to be aware that Iraq would have to be governed--which might not be easy. Well, hindsight is 20/20, of course.

After the US coalition was in Iraq, it became obvious that a precipitous exit would indeed be a debacle for the US and the west. Staying in place, amid a bloody civil war between three distinct groupings was a bad choice, but not as bad a choice as a precipitous retreat would have been.

Iraq can only be called a fiasco in relation to some other similar action. Vietnam? No, compared to Vietnam, Iraq has been a roaring success. Only those with no knowledge of Vietnam would make the comparison with a straight face. Iraq would become a Vietnam, a true debacle, were the US coalition to choose a precipitous retreat at this time. Certainly Al Qaida celebrated recent US elections as preludes to a debacle in their favour. Muslim extremists and supremacists in general celebrated those elections, in hope of a coming debacle.

In the current clash of civilisations between primitivism (Islam) and modernism (the west), perceptions are crucial. A primitive society built on blood feuds, petty raids, and wars of conquest, is not impressed by opponents that run away from a fight. Osama and his cohorts were most encouraged by the Clinton retreat from Somalia. A similar retreat from Iraq would be even greater encouragement.

George W. Bush is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Nor is he the dullest. Many of his most vocal critics appear far duller.

What does Bush mean by "staying the course?" Probably something far different than what his critics mean. Of course, almost no one in the world really knows what "the course" means to Bush and his planners, though the critics think they know and feel free to hold Bush and his "course" in contempt.

I am taking a lot more into account, looking at a deeper game, than most Bush critics. History may very well hold Bush in the contempt that many ideologues and critics hold him in already. Or not. All I know is there is a lot more at stake than whether Bush is President or Cheney is Vice-President of the US. The future of Europe and the west is at stake. Anything that is done by the west at this time to give aid and encouragement to the jihadis and islamic supremacists is a knife in the back of western civilisation.

This post is not an endorsement of the Iraqi action, nor of US President Bush. Rather it is a suggestion that the surface "truth" is not the same as the deeper truth. That the way events are portrayed in the media may not represent the actual events in their entirety. Most people have no knowledge of military strategies, much less the treacherous interactions of civilisations in conflict. There is more going on here than you know.

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Interesting News Briefs

Salk Scientists Learn Limb Regeneration Secrets: Scientists at Salk have accomplished the regeneration of the wing of a chicken embryo. Since chickens are not known to regenerate limbs, this accomplishment may help lead to regeneration of human body parts and organs.

Scientists Detect Viruses with Lasers and Silver Nanotech: UGA researchers have invented a device to detect pathogenic viruses using laser light and silver nano-whiskers. The procedure is very fast and very accurate. Dr. McCoy's hand-held body scanner cannot be far off.

China Executes 80% or More of World's Executed Prisoners--For Body Parts!!: While political activists excoriate the US for executing fewer than a hundred violent prisoners a year, China executes 10,000 or more yearly--including political prisoners. Such political activists are like the drunks who look under the streetlight for their keys, even though they dropped them two blocks down the street. The light is better under the streetlight, you see.

A Boat with a Porpoise: A crazy Kiwi has invented a "dolphin boat" that dives, breaches, and swims like a playful dolphin. Be the first on your lake to drive one of these "porpoise-ful" boats around the water.

Hat tip, keelynet.com
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18 November 2006

Morality Only Applies if You Are Alive

....morality and compassion are things you can only afford when you're in a nation that's isn't fighting for survival.Source.

Morality has become fashionable in politics, with both sides of the US political debate claiming the moral high ground. Always be suspicious of politicians appealing to morality. By definition, politicians and lawyers are liars. Priests and Pastors are almost as bad. Special interest morality is unsatisfying to anyone who values truth. The media laps it up like dogs, though. So do people with little experience in life, or little personal ballast despite experience.

There are different approaches to morality, some of which are fairly objective. Special interest morality is a focused morality that ignores far more than it includes. It is very useful to lawyers, politicians, and priests--not to mention partisan media pundits. The problem is being able to detect the stunted morality before it causes you to change your behaviour. Most people are incapable of doing that.

If schools wanted to provide a service to students, they would require them to analyse a full spectrum of arguments on a particular issue, and not only identify the logical parts of the argument, but locate logical fallacies and logical shortcomings--including blatantly ignored alternative premises. The reasons schools rarely do this, is that such an exercise presents a danger to the school's (or professors') underlying argument or point of view. We cannot have that.

So I will do something similar. I present links to three point of view articles--here, here, and here. You may choose the topic that interests you most and analyse it.

Morality exists on many levels. The failure to distinguish between levels of morality, and how they might affect an argument, is a major shortcoming of modern education and public discourse.

Finally, there is Marc Hauser's book, Moral Minds. I have skimmed the book and read several reviews. I have read other books by Hauser. I consider the new book an essential early step in looking at the biology of morality. I plan to read the book in detail fairly soon, as it may fit in the reading rotation.

Philosophy once encompassed ethics. Now biology is elbowing its way in, quite rudely. There is something offensive about biological imperatives that force their way into polite conversation, over cocktails. Nevertheless, a growing number of dissenters from politically correct self-censorship are beginning to speak more loudly--and publishers are finding it harder not to publish them. This is a trend.

The popular media has temporarily hit on a "formula of morality" that seems to sway the majority of voters in some parts of the developed world. What the popular media may not realise is that morality is a fickle servant, subject to significant recoil.

For interested observers, I strongly recommend reading Hauser, Pinker, Dennett, Dawkins, and other students of human behaviour with Darwinian perspectives. Then look at what societies' liars--politicians, lawyers, media pundits, clerics, PC professors--are doing to morality arguments. Fascinating.

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17 November 2006

Just Stick to the Formula, Asshole!

In fiction, people often claim there are only so many plots available--here is a look at anything from one to thirty-six plots that may be available to you as a budding writer. Here is the formula for the one plot approach: Exposition - Rising Action - Climax - Falling Action - Denouement.

Finding different formulas is pretty easy on the internet. There you can find formulas for fiction (here and here), formula for humor, romance fiction, the perfect Hollywood script, formula for a good life and even a perfect butt!

The sad thing is not that executives in the music, TV, and movie industries have bought into the formula racket. The sad thing is that the news media pundits and ordinary people are buying into it. If you want the public to see things a certain way, just spin the news to fit a certain formula, et voila! People get the picture you want them to get.

I remember an episode of the TV series "Northern Exposure," where the Inuit shaman went from one Anglo Alaskan to another, trying to get them to tell him a mythic story from Anglo culture. Inuits and other native peoples all have traditional mythic stories that once shaped their lives and paradigms of the world. The shaman was disappointed that none of the Anglos seemed to have a story to tell him.

Of course, anybody but a TV script writer would know that the Anglo mythic stories of modern times are the movies. Best-selling novels of course, but who reads these days? If the book is not made into a movie, most people won't have heard of it. Movies are our stories--our paradigms--and movies are made strictly according to formula.

What I'm saying is, you are living a formula, whether you know it or not. And your strings are showing. Not just anybody can pull them, mind you, but there are a lot of people out there who can.

Have you not found yourself--do you not know "who you are?" How sad for you--you haven't found your formula. Stick in there, and if you are lucky, that formula will come along.

What would it take for a society to develop citizens who were independent-minded, and original? High intelligence? Sorry, that won't quite cut it. High intelligence plus self-discipline? Much better, but not quite there yet. High intelligence, self-discipline, and the wisdom of experience and perspective? Okay, I'll buy that.

How can a society escape its own formulaic traps and prisons? First it has to want to. I see no evidence of that, from what I can see in the media and institutions of society. So instead of seriously considering what I am trying to say, you might just stick to the formula, asshole! Or so most people would probably tell you. Maybe they're right. I like to think not.
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16 November 2006

Politics of Genetics--Eugenics=Far Right; Dysgenics=Far Left

If you look at the essence of the political left and political right, you will inevitably look at attitudes toward "genetics as destiny." The old far right believes in maintaining "pure blood lines", and feels that breeding will show. The left traditionally believes that genetics is of minor--if any--importance in human affairs. They believe humans are humans are humans. Genetics simply does not signify.

Given current leftist ascendancy in universities and the media, it is understandable that eugenics has a bad reputation, synonymous with nazism in many minds. Dysgenics is simply ignored as unimportant.

But is dysgenics as unimportant as leftists would have you think? Psychologist Richard Lynn wrote a book discussing the implications of modern dysgenic policies in the western world. Like Charles Murray before him, Lynn addresses the documented differences in aptitude and achievement between genetically different groups of people, and takes the reader on a sober journey into the dysgenic future.

Dysgenics comes into play in the modern world mainly through immigration policies, although badly designed welfare programs, and anti-meritocratic practices in school admissions and employment also promise dysgenic results.

Briefly, European populations in Europe, North America, Oceania, and other scattered outposts are not reproducing enough to sustain their population proportions. The IQ component of a society contributed by European peoples is becoming less prominent, as populations that average higher test scores on IQ tests are being replaced by populations that average lower IQ test scores.

How will this apparent lowering of population average IQ scores translate sociologically and economically for these societies? In general, one could look at the societies in Africa and the Middle East that are supplying replacement populations for Europe, and societies in Latin America which are supplying replacement populations for North America--and one could predict the futures of these formerly European dominant societies by the past of their replacement population societies. In general, one could conceivably do that.

Societies with average IQs below 90 tend to be failed societies. It is difficult to conceive of a successful modern society with such a low average IQ. Yet immigration policy by a typical leftist completely ignores the dysgenic effect of policy.

Countries have an obligation to their current citizens to only admit new immigrants who have merit--who have something to offer. Immigration policy in most western countries does not follow that one simple important guideline.

In a previous Al Fin article, I looked at this topic, and pointed to the worthy blog Audacious Epigone, as one of many blogs (including GNXP.com and iSteve.com) that attempt to monitor research relating to this topic. The ongoing insurrection in France by young muslims, and increasing threats of homegrown muslim terrorism in the UK, should serve as sufficient indicators of the now and future clash of populations for anyone sober enough to drive a car or hold a job.

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15 November 2006

How Do Memories Get From the Hippocampus to the Neo-Cortex?

Recent research in Nature Neuroscience adds intriguing new details to theories of long term memory formation and transfer from the hippocampus to the neo-cortex. Surprisingly, the transfer process appears to be controlled from the neo-cortex and involves inhibitory neuron phase-locking, or phase coupling.

To study this dialogue, Mehta recorded electrical activity in rat brains. To mimic the deepest sleep states, the rats were anesthetized then fitted with two electrodes. One electrode measured the electrical activity of thousands of cells in the neocortex. These cells were excitatory, meaning that they spark communication between nerve cells. The other electrode recorded the activity of a single inhibitory cell in the hippocampus. These inhibitory cells shut down dialogue between nerve cells.

Using this groundbreaking single-cell recording technique, honed in Sakmann’s laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, researchers made an important finding: During deepest sleep, in both the hippocampus and neocortex, the patterns of neural activity are both regular and highly related. The cells in the old and new brains fired nearly in synch, evidenced by similar peaks and troughs shown on electroencephalographs.

This is surprising; Previous studies showed that during deep sleep, when the excitatory cells in the neocortex showed rhythmic activity, excitatory neurons in the hippocampus showed erratic activity. This stumped Mehta and his colleagues: If these two parts of the brain talk during deep sleep, why didn’t they appear to be speaking the same language? They are, Mehta and his team discovered, if you listen to inhibitory, not excitatory, cells in the hippocampus. Mehta and his team also showed that the activity of the cells is related. The timing of activity, or talk, was the same in both brain regions, with a small delay in the hippocampus – as if those cells were echoing the speech in the neocortex.

This discovery of synchronized communication between the old and the new brain – a phenomenon known as “phase-locking” – has two key implications. It suggests that the neocortex, not the hippocampus, drives the discussion between these brain systems during deep sleep. It also suggests that the inhibitory neurons control the conversation.

Chris Chatham at Develintel follows research in phase coupling of "cross frequency" neuro-communication. I expect to read some interesting commentary at Chris' blog on this research as well.


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Emotional Calibration

Our emotions are powerful tools for evaluating the world around us quickly, and at levels we may not be able to describe verbally. Cognitive scientists are just now starting to tackle the complexities of emotions in their more advanced machines and programs.

Human emotions need calibrating, just as our cognitive systems and mind-body controls need calibration.

I was first exposed to conscious calibration of emotions when taking drama class and musical theatre class. A good actor needs to express a wide range of emotions, without having to reach too far for them. Likewise, a good singer in a musical play needs to find the emotions within himself that the song is expressing.

Everyday life can also be emotionally demanding, with the threat of an emotional boobytrap being tripped at any time. By "calibrating" our emotions regularly, we keep our emotions tuned and ready for appropriate responses.

We are all actors on the stage. We need to utilise methods of emotional priming that are just as sound as what actors use.

The best everyday method for exercising and calibrating emotion that I have found, is the Sentic Cycle method, developed by neuroscientist and musician Manfred Clynes.

Sentic Cycles lets you generate and express your emotions in a series, as a spectrum, your emotion 'symphony', so you tend to become free from emotional rut - being stuck in one emotion- and be in touch with your real self - not overwhelmed by single emotion (yet able to savour them all as in music).

It takes only 10 minutes to learn to do it - and then you may benefit from doing it anytime the rest of your life - as long as human nature does not change! Anyone can do it.

It uses only your own natural expressions of emotion to generate and to enjoy them.

....We all tend to be prisoners of emotion more than we may wish to be. Emotions make life enjoyable and meaningful, but not if you are in an emotional rut, where a particular, most often negative, emotion takes over, and makes it hard to get out of, even temporarily. Often such negative emotions are suppressed, but still interfere with function and freedom of experience.

Sentic Cycles allow you to experience and express all such emotions more constructively, without being overwhelmed by them.

Emotions are powerful and fast, compared to other types of cognition. But they have to be kept toned and in shape, like our bodies.

A satisfying play or movie is one that exercises our emotions skillfully, so that usually we are not even aware of what is being done to us subconsciously. Most people go through life being manipulated emotionally, without realizing it. How much better it would be to become well acquainted with our emotions on a regular basis, so that they are seen more like friends than potentially dangerous strangers.

Hat tip Pastorius.

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13 November 2006

Brain Calibration

Baseball pitchers warm up with practice pitches before every appearance. Basketball players shoot practice hoops before games. Actors practice emoting before acting, singers practice intervals and runs, surgeons go through the sequence of a major surgery before scrubbing. All of these preliminaries are examples of mental calibration.

Calibrating the brain is a priming operation. The brain can be prepped for specific types of performance. But it is not just professional performers and practitioners of high risk procedures who need to calibrate. Every morning when the brain wakes up, it falls into a new dynamic state. If the brain has to achieve a certain level of performance each day, it must be calibrated for that performance. Otherwise, the level of achievement from day to day is left to chance. That is how most people live, by chance. When has popular culture ever offered anything else?

In Palestine the children are calibrated daily to hate the Jew, as they are in Hizballah controlled Lebanon, and much of the arab muslim lands. Hatred of the proper enemy is too important to be left to chance. If a society wants a ready supply of suicide bombers and guerilla fighters, it must begin calibrating minds at an early age.

Christian fundamentalists begin calibrating the minds of their children quite early as well. Sunday School and church, religious schools, camps, bible schools, and so on. Maintaining the proper religious way of thinking is too important to be left to chance. Early morning mass, confession, liturgy, prayer meetings, revivals. If a group wants the next generation to carry on the traditions of the current one, it must begin calibrating minds very early.

But then, those examples are not really the same thing as calibrating for top performance. They are more like brainwashing. But why do so many parents leave the cultivation of the minds of their children to chance and a largely indifferent culture? Affluent societies so often breed listless and goalless children. Decadence is what happens when one generation leaves the minds of the next generations to chance.

People think in basic metaphoric "thought concepts", and combinations of concepts called "thought patterns."

A thought-pattern is always subjectively created, and successively "objectified" by different calibration procedures. The state of consensus (= collective agreement on validity) of any though-pattern is represented by its corresponding calibration history. Since the thought-patterns presented here lack an attempt to describe this history, they are to be considered basically my own. That does not mean, however, that I consider them all as having originated with me. On the contrary, I have often tried to express how I conceive the thought-patterns of others. This is of course an important part of the group-consensus forming calibration process.

Brain calibration can take many forms--from meditation to mental imaging to neuromuscular practice to estimating distances or calculations, then checking the estimates. More complex forms of calibration are needed for more complex thought patterns. Unfortunately, modern educational practices have not kept up with current findings in neuroscience, but have instead regressed to conform with current whims of "political correctness."

Many professors of educational trends are willing to destroy a society in order to see their methods of social engineering "tried out" on new generations of hapless students. Fortunately, there are others who pay attention to scientific findings, who are outside the reach of the fashionable trendsetting PC social engineers.

There is a lot of need for reform in education, thanks to the PC professors who currently rule the universities and schools of education. Whether they like it or not, this reform is coming.

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12 November 2006

Discipline, and Talent

Genes vs. the Environment. Websites like Gene Expression and Steve Sailer perform a valuable service by describing research that shows how important genetics and heredity are in the success of individuals and nations. Statistically, intelligence correlates well with success--and intelligence is between 50% and 70% hereditable.

Inherited talent can certainly make the difference between success and mediocrity. But talent without disciplined training can be worse than worthless. A society that lapses into decadent sloth, where hard work is disdained and avoided, is likely to fail eventually.


"The first and best victory is to conquer self."
— Plato
Greek Philosopher

"You can never conquer the mountain. You can only conquer yourself."
— Jim Whittaker

"Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There's plenty of movement, but you never know if it's going to be forward, backwards, or sideways."
— H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

"It is not enough to have great qualities; We should also have the management of them."
— La Rochefoucauld

"A man without decision of character can never be said to belong to himself . . . . He belongs to whatever can make captive of him."
— John Foster

"It is necessary to try to surpass one's self always: this occupation ought to last as long as life."
— Queen Christina of Sweden

"I think the guys who are really controlling their emotions ... are going to win."
— Tiger Woods

"Let me . . . ; remind you that it is only by working with an energy which is almost superhuman and which looks to uninterested spectators like insanity that we can accomplish anything worth the achievement. Work is the keystone of a perfect life. Work and trust in God."
— Woodrow Wilson

"We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act, but a habit."
— Aristotle

"Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound. The man who does not shrink from self-crucifixion can never fail to accomplish the object upon which his heart is set. This is true of earthly as of heavenly things. Even the man whose object is to acquire wealth must be prepared to make great personal sacrifices before he can accomplish his object; and how much more so he who would realize a strong and well-poised life."
— James Allen

"Nothing is more harmful to the service, than the neglect of discipline; for that discipline, more than numbers, gives one army superiority over another."
— George Washington

"Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It's a state of mind-you could call it character in action."
— Vince Lombardi

"There are no short cuts to any place worth going."
— Beverly Sills

"Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself-and be lenient to everybody else."
— Henry Ward Beecher

"Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."
— Mark Twain

"If we don't discipline ourselves, the world will do it for us."
— William Feather

"Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power."
— Lao Tzu

"Never suffer your courage to exert itself in fierceness, your resolution in obstinacy, your wisdom in cunning, nor your patience in sullenness and despair. "
— Charles Palmer

"This quality of self-denial in pursuit of a longer-term goal and, indeed, the willpower to maintain the denial, is excellent training for the boardroom."
— John Viney

"Rule your mind or it will rule you."
— Horace

"Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be."
— Thomas á Kempis

"Leaders aren't born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that's the price we'll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal."
— Vince Lombardi

"Success is a matter of understanding and religiously practicing specific, simple habits that always lead to success."
— Robert J. Ringer

"It was high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, 'always do what you are afraid to do.'"
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Nobody's a natural. You work hard to get good and then work to get better. It's hard to stay on top."
— Paul Coffey
NHL star

"A successful career will no longer be about promotion. It will be about mastery."
— Michael Hammer

"The good Lord gave you a body that can stand most anything. It's your mind you have to convince."
— Vince Lombardi

"The individual who wants to reach the top in business must appreciate the might and force of habit. He must be quick to break those habits that can break him—and hasten to adopt those practices that will become the habits that help him achieve the success he desires."
— J. Paul Getty

Self discipline is the opposite of decadence and sloth. A slothful and decadent society is one that is easy to overcome from within or without. Even the slightest observation shows that socialist and communist societies become decadent--even more decadent than affluent capitalist countries. A society that provides all the amenities to everyone gratis, is a society in danger of breeding sloth into its members.

It is easy for a society to go too far in the opposite direction, as in ancient Sparta, or modern Palestine and Southern Lebanon. Societies bred exclusively for war. These societies will never produce great art or anything else but bloodshed.

Humans have always had to thread the eye of the needle, plot the course between disaster and oblivion. According to history, virtually every society eventually meets with oblivion. Sooner or later.

So, suppose a society learns to breed talent AND self-discipline into its members. Would that be enough to assure the durability of that society and its underlying civilisation? Well, luck plays a part, as does the wisdom of experience in understanding where to apply all that talent and discipline.

Wisdom is not what most people think it is. More later.

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11 November 2006

The Robot Menace?--Yes or No?

"The Rise of the Robot" is the headline of a recent story by the Sydney Morning Herald. The author gives fascinating examples of advances in robot technology, and wonders where it is all heading--particularly since there has recently been a great deal of interest in the topic of sex with robots.

Hospitals in the US and Europe are already using robotic systems to help surgeons in increasingly complex operations. For several years they have been used to show surgeons 3-D views of operations in progress. With fanciful names such as da Vinci and Zeus, robotic surgical systems are widely used for cutting and sewing, and assisting in delicate operations in which a non-tremulous assistant can be invaluable. Hospitals use robots as couriers to deliver drugs, meals and medical specimens while nurses get on with more demanding jobs.

In September US Marine Claudia Mitchell became the first woman to receive a bionic arm after a motorcycle accident. Controlled by rerouted nerves in her shoulder to muscles in her chest, the movements of her new robotic arm have become so sophisticated, she is is able to peel an orange.

Meanwhile, her fellow marines in Iraq and Afghanistan get to see the cutting edge of military and disaster-zone robots. Hundreds of bomb disposal robots are being used there to defuse explosive devices.

....The US military has estimated that by 2115, 30 per cent of all military flight missions and 10 per cent of ground movements will be unmanned. Locally, the Australian Navy is planning to buy a robot to perform undersea rescues. The remote-controlled underwater vehicle can speed to a bottomed submarine and keep the crew alive until a rescue boat arrives.

Robots seem to be an ideal solution for extreme conditions. Despite the arguments among scientists over the merits of manned over unmanned space flight, US space agency NASA has said it will send robots to the moon between 2008 and 2011 and will keep using robots to study Mars.

....Recently, senior robotics scientist Henrik Christensen, a member of the European Robotic Research Networks ethics group, made the extraordinary declaration that "people are going to be having sex with robots within five years".

Perhaps visions of Daryl Hannah as the "pleasure-model" replicant in Blade Runner inspired the work of German inventor Michael Harriman, who claims to have invented the world's most sophisticated robotic sex doll. According to news reports, the doll's heart beats faster during sex and internal heaters raise its body temperature.

Of course, robots are increasingly common as children's toys. Nothing lowers the guard of society more readily than for an object to become a child's toy. But should we be afraid?

Noted columnist Mark Steyn writes in Macleans that perhaps our fixation with robots may be a symptom of a societal decadence that marks our society--our world--for extinction.

In The Children Of Men, P. D. James' dystopian fantasy about a barren world, there are special dolls for women whose maternal instinct has gone unfulfilled: pretend mothers take their artificial children for walks on the street or to the swings in the park. In Japan, that's no longer the stuff of dystopian fantasy. At the beginning of the century, the country's toy makers noticed they had a problem: toys are for children and Japan doesn't have many. What to do? In 2005, Tomy began marketing a new doll called Yumel -- a baby boy with a range of 1,200 phrases designed to serve as companions for the elderly. He says not just the usual things -- "I wuv you" -- but also asks the questions your grandchildren would ask if you had any: "Why do elephants have long noses?" Yumel joins his friend, the Snuggling Ifbot, a toy designed to have the conversation of a five-year old child which its makers, with the usual Japanese efficiency, have determined is just enough chit-chat to prevent the old folks going senile. It seems an appropriate final comment on the social democratic state: in a childish infantilized self-absorbed society where adults have been stripped of all responsibility, you need never stop playing with toys. We are the children we never had.

And why leave it at that? Is it likely an ever smaller number of young people will want to spend their active years looking after an ever greater number of old people? Or will it be simpler to put all that cutting-edge Japanese technology to good use and take a flier on Mister Roboto and the post-human future? After all, what's easier for the governing class? Weaning a pampered population off the good life and re-teaching them the lost biological impulse or giving the Sony Corporation a licence to become the Cloney Corporation? If you need to justify it to yourself, you'd grab the graphs and say, well, demographic decline is universal. It's like industrialization a couple of centuries back; everyone will get to it eventually, but the first to do so will have huge advantages: the relevant comparison is not with England's early 19th century population surge but with England's Industrial Revolution. In the industrial age, manpower was critical. In the new technological age, manpower will be optional -- and indeed, if most of the available manpower's Muslim, it's actually a disadvantage. As the most advanced society with the most advanced demographic crisis, Japan seems likely to be the first jurisdiction to embrace robots.....and embark on the slippery slope to transhumanism.

Of course, Steyn is talking about the demographic crisis in the west--the failure of western nations to sustain their populations in the face of an undeniable demographic/cultural/ideological threat from the primitive world. The rapidly procreating primitive world.

Sex dolls and sex robots are merely sophisticated masturbation aids. But if these surrogates lead to an even more rapid depletion of population in the more enlightened, educated western countries--are they helping to lead us to our ultimate doom? Not necessarily.

With advancing technology in one area, there is generally advancing technology in other areas. Perhaps western men will react to a side effect of the more radical fringes of feminism--the increasing dispensability of men--by turning to high-tech sex surrogates. But sperm banks and artificial wombs can help to prop up the population levels of even decadent societies.

Who will raise the little tikes is another question. Robot nannies and governesses? You had better expect something along those lines--sooner rather than later.

Robots may very well bring about the end of one world, and usher in another world, more alien perhaps, but perhaps more viable in the long run.

The primary issue that all societies should entertain, is the issue of survival. Mark Steyn raises some highly relevant survival issues at the Macleans article above. A small amount of thought should bring others readily to mind. Technology should always be at the service of humanity. Remember that.

Cross posted at Al Fin, You Sexy Thing.

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10 November 2006

Science Steps Back from Climate Alarmism--Politicians Keep Stepping In It

Climate alarmism is a potent political issue. Barbara Boxer cannot seem to help herself--she promises strong promotion of climate alarmism in the upcoming congress. Scientists, however, are more interested in evidence and data.

Where the specialists clash is on what the evidence means for the idea that industrial civilization and the burning of fossil fuels are the main culprits in climate change. The two sides agree that carbon dioxide can block solar energy that would otherwise radiate back into space, an effect known as greenhouse warming. But they differ sharply on its strength.

Some argue that CO2 fluctuations over the Phanerozoic follow climate trends fairly well, supporting a causal relationship between high gas levels and high temperatures. “The geologic record over the past 550 million years indicates a good correlation,” said Robert A. Berner, a Yale geologist and pioneer of paleoclimate analysis. “There are other factors at work here. But in general, global warming is due to CO2. It was in the past and is now.”

Other experts say that is an oversimplification of a complex picture of natural variation. The fluctuations in the gas levels, they say, often fall out of step with the planet’s hot and cold cycles, undermining the claimed supremacy of carbon dioxide.

“It’s too simplistic to say low CO2 was the only cause of the glacial periods” on time scales of millions of years, said Robert Giegengack, a geologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies past atmospheres. “The record violates that one-to-one correspondence.”

He and other doubters say the planet is clearly warming today, as it has repeatedly done, but insist that no one knows exactly why. Other possible causes, they say, include changes in sea currents, Sun cycles and cosmic rays that bombard the planet.

The thing is, the "doubters" are a substantial portion of conventional climatology, and related sciences. They may be more honest than the alarmist "climatologists" in that their research is not nearly as likely to funded so generously, or published so promptly as that of the alarmists.

Boxer and her climate Cassandra cohorts are off on their timing. If only they had been able to promote their cause six years ago--or even four or two years ago. The more time that goes by, the more real science will be done to break the current headlock in funding and publishing currently held by the alarmist faction. Time is not on Ms. Boxer's side, in this regard.

Or take Robert Samuelson's cogent article posted here:

It seems impossible to have an honest conversation about global warming. I say this after diligently perusing the British government's huge report released last week by Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank and now a high-ranking civil servant. The report is a masterpiece of misleading public relations.

It foresees dire consequences if global warming isn't curbed: a worldwide depression (with a drop in output up to 20 percent) and flooding of many coastal cities. Meanwhile, the costs of minimizing these awful outcomes are small: only 1 percent of world economic output in 2050.

No one could fail to conclude that we should conquer global warming instantly, if not sooner. Who could disagree? Well, me. Stern's headlined conclusions are intellectual fictions. They're essentially fabrications to justify an aggressive anti-global-warming agenda. The danger of that is we'd end up with the worst of both worlds: a program that harms the economy without much cutting of greenhouse gases.

Let me throw some messy realities onto Stern's tidy picture. In the global-warming debate, there's a big gap between public rhetoric (which verges on hysteria) and public behavior (which indicates indifference). People say they're worried but don't act that way. Greenhouse emissions continue to rise despite many earnest pledges to control them. Just last week, the United Nations reported that of the 41 countries it monitors (not including most developing nations), 34 had increased greenhouse emissions from 2000 to 2004. These include most countries committed to reducing emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

Why is this? Here are three reasons.
First: With today's technologies, we don't know how to cut greenhouse gases in politically and economically acceptable ways. The world's 1,700 or so coal-fired power plants -- big emitters of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas -- are a cheap source of electricity. The wholesale cost is 4 to 5 cents a kilowatt hour, says the World Resources Institute. By contrast, solar power is five to six times that. Although wind is roughly competitive, it can be used only in selective spots. It now supplies less than 1 percent of global electricity. Nuclear energy is cost-competitive but is stymied by other concerns (safety, proliferation hazards, spent fuel).

Second: In rich democracies, policies that might curb greenhouse gases require politicians and the public to act in exceptionally "enlightened'' (read: "unrealistic'') ways. They have to accept "pain'' now for benefits that won't materialize for decades, probably after they're dead. For example, we could adopt a steep gasoline tax and much tougher fuel-economy standards for vehicles. In time, that might limit emissions (personally, I favor this on national-security grounds). Absent some crisis, politicians usually won't impose -- and the public won't accept -- burdens without corresponding benefits.

Third: Even if rich countries cut emissions, it won't make much difference unless poor countries do likewise -- and so far, they've refused because that might jeopardize their economic growth and poverty-reduction efforts. Poorer countries are the fastest growing source of greenhouse-gas emissions, because rapid economic growth requires energy, and present forms of energy produce gases. In 2003, China's carbon-dioxide emissions were 78 percent of the U.S. level. Developing countries, in total, accounted for 37 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2003. By 2050, their share could be 55 percent, projects the International Energy Agency.

The notion that there's only a modest tension between suppressing greenhouse gases and sustaining economic growth is highly dubious. Stern arrives at his trivial costs -- that mere 1 percent of world GDP in 2050 -- by essentially assuming them. His estimates presume that, with proper policies, technological improvements will automatically reconcile declining emissions with adequate economic growth. This is a heroic leap. To check warming, Stern wants annual emissions 25 percent below current levels by 2050. The IEA projects that economic growth by 2050 would more than double emissions. At present, we can't bridge that gap.

The other great distortion in Stern's report involves global warming's effects. No one knows what these might be, because we don't know how much warming might occur, when, where, or how easily people might adapt. Stern's horrific specter distills many of the most terrifying guesses, including some imagined for the 22nd century, and implies they're imminent. The idea is to scare people while reassuring them that policies to avert calamity, if started now, would be fairly easy and inexpensive.

We need more candor. Unless we develop cost-effective technologies that break the link between carbon-dioxide emissions and energy use, we can't do much. Anyone serious about global warming must focus on technology -- and not just assume it. Otherwise, our practical choices are all bad: costly mandates and controls that harm the economy; or costly mandates and controls that barely affect greenhouse gases. Or, possibly, both.

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