Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Check out the links, in the meantime Ill be preparing my post for next year's fall season, since by that time you will most likely have forgotten why leaves turn red and I will happily remind you by reposting.
It certainly seems like leaf-changing stories appear every Fall and I can only suspect that it is because we secretly believe that if we don't explain why leaves, every Fall, change to the colors that they do, well, one day the leaves just might decide not to change colors and fall. One can never be too sure what leaves are scheming.
So the next time your walking down the sidewalk underneath the cover of tree branches and you happen to gaze upwards towards those rustling leaves, ask yourself "I wonder what those leaves are scheming?" But be aware that the guy walking behind you will most likely be thinking to himself "what the heck is this guy in front of me gawking at?" Which is your cue to scuttle off down the sidewalk like a leaf sailing on a strong autumn wind. ; - )
**Update: Zimmer made a post today, Oct 31st, with extra links to past posts and a NYtimes article he wrote, click here to view)
By exploring the intriguing mental changes that can occur as a result of either anatomical amputations, such as phantom limb pain, or because of brain-damage, such as the Capgras delusion (the conviction that friends and family, when seen visually, are imposters) or synesthesia (when people hear color or smell sounds), Ramachandran uncovers and exploits innovative theories which make a palliative effort to not only cure, but uncover how, exactly, the mindbrain works.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
(reminded me of the ice-cream-sales:murder-rate-increase causal link, which overlooks summertime weather being a factor)
Monday, October 29, 2007
The war drums have been a slow and steady, but persistent beat, which isn't surprising to me, since it seems the entire Iraq invasion was premised on eventually taking out the Iranian regime--a long sought after but apparently unattainable goal of the US administration. The strategy behind the overthrow of Hussein was part of the project of a New Middle East, which would be based on the shining economically and politically successful, and US assisted, example of Iraq. The plan, however, was slightly derailed when, following the invasion and takeover of Baghdad, the Iraqi army was disbanded, Hussein's regime and statue was toppled, (a beautifully staged media extravaganza), and chaos, insecurity, and instability gradually and then exponentially ensued. Iran was thus temporarily out of military toppling sight and the burdens of occupation, a historically unsuccessful endeavor, began to emerge and grow like a cancerous tumor on the US' foreign policy strategy.
But the US administration never removed regime change in Iran from its rhetorical arsenal, as was shown when Iran was lumped in with Iraq and North Korea in the "Axis of Evil." And I would just like to point out, since it seems obvious to me, the blatant lesson Iran learned when we invaded Iraq (a country without nuclear ambitions), but proceeded in peaceful negotiations and diplomacy with North Korea, who was pursuing and had even tested its nuclear capabilities. So to me of course Iran is going to want to continue to pursue, what it sees as, nuclear protection/insurance from a US invasion.
Another question...Did we not expect Iran, who we declared to be a part of the axis of evil, to meddle in our affairs in Iraq, a country right next to its own borders...? I mean the US literally has Iran geographically surrounded. Imagine if Iran or Russia invaded Mexico or Canada, and imagine the US was a weaker state, a state like current day Iran, would you not expect the US to still get involved and meddle with the invaders affairs in a neighboring country?
How can we threaten a country with punishment for behavior, or a particular reaction, that is a predictable state reflex?
I mean its almost like a doctor saying "If you jolt your leg, it means you slept with my wife, and I am therefore going to punch you in the groin" and then proceeding to whack you, helpless patient, on the knee with that cruel triangle-shaped hammer, causing a reflex, which justifies the doctor's claim and his belief in the right to enforce his threat of punishment. This is how absurd I think the current US stance towards Iranian behavior is, but maybe I just don't understand international politics and US foreign policy...perhaps solutions, which take into account predictable state reflexes, are not, de facto, the main focus of attention and resources...(certainly not for the US at least).
The US needs to realize that it currently has its military right hand tied behind its back in Iraq and Afghanistan, but its left hand of diplomacy is still free and certainly worth playing. I can only hope that the US exploits and plays its free hand with Iran, because if we do decide to strike, not only will it be a limited and all-together unsuccessful strike on Iran's capabilities in the long term, it would be (to carry this analogy further) a self-inflicted amputation of the aforementioned free left hand of diplomacy, which would leave us, obviously, with no hands of use at all.
Washington can point its finger at Iran all it wants, but if it does point the finger of blame at Iran, then I would just like to remind Washington that "he who points a finger at another, will have three fingers pointing back at himself."
Here's a recent debate between Neocon Norman Podhoretz, Rudy Giuliani's foreign policy adviser and Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria on The Newshour: (courtesy of TPM)
And Farideh Farhi has a post up on Informed Comment that's certainly worth reading. Found here
And lastly, Gary Samore, vice president, director of studies, and the Maurice R. Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations, gave an interesting nuclear presentation on Iran, though it seemed to have pretty strong pro-tactical-strike against Iran undertones, last month at the New America Foundation, but I thought the presentation accurately showed how little of a case we have against a tactical strike on Iran and moreover the limited setbacks to Iran an invasion by the US would ultimately have.
The other is a fabulously entertaining Indian music video, that can only be described as ineffably funny. After watching it, I sorta wanted to change my name to Benny Lava...you'll soon see why.
European Anthropology: From The Armchair of Explanatory Conjectures to the Village of Exploratory Participation.
Born in Krakow, on April 7, 1884, Bronislaw Malinowski is widely considered to be one of the pioneers of, contributors to, and perhaps even propagandist of a method of study in Anthropology known as ethnology—the idea that in order to know a people, you actually have to spend time, living, sleeping, eating, learning the language of and participating with, the people. Prior to this radically new, systematic approach of studying a people by spending time with them and taking the time to learn their language was a more laid back, and hence aptly termed ‘armchair’ approach to the study of Anthropology. These armchair anthropologists included prominent figures such as Sir James Frazer, author of the highly influential and popular book The Golden Bowl, and Edward Burnett Tylor who made a palliative effort to dress the discipline of Anthropology up in the revered and at that time highly fashionable gown of science. Frazer popularized ideas of the mysterious 'savage' and customs of other cultures, emphasizing the romantic differences, while Tylor argued that there was a progressive upward linear evolutionary development amongst the civilizations of man from ‘savage’ to ‘civilized’ (Europeans of course being the acme of the latter category). He thought of people in the same fashion that museums organize tools, an arrow head for instance, which began as crude and blunt, but continually evolved new shapes and complexities, until it reached its most ideal state of perfection, and efficiency (Tylor obviously would have been a huge fan of the video game Civilization). The theories these anthropologists developed largely stemmed from the books that provided information collected by other individuals on other cultures, and hence was incredibly inaccurate and inconsistent, but what is important to note is that this armchair approach had a particular emphasis on explanatory theories, a piecing together of man’s evolutionary history and a mythic popularization of the ‘savage’, greatly neglecting the richness of data that existed within the actual people’s culture, not found in a book, but rather within the person and his cultural context. This change is largely due to the advent of new modes of transportation and opportunities to travel abroad and see these‘savages’ with your own eyes, which became increasingly available to European citizens around the turn of the 20th century.
One citizen in particular--who idolized the British way of life and culture and aspired to one day be amongst the respected ranks of the upper class--a student at the London School of Economics, seized upon this opportunity to travel abroad, after he had been reading many texts on, what was then a hot-spot of study for Anthropology, Australian Aborigines (such as Gillen&Spencer), and thus had the urge to, as the old adage goes, see it in order to believe it. Bronislaw Malinowski’s fame however does not stem from this particular trip, but rather his long, for historical reasons (WWI breaking out), stay with the Trobrianders on their Islands, and the valuable information that he was able to attain (most notably the Kula Ring), shattering numerous previously held theories and approaches, as a direct result of his effort to, as he put it, “grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realise his vision of his world.”
Malinowski accomplished this aim by separating himself from the amenities he was accustomed to within his own culture by taking up residency--setting up his tent-poles--right smack dab in the middle of the Trobriander’s village.
This would seem like a very subtle change, but it turned out to have significant and revolutionary implications. There’s a good paragraph in the introduction to Malinowski’s book on the Trobrianders entitled The Argonauts of the Western Pacific which clearly outlines the personal change that occurs by taking up residence within the village of the people who you are trying to know.
As I went on my morning walk through the village, I could see intimate details of family life, of toilet, cooking, taking of meals; I could see the arrangements for the day’s work, people starting on their errands, or groups of men and women busy at some manufacturing tasks. Quarrels, jokes, family scenes, events usually trivial, sometimes dramatic, but always significant, formed the atmosphere of my daily life, as well as of theirs.
the paragraph continues and ends with a sentence which I found to be rather amusing:
It must be remembered that as the natives saw me constantly every day, they ceased to be interested or alarmed, or made self-conscious of my presence, and I ceased to be a disturbing element in the tribal life which I was to study, altering it by my very approach, as always happens with a new-corner to every savage community. In fact, as they knew that I would thrust my nose into everything, even where a well-mannered native would not dream of intruding, they finished by regarding me as part and parcel of their life, a necessary evil or nuisance, mitigated by donations of tobacco.
By embedding himself within a culture and spending a number of years taking part in the daily occurrences of that culture, Malinowski created a new way to collect information and build a better understanding of the particularities of that individual culture. But it is clear that Malinowski had personal reasons and ambitions towards a certain tier of social status and perhaps explains how, being the neurotic and intensely hypochondriac man that he was, he was able to endure the numerous years he spent in the isolation of another culture. He truly was a stranger in a strange land.
His personal diary clearly expresses his lamentations and the titles of the books he published clearly show his desire to be a celebrity of British culture by playing off of its moral reservations, with such books as Sex and Repression in Savage Societies and The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia.
After he returned from the
Raymond Firth, a good friend of Malinowski’s, wrote these words in a posthumous evaluation of Malinowski’s work:
To his pupils, Malinowski’s stimulus lay in a combination of many qualities: his subtle power of analysis, his sincerity in facing problems, his sense of reality, his scholarly command of the literature, his capacity for integrating detail into general ideas, his brilliance and wit in handling discussions. But it was due to something more, to his liberal interpretation of the role of teacher…He and his students did no always see eye to eye. But one felt that he had a great store of wise advice, which he expressed in his own inimitably shrewd fashion. Whether he gave it soberly or flippantly, one knew that he was sympathetic, that he felt the trouble as his own. And if a crisis arose—because one could argue fiercely with him at times—he had a most disarming way of suddenly putting aside all emotion, and spreading the whole thing out on the table, as it were, for analysis of his own motives as well as those of the other person. It was this capacity for friendship and sympathy, going beyond the relations of a teacher to pupil, that helped to strengthen his attraction.(Barth, p.29 in One Discipline Four Ways)
Malinowski clearly inspired and popularized the field of anthropology, amongst his students, and amongst the larger public, but a critique often associated with Malinowski is that despite all his enthusiasms, his contributions, theoretically, were largely ad hoc. Malinowski has a more personal approach, which he tries to distance himself from in his works, but when compared to say Meyers Fortes or A.R. Radcliffe Brown, one easily recognizes the differences in approaches. The former sought to give the native’s identity and perspective back to him, by studying the native in his own environment, but largely focused on issues popular to British pop-culture, whereas the latter established concrete and consistent systems and approaches to participant observation, that took culture, analyzed it, and attempted to understand it in all its diverse richness, colors, and manifestations, with a particular emphasis on its structural implications and functions.
To this day anthropologists doing field work and participant observation are deeply indebted to and significantly benefited by both of these approaches to studying cultures and are persistently trying to capture the native’s reality, not through preconceived theoretical impositions of explanations, but, rather, through exploratory observations.
***By the way, I just came across this BBC documentary on Bronislaw Malinowski posted on youtube and thought it was worth sharing. The pictures in the film are stunning, the music and reenactment a little over dramatic, and the final clip which takes a look at a modern application of anthropology with some lady, unknown to me, who studies the 'tribe' of horse racing, seemed to me to be a, excuse my Latin, reductio ad absurdum of what Anthropology is all about, but nevertheless the rest of the film is pretty informative, though it does mostly focus on the character of Malinowski as opposed to the contributions of Malinowski, but perhaps I should stop complaining for fear you might not be intrigued enough to click below.
Tales From The Jungle: Malinowski
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Snip-bits from the link:
A campaign is underway to chastise Burma's military regime, not through dialogue or sanctions, but by flooding the country's foreign embassies with women's underwear, an activist said...
"The Burma military regime is not only brutal but very superstitious. They believe that contact with a woman's panties or sarong can rob them of their power," the Lanna Action for Burma group said on its website.
An activist in the Party Power campaign (clearly one of the aforementioned freedom-loving females), had this to say about the purposes of their efforts:
"We are sending [the generals] panties as a symbol of putting their power down"
Saturday, October 27, 2007
But just today an even stranger animal, the spiny anteater, has had its reproductive methods and in particular phallic structure exposed by the intrusive eyes of scientific inquiry for the greater good of the public's mirth. Courtesy of NewScientist:
By filming this animal, the researchers have been able to describe the unique spiny anteater erection and ejaculation behaviour for the first time.
The spiny anteater's four-headed phallus had been puzzling scientists. "When we tried to collect semen by [electrically-stimulated ejaculation] before, not only did we not get a single drop, but the whole penis swelled up to a four-headed monster that wouldn't fit the female reproductive tract, which has only two branches," says Johnston.
“Now we know that during a normal erection, two heads get shut down and the other two fit," he told New Scientist. The heads used are swapped each time the mammal has sex.
The first song that I heard introducing me to this band, immediately became, and still is, one of my favorites. Mexico opens up with a simple guitar riff, eventually accompanied by the crashing sticks of a drum beat, producing a climatic build-up to the opening lyrics. This morning I woke up I had a melody in mind comes rolling into your ear canals like a tidal flood and splashes against your eardrums, followed by wave--I felt like I should sing it but I wouldn't call it mine--after wave--then I'm making coffee and then I'm making plans--of poetically--and then the song it slips away like water through my hands--vivid verse.
This song, like so many other Beat Radio songs, has such a raw feeling, both lyrically and instrumentally, to it, and that is why I think it blends together so nicely to form such an overall poignant melody and tune. The rawness of the instrument quality accompanied by the poetic lyrics sung by Brian's delicate but alluring voice, a perfectly perfect combination--hard to describe, but easily heard--is why I put this band in the top tier of current bands.
There's a handful of songs worth checking out by this band and they kindly post them (for free!)on their website for your listening pleasures.
Everything Is Temporary is another song with lyrics that tug on the sinewy strings of your heart. For me its about the painful anxiety of losing that light, that lover, that friend in your life, and the empty feelings and careless attitude that ensues.
The lyrics are lovely and build up into the uplifting acceptance of the absence of permanence in life--sung in the chorus:
"And in my secret heart, a revolution starts, the sun is burning through the clouds. We meet on Sunday night, wait for the northern lights, everything is temporary now...."
Here are a few other songs I recommend listening to:
TreeTops- a song about the difficulty of coming to terms with yourself and thinking that a past flame will make it all better.
Fearful- a song that has a slow paced, almost revolving orbit feel to it (like a slow-motion circular spinning dance with a beautiful girl)... I love the line the answers come when you embrace the mystery.
Ancient as the Stars- love the banjo in this song. The song itself grows on me every time I listen to it.
What I Love The Most- another good song with particularly good instrumentals in the background.
Anyways check out their website. They're a great band. A gem to be spread.
From the Washington Post
The Colorado Rockies believe in the Church of Baseball, too, and right now, many of the players and staff think God has smiled on their particular congregation. After winning 21 out of the last 22 games and ascending to the World Series for the first time in franchise history, the only way several team members can explain what's going on is to cite divine intervention...General Manager Dan O'Dowd, in an interview with USA Today before the streak, said: "You look at some of the moves we made and didn't make. You look at some of the games we're winning. Those aren't just a coincidence. God has definitely had a hand in this."
The shadows of superstition sure are popular amongst the cave-dwellers who have yet to step out into the bright light. (I had a recent lecture on Plato's Republic in class, hence the pretentious reference)
James D. Watson, the distinguished American molecular biologist whose (scientific) claim to fame was his co-discovery of and contribution to the structure of DNA with Francis Crick, which won him a Nobel Prize, has, once again, taken another huge whack at the legs of his own pedestal privileges of respectability with his recent remark to The Sunday Times that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours -- whereas all the testing says not really." Watson has since made a palliative effort to back peddle out of his faux pas, but his efforts seem in vain, and I suspect that this comment will simply find itself shelved amongst the panoply of other racist, homophobic—like the time he told a British Newspaper that women should have the right to abort a child should tests reveal that it is a homosexual—and neurocentric remarks—like the interview in which he suspected Rosalind Franklin of being autistic saying "I'd never really thought of scientists as autistic until this whole business of high-intelligence autism came up. There is probably no other explanation for Rosalind's behaviour." These remarks are clearly objectionable and certainly misinformed and although it is tempting for me to continue criticizing Watson's remarks or even stoop to low-blow, typical playgroundesque name calling tactics, like pointing out that James D. Watson can be rearranged to spell Madness To Jaw, an accurate description of the processes' involved in his remarks, I think it is better to use Watson's unfortunate gaffe to raise a larger question that pertains to freedom of speech, specifically whether or not that freedom needs constraints.
The question that obviously arises is whether or not individuals should have the right to freely speak their opinions, regardless of what the content of that remark implies. The answer to this question seems to vary based on what country or region in general you ask. In the current book I’m reading American Exceptionalism and Human Rights one of the articles by author Frederick Schauer makes note of the fact that:
the American understanding is that principles of freedom of speech do not permit government to distinguish protected from unprotected speech on basis of the point of view espoused. Specifically, this prohibition on what is technically called ‘viewpoint discrimination’ extends to the point of view that certain races or religions are inferior, to the point of view that hatred of members of minority races and religions is desirable, and to the point of view that violent or otherwise illegal action is justified against people because of their race, their ethnicity, or their religious beliefs. If government may not under the First Amendment distinguish between Republicans and Communists, or prohibit the speeches of the flat-earthers because of the patent falsity of their beliefs, then the government may not, so American First Amendment insists, distinguish between espousals of racial equality and espousals of racial hatred, nor may the government prohibit public denials of the factuality of the Holocaust just because of the demonstrable falsity of that proposition and the harm that would ensue from its public articulation.
As far as I can tell, this viewpoint does not seem to be shared by European States who actually punish individuals such as holocaust deniers in particular or, in general, various other forms of ‘hate speech’. In the
I think I personally favor the European/UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination method of making it a crime to engage in the incitement of racial, religious, and ethnic hatred/hostility, but I recognize that in so doing you are entering a moral slippery slope which is indefensible since morals are, after all, relatively relative.
This is largely why questions related to law frustrate me. What seems like a common sense law of necessity that promotes equality through the enforcement mechanism of law is, in an analogy, sort of like punishing murderers with capital punishment. In other words, it is hypocritical to punish the criminal with his own crime. Or it is to me at least...
Btw I just came across this recent NYtimes article on Watson’s recent retirement announcement. (I guess its sort of about time...)
For more on Watson's remarks click here, here, and here.
Friday, October 26, 2007
It may sound odd but depression truly is an addiction. Because once you get in the habit of it, and the longer you indulge yourself in its sorrowful clasps, the harder it becomes to emancipate yourself from its shackles. But I believe that there is a way out, a way to break this habit, because it is an addiction, I believe that it is ipso facto a choice. When someone tells you that the best way to stop smoking is to simply quit, a very simple solution, you scoff because while true, that choice does not seem remotely attainable. The same applies to depression. It is a choice that you make, a way you perceive the events that take place in your life, and the organization of those events that I believe triggers the emotional and psychological side affects of depression.
The best way, I think, to illustrate this is by analogy. I actually owe this train of thought to an ‘intuitive trick’ that one of my ex-girlfriends used to perform. Her claim was that whenever she looked at the clock the numbers signifying the hours would be various but the numbers that represented the minutes would always be ‘39’. She would prove her thesis to me time and time again and pretty soon I found that I too had acquired this peculiar habit. However, I must now confess that our little intuitive trick is not so much magic as it is a cognitive habit of memory.
If I hold the belief that I see the clock every 39th minute, then every time I do see the clock at this time I will recall my belief and purport it to be true. Even though I continuously glance at the clock, all the times it is not 39 is trivial to me, it is when 39 appear s that a memory neuron sparks and I proclaim, ‘hey its 39!’ in my head, reminding myself of my weird trick.
Another example of this habit, in case the analogy above does not make sense, is the new car-every car phenomenon. After you purchase your brand new (whether actually new or just new to you) car you suddenly observe that your car is everywhere. You drive down the highway and you keep seeing your car wizzing by in the opposite lane. All of a sudden it seems like everyone followed your expert purchase and bought themselves the very same car, when in fact you are just more inclined to notice this make and model of car, because you have a reason to notice it now (as opposed to all the other cars zooming by).
This very same phenomenon applies to depression. Depression is created out of the belief that the world is inherently against you. You believe that the things or events which have taken place in your life clearly justify this belief—your future optimism is raped by your past tragedies. People who actually have had rather significant personal tragedies in their lives, such as the loss of a parent or sibling or friend, or even other significant psychological or emotional events to that individual, have a higher tendency of noticing, constantly, the gravitational force of depression. They feel it is inescapable and no matter how fast they run or how high they jump, in the end, gravity will always win. Because they believe this they very often give up and subscribe to the ‘fuck it’ attitude of life, in which they believe nothing they do really matters. It is a self-destructive stance and it obviously only leads the individual's belief that the world is against them to be exponentially increased and justified.
This is my own, personal, theory of depression but a recent study, courtesy of the blogger over at Cognitive Daily, on facial emotion recognition seems to support my suspicions.
From the link:
The students who had heard the depressing music rated ambiguous, less intense faces significantly higher for rejection and sadness than those who heard the happy music. They rated clear, less intense faces significantly higher in fear and lower in invitation / elation than those who listened to the happy music.
So overall people who are feeling more depressed are likely to see more negative emotions and less positive emotions, even in schematic faces, especially when the faces are ambiguous or less intense.
Bouhuys et al. suggest that this phenomenon might make clinical depression self-reinforcing. Depressed people see more negativity even in benign facial expressions, which in turn leads to more depressed emotions.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Which reminds me, there is another video I had watched a while back that was extremely cool/mind blowing, as it revealed just how much the mind often misses.
Before you click start on the video the task you are asked to perform is to count the amount of times the people wearing the white tee-shirts pass the basketball to one another. See if you can follow the ball and get the right amount of passes. It's hard.
Post the amount of passes you counted in the comments section below and I will tell you if you were right.
The Holy Sh!t costume
(if you scroll to the bottom of the page you will also find numerous other good costumes such as 'hung like a horse' and 'man eating shark')
Or the interactively entertaining:
Super Snake Arcade Console costume
Here's another one that's pretty creative, but I think its geared more towards the ladies:
Pigs In A Blanket
Currently, the Holy Sh!t outfit seems to be the most feasible and funny outfit that I could make and wear, so that might just be my candidate.
The neurotic bot was more likely than the others to distort hard facts about resources - like the amount of timber around - and flip between extremes of behaviour. And it was better than the rest.
While these findings clearly are still very tentative and do not tell us much, the findings did lead me to speculate/recall a short cartoon I had seen about American settler's seemingly overt paranoia/neurosis and I began to wonder if this continuous fear of a looming threat is an explanation for American success over the years. Then again one could also argue that our reaction to a preconceived (and possibly imagined) fear (ie terrorism) and over reaction to and mishandling of this threat could ultimately lead us to self-defeat, where we find ourselves passing the crown of hegemony on to a new global power. As the annoyingly true adage goes: only time will tell...
Brief History of America Cartoon:
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Well, inquisitive reader, I am Adam. A second year college undergrad majoring in Anthropology, but my interests and areas of expertise are not solely limited to nor solely preocuppied with this discipline and so one is likely to find a panoply of topics being discussed on this blog. From politics to music, consciousness to daily musings, science to speculation, and jokes to pranks, this blog's got it all covered folks.
So that being said let the blogging begin!