mind your awareness about decision making, van gogh’s sunflower mutations, silent world

Intuition is a real phenomenon. It may not turn out to be correct or productive once accumulated, but the brain gathers bits and pieces of information, it may even began relating them to some long-term memory, and you have that hopefully wonderful moment of realization. That process where your brain is, or mind if you like, gathering that information is awareness.  Awareness is different from purposeful study. You’re not sitting down with a book or report and consciously trying to stuff a lot of facts or thoughts into long-term memory. How Awareness Changes the Relative Weights of Evidence During Human Decision-Making

Human decisions are based on accumulating evidence over time for different options. Here we ask a simple question: How is the accumulation of evidence affected by the level of awareness of the information? We examined the influence of awareness on decision-making using combined behavioral methods and magneto-encephalography (MEG). Participants were required to make decisions by accumulating evidence over a series of visually presented arrow stimuli whose visibility was modulated by masking. Behavioral results showed that participants could accumulate evidence under both high and low visibility. However, a top-down strategic modulation of the flow of incoming evidence was only present for stimuli with high visibility: once enough evidence had been accrued, participants strategically reduced the impact of new incoming stimuli. Also, decision-making speed and confidence were strongly modulated by the strength of the evidence for high-visible but not low-visible evidence, even though direct priming effects were identical for both types of stimuli. Neural recordings revealed that, while initial perceptual processing was independent of visibility, there was stronger top-down amplification for stimuli with high visibility than low visibility.

Whether it is advertisers, politicians or media pundits they are aware on some level of the value of high visibility over depth of content. It is known that an often repeated piece of misinformation – regardless of the quality of the fact checking that refutes it – takes on the life of a fact. Sense much of this information plays into personal biases individuals are much less likely on average to allow for actual facts.

blue antique map detail wallpaper

UGA scientists reveal genetic mutation depicted in van Gogh’s sunflower paintings

In addition to being among his most vibrant and celebrated works, Vincent van Gogh’s series of sunflower paintings also depict a mutation whose genetic basis has, until now, been a bit of a mystery.

In a study published March 29 in the journal PLoS Genetics, however, a team of University of Georgia scientists reveals the mutation behind the distinctive, thick bands of yellow “double flowers” that the post-Impressionist artist painted more than 100 years ago.


I posted this just because of the intersection between art and science. That sunflower mutations does mean a lot in real economic terms for the flower industry. This part of the post is a factlet, not a factoid.

I have done a few posts on days when the news was particular bad and called them we’re doomed post. As bad as some news is, as bad as some of my own days have been, they have never been as awful as what Kurt Vonnegut went through and survived.


And you finally arrived in Dresden.


In a huge prison camp south of Dresden first. The privates were separated from the noncoms and officers. Under the articles of the Geneva Convention, which is a very Edwardian document, privates were required to work for their keep. Everybody else got to languish in prison. As a private, I was shipped to Dresden . . .


What were your impressions of the city itself before the bombing?


The first fancy city I’d ever seen. A city full of statues and zoos, like Paris. We were living in a slaughterhouse, in a nice new cement-block hog barn. They put bunks and straw mattresses in the barn, and we went to work every morning as contract labor in a malt-syrup factory. The syrup was for pregnant women. The damned sirens would go off and we’d hear some other city getting it—whump a whump a whumpa whump. We never expected to get it. There were very few air-raid shelters in town and no war industries, just cigarette factories, hospitals, clarinet factories. Then a siren went off—it was February 13, 1945—and we went down two stories under the pavement into a big meat locker. It was cool there, with cadavers hanging all around. When we came up the city was gone.


You didn’t suffocate in the meat locker?


No. It was quite large, and there weren’t very many of us. The attack didn’t sound like a hell of a lot either. Whump. They went over with high explosives first to loosen things up, and then scattered incendiaries. When the war started, incendiaries were fairly sizable, about as long as a shoebox. By the time Dresden got it, they were tiny little things. They burnt the whole damn town down.


What happened when you came up?


Our guards were noncoms—a sergeant, a corporal, and four privates—and leaderless. Cityless, too, because they were Dresdeners who’d been shot up on the front and sent home for easy duty. They kept us at attention for a couple of hours. They didn’t know what else to do. They’d go over and talk to each other. Finally we trekked across the rubble and they quartered us with some South Africans in a suburb. Every day we walked into the city and dug into basements and shelters to get the corpses out, as a sanitary measure. When we went into them, a typical shelter, an ordinary basement usually, looked like a streetcar full of people who’d simultaneously had heart failure. Just people sitting there in their chairs, all dead. A firestorm is an amazing thing. It doesn’t occur in nature. It’s fed by the tornadoes that occur in the midst of it and there isn’t a damned thing to breathe. We brought the dead out. They were loaded on wagons and taken to parks, large, open areas in the city which weren’t filled with rubble. The Germans got funeral pyres going, burning the bodies to keep them from stinking and from spreading disease. One hundred thirty thousand corpses were hidden underground. It was a terribly elaborate Easter-egg hunt.

A fitting entry for the last day of Women’s History Month:  Alice Eastwood botanist and California Academy of Sciences curator

As BHL is celebrating Women’s History Month by featuring women of science, I could not resist shining a light on Alice Eastwood, one of the California Academy of Sciences’ early female curators. Born in Toronto in 1859, Alice Eastwood spent her teenage years in Denver, Colorado. She proved to be a bright and capable student, embarking on a career as a schoolteacher, but she spent her leisure hours exploring the flora around her. She was a self-taught botanist, using the few books available to her, including Asa Gray’s Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States and John M. Coulter’s Manual of the Botany…of the Rocky Mountain Region. A visit to the California Academy of Sciences in 1891 led to a job offer, and the following year Eastwood left her teaching job in Colorado to assume a curatorship in the Academy’s Department of Botany.

Alice was also a self-sacrificing hero.  After the massive earthquake of April 18, 1906 she there were a lot of fires. They consumed the California Academy of Sciences along with 28,000 area buildings. Eastwood, along with museum staff managed to save 1497 irreplaceable botanical specimens. She did so as her own house was lost to the fires.

A tour of Paris very early in the morning before the city starts its day. It also gives me a chance to post some Gregorian chant by way of part of the soundtrack, Silent world

Music by Philip Glass and Daft Punk.
Direction and editing by Lucie & Simon.






the brain’s wiring is like a street grid, deboarding, the conservative war on science is a war on all americans

Between PBS and zombie movies everyone knows the brain looks like an oblong loaf of textured gelatin. I’ve seen some graphic illustrations that show it as a mass of little wires. The tangled mass of wires suggesting a salad of connections in a rounded obstacle course. Science has never presented a picture of what those networks of neurons look like. All of the representations we’ve seen have been educated conjecture or the vivid imagination of illustrators. Brain Wiring a No-Brainer?

The brain appears to be wired more like the checkerboard streets of New York City than the curvy lanes of Columbia, Md., suggests a new brain imaging study. The most detailed images, to date, reveal a pervasive 3D grid structure with no diagonals, say scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“Far from being just a tangle of wires, the brain’s connections turn out to be more like ribbon cables — folding 2D sheets of parallel neuronal fibers that cross paths at right angles, like the warp and weft of a fabric,” explained Van Wedeen, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), A.A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and the Harvard Medical School. “This grid structure is continuous and consistent at all scales and across humans and other primate species.”

Detail from DSI scan shows fabric-like 3D grid structure of connections

The layer upon layer structure of this grid would strongly suggest that the options for neuron growth are not unlimited in terms of geometry. Such a plan would mean that during development the brain must stick to certain routes to discourage poor, counter productive or damaging nerve fiber development. growing nerves have to go left, right or up and down. No sweeping curvy off ramps in this highway. This probably has some evolutionary advantages by way of limiting structural imperfections. Though obviously some animals do have neural connections issues, considering the billions of cells and exponential connections between them, it has turned out to work relatively well. Until ET gets here it is rash to say this is the best nature has to offer. Though it does seem as far as life on earth goes the cross streets grid became nature’s best plan through millions of years of experimentation.

black and white deboarding

Conservatives versus Science: A New Scientific Validation of the Republican War on Science (and Republican Brain) Thesis

The research is by Gordon Gauchat of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and published in the prestigious American Sociological Review. In the study, Gauchat uses a vast body of General Social Survey data to test three competing theses about the relationship between science and the U.S. public:

1) the cultural ascendancy thesis or “deficit model” view, according to which better education and engagement with science lead all boats to rise, and citizens across the board become more trusting of scientists and their expertise;

2) the alienation thesis, according to which modernity brings on distrust and disillusionment with science (call it the “spoiled brat” thesis if you’d like); and

3) the politicization thesis—my thesis—according to which some cultural groups, aka conservatives, have a unique fallout with science for reasons tied up with the nature of modern American conservatism, such as its ideology, the growth of its think tank infrastructure, and so on.

The result? Well, Gauchat’s data show that the politicization thesis handily defeats all contenders. More specifically, he demonstrates that there was only really a decline in public trust in science among conservatives in the period from 1974 to 2010 (and among those with high church attendance, but these two things are obviously tightly interrelated).

Chris Mooney, who wrote that post, is also the author of The Republican War on Science and the new book The Republican Brain. I remember reading an opinion column at Slate during the Bush administration by a conservative who tried to counter the anti-science argument by citing the increase of the science budget under Bush. Nice try, but most of that, as now for that matter, was spent on defense related science. I’m not against such spending in general, but that hardly makes up for cutting funds for medical research, basic research and stem cell research in particular. The other big bias in the conservative view of science and how they sculpt it to suit their agenda, is climate change. Not being able to produce any high quality research to support their claims, they have resorted to pay for play science. Paul Krugman and Jared Bernstein have both posted about how the conservative anti-science and anti-education agenda are combing to hurt the economy and America’s future prospects as a world leader in science and technology: We Don’t Need No Education

Jared Bernstein has a heartfelt lament about the priorities of the American right, and in particular the way it’s determined to slash taxes for the wealthy while slashing student aid

The squares show the percentage of older people with college education, the triangles the percentage of younger people; what we see is that almost every other nation is becoming more educated, but we’re not — and, of course, slipping rapidly down the rankings.

And yes, affordability is surely the biggest single reason for our slide. So of course, the GOP wants to make the affordability problem worse.

It’s hard not to see this development as tied to the growing conservative distrust of science (and presumably non-faith-based inquiry in general):

But hey, I’m a pointy-headed intellectual, so you can’t trust anything I say.

What Are We Doing?

So the last thing you’d want to do is to cut rungs from that ladder.  Yet that’s exactly what the House Republican budget, authored by Rep Paul Ryan, does.  According to the White House, the budget changes “eligibility and funding under the Pell Grant formula so as to eliminate grants for 400,000 students and cut grants for more than 9 million others in 2013 alone.”

And for what?  So millionaires can get a tax cut of almost $400,000, if you include both the new Ryan and the extended Bush tax cuts.

A few weeks ago I promoted a model of the current political economy wherein income inequality does not simply divert growth from the poor and middle class.  If inequality gets high enough, it supports (buys?) a politics that reinforces itself.  What better way to do so than to block the educational mobility of the poor and use the proceeds to enhance the rich?  If it wasn’t so freakin’ tragic, it’d be laughably simple.

Mooney,Krugman and Bernstein seem to go about their analysis with the usual assumption, here is a terrible trend with awful implications for the working poor and the middle-class. Seeing this truth will move, embarrass or goad conservatives into changing course to avoid the coming – or currently occurring shipwreck. I’m tending to think that while many conservative have some cognitive issues, there are enough fairly bright ones to see what is going on in terms of public policy and like what they see. Everything is going according to plan. Being part of the wealthy plutocracy doesn’t require all that much intelligence or education. If they need brain power they can always buy it and they will always have access to the gateways of power like Harvard and Brown. If the working poor and middle-class lose ground, who cares. If the USA becomes a third-rate source of scientific or technological innovation – that is what hungry ambitious Chinese and Indians are for. The feudal overlords break the back of labor, keep everyone scared that they might lose even more ground – the peasants shop at Wal-Mart and drown their discontents in cheap beer, video games and  high def sports on the flat screen from Asia.

I found another kind of human wormhole: Canadian Penny ? @CDN_Penny, I will live forever in your old purses and seasonal coats.
Retweeted by William Gibson

character and perspective bias, spring morning wallpaper, human organs and the free market

Character and Its Discontents

What is character? Ordinarily, we envision character as a set of stable and unified dispositions: we expect the timid employee to be shy on a regular basis, not just on some days, and we picture him as a mellow father, not as a tyrant at home. Since we suppose that characters are unified in these ways, we are almost invariably surprised when it turns out that the different aspects of someone’s personality stand in tension with one another. It is news to us that Tolstoy’s attitude toward his own illegitimate son was worse than aloof, notwithstanding the humanism and sensitivity of Tolstoy’s writings, or that Richard Nixon was rather a good father and husband despite his mendacity in other contexts.

When people act ‘out of character,’ they may just be revealing their deeper tendencies.

If we see others through one set of impressions or experiences than they must be that person. My daughter has never used profanity around me thus the teacher must be wrong about what he thinks he overheard. Or George salutes the flag, he says he loves his country, he goes to church, he has never murdered anyone or robbed a liquor store. So he would never engage in cynical manipulative  behavior or push blatant falsehoods on the public. He would never cause harm to thousands of others. His public behavior must match his personal behavior. Based on our interactions with our children or parents, or nice strangers that we have come to know through TV we have a “privileged perspective” bias. Despite other witnesses we remain in denial about the possibility that family or friends might have two sides. Having put so much faith in people like George, there is no way he would be so unscrupulous. If George has done wrong it was accidental or he was misinformed and thus cannot be held responsible for his actions. I remember a news story from some years ago in which there was some road rage, followed by a young man shooting the driver who had cut him off in traffic. A news crew went and interviewed his mother. Surprise, her son was the sweetest person in the world, if he did shoot someone it must have been because he had no choice. It is very possible that the only side she ever saw of her son was relatively sweet – parents tend to brush away the various family upheavals when making public statements. Obviously there was another side. One with a short fuse who kept an illegal gun under his car seat. I agree with the NYT writer/philosopher that there is probably not much to be done about this phenomenon. Though one can be aware that it does take place and pause, allow a little more information to get into the synapses. Very few people are immune to the well they were always nice to me so they must be innocent or had good reason – privileged perspective bias. One aspect of it that she doesn’t get into is that friends of friends, extended family and co-workers several times removed from the actual circumstances can have perspective bias via feelings of empathy for those who are closer.

*Do to some issues with misappropriation of my content this wallpaper has been removed.

spring morning wallpaper

If pure markets, markets where the unhindered rights of buyers and sellers are the only true measure of morality than you have this, How do you buy organs on the black market?

Some people don’t trust their lives to what they read on the internet, for some reason. And if nothing online looks promising, a sprawling family or network of friends can do the job for you. The trade is so firmly international that anyone whose acquaintances touch enough countries can get a line on organs. Countries with a very rich class, a very poor class — and even better, both — tend to be the first places to look. South Africa endorsed the WHO guidelines but is one of the few countries that harvest organs locally, due to an extremely poor segment of the population. Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, has a brisk trade. Indian women are sometimes forced to sell their kidneys by their husbands. One researcher found actual newspapers advertising for donors and for takers in Africa, Brazil, and Moldova.

India has a very rich class and a very poor class, as does Brazil. They also, like a few other countries do not have a lot of law enforcement resources to deal with the illegal trade in organs. So the combination of great wealth, great poverty and  overwhelmed underfunded policing provides fertile territory for the organ trade. I had the unfortunate experience of reading through a conservative libertarian argument in favor of almost anything goes organ sells – Its my kidney and I should be able to sell it if I want to. If you’re very poor you’re selling that kidney under duress. The absence of free will should cause an ethical person to rethink the morality of allowing the poor to sell their organs. Poverty frequently goes hand in hand with ignorance. Is the seller making a truly informed decision. If you’re down to one kidney in some place with sanitation problems you might have just committed suicide. In cultures that are dominated by patriarchs, obviously women forced to sell their kidneys or bone marrow or whatever , are not doing so of their own free will. They might have developed a personal identity such that they do not even see themselves as an autonomous person that should be able to have dominion over their body.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a researcher putting out fake feelers in America, was contacted by people from Brooklyn and Kentucky, looking to sell parts of their liver or their kidney to get money for their own, unrelated, hospital bills.

A titanic battle is about to begin, a Darwinian struggle between competing psychopathies. Everything is on sale now—even the human soul has a barcode. from Millennium People by J.G.Ballard

The Forbidden City (Release date October 6, 1918) movie poster.

The Forbidden City is a film released in 1918 starring Norma Talmadge and Thomas Meighan and directed by Sidney Franklin. The plot centers around an inter-racial romance between a Chinese princess (Talmage) and an American (Meighan). When palace officials discover she has become pregnant she is sentenced to death. In the latter part of the film Talmadge plays the now adult daughter of the affair, seeking her father in Uzbekistan.

The Morally Corrupt GOP – Republicans Are Causing a Moral Crisis in America. I would have titled it conservatism continues its death spiral of immorality. Kudos to them on that agenda. To convince millions of people immorality is the new morality. That takes a lot of work. Though no prizes for originality, its been dome plenty of times before.

The legal case for the constitutionality of health care reform law is not doing as badly as some say – The justices asked some harsh questions this morning. But when it comes time to make a decision, most of the issues they raised won’t matter. Justice Ginsburg has expressed the legal path the majority of the court will likely take. That is unless this court wants to open the gate to repeal of Medicare.

I have been blogging too long. I did a post about this abused girl in 2008 when it first became news – The Girl in the Window Revisited

For the first seven years of her life, Dani never saw the sun, felt the wind or tasted solid food. She was kept in a closet in a house in Plant City, Fla., where she was cloistered in darkness, left in a dirty diaper and fed with only a bottle.

“She was a feral child,” said Carolyn Eastman of the Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay, a children’s advocacy organization in Tampa, Fla. “We’d never seen a case like that.”

Dani was adopted by Bernie and Diane Lierow, a couple from Fort Myers, Fla., who have since moved to a 26-acre farm outside of Lebanon, Tenn. The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times first published Dani’s story, “The Girl in the Window,” in August 2008. Now, three years later, writer Lane DeGregory and I revisited the Lierows to find out what’s changed, and perhaps, more importantly, what hasn’t.

Tony Joe White – Elements and Things

Hey Carl The Muse, I would appreciate it if you would not take my graphic content. And any text you take from me or any other blogger should include a link. Thanks.

measuring just the good love brain waves, lobbyists mug democracy, lucy stone

The Brain on Love

But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent.

That reads well. It has the kind of breezy casual persona that people like it their essays on love and relationships. Except for the very dark and possibility dangerous old Freudian notion that we live in a mother fixated world. Substituting father would still be as awful. I’m not sure everyone that uses the term knows what it means, but most of western culture grows up hearing the term Oedipus complex. There are probably some people who have something resembling a mother fixation with sexual elements, and some mothers who have the mirror version towards their children. That doesn’t mean it is close to reaching the point where it could be called a universal phenomenon. Granted she uses the term “adult equivalent” as a qualifier, but it dangles there barely doing its job of qualifying.

While they were both in the psychology department of Stony Brook University, Bianca Acevedo and Arthur Aron scanned the brains of long-married couples who described themselves as still “madly in love.” Staring at a picture of a spouse lit up their reward centers as expected; the same happened with those newly in love (and also with cocaine users). But, in contrast to new sweethearts and cocaine addicts, long-married couples displayed calm in sites associated with fear and anxiety. Also, in the opiate-rich sites linked to pleasure and pain relief, and those affiliated with maternal love, the home fires glowed brightly.

A happy marriage relieves stress and makes one feel as safe as an adored baby. Small wonder “Baby” is a favorite adult endearment.

Those are great feelings, high on love. Though once a couple gets into the day to routine of being together some people find it as stressful or even more stressful than being alone. Little noises can get on each others’ nerves. You can’t come and go as you please. You have to get permission or invite your partner to come along. What volume should the TV be at or what to watch can become a big deal. You used to watch what you wanted – a few minutes of VH1, flip over to two minutes of shark attacks – with the sound way up, than a lull of 40 minutes of drama. You can’t do that anymore unless you are one of those couples who has separate rooms and you’ve worked out that kind of arrangement. Sleep when you want, eat when you want. Surf the net or read or stop and start various little projects. Switch gears according to your mood. That is pretty much over. Obviously for many people the sacrifices and other compensations make it worth while. Love, at least live in till death do you part love, is not for everyone. She leaves out that aspect of being human and love. Which would not bother me if the writer were just dashing off a  pop culture magazine piece. She is giving this glossy view of love with a veneer of neuroscience. Looky here, the science saw these opiate like brain waves when people love each other. How about the brain waves when they’re telling the same joke for the 10th time or didn’t clip their toe nails or used the last bit of milk or said they’d pick up the dog from the vet and forgot. Or a couple I know that got a divorce after thirty years. How do those brain waves look.

amusement by Paul Gauguin 1892

Lobbyists, Guns and Money

Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.

What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism.

ALEC was the architect of Florida’s infamous Stand Your Ground law.

Young Man Leaning Forward And Working With A large Drill by Albrecht Durer(1471-1528). Things to be thankful for today that we might not have thought about: power tools.

Beyond The Battlefield: Afghanistan’s Wounded Struggle With Genital Injuries

Before they went off to fight in Afghanistan, the guys of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines talked quietly about their deepest fear. Not dying. Not losing a leg or an arm.

It was having their genitals ripped off, burned away or crushed in the fiery blast of an improvised explosive device.

This was no idle concern to young men bursting with testosterone. The makeshift bombs known as IEDs are taking a frightening toll in Afghanistan, the blasts shearing off arms and legs, ripping through soft flesh, crushing organs and bone, and driving dirt, rocks and filth deep into torn flesh — often leaving the genitals shredded or missing. Some guys said they’d rather be dead.

Very touching essay. Kudos to the guys that came forward to tell their stories.

Lucy Stone-ninth plate daguerreotype. Courtesy the Library of Congress. The photo was published sometime between 1840 and 1860. Stone was born in 1818, died 1893. Stone was the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree and went on to become both a prominent  abolitionist and suffragist. Suffrage as a movement is generally not recognized to have started in the U.S. until the late 19th century. Though it is known from letters and diaries that women in the abolitionist movement also frequently spoke about the plight of women in their meetings. They saw the issues as closely tied. Stone helped organize the first the first national American women’s rights convention, held in Worcester, Massachusetts. From shortly after the Civil War until her death in 1893, Lucy and her husband Henry Brown Blackwell were co-editors of the preeminent women’s suffrage newspaper, the Woman’s Journal.

What is a daguerreotype?

tin cup steaming coffee wallpaper

Lana Del Rey – Blue Jeans. Love is like swimming with alligators? The male model/boyfriend has some nice tatts.

MP3 from Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Jeans/dp/B006ZDS8AA

Gillian Hills – Zou bisou bisou (1962)

mapping the brain and maybe the mind, victorian colors wallpaper, eggleston and the value of art

Science found that the eyes were biological mechanism that captured and focused light, not the windows to the soul – though on a poetic level they still are for many of us. Science mapped the  human genome, the tiny and elegant helical architects of life that are on permanent auto-pilot, performing functions that require our conscious minds to sweat bullets to understand. The Brain: The Connections May Be the Key to a Glimpse of the Human

Seung believes that by the end of this century, his successors will have mapped the connectome of an entire human brain. “Our descendants will look back on these achievements as nothing less than a scientific revolution,” he writes in his new book, Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. As scientists gain the power to see the brain in its full complexity, he argues, they will finally be able to answer some of the most fundamental questions about the mind.

The breakthrough has been a long time coming. The first accurate pictures of the human brain date back to the 1660s, when English physician Thomas Willis published anatomical images created by his assistant, medical illustrator Christopher Wren. Those pictures helped destroy the ancient belief that animal spirits pumped through hollow chambers inside the brain. Yet the microscopes of Willis’s day were so crude that he couldn’t make out the fine structure of the brain’s cells. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that Camillo Golgi invented stains that could reveal details of individual neurons. Spanish scientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal then used Golgi’s stains to demonstrate that the brain is a thicket of branching cells, and he hypothesized that electricity jumped from one neuron to the next.

The philosophers who have staked out the premise that the mind or human consciousness can only be understood if one introduces some mythical unknowable element to the discussion might be in for a surprise. It might be that knowing every single synapse will not explain why your sister loves blue and you much prefer greens and dark reds. Science doesn’t have to go to that level to explain that this combination of neural connections, plus this density of glial cells and a cup of environmental stimulation makes the basic you.

dried flowers victorian colors wallpaper

Just a few weeks ago I posted the Cindy Sherman photograph that broke the record for being the highest priced photo in the world at $3,890,500. William Eggleston has not broken the record for a single photograph ( that now belongs to Andreas Gursky’s ‘Rhine II’ which sold for $4.3 million), but he did break the record for a collection of photographs, 36 prints by for $5.9 million. – Why This Photograph is Worth $578,500

The first thing to realize is that in art, especially modern art, value is not simply attributed according to how aesthetically pleasing something is or how well it is made. Aesthetics and craftsmanship are certainly important, but they are by no means the sole or even primary contributors to the value of an artwork, monetary or otherwise. Those who say ‘Memphis (Tricycle)’ is not beautiful or technically accomplished enough to be worth half a million dollars are simply missing the point.

To understand which factors are responsible for the value of a work of art, you must first understand what art is. Art is a way of seeing the world. It challenges perceptions, evokes emotions and stimulates thought. All great art changes the way we see the world around us, or perhaps creates a new world all of its own. That’s what sets art apart from crafts, which are solely concerned with craftsmanship and aesthetics.

William Eggleston 's Memphis Tricycle

Eggleston’s has been called “the man who reinvented color photography”. His use of color established color film as an art form. Previously if you did art photography, you did black and white, period. Other photographers did color. Though at the time those photos were thought of as either purely documentation or a way for families to have fun remembrances. They generally were not considered art except in retrospect – the Depression era color photos by Russel Lee come to mind. I bought a book of Eggleston’s photos some years ago after I took a class in the history of photography. Besides liking his work on a pure esthetic level, I have been to some of the places he has photographed. Being almost instantly able to identify with a photographer because of shared experience is not always possible. I saw the kind of southern Gothic haze in my memories that Eggleston caught on film.

Heartless Bastards – “Parted Ways” (Studio Video)


resisting new knowledge is how learners define elitist, jackson pollock, today’s orwellian doublespeak from paul ryan

I’ve read similar essays before, but this one set off the memory of an often repeated contradiction that has become imbedded in our political culture. Age of Ignorance

Widespread ignorance bordering on idiocy is our new national goal. It’s no use pretending otherwise and telling us, as Thomas Friedman did in the Times a few days ago, that educated people are the nation’s most valuable resources. Sure, they are, but do we still want them? It doesn’t look to me as if we do. The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.

An educated, well-informed population, the kind that a functioning democracy requires, would be difficult to lie to, and could not be led by the nose by the various vested interests running amok in this country. Most of our politicians and their political advisers and lobbyists would find themselves unemployed, and so would the gasbags who pass themselves off as our opinion makers. Luckily for them, nothing so catastrophic, even though perfectly well-deserved and widely-welcome, has a remote chance of occurring any time soon. For starters, there’s more money to be made from the ignorant than the enlightened, and deceiving Americans is one of the few growing home industries we still have in this country. A truly educated populace would be bad, both for politicians and for business.

It took years of indifference and stupidity to make us as ignorant as we are today. Anyone who has taught college over the last forty years, as I have, can tell you how much less students coming out of high school know every year.

In a recent post I mentioned Alistair Smith and some terms he uses in High Performers: The Secrets of Successful Schools,

At times of change, the learners are the ones who will inherit the world, while the knowers will be beautifully prepared for a world which no longer exists.”

Getting stuck is not a problem. Staying stuck is. Good learners practice getting unstuck, and here’s how: Turn that around — praise for progress, don’t praise for perfection.”

The knowers tend to be conservative and far right leaning libertarians ( the latter whom when push comes to shove will always pick ‘private realms of power’ over freedom). This are the people who are always yelling elitism at colleges, college professors, college graduates or anyone who has walked past a college. Sure colleges are job training centers and some people see them and use them solely for that purpose, but most see them as a mix of professional preparedness and centers of learning. This latter group has made the implicit declaration that they do not know it all. There is always an arrogant know it all wherever you go, though generally college has a way of instilling some humility. It turns out the world is a complicated place, mastering a subject is a tremendous challenge, you probably will not do that if at all until years after you graduate and all the other people striving to understand this world and master some knowledge are in the same ball park of intellectual gifts. The conservatives who hang on every word of Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, Bill O’Reilly – the conservative royalty of knowers and self declared anti-elitist claim they don’t need to study knowledge, facts or logic. They know things. They just do. They know a fake birth certificate when they see it. They know when someone is conspiring to foist solar energy on a nation that deserves all the fossil fuels it can blow the tops off mountains to mine. That lack of humility, the resistance to information and to new justified knowledge is the very definition of elitist.

nature, wildlife

family of chitas resting


The photograph below is how people generally picture artist Jackson Pollack.

Jackson Pollack 1947 at work. In the famous series on Pollack by Life magazine – done two years after this photo by he looks much the same. It is as though he was one of those men who was born middle-aged, always a rough old school blue collar worker look ( at Life link) and bald. So this photo via the  Smithsonian is a jolt to that perception of a man suspended in time by the most often used photos of him.

Jackson Pollack high school photo ca. 1928.

Description: Taken at about age 16, when Pollock was a student at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles.

Citation: Portrait of Jackson Pollock, ca. 1928 / unidentified photographer. Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner papers, Smithsonian Institution.

Looking at that angelic face it is difficult to imagine that 28 years later he would kill himself and an innocent passenger in a drunker car accident. Note: I think they might be off about his age in that photo. If the year was 1928 he would have been 18.

The tea cup.1946. Oil on canvas. By J. Pollock

if anyone is looking for a unique context theme for a blog, you might try the daily Orwellian doublespeak. George Bush called his initiative to allow more toxic pollution the Blue Skies Initiative. Lying the nation into a disastrous invasion of Iraq that caused a massive death toll and pushed two million Iraqis into becoming refugees was called Operation Iraqi Freedom. In today’s doublespeak, Paul Ryan’s(R-WI) “Focus on Dignity” is a Spectacle of Greed and Cruelty

All told, Ryan hands out about $4.4 trillion in tax cuts that primarily benefit the very best off, and pays for it with $4.15 trillion in spending cuts to programs that primarily benefit the poor and middle class.

[  ]…“A budget that diminishes what we provide for the one in six Americans who are struggling with hunger is not a budget befitting a moral country,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “A plan reflective of our national priorities should seek to lift up our neighbors in a time of high unemployment and poverty; instead, this demands the most from those with the least, and flies in the face of the common dignity of all Americans.”

the connection between reproductive rights and civil rights, sundown watchers, literature is neurotic because it is written by humans

There is a trick to writing like this, putting an enormous amount of content and meaning into relatively few words. Over the last few weeks others have noted that the argument over whether insurance companies and by proxy, employers should provide a full range of health care services to their employees, is a civil rights issue. One can easily imagine the national uproar if employers decided they would deduct portions of your compensation ( insurance is part of your pay) for everything they heard you bought that they did not approve of. We’ll take off a few dollars this week because we saw you at the store buying video games and condoms. The next week they take off a few dollars because they saw you reading 1984 or riding in a hybrid car – real Americans drive gas guzzlers and only read Bible verses. Reproductive Rights and the Long Hand of Slave Breeding

“What a spectacle,” Pamela exclaimed, “Virginia, the birthplace of the slave breeding industry in America, is debating state-sanctioned rape. Imagine the woman who says No to this as a prerequisite for abortion. Will she be strapped down, her ankles shackled to stir-ups?”

“I suspect,” said I, “that partisans would say, ‘If she doesn’t agree, she is free to leave.’?”

“Right, which means she is coerced into childbearing or coerced into taking other measures to terminate her pregnancy, which may or may not be safe. Or she relents and says Yes, and that’s by coercion, too.”

“Scratch at modern life and there’s a little slave era just below the surface, so we’re right back to your argument.”

Pamela Bridgewater’s argument, expressed over the past several years in articles and forums, and at the heart of a book in final revision called Breeding a Nation: Reproductive Slavery and the Pursuit of Freedom, presents the most compelling conceptual and constitutional frame I know for considering women’s bodily integrity and defending it from the right.

[  ]….We don’t commonly recognize that American slaveholders supported closing the trans-Atlantic slave trade; that they did so to protect the domestic market, boosting their own nascent breeding operation. Women were the primary focus: their bodies, their “stock,” their reproductive capacity, their issue. Planters advertised for them in the same way as they did for breeding cows or mares, in farm magazines and catalogs. They shared tips with one another on how to get maximum value out of their breeders. They sold or lent enslaved men as studs and were known to lock teenage boys and girls together to mate in a kind of bullpen.They propagated new slaves themselves, and allowed their sons to, and had their physicians exploit female anatomy while working to suppress African midwives’ practice in areas of fertility, contraception and abortion.Reproduction and its control became the planters’ prerogative and profit source. Women could try to escape, ingest toxins or jump out a window—abortion by suicide, except it was hardly a sure thing.


snuset, orange yellow, landscape


watching sundown wallpaper

In long reads – Great American Losers

Put aside for a moment the blatant condescension of that last bit, and you can see an amazingly frank expression of anxiety about female readers. No one wants to be called a penis with a thesaurus. For an English-language novelist, raised and educated and self-consciously steeped in the tradition of the Anglo-American novel, in which female characters, female writers, and female readers have had a huge part, the prospect of not being able to write for female readers is a crisis. What kind of novelist are you if women aren’t reading your books? This is a crisis that the GMNs (“Great Male Narcissists”)themselves did not face (their own female contemporaries read their books avidly). Wallace is identifying a sea change in the next generation of female readers. These women are not only children of divorce, but children of a feminist movement that had an especially profound influence on cultural criticism.

[  ]…If there is something disingenuous about the American loser, it’s that in telling his story the writers substitute a kind of burlesque of total humiliation for a more measured sense of the character’s humility. Which is to say that the new generation of characters is, in its own way, also self-absorbed. How else to describe their loving scrutiny of all their faults? While their self-absorption is sharply criticized by author and fellow characters, it is reinforced by the very structure of the novels (with the exception of Franzen’s). Female characters get to remind the hero that he’s a navel-gazing jerk, but most of the good lines, and certainly the brilliant social and psychological observations, still go to the hero. The problem is not that he doesn’t share the spotlight, per se, but the subtle sense that a transaction is taking place: the hero is entitled to the spotlight because he has been appropriately self-critical—it’s his novel, bought and paid for with all those jokes at his own expense. The male novelists performing elaborate genuflections toward female readers are perhaps not exactly bargaining so much as trying to draw us into a new contract: I, the author, promise always to acknowledge my characters’ narcissism, and you, in return, will continue to take an interest in it. Okay? Agreed? Sign on the dotted line please, Ms., and I will countersign my book for you.

Male writers from post WW II to present take quite a beating and I have to agree that most of it is deserved – especially in the case of Mailer and even more so for Updike. Though all of them said some things, made some observations worth reading – insights that blurred the universal and the personal. To save some time on Updike just read Rabbit Redux – his best novel. There is a problem though. What could male writers write about – especially when they write about men – that would make a serious female reader happy. I don’t know which gender has more crap bumping around inside their minds. For either gender to reveal what is really there, whether in gloomy seriousness or tragic-comedy or satire is to shine a spotlight on some thoughts that do not reflect well on the human species. Much of it certainly is not profound. It is some obsessive sexual thoughts, a  mix of love and neurosis about their parents – and that’s if they were lucky and did not grow up in some little tribe of poppy growers in Afghanistan. Luckily some of the thoughts banging off the sides of our skulls are not all that bad – we generally like puppies, we’re thirsty, we’re tired, that was funny, I hope my spouse gets that rise. The rest of it is stuff we keep hidden. Some of it in a lock box that we go to our graves never revealing. If good writing is shaping those thoughts into interesting prose most of it will not met anyone’s criteria for cultural correctness because that is not an accurate picture of human nature.

pink flamingo mailbox or pictures that I find disturbing.

Who Pays the Bill for Wall Street’s Mess? or Paul Ryan (R-WI) Has a Disturbing Plan for The Middle-Class.

Obama vs. Romney Tax Plans in a Very Tall Graph. The legend goes that it is the first million that is the most difficult to make. The vast majority of Americans will never have that much in liquid assets their entire lives. If you start of with quite a bit, like the Romneys and Koch brothers, you have to be a brain dead moron not to be able t use that to make more. The Romney plan rewards those that glue their ass to a leather chair and spread sheet to figure out ways to make even more money from the labor of others. In other times this would be called monarchical government or fascism-lite, nowadays we call it conservatism.

Bob Dylan – What Was It You Wanted