Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Few Curious Things

I'm flat out at work. So, here's a few curious links:

Death by Barbie: Did ever a serial killer look this cheerful?
Fuel from the sun
Harry Potter meets South Park
How to make Archimedes' trammel
Heli Rocket
Video: Why can't we walk straight?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

US Exceptionalism

Interesting article about US Exceptional Economics here. It isn't pretty.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jesus Hates Obama

Man, I just wish I could make up some of this crap.

See here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

The GOP repealed Obamacare in the House. Of course, it's DOA in the Senate unless they really want to go to war and do something stupid like trying to stopping the government if they don't get their way.

If this sounds like I think of the GOP as if they were a three year old holding their breath until they turn blue because they can't get a piece of candy, well, you're right.

Even the name of the bill is a lie. See here.

I have said repeatedly liberals (such as myself) need a strong, credible opposition.

The GOP? Well, it's strong. I have my own reasons as to why that is.

But credible? Not if they embed lies in the titles of their bills.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Morality, Biology and Writing

I've been writing about evolution for a while now. I'm going to depart from it somewhat and talk about somethings I've been thinking about writing. Of course, biology (and evolution) will enter into it. Hopefully, I'll be able to make some sense out of the the combination.

Most writers, I think, have a structure within which they work. I don't mean a world or a style. I mean a point of view they are coming from. A mechanism, if you will, from which they attempt to make sense out of things. The result of that effort is the work: the story, the novel, etc. This point of view of the author on things is what informs the work.

This one is going to wander around a bit.

Biology has always been a part of that structure for me. This does, inevitably, mean the biology of living things and how that penetrates science fiction: aliens, fantastic creatures and human adaptation among other things. It's not surprising that a significant majority of my work involves these things. However, those are the expressions of my view of biology, not the view itself.

I tend to think of things in general within a biological metaphor. We have cats and one in particular, Grover, is quite neurotic. He is frightened inconsistently by odd things. If the temperature drops outside it makes him scared of actions on the sofa. He likes to "fire worship"-- sit in front of the wood stove and watch the flames. This is easily explainable by the warm air coming from it. But after a while, when he is the toastiest, is when he comes over to the sofa for comfort.

I find myself wondering what's going on in there. Grover is not human. While there is common ground between us, our species have been separate for a long time. Felidae appear to have originated about 25 million years ago. They are a subgroup of Carnivora, which originated in the Eocene that lasted between 56 and 34 million years ago. The oldest known primate fossil is dated to 56-68 million years in the late Paleocene. So whatever common ground has to predate that. The division between our two species is deep and broad. Evidence shows that cats pre-adapted much as dogs did but unlike dogs cats have changed very little. So whence comes this bond?

Thinking within a biological metaphor.

The other part of my own personal point of view on writing has to do with what I call moral decisions. This is probably even more integral to my work than the biological metaphor. I always knew this was interesting but I didn't realize it was central to what I do until fairly recently-- specifically, when I was putting together my stories to go up on Book View Cafe.

Every one of my stories has to do with moral decisions. These are specific decisions as I define them. They are choices between alternatives and a moral context and a sacrifice. A moral decision where there is no sacrifice is no moral decision at all. A decision to choose between vanilla and strawberry ice cream or to choose between losing a right or left hand is not a moral decision. A decision to lose your right hand or save your son is.

Apparently, I'm obsessed with these things. Every story I've written is about what leads up to a decision, the consequences of a decision, the character of a person who might make such a decision, the justification of a decision, the regret of a decision. Often there's a central choice to be made but not always. In other stories, such as The Crocodiles, which came out relatively recently, the story revolved around the fact the protagonist felt the moral decision was already made and need not be revisited. The first story I ever wrote that I felt counted (never published) was about a boy's first sexual encounter, the decisions he made because of the experience and the subsequent regret of those decisions.

Other people might be interested in what it means to be human or how technology will change humanity or the exploration of an interesting environment. For whatever reason I'm interested in these moral decisions, large and small, thin and wide.

So, of course, once I twigged to that I started thinking about biological moral decisions, decisions that have consequences to the biological nature of the organism.

E. O. Wilson is convinced, as am I, that who we are morally reflects who we are biologically. (There is a beautiful article about this in The Atlantic by Wilson here. Go read it.) Our history of decisions have made us the moral animal we are today-- successful moral decisions, that is, where success is measured in evolutionary terms. We're separated from our nearest relatives, the chimpanzees, by only a few million years. Do they have a moral sense? Do they make moral decisions?

I think the jury is out a bit on this one. It's clear the concept of fairness in transactions between individual primates is common. That's been shown in rhesus monkeys. A monkey doing a task for a stick of celery will go on strike if a cohort is given a grape (a much more precious reward) for the same task. Hominoids (Hominids along with the other great apes) diverged from the rest of the old world monkeys about 30 million years ago. So the concept of fairness in primates goes back at least that far.

Do other mammals share this trait? Do dogs? Do cats? Does Grover? I'll never know about Grover. Whatever goes on in that tortured little mind masks any behavior I could use to determine that. Besides, cats and dogs have a special place with us. We've modified them a fair amount either biologically (as we have with dogs) or culturally (as we have with cats) to the point that their original behaviors may well be lost or at least be suspect. In addition, it's as hard for humans to objectively look at their pets as it is to look at themselves.

Would a wolf perceive fairness? Moral decisions? They have rules for behavior-- not as plastic as human beings. While w have an innate moral sense it is marked by the diversity of moral positions. We know it's there because it always shows up in human cultures but we can't point to any one set of behaviors that is always considered moral. In different cultures adultery, murder, genocide, torture have been considered the proper behavior. In our own culture all of these behaviors have been voiced to be the Right Thing to Do under the Right Circumstances.

Which brings me back to my own point of view, blending biology and moral decisions. What is moral biology? What would it look like? What would it smell like? Could canid evolve it? A cat? A cephalopod? If they did, what would the nature of their decisions be? What would alternatives would they be choosing between?

Clearly, I have to write a story about it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

French Revolution Hotties

Dylan Meconis wrote and drew Bite Me! She is currently writing and drawing Family Man. Both are excellent.

Dylan's sense of humor is wonderfully wicked as shown in her poster:

Revolutionary Hotties

Go get one.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Future Boston: A Retrospective

Fifteen years ago the Cambridge SF Workshop published Future Boston, a collection of short stories, maps, brochures and other things that described a shared vision we had created of the city.

Well, the Boston Phoenix has printed a couple of articles about it.

One is the interview between BP and a few of the contributors that are still in the area. The other is something those contributors wrote collectively about how we did it and how it might be done again.

Go and enjoy.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Who's Cutting the Store?

Of course the House Republicans are going after the National Science Foundation. (See here.) They have this great idea of crowd sourcing the cuts. But, here's the kicker, you can only:
  1. Select to cut what is presented on the YouCut website and
  2. You can't elect not to cut.
So I can vote for your project to be cut but I can't vote to keep your project.

I'm reminded of a Dilbert cartoon where the pointy haired boss says: "We've decided to only do those things we do best."

Alice, Wally and Dilbert cheer. Then, Alice says: "Wait! They don't know what we do best!"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

BVC News

Book View Café Releases Brenda W. Clough's SPEAK TO OUR DESIRES

SPEAK TO OUR DESIRES (original novel)
Release Date: January 18, 2011
Price: $4.99
ISBN: 978 1 61138 030 9
Formats: .pdf, .epub, .mobi, .prc

It's June 1969 in New York City. The moon is in the second house, Jupiter has aligned with Mars, and private investigator Tim Coates is having his own personal summer of love. A gorgeous blonde girl hires him to find her missing mother. Finally, his life is starting to look like Nero Wolfe's!
But Ellie Quartern and her mom are not your standard damsels in distress. They share an eerie and destructive secret that warps hearts and destroys lives. As Tim digs deeper into their dark private world, he's not in a mystery, but a horror novel. And he discovers that the Rolling Stones were wrong. Even when you get what you want, you just might find that it's not at all what you need.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


I have not spoken on the murders and shootings in Arizona. I won't now.

Here is Obama's full text when he spoke in Arizona. I will print it below if you don't want to go to the link.

Read it. Then, go listen to the windbags and pundits that want to somehow politicize what happend by saying Obama politicized it in his speech.

He didn't

They did.

Obama's speech:

To the families of those we've lost; to all who called them friends; to the students of this university, the public servants gathered tonight, and the people of Tucson and Arizona: I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneels to pray with you today, and will stand by you tomorrow.

There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts. But know this: the hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief. And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy pull through.

As Scripture tells us:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;

God will help her at break of day.

On Saturday morning, Gabby, her staff, and many of her constituents gathered outside a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech. They were fulfilling a central tenet of the democracy envisioned by our founders - representatives of the people answering to their constituents, so as to carry their concerns to our nation's capital. Gabby called it "Congress on Your Corner" - just an updated version of government of and by and for the people.

That is the quintessentially American scene that was shattered by a gunman's bullets. And the six people who lost their lives on Saturday - they too represented what is best in America.

Judge John Roll served our legal system for nearly 40 years. A graduate of this university and its law school, Judge Roll was recommended for the federal bench by John McCain twenty years ago, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, and rose to become Arizona's chief federal judge. His colleagues described him as the hardest-working judge within the Ninth Circuit. He was on his way back from attending Mass, as he did every day, when he decided to stop by and say hi to his Representative. John is survived by his loving wife, Maureen, his three sons, and his five grandchildren.

George and Dorothy Morris - "Dot" to her friends - were high school sweethearts who got married and had two daughters. They did everything together, traveling the open road in their RV, enjoying what their friends called a 50-year honeymoon. Saturday morning, they went by the Safeway to hear what their Congresswoman had to say. When gunfire rang out, George, a former Marine, instinctively tried to shield his wife. Both were shot. Dot passed away.

A New Jersey native, Phyllis Schneck retired to Tucson to beat the snow. But in the summer, she would return East, where her world revolved around her 3 children, 7 grandchildren, and 2 year-old great-granddaughter. A gifted quilter, she'd often work under her favorite tree, or sometimes sew aprons with the logos of the Jets and the Giants to give out at the church where she volunteered. A Republican, she took a liking to Gabby, and wanted to get to know her better.

Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard grew up in Tucson together - about seventy years ago. They moved apart and started their own respective families, but after both were widowed they found their way back here, to, as one of Mavy's daughters put it, "be boyfriend and girlfriend again." When they weren't out on the road in their motor home, you could find them just up the road, helping folks in need at the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ. A retired construction worker, Dorwan spent his spare time fixing up the church along with their dog, Tux. His final act of selflessness was to dive on top of his wife, sacrificing his life for hers.

Everything Gabe Zimmerman did, he did with passion - but his true passion was people. As Gabby's outreach director, he made the cares of thousands of her constituents his own, seeing to it that seniors got the Medicare benefits they had earned, that veterans got the medals and care they deserved, that government was working for ordinary folks. He died doing what he loved - talking with people and seeing how he could help. Gabe is survived by his parents, Ross and Emily, his brother, Ben, and his fiancée, Kelly, who he planned to marry next year.

And then there is nine year-old Christina Taylor Green. Christina was an A student, a dancer, a gymnast, and a swimmer. She often proclaimed that she wanted to be the first woman to play in the major leagues, and as the only girl on her Little League team, no one put it past her. She showed an appreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age, and would remind her mother, "We are so blessed. We have the best life." And she'd pay those blessings back by participating in a charity that helped children who were less fortunate.

Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing. Our hearts are broken - and yet, our hearts also have reason for fullness.

Our hearts are full of hope and thanks for the 13 Americans who survived the shooting, including the congresswoman many of them went to see on Saturday. I have just come from the University Medical Center, just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover even as we speak. And I can tell you this - she knows we're here and she knows we love her and she knows that we will be rooting for her throughout what will be a difficult journey.

And our hearts are full of gratitude for those who saved others. We are grateful for Daniel Hernandez, a volunteer in Gabby's office who ran through the chaos to minister to his boss, tending to her wounds to keep her alive. We are grateful for the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload. We are grateful for a petite 61 year-old, Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer's ammunition, undoubtedly saving some lives. And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and emergency medics who worked wonders to heal those who'd been hurt.

These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle. They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength. Heroism is here, all around us, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, just waiting to be summoned - as it was on Saturday morning.

Their actions, their selflessness, also pose a challenge to each of us. It raises the question of what, beyond the prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward. How can we honor the fallen? How can we be true to their memory?

You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations - to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we've seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "when I looked for light, then came darkness." Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

But what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

After all, that's what most of us do when we lose someone in our family - especially if the loss is unexpected. We're shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward. We reflect on the past. Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?

So sudden loss causes us to look backward - but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we've shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame - but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.

That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions - that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires. For those who were harmed, those who were killed - they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them. In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis - she's our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son. In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America's fidelity to the law. In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.

And in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic.

So deserving of our love.

And so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives - to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud. It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other's ideas without questioning each other's love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here - they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That's what I believe, in part because that's what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us - we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations.

Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called "Faces of Hope." On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child's life. "I hope you help those in need," read one. "I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles."

If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.

May God bless and keep those we've lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I'm going to be at Arisia this weekend. (See here.)

Here's my schedule:

826 Boston as Setting Fri 6:30 PM
The subway line to Cambridge inspired H.P. Lovecraft to visions of subterranean Antarctic horror; Hal Clement drowned Beantown under dozens of feet of water. Why Boston? Who's writing about here lately? What scenic SFnal and fantastical possibilities do our fair city present?
Panelists: Cecilia Tan mod, Margaret Ronald, Steve E Popkes, Alexander Jablokov, Robert Davies

10 Frankenstein, Now? Sat 9:30 AM
We all know the story of Frankenstein and his monster, but is science on the way to creating life now? Wars have had a heavy toll on soldiers' lives, but many more are surviving what was once a fatal injury. Now there are prosthetics that can actually make an injured person walk, an ear hear, and an eye see. How close are we to building our own "Modern Prometheus" out of spare, both organic and artificial?
Panelists: Karl G Heinemann mod, Jeanne Cavelos, Thomas A. Amoroso, Steve E Popkes, Ian Keville Schleifer

216 The Best International Comics Sat 3:30 PM
What comics are out there beyond America and Japan? What countries venerate the art form like no other? What's the best material out there, and what's available here in the United States?
Panelists: René Walling mod, Steve E Popkes, Jaime Garmendia, Susan Soares, Roho

32 Things Everyone Loves (But I Don't) Sun 9:30 AM
Ah, "Star Wars," "E.T.," "Lord of the Rings," "Blade Runner," "Star Trek" -- all so beloved, how can anyone not like them? This is a panel for people who haven't hopped on the bandwagon for these or other popular films. Find out why, and discover why you're not alone.
Panelists: Karl G Heinemann mod, Daniel M Kimmel, Jennifer Pelland, Steve E Popkes, Elayna Jade Smolowitz

862 The Best Webcomics You're Not Reading Sun 3:30 PM
They range from wretched to wonderful, from the most mundane to the freakiest of the fantastic. We're going to discuss what we consider to be the best of the best from various genres--and we're sure to cover some you haven't heard of yet.
Panelists: Alexander C Danner mod, Steve E Popkes, Everett Soares, Dirk Tiede, Shaenon Garrity

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Assassination Humor

I'm pretty sickened by what happened over the weekend.

But Tom Tomorrow has a good take on it here.

Joy of Stats

I talked about Joy of Stats a while back. Well, now you can the whole thing is online.
Go. Don't wait around. I'm done here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Time to Make the Bon Bons

Sigh. I like Bioephemera. Here's another one.

More cool stuff here and here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Speculations on Human Evolution

(Picture from here.)

There have been a number of exciting human evolution discoveries in the past year. I'm going to highlight a few and speculate a whole bunch.

The current model has hominids evolving in Africa. Archaic forms of modern humans appeared about 200-400,000 years ago. Neanderthals split off the main trunk a bit earlier, about 350-600,000 years ago. By 130k years ago Neanderthals were pretty well defined. Anatomically humans were in place 200k years ago and behaviorally modern humans were in lace about 50k (or 40k, or 70k, or 80k,. All of these numbers are approximate and vary depending on who you read) years ago. You can look all this up in Wikipedia here. But move fast as wiki-space tends to change as the science changes.

Neanderthal has been portrayed as being unfit for competition with humans for a few reasons. He ate exclusively meat. He wasn't able to adapt to the climate change. He wasn't that smart. All of these may be false. He ate more than just meat-- he's been shown to eat fish and vegetables. (See here.) He was an innovator and changed his toolkit according to his needs. (See here.) While there is good evidence that humans took longer to mature (see here) it's not clear to me that this was an advantage at the time against Neanderthals. Though it would be a clear advantage now. It looks that this trait of humans being late bloomers was fixed at about 160k years ago and strong overlaps the period that humans and Neanderthals coexisted. Hence, my skepticism that it was a factor in the Neanderthal/Homo sapiens conflict.

Humans are hard on their environment. My own bet is that the Neanderthals couldn't cope in the ecological catastrophe that humans created and had to keep moving to find new lands. Eventually, they ran out of places to go.

There's also evidence from last fall (see here) that modern humans emerged from Africa earlier than thought. Fossil evidence in Zhiren Cave in south China is at least 100,000 years old. Quite a bit older than the previous date of China about 60,000 years ago. These anatomically modern humans did not show the cultural and technical innovations we associate with modern humans. They were not behaviorally modern. It also shows that archaic human and modern human forms coexisted for quite a while.

Add into this the Siberian Christmas Finger Bone. (See here.) This was a finger bone of a young girl found in southern Siberia that was neither early modern human nor Neanderthal. DNA extracted from the bone has suggested that she belonged to an extinct branch of the family tree dubbed "Denisovans" after the cave where the remains were discovered.

The Denisovans were a sister group of Neanderthals and bear a resemblance to older human ancestors such as Homo habilis and Homo erectus. (One wonders about the relationships between the Denisovans and Homo floresiensis.)

What makes it even more interesting is there some of the genes found in the Denisovans are also found in modern Melanesians. Since the Denisovans split off from humans before modern humans existed this suggests there was interbreeding between the two lineages. Remember also the evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthals and some European populations.

But if anatomically modern humans came out of Africa about 200k years ago, what the heck are they doing in Israel 200k years earlier. (See here.)

Qesem Cave is located near Rosh Ha'ayin. It was first excavated in 2000. Recently, a complex analysis of human teeth was completed. The size and shape of the teeth were very similar to modern humans dated in Israel to about 100k years ago. But the site is dated to a period of 200k to 400k years ago. Did they just happen to show up in Israel first?

Possibly. Or modern humans are older than we thought.

The human family tree is getting very, very complex.

So, whence come we?

What is first clear is that the appearance of anatomically modern humans and behaviorally modern humans are not the same thing at all. There's been a lot of discussion about what caused the change. The invention of language? New ways of getting foodstuff? Learning how to be unrelenting and ruthless a-holes?

I suspect it's more subtle. I also suspect it is not a biological mechanism-- or it is a cultural response to a biological mechanism. Mainly, I think this because biological mechanisms take time to occur. It takes time for humans to stand upright, evolve a shoulder, develop hands and feet, etc. I see no reason to believe that the physical structures in the brain somehow take less time to evolve. The brain is hard to parse and I think the idea of its physical nature being that plastic results more from our ignorance of how things work in there rather than anything else.

No, I think about 50k (or 40k, or 70k, or 80k) years ago a population of humans struck on an idea.

I don't know what the idea was. Maybe it was monogamous pair bonding. Maybe it was religion. Maybe it was song. (Bruce Chatwin's idea.) But it was something fundamental and powerful that had not been considered before.

Maybe it was just the concept that, hey, we can use this thing that we built to hunt gazelle as a fishing line. Or weaving tool. Or a musical instrument. Or, maybe, anything a human being creates, be it concept, relationship, song or tool, has the possibility of being used for something other than what it was built for.

And thus abstract modeling, along with humanity, was born.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

New Year's Resolution for the Rich

Nothing more to say on this one. Read Sam Harris' article here.

And if you're not scared yet. Read this.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Time Enough for Evolution

One of the most often repeated and idiotic comment on evolution is that there hasn't been time enough for it to happen.

Well, there was. And there's a good paper on it here.

However, it's a fee site.

Jerry Coyne has a very good analysis of it here. He also discusses speciation here and here.

Other discussions here, here, here and here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cat Videos

I'm not a big fan of animal videos but they can be fun. Here is the 30 top viral videos of 2010.

One of them, the cattycake video, doesn't have the proper soundtrack. You can get that here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2010 Blizzard

Here's a time lapse sequence for the Blizzard a week ago: New Jersey.