What will those gun-crazy cowboys think of next?
Now this is why God wrote the 2nd Amendment!
If it quacks like the truth, you read it on the Daily Duck.
THE BRAIN AS MACHINE
SCIENTISTS HAVE EXORCISED THE GHOST FROM THE MACHINE NOT because they are mechanistic killjoys but because they have amassed evidence that every aspect of consciousness can be tied to the brain. Using functional MRI, cognitive neuroscientists can almost read people's thoughts from the blood flow in their brains. They can tell, for instance, whether a person is thinking about a face or a place or whether a picture the person is looking at is of a bottle or a shoe.
And consciousness can be pushed around by physical manipulations. Electrical stimulation of the brain during surgery can cause a person to have hallucinations that are indistinguishable from reality, such as a song playing in the room or a childhood birthday party. Chemicals that affect the brain, from caffeine and alcohol to Prozac and LSD, can profoundly alter how people think, feel and see. Surgery that severs the corpus callosum, separating the two hemispheres (a treatment for epilepsy), spawns two consciousnesses within the same skull, as if the soul could be cleaved in two with a knife.
And when the physiological activity of the brain ceases, as far as anyone can tell the person's consciousness goes out of existence. Attempts to contact the souls of the dead (a pursuit of serious scientists a century ago) turned up only cheap magic tricks, and near death experiences are not the eyewitness reports of a soul parting company from the body but symptoms of oxygen starvation in the eyes and brain. In September, a team of Swiss neuroscientists reported that they could turn out-of-body experiences on and off by stimulating the part of the brain in which vision and bodily sensations converge.
THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL
ANOTHER STARTLING CONCLUSION FROM the science of consciousness is that the intuitive feeling we have that there's an executive "I" that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion. Consciousness turns out to consist of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain. These events compete for attention, and as one process outshouts the others, the brain rationalizes the outcome after the fact and concocts the impression that a single self was in charge all along.
Take the famous cognitive-dissonance experiments. When an experimenter got people to endure electric shocks in a sham experiment on learning, those who were given a good rationale ("It will help scientists understand learning") rated the shocks as more painful than the ones given a feeble rationale ("We're curious.") Presumably, it's because the second group would have felt foolish to have suffered for no good reason. Yet when these people were asked why they agreed to be shocked, they offered bogus reasons of their own in all sincerity, like "I used to mess around with radios and got used to electric shocks."
It's not only decisions in sketchy circumstances that get rationalized but also the texture of our immediate experience. We all feel we are conscious of a rich and detailed world in front of our eyes. Yet outside the dead center of our gaze, vision is amazingly coarse. Just try holding your hand a few inches from your line of sight and counting your fingers. And if someone removed and reinserted an object every time you blinked (which experimenters can simulate by flashing two pictures in rapid sequence), you would be hard pressed to notice the change. Ordinarily, our eyes flit from place to place, alighting on whichever object needs our attention on a need-to-know basis. This fools us into thinking that wall-to-wall detail was there all along--an example of how we overestimate the scope and power of our own consciousness.
Our authorship of voluntary actions can also be an illusion, the result of noticing a correlation between what we decide and how our bodies move. The psychologist Dan Wegner studied the party game in which a subject is seated in front of a mirror while someone behind him extends his arms under the subject's armpits and moves his arms around, making it look as if the subject is moving his own arms. If the subject hears a tape telling the person behind him how to move (wave, touch the subject's nose and so on), he feels as if he is actually in command of the arms.
The brain's spin doctoring is displayed even more dramatically in neurological conditions in which the healthy parts of the brain explain away the foibles of the damaged parts (which are invisible to the self because they are part of the self). A patient who fails to experience a visceral click of recognition when he sees his wife but who acknowledges that she looks and acts just like her deduces that she is an amazingly well-trained impostor. A patient who believes he is at home and is shown the hospital elevator says without missing a beat, "You wouldn't believe what it cost us to have that installed."
Why does consciousness exist at all, at least in the Easy Problem sense in which some kinds of information are accessible and others hidden? One reason is information overload. Just as a person can be overwhelmed today by the gusher of data coming in from electronic media, decision circuits inside the brain would be swamped if every curlicue and muscle twitch that was registered somewhere in the brain were constantly being delivered to them. Instead, our working memory and spotlight of attention receive executive summaries of the events and states that are most relevant to updating an understanding of the world and figuring out what to do next. The cognitive psychologist Bernard Baars likens consciousness to a global blackboard on which brain processes post their results and monitor the results of the others.
BELIEVING OUR OWN LIES
A SECOND REASON THAT INFORMATION MAY BE SEALED OFF FROM consciousness is strategic. Evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers has noted that people have a motive to sell themselves as beneficent, rational, competent agents. The best propagandist is the one who believes his own lies, ensuring that he can't leak his deceit through nervous twitches or self-contradictions. So the brain might have been shaped to keep compromising data away from the conscious processes that govern our interaction with other people. At the same time, it keeps the data around in unconscious processes to prevent the person from getting too far out of touch with reality.
What about the brain itself? You might wonder how scientists could even begin to find the seat of awareness in the cacophony of a hundred billion jabbering neurons. The trick is to see what parts of the brain change when a person's consciousness flips from one experience to another. In one technique, called binocular rivalry, vertical stripes are presented to the left eye, horizontal stripes to the right. The eyes compete for consciousness, and the person sees vertical stripes for a few seconds, then horizontal stripes, and so on.
A low-tech way to experience the effect yourself is to look through a paper tube at a white wall with your right eye and hold your left hand in front of your left eye. After a few seconds, a white hole in your hand should appear, then disappear, then reappear.
Monkeys experience binocular rivalry. They can learn to press a button every time their perception flips, while their brains are impaled with electrodes that record any change in activity. Neuroscientist Nikos Logothetis found that the earliest way stations for visual input in the back of the brain barely budged as the monkeys' consciousness flipped from one state to another. Instead, it was a region that sits further down the information stream and that registers coherent shapes and objects that tracks the monkeys' awareness. Now this doesn't mean that this place on the underside of the brain is the TV screen of consciousness. What it means, according to a theory by Crick and his collaborator Christof Koch, is that consciousness resides only in the "higher" parts of the brain that are connected to circuits for emotion and decision making, just what one would expect from the blackboard metaphor.
Existing home sales plummet in 2006
By MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON - Sales of existing homes fell in December, closing out a year in which demand for homes slumped by the largest amount in 17 years.
The National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes were down 0.8 percent last month, a bigger decline than had been expected. For the year, sales fell by 8.4 percent, the biggest annual decline since 1989, when existing home sales fell by 14.8 percent.
The sales figure underscored the sharp contraction that is going on in the once high-flying housing market, which before last year had set sales records for five straight years.
Even with the sharp drop in sales last year, the median price of an existing home sold in 2006 managed to rise a slight 1.1 percent. But that was far below the double-digit gains during the boom years. The median home price had risen by 12.4 percent in 2005.
After a five-year boom, housing slowed significantly last year, which has caused ripple effects throughout the economy with rising job layoffs in construction and other housing-related industries.
But economists said they believe the low point for housing has been reached and they are forecasting a slow rebound in 2007. Because of that optimism, analysts don't believe the slump in housing will drag the overall economy into a recession...
Ford posts worst loss in its history
By TOM KRISHER, AP Business Writer
DEARBORN, Mich. - Ford Motor Co. lost $5.8 billion in the fourth quarter amid slumping sales and huge restructuring costs, pushing the automaker's deficit for the year to $12.7 billion, the largest in its 103-year history, [...] which represented a loss of $4,380 on each car or truck it sold in 2006. [...]
Dearborn-based Ford predicted more losses for this year and in 2008, but said its restructuring plan is on track to return to profitability in 2009. [...]
The company, which lost $6 billion on North American operations alone, said it expects to burn up $10 billion in cash to run its business through 2009 and spend another $7 billion to invest in new products. [...]
Ford mortgaged its assets to borrow up to $23.4 billion to pay for the restructuring and to cover losses expected until 2009. About 38,000 hourly workers have signed up for buyout or early retirement offers, and Ford plans to cut its white-collar work force by 14,000 with buyouts and early retirements.
Chief Financial Officer Don Leclair said Ford expects favorable results from its automotive business in 2007.
But because of interest on its debt "total automotive results are expected to be worse in 2007 than in 2006," he said.
Leclair said the company finished 2006 with $33.9 billion in cash available for its automotive operations, including $12 billion that it borrowed in December...
The two-term senator said he will fight to renew the nation's cultural values and pledged to focus on rebuilding families.
"Search the record of history. To walk away from the Almighty is to embrace decline for a nation," Brownback said. "To embrace Him leads to renewal, for individuals and for nations."
We think our political stance is the product of reason, but we're easily manipulated and surprisingly malleable. Our essential political self is more a stew of childhood temperament, education, and fear of death. Call it the 9/11 effect.
Cinnamon Stillwell never thought she'd be the founder of a political organization. She certainly never expected to start a group for conservatives, most of whom became conservatives on the same day—September 11, 2001. She organized the group, the 911 Neocons, as a haven for people like her—"former lefties" who did political 180s after 9/11.
Stillwell, now a conservative columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, had been a liberal her whole life, writing off all Republicans as "ignorant, intolerant yahoos." Yet on 9/11, everything changed for her, as it did for so many. In the days after the attacks, the world seemed "topsy-turvy." On the political left, she wrote, "There was little sympathy for the victims," and it seemed to her that progressives were "consumed with hatred for this country" and had "extended their misguided sympathies to tyrants and terrorists."
We tend to believe our political views have evolved by a process of rational thought, as we consider arguments, weigh evidence, and draw conclusions. But the truth is more complicated. Our political preferences are equally the result of factors we're not aware of—such as how educated we are, how scary the world seems at a given moment, and personality traits that are first apparent in early childhood. Among the most potent motivators, it turns out, is fear. How the United States should confront the threat of terrorism remains a subject of endless political debate. But Americans' response to threats of attack is now more clear-cut than ever. The fear of death alone is surprisingly effective in shaping our political decisions—more powerful, often, than thought itself.
In 1969, Berkeley professors Jack and Jeanne Block embarked on a study of childhood personality, asking nursery school teachers to rate children's temperaments. They weren't even thinking about political orientation.
Twenty years later, they decided to compare the subjects' childhood personalities with their political preferences as adults. They found arresting patterns. As kids, liberals had developed close relationships with peers and were rated by their teachers as self-reliant, energetic, impulsive, and resilient. People who were conservative at age 23 had been described by their teachers as easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and vulnerable at age 3. The reason for the difference, the Blocks hypothesized, was that insecure kids most needed the reassurance of tradition and authority, and they found it in conservative politics.
If we are so suggestible that thoughts of death make us uncomfortable defaming the American flag and cause us to sit farther away from foreigners, is there any way we can overcome our easily manipulated fears and become the informed and rational thinkers democracy demands?
To test this, Solomon and his colleagues prompted two groups to think about death and then give opinions about a pro-American author and an anti-American one. As expected, the group that thought about death was more pro-American than the other. But the second time, one group was asked to make gut-level decisions about the two authors, while the other group was asked to consider carefully and be as rational as possible. The results were astonishing. In the rational group, the effects of mortality salience were entirely eliminated. Asking people to be rational was enough to neutralize the effects of reminders of death. Preliminary research shows that reminding people that as human beings, the things we have in common eclipse our differences—what psychologists call a "common humanity prime"—has the same effect.
"People have two modes of thought," concludes Solomon. "There's the intuitive gut-level mode, which is what most of us are in most of the time. And then there's a rational analytic mode, which takes effort and attention."
The solution, then, is remarkably simple. The effects of psychological terror on political decision making can be eliminated just by asking people to think rationally. Simply reminding us to use our heads, it turns out, can be enough to make us do it.
[Snip. The time line is such that conversation prior to 5:56 was very likely prior to pushback]
Polehinke: (5:56:34) Right seat flex takeoff procedures off of um ... he said what runway? One of 'em. Two four.
Clay: (05:56:43) It's two two.
Clay: (06:00:09) Both kids were sick though, they, well they all got colds. It was an interesting dinner last night.
Polehinke: (06:00:16) Really.
Clay: (06:00:16) Huh, oh gosh.
Polehinke (06:00:19) How old are they?
Clay: (06:00:20) Three months and two years old. Who was sneezing, either nose wiped, diaper change. I mean that's all we did all night long.
Polehinke: (06:00:31) Oh yeah, I'm sure.
Polehinke: (6:06:07) Set thrust, please.
Clay: (6:06:11) Thrust set.
Polehinke: (6:06:13) That is weird with no lights.
Clay: (6:06:18) Yeah. One-hundred knots.
Polehinke: (6:06:25) Checks.
Clay: (6:06:31) V-one rotate. Whoa.
(6:06:33) Sound of impact, unintelligible exclamation.
The dogleg is closed.
Make the 90 right.
We will be crossing runway 24. Final is clear.
The next intersection is runway 22.
Canada's first sextuplets, born more than a week ago, are facing an additional complication to the usual premature baby's struggle for survival: Their parents' religion forbids blood transfusions, a typical part of a preemie's treatment.
In a ruling sure to make philandering spouses squirm, Michigan's second-highest court says that anyone involved in an extramarital fling can be prosecuted for first-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony punishable by up to life in prison.
"We cannot help but question whether the Legislature actually intended the result we reach here today," Judge William Murphy wrote in November for a unanimous Court of Appeals panel, "but we are curtailed by the language of the statute from reaching any other conclusion."
But his humanitarianism will remain inhumane as long as he fails to understand that the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute.
Earlier I stated that we should reject any presupposition that leads us to a belief that is logically impossible. If that is the case then we have sufficient reason to reject naturalism or to reject logic; we can't keep both. For materialism states that:
1. Anything that exists is made of matter.
2. All matter is one; everything that exists is one.
3. Doxastic states are composed of matter and can exist.
4. Beliefs are doxastic states.
5. A belief can be true.
6. A belief can be false.
7. Since matter is one and beliefs are made of matter, all beliefs are one.
8. All beliefs are both true and false.
Therefore, the presupposition that matter is all that exists is both true and false at the same time. But since that leads to a logical contradiction we must give it up (or give up on logic).
"[T]he Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr will increasingly become a state-within-a-state Hezbollah-like force in Iraq, crowding foreign fighters out of the scene as al Qaeda recruits and begins to operate more amongst the Iraqi Sunni exiles who have congregated in great numbers in Syria and Jordan.
"[But Iran] will get a blow to their regional influence when Muqtada al-Sadr is assassinated."
Ebocha, Nigeria - Justice Eta, 14 months old, held out his tiny thumb.
An ink spot certified that he had been immunized against polio and measles, thanks to a vaccination drive supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
But polio is not the only threat Justice faces. Almost since birth, he has had respiratory trouble. His neighbors call it "the cough." People blame fumes and soot spewing from flames that tower 300 feet into the air over a nearby oil plant. It is owned by the Italian petroleum giant Eni, whose investors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Justice squirmed in his mother's arms. His face was beaded with sweat caused either by illness or by heat from the flames that illuminate Ebocha day and night. Ebocha means "city of lights."
The makeshift clinic at a church where Justice Eta was vaccinated and the flares spewing over Ebocha represent a head-on conflict for the Gates Foundation. In a contradiction between its grants and its endowment holdings, a Times investigation has found, the foundation reaps vast financial gains every year from investments that contravene its good works.
In Ebocha, where Justice lives, Dr. Elekwachi Okey, a local physician, says hundreds of flares at oil plants in the Niger Delta have caused an epidemic of bronchitis in adults, and asthma and blurred vision in children. No definitive studies have documented the health effects, but many of the 250 toxic chemicals in the fumes and soot have long been linked to respiratory disease and cancer.
"We're all smokers here," Okey said, "but not with cigarettes."
The oil plants in the region surrounding Ebocha find it cheaper to burn nearly 1 billion cubic feet of gas each day and contribute to global warming than to sell it. They deny the flaring causes sickness. Under pressure from activists, however, Nigeria's high court set a deadline to end flaring by May 2007. The gases would be injected back underground, or trucked and piped out for sale. But authorities expect the flares to burn for years beyond the deadline.
The Gates Foundation has poured $218 million into polio and measles immunization and research worldwide, including in the Niger Delta. At the same time that the foundation is funding inoculations to protect health, The Times found, it has invested $423 million in Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and Total of France — the companies responsible for most of the flares blanketing the delta with pollution, beyond anything permitted in the United States or Europe.
Indeed, local leaders blame oil development for fostering some of the very afflictions that the foundation combats.
Oil workers, for example, and soldiers protecting them are a magnet for prostitution, contributing to a surge in HIV and teenage pregnancy, both targets in the Gates Foundation's efforts to ease the ills of society, especially among the poor. Oil bore holes fill with stagnant water, which is ideal for mosquitoes that spread malaria, one of the diseases the foundation is fighting.
Investigators for Dr. Nonyenim Solomon Enyidah, health commissioner for Rivers State, where Ebocha is located, cite an oil spill clogging rivers as a cause of cholera, another scourge the foundation is battling. The rivers, Enyidah said, "became breeding grounds for all kinds of waterborne diseases."
The bright, sooty gas flares — which contain toxic byproducts such as benzene, mercury and chromium — lower immunity, Enyidah said, and make children such as Justice Eta more susceptible to polio and measles — the diseases that the Gates Foundation has helped to inoculate him against.
Christians feel particularly aggrieved because we believe that Jesus invented secularism. Jesus's teachings desacralised the state: no authority, not even Caesar's, was comparable to God's. As Nick Spencer writes in Doing God, "the secular was Christianity's gift to the world, denoting a public space in which authorities should be respected, but could be legitimately challenged and could never accord to themselves absolute or ultimate significance". Christianity, far from creating an absolutist state, initiated dissent from state absolutism.
This country was founded overwhelmingly by men and women steeped in the Bible. Their moral values emanated from the Bible, and they regarded liberty as possible only if understood as given by God. That is why the Liberty Bell's inscription is from the Old Testament, and why Thomas Jefferson, the allegedly non-religious deist, wrote (as carved into the Jefferson Memorial): "God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?"
The evidence is overwhelming that the Founders were religious people who wanted a religious country that enshrined liberty for all its citizens, including those of different religions and those of no faith. But our educational institutions, especially the universities, are populated almost exclusively by secular individuals and books who seek to cast America's past and present in their image.
If you want to predict on which side an American will line up in the Culture War wracking America, virtually all you have to do is get an answer to this question: Does the person believe in the divinity and authority of the Five Books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah? ("Divinity" does not necessarily mean "literalism.")
I do not ask this about "the Bible" as a whole because the one book that is regarded as having divine authority by believing Jews, Catholics, Protestants and Mormons, among others, is not the entire Bible, but the Torah. Religious Jews do not believe in the New Testament and generally confine divine revelation even within the Old Testament to the Torah and to verses where God is cited by the prophets, for example. But "Bible-believing" Christians and Jews do believe in the divinity of the Torah.
And they line up together on virtually every major social/moral issue.
Name the issue: same-sex marriage; the morality of medically unnecessary abortions; capital punishment for murder; the willingness to label certain actions, regimes, even people "evil"; skepticism regarding the United Nations and the World Court; strong support for Israel. While there are exceptions -- there are, for example, secular conservatives who share the Bible-believers' social views -- belief in a God-based authority of the Torah is as close to a predictable dividing line as exists.
That is why one speaks of Judeo-Christian values, but not of Judeo-Christian theology. Torah-believing Jews and Torah-believing Christians have very different theological beliefs, but they agree on almost all values issues -- largely because they share a belief in the divinity of the same text.
Many members of all these different religions have found it quite remarkable how similar their values are to those of members of these other religions. An evangelical Protestant who might regard Mormonism as nothing more than a heretical cult will find himself seated next to Mormons at a rally on behalf of the Boy Scouts. An Orthodox rabbi who might never set foot in a church will join a panel of Christians in opposing the redefining of marriage. And so on.
Very often the dividing line in America is portrayed as between those who believe in God and those who don't. But the vast majority of Americans believe in God, and belief in God alone rarely affects people's values. Many liberals believe in God; many conservatives do. What matters is not whether people believe in God but what text, if any, they believe to be divine. Those who believe that He has spoken through a given text will generally think differently from those who believe that no text is divine. Such people will usually get their values from other texts, or more likely from their conscience and heart.
That a belief or lack of belief in the divinity of a book dating back over 2,500 years is at the center of the Culture War in America and between religious America and secular Europe is almost unbelievable. But it not only explains these divisions; it also explains the hatred that much of the Left has for Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and Mormon Bible-believers.
For the Left, such beliefs are irrational, absurd and immoral.
Which is exactly how most conservatives regard most leftist beliefs, such as: there is nothing inherently superior in a child being raised by a mother and father rather than by two fathers or two mothers; men and women are not basically different, but only socially influenced to be different; Marxism was scientific; that the Soviet Union was not an evil empire; it was immoral for Israel to bomb Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor; morality is relative to the individual or society; there is no moral judgment to be made about a woman aborting a healthy human fetus solely because she doesn't want a baby at this time; material poverty, not moral poverty, causes violent crime, etc.
This divide explains why the wrath of the Left has fallen on those of us who lament the exclusion of the Bible at a ceremonial swearing-in of an American congressman. The Left wants to see that book dethroned. And that, in a nutshell, is what the present civil war is about.