Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Man With the Muckrake Now on WordPress

We have packed up our muckrakes and hauled them to WordPress. Stop by and see what information we have dredged out of the swamp, sewers and rivers:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Science: Gene Variant and its Religious Implications

Neuroscientists at UC-Irvine released a study in the journal Cerebral Cortex that says, "People with a particular gene variant performed more than 20 percent worse on a driving test than people without it - and a follow-up test a few days later yielded similar results. About 30 percent of Americans have the variant.

"This gene variant limits the availability of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor during activity. BDNF keeps memory strong by supporting communication among brain cells and keeping them functioning optimally. When a person is engaged in a particular task, BDNF is secreted in the brain area connected with that activity to help the body respond."

I was wondering if, soon, neuroscientists will announce another break-through in brain-derived neurotrophic factor. I suspect that there exists another 'gene variant' that causes some people to believe in ghosts, dead men walking, angels and voices in their heads. It is clear to me that there must be something going on in the heads of this set of 'believers' which is not going on in the heads of millions of other human beings.

Dr. Steven Cramer, neurology associate professor and senior author of the study published recently in the journal Cerebral Cortex, said, "It's as if nature is trying to determine the best approach. If you want to learn a new skill or have had a stroke and need to regenerate brain cells, there's evidence that having the variant is not good.

Here's a question that needs pondering- why did Nature offer the variant in the first place? And, extending my hypothesis, of what benefit to human evolution was/is the 'believer's variant'? Further, of what value to modern-day humans are those who still carry the believer's variant?

With all of the religious wars past and present, how could such a BDNF gene-variant be useful for human existence? How was a belief in the paranormal helpful to furthering the human race? The only idea that comes to mind is that it limits population growth through war. The limit to population growth might be its only saving grace. One might conjure that, in those dark days of prehistory, there was a dog-eat-dog scenario played out among our predecessors in the hunt for food. Perhaps one tribe's "god" became the nemesis to the other tribe, and that offered a reason to attack and kill them off.

The Muslim world, I would suspect, might have a greater number of BDNF belief-gene-variant than most other groups of humans, as adherents to that religious sect seem to be most fervent. Christian fundamentalists and Zionists would, I suppose, also be high on the belief-gene-variant.

Those of us who rank at the bottom of the BDNF belief-gene-variant column have stood, scratching our heads, in wonder at the intense 'religiosity' that we see playing out on the battle fields of the world. We just don't get it. Now, perhaps, we know why. Yet I still do not understand the benefit to humanity of a strong belief-system. As with our appendix, it should have died out long ago, just after the neolithic period.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day Thoughts: Afghanistan- Caught Between Two Warring Deities

Today is Veterans Day, a time for Americans to reflect on the sacrifices that our military has made for the citizens of this nation. So many wars to remember; so many deaths to recall. The Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, First Gulf War, the War on Iraq, and now the Afghanistan War. It makes one wonder, what years did this nation endure without a war going on?

Veterans of the wars from Korea to the present might be wondering if their sacrifice and the ultimate sacrifice of their comrades was worth it. Why did they fight? What was their mission? Why did their president decide to send Americans onto the battle field? Was it really necessary to protect our nation from foreign oppression, from foreign aggression? Did the Communists in North Korea, the Vietcong in Vietnam. or Saddam Hussein in Iraq really threaten our nation? Many now are skeptical of the necessity of those wars.

And now, and for the past 8 years, we find ourselves in Afghanistan fighting the elusive al Qaeda and the religious Muslim fundamentalist Taliban. President Obama has a great weight on his shoulders deciding what he should do about this longest war in which our nation is involved. Public sentiment has turned against our involvement. Of course, it did in Vietnam, yet the president continued the useless involvement.

Afghanistan has turned completely into a war of tribal deities, Christianity vs. Islam. Christian fundamentalist preacher, Pat Robertson, said so two days ago. He said. "And they [Islam] talk about infidels and all this, but the truth is that’s what the game is. So you are dealing with not a religion. You’re dealing with a political system."

Well, no, Rev. Robinson, you're dealing with that other tribal deity, the one that your tribal deity doesn't like. It's all about religion now, since al Qaeda has left Afghanistan and is in many other locations around the world. We are fighting fundamentalist Muslims, period. Is that what our young men and women are giving their lives for? Is a war of religion what America wants? Our European ancestors fled here because of religious wars. Now, we are fighting one.

How very sad, especially on this day when when honor the memories of those brave men and women whose president thought that their lives would help preserve those at home.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Birth of Humanity

Last week, PBS aired the first in the 3-part series on evolution. It was fascinating to realize that there were human-like creatures as far back as 3.3 million years ago. An increase in brain size occurred about this time and has never stopped increasing in size or cognitive ability. We are the present end-product of this 3.3 million years of human evolution

Part 2 is Tuesday evening on PBS. The program examines an intriguing theory that long-distance running–our ability to jog–was crucial for the survival of these early hominids. Not only did running help them escape from vicious predators roaming the grasslands, but it also gave them a unique hunting strategy: chasing down prey animals such as deer and antelope to the point of exhaustion. "Birth of Humanity" also probes how, why, and when humans' uniquely long period of childhood and parenting began.

This latter point of a 'uniquely long period of childhood' was touched upon in part 1. In fact, the 3.3 million year old fossil discovered in Africa was that of a 3-year-old. It was noted that its brain had not yet begun to develop [enlarge] just as the human brain takes time to develop. The ape family, on the other hand, have fully-developed brains by the age of three. This is why 'Lucy's Child' began the switch from ape-like to human-like.

It must be quite exciting for a paleoanthropologist to stumble across a valuable fossil like this- just lying atop the rock and sands. It seems with each passing month, scientists uncover one more link to our past, one more incredible example of our epic journey towards 'humanity.'

It is too bad that there is a knot of nihilists both in the Christian and Muslim worlds who deny all of this, cling onto ancient and dusty journals written by men who thought the stars were atop the cloud layer. Oh well, we didn't cry for the demise of the ice man and we shan't for these non-believers. Enjoy part 2 Tuesday evening at 8 PM EST.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"No Weapons Allowed"

I voted a few minutes ago- civic duty you know. But, what greeted me as I entered the building? A sign taped to the door, "NO WEAPONS ALLOWED." Can you imagine that? How un-American! No weapons at the polling place!!

In fact, I said to the nearly-empty room, "I left my shotgun outside!" They all chuckled. Normal people, they.

Yet, I can imagine a similar sign in another place which caused outrage. Teabaggers, them folks.

Clear and Present Danger- Taxes

Rep. Virginia Foxx [R-NC] opened her trap again on the House floor yesterday to claim that taxes are a much greater threat to the security of the United States than al Qaeda and/or other foreign terrorist groups.

Yes, that's what she said. Of course, this old teabag often opens her mouth before engaging her brain, but isn't that exactly the characteristic of the current junta of teabaggers.

Recall that Foxx was one of a handful of Congressmen who voted against the Matthew Shepard Act, claiming that the murder of Matthew Shepard was not a hate crime. While debating the act at the House of Representatives, which was attended by Matthew Shepard's mother, she called the incident a "very unfortunate incident" but also "we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn't because he was gay". She continued that "It's really a hoax that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing hate crimes bills"

I wonder if there ought to be an additional requirement added to the list for those who seek a seat in Congress. An IQ of three-digits.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Old Math, New Math, Sensate Math

If you went to school in the 40's and 50's, math lessons were not only boring, but often futile for the less-than gifted student. High school was worse because the math teachers were under the impression that, since they 'got' math quite easily, the students should as well. I had some gaud-awful math teachers and, for me, mathematics was an ugly exercise.

In grade school we copied and copied stuff from our workbooks and 'practiced' the rote lessons until our fingers blistered from holding the pencils too tightly. Then we went home and did the same nonsense there for another hour. Memorizing 'facts' was little more than drill and kill. The 'math' lessons were appropriately called arithmetic which might have been useful if we intended to grow up and become shop keepers. For most of us, it was pure boredom and it killed any desire to move on to higher level math.

Thankfully, times have changed for most kids in school today, because teachers, textbooks and curriculum have been updated and math class is truly math, not just arithmetic. I came across a lesson at this LINK that would have been useful to me in 3rd or 4th grade. Rather than rote memory and mounds of practice sheets, this lesson clearly demonstrates the intricacies of mathematics in a relational format that actually makes sense to the student.

Note the subtle algebraic equations that accompany the 'fact families.' Note also the diagrams which begin lessons in geometry. The total set of mathematical relationships are offered to the student in one sitting. Wow! If only I had been born 60 years later, I might have become an aeronautical engineer!

GOP Congressional Ex-Candidate Endorses Democrat in New York

Republican Dede Scozzafava endorsed the Democratic contender for a vacant New York congressional seat over the Conservative backed by Republican leaders one day after she withdrew from the race. Ms. Scozzafava announced yesterday that she is supporting Democrat Bill Owens in his race against Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate, in a Nov. 3 special election in New York’s traditionally Republican 23rd congressional district.

Dede Scozzafava, a state assemblywoman, had been handpicked by local Republican Party leaders and first backed by the national party. But the surge of conservative activists like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh attacking Dede Scozzafava and endorcing Doug Hoffman’s independent bid for the congressional seat, energized his candidacy and money poured into his campaign.

Scozzafava stepped aside Oct. 31 after her lead in polls evaporated. Scozzafava said she was “outspent on both sides” as her fundraising foundered. Upon hearing the latest news, Newt Gingrich said, "How could she have accepted all that support? I'm very, very let down because she told everybody she was a Republican, and she said she was a loyal Republican."

Gingrich now backs Hoffman who had originally sought the Republican nomination, joining the Conservative ticket after his bid failed.

Republicans have just two other seats in New York’s 29 member House delegation. I see this latest trend as being quite telling when the Extreme Members in the Republican Party forces out moderate Republicans. I think that is very telling where the Republican Party is right now.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Recovering From Religion

I found an interesting topic and website dedicated to people who have decided that they have had way too much religion in their lives. Recovering Religionists™ is a website that offers the person help in moving away from the religious indoctrination of their youth. It looks like a similar program as AA or CA or any number of other anti-addiction programs that are commonly offered for those who are looking to improve their lives of addiction.

I would not recommend such a program for those who suffer religious OCD, as that is a much more serious syndrome that requires both professional counselling and drug therapy. However, RR sounds like a great first-step for those who have tired of 'religion' and the associated baggage requirement for 'belief.' With the many advances in science and technology, adults in this wired world find it almost laughable that they are required to believe in miracles, ghosts, the undead, blood sacrifices, flying angels, and an invisible God who hovers just above the clouds.

For those wishing to divorce themselves from all of this mumbo-jumbo, RR may be just the place to begin emptying that sack of beliefs that they have been dragging around for many years.

H.Res.870 - Expressing Gratitude for Teabaggers

Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) today introduced — along with 75 other Republicans — a resolution to officially commemorate the 9/12 taxpayer march on Washington. Other sponsors of H.R. 870 include Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa.), and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the party’s whip.

The names are all-to familiar to those of us who have been paying attention recently. They are the right-wing nuts sipping tea laced with hallucinogens. Add media comic Glenn Beck to the list, as he claims to be the instigator of the teabagger's get-together.

This brings back terrifying images of those numerous ceremonies when George W. Bush staged 'American Hero' photo ops and hung tin badges around the necks of Donald Rumsfeld, L. Paul Bremer, General Tommy Franks, George Tenet, and neocons Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol- honoring the idiots who brought the specious War on Iraq to our doorsteps.

What is most spurious about the current resolution is the necessity to 'honor' what every American citizen is entitled and encouraged to do- to peacefully and publicly assemble for redress of grievances. The First Amendment.

One could not imagine any Republican support for the millions of protesters of the War on Iraq who gathered on street corners, public squares and at the Capitol. No, not THESE people. The junta that now controls the GOP is self-serving ideologues who are only interested in their narrow agenda, rather than the interests of the citizens in general. This actions smacks of the awful pimping of Terri Schaivo at the hands of the right-wing of the GOP when in March 2005, a bill was passed by the GOP-controlled Congress to 'save the life' of the brain-dead woman. Recall how George Bush, in a carefully staged photo-op by Karl Rove, flew back to Washington from a vacation to sign the bill crafted for one citizen.

The GOP scoundrels are not all gone; many of them linger on. Hopefully, the citizens are more wise now than then, which may account for the plunging support for most things 'Republican.'

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