mellowtigger: (dna mouse)
I have written about chimeras before. I learned yesterday that the UK Academy of Medical Sciences has released a report of suggested ethics guidelines for researchers who create chimeras.

One category of experiments should be off-limits for the time being, according to the report. This includes the creation of a non-human primate with enough human brain cells to make it capable of 'human-like' behavior. The report says that such animals, which might be able to develop human capacities such as reasoning or self-awareness, would have a moral status close to our own or to that of the great apes, which cannot be used for invasive research in most countries.

I do have mixed feelings about their decision on this point. As long as the religious minded are allowed to hold steadfastly to their humans-are-the-center-of-the-universe thinking, then we will never achieve the enlightenment that I think is necessary for the good future of our society and planet. I keep repeating that we need a trans-species declaration of rights. Chimeras with human-like brains and minds would hasten such a development.
mellowtigger: (banking)
Switching banks is not a fast process these days, but I did it!  I moved from Wells Fargo bank to Financial One credit union.

It's a slow process because there are so many pieces to manage.  1) I ordered new checks.  2) I switched my paycheck direct deposit.  3) I updated my annual recurring charges (like webpage registration).  Having my money split between accounts was confusing, and I discovered by happenstance last night that I didn't have enough money at the new checking account to cover my rent check!  Oops!  :(

For the last few weeks, the bridge leading to my bank has been under construction, so I haven't driven there to close my accounts.  This morning, I finally drove across the Mississippi River (at a different bridge) and wandered back around to my bank.  I closed my checking account.

I talked with a banker at a desk who helped me close my credit account.  (All he did was push a desk phone at me that I used to talk with the person who closed it for me.)  That one hurt more than the checking closure.  Wells Fargo had given me (in the 12 years that I've had my account) a line of credit equal to my annual income.  Financial One, on the other hand, has limited me to $2000 credit.  That amount won't even cover a major car repair.  *sigh*

But, I did it!  I feel good about taking control of my own small influence over the banking industry.  Washington won't effectively regulate Wall Street (in spite of reforms that the current administration is now, finally, trying to legislate).  So it's up to people to individually exercise their authority.  I enjoyed driving immediately afterward to my credit union, making my deposit to cover the rent check, and doing it without even having to fill out a form.  They're beginning to recognize me.  Not many longhaired men visit their credit union, I'm guessing.

Move Your Money.  Find a bank or credit union near you.

Do it!  You have the power to create change!  Don't accept "Too Big To Fail"!
mellowtigger: (dna mouse)
The world is a hugely complex place. Pretty much by definition, each species has its own unique place within this maelstrom of activity. If two animals served precisely the same role within the system, they would essentially be the same species. Instead, each plant, animal, and microbe exploits some unique way of conserving, acquiring, or transferring energy in the complex dance of life (and death).

With countless species in the world, there are lots of biochemical and engineering lessons to be learned from each of them. Each page in the vast library of knowledge is out there, walking or flying or crawling through our environment. No creature is too small or insignificant to offer us an important insight. For example...

Alaska beetle teaches us a new formula for an antifreeze molecule. (link) This trick could teach us to save human lives in hospitals, or it could prepare us for long distance journeys in space while in suspended animation.

Microbe shows us how it "breathes" from iron-containing minerals in rock. (link) This trick could teach us how to build "living" batteries that produce electricity for us.

Zebrafish reveals that it retains its telomeres regardless of its age or regeneration. (link) This trick could teach us how to prevent or cure some forms of cancer, and it could lead to greatly increased lifespans for humans. (Also, this study came out of the University of Minnesota, just a few miles down the road from where I live.)

Fescue grass produces an herbicide that inhibits growth of other plants. (link) This trick could give us industrial farming without the use of dangerous chemicals laced with mercury or arsenic.

Algae is more efficient than it needs to be at converting light into sugar. (link)  This trick could be exploited to create new algae that uses its excess capacity to produce large amounts of hydrogen gas or other fuels or even plastics.

Southern copperhead snake administers venom that can inhibit tumor growth and migration. (link) This trick could help us cure breast cancer. Meanwhile, rattlesnake venom may be able to treat victims of stroke.

Each of these species is an already-worked-out solution to a real-world problem. The fact that species worldwide are going extinct before we have an opportunity to learn their wisdom is a problem worth a great deal of excitement. They arrived at their specialties after millions of years of trial and error. We could learn valuable lessons in years or centuries instead, except that our "mentors" are dieing from our neglect.

Be concerned about endangered or threatened species. Worry when once-thought-extinct animals are rediscovered... and then promptly eaten. Which pages of the library of knowledge are we sacrificing when we dine on the meat of a simple bird that we find in the forest? Does that quail's bone marrow contain instructions on how to build a new lightweight structure of surprising strength? Does its blood contain a cure for a fungal infection common to its environment?

Whether it is pond scum or rodent, each lost species is a lost lesson.  Go Green. It matters.

Many months ago, I purchased the domain name as a location for encouraging conservation activities amongst the Bear crowd. I really need to get off of my lazy butt and do something with it... before nature's unexplored processes turn around and bite us all in the butt.
mellowtigger: (all i have)
What's given is not the same as what's taken.

With the Roman Polanski case in the news recently, I've seen a lot of online chatter about rape and consent. I have opposing thoughts on the issue, and I thought that exploring them through writing might help me achieve a single coherent stance. At the end, I discuss my own history on this topic.

It doesn't matter how many human laws are passed, we're not going to convince God to raise the age of puberty. I firmly believe that Mother Nature signals readiness for sexual relations by giving us puberty. Sexual maturity is the whole point of puberty! Redefining puberty seems unwise. My own great, great grandmother eloped around age 12 or 13, and she remained married and raised a whole litter of kids. Humans can make adult decisions at this early age. Denying this truth seems unhealthy.

As solitary creatures, body maturity provides a sufficient standard. As social creatures, however, the mind must also figure into the equation. The brain requires time and nutrition to mature. Given a healthy brain, the mind also requires experience to mature. It may be that teaching such experience requires yet more time, leaving the body to outpace the mind in development toward adulthood.

Steinberg and his co-authors address this seeming contradiction in a study showing that cognitive and emotional abilities mature at different rates. They recruited 935 10- to 30- year-olds to examine age differences in a variety of cognitive and psychosocial capacities. ... There were no differences among the youngest four age groups (10-11, 12-13, 14-15 and 16-17) on the measures of psychosocial maturity. But significant differences in maturity, favoring adults, were found between the 16- to 17-year-olds and those 22 years and older, and between the 18- to 21-year-olds and those 26 and older. Results were the same for males and females, the authors said. ... In contrast, differences in cognitive capacity measures increased from ages 11 to 16 and then showed no improvements after age 16 - exactly the opposite of the pattern found on the psychosocial measures. Certain cognitive abilities, such as the ability to reason logically, reach adult levels long before psychosocial maturity is attained, Steinberg said.

According to this study, human logical reasoning ability seems to mature by age 16, but human emotional reasoning doesn't fully arrive until age 26. Considering that puberty happens around ages 8-14, we experience a huge stretch of life in which there is discordant maturity. This long mismatch is perhaps the crux of the problem. (Keep in mind that at age 18, we also demand that male citizens register in preparation to kill and die in military service.)

How we choose to define adulthood is important. It affects what behaviors we encourage or discourage. It influences how we define transgressions and their punishments; it includes how we define permissible actions that people must take responsibility for themselves.

A difficult childhood reduces life expectancy by 20 years among adults who experienced six or more particular types of abuse or household dysfunction as kids, while those who suffered fewer types of trauma lost fewer years of life, a large-scale epidemiological study finds.

In other words, making a child's life miserable is more than just a repulsive act. It steals years from their lifespan. This is important stuff we're talking about. How do we distinguish consensual sexuality involving young adults from life-destroying predation?

The maturity of the body (puberty) seems an easy measurement to identify and acknowledge. The maturity of the mind (adulthood) seems much more problematic, as does the ability to consent.

I think that an important example can be taken from a youth service that I visited some years ago. The tour guide pointed to a locked cabinet and explained that yes they had videos and books of sexual topics available in their library for the youth to borrow. This place kept them locked up, though, and required that youth ask for permission to browse them. In their words, "If they're mature enough to view them, then they're mature enough to ask first." I think that policy is very reasonable. I think we can use the same principle to confirm sexual maturity too.

my solution:
If someone's mature enough to experience sex, then they're mature enough to ask for it. So I propose a system in which anyone (who has passed puberty) up to age 18 may register themselves as "sexually mature" adults. The concept of "statutory rape" (in which age is the defining factor) does not apply to someone who has registered themselves as mature. Maturity means taking responsibility for your actions, and registration is sufficient proof of such maturity. A mature person may marry, as did my great, great grandmother, at a young age.

I take alcohol transactions as my example here, in which proof of maturity (defined by age) is required to legally imbibe. I would eliminate statutory rape. Instead, there is only "rape rape". Consent is required for legally permissible sex with someone who is either age 18 or is a registered adult (after puberty). Without consent in these cases, you prosecute rape. Without age 18 or adult registration, however, you prosecute something "even worse than rape" although I can't think of a proper term for it right now.

Consent is required. What's given is not the same as what's taken, though the physical act be the same. Predatory behavior costs lifespan and happiness; it must be prevented before and prosecuted after the fact. Adult behavior at young age, however, should not be compromised. If you're mature enough to experience sex, then you're mature enough to ask first. I think adult certification would work, although there would need to be some mechanism that ensures the request itself is not coerced somehow.

my life:
I think that I matured intellectually at a rapid pace, outpacing my compatriots of the day. Emotional maturation, however, is something that didn't really begin until my 20's. Emotional understanding, I suspect, will be a lifelong struggle in which I trail behind my peers because I experience emotions at a different scale (both time scale and intensity scale) than others do. That's why I now think that patience will be the prime attribute of anyone who can be a successful romantic match for me. I need time (and usually solitude) to understand myself. This delay is especially important in matters of consent.

Rape is sex without consent. Date rape, as I define it today, is sex where both parties experience some interest in each other but consent still is not provided. Only once (in my early 20s) have I experienced date rape, although there are other near-examples. For anyone taking note, physical reaction in a man is not the same as consent. A man needs to actively approach you in order for consent to even be implied.  Verbal expression of sexual interest is, of course, the best scenario. This was a period of my life when speaking required a lot more effort than it does now. I know that I was thinking the word "No", but at this moment I can't remember if the word ever reached audible form. That experience is one of a few "Ick!" moments of my life. That's not what I want my sex life to be like. At least it was all over quickly.

I myself often fail to "read" people well.  I can only hope that I never created a situation in which someone else felt assaulted by me.  :(  It seems unlikely, but I must mention the possibility to be complete in my exploration of the topic.

Here I am writing about important sex issues when sex is mostly a theoretical thing for me. I haven't had sex with anyone in years. I haven't even dated in more than 12 years. I've never bottomed for anyone, as I expect the emotional intensity and complexity to be too much for me to cope with unless it was with my husband (the ideal patient man who simply doesn't exist (for me anyway)).

So, read my opinions on the subject with some healthy skepticism, I guess. :)
mellowtigger: (dna mouse)
They say that man's best friend is the dog, but another creature has suffered on our behalf and contributed more to our well being than all the canines ever have. The lowly mouse is so very similar to us in genes and health and disease. This similarity costs it a great deal of ill treatment. I'm not opposed to learning from animal experimentation, but I would like to believe that the usefulness of a particular animal test has been appropriately reviewed and validated.

In 2006, Daniel Hackam of the University of Toronto looked at how many animal-based experiments had been later verified by successful human trials. Out of 76 studies published between 1980 and 2000, 28 were successfully replicated in human randomised trials, 14 were contradicted in trials, and 34 remained untested. ... None of this should put a negative spin, however, on the importance of mice in research. So far, 26 Nobel prizes have gone to discoveries where research on mice has been key, including work on vitamins, the discovery of penicillin, the development of numerous vaccines and understanding the role of viruses.

So, we use them.

We freeze them for 16 years, thaw their carcass, then extract cells to clone them into new mice. (Japanese or English)
To A Mouse;
On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough
by Robert Burns in November 1785

I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!
But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

We inspire creativity by encouraging people to build a better mouse trap.

We use them as hosts for our parasitic additions to their bodies, like this cow cartilage shaped into a human ear configuration.

In the interest of science, of course, we even levitate them by lifting magnetically every molecule of water in their body.

And yet... and yet... every once in a while, this timid relative of ours (who looks more like the first mammal than we ourselves do) can surprise us when it's driven by bravery or curiosity or plain old-fashioned hunger.

I hope that we can accumulate sufficient knowledge to eventually make live animal testing unnecessary. I hope we reach a point where we can turn the animals loose and thank them for their generations of service. Although they'd likely not understand the gesture (Rats of NIMH excepted?), perhaps we could still hold a small ceremony to commemorate that their descendants are finally free from such poor treatment. I hope we can keep an accounting and someday provide to them the same medical benefits that they have provided to us.

It was 5 years ago (2004 September 13) that I found a story about researchers at Columbia University (City of New York) producing mice with autistic behaviors by injecting them with thimerosal.   I suspected that the mice in such experiments would be killed in order to examine their brains post mortem. Just in case, though, I emailed the researcher to offer my services to coordinate a "mouse relocation program". If any mice survived their experiments and were no longer of use to the scientists, I would pay to ship them to new adoptive homes. I was willing to adopt the autistic mice similar to the way that used greyhound dogs are rescued from their industries too. Patricia Clark offered to adopt a pair of them, if I ever got my relocation program running. I never heard back from the researcher, unfortunately.

I make no apologies for myself having descended from omnivores. My diet already leaves me short of appropriate B12 resources. I will continue to eat animals, although I'd rather pick genetically engineered berries that alone can meet all of my nutritional needs. Even if someone finally engineers such a plant, how will we determine the safety of these berries in the human diet?

Before any human, of course, we will feed such berries to a mouse.
mellowtigger: (Default)
I have inconsistencies of thought on the matter, so obviously I need to spend more time pondering the subject.  By my definition, a warrior is someone willing to die, not someone willing to kill.  I respect the warriors of peace.  What, though, do I call those who do both?  I think, in particular, of the Sacred Band of Thebes... the famous warrior lovers.  What are they, in my vocabulary?  I don't yet know.

Probably the most significant religious text that I have is this:
The right to live is tentative. Material things are limited, though the mind is free. Of protein, phosphorus, nor even energy is there ever enough to slake all hungers. Therefore, show not affront when diverse beings vie over what physically exists. Only in thought can there be true generosity. So let thought be the focus of your world.
- David Brin, my favorite sci-fi author
The universe constrains us; it imposes limits on resources (both matter and energy). I've seen no evidence that suggests a way to escape this fundamental restriction. So of course there will be conflict over resources. Gods of war (and therefore heroes of warfare) have their necessary place in the story of our lives. Every form of life competes for resources, from microscopic organisms to macroscopic biospheres. When war is called for, wage war brilliantly.

I am not a peacenik who thinks that universal love will overcome every obstacle. My universe is more complex than that. I do question, though, how to tell when warfare (killing for future protection of resources rather than for immediate food/shelter) is appropriate. Nature provides so many checks on unrestrained growth already. Starvation and disease are very effective ways to reduce a population. Do we add genocide to the mix of mechanisms only because we grow impatient with Mother Nature's pace? When is a soldier something more than just an impatient bully?
I am here. I am human. I was not born to fight you. I was born to live and be free. And this is me living and being free in the face of your teargas. I wanted to create, not just react.
- "Fierce Light", (YouTube trailer)
This movie reminded me that peaceful protestors die just as simply as armed ones. Peacefully waiting out a conflict still results in casualties. Can the peaceful outlast the armed, starving the aggressor of money, time, food, or water? If they can, then isn't it the moral choice to maintain peaceful protest? Ultimately, there needs to be fewer humans on the planet than we have now. I see that goal as the only long-term solution. Surely starvation and disease can eliminate a great many people without the need for warfare. Most religions seem opposed to reducing birth rates, but the only alternative I see is the massive reduction of population by other (far more unpleasant) means.
Our minds display an enormous plasticity, and it is possible to transform ourselves based on deliberate uses of attention. And yet we need to understand that rationally.  We need to understand that neuroscientifically and psychologically.
- Sam Harris in "Fierce Light"
(This quote also reminds me that I still need to make time to write about Remaking.)

Perhaps there's a way to use ideals to inform our intellect, a way that doesn't require the use of traditional religious institutions or standards.  Sam Harris wrote a book titled, "The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason".  Apparently he tries to posit a rational approach to ethics for people who are more familiar with religious methods.  I think maybe I should continue my investigation by ordering myself a copy of his book to read.

No answers today.  Just lots of questions.
mellowtigger: (dna)
chimeraFor some people, technology seems to be a dizzying force that perpetually brings them new and previously unfathomable possibilities.  The thrashing of expectations forces them to constantly re-evaluate their understanding of the operation of the universe.  (Therefore it also threatens their understanding of God(s), therefore it is to be summarily distrusted as a destabilizing force.)

That's probably why some people are still stuck in the debate over stem cell research into conditions like Parkinson's disease.  They don't realize that they've already lost that debate and the next one too, because these processes are already producing useful knowledge about human ailments.

The "next one" debate that I mean is the creation of chimeras.  A chimera in folklore is a creature made up of several animals.  The traditional Greek example included a lion's head and body, a goat's head from the back, and a snake's tail with the head at the end (pictured here from Wikipedia).  A chimera in the medical sense is an animal whose dna incorporates sequences from other animals, particularly humans.  Human chimera also occur naturally (people have dna from two different people in them), but newly designed animal creations are the issue that I intend here.

I still think that the world very quickly needs to come up with a doctrine of species' rights.  We need to know immediately how to deal with current animals whose intelligence is frequently being revealed to be much like humans'.  We need specific thresholds of understanding (and therefore suffering) that trigger specific prohibitions against certain ill treatment.  Ill treatment is a certainty, as life is very messy, but we need to define when government will or will not become involved. Anyone can claim that their deity abhors a given practice, but I've noticed that it's generally up to humans to define when to enforce a standard.  (Deities seem to never intervene in time to prevent some impatient humans from taking matters into their own vigilante hands.)

So we need standards.  We need them yesterday.   "No" is an insufficient standard, as it's already too late and it's utterly impossible to enforce.  I think that a workable solution may involve making people responsible for the creatures they produce, just as parents are responsible for the creatures that they produce using the old-fashioned horizontal mambo.   I think the concept of chimeras is pretty cool.  I think it does provoke lots of moral questions that seriously need answers.  I'd be pleased if someday the process resulted in a creature that we could ask, "What do you think of the practice of animal experimentation?", and then we receive a thoughtful reply.

Anyway, the news that brought on this blog entry?

"Multiple sclerosis successfully reversed in animals"

More specifically, those animals are re-introduced to their own modified chimeric blood cells.  Not true chimeras, but obviously pointing at the next step of the research, getting an animal's body to continuously produce its own cure.  They think this treatment "might also be effective against other autoimmune disorders like Crohn's disease, lupus and arthritis" and even for organ transplants.  Again, too late to have a debate about the process.  We have important medical knowledge already.  That genie isn't going back into the bottle.

For what it's worth, I would suspect (with weak conviction) that my own mother is a chimera.  She has said before that every time she's had her blood type tested, it's come back as a different type.  Chimera is one possible explanation, at least.

(p.s. Okay, it's an hour later.  I promise I'll stop repeatedly editing the original post now.  *laugh*)
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
I was wrong. Well, maybe I'm still accurately remembering what I was told at the time, but what I believed is incorrect.

cotton bollsI remember visiting relatives in Knott, Texas, in the late 1970s or early 1980s and having to drink bottled water because the well water was poison. That happened with regularity, you see, during each drought. The sinking water table would bring contaminants with it until they reached a concentration that was too dangerous for people to ingest. I remembered it as being mercury contamination... but after my recent websurfing it seems now to have been arsenic instead.  Either element is plausible considering the source of the problem.

You see, people out there are cotton farmers. In order to harvest cotton with mechanical aid, you need the plants to die and turn crisp while holding their cotton bolls out high at the end of dead stalks where the machines can pluck them. To get all the plants to conveniently die at the same time across wide areas of land... they spray defoliants. Those chemicals contain arsenic (or mercury or other unpleasant substances). Repeat this process over decades, and you can see how poisons might accumulate in the topsoil and then get dragged down to groundwater as the underground "tide" (water table) recedes.

In other words, it's our own fault. "Our" meaning my family members... and our society at large for insisting on production that happens with less time, less effort, and less cost. Short-time cost, mind you. Long-term cost isn't part of the annual equation.
"During the 1990s, some 23 confirmed cases of elevated arsenic groundwater in Howard and Martin counties near the city of Knott have been attributed to point sources such as cotton gins, gin waste, gin trash, and hull pits, among other sources."
Not exactly.  My relatives weren't by the gins; they lived (and had their well) out in the cotton fields.  The ground accumulated arsenic, so the plants accumulated arsenic.  The whole system became toxic 3 decades ago, and yet they still have people out there farming cotton by spraying defoliant.

I also found a remarkable pdf file of a chart that details many sites of groundwater contamination in the state of Texas from 1976 to 2006. ( ) It's a scary 120 pages of documentation about unhealthy groundwater. Most of it is gasoline, but if you search for the word "Knott" (the town (sort-of town, community really) where my relatives lived) you'll find references in both Martin and Howard counties with confirmed arsenic poisoning.  Only 3 of them are listed, not the 23 locations mentioned in the previous quote.
"Injudicious application of arsenical pesticides in agricultural fields has rendered soils with elevated levels of arsenic. This is particularly true for the cotton soils of Texas where background concentrations of arsenic are significantly higher than normal."
I can't find a reference at the moment, but supposedly this arsenic (and mercury?) remains part of the cotton fiber even after processing and is included in the shirt that you're wearing right now... unless you've already gone to organic products including your clothes.

Really, the Green Revolution can't happen fast enough for my sensibilities.
mellowtigger: (Default)
I've been doing some websurfing to try to learn more. My economic view has a name after all. You'd never guess what it is. I was surprised when I found it.  I'll give you a hint first.
You cannot have a satisfactory society made up of competitive, self-interested individuals! In a satisfactory society there must be considerable concern for the public good and the welfare of all, and there must be considerable collective social control and regulation and provision, to make sure all are looked after, to maintain public institutions and standards, and to reinforce the sense of social solidarity whereby all feel willing to contribute to the good of all.
- Ted Trainer
Note that first sentence. Does it give you any ideas? :)  It turns out that the name I found is "Post-Autistic Economics". Imagine that! *laugh*

One group has been publishing a newsletter since 2000 September 01. So of course I expect to be doing some reading of their archives in the coming weeks. A few other people seem to have hit on the same idea, including one guy who has thoughts on how to transition from one economy to another, rather than just waiting patiently for the inevitable implosion.

The links:, Post-Autistic Economics Network
(created by French economics students, later joined by Cambridge students), "The Simpler Way" by Ted Trainer, New Economics Foundation

So I'm not the only person to see the fatal flaw in any economic system based on growth.  Growth happens, and it must be accounted for in any stable economic system.  Growth is the flaw, though, rather than the salvation.  Change is the only certainty.  Growth is not guaranteed.
mellowtigger: (Default)
It was 1983 when the government arrived to take over a failed bank in my hometown. Mr. Franks, my high school economics teacher at the time, took the opportunity to demonstrate to us just how our money system really works. It was a powerful lesson. I understood it, and yet I abhored it. It was a system that, by definition, must fail. It's a mathematical necessity.

I couldn't believe that it really was how our nation had chosen to conduct its business. Ever since, I've had philosophical issues with interest-bearing accounts or other "free money" schemes. They're all immoral, in my opinion. Using them hastens the inevitable end of the system. The dollar is just another pyramid scheme, which is supposed to be illegal because of the way that such organization tempts people with its awful wrongness.

I believe that money should represent a unit of human labor.  Not just a mythical person's labor, but my own.  I've tried to avoid systems that give me money not the product of my own direct effort.  Yes, even though it means that other people with their 401k and various other involvements are "earning" more than me.  I tried to not participate.  On purpose.  I wanted to understand in the immediate sense why I deserved what I received.

Aside: Mr. Franks is apparently still an excellent teacher. Searching online this morning, I find that he has won awards from both a corporation and an agency for his skill and success.

Someone has created a series of video lessons to explain the same economic problem that I learned back in 1983. It explains not only that particular problem but also quite a few more that are all tied together: dollars, interest, fuel, housing, population. It explains the inherent danger of exponential growth. The last chapter, Section 20: What Should I Do?, has not been completed yet, but the other chapters already total more than 3 hours of footage.  It's a "crash course" in economics.  It also lays out the logic of the inevitable and necessary economic "crash" that may have been initiated this month by the housing bubble burst.

Considering the meltdown facing the U.S. and the world right now, this video series is the most important lesson that you could be learning right now. Watch it.  Even "W" is preparing for martial law. It all makes sense now.
mellowtigger: (Default)
TED speeches are a bountiful source of insightful knowledge. One speech that was uploaded recently is by Jonathan Haidt on "the moral roots of liberals and conservatives", as the webpage title states it. It's a video well worth the 19 minutes of your time, and it's relevant to the current debates on politics and economics here in America.

(forewarning: the first few seconds are very loud)

His research group has found a set of 5 moral indicators that show a trend between liberal to conservative thinking that is common across cultures around the globe. Basically, conservatives have a "5-channel" morality of concerns that are more or less equal, whereas liberals have a "2-channel" morality in which two of the concerns override the other three. He points out that successful civilizations have likely used "every tool in the toolbox" and so he challenges liberals (and conservatives) to appreciate what insights the other side brings to the discussion.

In brief, his 5 indicators are:
  1. harm/care
  2. fairness/reciprocity
  3. ingroup/loyalty
  4. authority/respect
  5. purity/sanctity
In regards to the second item, he also shows an example in which both liberals and conservatives respond the same way to risk/reward assessment... and that cooperation decays without punishment. That insight plays very well into recent discussion about the initial financial bailout package and why so many people opposed it without any kind of responsibility laid at the feet of the people who brought about the crisis in the first place. Morality based on fairness/reciprocity which both liberals and conservatives share.

Plus, how often do you see references to The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch? :)

Watch the film clip. Again, it's 19 minutes well spent.
The struggle between "for" and "against" is the mind's worst disease.
- Sent-ts'an, c. 4700 RHH
It might make you a little more tolerant of the other side in the current political storm. "Righteous Minds" are designed to divide us from each other. That part works the same for both liberals and conservatives.
mellowtigger: (Default)
From the writings of David Brin, my favorite sci-fi author:

"The right to live is tentative. Material things are limited, though the mind is free. Of protein, phosphorus, nor even energy is there ever enough to slake all hungers. Therefore, show not affront when diverse beings vie over what physically exists. Only in thought can there be true generosity. So let thought be the focus of your world."

BBC News is showing a video that is security camera footage of a woman who died on the floor of a waiting room in a New York City hospital during her 24-hour wait there. I dunno, my feelings about it are a bit convoluted. I never really expected to live to 40, so my thoughts about a "right" to live are already skewed from the norm. For only 5 years, I think, have I ever had really good medical insurance, so I've done without medical care that other people probably take for granted. I don't think such care is a "right" either.

I found out today that my company is required to open a retirement savings IRA for me, absent other direction from me (which I neglected to do, my fault). So I'll have to get a form to tell them to stop. I don't have a "right" to free money, the interest/dividends appearing magically from under one shell, and that money got there after having appeared magically at some previous shell. (Where does all this free money come from? I don't want any part of it until I understand and approve the answer.)

Anything living probably deserves to continue living. If there is medical talent and product available, probably anyone deserves to receive it. If there is really free money, then definitely let's all dig into that magical pot of gold. But what a person deserves is not the same thing as a "right".

People seem to use the word "rights" about things that cost other people some effort and resources that they never intended to spend in the first place. I don't believe those things are "rights". I don't know a good definition of rights as I comprehend them. It has something more to do with choices that other people make (so as not to favor one person over another) than it has to do with extracting products and services from them.

I believe that anyone who suffers deserves relief, but a life without hardship is not a right.
I believe that anyone who hungers or thirsts deserves food or water, but a life well nourished is not a right.
I believe that anyone who wants to marry deserves a mate, but a life with loving companionship is not a right.
I believe that anyone who wants to parent deserves offspring, but a life with children is not a right.
I believe that anyone who wants to continue living deserves to live, but the universe is designed in such a way to prevent that desire from being a right.

Tanstaafl on the universal scale. I guess that's what I believe.
mellowtigger: (Default)
What if there was a Pride parade, and nobody was proud?

I remember there was a time when I was actually glad to participate in Pride celebrations. I could see that people were engaging tough situations to make changes that would improve life for future folk (queer or not) everywhere. Back in those days, I was personally affected by job discrimination, for instance. (My work hours were cut from 40 to 15 as soon as the scheduler discovered that I was gay.) But now... I can't remember the last time I felt glad to be a part of the gay community. If there's so little left to improve, is it time finally to just stop having the pride celebrations?

As permanent minorities (regardless of racial group, it seems safe to assume that GLBT folk will always represent about 10% of the larger population) we are in a favorable position to observe the mainstream and actually see where it functions well and where it doesn't. We're less likely to succumb to cultural blinders that keep us from seeing things as they really are. We're not immune to that unfortunate side-effect of the human brain's daily machinations, but I do think we're afforded a special resistance because of our permanent fringe status.

Why aren't we using it to better society? The last big lesson that I can remember us teaching mainstream society was in the 1980s when culture learned from us (via our HIV/AIDS experience) that cancer was not a dirty word, that diagnosis was just a call to stand up and fight, and that medicine was the patient's responsibility and not something to simply be handed over to a guy in a white dress. Society learned from us that the individual ought to confront the "experts" and demand explanation without patronization.

Today, instead of brilliant observation, we have biting sarcasm. At Bear Coffee a few weeks ago, I was hugely disappointed when it seemed the whole afternoon was spent insulting people. Not just in-group people who were there to counterattack. (Feeding the downward spiral, perhaps.) But people not part of our crowd who just made the awful mistake to walk past our group. I felt sad for them and annoyed by us. I get closer each year to boycotting all Bear events. I gave up on general GLBT culture a while back, I think, but I'd hoped that the Bear community (because of its own history) would be different.

What do we have to be proud of in this most recent generation? I honestly can't think of anything.

semi-related: Harvey, as usual, has a good point.
mellowtigger: (Default)
It's a topic that I've pondered many times over the course of my life. I suppose it's good to see others addressing the issue in a more scientific way. Specifically, a new study announces that conservative protestants are financially poor.

"The direct influence stems from conservative Protestants’ unique approach to finances -- in particular the belief that people are managers of God’s money and excess accumulation of wealth should be avoided.

In addition, conservative Protestants have tended to be less educated and have large families beginning at younger ages; and fewer conservative Protestant women work, all of which indirectly contribute to slow asset accumulation, Keister said."
I have, over the years, made financial decisions that I knew would leave me poorer than my contemporaries, but I made those choices anyway in an effort to live my ethical beliefs.  For instance, I canceled my savings account about 15 years ago because I didn't like the answers I gave myself concerning where that "interest money" was coming from.  It wasn't money that I had earned; it was money that somebody else once earned (other people paying interest on their home loans) and that somehow ended up in my bank account by methods that seemed rather shady to me (poor people using their paychecks to cover exorbitant fees on bounced checks).  I decided that I would stop participating in that system of finances as much as I was able to extricate myself.  I still have a checking account, but it "pays" no interest (meaning, it doesn't take money from somebody else to give it to me for reasons that I don't quite understand and certainly don't justify ethically).

Similarly, it took me a few weeks of pondering during an incident about 8 years ago to finally decide that 401k was not something I would participate in at my workplace.  I even considered playing stocks like I would a computer game, enjoying the mathematical complexity in trying to find maximum achievement.  Still, it wasn't enough to soothe my worries about where all this stock "value" was coming from, which seemed like children playing with trading cards whose "value" had nothing to do with their indication of work produced.  I can understand and approve a system in which stocks are issued with a fixed amount of "return" on the investment.   Suppose a company could sell stocks at a value of $100 with promise of a total $200 return to the investor, then after the $200 is paid off, the stock simply "disappears".  The company can continue to pay dividends as they are able, essentially making such stock into a very flexible loan.  But stocks last forever, near as I can tell.  Why should a stock I purchase on the market (where my money does not go to the company needing the cash for its own use) and I continue to siphon off funds that should be going to the workers who produced the real value?  How much total money is being paid in dividends on stocks today in America?  Dividends which should (by my logic anyway) belong to the people who made the company profitable, not to me who gets dibs on the profit because of some stupid piece of paper.  I can see why the initial stock sale can benefit the company and its workers, but I can't see how stocks should ever be allowed to siphon off funds in perpetuity.  It seems plainly unethical to me.

So no 401k "investments" for me.  That money belongs to somebody else, and I'm not going to take it even though I could.

I understand that Muslims have even more strict standards on financial involvements than Christians do.  I've thought more than once that I wish I knew where they did their banking here in America so I could examine it to see how it matched up to my own standards.  It should be possible to create "ethical banking".  I wish I knew where to find it, though.


mellowtigger: (Default)

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