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Tagging posts, posts by category, next/previous post indicators, and other post-2003 design innovations are incrementally being tweaked/kludged/melting.
Above email address currently deprecated! Use gary underscore farber at yahoodotcom, pliz! Sanely free of McCarthyite calling anyone a traitor since 2001!
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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?
I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.
Thanks for any understanding and support. I know it's difficult to understand. And things will change. They always change.
I'm sometimes available to some degree as a paid writer, editor, researcher, or proofreader. I'm sometimes available as a fill-in Guest Blogger at mid-to-high-traffic blogs that fit my knowledge set.
If you like my blog, and would like to help me continue to afford food and prescriptions, or simply enjoy my blogging and writing, and would like to support it --
you are welcome to do so via the PayPal buttons.
"The brain is wider than the sky, For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson
"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin
"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton
"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan
"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to
trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule --
and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt
"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley
"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss
"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire,
the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind;
and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise
the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his
expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were
respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon
"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify
the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority.
They show disrespect for elders and they
love to chatter instead of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They
no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize
"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook
"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.
We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect
disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest
and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr
"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the
land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion
"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him
an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this
or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages
to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also
to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing,
with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess
and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion
and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson
"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices,
intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to
improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation;
a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most
tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition --
to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri
"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke
"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology;
it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to
understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit
and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant
"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is
but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest
winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville
"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon,
but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without
being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant
"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand
"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.
"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible,
and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and
man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and
after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus
"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814
"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort,
are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true,
the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated.
This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944
"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News
"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it."
-- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson
"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."
-- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance."
-- H. W. Fowler
"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place."
-- Kate Wilhelm
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein
"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).
"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs
"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden
"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit.
He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.
The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cutepanda. Don't you lovepandas?
Current Total # of Donations Since 2002: 1181
Subscribers to date at $5/month: 100 sign-ups; 91 cancellations; Total= 9
Supporter subscribers to date at $25/month: 16 sign-ups; 10 cancellation; Total= 6
Patron subscribers to date at $50/month: 20 sign-ups; 13 cancellations; Total= 7
...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow
I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber
Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow
One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.
Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's
face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged
We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott
Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit
My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal
If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.
Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks
I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes
Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this? -- Natalie Solent
People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost,
Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry,
Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny.
It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out.
And She of whom I must write someday.
THE PERILS OF MIXED MARRIAGES, and other tests of science, morals, and life. Can geek/non-geek relationships work? An open question, depending on the individuals.
Quite often at Nets2go we receive enquiries for custom-made blinds and curtains, designs ranging from flower patterned nets right through to Elvis covered blinds, however a couple of months ago one particular request immediately got the whole office talking at a previously unseen level.
“So… sorry, you’ll have to run that by me again Mr Schofield. I don’t think I caught it all”
“Ok. So basically I have 9 windows, all needing wooden blinds. On each of those blinds I’d like you to print, paint, or whatever it is you do, a different logo”
“And these logos all belong to websites? Is that correct?”
“Exactly. I can email them all to you now if that helps”
So he did. As soon as the email came through, the office (the majority of whom obviously spend far too much time on the internet) erupted in a wave of confused laughter. Why? We’ll let you look at the results below. These are genuine photographs of completed blinds, custom made by ourselves, installed in the very satisfied customer’s house. We took the photos, as we always do with any of our unique designs, with Mr Schofield’s permission, something we also seeked before printing this very story on our site. The sting in the story’s tail? 2 weeks after the blinds were delivered, Mr Schofield regrettably separated from his wife.
“It was coming anyway”, Mr Schofield told us, “but my design choice for the blinds was pretty much the nail in the coffin. She doesn’t understand the intense geek in me. And anyway, the only one she’d even heard of was Youtube.”
Click through for the designs. What makes this truly horrifying is that, you know, "Google" and "Firefox" aren't exactly obscure geeky things. Ditto Flickr or Facebook. I mean, this isn't geek/non-geek, this is internet-user/non-internet user. And someone who doesn't use the internet in the 21st century is just illiterate.
A NASA SEARCH FOR PLANETS: In February 2009, NASA is scheduled to launch the Kepler satellite -- a mission designed to discover Earth-like planets around distant Sun-like stars. The satellite will stare at a large patch of sky in the constellation Cygnus and monitor the brightness of 100,000 stars with a high quality digital camera for up to 6 years. Scientists will be looking for tiny dips in the amount of light received by the telescope -- the possible signature of a planet passing in front of the star. The Pale Blue Dot project supports the analysis that will allow scientists to determine the physical size of the planet, through the research efforts of the Kepler Asteroseismic Science Consortium (KASC), a large international collaboration of scientists.
It is, after all, the only universe we know how to get to, for now.
On the bright side, Britain's largest rocket, the Nova 2, will be launched from the UK in September 2009, according to current plans.
Back on Earth, apparently if you want to trade stocks, the Gordon Gekko trading bot does better than less aggressive bots. Of course.
The roundest objects in the world have been created, and, oh, how can the U.S. stand the humiliation? It's been done in France. Our decline and fall is now complete: I, for one, welcome our new Sino-French-terrorist masters!
Not the best parenting, perhaps, but who knew that being a chameleon involves brutal sex?
If you haven't noticed, your gallon milk jug either just changed or will likely change soon.
[...] The jugs have no real spout, and their unorthodox shape makes consumers feel like novices at the simple task of pouring a glass of milk.
“I hate it,” said Lisa DeHoff, a cafe owner shopping in a Sam’s Club here.
“It spills everywhere,” said Amy Wise, a homemaker.
“It’s very hard for kids to pour,” said Lee Morris, who was shopping for her grandchildren.
But retailers are undeterred by the prospect of upended bowls of Cheerios. The new jugs have many advantages from their point of view, and Sam’s Club intends to roll them out broadly, making them more prevalent.
The redesign of the gallon milk jug, experts say, is an example of the changes likely to play out in the American economy over the next two decades. In an era of soaring global demand and higher costs for energy and materials, virtually every aspect of the economy needs to be re-examined, they say, and many products must be redesigned for greater efficiency.
“Just tilt it slowly and pour slowly,” Ms. Tilton said to passing customers as she talked about the jugs’ environmental benefits and cost savings. Instead of picking up the jug, as most people tend to do, she kept it on a table and gently tipped it toward a cup.
Mike Compston, who owns a dairy in Yerington, Nev., described the pouring technique in a telephone interview as a “rock-and-pour instead of a lift-and-tip.”
Demonstrations are but one of several ways Sam’s Club is advocating the containers. Signs in the aisle laud their cost savings and “better fridge fit.”
And some customers have become converts.
“With the new refrigerators with the shelf in the door, these fit nice,” said April Buchanan, who was shopping at the Sam’s Club here.
Of course, you want to buy a new fridge, to fit your new milk containers, right? Who doesn't?
A more immediate benefit, though:
Others, even those who rue the day their tried-and-true jugs were replaced, praised the lower cost, from $2.18 to $2.58 a gallon. Sam’s Club said that was a savings of 10 to 20 cents a gallon compared with old jugs.
Why the change?
The other day, a worker named Dennis Sickafoose was using a long hook to drag plastic crates loaded with jugs of milk onto a conveyor belt.
The crates are necessary because the shape of old-fashioned milk jugs prohibits stacking them atop one another. The crates take up a lot of room, they are unwieldy to move, and extra space must be left in delivery trucks to take empty ones back from stores to the dairy.
They also can be filthy. “Birds roost on them,” said Dan Soehnlen, president of Superior Dairy, which spun off a unit called Creative Edge to design and license new packaging of many kinds. He spoke while standing in pools of the soapy run-off from milk crates that had just been washed. About 100,000 gallons of water a day are used at his dairy clean the crates, Mr. Soehnlen said.
But with the new jugs, the milk crates are gone. Instead, a machine stacks the jugs, with cardboard sheets between layers. Then the entire pallet, four layers high, is shrink-wrapped and moved with a forklift.
The company estimates this kind of shipping has cut labor by half and water use by 60 to 70 percent. More gallons fit on a truck and in Sam’s Club coolers, and no empty crates need to be picked up, reducing trips to each Sam’s Club store to two a week, from five — a big fuel savings. Also, Sam’s Club can now store 224 gallons of milk in its coolers, in the same space that used to hold 80.
The whole operation is so much more efficient that milk coming out of a cow in the morning winds up at a Sam’s Club store by that afternoon, compared with several hours later or the next morning by the old method. “That’s our idea of fresh milk,” Greg Soehnlen, a vice president at Creative Edge, said.
So, yeah, it is a good thing. And when you buy that new fridge, make sure it's energy efficient, ok?
Incidentally, moral hypocrisy, like anything else with objective results, is objectively measurable.
[...] The moral hypocrite, by contrast, has convinced himself that he is acting virtuously even when he does something he would condemn in others. You can understand this “self-halo” effect — and perhaps discover it in someone very close to you — by considering what happened when two psychologists, Piercarlo Valdesolo and David DeSteno, tested people’s reactions to the following situation.
You show up for an experiment and are told that you and a person arriving later will each have to do a different task on a computer. One job involves a fairly easy hunt through photos that will take just 10 minutes. The other task is a more tedious exercise in mental geometry that takes 45 minutes.
You get to decide how to divvy up the chores: either let a computer assign the tasks randomly, or make the assignments yourself. Either way, the other person will not know you had anything to do with the assignments.
Now, what is the fair way to divvy up the chores?
When the researchers posed this question in the abstract to people who were not involved in the tasks, everyone gave the same answer: It would be unfair to give yourself the easy job.
But when the researchers actually put another group of people in this situation, more than three-quarters of them took the easy job. Then, under subsequent questioning, they gave themselves high marks for acting fairly. The researchers call this moral hypocrisy because the people were absolving themselves of violating a widely held standard of fairness (even though they themselves hadn’t explicitly endorsed that standard beforehand).
“Anyone who is on ‘our team’ is excused for moral transgressions,” said Dr. DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University. “The importance of group cohesion, of any type, simply extends our moral radius for lenience. Basically, it’s a form of one person’s patriot is another’s terrorist.”
Who'da thunk? Fortunately, we don't see this play out in politics, or every day life, at all. Evah!
[...] “The question here,” Dr. DeSteno said, “is whether we’re designed at heart to be fair or selfish.”
To find out, he and Dr. Valdesolo brought more people into the lab and watched them selfishly assign themselves the easy task. Then, at the start of the subsequent questioning, some of these people were asked to memorize a list of numbers and retain it in their heads as they answered questions about the experiment and their actions.
That little bit of extra mental exertion was enough to eliminate hypocrisy. These people judged their own actions just as harshly as others did. Their brains were apparently too busy to rationalize their selfishness, so they fell back on their intuitive feelings about fairness.
“Hypocrisy is driven by mental processes over which we have volitional control,” said Dr. Valdesolo, a psychologist at Amherst College. “Our gut seems to be equally sensitive to our own and others’ transgressions, suggesting that we just need to find ways to better translate our moral feelings into moral actions.”
Something all of us could doubtless do with some work on.
And how much do our moral conceptions follow from our language?
If Kim Jong Il plays charades, his hand gestures might look just like George Bush's, a new study suggests. It seems that, regardless of the sentence structure of their native tongue, non-verbal communication is the same across the globe.
English, Spanish and many other Western languages build most basic sentences around a simple blueprint: a subject followed by a verb and object; for example, "mice eat cheese". Other languages, like Turkish and Korean, tend toward subject-object-verb construction, or "mice cheese eat".
"There's something pretty fundamental about these orders," says Susan Goldin-Meadow, a linguistic psychologist at the University of Chicago, who led the study.
To determine whether these differences carry over to unspoken communication, Goldin-Meadow and her colleagues asked 40 native speakers of Chinese, Turkish, English and Spanish to mime scenarios shown on a computer screen using only their hands and body.
These included a boy drinking a bottle of soda and a ship's captain swinging a pail of water.
Regardless of the order used in their native spoken language, most of the volunteers communicated with a subject-object-verb construction.
"We actually thought we were going to get gestures that just matched your speech," Goldin-Meadow says.
In a separate experiment, she asked volunteers to reconstruct a scenario using transparencies depicting different elements. Again, people of all cultures tended to arrange the transparencies in subject-object-verb order.
Goldin-Meadow argues that this kind of sentence syntax might therefore be etched into our brains. Languages that veer away from this form, such as English, must have been influenced by cultural forces.
"I think the results are exciting," says Carol Padden, a linguist at the University of California, San Diego, US.
Padden has documented the emergence of a new sign language in the last 70 years among a small group of Bedouins in the southern Israel.
So-called Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language also builds sentences around a subject-object-verb construction. "Consistent word order appears early in a new sign language," she says.
[...] Now, decades after the original work (Milgram died in 1984, at 51), two new papers illustrate the continuing power of the shock experiments — and the diverse interpretations they still inspire.
In one, a statistical analysis to appear in the July issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, a postdoctoral student at Ohio State University verifies a crucial turning point in Milgram’s experiments, the voltage level at which participants were most likely to disobey the experimenter and quit delivering shocks.
The participants usually began with what they thought were 15-volt shocks, and worked upward in 15-volt increments, as the experimenter instructed. At 75 volts, the “learner” in the next room began grunting in apparent pain. At 150 volts he cried out: “Stop, let me out! I don’t want to do this anymore.”
At that point about a third of the participants refused to continue, found Dominic Packer, author of the new paper. “The previous expressions of pain were insufficient,” Dr. Packer said. But at 150 volts, he continued, those who disobeyed decided that the learner’s right to stop trumped the experimenter’s right to continue. Before the end of the experiments, at 450 volts, an additional 10 to 15 percent had dropped out.
This appreciation of another’s right is crucial in interrogation, Dr. Packer suggests. When prisoners’ rights are ambiguous, inhumane treatment can follow. Milgram’s work, in short, makes a statement about the importance of human rights, as well as obedience.
But there's no application to current politics and policy to be seen here! None at all! Move along now!
In the other paper, due out in the journal American Psychologist, a professor at Santa Clara University replicates part of the Milgram studies — stopping at 150 volts, the critical juncture at which the subject cries out to stop — to see whether people today would still obey. Ethics committees bar researchers from pushing subjects through to an imaginary 450 volts, as Milgram did.
The answer was yes. Once again, more than half the participants agreed to proceed with the experiment past the 150-volt mark. Jerry M. Burger, the author, interviewed the participants afterward and found that those who stopped generally believed themselves to be responsible for the shocks, whereas those who kept going tended to hold the experimenter accountable. That is, the Milgram work also demonstrated individual differences in perceptions of accountability — of who’s on the hook for what.
Thomas Blass, a psychologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of a biography of Milgram, “The Man Who Shocked the World” (Basic Books, 2004), said establishing the demand by the subject to stop as the turning point was itself a significant achievement. “It’s a simple but important discovery,” Dr. Blass said. “I had been mining this data for years and somehow missed it.”
The Milgram data have unappreciated complexities of their own. In his new report, Dr. Burger argues that at least two other factors were at work when participants walked into the psychologist’s lab at Yale decades ago. Uncertainty, as it was an unfamiliar situation. And time pressure, as they had to make decisions quickly. Rushed and disoriented, they were likely more compliant than they would otherwise have been, Dr. Burger said.
In short, the Milgram experiments may have shown physical, biological differences in moral decision making and obedience, as well as psychological ones. Some people can be as quick on the draw as Doc Holliday when they feel something’s not right. Others need a little time to do the right thing, thank you, and would rather not be considered sadistic prison guards just yet.
Still, I'd say testing everyone who is up for a job as a guard, or interrogator, or, for that matter, a nurse or caretaker or teacher, or in any other position of authority or power over semi-helpless people, might be in order. Don't you?
[...] The new report, published in the free-access online journal PLoS Biology, provides the most complete rough draft to date of the cortex’s electrical architecture, the cluster of interconnected nodes and hubs that help guide thinking and behavior. The paper also provides a striking demonstration of how new imaging techniques focused on the brain’s white matter — the connections between cells, rather than the neurons themselves — are filling in a dimension of human brain function that has been all but dark.
In previous studies, scientists have used magnetic resonance imaging to identify peaks and valleys of neural activity when people are doing various things, like making decisions, reacting to frightening images or reliving painful memories. But these studies, while provocative, revealed virtually nothing about the underlying neural networks involved — about which brain regions speak to one another and when. Previous estimates of network structure, based on such imaging, have been sketchy.
The new findings, while not conclusive, give scientists what is essentially a wiring diagram that they can test and refine.
“This is just about the coolest paper I’ve seen in a long time, and forward-looking in terms of where the science is going,” said Dr. Marcus E. Raichle, a professor of neurology and radiology at Washington University in St. Louis, who was not involved in the research. He added, “They’ve found in the brain what looks like a hub map of the airline system for the United States.”
Dr. Sporns said continued research should help produce a complete and detailed neural wiring diagram, what he called the “connectome” of the brain. “We hope we can get to a place where we have, in effect, a brain simulator, in the same way we have computer models that can simulate the climate,” he said, “so we can simulate activation patterns we see in clinical cases,” like psychiatric problems and brain injuries.
The writer of this post is actually just a brain simulation, as it happens. But we pass the Turing test!
These days, with all the competing attractions of video games, the internet and movies, parents may be happy if their children read anything at all, while adults who enjoy fiction are more likely to view it as purely pleasurable rather than educative or life-enhancing. That is ironic, because for the first time in history there is now scientific evidence that reading fiction really does have psychological benefits.
The rest of the piece is behind the paywall, but I've paid for access for you, the home viewer!
Our research starts with the idea that a piece of fiction should not be thought of as a set of questionable observations and biased opinions. Instead, I have proposed that it is a kind of simulation of the social world (Review of General Psychology, vol 3, p 101). If I am correct, then just as people's skills as pilots improve when they spend time in a flight simulator, so people's social skills should improve when they spend time reading fiction.
My colleagues Mar, Jacob Hirsh, Jennifer dela Paz, Jordan Peterson and I devised a study to test this idea and its implications (Journal of Research in Personality, vol 40, p 694).
A description of the methodology follows.
[...] We found that fiction readers had substantially greater empathy as measured by the mind-in-the-eyes test, and also performed somewhat better on the interpersonal perception test than people who read predominantly non-fiction.
Could this result simply reflect the reading preferences of different personality types - might more empathic people be drawn to fiction, for example? To assess this possibility, Mar randomly assigned another group of subjects to read a fictional short story or a non-fiction essay of the same length. Then he gave them all a social reasoning test in which they had to answer multiple-choice questions about the emotions, beliefs and intentions of characters in various scenarios, as well as a similar test to assess analytical reasoning. He found that those who read the story performed better on the social reasoning test than those who read the non-fiction piece, but there was no difference between the two groups in analytical reasoning. As well as confirming the benefits of reading fiction, this also suggests that the effect is immediate.
We found that people who read the Chekhov story underwent larger changes in personality than those who read the control text - although the types of changes varied from person to person. Results from the emotions questionnaire indicated that the personality changes were mediated by the emotions experienced while reading: a person's emotional state is known to influence their scores on personality tests.
We think that readers found it easier to identify with the characters in the literary story than in the documentary version. By empathising with these characters, they became a bit more like them - but each in their own way. It seemed as though readers' personalities loosened up. Although the changes we measured were probably temporary, repeated reading of fiction may have more lasting effects.
It appears that people who don't read much fiction are far less empathetic than those who read a lot of fiction.
I could have told you that, but now it's been measured.
[...] The monkey brain contains a special class of cells, called mirror neurons, that fire when the animal sees or hears an action and when the animal carries out the same action on its own.
But if the findings, published in 1996, surprised most scientists, recent research has left them flabbergasted. Humans, it turns out, have mirror neurons that are far smarter, more flexible and more highly evolved than any of those found in monkeys, a fact that scientists say reflects the evolution of humans' sophisticated social abilities.
The human brain has multiple mirror neuron systems that specialize in carrying out and understanding not just the actions of others but their intentions, the social meaning of their behavior and their emotions.
"We are exquisitely social creatures," Dr. Rizzolatti said. "Our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others."
He continued, "Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking."
Everyday experiences are also being viewed in a new light. Mirror neurons reveal how children learn, why people respond to certain types of sports, dance, music and art, why watching media violence may be harmful and why many men like pornography.
"When you see me pull my arm back, as if to throw the ball, you also have in your brain a copy of what I am doing and it helps you understand my goal. Because of mirror neurons, you can read my intentions. You know what I am going to do next."
He continued: "And if you see me choke up, in emotional distress from striking out at home plate, mirror neurons in your brain simulate my distress. You automatically have empathy for me. You know how I feel because you literally feel what I am feeling."
So people who don't look at other people's faces, and weren't raised doing that, tend to lack empathy and understanding of other people. This explains a lot of people. Read the whole thing: it's damned important. I last wrote about mirror neurons here. More evidence here.
Back on fiction as a tool for empathy and understanding and socializing:
[...] This is why I liken fiction to a simulation that runs on the software of our minds. And it is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.
This will surprise no one who reads fiction regularly, or who grew up reading it passionately.
(Best re-purposed object ever. Dorm rooms will never be the same if milk crates vanish. Not to mention you can fill 'em with those heavy shiny-paper books that will burst the bottom out of a cardboard box.)
Wow, way cool blinds. But I just say that because of what a hip, plugged-in youth I am, as one can see from my vocabulary. (Hence my need, just last night, to ask my daughter why she'd referred to the Royal Ontario Museum as ROM ROM ROM with 2 iterations lined out, receiving an explanation of the Lolcat vocabulary item OM NOM NOM in imitation of Cookie Monster eating something, which I ought to have remembered from watching Sesame Street with her in some galaxy a long time ago, but I hadn't seen it in lolcat-land for some reason.) Anyway, it wouldn't be surprising if they were the Next Big Thing in some small way.
But there's something I don't get about those silicon spheres. "By multiplying volume by density, each group should produce its own count of how many silicon atoms make up a kilogram. The important thing is for those numbers to agree with each other." Huh? I could tell you how many when I was in high school: Avogadro's number times one thousand over the atomic weight of silicon. Duh.
The first is a constant that I thought was pretty well known; the second is a constant that definitely is known to many decimal places; the third is another widely published number, and it's determined by a comparison with Carbon-12, not by measuring a sphere. I take it, then, that they are pushing for a new, improved value of Avogadro's number.
(OK, I lied: what I could tell you in high school involved oxygen, not carbon-12; that's how long ago it was. Dern IUPAC, always shifting the ground under us.)
What I don't get, it seems, is why New Scientist doesn't have writers who understand what the question is, and explain it to the readers.
But it gets worse: this, supposedly, will just replace one ailing physical standard with another. What BS! It will replace a physical object with a universally defined standard, just as the length of a second was defined long ago, not by reference to a mean solar year (horrible thing for a standard) but by a number of fvibration periods of light given of by [yada yada]. I.e., a primary standard that any lab, any good enough lab, can construct, not needing to match an arbitrary physical object in Paris!
The objection, I guess, is that reconstructing that primary standard is experimentally less desirable than reconstructing one made in a different way, using some magnetic thing that's behind the NS firewall.
I guWss I shouldn't do a Delong and ask why oh why can't we have better science journalism, but I will anyway.