Dec 11, 2009

Ten days 'til the Giftmas Season

Hanukkah's in its fifth day. It's true. In a week the rest of the midwinter holidays begin. Christmas strats its run in ten days. Kwanza's seven day run kicks off 12/26. Solstice this year is on December 21, when the Sun ends its apparent slide to the south at 11:47 AM here in Minneapolis.

The Season is about to begin. I make gift deliveries starting on December 6, but real gifting season runs from December 21 thru January 13, St Knut's Day! So get ready! Gifts like respect, technique, doubt, skepticism, science, process, play, exertion & tons more are on the way to all the people of the planet, nice OR naughty!

Dec 8, 2009

A common good: The gift of sharing.

I've been writing about patience & waiting in the days before December. I've also been listening to our national debate over health care. The debate is coming to an end w/the Senate floor action. During this discussion many ideas flop around, assertions made, facts determined, and opinions expressed.

The Headline: Sunday, November 29, 2009,
New York Times:
Food Stamp Use Soars Across US, Stigma Fades
The Maps:
1) Growth of Food Stamp use from June 2007- June 2009.
Front page map shows high growth in food stamp in FL, home of the head "Ditto-Head" and in ID, WY, UT, NV, & GA. (These six states have ten GOP Senators.)
2) Percentage people in each county who receive food stamps, June 2009.
Jump page map show use highest across the south from AZ thru NM, TX, OK, MO, AR, LA, MS, AL, KY, TN, NC, GA, SC WV, & FL. (These 16 states have twenty-two GOP Senators.)

I feel really good about sharing the wealth of our nation with anyone who needs. Using the Department of Agriculture Food Stamp Program should be stigma free and available to any citizen who is hungry. Even if they are Republican. I ask are these the same places where people are organizing against a right to affordable health care insurance under the label of the Tea Party Patriots? I didn't do a scientific study but looking at the lists of links by state at the Tea Party Patriots Web site and at the Wikipedia page it seems like a large number of these states are the same places. Citizens in good conscience rail against "socialist health care" yet while use the roads, libraries, fire departments, public gathering places and our shared wealth in the form of food stamps. Where are Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the like most popular? I looked around and it looks like they are popular all over. I guess the masters of misinformation drive the discussion on this point and they'll certainly ignore this story.

In many cases these are the same people who think nothing spending millions of dollars for three days of intensive care for a malformed premature infant whose prognosis at birth, or even before birth, is for three to six months of life. Life, they say, is sacred. Often the same folks who would force a pregnant woman to seek illegal care to control the outcome of her pregnancy, on the notion that God endows life and life begins when sperm meets egg & genes are intertwined. A poor definition of life in my book. Life is a line, not series of dots, lined up. People exist along the line we don't start & end, we participate. Each moment of consciousness is a decision to continue participating. Life began 3.X billion years ago on Earth and now it is in every crevice and nook.

We can disagree about policies and programs a government should promote. We can disagree about what unseen, or unknown things to believe in. We can teach our children what we choose even if it is a lie like the Easter Bunny exists or Santa comes down the chimney on Christmas morning to celebrate the birth on earth of God made man. But we need each other. We need all of humanity to continue our life on this planet. We even need people who believe such wild stories as are being told in the ultra-conservative, "taxes are only for poor" mainstream media like Fox. We need to share our world if we are to live on it long enough for our species to survive. Self-awareness should allow us to plan the next step in human culture but only if we can move as one.

Health is key to life so it should be a basic right. We need our neighbors to be healthy or we will get infected by them. Our children deserve to be taught how to be healthy. Our government is a great place to mediate & govern the vast and complex issues that make up the public, individual health care universe. A doctor is only a small part of the healthcare system. Patients have responsibility to monitor their own health, instead we've become a nation of fools paying more for less and believing we're getting the best. It's as if we have are the Emperor in the story of the Emperor Has No Clothes. I mourn for our democracy if the loud voices who led us with the failed policies of the past 3 decades can win this debate just by lying to their fans.

One final note on the health care debate: Our nation deserves to have healthy citizens, we need healthy citizens so we can once again lead the world in: innovation; creativity; social, cultural, economic, & artistic ideas; sports; technology; and medicine. We can afford to have the best if we stand up and demand reason prevail over faith, lies, and superstition. We can not afford to continue the byzantine system of healthcare delivery we have now, it bankrupts individuals, small & large businesses across the country. We need the Senate and the House to finish their work and deliver a bill to President Obama for signature.

Nov 30, 2009

Time: A gift of preparation

Turning from November to December. (From nine to ten – those Romans really did influence our calendar didn't they?) I'm ready for the season of reason. I'll prepare for the mid-winter holiday I love so much. It hasn't really snowed here yet, at least no accumulation. Not cold enough to make ice for skating. The lakes, still, open water. We haven't had more than a few days of temps below freezing.

So let's keep the mid-winter holiday in perspective. This not a time for a feeding frenzy of purchasing like the stories in the paper. Not a time to obsess about every detail of a party still weeks away. It is time to share with friends and acquaintances. Share food, meals are excellent sharing venues.
  • Invite a friend to breakfast or dinner today.

Nov 27, 2009

Gifts: Giving w/o spending.

For years the frenzy of holiday purchasing ramped up. More each year. Last year retailers sold less than in 2007. Now, predictions for national retailers is another drop for 2009. But, small, independent, locals seem to be growing. There is another aspect of this change that can't be measured by retail sale. The new gift paradigm. Gifts of ideas, gifts of technology -not gadgets, processes or techniques- and the gifts of understanding; these uplift the soul, enhance the culture, and degrade the toxic effects of compulsive consumption.

When I started to write about patience about 10 days ago I was not completely sure where the topic would go. Now, as the holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas (a season we called Advent when I was young) starts w/ the ghastly named Black Friday, I realize patience is just another intangible gift that can be recycled and repurposed and regifted. You can teach yourself and others to be patient. Simple techniques like breathing thru your nose or sipping rather than gulping when you thirst can build your ability delay gratification of your desires.

Gifts of intention, reflection, will-power, integrity, passion, respect, and commitment are often more appreciated than you would think when you present them with dignity and understanding.
  • Try a new gift paradigm today!
  • Share your ideas with me and other who read my blog.
The Wisdom of Santa

Nov 22, 2009

Play: When games intrude on work.

Once evolution started to build on core brain parts such as; the medulla, cerebellum, pons, the amygdala, hippocampus, thalamus, etc. and creatures started to use the cortex for executive function, we learned to play. I speculate that play; exertion for sport, fun or enjoyment as opposed to work for food, shelter, or procreation, is one of the earliest human impulses. I believe play is central to our curiosity and wonder. Without play I don't think we would have begun the search for meaning or origins.

When we play instead of work we are postponing biological imperative to engage in frivolity! How can this be good for furthering our genes? How can playing enhance our survivability as a species? When we decide to play a game or engage in physical exertion for fun we are tuning our brains and our bodies.
The limbic system of the brain - aspects that mediate between strictly autonomic nervous reactiveness of the brain stem & the control functions of the cortex & are shared with most mammals, monotremes, & marsupials - provides us with amazing new capabilities. We can see that is us in a mirror. We can imagine what someone else might be feeling simply by observing their posture. We can envision the world thru the eyes of another. When I wrote about empathy as the first gift of human civilization I pointed out that people now are trying to portray humans in the context of the law, as unfeeling machines. I argued that this was a mistake.

I make this digression because I want to argue that play helps to increase the links between the cortex and the r-complex at the core of our brains. We build our skills in human emotion when we play! It gives us the chance to try out ideas, personalities & new styles without as much risk because it is a game. Football is better than war.

  • Play more, fight, die, & stress less.

Nov 21, 2009

Wait for Sex: More than just a moral thing.

The ecstasy of orgasm can be a powerful attraction. Many people, mostly men, crave the feeling. When we learn to wait, we learn the value of delayed gratification. We show our self-control.

Many folks imagine the suggestion we wait only works in conjunction with a religious message: we can only argue our teens should wait when we cite the Koran, the Bible, or the Torah. This is not true. We can talk openly about sex. Waiting can mean; put more time into foreplay. It can mean; come close to sex without actually consummating your passion. There is power in physical interaction even without sex.
  • Waiting for sex could mean, more cuddling first.

Nov 20, 2009

Wait for Food: Intensify Deliciousness

Think about waiting to eat food on a holiday like Thanksgiving. If you're like me and you love eating. If you invest a lot of time and thought in your food, waiting to eat can be very hard. When dinner is served, if you can stay calm and enjoy the event; savor the smells & tastes, drink slowly from the chalice, breath deep the air of festivity, you will have a greatly enhanced experience. A thoughtful, intentional waiting builds anticipation while adding to the delicious experience of food.
  • Wait calmly for & eat slowly the feasts of holidays. They always taste better that way.

Nov 19, 2009

Waiting means we believe the future will come.

If you stop to think, when we wait for something it is implicit acknowledgement that we expect the future to happen. In other words, we have an expectation of a future event. This is an awesome advance for a species to make. To have a brain big enough to imagine a future is really different. Most creatures on earth live for the moment. (Ironically, an entire industry now exists to help people live in the moment.) People, most likely when we learned to throw, learned to predict the future. This brought us into the future in more ways than one.

  • Waiting, the beginning of planning.

Nov 18, 2009

Patience: the gift of delayed gratification

At my household we celebrate the mid-winter holiday from December 20 or 21, 'til about January 13. In America today we are already weeks into a consumer frenzy called Xmas. The third Walmart Holiday ad came in the Sunday paper this weekend. Santas across the globe are talking about their gigs starting. I take deep breaths & hope to stay calm during the next several weeks. I'm rehearsing to sing in the choir with Open Eye Figure Theatre's Holiday Pageant.

When we learned to wait, to be patient, we built several strong, new connections in our brains that serve us today in ways we are only beginning to understand. Patience is ultimately the basis of economy. A look at the word economy reveals the notion of managing a household: in other words food, shelter, & offspring or dependents. If a strong economy means the ability to eat well, live & sleep well, and bring great kids into the world then patience gives us real advantages.

Over the next few weeks I expect to write about how our ability to wait: for delicious food; the ecstasy of sex; the comfort of home; the exhilaration of games well played, art well made, songs well sung, dances well danced; or the transcendence of preforming a physical feat, has helped our brains to become better at guiding & planning fulfilling lives.
  • Patience, a real gift for the holiday.

Oct 21, 2009

Nuance: It's not deception. Clarity: It's not truth

(noo'äns, nyoo'-, noo äns', nyoo -) n. 1. A subtle or slight degree of difference, as in meaning; a gradation. 2. Expression or appreciation of nuances: a performance full of nuance. [Fr <>nuer, to shade, cloud < nue, cloud <>nuba Lat. nubes.] – nu•anced' adj.

When I heard Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele proclaim loudly that he was not using nuance but rather was being very clear, I started to think about our understanding of subtlety. A while back, I wrote about the corpus callosum and the links between the hemispheres of our brains. It is easy to get into thought patterns that lead us to believe that ideas, policies and positions are very clearly this or that; black, or white; Right, or Left. In reality this is never the case. There is always degree of nuance.

Look at some of the great debates of the past several hundred years. Aquinas "proved" the existence of God with five proofs. The fifth, a teleological argument that since the universe appears designed to support people, god must have designed it. Like the existence of a watch proves the existence of the watch-maker. 400 years ago last month Galileo popularized the telescope and suggested that the Earth revolved around the sun, not - as the church said - the other way around. He was right. Folks believed the Earth was flat. It is in fact an oblate spheroid.

200 years ago, a boy was born who, in is 50th year would publish a theory so beautiful in its simplicity and insightfulness as to render all of botany, biology, geology, archeology, anthropology, and others in a completely new light! Charles Darwin was right.

150 years ago a couple of beer drinking young Europeans developed a political philosophy based on cooperation instead of cooperation. Recent research is showing that Marx and his benefactor Engles were right. Survival of the fittest doesn't mean "dog eat dog," it means the most able to cooperate will be the species that survives over the one who fights among itself all the time.

Time and time again, religious leaders tell us that something is true only to be proved wrong by the science. As a matter of fact, even facts are suspect. Humans are notoriously poor observers. The notion that there is an objective truth is false. We can't even be sure that anyone else is even conscious.

So back to Mr. Steele:
When he declared that he wasn't being nuanced - as if to say "no nuance here" he did so in a way that made it seem as if nuance was somehow a bad thing. He was being "Clear" as if simply stating his position was better than trying to explain the subtleties of it's implications. In this case he was talking about the health care debate and explaining that he and the GOP were against Government run health care. He went on in the next breath to say that Medicare should be expanded and secured for the future! The interviewer suggested there might be some nuance in the juxtaposition of these two positions. Steele jumped on the interviewer! No, there is no nuance in my position. I'm being very clear! Please, please remember that clarity is not truth or correctness. Nuance often conveys more than clarity. Here's to a complex understanding of our complex problems. Here's to an end of simple but, wrong political positions.
(Begun 9/3/09)

Oct 12, 2009

From: Stacyann Chin via C-SPAN|YouTube|Facebook to: YOU!

I am so lucky to know so many different people!
Thanks to Leigh Combs for posting this on Facebook for me to see.

Oct 2, 2009

Government: A plan means a good one, IF we follow the plan

I think I have finally figured out the Republicans.
They want to turn our country on its head & force it out of existence.
- Erik Riese

As every soldier knows before your go into battle you receive marching orders. Rocket scientists know that to hit a tiny piece of rock 30,000,000 miles away with a tiny piece of metal – like sending a rover to Mars – you need a really good plan. Every cook starts with a grocery list and a recipe; truckers plan a route. So too with governing the greatest countries in history. So too with the United States of America.

Our great & wonderful country was founded by leaders who were truly revolutionary in their thinking. They set forth in clear, concise language the reasons for government & a prescription for a fair honest one. Their language rings like a bell in my ears & still inspires even an evolutionary anarchist like me.

We are endowed with the right to life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; we need government, they said, in order to have unity, justice, tranquility, security, welfare, & liberty.

-Paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence & the Constitution

As long as our Republican leaders fight and yell; use lies & magical thinking -both antithetical to justice- our union and tranquility are not secure, our welfare is threatened and our liberty withers. Yesterday, our young, Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty formed Freedom First a national Political Action Committee to extend his national ambitions. You can tell by the name how he has flipped the structure of government on its head. He tries to say freedom, which our founders listed last of six great values, should be first. The Constitution is clear, a more perfect union is the primary goal of government.

We need to follow the plan. Let's look at how it would work on a controversial issue like Health Care. If we stand together and agree that everyone should have affordable basic health care options, if we implement a health care plan fairly, our security is enhanced, our welfare is bettered, our tranquility is easier, and our liberty is guaranteed. Freedom is not and should not be the first focus of government. Unity and justice must be our primary focus. Together we stand, divided we fall.

Let's look at justice. Lately I've heard Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann talk about several issues. In almost every case she lies, distorts or willfully misrepresents the facts. It is a real assault on truth and justice as she attempts to paint government as the problem. Justice requires fairness and adherence to fact based decision making. Sadly, Bachmann is only one of many Republican leaders who scoff at facts and scientific proof, replacing truth with faith based reasoning or personal opinion. In many cases opinion can be a driver in a debate but opinion does not and should not trump facts. Justice requires honesty, integrity and fairness. As we try to mend eight years of politicizing the Federal Department of Justice it is very important to base our policy making on facts.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan started his all out assault on the United States Government with statements like: "Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem" And, "The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." Since then, Republicans have played on American's healthy skepticism of government. They shrink it & cut it & politicize it when in power and they attack it mercilessly when out of power.

We need government to secure our unity, our justice system, our tranquility, our common defence, our general welfare, and the blessings of liberty. Now that I've figured out the Republicans I am going to stand up against their attacks on my country's government.

Sep 25, 2009

Sex: The ultimate gift of cooperation

I heard a piece recently pointing out that sex is a counter-intuitive way to procreate if an individual can reproduce asexually. If you can clone yourself endlessly why bother mating? Look at how expensive it is to have two genders. Evolutionary science wonders why sex came about. Why two genders to reproduce the genes?

Simple answer: Gene mixing. Sharing. We grow as a culture as we mix & share.

I suggest today that sex is proof that Marx was right. Humans succeed because we are so good at cooperating, not because we are so good at competing. Sure, we can battle with the best. Look at what we did to the Neanderthal. Those people were bigger brained, stronger, better adapted to inclement weather, and likely better attuned to the environment than we were and still we took them out in short order. Why? Cooperation! We based our social structure on communication, shared work, social norm enforcement, and gender equity.

The research into the advantage sex brings to gene diversity is conclusive. Sex allows strong traits of both genders to move across time together. Females can carry a crucial trait thousands of years with no consequence to the fitness of men. Then a change in environment or behavior could give that trait new value to the male of a species. In one or two generations that trait can become widespread in both genders. And, there's a case to be made for the interaction, communication, and empathy necessary to create a really good child rearing bond with another individual. Children raised by two well linked parents have tremendous advantages as they age to adults.

So sex is not an evil to be reviled, not some chore for baby making & no more, sex is nature's magic mixer. Good sex is our ticket to ongoing life. After 500 years of advances in our knowledge, I marvel at the record of science -vs- faith. Skeptics were right on the "flat earth," they were right on solar centric system, right on gravity, right on prayer, right on medicine, right on democracy, right on evolution, right on slavery, right on war, now we see they're right on socialism too! It's a sad day for the faithful, religious, and other as they realize how many of their dearly held beliefs fail.

Sep 24, 2009

A Gift of Trains: 30+ Santas Visit Bud's Playground.

Sometimes the words have to give way for the pictures! Thanks Bud.

Sep 12, 2009

Performance: A gift from friends

My friends gave this great performance today at Kings Fair! What a treat! Thanks Josie, Thanks Mary Laurel!

Sep 2, 2009

Making & throwing stone weapons: The gift of handedness

Unlike crossing the Rubicon, crossing the corpus callosum is a two-way task. We can go back across the connection between the two hemispheres of the brain. However, too often we are lazy, we don't push the thought process to use both sides of our thinking. When we're in conversation and the language centers are humming we often allow our sensing side to languish. When we're working out or moving in performance we often get into a state of languagelessness - a place where we might say we're "in the zone." These are a result of the dualistic nature of our brains. While the motor cortex works, behind the scene, neatly controlling the left side of you body from the right side of your brain and vice versa, our limbic system which surrounds the core "brain stem is exempt from hemispheric dichotomy and the cortex, where our "conscious thoughts originate, is usually under the glamour of this cross brain odyssey. ( what the heck does that sentence mean?)

Here's my idea. Our cerebral cortex –the outer folds of our brains; the place where language, tool use, conscious thought, creative juices, style, advanced planning and many other human traits originate– is hobbled to some degree in most people's brains because of the difficulty of processing ideas, thoughts and nerve impulses across the corpus callosum. Meanwhile, down low, in the core of our brain the limbic system, a knot of brain structures we share with mammals and probably marsupials & monotremes, the crossing is less an issue. And, when we get to the R-complex, that brain stem at the top of our spinal cord, it becomes entirely about reaction.

When we learned by mimicry to fashion and throw tools, weapons and play things we used the same hands for the same tasks as the individual we were learning from. As these skills were passed along from generation to generation handedness, in most cases right-handedness, became the norm. But, even this long, long evolutionary tree can be reversed. We can become ambidextrous or, less dependent on our dominant hand by practice. I assert that by working to be more ambidextrous we can increase our brain's connection to the other side.

Aug 30, 2009

Vessels: The gift of increased carrying capacity.

The history of the vessel goes back to cupped hands, animal skins, bladders, hollowed out wood, formed clay and woven sacks. It probably dates at least 50,000 years. Most of what I read says advanced pottery bowls are common in the neolithic. (12-15,000 years ago.)

Our development of vessels to carry things really made a lot of new stuff possible. We could carry water if the vessel was impervious to liquid. We could haul food, firewood, seed, sick people, children, old people, animals and many other things in vessels.

From woven bags, animal bladders, hollowed out trees and hand formed pottery to today's, vessels: flash drives for your digital data, books for your stories, CD or iPods for your music, plastic bags, mesh bags, stainless steel bottles, and ceramic covered space shuttles, we haul things around in vessels!

Not all this increased carry capacity is needed but, think about the way you store and move your stuff. Imagine doing it with out vessels! We are defined, in part, by our ability to move things in vessels.

Aug 29, 2009

Clothing: A gift of modesty & deceit.

When did humans begin to wear clothing? Estimates seem to differ widely but, I think we can safely say it was between the dawn of the neolithic age, 11, 000-15,000 years ago and human control of fire as far back as 650,000 years. I wrote about Skin and Eccrine sweat glands: A new sensitivity & mobility. in May. Clothing is a unique human creation that provides a second skin and a cultural pallet.

Beyond protection from the elements and establishing gender differentiation, marking status, and style, clothes have become a form of communication. Clothes are a canvas for self expression and a tool to conceal or reveal the form of our flesh. We use clothes to shield our neighbors from having to look at our sex organs, to make statements about politics or economics and obscure the real shape of our bodies. We accentuate what we perceive to be our best features with clothing. We use color to express our feelings and, while these uses of this ancient tool are in the forefront today, clothes' functions: warmth; protection from insects, disease, weapons, or hazards of the surrounds, are still paramount to a garment's usefulness.

I want my clothes to fit, be stylish -after a certain fashion that may not fit within the strictures of contemporary design - and to protect me from a myriad of potential ills. When I put on the red suit, whether a full Santa costume or just a vibrant tee, I put on a form of modesty and I start to live a lie. I'm a portrayer of Santa. I am not Santa. I live as Santa 24/7 but when the reindeer go to sleep and I curl up with the paper the sad fact is I cannot fly anymore than they can. But, I can give gifts. I can tell stories of our past and point out how far we've come since our naked ancestors started using tools to increase our ability to survive into the next generation.

Now, we've come so far that our biology would perish if our tools had to all be abandoned. Most people would die without tools. If you're a regular reader of The Wisdom of Santa, you know that I chronicle gifts from our ancestors that are often tools. Physical tools are becoming less important than social tools. Look at facebook or twitter. These tools, like clothes, allow a double use. One is to polish or protect us, make look shiny, happy, or goth - ready for work, play, or relaxation. The other is to obscure us. To hide our zits, our scars, our flab or skinny exposed ribs. Clothing can make the small look large and the large small.

When protect our body from the cold or our friend from having to look at our sorry flesh, we use clothes for modesty and deceit. Our style of clothing follows our ability to control the materials we use fashion our clothes. I marvel at how far we've come just in my lifetime in fabrics to keep us warm. From amazingly scratchy, heavy wool to the softness of PolarFleece or the claustrophobic rubberized rain gear to today's Gortex. The culture uses of clothing are as important as its functions.

Aug 9, 2009

Illegal Drivers, the Commons & Government

I've written before about the value of those six big ideas in the Preamble to our Constitution. I basically believe the function of government in America can be summed up in three words: Protect Our Commons. At the risk of pedantry, these words need some deconstruction!
Protect, this means to secure, make safe, hold dear, shelter, shield, . . . . Note that it does not mean attack, torture, invade, preclude, preempt, ignore, deny, or squish.
Our, this could be a little dicey but I believe our founders were speaking to a hungry world as they wrote our Constitution. The French Revolution was on, all over there was change and tumult in the air. I think "Our" in this case must mean everyone. All people, all mammals even, all creatures, all living things. We all hold a stake in the Commons so we all own it. It is OUR Commons the Founders hoped to Protect.
Commons, this means those things that are not private. It means, public, held in common, group owned, shared assets, the public square, common markets, public lands.

This is the main duty of Government, Protect Our Commons.

Now, our commons are weakened. We have very few common spaces left. Our marketplaces are mostly malls - privately owned - or on the internet - private and mostly solitary - and city streets - still a common asset. But, even streets are losing their common attributes. In the 1950's an act was passed by Congress and signed by President Eisenhower.

The Defense Highway Act created the Interstate Highway system. A great way to create public right of way from city to city across the US@. It had a few problems that we accept now without question. It bans pedestrians. We created a public place were people on foot are not welcome. (With the speed on these Interstates it's a good idea to avoid walking.) It constricted states with regard to siting and design. It has been used to bludgeon states into accepting things like lower speed limits and higher drinking ages. All and all the Interstates have been good for America in the era of automobiles. But, can this go on forever?

- End illegal drivers' destruction of our common heritage.
As it is, many of our citizens don't follow the simple rules of the common ground. They speed on the Interstate. In many cases it is the same folks decrying "illegal aliens" who then become illegal drivers the minute they step on the gas. Lots of these folks support things like: wars in far off places, private enterprise free to exploit consumers in unlimited ways, domestic spying, detention without trial for "terror" suspects, an end to government waste, etc. While at the same time opposing: public health care options (socialism, they say), public education, welfare for the poorest of our neighbors, unemployment compensation for our idled workers, and using science in governance. Then they get on the freeway and don't even realize the damage they do to our culture when they speed. They believe that as long as they don't crash or get caught there is no harm done. Speeding increases wear and hastens deterioration our roads take a beating from speeders. I say it is time to get these illegal drivers off of our roads. These socialized thoroughfares are meant for law abiding citizens. Illegal drivers should be banned not just fined. Why should we create a socialized system and then let these anti-government, anti-democratic, anti-law folks use it?

Aug 8, 2009

Justice: A gift of divided governance.

Sonia Sotomayor will become the 111 Justice of the United States Supreme Court today. Chief Justice John Roberts will swear her in during a private ceremony at the Supreme Court.

I wrote about the importance of empathy in May (Empathy: The first gift of human civilization) when President Barrack Obama nominated Sotomayor. And in April I discussed the value of government (Government: A gift from the founders to US.) When the United States Senate confirmed Sotomayor on Thursday, the president said we had taken another step toward a more perfect union. As the the third woman and third non-white member of the Court Sotomayor will give us justice just like each of the previous Justices.

In my country there are people who would deny citizens justice. 31 US Senators voted "no" on justice when the President's nominee was presented to them. In essence they were saying she can't be fair or impartial because she is a woman and a latina. Many of these Senators stood to speak their mind on this topic. They sound to me as anti-government, anti-justice and anti-democracy as any member of the anarchist groups I've been involved with in the past. When the Republicans in office sound like anarchists attacking government with a vehemence once reserved only for the truly disturbed you must wonder if our system can ever work. Can we ever have a civil discussion of ideas?

These supposed freedom loving folk have now turned their attention to lying and bullying their way thru August helping insurance companies stay in control of the ever increasing costs and ever diminishing quality of outcomes in our health care system. If they are successful, our health care system will continue to limp along with the highest cost buying us the 37th, 54th, or 72nd best results. We can't let this happen. We have to do a few things:
1) Support government. Government is good. Our government provides many important functions one of which should be to lead on health care. Along with freedom of speech, public common spaces and thoroughfares, rights to bear arms and train for common defence, the right to be healthy is, and should be guaranteed.
2) Support a new approach to the healthcare system. We have to change the way we're doing it because paying so much for so little is stupid. It will bankrupt us.
3) Speak out, not just to your elected reps but to your friends and neighbors, especially if they disagree with your position. Talk with respect and dignity to your adversaries.

If we do these things across the country we can change the health care system for the better.

Aug 5, 2009

Bullying: The gift of broken discourse.

Well, I've just watched about a dozen public meetings where Members of Congress, Senators and other elected officials have been shouted down by bullies. These folks, apparently schooled by Dick Armey's lobby firm Freedom Works rise to ask questions or just start shouting in the middle of the event with misinformation and smears. They impugn government, the same government that they have worked so hard to destroy for the past 28 years. They shout, bluster and offer no ideas just an all out assault on public discourse. They seem to want to destroy anything that is left of the commons. Oh the humanity!
It's gone from bad - having these lying, greedy, bullies in office - to worse - having these lying, greedy, bullies trying to destroy from without what they couldn't destroy when they held power.

I'm sick to my stomach watching the evidence.

A ranking Senator on the Judiciary Committee has said he will not support Judge Sonia Sotomayor because he's afraid that she could not be objective and fair in the conduct of her job. This despite 17 years of written evidence to the contrary. I call on Jeff Sessions to use this same standard in his deliberations and in the performance of his job. Objectivity! Yes, government by science! Please, Jeff, say you will!

I want my country! I want people who support and defend the Constitution when it calls for a more perfect union, justice, domestic tranquility, common defence, general welfare and the blessing of liberty. I'm tired of greedy, lying bullies.

Jul 21, 2009

Kind words: A gift of thoughtfulness

My how the blog goes wanting when things get busy.

I've been saying nice things to folks lately and the response leads me to write about how a few kind words can really help a person make it to the next step or pass a difficult hurdle. My few short acts of kindness have all been very wonderfully rewarded by kind thanks in return.

I feel the connection. Even in the multi-task world of twit, fb, YouTube, and Rush Limbaugh we can find kindnesses changing the face of our relationships and our communities. Make an effort to find kind things to say to your online or face-2-face friends. Every kindness grows a new connection.

Jul 3, 2009

Food storage: 11+ Millennia of Solar Power

We've been storing food for more than eleven thousand years. Granaries over eleven thousand years old have just been uncovered in Jordan. Wow! You have to be glad that people were able to use simple technology to store food, essentially storing the sun's energy for later use. Think of all the great things it allows us to do!

Specialization, new uses for time, art, politics, housing, clothing, food cultivation, domestic animals. The list could go on and on. We owe it all to food storage. We didn't have to spend our time hunting and gathering. We could gather and save! Smooth out the slow times with the abundant. We become more social, able to accommodate larger groups, better learners. I can just imagine the advances that these ancestors made when they could store food! 

Jun 30, 2009

Shared life: When we began to change our social gifts

Our culture changed fundamentally when we started to mate for life. I haven't read any dating of this but, I'll guess mating for life started around the time of art, spirituality, language and larger groups (150-200 adult individuals or more) cooperating. I'll also guess that the true shared life is only possible when, to paraphrase Rilke, "we become the guardian of each other's solitude." 

To put this period in perspective, I'll guess it started to emerge from the large brained creature living between 200, 000 and 70,000  years ago. I think mimicry had had its effect on our brains. I think the corpus collosum was sufficiently developed and sexually dimorphous that our social needs met our phenotype needs to push us to mate-for-life scenarios. (it would be interesting to study brains of other mate-for-life creatures and compare them to us alongside our fidelity rates could make a really interesting graphic.) In short, I believe that we learned to live with another for life over an evolutionarily brief period starting about 200,000 years ago lasting to about 70,000 years ago.

I believe we learned our amazing ability to "see the world thru others eyes" during this critical period. Two solid ice ages put us in the mood to mate for life. And, why not? It's an easy way to make and care for offspring that you're "sure or pretty sure are yours." This is also the beginning of our top notch empathy skills (I wrote about empathy in May) Our shared life is our interconnected life. We become dependent and humans are no longer solely individuals. We cannot really be evaluated or judged without consideration for our place in society. 

Sharing life with others is truly a gift we must always give and give well!

Jun 29, 2009

Forgiveness: A gift requiring foresight

When we forgive we must be able to see into the future to a time when our anger or disappointment will subside and our friendship will again very important to us. When we forgive we must see into the mind of the other and understand the foibles, the weakness and the goodness that is in each creature of our planet. From fungi to fern, from tree to mammal, from bacteria to mole, from virus to gene, and from reptile to person: all creatures have goodness in them for life is good. 

Forgiveness: a gift when given, a gift when received. A measure of humanity.

Jun 20, 2009

Accounting: Using numbers to plan

One of our great advances is our ability to plan. In some cases we plan microseconds into the future. In others we plan days, weeks, even years ahead. How do we do this? If you think about it, being able to imagine a future state for ourselves or objects under our control is an amazing skill. It requires a good sense of self, a good ability to project that self into other circumstances, and an ability to manipulate events. Wow! 

When societies rationed, saved for seed and for bad years, they used accounting to help their plans. Planners had to know: how much grain the population used each year, how much the population grew each year, what the farmer could harvest each year, how much the grain silos could hold, and so on. These numbers were used to  determine what was needed to smooth out the ups and downs of the drought cycle.

In a future post I might talk about microplanning, the calculations a quarterback makes to throw a football to a streaking wide receiver or when we toss keys to our mate over the car at our summer cabin. Accounting scale planning is longer term. We can track things over years and plan years & decades in advance. We use a type of accounting to plan rocket launches, trips to distant planets, and collection of data that will require years of observation to create a useful data set.

As a young child I loved looking at my grandfather's accounting materials. Spreadsheet books, forms that allowed for daily, weekly, monthly and annual entries into journals, sales reports, and other simple records. He entered his clients information with fine mechanical pencils on smooth green tinted pages filled with entries in column and row! I now know that each client used Papa's work to plan, to determine what to buy, whether or not to borrow, when to hire, etc.

As I've gotten older I can see many reasons for accounting even as I try to avoid needing it in my life. I work hard to make a routine that doesn't need records, doesn't need plans, doesn't go past simple, daily acts like: reading, exercising, singing, merry making, bathing, art, and music.

Jun 17, 2009

What about talking? Gifts in story.

I talked in my St Pat's Day post about Language. Now I've been learning some things about communications that lead me to think the gift of story goes back further. 

Primates of many types understand and respond to language in amazing ways. Many mammals can learn to respond to aural stimuli but some chimps gather the meaning of numerous words and are able to understand them even when they're put together in unique, new ways! Watching a chimp carry a TV out of the enclosure to the prompt, "Can you bring the TV outside?" was instructional. We know that birds understand words and learn to create unique sequences. We know that recent experiments have placed the gene for language into mice. We know that most mammals experience emotions, some as complex as human emotions. So, when are we going to let them vote?

People turned this ability for language into an entirely new thing. I can relate a story or idea to you in a few words and if you grasp the concepts behind the story, you can repeat the story without remembering or even using any of my words. If you know more than one language you most likely can translate my story. This is how human culture has created a new life form on earth. Society. Human society exists as a living organism separate from the individuals that make it up. We've created a monster be allowing a new replicator -like genes- to participate in our culture. The meme builds languages to allow for easier replication of these conceptual life forms.

Wow, we've really got it good don't we?

Jun 10, 2009

Dance: The movement of rhythm

I love to dance. I dance everyday. I like to dance with music playing and I like to dance in silence. I dance on foot, I dance on skates, I dance with a partner, I dance alone. The main focus of my dance is movement. I like to envision my body moving in certain way. Then I try to make it happen in real life. Sometimes I see pictures of dances in the NY times and try to imagine making those moves. Always this movement has a rhythm. A flow. Even if my dance is on;y fingers on computer keys.

Everyone should dance, everyday!

Jun 1, 2009

Faith: A gift with unintended consequences

Today I heard about a man, Dr. George Tiller, a medical doctor, shot and killed while he volunteered as an usher in his church in Wichita, KS. This story is based on the story of Dr. Tiller. but the facts are made up by me to illustrate how a gift can backfire.

Our faith is often nurtured by our family and the leaders of our church from a time when we are very young. Faith is first placed in myths, like Santa Claus, the Easter Rabbit and Tooth Fairy. As we grow in our understanding of religion our faith is supposed to transferred to God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and in his Only Begotten Son Jesus! We're not told that GOD created hell too and despite Commandments like Thou Shall Not Kill! Ol' God spends a lot of time smiting people, cities, and whole populations. Today we'd call it genocide but in the Old Testament its called God's Will.

I'm really not down with this.  I never was down with this even as a young Lutheran. Now we have this story. I imagine a 51 year old guy, spends his whole life wanting to be a dad but he's anti-social, he plays with guns, he's indignant that someone might take away his right to protect himself. He's also indignant that while he can't attract a woman to bear him children, there's a doctor in Wichita performing abortions! He's going save those pre-born lives in self defense he walks into a church, the so called House of God, and using his government given right to bear munitions, shoots to death a man married for 45 years, father of four, grandfather of ten. 

This is how Pro-Life looks. This is Scott Roeder's, the presumed killer, idea of justice. 

I heard a woman speaking at a memorial service for Dr. Tiller. She said, 
"I had been abused, mistreated, and violated. Dr. Tiller helped me. Thank God for that." 
I understand her feeling, but I have to say, 
"No! Thank science for Dr. Tiller. Thank God for Scott Roeder, the killer, and for many others like him who think they are called to impose their faith on other people." 
I say,
"Thank God for the crazed, faith addled killers everywhere who fight in the name of the Lord."

The gift of faith, our society's fall from grace if we do not also use our critical thinking faculties.

May 29, 2009

Eccrine sweat glands: A new sensitivity & mobility.

Round about 2,000,000 years ago our ancestors were moving across the landscape, out of the forests, running long distances, collecting tool material, exploiting the midday period when quadripeds soaked too much heat to be active. This meant we needed to dissipate heat ourselves. What better way than a network of two to four million eccrine sweat cells spread across the surface of our skin? By that time most of our sweat glands were on our palms and soles. They originally provided moisture for better grip when fleeing or fighting and were emotionally activated. Since we started to stand upright, exploit the midday times when most quadripeds rested our species evolved any sweat glands that activate based on heat. Now most sweat glands are used solely to dissipate heat. 

I'm amazed by simple seeming innovations to our genotype that end up providing a real advantage to us as individuals. I'm also amazed at how memotypes sometimes work to overcome innovations as in the development of antiperspirants and deodorants. 

Drug Resistant Diseases: The gift of ignorance.

Not all gift we get are good things. 

This morning I heard the evolution of a drug resistant strain of malaria described as a gift from drug counterfeiters in South East Asia. These crooks create fake drugs that use a small amount of the real medicine to allow them to pass certain tests. When people use the weakened drug their malaria strain soon builds up resistance to that drug. In Cambodia today, a resistant strain of malaria is the newest gift from the underworld to our culture.

I say the gift of ignorance not just because people using the fakes are ignorant of their culpability in this but also because so many people misunderstand the various modes and methods of medicine that their confusion can lead to drug resistance as well. Learning the facts can really help you stay healthy.

May 27, 2009

The focused energy of light.

I had to go back and mention another gift from my old buddy Archimedes. This Greek from Syracuse is said to have developed a series of large mirrors he could position on shore overlooking an approach to the City's harbor. He was able to focus the light of the sun with these mirrors to either blind ships' tillermen or start the ships on fire. The first Death Ray(!) three centuries before Jesus.

A simple, elegant defensive solution almost no troops required to operate it. Risk of the loss of life in minimal on the part of the defenders. Low cost. I'm always awestruck by the genius of Archimedes. Sad to say a Roman soldier killed Archimedes as they overran the city despite specific orders to spare Archimedes because he was so brilliant! <|:-{(#

May 26, 2009

Empathy: The first gift of human civilization

IT has to be said as the elected "nay sayers" in Congress start to sing their chorus against any Supreme Court Justice nominee who might have empathy: our ability to see the world thru the eyes of others was the beginning of our transition from cold blooded, killers and procreators to the civilized people we are today.  Yes, empathy, the gift of being able to put yourself into the shoes of others. 

Without being able to see the world thru others eyes we never learn to communicate. We never learn to care for our children, we never learn to govern, we never learn human emotion. Many mammals have an ability for empathy but, it our finely tuned skill at being able to understand what another creature, not just another human, is experiencing that unlocked most of what distinguishes us from reptiles. Empathy allows a mother to nurture her young. Empathy makes mentoring possible. Empathy is a necessary concept behind all economic transactions. 

Please, tell your Republican Senator  your opinion of empathy. It's the foundation of our legal system. From the Ten Commandments to the Koran, to the US Constitution, the primary purpose of these instruments is to codify empathy. Listen to a Senator try and create a dichotomy with Empathy & Legal decision making on opposite sides!

(Why are the the Republicans so opposed to anyone who might display empathy? My guess is John Kyl, the junior Republican Senator from Arizona didn't think before he came up with this amazing way to criticize any potential nominee that our President proposed. 
Of the President, Kyl said, "He believes in justices that have empathy," Kyl said if Obama goes with empathetic judges who do not base their decisions on the rule of law and legal precedents but instead the factors in each case, he would try to block those picks via filibuster.
Had Senator Kyl thought first I'm sure he would have realized the key place empathy holds in our culture, our community, our government, and our civilization.)

It really makes Santa wonder: What are these leaders thinking? Who are they trying to impress? I remember talk about mainstream values and ideas. We are really getting far out of the mainstream if we take empathy, a basic, core aspect of human existence off the table for any potential Supreme Court Nominee.

May 20, 2009

Sports: Our bodies' are learning tools.

I've been thinking about writing on this for some time now. Some anthropologists suggest that one reason for the growth in the human brain over the past 3 million years is due in part to our physical expertise growing. As we became better stone throwers our diet could improve because we took down more creatures with our rocks. This made selection pressure to throw more accurately and, because throwing a rock at a moving target requires large amounts of brain capacity, judge the rate of speed and direction of the target, judge the force, direction, and timing of your throw, coordinate these judgements to ensure your rock intersects with the water buffalo temple or neck at a high rate of speed . . . . Our brains grew.

I've taken this idea to new extremes and argued with Mary that I need to go watch football or golf or soccer to research brain growth! While Mary doesn't buy this she is supportive of my daily workouts on rollerblades or skis, my crunches, twists, bends, and lunges. She can see not only changes in my body shape, but my mental capacity is clearly enhanced when I engage in varied activities and have a chance to increase my heart rate for an hour or more everyday.

Couple a better diet with the learning required to engage in new activities, like taking down a water buffalo, & over a few hundred generations we see clear brain growth. This same idea has scientific support on phenotypes as well. The more tuned your body, the better your posture, the stronger your muscles, the healthier your blood, the more active your mind. You can use your physical structure to build a new shape to your body (training) just as you can use your thoughts to rewire your habits. A few five minute "practice" sessions thinking about a new complicated task such as playing scales on a musical instrument will help you with that task the next time you do it physically. Just thinking about doing a thing builds the neurons in your motor cortex allowing your brain to work better the next time you do that thing!

Try it!

May 14, 2009

The Lever: Move the World

"Give me a long enough lever and a platform to stand on, I will move the earth"

When Archimedes discovered the power of the lever in the second century BCE humans had been using science and it's language, mathematics for tens of thousands of years. (Meanwhile, conceptions of God were much more recent ideas on the human memescape.) People had likely been using levers for quite some time as well but the gift Archimedes gave us, (one of many, many gifts he left for us) is the ability to calculate all the forces involved to create levers, fulcrums, pulleys, rigging, etc. to carry out the work that previously required many strong men!

Now, we use leverage and the concepts in areas beyond the strictly mechanical. In finance for example, the concept of leverage refers to the ability to attract and service debt as a growth strategy at certain phases of an entities life. Some might argue that leverage had substantial influence on the recent banking/lending crisis. We might try to understand what are the basic constituents of leverage in lending? 

In simplified form, the assets are the "weight" to be moved, liability is the "lever", equity is the "fulcrum" and cash is the force applied to one "end of the lever." Of course there are other ways to interpret the lever metaphor and finance. I suggest this one to show how the concept of lever is used in diverse situations.

Just this morning a radio commentator suggested that President Obama had leverage in dealing with Republicans and with Congress because of his popularity with the people. Political leverage is an even more abstract image for levers. What is the weight? The fulcrum? The lever?

May 7, 2009

Counting time: Joining the magic of number & life's events

Back on Santa's Birthday I talked about the magic of number. How our ability to count beyond one, two, a few and many has allowed us amazing advances. Today, in honor of my beloved's birthday I want to expand on number to the counting of time. I think this might bring us to the origin of SANTA, that bearded gift giver who came at the winter solstice to predict the return of the sun from the south after it seemed to fall almost to the horizon in some northern reaches. Those first Santas brought seeds, and that prediction. They were able to predict the return on f the sun because they had learned to count time.

Counting time seems a simple, unimportant task now but this shared skill allowed some groups of people to thrive while their contemporaries who could not count time floundered. As with all deeply rooted memes, this gift pushes evolution without directly affecting the genome, or the phenotype. It means a slowing of change in physical characteristics and advance for those skilled at manipulating abstract concepts. My goodness! What a gift. Counting time!

May 5, 2009

The Inclined plane: Great tool for many things!

I know you're all thinking the inclined plane is no big deal. Slide a block up the hill to make a pyramid. Make a wedge to keep a door closed! There is a lot more to it than that. An inclined plane allows the user to lift an object using less force than would be required to move the object directly up. The plane allows the object to rise slowly but steadily. When it was invented, about ten thousand years ago it changed the height and majesty of building we could make.

You probably know that Archimedes advanced the uses for the inclined plane by wrapping one around a cylinder and making a screw! Archimedes Screw allowed water to lifted and run through out an area by way of aqua ducts! Let's hear it for the Inclined Plane another gift to us from the smart people Before the Common Era!

May 1, 2009

Rhythm & Music: Gifts of story and action

I've been thinking about music lately because I spend so much time practicing the guitar and listening to music. I used to let the music flow over me and I was inspired by the song, the lyrics, the beat, the melody. I couldn't really tell what was happening. Now that I've taken some lessons and start to understand more clearly the structure of music like the simple 8 measure verse or chorus. AABA or AABBAA or ABAB rhyming schemes and chord progressions like I IV V I or I IV V IV I now seem more obvious when I listen to the songs I like. 

Music experience like mine seems to mirror the flow of music in human evolution. We started out with simple stories, maybe told later with approving sounds of our cohorts. Or, stories told with a beating drum in the background. As musicians became more adept, tuned their instruments differently, or built new ones, stories & rhythms became more complex. 

As rhythms evolved our ability to hear them was enhanced. We could move to them more smoothly. Dance co-evolved with the rhythms. Our species grew stronger bodies, bigger brains and better prediction skills. 

Music really was a gift that keeps on giving. Finally, its only in the past hundred years that we have have widespread recording techniques so all the sounds that went down before the first sound recorders are lost forever! Those performances were written down at times but many are really lost, vibrating forever into the ether at the speed of sound but unavailable to us.

Apr 25, 2009

Science: A new way to reason.

When we first started experimenting our science was primitive but very important to growing our brains. Throwing rocks, cooking food, or maybe just fermenting it, building, group hunts, fire control, group story telling, dyadic grooming, etc. all primitive science projects helped, or propelled our brains to grow and add fun new parts!

I don't think we understood the scientific method then, language being so primitive. I do think we experimented and made choices based on our observations. The science we conducted was more evolutionary than replicable until we developed memes to transmit the observations and techniques to one another. So once we learned, and taught each other to make fire we'd created a fire making meme. I think this is the essence of science and an incredibly sweet gift from our distant ancestors. 

(Any guesses on how long ago this period was in our development?) I'd love to hear you ideas on this.

Apr 14, 2009

Government: A gift from the founders to US.

I've said before, this simple sentence.

Government is good.

Many who know me as a longtime anarchist must be thinking what IS he talking about? Remember, anarchists believe that leaders are not needed. That people can organize themselves without leaders. This doesn't mean we don't need organization. This is where government can use its ability to create and enhance alignment of people. 

People have been self-organizing, aligning their interests for thousands of years. We'd have a hard time surviving an ice-age if we weren't organized. Our first governments seem to have arisen in the past 10,000 years. The Egyptians, Persians, Chinese, and Native Americans, and others show evidence of using governments for cultural, economic agricultural, and social tasks. These tasks often had a very overt power dimension. A leader would coerce with food, intimidate with fear, or cajole with hope. As specialization and scientific discovery grew our structures became more complicated and effective. As language developed we became better able to describe these structures in the abstract and in concrete terms. Writing it all down lead to books, like the Bible, the Communist Manifesto, Origin of Species, or Snowcrash.

Two hundred years ago, the pinnacle of self-organizing systems, was the representative democracy developed in North America based on a mix of Iroquois and Greek ideas (with a lot of other influences). The United States of America created a subtly simple alignment of our nation. We've been wrestling with the consequences ever since. While the United States of America is still strong and 'yeasty' in theory, the practice of our governance faced some real tests recently. 

A group of leaders, let's call them Republicans, has spent much of the past 28 years tearing down government and working to cut off its life blood, revenue. From Ronald Reagan's declaration in 1980 that "government is not the solution, government is the problem," to the starve the government drumbeat of no-tax pledges Republicans have argued for limited government. This while they were in power. Now, in the past few months, their hands no longer on the levers of power their tune has changed a bit but their key points remain the same. Govern on the basis of faith, opinion and fear instead of reason, facts, and shared interest. 

Our Government - given by our founders - is THE one enduring gift, the last vestige of a time before electricity, cars, the germ theory of disease, and evolutionary biology. It is still robust. But, if we let the gift sink us into another dark age of superstition, selfishness, and fear of facts,
we lose the vast power of an open, informed, democratic populace. The Enlightenment brought so much to society and culture. We must stand, honest, truthful, and free in the face of God, Allah, and fascists to avoid digressing and losing our way again. 

Not all states are as lucky as us but many have taken the lesson of our Revolution and built on it. Many governments are now made better by our example. We can't be so arrogant and blind to the advantages developed by others in imitation of our system. Americans are rightly proud of our institutions. This pride cannot be enhanced by starving our system just because we think our faith in the almighty tells us not to pay taxes. I believe the facts as observed. Do you?

Apr 1, 2009

Cooked food: The miracle science of energy!

Cooked food came along shortly after we learned to control fire. An ancient gift from real scientists! We used fire to slow cook, sear, roast, broil and bake. We tried new foods. If something made us sick we stopped eating it. The scientific method even before we knew what a method was.

Our diet changed. We spent less time looking for, killing, gathering, and cultivating food. Because cooked food releases much more energy from the starch, carbs, sugars, proteins and fats we had time for lots of other activities. 
Preparing food by cooking or by other methods such as fermenting, drying, sprouting, or soaking is a such an amazing advance I wonder how it came about. If you imagine the ancestors sitting around a fire with a haunch of mammoth or a dead bird you see how simple cooking might have com to be. 

I ate at my local pub the other night, I had a tempeh reuben. This is fermented soy bean cake with sour kraut, swiss cheese on dark rye bread with a side of horseradish and thousand island dressing. The magic of these high energy foods combined in this tasty gustatory treat was enough to make my mind spin. It was delicious. 

When ever you share an evening meal with family or friends, think back to the ancestors who developed cooking. Thank them for sharing.

Mar 29, 2009

Music: A gift to move and soothe us

Heard a short piece today on the Science Pod from the AAAS. Music seems to have an evolutionary component and may not be "auditory cheesecake" as Stephen Pinker described. Music might be ingrained in our psyche to provide group benefit of some sort. 

Three different pieces of music were played to the Maffa people from Cameron. They were able to distinguish "happy" or "sad" music despite never having been exposed to outside music forms or influences. The researchers concluded an evolutionary component to musical understanding.

Music is a gift that can soothe our nerves, move our tushes an inform our needs. Early music may have been used to alert or describe. It may have helped tell a story or build rapport with new friends. We all make music whenever we open our mouths. You may not find your child's requests or demands for attention melodious but you're hearing music of human interaction. 

I suspect that after hundreds of thousands of years we've really refined our sense and ear for music. Listen to rap, hip hop, rock, soul, ragtime, R&B, juju, reggae, tango, waltz, rondo, no, butoh, raga, folk, calypso, or any of hundreds of other forms of music, now mixed, remixed and mashed. You will quickly hear similarities and differences. Structure, time signature, scale construction, instrumentation, rhythm and language all participate in our sharing of music.

As our species spread across the planet we turned most materials we found into food, toys, tools, garments, and musical instruments. We've learned a variety of systems to record music to share with others and to teach it to our young.

I expect to have more to say about music in the future. I had to write about it today because, after hearing the new evidence from Science, I'm sure music is vital to our brains' growth and balance.

Mar 25, 2009

Santa's Birthday Post. The gift of number.

Only 39 weeks 'til Christmas Day. 

I've reached another prime number. Its been six years since I was prime! 

When humans learned to differentiate by number we slowly became more adept at counting. At first we likely could tell the difference between one and more than one. Between few and many. Now we can accurately count up to 71 or 1,234,456,987,543,954. Number sense is a gift passed on from generation to generation. To some extent as we move along the time line of history our past piles up behind us in the form of numbers. Years ago, in the past decade, 200 years ago, 10,000 BCE. These logs or recitations of past events gave new meaning and understanding to our ancestors. We marked off the passing of time by the season and the year. 

Imagine now, when credit default swaps trade over ethernets based on complex algorithms and calculations of future market value assuming a 2.2% growth rate and 1.7% inflation. Numbers fill our life with meaning and confusion. Gifts are not always the boon they are intended to be. In fact a gift's value can change depending on our cultural needs. I'll explore this idea later when I talk about the gift of faith!

Mar 23, 2009

Ancient gifts. Art: Those magic symbols.

Continuing my thoughts on gifts from the distant past. 

Art: Magic symbols that represented the animals or plants we sought for food. Or, music that recreated the sounds of the forest with special emphasis on dangerous or useful animals. Stories, told with gesture became dance. As with language, a gift that really continues to give benefits to the present day.

When cave painting are discovered in France or ocher in the Great Rift Valley of Africa we confront the symbolic use of materials from peoples who lived tens of thousands of years ago. I'm sure that all the earliest artistic urges left no permanent mark since they were most likely drawn in the sand or ashes, or marked out with rocks, twigs, branches, or leaves. 

The earliest art (by which I mean visual, musical, movement, culinary, agricultural, architectural, or wearable) is probably all lost to scholarship. But, we can surmise that growing brains of people led us to great leaps of creativity. By taking a chance on a crazy idea our ancestors dreamed, thought, or created a new way of living. Gone were the days when we could not imagine the world through the eyes of the others. This ability to see the world as if through the eyes of another put us on the path to hot fashions, really great food, the best and worst TV programs, and a diamond crusted skull from Damien Hirst.

Mar 19, 2009

A Lesson learned: Gift by example.

In the past dew days the country seems consumed with bonuses paid to about 400 executives from the derivitives trading division of AIG. American International Group is a large insurance company responsible in part for the current lack of trust on the financial markets. These bonuses, in excess of $150 million, have clearly sparked outrage from people making much less income than any of the recipients. 

Since early in 1981, leaders of our country have been facilitating the movement of large sums of cash from the poor and middle class to the rich. A combination of tax cuts, increased contracting for services, reduced oversight of markets, lessened regulatory requirements and relaxation of rules across the spectrum of governing groups has allowed the portion of our annual income that goes to the top 1% of earners to swell from a healthy seven percent to a jaw dropping 25% in 2007. Now the richest among us have raked in one half of all wealth and a quarter of our annual income. We get angry about bonuses paid to a small group of financial experts. Where was the outrage at the money wasted blowing up huge swaths of Iraq? Or the wasted billions in tax give-backs on capital gains? We weren't so mad at the money lost due to lax oversight of WorldCom, Enron, or HealthSouth.

Workers and their managers have created the wealthiest nation on earth and much like the slaves who moved the rock for the majestic buildings of Washington DC, we can marvel at its splendor, but we cannot really participate in the riches. Our country will not ultimately be judged by the gaudy fashions or ostentatious displays of consumption. Our democracy, our republic will be judged by how well we care for the least of our citizens. With homeless people crowding urban cores and foreclosures now hitting the unemployed as well as the greedy speculators workers should be angry but, not at AIG execs or the current government. We should be mad at the failed leadership of the past twentyeight years. The group of politicians and the thinkers who supported them and told us that government was the problem; that taxes were your money being taking out of your pocket; that the role of government is fighting expeditionary wars in far away lands. These people, with the best of intentions led us in the wrong direction and now I fear they are to proud to admit their mistake.

Government is good. We need a government to create a more perfect union, to build the commons, to establish justice and to ensure domestic tranquility.  Public education, public health, public markets, and public information are values to be lauded. Public science and public art create pride in peoples that transcends hard times. 

The only way to benefit from the crisis of trust in financial markets of late is to learn the lessons of evolution. Survival of the Fittest means which species works best together, not which species created the individual with the biggest house. If we learn the lesson of cooperation we can survive many perils now and in the future.

Mar 17, 2009

Language: The gift that redefines everything

Since we're on the  really old gifts that we humans have received from our ancestors I thought I'd take a few sentences to talk about language. 

Mary's (Mrs. Claus)  idea is that language was passed on by mothers as they cooed and tended to their babies. I think the sharing of a cooked evening meal I talked about yesterday helped language develop. Folks need a way to communicate the day's events or plan for tomorrow's. Our need to communicate on the foraging trail or in a hunt led to words/grunts/keening cries as well as much used gestures. 

As people lived in died generation after generation the growth of symbolic meaning became more standardized. Now, we can pass on the most advanced or mundane ideas with just a few keystrokes or utterances. [OMG, it's late gotta run CU L8R.]

Mar 16, 2009

An early gift, control of fire.

While there are many early gifts we've received from our parents, grandparents and beyond, I'm going to focus my first few posts on very early gifts that have really given us rich new ways to live on earth. Breaking and forming stone tools, the use of pigments, and accurate throwing techniques were all clearly old gifts but today's post is about Fire! With the impending spring, fire is an apt starting point to examine gifts from our past.

Residue & evidence of human's control of fire stretches back about 500,000 years. This was a very early gift passed from our ancestors to today. Across human cultures is the tradition of a cooked evening meal. Our control of fire made these cooked meals possible. Fire allows for adaptation to a wide variety of climates and weather and in cooking of food, increased access to easily digestible calories from stored items like roots, meat, & grains. 

Fire a great early gift from our ancestors!

Mar 15, 2009

Greetings from Santa Erik

Gifts: my interesting study traipsing across eons of our shared heritage. I've learned so much about sharing and curiosity that I'm thinking I must report my findings in a quiet corner of the web. I'm hoping this blog will include selected occasional posts with my thinking about our gift economy and the magic of human social interaction.

Folks who care enough to follow my posts:

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