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    • Periods of Popular Political Change Happen When…
      …people recognize that their problems aren’t personal, but social. Oh this isn’t the only requirement for change, but it is a requirement for a group to want political change. In “normal” times most people see their problems as personal: if they’re poor it’s because of something they did or didn’t do, or is related to people around them. “That damned boss.” […]
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Today is the first day of summer according to the Celtic calendar. I’m not sure you could call this a religious holiday in the Christian sense of the word. It’s more like reconnecting our modern life with the natural order of the world, acknowledging the change in the seasons and the life of the earth to ourselves.

The Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland attempts to recreate the celebrations of fertility and nature that out ancestors participated in for millennia, even after the introduction of Christianity. It’s bright and colorful yet slightly dark and mysterious. Such is nature in all its forms.

This video is from a previous fire festival and follows the procession of the May Queen to meet her consort, the Green Man. Together, they light the purifying bonfire and revel in the wonders and delights of the season.


Be back later, talk amongst yourselves.

On Trumpism, protests and $&^* I can’t read anymore

9508283Let’s start with the s^&* I can’t read anymore.

There’s a special edition of Nature on CRISPR that I’ve been dying to get my hands on. Now, I don’t do research anymore. I’ve migrated to another technical area. But I still like to feel that tingle in the brain from reading a collection of good papers. Like some high altitude f^&*s that I just can’t quit. So, thinking that the overlords of Nature had made this super important, not to be missed collection available for regular consumption, even if the papers are not printable and viewable only for the length of time for speed readers to make any sense of them, I stupidly clicked on the link and ran into the dreaded pay wall.

Here I had a choice. I could either cough up $30/paper or I could shell out $199/year for a Nature subscription. I considered the latter. But journals are like Lays potato chips. You can’t eat just one. Once you start getting into the citations of the papers, you’ll need to look up a bunch of them and they might not be from Nature. They might be from J. Mol. Bio. or Cell or something else. And there will be hundreds of them.

Besides, I need to save my money for the plumber and the toilet that is about to go on me any day now.

Toilet or CRISPR? Sanitation or gene editing? This is a no brainer, of course.

So, I passed on the papers and CRISPR and now I won’t know any more about it than most people who pay no attention to gene editing or don’t believe in evolution. Oh, sure, there are workarounds and I have friends who could probably send the papers to me. But that’s not the point. Journals need a new business model. A couple of years ago, I suggested that the American Chemical Society switch to an Apple iTunes model because that would make so much sense and would mean that independent researchers and geeks without portfolio wouldn’t have to camp on the licenses of their academic friends…

Wait, where was I?

Ok, back to the harsh light and frigid temperatures of reality.

So, to get my sciencey fix, I downloaded a book from Audible by Robert Sawyer called Quantum Night. It’s Sci Fi, and although a lot of Audible Sci Fi recommended books have been duds, this one seemed promising. The story is about psychologists and physicists researching the nature of consciousness and what makes humans sentient, aware and psychopathic. This book is like geek bait. The author talks about all the usual subjects on the topic of good and evil and psychology, Zimbardo, Milgram, Altemeyer. But he also introduces some new names I had never heard of like Angela Book, whose papers are behind a pay wall, and some French sounding dude named Rene Girard. The Canadian researchers in the book work at the Canadian Light Source in Saskatechewan, a place that is familiar to me because I used to send my crystals there for data collection. And there’s a bit of structural biology in there as well. I was happy to see that some of the crystal structures he mentions are available at the Brookhaven repository so I can download them to my last remaining visualization application. BUT I can’t read the citation for the structures without paying $30/paper which I’m not going to do.

In the book, the researchers find that the consciousness of every human being on earth falls into one of three discrete states. The first state is fully sentient with a internal monologue and the second is that of a psychopath who thinks like a predator. The third state is for a type of human being that theoretically exists but that I had never heard of before, the philosophical zombie. In the book, they are real and the researchers call them P-Zeds, because this is Canada after all. The theory is that some people look like normal human beings and act like normal human beings but they have no internal monologue. The lights are on but no one is home.

I know what you’re thinking. You went out with someone like that.

This is a work of fiction, so take that into consideration. I don’t know how such a person could exist, like I can’t imagine being color blind. How could you go through life without hearing a cacophony of voices in your head talking about why the woman on the ninth floor won’t accept your IMs, read your mail or accept your meeting invitation when you really need her information right now, and did you turn off the iron, and is it better to go meatless or fast on Mondays, and maybe you really do have a thyroid condition, didja ever think of that??

I’m not the only one, am I?

I can’t be the only one. Think of all of the books and poems and songs and works of art and Einstein sitting on a beam of light…

So, I can’t believe that it’s possible to be a functional human being without an internal monologue, who just looks for social cues to know what to do next. Then I remembered Facebook.

That was a cheap shot.

But the more I thought about this book, the more questions I had and the more it made me think about what it is that makes Trump voters like him and why some of the most resistant liberal Hillary haters are Bernie Sanders fans. I’m not talking about Katiebird or some of my own family members.

Off topic for a moment: Let’s say that you can’t be a complete philosophical zombie. Let’s say that you do have an internal monologue but somehow, it’s become suppressed. Isn’t that what happens in cults? That thing that recovering cultists call “the authentic self”, maybe that’s the fully conscious sentient self with a completely engaged internal monologue.

Am I the only person who gets a little creeped out when some religious person says to an atheist, “You don’t have morality. Without the bible telling you right from wrong, what’s to stop you from running around killing people?” Because when I hear someone say that, I think, the only thing stopping the religious person who is saying that from running around killing people is a somewhat disjointed collection of writings of late bronze age tribalists who bear a striking resemblance to the Taliban.

Really? REALLY???  You don’t know from experience and empathy and your own pain that it’s wrong to run around killing people and stealing their stuff and lying? You need a set of rigid rules and the threat of eternal damnation to tell you not to do bad things to other people?

Maybe philosophical zombies do exist. But maybe people aren’t born this way, as the protagonists in the book propose. Maybe philosophical zombiism is induced.

What if the mind is lazy and unless you train it, the internal monologue will seek the path of least resistance? Could that explain the number of Trump voters who have only a high school education? (There’s a recent statistical analysis out there somewhere that looks like PCA but I’m having trouble finding the link) Could the emphasis on conformity in some voters of a certain age also account for the tendency to be lead? Somehow, the internal monologue has been turned down from 10 to around 3. And how do TV and other forms of media affect the internal monologue?

On the left, can we see a turning down of the internal monologue in spite of mass quantities of Ivy League education? Does the emphasis on buzz words like corporatist, neoliberalism and DLC short circuit the internal monologue? Could the tendency of the left to blame everything on racism be indicative of a lazy shortcut that is actually making the current situation worse? I mean, there are definitely racists but not everyone who is critical of Obama is a Republican or a racist. Could it be that the concept of racism was used as a cynical tool to suppress the internal monologue by a bunch of predators in the “establishment” in order to stifle criticism of the things they were going to persuade Obama to do?  I mean, it’s not like African Americans have suddenly prospered and joined the ranks of the 1% in any great numbers in the past eight years as they might have had a right to expect. You would think that someone on the left was looking out for them for all the lip service that is given to racism. Neglect of the consequences of the real thing shouldn’t be this obvious. Just because you use a word a billion times doesn’t make it true. Either we’re not as smart as we think we are or we’ve become somewhat brain dead.

Long time readers of this blog know that I try to avoid almost all news sources and have to pick my way through the printed page like it’s a minefield. You can do what you want but I choose not to expose myself to media narratives if I can help it. I’m almost hyperaware of every nuance, which makes me a blast at parties. One of the reasons why I’m not as into Hillary as I was in 2008 is because I think that someone in her campaign staff is tinkering with our lazy minds this time around and I really resent it. It comes through in the mail she clutters up my inbox with as well as some of the things she has said. Yesterday, she said something about how we should all “use our words” when it comes to protesting our opponents. I didn’t know if she was reflecting on her diplomatic skills that she acquired in the State Department or whether she was thinking about doing an updated version of Romper Room.

Ah, yes, I remember it well. There was the time when Brooke threw a rock at a kid who was teasing her in fourth grade and the vice principal told us she should learn how to “use her words”.  But when Brooke yelled that math was boring her in seventh grade, her teacher seemed to be upset that she had “used her words” inappropriately and sent her to the vice principal who said maybe it would be better for her to remain silent. So, I’m not sure that the whole “use your words” thing is a rule so much as a guideline and that vice principals are authoritarian moral relativists.

Hey, when Donald Trump started to whine that his free speech rights were being violated, did anyone else immediately think of that scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail when the peasant was yelling about how he was being repressed?

Yes, yes, Donald, you have been fluffed relentlessly by the press who has a fascination with covering you in the same way that pressing down on a hangnail can sometimes produce a deliciously warm painful experience that must be repeated over and over again and yet you can be so easily derailed and stifled by a couple of obnoxious protestors who don’t like the way you are proposing to treat immigrants and black people. And Women. Don’t forget women. Everyone always does.

In any case, if you are going to a Trump rally to protest because you were paid to do it or because someone who was fully sentient was unable to talk you out of it, then I thank you for your service. No one goes to a Trump rally, surrounded by what looks like philosophical zombies and psychopaths, thousands of them, unless they are very brave. The money wouldn’t be enough for me. But I wouldn’t rule out standing on the sidewalk with a “Trump is a Jagoff” sign and a pocket full of Gogurt. That might be fun.

So, where was I?

I don’t know. My mind went off the track again. I have a chicken to roast and clothes to wash and I think I’d better check my email from work and that woman from the ninth floor just turned out to be busy but she could have been secretly dissing me, I don’t know for sure, and Crossfit costs $99 at the Y, is it better to get a subscription to Nature or get two months of Crossfit…

Friday: Unfinished business

For a long time now, I’ve been thinking that feminists dropped the ball after they won Roe v. Wade.  Everyone took it down a notch and went back to whatever it was they were doing.  The ERA officially died in 1982.  I was at Point Park in Pittsburgh at a rally the day it happened.  It was important and it was no doubt a very bad thing when it died.  But I was young and stupid and I thought at least we have Roe and cheap, plentiful oral contraceptives.

And that’s where we fell into a trap.  The right wing had us just where they wanted us.  Instead of protecting us, Roe has been used as a political hammer by both parties and as a result, its no longer the protection it was assumed it was.  I say assumed because it never was supposed to be a proxy for true equality.

Today, Louise Trubek, one of the plaintiffs in an earlier contraception case in Connecticut pre-Griswold, seems to agree that we lost the plot in her post in the NYTimes:

Why are issues that the courts decided so long ago still unresolved? Maybe it is time to recognize that law alone is not enough to effect social change. It must be linked to social activism on behalf of women’s rights.


We can celebrate Griswold, Roe and all the cases that stemmed from the Poe litigation. They are important landmarks in American jurisprudence. But as I look back I am dismayed by how few of the issues I was fighting for at the time of Poe are resolved. To be sure, we have important rights and more legal privacy. But we still have not provided all the support women need to combine rewarding careers and healthy families. Planned Parenthood is under siege and poor women who are seeking comprehensive reproductive care are still at risk. Presidential candidates can get away with saying that all contraception should be outlawed. Comprehensive child care services are difficult to locate, and fully financed family and medical leave is still controversial.

In short, we won the legal battle but not the war. Women are still not guaranteed control over their lives, because the necessary social supports were never secure. The initial goal of Griswold was to help women — and even though the precedent has helped with same-sex marriage laws, those initial needs, especially of poor women, have been left largely unmet.

The universal coverage plan outlined in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is a good step forward, and we should do all we can to ensure it. Perhaps if activism had been linked to the lawsuits, the aims I fought for would have been secured, and we would be spared the spectacle of Republican candidates threatening, yet again, a woman’s right to control her own fertility.

She’s right.  After we won Roe, we just assumed that social equality would follow on its own.  But that was never going to happen if the activists stopped being active.  I blame my own generation for this.  We straddled the gap between the end of the baby boom and the Gen Xers.  We were children during the activist days and too busy breaking new ground in college and careers to pay any attention to what was happening to our rights.  It was hard enough to get some professor to notice us or some supervisor to recognize our achievements to go out after work and organize.  But without that activism and organization, our accomplishments were illusory.  There was no permanent change in the culture except these two flimsy supreme court rulings.  That is all we had.  And as the right wing started to chip away at them, we didn’t get alarmed enough.  Now the right has almost got its way even with the rulings in place and our rights and equality looks like a matrix of swiss cheese.

So, it’s back to the trenches for us or our daughters will not have the privileges that we had in the 70s and 80s.  If we’re wondering why we get treated badly at work, it’s because the old boys club knows that there are things society can force women to do that can never be forced on men.  It makes us look weak and easy to run over.

It’s still a man’s world out there and we were stupid to think an abortion ruling was going to change that.


Craig Crawford has a great post on the fallout over Rush Limbaugh’s “Slut” broadcast.   If you missed this fecal vomit from Rush, here’s an excerpt:

[O]n his radio show today, Limbaugh showed no remorse and instead reveled in the attention. Referring to Fluke, Limbaugh demanded that women post sex tapes online if they use insurance-covered birth control:

LIMBAUGH: So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch.

 And here’s Rush’s followup.  He just can’t seem to stop himself.  This man needs help.  Or a stiletto shoe in his face.  I just can’t decide…

Craig has a handy list of sponsors that you can contact and includes this little tidbit:

The Rush-Romney Connection
Limbaugh’s daily radio show is syndicated by Premier Networks, which is owned byClear Channel, which is co-owned by Bain Capital.

Folks, you can’t make this up.

Yesterday, I wrote a response to a post by Sarah Lane on google+.  Sarah Lane is the bubbly tech blogger who’s a mainstay at Twit.tv.  I love Sarah Lane but I don’t like the idea that Carbonite is a sponsor of Twit AND Rush Limbaugh.  So, I wrote to ask her what she thought of that?  No answer yet but I’m hopeful.  I might try Gina Trapani next.  Or Leo Laporte, although Leo can come off as a sexist jerk himself on occasion.  In fact, I might just want to abstain from Twit and remove its app from my iphone and ipad until they have a word with their sponsor.  For sure, I am not using the Twit offer code from Carbonite until Carbonite disassociates itself from Rush.

ProFlowers also sponsors Rush.

Now would be a good time for Barack Obama to overcome his Mike Dukakis impression and stand up for women agains this evil bully.  It could be a twofer because Rush may push the nuclear option with a really vile racist remark and then we’ll see how far gone the American public truly is.  It’s one thing to think uncharitable, ignorant things, things you know are not socially acceptable.  It’s quite another thing to say them to the President of the United States.  Barack Obama might be an unprincipled schmoozer and a lousy president but that has nothing to do with his race (which is only a social construct anyway).

This is an opportunity for him to act like he’s got some backbone.  Someone needs to step in here and level Rush.  Maybe Hillary can lend Obama one of her balls.  Schedule a news conference and condemn him in the harshest terms.  Take a note from Bill Clinton’s evil cowards speech after the Oklahoma City bombing.  It’s the right thing to do and I guarantee that it won’t cost the election.  It’s not censoring Rush to tell him that his remarks are uncalled for, destructive and reflects badly on American values.  Call him out.  Do it now.


In science, it looks like you can teach stale eggs new tricks.  A new study in the journal Nature shows that human ova can be created from ovarian stem cells:

Previous research had suggested that a woman is born with all the egg cells she will ever have in her lifetime.

But in recent experiments, scientists discovered a new type of stem cell in the ovaries that—when grown in the lab—generates immature egg cells. The same immature cells isolated from adult mouse ovaries can turn into fertile eggs.

Stem cells, found in embryos and certain adult body tissues, have the potential to grow into many different types of cells.

(See “Liposuction Fat Turned Into Stem Cells, Study Says.”)

The finding reinforces the team’s previous experiments in mice, which had identified a new type of ovarian stem cell that renews a female mouse’s source of eggs throughout its fertile years.

That study, published in the journal Nature in 2004, was the “first to reach the conclusion that this long-held belief in our field—that young girls are given a bank account at birth that you can no longer deposit eggs to, just withdraw from—was no longer true,” said study leader Jonathan Tilly.

This is good news because if you can collect your stem cells early in your reproductive years and store them, there won’t be as much pressure to have kids before your expiration date.  You can have a backup plan and can get back to work doing something else, like research or starting your own business or writing books or something that requires your full attention.  Biology isn’t destiny until you’re ready.  It’s a good thing.


This is just cool.  Or disturbing, depending how you look at the idea of small flying objects:


Blame the user:

NEW YORK -(MarketWatch)- AT&T Inc. T +0.88% is taking a step closer to doing away with unlimited-mobile data-plans.

Under a new policy, AT&T will slow download speeds for unlimited 3G and 4G smartphone customers who exceed 3 gigabytes and 4G LTE users who exceed 5 gigabytes of data in a given month. AT&T had previously been slowing speeds, or throttling, customers who were in the top 5% of data users in their respective market.

AT&T has been trying to manage capacity on its network in the face of heavy data consumption by Apple Inc. (AAPL) iPhone users and a limited supply of wireless airwaves, or spectrum. The carrier is spending billions to build out a new fourth-generation mobile-broadband network that can handle more data traffic.

A spokesman said the new guidelines were necessary because of confusion among unlimited customers over when their download speeds would be slowed. He declined to say by how much the speeds would be decreased.

If you want to know why you’re losing the unlimited data plan on your iPhone, you can blame deregulation of the phone business years ago.  I guess when they decided to break up the monopolies to encourage competition, they never thought about whether they should require the phone companies to invest some of their ungodly profits into improving their data networks.  So, scarcity, like, you know, works in their favor.  They can make you slow down and use less and still charge you a fortune for crappy service.  I have ATT and I can barely get a signal in parts of central NJ and in NY City?  Fuggeddaboudit.  Covering the Occupy events in Zuccotti park was nearly impossible in real time and just drained the battery as the iphone uselessly pinged the sky looking for a signal.
Wherever Steve Jobs is, I’m betting he’s not amused.

Wednesday: Geeks vs Rentiers

This morning, Derek Lowe pointed to this post at Nature about the growing geek boycott against the Elsevier journals.  Elsevier is a scientific journal company based in Amsterdam that is pushing Congress to pass the Research Works Act.  The act would sequester scientific information that you the taxpayer have already paid for behind a paywall:

Gowers, a mathematician at the University of Cambridge, UK, and a winner of the Fields medal, mathematics’ highest honour, declared his boycott in a blog post on 21 January. He cited Elsevier’s high prices; the practice of bundling journals, which some see as forcing libraries to subscribe to journals they don’t want to get those that they do; and the company’s support for US legislation such as the Research Works Act (RWA), which would forbid government agencies from requiring that the results of research they fund be placed in public repositories. Elsevier is not the only publisher guilty of such practices, says Gowers, but it is the worst offender.

Since the protest began, more than 4,800 researchers from all fields have joined in; about 20% are mathematicians. After an initial burst of activity, the petition is now attracting around 200 new signatories each day. On 8 February, Gowers and 33 other mathematicians, including Ingrid Daubechies, president of the International Mathematical Union, released a follow-up statement detailing their objections to Elsevier’s practices.

Here’s the problem: Elsevier and other scientific journal publishers, like ACS, charge extremely high fees to download an electronic copy of their papers.  Since I’ve been unemployed, I haven’t been able to download a copy from Elsevier or ACS servers for less than $30.00/copy  (here’s an example of a paper I’d like to read but not for $31.50).  I hear this complaint from a lot of unemployed scientists.  They absolutely must keep on top of the literature or they’re unemployable but they can’t afford to shell out $30 for each paper they need to read.  That leaves them with few options the best of which is to go to a local university and use their science library.  But if you don’t live close to one, it’s a major headache.  Getting a subscription is doable but the high cost of a subscription usually limits us to only one and research rarely stays in one journal.

But it’s worse than that.  Researchers don’t get paid for their papers when they publish.  Plus, for research that has been paid for by government grants from the NIH, it’s outrageous that any publisher would have the right to keep that information behind a paywall.  That means that American researchers end up paying at greatly inflated prices for work that Americans have already paid for.

I hope the boycott makes some progress.  There are some open access journals out there although their reputation is not well established yet.  But we have to break the stranglehold publishers have on information or only the people who can afford to pay will have access and you know who that means.

Finally, we are really surprised that NY Rep. Carolyn Maloney is onboard with the RWA.  She should be much more concerned with the American researchers no longer employed by corporations and suddenly on their own with dwindling resources,  and less concerned with the rentiers who are trying to keep the data to themselves screaming, “mine! mine! mine!”  If you’ve never had to do research this way, you have absolutely no idea how hard it is.

For shame, Carolyn.

For those of you in research who would like to join the boycott, check out TheCostofKnowledge, which frames the issue like this:

1.)They charge exorbitantly high prices for subscriptions to individual journals.

2.)In the light of these high prices, the only realistic option for many libraries is to agree to buy very large “bundles”, which will include many journals that those libraries do not actually want. Elsevier thus makes huge profits by exploiting the fact that some of their journals are essential.

3.)They support measures such as SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act, that aim to restrict the free exchange of information.