Endless Curiosity

May 7, 2012

Boulder Fearsome Five

Filed under: Cycling — Alec @ 12:40 pm

The Fearsome Five

This weekend I did a ride called the Boulder Fearsome Five, or Los Cinco Diablos. It’s a ride put on by Rocky Mountain Cycling Club as part of the Challenge Series Short-Course Events. Here’s a map of the route.

It’s a lovely looking ride, cycling Super Flagstaff, Magnolia, Sugarloaf, 4 Mile Canyon to Gold Hill (dirt road between Salina and half-way down Sunshine Canyon), Lee Hill Road, and Super Jamestown. The web site says it’s about 100 miles and over 15,000 feet of climbing. Just the sort of ride I enjoy! (more…)

June 3, 2011

The Anthropocene Era

Filed under: Climate Change, Life — Alec @ 2:04 pm

We are no longer living in the Holocene age, but in a new Anthropocene age, a time when the earth is being transformed by humans. As a fascinating article in the Economist says,

In 2000 Paul Crutzen, an eminent atmospheric chemist, realised he no longer believed he was living in the Holocene. He was living in some other age, one shaped primarily by people. From their trawlers scraping the floors of the seas to their dams impounding sediment by the gigatonne, from their stripping of forests to their irrigation of farms, from their mile-deep mines to their melting of glaciers, humans were bringing about an age of planetary change. With a colleague, Eugene Stoermer, Dr Crutzen suggested this age be called the Anthropocene—“the recent age of man”.

If you don’t believe we are having a real impact, consider this from another page at the Economist:

Humans have become a force of nature reshaping the planet on a geological scale—but at a far-faster-than-geological speed. A single engineering project, the Syncrude mine in the Athabasca tar sands, involves moving 30 billion tonnes of earth—twice the amount of sediment that flows down all the rivers in the world in a year. That sediment flow itself, meanwhile, is shrinking; almost 50,000 large dams have over the past half- century cut the flow by nearly a fifth. That is one reason why the Earth’s deltas, home to hundreds of millions of people, are eroding away faster than they can be replenished.

The first article is well worth reading, and gives a very interesting perspective on the long-term impacts of climate change, one that reminds me of the better science fiction. Of course, the changes are interesting from a human race perspective; the lives of hundreds of millions of people will probably suck.

April 29, 2011

A God of Manageable Size

Filed under: God, Life, Psychology — Alec @ 3:06 pm

My philosophical novel, A God of Manageable Size, is now available on Amazon. It looks lovely.  I’ve priced the book such that I will  make $0.00 on each copy sold – but I hope to make up for that in volume 🙂 . Tell all your family and friends and co-workers. Then buy the book – you won’t be making me rich, just happy.

Also, that’s it, I’m done, finished – no more work on The Happiness Dance – unless I change my mind. Read it, enjoy it, share it – or not.

I started on the Happiness project when books on happiness were all the rage and I joined the herd. Not being a professor or researcher in the field I needed something to differentiate The Happiness Dance, so I decided to go with a graphic-based approach rather than straight text. It’s been fun, I’ve done a lot of reading, learned a lot, changed a little, but now, if I never read another blog about happiness or life hacking again, it will be too soon.

Reading about people’s search for happiness simply gets depressing. Enough already. Just get on with life. As Eric Hoffer says, “the search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness“.

Or, as Eric Weiner says is his fun book, The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World, “Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.

If you are not convinced and want to read more books, here are some I recommend. In the meantime, I’m done with this book. No, I’m not going to try and get it published – it needs a lot more work for that – and I want to move onto other things.

April 2, 2011

Contador and Clenbuterol

Filed under: Cycling — Alec @ 8:54 am

So it seems that the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-drug Agency (WADA) are appealing the Spanish Cycling Federation’s decision to clear Alberto Contador of the charge that he took drugs while winning the 2010 Tour de France.

I like to imagine the conversation when officials were deciding whether or not to clear Contador: (more…)

August 30, 2010

The Deer Creek Challenge

Filed under: Cycling — Alec @ 1:56 pm

On Sunday I rode the inaugural Deer Creek Challenge, a 100 mile ride with 12,751 feet of climbing. Actually, I climbed12,752 feet because I got off my bike and rolled it back downhill a few feet at one point.


Elliptigo in Boulder

Filed under: Cycling — Alec @ 1:21 pm

On Saturday I rode an Elliptigo at the Boulder Nites Classic: “The Exempla Good Samaritan Boulder Nites Classic is Boulder’s first and only Family Fun Bike Ride around the streets of Boulder – at night!” Apart from having way too many capital letters, the ride was a lot of fun. Or perhaps I should say the run was a lot of fun.


July 20, 2010

Pleasure and Happiness

Filed under: Life, Psychology — Alec @ 6:08 am

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone to learn that pleasure and happiness are not synonymous. Certainly eating delicious food, having a relaxing massage, or sensual lovemaking can leave one happy, but it’s only temporary, and anyway, we get used to it, we habituate.


July 13, 2010

The Rich are Happier and More Content

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Psychology — Alec @ 6:07 am

I got this title from Jeffrey Goldberg’s posting, where he adds:

I, for one, am breathing a sigh of relief that the rich are happy. I imagine you feel the same way. How could you not?


July 9, 2010

The Amazing Mark Cavendish

Filed under: Cycling — Alec @ 11:00 am

I’ve been reading Mark Cavendish’s autobiography, Boy Racer. It seems somewhat premature since Cav is only just 25, but it’s a great book, and very appropriate for the moment since Cav won yesterday’s Stage 5. Here’s a lovely video of the last few minutes of Stage 5, with the peloton looking beautiful as it flows along the roads, and here’s another one that really shows the buildup to the final sprint.


June 18, 2010

We Talk, They Act

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Psychology, Republicans — Alec @ 5:48 pm

I’ve blogged before about the ability of people to vote against their own interests, and after reading George Montbiot’s great article in the Guardian, I decided to write about it again. Montbiot has some interesting perspectives that are worth spending a few brain cells pondering.

The simple idea is that the right wing persuades people to fight for things that either don’t affect them, or indeed, harm them. Sample quote:

[The new conservatism] blames the troubles of the poor not on economic forces – corporate and class power, wage cuts, tax cuts, outsourcing – but on cultural forces…The anger of the excluded is aimed instead at gay marriage, abortion, swearing on television and latte-drinking, French-speaking liberals. The working-class American right votes for candidates who rail against cultural degradation, but what it gets when they take power is a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.


June 2, 2010

Behead them all

Filed under: Politics, Psychology — Alec @ 12:21 pm

This is a follow-up to my previous post about wasting a good crisis. The Department of the Interior has been corrupted, and Minerals Management Service is perhaps the most corrupt.

You may have heard of Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist who lived around 500 BCE and who wrote the classic book, The Art of War. This book got the attention of King Ho Lu who asked Sun Tzu if he could form the king’s concubines into an army. Sun Tzu said he could, and divided the concubines into two armies, each headed by one of the king’s favorite concubines.

When Sun Tzu gave orders, the concubines simply giggled and did not do as instructed. After a couple of attempts, Sun Tzu had the two favorite concubines beheaded. After that, all orders were followed quickly and accurately.

Of course, we can’t behead the people who run MMS, but Obama should fire those in charge while corruption reigned. Obama needs to get the attention of the people who are responsible for running the government departments and show them that it is no longer business as usual. And he needs to get the attention of the American people and show them that his administration is fixing things.

May 31, 2010

Obama is Pathetic

Filed under: Economics, Politics — Alec @ 6:00 am

Obama is Pathetic. I say this with a lot of love because I’m a Democrat through and through. But he’s handed crisis after crisis and what does he do?  Stands aside, studies, intellectualizes, thinks. What he doesn’t do is take advantage of the crisis. But, as Maureen Dowd said, “Presidencies are always about crisis management.”

Economist Paul Romer said in 2004, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” a sentiment echoed by Rahm Emanuel when he said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” But Obama wastes crisis after crisis.


May 23, 2010

Religion and Morality

Filed under: God, Life, Psychology — Alec @ 5:34 am

I was reading an article called The New War Between Science and Religion, which starts with:

There is a new war between science and religion, rising from the ashes of the old one, which ended with the defeat of the anti-evolution forces in the 2005 “intelligent design” trial. …. The new war pits those who argue that science and “moderate” forms of religion are compatible worldviews against those who think they are not.

The former group, known as accommodationists…. suggest that there are deeply mysterious, spiritual domains of human experience, such as morality, mind, and consciousness, for which only religion can provide deep insights.

I don’t want to address the domains of mind and consciousness because I think that science will eventually give us answers. Morality is much more interesting because there’s no agreement on what is moral and immoral, and certainly religion (at least the Bible) doesn’t seem to provide good answers.


May 17, 2010

Why do I bother?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:50 am

There are two interesting articles in the NY Times today. Well, there are probably quite a few, but I’m just going to talk about two of them.


May 9, 2010

More about Writing

Filed under: Life, Psychology — Alec @ 7:05 am

Following on from yesterday’s post, Out of Sheer Rage, the second thing I remember from the panel, Writing-The Process, was Michael Stoff talking about how he liked to have two books or articles to work on because then he could procrastinate on the “most important” one by working on the other one. A lovely trick to help him avoid total procrastination. Writing is hard, and it helps to have tricks.

That reminds me, there was a third thing that I remember from the panel. One of the panelists quoted Gene Fowler: “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Ha!


May 8, 2010

Out of Sheer Rage

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 4:34 pm

During the recent Conference on World Affairs here at C.U. Boulder, I helped with a panel called Writing-The Process. I remember only two things that the panelists said, one of them being that Stuart Schoffman highly recommended the book Out of Sheer Rage, by Geoff Dyer. Schoffman spoke so highly of it that I bought it and read it on my recent trip to Costa Rica.


May 3, 2010

The world’s first third world first world country

Filed under: Economics, Life, Politics, Psychology — Alec @ 8:52 pm

These days it seems that we are slowly on the way to becoming the world’s first third world first world country. As I drive I notice more and more potholes in the roads, signs of a slow slide into the third world.


May 2, 2010

Hiking Chirripó

Filed under: Hiking — Alec @ 12:30 pm

I’ve just returned from Costa Rica, where one of the things we did was go down to San Gerardo de Rivas where I hiked up Cerro Chirripó, the highest peak in Costa Rica (3820 meters, 12,533 feet). I don’t expect the general reader to be interested in this post, but I’m writing so that future hikers might find it via a Web search.


April 4, 2010

Be Faithful to your Obsessions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:57 am

I heard the quote “stay true to your obsessions” in an interview about the writer J.G. Ballard and was drawn to it. However, I rarely take what I hear at face value and almost always look it up. The true quote from Ballard is:

My advice to anyone in any field is to be faithful to your obsessions. Identify them and be faithful to them, let them guide you like a sleepwalker.


April 3, 2010

The lonely tree in the forest

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 9:55 am

I haven’t written for several months, largely because it all seemed so pointless and there are so many other things to do with my time. “Everyone” writes a blog because they want their views heard, but that rarely happens; most readers are family and close friends. “Several studies indicate that most blogs are abandoned soon after creation (with 60% to 80% abandoned within one month, depending on whose figures you choose to believe) and that few are regularly updated.

Hardly surprising. By June 2008, Technorati was indexing 112.8 million blogs, and supposedly the blogosphere is doubling about once every 6 and a half months, which, since there have been about 3 sets of 6.5 months since June 2008, would put the current number of blogs at somewhere around 900 million blogs. Hard to believe, but even if the number is a mere fraction of that there’s no way most blogs have much of a readership.

I have definite views about what’s happening in the world, but the sad fact is that talking or writing about them changes very little – basically nothing. A few people can influence by talking – Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly – but they are generally preaching to the choir of the struggling white males who think their problems are the fault of immigrants, liberals, the French, and so on. But for most of us, we need to take action, and not just personal action, but political action.

So I figured there’s little point in sharing my views in a blog. It’s a bit like being the tree in the forest that falls alone – does anyone hear?

I decided to focus on my books and to move to a website rather than a blog. So I duly bought a web domain and paid for two years of hosting, but have done nothing with it. So I’m still here at the blog site, at least for the foreseeable future.

The only reason I’m writing is that I heard a great quote from the author J.G. Ballard which inspired me to write something down, but I’ll leave that for another day.

December 30, 2009

Person of the Decade: Osama bin Laden

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 12:46 pm

It’s hard to imagine anyone who has more responsibility for the events of the last decade than Osama bin Laden. George W. Bush runs second, but he only gets his place in history because of bin Laden.

If it hadn’t been for bin Laden, Bush would not have had the opportunity to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. If he hadn’t been a “War President” and thus able to cower a cowardly and compliant Congress , Bush would probably not have been able to cut taxes for the rich. It’s unlikely he would have won a second term, and thus we probably wouldn’t have had the financial crash and resulting recession, which is causing untold suffering to Americans.

Flying would be easier and we wouldn’t be wasting countless hours and dollars waiting in security lines. Instead of getting ever deeper into debt, there would be more money available to solve the seemingly unsolvable problems facing this country – you know, things like healthcare, infrastructure, education. Sure, there would be political differences about the best way to solve the problems, but taking money out of the equation does complicate things.

Of course, choosing bin Laden as Person of the Decade would be highly unpopular, which is why I doubt any major magazine or newspaper is going to do it. But in terms of influence and impact on the people of the world, it’s difficult to see that anyone had more than Osama bin Laden.

December 26, 2009

CPF: Groupthink

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 8:06 am

Kishore Mahbubani’s first systemic failure is Groupthink. I’m not sure I agree with him, but I’ll first let him describe his idea.

The first systemic failure America has suffered is groupthink. Looking back at the origins of the current financial crisis, it is amazing that American society accepted the incredible assumptions of economic gurus such as Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin that unregulated financial markets would naturally deliver economic growth and serve the public good. …. In short, the financial players would regulate ­themselves.

This is manifest nonsense. The goal of these financial professionals was always to enhance their personal wealth, not to serve the public interest. So why was Greenspan’s nonsense accepted by American society? The simple and amazing answer is that most Americans assumed that their country has a rich and vibrant “marketplace of ideas” in which all ideas are challenged. Certainly, America has the freest media in the world. No subject is taboo. No sacred cow is immune from criticism. But the paradox here is that the belief that American society allows every idea to be challenged has led Americans to assume that every idea is challenged…


Conceiving the Possibility of Failure (CPF)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:41 am

I read an interesting article in The Wilson Quarterly called Can America Fail. No, I’d never heard of the magazine either and can’t remember how I found it – some link from somewhere. But I rather like the full title: The Wilson Quarterly – Surveying the World of Ideas. Here’s what the article is about:


December 23, 2009

Climate Change: Copenhagen, Failure or Folly?

Filed under: Climate Change, Politics — Alec @ 10:01 am

Of course, by now you’ll have read all sorts of things about Copenhagen and the agreements made there. So I’m not telling you anything new. But here are a couple of articles that perhaps you should read (okay, three articles).


December 16, 2009

Liberals and Conservatives: Relics of the Past

Filed under: Politics, Psychology — Alec @ 3:59 pm

The battle lines have long been drawn between liberals and conservatives – or so myth would have it.


December 15, 2009

God and Social Darwinism

Filed under: God — Alec @ 5:05 pm

I just came across an interesting article called Bringing Creationism to Heel Requires Making America Less Socially Darwinistic.  Here are a couple of exerpts. I’ve blogged about this subject before, and you can read the posting here, or read the article here.


December 13, 2009

The Rich get Richer

Filed under: Economics, Politics — Alec @ 3:32 pm

I can’t blame the rich for wanting to hang on to what they have, and I can’t blame them for framing the issues in a way that benefits them. That said….

Supposedly the free market is the best hope for a good life, the best hope for freedom, the best hope for humanity. It’s faster than a speeding bullet… oh wait, that’s something else. Anyway, it’s supposed to be pretty good.


December 2, 2009

Think it’s bad here? Try Pakistan

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 3:59 pm

It’s easy to think that things are bad over here: serious recession, high unemployment, endless war, problems with healthcare reform, yada, yada. Sometimes it’s good to look at how other people have it to realize how good things are here.


December 1, 2009

The Cowardly Supreme Court

Filed under: Politics, Republicans — Alec @ 8:56 am

I wrote a long blog post about the Supreme Court but it was somehow lost, and I’m not going to rewrite it. So here’s a shorter version.

The Founding Fathers distrusted power – they believed, with Lord Acton, that power corrupts. The whole Bill of Rights (Amendments 1 – 10 for those who have forgotten their civics lessons) was intended to protect individuals against power, especially the power of the State and the majority.


November 24, 2009

Something to think about

Filed under: Life — Alec @ 6:06 pm

Here’s a little passage from an article by Rebecca Solnit. The whole article is interesting, but this little passage is worth spending some time thinking about.

American life as it is now lived is poor in security, confidence, connectedness, agency, contemplation, calm, leisure, and other things that you aren’t going to buy at Wal-Mart, or at Neiman Marcus for that matter. If we can see what’s poor about the way we are, we can see what would be enriching rather than impoverishing about change.

We’re Fucked

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 5:45 pm

Well, we’re fucked. Cowardice seems to be in the air. I just watched The Reader last night, which is a story about cowardice. And now Obama is showing himself to be a huge coward, fearful of being labeled soft on terror or some such thing. From Yahoo News:

War-weary Americans will support more fighting in Afghanistan once they understand the perils of losing, President Barack Obama declared Tuesday, announcing he was ready to spell out war plans virtually sure to include tens of thousands more U.S. troops.

Perils of losing? We sure as hell aren’t going to “win” because we don’t even know what winning means. Not only that but the Taliban will simply outwait us.

So Obama will pour a few more hundreds of billions of dollars down the drain while the U.S. continues to suffer.

Take a look at this little time-lapse display of unemployment figures over the last (almost) 3 years – bear in mind that the October figures are worse again. Press the Play button to see the colors change.

November 20, 2009

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Filed under: Life, Psychology — Alec @ 7:23 am

I’ve recently be learning about the stories we tell ourselves, and how we can throw away the stories that don’t work and create new stories that serve us better. As Srikumar Rao says, “What you don’t realize is that the life you are living is a reality. The mistake you are making is that you think it is the reality.”

Here’s a story:


Palin’s People

Filed under: God, Life, Republicans — Alec @ 6:27 am

The fascination with Sarah Palin is fascinating. On a superficial level she’s a phycially attractive woman that lots of male voters probably fantatize about having sex with. But on a deeper level the fascinating reality is that a woman so incoherent, so hypocritical, so lacking in knowledge about the world, and so lacking in curiousity to learn more can be a national phenomenon.


November 19, 2009

Economic Strategy: Then and Now

Filed under: Economics, Politics — Alec @ 6:42 am

I thought I list a couple of area from the article I mentioned yesterday (Why America Needs an Economic Strategy). Porter first describes some of the “unique competitive strengths” that have allowed the U.S. to prosper. He then describes what he sees as the current situation. I’ve chosen two items that particularly resonate with me, reordering the paragraphs to match items up.


November 18, 2009

An Economic Strategy

Filed under: Economics, Politics — Alec @ 10:15 pm

I’ve just read a great Business Week article called Why America Needs an Economic Strategy. It’s by Michael Porter, who leads the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard, and you would think that with a title like that, Porter believes we don’t have one. You’d be right.


November 9, 2009

The Licensing Effect and Climate Change

Filed under: Climate Change, Psychology — Alec @ 6:49 am

Have you ever heard of the Licensing Affect? Probably not, but here’s how a newspaper article describes it:

Researchers have found that, after doing something ethically sound, people are more – not less – likely to do something immoral, or even illegal.

The article is based on a 2006 study which shows that:

Most choices in the real world follow other choices or judgments. The authors show that a prior choice, which activates and boosts a positive self-concept, subsequently licenses the choice of a more self-indulgent option.


November 7, 2009

Belief: The Familiarity Effect

Filed under: The Brain — Alec @ 7:56 am

We tend to believe that what is familiar is good. From Kluge, page 48:

Another study, replicated in at least 12 different languages, showed that people have a surprising attachment to the letters found in their own names, preferring words that contain those letters to words that don’t.


November 5, 2009

Belief: Anchoring

Filed under: The Brain — Alec @ 8:39 am

Try this:

Add 400 to the last three digits of your cell phone number. When you are done, answer the following question: in what year did Attila the Hun’s rampage through Europe finally come to an end?


November 4, 2009

Carnage Often Ensues

Filed under: Life, Psychology, The Brain — Alec @ 8:38 am

Have you ever been in a situation where you or someone else seems to behave completely irrationally, making mountains out of molehills, logic and facts thrown to the winds? Sorry, of course you would never behave like this, but perhaps someone you know? Or if not, you only have to look at the political scene to see lots of such behavior. Here’s Kluge, page 156.

What occasionally allows normal people to spiral out of control is a witch’s brew of cognitive kluges: (1) the clumsy apparatus of self-control (which in the heat of the moment all too often gives the upper hand to our reflexive system); (2) the lunacy of confirmation bial (which convinces us that we are always right, or nearly so); (3) its evil twin, motivated reasoning (which leads us to protect our beliefs, even those beliefs that are dubious); and (4) the contextually driven nature of memory (such that when we’re angry at someone, we tend to remember other things about them that have made us angry in the past). In short, this leaves “hot” systems dominating cool reason; carnage often ensues.

November 3, 2009

Fear of Death?

Filed under: Climate Change, Psychology — Alec @ 12:30 pm

Most people don’t want to die. Although they don’t mind so much if other people die, as long as they are “other“. We’ll spend trillions to prevent another terrorist attack, but have no problem killing the millions we have killed in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And we don’t mind that we’ve needlessly sent many more of our youth to their death than were killed in the 9/11 attack, because they volunteered, so that’s okay.

But that’s not my point here.


October 30, 2009

A Pilot and his Dog

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:50 am

Okay, a pilot and his/her dog, to be politically correct. Travel Insider has a lovely comment about the recent case of the two pilots overshooting their airport because they were, ahem, inattentive.

There is a probably fictitious account of certain airplane engineers who claim that all the cockpit crew needs to consist of is one pilot and a dog. The dog is there to bite the pilot if he touches anything and the pilot is there to feed the dog.

October 28, 2009

Half the population is below average intelligence

Filed under: Psychology, The Brain — Alec @ 10:32 pm

Whenever I come across some action or belief that seems really dumb, I console myself with the thought that half the population is below average* intelligence. Of course, it might be me that is being dumb by not recognizing the brilliance of that action or belief, but I prefer to think otherwise 🙂


October 27, 2009

Beliefs: The Halo Effect

Filed under: The Brain — Alec @ 7:50 am

We tend to ascribe good qualities to things we find attractive, and bad qualities to things we find unattractive. The former is the Halo Effect; the latter Gary Marcus terms the Pitchfork Effect. For example, we tend to think that good looking teachers are better teachers, we vote for people who look physically more competent, we buy things advertised by attractive people. And “study after study has shown that attractive people get better breaks in job interviews, promotions, admissions interviews, and so on.”


October 26, 2009

The Elderly are the Problem

Filed under: Economics, Politics — Alec @ 8:29 am

“We have met the enemy, and he is the future us.” –with apologies to Pogo

Yes, the elderly are the problem. Or at least one of the causes of the problems this country faces.


October 25, 2009

Beliefs: The Focusing Illusion

Filed under: The Brain — Alec @ 12:12 pm

As I said in yesterday’s post, I’ll give examples of the way our brains lead us astray with respect to our beliefs. Hopefully, dear reader, you will start to get an idea of how untrustworthy your beliefs are, and will be more able to question them. To get started, here’s an example of the Focusing Illusion, the way that we can make decisions based on information that is planted on us; i.e., an example of how easily we can be manipulated. Perhaps by politicians? This is from Kluge, page 44.


October 24, 2009


Filed under: The Brain — Alec @ 8:41 am

Belief is a fascinating thing. We believe things that to others are incomprehensible. We believe things with no evidence. We continue to believe things even when the facts say that we are wrong. The problem is that our brains have an old primitive part which works quickly and largely unconsciously, and a new, deliberative part that is slower and takes more effort to use.


October 20, 2009

Our Idiosyncratic Memories

Filed under: The Brain — Alec @ 8:02 am

Gary Marcus believes that our memory is the single factor most responsible for human cognitive idiosyncracy. And he gives plenty of examples. One interesting fact is that we are not very good at noticing even fairly large changes in the background of a photo we’ve seen. We apparently remember the gist of things, but not the details. Marcus refers to an amazing video called Person Swap that shows someone asking directions then swapping with someone else, and the person giving directions doesn’t even notice.

Memory and Context

Filed under: The Brain — Alec @ 7:48 am

The thing about context is that it is always with us – even when it’s not really relevant to what we are trying to remember. Carr’s experiments with rats, for instance, has a parallel with humans in a remarkable experiment with scuba divers. The divers were asked to memorize a list of words while underwater. Like the rats that needed electric light to perform well, the scuba divers were better at remembering the words they studied underwater when the were tested underwater (relative to being tested on land) – a fact that strikes this landlubber as truly amazing. Just about every time we remember anything, context looms in the background.

Kluge, page 24

Forget Afghanistan – let’s nation build in Mexico

Filed under: Politics — Alec @ 6:41 am

In the November issue of Harper’s Magazine, Andrew Bacevic has a fascinating article called The War We Can’t Win. In it he agrees with me! But seriously, he asks the question of why we care about Afghanistan, and wonders why there’s no debate on this question.


October 19, 2009

Our Imperfect Brains

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 8:12 am

The mind is inarguable impressive, a lot better than any available alternative. But it’s still flawed, often in ways we scarcely recognize. For the most part, we simply accept our faults – such as our emotional outbursts, our mediocre memories, and our vulnerability to prejudice – as standard equipment. Which is exactly why recognizing a kluge, and how it might be improved upon, sometimes requires thinking outside the box. The best science, like the best engineering, often comes from understanding not just how things are, but how else they could have been.

From Kluge, by Gary Marcus, page 4

Winning in Afghanistan

Filed under: Politics, Psychology, Republicans — Alec @ 8:06 am

Hawks believe we lost in Vietnam only because we didn’t commit enough troops; because the U.S. population chickened out. Hawks believe we can win in Iraq and Afghanistan if we just apply enough troops, and their big fear is that we will withdraw in unnecessary defeat.

The idea that we can create a new society if we only kill enough people has always been a siren song. But do we really want to rank ourselves with Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (killing one third of the population)? Or with Mao Tse Tung in China (who killed over 70 million people in the Cultural Revolution and The Great Leap Forward)? Or with Stalin in the Soviet Union (who killed over 50 million people in the purges and labor camps)?

I wonder if hawks ever stop to ponder how they and their fellow Americans would respond if the Chinese invaded us, hoping to impose the Chinese flavor of communism on us?

October 11, 2009

Updates to The Happiness Dance

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 2:53 pm

I’ve made a lot of changes to my book, The Happiness Dance, including many new pages. At some point I will hide the new pages so that they are only accessible from the main page, but for now they are accessible on the right, under The Happiness Dance. As always, I welcome feedback.

Our messy lives

Filed under: Life, Psychology, The Brain — Alec @ 6:45 am

There are only two things that can destroy a healthy man: love trouble, ambition, and financial catastrophe. And that’s already three things, and there are a lot more. — Peter Altenberg

I read that lovely quote in Clive James’ monumental Cultural Amnesia, and I liked it because it ties in so nicely with the paragraph from The Accidental Mind in my previous post, and it illustrates how messy life can be. After all, with a kludgy, cobbled-together brain, why would we think that life would be logical and easy? Anyone who has actually lived a life knows that it is messy and that we spend much of our time wading through the shades of gray, rarely finding clear answers and right ways to do things. Or, as Mencken said, “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem-neat, plausible, and wrong.

October 10, 2009

Overview of the Brain

Filed under: The Brain — Alec @ 7:46 am

This paragraph from page 3 of The Accidental Mind is a good overview of our brain and why it is so fascinating.

The brain is not elegantly designed by any means: it is a cobbled-together mess, which, amazingly, and in spite of its shortcomings, manages to perform a number of very impressive functions. But while its overall function is impressive, its design is not. More important, the quirky, inefficient, and bizarre plan of the brain and its constituent parts is fundamental to our human experience. The particular texture of our feelings, perceptions, and actions is derived, in large part, from the fact that the brain is not an optimized, generic problem-solving machine, but rather a weird agglomeration of ad hoc solutions that have accumulated throughout millions of years of evolutionary history.

About the Brain

Filed under: The Brain — Alec @ 7:38 am

Our brains fascinate me: the way they work, and the ways we use (and abuse) them and the ways they use us. So I’m going to post snippets about interesting (to me) aspects of the brain. When these snippets come from a book, I’ll give the book name and page number.

Backlash against inherited wealth

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Republicans — Alec @ 7:30 am

With unemployment so high and the dreams of many people crushed, I wonder if there will ever be a populist backlash against inherited wealth.


October 9, 2009

Why do Republicans diss our Military?

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 7:26 am

The mantra of the right is that government can do no right. Or, in the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem”.

But I ask myself, what is the most respected institution in America? What institution do we believe is incomparably the best in the world? What institution do all politicians genuflect before?

The answer is the U.S. Military, a huge government run organization with layer upon layer of hierarchy, with massive potential for waste and fraud, and where people are rarely fired for incompetence.

So why do Republicans constantly talk about the inability of government to run programs well when they also believe our government-run Military is the finest in the world?

September 29, 2009

China and climate change

Filed under: Climate Change, Politics — Alec @ 7:14 am

Another thing that Bill Maher’s article made me think about was climate change and the other pending disasters that I lump together under the rubric of Disaster Porn (more on this later).


Playthings of the Gods

Filed under: God, Psychology — Alec @ 6:50 am

I read Bill Maher’s article about our inability to get anything done. Here’s a quote from it:

That’s the ultimate sign of our lethargy: millions thrown out of their homes, tossed out of work, lost their life savings, retirements postponed – and they just take it. 30% interest on credit cards? It’s a good thing the Supreme Court legalized sodomy a few years ago.


September 26, 2009

My Kindle

Filed under: Technology — Alec @ 11:32 am

I have a Kindle. Sometimes I wonder why I bought it.


September 18, 2009

The Age of Stupid

Filed under: Climate Change — Alec @ 1:38 am

There was an article in the Guardian yesterday where a Chinese government advisor said that China is not going to meet its climate change emissions targets.

“You should not target China to fulfill the two degree target. That is just a vision. Reality has deviated from that vision,” said Dai. “We do not think that target provides room for developing countries.” China argues that its priority must be economic growth to relieve poverty among its vast population.


September 10, 2009

Health Care and What We Eat

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:22 am

I love coming across ideas I hadn’t thought of before. There’s so much talk about the cost of health care and how we need change: Too many unnecessary tests and procedures. Too many expensive me-too drugs. Too much fear of being sued by patients. Payment for procedures rather than results. New expensive medical technology that must be paid for.


September 9, 2009

Blind Spots and Cassandra

Filed under: Climate Change, Economics, Politics, Psychology — Alec @ 6:35 am

I watched a great 2008 documentary on Labor Day called Blind Spot. It’s about the problems we face as the production of oil starts to run down. The fascinating thing is how much we as a race don’t want to think about these problems. We ignore the problem, or we tell ourselves that technology will solve it. As one of the interviewees said, we should go to church, mosque, or synagogue if we want to rely on miracles.


September 8, 2009

Stimulating environments

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 1:08 pm

I’ve been reading Proust was a Neuroscientist, by Jonah Lehrer, and at one point he writes

Other scientists have discovered that antidepressants work by stimulating neurgenesis (at least in rodents), implying that depression is ultimately caused by a decrease in the amount of new neurons, and not by a lack of serotonin. A new class of anti-depressants is being developed that targets the neurogenesis pathway. For some reason, newborn brain cells make us happy.

What an intriguing idea.


August 21, 2009

America always does the right thing…

Filed under: Politics, Psychology — Alec @ 6:54 am

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else” – Winston Churchill

Who knows what will happen with health care reform – after all, it took 20 years for Medicare to become a reality. In 1945 Harry Truman asked Congress for legislation establishing a national health insurance plan. Two decades of debate followed, with opponents warning of the dangers of “socialized medicine.” Sound familiar? Finally Medicare was signed into in law in 1965 by Lyndon Johnson as part of his Great Society.

Now Medicare is one of our favorite programs. As we’ve heard recently, even people against health-care reform are saying things like:

“I don’t want government-run health care. I don’t want socialized medicine. And don’t touch my Medicare.”


“Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

As always, Churchill has another appropriate quote: “The biggest argument against democracy is a five minute discussion with the average voter.”

Maybe in another 20 years we’ll get real health care reform.

August 17, 2009

Fixing Global Warming

Filed under: Climate Change — Alec @ 11:31 am

nobody cares

From GapingVoid

Democracy in Afghanistan :-)

Filed under: Politics, Psychology — Alec @ 11:22 am

Call me stupid, but I really don’t understand why Obama insists on staying in Afghanistan, and not just staying, but increasing our troop levels. What do we hope to achieve?


August 14, 2009

Saying becomes believing

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 7:04 am

There are many things about “the way things are” that I’m not happy with. But what can I do?


August 13, 2009

How depressing

Filed under: Politics, Psychology — Alec @ 1:18 pm

I just read Gail Collins’ article about people carrying guns to protests and rancorous town-hall meetings. What a scary thought – that someone who disagrees with me at a meeting might be carrying a gun. Democracy involves people feeling free to put forward their opinions – that’s what the First Amendment is partly about. Guns, on the other hand, intimidate people from putting forward their opinion and even from attending meetings. Ask any dictator.  Sometimes what I read is so depressing that I wish I hadn’t bothered reading.

July 7, 2009

Climate Change Consequences

Filed under: Climate Change — Alec @ 1:49 pm

Inspired by a glowing book review in the Economist, I just read an incredible novel, Ultimatum, about the consequences of climate change. It’s set in the year 2032, when an incoming American President has to deal with consequences that are even more dire than previously thought.

As the book review says,

The book may be set in the future, but it is really about today. “Ultimatum” does a better job of convincing the reader about the price the world will pay for its complacency about global warming than any international grandstanding or dry scientific reports.

Commenting about the quality of the book, the Economist says,

The publisher is already describing Mr Glass as the heir to Tom Clancy (for “The Hunt for Red October”) and to Michael Crichton (for “State of Fear”, his diatribe about global warming). “Ultimatum” is better than either of these. The first politico-diplomatic-disaster thriller, Mr Glass’s engrossing work leaves the reader thinking long after the last page is turned.


July 3, 2009

Astounding Belief

Filed under: Economics, Psychology — Alec @ 10:52 am

Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”

I just came across this quote from John Maynard Keynes, the hot economist-du-jour. I loved it because it ties in so nicely – and thus validates 😀 – my February posting about the Market and Invisible Hand.

Why people believe that The Market will cure all ills and solve all problems is beyond me. On the other hand, perhaps no one really believes that. Perhaps Market Believers just believe that the Market will give results that are beneficial to them, the rest of society/the people/the world be damned.

June 11, 2009

Nukes don’t kill people; people kill people

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 6:03 am

So what’s with this obsession with Iran and nukes? I thought the mantra was “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.


June 9, 2009

Libertarians are Pussies

Filed under: Economics, Psychology — Alec @ 7:21 am

I’ve always thought of myself as a bleeding-heart liberal, but recently have changed my mind. Now I think that even Libertarians are wimps and pussies.

Why? Because they believe we have rights.


May 1, 2009

Vicarious Goal Fulfillment

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 1:00 pm

There’s some fascinating research about how we pick the worst food options when there is a good option available. It’s as though we satisfy our virtuous goals by simply having a virtuous option available, even though we don’t pick it! Then, having satisfied our virtuous goals, we indulge in the least healthy choice. What strange brains we have. Logical they most definitely aren’t.

Here’s a shorter article about the research, and here’s a longer version.

I’d love to see research on areas of life other than food, and to learn ways that we can use this weirdness of our brains to benefit us. Any ideas?

April 19, 2009

Opting out of Cookies

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 9:58 am

You know those little cookies that web sites leave on your computer? Many of them are used to more effectively target ads that appear on web sites you visit. If you’d prefer that web sites do NOT place cookies on your computer, you can opt out at this web site.

Of course, who knows if it really works.

April 17, 2009

Surviving Uncertainty

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 7:12 am

There’s a wonderful free e-book (pdf format) available from the web site No Map. No Guide. No Limits.

The book is called Surviving Uncertainty: Taking a Hero’s Journey, and you can download it for free. If you want more information, this page describes the book and the motivation for creating it. It’s 102 pages long but is a much quicker read than this implies because the font is large and the lines are well-spaced. I copied the whole thing into a Word document with an 11 point Calibri font and it was 26 pages.

The only drawback to downloading the book is that for some reason you have to provide an email address. If you prefer not to give out your email address, you can read or download the book here.

April 16, 2009

Hit by a bus on Wall Street

Filed under: Economics, Psychology — Alec @ 4:23 pm

There’s a great article in The Atlantic Monthly about how the financial crisis has affected the writer. The thing that caught my eye was when he talked about how there seems to be an air of passivity and resignation among the public, one that I completely relate to.


April 15, 2009

Tears rolling down my cheeks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 10:41 am

I just watched this video of Susan Boyle and am sitting here with tears rolling down my cheeks. It is one of the most incredibly moving things I’ve seen. It also helps that the song is from Les Miserables, which is for me the best and most moving of all the musicals.

If this video doesn’t bring tears to your eyes you are a cold, heartless person, seriously in need of therapy 🙂

If you press Play it will tell you that the video is disabled by request. Click on the black area and it will take you to YouTube.

If this confuses you, just click here.

There’s a longer video that shows Susan before and after the performance. You can watch this by clicking here.

April 13, 2009

Happy Easter Monday

Filed under: God — Alec @ 5:44 am

Here are a couple of Easter comic strips from one of my favorites – Jesus and Mo. Click the image for a larger version.

jesus-and-mo-easter-eggs1 jesus-and-mo-whoop

April 12, 2009

The problems of renewable energy

Filed under: Climate Change — Alec @ 5:14 pm

A while back I went to a private screening of an incredible DVD called What A Way To Go, which is described as “A middle class white guy comes to grips with Peak Oil, Climate Change, Mass Extinction, Population Overshoot and the demise of the American Lifestyle“. After watching the documentary there was a discussion about what we could do to help the situation. Since no one else wanted to talk, I offered the perspective that there wasn’t much we could do other than vote for the correct Presidential candidate in the next election.


March 30, 2009

15 years of forewarning

Filed under: Economics — Alec @ 12:30 pm

Amazing, incredible!  Andrew Tobias reported on an article on Derivatives written by Byron Dorgan, the Democratic Senator from North Dakota. This article was written in 1994, almost 15 – yes 15 – years ago. It warns in strong terms about the possibility of “financial conflagration” caused by unregulated derivative trading. Here’s a quote:

Yet, this “false alarm” could turn out to be a harbinger of a real financial conflagration–one that would make us nostalgic for the days of the $500 billion savings-and-loan collapse. In August, The Wall Street Journal declared that derivatives were now a $35 trillion–that’s right, trillion–worldwide market. The U.S. share is estimated at $16 trillion, which is four times the nation’s economic output. And the Journal estimates that since 1993 there have been $6.4 billion lost in the derivatives game–$6.4 billion that could have opened businesses and created jobs. Derivatives are no doubt widespread: An Investment Company Institute survey found that 475 mutual funds with net assets of $350 billion recently held derivatives; about two-thirds of those assets were in short-term bond funds sold to average investors. And here’s the real kicker: Because the key players are federally insured banks, every taxpayer in the country is on the line.

Here’s a link to Tobias’ article, which contains a link to the first page (of 7) of Dorgan’s article. Or you can read the full article below the fold.


March 19, 2009

Income distribution

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 5:46 am

Everyone has different talents and abilities, and we reward people accordingly. Some people make more than others. Fair enough. Where it gets weird is when that differential keeps increasing. There’s nothing wrong with someone making 10 times as much as someone else. But when that 10 times becomes 11 times next year, 12 times the year after, and so on, things start to become weird. Of course, that’s what’s happening with the super-rich in America and the rest of us. To me it’s especially troublesome because while I have no problem with people actually earning more than others, most of the super-rich get most of their income from not working – i.e., from investments. Anyway, here’s a wonderful article that shows income distribution and how it’s changed over the years.

March 18, 2009

No whining allowed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 11:59 am

So what’s with all the whining about Obama increasing taxes on the rich? Here’s a chart showing the top marginal tax rate for about the last 90 years. Greed, sheer greed is what I say. It’s not even as though that extra money buys more happiness for the super-rich. Just  pathetic, useless greed. What’s wrong with these people?


AIG bonuses as unreasonable compensation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 5:51 am

Most people are pretty pissed off at the $165 million in bonuses that AIG is handing out, and Congress and the President are making all the right noises. But will they take action, or is their outrage calculated, knowing that our attention span is short? It seems the latter because while expressing outrage, at the same time they are coming up with excuses why they can’t actually do anything about the bonuses. Well, think again. Aaron Zelinsky has a brilliant idea. Money quote:

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner should direct the Commissioner of Internal Revenue to challenge the AIG bonuses as unreasonable compensation under the Internal Revenue Code. Finding the AIG bonuses to be unreasonable compensation would render them nondeductible for federal tax purposes, and would strengthen potential shareholder derivative suits to recapture The Great AIG Giveaway.

March 15, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 9:15 am

Would you like to unify all your phones so that if someone calls you all your phones ring? Or have a single voice mail box? Or be able to make cheap international calls from your cell phone? Or be able to listen in while someone leaves you a voice message? Or have voice messages converted and sent to you as text messages?

All this will soon be available with Google Voice. Great article here.

March 13, 2009

Living in Interesting Times

Filed under: Climate Change — Alec @ 6:03 am

May you live in interesting times“, supposedly an old Chinese curse. I think we live in very interesting times, what with the current recession and the looming climate change. Or climate meltdown, as George Monbiot wants to call it.


March 12, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 12:07 pm

This is such a brilliant idea! Wow! It’s probably got some downside, but so does not doing it 🙂

Why don’t we sell memberships in the United States of America (a member becomes a citizen after a short period), the cost is $1 million per approved person and we’ll take up to 2 million people (probably won’t even notice them).  I think that’s $2 trillion (plus all the other wealth and productivity they bring with them).

Taken directly from Andrew Tobias’ blog.

March 10, 2009

Yay! Tax Season

Filed under: Uncategorized — nicolarose @ 7:21 pm

This is my second year doing my own taxes (OK, well last year my dad helped me… and this year I’m thinking of hiring someone) but still, I’ve noticed that of these two years I’ve never been so stressed out as during the exciting gloomy Tax Season. Who knew taxes could be so awful?! Well, actually, I think everyone knows, but I apparently feel like it’s only me.

I know, I know. Taxes help  rebuild our roads, give money to our cities, help schools, parks, etc. etc. Yup, I’m all for all those things. They’re great. I’m not actually saying that I mind paying all the taxes (well…um…OK, yes I am). But what I’m really saying is that I hate the process of filing my taxes! The government has records of all our (legal) paychecks and wages earned, so I personally believe that they should just deal with our 1099’s for us. Can you imagine all the extra time you would have if you didn’t have to worry about them?!

In fact, I think if I wasn’t spending so much time stressing out my poor dad (and myself), I would actually be productive- and hey, maybe making  more money to spend on our dwindling economy. Now don’t we all think that’s a good idea?

I’m sure most of you  have already dealt with the burden of tax season this year and are breathing in a deep sigh of relief right about now that you’ve already completed yours. Well if not, welcome to my club. I think it’s time to protest and declare, “I’m not doing my taxes this year!” On the count of three let’s all tear up our tax paperwork and go spend some money.

Yup, that is my new year’s resolution. Although, on second thought, if I had just spent all this time doing my taxes instead of writing this, I might be done. Oh well.

March 9, 2009

Why strong, bossy states will be necessary

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 12:06 pm

I wasn’t planning on writing a blog entry, but I’ve just been reading Rootless Cosmopolitan, the latest entry being an article by Gavin Evans called Confessions of a Teenage Marxist. In the latter part  of the article, Evans predicts that the State will become increasingly important because of what he calls a paradox ingrained within capitalism:

For close on two decades, this evolving form of globalised capitalism was the only game in town. But then, wouldn’t you know, it turned out there was indeed a paradox ingrained within it. I’m not talking simply about the fissure exposed by the current economic crisis, nor about the contradictions that Marx had obsessed about, but rather, something far more fundamental: the very thing that made capitalism so strong and vibrant – its immense capacity for innovation, expansion and growth – turned out to be the source of its most profound challenge. The reason for this is that the more we produce, the more the earth protests, which in turn could destroy the capacity for production and for life.


March 2, 2009

What is truth said Pontius Pilate

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 6:05 am

What is truth said Pontius Pilate and would not wait for an answer.

Something about the concept of truth must be playing around in my mind. On Friday I saw the Clive Owen thriller, The International, and on Saturday I saw a play called The Visitor. Great play by the way, playing at the Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden, and well worth seeing.


March 1, 2009

The trouble with electing judges

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 11:03 pm

I don’t know if you’ve read John Grisham’s book, The Appeal, so I won’t spoil the ending. Suffice to say that it’s about the buying of elected State Supreme Court Judges by corporations with the money to put into their campaigns. Grisham is clearly very, very troubled by the corruption of justice that this leads to.


February 28, 2009

Republicans clueless about Jobs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 2:13 pm

It’s fascinating the way that the Republicans complain about Obama and the recovery plan, saying that it won’t create jobs. Like they have a clue.


February 27, 2009

Obama’s Speech

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 5:37 am

Ok, now I regret it, I didn’t watch the speech. A friend sent me a link to an opinion piece by Peggy Noonan in the WSJ which I thought was pretty amazing. A Republican speechwriter praising a Democratic President. The article was titled Obama Dons the Presidential Cloak, and start with “A mysterious thing happened in that speech Tuesday night. By the end of it Barack Obama had become president.”


February 26, 2009

Ignorant or Dishonest?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 1:00 pm

I received an email from a friend that contained a “letter” making the rounds – A Letter from a Granddad.

The letter starts something like this: Dear Susan, The election of Obama comes down to this. Your grandmother and I, your mother, and other productive, wage-earning tax payers will have their taxes increased and that means less income left over. Less income means we will have to cut back on basic purchases, gifts and handouts.


February 24, 2009

How did we get into this Mess?

Filed under: Economics, Republicans — Alec @ 5:52 am

This financial recession/depression is going to last a long time. I’m sure the stimulus will help, but most people are running scared at this point, thinking more about saving money in case they lose their job than going out and spending money. And of course, spending money is what is needed.


February 23, 2009

Cool women drivers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:48 pm

Here are some amazing videos of women drivers (or so the video says). Some obviously are, but some drivers you never see. One amazing segment is of a woman trying to park a car, until a man in frustration parks it for her. Not that I have anything against women drivers you understand – some of my best friends are women.

Oscars 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — nicolarose @ 2:28 pm

Hello All! I’m very glad to be a new blogger…

Hope everyone watched the Oscars (Academy Awards) last night. As a fan of all the award shows, regardless if I’ve seen any of the nominated movies or not (and apparently last night I hadn’t seen many of them), they always interest me. The fashion is what’s more important, although I guess the show itself is alright.

Last night had a few good moments (Robert Pattinson anyone?!) like Ben Stiller acting as Joaquin Phoenix while presenting with Natalie Portman, Penelope Cruz asking if anyone has ever fainted on stage, and Kate Winslet calling out to her dad in the audience.

Although by far the best part of last night was being allowed to have an excuse for knowing all the gossip. This meant not feeling guilty when someone asked me a question about who gets to be in attendance, who Ben Stiller was acting as, what would happen to Heath’s Oscar if he won, and of course who was who and what they were wearing!

For a list of the winners- Click Here!

But more importantly, for all the fashion-Click Here!

February 22, 2009

My daughter, the new blogger

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 5:04 pm

My daughter has been complaining that I don’t post about interesting things like the woman who gave birth to 8 babies. So I offered her the opportunity to blog here. I’m sure the number of readers of this blog will now skyrocket.

February 21, 2009

There is no Market, there is no Invisible Hand

Filed under: Economics — Alec @ 6:10 pm

There is no Market and there is no Invisible Hand.

There are only people trying to make money.

The Size of Our World

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 5:52 pm

I came across this great graphic showing the size of the Earth relative to the other planets, then the planets relative to the Sun, and the Sun relative to other stars.

February 17, 2009

Why couldn’t we have grown-ups in charge?

Filed under: Economics, Republicans — Alec @ 1:21 pm

From Juan Cole: “As Alan Greenspan recently admitted, his conviction that bankers would not steal from us because it would be bad for the bank was naive; I guess that is what comes of never growing out of Ayn Rand when you move into your twenties and later.”


February 16, 2009

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Filed under: Economics — Alec @ 5:00 pm

Word has it that Obama is going to set up a task force to “reform” Social Security. I hope not. Any “reform” is likely to play into Republican hands, and Republicans have never hidden their desire to kill Social Security.


February 15, 2009

Conference on World Affairs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 9:25 am

I’m sitting here with about 120 people putting together the program for the 2009 Conference on World Affairs at CU Boulder. Reading through the topics that our 100 or so panelists want to talk about, I’d like to hear pretty much all of them talk. That’s always the problem with the Conference – there are too many fascinating panels to attend. That’s also the great thing about the Conference – there are so many fascinating panels to attend.

It will be held April 6-10 and information about the panels and panelists is online. Although there’s no schedule up yet since that’s what we are working on now. Keep checking back. In a few weeks printed programs will be available. Pick one up and then attend as many panels as you can. They are great.

February 14, 2009

More About…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 6:28 am

I went to hear Gary Marcus speak on what a kluge the human brain is. He’s a great speaker and it was a fascinating talk. The talk was sponsored by The Humanist and the Council for Secular Humanism. While I was there I picked up their respective magazines. I was reading Free Inquiry, the magazine of the latter organization, and came across two things that pertain to previous posts here.


Acting Against their Interests: our Nation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 6:03 am

Well, the invasion of Iraq is an obvious example, but I don’t even want to go there. So let’s look at Afghanistan instead. Of what interest is Afghanistan to us? It has nothing we want. Sure, it harbored Bin Laden but that was 8 years ago and we weren’t paying attention. President Bush was told in his Daily Brief on August 6, 2001 that Bin Laden was determined to strike in the U.S. And the FBI was warned about Arabs who were learning to fly commercial jets but were not interested in learning how to land them. But that was then.


February 13, 2009

Compound Interest and the Population Problem

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 6:01 am

If in 1492 Christopher Columbus had placed a single penny in a 6 percent interest-bearing account and instructed someone to remove the interest every year for safekeeping, when he retired 515 years later in 2007, his retirement fund would be worth 32 cents.

But if he had placed the same penny in the same interest-bearing account but left the earned interest to compound — earning interest upon the interest — his retirement fund in 2007 would be worth $107,775,640,215.56 (almost $108 billion). That is from a single penny deposited!


February 12, 2009

Higher Home Ownership Implies Higher Unemployment

Filed under: Economics — Alec @ 7:55 pm

Here’s a fascinating tidbit which is contrary to what you might think: the higher the home ownership in an area, the higher the unemployment.

The economist Andrew Oswald has demonstrated that in both the United States and Europe, those places with higher homeownership rates also suffer from higher unemployment. Homeownership, Oswald found, is a more important predictor of unemployment than rates of unionization or the generosity of welfare benefits. Too often, it ties people to declining or blighted locations, and forces them into work—if they can find it—that is a poor match for their interests and abilities.

This is part of a long article in the March issue of The Atlantic called How the Crash will Reshape America.

Darwin – 200 today

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 2:09 pm

Today is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. Amazingly, this many years  after Darwin’s birth, evolution is still rejected by much of the world.

Richard Dawkins describes evolution as “a big idea, arguably the most powerful idea ever.” Daniel Dennett calls evolution “the greatest idea ever to occur to a human mind.”

But in last year in this country a Gallup poll found that only 14% of people agreed with the proposition that “humans developed over millions of years”. Things are looking up though as only 9% agreed in 1982.

Here’s a great little easy-to-read article about Darwin.

Do you make less than $1.6 million a year?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 1:34 pm

You loser.


February 11, 2009

The Stimulus Package Explained

Filed under: Economics — Alec @ 9:36 pm

Just in case you were not sure what the stimulus plan involves, a cartoon from the Economist explains all.


Perhaps you think that Congress is not allocating stimulus package money very well? A web site called ReadTheStimulus.org offers you the opportunity to look for and flag examples of pork, or handouts that you don’t believe will help stimulate the economy.

Evolution in our own Back Yard

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 8:35 am

Gary Marcus has an opinion piece article in the Wall Street Journal today:
Forget About Survival of the ‘Fittest’: Evolution usually makes do with ‘good enough.’

Marcus will be speaking at CU Boulder this Friday (February 13) at 6 p.m. in the Wolf Law School building (on Kittredge Loop Dr., off Regent Drive). The talk will be about his book, Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind.

February 10, 2009

More about God and Insecurity

Filed under: God — Alec @ 6:02 pm

I was reading a New Scientist article that ties in neatly with my Feb 7th post, Belief in God and the Struggle For Existence.

If you didn’t read it, the post is basically about the fact that belief in god or gods is related to how insecure people feel in their lives. (Not on an individual level, but on a societal level – the Law of Large Numbers applies).


Acting Against their Interests: The Religious Right

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 12:52 pm

Personally, I don’t understand the Religious Right. Well, actually I think I do, and it’s got nothing to do with their professed beliefs.


February 9, 2009

Info Porn – Information as Entertainment

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 9:01 pm

If you are like me, you find all sorts of ways to waste time on the Internet. I usually throw my newspapers away unread, but can spend huge amounts of time online, reading news, and especially reading blogs. The trouble is that information isn’t knowledge, and it certainly isn’t wisdom. And when you spend lots of time on the Internet, it’s often information as entertainment. Or in my case, information as avoidance 🙂


For those days when life seems overwhelming

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 9:00 pm

If you’ve ever felt that you have it tough,  that life has dealt you a bad hand, watch this video. It’s absolutely incredible. Some of the kids in the audience had tears in their eyes – so did I.

February 7, 2009

Belief in God and the Struggle for Existence

Filed under: God — Alec @ 9:54 pm

One of the things talked about in the Economist article I mentioned in my previous post about Public Acceptance of Evolution is the idea put forth by Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman that “a belief in God is inversely correlated with the level of what might be described as the intensity of the struggle for existence.” I did a search to see what Paul and Zuckerman wrote, and found an interesting article. I’ve included paragraphs from the article below.


Acting against their Interests: Republicans

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 4:40 pm

Not only has the current financial crisis shown the bankruptcy of the Republican mantra of tax cuts and less regulation, but it’s also devastated the savings and the purchasing power of tens millions of people in this country, or hundreds of millions of people around the world.


Public acceptance of evolution

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 4:23 pm

Here’s an interesting chart showing public acceptance of evolution. The United States ranks just above Turkey, with less that 50 percent of people believing that evolution is true. God help us.


February 6, 2009

Why do people act against their own interests?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 3:07 pm

I was pondering this question in the shower this morning. Everywhere I look I see people acting against their apparent interests, and I thought this would make a moderately interesting series of blog posts. So this is just a teaser 🙂

Renditioning Religion

Filed under: God — Alec @ 6:49 am

Yesterday I mentioned watching the movie Rendition, and the mixed emotions it generated in me. As I said, I hate the way that some people use religion as a reason to kill and maim others. There’s always a justification. God hates infidels and wants us to kill them. God hates gays and wants us to kill them. God hates (fill in the group you hate) and wants us to kill them.


More on children and marriage

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 6:37 am

It seems that research on how children affect marriages is all the rage these days. A previous post of mine talked about Children and Marital Satisfaction. Now there’s a new article in the NY Times about the happiness of the married couples. Money quote:

Couples need time alone to renew their relationship. They also need to sustain supportive networks of friends and family. Couples who don’t, investing too much in their children and not enough in their marriage, may find that when the demands of child-rearing cease to organize their lives, they cannot recover the relationship that made them want to have children together in the first place.

February 5, 2009

Increase your sales of DVDs by 23,000%

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 5:36 pm

Apparently Monty Python has “started a YouTube channel with tons of their sketches streaming for free. The included links to their DVDs at Amazon. The result was a whopping 23,000% increase in sales.”


Rendition: Power and Torture

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 12:04 pm

I watched the movie Rendition yesterday on DVD, and had a definite roller-coaster of emotions. Sometimes I despised the abuse of power shown by people such as Meryl Streep. Sometimes I despised the abuse of religion as shown by the people who organized the suicide bombers. Sometimes I despaired over the attitude that one American dead is worth moving mountains over but that tens or hundreds of non-Americans dead is an inconvenience or an irrelevancy.


February 3, 2009

Ignorant and Free?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 2:06 pm

If you saw the movie Control Room, Josh Rushing was the Marine captain they interviewed who gave some very thoughtful answers. Even if you didn’t see the movie, Josh Rushing was still the Marine captain they interviewed who gave some very thoughtful answers 🙂


February 2, 2009

Who is Dean Baker?

Filed under: Economics — Alec @ 1:55 pm

So who is this Dean Baker that I refer to in some of my posts? He is a highly respected economist, at least to those people who also respect Paul Krugman.


Let’s hear it for a shorter work week

Filed under: Economics — Alec @ 1:54 pm

Why should France have all the fun with its 35 hour work-week?


Those Thieving Banks

Filed under: Economics, Uncategorized — Alec @ 1:53 pm

From the economist Dean Baker:

These executives bankrupted their banks and brought the economy down with them. They belong in an unemployment line not collecting multi-million dollar paychecks in their designer office suites.


Party first, Country last

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 1:22 pm

As Bill Press points out in a 1/29 post titled GOP Stabs Obama in the Back, Republicans care more about their party than their country.

They can’t stand the idea that Obama might actually fix our ailing economy and get credit for it. They don’t want him to succeed. As right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh, the real leader of the Republican Party, recently declared: “I want him to fail.”

You gotta love these people. Or not.

February 1, 2009

The Neros

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 3:22 pm

Remember Nero? The Roman emperor who fiddled while Rome burned? It makes me thing of our Republican politicians, fiddling while the economy burns. In fact, fiddling is a good term because of the massive corruption that went on during the Bush Administration, with no-compete contracts, lobbyists writing bills, and the like. Anything to enrich their masters.


Republican chutzpah

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 1:55 pm

Well, you have to give the Republicans credit. They may have caused the biggest recession since the Depression, fucked up the lives of millions of Americans, crippled the economies of much of the world, and shown the bankruptcy of their ideas, but they still think they know the answers.

“GOP leaders doubt stimulus bill will pass Senate” is the headline.


January 31, 2009

Nice guys finish 4th, or is it 2nd, or ?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:05 pm

It’s actually difficult to know where Shawn Crawford finished in the Beijing Olympics 200m sprint. Was it 4th? or 2nd? or 3rd? Does giving away your medal change your position in the record books? And what will happen in the Court of Arbitration for Sport? Inquiring minds want to know.

More on Jan 28 Inauguration Photo post

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:01 pm

You probably didn’t even bother looking at the amazing 1.474 gigapixel photo I mentioned on January 28, in which case you probably don’t care how it was made. But just in case you did and you do, here’s how.

Watching the Growth of Walmart Across America

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 6:55 pm

I came across this web page that has an animated visualization of the growth of Walmart. The number of stores is shown in the upper left and the year in the lower right. Walmart just explodes in the South East. You can compare this with the growth of Target.

January 30, 2009

How lucky we are that we changed course

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 8:18 pm

On January 25, 2001, five days into the Bush Adminstration, Alan Greenspan testified in the Senate and had some great words to say about the wonderful financial state of the U.S. left by the Clinton Administration. We can thank God that the Bush Administration decided to change direction and follow the course laid out in Greenspan’s ending cautionary note. Think how terrible things would be if we had actually paid of the federal debt before the end of the decade.

But let me end on a cautionary note. With today’s euphoria surrounding the surpluses, it is not difficult to imagine the hard-earned fiscal restraint developed in recent years rapidly dissipating. We need to resist those policies that could readily resurrect the deficits of the past and the fiscal imbalances that followed in their wake.


Government is NOT the problem

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 5:02 am

Ronnie Reagan was wrong when he said that government is not the solution, government is the problem, although it was a great sound bite. Not only was he wrong, but if you look at more of his speech, it was just plain crazy talk. Here’s the paragraph from from his 1981 Inaugural Speech.

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?


January 29, 2009

Republicans are the new Communists

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 12:33 pm

I always wondered why America has such as visceral hatred of Communism. Now I understand. Republicans are the new Communists. In theory, according to Wikipedia, “Pure communism in the Marxian sense refers to a classless, stateless and oppression-free society where decisions on what to produce and what policies to pursue are made democratically, allowing every member of society to participate in the decision-making process in both the political and economic spheres of life.”

In reality, Communist states all tend to consist of a large number of poor people ruled by an elite that has total control over power, and thus over resources and wealth. Which is precisely what has happened in this country when Republicans have managed to implement their policies – witness the devastating movement of wealth and power upwards from the poor and middle classes to the wealthy elite.

Yes, Republicans are the new Communists.

January 28, 2009

Great Inauguration Photo

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 2:25 pm

Here’s an amazing photo of Obama’s inauguration you can zoom into, with lots of pre-defined zooms. Fun to play with.

F***ing Republicans

Filed under: Republicans — Alec @ 7:58 am

What is there to say? Bob Herbert says it so much more eloquently than I ever could. Jim Hightower also has comments.

Children and Marital Satisfaction

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 7:30 am

I saw this great play, Rabbit Hole, at the Curious Theater in Denver. It’s about a couple who lost their 4-year-old son, and how they deal with his death. It’s moving, funny, and wonderfully acted, and is on until February 14th. See it.

As the program says, “While death is common to all life on Earth, experts on grieving agree the death of a child is the most wrenching and devastating event, and produces the most intense grief.” One fascinating thing about human psychology is how localized that feeling is. We feel intense grief if it’s our child who has died, but nothing close to that if it’s someone else’s child. So despite the fact that we are all very much alike and all parents feel the same over the loss of their children, we have no problem with children being killed in Iraq or Gaza or pretty much anywhere.

But all that is really just an introduction to what I really wanted to write about, which is all the research that shows the the happiness level of couples drops when they have their first child, and only returns to pre-child levels when all the children have left home.

“Indeed, one of the more uncomfortable findings of the scientific study of marriage is the negative effect children can have on previously happy relationships. Despite the popular notion that children bring couples closer, several studies have shown that marital satisfaction and happiness typically plummet with the arrival of the first baby.”

Of course, most couples don’t want to believe this, and often cite examples of transcendental moments with their children. What these memories of the great moments ignore is the times between those moments, when the couples were stressed, resentful, or angry with each other or the children. Here’s the article.

January 27, 2009

Good Enough is the new Perfect

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 6:39 am

As the saying goes, there are three types of people, those who can count, and those who can’t. Okay, that was a joke, because according to Barry Schwartz there are two types of people, satisficers and maximizers (although I prefer the term used by some people, sufficers, rather than the awkward satisficers). Schwartz is well known for his book, The Paradox of Choice, and here’s a video of him talking on this subject at TED (you can also download the video there). In an interview about his book, he responded to the question, “What can customers do to avoid the paradox of choice?” with the following answer:

Most importantly, learn that “good enough is good enough.” It’s what I call “satisficing” in the book. You don’t need the best; probably never do. On rare occasions it’s worth struggling to find the best. But generally it makes life simpler if you settle with “good enough.” You don’t have to make an exhaustive search – just until you find something that meets your standards, which could be high. But the only way to find the absolute best is to look at ALL the possibilities. And in that case you’ll either give up, or if you choose one, you’ll be nagged by the possibility that you may have found something better. We have evidence about this, by the way. People who are out to find the very best job (“maximizers”) feel worse than people who settle for good enough. We’ve tracked them through and after college. Maximizers did better financially – they found starting salaries that paid $7,000 more than satisficers’ starting salary. But by every other measure – depression, stress, anxiety, satisfaction with their job – maximizers felt worse.

January 26, 2009

How I deal with mental breakdowns

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 8:15 am

You’re concerned? Oh, I get it, you think this post is about me. Well, thank you for your concern, but while I share the human condition and have had my share of suffering, boredom, sadness, feeling overwhelmed, loneliness, depression, elation, happiness, joy, and everything in between, I’ve not yet had a mental breakdown.

No, this is a posting I came across purely by chance. Here are a couple of sentences from the introduction: “This blog entry from Rayne’s World, I think, is indisputably my favorite blog post of all times from any blog anywhere. It is certainly the most profoundly meaningful and memorable to me.”

When I read that I decided to link to the article – although I do wonder about that juxtaposition of “I think” and “is indisputably” 🙂

Update: after reading my last sentence, the author has slightly modified her article – see the comment!

Sell 10 books and go to Jail

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:14 am

Sounds like something from Monopoly. Go straight to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Although in this case it’s an Australian author living in Thailand who self-published a novel that sold fewer than 10 copies. Now he’s in jail for 3 years. All because of a weird Thai law that makes it a crime to criticize the Thai Royal Family.

Thank God we have a First Amendment here in this country that allows us to criticize those in power. Remember Lord Acton’s quote? “Power Corrupts, Abolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.” That’s why it’s so important to have a free press and serious investigative journalism to keep the powerful in line by monitoring and reporting on their actions. Oh, whoops.

Moving to Canada

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 7:05 am

Damn, I live in the wrong place. Up in Canada Winston Blackmore has had 26 wives and 108 children…. um, on second thoughts, perhaps not such a great idea after all. I’ll stay where I am.

January 25, 2009

What Do Women Want?

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 11:48 am

There’s a fascinating article in the NY Times called What Do Women Want?

It has no easy answers because there aren’t any, but one of the fascinating points (to me at least) was the idea that women’s sexual desire is driven by a sense of narcissism, by needing to be desired and to be the object of sexual craving. Here are some excerpts about this need.

The problem was how to augment desire, and despite prevailing wisdom, the answer, she told me, had “little to do with building better relationships,” with fostering communication between patients and their partners. She rolled her eyes at such niceties. She recalled a patient whose lover was thoroughly empathetic and asked frequently during lovemaking, “ ‘Is this O.K.?’ Which was very unarousing to her. It was loving, but there was no oomph” — no urgency emanating from the man, no sign that his craving of the patient was beyond control.

“Female desire,” Meana said, … “is not governed by the relational factors that, we like to think, rule women’s sexuality as opposed to men’s.” … Although bad relationships often kill desire, she argued, good ones don’t guarantee it.

The generally accepted therapeutic notion that, for women, incubating intimacy leads to better sex is, Meana told me, often misguided. “Really,” she said, “women’s desire is not relational, it’s narcissistic” — it is dominated by the yearnings of “self-love,” by the wish to be the object of erotic admiration and sexual need.

For evolutionary and cultural reasons, she said, women might set a high value on the closeness and longevity of relationships: “But it’s wrong to think that because relationships are what women choose they’re the primary source of women’s desire.”

And within a committed relationship, the crucial stimulus of being desired decreases considerably, not only because the woman’s partner loses a degree of interest but also, more important, because the woman feels that her partner is trapped, that a choice — the choosing of her — is no longer being carried out.

How would I know if I were wrong?

Filed under: God — Alec @ 11:23 am


Okay, now that the comic has got your attention, I will tell you that Jerry Coyne has written a long but very interesting article in the New Republic about “The never-ending attempt to reconcile science and religion, and why it is doomed to fail.” As he says in the article, “In the end, then, there is a fundamental distinction between scientific truths and religious truths, however you construe them. The difference rests on how you answer one question: how would I know if I were wrong?”

January 23, 2009

Perfect Exercises

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 1:54 pm

Everyone (okay, maybe not everyone, but lots of people) want to be stronger and fitter. People join health clubs and gyms, work out with weights and machines, do lots of different exercises. But some of us hate the idea of doing lots of exercises, and don’t particularly like going to the gym. For people like this there are only two exercises that you really need to do. One for the upper body and one for the lower body.

Push-ups are the perfect upper-body exercise. Hindu squats are the perfect lower-body exercise. With these two, you really don’t need more. And if you are like me and prefer activities that focus on the lower body (cycling, hiking and skiing in my case), you can even dispense with the push-ups 🙂

Here’s are some simple instructions for Hindu squats, some still photos, a video, and this is the authoritative site.

And if you want to do push-ups, I can’t think of a better place to start than 100 Pushups

January 21, 2009

Pogo and the Enemy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 9:27 pm

“We have met the enemy and he is us” – Pogo

Mark Slouka has written a fascinating article in the latest issue of Harper’s Magazine where he acknowledges that we have a new and far better administration. But he then points out that he’s much less certain about us. He gives the following examples.

My neighbor, a high school teacher living about an hour outside New York City, wants to torture a terrorist. He’s worried because he believes that Osama—excuse me, Obama—cares more about terrorists than he does about us. He’s never heard of the Spanish Inquisition. Another neighbor—an actual plumber, actually named Joe—wants Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tossed out of the high school library. Joe came by recently. Did I want my kids learning how to curse and kill dogs and commit adultery? he asked. I said that my kids already knew how to curse, and that I hadn’t realized that killing dogs and committing adultery were things you had to learn. He showed me the book. He and his wife had gone through it with a blue highlighter and highlighted the words “crap,” “shit,” and “damn” every time they appeared, on every page. They’d written to Laura Bush about it, and received a supportive letter in return, signed by the first lady. “You’re a teacher,” he said. “Don’t tell me you support this kind of filth.” I asked him if he’d read it. Well, no, he said, but he knew what it was about. He didn’t really go in for reading, himself, he said.

Read Full Article

January 20, 2009

This Land is Your Land

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 6:14 pm

Here’s a video of Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen singing Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land at the Obama Inaugural Celebration concert at the Lincoln Memorial, complete with the two “subversive” verses that are usually cut out. Here are the two verses.

As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!


In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Update: YouTube has removed the video below – apparently it violates some HBO copyright. However, you can still see it here, with quite a bit more information about the song. You even get to see Barack Obama in the audience. It’s a really moving video, especially if you read the article and the comments.

And while we are at it, here are some reactions to the inauguration from other parts of the world, and an analysis of the speech from the U.K.

What a speech

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 10:47 am

What in incredible speech Obama gave. Almost every word was a repudiation of the Bush Administration policies. I felt almost sorry for Bush when the cameras cut over to him, looking very uncomfortable as he attempted to smile.

What is equally incredible is that Obama’s speechwriter, Jon Favreau, is 27 years old. Here’s a good article about Favreau from the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper (not that you care, but my cousin’s husband – cousin-in-law? – is the Editor of the Guardian).

The article finishes with this paragraph: “Favreau then went away and spent weeks on research. His team interviewed historians and speech writers, studied periods of crisis, and listened to past inaugural orations. When ready, he took up residence in Starbucks in Washington and wrote the first draft. The end result will be uttered on the steps of the Capitol.” I didn’t realize it took so long and so much work to write a good speech – must be why I’m not a speechwriter.

Here’s a transcript of the speech. I’m sure there will be plenty of analysis of the speech, and I suspect some of the foreign analyses will be more interesting. Here’s a real-time analysis of the speech and the inauguration events.

Let the partying begin! And if you are one of the few people who didn’t watch the inauguration and speech, here it is.

Endless fun

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 6:17 am

There’s this web site where you can endless fun looking through their slightly off-kilter e-cards. They do the usual thing of wanting you to enter the recipients email address and your address but I hate giving addresses out. So I just copy the larger image using right-mouse, Copy Image, then paste this into an email (depending on the email system you may need to save then attach the image).

Here’s a sample.


January 17, 2009

Going to hell?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 4:44 pm

Personally I believe that now is a better time to be alive than the past, but since I love this writer and her wonderful outrage, I have to provide a link to her article, Top 10 Signs the World is Going to Hell. Her introduction: “Seriously, every time I get an idea for a good post topic lately, I hear about something even more fucked up before I get a chance to write it. I can’t keep up with all the fucked up shit going on in the world right now … if I did, I’d be spending so damn much time writing for this site, I wouldn’t have time to go to work. So, I figure I’ll just do a quick roundup of all the bullshit, instead of trying to write a fucking novel about each and every one…”

Patrick McGoohan, RIP

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 4:34 pm

For those of you who never saw the great BBC series, The Prisoner, just skip this post. For those of you who loved the show, its star, Patrick McGoohan, died a few days ago on January 13th. Here’s a short but interesting obituary, “Patrick McGoohan RIP: The Prisoner Finally Escapes“. And if anyone wants to see The Prisoner, the entire series is available to watch here.

January 4, 2009

The insights of novelists

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 8:55 am

I sometimes think that novelists have a better grasp of politics and power than do politicians themselves. Here are a few paragraphs from Infinity Beach by Jack McDevitt. Just thought you might like to know. Note that the book was published in February 2001 and so these paragraphs are not a criticism of the Bush Administration, even though it might feel that way.

“Never look for complexity in diplomatic decisions. With very few exceptions, actions always devolve – and that’s the exact term – from someone’s self interest. Not the national self-interest, by the way. We are talking here about individual careers.”

“There is an inverse correlation between the amount of power a person has and the level at which his or her mind functions. A person of ordinary intelligence who acquires power, of whatever kind, tends to develop an exaggerated view of his own capabilities. Sycophants gather. There is little of no criticism of decisions. As his ability to disrupt the lives of others advances, these tendencies become stronger. Eventually you end with Louis the Fourteenth, who thinks he’s done a good job for France, although the country he left behind was ruined.”

“Shleyel had always maintained that few actions are driven by reason. People act out of emotion, perception, prejudice. They will believe what they’ve always believed, filtering out all evidence to the contrary. Until they go too far and run into the rocks of reality.”

January 1, 2009

New lease of life for this blog

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 12:00 am

Well, I did kill this blog, but decided to resurrect it, with a new name, as a web site for the two books I’m working on. Oh, and with the occasional blog entry.

Blog at WordPress.com.