Hard Times Across America

The first story is from early in the year. As you can see from the subsequent items, things did not improve over the summer.

6 out of 10 people are living paycheck to paycheck

1 in 8 using food stamps

Hunger in US at 14 year high

Having grown up in a single parent household, I understand the stresses of putting off necessary things until payday. And for that reason, I am glad to see that people are utilizing the services that their tax dollars have paid for over the years.

As I was growing up, my mother would not consider accepting “welfare” under any circumstances. Suffering the many stigmas of poverty, the further humiliation of stooping to ask for “welfare” was beyond what my mother could accept. But there were times when more food or something a little more varied than Fried Fatback Biscuits for dinner would have been looked on as a positive thing.

But to offer a fair and balanced view (and actually do it with a straight face), I’ll include this quote from the Hunger story:

“Very few of these people are hungry,” said Robert Rector, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “When they lose jobs, they constrain the kind of food they buy. That is regrettable, but it’s a far cry from a hunger crisis.”

Down the road, a problematic convergence is coming into view. More unemployed means less taxes paid. More unemployed also means more people utilizing the system paid for with tax dollars.

A few brave souls have proposed raising taxes on the wealthy, who seem to be the only ones benefitting from Reagan’s deregulation orgy of the 80’s. I was glad to see a War Tax put on the table by House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey.

If they limit the taxation to those who have supported the war(s) or those who have profited from them, I’d get myself elected just so I could see it passed.

H1N1 Sources and Resources

Well, so much for living in interesting times. One begins to understand why the Chinese considered it a curse. The 21st Century is a morass of pervasive uncertainty blooming into paranoia, conspiracy theories and self-proclaimed skeptics whose ideology often masks a fundamentalist agenda.

While these reactions are predictable, if not understandable, one must take caution when discussing facts and factoids that may only serve to intensify the problem. But when I read the same kernel of a story coming from widely divergent sources that would not necessarily compose intersecting sets I become…intrigued.

So I offer them to you with little commentary. Read them; make of them what you will. I am not suggesting the pattern is anything more than that, an idea that happened to occur to more than one person.

Pittsburgh Tribune Review

A mostly hypothetical suggestion as to the ancestors and origins of the H1N1

As abruptly as it disappeared, the original virus emerged again to infect people in the former Soviet Union, Hong Kong and northeastern China in 1977.

Since the virus had not evolved since 1950 — which is unusual — and because scientists were examining swine flu viruses in light of a small, confined outbreak in Fort Dix, N.J., the previous year, Zimmer believes the infection was caused by an accidental release of a frozen sample preserved for study.

Virology Journal (report in PDF)

An interesting look at the genealogy of the virus.

“We contrast that suggestion with the possibility that laboratory errors involving the sharing of virus isolates and cultured cells, or perhaps vaccine production, may have been involved.”

Examiner.com

Providing information on the current mutations in H1N1. The mutation has increased the virulence of the virus, but not its ability to transmit easily

Ukraine Plague Blogspot

A truly indiscriminate and wide-ranging gathering of information, spanning science journals to unverifiable dreck. A number of the resources here propose that the virus is human created. There seems to be some concern from the creator of this blog and others that the Winter Olympics will be subject to some sort of virus seeding; wherein people are dusted via airplane with infectious agents, then taking it home around the world.

Painter With No Eyes Draws Things Sighted People Get Wrong.

And skeptics swoon at the shattering of another impossibility.

Yet another instance where the dogma of science and conventional wisdom are both completely off the mark.

Esref Armagan

this link to a YouTube video from the Discovery Channel explains that, due to a genetic defect Esref was born with no eyes. Unlike some blind people, whose eyes still send signals to the brain, Esref relies solely on information he has gathered from movement, touch and spatial awareness.

Skeptics, who tend to rely solely on the word of science, would dismiss any 2nd hand discussion of this man as a complete impossibility. But humanity has absolutely no comprehension of what our brains (read: the entirety of a person as a whole interactive organism) is capable of.

That alone is cause for hope.

Be Lucky. It’s an easy skill to learn.

From the Telegraph

The meat of the matter:

I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

For fun, I placed a second large message halfway through the newspaper: “Stop counting. Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250.” Again, the unlucky people missed the opportunity because they were still too busy looking for photographs.

Personality tests revealed that unlucky people are generally much more tense than lucky people, and research has shown that anxiety disrupts people’s ability to notice the unexpected. In one experiment, people were asked to watch a moving dot in the centre of a computer screen. Without warning, large dots would occasionally be flashed at the edges of the screen. Nearly all participants noticed these large dots.

The experiment was then repeated with a second group of people, who were offered a large financial reward for accurately watching the centre dot, creating more anxiety. They became focused on the centre dot and more than a third of them missed the large dots when they appeared on the screen. The harder they looked, the less they saw.


Chinese philosophers who wrote on the Tao, discussed something similar, as did Buddha. The idea of unattached mindfulness. You view, act, ascertain, without engaging each detail to the exclusion of the others.

 

Stephen Wiltshire: Gallery of Drawings

Stephen Wiltshire has autism. He also has the ability to view a cityscape once and then recreate it by drawing it, in scale, using only his memory as a reference.

His work can be found on his Web Page.

I can honestly say his drawings are amazing. But are they truly creative? Or is he merely making a detailed record of something he has seen? Technical proficiency is different from creativity. Both are admirable.  But true genius requires both in some measure.

From a physiological standpoint, I find it interesting that the brain records this information and it is available at any time for examination. This occurs in everyone, even people without autism. There are people, like Jill Price, who are perfectly normal people excepting their ability to remember literally detail of their lives.

Eventually we may discover a way to “switch” the ability on and off at will.

Should I be thrilled or horrified at the thought?

 

New Scientist: How your brain creates the 4th dimension.

Here is an interesting article from New Scientist on how we experience time.  But it has wider implications for events some consider mysterious or “impossible”.

This article makes it clear that time and the things that happen in it are constructions of a perception of continuity.

The article discusses studies that consciously alter the subjects sense of time (and by default body and spatial awareness) and links those results to perceptual “diseases” like schizophrenia.

The larger ideas that I find most intriguing: What if you are not wired the same as a majority of the population? What if you process the various data packets or “blocks” more quickly or more thoroughly than “average”. Could it be that you have a more conscious access to information that others lack the mental capacity to process?

Sand Sculptures by Sudarsan Pattnaik

Sleeping Beauty: Sand sculptures by Sudarsan Pattnaik

Sleeping Beauty: Sand sculptures by Sudarsan Pattnaik

During his impoverished childhood, Sudarsan Pattnaik  would go to his local beach and build sand castles.
More beauty here.

Building your Analytical Mind

Building Your Analytical Mind

Building Your Analytical Mind

Why the Absurd and Impossible are Absolutely Necessary.

How Nonsense Sharpens the Mind.

snip:

Now a study suggests that, paradoxically, this same sensation may prime the brain to sense patterns it would otherwise miss — in mathematical equations, in language, in the world at large.

“We’re so motivated to get rid of that feeling that we look for meaning and coherence elsewhere,” said Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lead author of the paper appearing in the journal Psychological Science. “We channel the feeling into some other project, and it appears to improve some kinds of learning.”

snip:

Brain-imaging studies of people evaluating anomalies, or working out unsettling dilemmas, show that activity in an area called the anterior cingulate cortex spikes significantly. The more activation is recorded, the greater the motivation or ability to seek and correct errors in the real world, a recent study suggests. “The idea that we may be able to increase that motivation,” said Dr. Inzlicht, a co-author, “is very much worth investigating.”

The Lie Machine: Rolling Stone Report on the Health Care Debate

The story here.

On the first day of August, a mob of 200 right-wing Texans stormed the parking lot of a Randalls grocery store in southwest Austin. They were united in a single goal: Disrupt the “office hours” that Rep. Lloyd Doggett, the district’s congressman, had scheduled for his constituents. The protesters targeted Doggett for his role in crafting the House’s bill to reform health care, brandishing signs that read “No Government Health Care” and “No Government Counselor in My Home!!!” But their anger seemed to encompass a universe of conservative fears: higher taxes, illegal immigration, socialism. The threat of violence was thinly veiled: One agitator held aloft a tombstone with the name Doggett. Screaming, “Just say no!” the mob chased Doggett through the parking lot to an aide’s car — roaring with approval as he fled the scene.

Conservatives were quick to insist that the near-riot — the first of many town-hall mobs that would dominate the headlines in August — was completely spontaneous. The protesters didn’t show up “because of some organized group,” Rick Scott, the head of Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, told reporters. “They’re mad about the stimulus bill, the bailout, the economy. Now they see that their health care is about to be taken over by the government.”

In fact, Scott’s own group had played an integral role in mobilizing the protesters. According to internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights had been working closely for weeks as a “coalition partner” with three other right-wing groups in a plot to unleash irate mobs at town-hall meetings just like Doggett’s. Far from representing a spontaneous upwelling of populist rage, the protests were tightly orchestrated from the top down by corporate-funded front groups as well as top lobbyists for the health care industry. Call it the return of the Karl Rove playbook: The effort to mobilize the angriest fringe of the Republican base was guided by a conservative dream team that included the same GOP henchmen who Swift-boated John Kerry in 2004, smeared John McCain in 2000, wrote the script for Republican obstructionism on global warming, and harpooned the health care reform effort led by Hillary Clinton in 1993.

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