Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nature-Inspired Fashion

Sum of All Fears = Deficit

If the "issue" of deficit is not self evident, not sure what self evident really means (decided to start a label in its "honor"). Slate has two columns - here and here:

"America: You have a serious problem!" Simpson said. "I do the numbers and Al does the color," Bowles said, taking over, stressing the need to have an "adult conversation" about what happens going forward.

But Simpson and Bowles, like all true obsessives, worry so much because they can do so little. They can start a conversation, of course. But Americans don't have to listen to them, and they appear not to be. Polls routinely show that Americans worry less about the deficit than they do about job creation and a plethora of other issues. Congress doesn't have to heed Simpson and Bowles, either. Even if the bipartisan commission agrees on and issues a deficit-reduction plan, neither chamber is required to bring it up for a vote, let alone implement it.
Moreover, and more importantly, most economists acknowledge that while the deficit and debt are real issues, the country's massive jobs crisis and broader economic malaise remain priority No.1. And those are problems that would be ameliorated by making the deficit bigger, not smaller, in the near term."

I don't know whether Bowles and Simpson have arrived at the right solution. But Washington's failure to arrive at any solution as the deficit problem gets worse and worse reminds me of Enron, the much-admired Houston-based energy giant that crashed and burned nine years ago, uncovering the gaudiest business scandal of the aughts. The United States isn't going to disappear like Enron, of course. But it's not inconceivable that global investors who hold our debt could lose their faith, and begin dumping Treasury bonds, or refuse to buy new ones, thereby sending our interest costs sharply higher and our economy into shock.

Start with the most basic problem: accounting. At the heart of Enron's artifice were accounting tricks that served to mask the true amount of debt the company had by keeping it off the company's financial statements. This had the effect of making Enron look far healthier than it was. At the time Enron went bankrupt, it had $38 billion in debt—only about $12 billion of which was reflected on its balance sheet.
The federal government is similarly able to keep its biggest debt liabilities off the books: Social Security and Medicare. The vast payouts these two programs will need to make in coming years aren't reflected on the government's balance sheet. The government argues that's proper because the terms of the payout can be changed. (Really? See paragraph one.) David Walker, who served as comptroller general from 1998 to 2008, puts the liability at $45 trillion to $50 trillion. "They don't combine them, they don't add them up to show how serious the problem is," he said on The Daily Show. John Williams of the Web site Shadow Stats said that if you added up the present value of all the government's liabilities, the annual deficit in 2008 was $5.1 trillion, versus the official number of $455 billion.

Simpson and Bowles draft proposal -

Gandhi's Invisible Hands

Gandhi didn't become Mahatma by himself, period. The theme of Steven Johnson's new book (and outliers too) is applicable even to Gandhi. Our "quest" for cognitive fluency, skewed history et al cumulatively influences us to form a parochial view of history. We conveniently ignore the cumulative influences that made Gandhi, a Mahatma. One the best essays of this is year - here:

As I explored the old, dust-caked books in this startling collection over the following weeks, months, and years, a story of Gandhi’s life and work unfolded before me that diverged from the accounts I knew. The very presence of such a substantial collection of books in proximity to Gandhi—who famously espoused a philosophy of non-possession—suggested that the image of simplicity and detachment long associated with the Mahatma, or “Great Soul,” was misleading: There was clearly a hidden degree of complexity to Gandhi’s life.

From the heart of this library, I began to learn that the common conception of Gandhi as a solitary, saintly hero who stood up to the British Empire and led India toward independence was incomplete. Gandhi was actually an energetic and effective director of one of the 20th century’s most innovative social enterprises. He was, in essence, an exceptional entrepreneur who relied on a tight-knit community of coworkers—and an extensive store of intellectual resources—to support him and his work.

Gandhi’s collaborators not only assisted him with the practical elements of his political campaigns and residential communities; they also served as his intellectual companions and introduced him to the writings of a variety of authors. Although he was busy juggling his legal career and increasingly high-profile political work,
Gandhi took advantage of his frequent travels around South Africa to immerse himself in books on religious history, literature, politics, and other subjects of interest to him.

Though philosophically he disavowed material possessions, Gandhi became a savvy and serial collector of books and people. When he returned to India, he brought a number of his coworkers from South Africa with him as well as almost 10,000 books and pamphlets. Once in India, he chose a secluded spot outside Ahmedabad on the banks of the Sabarmati River as the site of a new ashram. The Satyagraha Ashram quickly became the focal point of Gandhi’s social and political endeavors around India and a hub for his burgeoning community of coworkers.

Of all the political events in Gandhi’s life, perhaps none is more famous than the Salt March of 1930. That theatrical act of defiance—in protest of the heavy tax on salt imposed by the British in India—catapulted Gandhi to new heights in his political career, as the image of this frail individual challenging a mighty empire captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of people around the world.
Yet like many popular conceptions of Gandhi, this image is incomplete. Absent are the 78 members of the Satyagraha Ashram who accompanied him on his march, as well as numerous aides, lieutenants, and volunteers who worked behind the scenes to stage the historic event. There would have been no Salt March, no iconic Gandhi images, without them.

As I studied Desai’s library, it became clear to me why these books were important to Gandhi: If you were living in the first part of the 20th century and your goal was to oust the Raj from India and establish swaraj, or self-rule, on a national scale, these would be the books you would want on your shelves.

Despite the contributions of Gandhi’s enterprise to his life and work, it continues to be overlooked in both popular and academic studies of the Mahatma. Consequently, we often draw the wrong lessons from Gandhi’s story. The real magic of the Mahatma was not a trick of popular charisma, but in fact a deft ability to recruit, manage, and inspire a team of talented individuals who worked tirelessly in his service.
Gandhi himself was one of the few people to recognize how this phenomenon worked. “With each day I realize more and more that my mahatmaship, which is a mere adornment, depends on others. I have shone with the glory borrowed from my innumerable co-workers,” he wrote in 1928 in Navajivan.

Quote of the Day

"Since we are destined to live out our lives in the prison of our minds, our one duty is to furnish it well."

-Peter Ustinov, actor, writer and director (1921-2004)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Can GE be sustainable?

"We do have a few examples that have happened and are happening to help us consider the potential for biotechnology working in harmony with sustainable agricultural methods.

Flood tolerant rice and orange maize are great examples of what’s possible. Now, I need to be clear – the final flood tolerant rice and orange (aka high-pro-vitamin A) maize that are being distributed are not genetically engineered (unless you count marker assisted breeding as genetic engineering), but the way they have been developed and distributed can be be a model for future biotech traits. Both flood tolerant rice and orange maize were developed with public funding with the intent to distribute the seed at low or no cost to famers that might benefit from these special traits. Both traits were developed with farmers in developing countries in mind but may also be useful in developed countries.

Is biotechnology going to be useful for traits that can be achieved with breeding (even if it takes way longer and doesn’t work as well)? Maybe, maybe not. Kevin Pixley, of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), writes on the Harvest Plus blog that breeding and biotech are like the tortoise and the hare. Even though the tortoise is slower, sometimes he wins. For high pro-vitamin A maize, the tortoise won, even though biotech had long ago produced varieties that have far higher levels of the vitamin. Ingo Potrykus, developer of Golden rice, thinks the problem is regularly hurdles that NGOs can’t climb on their own.

The traits that can be changed with breeding, even if it takes some Herculean efforts, are certainly interesting – but what about traits that can’t be changed by breeding, or at least traits for which we haven’t yet found a source of genetic diversity? Golden rice is an example of such a trait, because rice doesn’t have the genetic variability in pro-vitamin A content that maize has. Other examples include nematode resistance conferred with RNAi and pest resistance conferred with special proteins such as snow drop lectin.

All of these traits have the potential to be helpful to farmers large and small as well as their neighbors and consumers. Can they be sustainable? Yes, if they are developed with sustainability in mind. Like the flood tolerance trait in rice and the pro-vitamin A trait in maize, sustainable biotech traits have to be bred into varieties that farmers will actually use, with no restrictions on seed saving for low-income farmers, even if high-income farmers are charged for seed in order to recoup development costs. Those development costs could be decreased with more unified regulatory systems that are science-based."


A Dog was Crying Tonight in Wicklow Also

"In memory of Donatus Nwoga
When human beings found out about death
They sent the dog to Chukwu with a message:
They wanted to be let back to the house of life.
They didn't want to end up lost forever
Like burnt wood disappearing into smoke
And ashes that get blown away to nothing.
Instead, they saw their souls in a flock at twilight
Cawing and headed back for the same old roosts
(The dog was meant to tell all this to Chukwu).
But death and human beings took second place
When he trotted off the path and started barking
At another dog in broad daylight just barking
Back at him from the far bank of a river.
And that was how the toad reached Chukwu first,
The toad who'd overheard in the beginning
What the dog was meant to tell. 'Human beings' he said,
(And here the toad was trusted absolutely),
'Human beings want death to last forever.'
Then Chukwu saw the people's souls in birds
Coming towards him like black spots off the sunset
To where there were no roosts or nests or trees
And his mind reddened and darkened all at once
And nothing that the dog would tell him later
Could change that vision. Great chiefs and great loves
Obliterating light, the toad in mud,
The dog crying out all night behind the corpse house."
-Seamus Heaney

Quote of the Day

"Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit."

-Elbert Hubbard

Sunday, November 28, 2010

International Tiger Conservation Forum in St Petersburg

Alive Mind - Daniel Dennet

Watch more free documentaries

Adam Smith an Enlightened Life - Nicholas Phillipson Interview

Russ Roberts interviews Nicholas Phillipson, author of Adam Smith - An Enlightened Life on EconTalk. It's impossible to read all the fascinating books that come out in a year, so these interviews helps to keep up with reams and are enlightening!!

"The Theory of Moral Sentiments does not appear to be written by a shy man. It's an aggressively, as you say, authoritative, set of fascinating observations about all kinds of people. Certainly people that Smith knew. But, you'd think he'd know them pretty well, and for a shy person, it's a little bit shocking. It is. He goes far more deeply into the process of how the human personality is made, how we acquire a sense of identity, than virtually anyone else, apart from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with whom he had lot of awkward relationship--a literal relationship--that is to say, throughout his life. He is a very, very revealing person. For a shy person, that's intriguing. One of the things that's fascinating about the Theory of Moral Sentiments in that context is to look at the examples he gives of how he responds to different sorts of social pressures, social circumstances. The examples very often seem rather dated to us. The thing I found interesting was just how much he was drawing on what, in contemporary terms, were conventional examples. In literature, in 18th century moral journalism, and so forth, examples his contemporaries and students would have recognized the moment they heard them. He takes these familiar examples that by and large people know about and then presses them harder. It's the way in which this intelligence takes ordinary experience, in the ordinary world in which we live and presses these examples further and invites us to think more and rather more clearly about the implications. To us, some of the examples are a bit obscure; some of the philosophy that a person today is not as familiar with. On the other hand, there are many examples in the book of social phenomena that are timeless. Guilt, shame, pride, the pursuit of money, dignity, integrity--these are the themes that run through the Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) that are timeless. Even while the examples may be a little dated--tweezer case--that hasn't changed; the gadgets have changed but obsessions are unchanged."

25 Most Powerful Women of the 20th Century

Culturally Induced Schizophrenia vs Blessed Disconnect

Excerpts from Future Files: How the Digital Age Is Changing Our Minds, Why This Matters and What We Can Do About It, by Richard Watson (via Andrew):

In A Mind of Its Own, Cordelia Fine makes the point that the brain's default setting is to believe, largely because the brain is lazy and this is the easier, or more economical, position. However, when the brain is especially busy, it takes this to extremes and starts to believe things that it would ordinarily question or distrust. I'm sure you know where I'm going with this but in case you are especially busy--or on Twitter--let me spell it out.

Our decision-making abilities are at risk because we are too busy to consider alternatives properly or because our brains trip us up by fast-tracking new information. We become unable to exclude what is irrelevant and retain an objective view on our experience, and we start to suffer from what Fredric Jameson, a U.S. cultural and political theorist, calls "culturally induced schizophrenia."
If we are very busy there is every chance that our brain will not listen to reason and we will end up supporting things that are dangerous or ideas that seek to do us, or others, harm. Fakery, insincerity, and big fat lies all prosper in a world that is too busy or distracted. Put bluntly, if we are all too busy and self-absorbed to notice or challenge things, then evil will win by default. Or, as Milan Kundera put it: "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."
Crikey. That sounds to me like quite a good reason to unsubscribe from a few email newsletters and turn the cell phone off once in a while--to become what Hal Crowther terms "blessedly disconnected." The future of the planet and life as we know it are clearly at stake."

Dr. W. Ian Lipkin - A Master Virus Hunter

Dr. W. Ian Lipkin was spending the afternoon prowling his empire of viruses. The Center for Infection and Immunity, which he directs, occupies three floors of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Rather than wait for the elevator, Dr. Lipkin ran up and down the back stairs to move from floor to floor, leaning into the doorways of labs and glass-walled offices to get updates from a platoon of scientists.

“We get 10,000 samples a year easily,” Dr. Lipkin said. “We’ve discovered at least 400 new viruses since I came to Columbia in 2002, and the process is accelerating.”

Over the past 20 years, Dr. Lipkin has built a reputation as a master virus hunter. He has developed ways to quickly identify familiar viruses and ways to search for new ones.
“If scientists are lucky, they’ll identify one novel virus in their whole life,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Lipkin really stands out from the crowd.”
The emergence of H.I.V. in the 1980s first drove Dr. Lipkin to search for viruses. At the time, he was a neurology resident at the University of California, San Francisco, and was watching many patients fall ill with AIDS. It took years for scientists to discover the virus responsible for the disease. Dr. Lipkin worried that in years to come, new viruses would claim more lives because of this lag. “I saw all this, and I said, ‘We have to find new and better ways to do this,’ ” Dr. Lipkin said.
One reason that viruses can be so hard to find is that they’re so small — typically a few millionths of an inch across. Even the most powerful microscopes may not be able to reveal viruses if they’re lurking in a hiding place in the body. Sometimes scientists can detect viruses by rearing vast numbers of them in laboratories. It’s also possible to detect them by looking for antibodies in infected people. But these methods can be slow and unreliable. Dr. Lipkin thought it might be better to find viruses in a different way. He would go fishing for their genes.
“It had never been done before, and it was an obvious thing to do,” he said.

When Dr. Lipkin started finding viruses, the process was agonizingly slow. It took him three years to isolate the borna virus. Now it’s possible to identify new viruses in a matter of days.

Dr. Lipkin and his colleagues are now working with the Department of Defense on even faster methods. In one recent exercise, researchers at the center were shipped two samples of genetic material. Each was a mixture of host DNA and the genes of a rare, dangerous virus. The researchers identified both viruses in six hours.
-Carl Zimmer's NYT article

Quote of the Day

“Happiness in the moment is not the only reason to do something."
-Jonathan Schooler

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Catfish (Cod and Catfish symbiosis)

Overhyped, I started excepting too much (and those reviews didn't help either). I was disappointed, no surprises. This movie was sad, depressing and definitely not a true story. For people outside US of A, there is another country inside this country. It's poverty ridden with no hope (expect in the online world) and yes, its not easy (if not impossible) to come out of it.
But I loved the last lines from the movie...

"Let me tell you a story of the cod fish. At the turn of the century cod fish were in much demand on the east coast. News of this tasty fish spread across the country all the way to the west coast. There was however a problem. How could they get the fish across the country and still keep it fresh. They tried to freeze the fish and send it by rail, the fastest means at the time. When it was prepared it turn out to be very mushy and lacked flavor. Then someone decided to ship the fish live turning railroad cars into huge saltwater aquariums. When the cod fish arrived they were still alive but when they were prepared they were still mushy and tasteless. After studying the cod fish someone discovered that their natural enemy was the catfish. This time when the cod fish were but in the tanks they place a few catfish in with them. Those catfish chased the cod fish all the way across the country to the west coast. This time when they were prepared they were flaky and had the same flavor as they did when they were caught fresh and prepared on the east coast. You see the catfish kept the cod from becoming stale. The catfish kept them fresh.

We all have and need catfish in our lives to keep us fresh."

Nissan Leaf vs Chevy Volt


Holiday Retail Sales are a Mere 3.4% of The U.S. GDP

but it "helps" keeping our thinking at bay (leave alone metacognition), Barry Ritholtz has the stats - here:

My Christmas wish to Santa: please let this be the last Christmas in America that is dominated by the propaganda that holiday retail sales have any more impact on the $14.7 trillion U.S. economy than a moldy, half-eaten fruitcake left over from 2007.

Fact: the 2010 GDP of the U.S. is projected to be about $14.7 trillion. (CBO estimate) The Federal Budget PrimerComponents of Government spending within U.S. GDP.

Fact: total holiday retail sales were $504 billion in 2009. Holiday sales–National Retail Federation.That means holiday retail sales are a mere 3.4% of the U.S. GDP.
Despite the Financial and Mainstream Media’s pathological obsession with holiday retail sales numbers as proxies for the “health” of the entire U.S. economy, holiday sales don’t really change much:
So the start of the 2008-09 recession saw a drop of $21 billion in holiday sales: statistical noise in a $14.7 trillion economy and a modest 4% decline from pre-recession levels. 2009 saw sales rise by about $10 billon (about 2%), so a rise of 2% from 2009 would return holiday sales to pre-recession levels.

Now the propaganda machine is cranking up to announce that a 2% increase in holiday retail sales means the U.S. economy is off and running. Santa, please, please, please order your reindeer to stomp the life out of the idiotic fantasy that Americans buying a few billion dollars more needless junk from China is any sort of evidence that the U.S. economy is “growing at a healthy clip.”

The entire retail sector is 7.9% of the GDP compared to a 21.4% share for the FIRE tranch (finance, insurance and real estate) of the economy.

Does anyone seriously believe that 3.4% of the economy can possibly leverage up the entire GDP with a razor-thin increase of $10 billion in holiday sales?"

Celebration of Failure

"Through pain the land of pain,
Through tender exiguity,
Through cruel self-suspicion:
Thus came I to this inch of wholeness.

It was a promise.
After pain, I said,
An inch will be what never a boasted mile.

And haughty judgement,
That frowned upon a faultless plan,
Now smiles upon this crippled execution,
And my dashed beauty praises me."

Laura Riding

Skateistan - To Live and Skate in Kabul

SKATEISTAN: TO LIVE AND SKATE KABUL from Diesel New Voices on Vimeo.

Good and Bad Times...

Self Comes to Mind - Review

NYT review of Antonio Damasio's Self Comes to Mind (via Q3D). No doubt it's a difficult read, seems like Damasio has opened a Pandora's box...

"Phenomenally conscious content — what distinguishes the experience of blue from the taste of chocolate — is, according to Damasio, a matter of associations that are processed in different brain areas at the same time. What makes a conscious state feel like something rather than nothing is explained as a fusion of mind and body in which neurons become “extensions of the flesh.” Self-consciousness is the result of a procession of neural maps of inner and outer worlds. What’s more, he argues, phenomenal consciousness depends on self-consciousness. Without a self, he writes, “the mind would lose its orientation. . . . One’s thoughts would be freewheeling, unclaimed by an owner. . . . What would we look like? Well, we would look unconscious.”

Even fish and lizards have a kind of minimal self, one that combines sensory integration with control of information processing and action. But Damasio’s self is not minimal. It is inflated with self-awareness, reflection, rationality, deliberation and knowledge of one’s existence and the existence of one’s surroundings, and this is what he ends up arguing a ­being needs in order to have phenomenal consciousness.

Yes. Phenomenal consciousness is what makes pain bad in itself and pleasure good. Damasio’s refusal to regard phenomenal consciousness (without the involvement of the inflated self) as real consciousness could be used to justify the brutalization of cows and chickens on the grounds that they are not self-conscious and therefore not conscious. Damasio, in response to those who have raised such criticisms in the past, declares that in fact he thinks it “highly likely” that animals do have consciousness. But this doesn’t square with the demanding theory he advances in his book, on the basis of which he denies consciousness in dreams and in “vegetative state” patients who can answer questions. He owes us an explanation of why he thinks chickens are conscious even though dreamers and the question-answering patients are not."

Quote of the Day

"You want to learn from experience, but you want to learn from other people’s experience when you can."

-Warren Buffett

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Man Who Saved Billion Lives

Who else but Norman Borlaug? - Here:

"Norman Borlaug isn’t a household name by far. Yet, in his lifetime, he was credited to saving over a billion people, in a very literal sense. For this, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, a frank defeat of the doomsaying Malthusians and ‘Population Bomb’ adherents. Thomas Malthus, a British economist, had predicted in 1798 that exponential population growth would outstrip global food output, which was limited by the efficiency of the land. Now deceased, Norman Borlaug’s legacy lives on in the technology he tirelessly distributed across the globe. This is the legacy of agricultural technology, specifically of genetically modified organisms. Yet, it is amongst the most malignedscientific achievements of the past decades; the ‘Franken-Foods’ have been spurned in favor of a return to the ‘natural’ processes of the ‘organic’ food movement.

In a BBC radio interview, ecofeminist and noted critic of Norman Borlaug’s ‘Green Revolution’ Vandana Shiva remarked- “In the process new health and ecological hazards are being forced on Third World people through dumping of genetically engineered foods and other hazardous products.”
 Prince Charles of the United Kingdom has consistently denounced genetic modification of crops, insisting that to do so is to intrude to the realm of ‘God and God alone’.

Unsurprisingly, the two are substantial supporters of ‘organic’ food. Borlaug’s opinion was summed up during an television appearance prior to his death, where he responded to the position that all food should be processed according to the practices of the ‘organic’ movement: “We are 6.6 billion people now. We can only feed 4 billion. I don’t see 2 billion volunteers to disappear.”.

Indeed, the disappearances should not go unnoticed. While Vandana Shiva may have applauded Zambia’s decision to stop the donations of genetically modified (GM) corn from the United States on the advice that such products were ‘toxic’ (this corn is identical to that consumed by Americans on a daily basis), but the consequences were lethal. Unable to meet with the demands of the population by methods of ‘traditional’ agriculture, there was mass starvation."

Thanksgiving Myths, Truths and Benjamin Franklin Thanksgiving stories

Science Jim Show Ep 10 from Science Jim on Vimeo.

Quantitative Easing

Neuroeconomics - In Oxytocin We Trust

Quote of the Day

"To die and part is a less evil; but to part and live, there, there is the torment."

-George Lansdowne

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Deathbed Regrets

Words of wisdom from deathbed - here:

"For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone's capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

  • I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I didn't work so hard.
  • I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness."

    Happy Thanksgiving - A Follow-up

    Phew!! A year flew by.. my 2009 thanksgiving rant here
    • Yet to read Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals
    • The good news is I am have become a vegetarian. Yes, there were occasional lapses but I am trying. It's no big deal especially if you are an Indian. 
    • Happy to keep my cognitive dissonance in a check on this front.

    Redux - In the mean time, this excellent review by Elizabeth Kolbert  is a fodder for a slaughter-less thanksgiving (since turkey had nothing to do with thanksgiving, until after WWII)."

    "Food choices are determined by many factors, but reason (even consciousness) is not generally high on the list” Jonathan Safran Foer

    Quote of the Day

    "Love reckons hours for months, and days for years; and every little absence is an age."

    -John Dryden

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Adventures Of An Accidental Vegetarian - 5

    Eating out in US of A is still an issue.  I never was a "fan" of fast food but surprise, surprise fast food has now become a solace when the occasional craving pops up with satiated home cooking. Seven layer bean burrito from Taco Bell rocks for any vegetarian!!  For the record I never had Taco Bell (or any fast food) much for the past 15 years. Now it not only feeds my cravings but there is also this sense of belonging with someone close when loneliness creeps in. My synesthesia.. those weird ways of our memories..

    Social Cognition of Turkey - Thanksgiving Dinner

    Science and Ben Franklin on the Turkeys - here:

    It is well-known that when the bald eagle was picked for the emblem of America after six years of debate, Ben Franklin expressed his dismay that the turkey was not picked instead. In a letter to his daughter, he wrote,

    "For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red coat on."

    Apocryphal or not, Ben Franklin may have been on to something with the "Bird of Courage."

    Wild turkeys, like many birds, are social creatures. About six months after hatching, the males from the same brood break away and form a sibling group that generally persists for life. Like any other group of siblings, they're fiercely loyal to each other and extremely hostile to outsiders. And, like most groups of social animals, there is a very strict dominance hierarchy both within and between groups. If an outsider turkey wanders into the wrong side of the forest, the ensuing fight won't be pretty. Feathers would fly and beaks would peck. Whatever injuries might be sustained in such a turkey altercation, though, aren't usually particularly dangerous or life-threatening. But domestic turkeys are a different story. While they also display aggressive behavior towards each other, injuries due to pecking are much more severe and can result in death or can necessitate early euthanization of the bird.

    "Assuming that individual recognition enables stable hierarchies to be established," write Swiss scientists Drs. Buchwalder and Huber-Eicher, "it has been suggested that large flocks continually attempt to establish dominance, leading to high levels of aggression." The problem is that domestic turkeys live in such large flocks that the neural computation and memory requirements to identify each member of the flock and to distinguish flock members from outsiders may be too great, resulting in failure. It is indeed the case that domestic turkeys live in much larger flocks than their wild ancestors (which have groups containing up to twenty individuals), but it was not known whether they are able to distinguish in-group members from out-group members. Buchwalder and Huber-Eicher reasoned that if domestic turkeys directed their aggression preferentially towards members of a different flock or social group, they might indeed be able to distinguish among individuals.

    Power to Small Farmers

    A major victory for small farmers - here:

    "The Senate is currently considering a sweeping bill that aims to make our food safer. But the makers of "non-industrial" food—small, local, and family farms and processors—are fighting to preserve exemptions to regulations they say could put them out of business.
    For starters, it gives the FDA the power to order companies to recall food. (Currently, and and almost unbelievably, companies make that decision on their own, under government and consumer pressure.) It expands its ability to write regulations about how and where food is grown. It requires processors to keep more detailed records of what came from where and what happened to it, so that the FDA can trace outbreaks more easily. It gives the FDA more resources for inspectors. And it requires all processors to have hazard-control plans. (One big caveat: The FDA does not oversee most meat and poultry. The Department of Agriculture does that, and its regulations are not changing.)
    In this battle, at least, the little guys have won out so far. "Food production in America is already too centralized, so we've got to fix this bill so it doesn't put a nail in the coffin of family-scale producers," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who sponsored an amendment exempting most small farms from certain onerous parts of law. "The folks who sell their produce directly to the local market—whose customers can see them eyeball-to-eyeball and know where their food is coming from—shouldn't be forced to deal with expensive new regulations aimed at big industry-scale producers." Foodie gurus such as Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser argued for Tester's amendment.

    As it now stands, the bill includes the amendment, which has been slightly modified: If a farmer sells less than $500,000 in produce a year, and sells most of it to consumers, restaurants, or grocery stores (rather than brokers or processors) within his own state or within 275 miles, then it would be exempt from the new regulations. And if products from any given small farm get anyone sick, the FDA reserves the right to revoke its exemptions."

    Quote of the Day

    "As contraries are known by contraries, so is the delight of presence best known by the torments of absence. "


    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    This Dental Research Could Aid Millions in U.S. Alone

    Had a deep cleaning (torture) session today, so I was looking for some good news on the dental front - cannot beat this one here:

    "At a recent R&D symposium at 
    Sandia National Laboratories' California site, bioresearcher Anup Singh wowed the audience with his tales of life in India and the non-traditional route that brought him to one of the nation's premiere defense laboratories. He was born in eastern India, not far from where Buddha attained enlightenment, but joked that that was all they had in common. After attending engineering school in Bombay and graduate school in North Carolina , he continued west to the DOE lab's Livermore campus.

    Singh's current work at Sandia, however, is serious business for the millions of people in the United States who suffer from periodontal, or gum disease. He is the principal investigator on a project dubbed "microchip meets a dentist" that will result ultimately in a miniaturized device that can analyze saliva for gingivitis infection, which triggers inflammation leading to bone loss in the jaw. Roughly 20-40 million adults in the United States suffer from gum disease and the treatment cost may run into billions of dollars annually.

    The portable system, says Singh, will employ electrokinetic separations and immunoassays for detecting biomarkers of periodontitis. Analyzing saliva has many advantages, including ease of sample collection (Singh and his colleagues affectionately call it the "spit project") and the potential for tracking other medical conditions."

    Not Tested on Animals - 1

    I wanted to write this post for a long, long time but never could muster enough courage to endorse a product on this blog. There are enough links online on animal testing, one might lose appetite for eternity. I don't want to write about it. It's the most worst thing that can happen to any living creature and sadly most aren't even aware of what animals go through so that we can shave, shampoo, cleanse, smell good et al. Every other mundane looking products we use in our bathrooms and kitchen has some suffering behind them. This can be polarizing subject as well. The so called necessary evil is animals in medical research (which cannot be stopped anytime soon) but the most avoidable one is use of animals in testing consumer health products. There isn't much public morality debate on this one... most talk about ending factory farming by end of this century (which is no doubt late but good nevertheless)
    Sampler from Ross Douthat - "I’ll speculate that a century or so hence, breakthroughs in laboratory-created meat substitutes will have put an end to the killing of animals in general (in factory farms and family farms alike), and worked a revolution in moral sentiments that makes my present belief in the moral acceptability of meat-eating seem hopelessly barbaric."

    What I was interested was to find products not tested on animals. My criteria's were simple but seemed unrealistic at that time: 

    • Wouldn't buy any consumer health products online
    • Buy only at a regular grocery or drug stores 
    • Stay away from speciality stores and Whole foods et al 
    • Price tag should match the regular products 
    Bottom line, I was waiting for ubiquity of not tested on animals products. Not because I couldn't do any of the above but because not everyone can (or will) do any of the above. I didn't want to live in that bubble of morality feeding my Lady Macbeth effect.

    Thanks to Daniel Goleman, I found goodguide. I learned about the products but yet couldn't find them any place. Eventually, I got the lucky break early this year in the unlikeliest of places - Sams Club (Walmart but not in Walmart though) 

    1. Toothpaste 
    2. Deo-ordant 
    Both are products of Toms of Maine. Both are excellent products with same price tag and for novelty seekers they do have handful of varieties to choose from as well. Yes, it's not flamboyant enough but one could gladly make that trade off.

    Long ways to go... but for now round one winners are Toms of Maine and Sams Club!!


    Two Songs picturized at one of my favorite place on earth - Kodiakanal (Yes, it's love of nostalgia and melancholy rather than the place itself) 

    On Randomness and Modernity

    “Randomness is indistinguishable from complicated, undetected and undetectable order; but order itself is indistinguishable from artful randomness.”

    “Modernity: We created youth without heroism, age without wisdom, and life without grandeur.”

    Who else but
    Naseem Nicolas Taleb?

    Love and Health

    "According to de l'Enclos, if a life in the best of vigorous health is without love, it is no life at all, only a long illness. Even health is illness without love; conversely, there is no illness that love cannot cure or make tolerable. At the same time, love is trouble. Like wind, it troubles the surface of the sea, but it also makes navigation possible. The agitation of love preserves the self, keeps it healthy even when—especially when it is sick. The risk of love, which so often ends in shipwreck, is what keeps a person healthy."

    -More on 
    Epicurean Life

    Quote of the Day

    “The sign of being at home is the ability to make oneself understood without too much difficulty, and to follow the reasoning of others without any need for long explanations.”

    -Vincent Descombes, on Proust's narrator, and all of us

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Story of Electronics

    Age of Resentment

    "The first thing to remark about resentment is that it never lets you down, because it is powerful in its capacity to stimulate the imagination (in a similarly sour way). For example, if someone points out to a resentful person reasons why he should not be resentful, he will immediately come up with reasons why he should be. I have observed that when someone says ‘Yes, but...’ there is little purpose in continuing by providing reasons, evidence or arguments as to why that person should change his mind about the thing in question. Deeply unimaginative as that person might be in all other circumstances, when it comes to preserving his original standpoint from attack by people who want to argue him out of it, his imagination is infinitely fertile. It acts instantaneously, at the speed light. ‘Yes, but...’ and its subsequent rationalisation emerges from the mouth of the resentful faster than a driver in Mexico City can apply himself to the horn when the traffic lights change from red.

    So the sustainability, and therefore predictability, of resentment is established. When you are resentful, change does not frighten you because there will be none. No need, either, to fear or face up to the unknown, because everything has been decided in advance. You do not risk, for example, finding out that your incapacity is not caused by what you think it was, but rather by – your incapacity. So resentment allows you to dream on about all you would have achieved if things had been different (better, of course, for no one dreams of how little they would have achieved had things been worse).

    But the real reward of resentment is that is changes the polarities of success and failure, or at least of the worth of success and failure. The fact that I am a failure in a certain regard shows that I am not only more sensitive than a vulgar success in that same regard, but really I am morally superior to him. To become a success, he has not had to contend with all that I have had to contend with to become a failure. Really, I am better than he, if only the world would recognise it.

    Of course, the world does not recognise it, in fact stubbornly refuses to take any notice of it. But this does not really matter because it is grounds for – yes, further resentment. You see, the dirty trick that has been done me that makes me like I am, that is to say a failure, is only part of a persistent and recurring pattern. My original resentment can become a meta-resentment when the world refuses to recognise the justice of my complaints."
    - More

    Learning to Miss Emma

    Paige and Elizabeth lost their black lab Emma this week... I have no idea who they are (via Andrew) but I know, I feel, I understand what they are going through. Not a day goes by without me thinking what I will do with my life without Max. I have no plans, I am not sure if I will have enough tears to cry... I have no idea. If he has to leave me one day then I ask him to take me with him - nothing less, nothing more.

    "Our beautiful black lab has passed away.

    I can’t believe it’s true. I still can’t. I see her everywhere. The house is so quiet. I keep thinking that I need to get her dinner or take her out for her walk… She loved her walks. She could barely see and barely hear, but her nose worked very, very well…

    I have tried to write this so many times. I’m grateful for a public way to remember her. But when I try to write… I get lost in my grief. My mind goes to the smell of her fur, the sounds she made, her velvet ears… Our beautiful girl gave me more love than there is a way to measure. I know that it is a sacred responsibility to care for an old dog. They give us their youth, their boundless energy, their unconditional love. She did. She carried Jodie through the hardest times of his life. She carried me through missing Jodie these last few years. She was always joyful. I have never known such a gentle soul. I think she would have stayed with us forever… just to try to make me happy. I’m grateful that I could try to ease her old age, rub her ears and massage her back, and scratch her butt to stretch out those hip muscles. She loved everything. And everyone.

    My mind wanders these days. We have all cried for days. And been so touched by the outpouring of love from everyone who knew Emma. She had a lot of second families and they all have joyful stories of ‘Crazy Emma’ destroying the inflatable whale swimming pool, ‘Sweet Emma’ riding shotgun in a friend’s truck with her hot pink stuffed pig toy gripped in her mouth. She was such a girl. She bounced up and down to greet you. Couldn’t hear much but always knew the word ‘walk’. Suffered her insulin shots lightly in order to get to the prosciutto or bacon or cookie or carrot that came after. Every day as I scooped the gross wet food she loved and fed her a little bacon treat her vegetarian mother would tell her, ‘Only for love dear.’ I must have told her how wonderful she was and how much I loved her a thousand times a day. It was the last thing I got to tell her. I still love her. I’ll never stop."

    And I want to thank Emma. She got me through some of the most difficult periods of my life, and was there when Paige and I got married. She never judged, and was always there to greet me with her dangerously happy tail. She actually did this “hop” when you walked through the door, as if she literally wanted to jump up and wrap her arms around you, but somehow knew that was not lady like. She came to learn that the phrase, “Do you wanna…?”, always ended with something along the lines of “go outside”, or “go for a ride”, or “a treat”. You couldn’t get past the “wanna” without her jumping up, cocking her head, and giving you this hilarious look that said, “Hell, yeah, I wanna! But ‘wanna’ what?!?!? C’mon! Finish the sentence already!” I can’t say this enough: Emma was a gift.

    She was diagnosed in May 2009 with diabetes. On the first Friday of that month, at our annual Spring Friday party, was the last time Emma really ran like Emma for her ball. A few days later, the diabetes hit, and there were a handful of moments prior to our getting her blood sugar regulated that we really thought it was probably her time. But she powered through, and she has been a champ about her twice-daily insulin shots…probably due to there being a treat at the end. Her eyesight started to fade, then her hearing. And Paige was there for her, every step of the way.

    Emma turned 14 on Nov. 11th, so she was, effectively, a 98 year old diabetic. It was probably her time, and we should not have been surprised. But we’re crushed, and there is a giant hole in the house and in our hearts.

    We will miss her terribly, but will see her again. And I’ll have a tennis ball."

    "Love your dog tonight. And if you can, please light a candle for Emma and the beautiful souls who give everything they are to us. Nothing will be the same without her."