Archive for May 9th, 2005


In today’s Talking Points Memo in WaPo, handicapping potential key Senate and House races in 2006, Terry Neal refers to Socialist Rep. Bernie Sanders of VT as a “Left-leaning independent”.

Not sure if this is bias or some weird attempt at tact…

2 comments May 9th, 2005 at 04:20pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Politics,Weirdness

The Dark Half

From this week’s NYT Magazine:

It starts out like it has a point, but essentially ends up just being “Isn’t the brain weird? It’s just crazy, man, crazy!

But the weirdness works on its own terms, at least for me – like photos from Voyager or the Hubble, or the deep sea tubeworms, or the Cambrian critters from the Burgess Shale (I enthusiastically recommend Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life), or the works of Escher, Magritte, Dali, Bosch, and Gaudi.

A few years ago, brain scans of London cabbies showed that the detailed mental maps they had built up in the course of navigating their city’s complicated streets were apparent in their brains. Not only was the posterior hippocampus — one area of the brain where spatial representations are stored — larger in the drivers; the increase in size was proportional to the number of years they had been on the job.


Patients with severe epilepsy sometimes used to undergo an operation in which the corpus callosum was severed…. After the operation, the two hemispheres of the brain could no longer directly communicate…. under careful observation, they exhibited some very peculiar behavior. When, for example, the word “hat” was flashed to the left half of the visual field — and hence to the right (speechless) side of the brain — the left hand would pick out a hat from a group of concealed objects, even as the patient insisted that he had seen no word. If a picture of a naked woman was flashed to the left visual field of a male patient, he would smile, or maybe blush, without being able to say what he was reacting to — although he might make a comment like, “That’s some machine you’ve got there.” In another case, a female patient’s right hemisphere was flashed a scene of one person throwing another into a fire. “I don’t know why, but I feel kind of scared,” she told the researcher. “I don’t like this room, or maybe it’s you getting me nervous.” The left side of her brain, noticing the negative emotional reaction issuing from theright side, was making a guess about its cause, much the way one person might make a guess about the emotions of another.

Each side of the brain seemed to have its own awareness, as if there were two selves occupying the same head. (One patient’s left hand seemed somewhat hostile to the patient’s wife, suggesting that the right hemisphere was not fond of her.) Ordinarily, the two selves got along admirably…. Nevertheless… they lived in ever so slightly different sensory worlds. And even though both understood language, one monopolized speech, while the other was mute. That’s why the patient seemed normal to family and friends.

Pondering such split-brain cases, some scientists and philosophers have raised a disquieting possibility: perhaps each of us really consists of two minds running in harness. In an intact brain, of course, the corpus callosum acts as a constant two-way internal-communications channel between the two hemispheres. So our everyday behavior does not betray the existence of two independent streams of consciousness flowing along within our skulls. It may be, the philosopher Thomas Nagel has written, that “the ordinary, simple idea of a single person will come to seem quaint some day, when the complexities of the human control system become clearer and we become less certain that there is anything very important that we are one of.”

Consciousness, and normal brain function in general, is something that we take for granted as simple and uncomplicated, but it has tricksy biological underpinnings that we are still striving to understand, and which can be thrown alarmingly off-kilter by disease, physical damage or chemical imbalance.

The relationship between the two hemispheres is especially fascinating to me. I had heard of such experiments before, but had never really contemplated the idea of the less-dominant (and creative) right hemisphere as a mute prisoner within the mind, unable to even express itself without its link to the dominant, rational left hemisphere.

In a sense, we are all siamese twins.

2 comments May 9th, 2005 at 02:50pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Favorites,Science,Weirdness

DeLay In DeCline?

In today’s Washington Post:

DeLay’s prowess in fundraising, for instance, was always a pillar of his power in the House. Lining up a corporate aircraft to ferry him to an event was usually arranged with a single phone call. These days, Republican officials report that they are having trouble finding available aircraft — as businesses fret that DeLay may be radioactive.

DeLay, likewise, usually no longer attends joint news conferences of the GOP leadership. His presence, Republicans say, would distract from the party’s message about gas prices or other
topics of the day.

And through numerous previous controversies, DeLay and his staff always made it a point of pride that once a week when Congress was in session, he would meet reporters in his conference room — no holds barred. Now, these sessions begin with the leader reciting a preamble about “ground rules” — all questions not relating to the party’s House floor agenda are verboten.

While my first choice would certainly be to see DeLay unceremoniously dumped from the House after dragging as much of the Republican party as possible through the mud with him, a Republican majority leader who has to walk on eggshells and be cautious in his fundraising doesn’tsound like such a terrible consolation prize.

This is not to suggest for one second that I don’t want to see him go down in lurid sensationalistic flames. Just saying that there may be a silver lining even if he doesn’t. Especially if the Democrats can continue to use him as a boogeyman, while at the same time the Republicans can’t use his finely-honed boogeyman skills to their fundraising advantage.

1 comment May 9th, 2005 at 01:10pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Corruption/Cronyism,Politics,Republicans,Wankers


When does Krugman ever not nail it?

…defenders of Mr. Bush’s Social Security plan now portray benefit cuts for anyone making more than $20,000 a year, cuts that will have their biggest percentage impact on the retirement income of people making about $60,000 a year, as cuts for the wealthy.

These are people who denounced you as a class warrior if you wanted to tax Paris Hilton’s inheritance. Now they say that they’re brave populists, because they want to cut the income of retired office managers.

Let’s consider the Bush tax cuts and the Bush benefit cuts as a package. Who gains? Who loses?

Suppose you’re a full-time Wal-Mart employee, earning $17,000 a year. You probably didn’t get any tax cut. But Mr. Bush says, generously, that he won’t cut your Social Security benefits.
Suppose you’re earning $60,000 a year. On average, Mr. Bush cut taxes for workers like you by about $1,000 per year. But by 2045 the Bush Social Security plan would cut benefits for workers like you by about $6,500 per year. Not a very good deal.

Suppose, finally, that you’re making $1 million a year. You received a tax cut worth about $50,000 per year. By 2045 the Bush plan would reduce benefits for people like you by about $9,400 per year. We have a winner!

I’m not being unfair. In fact, I’ve weighted the scales heavily in Mr. Bush’s favor, because the tax cuts will cost much more than the benefit cuts would save. Repealing Mr. Bush’s tax cuts would yield enough revenue to call off his proposed benefit cuts, and still leave $8 trillion in change.

The point is that the privatizers consider four years of policies that relentlessly favored the wealthy a fait accompli, not subject to reconsideration. Now that tax cuts have busted the budget, they want us to accept large cuts in Social Security benefits as inevitable. But they demand that we praise Mr. Bush’s sense of social justice, because he proposes bigger benefit cuts for the middle class than for the poor.

Sorry, but no. Mr. Bush likes to play dress-up, but his Robin Hood costume just doesn’t fit.

This last point is what infuriates me the most, that the Republicans believe that preserving tax cuts for the rich takes precedence over all other considerations, and cannot even be questioned.

More like this, please.

1 comment May 9th, 2005 at 11:54am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Republicans,Taxes,Wankers

MoreOn Media

I was responding to an e-mail last night, explaining that most of us are aware that a large part of the media’s complicity with the Republican agenda has to do with their wealthy/corporate ownership.

To make a long story short, I said that as long as the media corporations and their parents are still driven by the good old-fashioned profit motive, there is some chance of either activist (protests; boycotts of the parent company’s products) or market/Darwinian (declining ratings due to inferior product) pressures having some success. But if their sole purpose is to serve as propaganda outlets, then there’s not a whole lot we can do, at least not directly. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for the revival of the Fairness Doctrine; my expectation is that it would be manipulated and gamed so that “balance” would be represented by a moderate Republican viewpoint opposing a fanatical right-wing extremist one, or possibly a fanatical left-wing extremist who would be used to paint all Democrats asraving nutcases.

The idea that makes me most excited, however, is that of an alternative news network that reports all the stories the rest of the media avoids. I think such a network could have a lot of success – consider just how many juicy scandals the MSM has passed up out of political loyalty or simple fear. I think people would be all over it, and would savor the feeling of being in the know. I’m partly inspired by the anecdotal stories I read in Eschaton comments, about fellow liberals who have clued reasonable-but-underinformed Republicans in on some of the things “their” leaders have been up to, and the sense of dawning realization that they kindle. I think there are a lot of people who sense that they’re not getting the full story, but don’t know where to find it.

Notice that I said “alternative news network” up above, not “liberal news network.” Tempting as it is to just create a liberal version of Fox News, dedicated solely to pro-liberal reporting, spin, and punditry, I would like to see the alternative network dedicate itself to more objective reporting, but without the false “balance” seen in the news today. It should have conservative contributors (preferably real ones, and not wingnuts), and it should feel free to report on stories that are unflattering or embarrassing to liberals and Democrats. I know that would sting, especially since the right-wing would use it as the ultimate unimpeachable source – “Even the liberal news network says Al Gore’s beard looks stupid!” – but it would go a long way towards establishing credibility with the non-die-hard liberals who we need to reach.

I would also like to see an emphasis on in-depth factual analysis over opinionated punditry and Runaway Bride fluff, and a commitment to getting to the truth instead of just reporting what each side said and calling it a day (think The Daily Show with less funny and no Moment Of Zen). It should have some respected old-school newsies like, say, Walter Cronkite and Helen Thomas on its board of advisors to keep it honest. And, oh yeah, I sure would love to see Richard Clarke as the resident on-air terrorism expert.

To sum up – if we believe that objective reality has an anti-Republican bias, then objective reality should be all we need to strive to present. I happen to also believe that it will prove more compelling than the fantasies and distractions offered up by the so-called news networks today – and better yet, if the other so-called news networks have any profit motivation at all,they will fall all over themselves trying to copy the formula.

By all means, LET THEM.
Are you listening, Mr. Soros?

May 9th, 2005 at 09:51am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Democrats,Favorites,Media,Republicans

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