Archive for January 13th, 2007

Vehicular NYC Photoblogging

Various vehicles from NYC…


The proud winner of MTV’s annual “Pimp My Tug” competition.


In case you’ve ever wondered what the spirit of New York looked like…


Helicopter MADNESS!!!
(Click on the pic to see Bonus Helicopter)


Well, there is a truck in the background…

8 comments January 13th, 2007 at 10:45pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: NJ/NYC,Photoblogging

Eyevolution

I’m not entirely sure why this is in the Op-Ed section, but it certainly is fascinating:

…[N]either chimpanzees nor any of the other 220 species of nonhuman primates have whites of the eyes, at least not that can be easily seen. This means that if their eyes are looking in a direction other than the one in which their heads are pointing, we can easily be fooled about what they are looking at.

Why should humans be so different? And yet we are. We can’t fool anyone. The whites of our eyes are several times larger than those of other primates, which makes it much easier to see where the eyes, as opposed to the head, are pointed. Trying to explain this trait leads us into one of the deepest and most controversial topics in the modern study of human evolution: the evolution of cooperation.

The idea is simple. Knowing what another person is looking at provides valuable information about what she is thinking and feeling, and what she might do next. Even young children know that when a person is looking at one toy and not another, she most likely prefers that toy and may reach for it. Professional poker players are often so worried about others reading their minds by reading their eyes that they wear sunglasses.

(…)

Evolutionary theory tells us that, in general, the only individuals who are around today are those whose ancestors did things that were beneficial to their own survival and reproduction. If I have eyes whose direction is especially easy to follow, it must be of some advantage to me.

If I am, in effect, advertising the direction of my eyes, I must be in a social environment full of others who are not often inclined to take advantage of this to my detriment – by, say, beating me to the food or escaping aggression before me. Indeed, I must be in a cooperative social environment in which others following the direction of my eyes somehow benefits me.

Of course, it’s possible that having large whites of the eyes serves some other purpose, like enabling me to advertise my good health to potential mates. But such an advantage would apply to other primates as well. Cooperation, on the other hand, singles out humans, as humans coordinate activities to do such things as construct buildings, create social institutions and even, paradoxically, organize armies for war.

(…)

It has been repeatedly demonstrated that all great apes, including humans, follow the gaze direction of others. But in previous studies the head and eyes were always pointed in the same direction. Only when we made the head and eyes point in different directions did we find a species difference: humans are sensitive to the direction of the eyes specifically in a way that our nearest primate relatives are not. This is the first demonstration of an actual behavioral function for humans’ uniquely visible eyes.

Why might it have been advantageous for some early humans to advertise their eye direction in a way that enabled others to determine what they were looking at more easily? One possible answer, what we have called the cooperative eye hypothesis, is that especially visible eyes made it easier to coordinate close-range collaborative activities in which discerning where the other was looking and perhaps what she was planning, benefited both participants.

(…)

We are still a long way from figuring out why humans evolved to do so many complicated things together – from building houses to creating universities to fighting wars. But the simple fact that we have evolved highly visible eyes, to which infants attune even before language, supplies at least one small piece of the puzzle of how.

This is really intriguing stuff – I had never really given much thought to why we have eyes with whites and most other animals don’t. I guess I had just automatically assumed that it was part of the physical evolution of the eye itself, with no social implications. (This could still be the case, but I don’t know of anything unique about human vision that is not shared by un-eye-whited creatures, or what the presence or absence of eye-whites would have to do with visual acuity.)

The biggest problem that I have with this hypothesis is that humans are not the only social primate; far from it. So why haven’t chimps or bonobos evolved readable eyes? Do they lack the intelligence to make use of such visual cues? Are their social groups not cooperative enough for that kind of transparency to be beneficial to the individual? Could they really be more backstabby than humans? Maybe humans have become less trustworthy since we developed eye whites…

10 comments January 13th, 2007 at 04:43pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Science

The President Issues A Challenge

Take that, naysayers!

President Bush on Saturday challenged lawmakers skeptical of his new Iraq plan to propose their own strategy for stopping the violence in Baghdad.

“To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible,” Bush said.

I hereby issue the same challenge to all those who oppose my plan to make sand the world’s primary energy source.

January 13th, 2007 at 04:09pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Iraq,Politics,Wankers,War

This Surprises… No-One.

Be sure to check out Phila’s take on KSFO’s attempt at on-air damage control after their attempt to pull spocko’s plug backfired disastrously. To sum up: Their on-air crazies did not acquit themselves very well.

I hope KSFO’s advertisers were listening, wondering whether they would hear any reason to continue associating their brands with right-wing hate.

(h/t to Supremely Ironic David)

January 13th, 2007 at 02:33pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Media,Politics,Wankers

Puking Up The Kool-Aid

Glenn Greenwald discusses an amazing audio commentary by archconservative Rod Dreher, in which he repudiates, if not conservatism itself, President Bush and the Republican party (emphasis Greenwald’s):

Dreher, 40, recounts that his “first real political memory” was the 1979 failed rescue effort of the U.S. hostages in Iran. He says he “hated” Jimmy Carter for “shaming America before our enemies with weakness and incompetence.” When Reagan was elected, he believed “America was saved.” Reagan was “strong and confident.” Democrats were “weak and depressed.”

In fairness, Dreher would have been about 12 at the time. But one of the hallmarks of true believer conservatives is that they never outgrow it.

In particular, Dreher recounts how much, during the 1980s, he “disliked hippies – the blame America first liberals who were so hung up on Vietnam, who surrendered to Communists back then just like they want to do now.” In short, Republicans were “winners.” Democrats were “defeatists.”

On 9/11, Dreher’s first thought was : “Thank God we have a Republican in the White House.” The rest of his essay:

As President Bush marched the country to war with Iraq, even some voices on the Right warned that this was a fool’s errand. I dismissed them angrily. I thought them unpatriotic.

But almost four years later, I see that I was the fool.

In Iraq, this Republican President for whom I voted twice has shamed our country with weakness and incompetence, and the consequences of his failure will be far, far worse than anything Carter did.

The fraud, the mendacity, the utter haplessness of our government’s conduct of the Iraq war have been shattering to me.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. Not under a Republican President.

(…)

As I sat in my office last night watching President Bush deliver his big speech, I seethed over the waste, the folly, the stupidity of this war.

I had a heretical thought for a conservative – that I have got to teach my kids that they must never, ever take Presidents and Generals at their word – that their government will send them to kill and die for noble-sounding rot – that they have to question authority.

On the walk to the parking garage, it hit me. Hadn’t the hippies tried to tell my generation that? Why had we scorned them so blithely?

Will my children, too small now to understand Iraq, take me seriously when I tell them one day what powerful men, whom their father once believed in, did to this country? Heavy thoughts for someone who is still a conservative despite it all. It was a long drive home.

Dreher’s essay is extreme and intense but also increasingly commonplace and illustrative. The disaster of unparalleled magnitude that President Bush and his integrity-free and bloodthirsty administration and followers wrought on this country will have a profound impact not only on American strength and credibility for a long, long time to come, but also on the views of Americans towards their political leaders and, almost certainly, towards the Republican Party.

One of the very few potential benefits of the Iraq tragedy is that it may raise the level of doubt and cynicism with which Americans evaluate the claims of the Government when it tries — as Dreher put it — “to send them to kill and die for noble-sounding rot.”

I hope Greenwald is right about where this is heading. I expect there were a whole bunch of bitterly disillusioned conservatives back in 1974 too, but they sure got over it pretty quick. I suspect that if the next Democratic president can’t undo the deep structural, psychic, and moral damage 8 years of Bush misrule have inflicted on our country, and if the Republicans field a candidate peddling a bogus message of sunny optimism, then the conservative true believers’ faith will be miraculously and instantly restored.

After all, Bush was an aberration; he wasn’t a real conservative, and they were all taken in by his wily, resolute ways. But the next time will be totally different, and they’ll follow Reagan II to the end of the Earth… until they get close enough to the edge to see the abyss below, at which point the cycle will repeat. Conservatives fall in love with Republicans, Republicans nearly destroy America, Conservatives fall out of love with Republicans, Democrats fail to usher in Golden Age Of America, Conservatives fall in love with Republicans again.

Thinking on it a bit more, I think a big part of the problem (or maybe just a symptom?) is standards. Conservatives simply hold Republicans and other conservatives to a much, much lower standard than they hold Democrats and progressives to. Look at how badly Bush had to fuck everything up before Dreher finally lost faith in him, as compared to him losing faith in Jimmy Carter over one failed rescue operation. Compare the relative standards for impeachment, or for congressional investigations, or even the very definitions of words like “popular” or “mandate.” I might try to blame the media for this, but the sad truth is that most of the media is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the conservative movement.

But the bottom line is that the standard of success for a Republican president is somewhere in the vicinity of “Don’t get us into a depression or World War III”, whereas the standard of success for a Democratic president is “Fix everything the Republicans broke and make the world perfect.” So based on that, they can easily say, “Hey, I tried to give the Democrats the benefit of the doubt, but they had their chance and they failed miserably, so I’m going to start screaming my head off for impeachment like any reasonable, responsible citizen should.”

(h/t Atrios)

5 comments January 13th, 2007 at 11:34am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Favorites,Media,Politics,Republicans


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