Tuesday, December 14, 2010

egg on your face

Feb ’09 I was writing about Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia, and noted with contempt the writer’s notion that only human beings have a sense of rhythm. As I said at the time, “all it takes is one ‘single report’ and you got egg on your face.”

That spring I came across
an NPR story
about animals groovin’. As I speculated in my February post, if any animal should have a sense of rhythm wouldn’t it be one that sings, maybe a bird? And now I see that researchers have found birds who dance. 14 species of parrots, at least. And, contra the expert Sacks quotes in his book, some elephants. They found these dancers, how? Through watching youtube videos!

Interestingly , Aniruddh Patel, the very scientist Sacks quotes categorically denying any animal the ability to shimmy to the beat, is quoted in the NPR story. “’ This is potentially scientifically very important,’” Patel says.

Follow the link and watch some birds shakin’ tail. It’s cute. And less than three minutes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

you can have an opinion on a topic, without having much information about it

Studies of political literacy among children “upholds the basic conclusion that kids tend to have little genuine awareness of political figures, political parties, or the political process.

“But how much more ignorant are kids than the general population? Not much, it turns out. … ‘[T]here is no evidence to suggest that an enfranchised adult population actually knows more than … teenager[s] …’ National political moods, it seems, happen without national political awareness.” Just because people don’t know the details about a subject, Ryan Grim says, it doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion about it.

source: This Is Your Country on Drugs: the secret history of getting high in America by Ryan Grim

Sunday, December 12, 2010

treatment over incarceration

“In 2000, California voters approved a program to provide drug treatment, rather than prison time, for nonviolent drug-possession offenders. A study of the law found that it saved the state $1.3 billion over its first six years, and that for every tax dollar invested, California saved $7 thanks to reductions in crime and health-care costs.”

I remember voting for that proposition. I’ve wondered how it’s worked out.

source: This Is Your Country on Drugs: the secret history of getting high in America by Ryan Grim

Saturday, December 11, 2010

out of the bars, into the dens

“In 1827, the first year the federal government began tabulating opium imports, almost none was brought into the United States. Five years later, the number had climbed to around fifty thousand pounds. In several years during the 1830s and early 1840s, importation peaked at more than seventy thousand pounds. If a dose is less than half a gram – and it can often be much less – then seventy thousand pounds would be enough for more than thirty million opium highs in a nation with an 1840 population of roughly seventeen million. Importation statistics suggest that use continued to rise throughout the 1840s and 1850s.”

Ryan Grim notes that opium use tracked the success of the temperance movement – as people drank less they turned to another high to fill the need. But the bit about 30 million highs in a nation of 17 million seemed kind of, well, high. Looking at it again, two(ish) highs a year per person doesn’t seem all that dramatic. This is not a nation of junkies. Still, it’s quite a bump from “almost none.” A relatively small number of heavy users could account for a large fraction of that 30 million. That’s typically the case, isn’t it?

source: This Is Your Country on Drugs: the secret history of getting high in America by Ryan Grim

Friday, December 10, 2010

Vengeful Cruelty

“A striking feature of eliminationist assaults is that the perpetrators and the social groups they come from, represent, and in whose name they act regularly conceive themselves as reacting rather than acting. Believing that the victims have already perpetrated or intend to perpetrate great injury upon them, they understand their assault as essentially defensive, necessary to forestall further harm, rather than as offensive against an unthreatening party. Perpetrators’ and their supporters’ ease in convincing themselves they are justly giving the victims what the victims had inflicted or would inflict upon them, when it is overwhelmingly evident that this is wrong, demonstrates human beings’ great vulnerability to prejudices and ideologies positing that a disparaged, hated, or alien group poses a dire threat. This sense of victimhood, the rage it induces and the perpetrators’ self-righteousness in administering hard justice combine to produce an appetite for vengeance and pleasure in meting it out …”

The passage continues with examples from the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, and the Soviets in their push against the retreating Germans in World War II (where vengeance rape against German women was an approved tactic).

The description of what author Daniel Goldhagen calls “Vengeful Cruelty” sounds to me an awful lot like the rhetoric of the contemporary Christian right wing in this country. The Christians bleat that they are victims. Victims! Beleagered and on the run in their own country – and threatened around the world – a vision of the world so at odds with the reality as to be truly frightening. If someone can believe something so clearly absurd, what monstrous acts do they think will be justified, will be necessary, now, while they have weapons and numbers to their advantage?

source: Worse Than War: genocide, eliminationism, and the ongoing assault on humanity by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

Thursday, December 09, 2010

“cosmological principle”

“If a person innocently surveyed the Germans’ treatment of Jews … he might … conclude … that the Germans kept the Jews alive … to satisfy some unknown cosmological principle requiring Jews’ suffering akin to the Aztecs’ belief that daily human sacrifice was necessary to make the sun rise.”

source: Worse Than War: genocide, eliminationism, and the ongoing assault on humanity by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Victory Cabbage

I remember the pique over the French government’s resistance to the U.S. invasion of Iraq led a member of Congress to propose renaming French Fries – Freedom Fries.

Back in World War One “sauerkraut was renamed Victory Cabbage.”

The guy for tweaking the French (like they cared?) musta knowed his histry.

source: This Is Your Country on Drugs: the secret history of getting high in America by Ryan Grim

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

scattering the ashes, part 2

Having posted one account of scattering ashes, I thought I’d follow up with another. Lynn Schooler is scattering the ashes of his father in an Alaskan stream:

“The ashes hissed as they entered the water, the heavier bits sinking immediately to the bottom beneath the salmon, settling into the gravel amid clusters of freshly spawned eggs; the lighter, powdery material clung to the surface, drifting in ribbons and patches through rafts of golden leaves. A trace of fine dust rose from the empty bag like smoke, twisted on the breeze, and dispersed.”

source: The Blue Bear by Lynn Schooler

Monday, December 06, 2010

“cause of death”

When I came upon Lynn Schooler’s description of the internment camp for Aleuts in Funter Bay, I was surprised, not remembering having heard of it before.

“On June 7, 1942, a special task force of the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Kiska Island, one of the westernmost islands in the Aleutian chain. … [I]n the turmoil that followed, U.S. troops evacuated more than 880 Aleuts from their treeless, windswept home and forced them into internment camps a thousand miles away in Funter Bay. While German POWs housed in well-built bunkhouses twenty miles west in Excusion Inlet organized orchestras and tried on warm woolen coats (courtesy of the Red Cross), the Aleut Americans were huddling in the dank, leaky remains of the abandoned cannery, dying of depression and medical neglect while trying to subsist on a meager diet of rice. The records of the sole harried doctor assigned to care for the declining Aleuts sometimes listed the cause of death as simply ‘pain.’ …

“During the summer of 1943, in spite of the fact that they had ostensibly been evacuated to protect them from the invading Japanese, most of the able-bodied men interned at Funter Bay were transported back to the Pribilof Islands to conduct an annual harvest of fur seals under the auspices of the federal government, leaving the women and children to fend for themselves. … When some … men expressed their dissatisfaction, they were labeled as mutineers, and the cook received orders not to feed them. … [E]pidemics of disease ravaged the [Funter Bay] camps … dystentery, influenza … measles …”

Ah, the Good War. The Greatest Generation. The golden days of yore.

source: The Blue Bear by Lynn Schooler

Sunday, December 05, 2010

“crackles and snaps”

When you’re sitting on top of the water far from the surf and the air is calm the ocean seems to be a quiet place. If you were to dip your ear into the water, as Lynn Schooler does with a hydrophone off the Alaskan coast, hoping to locate the schools of herring that draw the hungry humpbacks to feed, you would hear a lot:

“I listened for the light, hissing static that can signal the presence of herring. The clicks and pops emitted by millions of tiny gills create a distinct underwater ‘signature’ that can sometimes be heard for miles and – if we were lucky – might be accompanied by the baritone rumbles and high-pitched squeals of hunting whales.

“The hydrophone chortled and whispered in the myriad voices of the ocean: a ratcheting whir – the voice of a porpoise using echo-location to feel its way through the depths; the hiss of strong currents stirring sand along the bottom; the innumerable tiny crackles and snaps that rise from hordes of crab, shrimp, bivalves, and unnameable bottom-crawling creatures; odd, indecipherable sounds that added to the depth of mystery in the black world beneath the Swift’s keel.”

source: The Blue Bear by Lynn Schooler