McCain's foreign-policy team is sprinkled with people, including Scheunemann, who were ardent backers of the 2003 Iraq invasion and who dismissed critics who warned of unintended consequences. They include former CIA Director James Woolsey, an adviser mostly on energy security, and William Kristol, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard.
Earlier today, I referred to McCain as having a "reptilian mind." I admit that I wasn't being literal... just sort of impressionistic. However, some interesting new data has come my way since then and I'd like to share it with you-- the literal, non-impressionistic stuff.
I suspect that there aren't enough DWT readers who subscribe to the British weekly science magazine New Scientist. One who does, however, who is also a candidate for Congress, and reads very widely, sent me a fascinating new study from the magazine, "Two Tribes: Are Your Genes Liberal or Conservative?" It's the cover story and delves into the serious scientific research on the formation of political opinions. My attention was immediately focused on several conclusions which I had been noticing since my student days when I was president of the freshman class at college and of the school's Young Democrats:
"...a rather unflattering view of conservatives emerges from the studies. They are portrayed as dogmatic, routine-loving individuals, while liberals come across as free-spirited and open-minded folk."
In 2003, John Jost, a psychologist at New York University, and colleagues surveyed 88 studies, involving more than 20,000 people in 12 countries, that looked for a correlation between personality traits and political orientation (American Psychologist, vol 61, p 651). Some traits are obviously going to be linked to politics, such as xenophobia being connected with the far right. However, Jost uncovered many more intriguing connections. People who scored highly on a scale measuring fear of death, for example, were almost four times more likely to hold conservative views. Dogmatic types were also more conservative, while those who expressed interest in new experiences tended to be liberals. Jost's review also noted research showing that conservatives prefer simple and unambiguous paintings, poems and songs.
...A much stronger link exists between political orientation and openness, which psychologists define as including traits such as an ability to accept new ideas, a tolerance for ambiguity and an interest in different cultures. When these traits are combined, people with high openness scores turn out to be almost twice as likely to be liberals.
Combine the genetic influences on personality with the political tendencies of different personality types, and the idea that genetics shapes political tendencies seems very plausible indeed. All of the big five personality traits are highly heritable (Journal of Research in Personality, vol 32, p 431), with several studies suggesting that around half of the variation in openness scores is a result of genetic differences. Some traits that are linked to openness, such as being sociable, are also known to be influenced by the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. And levels of these chemicals are controlled in part by genes. So while there isn't a gene for liking hippies, there is probably a set of genes that influences openness, which in turn may influence political orientation.
This is an Open Thread: Well lay on the grass And let the hours passSunday's Headlines: Obama Gets Convincing Wins in 3 States: Proposal in Texas for a Public-Private Toll Road System Raises an Outcry: Diary of an Insurgent In Retreat: KGB defector fears[...]
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Leon Fleisher had been a child prodigy. By the time he was a teenager, he had become an internationally acclaimed concert pianist. When he was only 36, in 1963, the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand began to curl up whenever he played. He tried to "work through" the pain and to compensate for the problem in other ways. Those efforts only increased the severity of the disability; just a year after the onset of the problem, he had to give up performing. Fleisher turned to conducting and teaching.
In his typically elegant and illuminating new book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Oliver Sacks discusses Fleisher's story in the chapter entitled, "Athletes of the Small Muscles: Musician's Dystonia." Sacks explains that the term "'dystonia' has long been used for certain twisting and posturing spasms of the muscles such as torticollis. It is typical of dystonias, as of parkinsonism, that the reciprocal balance between agonistic and antagonistic muscles is lost, and instead of working together as they should -- one set relaxing as the others contract -- they contract together, producing a clench or spasm."
In his concise history of the identification and understanding of this phenomenon, Sacks tells us that the affliction was described in detail in the nineteenth century. In Gowers' famous 1888 Manual of nervous system diseases, Gowers detailed "occupation neuroses," a category of problems "in which certain symptoms are excited by the attempt to perform some oft-repeated muscular action, commonly one that is involved in the occupation of the sufferer." Gowers' list of occupations included pianists and violinists, as well as "painters, harpists, artificial flower makers, turners, watchmakers, knitters, engravers...masons...compositors, enamellers, cigarette makers, shoemakers, milkers, money counters...and zither players" -- as Sacks notes, "a veritable tally of Victorian occupations."
Then the problem went underground for a century. Sufferers were extremely reluctant to discuss it, for acknowledgment meant the end of one's career, although the disability itself would almost certainly lead to the same, usually devastating loss. Sacks writes that the syndrome was very familiar to performing musicians -- and he cites a number that I first found startling: "perhaps one in a hundred musicians would be affected, at some point in their career..." But then I recalled the several years when I was a teenager when I studied the piano full-time, thinking I might pursue a professional career. I would practice seven or eight hours a day, and sometimes more. I remember the muscular problems in my hands and arms that would occasionally afflict me. If I rested for a day or two, they would go away. If I had continued that regimen for several decades, I might not have been so lucky, as so many are not. Upon further consideration, the number startles me no longer. (I gave up that particular dream when I realized that I wasn't good enough, and when my central frustration became overwhelming: there were no words. So I turned to another great passion, the theater.)
The secrecy surrounding this syndrome ended in the 1980s because, as Sacks writes, of the "great courage" shown "by two virtuoso pianists, Gary Graffman and Leon Fleisher." Graffman went public first; Fleisher's acknowledgment quickly followed. Other musicians soon offered their own stories. And: "[Public acknowledgment[ also stimulated the first medical and scientific attention to the problem in almost a century."
You can consult Sacks' book for the details of the vast amount of new knowledge about this problem that has been acquired. The source and and operation of the syndrome have been identified, and various treatments have been devised. But those treatments are not always successful, and they require unceasing discipline and effort over a long period of time. Even when they are successful, a return to performing (or whatever the occupation in question may have been) may cause the symptoms' return.
When he gave up performing, Fleisher went through "a period of deep depression and despair." But then he turned to teaching and conducting -- and in the 1970s, he discovered the works for left hand that had been commissioned from Prokofiev, Hindemith, Ravel, Britten and others, by Paul Wittgenstein, a Viennese pianist who lost his right arm in World War I. Fleisher returned to performing, but with a new perspective:
"Suddenly I realized that the most important thing in my life was not playing with two hands, it was music. ... In order to be able to make it across these last thirty or forty years, I've had to somehow de-emphasize the number of hands or the number of fingers and go back to the concept of music as music. The instrumentation becomes unimportant, and it's the substance and content that take over."Yet Fleisher continued to believe that, one day, he would play with two hands again. He pursued new treatments as they became available, and constantly sought out additional experts. He finally succeeded in the late 1990s. Several years ago, he made his first two-handed recording in forty years: Two Hands.
What made me unhappy and continues to trouble me was that I was required to attend a White House reception on the afternoon of the gala. I cannot speak for the other honorees, but while I profoundly respect the presidency, I am horrified by many of President Bush's policies.Since I do not expect the great majority of people to question the most fundamental assumptions underlying the ongoing collapse of our republic (in slow motion or on a faster schedule, depending on events), I view this as an entirely honorable choice -- made still more honorable by Fleisher's decision to discuss his concerns publicly.
In the past seven years, Bush administration policies have amounted to a systematic shredding of our nation's Constitution -- the illegal war it initiated and perpetuates; the torturing of prisoners; the espousing of "values" that include a careful defense of the "rights" of embryos but show a profligate disregard for the lives of flesh-and-blood human beings; and the flagrant dismantling of environmental protections. These, among many other depressing policies, have left us weak and shamed at home and in the world.
For several weeks before the honors, I wrestled with this dilemma, deciding in the end that I would not attend the reception at the White House. That decision was met with deep, if understandable, disapproval by the powers that be. I was informed that I was hardly the first honoree to express such reserve; cited to me, among others, were Arthur Miller and Isaac Stern during the Reagan years and several during the present administration. I was asked to attend all of the scheduled events and to follow the well-established protocol of silence.
While this might have made for a glamorous experience, it also presented a profound irony. Turning a blind eye to the political undercurrents of the event dismantles the very force of art in this country that the honors celebrate: the freedom, nay, the obligation to express oneself honestly and without fear. Ultimately, there is no greater honor than that freedom.
In the end, I decided to attend wearing a peace symbol around my neck and a purple ribbon on my lapel, at once showing support for our young men and women in the armed services and calling for their earliest return home. My family did the same, as did a number of fellow attendees who, over the weekend's various events, asked me for ribbons of their own.
This is the most graceless stunt I?ve seen [in] a while.As indicated above, I don't disagree with Charen that an unmistakably strong message would have been sent if Fleisher had refused the honor altogether. One can only imagine the terms in which Charen would have condemned that. However, as I also said, such an action would be highly unusual in today's world. The fact that such things almost never happen explains in very large part why our world is the way it is -- but I will not criticize Fleisher for his choice.
Listen Maestro, if your feelings were so strong you could have declined the honor. Instead you basked in the event ("I was pleased to be part of an event that raises money for the Kennedy Center and to be with my family and to see their joy at the ceremony") and now you shoot over your shoulder at the president who feted you.
Obviously, Fleisher, like every American is fully within his rights to express his views on anything in the world. But to do it in this way, at this moment, is quite a shameful performance. Booooo.
I am most grateful for the honor you have conferred on me today. It is called "Doctor of Fine Arts." It has a splendid sound even if it does not cure all ills.When you listen to Fleisher's Two Hands -- in particular, to his performances of Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze" or Chopin's D-flat Major Nocturne -- you are struck by the marvelous sense of unending line, the joyous submersion in complex sonority and texture, by the feeling of unutterable beauty, so overwhelming that it leaves one breathless. And you are struck by an additional quality: a feeling of quiet, luminous serenity.
I cannot say like Puccini's Tosca in the aria "Vissi d'arte" that I have lived for art; my own belief is best expressed in the Brechtian aphorism "Every art contributes to the greatest art of all: the art of living." For me life is enough.
The arts may be described in many ways: they are antennae in the world's maze; they are the recorders of the earth's quakes; they are prophecies in the darkness of our ignorance; as play they are also a testimony of our soul's freedom, the superfluous, as Voltaire said, which is so needed. They are surely the flowers of existence.
The purpose of the so-called humanities is to render us more human, more aware of the adventure and challenge of being men and women. We know only too well these days how difficult it is to make whole persons of the beast in us. The artist is engaged in that effort.
For the greater part of my life I have devoted myself to the discipline of the arts--I do not speak of the theatre alone--and I have always resisted the idea that the arts exist apart as a separate entity in the world for a special breed of people. "Nothing comes from nothing." The arts are rooted in the very stuff of life. They are not meant to make us aesthetes, connoisseurs or critics. Only through the pleasure, the probing experience of contemplating and dealing with the constant drama of living do we achieve full stature as humans. That is the action and function of art.
At certain moments I have been inclined to call this quite simply and plainly "having fun"! It is not a goal reserved for the professional artist. It is something we must all aspire to, teach ourselves to do. It is a capacity we may all attain.
In return for the tribute you have paid me this morning I offer you my own rallying cry: let us all become artists unto ourselves; let us all think of our lives as works of art. It is a prescription to heal many wounds.
From earliest times, human beings have pondered their place in the universe. They have wondered whether they are in some sense connected with the awesome and immense cosmos in which the Earth is imbedded.
Many thousands of years ago a pseudoscience called astrology was invented. The positions of the planets at the birth of a child were supposed to play a major role in determining his or her future. The planets, moving points of light, were thought, in some mysterious sense, to be gods. In his vanity, Man imagined the universe designed for his benefit and organized for his use.
Perhaps the planets were identified with gods because their motions seemed irregular. The word "planet" is Greek for wanderer. The unpredictable behavior of the gods in many legends may have corresponded well with the apparently unpredictable motions of the planets. The argument may have been: Gods don't follow rules; planets don't follow rules; planets are gods.
When the ancient priestly astrological caste discovered that the motions of the planets were not irregular but predictable, they seem to have kept this information to themselves. No use unnecessarily worrying the populace, undermining religious belief, and eroding the supports of political power. Moreover, the Sun was the source of life. The Moon, through the tides, dominated agriculture-especially in river basins like the Indus, the Nile the Yangtze, and the Tigris-Euphrates. How reasonable that these lesser lights, the planets, should have subtler but no less definite influence on human life!
The search for a connection, a hooking-up between people and the universe, has not diminished since the dawn of astrology. The same human needs exist despite the advances of science.
We now know that the planets are worlds more or less like our own. We know that their light and gravity have negligible influence on a newborn babe. We know that there are enormous numbers of other objects-asteroids, comets, pulsars, quasars, exploding galaxies, black holes, and the rest-objects not known to the ancient speculators who invented astrology. The universe is immensely grander than they could have imagined.
Astrology has not attempted to keep pace with the times. Even the calculations of planetary motions and positions performed by most astrologers are usually inaccurate.
No study shows a statistically significant success rate in predicting through their horoscopes the future or the personality traits of newborn children. There is no field of radioastrology or X-ray astrology or gamma-ray astrology, taking account of the energetic new astronomical sources discovered in recent years.
Nevertheless, astrology remains immensely popular everywhere. There are at least ten times more astrologers than astronomers. A large number, perhaps a majority, of newspapers in the United States have daily columns on astrology.
Many bright and socially committed young people have more than a passing interest in astrology. It satisfies an almost unspoken need to feel a significance for human beings in a vast and awesome cosmos, to believe that we are in some way hooked up with the universe-an ideal of many drug and religious experiences, the samadhi of some Eastern religions.
The great insights of modern astronomy have shown that, in some senses quite different from those imagined by the earlier astrologers, we are connected up with the universe.
The first scientists and philosophers-Aristotle, for example - imagined that the heavens were made of a different sort of material then the Earth, a special kind of celestial stuff, pure and undefiled. We now know that this is not the case. Pieces of the asteroid belt called meteorites; samples of the Moon returned by Apollo astronauts and Soviet unmanned spacecraft; the solar wind, which expands outward past our planet from the Sun; and the cosmic rays, which are probably generated from exploding stars and their remnants-all show the presence of the same atoms we know here on Earth. Astronomical spectroscopy is able to determine the chemical composition of collections of stars billions of light-years away. The entire universe is made of familiar stuff. The same atoms and molecules occur at enormous distances from Earth as occur here within our Solar System.
These studies have yielded a remarkable conclusion. Not only is the universe made everywhere of the same atoms, but the atoms, roughly speaking, are present everywhere in approximately the same proportions.
Almost all the stuff of the stars and the interstellar matter between the stars is hydrogen and helium, the two simplest atoms. All other atoms are impurities, trace constituents. This is also true for the massive outer planets of our Solar System, like Jupiter. But it is not true for the comparatively tiny hunks of rock and metal in the inner part of the Solar System, like our planet Earth. This is because the small terrestrial planets have gravities too weak to hold their original hydrogen and helium atmospheres, which have slowly leaked away to space.
The next most abundant atoms in the universe turn out to be oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and neon. These are atoms everyone has heard of. Why are the cosmically most abundant elements those that are reasonably common on Earth-rather than, say, yttrium or praseodymium?
The theory of the evolution of stars is sufficiently advanced that astronomers are able to understand the various kinds of stars and their relations-how a star is born from the interstellar gas and dust, how it shines and evolves by thermonuclear reactions in its hot interior, and how it dies. These thermonuclear reactions are of the same sort as the reactions that underlie thermonuclear weapons (hydrogen bombs): The conversion of four atoms of hydrogen into one of helium.
But in the later stages of stellar evolution, higher temperatures are reached in the insides of stars, and elements heavier than helium are generated by thermonuclear processes. Nuclear astrophysics indicates that the most abundant atoms produced in such hot red giant stars are precisely the most abundant atoms on Earth and elsewhere in the universe. The heavy atoms generated in the insides of red giants are spewed out into the interstellar medium, by slow leakage from the star's atmosphere like our own solar wind, or by mighty stellar explosions, some of which can make a star a billion times brighter than our Sun.
Recent infrared spectroscopy of hot stars has discovered that they are blowing off silicates into space-rock powder spewed out into the interstellar medium. Carbon stars probably expel graphite particles into surrounding cosmic space. Other stars shed ice. In their early histories, stars like the Sun probably propelled large quantities of organic compounds into interstellar space; indeed, simple organic molecules are found by radio astronomical methods to be filling the space between the stars. The brightest planetary nebula known (a planetary nebula is an expanding cloud usually surrounding an exploding star called a nova ) seems to contain particles of magnesium carbonate: Dolomite, the stuff of the European mountains of the same name, expelled by a star into interstellar space.
These heavy atoms-carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon, and the rest-then float about in the interstellar medium until, at some later time, a local gravitational condensation occurs and a new sun and new planets are formed. This second-generation solar system is enriched in heavy elements.
The fate of individual human beings may not now be connected in a deep way with the rest of the universe, but the matter out of which each of us is made is intimately tied to processes that occurred immense intervals of time and enormous distances in space a way from us. Our Sun is a second or third-generation star. All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star stuff.
Our atomic and molecular connection with the rest of the universe is a real and unfanciful cosmic hookup. As we explore our surroundings by telescope and space vehicle, other hookups may emerge. There may be a network of intercommunicating extraterrestrial civilizations to which we may link up tomorrow, for all we know. The undelivered promise of astrology-that the stars impel our individual characters - will not be satisfied by modern astronomy. But the deep human need to seek and understand our connection with the universe is a goal well within our grasp.
From The Cosmic Connection: an Extraterrestrial Perspective. Copyright 1973 by Carl Sagan. Published by Anchor Press / Doubleday.
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Music and Life
Prickles & Goo
Again, why do these people even get a vote? Oh that's right, they were created to steal the election in case the party thought your choice was stupid.
One thing I've noticed about McCain over the years, is that his whole shtick is about gaining the upper hand, never being concerned about right or wrong, let alone Good or Evil. He admires being "smart" and "winning," no matter what it takes and no matter who gets screwed over in the process... even, we just learned, himself.
Last night CNN ran a short interview with McCain regarding his relationship with Karl Rove, the man responsible for smearing him in South Carolina in 2000 with a widely-circulated claim that his adopted Bangladeshi daughter, Bridget, was the illegitimate offspring of an adulterous liaison he had had with an African-American hooker. Rove and Bush also made sure that GOP primary voters in South Carolina were all aware that McCain's messy marriage-- he dumped his first wife after she was crippled in an accident and had an affair with the daughter of a millionaire, Cindy, who he later married-- and who had financed his political career-- and who was later arrested for stealing drugs to feed an out of control addiction. The Bridget stuff, of course, was all false. The Cindy stuff was all true. South Carolinians put it all together and... McCain's 2000 race for the White House was utterly derailed.
Anyway, here's the text of the conversation he had with the reporter on CNN last night after it had been revealed that Rove, now a Fox News commentator, had donated a couple of thousand dollars to his campaign:
MCCAIN: Yeah. Carl sent us a check. I saw the moths fly out. [Still competing with Huckabee's actual sense of humor with his sardonic and vicious sense of irony.]
QUESTION: Are there other signs you see that are encouraging to you?
MCCAIN: Oh yeah. A lot of the fundraisers from other camps are coming on board. And yeah we're seeing that coming together really well. We're seeing it.
[ Inaudible question ]
QUESTION: Karl Rove?
MCCAIN: Oh I, listen, he ah. Nobody denies he's one of the smartest political minds in America. I'd be glad to get his advice. I get advice from a lot of people. I'd be happy to have his advice.
QUESTION: I was wondering about that, right?.
MCCAIN: He beat me. I certainly would be glad to get his advice. I don't think I'd want to revisit how he did it. And I mean that. Not about South Carolina. I mean I don't feel like reliving my defeat.
QUESTION: Are you worried about, he uses very aggressive tactics is that something that...
MCCAIN: I've always respected Karl Rove as one of the smart great political minds I think in American politics. I've always respected him. We never had any ill will after the initial South Carolina thing. After we had the meeting with President Bush we moved on. I've seen Karl Rove many times when I've been over at the White House. We've always had pleasant conversations.
QUESTION: His tactics don't, you don't disapprove of them? They don't make you nervous?
MCCAIN: It's not so much whether I approve of his tactics or not. It's that he has a very good, great political mind. Any information or advice and council he can give us, I'd be glad to have. I don't think anybody denies his talents. So I'd be glad to get any advice and council. We would obviously decide whether to accept it or not.