It masquerades as a vegetable and claims to be good for us, but it is a member of deadly nightshade family. Where did we ever get the crazy idea that it was something to eat?!
TOMATOES ARE EVIL
TOMATOES MAKE YOU CRAZY
TOMATOES ARE TRYING TO KILL US
No, not aliens—just other species. We keep animals in our houses as ‘pets’. We use food to attract birds to our backyards or urban balconies. It seems that somewhere in our collective unconscious there remains a primitive need to share our existence with other creatures. If this idea seems strange consider…
MONKEY BUSINESS IN TAMPA
A community that welcomes and helps out the homeless—macaque.
He followed me home. Can I keep him?
Photo gallery of urban animals—other than your neighbours in the Frat House.
They used to call them “idiot savants”, but that’s not politically correct—and, actually, it isn’t even really correct. These are people with special gifts, and they are only idiots in the same way we all are. To a math savant, the average person would seem to be a math idiot. Our brains have limited capacity, and every mental gift has its price.
TEN AMAZINGLY GIFTED SAVANTS
DAMAGE AND DEFICITS DELIVERING GIFTS
INSTANT GIFT GIVING
Faces matter. We’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but we can’t help it. We are judged by the face we present to the world.
IN THE BEGINNING
It is said that as you age, you get the face you deserve. Over time your predominant emotions etch themselves into the landscape of your face. It would be a good sign if we all concluded our lives with deep laugh lines. This is an amazing short video about how we grew the blank page of our first face.
EMOTION WRITES ITSELF ON OUR FACE
The universality and innate nature of basic emotions has been demonstrated by showing photographs of faces expressing different emotions to people, including those of an isolated stone-age culture, all of whom had no trouble reading such basic emotions as anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise.
FACE BLINDNESS: PROSOPAGNOSIA
If you can never recognize the cover of a book, you’ll have a problem remembering what is inside.
The Internet is the most amazing learning tool since the Gutenberg revolution. There is so much knowledge available at our fingertips (tapping on a computer keyboard or mobile device) that it boggles the mind. But there is just as much—or probably even more—misinformation just as readily available. Knowing who you can trust has always been an important question when reading, whether print or on Internet websites. Most profs make an effort to be sure their students learn the guidelines for trust, and require peer-reviewed sources for student papers. But even some of them don’t practise what they preach and ignore these guidelines in personal matters, such as health or political issues. There is no foolproof inoculation against confirmation bias or wishful thinking. And the general public, usually untrained in sniffing out bullshit, is even more vulnerable. Here are some websites worth checking out before believing something is true because it is on the Web.
This is a wonderful experimental site, which actually seems to work quite well. One pastes in the URL of a site, and it analyzes it, looking for those red flags (which it calls “canards”) that indicate it is suspect, such as pseudo-science jargon, sales pitches, vague and extreme claims. Give it a try with known bullshit sites and reputable ones. And then sites you’d really just like to believe are trustworthy.
For years this site has been investigating rumours that have gone viral in email. It is always worth checking here before passing on some warning about a lethal computer virus, or a group petition to fix some wrong or to help someone in dire straits, or a link to a site that ‘proves’ the validity of some conspiracy theory.
This site specializes in tagging medical misinformation, perhaps the most common—and most dangerous—misinformation found on the Internet. Everybody is concerned about his or her health, and there are a helluva lotta people willing to take advantage of this, for it is a virtually universal vulnerability—and here quackery is very lucrative. Sadly, many well-intentioned people innocently help promote the quacks.
The cities are people magnets. The proportion of people living in cities has grown from 13% in 1900 to 49% in 2005. Over 80% of Canadians live in urban areas, yet the physical area of Canada that could be considered urban has to be way less than 1%. The country is virtually empty, and the cities are overcrowded.
THE LAWS THAT GOVERN CITIES—STATISTICAL LAWS
“Physicist Geoffrey West has found that simple, mathematical laws govern the properties of cities — that wealth, crime rate, walking speed and many other aspects of a city can be deduced from a single number: the city’s population.”
MAKING CITIES SMALLER—PHYSICALLY SMALLER
“How can we fit more people into cities without overcrowding? Kent Larson shows off folding cars, quick-change apartments and other innovations that could make the city of the future work a lot like a small village of the past.”
MAPPING CITIES—WITH MENTAL MAPS
“Map designer Aris Venetikidis is fascinated by the maps we draw in our minds as we move around a city — less like street maps, more like schematics or wiring diagrams, abstract images of relationships between places.”
Memories are made of this (just like all good narratives): good editing. We have different memory systems. The two major types of conscious or explicit memory are called ‘semantic’ and ‘episodic’. The former is for factual information and the latter for our memories of experiences, episodes in our personal autobiographical narrative. Episodic memory is the more emotional and the least available for fact checking when brought out to the light of day. (“You said…” “No, I didn’t, what I said was…”). We trust it more, but it is less trustworthy. So we reinvent our past every time we remember it—or even think we do.
YOUR MEMORY IS LIKE THE TELEPHONE GAME
Every time you take a memory out to examine it, you edit it before putting it back.
THE DANGER IN FALSE MEMORIES
Loftus, an expert on false memories, presents the scientific evidence that should make us wary of believing what we think we remember.
THE FALSE MEMORY FOUNDATION
Too many psychological and psychiatric ‘professionals’ (and the ever suspicious police) are guilty of believing—and actually unintentionally inducing—unfounded accusations that have sent people to jail and shattered families.
Six Nobel Prizes are awarded annually for literature, physics, chemistry, peace, economics, and physiology & medicine. Nobel’s bequest stated that the prizes should be given “to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind”. One might wonder why economics made the cut, and psychology didn’t. The most likely explanation is that psychology as scientific endeavour was still in its infancy back in 1896 when Alfred Nobel penned his bequest. However, that doesn’t explain including economics, which most people probably don’t think of as a science and certainly not really of benefit to mankind. Well, some aspects of psychology have matured, and the Nobel committee found a work-around in 2002 when they awarded the Princeton psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, the prize for Economics. It may have helped that he refers to his approach as “behavioural economics”, but there is no question of the scientific validity of his research and that his insightful findings about how and why we make decisions, especially bad ones, is profoundly important and influential.
THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, RIGHTLY AND WRONGLY
Kahneman’s best-selling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, clearly explicates and summarizes all the insights he has gained through many decades of research.
LIVING, IN THE PRESENT AND IN OUR MEMORIES
Kahneman’s recent research interests have included what is called “hedonic psychology”.
LIVING AND THINKING, IN THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE
Daniel Goldstein is another researcher into what influences our decisions and how we might improve our thinking and our lives.
The Meaning of Liff is a hilarious “dictionary of things that there aren’t any words for yet” written by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd. The cover makes the claim “This book will change your life.” It doesn’t give a meaning for the word ‘life’, because we already have that word. However, we can’t seem to agree on its meaning!
SOME FOLKS WITH INTERESTING DEFINITIONS
MONTY PYTHON’S IRREVERENT DEFINITIONS
ONE PHILOSOPHER’S DENIAL OF DEFINITION
It’s nice to know someone on the U.S. House Senate Committee on Science and Technology can relieve us all of dealing with the complexity of trying to understand the universe and our place in it. It is nice to know, as he pointed out in a recent speaking engagement, that it has already been explained—in Genesis. It’s nice to know that God set it all up in six days a mere nine thousand years ago, and that “All that stuff…about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.” But for those who are willing to risk eternal damnation in hell’s fires by their allegedly merciful god, here are some devilishly interesting alternative explanations.
He speaks with forked tongue of an ever-forking universe. Viewer discretion advised.
He speaks because of technology, which is the work of the devil, and that should be a warning!
This link is added for anyone foolish enough to have followed the previous links. One can still find salvation by taking these words to heart—and embracing the Lord.
It seems that last week was “Banned Books Week”, and one has to wonder about the point of all these ‘Awareness Weeks’. Who isn’t aware of cancer or heart disease—or book banning? But what the hell! Going with the flow, albeit belatedly, here is some related material.
MAKING THE TOP ONE THOUSAND
A truly liberal education is rarely to be found in university, but consistently found in a good library. But if one were given limited funds to open a library, the selection of books to include would be a hard call. A good start would be to use this list: a list of the one thousand and one most frequently banned books. Any writer would be proud to make the cut! Talk about being in good company!
WRITERS SUPPORT BANNED BOOKS
Well, of course, not really. But because censorship always fails, it does have a bright side. As Mark Twain remarked, “Apparently, the Concord library has condemned Huck as ‘trash and only suitable for the slums.’ This will sell us another twenty-five thousand copies for sure!”
PREACHING TO THE CHOIR
There probably is little to be gained by writers writing about the absurdity and evil of banning books, for those who are doing the banning rarely read. Nevertheless, it is enjoyable reading for the literate, for the choir of readers. Here are some brief ‘sermon’ extracts by Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Bukowski, Susan Sontag, Harper Lee, and other fine writers. They certainly are more entertaining and intelligent than what one usually gets in church.
It is estimated that, unless we are blind, we receive more than 90 percent of our knowledge of the world through our vision. It is the most complexly developed sensory part of the human brain. We value what we perceive so very much that we constantly attempt to capture it and freeze it in time. Our photographs are usually among our most prized possessions. And we rather naively say that “seeing is believing!” But in actuality our visual perception doesn’t really correspond that well at all to what is really out there, for what we can see is only a tiny part of the electromagnetic spectrum observed in a very narrow time frame.
IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE
Filming at 100 trillion frames per second.
IN THE EYE OF THE CAMERA
Repairing damaged visual memories.
IN, NOT THE EYE, BUT THE EAR OF THE BEHOLDER
Expanding the spectrum through sound.
Once upon a time, censorship was associated with the right—not the morally right, but those on the political right. And our tendency to simplistic thinking leads to the conclusion that those on the left must of course be opposed to the ideas of those at the other end of the political spectrum. When it comes to censorship, that partisan thinking is clearly flawed. In most modern, democratic societies, it is the ‘liberals’ that seem most concerned about limiting what one can say or write. Their intentions are certainly altruistic, but then so were those who insisted that it was ‘offensive’ to show a married couple in a double bed on a TV sitcom. It is fun to make fun of political correctness, for it is an easy target, but it is a serious problem, as is any excuse for censorship.
AGUSTIN BLAZQUEZ WITH THE COLLABORATION OF JAUMS SUTTON
A personal essay by the producer and director of the “Covering Cuba” series about the “scourge” of political correctness from its historical roots through his personal experience of it in Castro’s Cuba to his fear of the PC infection spreading into democratic societies.
An interview with Harvard psychology prof and author of The Blank Slate and The Better Angels of Our Nature, books that challenge conventional and politically correct thinking with hard evidence.
On a lighter note, this interview with the very politically incorrect singer, songwriter, novelist, satirist, and founder of the Texas Jew Boys Band.
“Land art, Earthworks (coined by Robert Smithson), or Earth art is an art movement in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked.” (Wikipedia entry) Call it what you will, it’s a great idea.
DISTANCING OURSELVES FROM MOTHER NATURE’S WORKS
The human contribution to this natural art is technology’s offering of a new perspective.
MOTHER NATURE AS COLLABORATOR
These works of land art on water are “left to the mercy of the elements, decaying, aging, or slightly moving, depending on forces of wind, water and sun. Like the principles of the land art movement, the installations are meant to coexist with the elements of nature, which are themselves an ever-changing work of art. Gerry Berry’s installations harmonize with nature, rather than disrupt it.”
MOTHER NATURE STRIPPED BARE AND LOOKING GOOD
They tore the earth open and then repaired the damage in a most admirable way.
Why do writers write? Only rarely does it bring significant extrinsic rewards, and the intrinsic rewards are hard to pin down. And if one cares about doing it well, it is hard, lonely work. You can ask a writer for his motives, but you’ll get wildly contradictory responses. The fact is that we rarely really understand our motives for doing anything that doesn’t give instant gratification. We’re a bit better at recognizing how we feel when we are doing it, but here too there is no consensus. Some writers feel that the urge—or need—to write is no more than a frustrating and painful addiction. Red Smith described the experience of writing as “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” But James Michener said, “I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” Dr. Johnson famously remarked to Boswell that “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” But that would make most poets blockheads, because writing real poetry, not sentimental doggerel, is the most difficult form of writing and the least lucrative. Whatever the motives of individual writers, there still are enough readers left who feel gratitude that something motivates writers to write.
WHY I WRITE: A CELEBRATION OF THE NATIONAL DAY ON WRITING
A huge collection of links to writers trying to explain their motives.
SOME QUOTATIONS FROM WRITERS ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCE OF WRITING
What we have here is a difference of opinion.
ON THE EXPERIENCE OF WRITING A CHARACTER INTO EXISTENCE
Writing is about creating a new reality.
Oscar Wilde may have overstated the case when he said, “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” (Certainly some of Your Man Friday’s weekly compilations of ideas are relatively innocuous.) But ideas, both good and bad, certainly can be dangerous, for their acceptance or rejection determines the course of human events. For this reason all ideas deserve a fair trial; there is far greater danger in trying to suppress them. If they are judged rationally on the basis of evidence and compassion, the human race has some hope. So here are some dangerous ideas to judge.
FROM “BIG THINK”
Ancient Sumerian tablets (our oldest written records) record elders complaining about the next generation’s frivolity and students complaining about their out-of-touch teachers and parents.
THE WORLD THROUGH YOUTHFUL EYES
Here an interesting essay on the usually unacknowledged gap in canonical knowledge between profs and their students. (Includes a link to the famous Beloit annual report on this.)
THE SO-CALLED ‘GENERATION GAP’ IS A MYTH
The idea of distinct generations, popularized in the 1960’s, is obviously absurd and arbitrary pigeonholing. What years exactly delimit “Baby boomers”, “Generation X”; “Generation Y”, and the ‘current’ generation? If you were born in December of 1964 are you a “Baby Boomer” or “Generation X”? How much in common do you have with someone born in 1946 or in 1982? Or even with someone born the same date in a different home environment.
ARE TODAY’S YOUTH REALLY ‘SLACKERS’?
It is difficult for most of us to remember how much we were like the youth of today, in both positive and negative ways.
There are numerous legends about who first came up with the idea of making a delicious, invigorating beverage from a bitter bean, but most would agree it was a brilliant idea. Of course, there are two kinds of people: tea people and coffee people, and the former aren’t quite as impressed with the idea. But the statistics clearly indicate tea drinkers are in the minority, at least in the West. Compare the number of coffee shops to tearooms.
COFFEE, BUGS AND DEATH
There’s a bug in my coffee!
Toasting the roasting.
WHAT COFFEE REALLY DOES TO YOUR BRAIN
A look at the dark side: roasting beliefs about coffee.
While most of the world is concerned with just getting something to eat, we relentlessly obsess about what we eat. Wanting to have a healthy and tasty diet is reasonable, but a lot of the ideas as to how to obtain that are simply nonsense.
10 STUBBORN FOOD MYTHS
Low fat foods are always better for you.
ORGANIC FOOD MYTHS
“Organic” food is healthier and more ecologically sound.
Genetically modified food is dangerous and to be avoided.
The first sculptures that we know about, such as the Venus of Willendorf, were made from materials at hand, and for the Palaeolithic artist that would have been wood and stone. These two materials are still used, but contemporary artists also use any new materials at hand.