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Please take part in this year’s Earth Hour.

Check out the Earth Hour website.

(Gayle still recovering from the flu but planning to take part.)

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A friend sent me this link which is an episode of Rachel Madoow’s show that touches on the Budget protests in Madison, Wisconsin.

She breaks the issue down and shows that the budget issue is Wisconsin is not about a budget crisis but about the continued effective existence of the Democratic Party in this country. Her examples are extremely interesting, true and make a lot of sense when you look at the Republican Parties efforts across the country to control and submerge the rights of the people in this country who are hard workers, poor, or otherwise not worthy of their help.

Now that you’ve watched the video — what do you think? Did you go — as I did — hmmm now a lot of what they’re doing make sense. I too am as liberal as the come but I also see the dark in a lot of what is going on. I’m a skeptic about the efforts on both sides of that congressional aisle but this is the best explanation of what I’ve seen going on in Congress and across the country over the past 12 years.

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Today, I got this link to Leo Murray’s Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip video. It one of the better overviews of what causes global warming / climate change and what the phrase tipping point is all about. (Video is about 11 minutes and 35 seconds).

Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip from Leo Murray on Vimeo.

It’s a great little video and I found it interesting and informative so I thought I’d share. I especially liked his mention of the rampant consumerism that is so embedded in our culture that so many find it difficult to think of consuming less, of buying smaller or conserving our funds, our environment, our energy — and maximizing our enjoyment of life. It’s tiring and exhausting to get, buy, consume, and waste. Having more doesn’t make us any happier than just enjoying what we already have.

The other day I watched 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama and one of the questions from the interviewer was about his observation that in India, among the poorest of the poor, he’d noted that they laughed far more and with true enjoyment that most of the people he knew who had much, much more — where laughter was more often forced or at someone else’s expense.

Things don’t make us happy. People and relationships and taking the time to get to know and enjoy the people around us help to make us happy. So, rethink your own consumerism and I know that I’ll be thinking of mine and how I can make changes in my behavior.

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cover of Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer KloesterGeorgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester. Published by Sourcebooks. ISBN: 978-1-4022-4136-9, 387 pages including index. Trade Paperback. $14.99 (Amazon: $10.19; Kindle: $9.68)

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester is just what the title implies, it’s a book about the Regency World that made up the background for Heyer’s Regency books. It helps to explain to today’s readers the nitty gritty details of what it was like to live in that time, in that society, and explains a lot of the customs, rules, and etiquette of that period. Now I know that makes it sounds like it would be incredibly dull and boring but, in fact, Kloester’s book is extremely readable. I started with the intent to read it front to back and before I was in more than 30 pages, I found myself reading a bit that made me think of a question, so I checked the table of contents and index and thereafter I skipped and dipped into the book at will, checking on those things that had niggled at the back of my brain when reading one book or another.

I wanted to read this book because I read a fair number of books that take place during the Regency Period. I will admit that I don’t read a lot of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels. So, while the book is filled with examples from Heyer’s writings, I wasn’t familiar with the works cited; however, that’s not a problem because Kloester gives enough background that if you’ve read in the period you’ll get pick up what’s being explained from the books you have read.

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World is well organized so that the reader can go to a specific section to find an answer to questions about what the society was like and how it worked. Chapters are titled: Up and Down the Social Ladder; At Home in Town and Country; A Man’s World; The Gentle Sex; On the Town; The Pleasure Haunts of London; The Fashionable Resorts; Getting About; What to Wear; Shopping; Eat, Drink and Be Merry; The Sporting Life; Business and the Military; and Who’s Who in the Regency. Each chapter in the table of contents is listed with a subset of what’s included in that chapter, for example; the chapter on Getting About includes: All Kinds of Carriages; On Drivers and Driving; Public Transport; On the Road; Long-Distance Travel; and Turnpikes, Toll-gates and Tickets. Each individual chapter starts with an overview of what will be covered in that chapter. I was surprised to learn that long distance travel was considered anything further away than 10 miles. That’s rather difficult to wrap your mind around when most of us travel further than that one-way to work now-a-days.

There are also black and white illustrations throughout the book. I found the pictures of the various types of carriages, the cut-a-way view of a London townhouse, types of dress, and a circulating library, among others to be worth more than words while changing the mind pictures I’d built up while reading. There are also several appendices: A Glossary of Cant and Common Regency Phrases; Newspapers and Magazines; Books in Heyer; Timeline; Reading about the Regency and Where Next?; and Georgette Heyer’s Regency Novels.

For readers of books set in the Regency period, Georgette Heyer’s Regency World is an outstanding resource for understanding the world and society those characters lived in. For those who read books that take place in historical settings, the world has changed. Many of the social conventions that ruled the lives of the people living in Regency England no longer apply. Even during that period people who were born into the lower social classes found it difficult to deal with the myriad levels of behavior that those in the upper class were breed and trained to exhibit in their behavior. Many of the books set in that period mention the misunderstandings and missteps that characters took when moving into a higher social circle than that which they grew up in.

If you enjoy the Regency period, and want to have a better understanding of what society was like, this is probably the best, most accessible and readable book you’ll find on the subject. Even though I haven’t yet read Heyer’s Regency novels (I now have several on my to be read pile), I found Georgette Heyer’s Regency World a wonderful guide to the ins and outs of this social, cultural, historical time period of so many of the books that I read as a Jane Austen fan.

I’d like to hear other readers’ impressions of this work. Have you read it? Do you plan to?

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Bumper Sticker: Orwell is right: Big Brother is watching you

When I saw this article on BoingBoing, I could not believe it.

Evidently, the laptops that students received from the school also contain software that allows school administrators to spy on them and their families. There is now a class action suit against the district because:

The issue came to light when the Robbins’s child was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home” and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines.

I find this creepy in the extreme. What is it with people who believe that they have the right to spy on others anytime they want. This is an invasion of privacy at the least, and child pornography on the part of school officials at the worst — since I’d imagine many of the students have the laptops in their rooms.

What’s even less appealing is that the school said:

The school district admits that student laptops were shipped with software for covertly activating their webcams, but denies wrongdoing.

NOTE: There are links in the BoingBoing article to the filings and letters and other documentation.

I’m just stunned that not only did some at the school spy on the students but that they don’t see anything wrong with this. There is no excuse for spy on the students at home. Even if there was a reason to do so, the school does not have the right to do so, since the parents are responsible for their children.

How can you expect to raise and educate children and young adults if you don’t even understand the basic principles of privacy, fairness, and respect. The school district is in the wrong and there’s no excuse for their actions and every adult involved needs some lesson in how to conduct themselves in society.

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Bottlenose Dolphin Art PosterMany years ago, when I was a young’un, the list of criteria for being sentient was quite short and only humans qualified. Over the years, the criteria for sentience has subtly and quietly changed as more and more animals were found to qualify. For example, some animals were found to use tools, so tool using was dropped from the list.

Star Trek: The New Generation did an episode where Data was to be returned for disassembly by an AI researcher. Picard defended Data in court to prove his sentience and rescind the order. The full text of the scene is available online.

PICARD: What is required for sentience?
MADDOX: Intelligence, self awareness, consciousness.

Picard manages to create enough of a case and create enough doubt that the judge had to find for Data. It seems to me there was a similar episode during the original Star Trek series but I’m not sure. (If anyone knows for sure let me know which episode and basic case.)

From Ask The Van: in response to question on AI sentience:

When it comes to animals, there are a number of things which scientists try to measure – here are a few examples:

(1) The ability to observe and respond to one’s environment. This requires sensory perceptions and the ability to react to those perceptions. This is a pretty basic property of life, although the extent to which various creatures can do it varies widely. Most (all?) AIs already possess this ability.

(2) Intelligence. *”The ability to learn and understand, the ability to cope with a new situation” Many animals, including primates, pigs, and dolphins, have been shown to have very high intelligence. Some AI’s have also been shown to possess a high level of intelligence.

(3) Sentience / Consciousness. To be *”able to feel and think”. This is a tricky one. There is some very strong evidence out there indicating that certain species of animals are capable of both emotion and rational thought, but the argument hasn’t yet reached final resolution.

(4) Self-awareness. In the animal debate (and also the AI debate, I suspect), this is a big deal. Does the animal have awareness of itself? There are a zillion different experiments out there to test this, and they all seem to rely on a different idea of what proves self-awareness. For example, some definitions require that an animal understand how its own movements affect the image in a mirror. Some depend on an animal’s ability to lie. Some even rely on the fact that carnivorous animals don’t try to eat their own flesh. In the end, this is still a very nebulous issue, and the answers aren’t clear.

As you see from the above response, animals have been found to achieve many of these criteria. I’ve never managed to get over my feeling that we, humans, are so full of ourselves and our place at the center of the universe that we’ve ignored the possibility that we may share this world with a number of other intelligent/sentient species. In doing some research for this article, I ran across the following quote from Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) from Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.

“Other animals, which, on account of their interests having been neglected by the insensibility of the ancient jurists, stand degraded into the class of things. … The day has been, I grieve it to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated … upon the same footing as … animals are still. The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps, the faculty for discourse?…the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?… The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes…”
Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832)
Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789)

The quote was used in an article on Ethics and discussed our anthropocentric view of sentience.

I believe that I’d got way beyond this author’s views. I believe we are still very anthropocentric. In fact, as strict as we tune the criteria for sentience to always keep mankind on the top of the stack as the only sentient species on Earth — we have many people, humans, who don’t feel that other humans, because of skin color, sexual preference, perceived intelligence or whatever, are really sentient or, in fact, human. Whenever humans from whatever government start a war the first thing that is done is the dehumanizing of the enemy. Evidently it is much easier to kill if you don’t believe the enemy is actually “one of us”.

So, the other day when I came across this article on PhysOrg.com, “Scientists say dolphins should be treated as non-human persons” (January 6, 2010 by Lin Edwards), my first reaction was, “it’s about time.” The article abstract states:

Scientists studying dolphin behavior have suggested they could be the most intelligent creatures on Earth after humans, saying the size of their brains in relation to body size is larger than that of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, and their behaviors suggest complex intelligence. One scientist said they should therefore be treated as “non-human persons” and granted rights as individuals.

More than about time, but since people don’t consider all people as having rights as individuals, I doubt that this will get very far. But it is a step in the right direction. As we move out into space, we need to recognize that if we were to find intelligent, sentient life out there somewhere, it won’t necessarily look like us. If we can’t accept the possibility of intelligent/sentient life other then homo sapiens on this planet, I don’t hold out much hope for a first contact situation going very well if we should find life on other planets. The odds of this happening are increasing as current research shows that the possibility that we’ve found that life once existed on Mars is increasing as more research is done on available samples.

So, while I think it’s time that we re-examine our relationship with the species that we share our planet with, I doubt very much that humanity is willing to accept the possibility of animal sentience, let alone plant intelligence, when so many can’t accept that all humans are sentient.

Never the less, I’m leaving you with the introductory song to the motion picture, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Besides being a great riff on humanities blindness to other intelligences, it’s a wonderful piece. Enjoy.

Feedback on this article is welcome but unless it is more than — great article or nice blog — it won’t be approved in the comments.

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I got this link a few days ago but finally got to look at it. I laughed and ended up playing it twice. The employees of Providence St. Vincent Medical Center of Portland, Oregon put together this video to promote breast cancer awareness. It just goes to show what a group of people can do when they’re motivated. It’s fun and shows a fun side of the medical community that many people don’t get a chance to see.

While this is not Breast Cancer Awareness month, play and watch this video. Share it with a friend, coworker, or loved one who has been touched by breast cancer or any cancer. Breast cancer has been in the news recently as the screen procedures have been updated and new recommendations that suggest that women between 40 and 50 don’t need regular mammograms. This is controversial because many women in that age group and younger do get breast cancer and early detection is the key in treatment. How that will finally play out is something to watch.

Meanwhile, women of all ages should be familiar with breast self-examination techniques. Do self-exams often, get to know the topography and feel of your own breast so that you can tell when there is a change. Husbands can also help with the exams — hey these are done at home and don’t have to be boring. I’ve read of many cases where it was the husband that noticed the change.

Breast cancer is scary. But videos like this one can take some of the fear out of visiting a hospital. Can you honestly look at these smiling faces and think that they aren’t caring people who’d do what’s necessary for the people under their care. Help them and all medical personnel by doing your bit and taking care of yourself, performing regular breast self-exams and not letting fear keep you from talking to your doctor about your health.

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Professor Lynn Rogers and friend by Ted OakesWell, I hum when I’m contented too. I couldn’t resist this article when I saw it on BBC Earth News — The Man who walks with Bears. Professor Lynn Rogers has been studying black bears for the last 43 years, learning their behavior, their rules of conduct, and their idiosyncrasies. A BBC film crew followed Professor Rogers getting some excellent footage of the bears and their behavior in the wild.

What really thrilled me though is that they hum when happy and/or content. Of course, most everyone who has ever read Winnie the Pooh knows that, but then Winnie is not a black bear — he’s more golden yellow. My husband and I collect bears and are always interested in them– reading most of the studies that come out on bears. We are however among those people who do not confuse the cute and cuddly plush bears with the wild in the woods ones. Though I am particularly partial to polar bears –plush and in the wild; especially this time of year.

I found this site that has some fantastic photos of the bears Lynn Rogers works with. Hope you enjoy this bear-y interlude.

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