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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Cover of Recollections of Rosings by Rebecca Ann CollinsRecollections of Rosings by Rebecca Ann Collins is book 8 of The Pemberley Chronicles. (Published by Sourcebooks, ISBN: 978-1-4022-2450-8, 336 pages, $14.99 US/$17.99 CAN/£7.99 UK)

While this is book 8, I found it fairly easy to get into. This is only the second book in the series that I’ve read. I reviewed Postscripts from Pemberly back in December 2009. If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, you’ve got an understanding of the major characters.  And while these characters have moved on, had children, had their children marry, lost loved ones — reading Collins’ work is like dropping in on a huge family reunion after being out of touch for a long while. The books, or at least the ones that I’ve read have an Appendix that lists the major characters and the relationships between them.

I’m starting by pointing this out because there’s a relaxed atmosphere about the stores in Postscripts… and now Recollections…. Collins has a way of presenting the stories partly through the type of narrative/interactive story you’d expect, but she also uses journal or diary entries and letters to help us get a deeper understanding of the characters that have a major part to play. This makes reading the books a lot like being asked to read someone’s personal journal when you know all the people involved (society pages without the cattiness).

Recollections of Rosings is, as you’ve probably guessed about Rosings, the major residence of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lady Catherine has been gone for sometime and the estate is run by a board of trustees on which Fitzwilliam Darcy serves. The story opens with the terrible news that there has been a fire at Rosings that has caused considerable damage. The current Vicar, Mr. Harrison, suffers a heart attack and his continuing illness causes some drastic changes to his situation for himself and his family. His wife Catherine, one of Charlotte and Mr. Collins’ daughters, is now caring for her husband and dealing with her grief over the damage done to Rosings where she lived when Lady Catherine took her in as a young child to be a companion for Anne.

The Rosings estate has recently hired a curator to deal with the historic artwork and others treasures of Rosings. Luckily he had done much of the work to catalog what was in the house and it will be useful to the board in determining their loss and what can and should be done to rebuild. That he is also someone who had worked at Rosings while Catherine lived with Lady Catherine helps to bring back many memories and releasing many emotions of her childhood and early adulthood before her marriage.

Meanwhile, Catherine’s daughter seems to be falling in love with a young man in the neighborhood that few people know anything about other than he’s a gentleman and very good at his job. Beck Tate, Catherine’s sister, is at loose ends as her husband has gone to America on business, leaving her behind. Unfortunately for Catherine, Becky feels it is her duty to watch out for her supposedly more naive and unsophisticated sister.

That sets out the parameters of the book, but the journey and the experience of reading it yourself is the frosting on the cake. Collins is not flamboyant — the writing is very reminiscent of sitting about with a best friend talking about family, friends, what is happening with the neighbors, what’s going on, what can be done to make life better for those around you — and yourself, of course.

That’s not to say that you won’t shed tears, laugh out loud, try to get characters to look before they leap, get angry about how some are treated, wonder why other won’t mind their own business, and smile because sometimes love does conquer all. And best of all, for some people there are second chances and, while they don’t come often, when they happen you should not stand and watch them pass you by but reach out for new dreams and a new life.

There’s a very comfortable feel to The Pemberly Chronicles. These are people most of us have spent a lot of time with. Austen created characters that still resonant with us so many years after she wrote her books. That Austen often left her characters just as the leave they church after their wedding, it’s no wonder that so many of us want to know what happened next. Rebecca Ann Collins gives us one possible future — it’s a comfortable one that we can relate too that differs only in degree from the future we see around us for our friends and family.

These are wonderful books for a rainy day — or any day — when you want to believe that people are good at heart and that families stand together in times of trouble. These are books that continue the story of some well loved characters but they are also books of hope and of dreams of communities that many of us would like to live in.

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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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Classical Music Montage Art Giclee Poster Print by Dynamic GraphicsI’ve noticed that music can lighten my mood if I’m unhappy. Depress me if I’m sad. Give me that extra energy to go just a bit more on some task or other when I’m tired. Music, even when it’s the music of wind in the leaves and birds at the feeder, makes life just more “there”.

For many years, I’ve noticed that when the music fits a movie it adds to the viewing and the story. When the sounds are right and the music is right you don’t even notice it it just stays in the background — but it can make you cry more at the sad parts, shudder at the scary parts, and thrill to the adventure — it adds to the story but in a way you don’t even notice.

Today, this article in ScienceDaily caught my eye, or rather the title did, “Scary Music Is Scarier With Your Eyes Shut“. Prof. Talma Hendler and Dr. Yulia Lerner at Tel Aviv Universities Functional Brain Center studied people listening to scary music with their eyes open and closed and found some interesting results:

15 healthy volunteers listen to spooky Hitchcock-style music, and then neutral sounds with no musical melody. They listened to these twice, once with their eyes open and a second time with their eyes shut, as she monitored their brain activity with an fMRI. While volunteers were listening to the scary music, Dr. Lerner found that brain activity peaked when the subjects’ eyes were closed. This medical finding corresponded to volunteer feedback that the subjects felt more emotionally charged by the scary music.

The amygdala, the region of the brain in which emotions are located, was significantly more active when the subjects’ eyes were closed. “It’s possible that closing one’s eyes during an emotional stimulation, like in our research, may help people through a variety of mental states. It synchs connectivity in the brain,” Dr. Hendler says.

They’re hoping that this research can be used to design future studies that could help people with dementia and systemic brain disorders.

Music brings balance to the brain and more readily integrates the affective and cognitive centers of our mind. Music may help us think better and even improve our learning abilities.

I don’t know about people with actual physical neurological problems but for many years Hollywood has been experimenting on hundreds of thousands of people by using music to play with their emotions. Just as many students use music to help them concentrate on their studies. Workers the world over use music to mask annoying background chatter so that they can work effectively. Many people have used music to regulate their movements so that everyone is in sync when group efforts are required (rowing, lifting heavy objects, etc.). Guess now science has caught up.

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Waking Life DVDIt was the blurb for Waking Life that got me interested:

Product Description
From Richard Linklater comes one of the most imaginative animated features ever made. This funny, ingenious film, which Rolling Stone Magazine calls “nothing short of amazing,” explores the fascinating question: “Are we sleep-walking through our waking state or wake- walking through our dreams”? Join Wiley Wiggins as he searches for answers to life’s most important questions in a world that may or may not be reality in the “most visually alive movie of the year.” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times)

It came from Netflix the other day and we just watched it this afternoon. This is one of those films that does take the term “weird” to new heights — but in a good way. Animated, the film has more options and scope for weirdness since so much can be done with animation at lower cost than with special effects and the directors used the media splendidly to highlight the thoughts being expressed by the characters.

A young man is returning home and gets a ride from a man in a boat-car that already has one passenger. From there things just get stranger. As we follow the young man around it seems like he’s working on a research project to gather various people’s viewpoints on consciousness, the meaning of life, religion, perceptions, and good vs evil, heaven vs hell. Then as things continue it seems that maybe he’s day dreaming or dreaming. The conversations and monologues give you the clues you need to determine what’s going on but they are buried in the discussions of various philosophies, psychological theories, and biological theories of consciousness and perception.

It may take a while to figure out what’s happening and even if you do there’s no way to be sure that what you believe is happening is in fact what is happening. I believe that’s the point of the film — to make the audience think. Think not just about what the movie is about but about the ideas that are expressed as our main character moves about the landscape listening to the people he meets.

I’m a child of the 60s and much of the intellectual theories and topics expressed are those that were bandied about during that era in the hallways of colleges, coffee houses, friends apartments, political meetings, and late night gab sessions where-ever. There were no answers then and I don’t believe there are or will ever really be definitive answers to the questions of whether we are the dream or the dreamer of the nature of consciousness and life.

This movie woke those memories of my past, those philosophy classes in college, and the late night talks with friends. So, whether I enjoyed the movie because of my background, or because I hope that these discussions are still occurring among today’s young adults — I do hope that many people are thinking about these issues and examining the life they are leading, not just to measure their success with yardsticks that have multiple scales that include personal growth, love, joy, friendship, connectedness to others, as well as financial success, control of others, and power. We should always live every moment as if it was special and never to be repeated because in fact each moment of our lives is special.

If you’ve seen this movie, I’d love to hear your opinion on it. If you haven’t seen it and enjoy movies that play with your head, check it out and get back to me and leave a comment.

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Focus! Organizing Your Time And Leading Your Life by David RendallI’m beginning to think all my life is about time. Time to work. Time to sleep. Time to play. Hours. Minutes. Seconds. Years. Decades. A lifetime.

All these small bits of time make up our lives. We treat life like it is infinite, but we all know there’s an end. Every minute is precious and not to be wasted. We know that and yet we waste so much time.

I find myself staring off into space. Not daydreaming. Daydreaming would be thinking, imagining things as they aren’t, but could or might be if only… An absence of consciousness — but not asleep either. Time has past and I don’t know where it went. I can account for the time but some is missing — so where did it go.

I’ve the flu — or a cold — I never know which because I always have the symptoms of both so I can’t tell. So maybe some of this missing time is because of the way I’m feeling but what about at other times.

Maybe you’ve had the same feeling when your coding and really into it — or writing or whatever you get very involved in. To me only a few minutes will have past, but my spouse will say it’s been hours are you ready for a break, and I check the clock and it has been hours …  but only minutes for me.

This blog seems like it’s really beginning to be about time — but that’s because I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Maybe it’s because I work at home — mostly alone without interruptions — so there’s no break-time or lunch-time or close-up-for-the-day-time. All time is work time if I don’t watch out.

How to other people perceive time? I wonder if other people miss time, find it passing quickly or excruciatingly slow or just as it should. What should our relationship to time be? I know it’s changed over the years with the invention of lights, the industrial revolution, the factories, and other imposition of time constraints by society.

I guess it’s always something to think about–time. What does it mean to me? What does it mean to you? How do you use it? Do you miss it? Is there enough for work, family, and play?

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Dali Soft WatchI just realized it’s been several days since I posted. Not that I haven’t seen things that catch my attention–just haven’t had a minute to actually think about what I’ve seen and ponder the ramifications or emotional attachment to it.

Lately, it seems that I have a very iffy relationship with time–there never seems to be enough of it to do what I want to do. Prioritizing doesn’t work because I want to do it all and putting them in an order means that some (at the bottom of the list) just won’t get done as it gets reset and redone as the time runs out and the new day’s list is made including what didn’t get done the first time.

It seems to me the only way to deal with all this is to live forever. Yup, now the problem is to figure out how to do that. I mean getting turned by a vamp might work but then, depending on which mythos you go with, there are drawbacks and pluses. There’s all those vampire politics that seems to be a given for all the myths–so I guess I’ll have to do more pondering…but that takes even more time.  Maybe I should look into string and loopy theories…just saying…

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