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 The Darcy Cousins by Monica FairviewThe Darcy Cousins: Scandal, Mischief, and Mayhem arrive at Pemberley… by Monica Fairview, Sourcebooks, ISBN: 978-1-4022-3700-3, pages 432.

The rift between Darcy and his aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh has been somewhat mended since Elizabeth has given birth to an heir. Of course that doesn’t mean that Lady Catherine actually recognizes Elizabeth’s presence. But the entire family is gathering at Rosings once more for Easter. Joining the family are Robert Darcy (see The Other Mr. Darcy) and his wife and two relatives from America, Frederick Darcy and his sister Clarissa Darcy.

Georgiana is hoping that she and Clarissa will become close friends. Georgiana has been feeling that she’s in the way or not really wanted. Darcy marrying Elizabeth was definitely a good thing but where Georgiana always had her brother for company now he seems always involved with Elizabeth and their son — they don’t purposely exclude her they just don’t seem to notice.

Once Frederick and Clarissa arrive, they seem to get off on the wrong foot with Lady Catherine. While Frederick can be accepted, after all he is American, a business man, and rich. Clarissa must learn to become a lady — of course that’s the type of lady that Lady Catherine approves of, and that’s where all the trouble begins. Clarissa is neither tractable or docile.

Georgiana and Clarissa do become friends. Georgiana learns that one can be a lady and still have strong opinions and interests of her own. When Clarissa is appalled by the way everyone ignores Anne de Bourgh and has Georgiana join her in her campaign to become friends with Anne, Georgiana begins to realize that she’s always just accepted things and never looked at them from the outside. She’s also surprised by what they learn. Her eyes opened, she begins to look at other behaviors she’s always accepted.

As is usual, one things leads to another and before long Lady Catherine is convinced that Clarissa is practically the devil personified, and there to ruin the family. Once again the family finds itself rent by Lady Catherine’s insistence on her point of view. Everyone decamps for London and the season.

Georgiana struggles to find her own way in society with her new insights. She learns that Clarissa is in England for more than this visit and that there are depths to her American cousin. In fact, soon Clarissa and Georgiana find themselves interested in the same man. But is he the right man for either of them? Will their friendship last through the season?

To say any more would spoil the fun of learning all the secrets, intrigues, and adventures to be had in The Darcy Cousins. The book’s advanced press implies that the book is all about Clarissa and her problems but this is really Georgiana’s story. Clarissa is the spur that goads Georgiana to action and change. Georgiana is firmly front and center. She’s always been in the background and this time Monica Fairview gives the reader a chance to get to know her a bit better. Shy? Yes, but also she has the same strong Darcy stubbornness and loyalty. It’s a turbulent story as Georgiana becomes a person most of us would like to know better and have stand at our side in adversity.

Another excellent follow on to Pride and Prejudice that maintains the integrity of the original characters while moving the story of their lives forward.

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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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I must admit that I find the Mindset list from Beloit College to be fascinating. Each year I look forward to their list because it does help to explain some of the cultural problems in dealing with young people.

Their overview of the Class of 2013:

Members of the class of 2013 won’t be surprised when they can charge a latté on their cell phone and curl up in the corner to read a textbook on an electronic screen. The migration of once independent media—radio, TV, videos and CDs—to the computer has never amazed them. They have grown up in a politically correct universe in which multi-culturalism has been a given. It is a world organized around globalization, with McDonald’s everywhere on the planet. Carter and Reagan are as distant to them as Truman and Eisenhower were to their parents. Tattoos, once thought “lower class,” are, to them, quite chic. Everybody knows the news before the evening news comes on.

Some of my favorite:

    # The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking vegetables.
    # They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
    # The KGB has never officially existed.
    # Text has always been hyper.
    # Babies have always had a Social Security Number.
    # They have never had to “shake down” an oral thermometer.
    # Condoms have always been advertised on television.
    # They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.
    # “Womyn” and “waitperson” have always been in the dictionary.
    # Members of Congress have always had to keep their checkbooks balanced since the closing of the House Bank.
    # There has always been a computer in the Oval Office.
    # There has always been blue Jell-O.

Check out the full list at Beloit’s website. It really does explain why young people and us old foggies have problems communicating our basic understanding of the world is different in many cases.


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Reading is Fun Decorative Art Poster Print by Maurice SendakThe other day, I was reading a book while waiting for my husband to get through the check out line and I was so engrossed that I was giggling at all the jokes and funny scenes. I looked up to find several people in the cafe area just staring at me. Luckily hubby finished and came to pick me up to leave.

Okay, is that was weird. I began to wonder, don’t other people react to their reading material? Don’t you laugh at the funny parts? Cry at the sad ones? Get angry when the main character does something so stupid you think they should be sent to Jail and do not pass go…

I cry at movies too, or laugh, depending. But, I’ve noticed that most people don’t react at all. They sit stiff and bland and then leave when the lights come up.

I usually only go to movies during matinee periods, and if it’s a weekend there are kids there (if the movie is rated for them). Children and sometimes teens get involved in movies and react to what’s happening on the screen. Adults … not so much.

Now, I’m thinking maybe it’s the same with books and reading. Do you react when you read? Do you keep it all in if you’re in public? Do you get embarrassed if you react aloud when reading in a public place? Is that why reading is considered a solitary activity? Hmmm…lot to think about here.

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The Second Mrs. DarcyThe second Mrs. Darcy of the title is Octavia Melbury Darcy, widow of Captain Christopher Darcy (a cousin of the Darcy of Pride & Prejudice). We open with Octavia entertaining a friend in Calcutta, Lady Brierley has stopped in to see if the rumors of Octavia being left with little to no money is true. Captain Darcy’s estate was entailed to a distant relative, George Warren, and Octavia is left with a very small income to live on. The upshot is that she’ll have to return to England and to the care of her half-sisters and half-brothers. We also quickly come to understand that these half-sisters/brothers care very little for Octavia since she’s from their father’s second marriage to a women they consider beneath them.  Therefore Octavia is nothing to them, but her name means that they must make some effort on her behalf or society will think less of them.

While wondering how she can afford to return to England, she is contacted by a gentleman working for the lawyers of a Mrs. Anne Worthington and told that Mrs. Worthington’s estate has been left to her.  Octavia is surprised to say the least and expects that this is all a mistake since, as far as Octavia knew, she had no relatives on her mother’s side of the family, or her Melbury relatives would have sent her off to them years ago. None the less, she is given money to travel to England and the name of the law firm to contact on her arrival.

We now have the set up for the story. Octavia must move in with her Melbury relatives who see her as someone to be ashamed of and married off again as soon as possible. She finds that the inheritance is indeed real and since her husband died before her great-aunt, there is no difficulty.  For if her husband had died after her great-aunt, the inheritance would have gone to him, and she’d be left again with nothing. So, until all the details are taken care of, Octavia must live with her half-sister and her husband and manage to avoid being married off.

Of course, being a novel of romance, action, and adventure, there will be plenty of twists and turns on the way to that “happily ever after” moment at that end of the book.

Elizabeth Aston has written several other books that follow on the Darcy family: Mr. Darcy’s Daughters, The Exploits & Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy, The True Darcy Spirit, The Darcy Connection, and Mr. Darcy’s Dream.

I’ve read and reviewed several of these books. Aston deals mainly with the next generation of characters. The children of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Jane and Charles Bingley, Charlotte and Mr. Collins (somehow it just doesn’t seem right for him to have a first name). In this case, Octavia was married to a distant Darcy cousin but, once back in England, she meets Camilla Darcy Wytton and her husband; Camilla is one of the five daughters of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy. George Warren, who inherits Christopher’s estate is the stepson of Caroline Bingley. Connections within connections.

Aston manages to tell a story that pulls in the various characters from the next generation that has peopled her previous novels. She also adds other new characters and within the confines of the period — its politics and social mores — gives us not only an entertaining and interesting story, but a window onto a the world as it once was.

I find Aston’s books fascinating not only for their connection with the Jane Austen canon but because by going for the next generation, she places her stories at the beginning of the modern era when women were just beginning to realize that they could have options to marriage. However money, as always, was the driving force and a woman without her own funds had few options unless she married — thus the bases for so many romances in this period. Marriage was more often than not a contractual agreement; women, while dreaming of marring for love, in fact often — as did Charlotte Lucas — marry in order to protect themselves and their futures to whoever asked and seemed least likely to abuse them.

There’s a dark background to many of these books, more present in their absence from the actual story line.  Our main character in this story is faced with the very real prospect of being force to marry in order to survive in her social circle, since at her level she can’t be seen to find employment. There were very few employment options for women of class other than governess or companion at that time. Octavia, without funds of her own, is totally at the mercy of her relatives, who don’t particularly care for her. Things were even worse for women of the lower classes, but those stories would be grittier and much less likely to have happy endings.

While each of these books stands alone, the characters from one often show up in the other stories, so reading them in publication order would give the reader a better grounding in this new generation. Personally, I’ve been reading them as I find them — out of order — I haven’t had any problem following the main plot lines. I may miss out on the intricacies of the various relationships, but it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment.

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Brain Scan imagery

Many times in my life I’ve found myself out of sync with my friends, companions, family members, coworkers, or what have you.  Some times, I just shrug and let it go because it isn’t that important to me.  Other times, I’ll stick to my point — mostly I’ll stand pat if the issue is one that I feel strongly about — usually social or moral issues.  Other times I maintain my opinion but keep it to myself in order to avoid confrontations — I haven’t changed my mind I just don’t advertise my beliefs.

Well it seems from a CNN article Why so many minds think alike that our brains might be wired to bring us into conformity with our social groups.  The study in the journal Neuron, Reinforcement Learning Signal Predicts Social Conformity was performed by Vasily Klucharev, Kaisa Hytönen, Mark Rijpkema, Ale Smidts, and Guillén Fernáandez. (The study itself is not available unless you either have access to Neuron or purchase it.) The study summary says:

We often change our decisions and judgments to conform with normative group behavior. However, the neural mechanisms of social conformity remain unclear. Here we show, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, that conformity is based on mechanisms that comply with principles of reinforcement learning. We found that individual judgments of facial attractiveness are adjusted in line with group opinion. Conflict with group opinion triggered a neuronal response in the rostral cingulate zone and the ventral striatum similar to the prediction error signal suggested by neuroscientific models of reinforcement learning. The amplitude of the conflict-related signal predicted subsequent conforming behavioral adjustments. Furthermore, the individual amplitude of the conflict-related signal in the ventral striatum correlated with differences in conforming behavior across subjects. These findings provide evidence that social group norms evoke conformity via learning mechanisms reflected in the activity of the rostral cingulate zone and ventral striatum.

That phrase “prediction error” is explained by Dr. Klucharev as:

A prediction error, first identified in reinforcement learning models, is a difference between expected and obtained outcomes that is thought to signal the need for a behavioral adjustment.

Back in my psychology courses it was referred to as “cognitive dissonance”:

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon which refers to the discomfort felt at a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information or interpretation. It therefore occurs when there is a need to accommodate new ideas, and it may be necessary for it to develop so that we become “open” to them.

Hmmm.  It seems that, as humans, we don’t like to be outside the group comfort zone.  We want the others to like us and, sadly, we’re basically so insecure in our own opinions if they differ too much from those of the group that we’ll change our opinion to match the group.  So, to put it clearly — yes, if everyone else is jumping off a cliff, we’ll probably do it too.  Now parents have the answer to that age old question.

In this study, using magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain activity of their subjects, they could actually see the brain trying to cope with being out of conformity with their study peers in their grading of the attractiveness of people in photos.  When the subject’s judgment was out of line with the group’s they changed their scoring on a subsequent judgment of the same photo.

Summing up:

“The present study explains why we often automatically adjust our opinion in line with the majority opinion,” says Dr. Klucharev. “Our results also show that social conformity is based on mechanisms that comply with reinforcement learning and is reinforced by the neural error-monitoring activity which signals what is probably the most fundamental social mistake—that of being too different from others.”

We just might have a few problems with the way we do things.  For example, our justice system requires that juries be unanimous in their verdict.  What this study says is that even if a minority of people don’t think the majority is correct in their decisions, they’ll change their mind in order to conform with the community of jurors of which they are a part.  They’ll want to fit in.  Maybe we should have a system more along the lines of the Supreme Court where there is a majority and a minority report turned in to the judge.  Sometimes, there really isn’t enough information to make a determination but if the majority goes one way the minority will feel obligated to agree — might explain why some innocent people have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

In my life, I have at times held true to my principles and been sneered at and later in time proved to have been right all along.  Of course, the flip side is that I’ve also been proved to be wrong some of the time also.  However, I’m willing to admit that I was wrong.  I’m also willing to change my mind when more facts show up that give me more data points to make up my mind on an issue. Some people, on the other hand, make up their minds and all the facts in the world can’t make a dent in their belief in their rightness.

However, conformity with the community has survival benefits.  If you fit in with your community they rally around you when you need help, they join together to assist in tasks too big for one person, and they support and protect each other.  Thus changing opinions to match the majority makes sense for survival and thus it seems it’s built in to us.

The problem is that change, growth, and innovation seems to come from those who think outside the box or move to the sound of a different drummer (notice that this week I’m really into these homilies).  So, maybe finding ways to accommodate those who have different views or who see the world differently — who don’t agree with the majority — should not be ostracized just out of hand.  Maybe these nonconformists should be looked at to see if their views are indeed “wrong” or “not like the others” or maybe these ideas/beliefs/judgments are valid in their own right but not necessarily the way we’d have processed that information ourselves.

This study has lots of implications — many of which could help to assist innovation and creativity, others to aid in adding fairness to our judicial and political system.  But more studies need to be done.  For example, I want to know if these same results would be seen when testing a similar group of men (in case you haven’t checked the original articles, the above case was performed solely on women).  Women have culturally been lead to accommodate others, to get along, to fit in and not make waves.  Would a similar study of men have the same finding?  I don’t know and until more studies are done with men and mixed gender groups there can be no plans for developing how to cope with this new information in order to increase the “good” of the community.

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