27 April 2012

"51": Kool A.D. drops new album

This post is a digression of sorts, given that this blog's raison d'ĂȘtre doesn't necessarily include embedding newly released albums and the like. But 51, Kool A.D.'s new album/mixtape released yesterday (26 April) is well worth checking out. Do it—it's good.    

08 April 2012

QuickThought no. 3

Mass incarceration for profit.

If you aren't already aware (in which case, you should take some time to inform yourself about these critically important issues), the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world—not just the highest in North America or among developed Western nations, but the entire world.

(Credit: ACLU.org)
As Al Jazeera's "The Stream" reported in a piece entitled Incarceration, Inc. on 5 April, the use of private prisons in the United States increased by "40 percent at the state level and by 784 percent in the federal prison system" between 1999 and 2010. 

784 percent. 

Think about that. Between 1999 and 2010, was there actually an almost-800-percent increase in the number of persons who committed crimes worthy of incarceration? Absolutely not. One would be hard pressed to find valid evidence to support this. What, then, is to blame for this all-too-real statistic? The answer is money. In our capitalist, corporation-dominated system, not even the incarceration of human beings is immune from the attempt of some to make a profit. This is what is known as the Prison-Industrial Complex. 

The article, which examines the Prison-Industrial Complex, includes a vast array of information, data, statistics and the like—all pertaining to the ridiculousness of America's blatantly prejudiced prison system. You could probably spend hours analyzing the info in the article. And if you somehow find that the amount of information presented there is not enough, check out this list of the 39 most unequal countries in the world (as per the Gini coefficient) and keep in mind that, if you are reading this as an American citizen, you are living in the 39th most unequal political system on Earth.

"America imprisons approximately 760 per 100,000 people. This is the highest rate in the world and no other country comes close." But the reality of America's PIC doesn't stop there. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 1 in every 106 white males over the age of 18 is incarcerated in the US. For hispanic males, it's 1 in every 36. For black males, it's 1 in every 15.

God bless America, eh?

06 April 2012

Anti-choice extremism and SNL's "trans-vaginal airlines"

It seems nothing short of absurd that in 2012, citizens of the United States are, as of late, experiencing right-wing attacks on women's rights—reproductive and otherwise. In this post I want to show how and why these issues on the GOP platform are not really "issues" at all, especially for anyone with an informed, rational and realistic understanding of certain present-day social circumstances.

I'd like to share a phenomenal (and impressively extensive) GlobalComment article posted on 2 April. The article, entitled The Trans-Vaginal Ultrasounds You Didn't Hear About: Ignoring Anti-Choice Extremism in Texas, focuses on legislation in Texas and Virginia that requires superfluous, unnecessary and most often involuntary trans-vaginal ultrasounds prior to receiving an abortion. It boils down to forceful conservative moralizing through legislation—bullshit, basically. I should say that parts of the article might seem a bit dense, but it is well worth the time investment.

Also, as is mentioned in the article, be sure to check out this recent Saturday Night Live segment that features Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers responding to right-wing attacks on birth control and women's reproductive rights. Poehler pokes fun at the ridiculousness of forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds with a "trans-vaginal airlines" joke, and the segment also points out that no women were present at a recent congressional hearing about contraception. It's a pretty humorous piece with serious sociopolitical undertones. But, on a more serious note, let's be frank: the very unfortunate fact that this congressional hearing consisted exclusively of men (almost certainly wealthy, white, heterosexual, "Christian" men in particular), raises a hugely important question. Can we agree that such a "congressional hearing about contraception" was completely absurd in the first place? In the 21st century, contraception—and an individual's decision to use it or not to use it—are not issues. Period. And they absolutely should not be matters of congressional concern. Yet even worse, not a single woman or female-identifying person was present. Maybe I'm foolish for thinking that the American political system has to have at least some room for rational, realistic discourse, but such discourse was clearly missing from this hearing—this good ol' boy gathering.

I intend to write more on this subject soon. For now, though, I'll return to the SNL segment. The best part might just be the end, when Poehler comically and commandingly shouts, "Don't tell me what to do!" Kudos to Poehler for saying what any reasonable human being ought to shout in the face of conservative bigotry. If only more would follow suit—then, maybe, we would no longer find ourselves stuck in a society that doesn't care to question such irrational, sermonizing nonsense.

02 April 2012

Can matter be spontaneously generated? And what is 'smart sand'?

Some interesting news (to say the least) came out of MIT's Distributed Robotics Laboratory earlier today, when the MIT News Office posted this article about a type of self-sculpting "smart sand" that could potentially "assume any shape [and allow for] spontaneous formation of new tools or duplication of broken mechanical parts."

"Robot pebbles" developed by researchers at MIT.
(Photo credit: M. Scott Brauer/MIT)
The lab, which is part of MIT's larger Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, has developed a system of small cubes (measuring about 10mm an edge) with built-in "rudimentary microprocessors" and "unusual magnets on four of their sides." Apparently, these cubes have the ability to construct an object from a model of the object—using only an unformed pile of other cubes.

I'll leave it to the article to explain specifically how these cubes can generate matter. It's a fascinating read. Be sure you check out the video posted at the bottom of the article, too.

30 March 2012

Are babies more conscious than adults? (from the Boston Globe, 26 Apr 2009)

"[S]cientists and doctors have traditionally assumed that babies are much less conscious than adults, [which] is why, until the 1970s, many infants underwent surgery without anesthesia."

That is what is stated in a 2009 Boston Globe article entitled Inside the baby mind, which raises questions about the nature of the infant mind and curiously asks: What is it like to be a baby?

In short, according to the article, the infant mind is "unfocused, random and extremely good at what it does." The article goes on to mention recent scientific research that has changed traditional ways of conceptualizing the infant mind. This research has revealed that "the baby brain in abuzz with activity [and is] capable of learning astonishing amounts of information in a relatively short time." The research also suggests that "babies can take in a much wider spectrum of sensation," effectively making them "more aware of the world" than adults.

RenĂ© Descartes, too, saw the infant mind as something like a sensory jumble—which is mentioned in both the Globe article and a New York Times article on the same subject (14 May 2009) entitled Babies May Be More Conscious Than Adults

Check out the links above to read the articles. If you'd like to read more about concepts, human concept acquisition, infant cognition, etc., click here for info about Susan Carey's book The Origin of Concepts, and here for info about Alison Gopnik's book The Philosophical Baby, which is referred to in the Globe article.

In QuickThought no. 2, there is related commentary on Carey and the argument for concept acquisition that her book presents. You will also find a link to the Neurophilosophy blog in the sidebar on the right (and here, too).

The Naked Option

Nigerian women in the Niger Delta region are organizing and fighting back against a corrupt, profit-minded government and the tyrannical oil corporations that have been plundering the area for decades. Deep-seated injustices, as well as the unequal social perceptions and expectations these women face in contrast to men of the Niger Delta, are also being validly attacked by women in the region.

The Naked Option: a Last Resort (written and directed by Candace Schermerhorn, produced by Schermerhorn and Sam Olukoya) is a 2011 documentary that follows these women as they take a stand and, as noted on SnagFilms, "use the threat of stripping naked in public, a serious cultural taboo, in their deadly struggle to hold the oil companies accountable to the communities in which they operate."

I recommend this documentary without question. It is certainly worth anybody's time—mostly because it addresses critical issues that, for far too many, have been ignored or forgotten. 

"Our weapon is our nakedness."

Check out the link above to view the film. For more information about the film and the project behind it, click here and here.

More from the Reason Rally in Washington (24 Mar 2012)

In a recent post, I mentioned the Reason Rally that took place in Washington, DC, on 24 March. While I wasn't able to attend the rally (I had already returned to school from spring break), I absolutely wish that I could have been there. Why? Aside from being a large and successful rally committed to reason and sound questioning, there were, from what I've read and heard, several interesting and engaging speeches made at the rally. 

Two of those speeches, made respectively by Greta Christina and Richard Dawkins (both of whom I admire and share a similar worldview with), have been posted below. Just note that, since I didn't attend the rally, these videos are obviously not mine. 

Clip from Greta Christina's speech:

Clip from Richard Dawkins' speech:

More information about the Reason Rally can be found in a recent post called Religious faith vs. logic. I should also mention that the video posted there shows a conversation involving a good friend of mine (the guy with glasses in the purple V-neck)—another reason I wish I could have been there. 

QuickThought no. 2

The Kantian synthesis, as it is often called in philosophy, is Immanuel Kant's unification of reason (epistemological Rationalism) and experience (epistemological Empiricism) in terms of how the creation and development of knowledge is possible. Similarly, in her book The Origin of Concepts, Harvard professor of psychology Susan Carey argues that concept acquisition relies on (1) innate cognitive input analyzers that have resulted from the evolution of the human species, thus outputting unlearned concepts, and (2) perceptual and sensory information used to form concepts via experience.

In this QuickThought I want to highlight the important distinction between 'knowledge' (or 'concept', to Carey) and 'belief'. It is a distinction that Carey makes in her book, and it is one that has been carefully noted by others, including Richard Dawkins and Kant himself:

"I had therefore to remove knowledge, in order to make room for belief." (Immanuel Kant)

Think about that.

Racism and the 'Hunger Games' (from Jezebel, 26 Mar 2012)

The Hunger Games, a 2008 novel by Susanne Collins, has garnered quite a bit of attention lately. But with the release of the Hunger Games movie on 23 March (which, with $152.5 million, currently holds the record for the third highest-grossing opening weekend box office movie in North America), a different sort of attention—or perhaps more fittingly, an alarming observation—has come into play. I am speaking, of course, about the racism and startling racist comments of certain Hunger Games fans who were "shocked" and "confused" by the fact that some the novel's characters are portrayed by black actors in the movie—even though Collins, the author, specifies in the novel that these characters have dark skin.

Three days after the movie's release, Jezebel posted a fantastic article entitled Racist Hunger Games Fans are very Disappointed in which the obvious racism of some Hunger Games fans is excellently addressed. The article includes several web screenshots of actual posts and comments made on the Internet by such narrow-minded fans.

Why are you atheists so angry? Greta Christina justifies atheist anger

In this lecture, Greta Christina asserts that atheist anger and hostility towards organized religion (and, really, towards religion in general) is both necessary and justified. It's sort of a lengthy video, but well worth the effort, especially in the name of reason.

29 March 2012

QuickThought no. 1

The capitalist system and corporate media—something to think about.

ABC is owned by Disney. NBC is owned by General Electric. How do you choose to inform yourself? Please, just think about that.

Religious faith vs. logic

Richard Dawkins—a scientist, writer, noted atheist and former Oxford University Professor for the Public Understanding of Science—argues that faith is in many ways a virus, and I think his argument is justified. Faith, particularly religious faith, is in truth no different than a deliberate arrest of one's faculties of reason. In some cases, it may even result in the blatant denial of real facts.

Here's a video taken at the Reason Rally in Washington, DC (24 March 2012). For more information about the Reason Rally, which included speeches by Dawkins and Greta Christina, click here and here.

You will also find links to Dawkins' and Christina's websites in the sidebar on the right.

AIDS and Imperialism: Karma and Colonial Crimes (from The Nation, 28 Feb 2012)

Several weeks ago, Robert Dreyfuss, who writes about "America's misadventures in foreign policy and defense" for The Nation, penned an outstanding article entitled AIDS and Imperialism: Karma and Colonial Crimes. I call it outstanding for a number of reasons—namely that the article critically assesses the substantial role that Western colonialism's "mass slaughter, slavery and vicious exploitation in central Africa" has played in the development of the international AIDS crisis. Read it. Awesome stuff—really.