As someone who believes in efficient transportation I'm a big fan of bicycles for short trips up to about five miles. Unfortunately it takes some infrastructure change to make this partial in many countries and it seems unlikely in most of America.
Bikes, on the other hand, seem to becoming increasingly popular for sport. Indoor ergometers are being combined with software and large screen TVs to produce more realistic simulations of racing. I wonder if non-competitive versions will evolve for those who are more interested in this as indoor exercise during bad weather?
Nicholas Lemann has a piece on Mitt Romney in the October 1, 2012 issue of The New Yorker. Sadly it is behind their paywall, but I recommend it to those of you who get the magazine or have access through a library.
It reinforces the notion I have of the candidate - that this is someone who is supremely overconfident. At Bain he was able to tell businessmen two times his age, people who had much more experience than him and a much deeper understanding of their businesses, what they were doing "wrong" and move their companies to a newer model that, in the end, wasn't really better - but brought enormous power and money to him. He was a middle level authority in an exceptionally hierarchical and patriarchical church and was in a position to dictate to those below him. He sees himself as the perfect problem solver.
Businessmen rarely make good political leaders in Democracies or Republics. Perhaps in very hierarchical schemes such as dictatorships and plutocracies (what the US may be headed for ...).
Mitt also can't display his inner person to those who aren't directly connected with him. Combine this with his need to always say something impressive - his overconfidence and enormously strong belief in himself - and you have a very weak combination. I'm guessing we haven't seen the last of Mitt's gaffe's.
It has been said that the stupid single things candidates say during campaigns are in the noise - that they really don't matter. But, on the other hand, a few latch to a person. Mitt, with his 47% remark, appears to have illuminated who he really is. Someone who believes in those with confidence who make a lot of money and prove themselves. It is too easy, given the fact that he has presented himself as a nebulous wishy-washy person who isn't truthful and has several positions on each topic, for the voting public to take that statement made to his own kind and assign it as a fundamental value.
I disagree on his fundamental political position(s), but even more I think that his belief in simple models that yield to the solutions by the right minds is very dangerous given the complexity of the country and the world. He has shown he can't handle a large class of problems as he can't deal with empirical information. He can't even manage a presidential campaign and his own party.
Given the terrible economic woes that the country has - some of them triggered by corporate greed - perhaps it will be healing if a hugely overconfident businessman goes to defeat.
Why is it so difficult. Some new research sheds a bit of light on the subject - a press release
Making the Healthy Choice
Caltech-led scientists find that competition between two brain regions influences the ability to make healthy choices
PASADENA, Calif.—Almost everyone knows the feeling: you see a delicious piece of chocolate cake on the table, but as you grab your fork, you think twice. The cake is too fattening and unhealthy, you tell yourself. Maybe you should skip dessert.
But the cake still beckons.
In order to make the healthy choice, we often have to engage in this kind of internal struggle. Now, scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have identified the neural processes at work during such self-regulation—and what determines whether you eat the cake.
"We seem to have independent systems capable of guiding our decisions, and in situations like this one, these systems may compete for control of what we do," says Cendri Hutcherson, a Caltech postdoctoral scholar who is the lead author on a new paper about these competing brain systems, which will be published in the September 26 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
"In many cases, these systems guide behavior in the same direction, so there's no conflict between them," she adds. "But in other cases, like the all-too-common inner fight to resist the temptation of eating the chocolate cake, they can guide behavior toward different outcomes. Furthermore, the outcome of the decision seems to depend on which of the two systems takes control of behavior."
A large body of evidence shows that people make decisions by assigning different values to the various options, says Antonio Rangel, a professor of economics and neuroscience and the senior author of the paper. To make their decisions, people select the choice with the highest value. "An important and controversial open question—which this study was designed to address—is whether there is a single value signal in the brain, or if there are instead multiple value signals with different properties that compete for the control of behavior."
According to the single-value hypothesis, Rangel explains, the ability to say no to the chocolate cake depends on just one system that compares values like healthiness and taste. But the multiple-value hypothesis suggests that there are different systems that process different values. The ability to turn down the cake therefore depends on whether the brain can activate the appropriate system—the one that evaluates healthiness. If you do not want the cake, it means you place a higher value on health than on taste and your brain acts accordingly.
In the study, the researchers asked 26 volunteers to refrain from eating for four hours prior to being tested. During the experiment, a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine was used to measure the brain activity of the hungry participants while they decided how much they were willing to pay for different snacks, which were shown on a computer screen. The items, including foods like chips and vegetables, varied in taste and healthiness. The subjects were explicitly asked to make their choices in one of three conditions: while attempting to suppress their desire to eat the food, while attempting to increase their desire to eat the food, or while acting normally. The volunteers could do whatever they wanted to control themselves—for example, focusing on the taste (say, to increase their desire to eat something delicious but unhealthy) or the healthiness of the item (to reduce that urge).
After a four-second period, the participants placed real bids for the right to buy the items that reflected the value they placed on the food.
The researchers found that activity in two different brain areas correlated with how much the participants said they wanted an item, as indicated by their bids. The two regions were the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), which sits behind the temples, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which is in the middle of the forehead just above the eyes.
Significantly, the two areas played very different roles in the self-regulation process. When volunteers told themselves not to want the food, the dlPFC seemed to take control; there was a stronger correlation between the signals in this area and behavior, while the signals in the vmPFC appeared to have no influence on behavior. When the volunteers encouraged themselves to want the food, however, the role of each brain region flipped. The vmPFC took control while the signals in the dlPFC appeared to have no effect.
The researchers also found that the brain's ability to switch control between these two areas was not instantaneous. It took a couple of seconds before the brain was able to fully ignore the conflicting region. For example, when a volunteer tried to suppress a craving, the vmPFC initially appeared to drive behavior. Only after a couple of seconds—while the participant tried to rein in his or her appetite—did the correlation between bids and vmPFC activity disappear and the dlPFC seem to take over.
"This research suggests a reason why it feels so difficult to control your behavior," Hutcherson says. "You've got these really fast signals that say, go for the tempting food. But only after you start to go for it are you able to catch yourself and say, no, I don't want this."
Previous work in Rangel's lab showed that when dieters made similar food choices, their decisions were controlled only by the vmPFC. The researchers speculate that because dieters are more accustomed to self-control, their brains do not show the neural struggle seen in the new study. If that is the case, then it may be possible that people can improve their self-control with more practice.
In addition to Hutcherson and Rangel, the other authors on the Journal of Neuroscience paper are Hilke Plassmann from the École Normale Supérieure in France and James Gross of Stanford. The title of the paper is "Cognitive regulation during decision making shifts behavioral control between ventromedial and dorsolateral prefrontal value systems." This research was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
Ned is a regular visitor of this blog and the author of the excellent starchamber bog. His son Jay is autistic and his wife Wendy has penned a note asking for people to support the Walk Now for Autism event. It is worth reading and considering as these kids and their families face serious challenges.
Louis Theroux travels to America again, where 1 in 100 children is diagnosed with autism. Louis takes a look at several families in which one or more children has this diagnosis, and how the family deals with this.
Visiting schools were the ratio student/teacher is 1 on 2, Louis looks how autism influences the kids and the problems it gives.
He visits the home of Nicky, a 19 year old student who is soon to go to a more regular school. As he is preparing for this Louis follows him and looks at his first day outside of the DLC warden.
He also visits Brian, who is severely autistic and set the house on fire when he was 8. This has led to him being placed in residential care, separated from his mother who couldn't control him anymore after he attacked her.
The school featured in the video is about three miles from where we live..
but read Wendy's letter...
Our friend Jheri in Copenhagen helps a learning disabled teen. The approach being used is to get her as self-sufficient as possible and the approach is very positive, but requires work and support from parents, friends and the local schools and government.
A nice little introduction to a bit of music history and theory as the author builds into a discussion of A tk j Dovrak's American Quartet (he doesn't quite get there, but will next week)
Through a discussion of early American folk music, both African-American and white Appalachian, the pentatonic music scale, playground jump rope music, big budget westerns' film music, Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, and the music of America's most successful early African-American composer, Harry Burleigh, who was also Dvorak's most successful student. We'll even have a little Mozart.
Using solar power for heating water is common in many parts of the world - Israel and China come to mind. It can be very cost effective in the US, but never really took off.
This ad is 110 years old. Aubrey Eneas founded the Solar Motor Company of Boston to build solar-powered motors to replace steam engines and relocated to Los Angeles in the early 1900s to build solar engines to pump water. He also built residential solar hot water systems and supposed a few thousand were sold. Unfortunately his motor business went under. I haven't come across anything on how well his hot water heaters worked ... I can only imagine it must have been for the wealthy as hot water was a luxury in the day...
Germany's Roman Catholics are to be denied the right to Holy Communion or religious burial if they stop paying a special church tax.
A German bishops' decree which has just come into force says anyone failing to pay the tax - an extra 8% of their income tax bill - will no longer be considered a Catholic.
The bishops have been alarmed by the number of Catholics leaving the Church.
They say such a step should be seen as a serious act against the community.
All Germans who are officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a religious tax of 8-9% on their annual income tax bill. The levy was introduced in the 19th Century in compensation for the nationalisation of religious property.
"If your tax bill is for 10,000 euros, then 800 euros will go on top of that and your total tax combined will be 10,800 euros," Munich tax accountant Thomas Zitzelsberger told the BBC news website.
(hat tip to Bjarne)
In the US we have, in theory, a demarcation between church and state. Churches are tax free and are sometimes enormously wealthy as a result, but they have to stay out of the political sphere - something that is sometimes violated. It is very important to come down on that and remove tax-free status of the offenders.