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March 08, 2006

Nature of (wo)Man

By nature, men are nearly alike; by practice, they get to be wide apart.
Confucius
alt

Courteously of Patrick Bermudez the picture above provides a glimpse into the stuff of our humanity. Shown here are horizontal slices from an identical cross section of magnetic resonance images from a sample of healthy adults involved in Bermudez's research (Neuroscience of Music). Briefly, the images have been meticulously coregistered and aligned in order to carry out statistical analysis in a standardized space. Careful attention was paid to preserve individual variability. It's time consuming and computationally intensive for researchers to play around in Procrustes' bed, but Patrick does it well. The resulting image is beautiful testament to the diversity that lends credit to Confucius' keen observation.

The human brain is literally an extension of the mammilian brain composed of two largely symmetrical hemispheres. Respectively, the left & right hemispheres of the human brain monitor and control the right and left sides of the body. On a finer structural level the two hemispheres consist of homologous structures which are assymetrical. The most noted homologous assymetry between the hemispheres are the peri-Sylvian regions involved in the production and comprehension of language.
In the MRI images the grey areas represent nerual nuclei and the white areas is primarily myelinated neural axons which connect different nuclei both within and across hemispheres. Commonly nurons and axons are referred to as grey and white matter in the brain. The most outer layer of grey matter in the human brain is known as the neocortex. The neocortex consists of a heavly interconnected seven layer columnar arrangement of neurons. On average the human brain weighs between 1.3-1.4 Kg which consititutes about 2% of total body weight for someone weighing 150 pounds. The brain consists of circa 100 billion neurons; 19.3 billion neurons in the neocortex in females and 22.8 billion in males.
Structural differences like the one just mentioned are plentiful and constatnly debated in the field of Neuroscience. Essentially, the blueprint & scaffolding for human brain structure is largley determined and regulated by genetic information. Inherent to this fine superstructure is a extensive degree of plasticity which enables the human brain and inturn the individual to adapt to different environments, learn and modify behavior based on experiences. Mechanisms underlying brain plasticity are the focus of intense research, however it is safe to presume that brain plasticity is governed by molecular processes that drive the shaping of interconnectivity within the brain.
Hypothetically, the structural differences visibile in the MRIs can in part be due to form and genetics naturally commen to humans. On a finer level of analysis the individual differences between MRIs may be in part consequent to the interconnectivity between brain regions that is shaped by the individuals experiences. Thus, by practice individuals grow wide apart.

March 07, 2006

Drones, Sun Tzu, Abenaki

"If you wait long enough by the river, the bodies of your enemies will float by." Anon

Anonymous because I cannot figure out to whom the above quote belongs to. A search on the Internet led me to an Australian band called The Drones whom on their website is said to sound like a car crash inside a washing machine. I also came across two obsolete references; one pointed to an old Native American tribe called the Abenaki and the other to Sun Tzu, the great Chinese general warrior. Moreover a query of various search engines dedicated to quotations turned up no result. For now I will presume it was Sun Tzu who said it, frankly because it sounds like something he might have said.

The reason I got interested was due to an article penned by Amir Taheri dealing with the development of China toward world hegemony.
For several years now the peoples of the industrial world have been rigorously primed and are now anxiously awaiting the day the tiger (China) pounces to unveil a dragon. After reading the article by Taheri I thought about the quote which I had initially heard from my good friend & colleague M’yachykov A., who in response to the Chinese question said that they will in fact wait long enough until the bodies of their enemies float by.
If you think about this quote deeply you soon realize its profundity. It is pregnant with wisdom and patience, and it could also be so capitalistic. It also begs the question whether such a strategy can be turned against an oppressive regime?
One way to look at it is that a party with interests may both actively or passively wait on the side and watch the decimation of their foe by either an ally or friend -enemy of the enemy. For example, a drawn out civil conflict between Arab sects in Iraq monitored by a nebulous Iraqi security force would result in a favorable body count of dead Iraqis for an army with interests in the region. The alternative is the body count of dead American troops that could serve the intentions of ruling Mullahs in Iran in their bid for regional supremacy. In war it really matters exactly who is doing the waiting and who is doing the floating. So again I ask how such a philosophy can be adapted to serve the struggle of people in the clenches of oppressive governments? It is important to note that under tyranny it is the bodies of neighbors and relatives and friends that will be floating.


March 06, 2006

Moment of Zen

A moment of pause today offered by a quote from the pages of the New York Times (Registration required)...

"I am only a chicken farmer in Pakistan," he protested to American military officers at Guantánamo. "My name is Abdur Sayed Rahman. Abdur Zahid Rahman was the deputy foreign minister of the Taliban."

If in fact he is only a chicken farmer, Zahid is according to Donald Rumsfeld the "worst of the worst" of the bad guys. Meanwhile, Rahmatullah Hashemi, the spokesman for the disbanded Taliban hicks in charge of Afghanistan is currently trying to obtain full time student status at Yale University.
With that bit of distortion in mind; the primary reason for my post today is to turn your attention to Syriana . Rivaled only by another stinger Lord of War, Syriana is by far the most provocative film of 2005 I have seen. It is a politically-charged film that offers a glimpse into the shpere of the modern oil industry. The film is directed by Stephen Gaghan, and is based on the memoir See no Evil of Robert Baer.

The insight of the film delves deeply into the corruption and power politics driving international affairs. What is striking is the modernity of the issues and the frankness in Gaghan's depiction of realpolitiks. For me Syriana actually affirms one of the rule of thumb hypotheses in life.
For the vast majority of citizens spanning Sayed the chicken farmer to upper echelon white collars, knowledge that is insightful to the dynamics of governance is outdated relative to what is available to those within the Government. Otherwise agencies built around, and the concept of National Security it self would be irrelevant. It is no secret that the business of Government is to craftily filter and monitor the release of information. With time this information is digested and democratically analyzed by citizens with open access to information, only then we have what I would call knowledge. Fortunately, the technology is available to shorten the timing between expiration for the Government and release to the populous.
Syriana is a realization of this process, and it is starkly modern. It deals simultaneously with the geopolitical issues revolving around depleting natural resources, and the business of capitalizing on the remainder of energy resources. All of this within the context of the ongoing war with a faceless enemy, the war on terror. Read Less Butter, More Guns to see how America is gearing up for permanent war.
Now, this is a rare Hollywood film that will get very little press and minimal public attention. Nevertheless it is a film that deals with information that is already unclassified and available to just about anyone in various forms and interpretations. It is common knowledge! The information that is not available to the people is what worries me. Because it is "classified" information available to the charlatans in Governments around the world scheming to divvy up everything according to policies based on greed. Classified information is the basis for future plans requiring mobilization of our energy, and resources. Information that is not available is also what affirms the hypothesis that Governments secretly allied and publicly foes lead their nations to ruin, by calculated information trafficking. Once it is too late to turn back it becomes public that, for example, America & Pakistan are allies in the War on Terror! Or Osama is W. Bush's distant cousin just in case the fact that their father's are business partners is not cynical enough.


March 02, 2006

Demonstrations

A dreary grey day suited an equally monochrome event in Muenster Germany today. All traffic across the major artery to the train station, Eisenbhanstrasse, into areas adjacent to the Altstadt was blocked by heavy police barricades. Only residents of areas beyond the police line were allowed to cross. On one side of the station that normally shunts people between the surrounding city and the Altstadt a major Neo-Nazi demonstration, on the other side a group of counter protestors.

As customary in all German public gatherings empty beer bottles & trash from sandwiches and baker’s goods spotted the street. In a small parking lot a small stage was set up for various bands and speakers to preach their anti-Fascist propaganda. A small booth was cashing in on flags, banners and shirts with anti-Nazi slogans. The only remarkable voice of opposition to the Neo-Nazi demonstration was a black asexual mass of disembodied youths dressed in Brit-punk & Goth garb. A soft drizzle of rain would come and go as Anarchist hooligans who on any other occasion would be disbanded by police were rejoicing in triumph. Drinking pilsner and wallowing on the asphalt in the middle of intersections with their comrades. Meanwhile, working class onlookers & curiosity seekers, myself included, wandered about in disarray. There were sudden bursts of police movements and the buzz of choppers overhead. There was no potential for confrontation as any movement by either camp was faced with staunch police resistance.
Some in the crowd were merry and laughing with the police. Others had come with family including toddlers and children in strollers, perhaps in an effort to educate. Still others were stoic and navigated amidst the congregation; and a few obvious immigrants scampered about anxiously.
The situation was one of differing ideologues separated by a tactical divide. At that both camps were convinced of their own righteousness. And it was clear that there is no separation between good and evil, but rather a continuum. The Neo-Nazi demonstration & its counter-demonstration on Saturday February 18, 2006 in the benign picturesque city of Muenster, Germany, was a microcosm of the schism between peoples of differing convictions. Through out the world convictions are manipulated by iconic figures and the ruling elites in order to polarize humans against one another. The convictions of man lay the foundation for civilization. Too often human beings are coerced by perverse beliefs preached to them from altars or podiums. In effect convictions can be systematically used to shape the perception of fellow humans.
Perceptions shape memory and put man in his stance within the world. Thus the formation of perceptions constitutes a driving force behind convictions; and how people view one another. Polarizing the perceptions of people about righteousness antithetical to hostility & wickedness leads to conflict and is in fact the highest form of violence. War is the result of a critical-mass attained through propaganda targeting our perceptions. The product of these perceptions; our convictions lay the foundation for civilization. If people surrender to propaganda, that aims to influence their perceptions, then our convictions will be hijacked and along with it our civilization.