Saturday, July 31, 2010

Iranian regime falling apart - Israel Opinion, Ynetnews

Iranian regime falling apart

Op-ed: Echoing Napoleon's words, Israel shouldn't interfere with enemy in suicide process

Guy Bechor

Published: 07.29.10, 18:30 / Israel Opinion

Read the article on ynetnews.com

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Why I am giving marijuana to my 9-year-old autistic son

Read the article on doublex.com

In treating J with pot, we are following the law—and the Hippocratic oath: primum, non nocere. First, do no harm. The drugs that our insurance would pay for—and that the people around us would support without question—pose real risks to children. For now, we’re sticking with the weed.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Sex Boosts Brain Growth, Study Suggests | Rat Sex | LiveScience (tx, novapsyche)

Culture

Sex Boosts Brain Growth, Study Suggests

By Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience Contributor

posted: 28 July 2010 09:21 am ET

Read the article on livescience.com

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Jewish Women, Behind the Veil – The Sisterhood – Forward.com

July 29, 2010, 3:36pm

Jewish Women, Behind the Veil

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

The politics of Muslim women and the burqa has sparked debate and grabbed headlines worldwide. Numerous communities and countries have been wrestling with the question of whether banning modest dress that covers the face is protecting — or violating — human rights.
Here on The Sisterhood and in numerous feminist circles, it has been hotly argued. Jews have appeared on both sides of the debate. Some agree that fully veiled women in public is disturbing and a security risk. Some on the left, view it as free expression. And many Orthodox Jews fear the slippery slope — one day burqas and veils are banned, the next, all forms of religious garb could be in danger.
The phenomenon of veiled Jewish women has been a non-existent to fringe issue in the debate. It was unheard of until a few years ago when some extreme Haredi women in Beit Shemesh in Israel began covering their faces. The media spotlight shone briefly on the phenomenon, when one of these women, dubbed the “Taliban Mother” in the Israeli press was accused of child abuse.
But now the Israeli Haredi press is reporting both a growth and strengthening of the trend — and a backlash against it. Two English-language blogs that have been covering the trend faithfully are A Mother in Israel and Life in Israel.
This Hebrew-language Haredi website “B’Hadrei HaHederim” which both blogs cite, reports that more women have been convinced by other charismatic “Taliban” women to adopt the veil, and that “Taliban Moms” can now be found in Jerusalem and Elad.
In Beit Shemesh, the publication reports, has reached the “point of no return.” According to a report, 20 of the families in Beit Shemesh sent a letter to their town, saying that the ultra-Orthodox school their children attend is inappropriate because the teachers’ wives do not veil, and the group expressed a desire to start an exclusively “pro-veiling” school. This would institutionalize the phenomenon and give them a base for growth.
And then there is the backlash, which is the most fascinating aspect of the story. While, in Muslim communities, it is widely understood that increased modesty in dress is a result of pressure from men — and indeed, many Haredi men seem obsessed with extreme Jewish women’s dress as well — in this case, at least some of the Haredi men don’t appear to be crazy about their wives’ being draped in fabric from head to toe.
The Haredi website reports appeals from a group of husbands of veiled women to influential Haredi rabbis, asking them to declare an outright ban on full veiling. According to the husbands behind the appeal, this is the only way they can convince their wives to uncover.
So far, the rabbis have been unresponsive. So far, no men have come forward publicly to denounce the trend. So until an ambitious reporter can truly “pierce the veil” it is difficult to know whether indeed, the trend is indeed fully driven by the women or is encouraged by their fathers and husbands.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gruesome Charges Detailed Against Suspected Nazi : NPR (tx, novapsyche)

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Enlarge Associated Press

FILE - Polish soldiers holding eternal flames stand in front of a wall during the inauguration at the vast new memorial for the victims of the Belzec Nazi death camp in Belzec, Poland, Thursday, June 3, 2004. Samuel Kunz, a former Nazi death camp guard has been charged with participating in the murder of 430,000 Jews and other crimes at Belzec, German prosecutors said Wednesday ( AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, file)

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Associated Press

FILE - Polish soldiers holding eternal flames stand in front of a wall during the inauguration at the vast new memorial for the victims of the Belzec Nazi death camp in Belzec, Poland, Thursday, June 3, 2004. Samuel Kunz, a former Nazi death camp guard has been charged with participating in the murder of 430,000 Jews and other crimes at Belzec, German prosecutors said Wednesday ( AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, file)

1_Germany_Nazi_Suspect.sff.jpg
Enlarge Associated Press

This photo made available by Yad Vashem Photo Archive in Jerusalem shows Nazi guards at Belzec death camp in occupied Poland in 1942. A former Nazi death camp guard has been charged with participating in the murder of 430,000 Jews and other crimes during the Third Reich, German prosecutors said Wednesday, July 28, 2010. Samuel Kunz, 90, was informed last week of his indictment on charges including participation in the murder of 430,000 Jews at the Belzec death camp in occupied Poland, where he served as a guard from January 1942 to July 1943, prosecutor Christoph Goeke in Dortmund said.

1_Germany_Nazi_Suspect.sff.jpg
Associated Press

This photo made available by Yad Vashem Photo Archive in Jerusalem shows Nazi guards at Belzec death camp in occupied Poland in 1942. A former Nazi death camp guard has been charged with participating in the murder of 430,000 Jews and other crimes during the Third Reich, German prosecutors said Wednesday, July 28, 2010. Samuel Kunz, 90, was informed last week of his indictment on charges including participation in the murder of 430,000 Jews at the Belzec death camp in occupied Poland, where he served as a guard from January 1942 to July 1943, prosecutor Christoph Goeke in Dortmund said.

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BERLIN July 29, 2010, 12:56 pm ET

The world's third most wanted Nazi suspect was involved in the entire process of killing Jews at the Belzec death camp: from taking victims from trains to pushing them into gas chambers to throwing corpses into mass graves, a German court said Thursday.

Samuel Kunz, an 88-year-old who has lived undisturbed for decades, was indicted last week on charges of involvement in the killing of 430,000 Jews — after a career as an employee in a government ministry and obscurity in a quiet village just outside the former West German capital of Bonn.

On Thursday the court in Bonn that indicted him revealed more details of the charges against him, describing in gruesome detail some of the crimes the suspected former death camp guard allegedly committed in occupied Poland from January 1942 to July 1943.

"The accused was deployed in all areas of the camp," Bonn court spokesman Matthias Nordmeyer told The Associated Press.

Kunz's case only came to the attention recently of prosecutors and the world's major Nazi-hunting organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, when prosecutors were poring through World War II-era documents as they built their case against retired autoworker John Demjanjuk, now being tried in a high-profile case in Munich.

The discovery prompted the Wiesenthal center to list Kunz in April as the world's No. 3 most wanted Nazi due to the fact that he was allegedly involved personally in the killings and to the "enormous scope" of the killings, said the center's chief Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff.

The court also announced Thursday that Kunz has been charged in a German youth court because he was a minor at the time — meaning he could be brought to trial as an adolescent and face a more lenient sentence.

Kunz was 20 years old when he allegedly started working as a guard at Belzec in January 1942. According to German law, people between 18 and 21 can be brought to trial either as minors or adults.

"It will be up to the judge to decide whether he will be sentenced as an adolescent or an adult," Nordmeyer said.

In its statement, the court described the deadly routine at Belzec, claiming that Kunz supposedly participated as a camp guard in all areas of the Nazis' organized mass murder of Poland's Jewry.

After the victims arrived by train at the death camp, they were told that before they could start working they had to be deloused and take a shower, the statement said, describing the terrifying killing process that by now is well known.

"Threatening them with pistols, whips and wooden clubs, the victims were told to hurry up. ... They had to undress ... the women had their hair cut off, and then first the men, then women and children were pushed into the gas chambers," the statement said.

After the victims were killed, "the corpses were searched for gold and valuables and then thrown into prepared graves."

In addition to being charged with participating in the execution of the Holocaust, Kunz is also accused of "personal excesses" in the alleged shooting of 10 Jews.

"In July 1943, the defendant is accused of having shot two persons who had escaped from a train going to the death camp and had been captured by guards," the statement said.

Between May and June 1943, he reportedly killed eight others who had been wounded but not killed by another guard at Belzec.

"The defendant then took the weapon from the other guard to shoot the wounded victims to death," according to the statement.

Kunz had long been ignored by the German justice system, with authorities in the past showing little interest in going after relatively low-ranking camp guards. But in the past 10 years, a younger generation of German prosecutors has emerged that wants to bring all surviving Nazi suspects to justice.

While Kunz ranked fairly low in the Nazi hierarchy, he is among the top most wanted due to the large number of Jews he is accused of having a role in killing — which the prosecutor's office in Dortmund puts at 430,000 — and the fact that he was personally involved, Zuroff said.

The highest-profile guard on trial now is Demjanjuk, the 90-year-old retired autoworker being tried as an accessory to the murder of 28,060 Jews as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland. He denies he was ever a camp guard.

Authorities stumbled over Kunz's case when they studied old documents from German postwar trials about the SS training camp Trawniki.

That discovery made the Wiesenthal center aware of his case and prompted it to include him on their wanted list in April, Zuroff said.

Prosecutors allege that both Kunz and the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, who was deported to Germany from the U.S. last year, trained as guards at the Trawniki SS camp.

—————

Associated Press Writer Vanessa Gera in Berlin contributed to this report.

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The GOP's Facebook Anti-Semites | Mother Jones

Thu Jul. 29, 2010 7:26 AM PDT

Israel is responsible for 9/11, Al Qaeda is "100% state sponsored by Zionist Jews," and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is actually an agent for Mossad, the Israeli spy agency—at least according to posts on the Republican National Committee's Facebook page. (You can see screen shots of some of the posts below.)

Several avowedly anti-Semitic commenters regularly posted on the national GOP's Facebook wall, encouraging tea partiers and "White, Black, Spanish, [and] Asian" people to "arm yourselves" and rise up against the "Zionist Jews" who, they claim, control the country and the media. They linked to a site that hosts purported versions of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and promoted 9/11 "truth" theories that allege "Israeli agents carried out the attacks."

The RNC could easily have deleted these comments—it's as easy as clicking "remove" if an administrator is signed in to the account—or blocked the users who were posting them. Even if the RNC decided it didn't have the resources to monitor its Facebook wall, it could have simply disabled the ability to comment on its wall. When Mother Jones contacted the committee for comment Thursday morning, the RNC disabled its Facebook discussion board, but not its wall containing the anti-Semitic comment. When a Mother Jones reporter explained the difference between a Facebook discussion board and a wall, RNC spokesman Doug Heye promised the wall "will be down shortly."  "We're interested in a civil debate, and any rhetoric or language that is out of bounds is not something we're interested in hosting and not something we're interested in hearing," Heye said. "We have decided we are better off closing down our discussion page." That's what Organizing for America has done with Barack Obama's Facebook page. (The White House's wall, however, is still live.) But until it was contacted by Mother Jones, the RNC allowed commenting to continue unabated—and apparently unmoderated.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Untitled

Tuesday night 2/27: 2 #NYC Tu B'Av #parties: #music & #bowling in #Brooklyn or #clubbing in #Manhattan http://goo.gl/235Q #Jewish #singles

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The Poetry Section: Four Poems by Star Black - The Awl

Radnitzky was Man Ray's birth surname. I admire her craft in "Cratered" but thankfully being unable to cry is something I've never experienced.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Tim Geithner Opposes Nominating Elizabeth Warren To Lead New Consumer Agency

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has expressed opposition to the possible nomination of Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to a source with knowledge of Geithner's views.

The financial reform bill passed by the Senate on Thursday mandates the creation of a new federal entity charged with protecting consumers from predatory lenders.

But if Geithner has his way, the most prominent advocate for creating the agency may not be picked to lead it.

Warren, a professor at Harvard Law School whose 2007 journal article advocating the creation of such an agency inspired policymakers to enact it into law, has rocketed to prominence since the onset of the financial crisis as one of the leading reform advocates fighting on behalf of American taxpayers.

Warren has been an aggressive proponent for the bureau in public and behind the scenes, working regularly with President Barack Obama's top advisers and the Democratic leadership in Congress. Since 2008, she has overseen the Congressional Oversight Panel, a bailout watchdog created to keep tabs on how two administrations spent hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out Wall Street while struggling to keep distressed homeowners out of foreclosure and small businesses from collapsing.

Yet while her work on behalf of a federal unit designed solely to protect borrowers from abusive lenders has been embraced by the administration, Warren's role as a bailout watchdog led to strained relations with the agency her panel has taken to task with brutal reports every month since Obama took office: Geithner's Treasury Department.

It's no secret the watchdog and the Treasury Secretary have had a tenuous relationship. Geithner's critics have enjoyed watching Warren question him during his four appearances before her panel. Her tough, probing questions on the Wall Street bailout and his role in it -- often delivered with a smile -- are featured on YouTube. One video is headlined "Elizabeth Warren Makes Timmy Geithner Squirm."

Story continues below

While her grilling of Geithner in September, over what members of Congress have called the "backdoor bailout" of Wall Street through AIG, inspired the "squirm" video, just last month Warren pressed Geithner on the administration's lackluster foreclosure-prevention plan, Making Home Affordable. Criticizing him for Treasury's failure to keep families in their homes, she questioned Treasury's commitment to homeowners.

Warren's persistent oversight is part of the reason for Geithner's opposition, according to the source.

In addition, her increasing public profile could make it difficult for Geithner, who will oversee the unit until it's transferred to the Federal Reserve. His role would involve trying to balance her advocacy on behalf of borrowers with the demands of the nation's major financial institutions, his traditional constituency.

Geithner's objections to Warren taking over that role also involve her views on Wall Street, sources say. The longtime professor believes the nation's megabanks are Too Big To Fail and have been among the biggest abusive lenders in the country. Her toughness on giant banks is said to be a longtime source of tension with Geithner.

Obama's top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, is also said to have a strained relationship with Warren, though his stance on her nomination is not known.

Democrats in Congress have been among her most enthusiastic supporters. House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank is one of many influential members who hope she'll get the nod.

And while labor and consumer groups often butted heads with Geithner on various aspects of the financial reform legislation, they have lauded his support for strong consumer protections. Warren, however, has been referred to as a "rock star" among consumer advocates. Many have told HuffPost they're hoping Obama picks her to head the new bureau.

Geithner's opposition could have political implications for a White House determined to prove it's gotten tough on Wall Street. Since March, Obama has devoted four of his weekly Saturday addresses to highlight and promote the consumer agency.

In March 2009, in response to a question during a town hall event in Southern California about the bailout for Wall Street firms and whether Obama supported tougher consumer protections on credit cards, Obama promoted Warren's academic work:

"The truth of the matter is that the banking industry has used credit cards and pushed credit cards on consumers in ways that have been very damaging," Obama said according to a transcript. "There's a woman named Elizabeth Warren who's a professor at Harvard who did a great deal of study around this. And she made a simple point. You know, if you bought a toaster, and the toaster blew up in your face, there would be a law, a consumer safety law, that would protect you from buying that toaster. But if you get a credit card that blows up in your face, that starts off at zero-percent interest, and once they kind of suck in the -- buying a bunch of stuff and suddenly it's 29 percent; and if you're late two days, suddenly, you know, you just paid another $30, and all kinds of fine print that a lot of folks didn't understand -- well, somehow that's okay.

"I think generally having some consumer safety, some consumer protection around credit cards, is important," Obama added.

Three months later, the administration released its blueprint for how it wanted to fix the nation's broken financial system. Warren's idea for a consumer agency was a heavily-promoted part of it.

Warren, a Treasury Department spokesman and a White House spokesperson all declined to comment for this article.

Get HuffPost Business On Twitter, Facebook, and Google Buzz! Know something we don't? E-mail us at huffpostbiz@gmail.com

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is trying to block President Obama from appointing one of the best consumer watchdogs in the nation to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by Congress to rein in Wall Street.

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Why Sarah Palin Endangers American National Security (and Israel's, as Well) - International - The Atlantic

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Why Sarah Palin Endangers American National Security (and Israel's, as Well)

Jul 20 2010, 3:09 PM ET

A Goldblog reader writes, with more invective than is minimally necessary:
You describe yourself as pro-Israel. Sarah Palin is pro-Israel. You describe yourself as anti-Islamist terror. Sarah Palin is anti-Islamist terror. Yet you criticize her constantly for her stances on these issues. Why are you so craven? Does your liberalism trump your Judaism?
There are those on the Interwebs who doubt whether I possess any sort of "liberalism" whatsoever, but let's put that issue aside, because this reader asks a fair question: Why do I find Sarah Palin dangerous?

There are two reasons, the first having to do with Israel, the second with America, though they are related. I certainly appreciate the sincere feelings of Christian Zionists. I have theological, spiritual, political, and personal trouble (nobody knows the troubles I've seen) with the branch of Christian Zionism that yearns for the destruction of Israel because it holds that Armageddon will be the harbinger of Christ's return, and Sarah Palin has affiliated herself on occasion with people who adhere to this branch. But mainstream Christian Zionists -- people who believe that God blesses those who bless the Jews -- well, I'm not going to argue with that point. It is not, then, Palin's theology that bothers me as much as her actual understanding, or lack of understanding, of Middle East politics that is so troublesome. Palin has positioned herself as a territory maximalist, arguing for the righteousness of continued Jewish settlement of the West Bank, including those parts of the West Bank, presumably, beyond the security fence. This line of argument places her well to the right of the position taken, late in his career, of Ariel Sharon. As I have pointed out on innumerable occasions, this position, seemingly Zionist (or super-Zionist, even) on the surface, actually undermines the idea of Israel as a Jewish state, because settlements are the vanguard of eventual binationalism, not of a Greater Israel. Israel simply cannot absorb the West Bank's Arabs and remain either a Jewish state or a democracy. For an American politician to argue otherwise is a danger to Israel. Sarah Palin encourages the most recidivist elements of the Israeli right, and it is absolutely vital for the Israeli right to grapple with demographic, political and moral reality, before it's too late.

On the second point, the danger she poses to America -- and specifically, to American national security -- Palin has this week argued vociferously against the building of a mosque near the site of Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. She calls the idea of a mosque there a provocation. But it is her opposition to the building of a mosque that is provocative. The organization that hopes to build the mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, is a moderate Muslim group, striving for better relations between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. It is in the direct interest of American national security to strengthen those groups that argue against Islamism. Palin's opposition to the mosque -- and by extension, to the enfranchisement of moderate Muslims -- is a gift to Islamists, proof to their potential followers that America is as intolerant of Islam as Europe is, proof that it is America, not Islam, that wants to see our civilizations clash. We as a society should embrace those Muslims who want to live the American dream; their lives, as free, devout and proud Muslims in a diverse country, are a refutation of the radical notion that the West is forever aligned against the interests of Muslim believers. Opposing the building of mosques by anti-jihadist Muslim groups in this country is perhaps the best way to radicalize American Muslims not otherwise prone to radicalization.

It is true that this country is home to a non-insignificant number of already-radicalized Muslims. There's no point in denying that. But there's a war on -- a clash within a civilization -- and we can affect the outcome of this war by embracing those Muslims who are ready and willing to live in our multi-confessional country, while fighting those who violently oppose American values. Sarah Palin, from what I see so far, views Islam as a monolith, and because of this view, she argues for policies that could do severe damage to American national security. This is a complicated war we're in, and Sarah Palin is, by the evidence at hand, dangerously simple-minded.

 

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

NYC Tu B'av parties Tuesday: music & bowling in Brooklyn or clubbing in Manhattan

To read the article click here

Yesterday was Tisha B'Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. But six days after Tisha B'Av we celebrate Tu B'Av, the Jewish love holiday. Although the holiday starts Sunday evening July 25th and ends Monday night July 26th, two Tu B'Av parties will be held on Tuesday night July 27, 2010, one in Brooklyn and another in Manhattan.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

new york journal of books: "Homesick" by Eshkol Nevo, Translated by Sondra Silverston

Slideshow of art works from BWAC's Summer 2010 art show

From the article I posted Thursday. To view the slideshow click here

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Israel's controversial Conversion Bill Vote Called Off

Check out this website I found at campaign.constantcontact.com

The Conversion Bill will not go to vote this Wednesday; MK Rotem realized that he did not have the support to pass the Conversion Bill at this time. When the Knesset reconvenes after the High Holidays, the fight will start all over again, as the bill has only been postponed, not defeated completely.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Op-Ed Contributor - The Diaspora Need Not Apply

Check out The Diaspora Need Not Apply By ALANA NEWHOUSE Published: July 15, 2010 at nytimes.com

If this bill passes, future historians will inevitably wonder why, at a critical moment in its history, Israel chose to tell 85 percent of the Jewish diaspora that their rabbis weren’t rabbis and their religious practices were a sham, the conversions of their parents and spouses were invalid, their marriages weren’t legal under Jewish law, and their progeny were a tribe of bastards unfit to marry other Jews.

Please email Prime Minister Netanyahu pm_eng@pmo.gov.il to express your feelings about the Rotem bill:

The Honorable Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of Israel
Office of the Prime Minister
Jerusalem, Israel

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,

We write to request your immediate intervention to prevent passage of the Conversion Bill being brought forward by MK David Rotem.

We are deeply concerned about the proposed grant of authority over conversion matters to the Chief Rabbinate. The advancement of this legislation is offensive to the non-Orthodox streams which reflect 85% of world Jewry.

While we are supportive of efforts to create greater accessibility to conversion courts in Israel and to encourage and facilitate the conversion of those living in Israel as citizens whose halachic standing may be in doubt, the overall impact of the Rotem Bill will set back these efforts. Should this bill be enacted, it will exacerbate a widening gap between Diaspora and Israel communities, a gap we very much want to avoid.

It is imperative that you, as leader of Israel, and as one who cares deeply about the well-being of Klal Yisrael, intervene and urge immediate withdrawal of this bill.

Respectfully,

or use this alternate text:

Mr. Prime Minister,

As an American Jew, I am extremely concerned about legislation advancing through the Knesset that will grant absolute control of the conversion process to the ultra-Orthodox minority. I urge you to continue your stated opposition to allowing this legislation to proceed. The Rotem bill, recently approved by committee, would go so far as to require converts to live an orthodox lifestyle. It is worth noting that this legislation is vociferously opposed by the vast majority of North American Jews. The state of Israel should embrace the diversity of Jewish practice seen around the world rather than cater to a vocal but, misguided, minority.

Sincerely,

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Who Is (and Is Not) teaching in "Modern Orthodox" Schools: A View from Israel | Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

The article describes the narrowing and indeed closing of Israeli Orthodox teachers' minds, teachers who pride themselves on their insularity and ignorance of all things not Jewish.

To read the article click here

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Cornell Chronicle: CU listens for whales in oil spill

A multipronged effort is under way to measure the changes to the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem—including whale populations—to assess the potential impact of clouds drifting below the surface, by-products of the massive oil spill and the dispersants used to break up the slick.

“Night after night, on TV and on Web cams, we see oil spewing from the bottom of the ocean,” says Christopher Clark, head of the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell University[1] Lab of Ornithology.

“You wonder ‘What can we do? What’s the impact of this?’ In the case of marine mammals, we don’t know because we don’t even know what’s there.”

Clark and his team, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will anchor 22 marine autonomous recording units (MARUs) to the sea floor in an arc stretching from Texas to western Florida, along the edge of the continental shelf.

The units will record underwater sounds for three months before they receive a signal to let go of their tethers and pop to the surface for retrieval. After analyzing the data, the team will deliver a report to NOAA and other agencies involved in the oil leak response.

The MARUs will listen for endangered sperm whales and a small population of Bryde’s (BRU-des) whales. They will also pick up sounds of fish and ship traffic.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Poets House poetry books exhibit and readings

Every year Poets House holds an exhibit of all the poetry books published in the previous year which visitors can browse and examine. This year the annual Poetry Showcase continues all this month, and a series of readings will be held in which all the poets reading have had books published in the past year. Some of these poets are Jewish, and some of their poems reflect a Jewish sensibility. Estha Weiner, who will read her work Thursday evening July 15, was a classmate of your NY Jewish Culture examiner when he was a creative writing graduate student and is the author of The Mistress Manuscript (Book Works, 2009) and Transfiguration Begins At Home (Tiger Bark Press, 2009). I first brought Rachel Levitsky to my readers attention in a long April events list article. She is the author of Neighbor (Ugly Duckling Press, 2009) and will read at Poets House a week from Thursday, July 22. Admission to the exhibit and the readings is free.




Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Creativity Crisis - Newsweek

Back in 1958, Ted Schwarzrock was an 8-year-old third grader when he became one of the “Torrance kids,” a group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children who completed a series of creativity tasks newly designed by professor E. Paul Torrance. Schwarzrock still vividly remembers the moment when a psychologist handed him a fire truck and asked, “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?” He recalls the psychologist being excited by his answers. In fact, the psychologist’s session notes indicate Schwarzrock rattled off 25 improvements, such as adding a removable ladder and springs to the wheels. That wasn’t the only time he impressed the scholars, who judged Schwarzrock to have “unusual visual perspective” and “an ability to synthesize diverse elements into meaningful products.”

The accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful, and that’s what’s reflected in the tests. There is never one right answer. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).

In the 50 years since Schwarzrock and the others took their tests, scholars—first led by Torrance, now his colleague, Garnet Millar—have been tracking the children, recording every patent earned, every business founded, every research paper published, and every grant awarded. They tallied the books, dances, radio shows, art exhibitions, software programs, advertising campaigns, hardware innovations, music compositions, public policies (written or implemented), leadership positions, invited lectures, and buildings designed.

Nobody would argue that Torrance’s tasks, which have become the gold standard in creativity assessment, measure creativity perfectly. What’s shocking is how incredibly well Torrance’s creativity index predicted those kids’ creative accomplishments as adults. Those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance’s tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers. Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University recently reanalyzed Torrance’s data. The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.

Like intelligence tests, Torrance’s test—a 90-minute series of discrete tasks, administered by a psychologist—has been taken by millions worldwide in 50 languages. Yet there is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.

Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”

The potential consequences are sweeping. The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. Yet it’s not just about sustaining our nation’s economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others.

It’s too early to determine conclusively why U.S. creativity scores are declining. One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.

Around the world, though, other countries are making creativity development a national priority. In 2008 British secondary-school curricula—from science to foreign language—was revamped to emphasize idea generation, and pilot programs have begun using Torrance’s test to assess their progress. The European Union designated 2009 as the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, holding conferences on the neuroscience of creativity, financing teacher training, and instituting problem-based learning programs—curricula driven by real-world inquiry—for both children and adults. In China there has been widespread education reform to extinguish the drill-and-kill teaching style. Instead, Chinese schools are also adopting a problem-based learning approach.

Plucker recently toured a number of such schools in Shanghai and Beijing. He was amazed by a boy who, for a class science project, rigged a tracking device for his moped with parts from a cell phone. When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education, he described our focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. “After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ ”

Overwhelmed by curriculum standards, American teachers warn there’s no room in the day for a creativity class. Kids are fortunate if they get an art class once or twice a week. But to scientists, this is a non sequitur, borne out of what University of Georgia’s Mark Runco calls “art bias.” The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.

Researchers say creativity should be taken out of the art room and put into homeroom. The argument that we can’t teach creativity because kids already have too much to learn is a false trade-off. Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process. Scholars argue that current curriculum standards can still be met, if taught in a different way.

To understand exactly what should be done requires first understanding the new story emerging from neuroscience. The lore of pop psychology is that creativity occurs on the right side of the brain. But we now know that if you tried to be creative using only the right side of your brain, it’d be like living with ideas perpetually at the tip of your tongue, just beyond reach.

When you try to solve a problem, you begin by concentrating on obvious facts and familiar solutions, to see if the answer lies there. This is a mostly left-brain stage of attack. If the answer doesn’t come, the right and left hemispheres of the brain activate together. Neural networks on the right side scan remote memories that could be vaguely relevant. A wide range of distant information that is normally tuned out becomes available to the left hemisphere, which searches for unseen patterns, alternative meanings, and high-level abstractions.

Having glimpsed such a connection, the left brain must quickly lock in on it before it escapes. The attention system must radically reverse gears, going from defocused attention to extremely focused attention. In a flash, the brain pulls together these disparate shreds of thought and binds them into a new single idea that enters consciousness. This is the “aha!” moment of insight, often followed by a spark of pleasure as the brain recognizes the novelty of what it’s come up with.

Now the brain must evaluate the idea it just generated. Is it worth pursuing? Creativity requires constant shifting, blender pulses of both divergent thinking and convergent thinking, to combine new information with old and forgotten ideas. Highly creative people are very good at marshaling their brains into bilateral mode, and the more creative they are, the more they dual-activate.

Is this learnable? Well, think of it like basketball. Being tall does help to be a pro basketball player, but the rest of us can still get quite good at the sport through practice. In the same way, there are certain innate features of the brain that make some people naturally prone to divergent thinking. But convergent thinking and focused attention are necessary, too, and those require different neural gifts. Crucially, rapidly shifting between these modes is a top-down function under your mental control. University of New Mexico neuroscientist Rex Jung has concluded that those who diligently practice creative activities learn to recruit their brains’ creative networks quicker and better. A lifetime of consistent habits gradually changes the neurological pattern.

A fine example of this emerged in January of this year, with release of a study by University of Western Ontario neuroscientist Daniel Ansari and Harvard’s Aaron Berkowitz, who studies music cognition. They put Dartmouth music majors and nonmusicians in an fMRI scanner, giving participants a one-handed fiber-optic keyboard to play melodies on. Sometimes melodies were rehearsed; other times they were creatively improvised. During improvisation, the highly trained music majors used their brains in a way the nonmusicians could not: they deactivated their right-temporoparietal junction. Normally, the r-TPJ reads incoming stimuli, sorting the stream for relevance. By turning that off, the musicians blocked out all distraction. They hit an extra gear of concentration, allowing them to work with the notes and create music spontaneously.

Charles Limb of Johns Hopkins has found a similar pattern with jazz musicians, and Austrian researchers observed it with professional dancers visualizing an improvised dance. Ansari and Berkowitz now believe the same is true for orators, comedians, and athletes improvising in games.

The good news is that creativity training that aligns with the new science works surprisingly well. The University of Oklahoma, the University of Georgia, and Taiwan’s National Chengchi University each independently conducted a large-scale analysis of such programs. All three teams of scholars concluded that creativity training can have a strong effect. “Creativity can be taught,” says James C. Kaufman, professor at California State University, San Bernardino.

What’s common about successful programs is they alternate maximum divergent thinking with bouts of intense convergent thinking, through several stages. Real improvement doesn’t happen in a weekend workshop. But when applied to the everyday process of work or school, brain function improves.

So what does this mean for America’s standards-obsessed schools? The key is in how kids work through the vast catalog of information. Consider the National Inventors Hall of Fame School, a new public middle school in Akron, Ohio. Mindful of Ohio’s curriculum requirements, the school’s teachers came up with a project for the fifth graders: figure out how to reduce the noise in the library. Its windows faced a public space and, even when closed, let through too much noise. The students had four weeks to design proposals.

Working in small teams, the fifth graders first engaged in what creativity theorist Donald Treffinger describes as fact-finding. How does sound travel through materials? What materials reduce noise the most? Then, problem-finding—anticipating all potential pitfalls so their designs are more likely to work. Next, idea-finding: generate as many ideas as possible. Drapes, plants, or large kites hung from the ceiling would all baffle sound. Or, instead of reducing the sound, maybe mask it by playing the sound of a gentle waterfall? A proposal for double-paned glass evolved into an idea to fill the space between panes with water. Next, solution-finding: which ideas were the most effective, cheapest, and aesthetically pleasing? Fiberglass absorbed sound the best but wouldn’t be safe. Would an aquarium with fish be easier than water-filled panes?

Then teams developed a plan of action. They built scale models and chose fabric samples. They realized they’d need to persuade a janitor to care for the plants and fish during vacation. Teams persuaded others to support them—sometimes so well, teams decided to combine projects. Finally, they presented designs to teachers, parents, and Jim West, inventor of the electric microphone.

Along the way, kids demonstrated the very definition of creativity: alternating between divergent and convergent thinking, they arrived at original and useful ideas. And they’d unwittingly mastered Ohio’s required fifth-grade curriculum—from understanding sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing. “You never see our kids saying, ‘I’ll never use this so I don’t need to learn it,’ ” says school administrator Maryann Wolowiec. “Instead, kids ask, ‘Do we have to leave school now?’ ” Two weeks ago, when the school received its results on the state’s achievement test, principal Traci Buckner was moved to tears. The raw scores indicate that, in its first year, the school has already become one of the top three schools in Akron, despite having open enrollment by lottery and 42 percent of its students living in poverty.

With as much as three fourths of each day spent in project-based learning, principal Buckner and her team actually work through required curricula, carefully figuring out how kids can learn it through the steps of Treffinger’s Creative Problem-Solving method and other creativity pedagogies. “The creative problem-solving program has the highest success in increasing children’s creativity,” observed William & Mary’s Kim.

The home-game version of this means no longer encouraging kids to spring straight ahead to the right answer. When UGA’s Runco was driving through California one day with his family, his son asked why Sacramento was the state’s capital—why not San Francisco or Los Angeles? Runco turned the question back on him, encouraging him to come up with as many explanations as he could think of.

Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day. Why, why, why—sometimes parents just wish it’d stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions.

Having studied the childhoods of highly creative people for decades, Claremont Graduate University’s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and University of Northern Iowa’s Gary G. Gute found highly creative adults tended to grow up in families embodying opposites. Parents encouraged uniqueness, yet provided stability. They were highly responsive to kids’ needs, yet challenged kids to develop skills. This resulted in a sort of adaptability: in times of anxiousness, clear rules could reduce chaos—yet when kids were bored, they could seek change, too. In the space between anxiety and boredom was where creativity flourished.

It’s also true that highly creative adults frequently grew up with hardship. Hardship by itself doesn’t lead to creativity, but it does force kids to become more flexible—and flexibility helps with creativity.

In early childhood, distinct types of free play are associated with high creativity. Preschoolers who spend more time in role-play (acting out characters) have higher measures of creativity: voicing someone else’s point of view helps develop their ability to analyze situations from different perspectives. When playing alone, highly creative first graders may act out strong negative emotions: they’ll be angry, hostile, anguished. The hypothesis is that play is a safe harbor to work through forbidden thoughts and emotions.

In middle childhood, kids sometimes create paracosms—fantasies of entire alternative worlds. Kids revisit their paracosms repeatedly, sometimes for months, and even create languages spoken there. This type of play peaks at age 9 or 10, and it’s a very strong sign of future creativity. A Michigan State University study of MacArthur “genius award” winners found a remarkably high rate of paracosm creation in their childhoods.

From fourth grade on, creativity no longer occurs in a vacuum; researching and studying become an integral part of coming up with useful solutions. But this transition isn’t easy. As school stuffs more complex information into their heads, kids get overloaded, and creativity suffers. When creative children have a supportive teacher—someone tolerant of unconventional answers, occasional disruptions, or detours of curiosity—they tend to excel. When they don’t, they tend to underperform and drop out of high school or don’t finish college at high rates.

They’re quitting because they’re discouraged and bored, not because they’re dark, depressed, anxious, or neurotic. It’s a myth that creative people have these traits. (Those traits actually shut down creativity; they make people less open to experience and less interested in novelty.) Rather, creative people, for the most part, exhibit active moods and positive affect. They’re not particularly happy—contentment is a kind of complacency creative people rarely have. But they’re engaged, motivated, and open to the world.

The new view is that creativity is part of normal brain function. Some scholars go further, arguing that lack of creativity—not having loads of it—is the real risk factor. In his research, Runco asks college students, “Think of all the things that could interfere with graduating from college.” Then he instructs them to pick one of those items and to come up with as many solutions for that problem as possible. This is a classic divergent-convergent creativity challenge. A subset of respondents, like the proverbial Murphy, quickly list every imaginable way things can go wrong. But they demonstrate a complete lack of flexibility in finding creative solutions. It’s this inability to conceive of alternative approaches that leads to despair. Runco’s two questions predict suicide ideation—even when controlling for preexisting levels of depression and anxiety.

In Runco’s subsequent research, those who do better in both problem-finding and problem-solving have better relationships. They are more able to handle stress and overcome the bumps life throws in their way. A similar study of 1,500 middle schoolers found that those high in creative self-efficacy had more confidence about their future and ability to succeed. They were sure that their ability to come up with alternatives would aid them, no matter what problems would arise.

When he was 30 years old, Ted Schwarzrock was looking for an alternative. He was hardly on track to becoming the prototype of Torrance’s longitudinal study. He wasn’t artistic when young, and his family didn’t recognize his creativity or nurture it. The son of a dentist and a speech pathologist, he had been pushed into medical school, where he felt stifled and commonly had run-ins with professors and bosses. But eventually, he found a way to combine his creativity and medical expertise: inventing new medical technologies.

Today, Schwarzrock is independently wealthy—he founded and sold three medical-products companies and was a partner in three more. His innovations in health care have been wide ranging, from a portable respiratory oxygen device to skin-absorbing anti-inflammatories to insights into how bacteria become antibiotic-resistant. His latest project could bring down the cost of spine-surgery implants 50 percent. “As a child, I never had an identity as a ‘creative person,’ ” Schwarzrock recalls. “But now that I know, it helps explain a lot of what I felt and went through.”

Creativity has always been prized in American society, but it’s never really been understood. While our creativity scores decline unchecked, the current national strategy for creativity consists of little more than praying for a Greek muse to drop by our houses. The problems we face now, and in the future, simply demand that we do more than just hope for inspiration to strike. Fortunately, the science can help: we know the steps to lead that elusive muse right to our doors.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

NY Journal of Books: Review of "Woman on a Shaky Bridge" by Millicent Borges Accardi




latest PSA result

The supplements I've been taking and dietary changes I've made in recent months seem to have made a difference. In December 2009 my PSA result was 3.27. This week it was 1.26! I'll see my urologist a week from Tuesday. Let's see if I can't shrink my prostate tumor and put the cancer into remission. 

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Summer 2010 events for single Jewish New Yorkers




Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Eye Imaging Could Detect Alzheimer's Disease Earlier - Yahoo! News

The same plaques that build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease also accumulate in the retinas of their eyes, new research suggests.

And this retinal plaque shows up earlier than the cell-damaging stuff in the brain, meaning images of the eyes could lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease, the researchers say.

Abnormal brain deposits of so-called beta-amyloid plaques, which damage cells and interrupt cell-to-cell communications, are considered a hallmark of Alzheimer's. However, because noninvasive brain-imaging technologies can't yet show such changes, the most definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease comes only after an autopsy.

Accumulating research suggests Alzheimer's disease damages the brain well before the outward mental impairment shows up. So if doctors could catch Alzheimer's in this pre-symptomatic stage, they could start early treatments to help at least slow the mental slide.

In the new study, scientists discovered characteristic amyloid plaques in retinas from deceased Alzheimer's disease patients. The plaques were found not only in patients who definitely had the disease, but also in the retinas of some people who were suspected of having early-stage Alzheimer's disease.

Then, the researchers genetically modified a set of mice to develop Alzheimer's. To look for plaques, the team injected a fluorescent compound called curcumin, a natural component of the spice turmeric, into the mice's bloodstream. The compound crossed the blood-retinal barrier and bound to the retinal plaques, making them visible when viewed under a microscope.

Images revealed the retinal plaques in the mice developed at a pre-symptomatic stage, before the plaque appeared in the brain.

The researchers also found a correlation between retinal and brain plaques as the disease progressed in the mouse models. When subjected to an immune system-based therapy that reduces brain plaques, the mice showed reduced amounts of plaque in the retinas to the same extent. That suggests the retina could be a reliable indicator for assessing the brain's response to therapy.

Together, these findings establish the potential of direct retinal beta-amyloid plaque imaging in live subjects as a tool for early on Alzheimer's Disease.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

BBC NEWS | Health | Feeling grumpy 'is good for you'

Victor Meldrew sitcom character
An attack of the grumps can make you communicate better, it is suggested

In a bad mood? Don't worry - according to research, it's good for you.

An Australian psychology expert who has been studying emotions has found being grumpy makes us think more clearly.

In contrast to those annoying happy types, miserable people are better at decision-making and less gullible, his experiments showed.

While cheerfulness fosters creativity, gloominess breeds attentiveness and careful thinking, Professor Joe Forgas told Australian Science Magazine.

'Eeyore days'

The University of New South Wales researcher says a grumpy person can cope with more demanding situations than a happy one because of the way the brain "promotes information processing strategies".

Negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world
Professor Joe Forgas

He asked volunteers to watch different films and dwell on positive or negative events in their life, designed to put them in either a good or bad mood.

Next he asked them to take part in a series of tasks, including judging the truth of urban myths and providing eyewitness accounts of events.

Those in a bad mood outperformed those who were jolly - they made fewer mistakes and were better communicators.

Professor Forgas said: "Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, co-operation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world."

The study also found that sad people were better at stating their case through written arguments, which Forgas said showed that a "mildly negative mood may actually promote a more concrete, accommodative and ultimately more successful communication style".

His earlier work shows the weather has a similar impact on us - wet, dreary days sharpened memory, while bright sunny spells make people forgetful.

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Psychological research conducted in WEIRD nations may not apply to global populations « UBC Public Affairs

A new University of British Columbia study says that an overreliance on research subjects from the U.S. and other Western nations can produce false claims about human psychology and behavior because their psychological tendencies are highly unusual compared to the global population.

According to the study, the majority of psychological research is conducted on subjects from Western nations, primarily university students. Between 2003 and 2007, 96 per cent of psychological samples came from countries with only 12 per cent of the world’s populations. The U.S. alone provided nearly 70 per cent of these subjects.

However, the study finds significant psychological and behavioral differences between what the researchers call Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) societies and their non-WEIRD counterparts across a spectrum of key areas, including visual perception, fairness, spatial and moral reasoning, memory and conformity.

The findings, published in Nature tomorrow and Behavioral Sciences this week, raise questions about the practice of drawing universal claims about human psychology and behavior based on research samples from WEIRD societies.

“The foundations of human psychology and behavior have been built almost exclusively on research conducted on subjects from WEIRD societies,” says UBC Psychology and Economics Prof. Joe Henrich, who led the study with UBC co-authors Prof. Steven Heine and Prof. Ara Norenzayan. “While students from Western nations are a convenient, low-cost data pool, our findings suggest that they are also among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans.”

The study, which reviews the comparative database of research from across the behavioural sciences, finds that subjects from WEIRD societies are more individualistic, analytic, concerned with fairness, existentially anxious and less conforming and attentive to context compared to those from non-WEIRD societies.

According to the study, significant psychological and behavioral differences also exist between population groups within WEIRD nations. For example, U.S. undergraduate students are typically more analytic and choosy and less conforming than U.S. adults without college educations.

“Researchers often implicitly assume that there is little variation across human populations or that these ‘standard subjects’ are as representative of the species as any other population,” says Henrich. “Our study shows there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations. In fact, there is enough evidence that researchers cannot in good faith continue to make species-generalizing claims about Homo sapiens in the absence of comparative evidence.”

The research team calls on universities, peer reviewers, funding agencies and journal editors to push researchers to explicitly support any generalizations to the species with evidence or potent inductive arguments. Additionally, they envision the creation of research partnerships with non-WEIRD institutions to further and expand and diversify the empirical base of the behavioral sciences.

View the study, “The weirdest people in the world?,” and comprehensive commentary by the authors and colleagues in the research community at: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayIssue?jid=BBS&volumeId=33&issueId=2-3&iid=7825832

An opinion piece by the authors, to appear in Nature on July 1, is available by request from the authors.

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