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ellenrr's Journal
ellenrr's Journal
October 1, 2015

For Phil Ochs fans

An interview by Studs Terkel in 1973:
(includes Phil singing)

September 30, 2015

Black Lives Matter to Disrupt Twin Cities Marathon

What does anyone think about this?
I think - of course black people not being shot by police is more important than runners finishing a marathon, but exactly how are the two related?
If the runners do not finish the marathon, does that mean that less Black people are killed by the cops?

"The organization [BLM] hopes to draw attention to recent cases of what it alleges is police brutality."

But it seems to me that the only thing that attention will be called to is that some people have interrupted a marathon.



September 30, 2015

Wiki-leak cables reveal US efforts to turn back democracy in Latin America

Much of the story of the US government’s efforts to contain and roll back the anti-neoliberal tide can be found in the tens of thousands of WikiLeaked diplomatic cables from the region’s US diplomatic missions, dating from the early George W. Bush years to the beginning of President Obama’s administration.

The cables — which we analyze in the new book, The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire — reveal the day-to-day mechanics of Washington’s political intervention in Latin America (and make a farce of the State Department mantra that “the US doesn’t interfere in the internal politics of other countries”).

Material and strategic support is provided to right-wing opposition groups, some of which are violent and anti-democratic. The cables also paint a vivid picture of the Cold War ideological mindset of senior US emissaries and show them attempting to use coercive measures reminiscent of the recent chokehold applied to Greek democracy.


September 29, 2015

10 Years After Katrina, New Orleans’ All-Charter School System Has Proven a Failure

(no surprise)

A three-month investigation by In These Times reveals the cracks in the education reform narrative.
In These Times received an advance copy of research conducted for the Network for Public Education (NPE) by University of Arizona researchers Francesca López and Amy Olson. The study compared charters in Louisiana, the majority of which are in New Orleans, to Louisiana public schools, controlling for factors like race, ethnicity, poverty and whether students qualified for special education. On eighth-grade reading and math tests, charter-school students performed worse than their public-school counterparts by enormous margins—2 to 3 standard deviations.

The researchers found that the gap between charter and public school performance in Louisiana was the largest of any state in the country. And Louisiana’s overall scores were the fourth-lowest in the nation.


September 26, 2015

Frans de Waal on Homo Naledi, "Who Apes Whom?"

de Waal critiques the old theory that humans evolved in a linear fashion.

"News reports spoke of a “new ancestor,” even a “new human species,” assuming a ladder heading our way, whereas what we are actually facing when we investigate our ancestry is a tangle of branches. There is no good reason to put Homo naledi on the branch that produced us. Nor does this make the discovery any less interesting."

And more radically questions the assumption that we "became human" at one specific point; rather he says it is a spectrum from ape to human, which makes better sense to me.

"The problem is that we keep assuming that there is a point at which we became human. This is about as unlikely as there being a precise wavelength at which the color spectrum turns from orange into red. The typical proposition of how this happened is that of a mental breakthrough — a miraculous spark — that made us radically different. But if we have learned anything from more than 50 years of research on chimpanzees and other intelligent animals, it is that the wall between human and animal cognition is like a Swiss cheese."

And he thinks the distinctions between human and non-human animals are not as large as most people think:

"Apart from our language capacity, no uniqueness claim has survived unmodified for more than a decade since it was made. You name it — tool use, tool making, culture, food sharing, theory of mind, planning, empathy, inferential reasoning — it has all been observed in wild primates or, better yet, many of these capacities have been demonstrated in carefully controlled experiments.

We know, for example, that apes plan ahead. They carry tools over long distances to places where they use them, sometimes up to five different sticks and twigs to raid a bee nest or probe for underground ants. In the lab, they fabricate tools in anticipation of future use. Animals think without words, as do we most of the time.

Undeterred by Homo naledi’s relatively small brain, however, the research team sought to stress its humanity by pointing at the bodies in the cave. But if taking this tack implies that only humans mourn their dead, the distinction with apes is being drawn far too sharply.

Apes appear to be deeply affected by the loss of others to the point of going totally silent, seeking comfort from bystanders and going into a funk during which they don’t eat for days. They may not inter their dead, but they do seem to understand death’s irreversibility. After having stared for a long time at a lifeless companion — sometimes grooming or trying to revive him or her — apes move on.

Since they never stay in one place for long, they have no reason to cover or bury a corpse. Were they to live in a cave or settlement, however, they might notice that carrion attracts scavengers, some of which are formidable predators, like hyenas. It would absolutely not exceed the ape’s mental capacity to solve this problem by either covering odorous corpses or moving them out of the way.

The suggestion by some scholars that this requires belief in an afterlife is pure speculation. We simply don’t know if Homo naledi buried corpses with care and concern or unceremoniously dumped them into a faraway cave to get rid of them."

I am looking forward to his new book:
“Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?”


September 25, 2015

Do you think we'll ever decipher this mystery in human origins?

As I understand it, the genus Homo emerged between 2-3 millions years ago.
The apelike australopithecines represent the early members of this genus.
"More advanced" homo erectus was a later member of the genus, more like "human".

In between the 2 there was a million year gap.
And I think scientists are trying trying to fit homo naledi within this gap, and where it ultimate ends up will be significant.

As this National Geographic articles says,
"Within that murky million-year gap, a bipedal animal was transformed into a nascent human being, a creature not just adapted to its environment but able to apply its mind to master it. How did that revolution happen?" (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/150910-human-evolution-change/)

I think then this -^ is the ultimate question for the study of human origins.

What do you think?

September 25, 2015

Catholic Justices Scalia, Alito, Thomas are no-shows for the pope

It’s possible that all three had scheduling conflicts. Perhaps they were finally able to score tickets to “Hamilton” and decided to make a day of it in the Big Apple. The three have skipped the State of the Union in the past (Alito calls it “a childish spectacle”), objecting to the partisan nature of that gathering.

More likely, however, the three justices were simply more discreet than Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who announced to media this week that he was boycotting the pope’s talk over concerns that the pontiff was acting “like a leftist politician.”

The conspicuous absences were a bit surprising, given that the current Supreme Court is sometimes characterized as the “Catholic court.” Six of the nine justices are Catholic — the other three, John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor, were in attendance — and the most conservative members of the court have not been shy about identifying with their church.


September 25, 2015

does anyone think it is an insult that the Chinese president visited Seattle before DC?

I realize his priorities are hi-tech, not diplomacy, but it strikes me as being an insult.

September 19, 2015

Trump and the Specter of Totalitarianism

"Trump is simply the most visible embodiment of a society that is not merely suspicious of critical thought but disdains it. Trump is the quintessential symbol of the merging of a war-like arrogance, a militant certainty, and as self-absorbed unworldliness in which he is removed from problems of the real world.

The clueless Trump is far from a kind of clownish fiction some writers have described him to be. Trump’s presence on the political landscape [is] an indication and warning of the specter of totalitarianism confronting Americans in new forms."

a long and illuminating article by Henry Giroux, one of our country's treasures and a foremost intellectual:


September 15, 2015

Where is our Jeremy Corbyn?

"The politics of Jeremy Corbyn, elected by a landslide Saturday to lead Britain’s Labour Party after its defeat at the polls last May, are part of the global revolt against corporate tyranny. He had spent his long career as a pariah within his country’s political establishment. But because he held fast to the socialist ideals that defined the old Labour Party, he has risen untarnished out of the ash heap of neoliberalism. His integrity, as well as his fearlessness, offers a lesson to America’s self-identified left, which is long on rhetoric, preoccupied with accommodating the power elites—especially those in the Democratic Party—and very short on courage.

Jeremy Corbyn, who supports negotiations with Hamas and Hezbollah and once invited members from those organizations to visit Parliament, has called for Israel’s leaders to be put on trial for war crimes against the Palestinians."

I will not support a politician who sells out the Palestinians and panders to the Israel lobby any more than I will support a politician who refuses to confront the bloated military and arms industry or white supremacy and racial injustice."


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