Monday, 28 February 2011

Research: Mirror neurons, moral questions and the "Empathic civilization"

Three inspiring short talks that attempt to connect science with anthropology, morality and the future of our civilization.

Has science reached a point where it has enough data to allow us to understand complex human behaviour and even the foundations of human civilization? Could it help us form clear answers on moral issues and create a global empathic society?
All three videos have some very strong points suggesting that it actually can and should be involved with such issues, and translate the current scientific findings to explain how:

The neurons that shaped civilization (Vilayanur Ramachandran, 2009)
Neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran outlines the fascinating functions of mirror neurons. Only recently discovered, these neurons allow us to learn complex social behaviors, some of which formed the foundations of human civilization as we know it.

- The Empathic Civilization (RSA Animate, Jeremy Rifkin, 2010)
In this talk from RSA Animate, bestselling author Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways it has shaped human development and society.

- Science can answer moral questions (Sam Harris, 2010)
Questions of good and evil, right and wrong are commonly thought unanswerable by science. But Sam Harris argues that science can -- and should -- be an authority on moral issues, shaping human values and setting out what constitutes a good life.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Speech (RSA Animate): 21st century enlightenment

Matthew Taylor explores the meaning of 21st century enlightenment, how the idea might help us meet the challenges we face today, and the role that can be played by organisations such as the RSA. View Matthew Taylor’s lecture at the RSA

Friday, 25 February 2011

Speech: David Eagleman - The Future of Reality (2009)

David Eagleman, PhD, neuroscientist, Tom Slick Research Award in Consciousness recipient, and best-selling author of SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, shared his thoughts on "The Future of Reality." Dr. Eagleman gave compelling examples of how reality is a matter of individual perception and how Nature's adaptions function as "plug ins" for the brain.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Speech: Helen Fisher - Why we love & cheat (2006)

Anthropologist Helen Fisher takes on a tricky topic -- love –- and explains its evolution, its biochemical foundations and its social importance. She closes with a warning about the potential disaster inherent in antidepressant abuse.

Helen Fisher's courageous investigations of romantic love -- its evolution, its biochemical foundations and its vital importance to human society -- are informing and transforming the way we understand ourselves. Fisher describes love as a universal human drive (stronger than the sex drive; stronger than thirst or hunger; stronger perhaps than the will to live), and her many areas of inquiry shed light on timeless human mysteries, like

Monday, 21 February 2011

Article: Government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich

Original Article written for The Economist by R.A. - February 17, 2011, 20:58

KEVIN DRUM draws our attention to an intriguing paper Martin Gilens, on the responsiveness of policy to preferences across income groups. Here are the key charts:

At left, we see that as people at the bottom of the income spectrum care more about an issue, the probability of action on that issue scarcely budges. At right we see that policy responds a little more to median preferences. But what's clear in both is that the rich are much more successful at getting their issues on the docket. That's not really that surprising, but why should it be the case? Mr Drum writes:
Gilens' guess is that "the most obvious source of influence over policy that distinguishes high-income Americans is money." This sounds like a pretty good guess to me.

Specifically, Mr Gilens looks at a range of potential causal and non-causal explanations of the connection, eliminates some that don't seem to correspond with available data, and concludes that the

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Article: Can Avaaz change the world in a click?

Original Article written for TIMES Newspaper ltd, by Sarah Bentley - February 9 2011, 12:01AM

Ricken Patel is trying to bring governments and businesses to heel around the globe. It’s finger clicking good

If public opinion is the new superpower, is Ricken Patel its prime minister? The 34-year-old Canadian is the founder of one of the world’s biggest online communites, the campaigning network Avaaz (meaning voice in Farsi) which has seven million members.

Fashioned in the citizen-politics spirit of MoveOn in the US and 38 Degrees in the UK, it galvanises public opinion online and uses it to influence those with the power to implement change. While MoveOn and 38 Degrees focus on national issues. Patel and the Avaaz faithful want to fix the world. 

When I meet Patel at his headquarters in Manhattan he is chewing over the language of a campaign e-mail. His computer pings incessantly with Skype alerts. In the three days I spend with him he takes dozens of calls from his internationally scattered team but also from royalty, diplomats, politicians, activists and non-governmental organisations looking for guidance on how to set up similar projects. Posters from campaigns decorate his office walls. One urges Robert Mugabe to recognise Morgan Tsvangirai as the winner of the2008 Zimbabwean election. Another, the campaign Avaaz launched in 2007 shows Tony Blair alongside the caption “Even He Is Pulling Out/Block the Escalation in Iraq”. 

Looking up from his computer, Patel explains why the minutiae of messaging is important. "There are two types of fatalism. The belief the world can’t change, and

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Video: Corporate America vs. Wikileaks

Everyone needs to watch this!
Glenn Greenwald talks to MSNBC about the smear campaign against Wikileaks (which also targeted himself in particular) which involves institutions as big as the Bank of America and the US Department of Justice. The significance of this story is explained by Glenn in his interview.
More information in this article.

Story: The Ugly Truth

Once upon a time there was a man who was constantly trying to find Truth but he couldn’t. He went to all the countries around the world, from the Nordic countries to the countries of the South and the countries of the West but without result.
One time while he was wandering in a small country of the East, he felt tired and desperate and sat near the entrance of a cave. Suddenly he heard a noise from inside the cave, something like a grunt. The man stood up and approached the entrance with a sword in his hand. He saw a dark form that seemed to belong to a woman. He entered the cave which had a terrible smell coming out of it. When his eyes got used to the darkness, he saw

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Article: The leaked campaign to attack WikiLeaks and its supporters

The leaked campaign to attack WikiLeaks and its supporters
Aaron Barr, a top executive at computer security firm HB Gary.

UPDATE: More facts about the leaked smear campaigns here!

There's a very strange episode being widely discussed the past couple of days involving numerous parties, including me, that I now want to comment on.  The story, first reported by The Tech Herald, has been written about in numerous places (see Marcy Wheeler, ForbesThe Huffington Post, BoingBoing, Matt Yglesias, Reason, Tech Dirt, and others), so I'll provide just the summary. 
Last week, Aaron Barr, a top executive at computer security firm HB Gary Federal, boasted to the Financial Times that his firm had infiltrated and begun to expose Anonymous, the group of pro-WikiLeaks hackers that had launched cyber attacks on companies terminating services to the whistleblowing site (such as Paypal, MasterCard, Visa, Amazon and others).  In retaliation, Anonymous hacked into the email accounts of HB Gary, published 50,000 of their emails online, and also hacked Barr's Twitter and other online accounts. 
Among the emails that were published was a report prepared by HB Gary-- in conjunction with several other top online security firms, including Palantir Technologies -- on how to destroy WikiLeaks.  The emails indicated the report was part of a proposal to be submitted to Bank of America through its outside law firm, Hunton & Williams.  News reports have indicated that

Monday, 14 February 2011

Article: The Egyptian mirror

The Egyptian mirror
President Barack Obama meets with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the White House last September.
One of the most revealing journalistic genres is the effort by establishment media outlets to explain to their American audiences why Those Other Countries -- usually in the Middle East -- are so bad and awful and plagued by severe political and societal corruption (see here and here for examples).  This morning, The New York Times has a classic entry, as it unironically details how Egypt is a cesspool of oligarchical favoritism and self-dealing.  The article focuses on Ahmed Ezz, a close friend of Hosni Mubarak's son who has exploited his political connections to corner much of the nation's steel market, triggering growing resentment by the public.  Along the way, we learn several disturbing things about Egypt, including this:
For many years, Mr. Ezz has represented the intersection of money, politics and power . . . . Public resentment at the wealth acquired by the politically powerful helped propel the uprising already reshaping the contours of power along the Nile. . . . Hosni Mubarak's Egypt has long functioned as a state where wealth bought political power and political power bought great wealth.
Can you believe that "in Hosni Mubarak's Egypt," private wealth translates into great political power and vice-versa?  What is it like, wonders the curious and concerned Times reader, to live in a country like that?  No wonder there's an uprising. 
How many American politicians with a national platform over the last thirty years have

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Video: Short Interview with John Pilger (Change that's Not: 'Obama on Bush route')

Recent sanctions against Iran are an attempt by the US to return the country to its sphere of influence, claims veteran journalist John Pilger. "Iran was a pillar of the American empire in the Middle East. That was swept away in 1979 by the Islamic revolution, and it has been American foreign policy to get that back," he said. "It has absolutely nothing to do with so-called nuclear weapons. The nuclear power in the Middle East is the fourth biggest military power in the world and that is Israel. It has

Documentary: The Ultra Zionists by Louis Theroux (2011)

Louis Theroux spends time with a small and very committed subculture of ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers. He discovers a group of people who consider it their religious and political obligation to populate some of the most sensitive and disputed areas of the West Bank, especially those with a spiritual significance dating back to the Bible.

Throughout his journey, Louis gets close to the people most involved with driving the extreme end of the Jewish settler movement - finding them warm, friendly, humorous, and deeply troubling.

 Theroux spends time with ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers and discovers

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Article: Obama seeks Internet kill switch for U.S.

While the Middle East crisis continues to simmer or boil over in Egypt’s case, American lawmakers revisit the need to implement an Internet kill switch for the U.S.

The need for such aggressive measures by any government has played out in recent days and U.S. lawmakers have dusted off their playbooks and will take a hard look at the need to “protect” its constituents from a so-called cyber attack.

Leading the charge are Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) who point to WikiLeaks as a reason to control the Internet cyber space. The bill titled, “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act,” would give the president the authority to track critical cyber-infrastructure lists. This legislation would give the president the ability to turn off the Internet without any judicial review. Something the world is now witnessing in Egypt.

However, Senator Collins claims the “switch” would

Documentary: NATO's Secret Armies (2009)

The documentary describes how, from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, Western intelligence agencies collaborated with right-wing extremist groups to commit false flag terrorist attacks, which would often be falsely blamed on left-wing groups. It features interviews with, among others, Daniele Ganser, author of NATO's Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe.

Alternative Youtube link Here.
Article on the subject on TIME Magazine Here.