You are currently browsing the daily archive for February 12, 2009.

For those of you curious, given her comments of the past couple days, my sister just called to let me know that she gave birth to a new baby girl early this morning.  Everyone is doing just fine.

In the natal coincidence category, I now have a niece who shares Lincoln’s birthday.  My brother already shares Washington’s.  At least they’re easy to remember.

In the increasing dilution of testosterone category, I now have three daughters and four nieces, as opposed to no sons and a singleton nephew.

lincolnWhat strikes me the most on the 200th anniversary of the births of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin is the extraordinary amount of  myth and misconception that surrounds both of them.

Lincoln is widely remembered these days for freeing the slaves, which of course he did and which, one way or other, he certainly seems to have had the idea of doing from very early on.  But Lincoln was a wiley political pragmatist operating under an amazingly complex set of shifting circumstances (including, you know, the attempted break-up of the Union), and I think it is shame that the way he brought about the end of slavery and the rolling status of that mission among others is largely overlooked now by a population who seem to think he simply woke up one morning and said, “That’s it.  We’re done.”  (And who also ask, “Gee, why didn’t anybody do it sooner?”)

darwin On the other hand, I’m getting pretty tired of people who try to use Darwin to drive a wedge between science and religion or to prove somehow that God does not exist and/or is not responsible for Creation.  (I especially hate those Darwin-themed mockeries of the Christian fish symbol that some people sport of the back of their cars.) My understanding of Darwin is that he himself never gave up his belief in the ultimate existence and power of God.  However, he seems to have fallen into the trap of believing that if God did have a plan for Nature, Man ought to be able to figure it out by observing the mechanics of it.  In other words, if Man can see the “How?” he ought also to be able to discover the “Why?”  if there is one.  Conversely, if Man can’t see the plan, it must not exist.   Whether this is naivete or hubris or both, I don’t know, but it certainly doesn’t support the modern popular image of Darwin as anti-God.  (FWIW,  I personally have never in my mind felt there to be the slightest incompatibility between the theory of evolution and God’s authorship of the Universe.  But that’s just me, Mr. Vegas.)

While ignorance of the arcana of the mid-19th Century political landscape is sad but relatively harmless, I think the placement of Darwin as the poster boy for Atheism is downright pernicious, damaging both to individual souls and to Humanity as a whole.

heinichen It suddenly occured to me that since  a permanent restraining order has issued against Bacchus visiting the old homestead, there’s nothing to stop me taking my weekly wine budget and putting it to use improving my library of books and musick.  Right?

To this end, I’ve finally gone and picked up the Dresden Concerti of Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729), a contemporary of Bach whose musick I’ve been meaning to study more deeply for some time now.  I also picked up a new pair of headphones so that I could listen in peace, cut off from the tumult and the shouting of the captains and the queens that ranges through the house most of the day and night.

Another study on the genetic basis of social behavior:

Researchers believe that the ability to understand and share the feelings of others is at least partly innate and built into our bodies at birth.

While upbringing and the environment can modify our behaviour, scientists believe that in extreme cases the gene or lack of it could play a key role in conditions such as autism where the ability to empathise is often non-existent.

The study by a team from the University of Wisconsin and Oregon Health and Science University, showed that friendly and gregarious individuals tended also to have the gene.

In the study, published in the Public Library of Science ONE journal, compared the empathetic behaviour of various genetically different mice.

Like humans, mice can automatically sense and respond to others’ positive and negative emotions, such as excitement, fear or anger, said the researchers.

Understanding empathy in mice may lead to important discoveries about the social interaction deficits seen in many human psychosocial disorders, including autism, schizophrenia, depression and addiction, the researchers say.

From my empirical observations of three girls with wildly divergent levels of empathy for those around them, I could easily toss this in the “Well, duh” pile.  I suppose the value here is in the attempt to isolate and quantify the “natural” part of the phenomenon.

No doubt some alert readers are swooping, prosecutor-like, on to the critical point: People are not mice.

Or are they?

Of course, reading further down the article, it rayther looks like the main impetus for the experiments was some sadistic scientists just looking for an excuse to torture mice:

In the experiments, one mouse observed as another mouse was placed in a test chamber and trained to associate a 30-second tone with a mild foot shock.

Upon experiencing the shock, the test mouse emitted a short distress call or squeak.

Though having no direct knowledge of the shock, very social mice learned from the distress calls to associate the test chamber and tone with something negative.

When later placed in the test chamber and presented with the tone, they exhibited clear physiological signs of aversion, such as freezing, even though no shock was delivered.

In contrast, mice from a less gregarious strain – less likely to seek the company of other mice – showed no response to the tone when they were placed in the test chamber.

Uh, huh. Tones? Test chambers?

Of course on this whole question of men and mice, I see from the headlines today that if I keep my human affiliation, I can expect a whopping 13 bucks per week in “tax breaks” from the Porkulus package.  On the other hand, if I can get myself designated as a salt marsh harvest mouse, I’ve got a shot at taking a whack at a $30 million earmark in the bill.

Tough choice, right?

Sqeeeeeeeek!! Squeeeeeeeeeeeek!!!


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February 2009