Northern Valley Beacon

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Why certain right-wing bloggers need right lobe augmentation

This story from the Chicago Tribune explains much of the gibberish that appears on some political blogs.

It's a right lobe thing. No, really
Study: Ability to get sarcasm is biological

By Jamie Talan
Tribune Newspapers: NewsdayPublished May 25, 2005

Scientists have discovered comedy central in the brain--specific tissue regulating the ability to understand sarcasm.

People with damage to the right frontal lobe, right behind the eyes, are unable to appreciate this kind of humor. In sarcasm, "the literal meaning is different from the true meaning, and some people just don't understand that difference," said Simone Shamay-Tsoory, a psychologist at the Rambam Medical Center and the University of Haifa in Israel. Her study appears in the May issue of the journal Neuropsychology.

The study tested 25 people with damage to the frontal lobe, 16 with damage in the region to the back of the brain and 17 normal volunteers. Rigged to scanning devices, the subjects were presented with a series of sarcastic comments.

For instance: Joe came to work and fell asleep. His boss walks by. "Don't work too hard, Joe," he says. Both normal volunteers and people with damage to the back of the brain understood that the boss was being sarcastic. But Shamay-Tsoory said people with damage to the right frontal lobe didn't get the irony of the comment. In fact, they failed to understand that the boss was not happy with his lethargic employee.

Shamay-Tsoory thinks that apart from brain injury, perhaps even subtle differences in the "wiring" of this region can leave people unable to empathize with others, and it is this lack of ascertaining another's emotional state that may be responsible for the inability to understand sarcasm.

The network that regulates one's ability to appreciate sarcasm begins with an understanding of the meaning of the sentence, which is carried out by the left frontal lobe. Then, the right frontal lobe helps the person put it into a social context. Finally, the right frontal lobe must be able to tell the difference between the literal meaning and what is really meant."This region makes the ultimate decision on whether something is sarcastic or not," the scientist said. "People won't get what is going on in a social situation without this network doing its job."

Dr. Antonio Damasio, head of the neurology department at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, said this finding makes perfect sense. "People with damage on the right side of their brain ... have major problems with social cognition, or thinking," said Damasio, author of "The Feeling of What Happens," a book about emotion and the brain. Shamay-Tsoory said the ability to understand sarcasm doesn't normally manifest itself until the sixth year of life. That's when the Jon Stewart in most people begins to emerge.

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune


Is there a Daschle campaign for something?

The less cerebral but more vociferous partisans of the Republican Party are screaming in outrage that the Daschle campaign against John Thune did not end with the election. There is evidence, they claim, that Daschle operatives are getting paid to "bash" Thune at every turn of his floundering term in the Senate.

The whining gets so loud at times that it sounds like a state-wide tornado siren, but it is whining that is actually created by a vacuum. People who deal with government or who need help in surviving the federal bureaucracy know in dire ways that there is no longer a Tom Daschle to guide them through the red tape. Tom Daschle's state Senate staff gained a reputation for being one of the most efficient and effective in the nation. Daschle used his power and his resources first to help the people of the state. His staff sometimes raised the ire of fellow Democratic senators because their constituents in other states on occasion asked if the Daschle staff could take over their cases. Tom Daschle was committed to making government work for the people, and his Senate staff was charged with meeting that objective. Senate field staffs work for the U.S. Senate Sergeant-At-Arms and are not to engage in political activity.

It does not take much for the differences in staff to register on the public. On the day that Sen. Tim Johnson was at Presentation College holding a town meeting on Social Security, both members of the Aberdeen Thune staff left their office to attend the meeting and ask questions of Sen. Johnson. While he held office, Daschle followed the Senate rules meticulously and his staff was ordered not to get involved in anything remotely political during the working hours they represented the U.S. Senate. Thune has hired the malice-vendors he paid to blog for him as operatives on his Senate staff. So much for the Senate rules.

Two other reasons generate heat for Thune. Informed people, including some very prominent figures in the South Dakota Republican Party, such as the former governor and congressman, are aware of Thune's ridiculously paltry record in the House of Representatives. They know that he is a total creation of media hype. He has no accomplishments or missions to cite other than getting elected.

And since the election when people have had time to reflect, they realize what a malicious, destructive, and dishonest campaign he conducted. People who voted for him realize he was a culprit and brought a tremendous moral discredit to the state with his malicious and vicious campaign.

The shift from a senator who runs his office and conducts himself with the highest of principles and standards to a man who has no principles and standards and could not care less about the services his staff provides the people was noticed immediately.

Thune claimed that Tom Daschle was out signing books when he should have been in the Senate guiding an energy bill to passage. The fact was that Daschle had done all he could for the energy bill. Republicans blocked it. But when John Thune should have been tending to the business of the state, he was floating all over the world raising money and photo opportunities in his role as a Republican star.

No one is paying an underground Daschle campaign to point these facts out to people. They notice the difference in how Daschle served the state and how Thune disserves it. The major factor working against John Thune is John Thune. Paid campaigners are not needed to discredit him. He does it by himself.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Significance of filibuster compromise: A nation growing intolerant of mean and stupid partisanship

This two-paragraph lead by Dan Balz in the Washington Post gives the most astute perspective on the filibuster compromise so far. The real significance is not how the compromise affects the parties or the institution of the Senate, but how it responds to the growing restiveness of the massive center of the country about the nature of partisan idiocy that debases the nation.

In a dramatic break with the ideological warfare that has defined the politics of Washington for much of the past decade, the center held firm in the Senate last night, as a bipartisan group of senators unexpectedly signed a compromise that yanked the institution back from a historic clash over judicial nominations.

The negotiators had spent a week laboring to find the language to define their agreement. But with the Senate just hours away from pulling the trigger on the "nuclear option," the seven Republicans and seven Democrats managed to defy predictions. They found both the language to make a deal possible and the courage to risk the wrath of partisans on both sides who were pushing for an all-or-nothing outcome.


Daschle papers bolster SDSU

Tom Daschle has agreed to have his alma mater, SDSU, be the custodian for the official papers accrued during his 26-year Congressional career. For SDSU, the papers mean a building to house them and make them available to scholars, but also to be the campus home of a supporting organization that will bring in important speakers and programs relative to policies and public service to the state.

Steve Erpenbach, now with the SDSU Foundation, outlined the advantages for the university Friday at the Dollar-A-Month Club luncheon meeting. Steve was the state director of the Daschle Senate staff in South Dakota.

Universities that can bring in prominent speakers and scholars for special programs attract more students, more capable students, and support for their overall programs. In South Dakota, USD and Augustana have centers that sponsor and organize programs involving world and national authorities on public issues. Brookings will be able to join that roster with a Daschle center and will be able to bring attention, resources, and support to its academic programs through the center.

What about Aberdeen?

A number of individuals and groups have been working industriously to encourage the establishment of some kind of public policy organization in conjunction with Tom Daschle's hometown, Aberdeen, and possibly NSU. One alumnus has proposed a public service school at NSU. Another group has proposed a think tank with a larger focus on the northern plains with NSU involved. However, the political forces that appear to exert the most influence over NSU have eliminated the university from serious consideration from the outset. When consultants did a survey of the resources for some kind of program, Presentation College showed much more potential than did NSU for being the Aberdeen link to an academic-based program on the northern plains.

NSU has enrollment problems. Enrollments appear to be linked to reputation problems. Part of that reputation is that the institution has been politicized into an ultra-conservative partisan institution. Whether that perception is accurate or not, progressive organizations have put NSU on their "avoid" lists for prospective students. Daschle contacts are extremely reticent about NSU as a site or partner in any public service ventures.

The outlook for SDSU, however, is bright and promising, as the university looks toward new dimensions of academic work.

Friday, May 20, 2005


Would Ellsworth remain open if Tom Daschle had won?

A conversation with some grizzled political operatives was about the furious discussion taking place about Tom Daschle and John Thune and who had more clout regarding Ellsworth. The consensus was that if Tom Daschle had won re-election, Ellsworth would have been first on the list of base closings. The Bush administration would close Ellsworth to spite Tom Daschle. Spite is one of the primary operating principles of the Bush administration.

That spite is what made Tom Daschle Senate Majority Leader for a time. It was an act of spite from the Bush Whitehouse that caused Sen. James Jeffords to flee from the Republicans and join forces with the Demcrats, thus making the Democrats the majority party in the Senate. The Whitehouse was honoring a teacher of the year from Vermont and pointedly left Sen. Jeffords off the invitation list because he did not heel to the Bush administration line. Spite is important to the Bush Whitehouse. That is why it is nominating the dark prince of spite, John Bolton, to be U.N. ambassador.

Had Tom Daschle won, the base closing would be a personal vendetta against him. Ellsworth made it on the closing list because John Thune is a negligible entity. After the efforts the Bush administration and Republican National Committee expended in his behalf on both the Johnson and Daschle campaigns, his job is merely to do what he is told and say what he is told.

As for Ellsworth, a big, black bomb is slipping under the radar screen. While Rumsfeld is talking about a military force that can handle 21st century war, other military thinkers are noting that the world is slipping back into a cold war situation. Iran, North Korea, India, and Pakistan all are working on nuclear weapons and the rockets that can deliver them. All the missile silos that contained weapons for retaliatory and defensive strikes have been dismantled. The primary mission of Ellsworth was to service those missile silos.

The space-based defense systems have shown only sporadic success in intercepting missiles aimed at the U.S.

Why is no one talking about the renewed nuclear threat to the U.S.? Particularly from terrorist organizations who are known to be wheedling some Muslim nations for weapons systems?

Note the kind of planning for the war on Iraq, and you will understand why some serious threats are not even on that Bush radar screen. He is too busy posturing as the security president, and covering a lot of conservative asses in the war on Iraq to think about threats to anything but his approval rating among the ultra-conservatives who form his primary support base.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Some standards for blogging

This post from Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post captures something of the way we think about blogging.

The only thing we will add to it is the observation that American classic writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe, among many writers of note, had one editor: Maxwell Perkins. He leaves old professors of American literature wondering who the real genius was.

Posted at 12:07 PM ET, 05/19/2005
Not Even Good Enough for the Blog
Still noodling yesterday's Arianna Huffington blog comment about how Norman Mailer et al can now post their thoughts "unfiltered, uncensored, unedited" -- a remarkable libel against the ancient craft of editing. All writers need editors. Even Moses had an editor, who cut the commandments from 12 to 10 (the editor argued that both "Thou Shalt Not Talk During Movies" and "Thou Shalt Not Double Dip the Chip" lacked the gravitas of the rest).

This will boggle the minds of readers of this blog, but I routinely write stuff that never gets published, EVEN HERE, because it's so lame. I know, it's hard to imagine there's any standard at all. My main job these days is to write a weekly column for the magazine, and when the column is weak, my editor, Sydney, will say, gently, "I think this is a blog item." The blog is the Realm of the Rejected. But there's stuff that's even too awful for the blog. I keep this material in my computer on the off chance that someday I'll figure out how to rescue it with a sudden humor injection.


The generals say things are not looking good in Iraq

With all the Bush administration hype about bringing democracy to Iraq, real assessments of the war and the future role of the U.S. are obscured by the propaganda static. The generals, who have been part of that hype, are revising their outlook statements.

Critics of the war on Iraq have two major points to assert. The first is that the war was mounted on contrived information, the evidence for which continues to pile up, and we should not be involved in the first place. The second is the incompetent planning that failed to consider the political and cultural resistance to an American presence or ideology. In a New York Times story today, the generals report bleak chances for withdrawing American troops anytime in the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Some fallacies in the Newsweek incident.

Newsweek has become a ranting point among those conservatives who insist that the main stream media is just one big liberal conspiracy. When it retracted the story about interrogators flushing a copy of the Koran down the toilet at Guantanamo, it is alleged to have set loose deadly riots in Muslim countries. It retracted the story.

The big issue is whether Newsweek trusted an anonymous source too much. And whether it took lack of criticism on the part of the Pentagon officials who were shown the story as affirmation.

As old news dogs who have dealt with anonymous sources, we take a different approach. First of all, we are not sure but what the flushing-the-Koran story is not true. After Abu Ghraib, it seems like something a bunch of boyscouts masquerading as intelligence officers would do. We strongly suspect that Newsweek had a valid story, but the source got scared when the story resulted in such volatile reactions.

However, those volatile reactions are also suspect. The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the article was only part of the cause of those riots. So, the question for the MSM is just what is the mix of motives.

And then there is the debate over whether news organizations should use anonymous sources. It seems like a silly question to those of us who have relied upon them. The real question is HOW to use anonymous sources.

The old rule was that an anonymous source was never quoted. It was the job of the reporter to go out and find independent corroboration of the story from the anonymous source. The source gave information for investigation, not publication. That's the way journalism once worked. And it worked well. The source was protected from disclosure for another day. But the story got told--with verification.

The catch was that sometimes it took months and months to develop the story. With today's 24-hour news cycle, working on a story that long and that carefully does not seem part of the job. Cable television, web logs, and talk radio shows are out there making up stories out of clear air. The rule is now audience competition over accuracy and veracity.

It's all a matter of revisiting the old working rules of journalism and seeing how they might be adapted to a culture that really has little interest in truth-- only in finding affirmations of one's kind and discreditation of those who differ.


Ethanol and bio-diesel getting criticism from energy conservationists

Ethanol has been regarded as the savior of the farm economy. It has two advantages. It can provide alternative fuel sources to imported oil. And it is a renewable fuel which can utilize surplus farm production capacity.

A troubling aspect of ethanol and bio-diesel, however, are seldom given mention in the farm states. What is troubling is the amount of energy it takes to convert grain and beans into fuel. Some critics suggest that amount of energy used to create ethanol and bio-diesel compounds our dependence on foreign oil and utilizes fuels that would otherwise be used for transportation and home heating.

There is a problem with how much energy outside that contained in corn and beans themselves it takes to make a gallon of fuel. This question is a nagging one circulating around Congress. Some colleges of agriculture have suggested that the question could be solved by powering the conversion into ethanol with ethanol, thereby not drawing heavily on other forms of energy in the manufacture of grain-based fuels. Farm belt legislators see the matter as one of growing significant in the development of energy policy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Labor unions pull out of talks with Pentagon

The Department of Defense is carrying out the union-busting program that began with Ronald Reagan and his mass firing of air traffic controllers in the early 1980s. Six labor unions have walked out of talks over work rules with Pentagon officials.

The Department of Defense wants to retain a proposed rule that would allow the Secretary of Defense to overrule or invalidate any labor contract or portion of it negotiated with the unions. The Department wants to maintain absolute control over the way employees are evaluated, promoted, and paid. Unions want consistent and fair rules.

In related matters, a number of member unions of the AFL-CIO are calling for the ouster of John Sweeney as head of the labor coalition. The major source of disaffection is over the amount of money and personnel devoted to union organizing.



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