Authentic and pissed-off


I turned on the TV the other night and saw former Senator Jim Webb. Webb just threw his hat into the ring as a Democratic presidential candidate.  His face reminds me of the kid in my school who wanted to beat me up when we were nine.  Fenny Fitzpatrick would come up to where I was sitting in class and whisper through his clenched teeth "Horvitz, I call you out!"  Even before I knew what that meant, I could tell from Fenny's face that he wasn't planning anything very fun.

Still, I have a good feeling about Webb because I remember this exchange he had with then-President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony:

Bush: "How's your boy?" (referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq).
Webb: "I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President."
Bush: "That's not what I asked you. How's your boy?"
Webb (coldly): "That's between me and my boy, Mr. President."

He was a tough guy, and for those of who were anti-Bush, he was our tough guy.

But I don't think Webb has a chance to win the Presidency. Ever.  For two reasons.

"I call you out Mr. President"
#1  His demeanor, facial expressions, voice intonation can be summed up in one (hyphenated) word:  "Pissed-off".

Webb may be pissed-off for excellent reasons.  But when "pissed-off" is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of a candidate, that candidate's going to have a hard time getting elected.

And ....
#2.  He's authentic and honest.  Combined with #1 it means that a political consultant won't be able to get him to warm up for the cameras.  No matter how much they beg him to smile cheerfully during political events, his authenticity will keep him from faking it.  

John Edwards is Webb's opposite. According to David
Axelrod, Edwards' campaign manager during the 2004
Presidential campaign, Edwards fit the old expression:
The most important thing is authenticity. And if you can 
fake that, you've got it made. Unlike cheery and
smarmy John Edwards, Webb is authentic

The respectable little fat molecule

Funny that when you look at the structure of a fat molecule, there's nothing 'fatty'- or 'greasy'-looking about it.

The top molecule, a saturated fat looks almost exactly like the unsaturated fat. Except notice the two carbon (C) atoms toward the middle of the unsaturated fat that have a double bond with one another and only attach to one H atom each, while the same C atoms in the saturated fat  each have bonds to two hydrogen (H) atoms.  That's the difference.  Big deal!  And yet the saturated fat is in butter, lard, bacon, and pizza, and is the thing that keeps your cardiologist in a BMW.  The unsaturated fat (unsaturated' in the sense that those two C atoms are not saturated with all the H's to which they could in principle bond) is the healthier type of fat found in olive oil.

In the same way I'm surprised and a little disappointed  that neuronal cells of the brain don't 'glow' with thought energy, I feel that saturated fat molecules ought to be disgusting to look at.  Over the years, I've gotten used to the fact that the neuronal elements of thought don't look thoughtful.  If I were a biochemist, I guess I'd be accustomed to the fact the saturated fat molecule is perfectly pleasant to look at.  Or maybe an experienced biochemist would take one look at saturated fat molecule and feel her arteries starting to clog. Differences in structure and function at the cellular or molecular levels of analysis give rise to different and interesting properties when they act as part of larger systems.

No. There's not really any popcorn in the brain

The promiscuous internet reader

Feb 13, 2015

It's ironic that I write these blog posts for others to read when it's so hard for me to read on the internet.  I can read the news: the newest allegations about Bill Cosby, ISIS atrocities, Republican outrage when Obama pointed out that the Crusades and Inquisition weren't very nice moments in the history of Christianity.  No problem reading that kind of thing.  But it's hard for me to settle down and read on the internet the kinds of things I might read in a book.  With internet reading, I rarely pause and think about an idea for a few moments and patiently pick up from where I left off.  On the internet, I hand control over to impulsive, impatient Jon.

Maybe it's because it's so easy for me to jump from what I'm reading to something else.  A quick movement of my finger, and I've selected a new link.  Let me try it now to be sure. ....  Right. I just switched articles with a slight increase in pressure of my index finger against a touch pad.  I didn't even have to move my wrist.  How does effortless switching affect our behavior? Imagine being on a date and having drinks and an enjoyable conversation with a very nice person.  But now imagine that all you need to do is wrinkle your nose (like Samantha in Bewitched) for that partner to be switched with another interesting-looking person sitting on a barstool nearby.  Why would you wrinkle your nose to switch when you're already enjoying yourself with bachelorette (or bachelor) #1?  To follow the analogy, there's nothing to lose because if it turns out that #2's not for you, just wrinkle your nose to switch back to #1.

By lowering the cost of switching back and forth to a negligible level, our commitment to follow through on our current choice seems to inevitably fall as well. And so, with that in mind, if you actually arrive to the end of these three paragraphs without interrupting for a switch, it's a real miracle.  Now go ahead and wrinkle your nose or click on something else.

Meet the Magical Neurons


The narrator says that these neurons are responsible for seeing, hearing and even being able to appreciate this video. Of course, they also allow you to read this post, and for me to write it.  I normally attribute ownership of my thoughts, emotions, my inner life, to the face I see in the mirror. My inner life belongs to 'him', and 'him' means a person with eyes of a certain color, nose of a certain shape, etc.  My 'him' does not refer to the deep forest of neurons which I know live inside my skull, but which I've never seen.  Of course I know that behind that curtain of skin cells stretched out over a frame of facial bones my inner world belongs to the neurons. Still, it would make me dizzy to keep this in mind as I go through my day.  After many years studying and teaching neuroscience, the idea is still disorienting.

I will take a break from these posts until about February 15, 2015.  I wish everyone a wonderful holiday season.