Friday Night Music

This will date me, but great music is great music.

Have a good weekend. And then gird yourself for the stress of Nov. 8. I’m nervous for our Republic….

Concept Of The Day: Scientism

Just came across this, from this engrossing story called “Zoo Animals And Their Discontents“:

The philosopher Thomas Nagel, who wrote the seminal essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” used a term for the tendency to deny the existence of phenomena that cannot be proved empirically. “Scientism,” he wrote in 1986, “puts one type of human understanding in charge of the universe and what can be said about it. At its most myopic, it assumes that everything there is must be understandable by the employment of scientific theories like those we have developed to date — physics and evolutionary biology are the current paradigms — as if the present age were not just another in the series.”

It is presented in the article as an argument against the tendency among animal scientists and animal keepers to go to extremes to avoid anthropomorphism. But scientism–the idea that if science hasn’t proved it yet it must not be true; ignoring the possibility that science may YET prove it–is a phenomenon that I see across many spheres, from animal intelligence to the connections between diet and health (for example in the gluten debate).

We should be open to anecdotal evidence, and what our instincts and experience tell us, about the world around us (pet owners, for a long time, knew more about the emotional lives of animals than researchers did). We may not KNOW the truth, or have proof, of why something is the way it is. But sometimes we might have a pretty good idea, good enough to act on, even if the science isn’t definitive one way or the other yet.

Character Counts

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My daughter’s 7th grade class is thinking about character–what it is, how it is created, and whether it can be shaped.

For the record, the latest social science says that the 7 character traits most linked to success and happiness are:

–Optimism (I struggle with this one; I know too much)

–Gratitude (I try, I try)

–Social Intelligence (I’m not exactly sure what this is but I think I have it)

–Curiosity (Definitely)

–Self-Control (Usually)

–Enthusiasm (Sometimes)

–Grit (Mine is more like stubborness, but I think that counts)

My daughter watched this 8-minute video, which is a beautiful and artfully crafted homage to the idea that developing good character traits, and appreciating good character traits in others, is a stupendous force for good. It really makes me want to keep trying to be a better person.

(It also had the virtue of introducing me to the clever and captivating work of Tiffany Schlain and her Moxie Institute).

Annals Of Corporate Oligarchy: Burying Wall Street Fraud

This isn’t my usual bailiwick. But the appalling, frustrating, and ultimately dispiriting story Matt Taibbi tells about the fate of key Wall Street whistleblowerAlayne Fleischmann reveals (yet again) the essential corruption of our democracy, and the degree to which corporate power and influence dominate public policy. And that is arguably one of the biggest hurdles to getting anything sensible done on everything from climate change to income inequality.

Here’s the set-up:

Back in 2006, as a deal manager at the gigantic bank, Fleischmann first witnessed, then tried to stop, what she describes as “massive criminal securities fraud” in the bank’s mortgage operations.

Thanks to a confidentiality agreement, she’s kept her mouth shut since then. “My closest family and friends don’t know what I’ve been living with,” she says. “Even my brother will only find out for the first time when he sees this interview.”

Six years after the crisis that cratered the global economy, it’s not exactly news that the country’s biggest banks stole on a grand scale. That’s why the more important part of Fleischmann’s story is in the pains Chase and the Justice Department took to silence her.

She was blocked at every turn: by asleep-on-the-job regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission, by a court system that allowed Chase to use its billions to bury her evidence, and, finally, by officials like outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, the chief architect of the crazily elaborate government policy of surrender, secrecy and cover-up. “Every time I had a chance to talk, something always got in the way,” Fleischmann says.

This past year she watched as Holder’s Justice Department struck a series of historic settlement deals with Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. The root bargain in these deals was cash for secrecy. The banks paid big fines, without trials or even judges – only secret negotiations that typically ended with the public shown nothing but vague, quasi-official papers called “statements of facts,” which were conveniently devoid of anything like actual facts.

And now, with Holder about to leave office and his Justice Department reportedly wrapping up its final settlements, the state is effectively putting the finishing touches on what will amount to a sweeping, industrywide effort to bury the facts of a whole generation of Wall Street corruption. “I could be sued into bankruptcy,” she says. “I could lose my license to practice law. I could lose everything. But if we don’t start speaking up, then this really is all we’re going to get: the biggest financial cover-up in history.”

Read the whole thing. Here’s how one watchdog describes the problem to Taibbi:

“The kid-gloves approach that the DOJ and the SEC take with Wall Street is as inexplicable as it is indefensible,” says Dennis Kelleher of the financial reform group Better Markets, which would later file suit challenging the Chase settlement. “They typically charge only one offense when there are dozens. It would be like charging a serial murderer with a single assault and giving them probation.”

Like Edward Snowden, Fleischmann tried to do the right thing by working within the system to report the fraud she witnessed. As with Edward Snowden, the system failed, chewing her up and trying to bury her instead of addressing the crimes she reported. So, to her credit, she went outside the system despite the consequences to her life and career, in the desperate hope that justice will be done.

That is an act of bravery. Hopefully, that will turn out to mean something.

Quote Of The Day

“I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?’”

–Pope Francis (from his list of tips to becoming a happier person).

The Sirens Of The Lambs

The artist Banksy, in his own inimitable way, is forcing New Yorkers to think about livestock, and the transportation of livestock, with a project called Sirens Of The Lambs. How? With a transport that has stuffed animals peeking through the slats and making squealing noises. It is being driven around the Meatpacking District for two weeks.

Good one, Banksy.

Smart Humor

The world can sometimes make it hard to laugh, so humor is important. Here’s a pretty funny list of “intellectual” jokes.

Two examples:

1) A Buddhist monk approaches a hotdog stand and says “make me one with everything”.

2) Wife walks in on husband, a string theorist, in bed with another woman. He shouts, “I can explain everything!”

Okay, back to usual programming…

Mosquitos And Captive Animals

It’s not just killer whales in captivity who are vulnerable to mosquito-borne diseases. Seems that zoos are having a hard time preventing penguins from being killed by malaria:

Zoos all around the world love penguins. They’re cute, they don’t require much space, they never eat zookeepers. And children adore watching them, especially at feeding time.

But as carefree as they might look, torpedoing through the water or rocketing into the air like a Poseidon missile, zoo penguins are stalked by an unrelenting killer: malaria.

“It’s probably the top cause of mortality for penguins exposed outdoors,” said Dr. Allison N. Wack, a veterinarian at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, which is building a new exhibit that will double its flock to a hundred birds. If left untreated, the disease would probably kill at least half the birds it infected, though outbreaks vary widely in intensity.

The avian version is not a threat to humans because mosquitoes carrying malaria and the parasites are species-specific; mosquitoes that bite birds or reptiles tend not to bite mammals, said Dr. Paul P. Calle, chief veterinarian for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs New York City’s zoos. And avian malaria is caused by strains of the Plasmodium parasite that do not infect humans.

But for penguins in captivity, the threat is so great that many zoos dose their birds in summer with pills for malaria, said Dr. Richard Feachem, director of global health at the University of California, San Francisco.

Most of the penguin exhibits I have seen (the Central Park Zoo penguin exhibit comes to mind) are crowded, dirty, and sad. Maybe we’ll feel differently about keeping penguins in zoos if the avian malaria virus mutates into a strain that infects humans.