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Archive for August 2012

They think, therefore they are

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Sorry Rene, turns out animals aren’t mindless machines after all. It comes as a surprise that it took so long but science has finally, officially declared that non-human animals are conscious beings. I talk about the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness over at the mighty Scavenger.

Here’s a taste:

[I]t comes as something of a surprise to learn of a declaration made last month at a conference of some of the world’s leading brain researchers. According to its website, the first annual Francis Crick Memorial Conference, “focussing on ‘Consciousness in Humans and Non-Human Animals”, aims to provide a purely data-driven perspective on the neural correlates of consciousness.”

The statement, known as The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, was signed by some of the world’s leading neuroscientists, including Diana Reiss and Christof Koch, in the presence of Stephen Hawking no less, and its conclusion has many in the science world talking:

“The weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

As this Psychology Today blogger notes, the idea that animals have some sort of thought process and are aware of their surroundings isn’t really news to many of us, which brings up two pertinent questions: 1) Why has it taken so long for science to officially recognise the consciousness of other species? And 2) What is the significance of this declaration?

Read the rest here.

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Written by Ruby

August 28, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Posted in Animal Rights, Science

The best article on the Akin ‘legitimate rape’ travesty.

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So, there really isn’t much to say on this that hasn’t been said many times over, but I wanted to share what I think is the most astute commentary on the whole incident. From Ilyse Hogue at The Nation:

The Twittersphere went nuts yesterday after a video was posted of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin expressing some jaw-dropping views on rape and abortion in an interview with local news:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

The short-term consequences of such an incendiary remark are predictable: Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill will trumpet the remark to her own political advantage, donations will spike to her campaign and the party committees will offer the remark as one more proof point of the GOP’s war on women. But the impact of Akin’s effort to redefine the terms of this debate reaches beyond this one race. In the multidimensional chess that shapes public opinion, the game is less about individual elections and more about a sustained effort to mainstream radical ideas. In the case of denying women control over their lives, there’s evidence that the bad guys may be winning the long-game.

Akin was Paul Ryan’s co-sponsor on a House bill just last year banning the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of “forcible rape.” This term seemed laughably redundant since all rape, by definition, is forced. But this redefinition of rape was deceptively sinister. Statutory rapists often use coercion but not physical force. If the measure had passed, a 13-year-old emotionally manipulated into having sex with an older friend or relative would no longer be able to use Medicaid to terminate a resulting pregnancy. Nor would her parents be able to use their tax-exempt health savings fund.

While the measure was defeated, conversation around it introduced skepticism about whether all rape is created equal and what distinctions should be recognized by law. Instead of making him politically toxic, Ryan’s support of the pioneering forcible rape measure likely made him a more attractive vice presidential candidate to a Romney campaign needing to energize the right-wing base.

And whether or not Akin loses this cycle, his comments have already escalated the stakes. In his world view, the rape victim’s body will be the ultimate judge of whether a crime has taken place. If she gets pregnant, by Akin’s standard, her reproductive organs consented to the pregnancy, so she must have consented to the sex. This bizarre standard of innocence is reminiscent of medieval Europe, where the men in authority held the similarly scientific view that women guilty of witchcraft floated in water while innocent women would drown. Being cleared of witchcraft was of course not much consolation to the drowned women, though they at least got to skip being burned at the stake.

Akin’s comments appear an awful lot like step one in the GOP’s favorite two-step tactic to redefine the world around us: first, more extreme figures voice opinions that would never fly from more politically palatable ones. The right-wing echo chamber picks up those opinions in the guise of news coverage. Then, the more politically acceptable candidates shift their rhetoric to acknowledge the newly accepted opinion as reality.

 

Do go over and read the whole thing. It’s phenomenal.

Written by Ruby

August 21, 2012 at 6:31 am

The Month of Feasting

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A couple of years ago, I came across an online news article discussing a study that had found that Egyptian Muslims actually eat and drink more during Ramadan than any other time of year. I have been trying to find that article to share here with no luck, but this piece covers similar ground.

Now, I haven’t fasted in more than 15 years, but much of my family still does. Occasionally, the whole extended family will get together for Iftar, the nightly breaking of the fast. Once a modest affair (the early Muslims broke their fast with a couple of dates and a prayer), has turned into a veritable feast. Dessert consumption also goes through the roof at this time of year. Visit any Lebanese sweet shop in Sydney about one hour before sundown and you’ll know what I mean.

I always thought it ironic that a religious practice meant to encourage reflection, sacrifice and frugality has been so thoroughly distorted. Is there really anything to be gained from depriving oneself during the day, only to gorge like there’s no tomorrow the minute the sun disappears over the horizon?

 

Written by Ruby

August 14, 2012 at 11:17 pm

Posted in Islam

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