Changing racial identities

The Rachel Dolezal story (the 37-year old woman president of the Spokane, Washington NAACP with white parents who for some time since leaving college has presented herself as black) has certainly got people’s attention. Given that at bottom it seems to be a story of one person’s attempt to start a new life with a new identity in a new community, something that is not at all unusual given the mobile nature of modern society, the media buzz is extraordinary. The reason is of course because questions of race are always hot-button ones and also because of this story’s man-bites-dog nature. Stories of black people passing as white are not uncommon and, given the history of slavery and anti-black racism in the US, quite understandable. But white people adopting a black identity, while not unprecedented, is certainly unusual.
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Hysteria and slapping

While scanning the bookshelf in my house looking for a particular volume, I happened to come across a copy of one of the most well-known Agatha Christie novels Ten Little Indians that is a detective story without a detective, consisting of a somewhat contrived plot in which ten people are invited to an isolated island by a mysterious host and then get killed off one by one in a manner that reflects the children’s poem from which the book’s title is taken.
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Why don’t our brains explode when we watch films?

Suppose you are sitting in your living room and suddenly everything in front of you changed to something else, say a view of the ocean. Wouldn’t you be startled? And yet, when we watch films, a cut from one scene to another changes also the entire field of view instantaneously and yet it causes us no problems. And reports about the public viewing of the very first films suggest that this new thing did not cause viewers any problems at all. I wrote a few months ago about the research by Jeffrey M. Zacks, a professor of psychology and radiology at Washington University in St. Louis, and others about why our brains are not disoriented when we watch films with even very rapid cuts that change the entire field of view instantaneously.
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Hands-free cell phone use should be banned

More and more jurisdictions are cracking down on the use of cell phones by drivers. To read or text while driving is of course insane, but talking on the cell phone is also bad and is being increasingly banned. Up to now, the use of hands-free devices has not come under much criticism and laws banning cell phone use have exempted them. Some new cars even have such a system built in, adding to the suggestion that its use is safe.
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Cuba’s lung cancer vaccine and other medical breakthroughs

Those who follow Cuba know that despite the harsh embargo that the US has imposed on that nation for over 50 years out of sheer spite because it is no longer a US client state, that country has managed to maintain a free universal health care system that is even able to send nurses and doctors to other developing countries in the world and to deal with emergencies, such as the recent Ebola outbreak in west Africa when it sent hundreds of medical professionals.
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The tricky business of riding a bike

Anyone who has learned to ride a bicycle has experienced the feeling that one will never master it until suddenly, you get the hang of it and feel that sense of exhilaration as for the first time you cruise along without fear of falling. The bike now seems so stable that you cannot imagine why it took you so long to learn. But why it is so stable is not easy to understand. I have written before about how the stability of the humble bicycle is actually quite mysterious from a physics point of view.
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