Bye, bye, Ernie?

Quick, do you know what the official terror alert level color is right now? You should because it hasn’t changed since 2006. The official color scale is on the left and the much more memorable one is on the right.

terroralertcolors.jpg terroralertsesame.jpg

The system was a joke because it did not tell people anything useful. If the color changed, what implications did it have for the average person? How should their behavior change? No one knew. Furthermore, it quickly became reduced to only two colors, Bert and Ernie, but Ernie has been the sole possessor of the title for four years now, despite the failed Christmas bombing and Times Square plots that occurred during his reign.

The authorities must have been in a quandary because they were never going to lower the threat to Cookie Monster because that would not serve the purpose of keeping people in fear. Oscar was simply out of the question, dangled in front of people purely for window dressing, to give them the illusion that there would come a time when the war on terror was over. They could not also raise the level to Elmo because people might freak out thinking that the Armageddon had arrived.

Well, it looks like that system is on the way out. It not only will not be missed, its disappearance will not even be noticed.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I hope everyone who celebrates this really nice holiday has the opportunity to spend the day with family and friends.

This article provides some of the facts and debunks some myths about the origins and traditions of this holiday.

I have been disturbed by the creeping commercialism that is threatening to overtake this holiday. In order to lure customers to come to their stores first, they are scheduling sales that begin at midnight. What this means is that their employees are forced to work on Thanksgiving day, getting ready for the hordes of people camped out in front eager to get their hands on the few loss leaders that the stores put out. I hope we do not have a repetition of 2008:

A Wal-Mart worker died early Friday after an “out-of-control” mob of frenzied shoppers smashed through the Long Island store’s front doors and trampled him, police said.

The Black Friday stampede plunged the Valley Stream outlet into chaos, knocking several employees to the ground and sending others scurrying atop vending machines to avoid the horde.

On a passing note, this week my bank sent me a ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ card from its vice president. Do these big corporations think that people are pleased to receive formal greetings churned out by a computer? This not only seems like an absurd waste of money, I fear it might be the start of a new marketing trend to inflict the same cards-and-gifts consumer binge that afflicts Christmas.

Left-liberal smearing of John Tyner

Glenn Greenwald defends John Tyner against the attempt by The Nation to smear him for his protest against the TSA’s porno scanners and groping methods.

What is it with some people that they cannot form a united front with others on civil liberties issues unless the people protesting as well as who are being protested against fit with their broader agenda?

I myself do not care one whit if the protests against methods of the TSA are being fuelled and funded by right-wing ideologues and are meant to embarrass Obama. What has that got to do with whether the methods being used are good or not?

On free will-12: How about quick decisions?

(For previous posts in this series, see here.)

The 2008 research findings of Soon et. al., gave the surprising result that when we are allowed time to make decisions, our subconscious neural networks make the decisions up to ten seconds before we are consciously aware of it.

Of course, there are many situations in which we act without seeming to make any conscious decisions at all. If an object is suddenly thrown at us, we may duck, dodge, deflect, hit, or catch it, the ‘choice’ seemingly being made in much less than a second. In such cases, the action seems involuntary and we assign it to instinct, which is just another name for the unconscious neural activity of our brains. The instinct to duck when an object is directed at our head or to withdraw our hands from a hot object is due to the neural system having developed shortcuts because of its obvious survival value and has been selected for over a long time in our evolutionary history. The part of the brain that codes instincts must necessarily act very quickly to give commands to the motor brain in response to stimuli from the environment. Certain stimuli trigger a stimulus-action connection that bypasses those sections of the brain that indulge in time-consuming activities such as processing information and making judgments.
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