Having informed my father that I absolutely refused to believe gas prices could remain as high as they are, and that a solution must be found SOMETIME!, his only response was to tell me he’d vote for me. It’s not like I was volunteering, or anything. Only complaining.

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Suppose you took a round ball of steel, the size of the earth, and an ant that could never die. You put the ant on the ball, and it started walking around the ball. Gradually, it would wear a small track in the metal. In a while, say a few billion years, it would have worn a track an inch deep.

And Eternity would have barely begun.

Hope you don’t mind my using that, daddy o. 🙂

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Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds…

…or bends with the remover to remove.
Oh, no. It is an ever fix-ed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken…”
(Wm. Shakespeare, quoted in that Inestimable Film, Sense and Sensibility)

We watched a rather twee and twaddlesome romantic movie last night. There were funny moments, and a good moral message, but one thing stood out to me after we had finished it:
The man had no faults. He was always patient, always kind, always right, always gentle. There is no reality in such characterization. Seeing such a poor portrayal made me reflect (as many things do) upon Jane Austen’s true command of characterization. We love her heroes, but they are not perfect. Mr. Darcy will forever battle his pride. Edmund Bertram has a propensity to misjudge character. Mr. Bingley has to learn a strength of character.
These men do not become less worthy because of their faults. Indeed, their recognition of these problem areas makes them more endearing (in Mr. Darcy’s case, he was forced to face his pride before he became endaring at all). Despite smarmy made-for-TV movies, no woman should really expect a perfect man to come along (there’s a reason he’s called Mr. Right and not Mr. Perfect, ladies). What should be expected is a right man who is set on correcting his errors. This is not an unrealistic vision. It should be the only vision a woman has. If she expects perfection, she’s going to be hurt. Badly.

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Cognitive Ability in Birds & Others

Fascinating article, combining several Common Room interests:

Animals using tools:

In experiments by Alex Weir and his colleagues at Oxford University, a captive New Caledonian crow named Betty was frustrated when she couldn’t use a bit of straight wire — which she’d never seen before the start of the experiment — to snag food from a tiny bucket. Pausing for an instant after an unsuccessful try, she took the wire, bent it around the edge of the food tub, and then snagged the bucket handle with the hook she had fashioned herself.

(If you want the proof, a Quicktime movie of Betty in action is on the Web at: sciencemag.org/feature/data/crow/)

Chimpanzees poke sticks into termite mounds for dinner, but none has ever been known to make even a simple tool — like straightening a bent piece of pipe in order to reach an apple through a hole — without being carefully coached by humans, Weir said. The lowly crow shows far more advanced “cognitive behavior” than chimps, the closest genetic relatives of humans, according to Weir and Jarvis’ colleagues.

Brain research:

Thus, it was assumed that only the brains of the “highest” animals like chimps and humans had the cognitive ability to think and learn. That ability was assumed to lie in specific layers of brain cells inside the cerebral cortex. Birds — having no similar cortex — were believed to act only through instinct, which is governed by cells in the brain’s basal ganglia.

Now, however, modern brain researchers have discovered that bird brains have large clusters of nerve cells occupying space in the brain called the pallium, and that these cell clusters are equally responsible for reasoning, learning and concentrating.


“We have to get rid of the idea that mammals — and humans in particular — are the pinnacle of evolution. We also have to understand that evolution is not linear, but an intricate branching process,” Jarvis says. “We can’t automatically expect to track a structure in the human brain back to other current vertebrate species.”


In their studies of the brain anatomy of birds and mammals, Jarvis and his colleagues have found many similarities that have long been unrecognized. In the cortex of the human brain, for example, there are six different layers of cells that control functions like speech, learning and concentration. And while songbirds have no such distinct layers, their brains do hold separate clusters of cells that perform “complex cognitive behavior.”

Pigeon brains, for example, are endowed with such cell clusters, and the birds are great learners, as a team of Japanese experimenters has found.

The Japanese psychologists found that they could teach pigeons to discriminate between the abstract paintings of Picasso and the impressionistic works of Monet. In several tests the pigeons learned to recognize the difference between the jazzy jumble of Picasso’s famed “Three Musicians” and Monet’s far more realistic painting “Lady With a Parasol.” They could even tell when an image of the Monet painting was shown to them upside-down — but it was all the same to them when they looked at an upside-down copy of Picasso’s work, the researchers noted.

Bonnet tip to Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost, who points out that

What is most striking about this discovery is that scientists had previously been basing their ideas of the inferiority of bird brains not on objective evidence (could a monkey do this?) but on data that had confirmed their assumptions. Philosophers of science, though, wouldn’t be all that surprised since this is a micro-level example of a macro-level feature of theories – the limited explanatory value of empirical data.

The DeputyHeadmistress has never subscribed to the view that tool making is what distinguishes humans from animals. One had ones doubts even in grade school when first introduced to this concept. Even then it seemed to one that tool-making as the defining act of being human was somewhat soulless. In fact, one presumes this was the point.

As mentioned here before, one of the Common Room children is severely disabled. She has brain damage probably due to oxygen deprivation at birth. She does not speak, though she does babble. She has a few signs to communicate her basic wants and needs- toilet, eat, drink, bath, more, Mama, Papa, drive/car, color, songbook/Bible/sing, church, banana, apple, please…

She does not speak, but she does hum little tunes of her own. She likes to color, scribbles, really, but she enjoys herself and she chooses her own colors, with an emphasis on vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. She likes to go to church, and she has cried and signed for Mama during the hymn singing at church when Mama wasn’t there. Mama sings rather loudly.

The DeputyHeadmistress had long suspected that less measurable qualities than tool making are more definitive of the essense of being a member of humanity. Among those qualities the Headmistress would place the ability to make or enjoy art, including music, and the impulse to worship. Joe Carter points out:

It is an empirical truth, for example, that crows and pigeons can have more functioning cognitive abilities than some mentally disabled humans. But such data conveys no moral knowledge. Empiricism can tell us about the brains of sparrows and humans but it cannot tell us their worth.

A final distinguishing characteristic the DeputyHeadmistress would note is that human beings are made in the image of God. That people like our young Cherub are human beings, fully entitled to the same respect and rights as any other human being is axiomatic- it is one of those truths we hold to be self-evident.

One would like to think that ruminations about this sort of thing are comfortble philosophic speculations without life or death ramifications. One would be indulging in irresponsible wishful thinking. After all, Terri Schiavo was dehydrated to death deliberately, by court order- and at least some people justify that execution because of claims that the human part of her had died, which they claim to know because of her lack of cognitive ability to perform at some level comfortable to those who preferred her dead.

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Lebanon Needs Support

Spirit of America reminds us that Lebanon needs continuted attention and support. Quotes from the website:

We have seen Muslims and Christians side by side praying together and working for free elections. This is extraordinary.

Syria is publicly acting like it is playing nice and withdrawing. Behind the scenes they are destabilizing the country, delaying the elections and intimidating the opposition. The good guys in Lebanon need our support.

We met one of the opposition leaders for lunch and asked him what, more than anything else, he wants the rest of the world to know. The most important thing, he said, is that the world must not forget about them. The democratic activists are beyond the point of no return. They will fight Syrian occupation and infiltration of their country all the way to the end no matter what happens, whether they are abandoned or not. But nothing will help them more than continued exposure and our continued support.

What else can we do to help? Click on the above link and keep reading.

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