A brief history of toys

Seeing this store in Palo Alto’s main strip got me thinking about toys. What are toys? When were they invented and what exactly does this store sell?

I have decided that toys are manufactured items that either represent tools of adults or creatures (real or imaginary) that serve the purpose of helping children in their very natural activity of play.

It is worth noting that, unrefined –non-manufactured– items could also be considered toys. Since the invention of the spear and before, young children have undoubtedly emulated the adult hunt using raw, naturally sourced sticks.

Toys are rare in the archaeological record in great part because they are not critical tools which their manufacturers intend to last long. Toys are secondary or tertiary to all manufactured goods –tools, clothing, religious objects, dildos and even shiny stones are more important.

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Children playing with sticks. Source

Continue reading “A brief history of toys”

Finding New Bad Guys (or gals)

The Boston Marathon and terrorists.  I just read a news article about how the authorities interrogated, berated and mistreated some Saudi guy who was maimed at the bombing on Monday.  But why the Saudi dude? The answer is that while racism, bigotry, xenophobia are always en vogue, whom we villify, malign and ultimately try to kill-off changes from time to time.

Armed to the hilt, these men paused for a 20 minute exposure before probably trying to steal something and rape someone's daughter.
Armed to the hilt, these men leisurely posed for a 20 minute exposure before probably trying to steal something and rape someone’s daughter.

In the 40’s and 50’s the terrorists were the Indians -a polyphyletic group of people we were stil trying to exterminate. Mostly, the Indians were  interested in raping white women and were easily defeated by a gay, chaps-loving horseman  sporting a Colt 45. In the 60’s the terrorists were, of course, the Soviets. The soviets were scary because they did not mindlessly answer to their church leaders, they answered mindlessly to their fear of the Tzar’s Gulags.

In the 70’s it was an even split between airbone,  Muslim hijackers and the Soviets. Back then, the Muslims had nothing to lose because the world ran on their oil and in death their god would give them 70 women who would not know how badly they stank in bed. Things are different today, we learned our lesson, reduced our consumption of fossil fuels and invested in renewable energy collection.

In the 80’s we were afraid of East Germans and Soviets. The East Germans were, of course, the most dangerous since in them were combined Soviet hate of the West & German ingenuity and precision. The 90’s gave us a Celtic feel with Irish terrorists who wanted everyone to get pregnant and mindlessly follow a Polish guy who wanted to be a Sicilian who wanted to be Caesar. The decade also had some overtones of  a fear that the Soviets might retun, probably headed by The Zombiefied Lenin.

Muslim Terrorist with standard issue granade launcher, Kor'an, Sand-ski Mask, and vest. Notice the deceptively white skin.
Muslim Terrorist with standard issue granade launcher, Kor’an, Sand-ski Mask, and vest. Notice the deceptively white skin.

However, the 2000’s have been the domain of the Arab terrorist. One billion of these people, each of them instilled with a hate of American values from birth (much like the Soviets of old) each Muslim a likely sleeper cell trained to kill a man with a nailclipper and able to create a bomb from a shoe, a 5 oz bottle of antiperspirant and anything else he can hide in his wife’s burka.  These people are very scary because  they are like aliens, strange monsters whose way of life  and beliefs are nothing like ours. For starters, they all mindlessly follow the orders of guys who claim to speak to a bearded dude in the clouds. They are opposed to abortion, drug use, swearing but they believe in democracy (for men) and like movies with reckless car driving.  It’s like dealing with aliens from the Rigel star system –a system with an Arabic name. Coincidence? I think not.

Continue reading “Finding New Bad Guys (or gals)”

The deadly Facts

Delicious-food

A quick romp through Google Scholar will reveal some interesting facts. Together, LSD, Cannabis and Psilosibin mushrooms are responsible for approximately zero (0) deaths annually in the US (Passie et al 2008; Walker  & Huang (2002) while food takes about 5,000 god-fearing souls in the same period (Mead et al. 1999). This has relevance to some of our older legal and religious documents which prohibit all sorts of food, but have no mention of ‘Shrooms, the Dank or Acid.  In a related study (Gevirtz 2013), breast milk was identified as the “gateway” chemical to most food use in the developing world. In the US, water, baby formula and Gatorade were significant precursors to food use.  Nearly 99.5% of all heroin users reported having used water or breast milk in the past. Interestingly, 99.99% of people who died in 1997 had consumed food or breast milk prior to dying.

Conclusion: Stop eating food. It can fucking kill you.

Take a look at this article in the British Newspaper the Daily Mail: link.

References:

Gevirtz, M. A., (2013). Precursors to illegal drug use in US hospitalized patients. Journal for getting-of-tenure. 2(3) 302-315.

Mead, P. S., Slutsker, L., Dietz, V., McCaig, L. F., Bresee, J. S., Shapiro, C., … & Tauxe, R. V. (1999). Food-related illness and death in the United States.Emerging infectious diseases5(5), 607.

Passie, T., Halpern, J. H., Stichtenoth, D. O., Emrich, H. M. and Hintzen, A. (2008), The Pharmacology of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: A Review. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 14: 295–314. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-5949.2008.00059.x

Walker, J. M., & Huang, S. M. (2002). Cannabinoid analgesia. Pharmacology & therapeutics95(2), 127.

Dale J. Stephens and Company

Rockefeller, if building don't lie, he owned a lot of books.
Rockefeller, if building don’t lie, he owned a lot of books.

I thought I would take just one more moment to guide you in some research. How likely is it that you will be able to become the next GatesZukaStephens? Not likely at all. These men, men, enjoyed better than average educations. Just make a quick stop by the Wikipedia and search their names. Apparently if you study in France or go to the Phillips Exeter Academy, have the misfortune of being the grandson of a bank president,  or simply have the grades to go to Reed College. Sure Rockefeller and Jobs were not born rich, but again, do you have their drive, intelligence and good luck?

Think of it this way, it is very unlikely that you will win the lottery nut very likely that someone will. If your goals are small success is likely. For example, my goal is to work little, travel much, and maybe change the world a little bit, one rant and one romance at-a-time.

Universities and their attendant morons

You won’t mind if I make a snap judgment without informing myself of the facts. Today I read the New York Times article The Old College Try, No Way by Alex Williams. In a very readable way keeps the reader up-to-date on the en vogue criticism of the U.S. university system –a fashion trend I buy into. I visited one website mentioned in the article uncollege.org and was sorely disappointed. I expected to find a grass-roots organization not entirely dissimilar  from Free School (a.k.a anarchist free school; a.k.a. free skool). However it’s just a mediocre blog meant to help its owner sell his upcoming book.

Building more debt at Indiana University
Building more debt at Indiana University

From both the NYT article and the blog I get the impression that there is a growing number of people who think that somehow if they drop out of their university program (or simply not go) they will become Zukerberg-like billionaires, or at least millionaires. Naturally, thinking that -is silly- and to give him credit, I doubt that that is what Mr. Williams was trying to communicate. I think that we have to remember that most college students are, in a very technical sense, idiots.

Not everyone can be both creative, timely-in-their-ideas and have the social connections and/or financial wherewithal to become success. If you read the article, you will notice that something like half of the drop-out success they mentioned went to ivy-league schools. It is not coincidence that people who can get into ivy-league schools can find any amount of success when they drop out. George Bush Junior managed to fuck-up most of his college career (he got Cs) and got to bomb a few countries, raze a few forests and fuck up an economy or two. …easy, if you get to go to an Ivy-League university.

And why is the college debt problem so great? Not only because universities belong to the University-Industrial complex and their currency is debt, but also because many of these over-indulged sacks of protein and protoplasm choose to go to far fancier schools than they can afford thinking that the “better” school actually affords some benefits, i.e. putative job-placement success, “quality” of education, etc. (There is no debt problem if you really are flexible, you can ditch the U.S.A. when the shit really hits the fan. Have you any idea how easy it is to make money in foreign countries if you speak English and are white)

Besides, there is one major detail these people seem to miss. –and I may be corrected on the matter should you show me where? How about auditing classes? Why has no one mentioned this inexpensive gem? If learner’s concern is to gain knowledge which they can later apply to specific problems and goals, why not audit classes? Most US universities allow some amount of auditing of their classes, -some even allow indefinite auditing? To claim that universities are useless is to prove how much those who say such things are in need of a real education. Compare the personal success and the contributions to society made by college grads in the last 100 years. Remember, Gates and Jobs did not give us the computer, they were some of the guys who tuned out be the ones to market them en masse. It could have been someone else, but it wasn’t.

I agree that the US university system is badly bloated with useless pedagogues and equally useless students. The graduate studies systems are painful and soul crushing which, in my opinion, limit learning and narrow horizons of thought –but with good reason. While they could allow for more creativity they also have to get shit done in order to get that sweet green Fed paper to keep their little gears turning.

And furthermore, much of the cost of universities must be rolled into the core-requirements that they all have. And where do these come from? Well, if the goal is to make its pupils well-rounded problem-solvers, it is logical to expose them to a series of ideas and problems to give ‘em practice. So Aristotle, Aristophanes and Archimedes are reasonable people to learn about in the process of learning how to solve computing problems, lead people, and answer the question burning in all our hearts, why won’t Linsey Lohan fuck me?  However, if any of these students were well prepared and vaguely educated, and, if those people who would be best off going to trade schools were to do so, maybe the our University system would work a bit better. Let’s face it; the University-going crowd of 2012 ain’t what it was 50 or 100 years ago.

You can pay $750 to not go to college.
You can pay $750 to not go to college.

So what would these little students do after four years if they didn’t have any debt? Do you think they’d contribute to finding life in the solar system, or finding a way of making energy portable without gasoline? Or would they backpack through India or Peru? Fuck no. Remember, they are not the creative ones. They have to buy a book, or be connected to other “dissenters” in order to realize that they are shackled to our economic system. Anyway, if they are buying books or attending conferences in order to learn how not to pay so much money for an education, they probably will fail and stay regular people, with regular lives and occasional 4 day 5 night cruises to some US colony, like Cancún.

Addendum

Despotrico about la Langue

My formal knowledge of the principles, observations and discoveries of evolution is weak, to say the least. However I hold onto some ideas that I am certain are true, not just because I remember learning these from romps through the Wikipedia or from the odd biology classes I took in university or from my myriad conversations with biologists I respect very much, but because they are logical. The last sentence was long. The last sentence was shorter. This one’s short.

Text humor aside, it is absurd to think that some trait should arise from nothing, nowhere. It wasn’t that one day there were cells in the ocean, and the next morning there were worms. There were steps in between, that may have been spaced closely together in time, or far apart, but they were there. Whatever it is that we call “language” is, it is no different and no more special than the sum of our cognitive abilities. Just like our limbs are adapted fins, Just like our eyes are adapted nerve cells, language is not a thing all its own.

This is especially true because language does not exist in the absence of multiple animals using it, and it does not appear in those unfortunate few who are never exposed to it. Just as thoughts, spacial mapping, and decision trees are a product of the neural networks that developed in higher-order animals, language is a product of the neural nets that the many brains/animals form when they engage each other. The connection between neurons is electro-chemical, the one among humans today is photo-mechanical, because in the simplest forms, we use photons and moving air to convey brain-states.

The famous pathological cases of language-less-ness Broca’s and Wernike’s are examples of problems in the sound signaling system, not in any human’s ability to understand the world. Those who suffer from aphasia still manage to think, yet they cannot communicate with language. So language involves creating sound signals (unless you speak sign language(s)) and perceiving them. There cannot be some part of the brain which we could easily call “language” because there is no part of the brain which we call “walk” nor “happy” nor “go to the store and buy cheese and flirt with the sexy brunette at the register.”

Let me quickly mention that words are likely not the stuff of thought because A). many things humans do are language-less, B.) often, it is hard if not impossible to express how we feel until someone says the words for us (matching words with non-word neural states) and  C.) of course great things have been figured out sans mots. For example, Otto Loewi solved some issue involving nerve signaling in a dream (Valenstein, 2005). It can be a long and painful procedure to communicate some set of belief with language. Sometimes this is impossible. Often the process involves a lot of “you know”,  sabes?

What is more is that even without future experiments that will change our view of language, there is clear evidence that what I say (and presumably any other half-informed schmuck) is true. For example, many parts of human communication have little to do with words. A few of these seem universal, such as our reaction to sound and music, (for example: Krumhansl et al., 2000). Sauter, Eisner, Ekman and Scott (2010) convincingly show that what I believe must be a large percentage of in-person or audio/visually communicated information has nothing to do with Chomsky’s “language.” The authors state things better than I could, when they sort out what sounds are clearly universal, which are strongly filtered by culture and how certain signals/sounds can be ambiguous or unintelligible to other cultures. “Negative” signals such as fear and disgust are interpreted almost universally, while “positive” emotions less so.

Al mismo tiempo quiero que usted lea mis palabras que aquí escribo y que me diga que es lo que estoy diciendo. Not bloody likely. So, clearly some part of our communicative system is learned from experience because most people cannot understand it.  You know this is true when you consider the slangs, inside jokes, friend codes and other devices that arise naturally among people with a lot of contact with each other. Hell, think about how un-understandable people who speak another dialect are when they do not attempt to accommodate your linguistic needs.

A study like that of Gooskens (2000) provides evidence for this fact. It is generally known among linguists and language enthusiasts that Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are closely related and “mutually-intelligible.” I put this term in quotation marks because we have not carefully defined what actually means, but instead, I rely on some “common understanding.” Gooskens determines that phonetic differences are the greatest impediment to mutual understanding for speakers across these language barriers. This gives credence to several arguments, not least of which is “that a language is a dialect with an army.”

Noam Chomsky, Linguist -image courtesey of wikipedia.org

Chomsky, I suspect would argue that this is evidence that he is correct with his universal grammar idea and the Minimalist Program of Generative Syntax. Something like: “See, it is just pronunciation that is getting in the way.” But the fact is that speakers of these three languages have grown up with the same grammar, more or less, and so the only thing keeping them from understanding one another is experience with one another. This can be understood as evidence that a language is a tacit agreement for how we will communicate thoughts that, ironically, are a product of the mutual communication. The phonetic system is one aspect: the one that deals with how to transmit the ideas which themselves may have anything to do with language.  The Germans must therefore excel in schadenfreude since they have a whole sound pattern dedicated to that thought.

Notice that while Spanish and Japanese have similar phonetic systems, I haven’t a clue of what they are saying, even when the grammar is clarified for me.  I also have no clue what people mean when they speak to me in Norwegian, not because Norwegians belong to another species –a possible hypothesis, but because my brain cells do not match theirs, except where laughter and grimaces are concerned.

To speak a language is to have been trained by ceaseless bombardment with those neural patterns, which we test ourselves, with greater accuracy and improving results. Young children speak like morons and sound like stupid foreigners. They suck at learning languages. It takes them fucking years to master the sounds, and some people never gain much control over the ideas that language can convey, nor can they understand much of what is called “their language” due to a serious lack of education, i.e. exposure to the ideas. In fact, even after an adult language learner has mastered his/her new language’s “grammar” and has acquired great flexibility with the phonetics, they still have a lot of trouble communicating their emotions, negotiating, and dealing with everyday life –because there are narrow codes for how to say things, mmkay? With enough exposure they learn, that is,  if they care…

How you show deference in one African language is different for how you do so in an East Asian language. This is learned. Being happy or sad is not.

At this point in my ramblings I hope to have argued, at least in an introductory way, that language is the sum of our cognitive abilities, why it has to do with learned behaviors (social programming of neural networks) and sound patterns (encoding forms) and innate aspects that have to do with emotions and our ability to carry out basic functions which all animals address in one way or another: avoiding crap, getting food, etc. Some things will naturally be similar across languages because brains use approximately the same genetic code to generate the brains  whose neural activity can be transmitted in human communication, a small part of which is accused of being language and studied as such. Other aspects are learned and are unique to the people who share the code and the thoughts they construct together, and so when Chomsky and his cronies decipher Linear A, I will admit to being wrong.

Some citations:

  • Krumhansl, C. L., Toivanen, P., Eerola, T., Toiviainen, P., Järvinen, T., & Louhivuori, J. (2000). Cross-cultural music cognition: Cognitive methodology applied to North Sami yoiks. Cognition76(1), 13-58.
  • Sauter, D. A., Eisner, F., Ekman, P., & Scott, S. K. (2010). Cross-cultural recognition of basic emotions through nonverbal emotional vocalizations.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences107(6), 2408-2412.
  • Valenstein, E. S. (2005). The war of the soups and the sparks: the discovery of neurotransmitters and the dispute over how nerves communicate. Columbia University Press.

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