Reflections… My Origins, and How They Influenced my Kids

As I’m about to see my youngest graduate from high school and head out into the world, I’m thinking about the people they’ve become, the forces that shaped them, and in turn the forces that shaped me. If you know me, you know that I am socially and politically liberal, and an atheist. I like to think that I act against perceived injustice, that I care about others, and that I try to treat everyone with respect (respect is the default – you don’t have to earn it, but it is yours to lose). I also know that I can be lazy and somewhat of a slob, but I’m focusing on the positive here.

My Dad was an older father – he was ~50 when I was born (I was 44 when Natalie and Nick were born). He traveled a lot for his job (manufacturer’s representative) and struggled with alcoholism for much of the time that I knew him; this contributed to his suicide when I was 14. I saw him expressing curiosity about the mundane; in his travels he frequently stopped at businesses that caught his attention just to see what it was that they did, befriending plant managers and seeing the shop floors. He often came home with samples (I got many plastic model kits as a result of this). He went out of his way to help others; two examples: my school needed bleachers for the soccer fields and he arranged to have the metal supports forged (cast? welded?) and probably provided the 2x12s that served as the bench seats; when my school put in a weight room, he knew about an abandoned foundry that had cast weights, and arranged for us to go in and salvage multiple weight sets (or maybe we trespassed and stole them, but I believe the former). He was politically on the right–we hosted a big barbecue as a fundraiser for Nixon’s 1960 campaign (I still remember the 3-foot portrait of Nixon that confronted me every time I went into our attic after that)–and he struggled with racial equality (I think he recognized it and tried to embrace it, but he came from a time when it was not the norm). When he and my Mom first married they bought a huge abandoned and overgrown mansion, which he then made livable and beautiful with lots of sweat equity; I still commune with him when I do yard work. Sadly the house fell into disrepair after his death, but has been restored as a bed-and-breakfast.

Dad gave me an appreciation of the value of hard work, and of the work done by other people, as well as a willingness to help others.

My Mom was a strong advocate of education, although she had only been able to afford one year of college thanks to a generous community scholarship. It was a given, from the time my brother and I were very young, that we would go to college, and our best friend, one of seven kids in his family, was the only one of his siblings to go to college (he attributes this to her influence).

Mom leaned to the left politically and socially; I remember her volunteering at the Crispus Attucks Planned Parenthood Center in Lancaster’s 7th Ward during the 1960s, helping to bring family planning and women’s health care to some of the city’s poorest. She bought four newspapers every Sunday (local Lancaster paper, and the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Washington Post) and read all of them by the following Sunday. She and my Dad had furnished our house with some beautiful antiques by attending auctions, and my brother and I spent much time hanging out at both estate sales and at their favorite established auction houses. It was on our way home from one of these in 1964 or 65 that I recall her pulling over to the side of the road to listen to Pres. Johnson discuss the expansion of US involvement in Vietnam; she cried, knowing the implications for her young sons and the other young men of our country.
Following Dad’s death in 1969 Mom started working outside of the home for the first time in my experience – for several years as the personal assistant to a wealthy older lady in Lancaster, then as a secretary for the local Magistrate (Justice of the Peace); she worked for him until she retired. My brother and I lived far away, so she was alone (with her dog Blue) in that big house, becoming more and more socially isolated and drinking too heavily. Health issues, primarily related to diabetes, got her into the health-care community, resulting in her resettling to a nursing home–probably a great thing for her because the social isolation was gone. She moved to a home in Las Vegas to be near my brother, and spent the last 8(?) years of her life there, enjoying life. She befriended many people, including the Mayor (Oscar Goodman) when they both attended a Seder; I met him at her memorial service in 2006.

Religiously Mom was a deep thinker. She came from a Lutheran upbringing (my Grandmother was an organist in the Lutheran Church in Hughesville PA for more than 40 years) and as a child I attended Lutheran services. My parents were troubled by perceived hypocrisy, and started going to a Unitarian Church, where I spent my teen years. This church was all about social activism in the 1960s and I felt comfortable with that; I was also comfortable with the Unitarian perspective on a questioning approach to God.

Mom gave me the desire for education, my political leaning, and my willingness to question authority, religious and otherwise.

So–my high school seniors, soon-to-be-graduates… how did they become who they are. It’s clear that home values are instilled in children. They reflect both their Mom Jenny and me, but I see in them much of what I got from my parents. I would like to think that my Mom and Dad would be proud and approving of the young adults that Natalie and Nick have become.

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Conservative Brains Fear More – Liberal Brains Question More

I’ll be musing, and probably over-simplifying and over-generalizing, here. Some recent studies have suggested interesting brain differences between liberals and conservatives:

  • The amygdala, an area associated with fear-related behavior, is larger in conservatives, and
  • The anterior cingulate cortex, associated with error detection, is larger in liberals.

 

 

 

 

Conservatives are more likely to fear that something bad will happen: Obama (or, now, The Government, or The Kids, or The Left) is going to take away all the guns. Big amygdala -> more fear. (Apologies to Joe LeDoux for stating it this way.)  This is felt and expressed with certainty by people who identify themselves as members of the “patriot movement.”  Small anterior cingulate cortex -> less recognition that there might be an error.

 

Liberals lack this fear, and despite the view of the “patriots” neither do they fear guns. They might fear the proliferation of guns and the resulting easy access by irresponsible people, but not the guns as inanimate objects. Smaller amygdala -> less fear. The course of action that should be taken is, however, far less clear and certain to the liberals, with regard to the gun issue or any other complicated matter.  Larger anterior cingulate cortex -> more doubt.

My phrenological analysis is too simplistic and no doubt full of errors (my large anterior cingulate cortex talking). Nonetheless I think there is some value in considering neurologic underpinnings of political positions. 

 

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How Pro-Gun “Patriots” Label Me

This list appeared at the bottom of an earlier post.  I’m posting it on its own because I think it’s telling. Ad hominem arguments are amusing, but never convincing.


Here are some of the ways I’ve been described because of my views on gun control and my opposition to the AR-15 Build taking place in Marshall. I’ll add to the list as memory serves or as new items come along:

  • Spineless hater
  • Marxist Enemy of the Constitution
  • Snowflake (of course)
  • Nutty Psychology Professor
  • Terrible
  • Clown
  • Ignorant
  • Homegrown hostile enemy
  • Crybully of the Left (my favorite so far)
  • Professor Wilson Dipstick
  • Quasi-intellectual scam artist 
  • Profess-whore dipstick (This person also suggested that I “put it where the moon does not shine.” Not sure what “it” is…)
  • A very small frog in a very big pond (This person thought Albion is a two-year college.)
  • “Greater than thou” libturd professor
  • Tide pod eating idiot

And in response to my expressing concern over veiled threats of beat-downs, pepper spray, and dogs being used against people at the Demonstration for Effective Gun Control:

  • There’s too much estrogen in the air.

This last one illustrates the sexism rampant among the pro-gun “patriots.”


And in fairness, here’s a link to an article at Ammoland.com that disputes my viewpoint. A comment to this article contains this great example of an ad hominem argument:

“Has anyone noticed that almost 100% of people that use an initial for their first names are either assholes, elitists, like lawyers, politicians, drug pushers (doctors), “professors” and MSM types or a combination of all of the above?”

I’m convinced. 

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My Data-Driven Thoughts on Gun Control

For my own mental health I need to stop replying online to people who cannot comprehend data.
 
Here are my thoughts on gun control:
  • The 2nd Amendment is fine, and should not be repealed.
  • The Supreme Court has ruled (2008) that the 2nd Amendment allows restrictions on who can have a gun, on where a gun can be carried, and on the commercial sale of guns. This is law.
  • Data demonstrate
    • that gun homicides across countries are directly related to the number of guns per capita,
    • and that during the time that Federal Assault Weapon Ban was in effect (1994-2004) mass shootings and the resulting deaths were significantly lower than in the decades before or after,
    • and that (from a New England Journal of Medicine paper) gun ownership greatly increases the odds of a homicide in the home, often involving a relative, while providing no protective value to the gun-owner.
  • The reasonable conclusion from the data is that reducing the number of guns will reduce gun deaths, and that reducing “assault weapons” as defined in the AWB will reduce mass shootings.

Here are some of the ways I’ve been described because of my views on gun control and my opposition to the AR-15 Build taking place in Marshall. I’ll add to the list as memory serves or as new items come along:

  • Spineless hater
  • Marxist Enemy of the Constitution
  • Snowflake (of course)
  • Nutty Psychology Professor
  • Terrible
  • Clown
  • Ignorant
  • Homegrown hostile enemy
  • Crybully of the Left (my favorite so far)
  • Professor Wilson Dipstick
  • Quasi-intellectual scam artist 
  • Profess-whore dipstick (This person also suggested that I “put it where the moon does not shine.” Not sure what “it” is…)
  • A very small frog in a very big pond (This person thought Albion is a two-year college.)
  • “Greater than thou” libturd professor

And in response to my expressing concern over veiled threats of beat-downs, pepper spray, and dogs being used against people at the Demonstration for Effective Gun Control:

  • There’s too much estrogen in the air.

This last one illustrates the sexism rampant among the pro-gun “patriots.”

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Silent Gathering for Effective Gun Control

On Tuesday evening, March 27, 2018, the Marshall Post of the VFW will host a gathering for people who want to build their own AR-15s.  [See update below.] It is possible to build this gun legally in a manner that avoids background checks and makes the gun untraceable.  The VFW will sell only the component that requires the check, but will provide information about how to build it the other way (indeed, they hosted this kind of untraceable build last year).

Some of us believe that there are too many of these assault-style semi-automatic weapons out there already.  They have been used in the five most deadly mass shootings of recent times.  When they were banned (1994-2004) mass shootings and the associated deaths went down. We are especially troubled at the possibility of untraceable AR-15s being made locally, or anywhere for that matter.

 

If you oppose the proliferation of weapons of mass murder, and would like to see effective gun control that might work to reduce killings, please join us for a silent gathering outside of the Marshall VFW Tuesday night from 6-8 PM. Click gun for details.

 
 UPDATE: The event went well, with no confrontations or violence, despite veiled threats of beatdowns, pepper spray, and dogs.  In the time leading up to the event, and afterwards, I have been called:
  • Spineless hater
  • Marxist Enemy of the Constitution
  • Snowflake (of course)
  • Nutty Psychology Professor
  • Terrible
  • Clown
  • Ignorant

I’ll add more as they come in…

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Passion and Perseverance

Success is not easy, but you can do things that make it more likely. Show up. Woody Allen said, “80 percent of success is showing up.” It’s true (although we might quibble about the number); if you don’t show up, you will not succeed.

Keep trying. (← click to watch a brief video – well worth it.) Success often goes to the one who kept trying after others had stopped. Be the one who keeps trying.

Have passion. Love what you are doing. If you don’t love it, either find a reason to do so or find something else to do. In a job that you don’t love? Don’t want to be flipping burgers all day? Become the best damn burger-flipper in the world. Find ways to do it better, with flair, in an entertaining way—you’ll either come to love it, or your boss will give you the best reference ever when you apply for the job you want. Taking a class you don’t enjoy? Own that class. Master the material. Find a way to make it relevant to future that you envision for yourself. The most successful people have passion—find your passion.

 

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Jennifer Cook’s Contributions to FURSCA at Albion College*

Jennifer Cook

Jennifer Cook, who died February 1, 2018, was the first Coordinator of Albion College’s Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (FURSCA), hired to oversee the program in 1999. In 2004 she was appointed to the position of Associate Director, and in 2006 she left the program (more below). While with the College, Cook built a successful program of support for undergraduate scholarship that won national recognition and advanced the education and career goals of a very large number of our best students.

 

 

 

 

An important component (perhaps the most visible component) of FURSCA’s activity is providing stipends to students for summer research with Albion College faculty. From 2001 through 2006 FURSCA supported an average of 68.5 projects each summer. In March of 2003 Cook and Anne McCauley (Art and Art History) co-authored the cover article for the Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly, describing FURSCA and its impact on the College. Again in 2005 Cook and Wes Dick (History) had a cover article in the CUR Quarterly describing the value of interdisciplinary research as encouraged and supported by FURSCA. Both articles won national acclaim, and resulted in many inquiries to FURSCA about how other schools could implement a similar program. Cook and various faculty directors of FURSCA gave several presentations related to this topic.

From 2005 – 2006 Cook was co-Prinicipal Investigator in the writing of a three-year, multi-center grant ($435,000) from the National Science Foundation to support course, curriculum, and laboratory improvement in support of undergraduate scholarship, to be awarded beginning around January 2007. Albion’s share of these funds would have been around $180,000.

 

 

Leaving FURSCA. [This account was reported to me by Cook; I have no reason to doubt its validity, but I cannot verify it.] Over the course of 2006 Cook noted discrepancies in FURSCA’s budget. Funds that she was counting on to fund upcoming student projects were disappearing from her records overnight. Funds in place to pay for the 2006 summer program were being reduced. She made frequent inquiries to the College’s “President-in-Training” (he ultimately became President elsewhere) who was also serving as VP for Finance and Management: he instructed his staff not to answer her questions, but instead to forward all of her calls to him. His response (as told by her) could best be characterized as, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about this – we know what we’re doing.” Eventually, as funds continued to dry up and she continued to ask about it, he reduced her position from full-time with benefits to 1/3 time without benefits, in essence forcing her out of the position. The Dean at the time, in a closed meeting with her about this, suggested that she should be happy about it because it meant she could have more time with her young children—she replied with a few choice words, including making it clear that the time she spent with her children was her choice and should not be mandated by the College.  She chose, very sadly, to leave FURSCA.

In the time since her departure FURSCA has continued, but with a part-time coordinator for many of the years since. There have been no more national publications describing the program’s successes. The number of projects supported over each summer from 2007 – 2015 (last year for which data are available) has averaged 44.3, down more than 20 projects per year. Our share of the $435,000 grant never came to Albion—it is unlikely that anyone in administration followed up on it.

Of course I am deeply saddened by Jennifer Cook’s death—she was my spouse, mother of three great kids, and stepmother to two. I wrote this because, except for a much appreciated public email from the Assistant to the Provost, there has been no recognition by the College of her passing or of her important contributions to its academic life, and I would like her role in the early years of FURSCA to be documented. (I would also love to know what happened to the huge grant that she made available to the College but that we never collected.) Please feel free to add comments below clarifying, amplifying, or correcting any of the information that I have provided.


*Prompted by my disappointment that her passing was not noted by the Provost at today’s Faculty Meeting–the first one to occur after her death.
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Great Music in the Albion Area

Blues Jam & Chili Cook-Off (Sat, Jan 27 – Benefits homeless shelters)

Blues at the Bohm (usually first Monday of the month)

Jazz at Relli’s (frequently on Wednesdays)

Live music at Stirling Books (every Saturday)

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Society for Neuroscience 2017

This recent meeting in Washington DC marked the 37th SfN meeting that I have attended. Since 1981 I have missed only one (2009, 

Chicago, when I was in Poland).  The meetings have changed, most notably growing in size (attendance at my first meeting – Anaheim 1977 – was 4,586; this year it was ~30,000). The quality of the science remains high, although there are always more studies presented than will ever make it into press. 

This year’s highlights for me included

Albion Alums

  • yet another get-together for Albion Neuro alums (7 alums attended, some others at the meeting were otherwise occupied),
  • opportunities for the 10 current Albion students who went to interact with various neuroscientists from elsewhere,   
  • Wilson, Anna-Rose Childress, Kathleen Childress, Alice Powers, Tony Reiner, Bill Grisham, Ettie Grauer – all at Bryn Mawr College around 1977.

    a chance to see many old friends, including my first-ever psychology professor, who is still actively examining the neuroscience of learning in turtles,

  • hearing about the history of neuroanatomical studies from Pasko Rakic, who was instrumental in much of that work, and who prefers that his photo not appear on the internet,
  • talking with the authors of the sole study at the meeting examining learning in tardigrades,
  • discussing an open-source, open-hardware solution for monitoring startle behavior,
  • hearing Demis Hassabis, founder of DeepMind, discussing his view of artificial intelligence,

    Daphna Shohamy

  • Daphna Shohamy’s talk about the neuroscience of memory and decision-making,
  • talking shop with Joe Shymanski, official SfN photographer,
  • seeing Albion alums succeeding in the field.

If you are a current Albion student interested in attending the 2018 SfN meeting contact me!

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Letter to Psychology Seniors

Nick Bismack (photo by Maureen Dooley Bismack)

My friend Nick Bismack (Albion 2008) sent this letter to me this morning, and urged me to “do whatever you’d like with the letter.  If it helps even a single person then it will have served it’s purpose.”

Nick Bismack at Psych Seniors’ Party – 2008.

“… roughly 30,000 feet above Amsterdam. I’m in the bathroom because I was peeing and peeing made me think of the inefficiency of waste material and the inefficiency of waste material made me think of memory retention and memory retention made me think of education and education made me think of Albion Psychology and Albion Psychology made me think back to 8 years ago when I sat where you’re sitting and probably thought what you’re thinking.”

Nick offers insights into the world after graduation. He speaks from experience, and writes clearly, without pulling his punches. Give it a read.  (Edit: Some colleagues have suggested that the letter contains inaccuracies concerning our field. I believe that the overall message is worth sharing despite this.)

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