MonthDecember 2009

Scientists discover how the brain encodes memories at a cellular level

Scientists at UC Santa Barbara have made a major discovery in how the brain encodes memories. The finding, published in the December 24 issue of the journal Neuron, could eventually lead to the development of new drugs to aid memory.

The team of scientists is the first to uncover a central process in encoding memories that occurs at the level of the synapse, where neurons connect with each other. […]

The production of new proteins can only occur when the RNA that will make the required proteins is turned on. Until then, the RNA is “locked up” by a silencing molecule, which is a micro RNA. The RNA and micro RNA are part of a package that includes several other proteins. […]

Part of strengthening a synapse involves making new proteins. Those proteins build the synapse and make it stronger. Just like with exercise, when new proteins must build up muscle mass, synapses must also make more protein when recording memories. In this research, the regulation and control of that process was uncovered.

The production of new proteins can only occur when the RNA that will make the required proteins is turned on. Until then, the RNA is “locked up” by a silencing molecule, which is a micro RNA. The RNA and micro RNA are part of a package that includes several other proteins. […]

When the signal comes in, the wrapping protein degrades or gets fragmented. Then the RNA is suddenly free to synthesize a new protein.

Physorg: Scientists discover how the brain encodes memories at a cellular level

(via Kurzweil via Cat Vincent)

The next big drug: designer neurostim

James Kent from Dose Nation writes:

The same neurostim device that uses electric impulses from a brain implant to treat people with Parkinson‘s Disease can be tweaked by a few millimeters and pulse rates to make cocaine addicts feel like they are high all the time. Neurostim isn‘t a cheap commodity yet, but in the future it could be. The “off label” demand for designer neurostim does not exist today, but if the implant procedure was automated and the price was reduced, it could be a very marketable alternative to long-term drug therapy. Cheap neurostim would then fuel an off-label market for cosmetic and personal use with subsidiary markets for designer software upgrades, patches, and applets to customize functionality. But first there needs to be consumer demand for the product, and that has yet to materialize.

h+: Cognitive Commodities in the Neuro Marketplace

(via Disinfo)

See also: The Curious Case of a Woman Addicted to Her Brain Implant)

Many look to the Bible for financial advice, but is it wise?

Depending on your view, the Bible is divinely inspired or a collection of tall tales. But many see it as a source of financial wisdom that transcends individual faith and the centuries between when it was written and today’s tough times. […]

Purveyors of biblically based financial advice count up to 2,300 verses on money management. Frequently cited verses in the Book of Proverbs urge careful spending, including “The plans of the diligent lead to profit, as surely as haste leads to poverty.” Another warns debtors that “the borrower is servant to the lender.”

Blue sees advice to diversify stock portfolios in a verse about a man’s “bread” from Ecclesiastes: “Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.”

But the many verses can be interpreted in different ways.

For instance, in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full,” which some “prosperity gospel” preachers see as a promise of material wealth to faithful givers. Others say it’s an assurance of joy or contentment.

USA Today: Many look to the Bible for financial advice, but is it wise?

(via Religion News)

See also: Prosperity gospel’s role in crashing the economy

Escaped prisoner taunts police on Facebook

facebook fugative

Craig “Lazie” Lynch vanished from Hollesley Bay Prison in Suffolk in September this year close to the end of a seven-year sentence for aggravated burglary.

Instead of hiding away from police Lynch has set up a Facebook account complete with a photograph sticking his middle finger up and boasts about eating 12lb steaks and his home being so warm it feels like the Caribbean.

The burglar has become prolific Facebooker with 199 friends and has even posted when he is going round to friend’s homes and attending parties and events.

Telegraph: Escaped prisoner taunts police on Facebook

(via Disinfo)

See also:

Barefoot teenage outlaw has eluded police for nearly two years

What Does It Take to Really Disappear?

The Family’s man in Uganda, Bob Hunter, opposed anti-homosexuality bill

Add one more very important name to the growing international list of those opposed to Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Bob Hunter, the man who helped build Uganda’s relationship with the Family, aka the Fellowship, the international movement of “followers of Christ” – some reject the term “Christian” that also includes several U.S. politicians with ties to Uganda: among them, Senator James Inhofe, Senator Sam Brownback, and Representative Joe Pitts. […]

Moreover, Bob adds “I know of no one involved in Uganda with the Fellowship here in America, including the most conservative among them, that supports such things as killing homosexuals or draconian reporting requirements, much less has gone over to Uganda to push such positions.” […]

Last, but not least at all: The question of the relationship between Bob, the Fellowship, and Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Bob argues that any connection at all is “absurd.” He takes particular issue with my statement that the situation in Uganda is “a perfect case study in the export of a lot on American, largely evangelical ideas about homosexuality exported to Uganda.” Bob is now on record expressing his active opposition to the bill, and many of his Fellowship associates are on record expressing a passive opposition to the bill. That’s what matters most here. The question of cultural influence is more complicated. I’ll say this: The member of parliament most strongly associated with the bill, David Bahati, has, as Bob points out, been associated with the Fellowship. Other Fellowship sources say that Bahati floated the idea at a private event linked to the Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast; one source says 2008, Bob thinks it was 2009. What’s most important is that all sources say Fellowship associates politely expressed opposition. Ugandan Minister of Ethics and Integrity James Nsaba Buturo, another strong supporter of the bill, is also linked to the Fellowship (though possibly not as closely as Buturo believes) and an organizer of the Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast. And President Museveni, a longtime Fellowship associate, has given implicit support to the extreme stigmatization of homosexuality, declaring, “European homosexuals are recruiting in Africa.” Other scholars have noted that Museveni’s anti-gay rhetoric has grown strongly over the years, a period during which Uganda has experienced a great religious revival rooted in the years before Museveni took power. One needn’t take anything away from the very real virtues of that revival – it helped overthrow a dictatorship — to condemn its ugly baggage: an inflammation of anti-gay rhetoric, violence, and now new legal measures on top of Uganda’s existing anti-gay laws, antiquated regulations dating back to British colonialism.***

Jeff Sharlet: The Fellowship (aka The Family) Opposes Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

(Thanks Gavin!)

Angels can’t fly, scientist says

Prof Roger Wotton, from University College London, found that flight would be impossible for angels portrayed with arms and bird-like feathered wings.

“Even a cursory examination of the evidence in representational arts shows that angels and cherubs cannot take off and cannot use powered flight,” said Prof Wotton. “And even if they used gliding flight, they would need to be exposed to very high wind velocities at take off – such high winds that they would be blown away and have no need for wings.

“Interestingly, the artist Giotto showed one angel with a rigid ‘mono-wing’ which could be an adaptation for gliding flight. But if they do just glide, how are the wings folded, unfolded and held rigid?”

Telegraph: Angels can’t fly, scientist says

(via Swadeshine)

Alan Moore, the manga schoolgirl years

Alan Moore, the manga schoolgirl years

Oh yes, Alan Moore as manga schoolgirl. The images are from a new Alan Moore fan-book manga (dojinshi) by Ryusuke Hamamoto. Best bit? Probably the Alan Moore schoolgirl opening her locker and finding Glycon, the Roman hand puppet god that Moore took as his own personal god following his “coming out” as a magician.

Forbidden Planet: You’ve never seen Alan Moore looking like this before…

More pics here

(via Cat Vincent)

Atheists Sue Catholic Church

Charging that the Catholic Church should lose its tax-exempt status, a consortium of atheists and Catholic activists filed two lawsuits against Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Assemblymember Vito Lopez (D-Williamsburg) and the Catholic Diocese over their role in producing a recorded message sent to Williamsburg’s registered voters less than a week before they went to the polls.

Led by NYC Atheists President Kenneth Bronstein and New Jersey-based priest abuse activist Reverend Robert Hoatson, the suits allege that DiMarzio violated Internal Revenue Service laws by recording a political message sent to voters in a hotly contested City Council election, which could cost the Church privileges enjoyed by its nonprofit status.

“This is the first step to accomplish what we want to accomplish: get the Church out of politics,” said John Aretakis, a spokesperson for the group.

The lawsuit arises from reaction to a series of pre-recorded messages that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio made on October 28, to voters in the city’s 34th Council District, thanking Lopez for his work advocating for the Catholic Church during the past year and urging voters to support his choices in the election.

NY Post:

(via Religion News)

But if they lost their tax exempt status, wouldn’t they be more likely to participate in politics? But at least they wouldn’t be tax exempt while doing it.

Teabagger Worried His Magic Prayers Made God Kill Sen. Inhofe

Jesus. A panicked teabagger called up C-SPAN in tears today, worried that he accidentally killed Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe by praying for Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd to die. This is one of the saddest things ever to appear on C-SPAN.

You might have heard that Republican Senator Tom Coburn urged health care reform opponents on Sunday to pray for 92 year-old Byrd to die so that Democrats would be a vote shy of the 60 needed to break Republicans’ filibuster. […]

Inhofe wasn’t dead, of course. According to Roll Call: Inhofe “was absent to fly his wife home to Oklahoma in advance of the Christmas holiday.”

Gawker: Teabagger Worried His Magic Prayers Made God Kill Sen. Inhofe

(Thanks Capnmarrrrk)

WaPo Sits on Eyewitness Account on Snowball Gun Incident

cop bring gun to a snowball fight

Check it out, it’s a media-criticism story AND a police misconduct story rolled into one:

Washington Post editorial aide Stephen Lowman was at 14th and U on Saturday when the controversial snowball-fight-cum-police-indiscretion went down. He wasn’t there on assignment–he was just taking it all in.

And take it all in he did. He eye-witnessed the snowball fest and the cop waving around a gun, not to mention all the hubbub that ensued.

So Lowman got on the phone to the Post, to give the newsroom a heads-up. He says he was placed in contact with staff writer Matt Zapotosky. Lowman told Zapotosky about the confrontation and the gun. It was just after 3 pm. […]

Two hours later, at 5:40 pm, the inexplicable takes place: The Washington Post files a post by Zapotosky and Martin Weilrefuting the photographic evidence already on the Web and taking the official position of the D.C. Police Department.

Washington City Paper: WaPo Sits on Eyewitness Account on Snowball Gun Incident

(via Jay Rosen)

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