December 31, 2011

Our final word about beer, this year.

Just one sentence by Mr. Garrett Oliver – from the second paragraph of his editor's introduction to The Oxford Companion to Beer:
"Beer does not resemble wine so much as it resembles music."

What's plugging your bars?

For a short time, the fine people at Rivendell Bicycle Works have our favorite Nitto anodized aluminum bar plugs on sale, reduced from $16 to $11 the pair (in blue, gold, & red; for road (drop) bars only, not mountain bars).

(photo from 1/10/11; that bolt takes a 3 mm allen wrench)

December 30, 2011

2011's "rise of civic consciousness"

‎"A positive development that has gathered strength over the past year has been the rise of civic consciousness, the acceptance by ordinary citizens that they too must play a part in the process of change and adaptation. This is not so much protest against the inadequacies of government as recognition of the importance of balancing rights with responsibilities." 
- Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese politician and Nobel peace prize-winner

[from "A sense of balance" by Aung San Suu Kyi, in "The World in 2012" from The Economist Newspaper.]

December 28, 2011

Hey Porter!

The opening sentence of the four-page article on Porter, written by Horst Dornbusch and Garrett Oliver, in The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Garrett Oliver:
"Porter, a type of dark beer that first saw life in the 1700s, built London's greatest breweries, slaked the thirsts of America's revolution-minded colonists, and then traveled the world, morphing as it went to meet the changing needs of time and place."
(Post title refers to this.)

December 14, 2011

December 3, 2011

Jung Slices His Brain.

An excerpt from "The Red Book (Liber Novus)" by Carl Gustav Jung (1875 - 1961):

The Cabiri:  "We forged a flashing sword for you, with which you can cut the knot that entangles you."

I:  "I take the sword firmly in my hand. I lift it for the blow."

The Cabiri:  "We also place before you the devilish, skillfully twined knot that locks and seals you. Strike, only sharpness will cut through it."

I:  "Let me see, the great knot, all wound round! Truly a masterpiece of inscrutable nature, a wily natural tangle of roots grown through one another! Only Mother Nature, the blind weaver, could work such a tangle! A great snarled ball and a thousand small knots, all artfully tied, intertwined, truly, a human brain! Am I seeing straight? What did you do? You set my brain before me! Did you give me a sword so that its flashing sharpness slices through my brain? What were you thinking of?"

The Cabiri:  "The womb of nature wove the brain, the womb of the earth gave the iron. So the Mother gave you both: entanglement and severing."

Jung's Red Book was the most influential unpublished book, ever. Almost a century after it was begun, it was published in 2009 in a facsimile edition, edited by Sonu Shamdasani, translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck, and Sonu Shamdasani.
This passage appears on pp. 166-167.
The Cabiri were ancient deities.

November 26, 2011

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16!

The New York Times obituary of Dr. Lynn Margulis (1938 - 2011) notes that her groundbreaking 1967 paper proposing the endosymbiotic theory of the origin of eukaryotes had been rejected by fifteen journals before its eventual publication.

November 22, 2011

Life imitates art (at highway speed).

Today, on the way home from work, I avoided traffic congestion by driving on the newly-opened InterCounty Connector. However, because the car's navigation system doesn't know about this brand-new (multi-billion dollar!) highway, its screen showed the car traveling overground, not on a road.

Which reminded me of "Survival Car" by Fountains of Wayne:
"Funny how the ground can find my wheels
I'm going where the road ain't there"

"Funny how the ground can find my wheels
I'm going where the road won't dare"

November 21, 2011

"Discovering things is actually pretty easy..."

"Discovering things is actually pretty easy; understanding them is really hard."

- Prof. Peter Agre (2003 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry), this morning at Pathology Ground Rounds in Hurd Hall, Johns Hopkins Hospital.

November 19, 2011

November 17, 2011

Board Rescinds Park Choice; Restarts Site Search.

Today, at the recommendation of Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Joshua P. Starr, who began in that position on July 1st, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to begin a new site selection process for the second Bethesda - Chevy Chase Middle School, rescinding their April 28th resolution that had selected the site of Rock Creek Hills Park.

If you want to preserve this important community asset and support high-quality cost-effective education, please join us now in spreading the word to others who care about good parks and strong schools. Join us on Facebook!

"I used to think I was alone. Well, I ain't alone no more."

Mr. Tom Morello's song about his guitar is uplifting:

November 12, 2011

Why Story Matters - Syracuse Edition

Tomorrow evening, November 14, I will presenting a lecture on Why Story Matters at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University - my alma mater! The lecture, which is open to the public, begins at 7 PM. Upstate NY NeuroCooking readers, please join me!

I am told this event will be live-tweeted, with the hashtag #pekar.

On Wednesday evening, I will be conducting a workshop with the Women Presidents' Organization, Syracuse Chapter. This will focus on why story matters in leadership. This program is by invitation-only.

A Rock Creek Hills Park update.

Supporters of Rock Creek Hills Park got some very good news ten days ago, and more very good news last week. 

(A November 2nd tweet from Dr. Joshua Starr, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent.)

November 8, 2011

Those who Espouse Only Evidence Typically Lose

Narrative vs Evidence-Based Medicine—And, Not Or was just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Here at NeuroCooking, we have long argued, as this article in Scientific American states,
'Stories are an essential part of how individuals understand and use evidence,' [Zachary Meisel and Jason Karlawish] wrote. And they can have a powerful effect on public opinion and policy....'Narratives, when compared with reporting statistical evidence alone, can have uniquely persuasive effects in overcoming preconceived beliefs and cognitive biases.'
I so hope that scientists throughout the world see past the poor title of this article and into the wisdom it contains - and engage in finding, developing (further developing), and sharing their stories! I am eager to assist.

October 27, 2011


Last week, a piece of mail arrived in an official-looking window-envelope, with an instruction:


So, we did.

Is that the opposite of a megaphone?

Dell Computer, Inc., is, evidently, offering government pricing on "copmuters":

(screenshot of a gmail advertisement)

Is a copmuter the opposite of a megaphone?

Or, might it refer to the mother of a German law enforcement officer?

October 24, 2011

Why Story Matters in Activism

On the Issues Magazine has recently published my article on why story matter in activism - and how to work with story in your own activism.

It opens, dear NeuroCooking readers, with a story about Sheila Thaler Pekar, mother of Jim and me:

I remember my first feminist act. It was Spring of 1974, and I was nine years old. My mother, Sheila Thaler Pekar, had gone to a car dealer earlier in the day, prepared to purchase a car. When it came time to sign the contract, however, the dealer required that she obtain my father's signature. Sheila had the deposit, the credit and the bank account. But, the salesman insisted, the dealership would not sell a car to a married woman without the consent of her husband.

When my mom returned home -- defeated, humiliated, and very, very angry -- she told me to follow her into my parent's bedroom. She retrieved the purse in which she kept her store credit cards. In those days, it was common for a middle class woman to have a credit card – in her husband's name – for every small, local department store. She sat me down on the floor, put a pair of scissors in my hand, and instructed me to cut up each and every one of the credit cards. As the scissors bore through the words “Mrs. Walter Pekar," my mom passionately spoke about the importance of a woman having her own money and being able to make independent financial decisions. And she spoke about the importance of women being respected, valued, and treated equally to men.

Click here to continue reading.

October 23, 2011

Analogy of the week!

According to an article in the October 15th issue of the Economist, Guatemala brought in the United Nations to prosecute corruption and organized crime because:
"Asking the justice system to reform itself was like tying up a dog with a string of sausages," says Eduardo Stein, the then vice-president.

October 21, 2011

Forget Expertise; Go for Immediate Engagement

This morning, I had the pleasure of coaching a brilliant law professor on an upcoming presentation. We've been working together for two and a half years, and I am continually impressed with her passion for the law, and her sense of it as a creative and forward-thinking field. And I continually struck by how the tenets of being a good lawyer contrast with the skill set of a good presenter.

Most notably. when presenting a case to judge, or teaching to a classroom of law students, a lawyer must defend his or her position by thoroughly establishing context and background, and providing all relevant data. Expertise - and thus the right to win, pontificate, or hold forth - must be established.

When one is asked to be on a panel, present a speech, or deliver a keynote, however, expertise is already established. You are there precisely because of your expertise and the audience is anticipating - and deserves - engagement. As a speaker, you must immediately engage with your audience, and give them reason to trust you. And then, especially in the limited time allotted to a presentation, you must continue to engage them in a compelling discovery of information.

Establishing trust with an audience is different than proving expertise to a judge or oppositional lawyer. If you know your stuff, it will be communicated whether or not you say it in the bulk of your limited remarks. (You can always share it, if necessary, during Q&A.)

You don't have to prove yourself; you have to offer an invitation to conversation.

October 19, 2011

Making Sense of Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street is an international sensemaking exercise. From my frame of reference of working in applied narrative, I see people coming together, sharing stories, examining them, gleaning insight, and extracting meaning. The problems are profoundly complex and any solutions (“demands”) that may emerge will require collaboration, careful analysis, and shared understanding.

Sensemaking is a social activity and “occupy” is a physical act. Social media is facilitating and spreading the news of the worldwide movement, and people are coming together physically to share their stories, detect patterns, and make sense of the emerging elements.

New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, explores this sensemaking exercise:

It so happens that near the start of the protest, when the police banned megaphones at Zuccotti Park, they obliged demonstrators to come up with an alternative. “Mic checks” became the consensus method of circulating announcements, spread through the crowd by people repeating, phrase by phrase, what a speaker had said to others around them, compelling everyone, as it were, to speak in one voice. It’s like the old game of telephone, and it is painstakingly slow.

“But so is democracy,” as Jay Gaussoin, a 46-year-old unemployed actor and carpenter, put it to me. “We’re so distracted these days, people have forgotten how to focus. But the ‘mic check’ demands not just that we listen to other people’s opinions but that we really hear what they’re saying because we have to repeat their words exactly.

“It requires an architecture of consciousness,” was Mr. Gaussoin’s apt phrase.

…Imagine Zuccotti Park, one protester told me, as a Venn diagram of characters representing disparate political and economic disenchantments. The park is where their grievances overlap. It’s literally common ground.

… “We may not have all come here with the exact same issues in mind,” [Sophie Theriault] told me, “but sharing this park day in and day out, night after night, becomes an opportunity for us to discover our mutual interests.”

To those of you reading this who may think that the Occupy Wall Street movement does not have a message, I ask you to reconsider: think of how you would describe the message you are taking away from the worldwide protests. Close your eyes or look away from this page and think about it: what message came to mind?

Richard Kirsch, writing on New Deal 2.0, explains the predominant frame (and one I am guessing crossed your mind):

One of the most common criticisms of progressives is that, unlike the right, we don’t have simple messages that tell our story. Our young leaders at Occupy Wall Street have come up with a powerful answer: We are the 99%.”

…This phrase’s power is in the emotions it elicits. It is triumphant, not defeatist. It says, “We have the power and the moral authority, not you!” It conveys action — we’re standing up for ourselves and occupying your turf. It declares our common humanity. It is hopeful.

Kirsch ends his essay by writing

When people say that Occupy Wall Street doesn’t have demands, we should look at that not as a criticism, but as an invitation to complete the story. Everything about the phrase [We are the 99%] establishes the point that we build an economy that works for all of us when we make decisions that benefit the 99%.

This pleased me because approximately 10 years ago, I trained over 700 activists, legislators, and Congressional staff members nationwide in sharing the message that we must create an economy that works for all. Seeing the results of that concentrated effort is a lesson in language spread, adaptation, and adoption.

On October 7, Clay Shirky brilliantly tweeted:

Groups of voters have incompatible goals, so working democracy doesn't produce coherent policies, but livable compromises.

The message of #OWS is not "Here's is our 9-point plan." The message of #OWS is "This is not a livable compromise."

A smart friend sums it all up: “The bottom line from an economic point of view is that inequality stifles growth. So unless people are willing to move towards a banana republic-type set up where the rich drive in armored cars, etc., there will have to be concessions.”

From action will come audience, and from audience will come message. Out of what seems like chaos, insight will occur. Occupy Wall Street is making sense out of complex experiences.

October 11, 2011

"Here's what we've done to help."

Two things I said to the Board this morning about Rock Creek Hills Park:
"...understanding the availability of the site is key to avoiding wasting time, resources, and scarce tax dollars pursuing an option that may not exist."
"Doing so would be consistent with the due diligence that is required in any site selection, and in this case, it could help avoid enforcement actions or threats to future funding."

October 5, 2011

What is actually at stake.

"While phrases such as '... construction of a middle school in a park ...' may conjure images of a tidy schoolhouse set back in a bucolic green space, what is actually at stake is the total loss of Rock Creek Hills Park."
- from our letter in today's Gazette newspaper.

October 2, 2011

Q & A with a home-brewer!

Pitching liquid yeast into ale wort.

Q:  How can you tell if your yeast is lively?

A:  Throw it against some wort and see if it bounces.

September 30, 2011

She brews 'em, I shoot 'em.

Our first year of home-brewing (each bottle represents a batch of five gallons).

I shoot 'em, she stews 'em.

[Selections from this week's bounty from Sandy Spring CSA.]

September 27, 2011

The irresistible epistemology of the visual false negative.

This is one photograph of a spore print, taken of mushroom specimens left for hours on a sheet of black paper and a sheet of white paper:

See the haze of white spores on the black paper? If you think about it, you know that there must be similar patterns of spores on the white paper, too, even though you can't see them. And really, even though you know they must be there, you can clearly see that there's nothing there.

September 26, 2011

Persuasive Communication

I was recently interviewed for a magazine article on persuasion. Unfortunately, I just found out that the not-to-be-named magazine folded before the interview could run. Here are some excerpts from my unpublished Q&A with the journalist:

Q: Can learning the right ways to approach people with requests help people become more assertive? How so? We all hate rocking the boat, but why is it important to stand up for yourself and ask for what you want?

A: We all want to be heard. We don’t even necessarily want to “win” or get our way; we crave being heard and understood. The Earl of Chesterfield is quoted as saying, "Many a man would rather you heard his story than granted his request." Being able to voice our authentic feelings and desires while at the same time showing respect and empathy for our listeners is incredibly powerful. Continually tamping down on one’s own passion is eventually exhausting and demoralizing.

Q: What are the keys to being a persuasive person - and how is this different from being manipulative?
A: We need to understand that we are primarily communicating because there’s something we want our audience to do. It may be that we want our listener to undertake a different approach to solving a problem, or we want our partner or roommate to take out the garbage, or we want to help a friend feel better – there is an end goal to our communication. Persuasion is not coercion, or manipulation; it’s about moving toward action.

Persuasion is about helping change people’s minds about changing their minds. It’s not about telling people what to do, but facilitating their own discovery of the action and the rewards of taking such action. It’s about engagement, and helping people find meaning, and requires two-way communication. Being effectively persuasive is about respecting how other people see the world.

Q: When trying to get someone to see your side, are there tactics that work across the board, or do you have to know your audience and adjust?

A: I recommend a 3-step process, based on history, experience, and an understanding of the science behind cognition, emotion, and memory. I've trademarked it Heart, Head & Hand™. Heart, Head & Hand™ recommends first establishing a relevant and emotional context for communication, then delivering facts and data, and then asking the audience to take action. The order is crucial.

Q: So how can you read your audience – what should you look for?

A: Start with a clear understanding of what you want your listener to do as a result of your communication. Consider how your listener may need to feel in order to take the desired action. Might you have a story you can share about a time when you felt similarly?

Think, too, about where your work and concerns overlap with your audience’s work and concerns. Draw a Venn diagram and map it out. Seeing it visually can provide insight, and thus confidence.

Q: How important is confidence in being persuasive? How can you exude confidence without seeming cocky or arrogant?
A: Too often, we fail to show up, to show emotion, to show passion and desire. Showing passion is crucial to successfully moving listeners to action, and to making change happen. In a professional setting, passion and emotion need not translate as emotional. Emotion, in a professional setting, means delivering your information, and your request for change, with passion and confidence, and within a context that the audience finds meaningful.

September 24, 2011

Fallen Soldier

Last night, as my Delta flight began its descent, a flight attendant made an announcement that the plane was transporting a fallen soldier, and that Delta asked all passengers to remain in their seats upon landing, so that the family of the soldier, and their military escorts, could exit first. We were then asked to observe a minute of silence in honor of the soldier who had given his life for our nation and the independence we enjoy.

The family and escorts exited the plane, and the passengers followed, silently. And although it was midnight, and the plane had been delayed for two hours, most of us then gathered at the windows of the terminal, observing the military ceremony on the wet tarmac below.
We watched in silence as soldiers stood patiently in formation and at attention for what seemed like 10 minutes, with the American and military flags. The coffin was carried off the plane by six soldiers, the soldiers on either side of the procession saluted, the coffin passed the family, and the soldier was placed into a hearse. Passengers surrounding me quietly wept.

Silently, we left the terminal. Upon descending to baggage claim, some passengers were met by a family hugging a soldier in fatigues, accompanied by signs reading, "Welcome back home to our brave soldier." This soldier had been on another flight.

Until the flight attendant's announcement, I hadn't yet thought yesterday about the wars American is fighting. I am honored and humbled to have witnessed the ceremony for this fallen soldier, and to do so with my fellow passengers on that fight. We are all interconnected.

September 20, 2011

"Hearts and kidneys are tinker toys! I am talking about the central nervous system!"

This morning we attended the dedication ceremony for the new Maryland Neuroimaging Center in College Park. The University of Maryland's Vice President for Research began his remarks by saying: "Everything I know about the brain, I learned from the movie [...pause...] Young Frankenstein."


Congratulations to Prof. William Seeley on becoming a MacArthur Fellow!

In the last ten years, few scientific papers have made as much of an impact on me as this beautiful and important contribution: Seeley WW, Crawford RK, Zhou J, Miller BL, Greicius MD. Neurodegenerative diseases target large-scale human brain networks. Neuron. 2009 Apr 16;62(1):1-3.

September 17, 2011

"I saw my father with his eyes closed, basking in the early sun, sipping a cup of strong black coffee."

"A place is both itself
and what we make of it, as we are ourselves
and what a place makes of us."
- from "Pecans" by
Connie Wanek in her book "On Speaking Terms" (2010) from Copper Canyon Press.

September 14, 2011


A Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC) is the same thing as an Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens (EVIL) camera.

September 13, 2011


"In vivo" means in a living organism; "in vitro" means "in glass" (e.g., a test tube). And now, because electronic computers use silicon chips, "in silico" has become a fancy way to refer to computer simulations. A recent google search on the phrase "In vivo, in vitro, and in silico" yielded over 35,000 results.

September 12, 2011

"People have minds."

"In sum, bodies have brains. People have minds."
- from "Please Mind the Gap: How To Podcast Your Brain" by Karen Spaceinvaders on Continent ("Please click to listen to the mp3 files of deep brain recordings of individual brain cells, the smallest unit of the brain, in a whole, intact living brain.").

September 11, 2011

Zip Code 10048.

[Photo by Jon Thaler; Nikon 35mm f/2 on D700.]

"Where are the words when it's my turn to ask an honest question of the president?"

"I need a t to give me time–
a p and I'd have help.
It's the story of my life,
rearranging assets and coming up shor."
- from "Scrabble" by Connie Wanek in her book "On Speaking Terms" (2010) from Copper Canyon Press.

September 10, 2011

Back-to-School Dog-Blogging (cont'd)!

We're grateful to Frasier for visiting & posing for our "new" AF Nikkor 28-105.

"Let hot be hot and cold be cold, let the stone be hard and heavy."

"People grew bored waiting for Moses, too—
some never liked him anyway,
another Mr. Know-It-All,
and why so assured after forty years
of wrong turns? And what made so many women
look at him that way?"
- from "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Connie Wanek in her book "On Speaking Terms" (2010) from Copper Canyon Press.

How would you design a brain?

"Oscillatory Synchrony Is Energetically Cheap"
- A section heading from (page 168 of the 2011 paperback edition of) Prof. György Buzsáki's 2006 book "Rhythms of the Brain".

September 9, 2011

"We've paid our bills and the President's been elected."

"We'd tried the music first, so it seemed only reasonable to start things roundabout, putting the dance first. Later, when thinking-caps were used, it became evident that underneath both music and dance was a common suport: time. This partial truth would have been hard to come by for a choreographer, due partly to the multiplicity of elements in the theatrical dance and due for the rest to the fact that analytical thought in the field of the dance was centered formerly on the problem of notation. Music, on the other hand, was, in those days, a relatively simple art: a succession of pitches in a measured space of time. ... All one had to do was establish a time-structure. Neither music or dance would be first: both would go along in the same boat. Circumstances – a time, a place – would bring them together. We've paid our bills and the President's been elected. Now we get down to business. ... The time-structures we made fell apart: our need faded, so that aesthetic terms have totally disappeared from our language. Balance, harmony, counterpoint, form."
- from John Cage's 1963 essay "Where do we go from here?" in "A Year from Monday: New Lectures and Writings by John Cage", 1969.

Back-to-School Dog-Blogging!

Our new* AF Nikkor
28-105mm f/3.5-4.5D
is a small light affordable joy.

*Ordered online from Adorama, the lens arrived yesterday (this is one of our first test shots); it is used, and the model was discontinued in 2006.

September 4, 2011

"AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D"

Nikon doesn't want to sell you our favorite lens.

Photo: Nikon.
The lens that's on our camera most of the time, the one with which we take most of our photos, is the little AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D. Why, just this July, for our Four Cities Tour of the Upper Midwest (T.U.M.), the 35mm f/2 was the only lens we took.

Here are four snaps, one from each of the Four Cities of the T.U.M.:

Frogwater onstage at Milwaukee Brewing.

On our favorite feedlot.

Sharing dessert with Mark Mitton at the Duluth Grill.

Atop the Foshay Tower.

We love this lens. If you want a fast prime that is at least normal, but you don't want to go any wider than necessary (and if you're not willing to lug around a boat-anchor), this is it. And, as such things go, it's actually inexpensive. However, Nikon doesn't really want you to buy one.

When you go to the Nikon USA website, and select "lenses", you get a lens splashpage asking you to choose between lens categories. It appears that these optical devices now come in categories, called "Travel and Landscape Lenses", "People and Events Lenses", & "Sports and Action Lenses":

But here's the thing – No matter which category you choose, you will not find the 35mm f/2! It's not under any of the categories. You can find it only if you click on the small "Show all lenses" link on the lens splashpage.

To be sure, Nikon makes this lens, and sells this lens. But do they really want to? Or, would they rather that you buy something else – something more expensive?

"... on the other hand ..."

"Doris Dennison had been born Doris Suckling. That was why she changed her name. Her step-brother, Peter, on the other hand, took the name she discarded. Peter Suckling had been born Peter Perfect."
- from page 88 of "A Year from Monday: New Lectures and Writings by John Cage", 1969

September 3, 2011

"Luxury itself..."

"Though my debts are heavy
honey would pay them all.
Honey heals, honey mends.
A spoon takes more than it can hold
without reproach. A knife plunges deep,
but does no injury."
- from "Honey" by Connie Wanek in her book "On Speaking Terms" (2010) from Copper Canyon Press.

Holiday-Weekend Dog-Blogging!

[Bucky on the back porch, yesterday.]

"... like looking out a window ..."

Just one sentence from John Cage's 1962 lecture/essay "Rhythm Etc." in "A Year from Monday: New Lectures and Writings by John Cage", 1969:
"The Indians long ago knew that Music was going on permanently and that hearing it was like looking out a window at a landscape which didn't stop when one turned away."

September 2, 2011

A thought for the Labor Day weekend.

"Our Western education teaches us caution. And so we hesitate before crossing the great waters. We wouldn't want, would we, to throw ourselves away? Realizing we might have been elected President of the United States, we want somehow to settle for a life not too ignoble. Well, there's always Madison Avenue. And it needs us to keep itself going."
- from John Cage's 1961 "Lecture on Commitment" in "A Year from Monday: New Lectures and Writings by John Cage", 1969.

Fresh & stochastic.

Last night in the kitchen, after cooking & canning peach jam, the sounds of lids popping combined with the rumble of the dishwasher to form what John Cage would certainly have called music.

September 1, 2011

Inhibition is key.

Two sentences* from the third chapter of Prof. György Buzsáki's 2006 book "Rhythms of the Brain":
"In the absence of inhibition, any external input, weak or strong, would generate more or less the same one-way pattern, an avalanche of excitation involving the whole population."

"Without inhibition and dedicated interneurons, excitatory circuits cannot accomplish anything useful."

*from pages 61 & 78, respectively, of the 2011 paperback edition.

Seeing without reading. Or, visualization without (local) comprehension.

Last week I received via email a movie file in .avi format that would not play on any of our Macs, until I uploaded it to YouTube; now I can watch it just fine from any device – further proof that "the cloud" has (to some degree) eliminated the old requirement that a file's format be locally readable in order for the data in that file to be visualized.

August 31, 2011

Ideas for protecting the civil & human rights of pregnant & parenting women

Lynn Paltrow, founder and leader of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, has contributed an important and thoughtful essay to New York University’s Review of Law & Social Change. Entitled Missed Opportunities in McCorvey v. Hill: The Limits of Pro-Choice Lawyering, it deserves a wide audience among provoice activists and all people interested in the human rights of women.

The article uses the McCorvey v. Hill case to illustrate how the pro-choice movement and traditional lawyering approaches have missed critical opportunities to use attacks on Roe and other anti-abortion cases as a way to build alliances across the range of issues and movements necessary to protect the right to choose abortion, and more fundamentally the personhood of pregnant women. It not only describes the history of the McCorvey case but also outlines what can be done to more effectively counter abortion-re-criminalization efforts and to truly advance Reproductive Justice.

You will note that Lynn refers to "b.a.d. science": this, NeuroCooking readers, stands for "biased, agenda-driven" science.

Here are some excerpts, all emphasis is mine:

…National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) [is] an organization that was incorporated in 2001 to ensure, among other things, that women do not lose their civil or human rights upon becoming pregnant.

...One case, McCorvey v. Hill, illustrates how the pro-choice movement missed critical opportunities to build alliances across the range of issues and movements necessary to protect the rights and dignity of all pregnant women. In 2003, Norma McCorvey, the original “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade,[1] sought to overturn the decision in Roe by filing a Rule 60(b) motion for relief from the judgment in federal court.[2] Yet, not a single pro-choice group filed an amicus brief defending Roe. By contrast, the anti-choice community rallied around the case: Two amicus curiae briefs were filed in support of Ms. McCorvey’s appeal to the Fifth Circuit.[3] An additional eleven briefs were filed on her behalf in support of her petition to the Supreme Court.

… As I discuss in this article, from a narrow institutional and legal perspective, my colleagues and lawyers from the leading pro-choice legal and political organizations were absolutely right in their decision not to oppose McCorvey. From a larger political and cultural perspective, however, I believe that ignoring this case was a mistake. The pro-choice movement failed to appreciate how serious and strategic anti-choice activists are when they bring cases unlikely to win in the short term. As discussed below, the efforts of anti-choice activists keep public debate focused on abortion rather than other important issues of our day. Their false claims about science and history, if repeated often enough and left unchallenged, become more likely to be believed and relied upon by judges and policy makers. Furthermore, the more we permit anti-choice activists to frame the issue as a question of abortion’s legality and morality, rather than as a question of the rights and dignity of pregnant women and mothers, the more dominant this frame becomes in the public debate.

I conclude by arguing that the failure to do cross-issue, multi-strategy work undermines the effort to defend Roe v. Wade, and more fundamentally, those women who become pregnant and sometimes have abortions.

… Although McCorvey could have been an opportunity for pro-choice lawyers to gather stories about the personal and public health value of legal abortion or to develop new, passionate, funny, or creative responses to the argument that women are actually hurt by abortion, the mainstream pro-choice movement let the courts handle it.

… McCorvey’s arguments did not succeed in getting Roe overturned, but they did deflect attention from Texas’s appalling record on child and family health. They reinforced the idea that abortion, more than any other issue, poses the greatest threat to families in the United States today. They motivated a conservative circuit court judge to write and publish an unchallenged concurring opinion legitimizing junk science and the idea that women who have abortions are killing their children. They mobilized hundreds of anti-choice activists. And they reinforced and spread anti-abortion propaganda that could eventually become the “truth” if silence is the primary response.

If we defend the right to choose abortion only through narrow legal tools, and if we focus on defending abortion rather than on defending the women who have abortions, we will not only lose the right to choose abortion but also any hope of achieving a true culture of life, one that values and includes the women who give that life.

… Finally, they missed the opportunity to explore what follows from the affidavits’ repeated claim that abortion is murder. Because most women who have abortions are or will be mothers, if abortion is murder, these affidavits are actually arguing that many of the women who are giving birth to and raising America’s children are, in fact, murderers. In addition, the crime of murder carries significantly longer sentences than the crime of illegal abortion, and the crime of murder is equally applicable to the doctors who perform abortions and the women who have them.[4]

Moreover, the pro-choice community missed the opportunity to build cross-issue and cross-movement alliances. A wide range of organizations—whether or not they have positions on abortion and even if many of their members oppose abortion—could have been invited and encouraged to file amicus briefs exposing the extent to which organizations that seek to re-criminalize abortion mislead, mischaracterize, and dehumanize pregnant women and fail to support the children they claim to protect.

Pro-choice groups could have worked with birthing rights groups, including midwives and doulas, to make clear that, while abortion is one aspect of pregnant women’s lives, all aspects of pregnancy have the potential for significant personal and emotional impact. Together they could have filed amicus briefs addressing the feelings of anger, sorrow, loss, and trauma that women report feeling when they have been pressured into having unnecessary cesarean surgery and other procedures[5] and when they have been denied the opportunity to make informed and voluntary decisions during labor and delivery.[6]

Women’s rights, mental health advocacy, and mothers’ advocacy groups could have brought to light the extensive evidence that some women who go to term and give birth suffer from post partum depression.[7] In contrast to the medically unsubstantiated “post-abortion” syndrome, post-partum depression is well established but under-researched.[8] National and local stillbirth organizations could have filed briefs addressing the women who experience miscarriages and stillbirth. These women often experience significant emotional pain yet overwhelmingly fail to get needed support from any of their health care providers.[9]

Groups that address child welfare issues[10] could have filed an amicus brief exploring McCorvey’s suggestion that mother’s need not worry about any children they give birth to because they could be left with the state and provided for by that state. They could have discussed how the child-welfare system often punishes, rather than supports, parents who in fact “suffer” from the stresses of parenting.[11] The National Safe Haven Alliance could have been encouraged to file an amicus brief addressing the real purpose and serious limitations of the “Baby Moses” laws. Groups that address adoption issues could have discussed the ways in which women who have given up children for adoption sometimes experience extreme feelings of loss, sadness, and guilt.[12]

Public health groups could have addressed legalized abortion’s benefits to all Texans and Americans. International human rights groups could have educated the courts about the experiences of women today in countries that continue to criminalize pregnant women who have abortions. Reproductive, social, and economic justice groups could have been engaged to challenge the suggestion in the brief that poverty’s only negative consequence is to put pressure on low-income women to have abortions. Organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences and the National Center for Science Education could have been approached to see if they would address the danger of judicial decision-making based on junk science and the extent to which junk science and b.a.d. science is influencing public policy.[13]

Religious organizations and institutions that support pregnant women’s reproductive, constitutional and human rights,[14] as well as organizations committed to the separation of church and state,[15] could have been enlisted to address the role that religion played in the litigation and the extent to which political, medical, and scientific issues should not be confused with religious beliefs.

Pro-choice organizations could also have collected the stories of pregnant women who had abortions and who were denied access to abortions. Better yet, they could have organized an amicus brief and speak-outs about pregnancy in general,[16] making it clear that women who have abortions also have miscarriages and stillbirths and give birth under conditions that should raise significant concerns about women’s dignity and health.[17] As many of us have since learned from the organization Exhale[18] and their “Pro-Voice” movement,[19] to the extent women have had bad, disappointing, or upsetting experiences with abortion since legalization, those who support full civil and human rights for pregnant women can be the ones to give them voice, acknowledge their pain, show them respect, and explore ways to support them. Even with limited time and resources, these groups could, at a minimum, have requested to re-file past women’s voices amicus briefs with motions explaining how they related to this litigation.

You can learn more about National Advocates for Pregnant Women at their web site. And I encourage you to read this terrific article in The Guardian, detailing much of their current work in protecting the human rights of pregnant and parenting women.

[1].Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).

[2]. McCorvey v. Hill, 385 F.3d 846, 847 (5th Cir. 2004).

[3].Brief for Ester Ripplinger as Amicus Curiae Supporting Appellant, McCorvey v. Hill, 385 F.3d 846 (2004) (No. 03-10711), 2003 WL 24016582; Brief for Texas Black Americans for Life and the Life Education and Resource Network as Amici Curae in Support of Appellant, McCorvey v. Hill, 385 F.3d 846 (2004) (No. 03-10711), 2003 WL 24016584.

[4].See Lynn M. Paltrow, A Post-Roe World With Criminal Penalties Our Mothers Could Not Have Imagined, Huffington Post (Jan. 27, 2006), (describing how changes in criminal justice system would impact the criminalization of abortion if Roe were overturned); Anna Quindlen, How Much Jail Time, Newsweek, Aug. 6, 2007, at 68 (“If abortion is made a crime, then the woman who has one is a criminal.”).

[5].Cf. Carol Sakala & Maureen P. Corry, Evidence Based Maternity Care: What it is and What We Can Achieve 1 (2008), (discussing current high rates of interventions and procedures in pregnant women and arguing that evidence based maternity care can decrease the number of interventions while improving maternal outcomes).

[6].See The Business of Being Born (Barranca Productions 2008) (exploring the overuse of unnecessary medical interventions on a growing number of pregnant women in the United States today).

[7].See Ctrs. for Disease Control and Prevention, Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Prevalence of Self-Reported Postpartum Depressive Symptoms—17 States, 20042005 361 (2008) (finding that ten to fifteen percent of women experience post-partum depression within one year of giving birth). See generally Julia S. Seng, Lisa Kane Low, Mickey Sperlich, David L. Ronis & Israel Liberzon, Prevalence, Trauma History, and Risk for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among Nulliparous Women in Maternity Care, 114 Obstetrics & Gynecology 839 (2009) (discussing prevalence and causes of post traumatic stress disorder in pregnant women).

[8]. See Donna E. Stewart, Emma Robertson, Cindy-Lee Dennis & Sherry Grace, An Evidence-Based Approach to Post-Partum Depression, 3 World Psychiatry 97, 97–98 (2004) (stating that post-partum depression is a significant health problem that affects approximately thirteen percent of women but noting the dearth of evidence-based literature on the illness).

[9].See Linda Layne, Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Account of Pregnancy Loss in America 190–234 (2003); Amber Cleveland, Motherhood Lost, Rensselaer (2006), See generally Parenthood Lost: Healing the Pain After Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Death (Michael R. Berman, ed. 2001) for a variety of perspectives on the pain and loss associated with miscarriage and stillbirth.

[10].The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform ( is one such group.

[11].See generally Chris Gottlieb, Reflections on Judging Motherhood, 39 U. Balt. L. Rev. 371 (2010) (discussing how the child welfare system judges mothers).

[12].For examples of women who experienced negative feelings as a result of giving up their children for adoption, see generally Eric Blau, Stories of Adoption: Loss and Reunion (Family & Childcare) (1993); Evelyn Burns Robinson, Adoption and Loss: The Hidden Grief (rev. ed. 2003); Joe Soll & Karen Wilson Buterbaugh, Adoption Healing . . . A Path to Recovery for Mothers Who Lost Children to Adoption (2003). See also Birthmothers: Grief, Loss, Shame & Guilt,, (last visited Apr. 26, 2011) (addressing apparently common feelings of grief, loss, shame, and guilt by some parents who have given up children for adoption). My point here is not to compare or create a hierarchy of pain among abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, adoption, birth, and parenting, but rather to note that many women feel pain and experience hurt with regard to all possible aspects of pregnancy and its outcome. In doing so, I hope to call into question the suggestion that abortion is unique in “causing” women to feel badly in some way.

[13].See, e.g., Chamberlain, supra note 96.

[14].Such organizations could have included the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice ( and Faith Aloud (

[15].Americans United for Separation of Church and State is one such organization (

[16].See, e.g., Our Stories, Nat’l Advocates for Pregnant Women, (last visited Apr. 26, 2010) (suggesting a prototype for this kind of pregnancy-comprehensive story-telling and speaking out).

[17].See Real Reason, Tone, Visibility, and Scope in Pro-Choice Advocacy Conceptions of Pregnancy and Abortion, Part II: Strategic Roadmap, Prepared for the Reproductive Health Technologies Project 28 (2010) (“Re-integrating abortion with other common pregnancy outcomes will benefit everyone involved, not only advocates for abortion rights.”).

[18].See History, Exhale, (last visited Feb. 24, 2010).

[19].The “Pro-Voice” framework seeks to ensure that each person’s unique experience with abortion is respected, supported, and free from stigma. See generally Aspen Baker & Carolina De Robertis, Pro-Voice: A Framework for Communicating Personal Experiences with Abortion (2005),; Eyal Rabinovitch, Exhale. Can Listening to Women Who Have Had Abortions Bring Peace to the Abortion Wars (2010), paperbyerabinovitch5-3-10.pdf.


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