Category Archives: News

1.21 Gigawatts: “Mermaids, New Evidence” – When Faux-cumentaries Attack…Again.

-Sarah Keartes

Described as the “rotting carcass of science TV,” Mermaids: the Body Found was the most appalling piece of docu-fiction I had ever seen—until last week.

Up from the depths of the Animal Planet sludgy abyss swam a new “documentary:” a follow up to The Body Found which originally aired as part of “Monster Week” (telling).

Mermaids: The New Evidence, which set an all-time ratings record for the network (3.6 million viewers), has the internet abuzz once again as scientists around the world desperately try to expose the film for what it is—not real.

The sister films combine documentary filmmaking techniques such as narrated reenactments, interviews, and vlogs, with debunked “evidence” and “theories” to drive home the main point: mermaids are real, and they are being concealed by marine biologists and the government.

“After watching this I said to myself ‘if the videos are real then it’s not a matter of it being a theory, it’s actual fact – ‘mermaids’ DO EXIST’. But that was the big ‘if,’” one viewer said.

“Ninety percent of the ocean is unexplored and you’re telling me #mermaids don’t exist,” said another, a statement which has been retweeted more than 800 times.

Firstly, there is no debate to whether or not either faux-cumentary is fake; the disclaimer at the beginning of both films clearly states:

“None of the individuals or entities depicted in the film are affiliated or associated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents. Any similarities to actual persons living or dead are entirely coincidental.”

Most (if not all) of the scientists, government officials, and professors in both films are in fact, actors, including the returning “Dr. Paul Robertson” (played by Andre Weideman) flaunted as “a former researcher for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration” (NOAA).

After The Body Found aired in 2011, NOAA released an official statement to clear up their implied contribution to the film.

“The belief in mermaids may have arisen at the very dawn of our species…But are mermaids real? No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found. Why, then, do they occupy the collective unconscious of nearly all seafaring peoples? That’s a question best left to historians, philosophers, and anthropologists,” they said.

NOAA was not notified that the second documentary would be aired.

“They [NOAA] handled it beautifully—with aplomb,” Animal Planet GM Marjorie Kaplan said of NOAA’s response to the first mermaid special.

She added she was “pleased to note [that] you can’t be sued by the government” even for implying that they are spending billions concealing the entire cast of The Little Mermaid.

With so much previous evidence, why then are people still being dooped?

“The fact that the mermaid shows are fiction was easy enough to miss. Animal Planet certainly played up how authentic the illusory evidence was, including faked vlogs that didn’t bother to say that they were scripted,” science writer Brian Switek said in his National Geographic blog post.

“The channel’s page about Monster Week—of which the mermaids sludge was a part—likewise touts ‘physical evidence linked to the existence of mermaids’ without saying the show is a fantasy,” he said.

Like many people who have “Mocked the Doc,” I have taken some flak for my involvement in the “#mermaids” twitter conversation.

“Just because you have no imagination, doesn’t mean you have to bring us down with you, scientists and science people have no appreciation of fantasy—it’s sad really,” one person, let’s call her “Ursula” said in an email.

Anyone who knows me well  knows that I am more into fantasy than the average Joe—hell I’m still waiting for Robb Stark to come back from the dead and swoop me up riding Falkor so that we may run off into the double Tatooine sunset together.

I do not take issue with mermaids. I do not take issue with mermaids on television. But masquerading fiction as fact using debunked information—and on a network with a reputation (or at least a former one)—is fundamentally wrong.

“It’s not satire. It’s not parody. It’s a giant middle finger to the public,” Marine biologist Andrew David Thaler said.

Follow Sarah on Twitter!

Image by Pets Advisor.

Don't Worry Be Healthy: Squeaky Clean

clean hands

-Marissa Tomko

Scrub-a-dub-dub, triclosan in the tub! But maybe not for much longer…

Triclosan is a chemical used in antibacterial products. In the US, it is estimated that about 75 percent of liquid soaps and washes contain triclosan. It is also found in toothpaste, kitchen cleaners, and detergents—it’s everywhere. That must mean we’re all pretty safe because all of the bacteria in our lives are being killed, right? Some would say otherwise.

In 1978, triclosan was deemed not especially safe or effective by the FDA, but there was no research to make a strong case for its danger. What danger, you ask? Studies done using animals lead to the conclusion that it could be a danger to human fertility, and cause early puberty. However, according to the FDA, trends in animal testing do not always show up equally in humans. Currently, the FDA is working to decide if the risks are enough to shut down the $1 billion industry.

After learning about these risks, I was curious if antibacterial soap containing triclosan was at least making my grubby little paws cleaner. As it turns out, studies have shown that antibacterial cleansers are no more effective than your run of the mill civilian soap. Soap cleans by breaking up the oil and dirt on your hands, suspending them in water droplets that get washed down the drain. Using antibacterials give you no benefit, according to various studies.

It’s up to you to decide how you feel about the triclosan controversy. But until then, and after, just keep washing your hands people—the common cold never sleeps!

Image by Arlington County.

When the Music’s Over: R.I.P. Ray Manzarek

The Doors album

-Casey Klekas

The Doors has been one of my favorite bands since I was old enough to have favorite bands. I don’t remember the first time I heard them because they were the soundtrack (along with Cream and Creedence) to my early childhood. My memories stream “Light My Fire,” “Break On Through,” and “Soul Kitchen over the weeks in Lake Powell, inside speedboats fitted with more speakers than life-jackets.

My special connection with The Doors continued through my pubertal awakening. When I was eighteen and in Paris, I ducked out of my class’s day-trip to Versailles and made the pilgrimage to Jim Morrison’s grave inside Père Lachaise, the famous cemetery home to Balzac, Chopin, Jacques-Louis David, Eugène Delacroix, Merleau-Ponty, Proust, and Oscar Wilde, to name just a few. It was truly a religious experience for me. My Blessed Sacrament was performed with Jack Daniels, and my sacred hymn was “When the Music’s Over.”

I am one of those who think that The Doors were a foursome, not just three guys behind the vocals of Jim Morrison. Jim died in 1971 when he was only 27-years-old. His band members, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, and Robby Krieger, have long outlived him. On Monday, Jim was finally given some company.

Ray Manzarek played organ and piano, among many other instruments, for The Doors, and it was apparently his conception to start a band in the first place. Manzarek’s battle with cancer ended Monday, May 20th. He was 74.

I often play the thought experiment of substituting band members out of my favorite groups to find which are essential and which are disposable. I’ve done this with The Beatles, and I’m sorry to say Ringo is as indispensable as George. I’ve come to realize that most truly great bands are so because of the unique fusion of their members. This is true of The Doors.

Ray Manzarek first recognized the poetic talent of his film school classmate Jim Morrison in Venice, California. Manzarek was a musical genius of extraordinary talents, and when they formed a band with Densmore and Krieger he took on more roles than one. He often used one hand to play bass on a piano and the other hand on his VOX Continental organ. Indeed, sometimes he would have to combine this with lead singing, such as when Morrison accepted a few too many psychedelic offerings before a show in Amsterdam.

The Doors were a band that mastered the solo. This is evident in the poetic incantations of Jim Morrison and the slide guitar of Krieger. But Manzarek’s notes are the ones that I seem to remember best, the ones that define the sound of The Doors. If you know The Doors well, you’ll know exactly when the organ breaks into an orgiastic solo.

Manzarek’s organ is as essential to The Doors as Morrison’s voice. He set the tone for the music of the Doors, something wholly unique and hence immortal. Here’s to a man that still makes me pound my fingers on the dashboard in an ecstatic want of mimicry.

1.21 Gigawatts : NASA Snowmo-bot Takes to the Ice


-Sarah Keartes

The Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research (GROVER)  is a six foot tall, 800 pound, solar powered, autonomous NASA robot—and it’s bound for no-man’s land.

Comprised of two towering solar panels, an onboard computer, and rechargeable batteries, GROVER will not rely on wheels for locomotion like its famously cute Martian counterpart, CURIOSITY. Instead, the bot rests on two tracks of re-purposed rough-terrain snowmobile tracks—an important design element as it’s headed to Greenland.

That’s right! Earlier this month, our own Casey Klekas told readers about sending some of Earth’s finest on a one-way trip into space. Well, NASA is returning the favor by sending their newest scientific rover on a mission to the blue planet.

Greenland, the largest island on Earth, is located at the intersection of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans (just east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago). Despite its misnomer, over 85 percent of the island is covered in a thick sheet of ice, 3.21 km (two miles) thick at the center. This giant glacier represents about 10 percent of the Earth’s freshwater reserve, and like all polar ice, it’s heating up.

“Greenland’s surface layer vaulted into the news in summer 2012 when higher than normal temperatures caused surface melting across about 97 percent of the ice sheet,” the NASA team stated in a press release. A full melt of the glaciated island could result in a seven meter rise in the world’s oceans.

Until now, glaciological study on the island has been accomplished with radar towing snowmobiles or airplanes, but Glaciologist Laura Koenig, a science adviser on the project has high hopes for GROVER’s ability to outshine man-powered research.

“The hope is that GROVER can collect much more data than humans could on the ground. When we’re on snowmobiles, we could do 50 kilometers a day—that would be a difficult day. You get cold, and need to stop,” she said.

Once deployed at “Summit Camp,” a National Science Foundation (NSF) research station located on the highest point of Greenland, GROVER will cruise the ice at an average speed of 1.2 miles per hour, collecting data.

The onboard radar “sends radio wave pulses into the ice sheet, and the waves bounce off buried features, informing researchers about the characteristics of the snow and ice layers,” NASA explains.

Though GROVER travels far slower than a snowmobile, because the sun never sets in the Arctic horizon during summer, the solar-powered rover will work around the clock—something its human counterparts could never do in such a harsh climate.

NASA rovers have become quite accustomed to working long shifts in intolerable conditions. In this way, GROVER will operate much like any other spacecraft does.

“GROVER is just like a spacecraft but it has to operate on the ground…it has to survive unattended for months in a hostile environment, with just a few commands to interrogate it and find out its status and give it some directions for how to accommodate situations it finds itself in,” Michael Comberiate, a retired NASA engineer, said.

But don’t worry; poor GROVER won’t be completely alone. A ro-buddy play-date is set for early June when it will be joined on the glacier by Dartmouth University’s Cool Robot. This rover, also solar powered, will tow a variety of instrument packages to enhance the glaciological study.

Follow Sarah on Twitter!

Image by Gabriel Trisca, Boise State University.

Diamond Days & Womenspace


-Rache’ll Brown

We see it on MTV, we see it in magazines, and sometimes, we see it on the streets. Domestic violence is an issue that is often overlooked, and University of Oregon sorority Alpha Chi Omega, along with the help of fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha, is working to help bring attention to those who have been affected.

“Raising awareness about domestic violence is essential,” Lambda Chi Alpha sophomore Cody Koenig said. “Whether people realize it or not, domestic violence impacts so many people, and we need to be able to recognize what domestic violence is and how we can help those affected.” Around the world, one of three women has been the victim of spousal abuse, and ten million children witness it every year. Luckily, organizations like Womenspace offer women and children in difficult situations an escape to get back on their feet.

Womenspace entered Lane County in 1975 and has continued to grow since. With a safe house, emergency services, support groups, and various programs, Womenspace is able to help the women and children of Lane County flourish despite the hardships they may have faced. However, programs like this require a lot of community supports via volunteering and donations, and Alpha Chi Omega will be hosting their annual philanthropy event Diamond Days with the help of Lambda Chi Alpha to benefit Womenspace and survivors of domestic violence. Sophomore Samantha Harmon stated, “The most important reason I support Womenspace is that the domestic violence statistics are at an all time high. If I can have even a small part in lowering the number of assaults and keeping survivors safe, I’ll do it. We, as Alpha Chi Omegas, take pride in helping lift these women up and making them stronger.”

The annual Diamond Days softball tournament and carnival will be held May 18th from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the River Front field. Featuring games, facepainting, and food, the event will offer fun for both students and community members alike. A dance will also be held for University of Oregon students Friday May, 17th starting at 9:30 p.m. at Lambda Chi Alpha. The jersey themed dance party requires an entry fee of five dollars, and students must have an ID to enter.

Diamond Days isn’t the only time of the year that Womenspace needs help—donations are always welcome, and volunteers are encouraged. To get involved, visit Womenspace, and if you or someone you know is in danger, call (800) 281-2800 for help.

“Its a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by so many strong women who are all there to support and raise awareness for even stronger women than ourselves,” said senior member of Alpha Chi Omega Gabo Ailstock.

Follow Rache’ll on Twitter!

Graphic by Taylor St. Claire.

Segregated Proms and Social Media


-Casey Klekas

This year marks the 150th anniversary since President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It has been sixty years since Brown v. Board of Education declared racial segregation unconstitutional. And it has been fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King gave his imperishable “I Have a Dream” speech, addressed not just to those at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial, but to every person in the United States, from the “snow-capped Rockies of Colorado” to the “Stone Mountain of Georgia.” It has been fifty years, and yet the word “segregated” still rings in some parts of the United States.

My generation hasn’t had much more than a Hollywood encounter with segregated schools or the unavoidable pains of integration. My first experience with the history of racial segregation probably came through Forrest Gump (“Ma’am, you dropped your book.”). This period, while undoubtedly unforgettable, is still just a distant chapter in our history books.

Well, at least that’s what I thought until I stumbled across headlines that read, “Georgia students organize their own, integrated prom,” and “Segregated prom tradition yields to unity.”

For those of you who are well aware of this “phenomenon” (I don’t know what else to call it), please forgive me. For those of you who, like me, were convinced that segregation died in the ‘60s and ‘70s, you might be as shocked as I was when I found out that in some parts of the American south, school dances are still organized according to skin color.

The ruling in Brown v. Board of Education said that segregated schools were unconstitutional, and that, “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” Chief Justice Earl Warren fought to make it a unanimous decision (nine-zero) so as to quell any further legal opposition. In order to get a nine-zero decision, Warren made the concession of leaving an open timetable to the implementation of school integration. Schools gradually became integrated or they closed down. But some traditions such as school dances were difficult to integrate with force. Some proms were no longer sanctioned by the school but were instead privately organized by students and parents so dances could remain racially segregated.

This tradition has been difficult to buck. “White proms” were normally invitation-only, while “black proms” remained largely open to all.

There have been several famous acts of resistance to this tradition, like in 1997, when actor Morgan Freeman offered to sponsor an integrated high school prom in his hometown of Charlestown, Mississippi. His offer was denied. Ten years later, he made the offer again. This time, it was accepted. This event inspired a documentary Prom Night in Mississippi.

Only a few counties in the southern states still hold separate proms based on variations in pigment. Until Saturday, April 28, 2013, Wilcox, Georgia, was one such county. Four girls came up with the idea of breaking with tradition and making their high school prom integrated. To raise money and awareness, they created a Facebook page, which brought in more than enough money to rent a ballroom and offer party gifts to every couple.

The pictures of happy couples at the dance look like any other prom pictures of nervous high schoolers with awkward smiles and silly hats.

The first two statuses on the group’s page are about local fundraisers, including the “Barbecue Chicken Plate Sale,” as well as donation opportunities for those across the country. The next few read something like, “We would like to thank everyone all over the world who have given to this Prom and cause from the depths of your heart.” Then the countdown begins. “4 MORE DAYS!!!! *SCREAMING* :-)”. The Saturday of the dance read, “TODAY IS THE DAY!!!!!! SO BEYOND EXCITED 🙂 *BUTTERFLIES IN OUR STOMACHS AND SCREAMING WITH EXCITEMENT*.”

Each picture and status update has hundreds, if not thousands of “likes” and heartening comments. Don’t be surprised if you get teary-eyed.

The courage of the students who organized, attended, and got down on the dance floor at Wilcox High School’s first integrated prom makes me proud to think that the spirit of brotherhood that sustained the Civil Rights Movement is alive and well in the Facebook generation.

Image by Shalimar Flower Shop.

I’m leaving on a spaceship, and I’ll never be back again

 Big Red Mars

-Casey Klekas

Putting a human footprint on Mars is possible within the next twenty years, scientists and Martian advocates say. But, if you don’t want to wait for the technology and funding to come through so you can get to and from the Red Planet, you can now bid for a one-way ticket. That’s right! Scientists say that a sending humans to Mars without the intention of bringing them back to Earth would cut the cost of a mission, just as a one-way ticket to Denver costs less than round trip. This would make the project more economically viable, which is one of the most deciding factors in what has become an ice-cold space race.

Discovery News reports that the ideal and lucky few would likely be past their reproductive prime and spend their retirement establishing a base camp and creating a sustainable environment for future planetary pioneers.

So what would be positive about spending your last years on Mars? On the plus side, you’d weigh 38 percent of what you do on Earth (I’d be past my summertime goal at sixty-nine pounds). Your Martian days would be thirty-seven minutes longer than Earth’s if you wanted to get in some extra reading. You’d also have 669 Martian days, the equivalent of 687 Earth days, in one Martian year. The average temperature measured on Mars is -67 degrees Fahrenheit. But, temperatures have ranged from -200 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, well above Eugene’s shorts and tank-top level.

You could spend your slightly longer days on Mars mining for water, fossils, and precious metals. You may get sick of the monotonous hue of the Martian backdrop, with colors ranging from orange to darker orange. It’s surface is basically made of rust, or iron oxide, which gives it its red shading. At night you could gaze at Phobos and Deibos, Mars’s two irregular shaped moons.

Let’s say NASA went with the plan to send a few cosmonauts on a one-way trip. If that were the case, it would not just raise questions about cost and engineering, but ethics as well. I guess it depends on how you look at it: Shooting a couple of people in a rocket headed for a barren planet without any chance of bringing them home may sound like a cosmological form of exile. Or, maybe it doesn’t sound that different from the stories of pilgrims leaving the old world of Europe to establish a new life in America.

Let’s grant that the two to four people sent to Mars are going willingly. Does that mean it would dissolve our ethical responsibilities? Certainly not, because we would be the ones sending them to their eventual, lonely deaths (can you make it to heaven from Mars?). Without our consent, the consent of NASA, and the good ol’ tax-paying American citizen, the mission would not exist.

The effects of a thirty-five million to 250 million mile journey on the human psyche are also under consideration by the Mars-bound hopefuls. Russian researchers have been conducting isolation experiments on six poor devils that have been locked in a room for over 500 days. Their internal clocks never adapted to the office lighting, causing the men to suffer insomnia. Add this to the knowledge that you’re in friggin’ space and can never turn around and that your destination is also where you’ll be buried. Again, the troopers on the voyage will have full knowledge of what they’ve bargained for, but if they change their mind on the interplanetary flight or when tilling the Martian sand, expect the world’s first cosmo-mutiny.

Sending two to four people to stay on another planet for the rest of their lives would be an unprecedented event. I mean that quite literally. It would have no equal in human history. Of course, this will open the pod-bay doors (HAL) to further man-and-womanned-missions to Mars. It could possibly mark the first chapter in the story of human colonization on the fourth rock from the sun. Or we could find ourselves being made to listen to the cries for help by the sick and deranged trailblazers from the Martian surface. (Hypothetical newsflash: at least three dead on Mars, no source to confirm fourth). My hope is that we wait to do this the old-fashioned way, with government money, a NASA logo, and a return flight home. “Cheap and quick” is liable to land you on Venus or something.

Image by Kevin M. Gill.

TIL (Today I Learned) about the power of Reddit

-Emily Fraysse

Otherwise known as “The Front Page of the Internet,” Reddit is an online source for what is popular, new, informational, and interesting on the web. With a simple black-outlined alien as their mascot, the Reddit community is tight-knit and informative. Through voting, the users of Reddit can decide on what is worth reading or looking at and what is not. The front page is constantly changing with new links to stories, photos, and videos that registered users upload or post, and it has its own slang, which consists of a list of commonly used acronyms.

In lieu of last Monday’s devastating events in Boston, people took it upon themselves to use Reddit, one of the most popular social media outlets, to post live updates about the incident, and information on how to find people and how to help post-bombing. An outpour of citizens in the Boston area posted onto a Google doc for marathon runners in need of a place to stay. Other Redditors offered their assistance by offering car rides to people in the metropolitan area and donating their unused frequent flier miles to people who need to get in or out of Boston. A sub-Reddit titled “random_acts_of_pizza,” which allows subscribers to order pizza deliveries for others as an act of kindness, offered those hosting runners a free pizza.

Links such as Live Scanner Feed, Google Person Finder, Redcross Safe and Well, and other important information regarding the bombings and safety flooded the tops of the Boston Marathon Bombing threads.

Today I Learned (TIL) that the Reddit community is powerful, strong, and growing. It is saddening to think that this kind of care only comes out in times of need, but Reddit continues to prove that point otherwise. In February of this year, a Redditor by the username of chewy01234 posted a thread titled, “r/Boston can you help a guy with a Kidney Transplant out in this snow storm? After the winter storm Nemo began to hit New England, he realized that his prescription medication was in New York, while he was stuck in Boston. Upvotes and comments boomed hours after the post, and four hours later, chewy01234 was contacted by the user rockstaraimz, who lived in Brookline. She herself was a kidney transplant recipient and was able to drop off some of her Prograf medication to save the man’s kidney.  In other cases, Redditors have raised funds for a man with terminal kidney cancer to travel the world, and Redditors found a hit-and-run driver faster than the Montreal Police.

The power of Reddit is undeniable, and by the looks of it, unstoppable. CNN writer Dorrine Mendoza called Reddit “a social platform where clever memes, photos of kittens and discussions of space, science and politics are interwoven with NSFW [not suitable for work] jokes, original artwork and an abundance of sexual innuendo. It can be simultaneously fascinating and offensive. And occasionally it is a place where the most intimate human moments are laid bare.”

Through the eyes of Dick Cheney

-Casey Klekas

What’s it like to wear Dick Cheney’s glasses? Well, they might be transition lenses because everything looks a little darker. In case you missed it, Showtime has released a new documentary called The World According to Dick Cheney, in which the former vice president opened his cold, transplanted heart for the Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker, R. J. Cutler. Cheney talked about his life in the political sphere, from his early days of drunk-driving in Casper, Wyoming, to twice failing out of Yale University, to eventually going to work for a young Donald Rumsfeld in the Nixon administration. Cheney has held a high-ranking position in nearly every republican administration since Tricky Dick, culminating in his nomination for vice president in 2000. It’s about time someone made a documentary about the “most powerful vice president in history.”

The movie begins with Cheney responding to a Proust Questionnaire—favorite virtue: integrity; favorite food: spaghetti. Cheney is asked to name his main fault: “Well, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my faults, I guess would be the answer.” There’s your thesis statement.

Surprisingly, for the majority of the film, Dick Cheney does not come off as a power-hungry crypto-fascist. Instead of Darth Vader, we get grandpa’s reflections of an extraordinary life from humble beginnings. Born in Nebraska to life-long democrats, Cheney’s formidable years were spent playing football and drinking Coors beer, a brand he loved so dearly that for a spell he was a Coors employee. Coors was instrumental in his failing out of Yale, after which he returned to Casper and dabbled in manual labor. Cheney then had the sobering experience of getting two DUIs in a matter of months. Threatened with separation from his high school sweetheart, Lynne Vincent, he went back to school to study politics. It was in reaction to the lively anti-Vietnam War protests at the University of Wisconsin that Cheney found himself moving more to the political right.

Cheney got his start in politics working for Donald Rumsfeld, who would act as a sort of mentor until Cheney was elected to serve Wyoming in the House of Representatives in 1978. He then served as Secretary of Defense under George H. W. Bush from 1989 until Bush lost the presidency to Bill Clinton in 1992. He left the political sphere for a quiet life as CEO of Halliburton, a multi-billion dollar oil corporation.

In 2000, George Bush Jr. asked Cheney to head his search for a vice-presidential candidate. Cheney set up a grueling vetting process, in which, after exhausting all possibilities, Bush eventually asked Cheney to join the ticket. Cheney agreed on the condition that he would have an influential position in the administration, not just to act as a slot filler. Also, he would not be subjected to the taxing vetting process of background checks and medical records demanded of earlier candidates.

Whilst the hands were busy sorting through dimpled chads in Florida, Cheney was already at work selecting Bush’s council of ministers, filling the cabinet with friends and like-minded individuals such as Rumsfeld.

Cheney said, “Watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities.” September 11, 2001 was a turning point for Dick Cheney, one that set the tone for his duties. The general feeling in the Bush Administration was that the worst attacks were still on the way. Preventing further attacks took precedence over consulting with congress or the constitution. On the issue of “enhanced interrogation” of “enemy combatants,” including water-boarding and other forms of torture, Cheney defended himself by posing the question, “Are you going to trade the lives of a number of people because you want to preserve your honor?” Suddenly Cheney appears as a man of respectfully disagreeable ethical positions; Dick Cheney with a human face. He gives a similar apologia for provisions like the PATRIOT Act, which is criticized as a gross infringement on basic civil liberties. “It was a war time situation and it was more important to be successful than it was to be loved,” Cheney says (later adding, “If you want to be loved, go be a movie star”).

Up to this point, Cheney doesn’t fare all that badly. We may strongly disagree with him, but at least we have a better understanding of what besides his pacemaker makes him tick. For the rest of the film, Cheney appears in an increasingly unflattering light. His political skill turns to trickery and deception, such as sharing fabricated facts with congressional leaders about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capability in hopes of a “yay” vote for war. He offers no apologies, not even regrets. Still, that’s another thing that makes this documentary so fascinating. Bluntly, he says, “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it again in a minute.”

The World According to Dick Cheney is a must-see for anyone who remembers eight years of Bush/Cheney, no matter what your nostalgic campaign bumper sticker says. (For a more in-depth analysis of Cheney, check out Barton Gellman’s best-selling book, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.)

Image by Gage Skidmore.

The Unconscious Brain's Decision-Making Process

-Emily Fraysse

The science of the brain can be a rather daunting and intimidating area of study. When a person is in a difficult situation or faced with a major decision, and has the luxury of time, a common response is to “sleep on it.” This break from thinking about a problem can be a more rewarding decision than many have previously thought.

Extensive research from Carnegie Mellon University found that the brain regions that are responsible for making decisions are continuously active even when the conscious brain is distracted with a different task. CMU graduate James K. Bursley and Northeastern University’s Ajay B. Satpute took twenty-seven healthy adults and gave them information about cars and other items while undergoing neuroimaging. Before they were asked to make decisions about the items they had just seen, they were handed a different task like memorizing sequences of numbers. The participants would not think consciously about the decision information.

The results confirmed that a distraction, even one only two minutes long, produced higher quality decisions about the cars and other items. But a new question arose: does the distraction allow for the brain to take a break from the decision-making and then return to it after the distraction is finished? Or does the brain continue to unconsciously think about the decision regardless of distractions?

Thanks to neuroimaging, the brain showed that it was unconsciously focused on making the decision, as the visual and prefrontal cortices, which are responsible for decision-making, were active. Another study in 2012 at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences showed how, thanks to functional MRI scans, brain patterns showed a person’s decision seven seconds before they actually “decided.” John-Dylan Haynes, one of the Max Planck Institute neuroscientists, explained that, “Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done.”

For more information, watch the Carnegie Mellon University students explaining their research and findings and a video describing the Max Planck Institute research.