Thursday, November 16, 2006


I’m reading what most would consider dry, but to me pretty interesting, book on the history of modern physics. It really gets my juices going not to mention that it has a very human narrative, which goes a long way to convey the sense of excitement and awe that scientists get at comprehending the most fundamental, mysterious parts of nature and the universe.

Plus it has a great title too: Quantum Generations: A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century

Friday, August 11, 2006

Fishing for a good mood

Some new research from Israel show that good mood and brain health is not just about having enough Omega-3’s (e.g. fish and its oils), it’s also about its proportion with Omega-6's (e.g. corn and soy oils, etc.).

Today most of us need to eat a lot more 3's and a lot less 6's.

Not that hard and it ain’t rocket science to do. Your local Costco carries Kirkland Signature™ Enteric Coated Extra Strength Fish Oil Concentrate for a whole 6 cents each. And it's molecularly distilled so there's no mercury, PCBs or dioxins.

A bit of rocketry if you're so inclined:

Omega-6's bring on increased cellular inflammation, the breakdown of cells through oxidation, which as loosened oxygen-based molecules, aka oxides, react and break apart cellular membranes (e.g. heart, brain, skin, basically everything between your head and toe).

Omega-3's, in addition to being the premier brain food cited below, is also a potent antioxidant, a molecular agent that absorbs those oxidative molecules and helps maintain cellular integrity. They also constitute roughly half of the essential fatty acids (aka Omega-3's) that is your brain.

A diet high in omega-3 and low in omega-6 beats the blues


The evidence has been mounting for several years that the best way to ensure a bright mood—and a strong heart and working joints—is to consume plenty of cold-water fish, because they are rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. These fats, basic components of nerve cell membranes, facilitate all kinds of transactions in the brain, and one net effect is to keep depression at bay. It is through the fat-rich cell membrane that all nerve signals must pass—think of it as a kind of gatekeeper of the mind.

Now, from Israel, comes another piece of evidence linking omega-3s to mood states. And it confirms what many scientists have suspected all along. It isn't just that you need to consume omega-3 fats; at the same time you need to cut back on foods and fats that are loaded with omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in soy and corn oil.

The Israelis found that animals exhibiting the signs of depression have increased levels of an omega-6 fatty acid in their brains. Not only may depression result from a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids, it may also result from an excess of omega-6s.

This so-called "phospholipids hypothesis" of depression has been supported by research showing that omega-3 fatty acid concentrations in the blood of depressed patients is lower than that in nondepressed people. The assumption is that low fatty-acid levels in the blood reflect low fatty acid levels in the brain. But most of the evidence is indirect, because it's not possible to examine the brain tissue of people directly.

The Israeli researchers, using an animal model of depression, found that the depressed animals and nondepressed animals had about the same levels of omega-3 fats in the brain. But they dramatically differed in levels of omega-6s, particularly arachidonic acid.

"The finding that in the depressive rats the omega-3 fatty acid levels were not decreased, but arachidonic acid was substantially increased as compared to controls, is somewhat unexpected," the researchers reported. "But the finding lends itself nicely to the theory that increased omega-3 fatty acid intake may shift the balance between the two fatty acid families in the brain. It has been demonstrated in animal studies that increased omega-3 fatty acid intake may result in decreased brain arachidonic acid."

Omega-6 fatty acids compete in the body with omega-3s. Consume an excess of omega-6s and they displace the omega-3s. The catch is, you need a proper balance of omega-6 and omega-3 intake for cells to function optimally.

Here is one of the central ironies of the American diet: While consuming too much fat overall and too much saturated fat, many North Americans fail to consume enough polyunsaturated omega-3s.

And they consume too many omega-6s. These are also polyunsaturated oils, and they're widely recommended as healthful for the heart. They're also widely used in cooking, frying and in prepared foods—corn, safflower and sunflower oils—have almost no omega-3s. Instead they are loaded with omega-6s.

Canola oil and walnut oil are highly recommended because of their fat make-up. Omega-3 fats also appear to have been integral parts of the diets of our prehistoric ancestors. Although the amount of omega-3s in the food supply has radically dropped in the past hundred years, eons of evolution have custom-crafted our brains and bodies to depend on them for basic biochemical maneuvers.

So adding seafood to your diet is only half the story. It's essential to cut out sources of corn oil and soy oil—almost ubiquitous in margarine, fried foods and commercial salad dressings. They contain a predominance of omega-6s.

By cutting out soy oil and corn oil, and using olive oil instead, you can, virtually double the effect of any fish that you eat, scientists believe. Plus, that brings you closer to a Mediterranean diet—more like the diet on which mankind evolved, and which our bodies are basically suited for.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gates charity gives $500M for AIDS care

This is just terrific.

But much more is needed; G-8 governments need to step up.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation took its support of AIDS-related research and care to a new level Wednesday, announcing a $500 million grant to an international fund that provides AIDS assistance in poor countries.

Some musings...redux

I realized a while back that sometimes one can take their background and life experiences for granted. And once in a while, you get some time to really think and, in some cases, realize all over again that everyone's history and life experiences are truly unique.

I wrote something a couple nights back to someone that I thought would also be of value in shedding light on my background and core beliefs. In other words, get to what motivates my thoughts on religion, science, and history more deeply, delving into who I am as the political/economic creature you read and see here today.

Altogether, it's sort of a redux of my other blog musing. So here goes:
  • My grandfather was a general in the Taiwanese army who marshalled the front lines, later emigrating from Communist China to Taiwan as Mao slaughtered millions. I know many stories of what our family experienced; many in our extended family were left behind and suffered Mao's reformation labor camps and torture. (Eerily, my grandfather went to the same high school as Mao). We were fortunate enough to escape. Thus, we were all instilled with a strong sense of duty, honor, self, and the recognition of the importance of knowledge, history and one's critical thinking. However uncomfortable, many Chinese know Mao's red book mesmerized countless to kill millions (estimates range between 40-80 million dead during his reign).

  • Growing up, I experienced poverty first-hand and saw those without, regardless of merit, who just didn't have a shot at opportunity. And as a Christian for 10 years, then full of hope for true salvation baptized and seeking redemption as a confessed sinner who believed, I witnessed how people who in Christ's name acted less than what Christ would've liked. It all only increased my resolve to find things out for myself, with science as guide - open and self-critical, and providing a consistent model to compare and contrast things as they were, not how they should or claim to be.
  • Throughout my life, I've always respected people of faith. There are many of faith I've come to known whose deeds follow principled actions that I've always had the most sincere and utmost respect for. Charlie Rose recently interviewed notable scientist Francis Collins (38 minutes on), Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, whose book, "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief", speaks to the meaningful coexistence of science and faith. It is an open assessment and would be a good counter to my musing; his assertion that science has no domain or relevance in things religious and vice versa is central to faith and one's religious beliefs.
  • In recent years, I've just grown increasingly concerned about the religious extremism in this country that has fomented as an ex-ante response to Muslim fundamentalism. When we happen to be the superpower, every step we take wields enourmous influence to literally uplift or destroy millions of lives in our lifetime. The musing was essentially a reactionary piece arising from today's proponderance to treat science and critical reasoning as throw-away commodities.
  • ...Science is about bearing repeatable, testable experiments to expand and apply our body of knowlege for the betterment of mankind, and making predictions that verifiably withstands serious, repeated and transparent peer review and scrutiny.
  • I strongly stand by the scientific method and its processes, which however seemingly mundane, has afforded humanity in a relatively short time of less then a hundred years to control the wanderings of the smallest electrons and photons. Or comprehending the nuances for preventing the spread of malaria which kills thousands of African children nightly. Or allowing mothers of sick newborns to bear hope that one day we'll bear witness to humanity stopping AIDS and its various mutations in its tracks, and in such a way that everyone will be able to afford a vaccine treatment.
  • Bill and Melinda Gates deserve superlative kudos for their efforts, both in deeds and in principles. Not many people (Warren Buffet excepted) in their position have stepped up like they. Perhaps as a economics afficiendo, like Jeffrey Sachs and Bono, those numbers are more real to me than most - many are lives that could be saved for a quarter a day. And if someone gave up a quarter of their food a day, they could save more than 50 souls. It troubles me that that isn't the case, despite our best stated intentions and promises as a nation and people.
  • I've come to believe that society suffers a lot more than is obvious when religion and science mix, especially when one claims to be the other and vice versa, using each as pawns in a larger political battle to undermine each other.
  • ...Very particularly when a growing number of extremists absolve or ignore suffering and violence as part of a necessary God-given, Calvinistic, order, e.g. the numerous end-times prophesies that see a holy war between Christendom and Islamists as an inevitability versus heeding Christ's words of "loving one's neighbors" or "let those without sin judge..." or that "noone will know the hour or the day" of Christ's return.
  • ...This includes not seriously moving the mideast peace efforts forward today in a real attempt to stop the bloodletting of innocents, thus implicitly acknowledging such war as a natural order of things to come, etc.
  • At the end of the day (no pun intended), this slippery slope mutes if not deadens a society's will and aspirations, as JFK put it, "to lift all boats" irrespective of religious creed, race, color, sex or geography (or as Warrent Buffet deadpans "womb-based economics"), and subverts the positive forces and developments accrued thus far this past hundred years, parlaying it instead into increasing cynicism and despair.
  • Since when I was a deeply religious Christian to present-day, I've always passionately believed in a liberal democracy and deliberation between its body politic and sciences, e.g. stem cell research is not the next a-bomb but should be carefully regulated to avoid human cloning. And liberal in the political science sense of minorities having an equal of a voice as the majority.
  • I believe that we disregard extremism's slippery slope at our own peril; accepting such cases as [inevitable] reality is catostrophic for humanity. Just in the last ten years: in Yugloslavia where a democracy let its majority vote for and carry out genocide on its religious minority slaughtering hundreds of thousands or over a million and a half people dead in Rhwanda or the 5,600 civillians who were killed in Iraq for May/June alone or 9/11's 3,000 dead.
  • ...They're all based on distorted belief systems and stories that do little else but perpetuate hate that infects subsequent generations, where the horridly wrong acts of killing and slaughtering become a righteous one with rewards to be had in the afterlife - an unbeatable promise and operational war doctrine.
  • We dare not stand by and do nothing. And here at home, secular science and critical reasoning and all the benefit that it affords is losing ground to all our detriment because society's grown complacent and come to take its fruits for granted as the British, French, Spanish and many before have, with similar belief that God was on all their side(s) as well.
In conclusion, society's at its best when religious expression thrives in coexistence with a secular society that firmly respects it, and vice versa. An imbalance is in no one's interest. Christianity as it stands today is very different then where it stood when I attended a Billy Graham crusade in Anaheim, California more then a decade ago and was deeply touched by his message. I still prefer Billy Graham but his is a waning voice seldomly heard today.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Some history lesson

While the following just wasn't one of the smartest pieces of mail I've received; nonetheless this was in my Hotmail today (followed by my response):
Sent: Monday, July 24, 2006 2:11 PM
Subject: FW: History Lesson...

Evolve not involve.

In the early years, humans existed as members of small bands of nomadic hunter/gatherers. They lived on deer in the mountains during the summer & would go to the coast and live on fish and lobster in winter.

The two most important events in all of history were the invention of beer and the invention of the wheel. The wheel was invented to get man to the beer. These were the foundations of modern civilization and together were the catalyst for the splitting of humanity into two distinct subgroups: L&C Liberals and Conservatives.

Once beer was discovered it required grain and that was the beginning of agriculture. Neither the glass bottle nor aluminum can were invented yet, so while our early human ancestors were sitting around waiting for them to be invented, they just stayed close to the brewery. That's how villages were formed.

Some men spent their days tracking and killing animals to B-B-Q at night while they were drinking beer. This was the beginning of what is known as "the Conservative movement."

Other men who were weaker and less skilled at hunting learned to live off the conservatives by showing up for the nightly B-B-Q's and doing the sewing, fetching and hair dressing. This was the beginning of the Liberal movement. Some of these liberal men eventually evolved into women. The rest became known as 'girliemen.'

Some noteworthy liberal achievements include the domestication of cats, the invention of group therapy and group hugs, and the concept of Democratic voting to decide how to divide the meat and beer that conservatives provided.

Over the years conservative came to be symbolized by the largest, most powerful land animal on earth, the elephant. Liberals are symbolized by the jackass. Modern liberals like imported beer (with lime added), but most prefer white wine or imported bottled water. They eat raw fish but like their beef well done. Sushi, tofu, and French food are standard liberal fare.

Another interesting evolutionary side note: most of their women have higher testosterone levels than their men. Most social workers, personal injury attorneys, journalists, dreamers in Hollywood and group therapists are liberals. Liberals invented the designated hitter rule because it wasn't "fair" to make the pitcher also bat.

Conservatives drink domestic beer. They eat red meat and still provide for their women. Conservatives are big-game hunters, rodeo cowboys, lumberjacks, construction workers, firemen, medical doctors, police officers, corporate executives, athletes, Marines, and generally anyone who works productively. Conservatives who own companies hire other conservatives who want to work for a living.

Liberals produce little or nothing. They like to "govern" the producers and decide what to do with the production. Liberals believe Europeans are more enlightened than Americans. That is why most of the liberals remained in Europe when conservatives were coming to America.

They crept in after the Wild West was tamed and created a business of trying to get MORE for nothing. Here ends today's lesson in world history:

It should be noted that a Liberal may have a momentary urge to angrily respond to the above before forwarding it. A Conservative will simply laugh and be so convinced of the absolute truth of this history that it will be forwarded immediately to other "true believers".

My raw two cents follow. If you don’t like raw, delete the mail. If you dig raw (sashimi variety), read on. Thought it only fair I should respond in kind. I wanted to title mine drunk v. sober but then that’s not as fresh as evolve not involve, whatever that’s suppose to mean.


The schoolyard tales that get passed around so proudly as super deep conservative thought these days. It’s overdone, too self-stroking and ample congratulations for all its brethrens to revel in. Get a room already.

If conservatives can swivel away from Fox News for a few and consider by their lonesome selves that the British too had their share of proud surefooted apologists who thumped their chests, full of bravado, of apparent might and righteousness right before their empire crashed and burned around them.

Romans, French, Spanish empires…the list goes on. To imagine that conservative dogma today is in any way original v. just rehash of dogma spewed and regurgitated many a times over in history is typical kool-aid overdose and delusional egomania, of the ideological and groupthink variety.

The below tries to denigrate a whole class of people, roughly half of Americans who happen to live in richer, more colored “blue” states, who also happen to account for the majority of this country’s GDP.

Which is plain odd since the wealthiest men in the world are hardy Democrats (Gates, Buffet et al). Hmm, let’s crack that wider. Name the 100 wealthiest Americans. Tell me how many actual Republicans there are. Go by % of 100 or just total wealth of top 100.

My god, I mean talk about something measurable and comparable already, just this once - so we can at least try to keep score. Go ahead, amuse me. Amuse yourself.

And yah, liberals are nuanced creatures. Guess physicists are liberals. But then what would we do without the electron, eh?

And liberals like to govern. Someone’s got to do it. By George if W is and he seems to like it.

Others like abstracted long-term thinking. That no doubt includes nerdy do-goody-Gates to those damn physicists working on the nonsense that is string theory, just ruining our country.

Other libs like to invent. And damn those liberal Japanese inventing hybrids beating down our lame big-2 ½ (again), perpetuating the liberal meltdown of environment propaganda, nm Greenland ice caps melting or record worldwide temps or first-time ever 102 degrees in Seattle.

With liberals, it just takes a rainbow. Omg, end of days are surely upon us.

Conservatives have to wait until it hits them in the face (Katrina pun intended), otherwise who cares….if $’s can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist – as if economics is a perfect science, and coming from me that’s saying a lot.

Conservatives abhor nuance and prefer simpler worldviews, e.g. we hard working, liberals lazy bums (thump, thump). To believe that one’s superior based on a mockery tale mimicking a history lesson is what’s that word besides liberal-wannabe’ - oh right, ludicrous, a big nice juicy liberal word that’s just so right on.

It also belies a major weakness of the conservative movement today – the obsession with simple tales & short stories that’s made into “horse-sense”, which scary enough takes a life of its own becoming hard rules of thumb and conservatives’ worldview of reality.

Sadly, actual reality show that horse-sense to be all wrong and brimful of excuses, a la why invade Iraq with its two-dozen before and after versions of excuses, budget-deficit BS that’s just repressed shame for all conservatives, to whatever top issues are choice news this week.

If you can’t find any, email & I’ll happily oblige.

More damning is W and Co’s inability to address measurable evidence and facts, particularly contrary ones without resorting to continued blaming of that not in charge party (lame), rehashing Fox News’ sound-bites, conspiracy theories, immeasurable and incomparable “facts…of faith”, take 3 for giggles:
  • fight them over there so we can help arouse a whole new Arab extremist army all so we don’t fight them over here,
  • tax cuts through debt-spending somehow equal more money for government coffers and increase net growth,
  • spending a trillion dollars without being a hair-closer to bin Laden is cheap and on the money in return for a hoped for middle east freedom that a big multi-generational war will surely bring – nm Halliburton to (fill in the blank).
Mash those and a few more up and you get bastardized neocon “horse-sense”, which today then gets bantered about as core conservative “principles.”

It’s not what Buckley had in mind. But then, like Goldwater and Nixon, he’s probably considered a lame liberal by now, so who cares.

Sure, liberals by nature were born to consider both or more sides to an issue, and spend too much time squandering and bickering among themselves and over think…. “Over” in the sense that it has not helped us win or kick-ass in the school-yard bully fights and one-line frat-boy bagging now aka the elections.

So congrats, reality-TV politics finally comes to age in the states.

But when one considers the current Republican fracas over just 3 things - stem cell research, gay marriage and fiscal imprudence, it’s obvious deep thinking is not their forte. Still, brilliant crafting of one-liners like “flip-flop” and "girliemen" – bravo, well-done, genius.

I’m sure that’s what the founding fathers had in mind.

And true believers, boy haven’t they caused enough trouble (and wars and genocides). Right-wing conservatives are proudly “true believers” of one certain absolute truth, perceived or otherwise – an honor that happens to be proudly shared by fascists.

Liberals do this critical thinking deal that can actually lead to flip-flopping (gasp) based on what peer-reviewed evidence suggests. Liberals actually deal with, dare I say, different and multiple points of view and, gasp again, science (the stem-cell, not creationist, kind).

After all, someone’s got to cure a disease if prayer, however steadfast, fails.

Sure they’re also the ones that go on to lose 'em well-argued and debated American elections yet win those snobby, liberal-drenched, self-absorbed Nobel Prizes in the sciences and those really snobby ones in literature. Go figure.

Yah, ignorance may be bliss, and if things weren’t so fucked up, I’d be laughing my head off right now too, like hilariously and loud even.

But as the world has become fucked up beyond recognition in way too many cases, I just feel sorry for the writer (and readers who feel such pride, if not outright titillation) of this misguided, caricatured homily - evangelical self-righteousness intact - that is today’s bastardized, intellectually-starved neoconservative.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Of fish and evolution

Just for kicks, I was following up on a statement I heard on Discovery Channel - and considering the recent news of the missing land-sea species link makes this even more pertinent perhaps - so was doing some well-rounded reading and came upon these gems.

To preface, I’m pretty passionate about this because it has really changed my life for the better. Something simple that when consistently and sufficiently done greatly influences one’s well-being, mental acuity, and physiological health.

An angle that probably doesn’t get a lot of airplay and thus not a lot of people know about is that Omega 3 fatty acids (e.g. fish oils) were/are crucial to human evolution, particularly for the significant growth of the frontal lobe of the hominid brain.

Regardless of how fish has been bastardized these days by modern marketing thus so negatively perceived as something for health nuts, over fished, or tainted by our man-caused mercury contamination - though smaller, cold-water fish like salmon is still clean so far - good ol’ common sense should apply today, however unsexy it may be (or you can get ultra-pure molecularly distilled fish oil capsules at Costco, which at 6 cents a softgel is a bargain insurance policy of sorts).

So I present to you, the reader, an academic paper outlining DHA’s role in evolving the hominid brain (DHA is a primary form of Omega 3’s) as well as the importance of Homo Sapien's close proximity to land-water masses. A pretty nice, readable bedtime piece or you can just skim the abstract :) ...
Evidence for the Unique Function of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) During the Evolution of the Modern Hominid Brain

The African savanna ecosystem of the large mammals and primates was associated with a dramatic decline in relative brain capacity. This reduction happened to be associated with a decline in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from the food chain. DHA is required for brain structures and growth. The biochemistry implies that the expansion of the human brain required a plentiful source of preformed DHA.

The richest source of DHA is the marine food chain while the savannah environment offers very little of it. Consequently H.sapiens could not have evolved on the savannahs. Recent fossil evidence indicates that the lacustrine and marine food chain was being extensively exploited at the time cerebral expansion took place and suggests the alternative that the transition from the archaic to modern humans took place at the land/water interface. Contemporary data on tropical lake shore dwellers reaffirms the above view.

Lacustrine habitats provide nutritional support for the vascular system, the development of which would have been a prerequisite for cerebral expansion. Both arachidonic acid (AA) and DHA would have been freely available from such habitats providing the double stimulus of preformed acyl components for the developing blood vessels and brain.
We suggest that the evolution of the large human brain depended on a rich source of DHA from the land/water interface. We review a number of proposals for the possible influence of DHA on physical properties of the brain that are essential for its function.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Money in the bank

By exporting & lending to the US cheaply (and the American consumer willingly), China has amassed nearly 1 trillion in dollar reserves.

From The Economist (March 2006):

China surpassed Japan as the world's biggest holder of foreign reserves. The news came amid more politicking over China's currency policy, which American politicians regard as a cause of their trade deficit. Charles Schumer, a senator who has been shrill in his attacks on Beijing, dropped plans, for the moment at least, to slap a 27.5% tariff on Chinese goods, partly in response to signals from China that it would allow its currency to float more freely.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Tides Turning

A new book, Tides Turning, predicts that climate change is likely to be abrupt and cataclysmic—and that these sudden shifts could cripple national economies.

Newsweek has an interesting interview with the book's author here.

Implicit in this article, and mainstream economists are the first to admit, is the idea that there’s tremendous uncertainty and an unknown territory when it comes to modeling and estimating the costs of pollution, climate change, and natural disasters.

Yet sometimes in the assumed belief that free markets address most issues big and small, we fail to realize that in reality there are significant limitations and staleness with the economics discipline and free markets, particularly when dealing with uncertainty in complex, open systems with unknown transaction costs.

This is despite Nobel economist Ronald Coase’s work decades ago on transaction and social costs, that is, when property rights are fixed and defined, it was possible to “internalize externalities” like pollution. While it was a good starting point it was only for closed systems (two parties) with known transaction costs.

Unfortunately, meanwhile many have come to assume that mother nature is a trash collector that works for free, when it’s that we just don’t know how to accurately measure such externalities so it’s as if such costs don’t exist, even when it does and is often quite visible for show like Katrina.

To get a good sense of the limitations with Coase’s theorem as it applies to externalities like pollution, see A Critique of the Chicago School of Economics: Ronald Coase and the Coase Theorem

Sunday, March 26, 2006

V for Wow

My wife and I saw V For Vendetta last night and it was absolutely magnificient. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Finally a podcast I like

Podcast interviews of the world’s leading economists. Awesome.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Some musings & book recommendations: Religion, science, and history

Happy New Years! It's been a while again since my last entry and thought I should squeeze one in as I end my extended holiday vacation. And well, perhaps right now you’re looking for some new books to put on your reading list. If so, some out of box suggestions / musings:

As far as religions go, I’m an agnostic. Given my utmost respect for what I understand of [the history of] the scientific method and physics, I find Buddhism to be the most open-minded, interesting and compatible of the bunch. Speaking as an ex-practitioner, Christianity is to me at best a set of haphazard myths and inconsistent tales that have long outlived its usefulness as humankind’s shining light on the future, unless one now considers the end of days to be the future to look forward to shortly. Surely then, the vast majority of the world will be damned to hell except a small fraction of [mostly American] people who qualify to be saved. And the absolute clash of logic irreconcilable between that of an unquestioned being’s omnipotence that wills glorification & worship by mere mortals, who in return goes on to afford countless children and other subjects a dismal right to live and suffer in abject poverty, squalor, destitution. Any logical person should at the very least seriously ask [a Christian apologist], “Is that the best an omnipotent being can do?”

With that said wrt Buddhism, I was compelled to pick up and read the Dalai Lama’s The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. It is one of most elegantly written religious perspectives that succinctly delineates spirituality and science with all its fine lines and wrinkles intact. It clearly puts together a rich and engaging storyboard distilling complex ideas and concepts that cleanly synthesizes both concrete-physics and meta-physics, using everyday language. Something similar I read some time ago in high school was an early edition of The Tao of Physics. That felt forced and was a bit confusing as it tried to force a 1:1 mapping between the parallels of physicists’ attempts at a “grand unified theory” to the foundations of eastern mysticism. It is more comprehensive, though somewhat repetitive.

So it is hard for me to pick up a religious tome unless it’s grounded on a scientific foundation with its knack for consistency and rigor. I recently read The End of Faith, somewhat an exception to the rule since it also relies quite a bit on a set of tougher to follow metaphysical arguments. It presents a strong case against today's rather fervent religious movements (radical veins of Islam and Christianity in particular) that since time immemorial have resulted in some of mankind's most awful atrocities, acted out by followers of its various factions, always bearing a similar set of exclusionary and unwavering beliefs from which comes the notion, "it's my way to heaven or hell’s on your way", thus arising the Inquisition, the Crusades, Islamic jihad, religious genocides like Rwanda and Bosnia, and so forth. They seem to eventually trap its “true” believers in an un-repudiatable straitjacket of [blind, unprovable tautology that is] religious faith, when mixed with growing extremism, death merely becomes a doorstop to heaven provided enough earthly blood is shed to get someone a one-way ticket there.

I also got to spend some treasured vacation time reading a bit of early American history. A particularly compelling narrative - a bit stylized but provides for a unique portrait of a great man - was put together by a Pulitzer Prize writer whose earlier LBJ biography accorded the award. Now, her Team of Rivals tells a rich and layered story of Lincoln’s life, perseverance, and leadership during the Civil War as he guides a very fractured yet indispensable cabinet that's constantly in turmoil throughout the entire war. Also began David McCullough’s 1776.

Managed to revisit string theory a bit as well, prompted by an excellent primer by one of the top physicists of our time. Ed Whitten of Princeton obtained a PhD @ 25 after a brief stint with history and happens to hold a professorship founded by former Microsoftie Charles Simonyi. And if you’re interested in the very latest that advanced physics and vibrating strings have in store, physicist-extraordinaire Greene’s magnificent and fun to read best-seller, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory would be highly recommended. It is accessible to anyone who knows some introductory-level college physics sans the math. String theory is even more fantastic and mysterious than standard [atomic] theory and quantum mechanics, particularly for those who are instinctively curious about the worlds around them.