"Love Builds Up" - A Passage from Kierkegaard's Works of Love.
" …Therefore when the discourse is about the works of love in building up, it must mean either that the lover implants love in the heart of another person or that the lover presupposes that love is in the other person’s heart and precisely with this presupposition builds up love in him – from the ground up, insofar as in love he presupposes it present as the ground… it is essentially unloving and not as all up-building for anyone presumptuously to conceive of himself as desiring and able to create love in another person; all energetic and self-assertive zeal in this regard neither builds up love nor is itself upbuilding… Thus we have achieved a clarification of what it means that love builds up and on this we shall dwell: the lover presupposes that love is in the other person’s heart, and by this very presupposition he builds up love in him – from the ground up, insofar as in love he presupposes the ground is present…
A teacher presupposes that the pupil is ignorant. A disciplinarian presupposes that the other person is corrupted. But the lover, who builds up, has only one mode of progression – to presuppose love… In this way he entices forth the good; he “loves up” love; he builds up. For love can and will be treated in only one way – by being loved forth. To love forth is to build up. A man might be tempted to be a builder, a teacher, or a disciplinarian because these seem to be ways to rule over others, but to build up as love does cannot tempt one, for this seems only to be a servant. Therefore, only love has the desire to build up, because it is willing to serve …
Suppose that a lover did succeed in building up love in another person. When the building stands, the lover stands aside and humbly says, “Indeed, I presupposed this all the time.’ Alas, the lover has no merit at all. The building does not stand as a monument to the craft of the builder or, like the pupil, as reminder of the teacher’s instructions. The lover has ineed done nothing; he has only presupposed that love was fundamentally present. The lover works very quietly and earnestly, and yet powers of the eternal are in motion. Love humbly makes itself inconspicuous especially when it works hardest; yes, its work in what makes it as nothing at all. Alas, to busyness and worldiness this is the greatest foolishness – that what in a certain sense is doing nothing at all should be the most difficult work. And yet it is…
This is the way love conducts itself; it presupposes that love is present, like the germ in a kernel of grain, and if it succeds in bringing it to fruition, love hides itself just as it is precisely tis: you see all this magnificence and then it penetrates you edifyingly as you begin to reflect on the amazing fact that you do not see the on who brings it forth…
But, alas, love is never completely present in any person; this being the case, it is still possible to do something other than to presuppose it, to discover one or another flaw or frailty in him. When someone has unlovingly detected this, he will perhaps remove it, pull the sliver out, as one says in order to build up love properly. But love builds up. To him who loves much is much forgiven; but the more perfectly the lover presupposes love to exist, the more perfect is the love which he loves forth. Among all the relationships in the world there is no other relationship in which there is sucha like-for-like, such an accurate correspondence of yield to what had been presupposed. One makes no protests, one does not cite experience, for it would indeed be unloving arbitrarily to set the day when the result should make its appearance. Love does not understand such things; it is eternally confident of the fulfillment of the presupposition. If this is not the case, love is already on the way out…
But when the lover builds up it is the very opposite of tearing down, for the lover does something about himself; he presupposes that love is present in the other person – which is quite the opposite to doing something about the other person. Only too easily does tearing down satisfy the sensual man; to build up in the sense that one does something with the other person can also satisfying sensuality; but to build up by conquering oneself satisfies only love. And yet this is the only mode of building up. But in the well-intentioned zeal to tear down and build up, one forgets that ultimately no man is capable of laying down the ground of love in the other person.
Right here the difficulty of the building art practiced by love and described in the prized passage from apostle Paul emerges, for what is said there about love is a precise characterization of how it conducts itself in building up. “Love is patient”; by this it builds up, for patience specifically means perseverance in presupposing that love is fundamentally present. One who judges, even though he does this leisurely, one who judges that other person lacks love takes the ground-work away – and he cannot build up; for love builds up with patience. Therefore, “It is not irritable or resentful”, for irritability and resentment deny love in the other person and thereby annihilate, if it were possible, the ground-work. Love, however, which builds up, bears the other person’s misunderstanding, his thanklessness, his anger – this is already enough to bear; how then should love also bear irritability and resentment ! In the world things are dealt out in such a way that he who bears irritability and resentment does not bear the other person’s burdens; but the lover, who does not bear irritability and resentment, bears the burdens. Each one bears his own burdens, the resentful man and the lover; both of them in a certain sense become martyrs, for as a pious man has said : the resentful purson is a martyr, but the devil’s … “Love believes all things,” for to believe all things means precisely, even though love is not apparent, even though the opposite is seen, to presuppose that love is nevertheless present fundamentally, even in the misguided, even in the corrupt, even in the hateful. Mistrust takes the very ground-level away by presupposing that love is not present; therefore mistrust cannot build up… “Love endures all things” for to bear all things means precisely to presuppose that love is fundamentally present. When we say that the mother endures all the child’s naughtiness, do we mean that as a women she patiently suffers evil? No mean something else, that she as a mother continually remembers that child is a child, and therefore presupposes that the child still loves her and that this love will show itself eventually. Otherwise we should have discussed how patience endures all things, not how love endures all things….
If, however, one were to think that he loves, but also that all others were unloving, we would say: no, stop; here is a contradiction in pure theory, for to be loving means precisely to assume, to presuppose, that other men are loving. Love is not an exclusive characteristic for others, but it is a characteristic by which or in virtue of which you exist for others. In ordinary speech, we properly say, when reckoning a person’s qualities, that he is wise, understanding, loving – and we do not notice what a difference there is between the last characteristic and the first ones. His wisdom, his experience, and his understanding he has for himself even if he makes gifts of them to others. But if he is truly loving, then he does not have love the same way he has wisdom, but his love consists precisely in presupposing that we others have love…
Now these reflections return to the beginning. To build up means to presuppose love; to be loving means to presuppose love; only love builds up. For to build up means to draw forth something from the ground up, but, spiritually, love is the ground for everything. No man can bestow the ground of love in another man’s heart; nevertheless, love is the ground, and one can build up only from the ground up; therefore one can build up only presupposing love. Take love away – then there is no one who builds up and no one who is built up. “
John Brock’s words in his response to Abrams et al.’s finding that weakened STS-frontalstriatal connectivity underlies speech impairment in autism spectrum disorders sum up my general perspective on the state of ASD research. I am more ambivalent, however, on the study itself.
"The idea that autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a consequence of reduced or atypical neural connectivity has considerable intuitive appeal and a growing evidence base, but struggles to address both the extreme clinical heterogeneity among individuals with an ASD diagnosis and the fact that atypical brain connectivity is clearly nonspecific to ASDs (1). Rather than treating atypical connectivity as an explanation for ASDs per se, an alternative approach may be to consider the relationship between specific connections within the brain and specific symptoms or cognitive differences associated with the diagnosis. However, given the huge number of neural pathways, combined with the many different behavioral symptoms and cognitive differences associated with ASDs, a major challenge will be to distinguish meaningful cognition–connectivity links from chance correlations…”
"These observations indicate the need for clearly defined minimum criteria for establishing specific connectivity–cognition links in future studies. First, investigation should be restricted to pairs of brain regions where these is evidence for a direct physical connection, and where both regions are activated during the cognitive process in question. Second, the cognitive process has to be measured directly and reliably. Third, it must be demonstrated that the cognitive and connectivity measures are more strongly associated with each other than they are with other cognitive or connectivity measures. Finally, given the considerable scope for false-positives, we should all retain a healthy degree of caution in our interpretation of such findings until they are replicated."
The peace of Sunday always gives me great pause to think how much I have allowed the narcissism of the work week to change my perspective. It is so easy, and arguably many times necessary, to organize our weeks in accord to our needs and immediate goals. But with these schedules we lose the freedom to be there for others, whoever they may be, and to reflect on on how the good should guide our existence. The serenity of Boston Sundays are a wonderful time to imbibe the wisdom of past thinkers and become just a little bit more human.
Kierkegaard - “Works of Love”
"… to establish spiritual love in its place, love to one’s neighbor, a love in which in all earnestness and truth is inwardly more tender in the union of two persons than erotic love is and more faithful in the sincerity of close relationship than the most famous friendship."
"Christianity has never taught that one must admire his neighbor - one shall love him. Consequently there must be admiration in erotic love’s relationship, and the greater, the more intense the admiration is, the better, says the poet. Now, to admire another person certainly is not self-love, but to be loved by the one and only object of admiration, must not this relationship turn back in a selfish way to the I which loves - loves its other-I? It is this way with friendship, too. To admire another person certainly is not love, but to be the one and only friend of this rarest object of admiration , must not this relationship turn back in a doubtful way to the I from which it proceeded? Is it not an obvious danger for self-love to have a one and only object for its admiration when in return this one and only object of admiration makes one and only object of his love or his friendship"
"So it is also with this command to love one’s neighbor. Only acknowledge it, or if it is disturbing to you to have it put in this way, I will admit that many time it has thrust me back ad that I am yet very far form the illusion that I fulfill this command, which to flesh and blood is offence, and to wisdom foolishness. Are you, my reader, perhaps what is called an educated person? Well, I tool am educated. But if you think to come closer to this highest by the help of education, you make a great mistake. Precisely at this point the error is rooted, for we all desire education, and education repeatedly has the highest in its vocabularly. Yes, no bird which has learned only one word cries out more continuously this single word and no crow caws more continuously its own name than education cries out about the highest. But Christianity is by mean the highest of education, and Christianity disciplines precisely by this repulsion of offence. This you can easily see, for do you beliee that your education or the enthusiasm of any man for gaining an education has taught either of you to love your neighbour. Alas, have not this education and the enthusiasm with which it is coveted rather developed a new kind of distinction, a distinction between the educated and the non-educated? Only observe what is said among the educated about love and friendship, the degree of similarity in education a friend must have, how educated a girl must be and precisely in what way. Read the poets, who hardly known how to defend their frankness again the mighty dominion of education, who hardly dare believe int he power of love to break the bonds of all distinctions. Does it seem to you that suck talk or such poetry or a life attuned to such talk and such poetry brings a man closer to living his neighbour Here again the marks of offence stands out. Imagine the most educated person, one of whom we all admiringly say: "He is so educated." Then think of Christianity, which says to him: "You shall love your neighbor!" Of course, a certain courteousness in social intercourse, a politeness towards all men, a friendly condescension to the poor, a frank attitude towards the mighty, a beautifully controlled freedom of spirit - yes, that is education - do you think it is also loving one’s neighbor?"
"… to love one’s neighbor means equality. It is encouraging in yoru relationship to people of distinction that in them you shall love your neighbor."
Per my usual self-critique, I find it necessary to justify to myself why I have taken so little time out of the busyness of life to contribute to this blog. I think this guilt arises from the recognition that my only true intellectual work occurs when I take a pause and allow my thoughts to settle into some creation - into something human, meaningful, and beautiful. I imagine my thought occurring much in the same way the leaves in the New England autumn deposit themselves into a beautiful mosaic on the forest floor. When I look at the emptiness of this blog, I see a man whose turbulent gesticulations have done little but prevent the forest mosaic from taking form.
Of course, these are strong phrases - and they do not entirely reflect my being. In the course of these gesticulations, I have been busy re-learning the anatomy of the human body given the grace of human donors and the opportunity to teach motivated first year medical students. I have the chance and challenge to work through the fickleness of data analysis and its susceptibility to profound misrepresentation. And I have been on an interesting quest to train other creatures to abstract higher order information from their sensory experience.
While these endeavors are are entirely necessary in my growth as scientist, physician, and thinker, I always risk on edging towards a deep skepticism and nihilistic reductionism of our human experience. I was reminded yesterday as I watched the Boston ballet on the Commons of our communion as humans in the drama and beauty of our lives. We all perform a spiritual dance, and while each of us dancers are infinitely important (to get to know and to understand), its the tension between the dancer and the whole of the dancers on the stage which makes it all magestic. Its this magesty in life I need to protect from my own discriminating glare and ambitious flailings.
Anyways this random discursion was meant as an introduction to my sharing of a few quotes from the current pope whose renewed emphasis on the importance on love and community is hugely refreshing in this day and age of Middle East war and domestic corruption:
"I ask Pope Francis what it means exactly for him to “think with the church,” a notion St. Ignatius writes about in the Spiritual Exercises. He replies using an image.
“The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God. This is the definition I often use, and then there is that image from the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’ (No. 12). Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.
“The people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together. This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the church’ of which St. Ignatius speaks. When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.” “
“I see the holiness,” the pope continues, “in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity. This is for me the common sanctity. I often associate sanctity with patience: not only patience as hypomoné [the New Testament Greek word], taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward, day by day. This is the sanctity of the militant church also mentioned by St. Ignatius. This was the sanctity of my parents: my dad, my mom, my grandmother Rosa who loved me so much. In my breviary I have the last will of my grandmother Rosa, and I read it often. For me it is like a prayer. She is a saint who has suffered so much, also spiritually, and yet always went forward with courage.
“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful. It must be. You see, when I perceive negative behavior in ministers of the church or in consecrated men or women, the first thing that comes to mind is: ‘Here’s an unfruitful bachelor’ or ‘Here’s a spinster.’ They are neither fathers nor mothers, in the sense that they have not been able to give spiritual life. Instead, for example, when I read the life of the Salesian missionaries who went to Patagonia, I read a story of the fullness of life, of fruitfulness.
“I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up… And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.”
“How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organizational reforms are secondary—that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.
“Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.”
Gamma Band Synchronization and Information Transmission – Chapter from Principles of Neural Coding (Summary / Abridged Version)
Vinck, Womelsdorf, and Fries in a chapter entitled “Gamma Band Synchronization and Information Transmission” from the book Principles of Neural Coding question old neuroscientific biases regarding the role of firing rate in coding information, the sensitivity of neuronal membranes to gamma frequency oscillations, the mechanisms underlying gamma oscillations and gamma synchronization, and the place of gamma phase coding in providing reliable, informative signals within the brain. To begin, the gamma band is classically referred to as 40-80 Hz oscillatory signal identified within a local field potential, or in other words, a continuous electrical recording from an extracellular space. Further, gamma band synchronization refers to the organization of other signals – be they spikes from other neurons or other field potentials from independent electrode channels – according to properties of the aforementioned gamma band signal (e.g. the phase). Over the last decades, the role for this gamma band signal in information processing has expanded as such phenomena have been found somewhat universally across cortical regions, and repeatedly involved in attentional processes.
Mechanism – ING and PING: Gamma band oscillations are believed to result from the interaction between pyramidal neurons and fast-spiking, inhibitory basket cells. These fast-spiking spiking cells are parvalbumin+ (a type of calcium binding protein), hyperpolarize post-synaptic neurons mostly in peri-somatic regions, and are capable of firing more than one action potential per gamma cycle. These specific cells play a key causal role in the generation of gamma, for cortical and subcortical slices bathed in biculline – a GABAergic antagonist – are incapable of generating gamma-rhythm oscillations in their local field potentials. Moreover, the optogenetic stimulation of PV+ cells infected with channelrhodopsin2 produced an increase in power in the gamma band. Two neural models have been developed to explain the role of the PV cell and the generation of gamma – the ING model (inhibitory network gamma) and the PING model (pyramidal inhibitory network gamma). According to the ING model, the generation of gamma synchronization arises from basket cell mutual inhibition. The timing of the pyramidal cell firing is secondary to the rhythmic inhibition, and the parameter determining the timing of these gamma frequency is the rate of decay of GABA currents. Alternatively, the PING model proposes that as pyramidal-basket cell interactions are not secondary, but entirely causal in the generation of gamma. As pyramidal cells recover from inhibition, they cause an increase in feedback inhibition, which in turn leads to a decrease inhibition, and subsequently a new volley of inhibition, producing what is observed as this gamma rhythmicity.
Overall, Vinck, Womelsdorf, and Fries believe that there exists a preponderance of evidence in favor of the PING model. One,the PING model predicts a delay of several milliseconds, constituting a characteristic gamma phase lead, between pyramidal neurons and fast spiking basket cells. In contrast, the ING model due to its entrainment of pyramidal neurons should fire in phase with fast spiking basket cells. Two, although the ING model demonstrates robustness against heterogeneity in excitatory drive, the large excitatory drive on these pyramidal neurons may be somewhat onerous and energy inefficient. Three, labs have shown that PV activation with AMPA (receptors on postsynaptic inhibitory interneurons) and NMDA receptor blockade (receptors on postsynaptic pyramidal neurons) fails to produce gamma rhythms.
Gamma – A Common Cortical Phenomenon: Gamma band synchronization has been a somewhat common finding across cortical and subcortical regions.
1. Within the primary visual cortex, there is an increase in synchronization with visual stimulation. This increase in synchronization depends on the salience, contrast, and size of the visual stimulus. Moreover, it is substantially larger in unaesthetized, active awake animal. This synchronization occurs in superficial layers of cortex, whereas the beta band is strong in infragranular layers.
2. This increase in synchronizations occurs commonly – in mouse hippocampus, auditory cortex, somatosensory cortex, barrel cortex, parietal cortex, frontal cortex, and ventral striatum.
3. This synchronization occurs across long-range pathways, including between spinal cord and motor cortex, visual cortex and parietal cortex, V4 and FEF, LIP and FEF, and hippocampus and prefrontal. Mechanistically, this synchronization across areas may result from entrainment of pyramidal cells, as they reset the phase of fast spiking activity in their local assemblies. Such a mechanism, however, would induce a phase delay due to the times associated with synaptic conduction. Long-range zero lag situations would necessarily results from an alternative mechanism – e.g. according to the authors, it may result from long-range excitatory connections causing doublet spikes in FS basket.
Consequences of Rhythmic Neuronal Synchronization - Feedfoward Coincidence Detection: An important functional role for gamma synchronization may be to organize spiking patterns into discrete time bins so that spikes from particular neuronal ensembles can impact post-synaptic neurons nearly simultaneously and increasingly influence post-synaptic spiking dynamics. Although coincident spikes do not require oscillations for they may result secondary to common inputs or co-variation of “stimulus locked rate changes,” a consequence of coherent activity of neuronal ensembles is the grouping of spikes into narrow temporal windows. However, does the timing of these spikes within particular phases of the gamma rhythm (40-80 Hz), leading to expected interspike intervals of no more than 6-10 ms, actually differentially influence postsynaptic neurons?
According to Vinck et al., the effective temporal integration may not be as prolonged as had been previously demonstrated. First, in vivo, contrary to slice, there is a much higher level of background synaptic activity causing the membrane to be consistently nearer to threshold and thus leak conductance to be larger. The rise in the leak conductance naturally leads to prolonged decrease in the membrane time constant, for any increase in membrane potential can be compensated through current passing through such leak channels. Moreover, inhibitory neurons with their shorter time constants and rapidly decaying EPSPs may be the more appropriate target population for identifying coincidence detectors.
Secondly, and surprisingly for me, the level of depolarization of the membrane potential is not the best predictor of the membrane potential. Rather, the first derivative of the membrane potential, e.g. the changes in the membrane potential, are strong determinants of spiking activity. A fast depolarization will lower the threshold of the neuron, and interestingly the orientation tuning of cells in V1 are mainly driven by fast fluctuations of the membrane potential [After a bit of thought, this reported finding is not entirely surprising – a static interpretation of a neuron’s threshold is certainly inappropriate. Conductances are highly dynamic, and with changes in the conductance across the membrane the thresholds will vary correspondingly. Moreover, since numerous channels are sensitive to voltage changes with different time constants, it is expected that thresholds would vary as a function of the changes in membrane potential.] If instead of different levels of membrane depolarization but rather the rate of membrane voltage shift is relevant to driving spiking activity, then it is important to examine how different lagged spikes can drive changes in membrane potential deviations. Expectedly, the temporal integration times would be far shorter, near to the time course of the capacitive membrane current – a few milliseconds. Any synaptic inputs separated by any longer time period would unlikely influence the probability of spiking. Moreover, given a refractory period of several milliseconds, any burst of spikes from a single neuron is unlikely to influence the post-synaptic neuron more than it would in a single spike. The influence of bursts would result only in a weakly additive effect on the membrane potential of the post-synaptic neuron.
Thirdly, neurons are not only sensitive to synchronous or near-synchronous inputs, but also to the specific temporal sequence of dendritic inputs. The membrane potential of the post-synaptic neurons may be tuned, as been previously demonstrated in the retina, by the velocity and direction by which synaptic inputs from dendritic to soma are activated. Within this context, dendrites could not be just simple linear integrators of synaptic inputs. This sensitivity to sequence may, for Vinck et al. allows for the possibility that neurons may in fact detect regular sequences of synaptic inputs organized by different phases of a gamma cycle.
Consequences of Rhythmic Neuronal Synchronization - Balanced excitation and feedback inhibition shape synaptic integration: As was made clear at the beginning of the chapter, gamma oscillations rely on a careful balance between excitation and inhibition between pools of pyramidal neurons and PV+ interneurons. This balance producing the gamma oscillations may also
1. prevent run-away excitation of the network,
2. allow strong recurrent connections that facilitate fast responses to external network input,
3. remove any output noise correction (via global inhibitory feedback)
4. sharpen neuronal selectivity by canceling out noisy fluctuations, ( in other words, the inhibition period of the gamma cycle may strongly limit the temporal window of integration and quench any slow fluctuations in excitatory inputs).
5. act as an important gating device to flexibly modulate the gain of excitation
Consequences of Rhythmic Neuronal Synchronization - Rhythmic gain modulation: Due to the rhythmic rise and fall in excitation of various neuronal ensembles, their interactions will depend on the phase relationships between their respective gamma cycles. This idea that “selective coherence between sender’s and receiver’s gamma band activity” is entitled ……… and represents “ a potentially very powerful mechanism for the flexible routing of signals in the nervous system.” During gamma band activity, pyramidal cell entrained by gamma rhythmic inhibition, characterized by a rise in threshold due to a membrane potential near the Cl- reversal and effective perisomatic shunting due to such proximal targeting of PV inhibitory interneurons. The prediction of this model is that a good gamma phase relationship between two neuronal ensembles will improve their interactions. There is some evidence for this prediction – visual activation of primary visual cortices resulted in an increase in synchronization (with only minor variation around a mean phase relationship) and good gamma phase relationships “preceded strong interactions by about 5 ms.” In the motor cortex and spinal cord, the amplitude of post TMS motor end plate potentials depended on the pre-TMS phase of the spinal beta rhythm.
Consequences of Rhythmic Neuronal Synchronization -Attentional Selection by Selective Gamma Band Synchronization: One of the major roles of the central nervous system is to make decisions that result in particular actions. In order to do so, the nervous system must encode sensory stimuli, select those dimensions of the stimuli that are found to be behaviorally relevant, analyze these dimensions of the sensory space, make a decision, and produce an action. In order to select the relevant information in a rapid way, neuronal ensembles encoding the sensory information must be able to flexibly adjust their relative importance in a timescale which is much ‘faster than the timescale at which synaptic potentiation occurs.” Viinck and others propose that gamma synchronization may play an important in regulating the flow of information between different ensembles. Fries et al. found that in V4 “synaptic inputs that are strongly gamma rhythmic and coherent with the gamma rhythm have an advantage over competing synaptics inputs” add that “enhancement of gamma band synchronization with attention modulation in V4” resulted in reduced reaction times. Moreover, they found that the “induced gamma band oscillation in V4 emerge before top-down modulations on firing rate arise” and occur as soon as an attentional cue is presented to the animal.
Coding and Gamma Band Synchronization: Finally, in addition to investigating the role of gamma in modulating interactions between neuronal groups, Vinck, Womelsdorf, and Fries examine its role in potentially serving as internal clock on which a temporal code could rely upon. In other words, “endogenously generated oscillations can serve as reliable, internal clocks to define the timing of spikes, constituting a phase coding for sensory data and assembly information.” Phase coding has been previously reported – phase precession occurs in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and ventral striatum. Mechanistically, this phase precession may arise from multiple possible mechanisms:
1. Theta phase advance would arise with higher firing rates due to larger dendritic excitation overcoming perisomatic inhibition
2. Theta phase advance may arise from input which is already organized by a slightly fast theta rhythm, resulting in an interference pattern
3. Theta phase advance may arise from sort of network effect
If information is encoded by phase, decoding of phase “requires a waiting or updating time on the order of the cycle duration.” The short duration of the gamma cycle consequently is well suited to organize the encoding of sensory information if its phase coded, for alternative rhythms are slower (faster than alpha, theta, delta). Fries and colleagues found that when an isolated single unit was stimulated by its preferred orientation, spikes were on average advanced in the gamma cycle. Differences between preferred and non-preferred orientations (high vs low spike densities) resulted in phase differences on the order of 2-3 ms, which should be detectable by feedforward coincidence detection mechanisms. Importantly, the absolute degree of the phase shift may be somewhat less important. If the gamma rhythms have high levels of inhibition, the phase shift may be smaller but it also may be more reliable and equally informative. It is not so simple, however, that stronger excitation simply allows it a neuron to fire early in the gamma, for it should then also overcome inhibition for longer periods of time during the gamma cycle and lead to a loss in phase locking. To deal with this, there still needs to be some local negative feedback system over and above the more global gamma rhythmic inhibition.
Dopamine Doesn't Care for Aversion, and Repetitive Behavior Inhibited by Orbitofrontal Inputs to Striatum
Two Dimensions of Value: Dopamine Neurons Represent Reward But Not Aversiveness
Science, Florillo 2013
-In an important investigation into the nature of coding by dopaminergic neurons, Florillo sought to understand whether dopaminergic neurons either code for reward and aversion either on a single dimension of total value or on two independent dimensions. Florillo correctly points out the difficulties of gauging the coding of aversion and reward within the same task – (1) the commonly used aversive air puff may produce a sensory-related activation misattributed to aversion, (2) in order for animal to respond to both an aversive and rewarding cue, the aversive cue must be mild in nature and thus induce a low cost-avoidance response hence limiting its net aversive value, and (3) aversive value and reward value must be measured on a common scale in order to make any appropriate comparisons. In order to resolve these difficulties, Florillo quantified how much juice the monkey was willing sacrifice in order to avoid an aversive air puff to the noise (or bitter solution). Having gauging the amount of aversion comparable to the reward given in conditioning tasks, Florillo compared to unexpected gains in rewards and unexpected suppression of aversive stimuli. While the unexpected reward produced the well known phasic activation of dopamine neurons, suppression of aversive stimuli did not. These findings provide much fodder against the idea that dopamine neurons code for reward and aversion on a single dimension. Instead, dopamine neurons may aggregate evidence for or against reward. Aversion as well as neutral stimuli may suppress dopaminergic firing. In order to test this idea, Florillo compared the influence simultaneous administration of air and juice or bitter solution and juice had on neural firing. If a dopaminergic neuron’s encoded net value, then the administration of both air and bitter solutions simultaneously with the juice reward should produce comparable activations. In contrast, if the dopaminergic neurons encoded the evidence of reward, then the mixture of bitter and juice (equivalent to eliminating reward) should produce a much greater suppression of firing than the combination of air and juice. Florillo observes exactly this in those neurons from which he recored. The lack of influence of aversive stimuli on dopaminergic neurons is surprising, and it prompts Florillo to speculate the existence of four cell types – two of which code for evidence in favor of reward or aversion, and two of which code for evidence against these two independent dimensions.
Optogenetic Stimulation of Lateral Orbitofronto-Striatal Pathway Suppresses Compulsive Behaviors
Science,Burguiere 2013 (Graybiel lab)
-Burguiere and colleagues investigated the regulation of repetitive, compulsive behaviors in both control and Sapap3 mutant mice. These mutant mice exhibit spontaneous, repetitive facial over-grooming as well as anxiety type behaviors. The authors conditioned both of these strains on a delayed conditioning task during which the mice heard an 8 kHz tone for 1.5s and received a waterdrop on their forehead. The waterdrop induced a grooming response during randomly interspersed probe trials with a latency largely tied to the waterdrop and then increasingly associated to the tone (around session 9). Over the course of 13 sessions (each session was composed of 50 conditioning trials), the latency of the grooming response in the control mice slowly increased to the expected moment of the waterdrop, whereas in mutant mice the latency to the tone offset decreased continuously. These mice ended up spending 75% of the time that the tone was on grooming. In the author’s words, the mutants exhibited a “defective inhibition of their conditioned responses to the originally neutral tone stimuli.” Next, Burguiere recorded spike and local field potentials simultaneously from the lOFC and centromedial striatum, and found that knock-out mice exhibited higher spiking activity during late training following the tone onset and preceding the waterdrop application. This increased spiking correlated with the behavioral observation that these mice were responding rapidly to the tone onset.
To account for this increased spiking activity, the authors found that striatal slices of knock out mice had fewer parvalbumin cells. Furthermoe, they injected AAV-CamKII-ChR2 virus into the lOFC, and stimulated within striatum and lOFC. Optical stimulation (either in striatum or lOFC) in the Sapap3 mutants induced near total cessation of their inappropriate early grooming responses. This cessation mirrored large increases in the activity of fast spiking interneurons and subsequent decreases in the activity subsequent medium spiny neurons, as was identified in FSI-MSN pairs discovered on the same tetrode.
Multi-task Functional Connectivity and Theta During Free Visual Search
Multi-task Connectivity Reveals Flexible Hubs for Adaptive Task Control
Cole et al. 28 July 2013. Nature Neuroscience
-In this paper, Cole et al. accumulate evidence using FMRI to corroborate what they coin as the flexible hub theory. Flexible hub theory, an extension of the guided activity framework in which lateral prefrontal cortex “implement[s] cognitive control by biasing information flow across… functional networks,” is largely defined by two key features: global variable connectivity and compositional coding. Both of these components are thought to contribute to the mechanisms underlying how a more expansive frontoparietal network (FPN) could adapt to novel task control. Global variable connectivity refers to how different tasks brain regions flexibly shift their functional connectivity with multiple brain networks, whereas compositional coding describes consistent, systematic connectivity patterns for particular task components which are amenable to transfer to novel tasks.
In order to test how functional connectivity patterns vary across tasks, the authors permuted twelve task rules (4 x 4 x 4) into 64 different tasks. These 12 rules were subdivided into three categories – logical decisions rules, sensory semantic rules, and motor division rules. Using FMRI and parceling the brain in 264 regions, the authors first identified 10 defined networks – including the frontoparietal, the cingulo-opercular, salience, dorsal attention, and ventral attention networks. Amongst these networks, FPN exhibited the greatest variable connectivity, and 10 of 25 FPN regions exhibited GVCs greater than the brain mean variable connectivity. Next, Cole and colleagues examined to see if similarities of the FPN connectivity patterns (as measured by Spearman’s Rank Correlation) varied with task similarity (according to three defined dimensions above). As predicted, they found a consistent increase in FPN connectivity similarity with task similarity. Moreover, using linear support vector machines, e.g. multivariate pattern analysis classifiers, they were able to decode each rule dimension at a low level accuracy (30-40%), but far above chance (1.56%).
Oscillatory activity in the monkey hippocampus during visual exploration and memory formation
Jutras et al. PNAS 20 June 2013
-During a visual preference looking task, in which animals freely explored images presented to them, Jutras et al. recorded single units and local field potentials from two rhesus macaques. Without any clear probe trials to test for retention of past stimuli, investigators used the drop in time spent exploring familiar images as an index for recognition memory. They found bouts of oscillatory activity occurred around 8 to 11 Hz, lasted approximately 500ms, and were separated by largely desynchronized nontheta activity. Moreover, following saccades to a central cross to initiate fixation and trials, the local field potentials exhibited properties consistent with a phase reset (trial averaged LFP’s were higher post saccade, as well as higher Rayleigh values). During the actual visual search, the degree of phase resetting in the post-saccade (40-200 ms) period varied as a function of stimulus familiarity. This phase reset may have important theoretical implications: (1) LTP induction in the hippocampus may depend on specific phases of theta, and (2) hippocampal theta may be critical in coordinating interactions across distant brain regions, including prefrontal cortex where local gamma is modulated by theta phase and that prefrontal theta is coherent with hippocampal theta. (3) This coordination may be important in routing information across different functional networks. (4) Furthermore, the phase resetting may be necessary for aligning multiple items within different phases of a theta cycle. Similarly, in the pre-saccadic period, there was also an enhancement of theta power (around 9 Hz) which predicted future recall performance. This presaccadic theta may represent activity necessary to bring the hippocampus into some functional state, or it may reflect an attentional process associated with the exploration of a novel stimulus.
A blast from the past: My graduation speech --- from 2005.
I was rummaging through an old hard drive of mine, and I stumbled upon my graduation speech from when I was valedictorian at Foran High in Milford, CT. Reading it now, I still agree with my message - although I definitely played a bit too loose with the word ‘Time’ and used some pretty pithy examples… Fun times!
But before I share it, here is a hilarious review of it by a local newspaper:
Loonis’ humorous address to his classmates drew giggles and laughs, but at the end he was serious. After listing facts and figures about the importance of time in modern society, Loonis offered a simpler explanation for the masses.
“Our present world is a thin page in a book that has no end, and every moment we choose to turn to a new page, a new place,” he said. “Our time is the path we follow. Today, every one of us makes a choice that affects the world.
“When John Tartaglio confronted a rare and unprecedented obstacle in his life’s course, his decision was definite - to overcome,” Loonis said. “Through his courage and mental fortitude, John has formed a new world around him, a community strengthened by his resolve, united by his will. Look to John to understand how to manipulate time.
“We are free and responsible to make the world as we want it. We have power, and we are limited only by our imaginations,” he said.
Here it is—
Esteemed faculty, honored guests, families, friends, and most particularly fellow classmates… 50 years ago Walt Disney studios released the “Lady and the Tramp.” 16 years ago Batman made its debut in American cinemas. And 14 years ago Sega Genesis produced the memorable game and character, Sonic the Hedgehog. What do these events have in common? Think June 23rd. On this day, time has connected the triumphs of the gaming and entertainment industry to the successes of our current class of 2005.
Unfortunately, however, this same time, which connects and unifies us to yesterday’s successes, has enslaved our modern society. Being on-time has become a cardinal virtue…The career-oriented executive must be on time for a board meeting at 7:00 a.m. His wife must drive her four sons to school at 7:30 a.m. Before their mother arrives, the sons need to eat breakfast, dress, and make their school lunches by 7:20 a.m. The exotic teenager, for her part, waits 15 minutes so she can turn up at school fashionably late. It seems like time has become the defining dimension. “Time is the deter-min-nator,” so to speak, telling us when we should do things and how we should do them.
But what is time? Is time the clicking of the clock? Or is time the intervals between the ticks on the clock? The American Heritage Dictionary defines time as the “spatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.” As time’s basic unit of measure, the second, in accordance with the International System of Units, is 9,192,631,770 cycles of a caesium oscillator…The definition is a whole bunch of hullabaloo nonsense. Does time really come down to a random, scientific number?
What if time, like length, width, and depth, was only one dimension among many? Time may not be the ultimate feature to our world. What if the world we see, we smell, and we enjoy exists in infinite forms or infinite dimensions? What if a world with its own time, length, width, and depth exists for every decision every individual makes in his or her own life? Then time, in the way we perceive it, would describe the path one takes through the infinite number of worlds. In other words, our present world is a thin page in a book that has no end. At every moment we make a choice, we choose to turn to a new page, a new place. Our lives are those “adventure books” where at the bottom of the page we can decide to go home to safety on page 15, to follow the malicious beast into the sewers on page 87, or to make a robot to murder the beast on page 23. Our time is the path we follow.
This is the world as I see it. Everyday every one of us makes choices that affect the world. In doing so, one selects the world that is around him. By defining ourselves, we define the world in which we live in. So when a man decides to donate his fortune to a charity or a teacher decides to overtly criticize the forgetful student, they both choose the course they want to chart. We create time; we trace our paths toward different worlds. Time is the expedition we lead throughout our lives.
People lose confidence, optimism, and motivation as their personal trail encounters unexpected obstacles. When the course men and women try to chart through their various worlds does not become an immediate reality, they grow indifferent, filled with deep frustration. If a project or a goal fails despite tremendous effort, we despair. At such moments, I hear people lament, oh what can I do? We must realize that life is filled with intangible factors including luck, divine intervention, karma, circumstance or destiny. Time is the twisting route to a mountain pass where at any time large boulders from above can temporarily block the passageway. Although these intangibles may bump us from our course, we do not need to be driven permanently from our paths, or our time. Instead, let us persevere in times of difficulty and adversity. When John Tartaglio confronted a rare and unprecedented obstacle in his life course, his decision was definite: to overcome. Through his courage and mental fortitude, John has formed a new world around him. A community strengthened by his resolve; a school united by his will. Look to John to understand how to manipulate time.
We are all equal. And when I say this, I don’t refer to intellectual capacity or political rights. We all have the same power to decide between contrasting worlds, to define our existence, to create our own time. It is important that we do not set limits on ourselves because there are no limits. The world is not delineated by prevailing restrictions, perceptions, or definitions. In reality, there are no boundaries. There are no deadlines. Let your will guide you in your own time. Let your own path take shape regardless of fickle swings of society. But let us not blame society, however, for our failures. A failure comes from us and not our surroundings. Some may find this depressing, but on the contrary, it is liberating. We are free and responsible to make the world as we want it. We have power and we are only limited by our imaginations.
Imagine this world of infinity, where infinite decisions mark the infinite realms. There is hope. In infinity, there is possibility. One of those decisions you will make will lead you to an even better place. Today we are celebrating the improbable reunion of individuals, who all chose to persevere, to excel in a variety of domains, and to graduate. All of our personal paths and respective times have converged today. Tomorrow our personal clocks will once again begin to click on different times. These moments, remaining etched in the memories, will hopefully encourage us to see the brightness of time. We can navigate on the seas of time. We can choose our heading. So don’t let your surroundings muddle the internal clock. Relax. Enjoy. Concentrate.
Derek from American History X says it’s always good to end a paper with a quote. He says someone else has already said it best. So if you can’t top it, steal from them and go out strong. And I will do precisely that… (break in speech for suspense) ”The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot. “
Three Quotes - Two of which are Utterly Depressing
“Researchers at Georgetown University have found that at the most competitive colleges, only 14 percent of students come from the lower 50 percent of families by income. That figure has not increased over more than two decades, an indication that a generation of pledges to diversify has not amounted to much.” NYtimes, Efforts to Recruit Poor Students Lag at Some Elite Colleges
“While states like Colorado, Connecticut and California race to offer subsidized insurance to their citizens, Missouri stands out among the states that have put up significant obstacles. It has refused to create an insurance exchange, leaving the job to the federal government. It has forbidden state and local government officials to cooperate with the federal exchange.” NYtimes, Missouri Citizens Face Obstacles To Change
“I know chests across Capitol Hill are being beaten as we speak, but let’s be honest, we wouldn’t return the Russian equivalent of Edward Snowden” —- former Obama national security spokesman Tommy Vietor.
Orbitofrontal Reversals and the Basal Ganglia Stop - Two Papers
Prefrontal mechanisms of behavioral flexibility, emotion regulation, and value updating
Rudebeck et al. 23 June 2013. Nature Neuroscience
-In an important study investigating the role(s) of the orbitofrontal cortex, Rudebeck et al. found differential effects on reversal learning and emotional regulation between localized excitotoxic and aspiration lesions of the region. They noted, using an errors to criterion measure, that while there was improvement in accomplishing the serial reversals across during a single session (9 in total), only those animals with aspiration lesions exhibited significantly impaired performance relative to controls and to excitotoxic lesioned animals. Moreover, those animals undergoing the excitotoxic lesions continued to respond appropriately to emotionally-associated stimuli by exhibiting an increase in latency to retrieve food rewards, unlike previously reported aspiration-lesioned animals. Finally, using an object reinforcer devaluation task (with selective satiation on one of two different food rewards), animals with both the aspiration lesion and excitotoxic lesion failed to modulate their behavior in terms of reward choice as a function of the satiation.
Overall, this paper very convincingly takes the specialness of reversal learning and its association with the orbitofrontal cortex away. The behavioral deficits induced by OFC removal are more appropriately interpreted, as the authors claim, as an inability to revalue objects in line with biological need or as a failure in “representing and updating specific outcome expectancies to guide decisions.” Previous studies claim a specific deficit in reversal learning to the OFC were more than likely, according to Rudebeck et al., to arise from damage to the uncinate fasciculus mediating important temporal-frontal interactions. One caveat, per usual in lesion studies, it is important to recognize that white matter tracts near the OFC are necessary for efficient reversal performance, their disruption may results in a fundamental dysregulation of a large number of circuits across the brain and may not be causal in the actual behavior under normal neural function.
Canceling Actions Involves a Race Between Basal Ganglia Pathways
Schmidt et al. 14 July 2013. Nature Neuroscience.
-Schmidt and colleagues tested behavioral inhibition in rats on task in which the rats initiated a trial by nose poking a center port, received a go signal (1 or 4 kHz tone) to enter either side ports on the right or left, and then received reward for proper performance. In 30% of trials, following the go cue, the rats received a stop signal (white noise) to remain in the central port. Recording with a tetrode and sampling for areas in the subthalamic nucleus (STN) and the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr), the authors found low latency, transient neural responses to the stop signal in the STN, independent of whether or not the animals actually failed inhibit his response to the go cue. In contrast, they also report a longer latency response for cells in the SNr, selective only for conditions in which the animal successfully inhibited their behavioral response to one of the side ports. These cells in the SNr which correctly distinguished Correct stop from Failed stop clustered anatomically in the sensorimotor core of the striatum, a subregion previously discovered to project the superior collicilus.
Furthermore, when organizing striatal cells according to direction selectivity, the authors note that while on correct stop, failed stop, and slow go trials, the dynamics of the firing rates for these direction selective neurons was equivalent when examined relative to time movement, but different when aligned at the Stop and Go cue. On Failed stop and fast go trials, activity ramped up rapidly following the Go cue and was already above baseline at the time of the Stop signal. On the other hand, on slow Go trials and correct stop, activity increased similarly only for the first 100 ms, as the other trial types, but failed to reach any appreciable increase of significance by the time of the Stop signal. These results, in the mind of the experimenters, are consistent with a race model for the implementation of the cue-motor response. Their interpretation of a failed stop trial and the lack of SNr response, therefore, is that the “early arrival of striatal GABAergic input, [shunted] away the effects of glutamatergic inputs from the STN.” Although these results are important, I tend to shy away in an admittedly biased way from overly simple interpretations. Although the data is certainly consistent with a potential race model, how many other models in the infinite parameter space of models can similarly produce outcomes described in this paper? To further this investigation, optogenetic manipulation of the STN should be able to induce a stop, independent of the stop signal, and have a variable influence on behavior as a function of the ramp up of this cue-motor response program.
(Summary) An Integrative Theory on the Function of the Anterior Cingulate Cortex: Expected Value of Control
Shenhav, Botvinick, and Cohen present in a recent paper in Neuron an integrative theory on the function of the anterior cingulate cortex entitled “the Expected Value of Control”. According to these authors, regulation, specification, and monitoring are three necessary functions underlying cognitive control and the maximization of reward attainment. Regulation is the ability of a control signal to more or less (intensity) influence a specific (identity) type of lower-level information processing. Specification describes the necessary decision regarding which control signals should be differentially adjusted, while monitoring is an evaluative process verifying the adequacy of control. This monitoring includes a sensitivity to conflict, response delays, errors, and negative feedback. Using this conceptual schema, Shenhav et al. propose that the dACC (dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) is responsible for monitoring and specification, evaluating the demands for control and properly allocating it in term. In contrast, lateral prefrontal cortex and associated subcortical structures are necessary for the implementation of those selected control signals and hence involved the lower level regulative processes.
The specification of the appropriate control signals by the dACC is based on the maximization of the expected value of control. This expected value of control, couched within a logic of optimizing reward reward, depends on both the outcome and the cost of the control which scales with the intensity and identity of control required, as described in the following equations:
Equation(1): EVC(signal,state)=[∑iPr(outcomei|signal,state)⋅Value(outcomei)]−Cost(signal) [outcome – otherwise framed as the expected future state]
Equation(2): Value(outcome)=ImmediateReward(outcome)+γmaxi[EVC(signali,outcome)] [parameter γ – a discount factor, between zero and one, influence of future vs immediate]
The dACC, therefore, accordingly monitors control-relevant information, estimates the EVC of candidate control signals, selects an optimum, and outputs a specific combination of signal identity and intensity to regulative control regions.
Predictions of this model include…
(1) dACC should demonstrate both the anticipated value of outcomes ahead of their occurrence and their value when they actually occur
(2) dACC should be selectively responsive to the value of events that are relevant to the allocation of control (e.g. dACC is more sensitive to outcomes when they are tied to actions)
(3) dACC should exhibit responses that are both selective for a particular line of behavior and sensitive to the values of outcomes associated with that behavior
(4) dACC should be responsive to conditions indicating the need to adjust control intensity
(5) dACC should be associated with the engagement of neural systems responsible for implementing these adjustments (i.e. the regulative function of control)
(6) dACC should be sensitive to demands for control and/or intensity of the current control signal
(7) dACC must code for exertion of control as costly
(8) dACC should increase with task difficulty and the stakes associated with task performance
"Creating a False Memory in the Hippocampus" Science, 2013
Using a novel and crafty implementation of optogenetic tools, Ramirez et al. investigated the possibility of reactivating location specific networks in mouse hippocampus, specifically the dentate gyrus, to induce an increase in fear-type behavior in association with a historical environment, rather than the actual conditioned environment. To do so, they used c-fos-tTA transgenic mice. cFos is a known marker of neural activity, and tTA is an abbreviation for tetracycline transactivator, which induces the expression of downstream elements from a tetracycline response element - TRE. In these transgenic mice, the authors injected an adeno-associated virus encoding a light-sensitive channelrhodopsin 2 (ChR2) under transcriptional control by a tetracycline responsive element. A consequence of this transcriptional control was that when doxycycline was injected, it would bind to the TRE region and prevent the proper activation by the tetracycline transactivator. Therefore, mice under doxy treatment could not express ChR2, and those without treatment would express ChR2 on neurons that had been recently activated, e.g. used.
Given this setup, Ramirez et al. exposed their mice to a novel environment A in which the mice were transiently off their doxy treatment. During that time, those neurons responsive to location A would express ChR2, and hence became amenable to future optic control. The mice were then exposed to location B, during which they underwent a classical conditioning paradigm. However, during this classical conditioning in location B, networks activated by location A were optically stimulated. Upon testing after conditioning, the mice exhibited increased freezing at location A, which had never been associated with any aversive stimulus. This increased freezing did not depend on the proximity to the original conditioning, for by placing mice in location C between exposure to location A and conditioning in location B, the mice continued to freeze 25% of the time in location A.
To test the interaction between the conditioned environment and the optically stimulated environment, the authors tested these mice upon re-exposure to environment B. In environment B, control mice exhibited higher levels of freezing (70%) than mice which had receive optical stimulation during the conditioning. This decrease in conditioning to the appropriate environment demonstrates, according to the authors, some sort of competitive process undermining the representation of area B. Interestingly, those mice which had received stimulation during the conditioning paradigm still froze in location B about 35% of the time, a comparable amount of freezing to that associated with location A. If location B was paired with optic stimulation, then these same mice increased freezing to about 50%. Optic stimulation of control mice (which did not receive light during the conditioning) caused the mice to decrease in freezing at location B, presumably due to discrepant input regarding the actual identification of contextual cues.
Overall, I am uncertain regarding the theoretical breakthroughs resulting from this paper. Certainly, the methodological innovation was substantive. However, that activating a network of neurons could serve as an additive cue in fear conditioning paradigm does not seem particularly surprising. The fact that this occurs only in the dentate gyrus versus the CA1 may have important implications, but this may simply result from the intrinsic anatomy of area. Although, I am not intimately aware of microstructure of the hippocampus, the fact that CA1 does not exhibit these same properties may just result from an increased interconnectivity of the neurons in the region and thus not allow a discrete set of neuron’s to code for a region. At minimum, the experiment does demonstrate some stationarity of the network; for previously activated neurons are over the course of the experiment consistently associated with a particular environment…
"Microcircuits for Hierarchical Elaboration of Object Coding..."
In a recent Science paper, Hirabayashi et al. investigate the properties of pairs of neurons in areas TE and area 36 while a primate recognizes object pairs. Neurons constituent of these pairs had to exhibit selectivity at least for one object, and, for at least one of the units, for both paired associates. They calculated cross correlograms between units of these pairs using the response to the optimal stimulus - otherwise termed shift-predictor-subtracted cross correlogram. Units leading its pair in these correlograms were called source units, and their partners - targets. The target units in area TE had stronger associative coding and showed significant associative coding. Target units in area 36, on the other hand, showed no difference in absolute associative coding. Instead, the authors demonstrate that their PCI measure (pair coding index, defined as the response correlation for all the learned pairs of stimuli) exhibits distinct temporal dynamics in these two different neural populations. While source units continued to decrease following their half maximum value, target units increased. In addition, the response latencies in area TE were shorter, and PCI values in target populations in TE equaled the PCI values in area 36. Overall, the authors suggest that these differences in the development of neural responses to the stimulus pairs arises from regions within area TE, and are hence passed forth to area 36. In area 36, the information is furthered feed forward toward target units, which themselves demonstrated a delayed increase in PCI value. Per usual, whether information in area 36 was causally mediated by feedforward connections from TE is unclear. Finding orthodromic activations between neuron from these two sites (or using halorhodopsin to inactivate TE) and performing this same pairwise analysis could begin to clarify this issue. Either way, an interesting study demonstrating how fundamentally little we understand of the central nervous system.
The goal of all scientific endeavors is to describe a provisional truth which is capable of explaining and accounting for all observable phenomena. The means to do so is to create experiments in which these observable phenomena can be reproduced, and the a priori relevant variables can be somewhat controlled. The time and effort needed to best approximate such controlled environments is immense, and a good scientist must dedicate a large part of his or her time to the development of necessary, consistent, and invariable routines. Unfortunately, this routine in its essence is entirely contradictory to the intellectual quest the scientist first embarked upon. I do not mean to imply, however, that maintaining an intellectual spirit in the face of experimental habit is impossible. It just requires a constant maintenance of this dynamic equilibrium, and a careful self-awareness to neither veer into unrestricted theorization nor experimental rote.
This does not seem to be an insignificant task. Modern science has, in my eyes with their limited experience, divided these intellectual roles between the postdoctoral fellow and the principal investigator. The following caricatures of both positions are intentionally extreme, and in no way do they pertain to any one existing individual. The postdoctoral fellow, emphasizing productivity over innovation, becomes stuck in the mire of experimentation, while the principal investigator takes on the role of aloof theoretician increasingly distant from the noise and limitations of experimentation. This strange division, bridged in part by naive graduate students, creates a professional tract in which scientist acquire different skills at different times. This does not seem to be ideal.
Anyways, this is all to say that I hope, as I struggle in this limbo of a graduate student, that I will use this blog to increasingly examine different ideas and studies as relating to my PhD in systems neuroscience. In the meantime, I hope to add some beautiful pictures from my recent trips to France and Poland. :)
It is late now. And it seems a new order is about to settle. As the day dampens down, the clanging of life becomes but the spring shower ending. The staccato notes of our existence slurr into one melodious tone. The blanket is about to engulf us all in its mystery, but in these moments… that blanket is ever soft.
It is sad to return to this blog and discover an inbox full of requests for your url because the website has been quiet for so long. Medical school, USMLE step 1, and PhD life have all made their way in between myself and this blog. And this blog, as I have come to realize, really stands as an important waypoint in my growth as an individual, as a thinker, and as a physician. How easy it is to become swept away in the currents of one’s career without the least of sustained self reflection. Ideas, emotions, and facts become molded into one amorphous mass - uninterpretable even by its own creator. In these two years, despite the accumulation of fact and maybe even some skill, the mind has become less flexible, less critical, and less aware of its own workings. For certainly, it becomes imprisoned by its old conclusions without any more justification. I hope that with this new post, many more will come. Be they on the scientific ideas I am developing, or the pangs of existence we all must sometimes subsist.These words were inspired by Frankl’s comment in his Introduction to the Doctor and the Soul.
"If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, hereditary, and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone."
"Life’s rhythm of pure relation, the alteration of actuality and a latency in which only our strength to relate and hence also the presence, but not the primal presence, wanes, does not suffice man’s thirst for continuity. He thirsts for something spread out in time, for duration. Thus God becomes an object of faith. Originally, faith fills the temporal gaps between the acts of relation; gradually, it becomes a substitute for these acts. The ever new movement of being through concentration and going forth is supplanted by coming to rest in an It which one has faith. The trust-in-spite-of-all of the fighter who knows the remoteness and nearness of God is transformed ever more completely into the profiteer’s assurance that nothing can happen to him because he has the faith that there is One who would not permit anything to happen to him."
-How true. The objectification of God not only takes away from one’s appreciation of the absurdity and beauty of the world, but it also removes a common place where each individual can come together in relationship, in true community.
About two years ago, I decided to start this blog on international affairs. It was a quiet time. I had taken a year off from school, and was living in Los Angeles to be next to my beautiful girlfriend. She had moved out there to pursue her own education, and I was just this sidekick with time on my hands. It was a wonderful opportunity to pursue my own forays into philosophy and thought. But not only that, I had the chance to climb and bike everyday. I was able to experience California and its culture and, in that time, develop a deep desire to return. It was really a moment of self-discovery or self-definition, depending on your worldview. I could spend hours delving into my own thoughts, and understanding my own perspective.This blog was, in part, a reflection of all this internal work going on.
Suffice it to say, however, the busyness of life came roaring back and my moments of reflection / creation dwindled. I was accepted into an MD-PhD program at Boston University. I had to move to a new city with new people. I had to redefine my priorities in the context of what medical school demanded. I had to feel the distancing of my love, and eventually witness the end to that relationship. Overall, these life events stopped this blog (or journal, more accurately) from evolving and, concurrently, my thoughts from developing. In this whole process, I also had lost a deep sense of my own self and my own value.
My hopes for this blog have changed. I no longer desire to be an expert on the Afpak region, although it remains and continues to be a fascinating and volatile region with Osama Bin Laden’s death and Pakistan’s resentment of American power. (because in my mind the US has never resolved the most pressing issue - the Pakistani-Indian relationship). Instead, this blog will take on a more diffuse purpose. I hope to regularly reflect on the books that I read, the brain that I study, and the world that I experience. I do not profess to be an expert in whatever I write and, in the end, it is entirely meant for my own edification. However, if anybody has any comments or ideas they desire to expound upon, I invite them to do so. There is nothing better than human dialogue.
"But Mullah Omar has replaced Mullah Baradar, his top deputy, with Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, a former detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who is believed to be in his mid-30s and has a reputation as a tough fighter with few political skills," reports the NY Times.
-I was/am for the indefinite closure of Guantanamo Bay and the swift transfer of prisoners back to a United States high-security prison in Illinois. Nonetheless, the difficulties of making cases against such combatants will always be difficult, and will inevitably produce the results that we see today (i.e. some prisoners reaching leadership levels in the Taliban movement). But this is the price of freedom. It is best to err in favor of liberty rather than edge into a 1984 regime. Over time, staying true to these values will vanquish the immorality and dangerous hegemony terrorist groups ascribe to nations such as the United States. One can only wage an effective propaganda war if the doubts of state repression are already present; let us continue to remove these doubts.
“Postmodernism announces (loudly and often) that a supposedly neutral, objective rationality is always a construct informed by interests it neither acknowledges nor knows nor can know. Meanwhile science goes its merry way endlessly inventing and proliferating technological marvels without having the slightest idea of why. The “naive faith” Habermas criticizes is not a faith in what science can do — it can do anything — but a faith in science’s ability to provide reasons, aside from the reason of its own keeping on going, for doing it and for declining to do it in a particular direction because to do so would be wrong.”—Stanley Fish, NY Times
The media in the last week has been harping on the failure of the United States’ intelligence agencies to prevent the “Underwear” bomber plot. Obama’s forthright admission of failure was good, but of only temporary importance. We need to improve and fast. From all of this coverage, I still do not understand why better computer-based systems were and are not put into place. Yes, there were bureaucratic issues. Yes, there were individual failures. But why could we not, according to the cliche, still “connect the dots”?
There were two elements I have found most disturbing in the post-attempt analysis.
1. That our security systems depends on individuals to synthesize vast amounts of discrete facts into coherent patterns. Has the the United States government failed to modernize and implement computers into its intelligence protocols? Why are we not relying upon good software and search algorithms which categorize and classify information according to individual terrorist names and the risks they pose? Maybe the United States should hire Google or Visa (which handles billions of financial transactions) to do a better job at handling massive amounts of information. Either way, it is not hard to imagine a computer program capable of handling these tasks and even prioritizing certain cases over others, based on the imminence of particular threats.
2. That there is no common computer base to store and review all terrorist-related information. Of course, the above program would be only good as the information you feed into it. If you do not have all the information, then it is impossible to make connections. But enough already, it is not hard to agree to put everything onto one area of cyberspace!
Both the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal reported today that the American Embassy in Islamabad issued a rare public complaint that “its staff were being harassed and detained as they traveled around the country.” Apparently, American government convoys are being stopped at checkpoints and visas and visa extensions are not being granted. As a consequence, the Embassy is running at 60% capacity and the civilian aid promised by the Kerry-Lugar bill will certainly not be distributed effectively.
Pakistani obstructionism from a Western perspective is one of the most frustrating aspects of this entire Afpak conflict because it seems so counterproductive. The United States is spending valuable resources on the development of a foreign country. Of course, there is a self-interest motive. It is to the United States’ advantage that Pakistan remain a viable state that does not support radical extremists and provide a safe-haven for terrorism. Moreover, in the current war in Afghanistan, Pakistan is the Vietnam-era North Korea. Militants can retreat to areas along the Pakistani border for repose, re-groupment, and training. Removing this critical region for Afghan Taliban would constitute a distinct tactical victory.
However, although the American interest is correlated to Pakistani stability and military cooperation, the American money need not be so tainted. The United States seeks to provide invaluable healthcare and infrastructure developments that could improve the lives of millions of Pakistanis. It is, in a sense, the Marshall Plan of the Middle East. And yet, suspicion and animosity are the primary products of the American investment in Pakistan. Blaming Pakistan is a useless strategy. The American Embassy’s public complaint will likely produce nothing. And the United States should move on with new strategies on how to engage itself more significantly with Pakistan.
The United States cannot ignore the security dilemmas facing the Pakistani state and the extremely negative opinion population has of the United States. The military is suspicious that its nuclear weapons are under intense observation by US intelligence agencies and that India is positioning itself for future assaults on Pakistan. The population has long-held biases that need to be confronted with grass roots efforts, sophisticated information campaigns, and education. Of course, the Kerry-Lugar bill itself was supposed to deal with some of these perception problems, but we cannot expect that the aid would magically create a new environment for American discourse to have legitimacy. Lets be patient. Lets accept that the inevitable concerns Pakistanis may have. If we have confidence in the aid program, then lets give it time to work. Arguing about it will just make the situation worse. Seed projects first need to grow, before development can be accelerated.
I just wanted to post an old article on Iraq that I wrote for McGill so that I have it safely copied onto my own web space. At the time, I was afraid that people would misperceive the Iraqi conflict and believed that because there were relatively successful elections the country was on the right track. Although, in retrospect, I may have overemphasized American oil interests, the rests seems most right:
GUEST SOAP: A take on Iraq
By: Roman Loonis
Every day in Iraq, as American soldiers and civilians perish at the hands of “improvised explosive devices,” evidence of a relentless insurgency dedicated to the proliferation of terror mounts. At one time there was a slim hope that a new election would mark the arrival of peace and freedom. Yet following last month’s elections, claims of widespread fraud, voter intimidation and delayed vote counting marred the early optimism.
Degrading security has pushed the precarious social equilibrium out of balance. Terrified Shiites are now migrating into safer, more religiously uniform neighborhoods, as suspicious Sunnis are fighting for their lives and places in society. As tensions mount, the central conundrum of Iraq remains: Can Iraq become a democracy?
In a country composed of three distinct social groups and possessing enormous oil reserves, Iraq has been the target of foreign domination and civil strife for over a century. To become independent and democratic, Iraq must grasp its own history, establish complete sovereignty by rejecting foreign interference and understand its own ethnic and religious plurality.
With the world’s second-largest oil reserves, Iraq is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for oil-driven nations and profit-driven companies. As early as 1914, the British government deployed troops in Basra to control the Persian oil fields. Following the First World War, the United States, France and Britain negotiated complex agreements on the division of the oil-rich lands. Until 1972 and the rise of Saddam, the Iraq Petroleum Company, a consortium of American, French and British interests, maintained a monopoly of Iraq’s oil resources.
There is no doubt that America’s new involvement in Iraq is simply a continuation of ancient practices. Spurred by economic weakness and growing energy dependence, US foreign policy dictates nothing less than resource control in Iraq. Companies close to the Bush administration have won lucrative oil deals worth billions of dollars. Moreover, according to the Global Policy Forum, “the new Iraqi constitution, greatly influenced by US advisors, guarantees a major role for foreign companies.” What happened to President Bush’s remarks in March 2003 that the “oil wells belong to the Iraqi people?”
Recent polls in Iraq reveal that Iraqis and the major oil-workers union oppose the de-nationalization of the oil reserves. The Iraqi will clearly contradicts the American agenda. Thus, can a country truly become democratic when it is not independent?
As oil corrupts the political landscape in Iraq, so do religious and ethnic differences perturb the social landscape. The Sunnis, a minority Muslim group, ruled Iraq since Saddam Hussein came to power. Resentment fermented and religious zeal grew within Shiite circles during the Saddam regime. So with the rapid shift of power to the Shiites following the war, disputes between the two religious groups have fostered violence, assassinations and bombings. Sunni-Shiites marriages are in perilous decline, a symbol of this deepening gap between communities.
In addition to this existing religious instability, the Kurds, a people of Indo-European descent, have a culture and language different from those of the Iraqis. With a total population of 30 million dispersed in Southwest Asia, the Kurds represent one of the largest ethnic groups without a homeland. Under Saddam, the Kurds sought autonomy and received death by the thousands. Today, the Kurds will continue to work for autonomy and the first Kurdish state. With feuding Sunnis and Shiites and autonomy-seeking Kurds, a simplistic, western-imposed democratization of Iraq is futile.
Let there be no mistake. The road to democracy does not end with a quick trip to the ballot box. It is instead a long and winding path through a treacherous mountain pass.
Complexities of Culture and Counter Insurgency Operations
The following is an example of how local culture must be integrated into any civilian development. Developing relationships, understanding local power dynamics, and recognizing the weakness of any external approach are necessary to producing tangible, long-term success in Afghanistan. Only by mimicking projects like those of Greg Mortensen and others can we hope for improving the situation there. Objective criteria and metrics are useless in measuring success in any counter insurgency mission. Anyways, here is a good story from Michael Flynn in his report on “Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan”:
"An NGO wanting to build a water well in a village may learn, as we recently did, about some of the surprising risks encountered by others who have attempted the same project. For instance, a foreign-funded well constructed in the center of a village in southern Afghanistan was destroyed — not by the Taliban — but by the village’s women. Before, the women had to walk a long distance to draw water from a river, but this was exactly what they wanted. The establishment of a village well deprived them of their only opportunity to gather socially with other women."
On December 14, I blogged on how the Washington Post was reporting that the reconciliation program, dedicated to bringing Taliban soldiers back into the folds of the Islamic Government of the Republic of Afghanistan, was underfunded and, thus, unsuccessful. I claimed this was part of a larger problem of a lack of responsiveness by the US government. What was most remarkable about the article was that it was published after the Obama Administration continued to claim that the Taliban who had abandoned their violent ways would be welcomed in Afghanistan.
The problem continues:
“This is my obligation, to go back and start fighting,” said Mr. Gul, whose name has been changed. “The government said it would give me land and a job if I left the Taliban. They have broken those promises. Now I will break them.”
Mr. Gul’s situation reveals the challenges facing Afghanistan’s underfunded and often counterproductive efforts to persuade Taliban insurgents to defect. In 2007, several thousand fighters surrendered throughout the country. Now, defections are reduced to a trickle…
The destitution of Taliban turncoats is common, according to Gen. Mohammed.
In all of 2008, 48 insurgents joined the program in Kandahar. In the three months since the presidential election, just five have made their way to Gen. Mohammed’s office.
“There are big problems,” he said. “At first, so many came in saying they no longer wanted to destroy Afghanistan, saying that the fighting life was too hard, saying that they wanted an ordinary life. But they now realize we have nothing to offer.”
The United States has now recognized the problem and, it seems, that things may soon change. According to the Globe and Mail, “The United States is reportedly preparing a well-funded amnesty program along the lines of the Sons of Iraq program that persuaded thousands of Sunni Muslims to give up the Iraq insurgency. And Canadian officials are said to be overhauling the existing PTS program with Mr. Karzai’s blessing.” My worries are that perceptions are difficult to change and time is something the United States has very little to waste. The US needs to rush before perceptions of broken promises and misleading rhetoric further become ingrained into the psyche of moderate Afghani Taliban. Moreover, the US must resolve its systematic lack of responsiveness to the development of civilian projects. The military may have the required structure to respond to security threats on a timely basis. I am not so sure the same could be said with the civilian development agencies.
Canadian Border Crossing and Obama's Inauguration...
‘“As the motorcade moved out, they updated Obama on gathering evidence of a major terrorist plot to attack his inauguration. After a weekend of round-the-clock analysis, the nation’s intelligence agencies were concerned that the threat was real, the men told him. A group of Somali extremists was reported to be coming across the border from Canada to detonate explosives as the new president took the oath of office. With more than a million onlookers viewing the ceremony from the National Mall and hundreds of millions more watching on television around the world, what could be a more devastating target? …” - From “Inside Obama’s War on Terrorism” in the NY Times.
Reading about Canada, a border crossing, and Obama’s inauguration, I was reminded of my own inauguration experience: On the night of January 19, 2009, I was with a housemate discussing the possibilities of a snow-mobiling trip we wanted to organize in the later part of February of that year. Was he up for it, did he think others would come, and so forth. With time, the conversation drifted to the economy, our stock picks, and eventually Obama’s inauguration. I regretted, I told him, that I would not be there for the inauguration. This was a unique moment of history and, after the spontaneous, widespread gathering of US citizens on election day, the inauguration was supposed to attract millions. Here we were stuck in Canada, with math assignments due in the later part of the week, and no place to stay in DC.
By the morning of the 20th of January, my housemate had convinced me that school, distance, and sleep were all insigificant obstacles in reaching Washington DC. After all, finishing a math assignment and getting a normal sleep would not make a dent in the annals of world history. Obama’s inauguration might. So on that fateful morning, my housemate and I resolved to make it to Obama’s inauguration the following day. By about 5 pm that day, the car was packed and our driving strategy established. We would both take alternating 2 to 3 hour driving shifts, before transitioning to the back of the car for a rest. The back of the car was replete with pillows and a comforter so that in a matter of minutes the drone of the car and the softness of the sheets would lure us into a refreshing sleep. The drive was tiring but, on the whole, successful.
In retrospect, we were a bit lucky. After crossing the Canadian border, we stopped at a gas station to add oil to our 1993 Subaru Legacy’s engine. Unbeknowst to me, instead of buying engine oil, I had bought ATF Transmission Fluid. Pouring about half the bottle in, I could have seriously compromised our car’s ability to complete the journey to DC. History was with us. We would make it to the outskirts of the city.
By 3 am, my roommate and I had managed to travel through New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. We decided to park the car at Glenmont, a metro station on the red line outside of the city. What was amazing when we first arrived near the Washington DC metropolitan area was the security forces present on the road encircling the capital. I saw what seemed to be anti-missile and radar installations ever 500 meters on the road. For the next hour, we dozed in the car and, when it came time, we boarded the train. Very quickly, the metro was packed and off we went into a city neither one of us really knew. If we had been smarter, we probably would have foreseen this issue…
In DC, the atmosphere was electric. Even at 4:30 in the morning with a bone-chilling wind and temperatures below freezing, there was a buzz. America was proud again and millions from around the country poured into the city. We ended up waiting for three hours to get access to the mall, but it cost me: I had to throw away my backpack. Nonetheless, we were finally in. Later that day we witnessed Obama’s poised, articulate, and inspiring speech to the nation, and we rejoiced as Bush’s helicopter whizzed away into the horizon!
Since the Christmas day bomb plot, the United States has more than doubled its support of the Yemeni regime. Today, the United States provides about $150 million in aid to buttress its security and anti-terrorist forces. From a traditional security perspective, the investment makes sense. Yemen has long been a fertile breading group for al-Qaeda like terrorist groups to meet and plan terrorist attacks. About 1 in 8 of the Guantanamo detainees are from Yemen, and even before the attack the United States had up its aid to $67 million. Besides, supporting proxy forces to the tune of $150 million is cost-effective. For comparison, every week in Afghanistan costs the United States government about $2 billion, an order of magnitudes different from the Yemeni investment. Moreover, this strategy is not a new one. For time immemorial the United States has support pro-American regimes in critical regions. Still, I ask, is this a good policy?
One of my principal concerns is that the US is falling precisely into the terrorist strategy of overextension. Of course, I am not talking about resource and troop overextension. Like I said, the affair is really security on the cheap and does not the risk the lives of additional US soldiers. However, the United States must be careful in overextending its welcome or, in other words, its legitimacy. Supporting dubious regimes frames a conversation that the terrorists want to have: Does the United States have the right to go around coercing repressive, anti-Muslim regimes to fight for its interests? Is this an enviable status quo? American legitimacy has been in doubt for quite some time. Confirmation of abuse in Iraq, the illegality of Guantanamo, and the rising deaths in Afghanistan have all eroded the notion of American exceptionalism and undermine the international community’s acceptance of the US as the dominant policing state. Causing civil war to break out in Yemen could only further undermine its international position and provoke fears in countries around the world of the future breach of their own sovereignties.
The situation in Yemen is by no means simple. According to the NY Times,
"Much of Yemen is in turmoil. Government forces on Monday killed two militants suspected of being with Al Qaeda. There is another round of rebellion in the north and a growing secessionist movement in the south. In important provinces where key oil resources are and where Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is strong, government troops and the police largely remain in their barracks or in the central cities. Order outside the cities is kept by tribal chiefs, with their own complicated loyalties."
Besides this nationwide tumult, the political environment smells of a coup-prone monarchy. The country is run by the Saleh family and few are enthralled with the prospects of Saleh’s son’s succession. An important military commander, Ali Mohsen who is stamping out the Houthi rebellion has openly disaproved of Saleh’s son on the grounds of his incompetence. In addition, Hamid al-Ahmar, member of the the powerful Ahmar family, has definite power ambitions. In August, on al Jazeera, Ahmar claimed that “If Saleh wants the people of Yemen to be on his side against monarchy and defend national unity, he himself must quit pursuing monarchy.”
Causing unnecessary anti-Americanism, fomenting civil war, and inducing the implosion of an ineffective monarchy, the United States’ increased help is risky. The ultimate of failure of the Yemen state could produce a tactical and strategic victory for al-Qaeda and extremist forces to take advantage of. To mitigate this threat, the US must proceed with extreme caution:
How the United States manages Mr. Saleh and his family ambitions will have much to do with success or failure against Al Qaeda. “Washington must work with and behind the regime, whatever its flaws, while trying to push Saleh toward reconciliation with his opponents,” a Western diplomat said. “I am afraid it will take more delicacy than the Pentagon can do.”
“We are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe," Cheney, one of Obama’s strongest critics, said in a statement to Politico. "Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war? It doesn’t fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn’t fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency — social transformation — the restructuring of American society.”—from “Political attacks over Christmas Day airline incident heat up” the Washington Post. Cheney is just insane…
An American trade panel gave final approval on Wednesday for duties of 10 to 16 percent on Chinese-made steel pipe in the biggest United States trade case to date against China.
The panel, the International Trade Commission, voted 6-0 in favor of the duties set by the Commerce Department to offset Chinese government subsidies.
”— from “U.S. Duties on Pipes From China Approved” in the NY Times. Who ever actually believed that we had a free market. Seriously, China has been competing unfairly for years. It only makes sense the US respond in kind.
“The White House estimates government debt accounted for 90 percent of the economy’s total output in 2009, up from 70 percent a year earlier.”—from “Heart-Stopping Fall, Breathtaking Rally” of the NY Times.
Haven’t posted in a while. It is after all the holidays. But this was too good a article to not post. Here is an excerpt:
This raises a question: if the deal would have aided Iran’s bomb program, why did the United States propose it, and Iran reject it? The main explanation on both sides is domestic politics. President Obama wanted to blunt Republican criticism that his multilateral approach was failing to stem Iran’s nuclear program. The deal would have permitted him to claim, for a year or so, that he had defused the crisis by depriving Iran of sufficient enriched uranium to start a crash program to build one bomb.
But in reality no one ever expected Iran to do that, because such a headlong sprint is the one step most likely to provoke an international military response that could cripple the bomb program before it reaches fruition. Iran is far more likely to engage in “salami slicing” — a series of violations each too small to provoke retaliation, but that together will give it a nuclear arsenal. For example, while Iran permits international inspections at its declared enrichment plant at Natanz, it ignores United Nations demands that it close the plant, where it gains the expertise needed to produce weapons-grade uranium at other secret facilities like the nascent one recently uncovered near Qom.
In sum, the proposal would not have averted proliferation in the short run, because that risk always was low, but instead would have fostered it in the long run — a classic example of domestic politics undermining national security.
Tehran’s rejection of the deal was likewise propelled by domestic politics — including last June’s fraudulent elections and longstanding fears of Western manipulation. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad initially embraced the deal because he realized it aided Iran’s bomb program. But his domestic political opponents, whom he has tried to label as foreign agents, turned the tables by accusing him of surrendering Iran’s patrimony to the West.
Although I, at first, enjoyed the strategic discussion present in the editorial and claimed this to be a great article, I do have to hedge my initial response. I do not advocate nor believe the use of military force to be appropriate in the Iranian context. For better analysis of the article, I refer you to Marc Lynch’s blog.
“The heads of three of the biggest companies — Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup — did not even make it to the White House meeting in person. They had waited until Monday morning to travel on commercial flights to Washington and then were held up by fog.”—"Obama Presses Biggest Banks to Lend More" by Helene Cooper and Eric Dash from the NY Times. Unfortunately, the biggest banks weren’t THERE!
“At the time of the deaths this spring, rallies for independence and rejection of “Indian hegemony” sprang up all over Kashmir, and though no one really knew the facts, it was simply accepted allover the valley that one way or another, India was culpable for both the crime and cover up. A handful of Indian intelligence organizations and as many Kashmiri separatist groups operate in Kashmir, so there’s enough intrigue to send even the most sober mind into fits of conspiratorial speculation. Having visited the river where the bodies were discovered over the summer, I personally found it difficult to fathom how anyone could have drowned there — the river was only inches deep where the bodies were found. An improbable explanation, however, is obviously not itself evidence of complicity in a cover up, and a shallow river is not proof of a plot to protect rapists and murders. What actuallyhappened this spring in Shopian, though, seems almost secondary. The little village that sends apples and cherries around the valley has become a totem of the renewed fervor for independence in Kashmir,and what happens there resonates throughout the valley. The CBI report will confirm conclusions — correct or otherwise — about the Indian government’s attitude towards Kashmiris.”—"Fire in Kashmir" by Jeffrey Stern from the Afpak Channel
Two Truths for One Falsity: A Debate on the AfPak Strategy
With the fighting season ending in Afghanistan and Obama’s announced surge, the national media has focused its discussions on strategy. The questions are numerous: Is Obama’s COIN-Lite combined with continued counter-terrorism efforts a coherent plan? Will it produce a sustainable end-product? How can Pakistan be effectively integrated as an ally in these efforts? Haider Mullick in an article published by World Politics Review recently asked the following question:
Counterinsurgency, commonly referred to by its military acronym, “COIN,” essentially boils down to armed nation-building — a deliberate process of empowering people and weakening guerrillas until a state-friendly balance emerges. By contrast, counterterrorism seeks the tactical annihilation of the enemy. President Barack Obama’s new Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy is an effort to do both, promising to dismantle and disrupt al-Qaida while leaving the expensive and time-consuming job of definitively defeating it to Islamabad and Kabul. Call it COIN-lite.
Can such an approach work?
He goes on to describe how, in the short-term, the strategy may be beneficial and but that ultimately the policy is bound to fail. Not having the requisite expertise to make such an assessment, I can neither disprove nor legitimately disagree with his main thesis. However, there are a few points I would like to comment on. I think Haider rightly emphasizes two important aspects of the Afpak war. First, the United States needs to re-brand itself in Pakistan and increase its popularity. This re-branding is a synonym for development aid, and Haider appropriately assesses the situation:
As for U.S. development aid, it is… invisible.
This policy of “ask but don’t tell” for Pakistanis wanting to know more about development aid fails to take into account one of the most important battlefields of modern warfare — that of public perception. Islamabad insisted that keeping development dollars secret was the best way to increase its own legitimacy and to keep American aid workers safe. The net result after eight years? The civilian government is crumbling, and American diplomats and aid workers are living in an embassy resembling Alcatraz.
Today, making the U.S.-Pakistan relationship transparent and comprehensible is no longer optional, but required. The fundamental problem of American non-military aid is not its amount, deliverance or usefulness, but rather that most Pakistani “citizen recipients” don’t know what they’re getting, why they’re getting it, and where it all ends up. These questions must be credibly answered, and can be in creative ways, in a country with more than 90 million cell-phone users and 18 million internet users. (For more see my pilot project, www.usaidforme.com.)
Secondly, the United States must recognize the seriousness of the structural constraints impeding Pakistani cooperation. In other words, the United States cannot ignore Pakistan’s security concerns regarding India. Haider recognizes this key feature of the conflict:
Moreover, measured and holistic country-specific partnerships must be backed by a sound regional framework. For decades, Afghanistan has borne the brunt of an India-Pakistan proxy war, but Washington has yet to formulate a realistic response to this regional competition. Absent an effective influence-sharing formula between Indians and Pakistanis — one approved by the Afghans — President Obama’s strategy will lead the region back to the chaos of the 1990s. Only this time, there will be narco-terrorists eyeing nuclear weapons in the mix…
In the end, Haider wrongly concludes that “Absent positive shifts in Afghan and Pakistani perceptions of the threat, as well as a demonstrated U.S. commitment to a long-term investment of its soft power, al-Qaida and its affiliates will simply wait out the American presence.” There is no passive waiting for counter-insurgents. They must continuously undermine governmental institutions and instill fear in the civilian population. If they do not, the waiting game will only give more time to the United States to establish a legitimate, effective government in Kabul which is capable of providing for the needs of Afghanis. Time is a valuable commodity in counterinsurgencies, and it is by default in the insurgents favor. The longer it takes a foreign power to implement political changes, the greater chance a foreign power has of failing. Giving up this time would be a huge tactical mistake by the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
NY Times reports this morning that “Demands by the United States for Pakistan to crack down on the strongest Taliban warrior in Afghanistan, Siraj Haqqani, whose fighters pose the biggest threat to American forces, have been rebuffed by the Pakistani military, according to Pakistani military officials and diplomats.” But this rejection cannot be considered anything new. For weeks, months, and years, Pakistani officials have supported, or at least refused to attack the Afghan Taliban. Long-term strategic issues are at stake:
The core reason for Pakistan’s imperviousness is its scant faith in the Obama troop surge, and what Pakistan sees as the need to position itself for a regional realignment in Afghanistan once American forces begin to leave.
It considers Mr. Haqqani and his control of large areas of Afghan territory vital to Pakistan in the jostling for influence that will pit Pakistan, India, Russia, China and Iran against one another in the post-American Afghan arena, the Pakistani officials said.
The United States’ hope was that Obama’s threat to expand the scope and scale of drone strikes in the region combined with a new partnership based on mutual interest and trust could alter the Pakistani psyche. However, the threat does and apparently did not appear tremendously credible. Expanding drone strikes would ultimately hurt the American effort in the Afpak region. Although tactically it may enhance the targeting and elimination of top Afghan Taliban leaders, strategically the United States would further tarnish its already dismal reputation and therefore provide fodder for extremists to recruit new soldiers in its battles against the US. In addition, the effort would run completely counter to both the current diplomatic efforts of the State Department and the intention of the recently passed Kerry-Lugar bill, designed to support the Pakistani civilian government. The threat was, thus, not very credible. As for the incentives promised by the US, the Pakistani government seemingly remains skeptical. Rhetoric is just words and until the new partnership produces concrete results, the Pakistani civilian government is unlikely to budge. Moreover, the civilian government is itself extremely unpopular. Launching new offensives at the behest of the US and against enemies who have thus far demonstrated restraint in Pakistan is not particularly wise from a political standpoint.
As a side note, Pakistani security officials claimed that ”Mr. Haqqani now spends so much time in Afghanistan — about three weeks of every month - that if the Americans want to eliminate him, their troops should have ample opportunity to capture him.” Personally, I am not too sure what to make of this information. This is certainly an easy argument for the Pakistanis to displace a responsibility on the Americans. It seems false, but you never know…
An article by Griff Witte published this morning in the Washington Post evokes nothing less than pure rage. He reports that Taliban soldiers who sought to join the ranks of the Afghan government and its army are being entirely neglected. While a reconciliation program in the Afghan provinces does exist, there strangely are no funds to buttress these official “efforts.” As a consequence, when enemy soldiers tire and decide to join the IGROA, they are promised jobs that never pan out. The disgruntled ex-soldiers, then, are left on their own, and their examples taint in a practically irreducible fashion the entire reconciliation effort. These events are tremendously disturbing especially when Obama last week declared “We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens.”
JALALABAD, AFGHANISTAN — His path marked by moonlight, with a Kalashnikov strapped to his back, Feda Mohammed hiked the well-worn trail through the mountains of Pakistan and into Afghanistan. He had traveled the route dozens of times before to attack U.S. soldiers. But this time, Mohammed was on a secret mission to surrender.
Lured to quit the insurgency by the government’s promise of a job, land for his family and an end to the misery of fighting, Mohammed illustrated the hope of the top U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, for ultimately bringing about an end to the eight-year-old war. Programs to reintegrate former fighters into Afghan society, and perhaps even turn them against their brothers in the insurgency, are at the core of the Obama administration’s new strategy.
Yet Mohammed’s experience offers a cautionary tale: Four months after he gave himself up, the Afghan government has reneged on all its commitments, leaving him unemployed and his family of 10 with nowhere to live. Hunted by the Taliban and fearful of the U.S. military, he spends much of his time in hiding.
In a war in which everyone must pick a side, Mohammed regrets his choice.
"I’m stuck," he said one day last week, huddled beneath a tattered blanket to ward off the winter chill. "I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to go…"
Mohammed, thin and balding at 36, first picked up a Kalashnikov in the late 1980s when Soviet troops still occupied Afghanistan, and like many of his countrymen he has hardly stopped fighting since. For the past eight years, his enemy has been the Americans.
But this summer he was feeling exhausted by war, and he wanted to return to his native Afghanistan after years of living among insurgents-in-exile in Pakistan. One night in August, he tricked his commanders into believing he was traveling to Afghanistan to attack a U.S. base, and ended up defecting along with five of his brothers and their father. He thought the decision would give his family a fresh start.
"Now my children ask me why we can’t go back to the way it was when I was fighting," he said, saying his family lived better while on the Taliban payroll. "I don’t have an answer."
The men who recruited Mohammed to the government’s side said they feel sorry for him, and for the dozens of other insurgents they have persuaded to stop fighting this year through promises they knew to be false.
"We have nothing to offer these people," said Haji Jan Mohammed, director of the government’s reconciliation program for Nangarhar and Laghman provinces, in Afghanistan’s volatile east. "We don’t get any kind of assistance from the central government, so we promise them jobs but there are no jobs, and we promise them land but there is no land."
When the former fighters learn they have been deceived, the results are predictable.
"In a lot of cases, they go right back out and pick up their weapons again," said Haji Sana Gul, a senior adviser to the reconciliation campaign here.
Najibullah Mojadidi, the Kabul-based deputy director for reconciliation, acknowledged the program’s flaws but said it gets virtually no support — either from the Afghans or from foreign governments. Over the past 4 1/2 years, he said, the program’s total budget has been less than $3 million…
I present here a response to the following excerpt from the NY Times article “To Beat Al Qaeda, Look to the East” :
“A key factor helping the Taliban is the moral outrage of the Pashtun tribes against those who deny them autonomy, including a right to bear arms to defend their tribal code, known as Pashtunwali. Its sacred tenets include protecting women’s purity (namus), the right to personal revenge (badal), the sanctity of the guest (melmastia) and sanctuary (nanawateh). Among all Pashtun tribes, inheritance, wealth, social prestige and political status accrue through the father’s line. This social structure means that there can be no suspicion that the male pedigree (often traceable in lineages spanning centuries) is “corrupted” by doubtful paternity. Thus, revenge for sexual misbehavior (rape, adultery, abduction) warrants killing seven members of the offending group and often the “offending” woman. Yet hospitality trumps vengeance: if a group accepts a guest, all must honor him, even if prior grounds justify revenge. That’s one reason American offers of millions for betraying Osama bin Laden fail.”
I do not argue that culture does not play a large role in the war of Afghanistan. I acknowledge that culture both structures how we perceive ourselves, others and the world, and dictates how we should act accordingly. We cannot, however, simplify culture to a mere set of laws and correlate them with particular individual behaviors. It is far too simple a claim to say, for example, that “hospitality trumps vengeance” and that is why Americans will never capture Osama through bribes. How tribal codes resonate with different individuals and clans is nothing short of complex. In an attempt to understand how culture operates in this Afghan context, David Edwards analyzes the different moral narratives framing the Afghani’s perspective. Yes, the Pashtunwali and tribal norms remain dominant. Yet, this moral construct does not operate alone and it interacts psychically with myths of a divine king and images of the Sufi saint. Although Edwards’ final conclusions are, in my mind, problematic and unfair (basically that Afghanistan because of its culture will always remain at war), he rightly characterizes culture as something indeterminate and vulnerable to interpretative acts. Tying Afghan behavior to the Pashtunwali is tantamount to tying Christian behavior to the New Testament and Jewish behavior to the Torah. I would like to note, however, that my arguments in no way undermine the thesis of the cited article. I agree with Scott Atran when he says that “outsiders who ignore local group dynamics tend to ride roughshod over values they don’t grasp.” I only caution against a Western oversimplification of Afghan culture.
*For a critique of Atran’s claims on al-Qaeda and terrorism, I refer you to Leah Farrell’s blog.
"When I first began writing for The Times, I was naïve about many things. But my biggest misconception was this: I actually believed that influential people could be moved by evidence, that they would change their views if events completely refuted their beliefs."
"Democratically elected leaders cannot ignore public skepticism, but they should not surrender to it when they know better. Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy must educate their voters to the harsh reality that Europe will also pay a high price if the Taliban and Al Qaeda get to retake Afghanistan and further destabilize Pakistan.
There is a lot Europe can do in addition to sending more troops. Afghanistan also needs more skilled civilian advisers to work with President Hamid Karzai’s new cabinet appointees. And it urgently needs help reconstructing its dysfunctional national police force — a job the United Nations initially assigned to Germany, which fumbled it. NATO had it right in 2001. Defeating Al Qaeda is a matter of common defense. President Obama is right to insist that the allies do more. Now Europe’s leaders need to demand more of themselves.”
*A Hard Sell. How do you convince a majority that it is wrong? I assume that France and Germany will increase the civilian aid. France has already promised additional funds to support IDP in Pakistan.
"Marking the beginning of a second, more serious week of climate negotiations here, the United States Energy SecretarySteven Chu plans to announce Monday that industrialized countries will spend $350 million over five years — including $85 million from the United States — to spread renewable and non-polluting energy technologies in developing countries.
*I have already defended the deadline in my post on Obama’s speech. Nonetheless, it is fantastically comforting to know that the Afghan government is facing severe pressures: if it cannot consolidate its rule and legitimacy, then it will likely fail. The US will not uphold a failing institution. At that point, the US cannot do more… I was fortunate to be able watch Obama’s interview last night. It is always such a great comfort to see this President speak articulately on a variety of issues.
"Eight Afghan police officers in the northeastern Baghlan Province were killed before dawn on Monday when militants opened fire on a checkpoint, a local official said, and eight more were reported slain in a similar attack on a road-block in the south…
But President Hamid Karzai said last week that that Afghanistan would not be able to pay for its own security until at least 2024, underscoring his government’s long-term financial dependence on the United States and NATO.”
*Karzai needs to find his stride and start focusing on the important issues facing his nation. Publicly calling for aid until 2024 is counterproductive, for telling the American public that politically that the government cannot independently withstand the pressure of the Taliban for 15 years to come will only hasten an American departure. How can the American public support a non-sustainable affair?
"China has long claimed to be just another developing nation, even as its economic power far outstripped that of any other emerging country. Now, it is finding it harder to cast itself as a friendly alternative to an imperious American superpower. For many in Asia, it is the new colossus…
'China 10 years ago is totally different with China now,' said Ansari Bukhari, who oversees metals, machinery and other crucial sectors for Indonesia’s Ministry of Industry. ‘They are stronger and bigger than other countries. Why do we have to give them preference?’ To varying degrees, others are voicing the same complaint. Take the 10 Southeast Asian nations in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as Asean, a regional economic bloc representing about 600 million people. After a decade of trade surpluses with Asean nations that ran as high as $20 billion, the surplus through October totaled a bare $535 million, according to Chinese customs figures, and appears headed toward a 10-year low. That is prompting some rethinking of the conventional wisdom that China’s rise is a windfall for the whole neighborhood.”
*For you realists out there, a great case of balancing is in the works!
"Blackwater’s role in the raids grew out of contracts that the company had with the spy agency to provide security for the C.I.A. in Kabul and Baghdad… The company had a dual role in the drone program, said current and former employees and intelligence officials. Contractors on the secret bases assembled and loaded Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs onto drones, and they also provided security at the C.I.A. bases… The C.I.A. did not allow contractors to select targets for the drone attacks or pull the trigger on the strikes. That work was done at the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Langley, Va… But Blackwater’s direct role in the drone operations sometimes led to disputes between the contractors and C.I.A. employees, as the spy agency sometimes accused Blackwater employees of poor weapon assembly if the missile or bomb missed a target. In one instance last year, a 500-pound bomb dropped off a Predator before the drone had launched its payload, leading to a frenzied search along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
*It seems that not only does Blackwater and its soldiers have an unwarranted level of autonomy due to poor Congressional oversight, but that they are also incompetent. Great!
"So what do Lieberman and Nelson want? I think they’ve actually made this rather clear. They want liberals to give up the public option and not get anything for it. If liberals do, they’ll probably get a health care bill. If they don’t, they probably won’t… After the promise of the br’er rabbit compromise, that’s going to feel like a huge setback for the liberals. But it really isn’t: objectively speaking, liberals are in pretty much exactly the same position that they were a week ago, in a position where it appeared that they they had to simply capitulate on the public option if they wanted health care reform. You capitulate, and you probably get Lieberman’s vote (although his mendacity should not be overlooked), you may get Ben Nelson’s vote (although the abortion issue is another hurdle), you may get Olympia Snowe’s vote, and you may get Susan Collins’ vote. There’s also the drug importation issue, which is somewhat orthogonal to all of this. So no guarantees. But — I’m not going to put an exact percentage on it — you’re somewhere safely north of 50 percent for passing a bill.”
-Joe Lieberman: Smarter than Br’er Fox (Nate Silver, fivethirtyeight.com)
*Not much to say… Lieberman is a dolt and should never represent CT again.
"English trans — Abu Walid’s second response
There is a political trend within the West that accuses opposition movements of working for the benefit of external parties. In order to create a popular feeling of rejection of these opposition movements…
# On the accusations that the Taliban movement since its emergence, and up until now, is a Pakistani construct. Established by the Pakistani intelligence agencies via religious schools with American influence and with Saudi funding…
When the young men of the Taliban devastated the Afghan state with the help of tribal aid, easily in most cases or crushing battles at other times, the enemies spread that Pakistani forces fought alongside them, and that the Pakistani air force offered support and that they were all working together.
During the time of bin Laden’s presence in Afghanistan, many formed the opinion that it was Bin Laden and not Mullah who was the one that ruled Afghanistan, and that the Taliban ceded to him large areas of the country. At that time bin Laden and those with him lived in several demolished buildings at the end of the Kandahar airport.
The pumping of this ridiculous propaganda and their insistence continued despite the absurdity and persistent exposing and their goal was to come between the Taliban and bin Laden and between the Afghan people and Taliban Movement and between Mullah Omar and bin Laden…
Mrs Farrall didn’t want to say it, but I say clearly that this was on the subject of opium and its decisive effect on relations with the USA. And the prevention of its cultivation will cause directly the declaration of war on Afghanistan, which is literally what happened. However, the timing was fixed to the day according to the beginning of the war and the end of it also…
One of the hawks at that session (and he was al Masri) told the Emarah delegate sent by Mullah Omar: you should build your country using opium revenues. And compared it to countries like India which sells opium by the billions to world pharmaceutical companies. The Emarah did not adopt the suggestion despite Mrs Farrall saying that “the Egyptian” had the ear of Mullah Omar…
The consultations thing is not an organised job. And if this consultation or advice occurs, it can be accepted or rejected very freely and with a sporting spirit. When I see a mistake that may cause damage I go directly to the party responsible and I speak quietly or not quietly, and it may come to a result or it may not, but we don’t leave the sites of friendship and love at all.”
-Leah Farrall (All Things Counter Terrorism)
*Overall, Abu Walid al Masri argues against the notion that the Taliban are an international, non-domestic force. He refutes the idea that the Taliban are mere proxies for the Pakistani intelligence services and are large scale advocates of the foreign-led movement, al-Qaeda. Secondly, he posits the Taliban and Mullah Omar did not permit the cultivation of opium despite foreign advice to the contrary. Al-Masri presents an interesting perspective, to say the least. I am not so naive to believe that the Western media has not been the victim of any propaganda and simplification. Knowledge is a work in progress. However, in the same way, I suspect al-Masri of as much, for he has a vested interest in how the war is portrayed.
“After a flurry of controversy surrounding the rollout, the $7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar aid bill to Pakistan was passed by the Senate on Sunday and now will go to U.S. President Barack Obama’s desk to be signed into law, and early priorities will include electricity and water projects in the country… The $1.5 billion annually will be handled differently from past civilian aid, as most of it will be funneled through local organizations and the government rather than via contractors and humanitarian NGOs.”