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Toronto Mayor Brings Unwanted Attention

Toronto is tasked with navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of finding a leader who respects the value of a taxpayer dollar, but who also doesn't smoke crack.  It should not be so difficult.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Caller. You can read the original here

Sometime during my adolescence in my hometown of Toronto, municipal do-gooders began referring to the place as a "world class city." The Canadian self-consciousness of the appellation was immediately apparent to critics, who pointed out that, say, Paris doesn't bang on about being "world class" because it's, y'know, Paris.
To wit, if you have to say you are a "world class city," you probably aren't.
Even so, Toronto is a splendid spot, the 4th-largest city in North America, and has plenty of which it can be proud.  While it has been almost 50 years since Toronto won a Stanley Cup (that's hockey), it boasts a couple of World Series' and some Grey Cups (that's football, played properly).  It also has an NBA team, named during the heady 90’s when it was assumed people would never, ever cease to be fascinated by Jurassic Park.
At last, however, Toronto is receiving the attention it craves, but for none of the reasons it wanted. City fathers (or “city parents” as they would likely prefer to be called) wish they were being recognized for their nonpareil recycling programs, or for banishing automobiles from the roads in favor of streetcars and bicycle lanes, or for a flawless, carbon-neutral hosting of the Olympics (they have had to make do with something called the Pan Am Games instead).
But no, the eyes of the world are fixed, albeit briefly, upon this sleepy Hogtown (as Toronto was known well before this current pig-fest) because its mayor has admitted to smoking crack.
To the uninitiated, it may seem incredible that a character like Rob Ford could have been elected mayor in the first place.  But, as urban dwellers across North America are aware, modern cities are overtaxed and hyper-regulated, with precious few leaders willing to be frugal with public funds and prioritize the prosaic needs of municipal governing, such as ensuring snow gets cleared and trash gets collected.  In Toronto, the usual parade of horribles toward the mayor's chair consists of tearful, lefty, bike helmet weenies who make New York's Bill de Blasio look like Edmund Burke.
In this context, Ford was a welcome contrast.  Since winning about half the vote in a crowded field in 2010, Ford has been the bete noire of the city's leftists (essentially, the half who didn't vote for him). Unable to claim his overwhelming victory was illegitimate, they have obsessed over and magnified his failings, real and perceived.

I recall attending a home game of Toronto's NBA thunder-lizard squadron with a prominent liberal journalist pal a couple years back. Between educating me on player biographies and lamenting that they don't call traveling anymore, he peppered me with questions about my feelings on Mayor Ford.  I mostly shrugged in response and my left-wing interlocutor was flabbergasted that I was not as preoccupied and outraged by the man as he was.

At that point, while we could agree Ford's bombastic style and nose-painting were a bit much, I never considered limited-government reforms at City Hall worthy of hyperventilation.  In fact, I agreed with them.  And, like many observers of the media, I am familiar with the phenomenon of journalists lambasting someone whose ideology they despise, while lionizing lightweights who share their values (example: George W. Bush is smarter than Barack Obama – discuss).

But smoking crack, lying about it, then claiming victimhood while clinging to your job like grim death are several bridges too far.

In May of 2013, the Toronto Star published explosive reports of a video showing Ford smoking at a known crack house.  Things got very ugly, very quickly.  Ford denied the allegations, saying he had not seen the video and it did not exist.  During the intervening months, accusations of perfidy and harassment were hurled between both sides until, last week, Toronto’s Police Chief Bill Blair stepped forward to corroborate the Star’s claim.

Specifically, Blair says that in the course of a criminal investigation of which Ford was a target, police have obtained video footage, "consistent with what has been described in the media."

Now, confronted with this powerful testimony, Ford allows that he “may” have smoked crack, "in one of my drunken stupors." 

Ford's Homer Simpson, "I thought the cop was a prostitute" defense should be plainly problematic. The subterfuge is, in essence, "Sure, I may have smoked crack but, in fairness, I only did so because I had gotten so knee-walking plastered, as you do, that I didn't know what I was up to."  Oh, well then.

In a press conference this week, Ford lamented his misfortune and said he would not wish for anyone to endure what he has had to go through.  Apart from the egregious conduct itself, this attitude of Ford’s is perhaps most troubling – as though his difficulties were some disembodied quirk of fate, rather than the result of his own behavior.

Some recent polls have shown a rise in Ford's approval ratings, likely owing to sympathy among those who feel he has been hounded by the press.  These people are correct, up to a point.

He's "only human" and "a man of the people," Ford’s defenders insist.  These claims are true, but irrelevant.
Botching a speech, snapping at a constituent – these are the all-too-human mistakes of a prominent politician.  We’re none of us perfect, but Ford’s conduct exceeds the foibles of an overworked public servant, and breaks the boundaries of liberal media bias.  How many of you readers would keep your jobs after behaving in this way?  (Marion Barry, you are excused from this question, sir).

Nevertheless, Ford insists he will stay on, and even seek re-election in 2014, evincing that even small-government politicians can give in to the conceit that they are somehow irreplaceable. 
Toronto is tasked with navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of finding a leader who respects the value of a taxpayer dollar, but who also doesn't smoke crack.  It should not be so difficult.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.  Contact him at

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
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Human brains remember certain words more easily than others

A study of the manner in which memory works turns up a surprising thing.

Image Point Fr / Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • Researchers have found that some basic words appear to be more memorable than others.
  • Some faces are also easier to commit to memory.
  • Scientists suggest that these words serve as semantic bridges when the brain is searching for a memory.

Cognitive psychologist Weizhen Xie (Zane) of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) works with people who have intractable epilepsy, a form of the disorder that can't be controlled with medications. During research into the brain activity of patients, he and his colleagues discovered something odd about human memory: It appears that certain basic words are consistently more memorable than other basic words.

The research is published in Nature Human Behaviour.

An odd find

Image source: Tsekhmister/Shutterstock

Xie's team was re-analyzing memory tests of 30 epilepsy patients undertaken by Kareem Zaghloul of NINDS.

"Our goal is to find and eliminate the source of these harmful and debilitating seizures," Zaghloul said. "The monitoring period also provides a rare opportunity to record the neural activity that controls other parts of our lives. With the help of these patient volunteers we have been able to uncover some of the blueprints behind our memories."

Specifically, the participants were shown word pairs, such as "hand" and "apple." To better understand how the brain might remember such pairings, after a brief interval, participants were supplied one of the two words and asked to recall the other. Of the 300 words used in the tests, five of them proved to be five times more likely to be recalled: pig, tank, doll, pond, and door.

The scientists were perplexed that these words were so much more memorable than words like "cat," "street," "stair," "couch," and "cloud."

Intrigued, the researchers looked at a second data source from a word test taken by 2,623 healthy individuals via Amazon's Mechanical Turk and found essentially the same thing.

"We saw that some things — in this case, words — may be inherently easier for our brains to recall than others," Zaghloul said. That the Mechanical Turk results were so similar may "provide the strongest evidence to date that what we discovered about how the brain controls memory in this set of patients may also be true for people outside of the study."

Why understanding memory matters

person holding missing piece from human head puzzle

Image source: Orawan Pattarawimonchai/Shutterstock

"Our memories play a fundamental role in who we are and how our brains work," Xie said. "However, one of the biggest challenges of studying memory is that people often remember the same things in different ways, making it difficult for researchers to compare people's performances on memory tests." He added that the search for some kind of unified theory of memory has been going on for over a century.

If a comprehensive understanding of the way memory works can be developed, the researchers say that "we can predict what people should remember in advance and understand how our brains do this, then we might be able to develop better ways to evaluate someone's overall brain health."

Party chat

Image source: joob_in/Shutterstock

Xie's interest in this was piqued during a conversation with Wilma Bainbridge of University of Chicago at a Christmas party a couple of years ago. Bainbridge was, at the time, wrapping up a study of 1,000 volunteers that suggested certain faces are universally more memorable than others.

Bainbridge recalls, "Our exciting finding is that there are some images of people or places that are inherently memorable for all people, even though we have each seen different things in our lives. And if image memorability is so powerful, this means we can know in advance what people are likely to remember or forget."

spinning 3D model of a brain

Temporal lobes

Image source: Anatomography/Wikimedia

At first, the scientists suspected that the memorable words and faces were simply recalled more frequently and were thus easier to recall. They envisioned them as being akin to "highly trafficked spots connected to smaller spots representing the less memorable words." They developed a modeling program based on word frequencies found in books, new articles, and Wikipedia pages. Unfortunately, the model was unable to predict or duplicate the results they saw in their clinical experiments.

Eventually, the researchers came to suspect that the memorability of certain words was linked to the frequency with which the brain used them as semantic links between other memories, making them often-visited hubs in individuals's memory networks, and therefore places the brain jumped to early and often when retrieving memories. This idea was supported by observed activity in participants' anterior temporal lobe, a language center.

In epilepsy patients, these words were so frequently recalled that subjects often shouted them out even when they were incorrect responses to word-pair inquiries.

Seek, find

Modern search engines no longer simply look for raw words when resolving an inquiry: They also look for semantic — contextual and meaning — connections so that the results they present may better anticipate what it is you're looking for. Xie suggests something similar may be happening in the brain: "You know when you type words into a search engine, and it shows you a list of highly relevant guesses? It feels like the search engine is reading your mind. Well, our results suggest that the brains of the subjects in this study did something similar when they tried to recall a paired word, and we think that this may happen when we remember many of our past experiences."

He also notes that it may one day be possible to leverage individuals' apparently wired-in knowledge of their language as a fixed point against which to assess the health of their memory and brain.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

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