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Focus, Man, Focus!

One of my favorite quotes: "In the intellectual order, the virtue of humility is nothing more nor less than the power of attention." Simone Weil

Attentional processes are the brain's way of shining a searchlight on relevant stimuli and filtering out the rest. Neuroscientists want to determine the circuits that aim and power that searchlight. For decades, their studies have revolved around the cortex, the folded structure on the outside of the brain commonly associated with intelligence and higher-order cognition. It's become clear that activity in the cortex boosts sensory processing to enhance features of interest.

But now, some researchers are trying a different approach, studying how the brain suppresses information rather than how it augments it. Perhaps more importantly, they've found that this process involves more ancient regions much deeper in the brain – regions not often considered when it comes to attention.

By doing so, scientists have also inadvertently started to take baby steps toward a better understanding of how body and mind – through automatic sensory experiences, physical movements and higher-level consciousness – are deeply and inextricably intertwined.

Feast Day

St. Therese of Lisieux.

Every so often, spiritual lightning sears across a culture's landscape. The example of St. Francis of Assisi immediately comes to mind. So does St. Antony. Their intense holiness was bright and powerful, and left an indelible mark on the earth.

We can't know for certain why God sends these religious jolts when he does, but we can assume he has some purpose. St. Francis, for instance, came at a time when Europe was emerging from the Dark Ages. European wealth and power and prosperity surged in the twelfth century, and with it came temptations to greed and vice. St. Francis cut against the wealth and power by opting for no property and no control. His was absolute poverty at a time when poverty was becoming a dirty word. He, with St. Dominic (his spiritual twin brother), spawned new religious orders of poverty-embracing friars, and paved the way for the thirteenth century, a time when the Catholic Church produced some of its greatest cultural contributions. It is no coincidence that the century's greatest thinkers, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, belonged to the Dominican and Franciscan Orders, respectively.

The Most Dangerous Crossing

In his wildest dreams, Donald Trump could not build a wall more effective than the Sonoran Desert – 100,000 square miles of rugged mountain ranges and wide, bone-dry valleys straddling the Mexico border from southeastern California to eastern Arizona. Summer temperatures can exceed 120 degrees, and surface heat on the rocky floor soars a third higher. Committed to reaching the U.S. at any cost – and fearful of the increasingly hostile U.S. authorities at the border – migrants who have given up on the asylum process are detouring into this remote, scarcely policed stretch of desert, gambling their lives on a journey through hellfire. Nearly 9,000 people are believed to have perished crossing here since the 1990s, but the number is likely much higher than that, as only a fraction of the dead are found due to the vastness of the terrain and scant government resources for search-and-rescue operations. It's a microcosm of migration at its most brutal extreme, and the ranks of the missing continue to multiply.

Unionizing Fast Food

Accelerating toward fully-automated stores . . .

A Manhattan-based union local that works closely with the Fight for $15 has launched an effort to unionize Chipotle and McDonald's workers, getting workers at more than 50 restaurants to sign pro-union cards. “We're running a campaign for workers in an industry that has been abusing its workers,” said Kyle Bragg, president of the local carrying out the unionization drive, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. “These workers want a union. We're organizing in order to lift workers and improve their lives.”

Bailout Culture

Well, maybe if NYC hadn't artificially suppressed the number of medallions to begin with . . . or not regulated at all to begin with.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling for a government bailout for New York taxi drivers, emerging as the most prominent voice to back a financial rescue plan for thousands of drivers who were channeled into exploitative loans.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat who said her district in the Bronx and Queens is home to many cabdrivers, jumped into a debate over how to help drivers who were urged to take out loans with high fees, interest-only payments and other one-sided terms. They borrowed the money to buy taxi medallions, the city permit that allowed them to own and operate their cabs.