Recent Articles

Cyclist getting wiped out by car door

| September 12, 2014 | 1 Reply

I’m really ambivalent about what happened in this video. Cycling is my preferred method of transportation. I’ve never yet been doored. I assume that every door I pass can open at any time and wipe me out. Therefore, I slow down quite a bit when in a hazardous situation. The guy in this video likes to take changes as part of asserting his rights. Check out the way he shot through the pedestrians before the crash. The narrow path right before the crash and his insistence at traveling at a brisk pace were accidents waiting to happen. That he was wiped out by a door thrown into the bike lane angers me, people should be more careful opening car doors. On the other hand, almost all people who open car doors do it blindly. It’s a fact of life, like the fact that the tides go in and out. Further, the consequences of riding fast through hazardous areas will be an injury suffered by the cyclist, not those who throw their doors open. Hence, my approach of riding very slowly in such zones, even though I would be legally entitled to go as fast as I want in the bike lane. I’m sorry to see this guy wiped out, of course, but the video leaves me quite ambivalent about who was the victim.

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National Priorities Project offers voter guide regarding national budget

National Priorities Project offers voter guide regarding national budget

| September 11, 2014 | Reply

The National Priorities Project offers voter guide regarding national budget. You can get clear information at this site.

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How social are humans? The danger of being out in the savannah.

| September 11, 2014 | 1 Reply

Excellent article by Judith Shulevitz at The New Republic The Lethality of Loneliness: We now know how it can ravage our body and brain.

She employs an origin story of the importance of being interconnected with a social group, and the panic and danger of being ejected from one’s tribe. In her version, she indicates that we relatively weak human set up watch systems to look for danger–I don’t know that this would be necessary.  We rapidly communicate danger when any one of us comes under attack–we scream and make other noises that alert our group, to the extent that we are part of a social group.   I think this description is of high relevance to the compulsion many people feel to be part of a religious group and also of the agony of being ostracized from one’s group, for instance by excommunication.  Here’s an excerpt:

[N]atural selection favored people who needed people. Humans are vastly more social than most other mammals, even most primates, and to develop what neuroscientists call our social brain, we had to be good at cooperating. To raise our children, with their slow-maturing cerebral cortexes, we needed help from the tribe. To stoke the fires that cooked the meat that gave us the protein that sustained our calorically greedy gray matter, we had to organize night watches. But compared with our predators, we were small and weak. They came after us with swift strides. We ran in a comparative waddle.

“The very fact that [loneliness] can affect the genes like that—it’s huge,” Suomi says. “It changes the way one thinks about development.”

So what would happen if one of us wandered off from her little band, or got kicked out of it because she’d slacked off or been caught stealing? She’d find herself alone on the savanna, a fine treat for a bunch of lions. She’d be exposed to attacks from marauders. If her nervous system went into overdrive at perceiving her isolation, well, that would have just sent her scurrying home. Cacioppo thinks we’re hardwired to find life unpleasant outside the safety of trusted friends and family, just as we’re pre-programmed to find certain foods disgusting. “Why do you think you are ten thousand times more sensitive to foods that are bitter than to foods that are sweet?” Cacioppo asked me. “Because bitter’s dangerous!”

One of those alone-on-the-savanna moments in our modern lives occurs when we go off to college, because we have to make a whole new set of friends. Back in the mid-’90s, when Cacioppo was at Ohio State University (he is now at the University of Chicago), he and his colleagues sorted undergraduates into three groups—the non-lonely, the sort-of-sometimes lonely, and the lonely. The researchers then strapped blood- pressure cuffs, biosensors, and beepers onto the students. Nine times a day for seven days, they were beeped and had to fill out questionnaires. Cacioppo also kept them overnight in the university hospital with “nightcaps” on their heads, monitoring the length and quality of their rest. He took saliva samples to measure levels of cortisol, a hormone produced under stress.

As expected, he found the students with bodily symptoms of distress (poor sleep, high cortisol) were not the ones with too few acquaintances, but the ones who were unhappy about not having made close friends. These students also had higher than normal vascular resistance, which is caused by the arteries narrowing as their tissue becomes inflamed. High vascular resistance contributes to high blood pressure; it makes the heart work harder to pump blood and wears out the blood vessels. If it goes on for a long time, it can morph into heart disease. While Cole discovered that loneliness could hasten death in sick people, Cacioppo showed that it could make well people sick—and through the same method: by putting the body in fight-or-flight mode.

A famous experiment helps explain why rejection makes us flinch. It was conducted more than a decade ago by Naomi Eisenberger, a social psychologist at UCLA, along with her colleagues. People were brought one-by-one into the lab to play a multiplayer online game called “Cyberball” that involved tossing a ball back and forth with two other “people,” who weren’t actually people at all, but a computer program. “They” played nicely with the real person for a while, then proceeded to ignore her, throwing the ball only to each other. Functional magnetic resonance imaging scans showed that the experience of being snubbed lit up a part of the subjects’ brains (the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) that also lights up when the body feels physical pain.

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About sports

| September 9, 2014 | Reply

This silly video does make some good points about spectator sports.

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Underground Democracy

| September 8, 2014 | 5 Replies

At Truthdig, Chris Hedges points out that our real rulers are invisible and that our purported Democratic process is largely a distraction:

Politics, if we take politics to mean the shaping and discussion of issues, concerns and laws that foster the common good, is no longer the business of our traditional political institutions. These institutions, including the two major political parties, the courts and the press, are not democratic. They are used to crush any vestiges of civic life that calls, as a traditional democracy does, on its citizens to share among all its members the benefits, sacrifices and risks of a nation. They offer only the facade of politics, along with elaborate, choreographed spectacles filled with skillfully manufactured emotion and devoid of real political content. We have devolved into what Alexis de Tocqueville feared—“democratic despotism.”

The squabbles among the power elites, rampant militarism and the disease of imperialism, along with a mindless nationalism that characterizes all public debate, have turned officially sanctioned politics into a carnival act.

Pundits and news celebrities on the airwaves engage in fevered speculation about whether the wife of a former president will run for office—and this after the mediocre son of another president spent eight years in the White House. This is not politics. It is gossip. Opinion polls, the staple of what serves as political reporting, are not politics. They are forms of social control. The use of billions of dollars to fund election campaigns and pay lobbyists to author legislation is not politics. It is legalized bribery. The insistence that austerity and economic rationality, rather than the welfare of the citizenry, be the primary concerns of the government is not politics. It is the death of civic virtue. The government’s system of wholesale surveillance and the militarization of police forces, along with the psychosis of permanent war and state-orchestrated fear of terrorism, are not politics. They are about eradicating civil liberties and justifying endless war and state violence. The chatter about death panels, abortion, gay rights, guns and undocumented children crossing the border is not politics. It is manipulation by the power elites of emotion, hate and fear to divert us from seeing our own powerlessness.

“Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country,” Edward Bernays observed in his 1928 book, “Propaganda.” “We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

Politics in the hands of the corporate state is anti-politics. It is designed to denigrate and destroy the values that make a liberal democracy and political participation possible. It is a cynical form of mass control. Corporate money has replaced the vote. Dissent is silenced or ignored. Political parties are Punch and Judy shows funded by corporate puppeteers. Universities, once the epicenter of social change, are corporate headquarters, flush with corporate money, government contracts and foundation grants. The commercial press, whose primary task is attracting advertising dollars, has become an arm of the entertainment industry. It offers news as vaudeville.

Genuine political activity, the organizing work needed to protect citizens from the abuses of power, exists only on the margins of society. Politics in America has gone underground.

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John Oliver points out the scandal of for-profit colleges

| September 8, 2014 | Reply

The amount of accruing student debt is incredibly distressing.   John Oliver has produced this excellent expose on the debt, the politics and the long trail of victims.

Thousands of students are running up enormous debt, especially at for-profit colleges.    Thanks to the lobbying efforts of educational institutions, student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy regardless of how bad the track record of the institution for actually placing students into jobs in their fields of education.

The marketing strategies of for-profits are especially reprehensible.

Excellent job of exposing this dysfunction and fraud.  Once again, we rely on comedians to do the best journalism.

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How to get respect

| September 7, 2014 | Reply

Lots of good information here, provided by “Barking Up the Wrong Tree.” Much interplay with competence, power and money.

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The Onion: Noam Chomsky is going to simply try to enjoy the day

| September 4, 2014 | Reply

Here’s the story by the Onion. Here’s an excerpt:

LEXINGTON, MA—Describing himself as “terribly exhausted,” famed linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky said Monday that he was taking a break from combating the hegemony of the American imperialist machine to try and take it easy for once.

I found this Onion story especially funny, given that I’ve been accused of not knowing how to lay back and just have fun. A couple years ago, a very close friend, a man who is like a brother to me, told me, “Erich, you need to have fun more often.” It’s weird to hear such things, because it always seems so normal inside of my own head. The way I think is what I enjoy doing. That’s the context for why I enjoyed this Onion story so much.

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A portrait is more than a photo

A portrait is more than a photo

| September 1, 2014 | Reply

A friend of mine, Steve Grappe, recently posted an article at his studio, PhotoG, about the process of taking my portrait. Steve is a professional photographer who excels at portraits. I am also a photographer, and I was looking for both a learning experience and a portrait. I wasn’t disappointed.

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Without getting into the details, I was recently divorced, and the experience of struggling in a dysfunctional marriage can leave both parties feeling less than confident about who they are. This is not a good starting point for one to branch out to meet new people post-divorce. [More . . . ]

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