Recent Articles

Behind ALEC

| September 24, 2014 | Reply

Bill Moyers has done an in-depth analysis of ALEC.   If you wonder how so many conservative bills are being pushed through state legislature, look no further than ALEC:

A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — presents itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership”. But behind that mantra lies a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge.

In state houses around the country, hundreds of pieces of boilerplate ALEC legislation are proposed or enacted that would, among other things, dilute collective bargaining rights, make it harder for some Americans to vote, and limit corporate liability for harm caused to consumers — each accomplished without the public ever knowing who’s behind it. Using interviews, documents, and field reporting, the episode explores ALEC’s self-serving machine at work, acting in a way one Wisconsin politician describes as “a corporate dating service for lonely legislators and corporate special interests.”

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Original Sin II

Original Sin II

| September 21, 2014 | 6 Replies

When I was young, I was given a thorough Catholic education that included the proclamation that I was cursed with “original sin” from the moment I was born. What did I do to deserve such a harsh condemnation? Nothing. It’s a very strange concept that you were “bad,” but not because of anything you did.

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What causes Middle East terrorism?

| September 20, 2014 | 6 Replies

I’m often hear Americans state as undeniable fact that Middle East terrorism is caused by religion. Their claim is that Islam is an extraordinarily violent religion, much worse than Christianity. I’m highly suspicious of this claim, recently made by Sam Harris. Anyone who has read the Bible knows that it contains hundreds of episodes of violence, many of them seemingly gratuitous. It is difficult for me to see how the Koran is any more violent than the Bible. Yet there is much violence in the Middle East and numerous commentators will thus conclude, simplistically, that Islam is especially violent and that therefore, Islam is the cause.

This analysis by C.J.Werleman provides some raw numbers and some history to work with.

The Suicide Terrorism Database at Flinders University in Australia, which documents all suicide bombings committed in the Middle East between 1981 and 2006, demonstrates that it is politics, not religious fanaticism that leads terrorists to blow themselves up. This is supported by research conducted at the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism, which was partly funded by the Defense Department’s Threat Reduction Agency. The authors, Robert A. Pape and James K. Feldman, examined more than 2,200 suicide attacks across the world from 1980 to present. Their research reveals that more than 90 percent of suicide attacks are directed at an occupying force.

We’ve spent the last half century waging and funding wars in the Middle East, playing one side off against the other, stoking ethnic rivalries, and arming regimes that inflict economic oppression upon their people. We’ve encircled the entire region with nearly 50 U.S. military bases and parked an aircraft carrier group permanently at their shores. The 17 Saudi 9/11 hijackers made their intent clear; they wanted the U.S. out of Saudi Arabia.

The belief that Islam is the root of terrorism doesn’t explain how Western-targeted terrorism coincides with the period post oil being discovered in the Middle East during the 1930-’60s and the establishment of the Jewish state on Arab Palestinian land. Harris also ignores the fact that Palestinian Muslims welcomed Zionist Jews in the 19th century. It was only when Jewish settlers began taking their land, and when Jews made it clear they did not wish to share the remaining land, that violence ensued.

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About achilles tendinitus

| September 19, 2014 | 3 Replies

I found myself in an unusual situation last week. A man kept reaching down and touching my feet while we were trying to have a conversation. It actually wasn’t so bad, because he was my new podiatrist, and he was excellent. I learned that I have achilles tendinitis. It’s time to implement several conservative measures and it will likely go away over the next few months. Which is good, because I hit a low yesterday, limping all day. It’s great to know what is going on, and now I also have x-rays of my feet as souvenirs (maybe I’ll frame them and put them on my walls). He said that this is not a disease, but an injury. It’s not an “old” person’s problem. He said that professional athletes have this issue. I think he was trying to portray me to be like a professional athlete.

For those in St. Louis, my new doctor’s name is Richard Brandel, DPM, a board certified podiatrist located in Clayton, MO. It was an amazingly pleasant experience. I called today, and the receptionist slipped me in a few hours later, due to a cancellation. Dr. Brandel spent LOTS of time explaining the situation to me in clear detail, answering all of my many questions for a condition that has frustrated me for several months.

The frustrating news is that it takes about as long to get over achilles tendinitis as it took to get into bad shape.

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About the Pratfall Effect

| September 18, 2014 | Reply

The Pratfall Effect gives me hope; people like imperfect people better. Perfectionism is not all it’s cracked up to be. Fascinating.

The basis of the effect was a study at the University of California led by Elliot Aronson where a researcher was invited to answer a series of quiz questions. The contestant answered competently and scored 90%. A team of scientists then created two tapes: one that was unchanged and one in which the contestant could be heard spilling a fictitious cup of coffee over himself at the end. These two tapes were then played to a series of panels who were asked to rate the likeability of the contestants. In all of the studies, the panels rated the person spilling the cup of coffee in the second tape higher than the person in the first tape.

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How to get started on your writing project

| September 16, 2014 | Reply

I just read Anne Lamott’s 2005 essay, “Shitty First Drafts” from her book, Bird by Bird.  Delightful read. Excellent advice to get writers started.

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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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