The Koch Conspiracy to Subvert American Democracy

January 29, 2016 at 5:16 pm | Posted in Dysfunctional Politics, Enemies of Freedom, Enemies of Planet Earth, Global warming, Judicial Misjudgment, Presidential election | Leave a comment
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David H. Koch in 2007, as cropped and rotated from a photo by freddthompson

David H. Koch in 2007, as cropped and rotated from a photo taken by freddthompson

The remarkable new book, ‘Dark Money’, by Jane Mayer, shows that a many-fingered long-lasting conspiracy by very wealthy, very greedy, very defensive individuals, underlies much of what has degraded and coarsened American political life over the past two and a half decades.

The conspiracy was instigated by Charles and David Koch.

The conspiracy is driven by the self interest of Charles and David Koch and their co-conspirators. They all rationalize it to themselves as the defense of liberty – but only of those liberties that benefit themselves.

It is a conspiracy to subvert American democracy. Jane Mayer shows that it was started when Charles Koch concluded that he couldn’t achieve his goals via the open political process.

Prominent members of this group are (quoting from Mayer’s page 4) “Richard Mellon Scaife, an heir to the Mellon banking and Gulf oil fortunes; Harry and Lynde Bradley, midwesterners enriched by defense contracts; John M. Olin, a chemical and munitions company titan; the Coors brewing family of Colorado; and the DeVos family of Michigan, founders of the Amway marketing empire.”

Their convocations impose utmost secrecy: no mobile phones, no notes, no audio or video recording. The eleborate precautions are described on page 9 of Jane Mayer’s book.

That it is a conspiracy is proven by its secrecy.

Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have been speakers at these meetings.

Were Scalia and Thomas paid to speak? How much?

Was their air travel and lodging reimbursed, or paid directly by the meeting’s sponsors? Almost certainly.

Scalia’s and Thomas’ attitudes on issues that were likely to come before the Supreme Court may have been influenced by those at the secret meetings at which they spoke. But more likely, they were invited to speak, and agreed to speak, because they were known to already favor plutocracy over democracy.

In turn, that almost certainly influenced how they voted when the Supreme Court was reaching its decision on Citizens United.

The Supreme Court’s majority decision on Citizens United enabled wealthy donors and the executives and board members of wealthy corporations to have much more influence – per person – on elections and on elected officials, than do ordinary citizens such as you and I. As a result, PACs became prominent. A PAC is not supposed to coordinate in any way with the candidate it supports, but news stories too numerous to count cite direct contacts and indirect signalling between candidates and ‘their’ PACs (yes, that is how some of the PACs are described in news stories), and there is much transfer of personnel between the campaign staff and the PAC and vice versa. PACs provide an effective way of influencing political outcomes, and are one of the Koch conspiracy’s major tools. No more ‘significant political say for each active citizen’. The political voice of a  director of a PAC, of a lobbyist or of a politician who has an affiliated PAC, or of a wealthy individual, a corporate executive, or a member of a corporate board that contributes importantly to a PAC, is much louder than the voice of any ordinary citizen. This has seriously corrupted American political life, and has greatly attenuated poltical democracy.

Because of – or as evidenced by – their participation in these secret meetings, Scalia and Thomas were biased, and should have recused themselves from the decision on Citizens United.

If asked, Scalia and Thomas might claim that they attended and spoke as private citizens, that they were merely speaking for themselves, exercising their Constitutional rights of freedom of assembly and of speech.

As private citizens? Hah! No one believes that for a moment.

By virtue of their special status, Justices of the Supreme Court are always seen – accurately or inaccurately – as reflecting upon the Supreme Court when they speak on any topic having political ramifications.

By virtue of their special status, Justices of the Supreme Court receive special treatment at airports. Unless their hosts proved travel in a private airplane, both Scalia and Thomas probably availed themselves of that special treatment in their flights to and from these Koch-sponsored events.  Private citizens do not receive this special treatment.

Doesn’t the Supreme Court issue guidelines on the out-of-court activities of its Justices?

Federal employees receive such guidelines, to reduce as much as possible both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

Common sense says:

Attendance and giving a speech at a public meeting is proper for a Supreme Court Justice, as long as that attendance is not subsidised nor paid for.

Attendance at secret meeting is proper for a Supreme Court Justice, as long as the meeting is within the premises of the Supreme Court, and includes all of the Justices.

It is not proper for a Justice of the Supreme Court to attend and speak at a secret meeting on political policy, outside of the Supreme Court, and probably without even the knowledge and assent of all of the other Justices.

Two Justices of the Supreme Court committed a serious breech of ethics, casting great doubt upon their impartiality.

You can thank the Koch conspiracy for that.


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Shout It! We Do NOT Love Donald Trump

January 23, 2016 at 8:33 pm | Posted in Conceited, Dysfunctional Politics, Presidential election, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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320x480.DonaldTrump.May2015.UpsideDown

As explained at the bottom of this post, you can comment on it to show either your agreement or your disagreement with some or all of it.

Trump is insecure. To an abnormal extent, he likes to project strong self-esteem. But the abnormal intensity of his boasting reveals that his self esteem is actually weak. His need for reassurance is why he continually claims that this group and that group loves him. Do you know anyone else who so obsessively boasts that so many groups love him?
Donald Trump, we do NOT love you.

We do not even LIKE you.

We despise Trump because he is an insecure braggart and a bully.

In Atlantic City, Trump tried to bully an elderly widow who just wanted to remain in her own home, rather than have it bulldozed to advance Trump’s plans for a casino. Trump lost. (Despite his inflated claim, Trump does not always win.) Afterwards, instead of expressing remorse and ethical growth, Trump gratuitously and falsely said that she was a nasty person.

We mistrust Trump because he believes in hype as a matter of principle.
An article (by Robert O’Harrow Jr., Alice Crites, Walter Fee) in a recent Washington Post adds detail to what we know about Trump’s spotty business history.
Besides being careless of facts, Trump overstates his assets, overstates what he can accomplish, and spins his failures – as if calling a failure a success makes it so.

As a matter of policy, Trump tells people what he knows they want to hear (voters, casino commissions), without making sure that he can back up what he says.

We despise Trump for his astoundingly incautious handling of large sums of money. Imagine what such an impulsive, feckless investor would do to the US Treasury, and to the financial standing of the US. Alexander Hamilton would have been aghast at the dangers of entrusting any significant aspect of the US economy into the hands of such a gambler and bluffer, especially given Trump’s bumpy track record in business.

We despise Trump for never acknowledging when his claims are proved to be erroneous. Trump’s disinterest in correcting the record shows that he does not care about the truth.
A striking example is his ‘birther’ claims about Obama, which he never retracted despite abundant solid disproof.

We despise Trump because he does not favor an open society, with the time and role it gives to the airing of dissenting views. Instead, Trump likes Putin’s way of doing things, and Putin likes Trump. An open society is the goal of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution: witness the separation of powers, and the Bill of Rights. Trump thinks those features are merely impediments to decisive action. As explained in a previous post, Trump’s political beliefs developed as a result of the atypical advantages he had in starting his carreer.

We despise Trump because he allows and enables Corey Lewandowski‘s totalitarian control of access – by reporters and by the public – to Trump’s speaking appearances. Lewandowski’s approach is similar to that of Putin in Russia, to Xi in China, to Kim Jong-un in North Korea: only favorable images and reports may come out. Lewandowsky stomps on freedom of speech. Perhaps for his next job, Lewandowski should interview for a job with one of the dictators named above.
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Why Trump Esteems Putin

June 30, 2015 at 11:56 am | Posted in Conceited, Enemies of Freedom, Presidential election | 2 Comments
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Trump Approves of Putin.  Image created by  thepoliblog.WordPress.com.

Trump Approves of Putin. Image created by thepoliblog.WordPress.com.

This astonishing fact appeared in an important column by Michael Gerson on Trump’s political position, and was discussed in the second half of the previous post.

The present post seeks to understand why Trump esteems Putin.

Why does Trump not see in Putin’s actions what everyone else sees?

The explanation is to be found in Trump’s job history.

“Trump began his career at his father’s real estate company”, according to Wikipedia. So he started with a strong dynastic advantage.
Trump spent almost his entire career as the unremovable top executive of a large company.
No one in his company could gainsay him.
No one in his company could contradict him.
No one in his company could refuse to do what he asked.
Despite nearly fatal business mistakes in 1989 through 1991, no one in his company could criticise him.
Only sycophants were allowed.

In his company, he became an autocrat.
He enjoyed being an autocrat. (“You’re fired!”, said he, with relish and glee. )
He eventually came to believe that autocracy was the only effective way to obtain results.

That is why Trump approves of Putin, and is unable to see how massively Putin has damaged Russia.

Conscience leads almost every autocrat to wish to believe that they are a benevolent autocrat.

Trump wants to believe that he is a benevolent autocrat.
That is why he repeatedly says “They love me!” (The emphasis is his.)
When you hear words, even if they were spoken by yourself, they activate the same neural chains that are activated by words spoken by others.
So words spoken aloud by yourself are more comforting and supportive, and they carry a whiff of objectivity and outside validation.
(That is why prayer and wishes and political slogans said aloud, either by yourself or spoken in unison in a crowd, are so much more reassuring than silent prayers or wishes or slogans.)
So Trump says again and again, emphatically, “They love me!”

Of course benevolent autocrats are rare, even among those who wish to believe that they are benevolent. Lord Acton’s insight applies: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Acton’s insight does not refer to corruption by greed, but to corruption by rationalization and by arrogance.

Picture of John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton. Created, no later than 1902, and published in the book 'Letters of Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone', published by Allen & Co.

Picture of John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton.
Created, no later than 1902, and published in the book ‘Letters of Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone’, published by Allen & Co.

Trump is the opposite of George Washington, that avid self-taught student of the history of freedom versus autocracy, who, as the first President of the US, deliberately and adamantly refused to set monarchical precedents, and who accepted the decison of Congress even when he thought it to be mistaken. Washington thereby set the most precious precedents of all.

The Lansdowne portrait of George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1796.

The Lansdowne portrait of George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1796.

Trump is a would-be President who doesn’t understand or like democracy.
He doesn’t understand the creativity and self-correction that is provided by the intellectual
crowd-sourcing that arises from the uproar that occurs in any open society.

Trump is utterly unfit to be President.

Trump’s advantaged career history also explains his other peculiarities:

Trump is arrogant. While announcing his candidacy, Trump astoundingly asserted that he would make Mexico pay for building a wall along its US border. Make? How? This is Bluster’s Last Stand.

Trump is conceited. So he feels no need to have his ideas critiqued before announcing them or acting upon them. Trump asserted that Mexico keeps its good people for itself, and “sends” its criminals and other misfits to the US. Does Trump suppose that a panel in Mexico reviews information about each of it citizens, and then issues orders to each, either stay or head north? This breathtaking idiocy is of a piece with Trump’s assertion that Putin has boosted the rest of the world’s opinion of Russia. It is also of a piece with Trump’s disastrous business decisions during the late 1980s and early 1990s, which nearly bankrupted his business and himself.

Trump is tone deaf. He has far less than the normal ability to see himself as others see him. He has lost much of his former skill in mentally mirroring others that was demonstrated by his college career. He seems to have retained only the mental mirroring skills needed for business deals.

It is sometimes asserted that sucess in business is one of the best indicators of suitability for executive office.

Trump illustrates the truth that being a business executive who lacks extensive experience in elective politics, or in another arena having frequent give-and-take between evenly matched participants, does not indicate suitability for high office. Instead it indicates unsuitability. (The same is true for military leaders.)

Trump illustrates the truth that a sense of entitlement is the root of most evil.

Trump is utterly unfit to be President.

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Was Donald Trump Born in the US?

June 25, 2015 at 12:31 pm | Posted in Conceited, Disinformation, Enemies of Freedom, Enemies of Planet Earth, Global warming, Presidential election | 2 Comments
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Trump Sr. at Citizens United Freedom Summit in Greenville South Carolina May 2015, photo by Michael Vadon.

Trump Sr. at Citizens United Freedom Summit in Greenville South Carolina May 2015, photo by Michael Vadon.

Donald Trump recently announced that he is running to become the next President.

This is the same Donald Trump who refused to accept the abundant evidence that Barack Obama was born in the US, and that Obama’s Presidency was therefore legitimate according to paragraph 5 of Section 1 of Article II of the Constitution of the United states of America.

This is the same Donald Trump who insisted that President Obama publish a validated copy of his birth certificate.

Billboard challenging the validity of Barack Obama's birth certificate. The billboard is located in South Gate, and photo was taken on November 12, 2010.

Billboard challenging the validity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate. The billboard is located in South Gate, and photo was taken on November 12, 2010.

Barack Obama's long form birth certificate, from the State of Hawaii Department of Health

Barack Obama’s long form birth certificate, from the State of Hawaii Department of Health.

This is the same Donald Trump who wasted so much of his own time and attention, and that of the public, by being the last prominent ‘birther’ to refuse to accept the abundant solid evidence about the place of Obama’s birth. This is the same Donald Trump who ensured that time and energy and newsprint and bandwidth would continue to be wasted on what was generally acknowledged to be a refuted claim.

This is the same Donald Trump who selected himself to stand in the schoolhouse door, in what everyone knew would be a futile attempt to block Obama’s path.

Is this Donald Trump eligible to be President?

Is the energy and time – his own and the public’s – that Trump expended on this silly charade, an indication of how he would allocate his attention and the nation’s resources, if he became President?

He was smart enough to know that it was a charade, wasn’t he?

If he did, then his wasting of our time and energy was so egregious that it was unpatriotic.
If he didn’t, then he is unfit to be an executive of anything.

I cannot believe that he was stupid enough to fall for the birther wishful thinking.

Therefore he had chosen self-promotion over the welfare of the country.

That is unpatriotic enough to make us wonder, was Donald Trump born in the USA?

At Trump’s every campaign appearance, demand to see his birth certificate.

Demand that he publish a certified copy.

—————————————–Trump’s Approval of Putin

Michael Gerson recently reviewed lesser known aspects of Trump’s political history.

The review contained a bombshell: Donald Trump’s approval of Putin, the most destructive tyrant of Russia since Stalin. Gerson’s column says of Trump:

The defects of democracy, in this view, are remedied by the strongman. It is not a coincidence that Trump expresses admiration for Vladimir Putin. “He’s doing a great job,” says Trump, “in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia, period.”

Official portrait of Vladimir Putin (2006). This file comes from the website of the President of the Russian Federation and is copyrighted.

Official portrait of Vladimir Putin (2006). This file comes from the website of the President of the Russian Federation and is copyrighted.

Putin: the person who derailed Russia’s transition to becoming a fair and open society, governed by the rule of law, instead of by the convenience of a mafia.

Putin: the mugger who robbed Crimea from Ukraine because Ukraine had overturned Putin’s protogee Viktor Yanukovych. Putin: who subsequently manufactured a surprisingly well equipped military separatist movement in eastern Ukraine that has triggered a new cold war.

Somehow Trump forgot to mention his admiration of Putin while announcing his candidacy.

After all, the voters deserve to know about each candidate’s role models.

Is someone who approves of Putin fit to be President?

At Trump’s every campaign appearance, ask him about his approval of Putin.

At every interview, ask Trump about his approval of Putin.

Donald Trump:

320x480.DonaldTrump.May2015.UpsideDown

A birther, who wasted everyone’s time by pretending that a dead issue was still alive, solely to draw attention to himself.

An admirer of Vladimir Putin’s approach to governing.

This post can be summarized in three words: Trump Tramples Truth!

Your comments are welcome.
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Sex and Food as Meditation

June 6, 2015 at 9:12 pm | Posted in Practical tips | 2 Comments
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Chocolate, taken or created by Fir0002, and uploaded by Shizhao.

Chocolate, taken or created by Fir0002, and uploaded by Shizhao.

As you know, chocolate is one of the major food groups, and constitutes the wide base of the food pyramid, upon which all of the other food groups rest.

What does that have to do with meditation and sex?

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Brigid Schulte interviewed Sally Lazar about recent research that shows how meditation produces beneficial changes in the brain. This finding of benefits is not based merely on people’s reports on how they were affected, but also on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). (See the video clip in the online article.)

Sex has much in common with meditation.

Notably, both aim for intense concentration on particular sensations, temporarily shutting out the distracting signals from everything else. In sex, the sensations that are key for satisfying the urge are the pleasurable sensations from your own body, along with the signals of your partner’s pleasure and excitement. Without exclusive focus on those two ingredients, release will not occur.

Mindful eating is similar. It is single-minded concentration on how good something tastes.

If sex, mindful eating and meditation have so much overlap, might frequent sex and mindful eating produce the same benefits as meditation?

Answering that question would benefit society, as well as being enjoyable. Even the research to answer the question would be enjoyable. Is anyone looking for a research project?

Meditation that is regular enough, and of long enough duration, produces substantial benefits. If good sex and good food count as meditation, then without knowing it, you might already be part way to meditating enough.

Chocolate is created from the cocoa bean. A cacao tree with fruit pods in various stages of ripening.  Photo by Medicaster.

Chocolate is created from the cocoa bean. A cacao tree with fruit pods in various stages of ripening. Photo by Medicaster.

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June 4: Tiananmen Square Day

June 3, 2015 at 12:29 pm | Posted in Abuse of Office, Disinformation, Enemies of Freedom, Fairness, Judicial Injustice | Leave a comment
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A drafting board with a T-Square and triangle. Photo by Michael Holley, October 24, 2012.

A drafting board with a T-Square and triangle. Photo by Michael Holley, October 24, 2012.

June 4 is Tiananmen Square Day: T-square Day

An emblem for Tiananmen Square Day.  Created by thepoliblog.WordPress.com

An emblem for Tiananmen Square Day. Created by thepoliblog.WordPress.com

Two previous posts (here and here) on this blog have marked the anniversaries of the massacres in Beijing and Chengdu on and after June 4, 1989. It is that time of year again.

Tiananmen Square Day honors those who believed in the rule of law.

The demonstrators in Beijing and Chengdu thought that the government of China would adhere to its own written laws. They thought that laws exist to benefit and protect the people, not just to benefit and protect the powerful – those who have appointed themselves to rule the country. The demonstrators’ concept was correct, but their prediction was wrong.

The government of China claims to observe the rule of law. But that is a sham. Laws in China are written or are re-interpreted according to the whims and interests of the powerful. In China today, the mafia is in control.

Recent items (here, here, and here) in the Washington Post underscore the arbitrary way in which the laws are invoked, and the impunity with which they are twisted.

Besides stunting Chinese society, besides the unfairness to individuals and communities, this looseness with fact and law could lead to international conflict. The unilateral reinterpretation of territorial claims in the waters around south east and eastern Asia are a recent example.

In discussing this and other government actions, it is essential to distinguish between the government of China, and China and the Chinese people. To say and write ‘the government of China’ takes more time and space than to say and to write ‘China’, but the distinction is so important that it is worth the extra time and space. Never insult an injured people by confusing them with their oppressors.

Tiananmen Square Day honors the rule of law, while demonstrating that the rule of law cannot exist without the separation of powers.

The separation of powers is the only way for the administrators, the legislators and the judiciary of any polity to be independent enough to monitor one another, and to limit each other’s abuse of power. The tendency to abuse power is inherent in human nature. Even people of good will cannot resist the temptation to abuse power. We are excellent rationalizers, so we easily trick ourselves. The trajectory of the French Revolution is a perfect example.

Black was the color chosen by the demonstrators in Beijing and in Chengdu. Wear something black on Tianenmen Square Day. If you need to be inconspicuous, wear black shoes, or a belt, or a tie, or a scarf or a purse.

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Squirrels: Frenzied, But Not Teething

March 22, 2015 at 10:53 am | Posted in Brain and mind | 3 Comments
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An Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in St James's Park, London, England.  Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0 .

An Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in St James’s Park, London, England. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0 .

A previous post asked for an explanation of a puzzling frenzy that squirrels exhibit each Spring and Fall. Thin new twigs of trees rain down upon the ground. Each twig has been bitten off by a squirrel, who then apparently immediately drops it without even nibbling it. Since there is a new crop of baby squirrels each Spring and Fall, the post had hypothesized that this vandalism was committed by teething baby squirrels. It asked observant readers to post as comments anything they observed that confirmed or refuted that hypothesis, and also to post any explanations that they knew of, or alternative hypotheses.

Twigs that had been chewed off by squirrels and unceremoniously dropped.  Photo by thepoliblog.WordPress.com.

Twigs that had been chewed off by squirrels and unceremoniously dropped. Photo by thepoliblog.WordPress.com.

The Spring frenzy started up at our house about two weeks ago, and it provides a partial answer.

There are no baby squirrels yet. So the rain of bitten-off but uneaten twigs cannot be due to the teething of baby squirrels. It is due to bezerk adults.

But what drives the adult squirrels into this frenzy?

In the Spring, all of the bitten-off twigs are new, and bear clusters of buds. But the frenzy is not due to squirrels being tickled or startled by the new twigs, because there are no new twigs during the Fall frenzy.

Are the twigs bitten off as a metaphorical chest-thumping by horny male squirrels?

Are they bitten off only by pregnant squirrels?

The twigs are not bitten off for nest-building, because the bitten-off twigs are all allowed to fall to the ground, where they are allowed to remain indefinitely.

Spring Break doesn’t seem to be a likely explanation, unless squirrels also have a Fall Break.
This explanation is additionally implausible because beer pong is considered to be beneath the dignity and intelligence of any squirrel.

The relevant Wikipedia article states that, ” To sharpen their teeth, squirrels will often chew on tree branches or even the occasional live power line.” Is that why they are biting off the new twigs? No, because if they were doing it to sharpen their teeth, they would not also do it in the Fall, I think.
If you spot a potential answer to this mystery, please post it as a comment below.

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Luanne Castle’s new book of Poetry: Doll God

January 24, 2015 at 3:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Golden laurel wreath, probably from Cyprus, 4th/3rd century BC; Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim, Germany, photographed by Andreas Praefcke in April, 2007.

Golden laurel wreath, probably from Cyprus, 4th/3rd century BC; Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim, Germany, photographed by Andreas Praefcke in April, 2007.

Luanne Castle, whose very popular blog is at http://writersite.org , has just published a book of poetry, Doll God.

Here is the review I posted on Amazon.

Trajectories:
The changing feelings and conditions
Of a person,
Of two people,
Of an animal,
Of an object,
Over an hour or a lifetime,
Each captured in a concise slide-show,
Each snap-shot taken
With empathy
And insight.

=

=

Not included in that review were lines that particularly struck me.

‘Calculating Loss’ (on p.51) included the wise observation,
“Every day the world subtracts from itself and nothing
is immune”.

‘Between the Art and the Muse’ (p.17) contains the phrase
“… yearning
out the window to his rightfulness”. Replace ‘his’ by ‘her’ when appropriate, and you have a phrase that captures the innermost thought of everyone who has experienced unrequited love.

=

=

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Violent Video Games, Horror Movies, Distressing Literature, Scary Rides at Amusement Parks

January 14, 2015 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Brain and mind, Practical tips | 2 Comments
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Female disguised as a Vampire, taken at E3 Trade show, 12 May 2000, by Carniphage.

Female disguised as a Vampire, taken at E3 Trade show, 12 May 2000, by Carniphage.

The previous post showed why performing gangsta rap, or listening to it, might raise blood pressure, and might boost the amount of stress hormones circulating in the blood. It also pointed out that we could and should test whether those damaging effects actually occur.

This post points out that the same damaging effects could result from playing violent video games, or from watching horror movies, or from reading distressing literature, or from taking scary rides at amusement parks.

Agrianian peltast. He holds three javelins, one in his throwing hand and two in his pelte hand as additional ammunition. Agrianian Peltast by Johnny Shumate For more information about illustrations, email shumate_j@bellsouth.net

Agrianian peltast. He holds three javelins, one in his throwing hand and two in his pelte hand as additional ammunition.
Agrianian Peltast by Johnny Shumate For more information about illustrations, email shumate_j@bellsouth.net

Battle for Sarajevo in 1878, as depicted by G. Durand (1800-1899) in The Graphic (a London newspaper).

Battle for Sarajevo in 1878, as depicted by G. Durand (1800-1899) in The Graphic (a London newspaper).

In a violent video game, you stalk, and are stalked, all the time. Extreme alertness is demanded. Paranoia is essential. Paradoxically, your intense focus produces a state whose single mindedness is akin to that in meditation. But every change is sudden, and threatening, which block the usual beneficial effects of meditation. Instead, your pulse races, you have an adrenalin high, you itch to use your weapon.

What is your blood pressure all the while? Which stress hormones are boosted, by how much, and for how long?

Studio publicity still of Alfred Hitchcock.

Studio publicity still of Alfred Hitchcock.

A movie by Alfred Hitchcock, or any other horror movie, also produces a sense of being stalked, except that here you are being stalked vicariously, through your temporary avatar, who is first one, and later another, of the victims in the movie.

Jean Valjean, drawn by Gustave Brion (1824-1877) to illustrate Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables.

Jean Valjean, drawn by Gustave Brion (1824-1877) to illustrate Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables.

The same is true in distressing literature, low or high, and in tragic opera. While you are reading or viewing Les Miserables, one of your avatars is Jean Valjean, except when it temporarily becomes Fantine, and then a person fighting at the barricades. Each temporarily becomes your avatar, regardless of whether their sex coincides with yours or not.

To your mind, it feels as if you are actually experiencing the fictional events that befall each of those avatars. It feels like an experience, because you are mentally mirroring first one temporary avatar, and then another. As described in previous posts, mental mirroring evolved early, because it is so useful for telling an animal what to do next. Birds do it. Possibly fish do it. Mental mirroring is easily mistaken for a reflexive response, but is based instead on an animal’s real-time attempted simulation of the mental world of another individual, who may be real (another animal) or imagined (a storm, something that tripped you, a god). Mammals do it well, to the point where some can feel empathy for other individuals of their own or different species. Humans have developed mental mirroring so highly that mental mirroring has led to science, art, philosophy, and religion, as described in those previous posts. We will inevitably eventually build mental mirroring into future robots that are designed to function autonomously.

Because of mental mirroring, the harrowing experiences of each of your temporary avatars become your own, and can raise your blood pressure, and can saturate you with stress hormones.

Steel Force and Thunderhawk at Dorney Park in Allentown, PA. Photo by Ryan Painter.

Steel Force and Thunderhawk at Dorney Park in Allentown, PA. Photo by Ryan Painter.

Roller coasters and boats on rivers through haunted caves act in different ways. On a roller coaster you are awash in adrenalin. The outside world becomes a confusing blur, so there is no heightened alertness to the external world, as would occur in a violent video game. But you do become intently focused on your internal state, alert to every uneasiness in the pit of your stomach, and to every hint of dizziness. But blood pressure and stress hormones both increase. On a boat inside a haunted cave the effects are much like those in a scary movie. So both blood pressure and stress hormones increase here, too.

So all of the activities discussed in this post could increase blood pressure and stress hormones, just as gangsta rap probably does.

If so, there would still be substantial eventual damage. The damage would first become manifest years from now.

The activities discussed in this post are much less frequent than is listening to gangsta rap, or to performing it. But since the potential cumulative damage is still severe, it would still be important to test by measurement, for each of the activities discussed in this and the previous post, whether blood pressure and stress hormones increase during that activity. The expectation that they increase might turn out to be incorrect. If increases do occur, they might turn out to be much smaller than expected, because each of these activities is voluntary rather than imposed. But we need to find out, as individuals and as a society.

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Gangsta Rap Music, Blood Pressure, and Stress Hormones

January 12, 2015 at 9:32 pm | Posted in Practical tips | 1 Comment
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Ice-T during the Body Count concert. Prague, August 2006, photographed by Mohylek.

Ice-T during the Body Count concert. Prague, August 2006, photographed by Mohylek.

Rap music features intense rhythm and rhyme. It is a contemporary form of poetry.

The popularity of rap shows that some forms of poetry have not lost their power to move us.

Rythm and rhyme. In poetry, the words are dancing. And you are dancing with the words.

Contra dance sets, seen from the balcony of the town house of Peterborough, New Hampshire. Courtesy of J. Peidle. The original source page is http://www.neffa.org/invite.shtml

Contra dance sets, seen from the balcony of the town house of Peterborough, New Hampshire. Courtesy of J. Peidle. The original source page is http://www.neffa.org/invite.shtml

That is why poetry can affect us so strongly.

But rap music, especially gangsta rap, possesses two distinctive features that other poetry does not.

The first distinctive feature is that in all rap the words are uttered as rapidly as possible. Rap becomes two simultaneous athletic games of skill, one for the rapper, and one for the listener. The rapper is challenged to utter the words as rapidly as possible, and the listener is challenged to understand them as they whiz by. Both the rapper and the listener experience stress from this. But they also derive a glow of elation when they rise to their respective challenges.

The second distinctive feature is that gangsta rap is aggressive and aggrieved, in both tone and topic.

Both of these distinctive features probably raise the blood pressure of both the listeners and the performers. More generally, these distinctive features probably make stress hormones more abundant in the blood.

Automatic brachial sphygmomanometer showing grade 2 arterial hypertension (systolic blood pressure 158 mmHg, diastolic blood pressure 99 mmHg). Heart rate shown is 80 beats per minute.  Photographed 4 February 2009 by Steven Fruitsmaak.

Automatic brachial sphygmomanometer showing grade 2 arterial hypertension (systolic blood pressure 158 mmHg, diastolic blood pressure 99 mmHg). Heart rate shown is 80 beats per minute. Photographed 4 February 2009 by Steven Fruitsmaak.

Prolonged high blood pressure does damage. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones does damage (see here, herehere, and here). Performing or listening to rap for an hour would increase both blood pressure and the production of stress chemicals for at least an hour.

We may be facing a deluge of excess strokes, heart attacks and other severe health problems, beginning about 30 years from now. That would produce enormous unnecessary personal, social and economic pain.

The effect of gangsta rap on the blood pressure and blood chemistry can be tested, and should be, for both listeners and performers. How large are the changes, and how long do they last?

Doctors and researchers in physiology could make the maesurements. But the measurements would also make an enjoyable and useful science fair project.

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