Sunday Sundry edition. Please remember that you can now access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.
Some 10,000 people marched through downtown Los Angeles supporting union workers in Wisconsin in what protesters have dubbed, “Solidarity Saturday.”Wisconsin passed a law stripping public employee unions of collective bargaining rights and local protesters say it could happen in Southern California.
Union members and their allies gathered at the Los Angeles Convention Center and marched onward to Pershing Square in hopes of sending out a message that collective bargaining rights cannot be taken away from unions.
The Palin bite had gone. The Palin buzz has gone. Sarah Palin is over, so over.
How over? A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that her approval ratings among committed Republicans in the U.S. had faded dramatically since previously measured last October. In fact, her “strongly unfavourable” rating has skyrocketed among Republicans. In recent political commentary in the U.S., the talk is of her presidential bid “imploding.”
It was television that destroyed Sarah Palin, just as it made her. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again – the arrival of Palin as a major political figure in 2008 was an emanation of the reality-TV culture, anchored in the belief that ordinary or “everyday” people, inarticulate though they may be, and with all the baggage of messy personal lives, are truly compelling public figures. Palin was the political equivalent. A figure who refracts national identity as it is shaped by the culture’s most powerful medium. Authentic, populist and dismissive of sophistication in thought and action.
Then, television duly destroyed the Palin authenticity. The arc of her national political career began with a defining speech at the Republican National Convention in September, 2008, and ended in November, 2010, a few episodes into Sarah Palin’s Alaska. The show, a cringingly inevitable reality-TV series, gave her a huge platform and she blew it. If her exposure on TV in 2008 brought out the authenticity, the show brought out Palin’s inner princess. She talked about being a mom 87 times an episode (I’m exaggerating , but only a little) and made dubious attempts to make political parables linking her family, the outdoors and wildlife. It was ego unbounded. And this after quitting her job as governor of Alaska.
The series had many memorable moments and scenes, but what lingered – and obviously had an impact on Republicans – was the unsubtle undermining of Palin’s assertion that she and her family are “normal, average Americans.” A salmon-fishing trip for the kids involved using a private bush plane to fly to a remote wilderness lake. Palin asserted that such a trip is “an everyday thing” in Alaska, yet any fool watching at home knew the cost had to be in the many thousands. A mountain-climbing trip to Mount McKinley was presented as a trip in the family RV, yet viewers were gobsmacked to find that the vehicle was more like those giant, luxury tour buses used by rock bands.
Television is not kind to blatant hubris and hypocrisy and the series amounted to an epic failure to enhance Palin’s status as the genuine voice of authentic America. Television is flow, not content, and in politics, TV is not a problem to be managed but an instrument to be played. (Marshall McLuhan told us so and it is true.) The flow of Sarah Palin’s Alaska amounted to a river of platitudes and patently insincere assertions. Palin failed to play television as an instrument.
The medium that gave her exposure and heft as a figure representing everyday reality, and ordinary people’s views, finally diminished her fatally. After succumbing to the temptations of a reality-TV series, Palin was exposed as overexposed. The other week, while on Fox News attacking Kathy Griffin, she had all the political heft of some batty lady calling into the phone-in radio show from remote Alaska and braying about things that made sense only in her own head. The presence, the charisma were gone.
Palin arrived as a creature of TV and the medium has eaten her up. Never mind the primaries and U.S. presidential election in 2012. The political obituary can be written now.
[I Knew It:] This year was a good year for Neanderthals.
Yes, they did go extinct about 30,000 years ago, but scientists now say their genes live on — in us.
Scientists also found a 40,000-year-old finger in a Siberian cave that apparently belonged to an unknown human-like creature. And hair from the corpse of a 4,000-year-old hunter revealed his blood type and a predisposition for baldness.
What made these discoveries possible was DNA, which is becoming biological science’s window into the past.
Take the Neanderthals, for example. They were the closest cousins on our family tree until they died out about 30,000 years ago. But were they kissing cousins? Did they exchange genes with us? Scientists wondered.
This year a team of scientists brought together by the Max Planck Institute in Germany actually decoded the billions of DNA segments extracted from Neanderthal bones. It was the culmination of years of research into retrieving intact, ancient DNA from the bones of humans and their ancestors.
A Bit Of Neanderthal In Us All
And what they found was as worthy of a supermarket tabloid as a scientific journal. The Neanderthal genetic code was closer to Europeans and Asians than Africans. If we had never mated with them, their genes should have been equally different from all humans.
So what does that mean for us? “We estimate that about one to four percent of the genetic ancestry of non-Africans is from Neanderthals,” says David Reich, a geneticist from Harvard University and a member of the research team. Apparently, though, having some Neanderthal in us isn’t a handicap.
And the DNA revealed not just similarities but also genetic differences between Neanderthals and us, especially things that may explain how we adapted and survived better than they did.
‘More Surprises Around The Corner’
Ancient DNA does have its limits. Heat, microbes and water destroy it. So the raw material — bones, teeth and hair — are best preserved in very cold climates.
But geneticist Terry Brown of the University of Manchester in England says that still leaves a lot of fossilized territory to explore. He says the more DNA scientists get, the more complex the human story will become. “I suspect that there are going to be more surprises around the corner,” says Brown. “If there are other bones we can get DNA from, then I think it’s possible we might find a greater variation amongst our earlier ancestors than we previously realized.”
And perhaps more clues to those things that gave us the human edge.
What causes bad moods? Why do we sometimes slip into angry fits and melancholy torpors? In general, happy moods have easy explanations – we know why we’re elated. But a bad mood often seems to arrive out of the blue, a gloomy weather pattern that settles in from everywhere all at once. All of a sudden, we find ourselves pissed off without a good reason, which only makes us more pissed off.
The standard theory of bad moods is rooted in a psychological quirk known as ego depletion. Pioneered by Roy Baumeister and Mark Muraven in the 1990s, the basic idea behind ego depletion is that self-control and willpower are limited cognitive resources. As a result, when we overexert ourselves in one domain – say, when we’re on a strict diet, or focused on a difficult task for hours at work – we have fewer resources left over to exert self-control in other domains. This helps explain why, after a long day at the office, we’re more likely to indulge in a pint of ice cream, or eat one too many slices of pizza. A tired brain, preoccupied with its problems, is going to struggle to resist what it wants, even when what it wants isn’t what we need.
A bad mood is no different. When we push our mind too hard, asking it to refrain from carbs and cigarettes, we struggle to avoid the negative thoughts and emotions that lead to sour moods. Consider this 2007 study: The scientists told subjects to refrain from eating a tempting chocolate donut for a few minutes. Then, they insulted these poor (and probably hungry) experimental volunteers. Not surprisingly, those who had successfully resisted the donut were more likely to get aggressive in response to the insult. Or look at the medical literature, in which people on diets are typically “irritable and aggressive.” (This is the so-called cranky dieter effect.) Although we’d like to be happy and polite, those positive moods take cognitive work, and our brain is too tired to care. We lose our temper because we lack the willpower to swallow our angry words.
A brand new paper, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, extends this link between self-control and anger, even as it complicates the ego-depletion model. In a series of clever studies, the Northwestern psychologists David Gal and Wendy Liu demonstrate that the exertion of self-control doesn’t just make it harder for us to contain our own anger – it also make us more interested in watching anger-themed movies, or thinking about anger-related information, or looking an angry facial expressions. In other words, acts of self-control haven’t just exhausted the ego – they actually seem to have pissed it off.
My favorite experiment involved movies. Two hundred and thirty nine subjects were given a choice between a virtuous apple and a hedonistic chocolate bar. (A slim majority chose the apple.) Then, they were offered a selection of movies to watch, from Anger Management (an anger themed film) to Billy Madison (a non-anger themed film.) Interestingly, students were significantly more likely to choose the angry films if they’d first chosen the apple. And it wasn’t just films: another experiment found that people who exercised financial restraint – they chose a gift certificate for groceries over one for spa services – were more interested in looking at angry faces.
What’s driving this effect? Gal and Liu argue that the preference for angry stuff is not simply a result of ego depletion. Instead, they speculate that self-control is inherently aggravating. Perhaps choosing the apple annoys us because our goals have been thwarted – we really wanted the candy bar – or maybe we’re pissed because we feel that our sense of autonomy has been diminished. (If we weren’t so constrained by societal norms and expectations, we would have gorged on chocolate.) The point is that the labor of self-control directly inspires our tendency towards anger, and not indirectly via a worn down prefrontal cortex.
So the next time you decide to resist some treat, be it a day at the spa or a pint of Haagen-Dazs, be sure to keep a few cognitive resources in reserve. You’ll need them to keep the urges of anger at bay.
Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.
Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.
The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.
Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.
New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed.
This is my last column for The New York Times after an exhilarating, nearly 18-year run. I’m off to write a book and expand my efforts on behalf of working people, the poor and others who are struggling in our society. My thanks to all the readers who have been so kind to me over the years. I can be reached going forward at bobh...@gmail.com.
A favorite pastime of Internet users is to share their location: services like Google Latitude can inform friends when you are nearby; another, Foursquare, has turned reporting these updates into a game.But as a German Green party politician, Malte Spitz, recently learned, we are already continually being tracked whether we volunteer to be or not. Cellphone companies do not typically divulge how much information they collect, so Mr. Spitz went to court to find out exactly what his cellphone company, Deutsche Telekom, knew about his whereabouts.
The results were astounding. In a six-month period — from Aug 31, 2009, to Feb. 28, 2010, Deutsche Telekom had recorded and saved his longitude and latitude coordinates more than 35,000 times. It traced him from a train on the way to Erlangen at the start through to that last night, when he was home in Berlin.
Mr. Spitz has provided a rare glimpse — an unprecedented one, privacy experts say — of what is being collected as we walk around with our phones. Unlike many online services and Web sites that must send “cookies” to a user’s computer to try to link its traffic to a specific person, cellphone companies simply have to sit back and hit “record.”
“We are all walking around with little tags, and our tag has a phone number associated with it, who we called and what we do with the phone,” said Sarah E. Williams, an expert on graphic information at Columbia University’s architecture school. “We don’t even know we are giving up that data.”
Tracking a customer’s whereabouts is part and parcel of what phone companies do for a living. Every seven seconds or so, the phone company of someone with a working cellphone is determining the nearest tower, so as to most efficiently route calls. And for billing reasons, they track where the call is coming from and how long it has lasted.
“At any given instant, a cell company has to know where you are; it is constantly registering with the tower with the strongest signal,” said Matthew Blaze, a professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania who has testified before Congress on the issue.
It goes without saying that these are not like today’s mug shots. For one, because unlike today’s criminals, many of these people had never before been photographed. Posing for a portrait was kind of a big deal.
There’s also the medium: These mug shots are actually 4-by-6-inch glass plate negatives. (Think huge camera with black hood and accordion body.) Today that format is used by fine art photographers who appreciate its tonal depth, texture and balance, and also its moodiness. Back then, though, this was forensics.
Nancy Cowman, 19, and Vera Crichton, 23, are listed in the NSW Police Gazette in 1924 as charged, along with three others, with “conspiring together to procure a miscarriage” on a third woman.
Take a look at one of Alain Delorme’s pictures of migrant workers toting massive piles of things around Shanghai, and I guarantee you’ll do a double-take, or at least stare dumbly for a minute trying to figure out what the heck is going on. What in the what? Is that even possible? The above photo is nothing compared to the slide show.
This is some site!: Bangable Dudes In History
Staff at St Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital in Buckinghamshire have made a little jumper to keep a spineless hedgehog warm. The animal was found by a member of the public in a garden in Bedford and has been named Spudlina by staff as her skin resembles that of a potato. The two year old is undergoing various tests to determine the cause of the loss of her spines and she is currently enjoying regular skin massages with a Vitamin E moisturiser.
Proud Mama of a Bouncing Baby Otter
[The best photos I’ve seen.] Dame Elizabeth Taylor 1932 – 2011
On March 23, one of the all time Hollywood greats died. Dame Elizabeth Taylor passed away at the age of 79 at Cedar Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Elizabeth Taylor starred in such classic movies as Giant, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf and her crowning glory Cleopatra. During her acting career she was nominated for an Oscar 5 times and won two of the golden statues. During and after her active acting career she used her fame (and fortune) to support countless causes and charities. May Dame Elizabeth rest in peace.
At the time of her 1994 divorce from her last husband, Larry Fortensky, Taylor’s net worth was estimated at $608.4 million. That figure could now be well in excess of $1 billion.
For Want Of A Comma [I had to read it carefully.]
Area 51 – Southern Nevada
A final ode to winter: SNOWMOTION
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody,