Links 1/27/11

Scientists Successfully Use Sedation to Help Disentangle North Atlantic Right Whale Science Daily (hat tip reader furzy mouse)

Common weed petty spurge ‘could treat’ skin cancer BBC

Self-control in kids predicts future success, study says Chicago Tribune

Racial stereotyping found in US death certificates PhysOrg

Memories take hold better during sleep Cosmos (hat tip reader May S)

Abortion Doesn’t Increase Mental Health Risk, But Having A Baby Does Hufffington Post (hat tip reader jj)

Does a narrow social elite run the country? BBC (hat tip reader May S). They need to ask?

President Obama: “We do big things” William Black

The NYT Melts the Right’s Anti-Labor Snow Job Ryan Chittum, Columbia Journalism Review

Obama’s State of the Union Was Tantamount to Plagiarism US News (hat tip reader Tom F)

How China’s local government rig land-use game MarketWatch

Goldman president warns on bank rules Financial Times. Lame but predictable. “If you regulate us, then those hedgies will get to have all the fun!” Fine, then just make sure no hedgie can get financing from an entity with a state guarantee.

Why our Sputnik moment will fall shortRobert Reich, Financial Times

A Reservist in a New War, Against Foreclosure New York Times

Foreclosure flood spreads beyond hardest hit markets: RealtyTrac HousingWire

Alison Snow Jones Steve Waldman

Antidote du jour:

Screen shot 2011-01-27 at 3.46.03 AM

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  1. AR

    Re: Self-control

    Everything about industrial civilization breeds self-indulgence, ergo our civilization, undoubtedly the product of millenia of self-discipline and cooperation, is now crumbling into an ugly cacaphony of spiteful, selfish, warring, undisciplined over-consumers. All of advertising promotes those traits that destroy the human capacity for empathy or care for the future consequences of our present indulgence.

    The article linked in yesterday’s links comment section ‘We the Spiteful’ by Mark Ames, combined with the self-control study pretty much explains our predicament. We are encouraged to revert to two-year-olds, so that we may be manipulated by those who purvey consumer products designed to interact with the dopamine addiction pathways in our brains. 2 million years of human evolution is considered worthy only for the way in which it can be exploited for financial gain.

    1. aet

      “…our civilization, undoubtedly the product of millenia of self-discipline and cooperation…”

      Perhaps you should read history more closely, and with greater attention to details.

      Competition and conflict between and within groups plays as great a role; as does the attempt by people to fulfill their desires, or the desire for gratification of desires.

      Self-discipline, co-operation, self-gratification, competition and conflict all play their role in our civilization, and its attainment, and its progress.

      1. DownSouth


        I am in total agreement.

        There are so many things wrong with the Ames article (which by the way wasn’t in yesterday’s “Links” but was a link provided by ScottS here )that one hardly knows where to start.

        However, since we saw such explicit manifestations of anti-Muslim/Arab racism in the comments of David, Dan Duncan and call me ahab on this this thread yesterday, which I immediately called out, let me do the same with Ames’ equally anti-American racism.

        Here’s Ames:

        Why don’t voters vote rationally, the way we were taught in grade school civics classes?


        I realized something obvious when I pulled back from all that research and looked at the Kerry-Bush race: malice and spite are as American as baseball and apple pie. But it’s never admitted into our romantic, naïve, sentimental understanding of who Americans really are, and what their lives are really like.

        If the left wants to understand American voters, it needs to once and for all stop sentimentalizing them as inherently decent, well-meaning people being duped by a tiny cabal of evil oligarchs—because the awful truth is that they’re mean, spiteful jerks being duped by a tiny cabal of evil oligarchs. The left’s naïve, sentimental, middle-class view of “the people” blinds them to all of the malice and spite that is a major premise of Middle American life.


        …when getting too close to facing the awful possibility that maybe a lot of Americans are just contemptible jerks…

        As you point out, aet, irrationality, malice and spite, a rosy perception of self or one’s own group and the demonization of “the other” have nothing to do with being American, or on the flip side with “the arab [sic] culture and tribalism,” as David put it on yesterday’s thread. What they do have to do with is being human.

        Theologians and philosophers have known for a long time that the notion of a rational human being that lies at the heart of liberalism (as well as its offspring classical liberal economic theory) is a gross oversimplification and a partial truth.

        Science began figuring it out around the turn of the century. Perhaps it was Freud who first clocked in on the fact that human beings are more emotionally driven than rationally driven. As Chris Hedges points out in this lecture, the government and Madison Avenue were quick to exploit this in their propaganda and advertising campaigns.

        Now, many more scientists are now waking up to the complexity of human nature. Two must-read books in this regard are The Happiness Hypothesis by the evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt and Moral Sentiments and Material Interests edited by Herbert Gintis et al (which includes an essay co-authored by sometime NC poster Rajiv Sethi).

        But more important than having this knowledge is what we do with it. Here’s how Martin Luther King put it:

        Man has the capacity to be good, man has the capacity to be evil.

        And so the nonviolent resister never lets this idea go, that there is something within human nature that can respond to goodness. So that a Jesus of Nazareth or a Mohandas Gandhi, can appeal to human beings and appeal to that element of goodness within them, and a Hitler can appeal to the element of evil within them.
        –Martin Luther King, Jr., “Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience,” New South, December, 1961

        Just to illustrate how complex human nature is, as opposed to the simplistic “us vs. them” narrative that underpins racist ideologies, I highly recommend VBS.TV’s documentary “The Taliban in Pakistan.” Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 here. It goes a long way to debunk the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism that is now so prevalent in the United States.

          1. DownSouth

            Not at all.

            I believe it is Robert Hughes, in his book Culture of Complaint: A Passionate Look into the Ailing Heart of America, that hits closest to what is going on in America. Ames hits wide of the mark.

            The current act on the American stage has as its backdrop the 1960s and the rewriting of history. As Hughes explains:

            The reading of history is never static. Revise we historians must. There is no such thing as the last word. And who could doubt there is still much to revise in the story of the European conquest of North and South America that we inherited? Its scheme was imperial: the epic advance of Civilization against Barbarism: the conquistador brings the Cross and the sword, the red man shrinks back before the cavalry and the railroad. Manifest Destiny. The white American myth of the 19th century. The notion that all historians propagated this triumphalist myth uncritically is quite false: you have only to read Parkman or Prescott to realize that. But after the myth sand from the histories deep into popular culture, it became a potent justification for the plunder, murder and enslavement of peoples, and the wreckage of nature.

            So now, in reaction to it, comes the manufacture of its opposite myth. European man, once the hero of the conquest of the Americas, now becomes its demon; and the victims, who cannot be brought back to life, are canonized. On either side of the divide between Euro and native, historians stand ready with tar-brush and gold leaf, and instead of the wicked old stereotypes we have a whole new outfit of equally misleading ones…

            The new stereotype, a rebirth of Rousseauist notions about the Noble Savage, brings a new outfit of double standards into play. Thus the Taino of Puerto Rico become innocent creatures living in a state of classless nature, like hippies in Vermont when Kirkpatrick Sale and I were young, whereas in fact they like to be carried around in litters by their slaves. If only the people of the Americas, from Patagonia to the Great Lakes, ha not been conquered by the Europeans, would they not still be in bliss? Are we not so much worse than they?

            A great divide has opened up in America between the defenders of the old myth and the apostles of the new. Here’s Hughes again:

            Somewhere along the line the obvious fact that rap and hip-hop are not the agents of a desired or feared apocalypse, that they are just another entertainment fashion, gets lost. And it is lost because one side needs the other, so that each can inflate its agenda into a chiliastic battle for the soul of America. Radical academic and cultural conservative are now locked in a full-blown, mutually sustaining folie à deux, and the only person each dislikes more than the other is the one who tells both to lighten up.

            In The Power of Nightmares Adam Curtis does a great job of explaining how and why this chiliastic battle has gone international, with Islamist radicals on one side and neoconservatives on the other. Here’s what Hughes had to say about it:

            If white Americans still have difficulty seeing blacks, what of Arabs? Like everyone else, I watched the Gulf War on television, read about it in the press, and saw how that conflict brought to an ugly climax America’s long-implanted habit of hostile ignorance about the Arab world, past and present. Rarely did one get an indication from the media, let alone from politicians, that the realities of Islamic culture (both past and present) were anything other than a history of fanaticism. Instead, a succession of pundits came forth to assure the public that Arabs were basically a bunch of volatile religious maniacs, hostage-takers, sons of thornbush and dune whose whole past disposed them against intercourse with more civilized states. Modern Islamic fundamentalism filled the screen with screaming mouths and waving arms; of the Islamic past—-let alone present-day Arab dissent from fundamentalist xenophobia and militarism—-one heard much less. It was as though Americans were being fed an amplified, undated version of the views on Islam held by Ferdinand and Isabella in the 15th century. The core message was that Arabs were not just uncivilized, but uncivilizable.

            Hughes believes the hysteria has been exacerbated by the fact that we have shifted from a focus on the written to a focus on the oral. In the popular culture there has been a “reduced ability to read texts, sift information and analyze ideas” in favor of oral utterances, rhetoric and narrative. Here’s Hughes again:

            For when the 1960s’ animus against elitism entered American education, it brought in its train an enormous and cynical tolerance of student ignorance, rationalized as a regard for “personal expression” and “self-esteem.” Rather than “stress” the kids by asking them to read too much or think too closely, which might cause their fragile personalities to implode on contact with college-level demands, schools reduced their reading assignments, thus automatically reducing their command of language. Untrained in logical analysis, ill-equipped to develop and construct formal arguments about issues, unused to mining texts for deposits of factual material, the students fell back to the only position they could truly call their own: what they felt about things. When feelings and attitudes are the main referents of argument, to attack any position is automatically to insult its holder, or even to assail his or her perceived “rights”; every argumentum becomes ad hominem, approaching the condition of harassment, if not quite rape.

            But continues Hughes, as cultural conservative confronts radical academic—-“its nurturing enemy”—-and radical Islamist confronts its nurturing enemy, neoconservative, “one is irresistibly reminded of the question posed by Constantine Cavafy eighty [now 100] years ago:

            What does this sudden uneasiness mean,
            and this confusion? (How grave their faces have become!)
            Why are the streets and squares rapidly emptying,
            and why is everyone going back home, so lost in thought?
            Because it is night and the barbarians have not come;
            and some men have arrived from the frontiers
            and they say that that barbarians don’t exist any longer.
            And now what will become of us without barbarians?
            They were a kind of solution.

          2. ScottS

            To me, the Ames spite article lines up with what I have seen. To wit, people aren’t always nice, even given the opportunity. Even given all the material things they could reasonably expect. Even knowing that some change could benefit themselves and others, some percentage of people will choose to cut off their nose to spite their face.

            Even knowing that they are being manipulated by wealthy forces, tea partiers still go out and protest progress that will benefit themselves. They don’t want help. Liberals and progressives make the mistake of thinking everyone wants help — some people just want to see others as miserable as they are. Some people are just sadists.

            I know personally, when I am completely miserable, I enjoy the suffering of others. I’ll honk at them when it isn’t strictly necessary, and delight in bringing them down to my level. The thought scares me quite a bit. We all have this capacity, and it doesn’t take much unhappiness to bring it out.

            It’s the combination of unhappiness and powerlessness that leads to misery and spite. That’s why it often comes up in race relations. White males have had it relatively good, so when they see other races, genders, religious groups coming up in the world, they are unhappy about it since it takes away from their prestige and powerless to stop it since it comes from a larger authority.

            Not all white males respond this way. Some are oblivious, some welcome the challenge to up their own game. But the fraction that shirks the challenge falls into a spiteful bitterness. That’s the core of the GOP and Tea Party. They don’t need to win, they just need to spoil the fun for everyone else.

            The take-away is for progressives to give up reasoning with unreasonable people. They aren’t interested in reason, they aren’t interested in help, they aren’t interested in a level playing field. You can try to address their spite with lots of therapy, or just ignore the whole mess and suffer the slings and arrows as they try to drag you down to their level.

            But you’ll never convince them of the Truth of fairness, because Truth to them is spite and unfairness.

          3. DownSouth

            ScottS said: “To me, the Ames spite article lines up with what I have seen. To wit, people aren’t always nice, even given the opportunity.”

            I agree. The rub comes when Ames marks these traits up as being “American.” Stigmatization and scapegoating involve labeling some individuals as members of an outcast group, and then demonizing that group. When one paints with too broad a brush, that is when the outcast group becomes “Americans” or “Arabs” or “Jews” or “Muslims” or “Christians” or “Atheists” or “boomers,” the practice becomes intellectually dishonest and morally repugnant.

          4. ScottS

            No, nothing particularly American about spite. There’s plenty of spite everywhere.

            I think it’s a largely American phenomenon that liberals are trying this rhetorical wrangling to get people who need help but don’t want it on their side.

            Is there an Asian or European equivalent of a bleeding heart liberal? Possibly, but is it the (nominal) soul of one of the two major parties?

            The fact that people even say “bleeding heart liberal” as if it’s a bad thing tells you everything you need to know. What’s American about it is progressives wasting their time reasoning with people who want to spoil everyone else’s good time.

            Note that I’m not cynical — I still would like to help people who don’t want my help. But doing it directly and trying to win them over is silly, and expecting a “thank you” is absurd. That’s where American progressives get it wrong. All you can expect is to be vilified by the vocal fraction of the people you help.

            The fraction of people who benefit from your help and appreciate it are voiceless. That’s why they needed your help in the first place.

          5. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            For me, I feel good when I help others.

            I hope, when others help me, it makes them feel good about themselves. Whenever I can, I try to let others have an opportunity to help me.

          6. darms

            I’m in Texas and Ames’ article explains the last election here far more clearly & convincingly than anything else I’ve read or seen. For example, in recent gubernatorial election Rick Perry stomped a really good “We the People” Dem candidate, ex-Houston mayor Bill White, by about the same percentage as Perry beat Tony Sanchez, a Bush Pioneer, back in 2002. Texans may look friendly from a distance but up close & personal they are mean, ugly & viscous, especially the anglos. (BTW I’m an anglo native in his 50’s & know all too well what they look like when their masks come off…)

          7. AR

            It’s always interesting to read the comment threads here.

            I wasn’t thinking about the spitefulness specifically within an American context, but as a part of the human psyche that can be manipulated to disempower us both as individuals and as a population. Try to imagine a horde of spiteful people being able to organize any kind of uplifting project. Especially one that would benefit all people, not just they’re own tribe.

            My point was intended to be this:

            Though, as aet wrote, there has been much competition and conflict in human existence, it is still my contention that cooperation, sef-discipline and empathy are the elements responsible for our having created civilization. War and competition are examples of setbacks to civilization. Today’s Capitalists would prefer that we behave as beasts, as long as we keep buying stuff. The MOTUs think this keeps us from overturning their apple cart, since we would be warring among ourselves, and thus unable to unite and organize an effective resistance, or to overthrow the oppressive system. Spitefulness blinds and disempowers, yet it arouses destructive impulses.

          8. ScottS

            Absolutely no doubt, AR. The story of human evolution isn’t competition as the social darwinists would have you believe. Every major advancement in human history comes from cooperation. Tool-making, hunting/gathering, agriculture, industry, urbanization, culture all comes from cooperation.

            Friendly competition is great. But social darwinism is justification for theft.

      2. craazyman

        I successfully resist by means of a face mask, vomit bag and a highly independent and somewhat haughty mind.

        No Rhinoceros for me, dood. LOL. Even if it hurts.

        Mr. Berrenger
        I.U. Ness & Co.

    2. ScottS


      Don’t besmirch two-year-olds! Studies show that younger kids working together tend to divide rewards evenly. Older kids tend to divide rewards based on effort. Only adults think they should get money for nothing. ; )

  2. dearieme

    Wee, sleekit, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
    O, what panic’s in thy breastie!
    Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
    Wi’ bickering brattle!
    I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
    Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

    I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
    Has broken Nature’s social union,
    An’ justifies that ill opinion,
    Which makes thee startle,
    At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
    An’ fellow-mortal!


    But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
    In proving foresight may be vain:
    The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
    Gang aft agley,
    An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
    For promis’d joy!

    Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
    The present only toucheth thee:
    But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
    On prospects drear!
    An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
    I guess an’ fear!

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Dear mouse,

      Low carb diet may not be one of the best laid schemes, but still, you should give it a try.

  3. Leviathan

    Re. self discipline. We aren’t all born with it. Some of us have to learn it after age 3. It can be done. As a general rule I dislike studies that doom 4 year olds to the scrap heap. It smacks of Calvinism and predestination (as does, indeed, the cult of self-discipline).

    Re. the reservist and foreclosure, Deutsche Bank (of the billions in US taxpayer subsidies, of the losing side in two world wars, and recipient of great American largesse in the form of the Marshall Plan) had best reconsider. It is in the wrong. I’d love to be on the jury that grants “pain and suffering” damages to one of these soldiers. LOVE it.

  4. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Memories take hold better during sleep…

    I wonder if the next phase of the research would look into whether more sleep would lead to more memories, if sleeping 24 hours a day would make one remember everything.

  5. OregonChris

    I don’t see how Deutsche can argue with a straight face that he is only entitled to fair market value of the property. The whole purpose of the SCRA is to prevent this from happening and they are in clear violation. How does fair market value even begin to compensate the harm that was done to him!? Property is unique, non-fungible, and it was clearly worth more than FMV to the reservist. Unbelievable…

  6. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Having a baby increases mental health risk?

    That’s interesting. Well, the world is an interesting place.

    I wonder if a raging, thundering internet argument would release beams of antimatter into the atmosphere like a powerful storm would…

  7. Tertium Squid

    Babies, abortions and mental health risks…

    Magnificent apples-and-oranges research. I wonder what the health risk is for women who have abortions and then spend a year raising someone else’s newborn?

    Even BETTER – if you actually read the article, they indicate that abortion receivers were more than twice as likely as a birth-giver to need mental health help a year afterward – twice as likely as a woman that had just spent a year raising a child from newborn to toddlerhood.
    (And some of those babies certainly died – HMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!)

    But, since the abortion-getters were approximately the same level of messed-up before their abortion, while the new mothers had a large increase in their own way-way-lower-to-begin-with rate of mental-health-seeking, the scientists get to roil the internet with their tendentious conclusions.

    Oh, and FTA:

    “The study did not examine why a pregnancy was terminated. Researchers also only studied mental problems serious enough to warrant admission to a hospital or outpatient clinic and did not look into the role of mild depression and other lesser symptoms.”

    They limited themselves to information they could find on public health databases. This wasn’t an experiment – it was a data mining exercise. I get the impression they never actually talked to any women at all.

  8. Horton

    Has anyone noticed that zero hedge has become a destination for commentors who have some serious baggage – check the comment section there;

    That is becoming more typical of the kind of comments that permeates that blog, some seriously offensive stuff.

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