Later On

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Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Why Canada Is Able to Do Things Better

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Jonathan Kay writes in the Atlantic:

When I was a young kid growing up in Montreal, our annual family trips to my grandparents’ Florida condo in the 1970s and ‘80s offered glimpses of a better life. Not just Bubbie and Zadie’s miniature, sun-bronzed world of Del Boca Vista, but the whole sprawling infrastructural colossus of Cold War America itself, with its famed interstate highway system and suburban sprawl. Many Canadians then saw themselves as America’s poor cousins, and our inferiority complex asserted itself the moment we got off the plane.

Decades later, the United States presents visitors from the north with a different impression. There hasn’t been a new major airport constructed in the United States since 1995. And the existing stock of terminals is badly in need of upgrades. Much of the surrounding road and rail infrastructure is in even worse shape (the trip from LaGuardia Airport to midtown Manhattan being particularly appalling). Washington, D.C.’s semi-functional subway system feels like a World’s Fair exhibit that someone forgot to close down. Detroit’s 90-year-old Ambassador Bridge—which carries close to $200 billion worth of goods across the Canada-U.S. border annually—has been operating beyond its engineering capacity for years. In 2015, the Canadian government announced it would be paying virtually the entire bill for a new bridge (including, amazingly, the U.S. customs plaza on the Detroit side), after Michigan’s government pled poverty. “We are unable to build bridges, we’re unable to build airports, our inner city school kids are not graduating,” is how JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon summarized the state of things during an earnings conference call last week. “It’s almost embarrassing being an American citizen.”Since the election of Donald Trump, there’s been no shortage of theories as to why America’s social contract no longer seems to work—why the United States feels so divided and dysfunctional. Some have focused on how hyper-partisanship has dismantled traditional checks and balances on public decision-making, how Barack Obama’s rise to power exacerbated the racist tendencies of embittered reactionaries, and how former churchgoers have embraced the secular politics of race and nationalism.

All of this rings true. But during my travels up and down the American East Coast in recent years, I’ve come to focus on a more mundane explanation: The United States is falling apart because—unlike Canada and other wealthy countries—the American public sector simply doesn’t have the funds required to keep the nation stitched together. A country where impoverished citizens rely on crowdfunding to finance medical operations isn’t a country that can protect the health of its citizens. A country that can’t ensure the daily operation of Penn Station isn’t a country that can prevent transportation gridlock. A country that contracts out the operations of prisons to the lowest private bidder isn’t a country that can rehabilitate its criminals.The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), a group of 35 wealthy countries, ranks its members by overall tax burden—that is, total tax revenues at every level of government, added together and then expressed as a percentage of GDP—and in latest year for which data is available, 2014, the United States came in fourth to last. Its tax burden was 25.9 percent—substantially less than the OECD average, 34.2 percent. If the United States followed that mean OECD rate, there would be about an extra $1.5 trillion annually for governments to spend on better schools, safer roads, better-trained police, and more accessible health care. . .

Continue reading.

The GOP does not believe in investing in the US. For example, for the US as a country to be competitive and productive, it’s vital to ensure that its citizens are (a) healthy, and (b) educated. Thus if the country took its own interests to heart, there would be universal healthcare, and well-funded at that, including treatments and hospitals for the mentally ill (rather than simply having the police shoot them, or putting them in prison), nursing homes for the incapacitated and elderly, and investments in seeing that more medical professions (doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacists) are trained—and not allowing any forced shortages to arise as might happen if some specialty set informal limits the supply of new doctors in the specialty. I don’t think this is happening—some specialties just don’t have that many people in them. So the government should institute programs, subsidies, new medical school, so that the supply of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and so on could be increased to serve the greater demand resulting from a broader national effort to achieve the goal of a healthy citizenry.

And having an educated citizenry requires paying teachers a lot more to increase the talent supply, and funding of most effective teaching practices, with a constant search for better teaching practices, and building a database of documents and on-line videos to make available nationally courses for teachers and would-be teachers on what those best practices are. This might take the form of watching a video recorded live of a master teacher teaching one class session, then that video with commentary, the master teaching stopping the action at certain points to explain what’s happening: why s/he made the choices and said the words s/he did, how it might be done better, and so on, then back to the next teaching moment.

In other words, apply ingenuity and resources to ensure that our nation’s teachers are great at their jobs. That will make those future generations more capable.

And obviously the nation is better for everyone—you might say it would improve the general welfare—if the infrastructure were well-maintained and kept in good shape. And those jobs would be most welcome, but obviously money is required.

What I’m talking about, I suddenly realize, is artificial selection in meme evolution, exactly as we used artificial selection in lifeforms in order to domesticate plants and animals (and ourselves, in the sense that tribes rid themselves of uncooperative members). The goals (healthy citizenry, educated citizenry, good infrastructure) are sufficiently broad that many memes can be selected to drive toward those goals, just a not littering became a thing when Lady Bird Johnson took on the campaign to beautify America. Very quickly, littering was socially unacceptable and by and large people stopped littering. (This was helped by very young children being able to understand what littering is and that it’s bad, so not littering became a basic value adopted in childhood.)

And in fact the GOP will never approve of taxing the public to the point where all these benefits could be delivered to the public, because the goal of the GOP is to enable a select few to become wealthy by looting the country: skimping on healthcare, skimping on education, skipping on infrastructure, and thus being able to keep much of that money for themselves through the eternal demand for more tax cuts.

The US could do it right, but I think it is unlikely at this point. Still, perhaps the public will awaken to the fact that the wealthy are shortchanging them:

The US is not, though Donald Trump continually says it is, the most heavily taxed national on earth. Quite the contrary: U.S. taxes are quite low—and we’re getting what we pay for. Chart above is from this page.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2017 at 9:06 pm

Talking to Boys the Way We Talk to Girls

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Andrew Reiner writes in the NY Times:

At a Father’s Day breakfast, my 5-year-old son and his classmates sang a song about fathers, crooning about “my dad who’s big and strong” and “fixes things with his hammer” and, above all else, “is really cool.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with most of these qualities in and of themselves. But when these lyrics are passed down as the defining soundtrack to masculine identity, we limit children’s understanding not just of what it means to be a father but of what it means to be a man — and a boy, as well.

When fathers appear in children’s picture books, they’re angling for laughs, taking their sons on adventures or modeling physical strength or stoic independence. There is the rare exception in children’s books where a father baldly demonstrates — without symbolic gestures — his love for his son (a few are “Guess How Much I Love You” and “Oh, Oh, Baby Boy!”). Just as women’s studies classes have long examined the ways that gendered language undermines women and girls, a growing body of research shows that stereotypical messages are similarly damaging to boys.

A 2014 study in Pediatrics found that mothers interacted vocally more often with their infant daughters than they did their infant sons. In a different study, a team of British researchers found that Spanish mothers were more likely to use emotional words and emotional topics when speaking with their 4-year-old daughters than with their 4-year-old sons. Interestingly, the same study revealed that daughters were more likely than sons to speak about their emotions with their fathers when talking about past experiences. And during these reminiscing conversations, fathers used more emotion-laden words with their 4-year-old daughters than with their 4-year-old sons.

What’s more, a 2017 study led by Emory University researchers discovered, among other things, that fathers also sing and smile more to their daughters, and they use language that is more “analytical” and that acknowledges their sadness far more than they do with their sons. The words they use with sons are more focused on achievement — such as “win” and “proud.” Researchers believe that these discrepancies in fathers’ language may contribute to “the consistent findings that girls outperform boys in school achievement outcomes.”

After visits to the emergency room for accidental injuries, another study found, parents of both genders talk differently to sons than they do to daughters. They are nearly four times more likely to tell girls than boys to be more careful if undertaking the same activity again. The same study cited earlier research which found that parents of both genders used “directives” when teaching their 2- to 4-year-old sons how to climb down a playground pole but offered extensive “explanations” to daughters.

Even boys’ literacy skills seem to be impacted by the taciturn way we expect them to speak. . .

Continue reading.

Later:

. . . Nowhere is this truer than in English classes where, as I’ve witnessed after more than 20 years of teaching, boys and young men police each other when other guys display overt interest in literature or creative writing assignments. Typically, nonfiction reading and writing passes muster because it poses little threat for boys. But literary fiction, and especially poetry, are mediums to fear. Why? They’re the language of emotional exposure, purported feminine “weakness” — the very thing our scripting has taught them to avoid at best, suppress, at worst.

Women often say they want men to be emotionally transparent with them. But as the vulnerability and shame expert Brené Brown reveals in her book, “Daring Greatly,” many grow uneasy or even recoil if men take them up on their offer.

Indeed, a Canadian study found that college-aged female respondents considered men more attractive if they used shorter words and sentences and spoke less. This finding seems to jibe with Dr. Brown’s research, suggesting that the less men risk emoting verbally, the more appealing they appear.

Such squelching messages run counter-intuitively to male wiring, it turns out: Guys are born more emotionally sensitive than girls. . .

Later:

“Research shows that people who suppress emotions have lower-level resilience and emotional health.”

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2017 at 9:27 pm

Power Causes Brain Damage

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Jerry Useem writes in the Atlantic:

If power were a prescription drug, it would come with a long list of known side effects. It can intoxicate. It can corrupt. It can even make Henry Kissinger believe that he’s sexually magnetic. But can it cause brain damage?

When various lawmakers lit into John Stumpf at a congressional hearing last fall, each seemed to find a fresh way to flay the now-former CEO of Wells Fargo for failing to stop some 5,000 employees from setting up phony accounts for customers. But it was Stumpf’s performance that stood out. Here was a man who had risen to the top of the world’s most valuable bank, yet he seemed utterly unable to read a room. Although he apologized, he didn’t appear chastened or remorseful. Nor did he seem defiant or smug or even insincere. He looked disoriented, like a jet-lagged space traveler just arrived from Planet Stumpf, where deference to him is a natural law and 5,000 a commendably small number. Even the most direct barbs—“You have got to be kidding me” (Sean Duffy of Wisconsin); “I can’t believe some of what I’m hearing here” (Gregory Meeks of New York)—failed to shake him awake.

What was going through Stumpf’s head? New research suggests that the better question may be: What wasn’t going through it?

The historian Henry Adams was being metaphorical, not medical, when he described power as “a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies.” But that’s not far from where Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, ended up after years of lab and field experiments. Subjects under the influence of power, he found in studies spanning two decades, acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.

Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at McMaster University, in Ontario, recently described something similar. Unlike Keltner, who studies behaviors, Obhi studies brains. And when he put the heads of the powerful and the not-so-powerful under a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation machine, he found that power, in fact, impairs a specific neural process, “mirroring,” that may be a cornerstone of empathy. Which gives a neurological basis to what Keltner has termed the “power paradox”: Once we have power, we lose some of the capacities we needed to gain it in the first place.

That loss in capacity has been demonstrated in various creative ways. A 2006 study asked participants to draw the letter E on their forehead for others to view—a task that requires seeing yourself from an observer’s vantage point. Those feeling powerful were three times more likely to draw the E the right way to themselves—and backwards to everyone else (which calls to mind George W. Bush, who memorably held up the American flag backwards at the 2008 Olympics). Other experiments have shown that powerful people do worse at identifying what someone in a picture is feeling, or guessing how a colleague might interpret a remark.

The fact that people tend to mimic the expressions and body language of their superiors can aggravate this problem: Subordinates provide few reliable cues to the powerful. But more important, Keltner says, is the fact that the powerful stop mimicking others. Laughing when others laugh or tensing when others tense does more than ingratiate. It helps trigger the same feelings those others are experiencing and provides a window into where they are coming from. Powerful people “stop simulating the experience of others,” Keltner says, which leads to what he calls an “empathy deficit.”

Mirroring is a subtler kind of mimicry that goes on entirely within our heads, and without our awareness. When we watch someone perform an action, the part of the brain we would use to do that same thing lights up in sympathetic response. It might be best understood as vicarious experience. It’s what Obhi and his team were trying to activate when they had their subjects watch a video of someone’s hand squeezing a rubber ball.

For nonpowerful participants, mirroring worked fine: The neural pathways they would use to squeeze the ball themselves fired strongly. But the powerful group’s? Less so.

Was the mirroring response broken? More like anesthetized. None of the participants possessed permanent power. They were college students who had been “primed” to feel potent by recounting an experience in which they had been in charge. The anesthetic would presumably wear off when the feeling did—their brains weren’t structurally damaged after an afternoon in the lab. But if the effect had been long-lasting—say, by dint of having Wall Street analysts whispering their greatness quarter after quarter, board members offering them extra helpings of pay, and Forbes praising them for “doing well while doing good”—they may have what in medicine is known as “functional” changes to the brain.

I wondered whether the powerful might simply stop trying to put themselves in others’ shoes, without losing the ability to do so. As it happened, Obhi ran a subsequent study that may help answer that question. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2017 at 9:12 am

A Very Powerful Study That Bolsters the Lead-Crime Hypothesis

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Do read Kevin Drum’s post on yet another study on the problems caused by environmental lead. (Exposure to lead in early childhood results in violent adults 20 years later.)

Here’s a chart from the post, but do read the post:

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2017 at 10:49 am

Turns out the Trump era isn’t ‘1984.’ It’s ‘King Lear.’

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Ron Charles makes a good point in the Washington Post:

We were wrong: The Trump era is not like George Orwell’s “1984.

But how striking those echoes sounded at first. Kellyanne Conway, the president’s spirit animal, seemed to borrow phrases directly from Big Brother when she posited the existence of “alternative facts.” Press secretary Sean Spicer sounded like an official from the Ministry of Truth when he contradicted witnesses and photographs to claim that President Trump’s inauguration crowd was record-setting.

Alarming as such dystopian comparisons were, they offered some deep satisfaction in the early days of our dark ages. Playing the Orwell card was not just a handy insult with a dash of literary sophistication, it also exercised a salutary effect on right-thinking people. To connect the day’s latest outrage to a classic novel suggested that we’d seen Trump’s behavior before, that literature had anticipated his linguistic abuses, that his appeal could be understood. Having on the breastplate of foreknowledge, we could withstand whatever further assaults might be coming.

By now it should be clear that the Trump administration is nothing like the ruling power of Orwell’s Oceania or — another common claim — like Margaret Atwood’s Gilead in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The repressive governments of those imagined hellscapes are marked, primarily, not by their vast deception but by their absolute order. Flawless message control and meticulous image manipulation are the foundations of their sovereignty. Nothing could be further from the continuous upheaval that DonaldTrump wreaks.

For literary precedent, we should skip over the dystopian novels of the 20th century, which were predicated on terrifyingly invasive management. The most prominent characteristic of our era is not the monolithic power of one party, but the erratic personality of one man. Every morning, all sides of the political establishment — his family and friends, along with “the haters and losers” — must contend with Trump’s zigzagging proclamations, his grandiose promises, his spasmodic attachments.

Consequently, the best literary precedent for what we’re enduring now is not the static image of Big Brother but the turbulent eruptions of King Lear. In Shakespeare’s immortal tragedy, composed around 1605, we see a kingdom entirely in thrall to the fitful mentality of its leader with his “unconstant starts.” As one of Lear’s daughters says, “The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash.” Or, as Politico observed400 years later about our president: ­“Unpredictability . . . is not a quirk but a hallmark.”

Once you make the comparison between Lear and Trump, the similarities begin to line up like attendants at court. Most striking, the old king of Britain and the new president of the United States are rulers obsessed with personal devotion. Trump is, as he once noted in his typically Shakespearean way, “like, this great loyalty freak.”

Trump’s language may not pass muster in ninth-grade English, but that’s a pretty fair description of King Lear. In fact, the great crisis of Shakespeare’s tragedy hinges on the fact that Lear is, like, this great loyalty freak, too. How eerily familiar that opening scene must feel to the Cabinet members and advisers currying favor at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.:

“Which of you,” Lear demands, “shall we say doth love us most?”

Goneril and Regan dutifully deliver their unctuous praise, but principled Cordelia — played for us with touching poignancy by FBI Director James B. Comey — refuses to take the loyalty pledge and is summarily disinherited. (Lear doesn’t even wait for the Earl of Kent to compose a memo justifying the move.)

Now, like Lear’s subjects, we find ourselves experiencing the chaos that reigns “when majesty falls to folly.” As the Russian inquiry melds with the Michael Flynn scandal and the Comey investigation, the ludicrous denials and confusing qualifications keep spewing from the White House. Each day’s revelations are more disturbing than the last. We can take bitter comfort in Edgar’s gallows humor: “The worst is not, so long as we can say, ‘This is the worst.’”

How many of the president’s supporters have begged him — as Lear’s supporters implored him — “Check this hideous rashness” . . .

Continue reading.

And note that King Lear is currently playing DC—I mean in a theater, not just in the White House.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2017 at 10:13 am

Trump wasn’t always so linguistically challenged. What could explain the change?

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Sharon Begley writes at STAT, a national publication focused on finding and telling compelling stories about health, medicine, and scientific discovery:

It was the kind of utterance that makes professional transcribers question their career choice:

“ … there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself — and the Russians, zero.”

When President Trump offered that response to a question at a press conference last week, it was the latest example of his tortured syntax, mid-thought changes of subject, and apparent trouble formulating complete sentences, let alone a coherent paragraph, in unscripted speech.

He was not always so linguistically challenged.

STAT reviewed decades of Trump’s on-air interviews and compared them to Q&A sessions since his inauguration. The differences are striking and unmistakable.

Research has shown that changes in speaking style can result from cognitive decline. STAT therefore asked experts in neurolinguistics and cognitive assessment, as well as psychologists and psychiatrists, to compare Trump’s speech from decades ago to that in 2017; they all agreed there had been a deterioration, and some said it could reflect changes in the health of Trump’s brain.

In interviews Trump gave in the 1980s and 1990s (with Tom Brokaw, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey, Charlie Rose, and others), he spoke articulately, used sophisticated vocabulary, inserted dependent clauses into his sentences without losing his train of thought, and strung together sentences into a polished paragraph, which — and this is no mean feat — would have scanned just fine in print. This was so even when reporters asked tough questions about, for instance, his divorce, his brush with bankruptcy, and why he doesn’t build housing for working-class Americans.

Trump fluently peppered his answers with words and phrases such as “subsided,” “inclination,” “discredited,” “sparring session,” and “a certain innate intelligence.” He tossed off well-turned sentences such as, “It could have been a contentious route,” and, “These are the only casinos in the United States that are so rated.” He even offered thoughtful, articulate aphorisms: “If you get into what’s missing, you don’t appreciate what you have,” and, “Adversity is a very funny thing.”

Now, Trump’s vocabulary is simpler. He repeats himself over and over, and lurches from one subject to an unrelated one, as in this answer during an interview with the Associated Press last month:

“People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall, my base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall. My base, which is a big base; I think my base is 45 percent. You know, it’s funny. The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the Electoral College. Big, big, big advantage. … The Electoral College is very difficult for a Republican to win, and I will tell you, the people want to see it. They want to see the wall.”

For decades, studies have found that deterioration in the fluency, complexity, and vocabulary level of spontaneous speech can indicate slipping brain function due to normal aging or neurodegenerative disease. STAT and the experts therefore considered only unscripted utterances, not planned speeches and statements, since only the former tap the neural networks that offer a window into brain function. . .

Continue reading.

Videos of Trump speaking, then and now, at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2017 at 11:40 am

Does this checklist of signs of gaslighting remind of anything in particular?

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Stephanie Sarkis, PhD, has an article in Psychology Today, 11 signs of gaslighting in a relationship.” It begins:

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind.

People who gaslight typically use the following techniques:

1. They tell blatant lies.

You know it’s an outright lie. Yet they are telling you this lie with a straight face. Why are they so blatant? Because they’re setting up a precedent. Once they tell you a huge lie, you’re not sure if anything they say is true. Keeping you unsteady and off-kilter is the goal.

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof. 

You know they said they would do something; you know you heard it. But they out and out deny it. It makes you start questioning your reality—maybe they never said that thing. And the more they do this, the more you question your reality and start accepting theirs.

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition. 

They know how important your kids are to you, and they know how important your identityis to you. So those may be one of the first things they attack. If you have kids, they tell you that you should not have had those children. They will tell you’d be a worthy person if only you didn’t have a long list of negative traits. They attack the foundation of your being.

4. They wear you down over time.

This is one of the insidious things about gaslighting—it is done gradually, over time. A lie here, a lie there, a snide comment every so often…and then it starts ramping up. Even the brightest, most self-aware people can be sucked into gaslighting—it is that effective. It’s the “frog in the frying pan” analogy: The heat is turned up slowly, so the frog never realizes what’s happening to it.

5. Their actions do not match their words. . .

Continue reading.

If you read the article and then free-associate, what name comes to mind?

Written by LeisureGuy

18 May 2017 at 11:13 am

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