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Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Amazon shows how trickle-down inequality works

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Sarah Jones writes in the “Intelligencer” section of New York:

Bill Bodani liked his old job. He cleaned slag out at the Sparrows Point steel mill in Maryland, cleared the flues and the broken brick out of the blast furnace. He loved it despite the asbestosis it gave him, writes Alec MacGillis in his new book, Fulfillment. “I enjoyed the people,” Bodani told MacGillis. “They made it enjoyable. The Black, the white. It was a family thing. I don’t care if you knew them for five minutes, they took you in. No matter how bad I got hurt, or how bad things got, there was always a bright side. You had those guys with you.”

Until he didn’t. The mill closed, and Bodani needed a new job. He found one with Amazon, working in a Baltimore-area fulfillment center. He started out at $12 an hour — much less than he’d made at the mill. He’d traded his old friends for a place that would, as MacGillis put it, fire workers “by algorithm.” And Bodani had a problem. He was older, and he needed to use the bathroom more often than did his younger co-workers. When he had used up his breaks, he resorted to an undignified option. He’d piss in a corner of the warehouse, using a forklift as a privacy shield.

MacGillis completed Bodani’s story before the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union announced that it would try to unionize the first Amazon warehouse in the country in Bessemer, Alabama. Workers there reported their own versions of Bodani’s problem. The company regimented their days so strictly that they often didn’t have the time they needed to use the restroom. The union still lost, an election now contested before the National Labor Relations Board. Despite the outcome, the stories stick. Workers said they couldn’t stay six feet apart from each other in the middle of a pandemic, spoke of dirty workstations that never got clean. Amazon, they insisted, was a bad place to work. Why, then, are cities so desperate to bring Amazon home?

In Fulfillment, MacGillis, a reporter for ProPublica and the author of 2014’s The CynicThe Political Education of Mitch McConnell, offers answers. The digital economy has fattened a handful of cities while others, often old industrial hubs, fall behind. There is historical precedent for industries to cluster: “History,” he writes, “is the story of cities with the right confluence of people in close quarters to spin the world forward, whether in classical Athens or Renaissance Florence or industrial-age Glasgow.” That dynamic, however, has “trebled” in recent years, he claims, with innovation the new resource to mine. Amazon and Microsoft swelled Seattle, brought it new wealth, a new class of resident, and a new set of problems. That wealth never reached a number of Seattle’s long-term residents, who could recall an older, more livable version of a vibrant city. What dispersed out from Seattle was not wealth, either, but something else. Inequality trickled down.

MacGillis understands the bargain Amazon offers the public and explores the consequences of that bargain with a sharp, humane eye. He succeeds in telling a story about Amazon from the bottom up — the right way to scrutinize a company that projects a progressive image. Amazon wants us to believe it treats its workers well: It pays them $15 an hour now, a fact it has repeatedly tweeted to its congressional critics. Other companies, even governments, ought to follow Amazon’s stellar example, the company says. MacGillis argues that governments have already been too eager to take Amazon at its word, and that the consequences, for workers and for the places they live, have been catastrophic.

To cities in need of jobs, Amazon can look like a savior. But salvation is an exchange: a soul for a different future. MacGillis argues that this trade is good for Jeff Bezos alone; workers and cities lose out in both a psychological and material sense. Bill Bodani has nothing to offer the new economy but his body. Amazon accepts, and forces him to accept something even more nefarious than a pay cut. To take a job at the mill was to join a community. Young high-school graduates, MacGillis writes, had walked into a union and the welcoming arms of their uncles and fathers. By contrast, the warehouse is a sterile place. Workers are welcomed not with warm introductions but with “a sheet of paper scrawled with AMAZON” and representatives for an Amazon subcontractor. The job itself can be isolating, as Amazon workers themselves have reported; steep quotas and pervasive surveillance offer few opportunities to socialize. This is a useful union-avoidance strategy. It’s also a spiritual blow.

Once cities like Sparrows Point offer up their souls, Amazon gives them a cheap future. Corporations rarely make decisions out of abundant public spirit; Amazon is no exception to the rule. Instead, it eludes taxes. MacGillis calls Amazon’s approach to tax avoidance “a veritable Swiss Army knife, with an implement to wield against every possible government tab,” and the description lines up with reality. Amazon paid no federal income tax for two years before coughing up a paltry $162 million in 2019. It settles upon cities and towns like a locust, chewing up tax breaks totaling $2.7 billion by 2019, according to MacGillis. In 2018, Amazon threatened to cancel a planned expansion in Seattle, its home turf, over an employee-hours tax intended to address the city’s homelessness crisis. The city council passed it, only to reverse itself less than a month later.

In smaller cities, the costs of attracting Amazon can be especially steep. Consider . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 2:53 pm

How spanking may affect brain development in children

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I earlier blogged about studies that show that physically punishing children (by spanking, for example) adversely affect them, leading to social and emotional problems later on. Those studies demonstrated the cause and effect relationship but did not focus on the mechanism by which the result followed. Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite has an article in the Harvard Gazette that describes the likely mechanism. The article begins:

Spanking may affect a child’s brain development in ways similar to more severe forms of violence, according to a new study led by Harvard researchers.

The research builds on existing studies that show heightened activity in certain regions of the brains of children who experience abuse in response to threat cues.

The group found that children who had been spanked had a greater neural response in multiple regions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), including in regions that are part of the salience network. These areas of the brain respond to cues in the environment that tend to be consequential, such as a threat, and may affect decision-making and processing of situations.

“We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don’t think about spanking as a form of violence,” said Katie A. McLaughlin, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study, which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. “In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing.”

According to the study’s authors, corporal punishment has been linked to the development of mental health issues, anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and substance use disorders. And recent studies show that approximately half of parents in U.S. studies reported spanking their children in the past year and one-third in the past week. However, the relationship between spanking and brain activity had not previously been studied.

McLaughlin and her colleagues — including Jorge Cuartas, first author of the study and a doctoral candidate in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and David Weissman, a postdoctoral fellow in the Stress & Development Lab — analyzed data from a large study of children between the ages of 3 and 11. They focused on 147 children around ages 10 and 11 who had been spanked, excluding children who had also experienced more severe forms of violence.

Each child lay in an MRI machine and watched a computer screen on which were displayed different images of actors making “fearful” and “neutral” faces. A scanner captured the child’s brain activity in response to each kind of face, and those images were analyzed to determine whether the faces sparked different patterns of brain activity in children who were spanked compared to those who were not.

“On average, across the entire sample, fearful faces elicited greater activation than neutral faces in many regions throughout the brain … and children who were spanked demonstrated greater activation in multiple regions of PFC to fearful relative to neutral faces than children who were never spanked,” the researchers wrote.

By contrast, “There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked.”

The findings are in line with similar research conducted on children who had experienced severe violence, suggesting that “while we might not conceptualize corporal punishment to be a form of violence, in terms of how a child’s brain responds, it’s not all that different than abuse,” said McLaughlin. “It’s more a difference of degree than of type.”

Researchers said the study is a first step toward . . .

Continue reading. There’s more (and no paywall).

And note these earlier posts on parenting in general: first, a better way to parent; second, avoiding having bossy, unhelpful kids; and third, best practices in parenting.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 4:20 am

Hearing Aids for the Masses

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Full disclosure: I wear hearing aids, and they did cost several thousand dollars for the pair, but they also greatly improved my quality of life. My step-father, who worked around (loud) power tools most of his life had fairly severe hearing loss, and at the time hearing aids were fairly bulky and uncomfortable. When we were in a group conversing, he smiled a lot, and when my own hearing worsened, I noticed I was doing the same: if you can’t quite make out what people are saying, you tend to just smile and nod.

Shira Ovide in the NY Times discusses some developments that are promising. Emphasis added by me:

Today, let’s talk about relatively simple technology and a change in government policy that could unleash more innovation for Americans who have difficulty hearing.

I’ve been speaking with audiologists, consumer advocates and technology companies about what could be a revolution for our ears — hearing aids at a fraction of the cost and hassle of conventional devices.

Here’s how things stand now: Hearing loss is a pervasive and serious health problem, and many people are reluctant or can’t afford to get conventional hearing aids. Nearly 38 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss, but only a minority of people who could benefit from hearing aids have ever used them.

Hearing aids typically cost thousands of dollars, require multiple visits to specialists and often aren’t covered by health insurance. Untreated hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline, dementia and other harms. Overcoming barriers to hearing treatment may significantly improve Americans’ health.

The federal government is poised to help. Congress in 2017 passed legislation that would let anyone buy hearing aids approved by the Food and Drug Administration without a prescription from an audiologist. The F.D.A. has missed a deadline to release draft guidelines for this new category of over-the-counter hearing aids.

Experts told me that when the F.D.A. moves ahead, it’s likely to lead to new products and ideas to change hearing aids as we know them.

Imagine Apple, Bose or other consumer electronics companies making hearing aids more stylish and relatively affordable — with people having confidence that the devices had been vetted by the F.D.A. Bose told me that it’s working on over-the-counter hearing aid technology.

Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America, an advocacy organization, told me that she can’t wait for more affordable and accessible hearing help. “I’m really excited for the market to open up to see what we got and see how people are reacting,” she said.

It is already possible to buy a hearing helper — they can’t legally be called hearing aids — without a prescription. These devices, called personal sound amplification products or PSAPs, vary wildly in quality from excellent to junk. But when shopping for them, people often can’t tell the difference.

(The Wall Street Journal also recently wrote about hearing helper technologies, including earbuds that can amplify quiet sounds. And Consumer Reports has a useful guide to hearing aids and PSAPs.)

Nicholas Reed, director of audiology at the Johns Hopkins Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, told me that the F.D.A. process should provide a path for the best PSAPs to be approved as official over-the-counter hearing aids. He expects new companies to hit the market, too.

You may doubt that a gadget you buy next to the toilet paper at CVS could be a serious medical device. Dr. Reed’s research, however, has found that some hearing helpers for $350 or less were almost as good as prescription hearing aids for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.

Dr. Reed described the best lower-cost devices as the Hyundai of hearing help. (This was a compliment.) They aren’t flashy, but they will get many people safely and effectively where they need to go. He also imagines that the F.D.A. rules will create the conditions for many more people to buy hearing aids — both over the counter and by prescription.

Over-the-counter hearing aids won’t be able to help everyone, experts told me. And the traditional hearing aid industry has said that people are best served by customized devices with expert help.

There is also more technology brewing at  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2021 at 4:13 pm

How to make friends as an adult

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I found this article by Marisa G Franco interesting (and useful):

Need to know

Friends are a treasure. In an uncertain world, they provide a comforting sense of stability and connection. We laugh together and cry together, sharing our good times and supporting each other through the bad. Yet a defining feature of friendship is that it’s voluntary. We’re not wedded together by law, or through blood, or via monthly payments into our bank accounts. It is a relationship of great freedom, one that we retain only because we want to.

But the downside of all this freedom, this lack of formal commitment, is that friendship often falls by the wayside. Our adult lives can become a monsoon of obligations, from children, to partners, to ailing parents, to work hours that trespass on our free time. A study of young adults’ social networks by researchers at the University of Oxford found that those in a romantic relationship had, on average, two fewer close social ties, including friends. Those with kids had lost out even more. Friendships crumble, not because of any deliberate decision to let them go, but because we have other priorities, ones that aren’t quite as voluntary. The title of the Oxford paper summed up things well: ‘Romance and Reproduction Are Socially Costly’.

Such is the pace and busyness of many people’s adult lives that they can lose contact with their friends at a rapid rate. For instance, a study by the Dutch sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst found that, over a period of seven years, people had lost touch with half of their closest friends, on average. What’s especially alarming is that many of us seem to be losing friends faster than we can replace them. A meta-analysis by researchers in Germany published in 2013 combined data from 177,635 participants across 277 studies, concluding that friendship networks had been shrinking for the preceding 35 years. For example, in studies conducted between 1980 and 1985, participants reportedly had four more friends on average, compared with the participants who’d taken part in studies between 2000 and 2005.

If we’re not careful, we risk living out our adulthoods friendless. This is a situation that’s worth avoiding. Friends are not only a great source of fun and meaning in life, but studies suggest that, without them, we’re also at greater risk of feeling more depressed. It’s telling that in their study ‘Very Happy People’ (2002), the American psychologists Ed Diener and Martin Seligman found that a key difference between the most unhappy and most happy people was how socially connected they were. Friends give us so much, which is why we need to invest in making them. Here’s how.

What to do

Making more friends in adulthood is going to take some deliberate effort on your part. It’s an exciting challenge in theory, but one of the first obstacles you’ll encounter is having enough confidence. Especially if you are shy by nature, putting yourself out there can seem scary, triggering fears of rejection. These fears might lead you to engage in two types of avoidance that will inhibit your ability to make friends. First, you might practise ‘overt avoidance’, by not putting yourself in situations where it’s possible to meet new people. Instead of going to your friend’s movie night, with the chance to meet others, you end up staying at home. Second, you might find yourself engaging in ‘covert avoidance’, which means that you show up but don’t engage with people when you arrive. You go to the movie night, but while everyone else is analysing the film after it’s over, you stay silent in the corner, petting someone’s pet corgi and scrolling through Instagram.

Assume that people like you

Both these forms of avoidance are caused by understandable fears of rejection. So imagine how much easier it would be if you knew that, were you to show up in a group of strangers, most of them would love you and find you interesting. This mindset actually has a self-fulfilling quality – an American study from the 1980s found that volunteers who were led to believe that an interaction partner liked them began to act in ways that made this belief more likely to come true – they shared more about themselves, disagreed less, and had a more positive attitude. This suggests that if you go into social situations with a positive mindset, assuming people like you, then it’s more likely that this will actually turn out to be the case.

Of course, you might still be reluctant to assume others like you because you don’t believe it’s true. If this is you, you might take comfort from research that found, on average, that strangers like us more than we realise. The paper, by Erica J Boothby at Cornell University and colleagues, involved having pairs of strangers chat together for five minutes, to rate how much they liked their interaction partner, and to estimate how much their partner liked them. Across a variety of settings and study durations – in the lab, in a college dorm, at a professional development workshop – the same pattern emerged. People underestimated how much they were liked, a phenomenon that Boothby and her colleagues labelled ‘the liking gap’.

What wisdom should we take from this research? It can remind us to go into new social events assuming that people will like us. It can keep us from being paralysed by fears of rejection, pushing us to question some of these fears. Try working on your internal dialogue, your inner voice that perhaps makes overly negative assumptions about how people will respond to you. Doing this will help give you the confidence to go out there and start initiating friendly contact with strangers.

Initiate

In We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships (2020), Kat Vellos describes being inspired to write her book after a moment of feeling utterly alone. She was looking for a friend to hang out with, so she posted on Facebook: ‘Who wants to go eat French fries and talk about life with me?’ Everyone who responded lived in another state; her local San Francisco Bay Area friends were all booked up. As she put it:

I didn’t just want to eat snacks and talk about life. I was craving a different kind of life – one that would give me abundant access to friends who wanted to see me as much as I wanted to see them.

This experience made Vellos realise that she needed more friends, so she created and executed a plan to make some. Eventually, she was running two successful meetup groups, and had established friendships with people she liked and wanted to get closer to. How did she change her life? She initiated. Vellos set aside time to reach out to people regularly, to revitalise old relationships and to awaken new ones, to check in, to find time to hang out. Her story reveals how initiative can change the course of our friendships.

To embrace the importance of initiating, you must to let go of the myth that friendship happens organically. You have to take responsibility rather than waiting passively. Science backs this up. Consider a study of older adults in the Canadian province of Manitoba. The participants who thought friendship was something that just happened based on luck tended to be less socially active and to feel lonelier when the researchers caught up with them five years later. By contrast, those who thought friendship took effort actually made more effort – for example, by showing up at church or at community groups – and this paid dividends, in that they felt less lonely at the five-year follow-up.

But it’s not just showing up that matters, it’s saying ‘hello’ when you get there. This means introducing yourself to other people, asking them for their phone numbers, following up and asking them to hang out. Initiating is a process, one that we must do over and over again to make new friendships.

Initiation is particularly important for people who find themselves in new social settings – such as people who have moved to a new city, started a new school or job. In a study of first-year undergraduates at the University of Denver in 1980, it was those students who rated themselves as having superior social skills who managed to develop more satisfying social relationships. Moreover, in the Fall, when everyone was new, it was specifically ‘initiation skill’ that was most important. Once friendships were more stable, it didn’t matter as much.

Although we might fear that other people will turn us down if we initiate with them, the research finds that this is a lot less likely than we might think. When the American psychologists Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder asked research participants to open up conversations with their fellow train commuters, can you guess how many of them were shot down? None! Epley and Schroder concluded that: ‘Commuters appeared to think that talking to a stranger posed a meaningful risk of social rejection. As far as we can tell, it posed no risk at all.’

Keep showing up

Once you’ve initiated some new contacts, the challenge . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. And the article ends with links to more resources.

Friendship is important for one’s mental health and sense of well-being, so developing friendships is worth doing.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2021 at 1:00 pm

How an Abstinence Pledge in the ’90s Shamed a Generation of Evangelicals

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Clyde Haberman reports in the NY Times:

To the uninitiated, Christianity’s evangelical movement can seem like a monolith that brooks no dissent on certain core issues: Same-sex relationships are sinful, men’s spiritual dominance over women is divinely ordained and, on the political front, Donald J. Trump was an improbable but nonetheless valued protector of the faith.

Not everything is what it appears to be. The movement is in fact rife with division, a reality reinforced last month when Beth Moore, an evangelical writer and teacher with a huge following, formally ended her long affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention, principally because of its tight embrace of the licentious, truth-challenged Mr. Trump.

It was a rupture several years in the making. As Ms. Moore told Religion News Service, disenchantment took hold when Mr. Trump became “the banner, the poster child for the great white hope of evangelicalism, the salvation of the church in America.” But the former president’s behavior is not the only issue buffeting the evangelical movement. White supremacy, male subjugation of women, a spate of sexual abuse cases, scandals involving prominent figures like Jerry Falwell Jr. — all have combined to undermine the authority of religious leaders and prompt members like Ms. Moore to abandon the Southern Baptist Convention.

Retro Report, which examines through video how the past shapes the present, turns attention to an artifact of religious conservatism from the movement. This is the so-called purity pledge, taken in the main by teenagers who pledged to abstain from sex until they married. Some swore to not so much as kiss another person or even go on a date, for fear of putting themselves on the road to moral failure.

Devotion to this concept took hold in the early ’90s, when fear of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases bolstered the evangelical movement’s gospel of teen abstinence. It was a view put forth as God-commanded and had the support of like-minded political leaders, from the White House of Ronald Reagan to that of Mr. Trump.

Many people certainly found lifelong contentment because of having waited for the right mate. But for others, as the Retro Report video shows, the dictates of the purity movement were so emotionally onerous that their adulthoods have been filled with apprehension and, in some instances, physical pain. They are people like Linda Kay Klein, who embraced the movement in her teens but left it in disenchantment at 21, two decades ago.

She described the trauma and the shame she felt this way: “I would find myself in tears and in a ball in the corner of a bed, crying, my eczema coming out, which it does when I’m stressed, and scratching myself till I bled, and having a deep shame reaction.” Ms. Klein found she was far from alone. She collected tales of enduring anxiety in a book, “Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free” (Touchstone, 2018). “We went to war with ourselves, our own bodies and our own sexual natures,” she wrote, “all under the strict commandment of the church.”

It was under the aegis of the Southern Baptist Convention that the vow of virginity took distinct form, in True Love Waits, a program begun in 1993. As the movement grew in the ’90s, estimates of teenage adherents reached as high as 2.5 million worldwide. Youngsters wore purity rings, signed purity pledge cards and attended purity balls, with girls dressed in white and escorted by their fathers.

The fundamental message, inspired by a verse from Paul the Apostle’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians, was this: “I am making a commitment to myself, my family and my Creator that I will abstain from sexual activity of any kind before marriage. I will keep my body and my thoughts pure as I trust in God’s perfect plan for my life.”

Separate from religious imperatives, American teenagers in general have become warier of premarital relations — and certainly of unprotected sex. According to the federal government, there were 61.8 births in 1991 for every 1,000 young women in the 15-to-19 age group. By 2018, that figure had dwindled to 17.4, a decline that cut across racial and ethnic lines.

Among those who regarded purity in terms of spiritual enlightenment, few in the ’90s came to be more celebrated than Joshua Harris, a young man who preached that even sex-free dating was a dangerous first step on the slippery slope of a compromised life. His 1997 book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” sold roughly a million copies. In his writings and speeches, Mr. Harris advocated courtship under the watchful eyes of a couple’s parents.

His message back then, he recalled for Retro Report, was that one should avoid conventional dating just as an alcoholic ought to steer clear of a bar. “It was, like, if you don’t want to have sex,” he said, “then don’t get into these sorts of short-term romantic relationships where there is an expectation to become intimate.”

Controlling teenage hormones, however, is easier said than done. Mr. Harris, who lives in Vancouver, eventually pulled his book from circulation, and has apologized for the role he played in causing anyone feelings of shame, fear and guilt. Today, he no longer considers himself a Christian.

Part of the problem for some critics of the movement is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2021 at 7:49 pm

People “know” a lot of things that are not true — example: the lockdowns caused a rise in suicides

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2021 at 9:21 am

“I Survived 18 Years in Solitary Confinement”

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Ian Manuel was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole when he was 14 years old. He spent 18 years in solitary confinement. His forthcoming memoir, My Time Will Come, describes his experience. His essay in the NY Times is presumably extracted from that book. It begins:

Imagine living alone in a room the size of a freight elevator for almost two decades.

As a 15-year-old, I was condemned to long-term solitary confinement in the Florida prison system, which ultimately lasted for 18 consecutive years. From 1992 to 2010. From age 15 to 33. From the end of the George H.W. Bush administration to the beginnings of the Obama era.

For 18 years I didn’t have a window in my room to distract myself from the intensity of my confinement. I wasn’t permitted to talk to my fellow prisoners or even to myself. I didn’t have healthy, nutritious food; I was given just enough to not die.

These circumstances made me think about how I ended up in solitary confinement.

In the summer of 1990, shortly after finishing seventh grade, I was directed by a few older kids to commit a robbery. During the botched attempt, I shot a woman. She suffered serious injuries to her jaw and mouth but survived. It was reckless and foolish on my part, the act of a 13-year-old in crisis, and I’m simply grateful no one died.

For this I was arrested and charged as an adult with armed robbery and attempted murder.

My court-appointed lawyer advised me to plead guilty, telling me that the maximum sentence would be 15 years. So I did. But my sentence wasn’t 15 years — it was life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

I was thrown into solitary confinement the day I arrived at the Reception and Medical Center, a state prison in Lake Butler, Fla., because of my young age. Three weeks in, I was transferred to the general population of a different prison. But a year and a half later, at age 15, I was put back into solitary confinement after being written up for a few minor infractions.

I had no idea that I would be in isolation for the next 18 years.

Florida has different levels of solitary confinement; I spent the majority of that time in one of the most restrictive. Nearly two decades caged in a roughly 7-by-10-foot room passed before I was rotated between the general population area and solitary for six more years. I was finally released from prison in 2016 thanks to my lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, and the Equal Justice Initiative.

Researchers have long concluded that solitary confinement causes post-traumatic stress disorder and impairs prisoners’ ability to adjust to society long after they leave their cell. United Nations standards on the treatment of prisoners prohibits solitary confinement for more than 15 days, declaring it “cruel, inhuman or degrading.”

Yet the practice, even for minors, is still common in the United States, and efforts to end it have been spotty: In 2016, the Obama administration banned juvenile solitary confinement in federal prisons, and a handful of states have advanced similar reforms for both children and adults.

More aggressive change is needed in state prison systems. Today, dozens of states still have little to no legislation prohibiting juvenile solitary confinement. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

At one point in the essay, he writes:

It is difficult to know the exact number of children in solitary confinement today. The Liman Center at Yale Law School estimated that 61,000 Americans (adults and children) were in solitary confinement in the fall of 2017. A 2010 report from the Department of Justice notes that 24 percent of the country’s children detained at the time were subjected to solitary confinement.

More generally, according to a 2015 Department of Justice report, about 20 percent of the adult prison population has spent some time in solitary, with 4.4 percent of the population in solitary on any given day in 2011-12. And in Florida, where I was incarcerated, approximately 10,000 people — more than 10 percent of its prison population — are in solitary confinement each day.

No matter the count, I witnessed too many people lose their minds while isolated. They’d involuntarily cross a line and simply never return to sanity. Perhaps they didn’t want to. Staying in their mind was the better, safer, more humane option.

After spending nearly two years in solitary confinement as a teenager at Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime, Kalief Browder died by suicide at 22 years old. Others, like Carina Montes, 29, died by suicide during solitary — even while she was on suicide watch.

Solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment, something prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, yet prisons continue to practice it.

The US has much work to do to achieve its ideals.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2021 at 6:58 am

What is this? The case for continually questioning our online experience

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Dan Nixon has an interesting piece in Perspectiva. He notes:

What is this? is part of the Digital Ego project.

Read & download the essay as a PDF here: What is this? The case for continually questioning our online experience

At the link in the first line you will also find an audio file of his reading the piece, along with the piece itself, which begins:

It is all too easy to take what we see for granted. Even the most basic act of perception can encompass so much more than at first seems to be the case. ‘Seeing is more than a physiological phenomenon’, the American photographer Dorothea Lange once remarked. ‘We see not only with our eyes but with all that we are and all that our culture is’. We might even say that our human being is, to a large extent, a matter of human perceiving; as the philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put it, the totality of life lies in the verb “seeing.”

This ‘frame’, life as seeing, is well suited for efforts to understand the various ways in which our digital technologies are shaping our lives at the deepest levels. Checking in with so many feeds and updates throughout the day, our everyday experience has become increasingly fragmented; in what can feel like a digital ‘hall of mirrors’, it is ever harder to see things in an integrated way. Meanwhile, our social fabric is increasingly tugged by divisive forces that split us apart and encourage us to see past each other entirely.

Underlying both sets of issues lies the particular logic of a digital media ecosystem through which everything comes to be viewed, at some level, in terms of data. As the philosopher Luciano Floridi notes, digital technologies ‘make us think about the world informationally and make the world we experience informational’.

It is within this context that Perspectiva has launched the Digital Ego project, with the aim of exploring what it means to grow and flourish as humans against this digital background to our lives. As Tom Chatfield, my co-lead for the project sets out here, this inquiry includes starting a dialogue around the ‘virtues for the virtual’ that we collectively need to cultivate. Capacities such as critical thinking, kindness, and humility seem especially important here, as does our ability to see things from multiple perspectives, to adopt a more integrated worldview, and to be okay with not knowing.

Yet underpinning all of the above, and amidst the swirl of urgent issues we find ourselves caught up in at the current time – the pandemic, taut political climates, our precarious environmental position, to name but a few – I argue here that what we need most of all is to cultivate a spirit of questioning towards our actual, lived experience in the digital sphere of our lives.

Not so much cerebral efforts to pin things down in order to get fixed answers, but an ongoing, open-ended questioning towards what’s happening in our actual experience. It’s the practice of coming back to the simple question, ‘what is this?’ over and over again, in relation to all that we encounter with and through our digital technologies.

Using this simple method, what follows is an invitation to question our actual experience at all levels: from our most mundane day-to-day experiences using our technologies, through to the less visible forces and contexts shaping those experiences. We will consider: what is the quality of the exchanges we are having online? How does a particular ‘currency of ideas’ shape how we see ourselves and others on social media platforms, and what might we experiment with here? How do our egos come to take centre-stage in our online spaces? What options do we have, amidst the algorithms and incentives underpinning our media ecosystem, for getting a more expansive view of what’s really going on?

We will end with some of the deeper questions that emerge from this inquiry, reflecting on what is problematic about the tech mindset of ‘solutionism’ and why an open-ended spirit of questioning can serve as the ideal response. Why should we be vigilant about making room for the inherent mysteriousness of our everyday experience? Why, finally, is it crucial that we consider what silence and stillness and ‘intermundane space’ look like in a digitally-mediated world?

Before exploring these different levels of questioning, let me briefly outline the general approach a little further.

Questioning as a spiritual and philosophical practice for the digital age

For over twenty years, the Zen meditation teachers Martine and Stephen Batchelor have taught the practice of continually coming back to the simple question, ‘what is this?’ in relation to one’s actual, lived experience. Through questioning, they suggest, we can learn to undercut our habitual tendency to fixate on things – to identify with some sense that ‘I am like this’ or ‘This is like that’.

This chimes with the value placed on curiosity in the West, although the form of questioning undertaken in the Zen tradition is quite distinctive. Recounting his years spent living in a monastery in Korea, Stephen Batchelor describes how ‘we would all sit in a darkened room and ask ourselves ‘What is this?’. And rest with that question. Nothing else’. In What is this? Ancient questions for modern minds, written with Stephen, Martine elaborates:

The practice is about questioning; it’s not a practice of answering… [it’s about] trying to cultivate a sensation of questioning in the whole body and mind. The anchor is the question, and we come back to the question again and again.

The practice that the Batchelors describe is a spiritual one, but a similar spirit of questioning runs through the philosophical tradition of phenomenology. Beginning with the work of Edmund Husserl around the turn of the 20th Century, phenomenologists emphasise the need to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2021 at 2:14 pm

Not like the flu at all: First Covid, Then Psychosis

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Pam Belluck reports for the NY Times:

Ivan Agerton pulled his wife, Emily, into their bedroom closet, telling her not to bring her cellphone.

“I believe people are following me,” he said, his eyes flaring with fear.

He described the paranoid delusions haunting him: that people in cars driving into their suburban Seattle cul-de-sac were spying on him, that a SWAT officer was crouching in a bush in their yard.

It was a drastic change for the 49-year-old Mr. Agerton, a usually unflappable former marine and risk-taking documentary photographer whose most recent adventure involved exploring the Red Sea for two months in a submarine. He was accustomed to stress and said that neither he nor his family had previously experienced mental health issues.

But in mid-December, after a mild case of Covid-19, he was seized by a kind of psychosis that turned life into a nightmare. He couldn’t sleep, worried he had somehow done something wrong, suspected ordinary people of sinister motives and eventually was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward twice.

“Like a light switch — it happened this fast — this intense paranoia hit me,” Mr. Agerton said in interviews over two months. “It was really single-handedly the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

Mr. Agerton’s experience reflects a phenomenon doctors are increasingly reporting: psychotic symptoms emerging weeks after coronavirus infection in some people with no previous mental illness.

Doctors say such symptoms may be one manifestation of brain-related aftereffects of Covid-19. Along with more common issues like brain fog, memory loss and neurological problems, “new onset” psychosis may result from an immune response, vascular issues or inflammation from the disease process, experts hypothesize. Sporadic cases have occurred with other viruses, and while such extreme symptoms are likely to affect only a small proportion of Covid survivors, cases have emerged worldwide.

Much about the condition remains mysterious. Some patients feel urges to harm others or themselves. Others, like Mr. Agerton, have no violent impulses but become almost obsessively paranoid. Some need weeks of hospitalization with doctors trying different medications, while others improve faster. Some patients relapse.

Mr. Agerton spent about a week in a psychiatric ward in December, missing Christmas with his wife and three children. By mid-January, he seemed to have recovered and his doctor planned to taper his antipsychotic medication. In February, however, “the paranoia came screaming back,” Mr. Agerton said in an interview a day before being hospitalized a second time.

“I have all these questions,” said Dr. Veronika Zantop, a psychiatrist who has treated Mr. Agerton since his first hospitalization and who confirmed that he had no previous mental health issues. Among them: “Is this temporary? You know, how long does the risk continue?”

Paranoid delusions more commonly accompany schizophrenia in late adolescence or dementia in older adults, but so far, post-Covid psychosis has mostly afflicted patients in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

Another notable difference: Some post-Covid patients have realized something was wrong, while typical psychosis patients often “don’t have insight into their symptoms,” Dr. Zantop said.

With Mr. Agerton, she said, “It’s almost like he had a split self where he was able to say, ‘My brain is telling me that the police are after me.’ And then he was also able to say, ‘I know that’s not true on some level, but it feels like reality to me.’”

After a December New York Times article about post-Covid psychosis, several people reached out to say they, or someone they knew, had experienced it.  . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

I get my first covid inoculation day after tomorrow, and I’m eager for it.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2021 at 12:12 pm

Fantasy and the Buffered Self

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Alan Jacobs writes in The New Atlantis:

When asked by the editors of the website The Immanent Frame to summarize the key concerns of his vastly ambitious book A Secular Age (2007), Charles Taylor wrote,

Almost everyone can agree that one of the big differences between us and our ancestors of five hundred years ago is that they lived in an “enchanted” world, and we do not; at the very least, we live in a much less “enchanted” world. We might think of this as our having “lost” a number of beliefs and the practices which they made possible. But more, the enchanted world was one in which these forces could cross a porous boundary and shape our lives, psychic and physical. One of the big differences between us and them is that we live with a much firmer sense of the boundary between self and other. We are “buffered” selves. We have changed.

As Taylor makes clear, the shift from a porous to a buffered self involves a complex series of exchanges. But to put that shift in simple terms, a person accepts a buffered condition as a means of being protected from the demonic or otherwise ominous forces that in pre-modern times generated a quavering network of terrors. To be a pre-modern person, in Taylor’s account, is to be constantly in danger of being invaded or overcome by demons or fairies or nameless terrors of the dark — of being possessed and transformed, or spirited away and never returned to home and family. Keith Thomas’s magisterial Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) specifies many of these dangers, along with the whole panoply of prayers, rites, amulets, potions, chants, spells, and the like, by which a person might seek protection from the otherwise irresistible. It is easy, then, to imagine why a person — or a whole culture — might, if it could, exchange this model of a self with highly permeable boundaries for one in which the self feels better protected, defended — impermeable, or nearly so.

The problem with this apparently straightforward transaction is that the porous self is open to the divine as well as to the demonic, while the buffered self is closed to both alike. Those who must guard against capture by fairies are necessarily and by the same token receptive to mystical experiences. The “showings” manifested to Julian of Norwich depend upon exceptional sensitivity, which is to say porosity — vulnerability to incursions of the supernatural. The portals of the self cannot be closed on one side only. But the achievement of a safely buffered personhood — closed off from both the divine and the demonic — is soon enough accompanied by a deeply felt change in the very cosmos. As C. S. Lewis notes in The Discarded Image (1964), the medieval person who found himself “looking up at a world lighted, warmed, and resonant with music” gives way to the modern person who perceives only emptiness and silence. Safety is purchased at the high price of isolation, as we see as early as Pascal, who famously wrote of the night sky, “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie” (“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me”).

In these circumstances, one might expect people to ask whether so difficult and costly an exchange is in fact necessary. Might it not be possible to experience the benefits, while avoiding the costs, of both the porous and the buffered self? I want to argue here that it is precisely this desire that accounts for the rise to cultural prominence, in late modernity, of the artistic genre of fantasy. Fantasy — in books, films, television shows, and indeed in all imaginable media — is an instrument by which the late modern self strives to avail itself of the unpredictable excitements of the porous self while retaining its protective buffers. Fantasy, in most of its recent forms, may best be understood as a technologically enabled, and therefore safe, simulacrum of the pre-modern porous self.

Before pursuing my argument, I must make two clarifications. First, fantasy itself is not a recent development but rather an ancient form (though not under its current name). What we now call “fantasy” is something closer to “realism” in the pagan world, which is populated by many powers capable of acting upon “porous” human selves. In the pagan world, success in life is largely a matter of navigating safely among those powers, which are unpredictable, beyond good and evil, and often indifferent to human needs. (Such indifference means that they can help as well as hurt, but also that their assistance can never be relied upon.) In this environment, fantastic creatures are at the very least personifications or embodiments of powers genuinely believed to exist. The realism is not strict, in that the writers and readers of earlier times did not necessarily believe in the existence of precisely such creatures as were described in their stories — perhaps not Apollo or Artemis any more than Dante’s Geryon or Spenser’s Blatant Beast, though such questions are necessarily and notoriously vexed. But at the very least the pre-modern world is one in which powers like those hold sway and cannot be safely neglected; a world in which what we would call the fantastic is an intrinsic element of the real.

Second, some of the most celebrated practitioners of modern fantasy share with their pre-modern predecessors this belief that the fictional apparatus of fantasy is a relatively close approximation to the way things really are for human beings. J. R. R. Tolkien may not have believed in Sauron, but he surely believed that there are in human history people who sell themselves to the Enemy and find themselves as a result of that decision first empowered and then destroyed. And when, at the beginning of Lewis’s Perelandra (1944), the protagonist Ransom’s progress toward a friend’s house is impeded by invisible forces who fill him with fear, Lewis was describing the work of spirits whom he truly believed to exist, though under a slightly different description, just as he probably believed that some forms of scientistic rationalism are the product of demonic influence. In short, these writers sought to present their readers with an image of an enchanted world, of selves fully porous to supernatural forces. But because they did so in genres (fantasy, science fiction) known for the imaginative portrayal of the wholly nonexistent, readers confident in their buffered condition can be delighted by those stories without ever for a moment considering the possibility that the forces portrayed therein might correspond to something real. Indeed, the delight of the stories for such readers consists primarily in their perceived unreality.

Concentrating Spiritual Power

The Judeo-Christian world is alien to the pagan one primarily in its concentration — in most of its versions — of all power in the hands of an omnipotent God, from whom everything else has only derivative strength, virtue, and indeed existence. People who do not accept this account of things commonly perceive it as comforting, though a reading of the first chapter of the book of Job — with its bland explanation that the Satanic torments of a righteous man occur at the explicit permission of the Almighty — should be enough to complicate that view. On the other hand, people fully shaped by this account of the world, with its emphasis on explaining why there is something rather than nothing, will necessarily find paganism insufficiently curious about where the powers that afflict human lives come from. After all, many pagan mythologies have no creation stories, or thin, minor ones. The powers of the pagan world just are: to reckon with them — to appease or evade them, to thwart them with some greater power, to swear fidelity to them — is a full-time job; there can be little energy left over to speculate about their origins.

So radical monotheism, though it does not alter the condition of porosity, and does not disenchant the world, forcefully concentrates charisma. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2021 at 12:13 pm

The nurturing of children: Best practices in parenting

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Having three young grandsons and now a very young nephew, I am sensitive to findings on best how to encourage children to find and develop their strengths — thus my earlier posts: the Atlantic interview of Michaeleen Doucleff (author of Hunt, Gather, Parent) and her NPR article. This morning I came across two more articles, both of which seemed useful. The better of the two is (IMO) Lisa Feldman’s article in CNBC’s Make It. Rather than focus on the goal to be achieved, it lists specific things parents can do (which lead to achieving the goals). It begins:

A child’s brain is not a miniature adult brain. It is a brain born under construction that wires itself to the world. And it’s up to parents to create a world — both physical and social — that is rich with wiring instructions.

Based on years of research in neuroscience and psychology, here are seven parenting rules to help your kid build a brain that is flexible and therefore resilient.

1. Be a gardener, not a carpenter.

Carpenters carve wood into the shape they want. Gardeners help things to grow on their own by cultivating a fertile landscape.

Likewise, parents can sculpt their child into something specific, say, a concert violinist. Or they can provide an environment that encourages healthy growth in whatever direction the child takes.

You might want your kid to play violin in Symphony Hall someday, but forcing them to take lessons (the carpenter approach) might build a virtuoso, or a kid who views music as an unpleasant chore.

The gardener approach would be to sprinkle a variety of musical opportunities around the home and see which ones spark your child’s interest. Do they love to bang on pots and pans? Maybe your child is a budding heavy metal drummer.

Once you understand what kind of plant you’re growing, you can “adjust the soil” for it to take root and flourish.

2. Talk and read to your child. A lot.

Research shows that, even when children are just a few months old and don’t understand the meanings of words, their brains still make use of them.

This builds a neural foundation for later learning. So the more words they hear, the greater the effect. They’ll also have better vocabulary and reading comprehension.

Teaching them “emotion words” (i.e., sad, happy, frustrated) is especially beneficial. The more they know, the more flexibly they can act.

Put this advice into action by elaborating on the feelings of other people. Talk about what causes emotions and how they might affect someone: “See that crying boy? He is feeling pain from falling down and scraping his knee. He is sad and probably wants a hug from his parents.”

Think of yourself as your children’s tour guide through the mysterious world of humans and their movements and sounds.

3. Explain things.

It can be exhausting when . . .

Continue reading.

The second article is by Amy Morin, also in CNBC Make It. In her article, Morin focuses more on the outcome desired, though also offers some means to achieve that.

As a psychotherapist, one of the most common questions parents ask me is: What are the key strengths I should be teaching my kids?

There are several, but the type that will really help them become their best selves and get through life’s toughest challenges is mental strength.

Mental strength requires you to pay attention to three things: the way you think, feel and act. Thinking big, feeling good and acting brave helps us grow our mental muscles. Of course, it takes practice, patience and constant reinforcement to get to a point where you’ll do these things naturally.

But I’ve seen many young people successfully achieve it over time. Here are seven things mentally strong kids always do, and how to help your kids get there if they haven’t already:

1. They empower themselves

If your kid says, “My friend got a higher score on the quiz, which makes me feel bad about myself,” they’re essentially giving someone else power over their emotions.

But kids who feel empowered don’t depend on other people to feel good. They choose, for example, to be in a bright mood even when someone else is having a bad day or tries to take their anger out on them.

Create catchphrases: Work with your kid to come up with phrases that they can repeat to themselves. Use words that show they are in charge of how they think, feel and behave — regardless of how those around them are doing.

This will help drown out the negative voices in their head that try to convince them they lack the potential to succeed. The most effective catchphrases are short and easy to remember:

  • “All I can do is try my best.”
  • “Act confident.”
  • “I’m good enough.”
  • “I choose to be happy today.”

2. They adapt to change

Whether it’s moving to a new school or not being able to play with friends during the pandemic, change is tough. Your kid might miss the way things used to be or worry that what’s happening might make their life worse.

But mentally strong kids understand that change can help them grow into an even stronger person, even though it might not feel that way at first.

Name your emotions: Change feels uncomfortable. But just putting a name to your feelings can lessen the sting of these emotions.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t spend enough time thinking about how we feel. In fact, even as adults, we tend to put more energy into fighting our emotions.

So when your kid is faced with a major change, have them talk elaborately about how they’re feeling. More importantly, help them find — and define — the right words to describe it (e.g., sad, happy, frustrated, nervous, eager).

3. They know when to say no

Everyone struggles to speak up, say no, or express their feelings once in a while. But depending on the situation, choosing not to say yes makes you stronger.

Kids often struggle to say no because . . . [My guess is that she does not have a two-year-old, who in my experience readily and easily say “No.” – LG]

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2021 at 11:15 am

Don’t Discount Evangelicalism as a Factor in Racist Murder of Asian Spa Workers in Georgia

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An article in Religion Dispatches is worth reading:

Today, America is still reeling from the news of the mass murder of eight people at massage parlors in Georgia. Many are rightly calling the shooting spree an act of white supremacist terrorism, as the victims targeted were Asian women. The moment I read that the man who confessed to the murders was the son of a youth pastor who told police he had a “sex addiction,” however, it struck me that we must not ignore the specifically evangelical Protestant contours of this story.

I want to be clear. As Joshua Grubbs, an assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University who has published research on religion and attitudes toward sex told RD, “Sex addiction is simply not a credible defense for mass murder.” One of the most significant conclusions Grubbs’ research points to, however, is that conservative Christian men are prone to believe that they have pornography or sex “addictions,” even when they do not. Before he was apprehended by police, Robert Aaron Long was reportedly on his way to target the porn industry in Florida for violence similar to what he perpetrated in Georgia.

According to Grubbs, “There’s a large and growing body of research that shows that conservative religious values are strongly linked to feelings of sex addiction. We find that men in particular are likely to interpret normal sexual urges as pathological and then act on them in ways that they find to be problematic.” As Grubbs told me in a previous interview, while some people do exhibit compulsive and dysregulated behavior with respect to pornography, “There are also quite a number of people who report feeling out of control even with minimal use.”

If Long is telling the truth about his desire to “eliminate” the “temptations”—that is, women—that he claims exacerbated his “sex addiction,” it’s likely that he learned to think of himself this way, and to objectify women, in church. In evangelical institutional environments such as churches and Christian schools, discussions of sex are usually steeped in purity culture, that is a complex of beliefs and practices associated with an unhealthy fear of sexuality and intense pressure to remain “pure”—that is, sexually inexperienced—before marriage. I am among the many ex-evangelicals who were essentially coerced into signing “purity pledges” in the 1990s, which is just one of the many manipulative practices associated with purity culture.

According to Grubbs, “Purity culture places heavy emphasis on temptation and evil. Pornography is considered evil and something to be eliminated. Given that framing, it’s not surprising that someone might view all sexual ‘temptations’ as evil and needing to be eliminated.” Speaking of Long, Grubbs elaborated, “I would not call this person a ‘victim’ of purity culture, but it is possible that he is a product of it.”

The flip side of more secular rape culture, purity culture teaches boys that they are “lust monsters” and girls that it’s their duty to protect their purity by being “modest.” In evangelical culture, youth pastors are among the primary purveyors of these messages, and thus key figures in socializing white evangelical youth in evangelicalism’s version of toxic masculinity. As a result, victims of child sex abuse and of sexual assault in evangelical communities are often blamed for “tempting” the perpetrators, while the latter, particularly if they’re white men with an important role in the church, are protected from what should be the full consequences of their crimes. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2021 at 3:56 pm

Lost in Thought: The psychological risks of meditation (up to and including psychosis)

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David Kortava writes in Harper’s Magazine:

On a cloudless afternoon in March 2017, Megan Vogt drove her truck toward a Delaware town between the coastal plain and the foothills of the Appalachians. She was on her way to a silent retreat at Dhamma Pubbananda, a meditation center specializing in a practice called vipassana, which its website describes as a “universal remedy for universal ills” that provides “total liberation from all defilements, all impurities, all suffering.” Those who attend Dhamma Pubbananda’s retreats pledge to observe strict rules (no reading, no dancing, no praying) and to stay for the whole ten days, as it is “both disadvantageous and inadvisable to leave . . . upon finding the discipline too difficult.” Megan knew that she’d have to forfeit her cell phone and observe a mandatory “noble silence,” so she called her mother one last time. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” she said. “I’ll talk to you in ten days.”

On the first day of the retreat, Megan, a cheerful twenty-five-year-old with blue eyes and shoulder-length hair dyed a cardinal red, woke at four o’clock in the morning to the chiming of a bell. For a cumulative ten hours and forty-five minutes, she sat cross-legged on a rug, her spine erect, and tried to focus on her breath. During breaks, she walked among the beech trees and orange lilies on the center’s thirteen acres. That evening, everyone gathered in the meditation hall and an instructor inserted a videotape into an old VCR. On the screen was an elderly man with soft, hooded eyes, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Satya Narayan Goenka, a Burmese businessman turned guru, had taken up meditation in the Fifties, hoping to alleviate his chronic migraines, and was so happy with the results that he went on to establish a global network of more than one hundred vipassana centers. Goenka died in 2013, but students on his retreats still receive much of their instruction from grainy recordings of the master himself.

“The first day is over,” Goenka said. “You have nine more left to work.” His voice was gravelly, his demeanor almost soporific. “To get the best result of your stay here, you have to work very hard,” he said. “Diligently, ardently, patiently, but persistently, continuously.” He spoke of the difficulties students would encounter in the coming days. “The body starts revolting. ‘I don’t like it.’ The mind starts revolting. ‘I don’t like it.’ So you feel very uncomfortable.” He called the untrained mind “a bundle of knots, Gordian knots”—an engine of tension and agitation. “Everyone will realize how insane one is.” He looked into the camera with an air of sympathy. “This technique will help you,” he said. “You must go to the source of your misery.”

At the time, Megan’s life was in flux—she had just gone through a breakup and decided to move to Utah, where she planned to work on an organic farm. Ten days of meditation sounded restorative, a way of turning the page to a new chapter. She found the early days of the retreat physically challenging in the ordinary sense: she had aching knees, a sore lower back, hunger pangs. But it was nothing she wasn’t used to from her time as an AmeriCorps volunteer, maintaining hiking trails out West, or the months she’d spent camping in national parks.

On the morning of the seventh day, Megan went outside to meditate alone under a tree. She had by now logged more than sixty hours of meditation. She wasn’t sure how long she sat there. “Time had slowed down,” she later wrote. The ferns and grasses were vibrating; they were made of vibrations, just as she was. Megan felt an exquisite serenity unlike any she had ever known. Tears came to her eyes. “I was so happy. I finally knew my place in the world. I was a child of the earth and I needed to share my joy.”

But hours later, Megan’s bliss dissipated. She became tired, then drained. She lay down on her bed and could not marshal the energy to get back up. The next meditation session was starting. She felt heavy, responsible for everything that was wrong in the world. Maybe I’m holy, she thought. Maybe I was put here to heal everyone. She forced herself upright and set her feet down on the floor.

Walking into the meditation hall, Megan looked at the rows of silent meditators, their eyes closed or staring vacantly at the wall. A surge of “immense fear” coursed through her body and she found herself panicking, unable to move. “I just zoned out into space,” she wrote later. “I can’t remember where I am. Who I am. What I’m doing here.” Then a torrent of dark thoughts came rushing in: Is it the end of the world? Am I dying? Why can’t I function or move? I can hear the Buddha now. He is telling me to meditate. I can’t, I’m so confused. Is this a test? Am I supposed to yell out “I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior?” What am I supposed to do? I am so confused.

Meditation, which began as a practice among Buddhist renunciants living in monasteries, hermitages, and caves in the fifth century bc, is now a part of mainstream American culture. Countless books, magazine articles, YouTube videos, apps, and corporate wellness programs celebrate its benefits to our cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being. The market for meditation products and services in the United States is valued at $1.2 billion. In 2017, by one conservative estimate, some 15 percent of American adults engaged in “mental exercise to reach a heightened level of spiritual awareness or mindfulness.” Arianna Huffington captured the pop-psych view of meditation and mindfulness in an interview during the promotional tour for Thrive, her 2014 self-help book: “The list of all the conditions that these practices impact for the better—depression, anxiety, heart disease, memory, aging, creativity—sounds like a label on snake oil from the nineteenth century,” she said. “Except this cure-all is real, and there are no toxic side effects.”

Unfortunately, Huffington was wrong. Although there is data supporting the positive effects of meditation, the scientific literature is murkier than some champions of the practice would like to believe, and the possibility of negative outcomes cannot be so easily dismissed. As early as 1976, Arnold Lazarus, one of the forefathers of cognitive behavioral therapy, raised concerns about transcendental meditation, the mantra-based practice then in vogue. “When used indiscriminately,” he warned, “the procedure can precipitate serious psychiatric problems such as depression, agitation, and even schizophrenic decompensation.” Lazarus had by then treated a number of “agitated, restive” patients whose symptoms seemed to worsen after meditating. He came to believe that the practice, while beneficial for many, was likely harmful to some.

One case study, from 2007, documented a twenty-four-year-old male patient who had . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2021 at 1:31 pm

Removed from command: A two-star general’s mental health disaster and fight to recover — A good discussion of bipolar disorder from a man who’s been there

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Gregg Martin and Philip Martin write in Task & Purpose:

t was mid-July 2014. I was 58 years old and after more than three decades in the Army, I was a two-star general and President of the National Defense University, the nation’s highest military educational institution, located in Washington, D.C. NDU fell under the supervision of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the country’s top-ranking military officer. And the Chairman had just ordered me to report to his office at the Pentagon the next day. 

Something was up. Until very recently, my job performance had been rated as exemplary, and I had received extremely positive feedback. Had the Chairman approved my request for a three-year extension at the university? Did he want to reinforce what a great job I was doing and give me guidance for my upcoming third year at the helm? Was he unhappy with me and about to terminate my presidency? Or, was it something else? I would soon find out.

The Chairman was a brilliant, inspirational, and friendly man. He had been a fabulous boss, as well as a colleague, mentor and friend for nearly 20 years. When I walked into his office, I noticed his lawyer was in the room, which was not a good sign. I saluted the Chairman and he walked over and gave me a hug.

“Gregg, I love you like a brother,” he said. “But your time at NDU is done. You have until 1700 today to submit your letter of resignation to me or I will fire you. Is that clear?” Had I been in a normal state of mind, with a healthy brain, I probably would have been stunned, upset, or disappointed. But I was in a state of acute mania, and I had none of those feelings or reactions. I was already anticipating my next grandiose mission from God.

“A lot of people think you have serious mental health problems. I’m ordering you to get a command-directed psychiatric health exam at Walter Reed. You need to go this week.”

Indeed, my behavior had become erratic and disruptive to the mission. I had lost the confidence of much of the staff and faculty of National Defense University. I resigned that afternoon. My 35-year career would end sooner than I had anticipated.

To be clear, I was not wronged. The Chairman made the absolute right decision. He was taking good care of my own health and welfare, as well as his university’s welfare and mission success. Had I been in his shoes, I would have made the exact same decision. NDU benefited greatly under the leadership of the ambassador who took my place as interim president. I do not dispute any decision, medical or administrative. Furthermore, I am not a medical doctor and I believe that the clinicians at Walter Reed are true professionals who did their best. 

But consider this: One week before I was asked to resign, two medical doctors — my general practitioner and a psychiatrist — had evaluated me and given me a clean bill of health. 

“It is my professional opinion that [Major General] Martin is physically and mentally fit for duty,” wrote one. 

The psychiatrist wrote: “I do not find evidence of psychiatric illness. Specifically, he does not have depression, mania or psychosis…he is psychiatrically fit for duty.”

The reason I say this is not to criticize, but to emphasize how devilishly difficult it is even for medical professionals to recognize and correctly diagnose bipolar disorder, even when it is in an acute state.

That day in the Chairman’s office, it had never crossed my own mind that I was mentally ill. I felt terrific and was full of energy, drive, enthusiasm and ideas. There was important work to be done. In fact, the week after I had resigned, I was given yet another unremarkable medical examination: “fit for duty.”

Yet the truth is that for more than a decade, I had unknowingly served as a senior leader in the U.S. military with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. According to medical authorities, my bipolar disorder was “triggered” in 2003 when I was serving as a colonel and brigade commander during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It grew worse for nearly a decade, and between 2012 and the summer of 2014 my mania became “acute.” At last, in late 2014, four months after my resignation from NDU, I spiraled, then crashed, into hopeless, terrifying depression and psychosis. From late 2014 through 2016, I was in a battle for my life.

Had there been warning signs and indications? How did I myself miss them? How did my family, friends and colleagues miss them? How did the institution I worked for so long miss them? If there were warnings, what were they? 

Bipolar disorder in a nutshell: What exactly is it?

Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a general term that, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), comprises a cluster of related disorders that are characterized by distinctive and extreme shifts or cycles, in mood. These moods oscillate between varying degrees of two poles: mania and depression, or “highs” and “lows.” 

Manic states are typically marked by elevated, expansive or irritable moods and increased energy; feeling overly happy and optimistic; being highly talkative but with pressured speech; having an inflated self-esteem or feeling grandiose or religious, as if on a mission directly from God. There’s often little need for sleep, since it’s common to feel rested after three hours, but the mind is always racing with ideas and distracted, which can lead the afflicted to take part in high risk, dangerous, or potentially painful activities, such as drug and alcohol abuse, high risk sex, affairs, and extravagant spending sprees. 

Mania is much more than feeling up, happy or energetic. It can be life-threatening and highly destructive, with some manic symptoms being severe enough to cause marked social or occupational impairment or require hospitalization to prevent harm to self or others. And it is driven in large part by  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 March 2021 at 12:23 pm

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Man Rejected

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Jessica Valenti writes in her blog All in Her Head:

Until recently, I didn’t understand why Piers Morgan was so obsessed with Meghan Markle. I knew that the British pundit had a reputation for being bigoted and misogynist, but the particular focus on Markle—the countless nasty tweets, the repeated name-calling on television—was baffling.

But now, it all makes sense: Resurfaced videos show Morgan complaining in multiple interviews that after meeting the then-actress for a drink, she never spoke to him again. “She ghosted me!,” he told one reporter. “She cut me off,” he told another. (In one particularly pathetic interview, he sits in the same pub, at the same table, where he met Markle. “I really liked her,” he says.)

Apparently Markle’s sin of disinterest was reason enough for the television host to berate her publicly over the course of years. He’s called her “shameless,” a “social climber,” and—most recently—said he believed she was lying about being suicidal.

Hell hath no fury like a man rejected.

And while Morgan’s ire towards Markle is unique because it’s been blasted all over the world stage, you certainly don’t have to be a Duchess to suffer the anger of a jilted man.

Whether it’s the guy who follows you for ten blocks because you refuse to “smile,” the bar-dweller who calls you a bitch after you won’t give him your phone number, or the ex-boyfriend who leaves threatening voicemails post-break-up—most women have experienced the unpleasant aftermath of a man who’s been refused.

Anger from rejected men is such a regular part of women’s lives that many of us have strategies to preempt any nastiness: We invent boyfriends, wear fake engagement rings or give out fake phone numbers. We smile and act flattered, are polite when we don’t want to be, and leave relationships saying that it’s all our fault—anything to prevent a potential swell of rage.

Because we know that rejected men are dangerous men. Maybe he’ll release revenge porn after a break-up, or engage in workplace retaliation after denying unwanted advances. Or maybe the worst will happen.

Janese Talton-Jackson, mother to twin girls and a one-year old son, was out at a bar when she turned down a man for a date. He followed her outside and shot her in the chest. Twenty-year old Mollie Tibbets was jogging when a man approached her. She told him to leave her alone, and he stabbed her to death. Even the spate of misogynist mass shootings over the last few years have been perpetrated by men furious that women don’t want them.

That’s what makes rejected men so frightening; women never really know how severe their reaction will be. We do know, however, that the through-line is entitlement.

Men who won’t take ‘no’ as an understandable answer are men who believe they’re owed access to women’s bodies, time and attention.

There’s a reason that Morgan said, “I just think Meghan would be sitting there thinking, ‘I owe that guy one, I really owe that guy one.” It is incomprehensible to Morgan that Markle—who he shared one solitary drink with—owes him absolutely nothing.

It’s also why . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2021 at 3:20 pm

How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation

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Karen Hao writes in MIT Technology Review:

Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, a director of AI at Facebook, was apologizing to his audience.

It was March 23, 2018, just days after the revelation that Cambridge Analytica, a consultancy that worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign, had surreptitiously siphoned the personal data of tens of millions of Americans from their Facebook accounts in an attempt to influence how they voted. It was the biggest privacy breach in Facebook’s history, and Quiñonero had been previously scheduled to speak at a conference on, among other things, “the intersection of AI, ethics, and privacy” at the company. He considered canceling, but after debating it with his communications director, he’d kept his allotted time.

As he stepped up to face the room, he began with an admission. “I’ve just had the hardest five days in my tenure at Facebook,” he remembers saying. “If there’s criticism, I’ll accept it.”

The Cambridge Analytica scandal would kick off Facebook’s largest publicity crisis ever. It compounded fears that the algorithms that determine what people see on the platform were amplifying fake news and hate speech, and that Russian hackers had weaponized them to try to sway the election in Trump’s favor. Millions began deleting the app; employees left in protest; the company’s market capitalization plunged by more than $100 billion after its July earnings call.

In the ensuing months, Mark Zuckerberg began his own apologizing. He apologized for not taking “a broad enough view” of Facebook’s responsibilities, and for his mistakes as a CEO. Internally, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, kicked off a two-year civil rights audit to recommend ways the company could prevent the use of its platform to undermine democracy.

Finally, Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s chief technology officer, asked Quiñonero to start a team with a directive that was a little vague: to examine the societal impact of the company’s algorithms. The group named itself the Society and AI Lab (SAIL); last year it combined with another team working on issues of data privacy to form Responsible AI.

Quiñonero was a natural pick for the job. He, as much as anybody, was the one responsible for Facebook’s position as an AI powerhouse. In his six years at Facebook, he’d created some of the first algorithms for targeting users with content precisely tailored to their interests, and then he’d diffused those algorithms across the company. Now his mandate would be to make them less harmful.

Facebook has consistently pointed to the efforts by Quiñonero and others as it seeks to repair its reputation. It regularly trots out various leaders to speak to the media about the ongoing reforms. In May of 2019, it granted a series of interviews with Schroepfer to the New York Times, which rewarded the company with a humanizing profile of a sensitive, well-intentioned executive striving to overcome the technical challenges of filtering out misinformation and hate speech from a stream of content that amounted to billions of pieces a day. These challenges are so hard that it makes Schroepfer emotional, wrote the Times: “Sometimes that brings him to tears.”

In the spring of 2020, it was apparently my turn. Ari Entin, Facebook’s AI communications director, asked in an email if I wanted to take a deeper look at the company’s AI work. After talking to several of its AI leaders, I decided to focus on Quiñonero. Entin happily obliged. As not only the leader of the Responsible AI team but also the man who had made Facebook into an AI-driven company, Quiñonero was a solid choice to use as a poster boy.

He seemed a natural choice of subject to me, too. In the years since he’d formed his team following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, concerns about the spread of lies and hate speech on Facebook had only grown. In late 2018 the company admitted that this activity had helped fuel a genocidal anti-Muslim campaign in Myanmar for several years. In 2020 Facebook started belatedly taking action against Holocaust deniers, anti-vaxxers, and the conspiracy movement QAnon. All these dangerous falsehoods were metastasizing thanks to the AI capabilities Quiñonero had helped build. The algorithms that underpin Facebook’s business weren’t created to filter out what was false or inflammatory; they were designed to make people share and engage with as much content as possible by showing them things they were most likely to be outraged or titillated by. Fixing this problem, to me, seemed like core Responsible AI territory.

I began video-calling Quiñonero regularly. I also spoke to Facebook executives, current and former employees, industry peers, and external experts. Many spoke on condition of anonymity because they’d signed nondisclosure agreements or feared retaliation. I wanted to know: What was Quiñonero’s team doing to rein in the hate and lies on its platform?

But Entin and Quiñonero had a different agenda. Each time I tried to bring up these topics, my requests to speak about them were dropped or redirected. They only wanted to discuss the Responsible AI team’s plan to tackle one specific kind of problem: AI bias, in which algorithms discriminate against particular user groups. An example would be an ad-targeting algorithm that shows certain job or housing opportunities to white people but not to minorities.

By the time thousands of rioters stormed the US Capitol in January, organized in part on Facebook and fueled by the lies about a stolen election that had fanned out across the platform, it was clear from my conversations that the Responsible AI team had failed to make headway against misinformation and hate speech because it had never made those problems its main focus. More important, I realized, if it tried to, it would be set up for failure.

The reason is simple. Everything the company does and chooses not to do flows from a single motivation: Zuckerberg’s relentless desire for growth. Quiñonero’s AI expertise supercharged that growth. His team got pigeonholed into targeting AI bias, as I learned in my reporting, because preventing such bias helps the company avoid proposed regulation that might, if passed, hamper that growth. Facebook leadership has also repeatedly weakened or halted many initiatives meant to clean up misinformation on the platform because doing so would undermine that growth.

In other words, the Responsible AI team’s work—whatever its merits on the specific problem of tackling AI bias—is essentially irrelevant to fixing the bigger problems of misinformation, extremism, and political polarization. And it’s all of us who pay the price.

“When you’re in the business of maximizing engagement, you’re not interested in truth. You’re not interested in harm, divisiveness, conspiracy. In fact, those are your friends,” says Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley who collaborates with Facebook to understand image- and video-based misinformation on the platform.

“They always do just enough to be able to put the press release out. But with a few exceptions, I don’t think it’s actually translated into better policies. They’re never really dealing with the fundamental problems.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

With new machine-learning models coming online daily, the company created a new system to track their impact and maximize user engagement. The process is still the same today. Teams train up a new machine-learning model on FBLearner, whether to change the ranking order of posts or to better catch content that violates Facebook’s community standards (its rules on what is and isn’t allowed on the platform). Then they test the new model on a small subset of Facebook’s users to measure how it changes engagement metrics, such as the number of likes, comments, and shares, says Krishna Gade, who served as the engineering manager for news feed from 2016 to 2018.

If a model reduces engagement too much, it’s discarded. Otherwise, it’s deployed and continually monitored. On Twitter, Gade explained that his engineers would get notifications every few days when metrics such as likes or comments were down. Then they’d decipher what had caused the problem and whether any models needed retraining.

But this approach soon caused issues. The models that maximize engagement also favor controversy, misinformation, and extremism: put simply, people just like outrageous stuff. Sometimes this inflames existing political tensions. The most devastating example to date is the case of Myanmar, where viral fake news and hate speech about the Rohingya Muslim minority escalated the country’s religious conflict into a full-blown genocide. Facebook admitted in 2018, after years of downplaying its role, that it had not done enough “to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence.”

While Facebook may have been oblivious to these consequences in the beginning, it was studying them by 2016. In an internal presentation from that year, reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, a company researcher, Monica Lee, found that Facebook was not only hosting a large number of extremist groups but also promoting them to its users: “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools,” the presentation said, predominantly thanks to the models behind the “Groups You Should Join” and “Discover” features.

In 2017, Chris Cox, Facebook’s longtime chief product officer, formed a new task force to understand whether maximizing user engagement on Facebook was contributing to political polarization. It found that there was indeed a correlation, and that reducing polarization would mean taking a hit on engagement. In a mid-2018 document reviewed by the Journal, the task force proposed several potential fixes, such as tweaking the recommendation algorithms to suggest a more diverse range of groups for people to join. But it acknowledged that some of the ideas were “antigrowth.” Most of the proposals didn’t move forward, and the task force disbanded.

Since then, other employees have corroborated these findings. A former Facebook AI researcher who joined in 2018 says he and his team conducted “study after study” confirming the same basic idea: models that maximize engagement increase polarization. They could easily track how strongly users agreed or disagreed on different issues, what content they liked to engage with, and how their stances changed as a result. Regardless of the issue, the models learned to feed users increasingly extreme viewpoints. “Over time they measurably become more polarized,” he says.

The researcher’s team also found that users with a tendency to post or engage with melancholy content—a possible sign of depression—could easily spiral into consuming increasingly negative material that risked further worsening their mental health. The team proposed tweaking the content-ranking models for these users to stop maximizing engagement alone, so they would be shown less of the depressing stuff. “The question for leadership was: Should we be optimizing for engagement if you find that somebody is in a vulnerable state of mind?” he remembers. (A Facebook spokesperson said she could not find documentation for this proposal.)

But anything that reduced engagement, even for reasons such as not exacerbating someone’s depression, led to a lot of hemming and hawing among leadership. With their performance reviews and salaries tied to the successful completion of projects, employees quickly learned to drop those that received pushback and continue working on those dictated from the top down.

One such project heavily pushed by company leaders involved predicting whether a user might be at risk for something several people had already done: livestreaming their own suicide on Facebook Live. The task involved building a model to analyze the comments that other users were posting on a video after it had gone live, and bringing at-risk users to the attention of trained Facebook community reviewers who could call local emergency responders to perform a wellness check. It didn’t require any changes to content-ranking models, had negligible impact on engagement, and effectively fended off negative press. It was also nearly impossible, says the researcher: “It’s more of a PR stunt. The efficacy of trying to determine if somebody is going to kill themselves in the next 30 seconds, based on the first 10 seconds of video analysis—you’re not going to be very effective.”

Facebook disputes . . .

And there’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 March 2021 at 12:20 pm

Whatever Happened to the War Against Terrorism?

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Kevin Drum has a good post:

In a post that happens to include a bit of mulling over the fate of Western civilization, Jay Nordlinger adds this aside:

(Want to know some good news? The threat of radical political Islam receded faster than many of us expected. It still lurks, of course — what doesn’t? But I well remember the concerns of the first decade of this century. Many of us were settling in for a long twilight struggle. In any event . . .)

This reminds me of something to brag about. Several years ago I predicted that the region from north Africa to the Mideast to central Asia would soon see a substantial decline as a source of terrorism. The reason was simple: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2021 at 2:29 pm

How to Cope with Teen Anxiety

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It’s been a while since I was a teen, but you may know teens. (I strongly suspect that the teen readership of this blog is zero.) And in any even, anxiety is anxiety, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a good approach. CBT is as effective as medication in treating depressing (and lacks the invidious side-effects that medications often include). This article describes how CBT is a good approach to treating anxiety, teen or not.

Regine Galanti, a clinical psychologist and founder of the cognitive behavioural therapy practice Long Island Behavioral Psychology and the author of Anxiety Relief for Teens (2020), writes in Psyche:

Most people are afraid of something, whatever age they are. But the teenage years definitely have their fair share of challenges. Maybe you’re anxious about being judged in class, going off to college, getting good grades or being separated from the people you love. The list can go on and on because anxiety is a normal part of being human, especially in adolescence.

But though it can be uncomfortable, anxiety can actually be helpful. It’s what keeps us from jumping off buildings, or running in front of moving cars. It prompts us to focus on potential dangers and respond to them in a way that keeps us safe. This system works pretty well at protecting us most of the time – which is great, if and when you’re in actual danger. Anxiety becomes a problem if it raises the alarm when there isn’t really any actual danger around. In fact, you can think of problematic anxiety as being like a false or overly sensitive alarm – a smoke detector going off when there’s no fire.

As a clinical psychologist, I meet a lot of teenagers with anxiety. I emphasise to them that anxiety-free living might sound amazing, but it would in fact be dangerous because you’d miss out on cues that something is actually wrong. So instead, I use an approach called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help teens learn tools to manage their anxiety so that it doesn’t get in the way of their lives; in this Guide, I’m going to share some of these tools with you.

Before getting to the practical exercises, it helps to know a little about how your anxiety system works in terms of your thoughts, feelings and behaviour, which all contribute to the emotions you experience at any given time. Let’s look at these three components in the context of a tiger walking into the room you’re in right now. (Unlikely, I know, but bear with me!)

What you think

Your thoughts influence your emotions. So if, as the tiger starts getting closer, you think to yourself Hey, I love tigers, you probably won’t feel very anxious. If on the other hand you think Woah, that tiger wants to eat me for lunch, you’ll probably feel super-scared. In this way, thoughts are like sunglasses: you can change them or take them off, and the world will look different. Here’s a more realistic example: if you think to yourself If I fail this exam, I’ll never get into college, and my whole life will fall apart, you’ll probably feel anxious and hopeless before and during the exam. If instead, you had the thought It’s a good thing this exam is worth only 5 per cent of my grade. I can always recover any lost marks on the next exam, you probably wouldn’t feel so anxious.

What you feel (in your body)

Anxiety includes a physical reaction called the ‘fight or flight response’. When you feel anxious, your body kicks into high gear. The hormone adrenaline starts to flow, and a host of other things happen as well, such as your heart racing, your breathing speeding up and your pupils enlarging. This reaction gets your body ready to move away from danger, or fight the enemy if you can’t run (hence the name, ‘fight or flight’). You might also feel your muscles tense up, feel shaky, have headaches or nausea. This might feel natural or appropriate if you were running a marathon or fleeing a tiger that had just wandered into the room, but when you’re anxious in a more ordinary situation, you might find these bodily sensations not only unpleasant, but experience them as further ‘proof’ that something is wrong, even if it isn’t! Although these physical changes might feel dangerous, they’re harmless. It’s just your body’s natural way of trying to get you out of harm’s way.

What you do

This third part of anxiety involves how you behave in response to your thoughts and physical sensations. If you think That tiger wants to eat me, and you feel your heart pounding out of your chest, you’ll probably want to run away. It’s perfectly normal to try to escape situations that make you anxious. This is a great plan for actual danger, but it can become problematic in the context of false alarms. Avoidance not only causes practical problems, it often fuels more anxiety in the future.

These three parts of anxiety – your thoughts, your physical feelings, and your behaviours – impact on each other, and form an anxiety ‘cycle’. Anxious thoughts can bring on a physical response, which makes you want to run or avoid.

Here’s an example: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The key points:

  • Emotions have three parts: thoughts, physical feelings, and behaviours. These parts are interconnected, and any of those parts can be a trigger that starts the anxiety cycle.
  • Anxiety, like all emotions, can be adaptive. It protects us from harm in dangerous situations. But, sometimes, the system goes off in the absence of real danger. This feels uncomfortable but is actually harmless as long as you don’t start actively avoiding it.
  • Anxiety fades if you let it. Emotions are like a wave – they peak, and then recede, even if you don’t do anything to control or manage them.
  • Managing anxiety is about building strategies to change your thoughts (eg, by reality-checking them), calming your physical reaction (eg, via breathing exercises), and facing your fears. These strategies are part of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a type of therapy that research shows helps to manage anxiety.
  • One of the best ways to manage anxiety is to face the things you fear using a strategy called ‘exposure’: break down your feared situation into small steps, and practise facing them bit by bit. This helps you cut out avoidance, which feeds anxiety long-term.

Caveat: Something that works well for oone may not work for another, and somethign that works for many may not work for a few. That is why medical and psychological research uses a multitude of subjects and statistical methods. If all responded the same way, such research would be much simpler, since studying a single individual would suffice.

So CBT is an approach worth trying. It is as effective as medication, which means that it will work for many but not for all.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2021 at 11:32 am

‘This Crap Means More to Him Than My Life’: When QAnon Invades American Homes

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Anastasia Carrier reports in Politico:

For months, Emily has been married to a ghost. The trouble began last summer, when her husband Peter, the man who once showered her with affection and doted on their kids, started to spend all of his free time online, watching videos and reading message boards. He skipped the family activities they had once enjoyed, like watching football and playing outdoor sports. The couple, she recalled, stopped laughing together; everything suddenly turned serious with him. The pandemic had forced Peter to work from home, but it didn’t feel like he was there.

Before long, there were further turns. Peter started saying things that bordered on “bigoted and xenophobic,” Emily told me. Most shocking to her, Peter made her feel like an enemy for disagreeing with him. When she pushed back on his new strange ideas, like Tom Hanks being a pedophile, he answered her with disdain and treated her as if she were stupid.

“I was told that I buried my head in the sand and couldn’t see the ‘real’ problems,” said Emily, who shared her story under the condition of anonymity because she fears Peter’s retaliation and feels disloyal for speaking up. (Emily and Peter are not their real names.) Sometimes he undermined her this way in front of their kids.

Emily knew her husband was wrapped up in something called “QAnon.” She had heard the term before—Peter, prior to his conversion, had once dismissed it as “nuts”—but she didn’t fully grasp what QAnon was until early October, when she watched a few of the videos Peter kept talking about. That was when she learned that her husband had been consumed by a complex and false conspiracy theory that accuses “deep state elites” of running a secret pedophile ring. By then, it was too late to pull him out.

That month, Emily read an article online about “QAnonCasualties”—a Reddit forum for people like her, whose loved ones had also been drawn in by the bogus conspiracy theory. Suddenly, she didn’t feel so alone. For the next four days she watched the forum closely until she gathered the courage to post about her husband. “It’s exhausting loving someone and watching them get sucked into this cycle you can’t break,” she wrote.

“Thank you all for responding. Just knowing others are going through this disaster is relieving,” Emily replied.

Emily is just one of thousands who have found their way to r/QAnonCasualties. Started in 2019 by a Reddit user whose mother was a part of the “Qult,” the subreddit has ballooned in popularity over the past year, growing from less than a thousand followers in February 2020 to more than 133,000 in February 2021. The group’s followers more than doubled in the weeks following the Capitol riot alone. And as QAnon continues to spread—about 30 percent of Republicans have favorable views about the conspiracy theory, according to a January poll by YouGov—so does the forum’s reach.

As American politics scrambles to deal with this fringe ideology and its followers—a set of people seemingly impervious to facts, some committed enough to assault the U.S. Capitol—the country might learn a few things from the people who have to grapple with QAnon in their very homes, and who live with it every day. And what their stories tell us is unsettling. In post after post on r/QAnonCasualties, fathers and daughters, wives and husbands, best friends and colleagues describe their inability to get through to the people they are closest to. There are stories of marriages and friendships torn asunder, estranged siblings, parents and children severing ties. There are occasional accounts of success. But more often the stories end with people giving up trying to reach their radicalized loved ones. Sometimes, they walk away entirely.

After Emily found the board in October, the tone of her posts quickly went from hopeful to defeated. She began to accept that she might have to leave her husband. One day she wrote: “I would have never married this person, yet somehow, I am [married to him]. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

Peter has stopped treating the pandemic seriously, and Emily, who is in a high-risk group, can’t understand. They are both in their early 40s, and over the two decades that they’ve known each other Peter has always been protective of her fragile health. Now he thinks the pandemic is a hoax and doesn’t wear a mask, putting Emily in danger.

So Emily continues to avoid talking about politics and opts to do all of the house chores like groceries herself because she can’t trust Peter to be careful. As she wrote in one post: “This crap means more to him than my life.”

The QAnonCasualties subreddit came to life on July 4, 2019, when user Sqwakomodile shared a story about their mother being consumed by QAnon.

“The ignorance, bigotry, and refusal to question ‘the plan’ have only gotten worse over time,” Sqwakomodile wrote. The user barely talked to their mother anymore, but felt guilty about it. “It only seems to make me feel terrible and feeling like it’s my responsibility to try to lead her back to reality. Having a loved one involved in QAnon is an exhausting, sad, scary, demoralizing experience.”

At the time, QAnon had already made its way out of the far-right chat rooms where it was born and begun to spread via mainstream social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The conspiracy could be traced back to 2017, when  . . .

Continue reading. Needless to say, there’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2021 at 7:18 pm

The dilemma presented when a deplorable creator produces an admirable creation

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Woody Allen of course springs to mind, but take a look at Patricia Highsmith, described in the New Criterion by Brooke Allen as she reviews Devils, Lusts and Strange Desires, a book by Richard Bradford. Her review begins:

It’s a well-known principle that if you admire certain writers’ work, maybe you’d be better off not meeting them in the flesh. Good writers are often surprisingly unpleasant people—no one can quite figure out why, but it’s true. And never has there been a writer I’m so glad not to have known (though I very much enjoy her fiction) as Patricia Highsmith (1921–95). To use a non-PC term—I think I can get away with it in these pages—she was a predatory lesbian, in addition to being a professional homebreaker; a nasty drunk; an emotional sadist; and an equal-opportunity bigot who seems to have detested every group except the American and European gratin. Arabs, Jews, the French, Catholics, evangelicals, Latinos, blacks, Koreans, Indians both dot and feather . . . the list goes on and on.

Richard Bradford, Highsmith’s most recent biographer, observes, in his book Devils, Lusts and Strange Desires, her carryings-on with a sort of horrified fascination.1 “Compared to Highsmith, the likes of Casanova, Errol Flynn and Lord Byron might be considered lethargic—even demure. She seemed to enjoy affairs with married women in particular, but breaking up lesbian couples was a close second.” “An insatiable appetite for things, and people, stolen from or denied to others, seemed to have become her modus operandi.” She had an urgent and insatiable need for high drama ending in ruined lives, and if a relationship did not provide her with such fodder she soon moved on.

The question of mental illness of course arises, though Highsmith was never diagnosed. Bradford cites a psychiatrist, unacquainted with the writer, who passed her in a hotel corridor and noted that her facial expression was one he had never witnessed outside of an insane asylum. She herself speculated that she might have been bipolar, but to me (amateur psychologist that I am) her behavior seems more in keeping with borderline personality disorder. But we will never know.

What makes all this interesting, aside from the reader’s prurience and the perverse fascination involved in watching a train wreck in progress? It is, Bradford demonstrates, that Highsmith’s personality is so closely interwoven with those of her characters, her pathologies so allied with theirs, that a knowledge of her life truly expands the imaginative exercise of reading the fiction—which is not always the case with biographies. But how much do we actually know, and how much of what she tells us can be trusted? From adolescence on she recorded her life, thoughts, and fantasies in a series of “cahiers,” now assembled in the Swiss Literary Archives at Bern. Bradford has clearly spent a long and frustrating time in those archives, trying to differentiate truth and fantasy, fact and fiction. He admits that the attempt was often vain—but that fact in itself tells us much about Highsmith’s odd psyche. “As well as writing books featuring invented characters,” he tells us, “she decided that her own life should become the equivalent of a novel, a legacy of lies, fantasies and authorial inventions.” She apparently did this for several reasons: to create a life she desired rather than the one she lived, shaping her own life as fiction; to transpose her own experiences imaginatively into those of her characters; and, mischievously, to confuse scholars and biographers, poor saps like Bradford who, she knew, would scrutinize her papers after her death.

Much of her childhood and early life can be ascertained, however. Was there anything there to have caused the extreme behaviors of later years? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2021 at 4:51 pm

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