It’s All In the Reflexes

One of the funny things about Big Trouble in Little China is Jack Burton’s (Kurt Russell) smug self-confidence about his superior reflexes. It parodies a certain American ideal, at least for me.  There is another line that sticks in my mind from the movies. I only saw the trailer, but Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach is some guy in a foreign land with his foreign friends staring across a body of water at a distant shore. They are thinking about swimming the distance and one of his friends estimates it must be 900 meters away, and he’s doubtful about all of them making it. DiCaprio’s character looks confidently into the horizon and says “How far in miles?….Americans think in miles..”  —or something like that.

I remember these two scenes whenever I observe how Americans measure themselves against a situation and rather quickly decide whatever the problem, it can be solved; if it’s a set-back, it can be overcome; if it’s ‘wrong’, it can be righted; and perhaps most importantly, if there is  sin, there is also redemption.

Americans believe in the American Reflex. We believe our response to any adversity will result in something that is technically possible, morally correct, and will ultimately prevail. That we may look like fools in the meantime is disregarded ( like swaggering Jack who waves his machine-pistol around menacingly all-the-while unaware of the lipstick he is wearing ). DiCaprio’s character–ever the optimist– only needs the challenge intimidating his mates to be re-framed in American terms. If he can understand it, he can rise to it.
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Who wrote this amazing, mysterious book satirizing tech startup culture?

Fusion, By Alexis Madrigal, June 8

A mysterious little book called Iterating Grace is floating around San Francisco right now. At least a dozen people have received the book in the mail—or in my case, by secret hand-delivery to my house. (Which is a little creepy.)

The artifact itself consists of a 2,001-word story interspersed with hand-drawn recreations of tweets by venture capitalists and startup people like Chris Sacca, Paul Graham, Brad Feld, Sam Altman, and others.

The story’s lead character, Koons Crooks, goes on a spiritual quest by contemplating the social media feeds emanating from the startup world. It leads him to a Bolivian volcano and a chillingly hilarious final act with some cans of cat food, a DIY conference badge, and a pack of vicuñas (which are sort of like llamas).

“For him, the tossed-off musings and business maxims of these men (they were almost all men) shimmered with a certain numinous luster. He contemplated individual tweets for days, sometimes weeks, expounding on them at length in the margins of his books about the sea, meditating on them as though they were koans,” we read. “The answers he’d been searching for had been there, in the Bay Area’s innovation economy, all along—articulated, unwittingly, by an elite class of entrepreneurial high priests.”

Depressed? Try Therapy Without the Therapist

New York Times, By Tina Rosenberg, June 19

Elle is a mess. She’s actually talented, attractive and good at her job, but she feels like a fraud — convinced that today’s the day she’ll flunk a test, lose a job, mess up a relationship. Her colleague Moody also sabotages himself. He’s a hardworking, nice person, but loses friends because he’s grumpy, oversensitive and gets angry for no reason.

If you suffer from depression or anxiety as Elle and Moody do, spending time with them could help. They are characters in a free online program of cognitive behavioral therapy called MoodGYM, which leads users through quizzes and exercises — therapy without the therapist.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a commonly used treatment for depression, anxiety and other conditions. With it, the therapist doesn’t ask you about your mother — or look at the past at all.

Instead, a cognitive behavioral therapist aims to give patients the skills to manage their moods by helping them identify unhelpful thoughts like “I’m worthless,” “I’ll always fail” or “people will always let me down.” Patients learn to analyze them and replace them with constructive thoughts that are more accurate or precise. For example, a patient could replace “I fail at everything” with “I succeed at things when I’m motivated and I try hard.” That new thought in turn changes feelings and behaviors.

The success of cognitive behavioral therapy is well known; many people consider it the most effective therapy for depression. What is not widely known, at least in the United States, is that you don’t need a therapist to do it. Scores of studies have found that online C.B.T. works as well as conventional face-to-face cognitive behavioral therapy – as long a there is occasional human support or coaching. “For common mental disorders like anxiety and depression, there is no evidence Internet-based treatment is less effective than face-to-face therapy,” said Pim Cuijpers, professor of clinical psychology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and a leading researcher on computer C.B.T.

[…]

Online therapy is effective against an astonishing variety of disorders. A Swedish survey of studies found that online C.B.T. has been tested for 25 different ones. It was most effective for depression, anxiety disorders, severe health anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, female sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, cannabis use and pathological gambling. “Comparison to conventional C.B.T. showed that [online] C.B.T. produces equivalent effects,” the researchers concluded.

Meet the Gay Mormon Men (and Their Wives) Beseeching SCOTUS to Save ‘Traditional’ Marriage

TPM, By James Ross Gardner, June 17

We were in the basement, a shirtless Jim Morrison looming on the wall behind me, when Erin Caldwell’s naked foot snaked under her husband Danny’s leg. Her toes, one adorned with a ring, coiled around his thigh and hooked in to nest behind his knee.

Hardly a salacious gesture, not even for a conservative American family like the Caldwells. Except that Danny wants to have sex with men. “Want” isn’t the term he’d use; it’s more like his body desires it. His heart? He insists it belongs to Erin. Yet lately, “Horrible, horrible things have been said. Just a lot of stuff online,” he told me. “That our marriage is a sham. That I’m just sleeping around on the side, and that I’m not really in love with her…they’ve called her ‘a fag hag.’”

Erin flinched at those words. Fag. Hag. Two jagged syllables that seemed to gouge at her chest.

Six weeks earlier, in April of this year, the Caldwells declared their unusual marriage in the form of an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States, which they cosigned with 19 other people, nearly all members of the Mormon church. Submitted in advance of the court’s oral arguments, the brief contests the constitutional legalization of gay marriage. Its signees, or amici, all hail from “mixed-orientation” marriages: same-sex-attracted men married to straight women.

Diary

LRB, By Ben Lerner, June 18

In ninth grade English Mrs X required us to memorise and recite a poem and so I asked the Topeka High librarian to direct me to the shortest poem she knew and she suggested Marianne Moore’s ‘Poetry’, which, in the 1967 version, reads in its entirety:

I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect
contempt for it, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.

I remember thinking my classmates were suckers for having mainly memorised Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet whereas I had only to recite 24 words. Never mind the fact that a set rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter make 14 of Shakespeare’s lines easier to memorise than Moore’s three, each one of which is interrupted by a conjunctive adverb – a parallelism of awkwardness that basically serves as its form. That plus the four instances of ‘it’ makes Moore sound like a priest grudgingly admitting that sex has its function while trying to avoid using the word, an effect amplified by the awkward enjambment of the second line and the third (‘in/it’). In fact, ‘Poetry’ is a very difficult poem to commit to memory, as I demonstrated by failing to get it right on any of the three chances I was given by Mrs X, who was looking down at the text, my classmates cracking up.

My contempt for the assignment was, after all, imperfect.
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Totally Pure – Joe Bageant drops out

I posted pieces about Joe’s books, “Deer Hunting in America: Dispatches from the Class War” and “Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball”and “Rainbow Pie”.  I noted that it took a few essays to really set the hook at first…, but hooked I was…, and am.  Probably…, hell…, no doubt…, my favorite essay is, Ghosts of Tim Leary and Hunter S. Thompson.  Yeah…, Joe and I had a lot of likes, loves and lusts in common…, liquid libations, lovely ladies and Lysergic Acid Diethylamide.  And always…, always…, some music in the background.  The dedication to that piece was a teaser too, “This essay is dedicated to Gypsy Joe Hess (1919-1988).” 

The intro to it was this…,

Everything Americans think they know, they learned from a televised morality play. It’s all theater. You root for some good guy and boo some bad guy. You pick your own, but you dance to the tune of the men running the show. It’s mind control, pure and simple, and if there is an American immune to it, then he is probably living in a snow cave somewhere in Alaska.
— Gypsy Joe Hess (1919-1988), prospector, self-educated philosopher and horse trader

Damn right I Googled “Gypsy Joe Hess” when I read the essay a couple years back…, and got no hits.  I do now though…, after this title piece by John Lingan was run at The Baffler – Totally Pure – Joe Bageant drops out.
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Police hunt man who killed nine in historic South Carolina black church

Reuters, By Harriet McLeod, July 18

Charleston, SC – Police in Charleston, South Carolina, were searching on Thursday for a white gunman who killed nine people in a historic African-American church including the pastor, a black state senator, in an attack the U.S. Department of Justice called a hate crime.

The shooter, a 21-year-old white man with sandy blond hair, sat with churchgoers inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for about an hour on Wednesday before opening fire, Police Chief Gregory Mullen said.

The U.S. Department of Justice opened a hate crime investigation into the shooting, which follows a string of racially charged killings that have prompted waves of protest across the United States over the past year and sparked the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Updates:
Charleston Shooting: Police Release Photos of Suspected Gunman [Auto-start video coverage from this morning]

Authorities have ID’d the suspect as Dylann Roof, 21, of Columbia area (The Post and Courier)

Reuters Live Blog

BREAKING: Uncle of suspected church shooter Dylann Roof says his nephew is “quiet, soft spoken.” Read More

Renewable energy from evaporating water (w/ Video)

Phys.Org, June 16

An immensely powerful yet invisible force pulls water from the earth to the top of the tallest redwood and delivers snow to the tops of the Himalayas. Yet despite the power of evaporating water, its potential to propel self-sufficient devices or produce electricity has remained largely untapped—until now.

In the June 16 online issue of Nature Communications, Columbia University scientists report the development of two novel devices that derive power directly from evaporation – a floating, piston-driven engine that generates electricity causing a light to flash, and a rotary engine that drives a miniature car.

When evaporation energy is scaled up, the researchers predict, it could one day produce electricity from giant floating power generators that sit on bays or reservoirs, or from huge rotating machines akin to wind turbines that sit above water, said Ozgur Sahin, Ph.D., an associate professor of biological sciences and physics at Columbia University and the paper’s lead author.

“Evaporation is a fundamental force of nature,” Sahin said. “It’s everywhere, and it’s more powerful than other forces like wind and waves.”

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