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In 2014 Fear Trumped Empathy, and Other Smart Insights

December 27, 2014 in Blogs

By Michele Filgate, Salon

Looking back on a long, hard 2014, communal panic was a dominant theme, says the critic Leslie Jamison.

Leslie Jamison’s “The Empathy Exams” came out from Graywolf Press to much acclaim, and people bought and read and discussed her brilliant essay collection with such rare gusto that it landed on the New York Times best-seller list. She has a remarkable ability to take other people’s stories alongside her own and present necessary narratives that stay with the reader long after finishing the book.

As part of Salon’s series of year-end conversations with some of the most essential nonfiction voices of 2014, we spoke both over the phone and then by email about everything from Ebola to selfies to tattoos.

Your collection is in so many ways about pain, about how we face and discuss and experience illness and pain. So I’m curious about a story that broke after your book was published: How do you think our country is handling Ebola victims and the medical workers who have traveled overseas? 

I was doing an event in Chicago a few days after Craig Spencer was diagnosed with Ebola — after returning from his work for Doctors Without Borders — and all of New York was going crazy and the Internet was publishing maps of where he’d gone bowling in Williamsburg and where he’d eaten a snack and which subway lines he’d ridden. Somebody asked me whether I felt like Americans were showing enough empathy about Ebola. It was something I’d already thought about in relation to the uproar over Spencer — how sometimes fear can be the enemy of empathy.

If this man were going through something similar in a faraway place — i.e., he’d been doing important medical work and had gotten diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness — people might have respected his bravery. But in this case, many people’s primary reactions had to do with their own proximity to danger. It was striking to me how that sense of fear — a kind of communal panic — seemed to trump feeling empathy for him, much less respecting him for …read more


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Two Robins Wish You a Very Happy Christmas

December 27, 2014 in Blogs

By Robin Koerner

I arrived in England yesterday from my home in the States and the jet-lag had the better of me this Christmas morning by 4.45 am.

Dad, whom I have traveled across the Atlantic to spend Christmas with, is still in bed as I write this, and I am sitting alone on his couch in a silent house.

Nevertheless, I have already received my biggest Christmas greeting of the day. A little bird came to give it to me.

Creeping around Dad’s house with my first cup of tea in hand, so as not to wake anyone, I wondered over to the living room window to see the dawn – something my body clock prevents me from doing when I am not jet-lagged. Peering out, I saw in the little garden below me a rather stereotypical bird house. Perched on top of it, right there on the front of the roof of the box, was a robin – the very symbol of an English Christmas.

I smiled at the coincidence of it; the simplicity of it; the Christmassyness of it. It was as if the universe had just conspired to make me a Christmas card in the three dimensions of reality.

Of course, the little robin wasn’t there to deliver to me a Christmas greeting. After all, he didn’t know I was going to look out of the window right then. And he couldn’t – because he’s a robin.

People often say that we “come into the world”. But we don’t: we come out of it. As the wonderful Alan Watts used to say, just as an apple tree “apples”, so the universe “peoples”. It also “robins” and, I’m pleased to note, it also “Robins”, for Robin happens to be my name.

Since Isaac Newton, it has been fashionable to believe that consciousness is an “emergent property” of physical stuff, which might fancifully be expressed as the idea that consciousness is fundamentally a very complicated rock. But that idea is a noetic and cultural fashion: it’s not scientific as much as it is scientistic.

As much as I love the intellectual sincerity and commitment to empiricism of people like Richard Dawkins, who would essentially agree with that view, I don’t hold to it. More like most people throughout most of history and most of the world, I suspect the opposite is closer …read more


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The Most Awkward Sex Ever? 8 Epic Holiday Hookup Tales

December 27, 2014 in Blogs

By Jenny Kutner, Salon

“I asked if he wanted to have sex — while he was talking about his dad having a stroke.”

It happens to the best of us: Home for the holidays, overwhelmed by clucking family members, one thing leads to another, and we hook up with people. Exes. Old friends. New friends. Neighbors. These sexual experiences happen for any number of reasons — curiosity, stress, desperation or straight-up opportunism — and are, so often, totally regrettable. But they are almost always hilarious.

Salon recently asked friends and readers for their most memorable holiday hookup stories. Below are amazing amazing anecdotes that run the gamut: Sex with an ex in his little brother’s bed. A bloody first time with a virtual stranger. The inadvertent taking of virginity. Each is as cheery as it is awkward.

Happy holidays, and enjoy:

(Editor’s note: The following responses have been lightly edited. Subjects’ names have been changed.)

1) The bloody sucker

Like many young ladies, I went off to college a little more demure than some of my friends. I had boyfriends in high school, but I had never looked a penis directly in the face. It was harder to meet people in college, though, so when I went home for winter break freshman year, I decided just to get it over with and lose my virginity to a guy there – preferably a boy I never had to see or talk to again, which would be a relief to me.

Late one night I got a text from Jack, a guy I had worked with at my shitty retail job the previous summer. We would flirt all the time, but had never seen each other socially, or at all outside work for that matter. We made plans to meet up later that night. Once I got to Jack’s house, it was only a matter of minutes before he was pawing at me vigorously. He picked me up and tossed me onto his bed, which I found to be hot, and tried to suck various pieces of flesh from my body, which I found to be aggressively un-hot. He pulled …read more


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American Sniper Feeds America's Hero Complex, and It Isn't the Truth About War

December 27, 2014 in Blogs

By Alex Horton, The Guardian

Real life is not like the movies. So why does Hollywood keep trying to make us believe that elite commandos can do anything, and save anyone, all the time?

Like most people, I could only imagine what war was like before I got there myself. At one point, I was outside of the less than 1% of Americans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, where a minuscule fraction of that population would see ground or aerial combat. The average person has likely never met a modern combat veteran.

So as my deployment to Iraq got closer and I imagined what this war would look and feel like, I thought about America’s favorite storytelling medium: the movies. I pictured Baghdad as Black Hawk Down’s Mogadishu, all claustrophobic and high-contrast gun battles with desperate men in dark alleys, and mostly I heard Ride of the Valkyries, that grim killing opus in Apocalypse Now, retrofitted for our urban assaults and nighttime raids.

But the stories I came back with don’t really look like anything in the new breed of Hollywood war films, where central truths about war have all but vanished, even though they’re mostly based on real life. Now tales of elite troops are reshaping the public perception of war, even though war is still a tragic grind far more complex than any film of this era has shown.

American Sniper is the latest movie to capitalize on our insatiable hunger for stories about unstoppable commandos. Lone Survivor, the highest grossing war film of this era, portrays Navy Seals so adept at killing the Taliban that it seems their only weakness is mercy on goat-herders. In Zero Dark Thirty and Captain Phillips, Seal teams emerge only at the climax, with the long tail of logistical support from conventional aviation, infantry and intelligence units obscured by the shadow of the elite.

In American Sniper, Bradley Cooper portrays Chris Kyle, famously credited as the most lethal sniper in US history. Marines and Army infantrymen, who took back Fallujah in brutal house-to-house fighting during Kyle’s deployment in 2004, are …read more


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NY State Trooper Threatens Driver Recording Stop: ‘I’ll Find a Way for the DA’s Office to Arrest You’

December 27, 2014 in Blogs

By Tom Boggioni, Raw Story

After a traffic stop, irritated cop says he'll 'find a way to arrest' man for recording him.

A New York State Trooper, annoyed that a motorist was recording their interactions, threatened to “find a way to arrest” him during a recent traffic stop.

In the video recorded by John Houghtaling, the trooper — identified as Officer Rosenblatt — walks up to the car and immediately holds his hand up to block the view of his face from the camera.

“Put the phone down,” The trooper tells Houghtaling, who asks the officer “why?” adding, “Am I not allowed to record, officer?”

After asking the trooper for his badge number, Houghtaling asks, “Am I being detained?”

The officer claims he stopped the car for a traffic violation and requests Houghtailing’s license and registration, before once again complaining about being filmed and threatening Houghtaling.

“How about if I see you post this on Youtube, I’ll find a way for the D.A.s office to arrest you,” asks the trooper.

“Is it illegal to record police officers?”  Houghtaling replies.

“When I tell you to put the phone down and you disregard what I’m telling you, yes, it is,” said Rosenblatt.

“So am I being detained for recording?”

“Put the phone down.”

“Is it illegal to record officers,” Houghtaling asks.

“Give me your license and registration,” the trooper replies.

When asked why he has been pulled over, the trooper explains “your exhaust is extremely loud, that’s why you’re being stopped.”

The officer then becomes belligerent, sarcastically saying, “Have you got an answer for that?’ before again insisting Houghtaling stop filming with his phone.

The troopers then asks, “What is your issue with always videotaping?” to which Houghtaling replies, “Am I legally obligated to answer that?”

“You’re obligated because I asked, you, that’s why” an angry Rosenblatt replies before stalking off.

Watch the video below, uploaded to YouTube by John Houghtaling:


…read more


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Pioneering Doctor Working to Reverse Alzheimers Offers 36 Ways Help Avoid the Disease

December 27, 2014 in Blogs

By Martha Ture, Daily Kos

A recently published paper says that sticky brain plaques cause the disease. Here's how to circumvent them.

Alzheimer's Disease (AD) affects more than 5 million Americans; worldwide, it affects more than 30 million people. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease, cancers, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke and accidents.

In a recently published paper, Dale Bredesen at the Buck Institute showed that 9 of 10 patients participating in a program showed reversal of cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  Six of the 10 study participants had had to leave work, or were struggling at their jobs, due to AD; after going through the program, all were able to return to work or to continue working at better performance levels.  

This is the first time time that anyone has shown it possible to reverse memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s – so much so that 6 of the 10 patients who had left work or were struggling due to memory impairment were able to return to work or to keep working with improved performance.  

To quote from the Abstract:

The first 10 patients who have utilized this program include patients with memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease (AD), amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), or subjective cognitive impairment (SCI). Nine of the 10 displayed subjective or objective improvement in cognition beginning within 3-6 months, with the one failure being a patient with very late stage AD. Six of the patients had had to discontinue working or were struggling with their jobs at the time of presentation, and all were able to return to work or continue working with improved performance. Improvements have been sustained, and at this time the longest patient follow-up is two and one-half years from initial treatment, with sustained and marked improvement. These results suggest that a larger, more extensive trial of this therapeutic program is warranted. The results also suggest that, at least early in the course, cognitive decline may be driven in large part by metabolic processes.

Dr. Bredesen’s study upends the current hypothesis of the origins of AD.  The current view …read more