Monday, August 21, 2017

"I've Learned That..."

"The Long Lost Thrill of Doing Nothing“

"The Long Lost Thrill of Doing Nothing“
by David Cain

"Many text messages between my friends and me take roughly this form: “Are you busy tomorrow? We should do something.” That something often isn’t defined at the time. But when we arrive in each other’s physical presence, after we’ve caught up, eventually one of us has to ask: “So… what do you wanna do?” Then we have to decide. We could for a walk, go eat, play a board game, check out what’s happening in the city, just chat, or something else.

One of my friends - and only one - sometimes throws me a curveball here, and suggests that we don’t do anything, at least not yet. We can just lounge here in the living room. Or not quite lounge, but just relax and do nothing. I’m struggling to pick a verb for it. “Laze” and “lounge” both have moral connotations, as do “chill” or “veg.” “Hang out” is too general, and could mean switching on the TV, opening a bottle of something, or catching up.

I’m talking about just being in the room and not doing anything in particular, usually while reclining your body in some way, with no regard for the time and no idea of what to do next. Real idleness.  You might absently study the joins in the drywall, bathe in the sounds of the neighborhood, put your feet up on something, or get down on the floor and put your legs up the wall. Or none of those things.

The first time I agreed with this suggestion, I expected it to feel contrived. I was worried that I might worry about how well I’m doing at not worrying about what to do. This apprehension quickly gave way though, as the feeling of doing nothing in particular began to feel extremely familiar. I had forgotten that I’m fairly experienced at exactly this kind of idleness. As a kid and then a teenager, before I started to think of time as a scarce resource, I did a lot of this.

Back then, I had much less awareness of the passage of time, or at least of the numbers on clocks. Time was something you referred to occasionally, when you needed to meet someone, or see a particular movie. There was so much less emotion tied up in what the clock said. I certainly hadn’t yet linked it to any kind of self-evaluation.

It seems like the introduction of adult responsibilities destroys the freedom to be only occasionally aware of how you’re using your time. After all, much of adult life concerns striving to make certain numbers work - having your income exceed your expenses, and spending enough (but not too much) time on physical fitness, paid labor, creative work, and leisure.

Doing nothing in particular, for however long it was that first time (maybe 15 or 20 minutes - but I don’t want to know), gave me a glimpse of what it was like when time wasn’t so predominant in my thinking. It was wonderful to discover that just by stepping away, briefly, from the stream of serial decision making, it was still possible to experience life with at least some of that freedom.

My friend has since convinced me to be idle by myself on a regular basis. I have been. When I’m finished with one thing and don’t immediately move on to another, I’ll tip myself back on the couch, and let the planlessness of the moment take over. I stop deciding altogether - even about what time I’ll start deciding again.

I should be clear that this kind of doing nothing is entirely different from meditation, which I do a lot of. Even though meditation is all about abiding in present moment experience, and refraining from entertaining thoughts about past and future, it does require a specific intention, and enough self-oversight to keep yourself on track. True idleness is intentionless time, and it fulfills something that meditation doesn’t.

I also don’t want to confuse true idleness with leisure. Parties, vacations, walks in the park and flea-market excursions do return us to the moment from our planning and striving. But these activities are themselves planned and budgeted for. We can even have a certain anxiety about them not going as planned - a vacation not feeling carefree enough, for example.

Spontaneous idleness challenges an urge that’s deeply ingrained in many of us, especially in modern, secular societies: the persistent need to feel like we’re making something of our time. This urge has many names and styles - the Protestant work ethic; the American Dream; the Bucket List; the Examined Life; any form of “Get busy living or get busy dying.” Each of these ideas can drive some pretty incredible lives, however, and create a lot of enriching experiences. There’s a reason we so often think of time as an investment. The way you spent your time in the past is largely what created your present, and that mechanism is always operating.

Completely ignoring efficiency probably doesn’t lead to a fulfilling life. But letting that efficiency urge drop occasionally, by punctuating our doing with idleness, challenges that faint but persistent sense that the moment we stop doing, our precious lives begin slipping away. That belief, which has largely motivated my adult life, is starting to seem completely backwards. Maybe life is slipping away in every moment we’re afraid to stop doing stuff. After all, nothing detracts from the enjoyment of your life like a creeping fear that you’re doing it wrong.

I don’t want to think of idleness as another investment—time exchanged for more wellness. So instead of thinking of it as an activity, we can think of it as an insight worth remembering: the end of one activity doesn’t need to be the start of another. You can simply remain where you are for a bit, without setting a course. If you’re a compulsive planner like me, going idle feels something like letting go of the side of the pool. It’s not disorienting for long, and the confidence rushes in once you realize you’re not going to drown.”

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Musical Interlude: Deuter, “Loving Touch”

Deuter, “Loving Touch”

"A Look to the Heavens"

"Sometimes, the sky mimics the ground. Taken in 2017 May from the Atacama Desert in Chile, the foreground of the featured image encompasses the dipping edge of the caldera of an extinct volcano. Poetically echoing the dip below is the arch of our Milky Way Galaxy above. 
Click image for larger size.
Many famous icons dot this southern nighttime vista, including the center of our Milky Way Galaxy on the far left, the bright orange star Antares also on the left, the constellation of the Southern Cross near the top of the arch, and the red-glowing Gum Nebula on the far right. Just above the horizon and splitting two distant volcanic peaks near the image center is the Large Magellanic Cloud - the largest satellite galaxy of the Milky Way."

Chet Raymo, “Quiet Desperation”

“Quiet Desperation”
by Chet Raymo

"As I type this, I am sipping a cup of Green Mountain Vermont Country Blend Decaf and nibbling an Entenmann's Ultimate Cinnamon Pastry Twister. Just thought you'd want to know. Do you also want know where I am? What I'm wearing? I would tell you, but by the time you read this I will surely be somewhere else, and wearing something different. And you want to know the circumstances of my life in real time, don't you?

Of course you do. What I need is a wi-fi enabled coffee cup that will post what I'm drinking on Twitter or Facebook, even as I drink. I need clothing that will keep you apprised minute-by-minute exactly what I'm wearing, with built-in GPS so you will know where I am- without me having to key in the info. I know you want to know these things. I mean, doesn't everyone?

And, by the way, a report in a recent issue of Science suggests that folks with the largest social networks have more gray matter in the temporal cortex of the brain. Cause or effect? In the same issue, an experiment with monkeys kept in different size groups suggests that greater social interaction leads to more gray matter (although the experiment sounds less than convincing to me). Can Twittering and Facebook grow the brain? (I highly doubt that! Remember your elementary math: Any number X 0 is still... 0. - CP)

Just after I posted a musing on the connected generation, I read an article in the "New York Times" about Google's secret research lab where they are envisioning our future, and apparently they are working on products like those I imagined above. If Google has their way, we will not only be instantly connected to each other all the time, but we will also be networked with our appliances, our furniture, even our light bulbs. My spouse will remember the days when we'd set off to visit family members in other states, and invariably wondered when we were fifty miles from home whether we shut off the oven. Well, not to worry. Soon the oven will be in touch, asking if it should turn itself off.

Yes, yes, I appreciate the irony of using Google Blogger to rant about Google. The ironies abound. I'm almost finished reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, and enjoying every minute of it, even as I play here a crotchety electronic Luddite. I take my pocket Walden for a walk in the woods, sans phone or iPod, smugly reveling in disconnected solitude, all the while harboring a secret lust for a MacBook Air.

The hermit of Walden was no hermit, but neither did he pine for constant intercourse with his neighbors. He had three chairs in his cabin, he said; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society. That sounds about right to me, gray matter be damned."

"Life Is About..."

"Life is about discovering things that do matter in the end."
- Robert Brault

The Poet: Anne Sexton, "Courage"

"Courage"

"It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

Later,
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

Later,
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

Later,
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you'll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you'll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out."

~ Anne Sexton

The Daily "Near You?"

Perugia, Umbria, Italy. Thanks for stopping by!

X22 Report, “Two Sides Fight For Control, We Are Coming Down To The Wire”

X22 Report, “Two Sides Fight For Control, We Are Coming Down To The Wire”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0toiyKCZNM
Related followup report:
X22 Report, “Beware Of The Red Swan And Negative Interest Rates” 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0veEO8GVu9c

"On Your Own Terms..."

"If the sun is shining, stand in it- yes, yes, yes. Happy times are great, but happy times pass- they have to- because time passes. The pursuit of happiness is more elusive; it is life-long, and it is not goal-centered. What you are pursuing is meaning- a meaningful life... There are times when it will go so wrong that you will be barely alive, and times when you realize that being barely alive, on your own terms, is better than living a bloated half-life on someone else's terms."
- Jeanette Winterson

“Think Like a Corleone”

“Think Like a Corleone”
Leave fools’ paradise to the fools.
by Robert Gore

"If you are offered a choice between having your tuition and expenses paid at a top of the line business school, or buying with your own money Mario Puzo’s "The Godfather" (the book and the movies, Parts One and Two) choose the latter. You’ll find them far more useful than the MBA.

Americans are frequently condemned for obliviousness to the lies and depredations of the people who rule them. Much of the condemnation is merited, but the obliviousness is also a vestige of a better time. The best gauge of a society is truth: its prevalence and how it’s treated.

You go to a store and buy a product. Your transaction rests on implicit assumptions that everyone in the supply chain is telling the truth and acting honorably. The product was manufactured to the manufacturer’s advertised standard. It was delivered by a transportation company in good order, and marketed by the store in good faith. Every step of the way you could have been ripped off and not known it. The product could be a counterfeit. The delivery truck could have been hijacked and the product resold to the vendor at a cut-rate price. The product might be defective, but the manufacturer and vendor continue to sell it. A paranoid could drive himself crazy imagining all the possibilities, most of which cannot be dismissed out of hand.

When exchange is voluntary, a producer’s reputation for integrity is an invaluable asset and an consumer’s trust is both rational and productive. A producer’s reputation rests on millions or billions of transactions in which consumers receive the value they expect, with any problems quickly addressed and remedied to the consumer’s satisfaction. One reason John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil did as well as it did was because its refining and distribution processes delivered oil that was of a uniformly high standard. Many of the company’s competitors did not. One batch might be acceptable, but other batches had impurities or varying chemical compositions. Those who think it’s easy to manufacturer millions of items or refine millions of barrels of oil to a uniform standard over a span of years or decades only betray their ignorance of manufacturing and refining.

The companies that reach the top of the heap in a voluntary exchange system save their customers immeasurable time and effort. Imagine if you had to inspect and test every item you bought before you used it. That would be a dump truck full of sand in the gears of your life; you’d get nothing else done.

Voluntary exchange rewards both integrity and trust. That was once the American milieu, and is still a significant part of it. We trust Apple to deliver great phones, ExxonMobil to deliver top grade gasoline, Whole Foods to deliver quality food, and so on. Unfortunately, another class of interactions has overshadowed the realm of voluntary exchange, interactions based on fear, force, fraud and theft. Nefarious means to nefarious ends are the province of governments.

Expanding government power and domination are the deadly enemies of integrity and trust. As a government uses violence to subjugate, the subjugated quickly learn that honesty and honorable behavior are persecuted; to survive they must resort to deception and covert resistance. The subjugators invariably regard the subjugated as an inferior class and disparage their tactics as dishonorable.

History is replete with such instances. Sicily has been ruled by a long line of outside powers. Starting in the late 1800s, the Mafia became the embodiment of the inverted morality that takes hold among tyrannized and brutalized peoples. That morality does nothing to advance the general welfare; it doesn’t promote prosperity or progress. It only allows the subjugated to survive.

In this antique garden, Michael Corleone learned about the roots from which his father grew. That the word “mafia” had originally meant place of refuge. Then it became the name for the secret organization that sprang up to fight against the rulers who had crushed the country and its people for centuries. Sicily was a land that had been more cruelly raped than any other in history. The Inquisition had tortured rich and poor alike. The landowning barons and the prices of the Catholic Church exercised absolute power over the shepherds and farmers. The police were the instruments of their power and so identified with them that to be called a policeman is the foulest insult one Sicilian can hurl at another.

Faced with the savagery of this absolute power, the suffering people learned never to betray their anger and their hatred for fear of being crushed. They learned never to make themselves vulnerable by uttering any sort of threat since giving such a warning insured a quick reprisal. They learned that society was their enemy and so when they sought redress they went to the rebel underground, the Mafia. And the Mafia cemented its power by originating the law of silence, the omerta. In the countryside of Sicily a stranger asking directions to the nearest town will not even receive the courtesy of an answer. And the greatest crime any member of the Mafia could commit would be to tell the police the name of the man who had just shot him or done him any kind of injury. Omerta became the religion of the people. A woman whose husband has been murdered would not tell the police the name of her husband’s murderer, not even of her child’s murderer, her daughter’s raper.

Probably 20 percent of Americans will tell you their life stories in a grocery store checkout line, and 50 percent over a cup of coffee. Many trade information about themselves as freely as they trade their money for groceries or coffee. Ask those who have escaped life in a totalitarian regime about it and they will marvel at the foolishness.

The oppressed learn to trust no one other than those who have demonstrated they deserve to be trusted, usually family or long-time friends. In response to disclosures that the government is monitoring them 24/7 and knows virtually everything they do and say, many Americans breezily assert that they’re not worried; they have nothing to hide. Behind omerta was the Sicilian peasant’s reality that any information, no matter how trivial or innocuous, was a weapon that could be used against him by the hostile and corrupt regime. American openness and trusting insouciance is quaintly naive - anachronisms from a better time - and pitiably foolish.

If you think the government, its friends, and those who pull its strings have your best interests at heart, that they tell the truth, that they can be trusted, you are living in a fool’s paradise and deserve whatever you get from your “benevolent” masters. For the rest of us, it’s time to go Sicilian, to start thinking like a Corleone. The dangers will intensify as things get much worse, before collapse offers the prospect of rebuilding something better.

The times demand caution, skepticism, less talking, more listening, alertness, wariness, hiding one’s strengths, remedying one’s weaknesses, self-sufficiency, cunning, and drawing closer to those few people in your life you know you can trust. Your survival is at stake and there are no guarantees. All you can do is better your odds. Indiscriminate trust and hoping for the best - without thinking about and preparing for the worse - will dramatically lower those odds.”
“Never hate your enemies. It clouds your judgment.”
- "Michael Corleone"

But never forget their names...

"How It Really Should Be"

Musical Interlude: The Who, “Love, Reign O'er Me”

The Who, “Love, Reign O'er Me”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhSdNy1snaU
Hey, it's my blog, and I always liked The Who, lol

Musical Interlude: The Who, “Overture” (From "Tommy")

The Who, “Overture” (From "Tommy")

"The Holstee Manifesto"

"The Science of Stress and How Our Emotions Affect Our Susceptibility to Burnout and Disease"

"The Science of Stress and How Our Emotions
 Affect Our Susceptibility to Burnout and Disease"
by Maria Popova 

"I had lived thirty good years before enduring my first food poisoning - odds quite fortunate in the grand scheme of things, but miserably unfortunate in the immediate experience of it. I found myself completely incapacitated to erect the pillars of my daily life - too cognitively foggy to read and write, too physically weak to work out or even meditate. The temporary disability soon elevated the assault on my mind and body to a new height of anguish: an intense experience of stress. Even as I consoled myself with Nabokov’s exceptionally florid account of food poisoning, I couldn’t shake the overwhelming malaise that had engulfed me - somehow, a physical illness had completely colored my psychoemotional reality.

This experience, of course, is far from uncommon. Long before scientists began shedding light on how our minds and bodies actually affect one another, an intuitive understanding of this dialogue between the body and the emotions, or feelings, emerged and permeated our very language: We use “feeling sick” as a grab-bag term for both the sensory symptoms - fever, fatigue, nausea - and the psychological malaise, woven of emotions like sadness and apathy.

Pre-modern medicine, in fact, has recognized this link between disease and emotion for millennia. Ancient Greek, Roman, and Indian Ayurvedic physicians all enlisted the theory of the four humors - blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm - in their healing practices, believing that imbalances in these four visible secretions of the body caused disease and were themselves often caused by the emotions. These beliefs are fossilized in our present language - melancholy comes from the Latin words for “black” (melan) and “bitter bile” (choler), and we think of a melancholic person as gloomy or embittered; a phlegmatic person is languid and impassive, for phlegm makes one lethargic.

Click image for larger size.
Chart of the four humors from a 1495 medical textbook by Johannes de Ketham.

And then French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes came along in the seventeenth century, taking it upon himself to eradicate the superstitions that fueled the religious wars of the era by planting the seed of rationalism. But the very tenets that laid the foundation of modern science - the idea that truth comes only from what can be visibly ascertained and proven beyond doubt - severed this link between the physical body and the emotions; those mysterious and fleeting forces, the biological basis of which the tools of modern neuroscience are only just beginning to understand, seemed to exist entirely outside the realm of what could be examined with the tools of rationalism.

For nearly three centuries, the idea that our emotions could impact our physical health remained scientific taboo - setting out to fight one type of dogma, Descartes had inadvertently created another, which we’re only just beginning to shake off. It was only in the 1950s that Austrian-Canadian physician and physiologist Hans Selye pioneered the notion of stress as we now know it today, drawing the scientific community’s attention to the effects of stress on physical health and popularizing the concept around the world. (In addition to his scientific dedication, Selye also understood the branding component of any successful movement and worked tirelessly to include the word itself in dictionaries around the world; today, “stress” is perhaps the word pronounced most similarly in the greatest number of major languages.)

But no researcher has done more to illuminate the invisible threads that weave mind and body together than Dr. Esther Sternberg. Her groundbreaking work on the link between the central nervous system and the immune system, exploring how immune molecules made in the blood can trigger brain function that profoundly affects our emotions, has revolutionized our understanding of the integrated being we call a human self. In the immeasurably revelatory "The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions" (public library), Sternberg examines the interplay of our emotions and our physical health, mediated by that seemingly nebulous yet, it turns out, remarkably concrete experience called stress.

With an eye to modern medicine’s advances in cellular and molecular biology, which have made it possible to measure how our nervous system and our hormones affect our susceptibility to diseases as varied as depression, arthritis, AIDS, and chronic fatigue syndrome, Sternberg writes: "By parsing these chemical intermediaries, we can begin to understand the biological underpinnings of how emotions affect diseases.

The same parts of the brain that control the stress response play an important role in susceptibility and resistance to inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. And since it is these parts of the brain that also play a role in depression, we can begin to understand why it is that many patients with inflammatory diseases may also experience depression at different times in their lives. Rather than seeing the psyche as the source of such illnesses, we are discovering that while feelings don’t directly cause or cure disease, the biological mechanisms underlying them may cause or contribute to disease. Thus, many of the nerve pathways and molecules underlying both psychological responses and inflammatory disease are the same, making predisposition to one set of illnesses likely to go along with predisposition to the other. The questions need to be rephrased, therefore, to ask which of the many components that work together to create emotions also affect that other constellation of biological events, immune responses, which come together to fight or to cause disease. Rather than asking if depressing thoughts can cause an illness of the body, we need to ask what the molecules and nerve pathways are that cause depressing thoughts. And then we need to ask whether these affect the cells and molecules that cause disease.

We are even beginning to sort out how emotional memories reach the parts of the brain that control the hormonal stress response, and how such emotions can ultimately affect the workings of the immune system and thus affect illnesses as disparate as arthritis and cancer. We are also beginning to piece together how signals from the immune system can affect the brain and the emotional and physical responses it controls: the molecular basis of feeling sick. In all this, the boundaries between mind and body are beginning to blur."

Indeed, the relationship between memory, emotion, and stress is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Sternberg’s work. She considers how we deal with the constant swirl of inputs and outputs as we move through the world, barraged by a stream of stimuli and sensations:

"Every minute of the day and night we feel thousands of sensations that might trigger a positive emotion such as happiness, or a negative emotion such as sadness, or no emotion at all: a trace of perfume, a light touch, a fleeting shadow, a strain of music. And there are thousands of physiological responses, such as palpitations or sweating, that can equally accompany positive emotions such as love, or negative emotions such as fear, or can happen without any emotional tinge at all. What makes these sensory inputs and physiological outputs emotions is the charge that gets added to them somehow, somewhere in our brains. Emotions in their fullest sense comprise all of these components. Each can lead into the black box and produce an emotional experience, or something in the black box can lead out to an emotional response that seems to come from nowhere."

Memory, it turns out, is one of the major factors mediating the dialogue between sensation and emotional experience. Our memories of past experience become encoded into triggers that act as switchers on the rail of psychoemotional response, directing the incoming train of present experience in the direction of one emotional destination or another.

Sternberg writes: "Mood is not homogeneous like cream soup. It is more like Swiss cheese, filled with holes. The triggers are highly specific, tripped by sudden trails of memory: a faint fragrance, a few bars of a tune, a vague silhouette that tapped into a sad memory buried deep, but not completely erased. These sensory inputs from the moment float through layers of time in the parts of the brain that control memory, and they pull out with them not only reminders of sense but also trails of the emotions that were first connected to the memory. These memories become connected to emotions, which are processed in other parts of the brain: the amygdala for fear, the nucleus accumbens for pleasure - those same parts that the anatomists had named for their shapes. And these emotional brain centers are linked by nerve pathways to the sensory parts of the brain and to the frontal lobe and hippocampus - the coordinating centers of thought and memory. The same sensory input can trigger a negative emotion or a positive one, depending on the memories associated with it."

This is where stress comes in - much like memory mediates how we interpret and respond to various experiences, a complex set of biological and psychological factors determine how we respond to stress. Some types of stress can be stimulating and invigorating, mobilizing us into action and creative potency; others can be draining and incapacitating, leaving us frustrated and hopeless. This dichotomy of good vs. bad stress, Sternberg notes, is determined by the biology undergirding our feelings - by the dose and duration of the stress hormones secreted by the body in response to the stressful stimulus. She explains the neurobiological machinery behind this response:

"As soon as the stressful event occurs, it triggers the release of the cascade of hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal hormones - the brain’s stress response. It also triggers the adrenal glands to release epinephrine, or adrenaline, and the sympathetic nerves to squirt out the adrenaline-like chemical norepinephrine all over the body: nerves that wire the heart, and gut, and skin. So, the heart is driven to beat faster, the fine hairs of your skin stand up, you sweat, you may feel nausea or the urge to defecate. But your attention is focused, your vision becomes crystal clear, a surge of power helps you run - these same chemicals released from nerves make blood flow to your muscles, preparing you to sprint.

All this occurs quickly. If you were to measure the stress hormones in your blood or saliva, they would already be increased within three minutes of the event. In experimental psychology tests, playing a fast-paced video game will make salivary cortisol increase and norepinephrine spill over into venous blood almost as soon as the virtual battle begins. But if you prolong the stress, by being unable to control it or by making it too potent or long-lived, and these hormones and chemicals still continue to pump out from nerves and glands, then the same molecules that mobilized you for the short haul now debilitate you."

These effects of stress exist on a bell curve - that is, some is good, but too much becomes bad: As the nervous system secretes more and more stress hormones, performance increases, but up to a point; after that tipping point, performance begins to suffer as the hormones continue to flow. What makes stress “bad” - that is, what makes it render us more pervious to disease — is the disparity between the nervous system and immune system’s respective pace. Sternberg explains:

"The nervous system and the hormonal stress response react to a stimulus in milliseconds, seconds, or minutes. The immune system takes parts of hours or days. It takes much longer than two minutes for immune cells to mobilize and respond to an invader, so it is unlikely that a single, even powerful, short-lived stress on the order of moments could have much of an effect on immune responses. However, when the stress turns chronic, immune defenses begin to be impaired. As the stressful stimulus hammers on, stress hormones and chemicals continue to pump out. Immune cells floating in this milieu in blood, or passing through the spleen, or growing up in thymic nurseries never have a chance to recover from the unabated rush of cortisol. Since cortisol shuts down immune cells’ responses, shifting them to a muted form, less able to react to foreign triggers, in the context of continued stress we are less able to defend and fight when faced with new invaders. And so, if you are exposed to, say, a flu or common cold virus when you are chronically stressed out, your immune system is less able to react and you become more susceptible to that infection."

Extended exposure to stress, especially to a variety of stressors at the same time - any combination from the vast existential menu of life-events like moving, divorce, a demanding job, the loss of a loved one, and even ongoing childcare - adds up a state of extreme exhaustion that leads to what we call burnout.


Sternberg writes: "Members of certain professions are more prone to burnout than others - nurses and teachers, for example, are among those at highest risk. These professionals are faced daily with caregiving situations in their work lives, often with inadequate pay, inadequate help in their jobs, and with too many patients or students in their charge. Some studies are beginning to show that burnt-out patients may have not only psychological burnout, but also physiological burnout: a flattened cortisol response and inability to respond to any stress with even a slight burst of cortisol. In other words, chronic unrelenting stress can change the stress response itself. And it can change other hormone systems in the body as well."

One of the most profound such changes affects the reproductive system - extended periods of stress can shut down the secretion of reproductive hormones in both men and women, resulting in lower fertility. But the effects are especially perilous for women - recurring and extended episodes of depression result in permanent changes in bone structure, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. In other words, we register stress literally in our bones.

But stress isn’t a direct causal function of the circumstances we’re in - what either amplifies or ameliorates our experience of stress is, once again, memory. Sternberg writes: "Our perception of stress, and therefore our response to it, is an ever-changing thing that depends a great deal on the circumstances and settings in which we find ourselves. It depends on previous experience and knowledge, as well as on the actual event that has occurred. And it depends on memory, too."

The most acute manifestation of how memory modulates stress is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. For striking evidence of how memory encodes past experience into triggers, which then catalyze present experience, Sternberg points to research by psychologist Rachel Yehuda, who found both Holocaust survivors and their first-degree relatives - that is, children and siblings - exhibited a similar hormonal stress response.

This, Sternberg points out, could be a combination of nature and nurture - the survivors, as young parents for whom the trauma was still fresh, may well have subconsciously taught their children a common style of stress-responsiveness; but it’s also possible that these automatic hormonal stress responses permanently changed the parents’ biology and were transmitted via DNA to their children. Once again, memory encodes stress into our very bodies. Sternberg considers the broader implications:

"Stress need not be on the order of war, rape, or the Holocaust to trigger at least some elements of PTSD. Common stresses that we all experience can trigger the emotional memory of a stressful circumstance - and all its accompanying physiological responses. Prolonged stress - such as divorce, a hostile workplace, the end of a relationship, or the death of a loved one - can all trigger elements of PTSD."

Among the major stressors - which include life-events expected to be on the list, such as divorce and the death of a loved one - is also one somewhat unexpected situation, at least to those who haven’t undergone it: moving. Sternberg considers the commonalities between something as devastating as death and something as mundane as moving: "One is certainly loss - the loss of someone or something familiar. Another is novelty - finding oneself in a new and unfamiliar place because of the loss. Together these amount to change: moving away from something one knows and toward something one doesn’t. An unfamiliar environment is a universal stressor to nearly all species, no matter how developed or undeveloped."

In the remainder of the thoroughly illuminating "The Balance Within", Sternberg goes on to explore the role of interpersonal relationships in both contributing to stress and shielding us from it, how the immune system changes our moods, and what we can do to harness these neurobiological insights in alleviating our experience of the stressors with which every human life is strewn."
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"Why Does North Korea Hate Us? One Reason- They Remember the Korean War”

“Why Does North Korea Hate Us? 
One Reason- They Remember the Korean War”
by Mehdi Hasan

“Why do they hate us?” It’s a question that has bewildered Americans again and again in the wake of 9/11, in reference to the Arab and Muslim worlds. These days, however, it’s a question increasingly asked about the reclusive North Koreans.

Let’s be clear: There is no doubt that the citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea both fear and loathe the United States. Paranoia, resentment, and a crude anti-Americanism have been nurtured inside the Hermit Kingdom for decades. Children are taught to hate Americans in school while adults mark a “Struggle Against U.S. Imperialism Month” every year (it’s in June, in case you were wondering).

North Korean officials make wild threats against the United States while the regime, led by the brutal and sadistic Kim Jong-un, pumps out fake news in the form of self-serving propaganda, on an industrial scale. In the DPRK, anti-American hatred is a commodity never in short supply. “The hate, though,” as longtime North Korea watcher Blaine Harden observed in the Washington Post, “is not all manufactured.” Some of it, he wrote, “is rooted in a fact-based narrative, one that North Korea obsessively remembers and the United States blithely forgets.”

Forgets as in the “forgotten war.” Yes, the Korean War. Remember that? The one wedged between World War II and the Vietnam War? The first “hot” war of the Cold War, which took place between 1950 and 1953, and which has since been conveniently airbrushed from most discussions and debates about the “crazy” and “insane” regime in Pyongyang? Forgotten despite the fact that this particular war isn’t even over - it was halted by an armistice agreement, not a peace treaty - and despite the fact that the conflict saw the United States engage in numerous war crimes, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, continue to shape the way North Koreans view the United States, even if the residents of the United States remain blissfully ignorant of their country’s belligerent past.

For the record, it was the North Koreans, and not the Americans or their South Korean allies, who started the war in June 1950, when they crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded the south. Nevertheless, “What hardly any Americans know or remember,” University of Chicago historian Bruce Cumings writes in his book “The Korean War: A History,” “is that we carpet-bombed the north for three years with next to no concern for civilian casualties.”

How many Americans, for example, are aware of the fact that U.S. planes dropped on the Korean peninsula more bombs - 635,000 tons - and napalm - 32,557 tons - than during the entire Pacific campaign against the Japanese during World War II?

How many Americans know that “over a period of three years or so,” to quote Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, “we killed off 20 percent of the population”?

Twenty. Percent. For a point of comparison, the Nazis exterminated 20 percent of Poland’s pre-World War II population. According to LeMay, “We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea.”

Every. Town. More than 3 million civilians are believed to have been killed in the fighting, the vast majority of them in the north.
circa 1950: An elderly woman and her grandchild wander among the debris of their wrecked home in the aftermath of an air raid by U.S. planes over Pyongyang, the Communist capital of North Korea. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

How many Americans are familiar with the statements of Secretary of State Dean Rusk or Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas? Rusk, who was a State Department official in charge of Far Eastern affairs during the Korean War, would later admit that the United States bombed “every brick that was standing on top of another, everything that moved.” American pilots, he noted, “were just bombing the heck out of North Korea.”

Douglas visited Korea in the summer of 1952 and was stunned by the “misery, disease, pain and suffering, starvation” that had been “compounded” by air strikes. U.S. warplanes, having run out of military targets, had bombed farms, dams, factories, and hospitals. “I had seen the war-battered cities of Europe,” the Supreme Court justice confessed, “but I had not seen devastation until I had seen Korea.”

How many Americans have ever come across Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s unhinged plan to win the war against North Korea in just 10 days? MacArthur, who led the United Nations Command during the conflict, wanted to drop “between 30 and 50 atomic bombs, strung across the neck of Manchuria” that would have “spread behind us a belt of radioactive cobalt.”

How many Americans have heard of the No Gun Ri massacre, in July 1950, in which hundreds of Koreans were killed by U.S. warplanes and members of the 7th U.S. Cavalry regiment as they huddled under a bridge? Details of the massacre emerged in 1999, when the Associated Press interviewed dozens of retired U.S. military personnel. “The hell with all those people,” one American veteran recalled his captain as saying. “Let’s get rid of all of them.”

How many Americans are taught in school about the Bodo League massacre of tens of thousands of suspected communists on the orders of the U.S.-backed South Korean strongman, President Syngman Rhee, in the summer of 1950? Eyewitness accounts suggest “jeeploads” of U.S. military officers were present and “supervised the butchery.”

Millions of ordinary Americans may suffer from a toxic combination of ignorance and amnesia, but the victims of U.S. coups, invasions, and bombing campaigns across the globe tend not to. Ask the Iraqis or the Iranians, ask the Cubans or the Chileans. And, yes, ask the North Koreans.

For the residents of the DPRK, writes Columbia University historian Charles Armstrong in his book “Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950-1992,” “the American air war left a deep and lasting impression” and “more than any other single factor, gave North Koreans a collective sense of anxiety and fear of outside threats, that would continue long after the war’s end.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not pretending that Kim’s violent and totalitarian regime would be any less violent or totalitarian today had the U.S. not carpet-bombed North Korea almost 70 years ago. Nor am I expecting Donald Trump, of all presidents, to offer a formal apology to Pyongyang on behalf of the U.S. government for the U.S. war crimes of 1950 through 1953.

But the fact is that inside North Korea, according to leading Korea scholar Kathryn Weathersby, “it is still the 1950s, and the conflict with South Korea and the United States is still going on. People in the North feel backed into a corner and threatened.”

If another Korean war, a potentially nuclear war, is to be avoided and if, as the Czech-born novelist Milan Kundera famously wrote, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting,” then ordinary Americans can no longer afford to forget the death, destruction, and debilitating legacy of the original Korean War.”

"Your Pain..."

"We Are All Free To Do Whatever We Want"

"We are all free to do whatever we want to do,” he said that night. “Isn’t that simple and clean and clear? Isn’t that a great way to run a universe?” “Almost. You forgot a pretty important part,” I said. “Oh?” “We are all free to do what we want to do, as long as we don’t hurt somebody else,” I chided. “I know you meant that, but you ought to say what you mean.”

There was a sudden shambling sound in the dark, and I looked at him quickly. “Did you hear that?” “Yeah. Sounds like there’s somebody...” He got up, walked into the dark. He laughed suddenly, said a name I couldn’t catch. “It’s OK,” I heard him say. “No, we’d be glad to have you... no need you standing around... come on, you’re welcome, really...”

The voice was heavily accented, not quite Russian, nor Czech, more Transylvanian. “Thank you. I do not wish to impose myself upon your evening...” The man he brought with him to the firelight was, well, he was unusual to find in a midwest night. A small lean wolflike fellow, frightening to the eye, dressed in evening clothes, a black cape lined in red satin, he was uncomfortable in the light.

“I was passing by,” he said. “The field is a shortcut to my house...” “Is it?” Shimoda did not believe the man, knew he was lying, and at the same time did all he could to keep from laughing out loud. I hoped to understand before long.

“Make yourself comfortable,” I said. “Can we help you at all?” I really didn’t feel that helpful, but he was so shrinking, I did want him to be at ease, if he could. He looked on me with a desperate smile that turned me to ice. “Yes, you can help me. I need this very much or I would not ask. May I drink your blood? Just some? It is my food, I need human blood...”

Maybe it was the accent, he didn’t know English that well or I didn’t understand his words, but I was on my feet quicker than I had been in many a month, hay flying into the fire from my quickness. The man stepped back. I am generally harmless, but I am not a small person and I could have looked threatening. He turned his head away. “Sir, I am sorry! I am sorry! Please forget that I said anything about blood! But you see...”

“What are you saying?” I was the more fierce because I was scared. “What in the hell are you saying, mister? I don’t know what you are, are you some kind of VAM-?” Shimoda cut me off before I could say the word. “Richard, our guest was talking, and you interrupted. Please go ahead, sir; my friend is a little hasty.” “Donald,” I said, “this guy...” “Be quiet!” That surprised me so much that I was quiet, and looked a sort of terrified question at the man, caught from his native darkness into our firelight.

“Please to understand. I did not choose to be born vampire. Is unfortunate. I do not have many friends. But I must have a certain small amount of fresh blood every night or I writhe in terrible pain, longer than that without it and I cannot live! Please, I will be deeply hurt - I will die - if you do not allow me to suck your blood... just a small amount, more than a pint I do not need.” He advanced a step toward me, licking his lips, thinking that Shimoda somehow controlled me and would make me submit.

“One more step and there will be blood, all right. Mister, you touch me and you die...” I wouldn’t have killed him, but I did want to tie him up, at least, before we talked much more. He must have believed me, for he stopped and sighed. He turned to Shimoda. “You have made your point?” “I think so. Thank you.”

The vampire looked up at me and smiled, completely at ease, enjoying himself hugely, an actor on stage when the show is over. “I won’t drink your blood, Richard,” he said in perfect friendly English, no accent at all. As I watched he faded as though he was turning out his own light... in five seconds he had disappeared.

Shimoda sat down again by the fire. “Am I ever glad you don’t mean what you say!” I was still trembling with adrenalin, ready for my fight with a monster. “Don, I’m not sure I’m built for this. Maybe you’d better tell me what’s going on. Like, for instance, what... was that?”

“Dot was a wompire from Tronsylwania,” he said in words thicker than the creature’s own. “Or to be more precise, dot was a thought-form of a wompire from Tronsylwania. If you ever want to make a point, you think somebody isn’t listening, whip ‘em up a little thought-form to demonstrate what you mean. Do you think I overdid him, with the cape and the fangs and the accent like that? Was he too scary for you?”

“The cape was first class, Don. But that was the most stereotyped, outlandish... I wasn’t scared at all.” He sighed. “Oh well. But you got the point, at least, and that’s what matters.”

“What point?” “Richard, in being so fierce toward my vampire, you were doing what you wanted to do, even though you thought it was going to hurt somebody else. He even told you he’d be hurt if...”

“He was going to suck my blood!” “Which is what we do to anyone when we say we’ll be hurt if they don’t live our way.”

I was quiet for a long time, thinking about that. I had always believed that we are free to do as we please only if we don’t hurt another, and this didn’t fit. There was something missing.

“The thing that puzzles you,” he said, “is an accepted saying that happens to be impossible. The phrase is hurt somebody else. We choose, ourselves, to be hurt or not to be hurt, no matter what. Us who decides. Nobody else. My vampire told you he’d be hurt if you didn’t let him? That’s his decision to be hurt, that’s his choice. What you do about it is your decision, your choice: give him blood; ignore him; tie him up; drive a stake of holly through his heart. If he doesn’t want the holly stake, he’s free to resist, in whatever way he wants. It goes on and on, choices, choices.”

“When you look at it that way...”

“Listen,” he said, “it’s important. We are all. Free. To do. Whatever. We want. To do."
“Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah”
by Richard Bach
“Born in 1936, Richard Bach is an American author who has written many excellent books. His quotes are inspirational and motivational. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull;” “Illusions;” “The Bridge Across Forever;” to name only a few of his books.

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