Content Advisory

Content Advisory: Whereas: this blog occasionally employs "colorful language,"

may also occasionally contain implicit and explicit references to

tobacco, alcohol, and other substances, as well as sexuality,

and favors logic over dogma, any or all of which may offend some,

and whereas I may occasionally give disclaimers,

but I do NOT give "trigger warnings,"

therefore, be it resolved that: this blog is intended for mature readers.

However, this blog is not age-restricted.

Monday, December 23, 2013

War on Christmas?

Here's an interesting little piece by Jim Hightower:
Christmas War!

The victim routine they've been trying for a while now is one I've seen the same people play before.  In the 1980s, the Fundamentalist wing of the Southern Baptist Convention kept whining about how their voices were being drowned out by the awful "Liberals" (as if! seeing as how the people they were complaining about were actually Evangelicals, who are, or were at that time, merely Protestants with a conservative theology, and who generally believed rather strongly in the separation of church and state -- as distinct from the crop of Fundamentalists then being farmed by unscrupulous leaders, who, to the contrary, were Protestants with an almost reactionary theology and a desire to impose their religion on the state, and thence onto the rest of the nation), and how they just wanted to be heard, to have an equal voice, and other such innocent-sounding claims.  However, once they had cemented their hold on the machinery of the Southern Baptist Convention, they took off the fleeces they were wearing and revealed themselves to be the wolves they were pretending others were, and then they did precisely those things of which they had been accusing the "Liberals" (again, actually Evangelicals, and not Liberals by any stretch of the imagination).

Do not fall for this victim routine!  The whine is not authentic, but merely an act, intended to mask a scheme to take control of government in an effort to enforce conformity to their narrow worldview.  Here is a good discussion of what's going on with this routine, notwithstanding what some may regard as an unfortunate choice of font:
The Self-Defined "Victim" - Page 1

See also:
Merry Christmas, right-wingers, The Red Pope, and Jesus

Feeding Children from the Tree of Death: Fundamentalism's Abusive Legacy

Monday, December 16, 2013

Fads in Mental Diagnoses

From Mind Hacks:

The New York Times has an important article on how Attention Deficit Disorder, often known as ADHD, has been ‘marketed’ alongside sales of stimulant medication to the point where leading ADHD researchers are becoming alarmed at the scale of diagnosis and drug treatment.

It’s worth noting that although the article focuses on ADHD, it is really a case study in how psychiatric drug marketing often works.

Read more:
A disorder of marketing

SuccubaSuprema writes:

I'm not sure why ADHD researchers are only now becoming alarmed, nor why this trend was not anticipated -- not the trend specific to overdiagnosis of ADHD, but the trend to overdiagnose certain "popular" disorders.  It's hardly a new phenomenon, after all:  "Hyperactivity" was the condition overdiagnosed in the 1970s, while "Manic Depression" or "Manic-Depressive Disorder" was the overdiagnosis of the '80s.  In the '90s, the lingering Manic Depression (by this time renamed to "Bipolar Disorder" for various reasons, not least of which was a need to be more specific and more inclusive at the same time) continued to be overdiagnosed, but a new diagnosis was also on the rise, and "Attention Deficit Disorder" began to be overdiagnosed.  Moving into the first decade of the 21st century, this name expanded to "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder," and had become the dominant overdiagnosis.  In the present decade, it's too early to say for sure, but "Asperger Syndrome" was viewed as pretty sexy at the beginning of the decade, and "Autism Spectrum Disorder" (which is the new label in DSM-5, and which includes what has up till now been called "Asperger Syndrome") seems to be replacing that as a popular diagnosis.

I'm also far from sure that this can be laid at the feet of advertisers.  "Hyperactivity" in the '70s, for example, was treated with a specific diet ("the Feingold diet," which involved omitting artificial flavors, artificial colors, preservatives, caffeine, and sugar from the child's diet) rather than medication.

What may be most telling is that these diagnoses pertain to behaviors and attitudes often noticed in childhood and/or adolescence.  I would be inclined to refrain from making any explicit explanation of this observation here, due to relatives whose children were diagnosed with one or another of these conditions, but I do think the connection is worth considering.  To be more precise, I would suggest that the ones in need of therapy and/or medication may more often be the parents than the children!

A parent has a "problem child" and takes the child to a mental health professional, where the child is diagnosed with "XXXXX disorder," and then the parent shares this information with another parent, and that parent wonders if his/her child might also have "XXXXX disorder."  The next act in this tragedy is easy enough to predict.

Fads in Mental Diagnoses Revisited

Friday, December 13, 2013

Chris Christie's Vision for the United States?

From Rolling Stone:

... Camden is just across the Delaware River from the brick and polished cobblestone streets of downtown Philadelphia, where oblivious tourists pour in every year, gobbling cheese steaks and gazing at the Liberty Bell, having no idea that they're a short walk over the Ben Franklin Bridge from a full-blown sovereignty crisis – an un-Fantasy Island of extreme poverty and violence where the police just a few years ago essentially surrendered a city of 77,000.

All over America, communities are failing. Once-mighty Rust Belt capitals that made steel or cars are now wastelands. Elsewhere, struggling white rural America is stocking up on canned goods and embracing the politics of chaos, sending pols to Washington ready to hit the default button and start the whole national experiment all over again.

But in Camden, chaos is already here. In September, its last supermarket closed, and the city has been declared a "food desert" by the USDA. The place is literally dying, its population having plummeted from above 120,000 in the Fifties to less than 80,000 today. Thirty percent of the remaining population is under 18, an astonishing number that's 10 to 15 percent higher than any other "very challenged" city, to use the police euphemism. Their home is a city with thousands of abandoned houses but no money to demolish them, leaving whole blocks full of Ninth Ward-style wreckage to gather waste and rats.

It's a major metropolitan area run by armed teenagers with no access to jobs or healthy food, and not long ago, while the rest of America was ranting about debt ceilings and Obamacares, Camden quietly got pushed off the map. That was three years ago, when new governor and presumptive future presidential candidate Chris Christie abruptly cut back on the state subsidies that kept Camden on life support. The move left the city almost completely ungoverned – a graphic preview of what might lie ahead for communities that don't generate enough of their own tax revenue to keep their lights on. Over three years, fires raged, violent crime spiked and the murder rate soared so high that on a per-capita basis, it "put us somewhere between Honduras and Somalia," says Police Chief J. Scott Thomson. ...

Read more:
Apocalypse, New Jersey: A Dispatch From America's Most Desperate Town

See also:
The Bankruptcy and Privatization of Detroit Is a Terrifying Preview of What Republicans Want to Do to the Rest of the Country

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

British Stone Age Diet and Security Maximized by Location Choice

From The Independent:

Stone Age Brits were past masters at choosing the perfect ‘des res’, according to new research carried out by archaeologists.

Their investigations have revealed that, 300,000 years before the emergence of anatomically modern humans, prehistoric Britons were selecting their domestic real estate with tremendous care.

Nutritional and security considerations appear to have been the main criteria, according to the new research carried out by scholars at the University of Southampton and Queen's University, Belfast.

A survey of 25 major British and north-west French sites dating from 500,000 to 200,000 years ago has revealed that early humans – members of the now long-extinct species Homo heidelbergensis – predominantly chose to live on islands in the flood plains of major rivers. They avoided  forests and hills – and the upper and middle reaches of river systems,  and their estuaries. ...

The reasons for choosing flood plain areas and avoiding other locations were complex – but help to explain why Homo heidelbergensis was so successful for so long.

Read more:
Revealed: how prehistoric 'des res' gave Stone Age Brits a perfect diet

See also:
Early humans selected habitats based on nutrient rich food sources

SuccubaSuprema writes:

The information provided in this article is very interesting.  The last paragraph quoted above alludes to explanations which are provided in the article, following the portion I have quoted.

Music -- 5 New Psych Studies

From PsyBlog:

1. Singing aids language learning

The link between music and memory is so strong that it can help you learn a foreign language.

Research by Ludke et al. (2013) found that people trying to learn Hungarian, a notoriously difficult language, performed much better if they sang the Hungarian phrases rather than just saying them.

The researchers think that the melody may provide an extra cue which helps embed the memory.

Read more:
Music and Memory: 5 Awesome New Psychology Studies

Monday, December 9, 2013

LastChaos-USA Publication Rights Transferred from Aeria to Gamigo

From Aeria Games & Entertainment:

Greetings Citizens!

As most of you know, Last Chaos is Aeria Games' very first game and together we have experienced many ups and downs. For nearly eight years, Last Chaos has facilitated many friendships, built communities and allowed all of us to thrive in the fantastical world of Iris.

There's a time to let go and that time has come. Aeria Games has reached an agreement with the German publisher of Last Chaos, Gamigo AG, who will facilitate the next steps in this awesome saga. As of December 4th, Last Chaos in English is published and serviced by Gamigo.

Aeria had been working closely with Gamigo to ensure a smooth and seamless transition for all active LC players. All of your Last Chaos characters' information has been transferred to Gamigo's servers. Your account credentials and game client remain the same. There should be minimal disruption to your Last Chaos experience.

All players who have logged in to Last Chaos after December 1, 2012 have had their information transferred for a login transition. Aeria Games provided Gamigo a duplicated server of our current players, their characters, inventory (including AP purchased items), etc. in their entirety. This is literally a full copy of the game that is running on a new machine.

Furthermore, players who spent Aeria Points in LC for the past 30 days will receive an AP rebate. These rebates will be sent to your registered email account. For more detailed questions, Gamigo has also prepared an FAQ page for your convenience.

If there are any questions not covered yet, we'll work together with the Gamigo community manager to update you as soon as we can. Gamigo sent out a newsletter via email yesterday with more detailed instructions so please check for that email as well.

If you have any questions regarding this please contact us at and we will be more than happy to help you out! Happy Gaming!
Copyright © 2013 Aeria Games & Entertainment, Inc.
 All Rights Reserved.
(Reproduced with permission.)

 SuccubaSuprema writes:

For several years now, I have been playing Last Chaos USA, a Fantasy genre Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) Developed by T-Ent (now BarunsOn), and published by Aeria Games & Entertainment.  My ex-housemate (then still my housemate) introduced me to the game (and thus, to the company, Aeria Games & Entertainment), knowing of my interest in such games (I've been involved in RPGs since the late '70s).  I immediately fell in love with the game.  In a very short time, I had a dream in which I was in the world of Iris (the setting of the game);  this was the first time I had ever had a dream involving such a game (or at least the first time I remembered having a dream involving a computer game).

On 28 August 2008, I became a "Game Sage" for LastChaos-USA at Aeria, and an Alpha Tester for the game.  A Game Sage is a player volunteer, or, to paraphrase slightly "the Last Chaos Game Sage Mission Statement" which I composed, "A player who volunteers his or her time to help other players of the game, to help the company which hosts and publishes the game, and to work for the improvement of the game."  At the time, I was an LC GS for the Katar server (the first and original game server for the game at Aeria) only, but, in November of 2008, I became an "All-Server Game Sage for LC-USA" (which meant that I was a GS on all the servers for the game which Aeria had at the time;  four such servers were in operation then, and a fifth was about to be opened;  eventually, the game's continued appeal and success resulted in six such game servers, and I was a GS on all of them).

In April of 2011, I had to take a break from my position, for various reasons, not least of which was the fact of having been diagnosed with "Student's Elbow," a localized (in the elbow region) manifestation of Bursitis caused by having leaned that elbow on hard surfaces (desks and tables) for decades.  Eventually, the anti-inflammatory medication I had been prescribed succeeded in alleviating the inflammation in the bursae which had been giving me such excruciating pain.  On 22 July 2011, I returned to my position as an All-Server GS for LC-USA, and I continued in that position until 2 January 2013, at which time, I transferred from LastChaos-USA and became instead a Game Sage for Dragon Knights Online (DK Online, or DKO), a new game to which Aeria had obtained the publication rights for the English-language version.

When DKO went down (25 April 2012) on hiatus for repairs and further development, I resumed helping out with LC-USA via the Aeria fora and ShoutBox for the game, and continued to monitor the fora and ShoutBox for DKO as well, as I was (and still am) a GS for DKO.  The news of the sale of the publication rights to LC-USA from Aeria to Gamigo took all of the Game Sages and players by surprise, and the transfer took place very rapidly.

Before the transfer had even begun, I set up an account at Gamigo, and I plan to continue to play LC-USA there.  While the game has its bugs and glitches, and could use some improvement in various particulars, it remains very captivating to me, and it has been a major part of my life for over five years.  I have made some good friends through the game, and through Aeria -- players, Game Sages, Forum Moderators, and Staff members.

Update:  Sequel to my earlier post

Feeding Children from the Tree of Death: Fundamentalism's Abusive Legacy

Uncharacteristically, I begin this post with my own comments, and then move on to quoting from the article on which I am commenting.  I do this because this is a very important issue which has potential to adversely affect all of us (no matter what perspectives we hold), and the planet itself.

Anyone who has ever entered a Protestant Fundamentalist (authentically Fundamentalist, and not Evangelical, because there is a difference, even though the inexperienced/untrained conflate the two far too often) congregation's meeting hall and interacted with the members of said congregation, experiencing the situation with an open mind and some background in social sciences, will probably not be terribly surprised at the reports of child abuse contained in the article from which I quote a small portion below.  What is more likely to surprise is the fact that some have managed to escape the conditioning.  More noteworthy is the fact that they have developed the skills to combat the movement (and particularly its brainwashing efforts) effectively.

Something else to which the article alludes, and which deserves much attention, is the reproductive proclivity of the Fundamentalist cults, a technique they have learned from conspiracy theories concerning the Roman Church (which has been accused, by clergy members on the fringes of Protestantism, of growing a religious empire by means of condemning birth control).  For over a decade now, Protestant Fundamentalists have included persons who have sought to stack the deck in favor of ignorance, superstition, irrationality, and bigotry, by means of having large families, and indoctrinating their unfortunate offspring in the dogma of their preferred brand of Christianity, which usually also involves the promotion of Far Right Wing Exremist economic philosophy (to the tune of Ayn Rand) and socially reactionary perspectives.  The separation of church and state was, not that long ago, a distinctive doctrine of most Baptist sects in the United States;  that is no longer the case.  These fundamentalists, many of whom claim "Baptist" as part of their self-designations, have goals which include the imposition of their own religous biases on everyone by means of legislation, and their roadmap to success in that particular goal involves spawning more and more offspring and raising them to be voters who will support such initiatives and candidates who will push such initiatives.  This is a very frightening reality, but it is indeed reality, and ignoring it is dangerous for the future of humanity and the earth itself.

What I will quote here from the article is merely some history of the homeschooling movement, and how it became usurped by fundamentalist fanatics, but the remainder of the article describes (in some detail) the ordeals of several children raised in Christian Fundamentalist homes, isolated from reality, and fed the poisonous fruit of the dogma of insanity, abused physically, emotionally, and intellectually.  The article also describes how some have escaped those horrors, and how they have banded together to help others who are still imprisoned by their own parents, who view them not as human beings to be loved, nurtured, and cared for, but rather, as pawns to be exploited in a great "cultural" struggle.

From AlterNet:

Homeschooling didn’t begin as a fundamentalist movement. In the 1960s, liberal author and educator John Holt advocated a child-directed form of learning that became “unschooling”—homeschooling without a fixed curriculum. The concept was picked up in the 1970s by education researcher Raymond Moore, a Seventh-Day Adventist, who argued that schooling children too early—before fourth grade—was developmentally harmful. Moore’s message came at a time when many conservative Christians were looking for alternatives to public schools. ...

Moore’s work reached a massive audience when Focus on the Family founder and Christian parenting icon James Dobson invited him onto his radio show for the first time in 1982. Dobson would become the most persuasive champion of homeschooling, encouraging followers to withdraw their children from public schools to escape a “godless and immoral curriculum.” For conservative Christian parents, endorsements didn’t come any stronger than that.

Over the next two decades, homeschooling boomed. Today, perhaps as many as two million children are homeschooled. (An accurate count is difficult to conduct, because many homeschoolers are not required to register with their states.) Homeschooling families come from varied backgrounds—there are secular liberals as well as Christians, along with an increasing number of Muslims and African Americans—but researchers estimate that between two-thirds and three-fourths are fundamentalists.

Among Moore and Dobson’s listeners during that landmark broadcast was a pair of young lawyers, Michael Farris and Michael Smith, who the following year would found the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). With Moore’s imprimatur and Dobson’s backing, Farris and Smith started out defending homeschooling families at a time when the practice was effectively illegal in 30 states. As Christians withdrew their children from public school, often without requesting permission, truancy charges resulted. The HSLDA used them as test cases, challenging school districts and state laws in court while lobbying state legislators to establish a legal right to homeschool. By 1993, just ten years after the association’s founding, homeschooling was legal in all 50 states.

What many lawmakers and parents failed to recognize were the extremist roots of fundamentalist homeschooling. The movement’s other patriarch was R.J. Rushdoony, founder of the radical theology of Christian Reconstructionism, which aims to turn the United States into an Old Testament theocracy, complete with stonings for children who strike their parents. Rushdoony, who argued that democracy was “heresy” and Southern slavery was “benevolent,” was too extreme for most conservative Christians, but he inspired a generation of religious-right leaders including Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. He also provided expert testimony in early cases brought by the HSLDA. Rushdoony saw homeschooling as not just providing the biblical model for education but also a way to bleed the secular state dry.

With support from national leaders, Christian homeschoolers established state-level groups across the country and took over the infrastructure of the movement. Today, when parents indicate an interest in homeschooling, they find themselves on the mailing lists of fundamentalist catalogs. When they go to state homeschooling conventions to browse curriculum options, they hear keynote speeches about biblical gender roles and creationism and find that textbooks are sold alongside ideological manifestos on modest dressing, proper Christian “courtship,” and the concept of “stay-at-home daughters” who forsake college to remain with their families until marriage.

HSLDA is now one of the most powerful Christian-right groups in the country, with nearly 85,000 dues-paying members who send annual checks of $120. The group publicizes a steady stream of stories about persecuted homeschoolers and distributes tip sheets about what to do if social workers come knocking. Thanks to the group’s lawsuits and lobbying, though, that doesn’t happen often. Homeschooling now exists in a virtual legal void; parents have near-total authority over what their children learn and how they are disciplined. Not only are parents in 26 states not required to have their children tested but in 11 states, they don’t have to inform local schools when they’re withdrawing them. The states that require testing and registration often offer religious exemptions.

The emphasis on discipline has given rise to a cottage industry promoting harsh parenting techniques as godly. Books like To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl promise that parents can snuff out rebellious behavior with a spanking regimen that starts when infants are a few months old. The Pearls claim to have sold nearly 700,000 copies of their book, most through bulk orders from church and homeschooling groups. The combination of those disciplinary techniques with unregulated homeschooling has spawned a growing number of horror stories now being circulated by the ex-homeschoolers—including that of Calista Springer, a 16-year-old in Michigan who died in a house fire while tied to her bed after her parents removed her from public school, or Hana Williams [6], an Ethiopian adoptee whose Washington state parents were convicted in September of killing her with starvation and abuse in a Pearl-style system. Materials from HSLDA were found in the home of Williams’s parents.

Read more:
Escape from Christian Fundamentalism - the Kids Who Flee Abusive, Isolated Christian Homes

Related (as linked in the article):

Homeschoolers Anonymous

Homeschooling's Invisible Children

Prohibited Research?

From Scientific American:

Imagine being an astronomer in a world where the telescope was banned. This effectively happened in the 1600s when, for over 100 years, the Catholic Church prohibited access to knowledge of the heavens in a vain attempt to stop scientists proving that the earth was not the center of the universe.  ‘Surely similar censorship could never happen today,’ I hear you say—but it does in relation to the use of drugs to study the brain.  Scientists and doctors are banned from studying many hundreds of drugs because of outdated United Nations charters dating back to the 1960s and 1970s.

Read more:
The Potential of LSD, Heroin, Marijuana and Other Controlled Substances in Brain Research

SuccubaSuprema writes:

The "guardians" of society (sometimes self-appointed, seldom qualified) have not uncommonly been biased by personal dogmatic beliefs, whether those beliefs were religious, political, economic, or something else.  In the case of seventeenth-century astronomy, the bias of the "guardians" was religious, a biblical literalism which, however, was not consistent with the Tradition of the Church -- but then again, that Tradition itself is hardly self-referentially consistent, contradicting itself on any number of points.  Indeed, as I have mentioned in previous posts here, a worldview colors one's perception of everything, and thus can result in distorted perceptions.  In the case of substance research, several different beliefs have resulted in such skewed perspectives.  In some cases, the culprit is a political viewpoint, in particular as relates to Philosophy of Law ("crime and punishment" and "protection of society" from perceived threats), without much regard for, or consideration of, the contentions of the medical community that addiction and dependence are medical situations, rather than (inherently) criminal.  In other cases, a political viewpoint is again involved, but in a sort of "us versus them" mentality, such that the "guardians" arrive at their conclusions based on opposition to an alternate political viewpoint.  In still other cases, economic viewpoints are involved, sometimes with vested interests (since Cannabis, for example, is an herb which can be grown almost anywhere, in widely varying conditions, its manufacture, distribution, and use cannot be effectively controlled -- and it cannot be patented, and thus, profits from Cannabis cannot be reliably restricted to the pharmaceutical industry, which has numerous less effective and potentially more harmful substances from which it wishes to continue to profit, regardless of the consequences for patients).  In yet other cases, the bias is again due to a religious viewpoint, whether that be the anti-intellectualism and epistemophobia (fear of knowledge) which is so typical of religious fundamentalists, or a belief that the distribution and use of such substances are somehow contrary to the will of the divine and thus must be prohibited (disregarding any lack of justification for such prohibition on the basis of separation of church and state, ignoring the failures of past efforts at prohibition, and, in the specific case of Christianity, blatantly defying teachings of the religion itself, in particular as regards such teachings as are found in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of the gospel of Matthew and the fourteenth chapter of the epistle to the Romans).

In still yet other cases, addiction and/or dependence, or even a perspective based on an idealized understanding of the psychedelic movement (which may itself have religious dimensions, as suggested by, for example, the writings of Carlos Castaneda, and/or claims made by Dr. Timothy Leary), must be acknowledged as capable of biasing conclusions, with those who wish to have license to use such substances themselves basing their conclusions on that wish.

In spite of the latter possibility, the potential for increased knowledge (both neuroscientific/psychiatric and otherwise medical) from research into these substances is far more relevant and important than the fears of those who have embraced ignorance, superstition, irrationality, and prejudice.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Social Construction of Death

From Everyday Sociology:

In Philadelphia, an emergency room nurse named Barbara Mancini was arrested for providing her 93-year-old terminally ill father with a lethal dose of morphine. Her father was in hospice care, meaning that no further treatment was possible and death was imminent; the goals of hospice care are to ease pain and provide comfort for the dying patient. He was in kidney failure and apparently in a significant amount of pain.

Read more:
The Social Construction of Death

SuccubaSuprema writes:

The article takes a serious and hard look at our social relationship with death, pointing out rightly that "people idealize death, thinking that death is naturally peaceful, something that happens in our sleep, but the reality is that it often involves a lot of suffering."  I too have had to face the reality of the loss of a beloved feline companion.  One of the cats who have graced me by sharing their lives with me developed an inoperable tumor.  She had been with me for over a decade, through good times and bad, and may have been the primary reason I remained sane during the worst state of my health, when I myself was near to death.  Letting her go was a difficult choice;  I tried to keep her comfortable and aware of love, but as time went by, her suffering became far too evident.  The time to let her go was present, and I agonized as I contacted the local vet, who, however, was then out of the euthanasia drug necessary to ease the passage of this beloved furry companion.  I contacted another veterinarian in an adjacent county, and, together with my then-housemate, took the beloved silver tabby to his office.  The passage was quick -- too quick for me, honestly, but mercifully quick for my feline friend and companion.  I burst into tears.  Thinking about it as I write this, several years after the fact, my eyes well up with more.  I will always be grateful to her for her condition-free love and consolation;  I wish something could have been done for her to not only prolong her life, but also to cure that cancer and remove her pain.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  I do not regret my decision to have her "put to sleep," but the pain of loss remains.  I know I did the right thing, the just thing, the ethical thing, and it was not done callously or on the basis of anything other than love and compassion.  Why we as a society have continued to refuse to allow such an act in the case of a human animal boggles the mind.  This is not about "playing God," nor usurping a supposed divine prerogative;  it is, rather, about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you;  it is about "God is love," and it is about "he who says he loves God but hates his brother is a liar, and the truth is not in him."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Inner Speaking

From the British Psychological Society's Research Digest:

Studying the ways people talk to themselves in their own minds is incredibly tricky because as soon as you ask them about it, you're likely interfering with the process you want to investigate. As William James said, some forms of introspective analysis are like "… trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks."

For many years Russell Hurlbert and his colleagues have used a technique that they believe offers the best way to study what they call "pristine" inner speaking, unaltered by outside interference. They provide participants with a beeper that goes off randomly several times a day, and ask them to record in precise terms their mental activity that was happening just before the beeps. Early in the process, this "descriptive experience sampling" (DES) approach also involves cooperative interviews between the participants and a trained researcher, so that the participant can learn to identify true instances of inner speaking from other mental phenomena.

Read more:
The science of how we talk to ourselves in our heads

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Paleolithic Cave Artists Mostly Women?

From Sci-News:

Anthropologist Prof Dean Snow from Pennsylvania State University analyzing ochre-stenciled handprints in Paleolithic caves in France and Spain has determined that about 75 percent of the handprints were left by women.

Read more:
Paleolithic Cave Painters in Europe were Mostly Women, Researcher Says

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Which Is It? Fat and Fit, or EITHER Fat OR Fit, or Is This Too Simplistic?

From Huffington Post (published 20 November 2013, updated 25 November 2013):

When it comes to living a long and healthy life, a meta-analysis of mortality studies finds that being physically active, no matter what your weight, trumps being thin and unfit.

Researchers at Middle Tennessee State University, led by exercise scientist Vaughn Barry, Ph.D., examined 10 past studies that recorded information about participants' body mass indexes and fitness levels. The studies looked at the weight and fitness levels of thousands of participants (the largest one included 21,856 people) and continued to follow up with the participants over several years, ranging from an average of 7.7 years to an average of 16 years. ...

They found that fitness levels, not weight, predicted whether or not a participant had died in the study's intervening years. Unfit people, regardless of their weight, had twice the risk of dying during the study than fit people, and overweight and obese people who were fit had similar mortality risks as fit, normal weight participants. Another way of putting it: thin, unfit people had twice the mortality risk as obese fit people.

The study was recently published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases.

Read more:
Fat But Fit? Study Reveals That Fitness, Not Weight, Predicts Risk Of Early Death

But wait, that's not all.

From The Daily Mail (published 2 December 2013):

Canadian scientists carried out research examining 61,000 people from the 1950s to the present day
The study strongly refuted the suggestion that a person's physical fitness is more important than their weight
Evidence showed despite a person having normal blood pressure and being able to process sugar easily, excess weight alone remains critical ...

There is no such thing as being fat and healthy, scientists warn.

They have strongly refuted suggestions that a person’s physical fitness is more important than their  weight. ...

The theory was that good metabolic fitness, that is, having normal blood pressure and being able to process sugar easily, would protect people from the consequences of obesity, such as heart disease and diabetes.

However, the new research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that even though high blood pressure, poor blood sugar control and high blood fats are important indicators of disease, the excess weight itself remains critical.

Seriously overweight people who displayed none of these warning signs were nonetheless found to die younger than people at a normal weight.

Canadian scientists, from  the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, conducted a review of eight studies published from 1950 onwards to find out whether these metabolic indicators were linked to premature death and heart disease in normal-weight, overweight and obese people.

Read more:
Being fit is no help if you're fat as well: Scientists say healthy obesity does not exist

SuccubaSuprema writes:

So which is it?  Can a person be "fat but fit," or does obesity trump fitness?  Those who are rightly skeptical of the reliability of reports in The Daily Mail (due to a history of that paper occasionally getting it wrong and having to print retractions) should be advised that media outlets which are generally regarded as usually more reliable also covered the same story, among them Time Magazine:
You Can’t Be Fit and Fat
-- Or are there other variables (such as genetics, for example, or sleep patterns, or diet, or alcohol use, or any of several other possible contributors) which should be factored into the equation?  In short, has the question been formed as a False Dilemma?

What do you think?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Does Stonehenge Ring True?

From Sci-News:

British researchers, reporting in the journal Time & Mind: the Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, may have cracked the mystery of why the builders of Stonehenge chose to haul some of its giant bluestones 320 km away from Wales to Salisbury Plain.

Read more:
Scientists Reveal Extraordinary Sonic Properties of Stonehenge Bluestones

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Will the UK Grant Rights to the Intersex?

From The Independent:

It has taken Holly Greenberry, Sarah Graham, Dawn Vago and Elizabeth Jo Roberts years to go public with their stories. Born into a world that insists on dividing people into two sexes, they did not always know how they fitted in. They were born to typical families in typical areas of Britain, but none of them developed into typical male or females. They are intersex.

An estimated one in 2,000 babies is born with an intersex condition or a (controversially named) disorder of sex development (DSD), which means that they are born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not fit the typical definitions of female or male. This can include atypical genitalia, chromosomes or internal sex organs.

The women argue that their very existence has been “eradicated” by British society. Generations of children have been operated upon to “normalise” their genitals or sexual anatomy, while official documentation, from birth certificates to passports, requires a male or female box to be ticked.  They argue it’s one of the last “human rights taboos” in the western world.

The women have a type of androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), which means they have XY chromosomes, but are partially or completely insensitive to testosterone – they are all infertile.

The group has come together to launch a campaign, calling for the Government to urgently review the way intersex people are treated. Following on from Germany’s decision to allow newborn babies to be registered as neither male nor female, their recommendations include the option to leave the sex on British birth certificates blank, measures to protect babies or young people from irreversible and non-consensual treatment and surgery, better emotional support and increased education.

Read more:
Special report: Intersex women speak out to protect the next generation

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Kinky Boots in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

This morning, one of the first performances (I believe it was third) in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was from the musical Kinky Boots.

I watched it with my dad, who (and I'm simply being honest in describing him, not hateful) is in his 80s, senile, "conservative," Protestant, and Republican.  He's also ignorant and fairly bigoted when it comes to LGBTI issues;  he was raised in a different era, and to him, the entire umbrella of LGBTQIA can be summed up with the word "queers."  He does not understand, and does not wish to learn (as he has made quite clear on a number of matters) the truth that reality is bigger than his narrow perspective (I've tried, repeatedly, but even when some of it seemed to have gotten through, he later said things that suggested that nothing I said got through, or that he has completely forgotten the entire discussion, but as I said, he's senile, and men seem to have challenges with the act of listening to speech from a woman -- which latter may be partially due to the way men's brains process women's voices).  Fortunately for everyone, his bigotry toward the LGBTQIA community is entirely passive.

When we recently watched an episode of Modern Family which featured the Gay male couple (who are regulars on the show) and a Lesbian couple (who, I believe, were guest stars, although they may become recurring characters, due to the dynamic between them and the Gay male couple), I was annoyed to hear him ask me why I wanted to watch a show with "a buncha queers," even though he's aware that I'm Bisexual (and we've watched the show several times before without him ever saying a word, possibly because he didn't realize the two men are Gay;  in this episode, however, the words "Gay" and "Lesbian" were used explicitly).  In private, he regularly refers to people as "queer" with evident disdain in his voice.  He seldom, however, says anything about me being Bisexual (I believe he is in denial about this facet, and several other facets, of my life, but also, it's not like I make a big deal about my being Bisexual around him).

During the Kinky Boots segment of the parade, however, he said not one word, but watched it silently, apparently entertained by the performance.  I did not make any issue out of it, and the performance passed without comment.  In fact, he still hasn't said anything about that, even now when it happened about three hours in the past, and I doubt he will say anything about it.  The only thing he ever did say about any of the broadcast was "This ain't the parade!" because the parade proper had not yet made it to the area in front of Macy's, and I had to remind him that this is how it's done every year.

On the other hand, I've seen quite a few obnoxious comments on the internet since the performance, with derogatory terms like "trannies," and people complaining that it was not "Family Friendly" or that it was not appropriate for a Rated G broadcast.  There have also been some complaints about having to explain things to children, while some explicitly said that they did not appreciate any lectures on diversity from the parade.  A sample of such comments can be found in the following links:

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Drag queens in kinky boots

UGH!!!! -- Macy's Day Parade Promotes Gay Musical "Kinky Boots"

Just what Thanksgiving needed: Drag queens in Kinky Boots [photos]

Fortunately, there have been more positive comments as well, such as this:

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Kinky Boots

You can listen to the original Broadway cast recording of the song performed here:

The whole thing seems quite acceptable for a G Rating.  "Family Friendly" does not actually mean "Let's pretend everyone is a white, cisgendered, heterosexual, fundamentalist Christian who supports the tyranny of capitalism (even if they themselves get the shaft right along with those who prefer a saner economy) and hide from anyone who isn't."  A lot of people seem to think it does, though, and more's the pity.

Here is a portion of the lyrics to the piece from the performance (the same one in the video above).  This is hardly something to get your panties into a bunch over, unless you like promoting ignorance, fear, and hatred.

Alright, now, we've all heard of the 12 step program, have we not?
Yes, but what you can do in 12, I want you to know that we all can do in 6 now, and it goes like this:
One: Pursue the truth
Two: Learn something new
Three: Accept yourself and you'll accept others too!
Four: Let love shine
Five: Let pride be your guide
Six: Change the world when you change your mind!
Just be who you wanna be.
Never let them tell you who you oughta be.
Just be. With dignity.
Celebrate yourself triumphantly.
You'll see.
It's beautiful.
You'll see
It's beautiful.
Just be.
It's beautiful.
Just be.

Read more:
Original Broadway Cast Recording - Raise You Up / Just Be Lyrics | MetroLyrics

A video of the actual performance from the parade has now been put up on YouTube.  I hesitate to link to it, for two reasons:  (i) the person who uploaded it made unfavorable comments (which did not reflect much awareness of diversity, since he or she confused transsexuals with drag queens), and (ii) it may not be left up, if a copyright or trade mark complaint is made.  The comments section is includes not only homophobic and transphobic remarks (some of which really ought to be removed by YouTube (but apparently there's little chance of that!), but also antisemitism!  However, one comment really stands out, to such an extent that I believe I should reproduce it here, and I suppose that I should give the link to the source because of that.  Therefore, here's the link.  And here's the comment:

I'd have to say that Joe's comment really puts all of the hysteria in perspective.

Here's a video of the same, uploaded by someone who didn't make hateful and ignorant comments when posting it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hollywood Spy?

From The Guardian:

The Hollywood producer behind box office hits including Fight Club, Pretty Woman and LA Confidential has spoken about his life as an Israeli secret agent and arms dealer, saying he was proud of working for his country.

Arnon Milchan gave a lengthy interview to the Israeli documentary programme Uvda, broadcast on Monday on Channel 2, confirming claims made earlier in an unauthorised biography that he worked for an Israeli agency that negotiated arms deals and supported Israel's secret nuclear weapons project.

Milchan, who was born in Israel, was recruited as a young businessman to the Bureau of Scientific Relations – known by its Hebrew acronym, Lakam – by Shimon Peres, now Israel's president, in the 1960s. The bureau, which worked to obtain scientific and technical information for secret defence programmes, closed in 1987.

Milchan, 68, is the chairman of New Regency Productions, which has produced more than 120 Hollywood movies since the 1970s, working with actors and directors such as Robert de Niro, Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, Oliver Stone, Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck.

Read more:
Arnon Milchan reveals past as Israeli spy

SuccubaSuprema writes:

When I first saw this story earlier on the television (CNN, to be precise), it reminded me of Chuck Barris, and apparently, I'm not alone.  The Beeb itself made the same connection:

In his 1984 book, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, game-show creator Chuck Barris (The Dating Game, The Gong Show) claimed to be a CIA hit man. He is routinely asked to verify, or deny, this claim - though he never has.

Read more:
Arnon Milchan: Hollywood producer's starring role as 'spy'

Pope Calls for Decentralized Church, Condemns Capitalism

From The Guardian:

Pope Francis has attacked unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny", urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff.

The 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, amounted to an official platform for his papacy, building on views he has aired in sermons and remarks since he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years in March.

In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticising the global economic system, attacking the "idolatry of money" and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and healthcare".

He also called on rich people to share their wealth. "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills," Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday.

"How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"

Read more:
Pope Francis calls unfettered capitalism 'tyranny' and urges rich to share wealth

From the Los Angeles Times:

Eight months into his headline-grabbing papacy, Pope Francis issued a wide-ranging manifesto Tuesday in which he sharply criticizes the excesses of capitalism and says he wants a decentralized Roman Catholic Church that is "bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets."

Francis' 84-page Apostolic Exhortation, titled "The Joy of the Gospel," gathers together a number of the causes he has championed in speeches and homilies since being elected in March, including the need for "a conversion of the papacy," to reverse the "excessive centralization."

Read more:
Pope Francis calls for decentralized Catholic Church in manifesto

I cannot help but admire the more progressive and more open-minded statements which Francis has made on a number of subjects.  The unbridled free market really is unjust and unethical.  Capitalism really is appalling.  The centralized polity of the Roman Catholic Church really has usually produced undesirable results.  The Church really has been too hung up on condemnation and really has been too inflexible on a number of issues.

However, considerable room for improvement will still exist, even if he successfully gets the Church to improve in the small ways he seems to desire.

See also:
Pope Francis Denounces ‘Idolatry of Money’ And ‘Tyranny’ of Capitalism

Pope Francis's Theory of Economics

Lessons in leadership from Pope Francis

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Twilight and the Western Vampire Tradition

Twilight and the Western Vampire Tradition

by Giovanna
(aka "SuccubaSuprema")

Prefatory Remarks:

What follows is a commentary which might be seen as sociological or an example of criticism (in the academic sense, like Literary Criticism, although I have not written this in academic style) or both, updated and collected from several posts I wrote and posted in a thread I started in a certain internet forum (the posts I'm collecting, into what I hope will be one more-or-less consistent piece, were made from 2010 to 2012, although I made some additional posts in that thread in 2013 which are not used for this blog post), with some further observations.  At the time of the first post, I had only seen the first movie in the series, but since then, and as I continued to post in the thread and time passed, I saw the penultimate movie offered in a special collector's DVD edition with a promotional price, and the others all available at the same time and in the same store, for reduced prices, so I decided to (ahem) bite the bullet and buy all of them (and then bought the final movie later, when it too came out), and so I eventually watched them all (the first time I watched the entire series was over a period of 24 hours or so).  In this connection, I should point out that I liked the first movie better on second viewing.

Be advised, if you have not read the novels or seen the movies, this post contains a few spoilers (not only for the Twilight saga, but also for the Underworld movies, which I discuss at the end of the post in connection with criticisms of the Twilight saga).


Those who know me well are aware that I'm a fan of Vampire literature, movies, and television shows.  Occasionally, the subject of the Twilight movies/books has been brought up, with people wanting to know my opinion of them.  I've spoken to some extent about these matters in the past, but there came a time when I found a comment on my profile from someone wanting to know if I'm "a fan" of the story, so I decided to respond in this way, and thereby be able to direct questioners to this discussion.  With the introduction out of the way, I shall proceed.

The Commentary:

I do not know that I would call myself "a fan" of Twilight, but at the same time, I do not believe that it's the worst vampire story ever written/filmed.  In fact, it was quite good, compared to some I've seen.   Indeed, I enjoyed the movies (I have yet to read any of the books).  I shall here respond to some criticisms I've seen and heard concerning the story.  I do not intend to comment much, if at all, on the criticisms I have seen and heard regarding the acting.

A lot of people claim to be annoyed primarily with the "sparkly vampire" aspect (I say "claim" intentionally, because I believe their genuine main objection is something else, and I'll come to that later), but, truth be told, in the movies, the sparkling was only barely noticeable, even when it was being emphasized.   It's an interesting twist on the vampire aversion to sunlight, and it doesn't merit the kind of hysterical criticism I've seen about it.   Part of why I say that is directly related to the next objection I will discuss.

The second thing people seem to be annoyed about is the idea that sunlight doesn't harm vampires, but most people don't realize that the concept of vampires being harmed/killed by the sun is a relatively new idea (less than 100 years old), and was first expressed in the 1922 silent movie Nosferatu:   eine Symphonie des Grauens (commonly known simply as Nosferatu, which was an unauthorized cinematic version of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, and, being unauthorized, was only very loosely based on that novel (the novel, in fact, includes a scene of Dracula outside in the street during daylight, a scene that was part of the movie Bram Stoker's Dracula, starring Gary Oldman as the Count).  Arguably, the sound of the cock crowing was what overcame Count Orlok, rather than the light of the sun (I say this based on the captions in the silent movie), and this idea of a cock's crow affecting "supernatural" creatures is consistent with folklore from various places in Europe.  Prior to the 1922 movie, the idea is found in folklore of various "supernatural" creatures being hampered, harmed, or destroyed by sunlight, but this did not specifically pertain to vampires (you see the old folklore reflected, for example, in Tolkien's The Hobbit, in which Trolls turn to stone when exposed to sunlight, an idea found in Scottish and Norse legends of Trows and Trolls).  That's not to say that the older stories do not portray vampires as not particularly fond of daylight, because some do, but none of them contain the idea of sunlight causing harm or destruction to a vampire.  As such, those who reject the Twilight stories' "new" idea of vampires not being harmed by the sun are actually embracing a new idea about vampires, and rejecting the older idea.  I maintain, therefore, that they should all mellow out and get past the baggage of a mere 91 years of the new idea of vampires being vulnerable to the sun.  Perhaps then they would be able to enjoy the story for what it is.  I have to admit, that although I think the sparkly vampire thing is an interesting twist on explaining why vampires might be averse to sunlight (which, as I have pointed out above, is an idea that is only 91 years old), I'm not terribly fond of the idea, but that's merely personal preference and should not result in dismissal of the story in its entirety.

As an aside, I would like to also point out that the idea of garlic having an adverse effect on vampires is the result of ignorance and superstition (although dismissing this as the result of "superstition" may seem ironic in connection with the idea of vampires in the first place!).  The belief derives from the practice of opening graves of suspected vampires in order to "vanquish" them, with those opening the graves wearing wreaths of garlic around their necks to ward off the arising effluvia of a decaying corpse (or, more accurately, as an attempt to cover the unpleasant scent with the supposedly stronger smell of garlic).  Over time, the original import of this practice was forgotten, and that ignorance, coupled with superstition, led to the idea of garlic repelling and/or harming vampires.  Since then, the idea has become fairly firmly ensconced within the Western Vampire Tradition, although instances of this idea being rejected have also been seen in the tradition.

The third objection which some have to the stories is the popular opinion that they are intended for an audience of teenage girls.  It is this reputation which I believe to be the genuine main objection of most who protest their disdain for the saga (and most of these people in my experience have been male), but these people are ignoring the Vampire Tradition itself, in favor of more recent depictions of vampires in film as "monstrous," savage, and wholly incorrigible (indeed, usually they're depicted as totally depraved homicidal maniacs, often extremely sadistic, and frequently nihilistic -- in short, completely ignoble and without any redeeming value).  These more recent films typically contain a lot of gratuitous violence and gore.

The Twilight movies (since more people are familiar with them than they are with the books) are, according to the popular reputation, allegedly "chick flicks," but the same "noble vampire" motif and/or "vampire love story" idea (whether romantic or erotic, or both) is found in earlier stories, television series, and movies, and few if any of them are dismissed out of hand as "chick flicks" or "chick lit."  A few examples include the television series Moonlight, the television series Forever Knight, the 1960s soap opera Dark Shadows (and Marilyn Ross' novels based on the show), and even, to some extent, other movies based on Stoker's work (the Bela Lugosi films, obviously, but also the more recent version starring Gary Oldman), to say nothing of older novels, novelettes, and short stories of vampires like Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, and "The Vampyre," by John William Polidori.  Earlier than those are various poems expressing the same notions.

I've also seen some people claim that Edward Cullen is a "copy" of Anne Rice's Lestat.  I would not view Edward as a copy of Lestat, however.  In some ways, Edward is more like Mick St. John of the Moonlight television series (although I like Mick, and Moonlight, much, much better than Edward and Twilight), or Nick Knight of the series Forever Knight, both of whom probably owe more to Barnabas Collins of Dark Shadows than any other inspiration (indeed, I suspect that the use by Stephanie Meyer of the name "Cullen" in her work is a direct nod to the name "Collins" in Dark Shadows).

Now there was a vampire!  Barnabas Collins, tragic, unfortunate victim, often violent to excess, mysterious, brooding, lonely, charming, romantic, not afraid to get his fangs bloody (although not desensitized to it nor blasé about it, either), dark, tormented, etc.

Thus, the Twilight series is soundly within an established "canon" of Vampire Tradition involving romance, eroticism, "noble" vampires (both literally, as in the case of Count Dracula -- or Prince Vlad, and figuratively, in the sense of "possessed of noble virtues"), the idea of "vampirism as curse" (literal, as with Barnabas Collins, or figurative, as with Nick Knight) from which the vampire wishes to escape, etc.  If these concepts are "adolescent" and/or "girly," then a lot of adult men who profess disdain for the Twilight saga and are infected with the disease known as "machismo" have to explain why they enjoy these other stories I have mentioned.  Although I am female, I have not been a teenager in a looooong time, and while I haven't read the Twilight books, and probably would not consider myself "a fan" (per se) of the movies, I have read and viewed quite a lot of vampire literature/films/TV shows, I did enjoy the Twilight movies, and wouldn't exclude the series from my DVD collection or my book library.  Indeed, I now have all the movies on DVD.

I would also contend that teen boys (and adult boys) who believe that blood and guts splattered all over the screen is what makes a vampire movie "good" and/or "authentic" actually have no concept of the Western Vampire Tradition.  They would be just as happy with a slasher pic, which is hardly the same thing as a vampire movie, and also a recent phenomenon.  I also consider most of these more recent "Horror" movies to be much more disgusting than frightening, due to this tendency to focus on gratuitous violence and gore, and thus unworthy of being given the "Horror" label.

If someone has a mere aesthetic preference that vampires should be "dark bloodsucking monsters in human form," I have no problem with that;  if, on the other hand, a contention is made that the noble/romantic vampire, who remains attractive (theoretically, at least, and I add this qualification because I do not find the boy who portrayed Edward Cullen to be all that attractive) even when she/he "vamps out," is somehow "inconsistent" with the Western Vampire Tradition, then even Bram Stoker himself would rise up and bite the person making such an assertion.   I might have preferred a different actor for Edward, but honestly, Robert Pattinson isn't that bad (he isn't gorgeous like Alex O'Loughlin as Mick St. John in Moonlight, but then again, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," and his acting seemed better to me in the subsequent movies than it did in the first).

From the earliest stories in the Western Folklorismus Vampire Tradition (by the use of "Folklorismus," I intend the folkloric idea of Vampires removed from its culturally-specific, Slavic, Folklore and Legend context and the beginning of the Western Literary Vampire Tradition -- although it should be noted that similar beings are recorded in the myths, legends, and authentic culturally-based folklore of other cultures, including, for one major example, the Leannán Sidhe of Irish, Scottish, and Manx Tradition) and the Western Literary Vampire Tradition (which grew out of the Western Folklorismus Vampire Tradition and includes, more or less, or at least gave birth to, the Western Cinematographic Vampire Tradition), the Vampire was both appealing and appalling simultaneously.  The appealing aspects included being magnetic in a romantic and/or erotic sense, and being attractive in terms of visual appearance, as well as offering the lure of a form of immortality, eternal youth, and superhuman power (indeed, one of these powers is often used as an explanation of the lure of the vampire, the hold which she/he has over living beings, and that is a power described as "hypnosis" or, in some cases, "mesmerism").  The appalling aspects were primarily summed up in one idea: this being is a corpse -- a "living" corpse, perhaps, but nevertheless a corpse, who is cold to the touch, who rests in a coffin, but also, a corpse who feeds parasitically upon the living beings of his/her own species, etc.

As far as being "200 year old high schoolers with adolescent problems" (another objection I've seen), that is also hardly a new theme in the Western Vampire Tradition; indeed, in Anne Rice's celebrated Lestat stories, the reader encounters the child vampire Claudia, with her prepubescent problems.  What may be new (or at least perhaps atypical) in this "young vampire" motif is the concept that a person remains stuck at the physical (and emotional) age he/she was "turned" at;  earlier stories often (but not always) include a motif in which the vampire ages unless she/he feeds on blood.

Personally, I have been put off by the relatively recent depiction of vampires as changing in physical appearance when they "vamp out" to such an extent that they do not merely have fangs and glowing and/or red eyes, but also have some bizarre ridge in their foreheads as if they have alien ancestry or something, or have a reptilian appearance (although I did rather enjoy the first From Dusk till Dawn movie in spite of this, and in spite of the gratuitous blood and gore, because it had a good plot, and because Salma Hayek and George Clooney are exceptional actors), or otherwise appear distinctly non-human.  The idea that vampires can transform into fog or wolves or a swarm of rats or other things (or at least the idea that their "hypnotic" power is so great as to induce a mortal to perceive that they have so transformed) is old enough (although the vampire-into-bat transformation is also relatively new, but hardly inconsistent with the Tradition), but aside from the hairless, long-nailed, ghoulish-looking Count Orlok of Nosferatu (and the "noferatu-type" vampires inspired by that depiction), which (as I have already pointed out) is less than 100 years old, such an idea is far less consistent with the Vampire Tradition than the idea of attractive, noble (even heroic at times), romantic vampire.

Another thing I've seen criticized about the Twilight saga is that the vampires in the story are "vegetarians."  That term is often bandied about as if it means that the Cullens munch on lettuce and fruit, but those who use the term to dismiss the stories are either ignorant of its significance in the stories, or intentionally twisting the use of the term in the stories.  In the first movie (which I admit I finally watched only because people kept asking me what I thought of the series, it came on one of the Encore channels to which I had a subscription at the time, and I didn't want to continue to have to reply "I have no real opinion, because I've never read any of the books and never watched any of the movies"), the boy Edward explains that the Cullens refer to themselves as "vegetarians" because they refuse to feed on humans, but instead feed on animals (this is also not a new idea in the Western Vampire Tradition, although the use of "vegetarian" to describe such a diet may be new -- it's also ironic, and I appreciated that irony). 

Moving on to other criticisms, I've been told that the books are poorly written. I haven't read any of them, so I can't speak to that assessment.

I found the films enjoyable, but I wouldn't call the saga the "best vampire movie(s)," and I'm far from sure that I would even put it in the top ten.  However, when compared with movies in which "Dracula" beats his chest like an ape (I don't even remember which movie that was, and it may have otherwise been good, but that one scene was enough to cause my ex-housemate to leave the room in disgust, and I was also rather repulsed by the scene), yeah, it's superior.  Even some of the Christopher Lee movies have less-than-brilliant scenes, in which Dracula crouches in the corner and hisses.

I've also seen the character of Bella Swann (later Bella Cullen) criticized as one-dimensional or insufficiently developed.  A few aspects of the first movie, on first impression, seemed to portray that character in a way that I did not find pleasing, such as what I initially regarded as an almost neurotic reaction to Edward's intention to leave for her safety.  We get that the girl is "crazy" about him;  she doesn't have to be depicted as if she is literally crazy, with an unhealthy obsession over the boy.  She also should not be conceived as if she be merely a shadow to his supposed light.  However, after re-watching the movie along with the entire series once I had the final movie, I reconsidered this first impression in light of the fact that her parents were divorced, and I get that now;  she comes from a family that has been split asunder by divorce, which would be a bit of emotional facticity for Bella, and which baggage would explain her reaction to Edward informing her that he would be leaving for her safety.  Also, in the final movie, Bella is far more than a shadow to Edward;  indeed, she has become a force to be reckoned with, and every bit his equal (maybe even more powerful than he).  I will also, very briefly, touch upon criticisms of Kristen Stewart's acting, to say that I personally did not find her performance to be as bad as some have suggested.  She might not have as wide a range of facial expressions as Jim Carey (but who besides him does have a face that sometimes seems as if it's made of rubber?), but that's hardly sufficient cause to write her off as a "bad actress."

The plot is simple, granted, but that's the general plot for many "classic" vampire stories:   immortal, brooding, lonely, vampire guy meets beautiful, young, mortal girl, romance blossoms, some crisis occurs, vampire guy saves mortal girl (or, in a few cases, vice-versa), and they all live (or "un-die") happily ever after (presumably, although in some cases, such as the Twilight saga, there may be more than a single crisis).  The alternative plot in the "classic" tale is:  immortal, somewhat creepy, lonely vampire guy meets beautiful, young, mortal girl, attempts to seduce her, she is taken with him but already has a beau, nevertheless she gradually falls under his spell, her previously-existing beau (often with help from a "wise old man" archetypal character) then "rescues" her by "slaying" the vampire, and they all live happily ever after (except for the poor vampire, of course!).  There are certainly other variations on these tales -- Le Fanu's Carmilla, for example, which is older than Stoker's Dracula, and which depicts the apparently lesbian (or perhaps bisexual, since her sexuality was never explicitly defined in the story) Countess Mircalla Karnstein seducing a beautiful, young mortal girl, only to be thwarted by the girl's father (not beau), who has teamed up with a wise old warrior and the heroic descendant of a previous vampire-slayer hero.  The alternative plot (charming-vampire-as-somewhat-sinister-but-nevertheless-unfortunate-victim, although probably more frequently encountered than the charming-vampire-as-hero motif) I have given above is that which both Le Fanu and Stoker followed, and it was out of this plot that the hideous and repulsive, dark and monstrous, nosferatu-type vampire was developed by Henrik Galeen and F.W. Murnau in 1922.

I would like to hope that this puts an end to some of the pretense of the Twilight saga being somehow a radical departure from the Western Vampire Tradition in Literature and Film, and results in people examining their reaction to the saga honestly. More importantly, I would like to hope that this encourages some actual investigation of the authentic Vampire Tradition, rather than swallowing the more recent "insane, ugly monster" idea of vampires as if that be the genuine tradition. The references which I have provided here demonstrate clearly that the authentic Tradition is far more diverse and dynamic than that. If we go beyond the "Western" Vampire Tradition (primarily inspired/influenced by Slavic Folklore and Legend), the diversity increases significantly, but that's a topic for another time (and another author).

In conclusion, while I'm still not sure I would call myself a "fan" of the series (but rather, a fan of Vampire folklore, literature, and movies/television shows in general, with a few that I reject as heinous and/or ludicrous in one or more particulars), the Twilight movies have found a place in my DVD collection, and I'm not ashamed of their presence there.  I still regard them as soundly within the Western Vampire Tradition, and at least good representations of that genre.  I suppose that, eventually, I shall get the books and read them, and decide if I like them better than the films.

As a sort of postscript to all of this, I would like to touch upon another Vampire movie series here, namely, the Underworld movies (which I most certainly do rank among my favorite vampire movies).  According to some critics of the Twilight series, this was "the" inspiration for the Vampire versus Werewolf feud in the latter.  In fact, however, that motif goes back some distance in time.  There were even "classic" B&W movies in which "Dracula" and "the Wolfman" appeared to be enemies with some history between them, and fought to the death.  I found the Underworld movies very enjoyable (and I have all four in my DVD collection -- and rumor has it that a fifth installment will be forthcoming sometime in late 2014 or early 2015, so I naturally plan to get that on DVD as well), and perhaps better suited for a more mature audience than the Twilight movies, but I've seen them criticized as well.  In particular, I have seen the character of Selene criticized for not being "scary" enough.  Some of the critics have pointed out that (in the first two movies) she does not feed (except for the situation in which she takes the blood of Alexander Corvinus in order to learn from the memories contained in his blood and, seemingly, mutate or evolve to some extent) nor "Turn" others (except for the necessity of saving Michael from death), at least not on camera, but instead relies on more-or-less conventional weaponry (firearms, although often with modified rounds used as ammunition, and swords), and those same critics have suggested that this makes her, somehow, less than satisfactory as a vampiress.  Some have even offered what I view as chauvinistic criticisms, namely, that she "looks good" in a corset and leather catsuit, but doesn't inspire fear like a vampire "should."  Vampires and vampiresses in other stories and movies, however, have not always relied on their fangs and/or claws to kill, and have at times used more conventional weapons.  Further, I suspect that this pontification that vampires and vampiresses "should" inspire fear has more to do with the more recent portrayals of Vampires as homicidal maniacs without any control over their passions and appetites (and maybe, in the same [ahem] vein, with the fact that she doesn't become an unattractive alien-looking creature when she "vamps out") than it does with the earlier Vampire Tradition.  Nevertheless, Selene as a "Death Dealer" certainly has the right amount of "cold-blooded killer" attitude to be intimidating to most mortal opponents.  Skilled not only with fang and claw, but also with bladed weapons, firearms, and ordinary hand-to-hand combat, Selene is undeniably a formidable foe, and hardly unsatisfactory as a vampiress.

So there you have it, my response to many of the criticisms of, and my opinion of, the Twilight saga, based on my knowledge of the Western Vampire Tradition (which, if I do say so myself, is not exactly unsubstantial).  I'll also apologize here at the end for the bad puns in the post.  And now that the sun has sunk into the west, it's time for me to go out for the hunt, and slake my thirst.  Just kidding.  Or am I?  Muahahahaha!

This is an original work, and it belongs to me, regardless of where I first posted the material which I have gathered, revised, and rearranged to make this post, and regardless of any claims by the company which owns that website.
© Copyright 2013 by SuccubaSuprema (the owner of this blog, known more mundanely as "Gigi" and Giovanna).
All Rights Reserved.

The Mysteries of Intelligence ("Intelligence" as in Intellect, not "Intelligence" as in Spook Stuff)

From PsyBlog:

Here are ten studies that provide vital insights into the psychology of intelligence. ...

8. The intelligent sleep later

This is no longer a feeble excuse for hitting snooze.

Evidence has now been published that people who are more intelligent tend to go to bed later and get up later (Kanazawa & Perina, 2009).

The study examined the sleep habits of 20,745 adolescent Americans and found that on a weekday the ‘very dull’ went to bed at an average of 11:41 and woke up at 7:20.

In contrast, the ‘very bright’ went to bed at 12:29 and got up at 7:52. At the weekend the differences were even more pronounced.

We don’t know the nature of the connection from this study, but perhaps bright people find it more difficult to get to sleep because of all the worrying they’re doing.

Read more:
10 Smart Studies that Help Unlock the Mysteries of Intelligence

See also:
Night Owls' Brain Structures Are Different from Those of Early Risers

A Monogamy Hormone?

From Medical News Today:

Oxytocin has long been deemed "the love hormone," after its important role in social bonding has been documented. But now, researchers have performed a new experiment that suggests oxytocin stimulates the reward center in the male brain, increasing partner attractiveness and strengthening monogamy.

Read more:
Oxytocin: the monogamy hormone?

Less Frequent Sex Due to 'Modern Life'?

From BBC News:

A once-a-decade poll of 15,000 Britons found those aged 16-44 were having sex fewer than five times a month.

The figure compared with more than six times a month on the last two occasions when the official National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles was carried out, in 1990-91 and 1999-2001.

The study's authors say modern life may be having an impact on libidos.

Read more:
Modern life 'turning people off sex'

Tax-Exempt Groups and Political Campaigning?

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration Tuesday proposed a crackdown on the widespread use of tax-exempt organizations for political campaigning, seeking to reduce the influential role that the secretive groups have played in recent elections.

The new "guidance" issued Tuesday by the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service would curtail a broad array of these tax-exempt entities' activities, including campaign advertising, voter registration, get-out-the-vote efforts, and distribution of voter guides and campaign materials.

The process of completing the new regulations could take months, and officials said they expected a lot of feedback, acknowledging the political battles ahead.

The involvement in politics of tax-exempt groups organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code has been viewed by many as the biggest abuse of modern campaign finance rules, which aim to limit the influence of wealthy donors in elections.

The use of these organizations became a prominent issue in recent campaigns when groups such as the conservative Crossroads GPS and liberal Priorities USA raised millions of dollars from donors who could remain anonymous under tax rules. Critics say the groups have been too lightly regulated by the IRS, due in part to confusing regulations.

Read more:
Rulemaking on Campaigning by Tax-Exempt Groups Could Take Months

Supreme Court to Consider Permitting Religious Bias to Excuse Compliance with Contraceptive Mandate in ACA

From the Los Angeles Times:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear another legal challenge to President Obama’s healthcare law, this time to decide whether a corporation can refuse to pay to cover birth control drugs that violate the religious beliefs of the firm's owners.

At issue is a growing clash between some Christian employers who object to some contraceptives they consider “abortion-inducing” and potentially millions of female workers who can benefit from free birth control.

The case also calls on the court to decide whether corporations have religious rights similar to the free-speech rights that were upheld in the Citizens United decision in 2010. ...

Dozens of private employers have filed suits seeking an exemption from the contraceptive mandate. They include David Green, founder of the Hobby Lobby chain of crafts stores based in Oklahoma City, who brought the suit which is now headed for the high court. ...

Responding to this claim, Obama administration lawyers argued that although individuals have religious beliefs, a “for-profit corporate employer” does not and may not ignore laws that protect the rights of its employees. ...

The ruling “would transform the Religious Freedom Restoration Act from a shield for individuals and religious institutions into a sword used to deny employees of for-profit commercial enterprises the benefits and protections of generally applicable laws,” [U.S. Solicitor General Donald] Verrilli said.

Read more:
Supreme Court to hear Obamacare challenge over birth control drugs

SuccubaSuprema writes:

Hopefully, the Supreme Court will issue a ruling that does not excuse for-profit businesses from providing this funding.  The issue is one of interference in the personal lives of employees by their employers.  No employer should have that much power over their employees' lives.  An employee is not a slave, or a child, of the employer, and matters of conscience should be left up to individuals, not decided for them by others.

CNN's article on this story reports:

David Green and his family are the owners and say their Christian beliefs clash with parts of the law's mandates for comprehensive coverage.

They say some of the drugs that would be provided prevent human embryos from being implanted in a woman's womb, which the Greens equate to abortion.

USA Today's article reports:

The government says none of the mandated drugs are abortifacients.

Indeed.  Redefining "abortion" to include the prevention of an embryo from being implanted in a womb is another example of linguistic revisionism motivated by greed and bias.

Scottish Archaeologists Find Buddha's Birthplace?

From Popular Archaeology:

Scientists excavating within the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini, Nepal, have unearthed a timber structure that they date to the sixth century BCE. It is situated within and underlies a temple that is considered sacred to many as the birthplace of Siddhārtha Gautama, or Buddha. Until now, there has been no archaeological evidence supporting a date any earlier than the third century BCE for Buddha's life. Some historians have suggested the death of Buddha took place sometime in the late 4th century or early 3rd century BCE, although there are a number of traditions with varying dates.

Read more:
Archaeologists Uncover Earliest Evidence of Birth of Buddha

See also:
Scots archaeologists help make breakthrough discovery into origins of Buddhist religion

Ancient Buddhist shrine unearthed by Scots archaeologists in Nepal

Oldest Buddhist Shrine Uncovered In Nepal May Push Back the Buddha's Birth Date

SuccubaSuprema writes:

While I have my disagreements with some Buddhist beliefs, I've always liked this statement attributed to the Buddha:

"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."