Monday, September 15, 2008

Moving to the Granite City

It is a time of upheaval - though it's not upheaving as fast as I would like.

This is a picture of somewhere in Aberdeen, found on I didn't notice any excessive grayness in Aberdeen when I went up for my (horrible) job interview, but I've been living in Scotland for a while so perhaps I am desensitized to grayness. 

At least in this picture the sky is blue.

I looked up information on Aberdeen City Center and found a story on a new type of fungus

For those of you who don't know, Aberdeen is an oil town. The industry is huge here and, as such, there is a lot of money floating around. It will make quite a change from Dundee, where there are few major industries left.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Messing with Our Minds

Today's post is brought to you by the scientists at CERN, who have just started the most ambitious experiment ever (probably). I recommend visiting their website for a good walk-through of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) particle accelerator and an explanation of how this will not, I repeat not, cause a black hole (most likely - but, hey, even if it does it'll just be a quantum one so no worries).

One of the interesting aspects of this experiment, as explained on the website, is that the energy involved is concentrated in a very small space: "What makes the LHC so extraordinary is that it squeezes energy into a space about a million million times smaller than a mosquito."

The general purpose of this experiment is 'to recreate the conditions existing a few moments after the Big Bang. This allows us to study how our Universe evolved and how it works today. Particle accelerators allow us to look into the inner constituents of matter where a goldmine of open questions is still hidden." 

That last bit makes it sound like they are looking for more questions, rather than for answers. How very Socratic - appropriate for a place that has a Theory Corridor.

Some of the questions they are hoping to find more specific questions about include the origin of mass, unification of fundamental forces, particles or phenomena responsible for dark matter, and the mystery of antimatter. As I said, see the website.

Due to the nature of these big questions it may take a while before major changes in theories about the Universe and Everything trickle down to affect our perceptions of our mundane existence. I'm looking forward to it.

That said, science can only go so far in disturbing our world-view, or even our self-perception. 

Darian Leader recently published an article in The Guardian about Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and how it is representative of a shift in treatment of mental illness and behaviour disorders. One of his main concerns is that CBT offers a more 'scientific' approach for those needing to quantify results (like the NHS).
In some ways this article suffers from the kind of simplistic diagnostic approach for which it criticizes CBT. While I agree that a quick-fix approach to mental distress runs the risk of ignoring deeply set issues in an individual, I do not believe that CBT has no place or that the kind of Freudian psychotherapy that Leader prefers is always relevant.

What I did like in the article was this:
The divided self dear to the 60s has vanished, along with the recognition that grief, despair and frustration strike at the heart of our image of self-possession and fulfillment. The psyche has become like a muscle that needs to be developed and trained. There is no place for complexity and contradiction here: the modern subject is represented as one-dimensional, searching for fulfillment. The possibility that human life is aimed at both success and failure and never simply at wealth, power or happiness no longer makes sense. Suddenly the world of human relatins described by novelists, poets and playwrights for the past few centuries can just be written off. Self-sabotage, masochism and despair are now faults to be corrected, rather than forming the very core of the self.

Leader gets a bit shrill, but I feel I can recognize some of my own anxieties in this. How do we balance correcting faults, so that we can function, with accepting our faults as a feature of our personalities?

Later in the article, Leader sniffs at the story of a bipolar man who uses a simple method, taught to him through CBT, to manage his mood swings and function in his job. While this may not delve deep enough into the man's inner world and unravel his psyche the way Leader would like, it helps him live in this world. Leader believes that "traditional therapies do not aim to give access to a common 'scientific' reality but to take the patient's own reality seriously" but these therapies still define problems with a set of labels. 

Change without understanding may have limited value in some cases; in other cases a person may be well aware of their inner life but unable to change what is essentially a physical, neurological or hormonal problem. Leader wants those facing mental challenges to pay psychotherapists hundreds of pounds per hour to be put through the psychological wringer - and if we reject this suggestion we are shallow and unwilling to face our selves, as well as feeding the great capitalist machine. 

Oh, and he probably wants us to buy his book too. 

Monday, September 08, 2008

Last Week in Liverpool: Spider Attack!

In case you missed the street theatre last week, here's a little taste. Also check out this link for the spider's last moments.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Political Points System 2008

This was just too good (from Huffpost): 

If you get 18 million people to vote for you in a national presidential primary, you're a "phoney." Get 100,000+ people to vote you governor of the 47th most populous state in the Union, you're "well loved."

SoyAA says: If you are biracial and born in a state not connected to the lower 48, America needs darn near 2 years and 3 major speeches to "get to know you." If you're white and from a state not connected to the lower 48, America needs 36 minutes and 38 seconds worth of an acceptance speech to know you're "one of us."

If you spend 18 months building a campaign around the theme of "change," it's just "empty rhetoric." If one week before your party's national convention you SUDDENLY make your candidacy about "change," that's "red meat."

The article also mentions the fact that Obama has been called "uppity" because he got a scholarship and ended up president of the Harvard Law Review. 

As per my last post, I'm not sure why being highly educated is problematic. Why does it suggest to some people that you are out of touch with reality. Contrary to that opinion, I have found that people who are educated and civically minded tend to be well-informed, not just about the goings-on in their own backyard but about how their backyard affects other people's backyards in America and across the world.

HuffPost has also helpfully printed excerpts from The Daily Show on the hypocritical nature of the Republican's choice for VP:

While Rove recently praised Palin's experience as the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Stewart showed video of Rove trashing Virginia Governor - and former Richmond Mayor - Tim Kaine's executive experience, listing all the cities that are bigger than Richmond and calling such a pick "political."

Then, after recent video of O'Reilly describing Bristol Palin's pregnancy as a family issue, Stewart showed a clip of the Fox News host blaming Jamie Lynn Spears' parents for her teenage pregnancy.

Finally, after showing video of Dick Morris complaining about the rampant sexism in the media coverage of Sarah Palin, Stewart unveiled a clip of Morris saying that Hillary hides behind the sexism defense, and that anytime "the big boys" pick on Hillary, "she retreats behind the apron strings."

"In Dick Morris' defense," Stewart said, "he is a lying sack of sh*t."

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Bumps in the Nicht

Another birthday has come and gone and I am no closer to my goals for self-improvement. Everything's on the back-burner at the moment, eclipsed by a major move that's coming up.

Politics goes on as usual, though I feel out of the loop here in the land of Loch Ness and fried Mars bars; though, if you really want to boil Scotland down to two things it would be 'dreich' and fake tans.

I met a famous singer on my birthday - Stephen Malkmus. It was ace, which was good because the rest of the day was dreary and tiring.

In reading some recent comments by Sarah Palin I am struck by the politics of commiseration. That is, the assumption that because someone is from a small town they understand 'small town issues', or because she has a child with Down's Syndrome that automatically makes her a nice, understanding person.

Okay, that latter part may well be true, but does it make her a good politician? Because folks, that is a good part of what people in Washington have to be. Whatever is said about egalitarian politics and the need of our leaders to understand the Concerns of the People, the machine that exists in Washington D.C. does not run on small-town goodwill or brownie points for being a good mum.

The Republicans keep talking about executive experience because Palin was Governor of Alaska (which is, yes, very far removed from Washington). It is true that a lot of Presidents were Governors; but it's not a rule or even a real test of ability (not naming any names here).

Obama may lack notches on his belt but he has direct experience with the Washington monstrosity of Congress/lobbyists/judiciary/cabinet/President etc.
Funnily enough, the fact that he hasn't been there very long is probably a good thing - less time to make enemies on the various committees and less time to get mired in Congressional to-ing and fro-ing.

I don't want a President that is interested in micro-managing the Concerns of the People because they once had a kid on the hockey team, but someone who can broaden their worldview enough to see how America fits in the larger puzzle.