… to my little sister and a great American, Jane Alexander!
Sunday, March 10, 2013 10:40 am
Friday, November 23, 2012 11:44 am
I realize that November, National Novel Writing Month, is almost over. Makes me no never-mind; I am not much of a fiction writer and never have been. I have been blessed to know a few, some of whom even have ventured gracefully into the literary precincts of “science fiction” (or “fantasy” or “speculative fiction” and related terms/categories) and emerged not just unharmed but enhanced, embraced and emboldened. (Yeah, Andy Duncan, I’m talkin’ ’bout you.)
But here’s the thing, and by “thing” I mean “really cool premise, which is actually happening, for a short story or novel”:
The universe is apparently well past its prime in terms of making stars, and what new ones are being made now across the cosmos will never amount to more than a few percent on top of the numbers already come and gone.
This is the rather disquieting conclusion of a new and significant study of the rate at which stars have been produced through cosmic time.
[Astrophysicist David] Sobral and colleagues recently published the results of a series of ‘snapshots’ made of galaxies busily making stars at different epochs, from about 4 billion years ago (around the time of Earth’s formation) all the way back to nearly 11 billion years ago. This is no simple task, some of the world’s largest and most sensitive telescopes had to be employed.
By observing light at very specific frequencies (corresponding to emission from warm hydrogen atoms – see the note below) they are able to gauge the actual rate at which new stars are condensing out of thick nebular material in a few thousand galactic systems. This yields some very robust statistics on the global changes in the numbers of new stars being made as the universe ages.
The main conclusions come in two parts. First, 95% of all the stars we see around us today were formed during the past 11 billion years, and about half of these were formed between roughly 11 and 8 billion years ago in a flurry of activity. But the real shocker is that the rate at which new stars are being produced in galaxies today is barely 3% of the rate back 11 billion years ago, and declining. This indicates that unless our universe finds a second wind (which is unlikely) it will only ever manage to produce about 5% more stars than exist at this very moment.
This is, quite literally, the beginning of the end.
Let’s suppose we set this work on a planet supporting intelligent life, orbiting the last known star in the universe, albeit one not believed to be going away anytime soon. Let us further suppose that interstellar travel, though by no means simple or routine, is common enough (within certain time/space limits) that this planet has become the repository of all knowledge and creativity that has survived the death of all other stars (and their planets) in its accessible portion of the universe, if not the whole universe.
What would the personal and global conversations be about? What would the personal priorities be, and those of the body politic? Would these beings succumb to fin-du-monde anarchy, or would they conclude that when the fall is all that’s left, the fall matters? (Maybe they harbor the hope, however remote, that they will be discovered by a previously unknown form of intelligent life that, even if it chose to make hors d’oeuvres of them, might also be interested in their work?
What lives, what dies, and what matters most in the interstices between them? And how do you render the pondering of these questions, if not the ultimate answers, in language that a reasonably sentient carbon-based life form can understand?
That’s your assignment. I’m feeling generous, so you’ve got until March 31.
Monday, October 29, 2012 7:34 pm
Thanks to Charlie Pierce for watching John McCain on one of the Sunday gasbag shows yesterday so that I didn’t have to. Here’s what Senator You-Kids-Get-Off-My-Lawn said about the recent Benghazi tragedy:
This tragedy turned into a debacle and massive cover-up or massive incompetence in Libya is having an effect on the voter because of their view of the commander in chief. And it is now the worst cover-up or incompetence that I have ever observed in my life.
Really? Because, keep in mind, kids, that not only was McCain old enough to be sentient during the Vietnam War — speaking of incompetence and cover-up — he spent seven years in an enemy POW camp because of it, as he never ceased to remind us during his 2008 campaign. He was around during Watergate (though not yet inflicted upon the body politic in any meaningful way). And, as Pierce observes:
John McCain was in the Congress when Ronald Reagan sold missiles to the mullahs. John McCain voted for the Iraq war on the instructions of George W. Bush. Perhaps John McCain failed to observe that either cover-up or that incompetence. Perhaps John McCain should get his ass over 2008 and leave the rest of us alone.
As for how horrible this whole Benghazi thing is, you know what? It was horrible. Four Americans died. But when Condoleezza Rice, of all people, tells Republicans they’re making too much of what the Obama administration should or shouldn’t or might or might not have done, maybe they’re, oh, I don’t know, making too much of it.
Also, on Sept. 20, 1984, two dozen Americans died in a terrorist attack in Lebanon. What did then-President Ronald Reagan do the next day? Made three campaign stops, including one in Iowa where he was up 23 points at the time. Then-Sen. John McCain got in a lot of trouble for his public criticism of the president at the time. Oh. Wait.
I realize we’re all a little busy right now what with an apocalyptic storm battering the mid-Atlantic, but apparently we have other existential crises, too:
Air Force mechanics have reported mysterious incidents in which the airborne robots went haywire. In March 2011, a Predator parked at the camp started its engine without any human direction, even though the ignition had been turned off and the fuel lines closed. Technicians concluded that a software bug had infected the “brains” of the drone, but never pinpointed the problem. “After that whole starting-itself incident, we were fairly wary of the aircraft and watched it pretty closely,” an unnamed Air Force squadron commander testified to an investigative board, according to a transcript. “Right now, I still think the software is not good.”
I have seen this movie. Absent the intervention of a reformed Schwarzeneggerbot, it will not end well.
Sunday, July 1, 2012 5:03 pm
… but at least Tracy is helping us organize the clutter:
Tuesday, June 19, 2012 8:09 pm
… here’s one:
Wednesday, June 6, 2012 8:24 pm
Nancy Nall: “We won’t know what we need to say about 9/11 for another generation at least. But this is Manhattan real estate we’re talking about here, and you don’t leave that vacant for long.”
Monday, May 28, 2012 10:38 pm
Greetings. Not dead. Not even sick anymore. Life just happens. (If you follow me on Facebook, you have some inkling of this.)
But it is Memorial Day, which I take seriously. And because I take it seriously, and because I take seriously the appalling waste of the lives of our service members in Afghanistan and Iraq, the vet suicide rate (currently 18 per day, and more now in total than died in combat in OEF/OIF), the pure evil behind cutting VA funding, and the subject of war in general, I’ll refer you to this, which I wrote almost seven years ago and which remains, I believe, relevant.
Friday, April 13, 2012 8:52 pm
Tossing away two millennia of moral authority is a tough act, but with its multi-decade spree of child-raping and the associated blackmail, extortion and obstruction of justice it has committed, the RICO Act Roman Catholic Church has scored a perfect 10, right down to sticking the landing (of a cardinal, Bernard Law, formerly of Boston, in Vatican City where he can’t be extradited).
That’s bad enough. Now, deigning to insult our intelligence after warping children’s souls, American bishops are couching their efforts to deny insurance coverage to their non-Catholic employees in terms of religious liberty — and likening their effortst to those of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Birmingham jail. Not only that, they also hold up as an example of religious liberty the Second Vatican Council — the same Second Vatican Council they’ve been working for almost half a century to undo. No, I am absolutely not making this up.
I think irony’s liver just escaped out of irony’s anus and ran off screaming into the night.
The document goes on to confuse “religious liberty” with the concept of getting government money to provide certain services but expecting government not to attach strings to the money. Uh, wrong, guys.
They even take James Madison’s name in vain — Madison, who was opposed even to the idea of a congressional chaplain — to argue that any interference with their desire to mess around with other people’s liberties is, itself, an abridgement of their own liberty. There’s a word for that, boys: theocracy. And we voted with our feet and our rifles on that more than two centuries ago.
Now, why don’t you shut up about denying other people health care and run along and turn state’s evidence to put your kiddie-diddling brethren in prison
Thursday, March 29, 2012 12:25 am
I just discovered what it ["the broccoli mandate"] is, and it distresses me to no end that our wingnuts are actively trying to make us dumber. Of course no one is going to be mandated to buy broccoli, you wankers. But you know what I am mandated to buy because of the actions of a bunch of midwestern conservative pols? Corn. There is a live, actual corn mandate. Every time I go to the gas station to buy gas, I am forced, against my will, to buy corn products.
So you know where you jackasses can stick that broccoli…
I also don’t see the Supremes objecting to the fact that I have to pay for wars I don’t support.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject, Antonin Scalia stumbled onto something very interesting with his point about legislative inertia. And, by interesting, I mean, “damning.”
Scalia, remember, is a guy with a long track record of claiming that congressional gridlock is a feature, not a bug. Now, however, in today’s “severability” argument — that is, what, if anything, else should the Supremes do if they find the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to buy health insurance unconstitutional: toss out that part only and leave the rest to Congress, or toss the whole thing and order Congress to start fresh?
A couple of points:
First, I was listening to this on the car radio, but it sounded to me as if Scalia was arguing that the court should toss the whole enchilada because Congress, which he believes should, can’t. If that’s in fact what he meant, it’s an interesting 180-degree switch from his view up until now that it ought to be hard to get Congress to do things.
Second, it’s interesting in that he appears to be arguing that the Congress isn’t just inertial, it’s dysfunctional. Given that the reasons for that are well-known and objectively attributable in the main to one and only one party, Scalia’s party, it’s kind of damning in terms of how it characterizes congressional Republicans.
Third, he appears to be making the case, then, that separation of powers means nothing if that separation leads to an outcome he doesn’t want (or, technically, fails to lead to an outcome he desires). This is the apotheosis of judicial activism, which, of course, we have been roundly assured that conservatives such as Scalia oppose. Relatedly, given the fact that the GOP has no alternative — not even an unworkable one; they literally have nothing — to the Affordable Care Act, I eagerly await Scalia’s leaping in to craft health-care law from the bench once the ACA is struck down, 30-million-plus currently insured Americans get kicked back off the rolls and all hell breaks loose. Ahem.
An awful lot of really smart legal scholars, even some who worked in the Bush 43 administration, predicted that the court would uphold the Affordable Care Act, individual mandate and all, and now many of them are horrified to find out that this case might not be decided on the facts and the law after all. In point of fact, the scales fell from my eyes more than a decade ago, with Bush v. Gore. I figured that any court that could issue that ruling might well find public sodomizing of kittens constitutional as long as a GOP solicitor general argued for it, and Scalia’s questions and tone in this week’s oral arguments on the health-care law seem to bear that out.
Well, OK, that’s not exactly what I said seven months ago, but it’s close:
So this puppy is headed to the Supreme Court, where a ruling against the mandate would be both the overturning of 70 years of case law and not all that surprising, given the predilection the Roberts Court has shown for legislating from the bench. … But were I forced at gunpoint to make [a] prediction, I’d call for no worse than a 5-4 majority to uphold. The bottom line is that Justice Kennedy hasn’t gone crazy. Yet.
Kennedy’s sanity isn’t as much of a lock now as it was in August.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011 6:37 am
… so vote. It annoys the bastards.
Polls in N.C. are open ’til 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 21, 2011 8:29 pm
Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice. It’s a bit lengthy, but nuance is like that. It’s worth your time.
Thursday, January 20, 2011 8:25 pm
Once again I come in search of wisdom from the Interwebz.
I installed Google Chrome on both my home and work machines some months ago — in addition to Firefox and IE, for work-related reasons I won’t go into here.
For a long time it worked fine. Then, in about the last week, weird stuff started happening. On both machines.
When I opened Chrome and went to the Gmail home page, the type that appears on the left looked fine, but the shaded area with the username and password slots contained two little, tiny slots along with text too tiny to read. If I bumped up the on-screen font size, the type on the left grew as you would expect, but the stuff in the shaded area remained tiny. And when I logged into Gmail, the type around the inbox list appeared normal size (and grew/shrank as usual when I used CTRL + or CTRL -), but the headers in the inbox appeared in indecipherably small type.
I checked the Chrome help pages and FAQs but didn’t find anything that addressed this problem. One page suggested that I go into settings to make some changes, but when I clicked on the wrench, all the windows that popped up, as well as their subwindows were blank. Some (e.g., new tab) worked normally, but others did not.
I tried to install a newer version. The automatic install didn’t work; nothing happened. I manually downloaded the setup file and tried to run it. Nothing happened. I tried to run the uninstall; nothing happened. I finally got Chrome manually uninstalled on one machine, but then couldn’t get it to reinstall either automatically or by downloading and manually running the setup file.
And just to make this really annoying, I apparently am the only person this is happening to because nothing I’ve Googled appears to address this particular problem.
The work machine is XP Pro. The home machine is Media Center Edition, which is XP Pro with some extra multimedia capabilities built in. The problems appear to be identical on both machines.
Thursday, January 13, 2011 8:53 pm
Here’s how bad our system is broken: Crimes are being committed right in front of judges, and judges aren’t calling them out.
Imagine: A judge went so far as to fine a firm for “swearing to false statements.” Why? Because it “reflects poorly on the profession as a whole.” One judge even called the filing of a lawyer “incredible, outrageous, ludicrous and disingenuous.”
Like the awful economists, the judges are circling the wagons around the profession — they are concerned that (horror!) the reputation of the legal profession might be damaged.
“When the consequence of a lawyer plying his trade is the loss of someone’s home, and it turns out there are documents being given to the courts that have no basis in reality, the profession gets a very big black eye,” said Stephen Gillers, an expert in legal ethics at New York University.
With all due respect professor, that is the least of it.
No, your Honors, this is more than a PR issue: Making sworn statements that are false is perjury, and needs to be prosecuted as such. Last I checked, there is not a different set of felony rules for lawyers than for everyone else.
Apparently, Civil Law Judges are missing the bigger concern — that rampant criminality is taking place.
Judges, its time to Man Up! You Jurists need to reach under your robes, and feel around the space where your testicles used to be, and find a criminal law book. Submitting sworn documents to to a court, filing robo-signed documents, fabricating signatures, phony notarizations, claiming documents were reviewed when they never were — all of this is PERJURY.
Prosecute it as such; stop whining about these lawyers, and refer the cases to the State Attorney General. Better yet, have the bailiffs take these Lawyers into custody.
Want to stop illegality? Make sure there is a real penalty that will deter the criminals –bankers, lawyers, et. al – from engaging in their illegal actions.
This means prosecuting known violators of the law
I could not agree more. The death penalty doesn’t deter murder in part because murder is not a rational crime. But in the kind of crime we’re talking about, people — lawyers — are making a rational calculation that they can make more money faster by breaking the law than following it, in part because they know judges, who are also lawyers, are more concerned about “the dignity of the profession” than about actual, real, individual crimes materializing before their very eyes.
Clearly, the profession has lost the ability and/or inclination to police itself. Accordingly, I think it would be very instructive if some of these junior associates were clapped into handcuffs, frog-marched out of the courtroom and taken in a squad car to The Tombs, where the partners for whom they work would have to appear, in person, to bail them out. That certainly might make more of an impression than what’s going on now. I say it’s worth a shot. It’s the 21st century and long past time we stopped coddling criminals.
Saturday, January 8, 2011 12:20 pm
Thursday, December 16, 2010 8:50 pm
Gail Collins of The New York Times, for the win:
Boehner is driven to great, noisy sobs when he contemplates the fact that as a youth, he mopped the floor at his father’s tavern.
Besides the crying gap between men and women, there’s also one between Republicans and Democrats. On the one hand, you have the folks who can’t afford tears because it makes them look weak, and on the other, the people who are presumed to be tough and hard-nosed, for whom crying is an attractive sign of complexity.
Boehner is opposed to extending unemployment benefits for the jobless, and he wants to kill off the law that guarantees health coverage to all Americans. So you know when he starts weeping when his wife says she’s “real proud” of him, it’s not a sign of softness.
In 2007, he cried while delivering a speech on the floor of the House, in support of funding for the war in Iraq. “After 3,000 of our fellow citizens died at the hands of these terrorists, when are we going to stand up and take them on?” he sobbed.
Then this year, he voted against providing money to take care of our fellow citizens who became ill while doing rescue and reclamation work at ground zero after the terrorist attack.
The English language overflows with words appropriate for such a loathesome human being, but because my daughter occasionally surfs by, I won’t use any here.
But here’s what I will do.
First, I will predict — something I rarely do — that within two years, historians will be having serious discussions about whether Boehner has been the worst House speaker in history and will have arrived at consensus that he is at least among the bottom 10.
And I will promise you this: I am going to make an example of him. Unless this guy starts showing numerous and prompt signs of being anything more than a waste of a carbon-based life form, I am going to ride him like an enormous hooved beast across the plains of Mongolia and I am going to flog him like a rented mule.
There have been WAY too many worthless meatsacks running things in this country in the past 30 years — greedy, stupid, un-self-aware, hypocritical, pompous, strutting field marshals in the War on the Constitution, the Rule of Law, Empathy, Science, Logic, Human Decency, and Basic Common Freaking Sense — and I have jolly damned well had it with every last one of them. Better people than I claim that no one is irredeemable; I used to believe them, but I no longer do and John Boehner is my Exhibit A. It’s on.
Monday, December 13, 2010 8:10 pm
The next time anyone tries to dismiss any sort of government intervention as “socialism” and suggests that all we need are free markets, have them read this and the articles linked therein. What we have isn’t a free market besieged by interfering, interventionist big government. What we have is a rigged game that the government is kinda, sorta trying to unrig only not really because they’re all BOUGHT OFF. Not that I am bitter.
Sunday, December 12, 2010 9:22 pm
Even Now – Bob Seger
Sweet Soul Music – Arthur Conley
Melanie – Dreams So Real
I Know That You’re High – Trolleyvox
I Always Call Her Back – Del Fuegos
Merritville – Dream Syndicate
The Kill – Fugazi
Crossroads – Cream
Come to My Window – Melissa Etheridge
The High Road – Broken Bells
lagniappe: Another Sunny Day – Belle & Sebastian
Tuesday, August 31, 2010 9:40 pm
Remember, kids, it is more important to bail out rich banksters — and keep their taxes low — than to keep fires suppressed.
Monday, August 9, 2010 9:50 pm
The ACLU of Maryland is defending Anthony Graber, who potentially faces sixteen years in prison if found guilty of violating state wiretap laws because he recorded video of an officer drawing a gun during a traffic stop. In a trend that we’ve seen across the country, police have become increasingly hostile to bystanders recording their actions. You can read some examples here, here and here.
However, the scale of the Maryland State Police reaction to Anthony Graber’s video is unprecedented. Once they learned of the video on YouTube, Graber’s parents house was raided, searched, and four of his computers were confiscated. Graber was arrested, booked and jailed. Their actions are a calculated method of intimidation. Another person has since been similarly charged under the same statute.
The wiretap law being used to charge Anthony Graber is intended to protect private communication between two parties. According to David Rocah, the ACLU attorney handling Mr. Graber’s case, “To charge Graber with violating the law, you would have to conclude that a police officer on a public road, wearing a badge and a uniform, performing his official duty, pulling someone over, somehow has a right to privacy when it comes to the conversation he has with the motorist.”
Now, I blame the cops, but I don’t only blame the cops. Anyone in a prosecutor’s office who could seriously argue that existing wiretapping laws forbid the recording of a public officer in the public performance of his/her duty should lose his/her law license.
And I’d love to say that this is an isolated incident. Unfortunately, however, it’s already policy in at least three states because legislators, perpetually fearful of being labeled “soft on crime,” didn’t have the stones to tell the cops, “NO, SORRY, THAT’S UNCONSTITUTIONAL, I’M NOT GOING TO VOTE FOR THAT LAW AND IF YOU THINK YOU NEED THAT LAW TO DO YOUR JOB THEN YOU NEED TO DO YOUR JOB SOMEPLACE OTHER THAN IN AMERICA, THANK YOU.”
In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.
Even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists.
The legal justification for arresting the “shooter” rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested. Most all-party-consent states also include an exception for recording in public places where “no expectation of privacy exists” (Illinois does not) but in practice this exception is not being recognized.
Massachusetts attorney June Jensen represented Simon Glik who was arrested for such a recording. She explained, “[T]he statute has been misconstrued by Boston police. You could go to the Boston Common and snap pictures and record if you want.” Legal scholar and professor Jonathan Turley agrees, “The police are basing this claim on a ridiculous reading of the two-party consent surveillance law – requiring all parties to consent to being taped. I have written in the area of surveillance law and can say that this is utter nonsense.”
It ought to be unthinkable in a free society. (Indeed, in a truly free society, no public official would have any expectation of a right to privacy in the performance of his/her job, ever, period.) But then, a lot of things that were unthinkable pre-Bush v. Gore are now policy, supported by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010 9:19 pm
Let’s be clear: Torture fetishist Mark Thiessen presuming to pass judgment on whether anyone else is a criminal, whether they are or not, is beyond absurd and a sad marker of the depths to which public discouse in general and the Washington Post opinion section in particular have fallen.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 8:18 pm
Why Inside Higher Education and the Dallas County Community College System have marked me for death:
Thursday, April 29, 2010 8:36 pm
Our constitutional republic has been [destroyed] by the powers that be … . The federal government is on a massive power grab that is putting us and the nation in further peril. Our freedoms and liberties are being lost in the name of “national security,” the fruits of our labor continue to be taken in the name of taxes, and our economy is in shambles. We have had enough, but what is our best course of action? With each protest, and each movement, we continue to see the federal government turn a blind eye and ignore our every word. Our elected officials talk the talk during election, but when in Washington [they] are persuaded by the power and the lobbyists.*
*Source, + minor grammar/punctuation editing.
Sunday, March 21, 2010 12:15 am
Sen. Chris Dodd, in a fine example of Hey-look-it’s-a-unicorn legerdemain as his finance nonreform package enters the legislative fray and his future employers weigh his loyalty, asks Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the collapse of Lehman Bros. Apparently Bad Things Were Done.
Monday, March 8, 2010 8:45 pm
The 2010 Academy Awards may not have marked the end of “liberal Hollywood” as we know it, but they certainly put a solid dent in it. With the pro-military “The Hurt Locker” winning over the enviro-pabulum of “Avatar” and Sandra Bullock garnering the Best Actress Oscar for a Christian movie, the times are a-changin’ at least somewhat, maybe even a lot.
Or maybe Hollywood never had political ideology uppermost in mind in its Oscar choices, despite what Simon, et al., seem to believe.
Or maybe the Academy has a soft spot in its heart for movies about ordinary people in tough situations — and I don’t mean “Oh-my-genius-is-SO-unappreciated” tough — with hopes and aspirations, and the people who call themselves conservatives today seem to hold those people in contempt and to delight in squashing those aspirations. I don’t actually believe that, but it’s at least as plausible a scenario as Simon’s and arguably more so.
*Yes, I know the LA location of Orso has closed. Do not ask me how I know this. I’m just wondering what important fact isn’t in my head right now because the closing of Orso is taking up valuable neural real estate.
Friday, March 5, 2010 11:02 pm
It is fitting that Charles Darwin is among the historical figures known or strongly suspected to have suffered from depression, because the existence — and persistence — of depression in the human species poses an interesting evolutionary question:
If depression is hereditary, and it tends to manifest itself in lack of interest in sex and even in suicide — two factors with a negative correlation to reproduction — then what evolutionary advantage has been associated with it that has allowed it to persist at a fairly high rate among humans? A recent Sunday Times article examines that question:
The new research on negative moods, however, suggests that sadness comes with its own set of benefits and that even our most unpleasant feelings serve an important purpose.
Now, where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah: “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
Joe Forgas, a social psychologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, has repeatedly demonstrated in experiments that negative moods lead to better decisions in complex situations. The reason, Forgas suggests, is rooted in the intertwined nature of mood and cognition: sadness promotes “information-processing strategies best suited to dealing with more-demanding situations.” This helps explain why test subjects who are melancholy — Forgas induces the mood with a short film about death and cancer — are better at judging the accuracy of rumors and recalling past events; they’re also much less likely to stereotype strangers. …
The enhancement of these mental skills might also explain the striking correlation between creative production and depressive disorders. In a survey led by the neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen, 30 writers from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop were interviewed about their mental history. Eighty percent of the writers met the formal diagnostic criteria for some form of depression. A similar theme emerged from biographical studies of British writers and artists by Kay Redfield Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, who found that successful individuals were eight times as likely as people in the general population to suffer from major depressive illness.
Why is mental illness so closely associated with creativity? Andreasen argues that depression is intertwined with a “cognitive style” that makes people more likely to produce successful works of art. In the creative process, Andreasen says, “one of the most important qualities is persistence.” Based on the Iowa sample, Andreasen found that “successful writers are like prizefighters who keep on getting hit but won’t go down. They’ll stick with it until it’s right.” While Andreasen acknowledges the burden of mental illness — she quotes Robert Lowell on depression not being a “gift of the Muse” and describes his reliance on lithium to escape the pain — she argues that many forms of creativity benefit from the relentless focus it makes possible. “Unfortunately, this type of thinking is often inseparable from the suffering,” she says. “If you’re at the cutting edge, then you’re going to bleed.”
And then there’s the virtue of self-loathing, which is one of the symptoms of depression. When people are stuck in the ruminative spiral, their achievements become invisible; the mind is only interested in what has gone wrong. While this condition is typically linked to withdrawal and silence — people become unwilling to communicate — there’s some suggestive evidence that states of unhappiness can actually improve our expressive abilities. Forgas said he has found that sadness correlates with clearer and more compelling sentences, and that negative moods “promote a more concrete, accommodative and ultimately more successful communication style.” Because we’re more critical of what we’re writing, we produce more refined prose, the sentences polished by our angst. As Roland Barthes observed, “A creative writer is one for whom writing is a problem.”
Are depression and creative gifts really connected, or, as the article puts it, “Does … despondency help us solve anything?” Research strongly suggests so, the article says. And if so, must the Cursed Creatives among us suffer to exploit their gifts, or does treating depression neuter their creativity? The article doesn’t really say. I expect the answer varies. I do know that some very talented, very disturbed people don’t get professional help because they believe (or, in some cases, have learned from experience) that treating the disturbance stills the gift. For them, on an emotional and psychological level and possibly on a neurological level as well, the creativity and the curse can no more be separated than can conjoined twins with a single heart.
Another quasi-related thought: Not all writers think of themselves as creative. For these writers, writing isn’t, or isn’t always, a problem to be solved. It’s something else — something they do because they can’t not do it, because it’s how they process their experiences or interact with their environment or just because they believe they’d die if they didn’t. If writers such as these who have mental illnesses are successfully treated, what happens to them if they are no longer driven to use what had been their main coping skill? Do they no longer need that skill, or are they just as vulnerable but now defenseless? And is there any way to know whether they’ll be safe before we disarm them, as it were?
Lots of questions, few answers.
Sunday, February 28, 2010 11:03 pm
That’d be Michael Smerconish of the Philadelphia Inquirer, of whom I had never heard until the N&R started running his columns occasionally:
It took only the single tap of a computer key, and just like that I’d exited the Republican Party after 30 years of active membership. The context might sound impulsive, but I’d been thinking of becoming an independent for a long time. I just hadn’t expected that a trip to renew my driver’s license would mark the end.
Just before my photo was snapped, I was asked if I wanted to register to vote. For me, the question was borderline offensive. I first registered after turning 18 in the spring of 1980 and haven’t missed an election since. And I’m not just talking presidential races. I mean all elections. Congress, town council, school board, whatever.
“I’m already registered,” I offered. Next came the unexpected question of whether I wished to change my political affiliation. I’m not sure why that is asked of someone renewing a driver’s license, and I question whether it is even appropriate for most. But in my case, it was the only impetus I needed. …
The national GOP is a party of exclusion and litmus tests, dominated on social issues by the religious right, with zero discernible outreach by the national party to anyone who doesn’t fit neatly within its parameters. Instead, the GOP has extended itself to its fringe …
Just for the record, I’m still a Republican and my driver’s license is good until 2018.
Smerconish goes on to claim that both parties “seek to advance strict ideological agendas.” In reality, as we have seen during the health-care debate, that’s far more true of Republicans than Democrats. Moreover, for better or worse, that trend accurately reflects the mood of the electorate. Most so-called moderates actually identify pretty strongly with one major party or the other right now; it would shock David Broder to know this, but the proportion of truly independent voters is in the mid-single digits.
Monday, February 15, 2010 10:16 pm
Hard on the heels of legislating away climate change, Utah has now decided to eliminate 12th grade to save money. It’s like Utah, Texas and Alabama are in a race to see which can turn into a Fourth World country fastest, and right now I’d say the Mormons have the inside track over the Baptists.
Saturday, February 13, 2010 10:39 pm
… but one thing we’d've had between 2005 and 2009 that we didn’t have in real life was a president who got it on several complex, related foreign-policy issues.
Friday, December 11, 2009 6:20 pm
Matt Taibbi looks back at the 11-month mark in Obama’s presidency and finds that what we were promised ain’t what we got.
A lot of progressives are miffed that a lot of other progressives are unhappy with Obama. Uh, guys, we’ve already tried unwaving support of the president by the party that controlled Congress. That’s exactly what got us into the mess we’re in today.
My take is that any interest group that sees its ostensible champion wavering has not just a right but a duty to scream, early and often. I say that not just because that’s what I did, but because that’s what interest groups are supposed to do. Why? Because slippery slope isn’t always a fallacy and turning up the heat on the frog in the pot of water on the stove top is sometimes more than just a metaphor.
Taibbi’s piece is particularly timely now. Consider what Obama said just a few months ago:
Insurance companies will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or lifetime, and we will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses – because no one in America should go broke just because they get sick.
Now consider this:
A loophole in the Senate health care bill would let insurers place annual dollar limits on medical care for people struggling with costly illnesses such as cancer, prompting a rebuke from patient advocates.
The legislation that originally passed the Senate health committee last summer would have banned such limits, but a tweak to that provision weakened it in the bill now moving toward a Senate vote.
As currently written, the Senate Democratic health care bill would permit insurance companies to place annual limits on the dollar value of medical care, as long as those limits are not “unreasonable.” The bill does not define what level of limits would be allowable, delegating that task to administration officials.
Adding to the puzzle, the new language was quietly tucked away in a clause in the bill still captioned “No lifetime or annual limits.”
Question: During the debate on health-care reform, why is it that only the progressives have to make any concessions?
Answer: Because Obama and the party he leads believe, despite a couple of decades of experience to the contrary, that they’ll do better politically by hacking off progressives than by hacking off moderates.
Perhaps they’re right. But if they keep it up, what I think they’re going to learn is that 2010 isn’t 1992.