This is why I blog….

Here on this weblog, I write about whatever interests me at the moment, even though, at the time, I recognize that it might not interest anyone else.

But every once in a while, out of nowhere, it does.

I just received an email from a man in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada regarding a blog post I did back in 2003 about friends of mine leaving to join a group in Edmonton that I consider a cult.

You can read the post here – and be sure to read the comments as well.

Apparently, a colleague and friend of my e-mailer, who was missing since March 22, has been found dead. Police do not suspect foul play; my e-mailer suspects suicide. He also seems to believe that she was somehow involved in de Ruiter’s group.

I guess he is doing his own investigation, and so I gave him the names of my old friends who left all of those years ago, in case they are still around and can help him. And in case they might like to get back in touch with me.

That’s why I blog. Because all of my stuff is sitting somewhere out there in the world wide web, and sometimes it is just what someone is looking for.

Well, it’s one reason I blog. I blog because I’m a writer and I need a place to write.

Whatever. It all works for me.

Low Empathy: the root of all evil

LOW EMPATHY

I am obsessed with the conviction that our human race is devolving because we are losing our capacity for empathy. And I am not alone in believing that is the root of all of the evil in this world.

(On the other hand, there is increasing research that is proving how other mammalian species are actually evolving in their capacity to feel and demonstrate empathy. All you have to do is do an online search for “animal empathy,” and you can spend the rest of the day being amazed and gratified at the increasingly widespread “humane” behaviors of our non-human brothers and sisters. (Do an online search for any of the areas of human violence in the world today – shootings, rapes, war zones…. — and you will spend the rest of the day, perhaps, starting to believe as I do.)

The tendency for humans seems to be violent. An online search for “human violence” will provide support for that assertion.

But it’s really more complicated – and overwhelming – than most folks are willing to admit.

Individual research projects are showing that there are complex connections among the healthy functioning of the brain’s “empathy spot,” the levels of the aggression hormone testosterone, the harmful psychological (and, perhaps neural) effects of violent sports/games/language, and this crisis of morality that is plaguing our species.

After spending the past few days searching online for perspectives on this issue, the best piece I have been able to find (although there are others) is “Why a Lack of Empathy is the Root of All Evil,” by psychologist Simon Baron Cohen, who offers this general definition:

Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects.

And so we have rampant misogyny, bigotry, border disputes, extreme nationalism, racism,war, violence of all kinds.

What is fascinating to me is that the home of “empathy” seems to be in the brain itself. Scientific research has identified an area of the brain associated with empathy – the anterior insular cortex.

In other words, patients with anterior insular lesions had a hard time evaluating the emotional state of people in pain and feeling empathy for them, compared to the controls and the patients with anterior cingulate cortex lesions,” said the researchers.

This area of the brain that has been proven to be affected by a variety of variables, including testosterone levels and exposure to violent media.

One of Baron-Cohen’s longitudinal studies – which began 10 years ago – found that the more testosterone a foetus generates in the womb, the less empathy the child will have post- natally. In other words, there is a negative correlation between testosterone and empathy. It would appear the sex hormone is somehow involved in shaping the “empathy circuits” of the developing brain.
Given that testosterone is found in higher quantities in men than women, it may come as no surprise that men score lower on empathy than women. So there is a clear hormonal link to empathy. Another biological factor is genetics. Recent research by Baron-Cohen and colleagues found four genes associated with empathy – one sex steroid gene, one gene related to social-emotional behaviour and two associated with neural growth.

Contrary to what gamer developers would like us to believe, ongoing research is tending to prove that areas of the brain associated with empathy are being affected by constant exposure to violent video and other games.

New preliminary findings suggest that brain activation is altered in normal youths with significant past violent media exposure while viewing violent video games.

The reasons for our devolution are obviously complicated and involve some combination of nature and nurture and the opposite of nurture. As a culture and society, we seem to be intent on denying how we actually are encouraging a diminishment of empathy in favor of greed, selfish amorality, and vested interests — whether they be political, religious, economic, or national.

Of course, it’s easier to deny – from climate change to chemical food contamination, to promoting and glorifying violence – than it is to tackle the daunting job of trying to undo what we have done. But if we don’t, we will be a dead species before long. We will destroy ourselves from the simple lack of empathy.

I am hoping that some less corporate-manipulated and more holistic researchers will be able to bring together all of the factors that are pushing our species over the precipice of widespread violence and come up with a convincing argument for the necessity to put the brakes on across the board. Coming up with a plan after that is maybe more than government is capable of now. But if we don’t….

Having been a fan of speculative fiction my whole life and witnessing the manifestations of many of those “fictional” speculations, I don’t hold much hope.

Mag #213

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Mag #213

windpeople
Pieces from a whole,
painted with fantasy,
hide an older history
of blood and scars –
the puzzle of memory.

No mythic glyphs or ruby slippers
no magic of moth or spirit of sage
can ever return
the Kansas Wind People.

my secular blue America

Every once in a while I post something of substance. Eight years ago I posted two pieces that, unfortunately, are just as relevant today. Two years ago, I re-posted them (with some parts missing as a result of changing blog designs).

Today, I link to those old posts in case someone winds up here by searching for terms like
“the roots of American democracy”
“Christian Puritans as persecutors”
“Founding Fathers on mixing government and religion”
“Iroquois Confederacy and our Constitution”

In reverse order (because that made more sense) those old posts are:

My Blue America: Our Secular America (Part 2)

Our Securlar America: The Truth is Out There (Part 1)

And so it goes.

When Bloggers Felt Like Family

More than a dozen years ago, when “personal” blogs were beginning to blossom, I managed to brazenly infiltrate a small group of such bloggers. all of whom were expert in some aspect of communications technology. That they welcomed me — a technological dilettente –into their virtual family still amazes me.

In many ways it was the best of times for personal bloggers, as we played off each others’ posts, bantering and badgering and behaving pretty much like affectionate siblings — even though many of us had not met in person. Like most siblings, after some years of sharing a rolicking range of adventures across our global homestead, we drifted apart — catching up periodically these days via the much less adventuresome terrain of Face Book.

Michael O’Connor Clarke was a warm, funny, and energetic member of that original blogger family. To learn that he is in the hospital with esophageal cancer is more than just disturbing.

But it is not surprising to learn that members of that old virtual family are again coming together in an effort to generate both emotional and financial support for his actual family, because as our blogger/friend Jeneane Sessum shared on Face Book: They are a one-income family. That income is in a hospital bed right now and for the foreseeable future.

One of the blessings of the Internet is that it enables the coming together of like minds and hearts to help things happen. We can’t cure Michael; that’s up to his doctors in Toronto. But we can help him by helping his family. If you are moved to do so, go to http://supportmichaelocc.ca/ and see if you might be able to help.

Surviving the Western Mass Apocalypse

Well, it wasn’t really THE Apocalypse, but, after a week without heat or electricity or phone, and with temps in the house falling to about 45 degrees at night, it sure felt like it could be.

The snow started a week ago a few days before Halloween, and it looked like this.

In three days, it looked like this:

We lost half of the ancient maple tree, the leaves of which were just beginning to turn, and it probably will have to be taken down completely. We lost pieces of the maple in our front yard as well and portions of various trees that form the edge of the property that borders on conservation land. Two days ago, my daughter went out and bought a chain saw.

With a gas stove and gas-heated hot water, at least we were able to eat and wash the dishes during the icy winter week. Our unheated but enclosed porch became our refrigerator as we tried to save as much food as we could.

By the time that the snow finally stopped, power, phone, and cable lines were loosed or down all along our street (and all over this part of Massachusetts). The storm’s strength took out the power so quickly that we didn’t have a chance to charge our cell phones and laptops. We husbanded our battery flashlights and the meager amount of dry firewood that we had available.

We all hunkered down in the living room, blockading its doorways with blankets. This is my grandson, trying to keep warm on the mattresses and quilts piled on the living room floor.

Lines began to form at the gas stations until finally there was no gasoline left within an hour’s drive of our town. I had about a quarter tank of gas in my car and eventually went out to charge my Iphone.

Thankfully, my daughter and son-in-law had the foresight to move our cars far enough onto the property to avoid any limbs that might fall from our neighbor’s rotting oak. One limb did fall — right where our cars would have been. It settled itself over all three power lines that run above our driveway (cable, phone, electricity), blocking our ability to back out when the storm stopped. Eventually, a very helpful neighbor with a chain saw cut off enough of the branches so that the cars could get out; but the limb remained, threatening to take down the lines completely.

The property taxes in this town are pretty high, but the upside of that is that the town set up an emergency shelter in one of the schools, with cots lining the gym and three free meals a day for anyone whose homes were without power. They distributed water bottles, showed movies in the afternoons, and lined the main hallways with chairs and surge protectors so people could charge their phones and laptops. Eventually they even had wifi.

They were staffed with volunteers that paid special attention to all of the elders who flocked there for the only support they had available.

We were finally able to get gas, and then the two main grocery stores opened with generator power. There was nothing available that had to be refrigerated, but we were able to pick up soups and breads and, of course, lots of Puffs tissues.

We got our power back yesterday, exactly (almost to the hour) a week from when the storm began. The tree limbs are off the wires, but we still have no landline phone service.

Having been sleeping in a 45 degree bedroom, dressed in multiple layers — including a hat — and burrowed under two blankets and a quilt, I now am close to understanding what the homeless must suffer in cold weather.

What I wished I had available were old fashioned rubber hot water bottles for my feet and hands and a book light that used regular batteries. I have ordered these in preparation for what I’m sure will be coming down the pike this winter. We also will be buying some kind of generator so that we can keep the house at a livable temperature should we find ourselves, again, faced with this kind of winter misadventure.

But we survived. My grandson is recuperating from an terrible sore throat virus, and my daughter is exhausted from taking care of him, tending the fire, and feeding us all. Hestia lives in her. Me? I was just too cold to be of much help.

what the hell is that on her head?

My mom is sitting down at the table having a cup of her fake coffee. AsI look down at her, I notice a thick smear of something light green stuck in her hair. Huh?
So, I touch it. It’s sticky. I smell it. It smells minty. Aha!

Toothpaste!

I have to admit it. I laughed a lot.

She has a spot on her scalp that always seems to itch her. When she tells me about it, I put Scalpicin on it, and that helps. I guess this time as she combed her hair in the bathroom mirror, she picked up the first thing that looked like an ointment tube and rubbed it on the itch.

The last time she rubbed something strange on her body, it was on her lips and they swelled to the point where I had to take her to the doctor’s. As far as anyone could tell, it was an allergic reaction to something, and I think she had been rubbing her 30-year-old Lancome cream on her lips. I cleaned out her beauty lotion drawer and it hasn’t happened since.

She always seems to be fidgeting. Mostly she takes sheets of Kleenex and folds them into squares and loads her pockets with them. She insists on having tops and pants with pockets. Sometimes I miss emptying a few when I do her laundry. Even if I use those scent-free dryer softener sheets, those little bits that stick to the clothes are a bitch to pick off.

She would love to fold blankets and other larger squares, but she has a torn muscle in her left shoulder. Not only can’t she raise that arm, but the whole shoulder is painful, even though she’s had a cortisone shot. After Thanksgiving, I am going to arrange for a physical therapist to come over and help her with that arm. I think I finally found a place that is certified for Medicare.

Very often, she snaps. No, literally. She snaps and unsnaps those closings on the tops I buy her so that they are easy to get on and off. Last night, she was desperately trying to snap closed the edges of a very old pillow case that she had long ago sewed snaps on to keep closed. (I guess she’s always been obsessed with snaps.) When she went to sleep, I resewed the ones that were coming off and sewed on a few additional snaps so that she could have yet another snap-happy fiddle thing.

Actually, I found a site on the web where you can buy fidget things for people with dementia. Other sites suggest these stress-reduction toys. My mom will not fiddle with toys. She will only fiddle with things that are familiar to her; things that she has used in her role as wife and mother. Safety pins are one of those things. She finds them and pins them to the inside of her slacks. The other day I found her picking her teeth with the point of a large safety pin. She has a drawer full of various dental picks that I bought her. But she uses a safety pin. Sigh.

I spend a lot of time Googling for ideas on how to calm my mother, since her fidgeting is associated with her nervousness and anxieties. As a result, I sent for a really soft furry teddy bear and made a sweater for it with a Polish logo. You’ve heard of Polar Bears? Well, this is a Polish Bear:

bear.jpg

I thought that stroking the bear’s fur might relax her. I thought the Polish theme would attract her. Nope. She knows it’s a toy. Cute, but no cigar.

Well, I tried.

In another day I’m planning to try to leave to go to my daughter’s for Thanksgiving. Actually, I’m going no matter what. I don’t know how my brother is going to manage, but I’m leaving enough food, clean underwear, desserts etc. so that my mom will have whatever she needs. He just has to make sure that she gets it all.
I can’t wait to see my grandson, who has been unofficially adopted by the guys in the local firehouse that his mom takes him to visit periodically. The last time he was there, they gave him a piece of real fire hose (including nozzle) and a door chock (whatever that is). His firefighter suit, of course, is compliments of Grammy.

firelex.jpg

He wants to be a firefighter when he grows up. Also the owner of a tree-cutting service. Or a road construction worker. Or some kind of para-medic/rescue worker.

I think he’s going to spend Thanksgiving rescuing his Grammy.

And chaos reigns supreme.

chaos2.JPG
This is the view across the top of my roll-top desk, past my room divider, into my kitchen. Like my life. Chaos.

– Still getting over major tooth abcess and root canal work.

– Now mother hearing voices singing Polish Christmas Caroles while the podiatrist (who she insists is Polish but he’s not) is working on her hammer toe.

– While making broccoli soup in my Vita Mix, didn’t realize that the machine was set on high speed and the cover wasn’t on tight enough and — heh — broccoli bits all over everything, including me.

– Made batches of pesto with the harvested basil after I cleaned up the broccoli mess.

– Still not ready for the craft fair that I do once a year; need to print up signs, finish a few more items, and price everything. New items this year, thanks to a brainstorm of my breast-feeding daughter: washable nursing necklaces and shawls.

– Am almost done using putting transfers (that I printed up on my computer) on a special t-shirt to wear to BloggerCon.

– Finished harvesting my tomatoes, basil, and parsley; now have to clean out my garden before frost hits.

– Gotta get to the library to return Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons, which was so enthralling to me that I read it in one day (instead of cleaning up some of the chaos). As an ex-Catholic who went to 13 years of Catholic school and is totally fascinated with the lore of Church and its roots in paganism, I just loved this symbol, taken from the book:
earthairfirewater.jpg

– Gotta pick up The Secret Life of Bees, which is waiting for me at the library, as well as one of Judith Jance’s’ mysteries-on-tape that I can listen to on my way back and forth to Boston.

– Next stop is at Hannaford to pick up my mother’s prescription for Quinine for her leg cramps and then to Joanne’s for fabric to cover seams that I let out from a jacket I love that I made smaller years ago when I WAS smaller.

When my friend P stopped by after the tap-dancing class that we’re taking but I missed because of my root canal, we commiserated about how being retired isn’t what we wanted it to be. (Her 87-year-old ex-mother-in-law, to whom she’s close, has just been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer.) She thought that she would be spending her time resting, traveling, reading, having fun.

Whoever keeps trying to tell us that life can be just fun and games at any age is really selling us a bill of goods. I don’t know anyone whose life is that way.

Meanwhile, I’ve got to go battle chaos. And entropy. Always entropy.

Yes. America as a whole seems to have succumbed to entropy. And apathy.

Battle on, Xena.