Monday, September 25, 2017

Empathy

I read this (written by Robert M. Sapolsky) yesterday and found it interesting.  And depressing.  Enjoy.  :)


What humans and prairie voles have in common — a tendency to divide the world into Us and Them 

 

Sometimes, even the most inspirational among us share some disheartening traits with other animals.

Humans have a remarkable capacity for empathy and compassion. We help strangers a continent away, donate anonymously, bequeath money to help people who will be born after our deaths. We can even choose to make the ultimate sacrifice in helping others — just think of the West African nurses who died fighting Ebola. These admirable traits owe little to Sunday morning sermons, the rule of law or pillows embroidered with the Golden Rule. Instead, they’re how we’re wired; we see the rudiments in other species. Such behaviors are rooted in our common ancestry.

Among chimps, for example, suppose some low-ranking member of a troop is mauled by an alpha-male. Afterward, the innocent bystander is more likely than usual to be groomed by other group members. But such “consolation” behavior isn’t generic — if the pummeled loser wasn’t a hapless victim, and instead was the fool who started the fight, no extra grooming for him.

Even rodents exhibit the building blocks of empathy. If a mouse observes another mouse in pain, its own pain threshold lowers. If a prairie vole has been stressed, it is more likely to be groomed. Rats will “work” (that is, repeatedly press a lever) to release another rat from a tightly enclosed space, and will even forgo a reward (chocolate!) in the process.

Wow, a lot like humans. And just as in humans, empathy tends to come with a catch.

Chimps console innocent victims only in their own group. A vole grooms a distressed individual only if it is his or her mate; a stressed stranger is out of luck. Pain thresholds lower in mice only if the mouse in pain is a mouse they know. Rats work to free another rat only if the latter is a cage mate or a rat of their genetic strain (roughly equivalent to breed in dogs). In other words, these species divide the world into Us and Them, and care much more about the former than the latter.

So do we. When people watch a video of a hand being poked with a sharp needle, they have an “isomorphic sensorimotor” response, unconsciously clenching their own hands, with sensory neurons activating as if they were experiencing the poke. But this doesn't happen as much if the hand being poked is of another skin color.

In another study, researchers feigned an injury at a soccer stadium during a game — they were more likely to be helped if wearing home team regalia. Subjects considering the plight of an AIDS patient activate the anterior cingulate, a brain region implicated in feeling empathy — but only if the patient was infected with HIV from a blood transfusion, rather than from drug use. We come with implicit categories influencing whose plight moves us.

What’s demoralizing is when we see this play out in the behavior of moral giants.

Consider John Newton, a theologian who late in life became central to the banning of slavery in the British Empire. Remarkably, as a young man, Newton was the captain of a slave ship. When he had a religious epiphany (something he celebrated in the hymn he penned, “Amazing Grace”), he traded his captain’s role for the ministry. But there’s an inconvenient pause in Newton’s journey from slaver to abolitionist. As a newly minted preacher caring for the poor of London, he invested in and profited from the slave trade. Apparently, it wasn’t immediately obvious that everyone deserved God’s grace equally.

Then there’s Zenji Abe, who lead a squadron of Japanese planes that attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. Years later, as an old man, Abe came to a memorial service in Hawaii, to apologize to elderly American survivors. Yet Abe had also participated in the Japanese invasion of China and the Rape of Nanking; there is no evidence that he ever apologized for that. Apparently, some types of ex-enemies count more than others.

And there’s Woodrow Wilson who, after the end of World War I, championed self-determination and human rights for subjugated European minorities. Yet Wilson’s legacy is tainted with racism. As president of Princeton University, he labored to reduce the number of African Americans admitted; as president of the United States, he instituted or reinforced segregationist laws. Moreover, he repeatedly invaded Latin American countries, overthrowing popularly supported governments to install puppets. Apparently, self-determination and civil rights applied only to people of some skin colors.

Which brings us to a current example. Consider Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent 15 years under house arrest in Myanmar for nonviolently opposing its military dictatorship. Now, “Mother Suu” is the de facto leader of Myanmar. The news has been filled with reports of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, the Muslim minority in Myanmar, following attacks by Rohingyan insurgents on government border posts. There has been a bloodbath of killings and rapes; Rohingya villages have been burned to the ground by the military and Buddhist mobs. Four hundred thousand Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh under the direst of circumstances.

And the response of Suu Kyi, who is a member of the country’s Buddhist aristocracy? At first, a yawning silence. Finally, on Tuesday, she addressed the crisis publicly. She praised her marauding military for its supposed restraint in pursing “terrorists,” aligning herself with some of the same generals who imprisoned her. She denied the long-standing persecution of the Rohingya and the scorched-earth campaign against them. She called for investigations into “what the real problems are” behind the exodus of the 400,000.

And thus Suu Kyi, a prisoner of conscience who suffered deeply to help free her people, shows that only some citizens of Myanmar count as “her people.” Or even as people.

Of course, humans and other animals aren’t identical in how they extend empathy to only the right kinds of sufferers. When a rat fails to aid an unfamiliar rat in need, it could offer an easy explanation — “that rat smells weird.” But when humans do it, we gussy up savage indifference with rationalization, denial, distortion and lies.

Ah, the progress we’ve made.

Stanford University neuroscientist Robert M. Sapolsky is the author, most recently, of “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.”



What to say about this.  I think we can rise above our instincts, no?  I think some of us are already more evolved than others, but we can all try harder, no?  Parents have to [OR ARE SUPPOSED TO] shape their wretched ID kids into decent human beings, and that is no small task.  We all have to fight bad impulses -- some of us more than others.  I used to ask my dearly departed friend Mike every year what his New Year's resolutions were.  He said, "Same as it is every year -- to be a better person."  Word. 


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Zzzzzt Zzzzzt


I read this article a while back, and I have re-read it repeatedly and shared it with more than a few people.  And I felt the need to read it AGAIN today, so I guess I'll share it here for you too. :) 


In 1954, James Olds and Peter Milner of McGill University discovered that the septal region is the feel-good center of the brain. Electrical stimulation of it produces sensations of intense pleasure and sexual arousal. They demonstrated their discovery by inserting wires into a rat's brain and then showing that when the rat figured out it could self-stimulate itself by pressing a lever, it would maniacally bang on that lever up to two-thousand times an hour.

In 1970, Robert Heath of Tulane University dreamed up a far more novel application of Olds and Milner's discovery. Heath decided to test whether repeated stimulation of the septal region could transform a homosexual man into a heterosexual.


Heath referred to his homosexual subject as patient B-19. He inserted Teflon-insulated electrodes into the septal region of B-19's brain and then gave B-19 carefully controlled amounts of stimulation in experimental sessions. Soon the young man was reporting increased stirrings of sexual motivation. Heath then rigged up a device to allow B-19 to self-stimulate himself. It was like letting a chocoholic loose in a candy shop. B-19 quickly became obsessed with the pleasure button. In one three-hour session he pressed it 1500 times until, as Heath noted, "he was experiencing an almost overwhelming euphoria and elation and had to be disconnected."


By this stage of the experiment B-19's libido was so jacked up that Heath decided to proceed with the final stage in which B-19 would be introduced to a sexually-willing female partner. With permission from the state attorney general, Heath arranged for a twenty-one-year-old female prostitute to visit the lab, and he placed her in a room with B-19. For an hour B-19 did nothing, but then the prostitute took the initiative and a successful sexual encounter between the two occurred. Heath considered this a positive result.


Little is known of B-19's later fate. Heath reported that the young man drifted back into a life of homosexual prostitution, but that he also had an affair with a married woman. Heath optimistically decided that this showed the treatment was at least partially successful. However, Heath never did try to convert any more homosexuals. 


Beyond the obvious horror of this experiment, it all makes me think about social media, the love/need for likes, the love/need for attention, validation, affirmation, comments, direct messages, engagement, etc.  And how if it brings pleasure, we need MORE.  More.  More.  More!  Zzzzzt.  Zzzzzt.  I'm also reading (well, listening to the audio book) The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, which I am finding both interesting and irritating.  I like learning about the human condition, why we are they way we are and why we do what we do, but it is also frustrating and irritating to learn how PREDICTABLE and formulaic we can be, and what we need to be happy and to derive pleasure.  Humph. 
 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Corey Arnold

Sometimes it's nice to see how the other half lives and to scurry away from the previous blog post!  Below you will find pretty freaking fab photos by Corey Arnold, an artist/photographer/fisherman based in Portland, Oregon.  Love them!





























About the artist:

Corey Arnold is a fine art photographer based in Portland, Oregon. His work examines man’s relationship with the natural world including animals, food production, and environmental issues. Since 2002, he has photographed his life at sea working as a Bering Sea Crab fisherman and documented his summers captaining a sockeye salmon fishing boat in Alaska. In the off-season he continues to explore the world’s commercial fisheries in an ongoing project entitled Fish-Work.

His photographs have been exhibited worldwide and published in Harpers, The New Yorker, New York Times LENS, Art Ltd, Rolling Stone, Time, Outside, National Geographic, Mare and The Paris Review, among others. Corey has published two books of photography by Nazraeli Press including Fish-Work: The Bering Sea, and Fishing with My Dad.


This post is reminding me that I have never gone fishing (literally speaking).  I think I'll pass on this particular style of fishing, but it would be fun to try the more lazy/leisurely/dockside type of fishing.  Soon -- I'm on some weird kick lately to get out and about and see new people, places and things.  You know...get more out of life.  Why not.  :)
  


Monday, August 14, 2017

Fuck It

Helen Mirren in Caligula


A while back I heard that stories that resonate the most with audiences are those in which the teller exposes his/her own shame or humiliation.  

This is probably my most shameful and humiliating story to date, but whatever.  It is also the most hilarious/horrifying dating story that I've had in a while, and I think I have an audience of ONE at this point, so FUCK IT, I'm going to go ahead and tell it. 

So, I'm single.  The on-line dating thing is...well, I don't know how to describe it.  It can be really fun.  Really entertaining.  And sometimes really disappointing.

Mostly I get interest from dudes in their 20s and 30s that like the chubtastic/curvy ladies.  Uh, I'm 47.  That isn't gonna fly, as I don't just want sex, and that is pretty much all they want.  I'll admit that more than one has tempted me.  I have almost almost almost taken up one or two on their offers, but in the end I refrained.

Lately most of those in my age group that are interested in me just haven't seem quite right -- either not enough personality, not interesting enough, or something was either a bit off or way off.  But there was one dude recently that really seemed like a good possibility.  Right age, local, tall enough, pretty cute, and he had one of the best dating profiles that I have ever read -- he put effort into it and didn't just phone it in, and it wasn't just a bunch of typical boring, cliche crap.  AND he was interested in me.  Winner!!!  So we texted back and forth and that was great.  And we talked on the phone and he had me laughing so hard (I'm a sucker for any dude that is fun, funny and good in bed, and he was already rocking it in two out of three categories).  We talked and talked one Saturday afternoon, and he had one of the best stories that I have ever heard, and finally he asked if I wanted to meet that night.  I said YES.  He was about an hour's drive away, and it was already about 8:30 at night.  It's always tough to figure out where to meet -- bars are too noisy, it was too late for dinner, a park late at night seemed like a horrible idea, etc.  So I was in FUCK IT MODE (always problematic for me.  ALWAYS.  Foreshadowing!!!!), and I said, "You can just come to my place.  If you try anything, I'll fucking kill you."  This made him laugh, but I think he took me seriously.

So about an hour later I heard him pull up on his motorcycle (it's like I have dog-ears -- I hear it all).  He sent me a text and asked if I wanted to step outside, check him out, check out his bike, and make sure I was comfortable with him.  I went outside.  He pretty much looked like his pics (win), but he was NOT 5'11", but I didn't call him out on that.  I thought his bike was not at all cool -- totally meh -- but whatever.  So he seemed ok with me/my appearance, which was a relief.  And we went inside.  And, the conversation was good.  And, well, I didn't plan for anything to happen (maybe I did subconsciously????), but he was so cute, so funny, and a little touching and a little kissing felt so good, and of course we ended up in bed.  And we didn't use a condom, as neither of us had one on hand.  I know, I know.  But I'm human.  And idiotic.  And I just wasn't thinking clearly.  At all!!!  Go ahead and judge me.  Sigh. 

The sex was pretty, pretty good.  Ok, it was really good.  Mmmmmmhmmmmm.  And both parties seemed very happy.  But about 4 seconds after it was over he said: "You'd be great in a threesome! I have some lesbian friends that would LOVE you.  And I have a standing invitation to an orgy that is held once a month.  Are you game????"

OMFG.  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Well my mind exploded as I heard all of this -- I just had sex without a condom with a dude that GOES TO MOTHERFUCKING ORGIES.  

Needless to say, my next stop was at the Hollywood Free Clinic for a round of STD testing.  It's a small clinic.  The receptionist desk is near the room full of patients, and it is hard to keep the talk on the down-low.  So the receptionist asked what I was in for.  I tried to say very quietly STD TESTING.  Of course it felt like everyone heard.  They probably did.  They were all probably there for the same thing. The receptionist was a total sweetie -- he patted my hand and told me whatever I had, if I had anything, would be treatable.  He asked if I had any symptoms, to which I said, "Racing heart, shame and paranoia." He blinked and asked if I had any other symptoms.  Lol.

So anywhoo, those are the highlights/lowlights of my stupid experience.  I could give 19 million more details, but I just can't.  My panic has faded and it appears the patient will live.  And now I have a zillion condoms stuffed in my purse and at my house for the next gent that (hopefully) comes along and doesn't require participation in MOTHERFUCKING ORGIES!!!!!  :)


P.S. Truth be told, I have wondered more than once since this event....Could I do a threesome?   An orgy?  Should I?????  I am not sure at what point my judgment left the building. 



Sunday, July 30, 2017

47!


47!  Y-I-K-E-S!

I considered buying an AK-47 and recording a video of me shooting things up for my 47th birthday, but seeing as I have never shot any kind of gun, it seemed a bit extreme.  A tad excessive.  Perhaps I have a tiny bit more wisdom in my old age?  Perhaps.  :)


P.S. This image is an homage to Roy Lichtenstein's 1963 lithograph entitled "Crak!"  :)
 


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Don't Come Knocking / Kick-Ass Cinematography

Long, long ago at an unpretentious budget college far, far away, I was an art major with a focus on painting and drawing.  I can't remember exactly how instructors taught composition -- I feel like people either "get" composition or they don't.  But looking at examples of GOOD composition (or bad composition) can be very informative.  

If you have any interest in seeing ABSOLUTELY KILLER, KICK-ASS CINEMATOGRAPHY AND COMPOSITION, check out the movie Don't Come Knocking.  Some of the shots are SO GOOD -- they just made me gasp.  Just perfect.   The colors, the lighting, the composition -- absolutely flawless.  Spot on.

I found these stills from the movie on-line.  They give you an idea of what the movie looks like -- but it all flows better when you watch the film.  I'd kill...wellllll, maybe just maim...to see this movie on the big screen.  Anywhoo, here are some examples....











































I don't know if credit for all of this gloriousness goes to the director, Wim Wenders, or to the cinematographer, Franz Lustig.  I give credit to both.  Just a beautiful, beautiful film.  I have to be a jerk and say it isn't the best movie ever (the lead and two supporting actors are perfect, one or two actors totally overdid it, and one was a complete misfire for me), but it is one gorgeous film to look at. Enjoy!






Friday, July 7, 2017

Anna Zemánková

I recently had the pleasure of seeing the Anna Zemánková exhibition at The Good Luck Gallery. I had never heard of this artist, but after seeing a few images in a gallery announcement, I was compelled to go see the works in person. They are lovely. Quiet and bold, strange and alien, they are embellished, exaggerated, otherworldly floral-like creations made from crayon, ink and pastel.  Some of her works -- my favorites -- also include fabric, beading and embroidery.  They truly are a wonder to see. 

The exhibition at the The Good Luck Gallery runs trough July 9, 2017. If you have a chance to see the exhibition this weekend, DO IT.  If you can't make it, somehow remember her name and try to see the works in person someday. They are magical.







































Please note, all of these works are NOT in the above-mentioned exhibition. I have scoured as many sources as I could to get a better feel for her works, and pretty much just put them here for my viewing pleasure.  :]  Yep, I'm obsessed! Just fab!


About the artist:

“I am growing flowers that are not grown anywhere else,” said Anna Zemánková in describing her artwork. Throughout her often troubled life Zemánková cultivated a unique personal botany in crayon, ink and oil pastel, creating her own singular realm of emotionally-charged lyrical abstraction.
  
Zemánková was born in Moravia (today part of the Czech Republic) in 1908.  She worked as a dental technician before marrying a military officer and subsequently dedicated herself to raising four children, one of whom, her first-born son, died in infancy - a tragedy that Zemánková never completely recovered from.

It wasn’t until Zemánková was in her early fifties that she started drawing. One of her sons, a sculptor, provided her with materials and encouraged her to produce art as an antidote for the persistent melancholy that afflicted her. During the pre-dawn hours, while the rest of the world slept, Zemánková listened to classical music and drew anomalous biomorphic forms that quivered and pulsated with a life of their own; stamens that rippled like electrical currents; tendrils that twined, spiraled and unfolded into otherworldly blossoms. These subtle and delicately-hewn drawings exude a powerful presence.

In the absence of gallery shows, Zemánková held “open house” exhibitions every few years, and her work came to the attention of Jean Dubuffet who included several of her pieces in the Collection de l’Art Brut Lausanne, the world’s most notable collection of Outsider Art.

Although her subject matter remained much the same, a number of different phases – marked by her adoption of new mediums, including collage, embroidery, and bead-work – define Zemánková’s artistic career. She was a restless, questing spirit who kept working even after both of her legs were amputated due to severe diabetes.

In 1979, Zemánková achieved significant recognition when she was featured alongside Henry Darger, Martín Ramírez and others in the groundbreaking group show at London’s Hayward Gallery that was the first major exhibition to give art world exposure to self-taught visionary artists. More recently, eighteen of Zemánková’s works were included in the seminal 2013 Venice Biennale, organized by Masimilliano Gioni, director of New Museum, NY—the first time in the venerable contemporary art exhibition’s 118 year history that the work of Outsider artists was represented.

Thirty years after her death, interest in Zemánková has never been greater. Shows of her work will be up this summer at the Collection de l’Art Brut Lausanne and the Cavin-Morris Gallery in New York, while at the Good Luck Gallery in Los Angeles we are delighted to be presenting the first ever solo exhibit of Zemánková’s art in California, where her rarely-seen beaded and embroidered works will be shown, as well as many collages and drawings.