Sunday, August 21, 2011

what is charisma?

Video - Teaser for debate between Bayard Rustin and Malcolm X

NYTimes | Fully to capture what we mean by charisma we now rely on the language of physical forces — magnetism, electricity — but for the Greeks it was, simply, favor. Charis, whose name meant beauty and kindness, was an attendant to Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

The word appears throughout the New Testament, most often translated as “grace.” In Christian theology gifts from God are called “charismata.” These gifts can be as varied as knowledge, healing, miracles or prophecy and as grand as redemption itself. Charismata came to refer especially to the graces given to individuals specifically for the good of others: the gift that keeps on giving.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that the word acquired its modern secular meaning, when the influential sociologist Max Weber borrowed it to describe a key quality of leadership.

“Charisma,” he wrote, “is a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman or specifically exceptional powers. These qualities are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader.”

But how is a performer a leader? Other writers have built on Weber’s work in the social sciences, but much less attention has been paid to charisma in culture. The problem is that when it comes to the arts, the uses of charisma become harder to pin down. When Bill Clinton is charismatic, you vote for him. When an obscure carpenter’s son in ancient Galilee is charismatic, you join his ministry. But when the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter is charismatic, or Callas or Mr. Amidon, what are you supposed to do? What happens? Is our applause enough?

To some, charisma has lost its power as descriptive. It connotes flash, smoke and mirrors. (You could slightly change my sentence about Mr. Tetzlaff to turn it into praise: “He may not be charismatic, but he is a searchingly creative, technically flawless violinist.”) Even when used as a compliment, “charismatic” is often taken for granted. Just look at Mr. Tommasini’s and my takes on Mr. Daniels: his charisma is “no surprise” and “expected.” Charisma is a given, we imply, so let’s move on to the real stuff.

Let’s assume for a moment that charisma is the real stuff, less a means than an end in itself. What we generally consider the “content” of the arts — the notes, the libretto, the bowings, the plot — is actually just the structure that makes possible the crucial thing: watching a performer who is able to connect with fundamental realities. It is not that a singer’s charisma makes a colorful aria sound even better but that the aria provides a platform, a vessel, for us to experience the charisma.

If charisma were recognized as the central experience of performance, then that experience would take on a ritualistic aspect. Art as we know it, centered on rigorously conceived structures and intricately deployed catharses, would become more inchoate, less an appeal to our intelligence or taste than to instincts that we barely acknowledge.

Charisma is the essential quality of our moment because it fits so well in a culture in which the connoisseurship of artistic technique — whether singing or instrumental playing or conducting — has declined, but institutions are still seeking new audiences for these complex, demanding art forms. It is a quality that requires no knowledge or preparation. Even if you know little about the technicalities of music, when you attend a performance by the pianist Evgeny Kissin, you are swept up by his power and presence.

The question is whether people want to be swept up. Charisma can be exhilarating but also frightening. Our surrender to it demands a trust that is not easily conceded. If our desire from performance is only for comfort and reassurance, charisma will repel us. It is about revealing scope, and it raises the stakes dangerously high.

Recently I was in the Met Opera Shop, and a video clip came on the screen above the CD racks. The longtime Met soprano Aprile Millo was singing “La mamma morta,” the ecstatic aria from Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier,” with burning intensity. The sales clerk and I both watched raptly. Later I e-mailed Ms. Millo to ask her what charisma is.

“Hemingway gave us a haunting clue to it,” she replied. “In his obsession with the Spanish bullfights, he spoke of the lust of the crowd and its desire to feel something special, a raw authenticity, even in so brutal a setting. What he mentions is the hush that would come over the crowd at the entrance of the toreadors. The people could sense the difference between those who did it for the fame, the paycheck, and those who had the old spirit: the nobility, bravery, heart, ‘duende.’ I believe this also happens in the theater. The crowd can sense the one with the authentic message, the connection to the truth.”

honey money: the power of erotic capital

Video - Elvis Presley Money Honey 1956

Guardian | In a typically razor-sharp exchange of dialogue which establishes – yet again – that The Simpsons provides the most coruscating illumination of contemporary mores, Lisa says to her grade school teacher that "Good looks don't really matter", to which Ms Hoover replies: "Nonsense, that's just something ugly people tell their children." Stripping away the layers of irony from this statement we can reveal the central premise of Catherine Hakim's book, which is that not only do looks matter, but that they should matter a great deal more. Furthermore, the people who tell young people – and in particular young women – that their beauty and sex appeal are of little importance are themselves ugly, if not physically then at least morally. For, as Hakim sees it, it is an "unholy alliance" of wannabe patriarchs, religious fundamentalists and radical feminists who have – in Anglo-Saxon countries especially – acted to devalue what she terms "erotic capital". In Hakim's estimation, for all young women, and in particular those who are without other benefits – financial, intellectual, situational – an entirely legitimate form of self-advancement should consist in their getting the best out of – if you'll forgive the pun – their assets.

Hakim, a senior lecturer at the London School of Economics, is no tub-thumping provocateur, but a well-established sociologist with a string of publications to her name. And Honey Money, despite its somewhat racy title – which comes, apparently, from an expression employed by Jakarta prostitutes: "No money, no honey" – is configured as a serious academic exercise, complete with rather leaden prose, extensive annotation, reams of statistical evidence, appendices and tedious repetitions. Nevertheless, I envisage a blizzard of opprobrium enveloping Hakim, for she has set out here a thesis seemingly purpose-built to inflame the passions of a wide swathe of the opinionated. Taking as her starting point Pierre Bourdieu's well-established analysis of forms of individual capital – monetary capital itself, human capital (intelligence potentiated by education) and social capital (patronage, nepotism and other network benefits) – Hakim proposes another form: "erotic capital". She acknowledges that this term has been used by sociologists in the US to refer to physical appearance and sex appeal, but claims that her definition – widened to encompass other skills such as charm, sociability and actual sexual expertise – is both original and powerfully explicatory.

In some ways I think she's right. There's something altogether refreshing about Hakim's spade-calling, which recalls to mind Schopenhauer's infamous remarks in his essay "On Women": "With girls, Nature has had in view what is called in a dramatic sense a 'striking effect', for she endows them for a few years with a richness of beauty and a fullness of charm at the expense of the rest of their lives; so that they may during these years ensnare the fantasy of a man to such a degree as to make him rush into taking the honourable care of them, in some kind of form, for a lifetime – a step which would not seem sufficiently justified if he only considered the matter." Certainly the pessimistic philosopher's own dealings with women conformed to this view: a lifelong bachelor, he was not so much an enthusiastic as a dutiful customer of prostitutes – attending the brothel as regularly as other haute-bourgeois men visit their club.

Hakim endorses Schopenhauer's characterisation of the "striking effect" of young women's beauty and sex appeal, and gives us cross-cultural statistics to prove that not only is their "erotic capital" consistently greater than that of young men, but that it is also always undervalued: it is attractive young men who get the better jobs and secure the higher wages, attractive young men who end up being US president – regardless of their skin colour. This might seem counter-intuitive in a world seemingly plastered with images of this "striking effect", displayed in every possible state of dress and undress, but the strength of Hakim's analysis lies in the very crudeness of its metric. According to her, while young women may possess considerable charms, men's desire for them always vastly outstrips supply. The reverse is simply not the case: men are both less attractive to women, and markedly less desired by them, especially as those women grow older. What Hakim terms "the male sex-deficit" underlies both the ubiquity of female sexual imagery – as pornography, as marketing adjunct – and the persistent unwillingness of society at large to "valorise" women's good looks. It is, quite simply, not in the interests of all those priapic patriarchs to allow women to actualise their erotic capital, for to do so would seismically alter the balance of power between the sexes.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

fake and fruity didn't take long to metastasize....,

republican doublethink

Video - A brief virtual discussion of 1984

Guardian | The Republican world view is a mash-up of Orwell's 1984 and It's a Wonderful Life – with 'doublethink' at its heart. 'Isn't the Democrat/Republican choice in the US really a choice between good and evil?" someone tweeted me during last week's Republican debate in Iowa. On the one hand, such a reductive perspective only exacerbates the dysfunctionally hyper-partisan current state of American politics, with the Republicans retreating to a wing so far right it would have given their beloved Ronald Reagan whiplash.

On the other hand, the message did arrive just moments after the morally repulsive Rick Santorum had finished explaining that abortions must be denied even to victims of rape and incest because the baby shouldn't be "victimised twice", concentrating so deeply on maintaining his sanctimonious facial expression that he hadn't the mental space to consider that maybe it would be the raped woman who would be victimised twice if she were to be denied an abortion if she wished to have one. But then, of course, it's hard to answer intelligently when one talks out of one's arse and the brain is therefore so far away from one's speaking orifice.

Anal vocalisation is not the only explanation for much of the Grand Old party's (GOP) behaviour and pronouncements in recent days: rather, it is, I can exclusively reveal, currently engaged in a mash-up of 1984 and It's a Wonderful Life, two pieces of fiction created over 60 years ago, which goes some way to explaining the distinct smack of irrelevance to the party today.

Despite having been written by one of those dreaded European socialists, 1984 appears to be the guidebook for today's Republican contenders. Even aside from the crazed fascination with sex some of them have (the Iowa debate also provided a platform for Santorum to explicate, again, his theory that gay marriage is the same as polygamy, having presumably decided that his worn-down-to-the-nub rib-tickler that homosexuality is analogous to bestiality needed a bit of sprucing up) which would impress 1984's Junior Anti-Sex League, the frank use of doublethink has been if not quite impressive then certainly unembarrassed.

Doublethink is, according to Orwell, "the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them … To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient …"

This is different from simply lying, which – as we live in what Tom Cruise once snarled is "a cynical, cynical world" – is expected from most politicians. Doublethink is looking at the truth and seeing just a reflection of one's desired self. It is the only explanation for Michele Bachmann's insistence that the credit downgrade was due to the raising of the debt ceiling, even though it was largely, S&P said in its statement, because of her and her fellow Tea Partyists' "contentious and fitful" wrangling. She claimed on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that one should never "mess with the full faith and credit of the United States", and yet that is precisely what she did.

Bachmann has said that wives "are to be submissive to their husbands" and, as Sarah Posner wrote this week on Salon, this idea, of the woman being "the obedient helpmeet, the vessel for the children, the devoted mother and warrior for the faith" is "central to the faith of many evangelicals". Yet when asked about it directly in the Iowa debate and again on Sunday on NBC, Bachmann retranslated "submit" to mean "respect", even though one could argue that their meanings are if not diametrically opposite, then at least on the quarter angle. It's enough to make one sentimental for English reappropriation of the "refudiate" kind. But where Palin only seeks publicity, Bachmann is a far scarier proposition.

Just as Bachmann was explaining her "submit"/"feminist" theory in the Iowa debate, John McCain's wife, Cindy, took to Twitter to complain: "I am so disgusted with how disrespectful the media is to all Republican woman [sic] in politics." Aside from the striking originality of accusing others of misogyny against a woman who was at that moment explaining the value of submission to one's husband, McCain presumably hadn't heard some of the things members of her own family had said about a certain Republican woman in the past, such as Meghan McCain's complaint that Sarah Palin was ruining her love life.

Perhaps the most blatant use of doublethink was Mitt Romney's self-serving claim last week that "corporations are people, my friend", which managed to be both deeply Orwellian as well as sounding like an offcut from It's a Wonderful Life. It doesn't even require a tiptoe of imagination, let alone a leap, to envisage Lionel Barrymore as evil Mr Potter cackling to James Stewart as poor George Bailey: "Corporations are people, George!"

(Incidentally, a version of this self-entitled mentality was echoed by Megyn Kelly on Fox News, the GOP mouthpiece, last week when she ferociously defended her right to maternity leave, despite having derided "entitled programmes" in the past. As Jon Stewart pointed out: "They're really only entitlements when they're something other people want. When it's something you want, they're a hallmark of a civilised society.")

Doublethink is the inevitable result of a Republican party that has become so McCarthyite; where homophobia, anti-abortion beliefs, Christianity verging on the evangelical, disbelief in science and a refusal to accept that rich people should be taxed more are essential so as not to be accused of being a Rino (Republican in name only). And there is no colder proof of doublethink than the look of moral superiority on a candidate's face when they are describing their wholly immoral beliefs that exist purely to cause misery, such as an "unblemished record" of homophobic policies (Bachmann). Is this evil? It's dystopian.

you've been warned, the system is ready to blow

Video - Nixon ends Bretton Woods international monetary system

Guardian | For the past two centuries and more, life in Britain has been governed by a simple concept: tomorrow will be better than today. Black August has given us a glimpse of a dystopia, one in which the financial markets buckle and the cities burn. Like Scrooge, we have been shown what might be to come unless we change our ways.

There were glimmers of hope amid last week's despair. Neighbourhoods rallied round in the face of the looting. The Muslim community in Birmingham showed incredible dignity after three young men were mown down by a car and killed during the riots. It was chastening to see consumerism laid bare. We have seen the future and we know it sucks. All of which is cause for cautious optimism – provided the right lessons are drawn.

Lesson number one is that the financial and social causes are linked. Lesson number two is that what links the City banker and the looter is the lack of restraint, the absence of boundaries to bad behaviour. Lesson number three is that we ignore this at our peril.

To understand the mess we are in, it's important to know how we got here. Today marks the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon's announcement that America was suspending the convertibility of the dollar into gold at $35 an ounce. Speculative attacks on the dollar had begun in the late 1960s as concerns mounted over America's rising trade deficit and the cost of the Vietnam war. Other countries were increasingly reluctant to take dollars in payment and demanded gold instead. Nixon called time on the Bretton Woods system of fixed but adjustable exchange rates, under which countries could use capital controls in order to stimulate their economies without fear of a run on their currency. It was also an era in which protectionist measures were used quite liberally: Nixon announced on 15 August 1971 that he was imposing a 10% tax on all imports into the US.

Four decades on, it is hard not to feel nostalgia for the Bretton Woods system. Imperfect though it was, it acted as an anchor for the global economy for more than a quarter of a century, and allowed individual countries to pursue full employment policies. It was a period devoid of systemic financial crises.

Finally, there has been a big change in the way that the spoils of economic success have been divvied up. Back when Nixon was berating the speculators attacking the dollar peg, there was an implicit social contract under which the individual was guaranteed a job and a decent wage that rose as the economy grew. The fruits of growth were shared with employers, and taxes were recycled into schools, health care and pensions. In return, individuals obeyed the law and encouraged their children to do the same. The assumption was that each generation would have a better life than the last.

This implicit social contract has broken down. Growth is less rapid than it was 40 years ago, and the gains have disproportionately gone to companies and the very rich. In the UK, the professional middle classes, particularly in the southeast, are doing fine, but below them in the income scale are people who have become more dependent on debt as their real incomes have stagnated. Next are the people on minimum wage jobs, which have to be topped up by tax credits so they can make ends meet. At the very bottom of the pile are those who are without work, many of them second and third generation unemployed.

republican internecine conflict

Video - Rick Perry's states rights speech

DailyBeast | Karl Rove and his operatives appear to have launched a campaign to derail Rick Perry’s 2012 bid, beginning with criticisms that he is 'unpresidential.' For years, Rove has made it a hobby of sorts to deflate conservatives more popular with the base than he is. Like any good bully, he has tended to focus on easy targets, such as Sarah Palin and Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, piling on them as if he were hoping for a time slot next to Al Sharpton on MSNBC. So far he has (mostly) gotten away with this.

Now he and his henchmen are undertaking their most serious gamble. Rick Perry managed to shine in Texas without Rove's permission, and now threatens to become the current Republican frontrunner without Rove’s blessing. This, Rove has decreed, must be stopped, even if his party is destroyed in the process.

The origins of the Rove grudge against Perry really matter only to a handful of people. Suffice it to say it stems from some decade-old feud over power and money. And Rove has lassoed the entire Bush family in on it. The former presidents Bush have made it a great point not to comment on the actions of their successors—Clinton and Obama, respectively. They think there is a nobility to staying out of the fray and not making things more difficult for the next commander in chief. Yet the Bushes have shown no compunction about doing just that to a fellow Republican and fellow Texan (though Perry is the only one of them actually born in the state).

While in the White House, Bush 2 and his aides regularly scoffed at Perry for reasons that were never fully clear, making fun of his syntax and intellectual prowess without any sense of irony. In 2010 the Bush family, along with Rove and Karen Hughes, undertook an unprecedented effort to kick him out of the governor’s chair, handing a crowbar to Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, whom they judged more "electable." Perry walloped her in the GOP primary, then went on to win a historic third term in the general election by a double-digit margin. So much for electability.

Friday, August 19, 2011

"smart" metering: good, bad, other?

Video - Patrick Wood on Smart Grid and Technocracy (Wood's talk begins at ~12 minutes)

TheAge | SMART electricity meters are sometimes being installed without consent and against the wishes of property owners, sparking a surge in consumer complaints and, in extreme cases, attacks on electrical contractors.

Power companies continue to roll out the controversial technology and are increasingly targeting apartment buildings in their installation timetables. This is all despite a government review that could scrap the scheme, although there has been an assurance from Energy Minister Michael O'Brien that meters already installed would be retained regardless of the outcome.

New figures from the Energy and Water Ombudsman reveal complaints about smart meters almost doubled during the first six months of the year, amid growing anger over the tactics used by electricity distributors. There are also claims that up to 15 per cent of the new meters deliver inaccurate readings.

The former Brumby government introduced the technology to encourage Victoria's 2.2 million households and 300,000 businesses to curb energy consumption and reduce carbon emissions by using off-peak tariffs.

But some consumers say that they cannot use power at the times of day when cheaper rates are available, despite having to pay higher charges for new meters.

About 750,000 meters have already been installed, and the Baillieu government is awaiting an independent report before deciding on the future of the scheme. The review by Deloitte followed a $1.2 billion cost blow-out and a consumer backlash.

''We've received a wide variety of customer complaints, from problems with the exchange of meters, high bills and installation issues. While the government made it clear that people could object to having a smart meter installed, we've had complaints from people who left a note on their existing meters, which was not complied with,'' Energy and Water Ombudsman Fiona McLeod said.

Complaints to the ombudsman soared to almost 500 in June; the highest number since the meters were first rolled out in 2009.

Ms McLeod said there was a perception that the meters contributed to higher bills. ''A lot of the old analog meters run slow or are faulty, so some consumers are actually getting an accurate reading with the new meters, but may not be happy with that outcome,'' Ms McLeod said.

which part of this is sustainable when the federal grant runs out?

Video - MARC Green Impact Marketing Video (up for a year, fewer than 212 views)

GreenImpactZone | The Green Impact Zone initiative is an effort to concentrate resources — with funding, coordination, and public and private partnerships — in one specific area to demonstrate that a targeted effort can literally transform a community. This national model for place-based investment is now underway in the heart of Kansas City's urban core.

The project, proposed by U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, will put people and dollars to work to strengthen neighborhoods, create jobs and improve energy efficiency. The initiative includes housing rehab and weatherization programs, community policing and services, job training and placement, and health and wellness programs, all built around a comprehensive neighborhood outreach program and using sustainability as a catalyst for this transformation.

The Green Impact Zone is a 150-square block area (pdf) of Kansas City, Mo., that has experienced severe abandonment and economic decline. The zone has experienced extreme abandonment, with about 25 percent of its properties in vacant lots and another one-sixth in vacant structures. Unemployment in Kansas City, Mo., is now 11.7 percent citywide and estimated to be as much as 50 percent in parts of this zone. Fewer than half the homes are owner-occupied. Almost 20 percent of all mortgages were delinquent over the last two years. Median home prices for the area are under than $30,000.

The Green Impact Zone strategy is to transform this community to a thriving, sustainable neighborhood — not just to hold the decline at bay. To do this, the zone has assembled a core team of leaders within the neighborhood and community development organizations in the zone, as well as the programmatic, nonprofit, private, and civic leadership necessary to support a comprehensive strategy that will transform the entire zone.

Community-based approaches include:
Innovative strategies to address weatherization of homes within the zone.
A coordinated community policing and community services center.
A multi-pronged housing improvement program for current homeowners and residents.
An employment and training program coordinated both with zone activities and business interests outside of the zone.
Development and implementation of a sustainability strategy for the zone, including energy efficiency and renewable energy sources and green solutions to water and waste water issues
Installation of a smart grid by Kansas City Power and Light, and integration with other energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives.
Development and implementation of an economic development strategy.
An integrated strategy to address abandoned and foreclosed properties and vacant lots.
All of this will be supported by an intense, neighborhood organization-based outreach program and regional public, not-for-profit, private, and civic leadership support program.
It is imperative that the Zone take advantage of this federal moment by having a detailed game plan for what is to take place the first year of the Zone initiative. The game plan will have to ensure the strategic use of stimulus funds as they are made available and at the same time create a long-term sustainability strategy to carry the zone beyond the stimulus.

the root of the problem

The Scientist | New research suggests that the flow of carbon through plants to underground ecosystems may be crucial to how the environment responds to climate change. Human beings have inexorably altered the world’s ecosystems. We’ve plowed and seeded more than 40 percent of the Earth’s land surfaces, introduced alien species into new territories, poured carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, disrupted natural climate cycles, and polluted aquatic ecosystems with excessive nitrogen and other contaminants.

These far-reaching changes have spurred scores of researchers to examine the impacts of human activities on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, and to devise management strategies that might lessen the damage. Scientists have scoured ecosystems from the ocean’s depths to the highest mountain peaks searching for signals of global change. But only recently has this attention extended under the Earth’s surface to the soil, and the linkages between plants and belowground microbial and animal communities. This realm of research is of paramount importance because the impact of human-induced disturbances on the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems is often indirect: they tend to operate via changes aboveground that cascade belowground to the hugely complex and diverse, soil-bound biological community, driving biogeochemical processes and feeding back to the whole Earth-system.

And these studies may be overturning a commonly held view of how plants help mitigate the impacts of global warming. Indeed, it is widely thought that vegetation, especially trees, will respond to increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations by growing more vigorously, and thus help to moderate climate change by locking up more carbon in their leaves, branches, and trunks. But research into the intricate dynamics occurring just below the soil surface, where carbon, nitrogen, and other elements flow through plant roots into the soil and react with the microbial and animal communities living there—including bacteria, fungi and a host of fauna—is complicating this simplistic view. In fact, some work suggests that as plant growth increases because of elevated CO2, more carbon not only flows into the plants themselves, but also exits their roots to impact the growth and activity of soil microbes. This causes a net increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gases escaping from the soil and entering the atmosphere, thus adding to anthropogenic levels.

These insights indicate that a combined plant-microbial-soil approach can lead to a more holistic understanding of the consequences of global change—including climate change—for the health and functioning of both terrestrial ecosystems and the whole Earth-system. Most importantly, the role that plant-microbial-soil interactions, and specifically carbon transfer from roots to soil, play in governing climate change and its impact on ecosystem carbon cycling is coming to light.

unwinding evolution?

DailyMail | Scientists have undone the progress made by evolution by altering chicken DNA to create embryos with alligator-like snouts instead of beaks.

Experts changed the DNA of chicken embryos in the early stage of their development, enabling them to undo evolutionary progress and give the creatures snouts which are thought to have been lost in the cretaceous period millions of years ago.

The scientific revelation of 'rewinding' evolution could pave the way for scientists altering DNA in the other direction and use the same process to create species better able to adapt to Earth's climate.

It has also been claimed that the breakthrough could eventually help eliminate birth defects in human children.

Arkhat Abzhanov, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, developed the chickens with snouts by cutting a square hole in the shell of a chicken egg and dropping in a small gelatinous protein bead before watching the embryo develop.

The changes allowed separate molecules on the side of the face free to grow into snouts within 14 days.

Although ethical rules prevent the eggs from bring hatched, Dr Abzhanov said he hopes to complete the work one day by turning chickens into Maniraptora.

Dr Abzhanov made the changes by analysing the 'signalling molecules' which control the anatomical changes in birds and other animals.

Adding protein beads to the egg which stifle the development of certain molecules also prevents the birds from growing certain features.
The revolutionary work by biologist Dr Arkhat Abzhanov could help prevent birth defects in human children

The revolutionary work by biologist Dr Arkhat Abzhanov could help prevent birth defects in human children

Maniraptora are small dinosaurs which it is thought spawned thousands of species of birds which exist today.

Chickens and other birds are thought to have descended from dinosaurs through a series of genetic changes.

By altering the DNA of chickens to resemble alligator genes before the beak developed, Dr Abzhanov was able to change the evolutionary path of chickens so that they grew snouts instead.

Dr Abzhanov told the New Scientist: 'It looks exactly like a snout looks in an alligator [at this stage].'

Jack Horner, a leading paleontologist based at the University of Montana, is conducting similar work in an attempt to make a 'chickenosaurus' with a tail and hands similar to those of a dinosaur.

Craig Albertson, a developmental biologist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, said: 'Abzhanov's 'snouted' chicken provides a striking demonstration of just how easy it can be to provoke major evolutionary changes.'

genomic science: keeping it 100%

The Scientist | Meet the species whose DNA has recently been sequenced:
Species: The marijuana plants Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica
Genome size: Around 400 million base pairs
Interesting fact: The marijuana plant is most well known for the high produced by THC, its active ingredient, which binds to cannabinoid receptors in the body. But Cannabis contains dozens of other active compounds, some of which are being studied as potential treatments for cancer and inflammation. Researchers at Medicinal Genomics hope that sequencing the entire genome will allow them to pinpoint therapeutic compounds while removing the psychoactive effects of THC.
The science dudes did some fungus and other stuff too....whatever.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

aspirational and useful or just fake and fruity?

NYTimes | THE best posts on the style blog Street Etiquette find its principals, Travis Gumbs and Joshua Kissi, in motion. As opposed to the fascistically frozen street-style snaps of The Sartorialist and others, these pictures are styled and plotted fictions but also affecting ones, depicting a pair of young black men taking ownership not just of the body and what goes on it, but also of the environment it moves in. No one ever smiles on Street Etiquette: there’s business to attend to.

Most days, the actual business of Mr. Kissi and Mr. Gumbs takes place in a work-space-cum-clubhouse on Bergen Street in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. With vintage sweaters hanging from the ceiling and art books lining the walls, this is the nerve center of the Brooklyn Circus, whose flagship store is just a few dozen steps away, and which is a key collaborative partner for Street Etiquette, which began as a basic beautiful-things blog in 2008 but is now one of the foremost online repositories of black style.

The posts on Street Etiquette straddle the modern and the historical. Mr. Gumbs and Mr. Kissi, both 22, highlight specific themes — floral prints, the saddle shoe and so on — modeling them and detailing their history. They are careful caretakers, respectful students, tailoring loyalists and handsome models.

And they have become Internet-age fashion polymaths: stylists and models, but also writers, preservationists, photographers and editors — and soon, designers and retailers.

Making a strong statement about cultural pride is central to the Street Etiquette mission. “It shows people of African descent in a good light,” said Mr. Kissi, whose family hails from Ghana. With Ouigi Theodore, the owner of Brooklyn Circus, Street Etiquette is collaborating on college speaking engagements under the “style and character tour” banner. Said Mr. Theodore: “Where they’re from and where I’m from, self-refinement isn’t welcome in a sense. If you’re hood, you’re hood forever.”

The musician and actor Mos Def was turned on to Street Etiquette by a friend, and was taken by the founders’ direction. “They want to elevate the awareness level of young people in their communities,” he said. “As opposed to ‘We’re better than y’all,’ it’s ‘You can be this, too.’ ” He now serves as a mentor to the duo. “All of it is a political expression,” he said. “White people have all kinds of archetypes, from Brad Pitt to Al Bundy, everything in between. The cultural paradigms that are aggressively promoted to young black people and young poor people are extremely narrow.”

riots and the underclass

Video - BBC "interview an old negro about the riots" backfires.

Counterpunch | What’s a riot without looting? We want it, they’ve got it! You’d think from the press that looting was alien to British tradition, imported by immigrants more recent than the Normans. Not so. Gavin Mortimer, author of The Blitz, had an amusing piece in the First Post about the conduct of Britons at the time of their Finest Hour:

“It didn't take long for a hardcore of opportunists to realise there were rich pickings available in the immediate aftermath of a raid – and the looting wasn't limited to civilians.

“In October 1940 Winston Churchill ordered the arrest and conviction of six London firemen caught looting from a burned-out shop to be hushed up by Herbert Morrison, his Home Secretary. The Prime Minister feared that if the story was made public it would further dishearten Londoners struggling to cope with the daily bombardments…

“The looting was often carried out by gangs of children organized by a Fagin figure; he would send them into bombed-out houses the morning after a raid with orders to target coins from gas meters and display cases containing First World War medals. In April 1941 Lambeth juvenile court dealt with 42 children in one day, from teenage girls caught stripping clothes from dead bodies to a seven-year-old boy who had stolen five shillings from the gas meter of a damaged house. In total, juvenile crime accounted for 48 per cent of all arrests in the nine months between September 1940 and May 1941 and there were 4,584 cases of looting.

“Joan Veazey, whose husband was a vicar in Kennington, south London, wrote in her diary after one raid in 1940: "The most sickening thing was to see people like vultures, picking up things and taking them away. I didn't like to feel that English people would do this, but they did."

“Perhaps the most shameful episode of the whole Blitz occurred on the evening of March 8 1941 when the Cafe de Paris in Piccadilly was hit by a German bomb. The cafe was one of the most glamorous night spots in London, the venue for off-duty officers to bring their wives and girlfriends, and within minutes of its destruction the looters moved in.

"Some of the looters in the Cafe de Paris cut off the people's fingers to get the rings," recalled Ballard Berkeley, a policeman during the Blitz who later found fame as the 'Major' in Fawlty Towers. Even the wounded in the Cafe de Paris were robbed of their jewellery amid the confusion and carnage.”

A revolution is not a tea party, sniffed Lenin, but he should have added that it often starts off with a big party. Perhaps he was acknowledging that when he said a revolution was “a festival of the oppressed.” After the storming of the Winter Palace in October 1917 everyone was drunk for three days, conduct of which the prissy Vladimir Illich no doubt heartily disapproved.

The riots in London last week started in Tottenham in an area with the highest unemployment in London, in response to the police shooting a young black man, in a country where black people are 26 times more likely to stopped and searched by the cops than whites. Stop-and-searches are allowed under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, introduced to deal with football hooligans. It allows police to search anyone in a designated area without specific grounds for suspicion. Use of Section 60 has risen more than 300 per cent between 2005 and last year. In 1997/98 there were 7,970 stop-and-searches, increasing to 53,250 in 2007/08 and 149,955 in 2008/09. Between 2005/06 and 2008/09 the number of Section 60 searches of black people rose by more than 650 per cent.

The day after the heaviest night of rioting I saw Darcus Howe, originally from Trinidad and former editor of Race and Class, now a broadcaster and columnist, being questioned by a snotty BBC interviewer, Fiona Armstrong. We ran it last week as website of the day. Howe linked the riots to upsurges by the oppressed across the Middle East and then remarked that when he’d recently asked his son how many times he’d been stopped and searched by the police, his boy answered that it had happened too often for him to count. To which point Ms Armstrong, plainly irked by the trend in the conversation in which Howe was conspicuously failing in his assigned task – namely to denounce the rioters – said nastily, ““You are not a stranger to riots yourself I understand, are you? You have taken part in them yourself?”

“I have never taken part in a single riot. I've been on demonstrations that ended up in a conflict,” the 67-year old Howe answered indignantly. “Have some respect for an old West Indian negro and stop accusing me of being a rioter because you wanted for me to get abusive. You just sound idiotic — have some respect.” The BBC later apologized to those offended by what it agreed was “a poorly phrased question.”

roubini: karl marx was right

Video - Nouriel Roubini mainstreams a bit of the old doomerism.

IBT | There's an old axiom that goes "wise is the person who appreciates candor almost as much as good news" and with that as a guide, place the forthcoming decidedly in the category of candor.

Economist Nouriel "Dr. Doom" Roubini, the New York University professor who four years ago accurately predicted the global financial crisis, said one of economist Karl Marx's critiques of capitalism is playing itself out in the current global financial crisis.

Sees Marx's Critique Playing Itself Out Now
Marx, among other theories, argued that capitalism had an internal contradiction that would cyclically lead to crises, and that, at minimum, would place pressure on the economic system.

Companies, Roubini said, are motivated to minimize costs, to save and stockpile cash, but this leads to less money in the hands of employees, which means they have less money to spend and flow back to companies.

Now, in the current financial crisis, consumers, in addition to having less money to spend due to the above, are also motivated to minimize costs, to save and stockpile cash, magnifying the effect of less money flowing back to companies.

"Karl Marx had it right," Roubini said in an interview with "At some point capitalism can self-destroy itself. That's because you can not keep on shifting income from labor to capital without not having an excess capacity and a lack of aggregate demand. We thought that markets work. They are not working. What's individually a self-destructive process."

Roubini also argues that the social uprisings in Egypt and in other Arab world countries, in Greece, and now in the United Kingdom, are economic in origin (primarily unemployment, but also, in the case of Egypt, due to the rising cost of living).

Further, the view from here argues that while no one should expect an 'imminent collapse' of capitalism, or even a collapse of the American version, corporate capitalism -- capitalism and free markets are much too nimble and capable of adapting for that -- to say that the current economic order is not experiencing a crisis would not be accurate.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

wait, doesn't culture "hijack" the brain's reward system too?

Medpagetoday | Addiction is a chronic brain disorder that should be treated like any other chronic disease, according to a new definition from the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

In a public policy statement, the group emphasized that neurological mechanisms -- disruptions in neurotransmission, interruptions in the reward system, failure of inhibitory control -- are the key drivers of addiction.

"At its core, addiction isn't just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem," ASAM past president Michael Miller, MD, said in a prepared release. "It's a brain problem whose behaviors manifest in all these other areas."

The statement describes addiction as a primary disease and not the result of other emotional or psychiatric problems. Addiction hijacks the brain's reward system, which involves areas of memory and emotion, and stifles areas of executive functioning, such as impulse control, the statement says.

And genetic factors account for half of the likelihood that a patient will develop addiction.

Given the physiology, addiction should be monitored and managed over time to diminish the risk of relapse, sustain remission, and optimize patient functioning, the group statement continues.

"Many chronic diseases require behavioral choices, such as people with heart disease choosing to eat healthier or begin exercising, in addition to medical or surgical interventions," Miller said in the release. "We have to stop moralizing, blaming, controlling, or smirking at the person with the disease of addiction, and start creating opportunities for individuals and families to get help and providing assistance in choosing proper treatment."

Treatment should involve not only pharmacological management, but psychosocial rehabilitation as well, the policy statement said.

Focus on the neurological underpinnings of behavioral disorders has increased in recent years, the result of advances in brain imaging and neuroscience, the society authors wrote.

Earlier this month, for instance, some dietitians suggested emphasizing the neurology of obesity in order to help patients lose weight more effectively, instead of telling them simply to eat less.

The ASAM policy statement was the result of a four-year process involving more than 80 experts and "extensive dialogue" with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The new definition marks the first time ASAM has taken an official position that addiction is not solely related to substance use.

all the king's horses and all the king's men CAN'T put him back together again...,

Video - Ricky Gervais funny bit about Humpty Dumpty

NYTimes | The fury in British cities follows huge social protests this year in Greece, where violence also flared, and in Spain, where tens of thousands have camped out from Madrid to Barcelona. Other nations, including Portugal, have seen a diffuse anger rooted in a shared conviction: things can’t go on like this. This European malaise is no stranger to a United States of high unemployment, economic bafflement, ideological radicalization and political pettiness.

Numbers tell part of the story. Youth unemployment in the 27-nation European Union stands at just over 20 percent, ranging as high as 45.7 percent in Spain. In Britain youth unemployment has risen from 14 percent in the first quarter of 2008 to 20 percent. About one in every five young Europeans and young Americans is wondering how to get any sort of working life on track. Britain’s NEETS (not in education, employment or training) meet U.S. boomerang kids in the anxiety of waiting.

The anxiety grows when governments are slashing benefits and pushing back retirement ages in an attempt to deal with spiraling deficits. A working gerontocracy hardly helps the young. Brits from Tottenham to Teesside have watched the most patrician cabinet since Macmillan cutting everything from libraries to youth counseling services. Theirs is a “No Future” revolt.

A feeling has grown in Western societies that uncontrollable forces are at work shrinking possibility. History has never seen a global power shift as radical as the current one that managed to be peaceful.

The united Europe of today is built on the ashes of successive empires — from the Roman to the British — that ended in one form or other of violent convulsion. Now the American quasi-imperium, and more generally the dominion of the West, is ending, not rapidly but steadily.

Growth, jobs, expansion, excitement — and, yes, possibility — lie in the great non-Western arc from China through India to South Africa and Brazil. Go South! Go East! That’s the dictum of the age but not always practicable in Peckham or Peoria. The world has been turned upside-down. What we are witnessing is how shaken Western societies are by such inversion.

As new powers emerge, globalization has altered the relationship between capital and labor in the former’s favor. Many more cheap workers have become available outside the West as technology has eliminated distance. Returns on capital have proved higher relative to wages. That’s the story of the post-cold-war period. The gap between rich and poor has become a gulf.

The only people who walked away unscathed from the great financial binge that preceded this mess were its main architects and greatest beneficiaries: bankers, financiers and hedge-fund honchos.

This, too, is fueling a time of outrage that has left Western politicians chasing shadows.

the richer you are, the more 'right' decisions are made for you

TechnologyReview | Around 865 million people worldwide live on the daily equivalent of what 99 cents buys in the United States. To create effective aid programs for these people, it helps to grasp the nuances of life in extreme poverty. For instance, hunger does not necessarily drive the poor to obtain more food whenever they can; in India, they allot about 50 percent of their income to food and will resist spending more if it only means consuming larger quantities of the same bland grains they usually eat.

In financial matters, the poor often use microcredit in unexpected ways: some women in Hyderabad, India, take out small loans at 24 percent, then put the money into savings accounts that pay 4 percent. Receiving the high-interest loan compels them to cut costs enough to make this dubious transaction worthwhile.

"We are not rational, fully informed people," says Esther Duflo, PhD '99, professor of poverty alleviation and development economics. "That's true for us, and that's true for the poor."

Now, Duflo and economics professor Abhijit Banerjee have distilled their insights about global poverty into their first book together, Poor Economics.

As directors of MIT's Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), which they helped found in 2003, Banerjee and Duflo have become highly influential in development economics, which studies the world's poorest countries and recommends ways to spur growth. They are leading exponents of running randomized trials—field experiments—to see which programs are most effective and affordable. J-PAL brings the results to governments and nonprofit organizations.

One reason well-designed aid programs matter, the authors believe, is that the poor are often faced with an overwhelming number of difficult decisions—far more than the well-off must contend with. "The richer you are, the more 'right' decisions are made for you," Banerjee and Duflo write. Many of these decisions involve essentials we take for granted, such as the quality of drinking water. J-PAL-backed research has, among other things, laid the foundations for efforts that have inexpensively treated millions of African children for intestinal worms, improving their school attendance in the process.

Surprisingly, Banerjee never deeply explored development economics until he was an assistant professor at Harvard in the early 1990s. After designing a course on the subject there, he moved to MIT, where interest in development economics was soon on the rise. "That was very fortuitous," says Banerjee. One of his students was Duflo. "You could see that she had the ability to get a huge amount done and done right, very quickly," he says.

Since 2003, economists affiliated with J-PAL have conducted 267 research projects in 42 countries, and the lab now has offices on five continents. "It's exceeding expectations," Duflo says of the lab. "Our objective for J-PAL is to serve as a flagship for a larger global movement toward development economics projects."

another one of america's cities of broken dreams in the woods...,

DailyMail | In scenes reminiscent of the Great Depression these are the ramshackle homes of the desperate and destitute U.S. families who have set up their own 'Tent City' only an hour from Manhattan.

More than 50 homeless people have joined the community within New Jersey's forests as the economic crisis has wrecked their American dream.

And as politicians in Washington trade blows over their country's £8.8 trillion debt, the prospect of more souls joining this rag tag group grows by the day.

Building their own tarpaulin tents, Native American teepees and makeshift balsa wood homes, every one of the Tent City residents has lost their job.

These people have been reduced to living on handouts from the local church and friendly restaurants and the community is a sad look at troubles caused as the world's most powerful country struggles with its finances.

'We have been in and out of the camp for a year,' said ex-hotel worker Burt Haut, 43, who lives with his wife, ex-teacher Barbara, 48 in a tent styled like a teepee from the Old West.

'Our financial difficulties since the credit crisis three years ago have caused us to camp on public ground, at the back of churches and down the backs of closed down stores.

'We have had help from our friends and family, but we have run that well dry.

'We are trying to get back on our feet and with help from the camp leadership we hope to get back onto a social security scheme or help with some assisted housing.'

Ravaged by the loss of their jobs and their homes, the residents of Tent City struggle to get by without day-to-day luxuries that we take for granted such as food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Ex-minister Steve Brigham, 50, runs Tent City, which consists of a dirt road running through a two-acre encampment which has flowerpots laid out front of proud tents and homes.

Functioning as near to a normal town as possible, Tent City is governed by democratic rules agreed by all the residents.

They all must agree to no fighting, to clean the camp, to volunteer their time when they have it, and to most importantly keep the noise down after 10pm.

mobbing yoots better put those crackberries down...,

TechnologyReview | Those involved in the recent rioting and looting in Britain are unlikely to have their identities protected by the BlackBerry Messenger service (BBM), contrary to reports that such data is "untraceable."

While BBM does provide greater privacy than public social-media sites like Twitter and Facebook, British police are still likely to be able to use it to track down those coordinating and participating in the disorder that has taken place over the past four nights. BlackBerry's Canadian manufacturer, Research In Motion (RIM), has refused to answer questions, perhaps because releasing certain information about the degree to which it is cooperating with the authorities could be unlawful.

BlackBerry users can only exchange messages via BBM if they have exchanged their unique PIN codes, which they can do quickly via e-mail, social network, or scanning a QR barcode using a handset's camera. Using BBM is more like sending a text to multiple contacts than posting on a social network.

The network provider's server ceases to be involved once it determines for a user which contacts are logged on and has informed those contacts that the user is available. After that, communications occur directly between users' client software, although BBM messages are routed via RIM's servers.

Media reports have suggested that part of the rioters' and looters' attraction to BBM is its relative security compared to social media or text messaging. However, the widespread use of BBM by teenagers and young adults, including those involved in the violence, is more likely explained by its speed, convenience, and low cost. These attributes have made BlackBerry handsets popular among the age group of those involved in the trouble, accounting for 37 percent of the British teenage market, according to a report released by Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority, last week.

BlackBerry has resisted calls to suspend BBM, and some have speculated that the service provides users with a level of technical protection. "It's like text messaging with steroids," said Mike Butcher, a technology journalist and adviser to London mayor Boris Johnson, on the BBC's radio show Today. "You can send messages to hundreds of people, and once it's gone from your phone, it cannot be traced back to you."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

collective dopaminergic tweaking

Video - flash mob robs 7-11

davidbrin | Please forgive this open letter, offering suggestions in a field outside my own. I'm no biologist, physician or chemist. Still, my background -- usefully exploring a wide range of scientific issues -- may make this seem less impudent. (I have written New York Times best-selling books that include The Transparent Society and The Postman.)1

Will you indulge a query that may prove pertinent to your work?

For years I've followed advances that investigate reinforcement processes in the human brain, especially those involving dopamine and other messenger chemicals that are active in mediating pleasure response. One might call this topic chemically-mediated states of arousal that self-reinforce patterns of behavior.

Of course, what this boils down to -- at one level -- is addiction. But not only in the sense of illegal drug abuse. In very general terms, "addiction" may include desirable things, like bonding with our children and "getting high on life." These good patterns share with drug addiction the property of being reinforced by repeated chemical stimulus, inside the brain.

Now, certainly, knowing that life's wholesome pleasures are chemically reinforced doesn't make love any less sincere, a sunset less beautiful, or even faith in God any less sincere. Indeed, generalizing our study of auto-reinforcement may help us understand how wholesome pleasure works... and perhaps how better to choose which behaviors get reinforced.

Please bear with me. This line of reasoning is going somewhere important. So important that it may bear upon some of society's most pressing problems.

* * * * *
Generalizing the Word "Addiction"

I have long admired those who keep advancing the science of addiction, often uphill against the oversimplifying puritanism of a stale "Drug War"... or else having to overcome naive platitudes at the other end of the political spectrum. Some of the august workers who spared time to talk to me about this topic have included Hans Breiter, Rich Wilcox, Stanley Glick, Jonathan D. Cohen, Alan I. Leshner, Gregory Berns, Dan Ariely, Steven Grant, and Seth Boatwright-Horowitz.

Like the hot topic of Global Warming, this one draws so much political heat that it's a wonder anything can get done at all. And yet, here I am, offering brazen suggestions.

Indeed, I believe the field of addiction may be myopically missing a substantial area of potential research. This area concerns volitionally or habitually self-stimulated secretion -- or, putting it rather crudely, "self-doping."

In other words, the power that individuals have to trigger the release of psychoactive chemicals simply by entering into certain types of consciousness.

I am not talking about mysticism or New Age states of awareness. True, some workers have measured neurochemical effects of meditation and other eastern arts. But this ignores a great many other pleasurable, or semi-pleasurable mental states that require considerably less discipline to access than the meditative plateau. States that are accessible to nearly everyone, every day.

Of course, this overall effect has been known ever since William James wrote Varieties of Religious Experience. But I'd like to suggest strong reasons to study autonomous self-stimulation along new directions that are tangentially related to those already being pursued. For one thing, new research trends - of which you are a part - seem to offer potential hope for getting out of the horrible Drug War.

Suppose that, instead of preaching to substance abusers that they should "get high on life," we could actually train them in self-triggered endorphin/dopamine-releasing methods? Methods the rest of us learn unconsciously in childhood. Better addictions that do not suffer from receptor down-regulating and other problems, such as depression or insatiability.

Beyond obvious implications re: substance abuse, there is another aspect of such research that might benefit society.

* * * * *
Progress in Studying "Self-Addiction"

Of course we know that individuals who are addicted to psychoactive chemicals can often wind up behaving in socially harmful ways while in pursuit of their high. But what of many other compulsively harmful behaviors we see practiced around us. Might some of them have similar roots? What if many irrationally harmful -- even self-defeating -- actions arise from individuals seeking to trigger a self-doped pleasure response?

(It has been said that "insanity is doing the same thing, over and over, while expecting different results." Doesn't that sound like addiction?)

Consider studies of gambling. Researchers led by Dr. Hans Breiter of Massachusetts General Hospital examined with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which brain regions activate when volunteers won games of chance -- regions that overlapped with those responding to cocaine!

"Gambling produces a similar pattern of activity to cocaine in an addict," according to Breiter.

Moving along the spectrum toward activity that we consider more "normal" -- neuroscientists at Harvard have found a striking similarity between the brain-states of people trying to predict financial rewards (e.g., via the stock market) and the brains of cocaine and morphine users.

Along similar lines, researchers at Emory University monitored brain activity while asking staunch party members, from both left and right, to evaluate information that threatened their preferred candidate prior to the 2004 Presidential election. "We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," said Drew Westen, Emory's director of clinical psychology. "Instead, a network of emotion circuits lit up... reaching biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted. Significantly, activity spiked in circuits involved in reward, similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix," Westen explained.

How far can this spectrum be extended? All the way into realms of behavior -- and mental states -- that we label as wholesome? Rich Wilcox of the University of Texas says: "Recovery process in addiction is based to a great extent on cognitively mediated changes in brain chemistry of the frontal/prefrontal cortex system. Furthermore... there is even a surprising amount of literature cited in PubMed suggesting that prayer also induces substantial changes in brain chemistry."

Clearly this spectrum of "addiction" includes reinforcement of behaviors that are utterly beneficial and that have important value to us, e.g., love of our children. I get a jolt every time I smell my kids' hair, for instance. The "Aw!" that many people give when then see a baby smile is accompanied by skin flushes and iris dilation, reflecting physiological pleasure. Similar jolts come to people (variously) from music, sex, exercise and the application of skill.

Although a lot of recent research has danced along the edges of this area, I find that the core topic appears to have been rather neglected. I'm talking about the way that countless millions of humans either habitually or volitionally pursue druglike reinforcement cycles -- either for pleasure or through cycles of withdrawal and insatiability that mimic addiction -- purely as a function of entering an addictive frame of mind.

For a majority, indeed, this process goes un-noticed because there is no pathology! Reiterating; it is simply "getting high on life." Happy or at least content people who lead decent lives partake in these wholesome addictive cycles that have escaped much attention from researchers simply because these cycles operate at the highest levels of human functionality. (It is easy to verify that there is something true, underlying the phrase "addicted to love.")

This wholesomeness should no longer mask or exclude such powerfully effective mental states from scientific scrutiny. For example, we might learn more about the role of oxytocin in preventing the down-regulating or tolerance effects that exacerbate drug addiction. Does this moderating effect provide the more wholesome, internally-generated "addictions" with their long-lasting power?

Even more attractive would be to shine light on patterns of volitional or habitual addictive mentation that are NOT helpful or functional or desirable.

Gambling has already been mentioned. Rage is obviously another of these harmful patterns, that clearly have a chemical-reinforcement component. Many angry people report deriving addictive pleasure from fury, and this is one reason why they return to the state, again and again. Thrill-seeking can also be like this, when it follows a pathology of down-regulating satiability. Ernst Fehr, Brian Knutson, and John Hibbing have written about the pleasure-reinforcement of revenge, that Hollywood films tap incessantly in plot lines that give audiences a vicarious thrill of Payback against villains-who-deserve-it.