Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Sunday Potpourri: Meditation Edition

Absolutely the greatest movie review of all time:
Michael Bay Finally Made An Art Movie
Critical consensus on Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen is overwhelmingly negative. But the critics are wrong. Michael Bay used a squillion dollars and a hundred supercomputers' worth of CG for a brilliant art movie about the illusory nature of plot. . . .
Atrios: Quality Wingnuttery
Truly a thing of beauty, a masterpiece which brings tears to my eyes.
  • Kos: Saturday hate mail-apalooza
    Not a bad week, but this stuff starts getting repetitive after a while. But there was one piece of hate mail so brilliant, I almost wept at its beauty. So I decided it deserved the day to itself and a poll. Check it out below the fold. . . .
Think Progress: Boehner: American Clean Energy and Security Act is a ‘pile of sh*t.’
On Friday, the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act which will, in part, regulate carbon emissions in the U.S. House Minority Leader John Beohner, a vocal critic of the legislation, delayed Friday evening’s vote for nearly an hour by taking advantage his “privilege as leader to speak for an unlimited time on the House floor.” After the House finally voted on and passed the legislation, the Hill asked Boehner to comment on what he had hoped to gain through his “filibuster-like” delay. “Hey, people deserve to know what’s in this pile of sh*t,” Boehner replied.
SGW: Well Played Sir!
It has been exceedingly irritating to watch people who make fun of Sarah Palin end up apologizing to her after she throws a snit fit. I was really hoping that Dave Letterman was going to tell her to get bent and take her faux outrage and shove it where the sun don't shine.

Sadly some how some way Letterman was forced to apologize....twice no less.

So I was very interested to see how the latest bullshit bruhaha would go after Senator John Kerry said last week that he wished it had been Sarah Palin that went missing rather than Mark Sanford.

And predictibly Palin's The Petty did not dissappoint.

Obviously that meant a moment of truth. Would Senator Kerry stand his ground or would he end up grovellig like all the rest?

I will show you better than I can tell you:
Kerry's spokeswoman now tells The Sleuth the senator really didn't mean what he said, though his clarification would hardly qualify as an apology.

"We stand corrected, the truth is every Democrat hopes Governor Palin is in the public eye for a long, long time, especially on the 2012 presidential ballot," Kerry spokeswoman Jodi Seth says. "Lately it's been Vice President Cheney that everyone hopes would lose the cameras and go for a long leisurely hike on the Appalachian Trail. And good grief, if anyone thinks John Kerry is afraid of strong, smart women, they sure haven't met his brilliant wife and two independent daughters. It sounds like getting crushed these last two election cycles cost some of these Republicans their sense of humor."
That did my heart some good by God!
Sudbay: Roy Blunt (R-MO) and the curious case of the coverup of his extramarital affair with a lobbyist who is now his wife
Via FiredUp Missouri, we get to add Missouri GOP Congressman/Senate candidate Roy Blunt's affair to the drama swirling around Mark Sanford's affair. That's because someone tried to scrub Blunt's affair.

But, just because a newspaper removes the reference to a Republican Congressman's affair with a lobbyist, who he subsequently married, did the affair not happen? Of course it still happened. The better question is why did the Examiner see fit to remove the reference to Roy Blunt's affair in an article about how Mark Sanford's affair affected Republicans in Congress.

Here's what it said initially:
Rep. Roy Blunt, the former House Majority Leader who is now a GOP candidate for Governor in Missouri, is no stranger to scandal, having gone through an affair, a public divorce and remarriage under the scrutiny of the press.
Here's photographic proof:

Here's what the article says now:
Rep. Roy Blunt, the former House Majority Leader who is now a GOP candidate for Senate in Missouri, is no stranger to scandal, having gone through a public divorce and remarriage under the scrutiny of the press.

"This can be a distraction," Blunt said of the Ensign and Sanford scandals. "But I think the issues are big enough that they will quickly overcome the distraction."
Now, there was an obvious error in the original report. Blunt is running for Senate, not Governor. That got corrected. The affair part, however, wasn't wrong and certainly was relevant. Media Matters picked up this story, too:
So, why was the story changed when it is demonstrably true that Blunt did have an affair with a tobacco lobbyist who would go on to become his current wife?
Why indeed?
When it comes to political commentary and analysis, it's easy to make certain assumptions about the perspective of the writer/speaker. It's a lazy habit that many of us make, and I include myself in this. If a prominent political media voice was critical of Bush/Cheney, one assumes he/she is on the left. Those who go after Obama must be on the right.

But it's worth remembering that these are just assumptions, and they're often wrong. This came to mind the other day when the Washington Post's Andy Alexander addressed Dan Froomkin's departure.

[The paper's decision was] not about ideology. My original Omblog post quoted Hiatt as saying Froomkin's "political orientation was not a factor in our decision." In my discussions with Froomkin, he has not cited ideology as the primary reason. And several veteran Post reporters have dismissed that as the cause. In an online chat this week, Post Pulitzer-winning columnist Gene Weingarten, who expressed "respect" for Froomkin and regret that White House Watch was ending, said: "I don't know why Froomkin's column was dropped, but I can tell you that the diabolical conspiracy talk is nuts. Froomkin wasn't dropped because he is too liberal; things just don't work that way at the Post."

I'm not in a position to say whether ideology played a role here or not. The Post insists the decision had nothing to do with politics -- DougJ has a compelling item with healthy skepticism -- and for all I know, the paper's line may very well be true.

But I'm still struggling with the premise. Dan Froomkin had an "ideology"?

The official response from the Post emphasized the idea that Froomkin's ouster had nothing to do with him being "too liberal." OK, but how do we know he was a liberal at all?

It gets back to this problem about ideological inferences. Froomkin wrote, extensively and eloquently, about Bush administration wrongdoing. He called out the Bush White House on its disastrous policy in Iraq, its torture policies, its abuses of power, its secrecy, and its lies.

It's assumed, then, that Froomkin must be left of center. But that's, at best, speculative and unfounded -- can't a conservative also find fault in the Bush White House's failures, abuses, and crimes? Why can't political observers in the media be able to call it the way they see it, without being pigeonholed into one group or another?

It's only been five months since President Obama took office, but Froomkin has been plenty critical of the president since January. Hell, for all I know, conservatives would have ended up loving Froomkin for his efforts to hold this Democratic White House accountable for its errors. Regrettably, we'll never know.

Put it this way: if the president, any president, lies about something important, it's a lie no matter what the ideology is of the person who hears it. Froomkin was considered some kind of ideologue because he had the audacity to a) notice White House wrongdoing; and b) use a media platform to write about it.

By that reasoning, we could use a lot more ideologues in media.

  • DougJ adds:

    ... I still don’t think it’s quite right. Imagine if the Post employed a blogger seen as conservative who had written a respected, substantive (whether one agreed or not) blog/column that was critical of a Democratic president and coverage of the president.

    Is there any way on earth that blogger/columnist would have been fired? Of course not.

    Froomkin wasn’t fired for being liberal. But he would not have been fired had he been conservative.

    Papers like the Post are deathly afraid of being accused of “liberal bias”. And they make a lot of decisions accordingly. This is one example. The bizarre defense of George Will’s global warming claims is another. (Can you imagine such a defense being mounted on behalf of a liberal columnist making liberal claims? Of course not.)

    Andy Alexander’s willful naivete about this issue is not surprising, but neither is it constructive.

    Update. Michael Calderone makes some interesting points about the Froomking firing:

    Interestingly, before management decided to finally pull the plug, editors chose to spike a few Froomkin columns because they fell more on Howie Kurtz’s turf.

    It’s strange that a White House columnist — especially one with a unique audience — would be discouraged from writing on the WH press corps. Not to mention, it’s not so out of the ordinary to cross over the two beats: Indeed, Post White House correspondent Michael Shear has a media-related item up today.

    And here’s some more from Eric Wemple (who has a lengthy piece on this that is well worth reading):

    Froomkin and his editors clicked from the homepage onto other portals of conflict. Media criticism was a good one: The columnist considered commenting on how the media were portraying the White House a significant part of his job; his editors felt otherwise. “They told me they didn’t want me to do media criticism. I could never quite figure out how I could avoid it,” says Froomkin. The friction produced a series of spiked Froomkin columns, which generally got published on the Nieman Watchdog blog, including the columnist’s takedown of the White House Correspondents Association Dinner.

Joe Klein (Swampland): Hamas Wants to Talk

Glenn Greenwald, toying with the Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb, points out that the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is a triumph of diplomacy. It should be something more than that, though: the beginning of a negotiation. Releasing Shalit is a gesture by Hamas that clearly demands an Israeli response--opening the checkpoints into Gaza for construction equipment and materials, so the Gazans can start rebuilding their homes, would be a start.

It seems clear now--as it did to me three weeks ago when I interviewed Khaled Meshaal--that Hamas is ready to negotiate with both Fatah and the Israelis. It isn't holding many cards. Recognition of Israel's right to exist is one. Recognition of previous treaties is another. Those will only be ceded when Israel begins to make concessions of its own. If the Netanyahu government actually wants peace--if it actually wants to give up the West Bank in return for a guaranteed future--now's the time to begin.

The fact that Syria is playing a helpful role in these negotiations also should be noted. Indeed, if Syria is willing to play ball--and Hamas, too--and a full-blown middle east peace process can get started, Iran's Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime will be even more isolated in the region. These things tend to move slowly--but the only people who don't want seem to want to talk these days are the Likudnik Israelis, Ahmadineocon Iranians and the U.S. other words, the extreme right-wing factions in their respective countries. Strange bedfellows, one might say, except they aren't.

  • From the comments: stuartzechman Says:

    Joe Klein:
    Well done referencing the arguments of the eminently sane and reasonable Greenwald.
    It's heartening to witness the intellectual honesty on your part that allows you to move beyond the heated civil liberties disputes between the two of you.

ScienceDaily (May 13, 2009): Meditation May Increase Gray Matter
Push-ups, crunches, gyms, personal trainers — people have many strategies for building bigger muscles and stronger bones. But what can one do to build a bigger brain?


That's the finding from a group of researchers at UCLA who used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of people who meditate. In a study published in the journal NeuroImage and currently available online (by subscription), the researchers report that certain regions in the brains of long-term meditators were larger than in a similar control group.

Specifically, meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the hippocampus and areas within the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal gyrus — all regions known for regulating emotions.

"We know that people who consistently meditate have a singular ability to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability and engage in mindful behavior," said Eileen Luders, lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. "The observed differences in brain anatomy might give us a clue why meditators have these exceptional abilities."

Research has confirmed the beneficial aspects of meditation. In addition to having better focus and control over their emotions, many people who meditate regularly have reduced levels of stress and bolstered immune systems. But less is known about the link between meditation and brain structure.

In the study, Luders and her colleagues examined 44 people — 22 control subjects and 22 who had practiced various forms of meditation, including Zazen, Samatha and Vipassana, among others. The amount of time they had practiced ranged from five to 46 years, with an average of 24 years.

More than half of all the meditators said that deep concentration was an essential part of their practice, and most meditated between 10 and 90 minutes every day.

The researchers used a high-resolution, three-dimensional form of MRI and two different approaches to measure differences in brain structure. One approach automatically divides the brain into several regions of interest, allowing researchers to compare the size of certain brain structures. The other segments the brain into different tissue types, allowing researchers to compare the amount of gray matter within specific regions of the brain.

The researchers found significantly larger cerebral measurements in meditators compared with controls, including larger volumes of the right hippocampus and increased gray matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex, the right thalamus and the left inferior temporal lobe. There were no regions where controls had significantly larger volumes or more gray matter than meditators.

Because these areas of the brain are closely linked to emotion, Luders said, "these might be the neuronal underpinnings that give meditators' the outstanding ability to regulate their emotions and allow for well-adjusted responses to whatever life throws their way."

What's not known, she said, and will require further study, are what the specific correlates are on a microscopic level — that is, whether it's an increased number of neurons, the larger size of the neurons or a particular "wiring" pattern meditators may develop that other people don't.

Because this was not a longitudinal study — which would have tracked meditators from the time they began meditating onward — it's possible that the meditators already had more regional gray matter and volume in specific areas; that may have attracted them to meditation in the first place, Luders said.

However, she also noted that numerous previous studies have pointed to the brain's remarkable plasticity and how environmental enrichment has been shown to change brain structure.

Other authors of the study included Arthur Toga, director of UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging; Natasha Lepore of UCLA; and Christian Gaser of the University of Jena in Germany. Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health. The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Adapted from materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles.

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