Monday ReadsPosted: July 8, 2013
I’ve been trying to find some things other than politics to post about since I have to admit to being very depressed about the state of affairs right now. I really think there is little hope for many of us in the reddish states because the religious right is just going nuts! I’m hoping more people start taking to the street over the situations in Ohio, North Carolina, and Texas. That is just the start. We’re very unhappy with our governor here in Louisiana but that’s not doing much in the way of making him listen to the people. He is too busy looking out for his political interests.
So, here’s a few things to think about.
There has been a lot of evidence about the benefits of meditation. I’ve meditated for a very long time and I can attest to the results that I’ve experienced. Here’s some information from an experiment that finds that meditating is associated with compassion and empathy. These are certainly two very Buddhist outcomes.
We recruited 39 people from the Boston area who were willing to take part in an eight-week course on meditation (and who had never taken any such course before). We then randomly assigned 20 of them to take part in weekly meditation classes, which also required them to practice at home using guided recordings. The remaining 19 were told that they had been placed on a waiting list for a future course.
After the eight-week period of instruction, we invited the participants to the lab for an experiment that purported to examine their memory, attention and related cognitive abilities. But as you might anticipate, what actually interested us was whether those who had been meditating would exhibit greater compassion in the face of suffering. To find out, we staged a situation designed to test the participants’ behavior before they were aware that the experiment had begun.
WHEN a participant entered the waiting area for our lab, he (or she) found three chairs, two of which were already occupied. Naturally, he sat in the remaining chair. As he waited, a fourth person, using crutches and wearing a boot for a broken foot, entered the room and audibly sighed in pain as she leaned uncomfortably against a wall. The other two people in the room — who, like the woman on crutches, secretly worked for us — ignored the woman, thus confronting the participant with a moral quandary. Would he act compassionately, giving up his chair for her, or selfishly ignore her plight?
The results were striking. Although only 16 percent of the nonmeditators gave up their seats — an admittedly disheartening fact — the proportion rose to 50 percent among those who had meditated. This increase is impressive not solely because it occurred after only eight weeks of meditation, but also because it did so within the context of a situation known to inhibit considerate behavior: witnessing others ignoring a person in distress — what psychologists call the bystander effect — reduces the odds that any single individual will help. Nonetheless, the meditation increased the compassionate response threefold.
Although we don’t yet know why meditation has this effect, one of two explanations seems likely. The first rests on meditation’s documented ability to enhance attention, which might in turn increase the odds of noticing someone in pain (as opposed to being lost in one’s own thoughts). My favored explanation, though, derives from a different aspect of meditation: its ability to foster a view that all beings are interconnected. The psychologist Piercarlo Valdesolo and I have found that any marker of affiliation between two people, even something as subtle as tapping their hands together in synchrony, causes them to feel more compassion for each other when distressed. The increased compassion of meditators, then, might stem directly from meditation’s ability to dissolve the artificial social distinctions — ethnicity, religion, ideology and the like — that divide us.
Noam Chomsky says that we need a global movement to save the global commons. That would be the air we breathe, the oceans, the planet itself and all things that are being subjected to destruction by the profit motive of a few.
The blurring of borders and these challenges to the legitimacy of states bring to the fore serious questions about who owns the Earth. Who owns the global atmosphere being polluted by the heat-trapping gases that have just passed an especially perilous threshold, as we learned in May?
Or to adopt the phrase used by indigenous people throughout much of the world, Who will defend the Earth? Who will uphold the rights of nature? Who will adopt the role of steward of the commons, our collective possession?
That the Earth now desperately needs defense from impending environmental catastrophe is surely obvious to any rational and literate person. The different reactions to the crisis are a most remarkable feature of current history.
At the forefront of the defense of nature are those often called “primitive”: members of indigenous and tribal groups, like the First Nations in Canada or the Aborigines in Australia – the remnants of peoples who have survived the imperial onslaught. At the forefront of the assault on nature are those who call themselves the most advanced and civilized: the richest and most powerful nations.
The struggle to defend the commons takes many forms. In microcosm, it is taking place right now in Turkey’s Taksim Square, where brave men and women are protecting one of the last remnants of the commons of Istanbul from the wrecking ball of commercialization and gentrification and autocratic rule that is destroying this ancient treasure.
We have heard about all kinds of abuse of prisoners in the United States. Most of the egregious examples have come from a few generations ago. Or have they? This is another nightmare story about private “contractors” and government.
Doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.
At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years – and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.
From 1997 to 2010, the state paid doctors $147,460 to perform the procedure, according to a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners.
The women were signed up for the surgery while they were pregnant and housed at either the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which is now a men’s prison.
Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.
Crystal Nguyen, a former Valley State Prison inmate who worked in the prison’s infirmary during 2007, said she often overheard medical staff asking inmates who had served multiple prison terms to agree to be sterilized.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not right,’ ” said Nguyen, 28. “Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”
The chief judge of America’s most powerful secret court is a 64-year old man who has said his path toward the law began in part when he was stopped by police in the early 1960s simply for being black, and who once said he became a lawyer to “make an impact on the quality of life for people of color in this country.”
Reggie Walton is the Presiding Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose 11 members are appointed directly by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Revelations of broad spying by the National Security Agency have drawn unusual attention to the Court, which the New York Times reported Sunday “has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data.”
Walton has not spoken publicly about his role, and did not respond to an inquiry from BuzzFeed: People who know him spoke largely on the condition of anonymity. But in little-read interviews and in decisions, footnotes, and statements from the bench, Walton has offered clues at a worldview whose contours mirror the growing public comfort with an expansive role for law enforcement in Americans’ lives. A judge who one former clerk described as “fair but harsh” in his sentences, he has shown a liberal streak on social policy from incarceration to drug crime, but has been dismissive of questions about the limits of executive power.
A 1993 interview with author Linn Washington paints a picture of a man who views the law and government as having a sweeping role in creating “social change.”
As a district court judge in Washington, DC, Walton has been a part of some of the most high profile cases in recent history, including the Roger Clemens steroid case and the leak case against Scooter Libby — an experience that left a mark on the former Democrat.
“I saw how mean-spirited people can be,” he told George Vecsey in 2011, complaining that “the liberal establishment” attacked him “because I am a Bush appointee and a registered Republican.” (Walton hasn’t spoken publicly about his political conversion; he said in the 1993 interview that he was a Republican when President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, a federal seat, in 1981.)
Genetic Evidence and analysis continues to amaze me with findings on links to our distant relatives. Here’s some of the latest work done on Native Americans. (Yes, it involves grave yards!!!)
Ancient people who lived in in Northern America about 5,000 years ago have living descendants today, new research suggests.
Researchers reached that conclusion after comparing DNA from both fossil remains found on the northern coast of British Columbia, Canada, and from living people who belong to several First Nations tribes in the area.
The new results, published today (July 3) in the journal PLOS ONE, are consistent with nearby archaeological evidence suggesting a fairly continuous occupation of the region for the last 5,000 years.
So, that is a little this and that for your Monday! What’s on your reading and blogging list today?