Sunday, September 21, 2014

Brain chemistry as a determinant of mood

All the happiness research concludes that happiness is dispositional:  No matter what happens to us, we return after a while to our genetically pre-set level of happiness.  And happiness is also a strong differentiator of liberals and conservatives.  So liberals are born unhappy, which is why they are always wanting to change things in the futile search for a system that they will be happier with.  The research reported below is concerned with a closely related topic, pessimism/optimism so we may be getting closer to seeing exactly what makes liberals the angry and irrational creatures they are

If you find it hard to look on the bright side and your glass is half-empty rather than half-full, blame your lateral habenula.

Scientists say chemicals in this small part of the brain are crucial to feelings of disappointment. If the chemistry is right, we may find it easier to brush off the bad times.  But if it is out of balance, we may feel set-backs more keenly.

Researcher Roberto Malinow said: ‘The idea that some people see the world as a glass half-empty has a chemical basis in the brain.’

To work out why some people find it hard to be optimistic, the professor looked at the chemistry of a lateral habenula, a tiny area deep inside the brain.

Studies on monkeys have shown the lateral habenula becomes very active when the creatures are denied a fruit juice they are expecting.

In experiments on rats and mice, Professor Malinow showed the balance of two brain chemicals in the region to be key.

One, called glutamate, ramps up activity in the area, while the other, GABA, dampens it down.

Rats with depression made less GABA than others. But when they were given an anti-depressant, levels increased.

It is thought pessimists naturally make less GABA. This would make them feel knock-backs more deeply – and so expect bad things to happen more often.

The finding suggests making enough GABA is crucial to dealing with disappointment.

Professor Malinow, of the University of California, San Diego, said: ‘What we have found is a process that may dampen the brain’s sensitivity to negative life events.’

His research, published in the journal Science, doesn’t just help explain why some people are more pessimistic than others – it could also help in the search for new treatments for depression.



Losing the Half-Century War on Poverty

We were only a few short years into the War on Terror when the Left demanded we pull the plug because of a lack of results. Yet 50 years into the War on Poverty declared by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, we’ve spent an estimated $22 trillion trying to alleviate poverty with little to show for it.

One in seven Americans still live in poverty, roughly the same rate as when the policies began to take effect in the late 1960s. The 2013 poverty rate of 14.5% was the first decline in the year-over-year rate since 2006, as the 2012 rate was 15%. But even during flush economic times, we’ve never driven the poverty rate below 10%.

Despite the stagnation in the poverty rate, the changes wrought by Johnson’s “Great Society” have manifested themselves in a number of societal ills that were uncommon five decades ago. Many of those stem from an out-of-wedlock birthrate that has skyrocketed from single-digits in 1964 to over 40% today. With the marriage rate in steep decline, we could call it the era of the “baby daddy” – despite recent U.S. Census reports indicating a female-headed single-parent family is five times more likely to be poor than a married-couple one. Marriage really does matter.

On the other hand, to be poor in this day and age carries with it a number of advantages even middle-class families could only dream of a generation or two ago. Contrary to popular perception, the average poverty-level family likely has a car (and perhaps two) as well as their own place to live, whether a single-family home or apartment – less than one in 10 live in a mobile home or trailer. Just 4% of those considered poor are homeless at some point during a calendar year, according to Census Bureau statistics. (The Heritage Foundation has done an outstanding study detailing these and other facts about our poor.)

The dirty little secret about America’s “poor” is that most of the dozens of means-tested government programs aren’t considered income for recipients. If these programs were given an income equivalent, only a tiny percentage of the 45.3 million Americans who fall below the poverty line would be considered poor and the perceived need for these programs would decrease. Last year the Cato Institute put out a controversial study claiming that welfare programs in many states paid more than minimum wage jobs, providing a disincentive to work but a tremendous incentive to vote in such a way as to assure the gravy train will continue to roll. The more people who are touched by government assistance, the easier it is for politicians distributing the “help” to maintain power. As the saying goes, those who rob Peter to pay Paul can always count on the vote of Paul.

In short, the Great Society has created the great dependent underclass, a massive voting bloc that is now beholden to statists. No longer do we hear of the generation too proud to accept “relief” from the government. And no longer do we subject our dependent class to the humiliation of cashing welfare checks or counting out food stamps – now it’s as easy as swiping a credit card, only with no payment due. Meanwhile, those from the faith-based community who used to provide for society’s less fortunate by providing a hand up rather than a handout are more and more shut out of the process.

The stated intention of the Great Society was to simply provide the tools to bring people out of poverty – they still had to do the work. But work is hard and handouts are easy, and that simple truism has brought us to the unsustainable situation we’re in today, with no end in sight unless radical change comes from the very government that has become the vote-gathering provider to so many. It won’t be under this regime, of course, as Barack Obama has put us on a path to throw another $13 trillion at the problem over the next fruitless decade.



Bobby Jindal Sets Up 2016 Presidential Bid

Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal released a comprehensive energy plan this week that he believes will put America on the road to energy independence while reinvigorating the economy and reducing government interference. It also serves to set him apart from other prospective 2016 GOP presidential candidates.

This 48-page policy vision covers six major areas of the energy debate, and also spends a fair amount of ink criticizing the Obama administration and its leftist cadres who would love nothing better than to create scarce resources and higher prices.

The plan, released by Jindal’s nonprofit policy group “America Next” and co-written by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), calls for promoting responsible development of domestic energy resources and building an infrastructure to transport it. This means supporting oil and natural gas exploration and refining, going forward with the Keystone XL pipeline, and embracing clean coal and nuclear power as the viable energy sources that they can be.

Jindal’s plan also examines the negative impact government regulation is having on the energy industry, and proposes eliminating the most burdensome and redundant restrictions that keep the energy industry from growing. He wades into the debate over renewable energy, recognizing that there is great potential for jobs and fresh energy sources. He believes the government should encourage technological innovation, but he points out that the crony capitalism of the Obama administration has created a rigged game where ineffective companies like Solyndra get pumped up with taxpayer dollars and then fail miserably.

The proposal emphasizes how a clear energy strategy can guide America to a stable future. More jobs and cheaper energy in the long term will be an obvious boost to the economy. Energy independence will make the nation safer and less reliant on foreign sources, many of which are in the hands of America’s enemies.

Jindal faults the Obama administration and the environmental lobby for deliberately creating a situation where energy is more expensive and consumers pay more for it. Environmentalists always turn against forms of energy as soon as they become widespread and inexpensive. Leftists love it when natural gas was expensive, he said, but “as soon as it became affordable, all of the sudden they decided they didn’t like it so much.”

This is because, as Jindal explains, scarcer, more expensive energy gives the government a foothold on greater control of the economy. Energy scarcity is a myth; there is more than enough natural gas, oil and coal under our feet in this country alone to power this nation at current levels of consumption for decades, if not centuries. But Obama would have us believe that we are approaching crisis levels, thereby creating an excuse for greater regulation, when then artificially raises prices. In effect, he’s arbitrarily deciding which companies win and lose in the marketplace.

Jindal’s energy policy is not without its controversies. Calling for the phasing out of ethanol and lifting the ban on oil exports, though reasonable, will create arguments within GOP circles. But he is stirring the debate, much like he did with the release of his health care proposal in April. In the coming months he will be releasing similar policy plans on education, defense and jobs.

These policy prescriptions together make for an interesting presidential platform. Jindal says he hasn’t decided whether he will run, but none of the likely candidates have made formal announcements yet. That won’t happen until after the dust from the midterms settles. Jindal does have a name recognition problem; few people in the general electorate know much about him.

On the plus side, Jindal has been vocal about the problems of the Obama administration. More importantly, at each step, he has offered alternatives to the statist policies wrecking our country. Anyone who can do that deserves to be heard.



The Jihadi Logic

What was the Islamic State thinking? We know it is sophisticated in its use of modern media. But what was the logic of propagating to the world videos of its beheadings of two Americans (and subsequently a Briton) – sure to inflame public opinion?

There are two possible explanations. One is that these terrorists are more depraved and less savvy than we think. They so glory in blood that they could not resist making an international spectacle of their savagery and did not quite fathom how such a brazen, contemptuous slaughter of Americans would radically alter public opinion and risk bringing down upon them the furies of the U.S. Air Force.

The second theory is that they were fully aware of the inevitable consequence of their broadcast beheadings – and they intended the outcome. It was an easily sprung trap to provoke America into entering the Mesopotamian war.


Because they’re sure we will lose. Not immediately and not militarily. They know we always win the battles but they are convinced that, as war drags on, we lose heart and go home.

They count on Barack Obama quitting the Iraq/Syria campaign just as he quit Iraq and Libya in 2011 and is in the process of leaving Afghanistan now. And this goes beyond Obama. They see a post-9/11 pattern: America experiences shock and outrage and demands action. Then, seeing no quick resolution, it tires and seeks out leaders who will order the retreat. In Obama, they found the quintessential such leader.

As for the short run, the Islamic State knows it will be pounded from the air. But it deems that price worth paying, given its gains in propaganda and prestige – translated into renown and recruiting – from these public executions.

Understanding this requires adjusting our thinking. A common mantra is that American cruelty – Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, “torture,” the Iraq War itself – is the great jihadist recruiting tool. But leaving Iraq, closing Abu Ghraib and prohibiting “enhanced interrogation” had zero effect on recruiting. In fact, jihadi cadres from Mali to Mosul have only swelled during Obama’s outstretched-hand presidency.

Turns out the Islamic State’s best recruiting tool is indeed savagery – its own. Deliberate, defiant, triumphant. The beheadings are not just a magnet for psychopaths around the world. They are choreographed demonstrations of its own unbounded determination and of American helplessness. In Osama bin Laden’s famous formulation, who is the “strong horse” now?

We tend to forget that at this stage in its career, the Islamic State’s principal fight is intramural. It seeks to supersede and supplant its jihadi rivals – from al-Qaeda in Pakistan to Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria – to emerge as champion of the one true jihad.

The strategy is simple: Draw in the world’s great superpower, create the ultimate foil and thus instantly achieve supreme stature in radical Islam as America’s nemesis.

It worked. A year ago, the world had never heard of this group, then named ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Now it is the subject of presidential addresses, parliamentary debates and international conferences. It is the new al-Qaeda, which itself has been demoted to JV.



TSA Demands to Search Man AFTER Plane Lands. He Filmed His Response

More boneheaded bureaucracy

Kahler Nygard, 22, of Minnesota was called off a plane by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) when it landed in Colorado earlier this month. He filmed his unsettling encounter with the agency.

"I'm the only one walking off the plane," Nygard states in the first video he posted on Youtube six days ago. "They let me fly all the way to Denver. Everyone's wondering what's going on with me," he says as heads turn toward him. "No, I have not committed a crime."

His plane tickets, like those of about 14,000 other individuals, are apparently marked by the TSA "SSSS" for Secondary Security Screening Selection. That means he gets to go through all those extra pat-downs every time he wants to travel through the air for unknown reasons based on hazy criteria.

His second video has all the creepy action. Once he gets off the plane, a TSA agent named Andrew Grossman claims the screening of Nygard was "not completed" in Minnesota, so they need to re-examine "his body and his bags" now. The agent calls Nygard "pretty objectionable" for filming the encounter, demands to see his boarding pass, and threatens to call Denver police on him for not complying.

Regarding the boarding pass, Nygard responds "I misplaced it." This seems to stump Grossman, as do Nygard's many valid questions. He repeatedly asks if he's being detained, and gets a different, mushy answer each time. He asks why he needs to be screened after a flight since he traveled safely from one location to the other, and the agent says, "I'm not going to argue with you." He asks under which statute or law he's being detained, and the agent replies, "I'm following my orders."

He walked out of the airport despite the agent's demands, and according to NBC, "Nygard says he flew back to Minneapolis [last] Thursday. Besides another pat-down, he says there were no issues." He wasn't arrested as the agent threatened, but the TSA says it "is investigating the case."



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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