Reality TV + cosmetic surgery = same gullible market

Teenage years have long been linked with a heightened concern with appearance. Some reality TV shows take full advantage and tout happiness as just a nip/tuck away. A Rutgers–Camden psychologist has found that teens fond of these kinds of programs are more likely to join the millions who go under the knife each year. For bodies – and minds – still in development, these drastic decisions could have implications way after prom…

“When we think of cosmetic surgery, we don’t think of it as a lifetime issue. There is lots of pressure to look a certain way and I don’t blame them for succumbing; we’re all guilty of feeling vulnerable. But what young men and women think of their bodies now will culminate over time and contribute to their overall health,” notes the Rutgers–Camden psychologist. “What troubles me is that there’s no conclusive data that cosmetic surgery even makes people happier, what has been documented is that it makes repeat customers…”

As the Rutgers–Camden researcher suspected, women were more likely to want cosmetic surgery than men and viewers of the cosmetic surgery show were more inclined to consider the procedure for themselves than those who didn’t tune in. What still shocks Markey are the handwritten responses to the cosmetic surgery show, including comments like “inspirational” and “I saw an unhappy girl get her dreams.”

This saddens Markey because outward appearance seems to be the sole avenue to self satisfaction and this road, she believes, is circular. “If plastic surgery makes you feel better about yourself, then why do you keep getting it done?” she asks. “This mindset is very similar to that of an anorexic wanting to lose just five more pounds…”

Conformity for the sake of “fitting in” is mind-numbing enough. Conformity to external lookalike socialbots with no sense of individual decision or understanding – only results in imitations of marionettes.

Golems made to look and act like cartoon characters. Not even real human beings.

Free Speech becomes less than a right for professional patriots

Ralph D. Fertig, a 79-year-old civil rights lawyer, says he would like to help a militant Kurdish group in Turkey find peaceful ways to achieve its goals. But he fears prosecution under a law banning even benign assistance to groups said to engage in terrorism.

The Supreme Court will soon hear Mr. Fertig’s challenge to the law, in a case that pits First Amendment freedoms against the government’s efforts to combat terrorism. The case represents the court’s first encounter with the free speech and association rights of American citizens in the context of terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks — and its first chance to test the constitutionality of a provision of the USA Patriot Act.

Opponents of the law, which bans providing “material support” to terrorist organizations, say it violates American values in ways that would have made Senator Joseph R. McCarthy blush during the witch hunts of the cold war.

The government defends the law, under which it has secured many of its terrorism convictions in the last decade, as an important tool that takes account of the slippery nature of the nation’s modern enemies.

The law takes a comprehensive approach to its ban on aid to terrorist groups, prohibiting not only providing cash, weapons and the like but also four more ambiguous sorts of help — “training,” “personnel,” “expert advice or assistance” and “service…”

Douglas N. Letter, a Justice Department lawyer, said in a 2007 appeals court argument in the case…it would be a crime for a lawyer to file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a designated organization in Mr. Fertig’s case or “to be assisting terrorist organizations in making presentations to the U.N., to television, to a newspaper.”

Speech, the Press, thought must all be evaluated according to some sacrosanct standard of patriotism before it is to be “free” in the home of the unbrave. These are the same sort of rules a small band of rebels opposed in 1775. And won.

Now, we have politicians in Congress and the White House who fear defending those same rights. Cowards all.

Most predictably, looking around the blogosphere, today – rightwing nutballs, religious reactionaries, all are pissed off about the Times covering Fertig’s defense of the Bill of Rights. They have become so sucked up by their fear of terrorists, their usual blather about liberty has been completely cast off.

Study finds cognition in some vegetative patients

Patient answers five yes-or-no questions using his mind

Some people thought to be in a vegetative state–a persistent lack of awareness following brain injury–may be more aware than previously thought, even able to communicate, according to new research… published today in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

In 2006, Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at the Medical Research Council (MRC) in Cambridge, England, and colleagues published a startling discovery. Functional magnetic resonance imaging, an indirect measure of brain activity, revealed that a patient who showed no outward signs of awareness several months after a car accident could mentally respond to a complex series of commands in much the same way a healthy person could….

In the current study, patients diagnosed as either vegetative or minimally conscious were asked to either imagine playing tennis–a motor task–or to imagine walking through the streets of a familiar city or their home–a spatial task. In healthy people, each of these tasks activates a characteristic part of the brain, allowing scientists to determine just from the brain scan which of the two situations the person is visualizing. The task is also cognitively complex: the patient must comprehend the command, remember it during the test, and then carry out the visualization.

The researchers found that five of 54 patients presumed to be in a vegetative state were able to willfully control their brain activity…

The team went on to show that in one patient, a 22-year-old man who had been diagnosed as vegetative after a car accident five years prior, this imagery task could be used to communicate. The patient was instructed to imagine playing tennis if the answer to a question was yes, and to imagine his house if the answer was no. He was able to answer five of six questions, and answered them all correctly. Scientists did not know the answer to the questions prior to the test, confirming them later with the patient’s mother. For the last question, rather than giving an incorrect answer, he showed no brain activity at all. Researchers say he might have fallen asleep, lapsed out of consciousness, or chosen not to answer.

Not startling, to me, but riveting, yes. It should prove so to all but those medical personnel whose curiosity ends with receipt of payment.

How the city hurts your brain

The city has always been an engine of intellectual life, from the 18th-century coffeehouses of London, where citizens gathered to discuss chemistry and radical politics, to the Left Bank bars of modern Paris, where Pablo Picasso held forth on modern art. Without the metropolis, we might not have had the great art of Shakespeare or James Joyce; even Einstein was inspired by commuter trains.

And yet, city life isn’t easy. The same London cafes that stimulated Ben Franklin also helped spread cholera; Picasso eventually bought an estate in quiet Provence. While the modern city might be a haven for playwrights, poets, and physicists, it’s also a deeply unnatural and overwhelming place.

Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so…

This research arrives just as humans cross an important milestone: For the first time in history, the majority of people reside in cities. For a species that evolved to live in small, primate tribes on the African savannah, such a migration marks a dramatic shift. Instead of inhabiting wide-open spaces, we’re crowded into concrete jungles, surrounded by taxis, traffic, and millions of strangers. In recent years, it’s become clear that such unnatural surroundings have important implications for our mental and physical health, and can powerfully alter how we think.

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