Archive for June, 2010
“So our Heroe, Captain Teach, assumed the Cognomen of Black-beard, from that large Quantity of Hair, which, like a frightful Meteor, covered his whole Face, and frightened America more than any Comet that has appeared there a long Time. This Beard was black, which he suffered to grow of an extravagant Length; as to Breadth, it came up to his Eyes; he was accustomed to twist it with Ribbons, in small Tails, after the Manner of our Ramilies Wiggs, and turn them about his Ears” –Charles Johnson
Edward Teach or Edward Thatch (c. 1680 – November 22, 1718), better known as Blackbeard, was a notorious English pirate who operated around the West Indies and the eastern coast of the American colonies during the early 1700s. Like most pirates, little is known about his early life, but in 1716 he joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold, a pirate who operated from the Caribbean island of New Providence. Soon the cunning, fearless Teach became captain of his own ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge (which he had stolen of course). He added cannons and reinforced the ship’s sides. His ship was swift, easy to handle, and able to carry a large crew of as many as 250 pirates.
Blackbeard’s nickname was derived from his wooly thick black beard and fearsome appearance. As Teach’s power and reputation as the most frightening of pirates grew, so did his beard and hair. Now calling himself Blackbeard, he braided his beard and tied the braids with black ribbons. He stuffed burning rope under his hat to make himself look more ferocious and menacing. Blackbeard’s flag was one of the more unusual flags flown by the pirates. His flag had a skeleton holding an hour glass in one hand to signify that your time was running out. A dagger in the other hand and the heart with three drops of blood signified that blood would be drawn if you did not surrender. Horns and cloven feet on the skeleton signified that he was in league with the devil.
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Gender identity disorder (GID) is the formal diagnosis used by mental health professionals to describe persons who experience significant gender dysphoria (discontent with the biological sex they were born with). It is a psychiatric classification and describes the attributes related to transsexuality, transgender identity and transvestism. In the United States, the American Psychiatric Association permits a diagnosis of gender identity disorder if four diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4thEdition, Text-Revised (DSM-IV-TR) are met.
The criteria for GID are: Long-standing and strong identification with another gender; Long-standing disquiet about the sex assigned or a sense of incongruity in the gender-assigned role of that sex; The diagnosis is not made if the individual also has physical intersex characteristics; and Significant clinical discomfort or impairment at work, social situations, or other important life areas.
Many transgender people and researchers have criticized the classification of GID as a mental disorder for several reasons, including evidence from recent studies about the brains of transsexual people. The treatment for this disorder consists primarily of physical modifications to bring the body into harmony with one’s perception of mental (psychological, emotional) gender identity, rather than vice versa. But critics of GID argue that gender variations are normal occurrences in nature, not a mental disorder. A recently published paper in the International Journal of Transgenderism stated that, of the international organizations surveyed whose concern is the welfare of transgender people, 56 percent felt that the diagnosis should be excluded from the next version of the DSM.
So why not remove it from the DSM? In the survey, the primary reason cited was that, without the diagnosis, transgender health care would not be covered by insurance reimbursement in most countries. Most except the United States, of course, where transgender care is generally not covered by health insurance, diagnosis or not. Thus, many transgender people who are lobbying to get their health insurance companies to help them defray the cost of extremely expensive sex reassignment surgeries. Thus, transgender people truly find themselves caught between principle and pragmatism.
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Hypnosis is an enduring source of fascination and controversy in contemporary psychological circles. Scientists cannot even reach a consensus about what hypnosis even is, how it works, and its overall effectiveness. In fact, since the founding of hypnotism some 200 years ago by Anton Mesmer, it has been impossible to find agreement among professionals about pretty much anything regarding this mysterious mental state (state theory) or imaginative role-enactment (non-state theory), usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction, which is commonly composed of a long series of preliminary instructions and suggestions.
Non-state theory was pioneered by Theodore Sarbin, who hypothesized that hypnotic responses were motivated attempts to fulfill the socially-constructed roles of hypnotic subjects. Thus, his role-taking theory of hypnotism did not view hypnosis as an altered state or as a single process. Rather, hypnosis is a conditioned response to the social and situational aspects of the hypnotic context, along with the subject’s attitudes, expectations and beliefs about hypnosis. He also contended that hypnotic behavior is a role governed by social behavior in which one participant plays the role of hypnotist while another plays the role of (being a) subject. The subject uses ordinary cognitive strategies such as imagery, fantasy, and selective attention to create subjective experiences he or she then report being hypnotized.
Many have misinterpreted Sarbin’s theory as claiming that hypnotic subjects are simply “faking”. However, he was careful to make a distinction between faking, in which there is little subjective identification with the role in question, and role-taking, in which the subject not only acts externally in accord with the role but also subjectively identifies with it to some degree, acting, thinking, and feeling “like” they are hypnotized. He illustrated his point by making analogies between role-taking in hypnosis and role-taking in other areas such as method acting, mental illness, and shamanic possession, etc. This interpretation of hypnosis is particularly relevant to understanding stage hypnosis in which there is clearly strong peer pressure to comply with a socially-constructed role by performing accordingly on a theatrical stage. In sum, Sarbin was keenly aware of the fact that human beings are fundamentally social creatures.
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Persistent or recurrent pain experienced before, during or after sexual intercourse is known as dyspareunia. Although this problem can affect men, it disproportionately affects women. The symptom is reported almost exclusively by women, although the problem can also occur in men. Women with dyspareunia experience varying degrees of pain and discomfort in the vagina, clitoris or labia during intercourse. Dyspareunia can be triggered by numerous physical and psychological causes, many of which are treatable. Despite the fact that it is rarely discussed in polite circles, dyspareunia is a common condition that affects up to one-fifth of women at some point in their lives.
A medical evaluation of dyspareunia focuses initially on physical causes, which must be ruled out before psychogenic or emotional causes are entertained. In the majority of instances of dyspareunia, there is an original physical cause. Vaginal pain may be associated with a range of physical factors, including: insufficient lubrication; injury, trauma or irritation; inflammation, infection or skin disorder; and side effects to birth control products; vaginusmus (involuntary spasms of the muscles of the vaginal wall); and vestibulitis (unexplained stinging or burning around the opening of your vagina).
Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell whether psychological factors are associated with dyspareunia. Initial pain can lead to fear of recurring pain, making it difficult to relax, which can lead to more pain. Thus, in virtually all cases of dyspareunia, psychological factors are implicated either directly (as the cause) or indirectly (as a concomitant of the sexual discomfort). Psychological assessment must include a complete developmental history, with particular attention to the sexual values and messages of the client’s immediate family and their religious persuasion and beliefs, as well as a careful psychosexual history. Often, poor self-esteem and body image are implicated, and the dyspareunic patient often has a history of overt or subtle sexual abuse. In these cases, individual and couples counseling are indicated.
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Yawning remains one of the enduring minor mysteries of life. Why do we yawn? Is yawning contagious? Despite a lot of research, the causes of yawning still remain unknown. A yawn is a reflex of simultaneous inhalation of air and stretching of the eardrums, followed by exhalation of breath. Yawning is associated with sleepiness, stress, lack of stimulation and boredom. Yawning is notable for its mysterious infectious quality- seeing a person seeing a person yawning, talking to someone on the phone who is yawning. Hell, I just yawned a second ago just thinking about yawning.
It is estimated that between 40-60% of people will automatically yawn if they see someone else do it. Scientists still do not definitively know why yawning is contagious, but they certainly have a lot of theories….
Some researchers believe that the proximate cause for contagious yawning may reside with mirror neurons, i.e., neurons that fire both when we perform an action and when we see someone else doing it.
The theory is that by simulating action even when watching an act, these neurons help recognize and understand other people’s actions and intentions. They have also been proposed as a driving force for imitation, which facilitates much of human learning, including language acquisition. These scientists believe yawning may originate from the same imitative impulse. In fact, a 2007 study found that young children with autism spectrum disorders do not increase their yawning frequency after seeing videos of other people yawning, in contrast to typically developing children. This supports the claim that contagious yawning is related to empathic capacity.
However, other researchers suggest that the purpose of yawning is to cool the brain so it operates more efficiently and keeps you awake. Thus, they believe that contagious yawning is not rooted in copying another person’s sleepiness, but is unconsciously triggered by empathic mechanisms which function to maintain group vigilance and cohesion. Still others propose that contagious yawning could be a result of an unconscious herding behavior – a covert way to signal to others, similar to when flocks of birds take flight at the same time. Another theory suggests contagious yawning might have helped early humans communicate their alertness levels and coordinate sleeping times.
The only thing that everyone seems to agree upon is the fact that the phenomenon of contagious yawning is real. Hopefully, this research may point the way to where to look for more clues about this interesting and unconscious human behavior.
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Widely referred to as “Mr. Conservative,” Barry Morris Goldwater (January 1, 1909 – May 29, 1998), was a prominent five-term United States Senator (AZ) and one time Presidential candidate. He is often credited as the catalyst for the resurgence of American conservatism in the 1960s, and was a vocal advocate of the libertarian movement. Goldwater ran for the presidency in 1964, on a platform advocating less government, a strong military and the end of federal welfare programs. He was aggressively attacked by Democrats and opponents within his own party, and was labeled a demagogue of blood-thirsty hawks, right-wing extremists and racist Southerners.
In hindsight, Goldwater’s political views were less polarized and more nuanced than he was given credited for during his failed bid for the White House. While he unequivocally loathed communists and welfare recipients with an unbridled passion, he strongly believed in the separation of church/state and was unapologetically pro-choice. He also had some quirky and unexpected interests, including a lifelong obsession with collecting Hopi Indian kachina dolls (?!?).
So what is a kachina doll anyway? But more importantly, why did Barry Goldwater enjoy playing with them so much?
Kachina dolls are wooden dolls representing “kachinas”- the carved representations of the Katsinam, the spirit messengers of the universe. These dolls served as pedagogical objects made of cottonwood that embody the characteristics of the ceremonial Kachina, and are usually given as gifts to children (especially girls). They are used as a teaching tool to help Hopi children learn about their responsibilities as members of their community. There are more than 400 different kachinas in Hopi and Pueblo culture. Thus, there may be kachinas for the sun, stars, thunderstorms, wind, corn, insects, and many other concepts. Kachinas are believed to have humanlike relationships; they may have uncles, sisters, and grandmothers, and may marry and have children. Although not worshipped, each is viewed as a powerful spiritual being that can exercise its’ powers in the service of relieving some of the burdens imposed by Mother Nature.
In 1969, Goldwater donated all 437 of his kuchina dolls to the Heard Museum, more than doubling its collection. His collection spanned over 50 years, from the oldest, carved in 1890, to dolls carved in the 1950s for the senator. He first became enamored with kuchina dolls when he was seven years old after visiting a Hopi Reservation with a family friend who collected the figurines.
In light of the foregoing, I think it’s fair to say that there is a softer side to “Mr. Conservative”. Then again, only a man supremely secure in his masculinity would have the cajones to openly admit he had a passion for dolls. One thing must be said for Goldwater: he was not a sissy.
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For better or for worse, Barbara Millicent Roberts (a/k/a“Barbie”) has been an enduring American cultural icon for half a century now. Inspired by a German doll called Bild Lilli, Businesswoman Ruth Handler (1916-2002) officially launched the Barbie doll on March 19, 1959. Suffice to say, the impossibly proportioned and conspicuously Aryan figurine was an immediate smash hit with the preteen set of the Eisenhower era. But it has not all been smooth sailing for the genetically blessed blue-eyed blonde, whose impossibly “ideal” likeness has incurred the wrath of feminists, religious fundamentalists and minority groups alike (to name a few).
Barbie managed to survive the slings and arrows of her critics, thanks to her enduring appeal with the boy-crazy, beauty worshipping and popularity obsessed monster that is the post-industrial “preteen” female. However, in December 2005 Dr. Agnes Nairn at the University of Bath in England published research suggesting that Barbie has lost her hold over the preteen female. In fact, Nairn reported that a surprising number of her subjects had gone through a stage where they hated their Barbies, and many of the girls fondly recalled subjecting the maligned Teflon blondes to a range of punishments, including decapitation and placing the doll in a microwave oven. In fact, Nairn reported that when asked about Barbie, preteen girls usually expressed hatred, rejection and contempt towards their once worshipped idol.
Dr. Nairn concluded that, “It’s as though disavowing Barbie is a rite of passage and a rejection of their past.” In fact, of all of the toys that the researchers asked the children to describe as ‘cool’ or ‘not cool’, Barbie aroused the most complex and violent emotions. Many of the girls viewed “Barbie torture” as a legitimate play activity, and see it as a ‘cool’ activity in contrast to other forms of play with the doll. Exploring the reasons behind the hatred and violence, the researchers teased out a variety of explanations rooted in the rich symbolism of Barbie. Analysis of the children’s comments indicate that Barbie is hated because she is ‘babyish’, ‘unfashionable’, ‘plastic’, has multiple selves and because she is a feminine icon.
Alas, all empires eventually fall, and it seems that Barbie is no exception. Outmoded and unseated by the rising popularity of the edgy, ethnically diverse and strangely bobble-headed “Bratz” dolls, Barbie has been reduced to a dim shadow of her former self. Barbie’s 50-year stint as America’s Prom Queen has officially come to an end.
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