Cool new study suggests the poor have shittier brains

The Life You Can Save’s [1] Facebook page recently shared an article that asks the question: does poverty show up in children’s brains? Because who among us haven’t been aware of the plight of the less fortunate and wondered if, in addition to being less fortunate, or also mentally inferior?

From the article:

Children from households below the federal poverty line ($24,250 for a family of four in 2015) had 8 to 10% less grey matter in these critical regions [frontal lobe, temporal lobe and hippocampus]. And even kids whose families were slightly better off – incomes of one-and-a-half times the federal poverty level – had 3 to 4% less grey matter than the developmental norm. In Pollak’s study, many of the poor parents were highly educated, indicating the “maturational lags” their children suffered from were a direct result of the circumstances of poverty.

The policy implications are immense. If the data holds, simply moving a family’s income out of poverty might be enough to get that child much closer to cognitive developmental norms [IT’S SO SIMPLE!]. And while we don’t yet know whether, or how much, these brain disparities persist into adulthood, this research – combined with past work demonstrating that people raised in poverty end up doing worse financially and suffering greater health problems than their more-affluent contemporaries over the course of their lifetimes – suggests they probably have lifelong effects.

These studies indicate it isn’t one specific factor that’s solely responsible for diminishing brain growth and intellectual potential, but rather the larger environment of poverty.

You did it, oh benevolent scientists! I think we now can definitively state that poverty is bad! Pop the fucking champagne! [2]

There is an ocean of research and literature pertaining to the causes and effects of poverty. To my knowledge, I don’t think any studies have been done to discover just how much money and resources have been put into this. What a fucking myopic waste of time, all to satisfy the curiosity of certain sections of academia. In regards to the above referenced research, what do they even tell they’re subjects? “Sorry, you’re brain kinda sucks. Good luck with that – try to get more money before you have kids.”

Maybe all of these researchers think their work will be the catalyst for the large-scale changes needed to actually confront the massive problems related to income inequality. And that’s a noble pursuit, snark aside. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so rude and dismissive of their career choices – after all, we’re all just wasting time until we die 🙂

***

Matthew Desmond studied my home city, Milwaukee, in his critically acclaimed book about the crushing repercussions of eviction. I found it profound and heartbreaking. It shone a light on a relatively unknown aspect of poverty.

Upon further reflection, asking the question if eviction can have astoundingly negative consequences for the evictees should be answered “yes, no shit.” Research like this filters out into the general populace, and the well-to-do can sadly nod at yet another previously unseen side of the mountain of bullshit that the less fortunate are forced to ascend if they want any semblance of comfort and stability in their lives.

During last summer’s unrest in Milwaukee, I recall seeing a video of a young man angrily lamenting those who come into his neighborhood looking to study them, like animals in a zoo. He asks the very relevant question of “what good does that do for us? They come here, leave, and nothing changes” [3]. It’s a salient point.

Which study will be the one to actually incite meaningful action?

***

The elite, and their sycophants (simultaneously worshiping and jealously coveting the status of their societal betters) have always scorned the less well off. History is replete with uncountable anecdotes, from Mesopotamian city-states to the contemporary West. I don’t think it necessary to belabor the point with endless examples

Evidence of superiority is eagerly sought out, though it’s hard to see why it’s even necessary. To pick one, easy, example, white Europeans were obviously superior to their colonial subjects. However, that self-evident knowledge was insufficient and reasons why needed to be sought out. Superior religion and intelligence proved to be the best justifications, enabling them to revel in their paternalistic mastery over their new domains.

Unfortunately, science has also been a useful tool for the dominant classes to use as a quasi-intellectual cudgel (surely this has been adequately covered on FtB). Recently, a Google employee’s anti-diversity screed went viral. I highly recommend not reading it and won’t even attempt to summarize it. As Rae Paoletta at Gizmodo points out, this is merely another example of the usage of science to reify the status of a dominant class (in this case, men):

Of course, using “science” to justify male superiority is much older than anything espoused by evolutionary psychologists. The idea that women are less psychologically stable—or more, bluntly, “hysterical”—has been around at least since Hippocrates wrote about it in the 5th century BCE. As Freud and his contemporaries later posited, women’s biology explained their “inherent” insanity. Or, as this particular Google employee called it, their neuroticism.

Through this lens, it’s not hard to see research about brain-inferiority being used by terrible people.

***

But maybe this is the research that will lead to change on a large-scale. I can see it now: Senator Bleeding Heart, Democrat from the Northeast/Northwest, introduces legislation (already passed by the House) citing it. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan both shed tears in shame for the evil they’ve done. Party lines are dissolved as the legislation is passed in a remarkable show of bipartisan solidarity. The 1% is to be heavily taxed and that money is transferred to the poor. A rider halves the military budget, freeing up even more money. A chastened, somber President Trump recognizes the gravity of the moment and the thick layers of bile that constitute his fetid interior disintegrates. He signs the bill. Truly, America is finally starting on the road to Becoming Great Again.  (Please excuse both my childlike understanding of how a bill becomes a law and simplistic methods to confront mass poverty).

More seriously, this is manna for the Sam Harris’s of the world. Just think: if poor Americans have less gray matter, just imagine how much less Muslim refugees have. Especially if they spend their formative years in camps. Harris can continue to laud himself for the courage he has to stand up to the regressive left using this evidence for his loathsome beliefs. So brave, always speaking truth to the vast power of the cowardly PC elites.

Let’s be honest, we are nowhere near ready to willing as a society to confront the systemic natures of the problem of inequality. This isn’t to say that all research into the causes of poverty is without utility. If it leads to increased donations to worthy organizations then that’s good. But it was truly disheartening to see TLYC, as well as one of their featured charities, GiveDirectly, sharing this. All in all, performing research to investigate brain differences serves to further stigmatize the less fortunate. It does not help.


[1]  TLYCS studies which charities do the best, most effective work. I wrote about it here

[2] I’ll leave scrutinizing the actual research to those more knowledgeable than I about the brain sciences

[3] Unfortunately I haven’t been able to locate this video

The Associated Press and Donald Trump

The Associated Press is generally impartial. Or, granting that true impartiality is impossible, they can at least be seen as more objective in their reportage than the dumpster fire of media conglomerates from which the majority of Americans get their news.

One of the small joys Trump’s presidency is reading the AP’s coverage of him. I picture the authors questioning their lives, staring internally into the abyss, as they’re forced to write with gravitas about a fucking dipshit with almost unfathomable power and responsibility.

Here’s their story about his profound thoughts on the American Civil War:

“People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why?” Trump said in an interview with The Washington Examiner that also aired on Sirius XM radio. “People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

In fact, the causes of the Civil War are frequently discussed, from middle school classrooms to university lecture halls and in countless books. Immigrants seeking to become naturalized are sometimes asked to name a cause of the war in their citizenship tests.

And:

“He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, ‘There’s no reason for this,'” Trump continued.

Jackson died in 1845. The Civil War began in 1861.

And:

Trump, during an African-American history month event, seemed to imply that the 19th century abolitionist Frederick Douglass was still alive. Trump said in February that Douglass “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.”

While justifying his argument for a border wall with Mexico, Trump said last week that human trafficking is “a problem that’s probably worse than any time in the history of this world,” a claim that seemed to omit the African slave trade.

In just about every mundane Trump-related article one can picture the author dying a little more each time they quote him and, immediately after, clarify and correct his barely coherent ramblings. Reading these stories can be simultaneously amusing, brain-melting and infuriating. Fun times!

 

 

 

 

 

New music by Life of Agony (Transgender Day of Visibility)

“River Runs Red” by Life of Agony is an iconic masterpiece in the grey areas between hardcore and metal. I love it and still listen to it frequently to this day. Lyrically, it’s a concept album about a teenager dealing with substance abuse and shitty parents which ends in his suicide. In this regard, it was pretty unique in its era. Subsequent releases (“Ugly” and “Soul Searching Sun”) were, in my opinion, pretty terrible. Re-listening to them one is reminded of Nickelback, Creed, and other similarly terrible bands, though LoA pre-dates the musical diarrhea of the former.

There are uncountable different genre’s at the intersections of punk, hardcore, and metal, each containing their own scenes, artists, and fans with considerable overlap. LoA was part of a nauseatingly testosterone-laden east coast hardcore and metal scene in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Though I wasn’t a part of that scene, being both too young and not living in that area, I can’t imagine it was an environment that was accepting of LGBT people. That’s why I was surprised when I learned LoA’s singer, Mina Caputo, came out as trans. In regards to her relationship with that scene:

Caputo says after the revelation, there were some uncomfortable moments trying to continue in the world of metal. She adds, “The majority of our fans have always been male, and I’ve experienced a lot of closed-minded people in the metal world. You know, a lot of people that just don’t know what’s going on. What I want those people to know is that I’m a beautiful human being. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had a lot of support [in the metal scene], but there has also been a lot of rejection and criticism about my life.”

She’s immensely talented and has made some fantastic music over the past 25+ years. Below is a new song, an incredibly moving music video about her transition (stunningly, the comments are heartwarming and NOT a cesspool of bigotry), and a live version of a song off “River Runs Red” performed last year:

Destroy the machines that kill the forests, that disfigure the earth

Trump signed the long-awaited order dismantling Obama’s rather prodigious attempts at combating climate change. It’s bad:

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump will sign an executive order that will demolish his predecessor’s attempts to slow the pace of climate change. It is an omnibus directive that strikes across the federal government, reversing major rules that aim to restrict greenhouse-gas emissions while simultaneously instructing departments to ignore or downplay the risks of climate change in their decision-making.

As details of the order leaked to the public, nearly every environmental or climate-centric group castigated it as a costly step backward. Andrew Steer, the president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, said that the administration was “taking a sledgehammer to U.S. climate action.”

There is a lot going on in the order: Months of rumored environmental action have been distilled into this document. Its policy goals can be separated into two categories. First, some policies require rule-making processes that Trump can only set in motion and point toward certain goals. The second group of policies are just executive directives reserved to the president. Trump can issue them by himself, just as Obama did, and they will enter force immediately.

This will surely be fought by many groups and organizations that have been fighting for years. But what will they do when legal means fail? I’m pretty sure I know the answer – they’ll continue utilizing the same means, but perhaps tweaked a bit here and there. The decades-long losing battle will go on. Others see the writing on the wall, have judged that economic interests and the state will forever be against the wild, and have dispensed with lawful methods:

With the Dakota Access Pipeline nearly ready to start operation, the company that runs it says the 1,172-mile long oil pipe has been vandalized in several places.

In a court-ordered status report filed Monday, attorneys for Dakota Access write there have been “recent coordinated physical attacks … that pose threats to life, physical safety, and the environment.”

Aw, Dakota Access cares so much about life, safety and the environment! Obviously that’s what it’s about, rather than the costs to repair and general annoyance. (I should note that “physical attacks” performed after the pipeline starts running would indeed be irresponsible, shitty and harmful to the extent that it could cause a spill)

The blog title is taken from the lyrics of a song that’s over 20 years old. Sadly, it’s just as relevant now as it was then, if not more so. Legal means can take years to yield the most modest of results, and Obama’s efforts were only mildly encouraging (to me anyways) and seemingly swept away with the stroke of a pen. Regardless, species are going extinct; forests are being cut down; land is being transformed to accommodate urban sprawl; mountains are despoiled; streams are polluted; and climate change is no closer to being mitigated (not going to provide a link for that and the others are a bit superfluous). At what point is it too late?

Though perhaps not a universal salve, or one that can ever really work on a large scale, direct action is one tool that can be used to

halt the insanity of the yellow death machines advance.

Maybe we’ll see a bit more of it.

New job, less blogs (maybe)

I’m pretty boring. The only possibly interesting thing about my presence on this network is the fact that I work in child welfare. Due to my perspective, I’ve been meaning to write about it, but for various reasons haven’t. For the past 10 years I’ve worked in the field both directly with families as well as more behind the scenes. Guess which pays better. The paradox of all social services work is that the more money one makes, the less direct interaction there is with those they hope to help.

Working in child welfare has only cemented my non-belief in a kind and loving god. Such a god who doesn’t stop the horrors perpetrated against children that I’ve been confronted with on a daily basis is beneath contempt. I have intimate knowledge of some the worst things in the world – specific stories of abuse, neglect, violence, child sex trafficking, etc. Each story is different in it’s own heartbreaking way. Every person in the field needs the ability to compartmentalize. In my case this has led to numb feelings of desensitization, which is a depressing coping mechanism.

This is one of the reasons I’ve been long been ambivalent to shit like presidential elections. No matter who’s in office (federal, state, local), the workload of child welfare workers generally remains the same. The plight of abused and neglected kids, an extremely large proportion of which grow up in poverty, are mere talking points by asshole politicians who don’t do shit. Any attempts to mitigate poverty and institutionalized racism are band-aids applied to gaping wounds, and the children are the ones who suffer the greatest. It’s a fucking race to get ahead in the hyper-competitive developed world, and these kids are held back and getting lapped by the more privileged.

***

Social services workers are almost always overworked, underpaid, and very unappreciated. There are no TV shows or movies celebrating what we do (or are there? I don’t really have an encyclopedic knowledge of the entertainment field). If we’re ever portrayed it’s always as exhausted and mildly incompetent, with the latter being a direct consequence of the former. Compared to other public servants, such as firemen, nurses, and even teachers, we’re largely invisible, little thought of, and certainly not worthy of fetishization by popular culture, as opposed to the aforementioned.

The only time the general public is aware of anything relating to child welfare, to pick the aspect of social services I’ve been involved in, is when something horrible happens – a child dying in foster care, a social worker clearing a family for child abuse or neglect only for the worst to happen. At the same time there is a nagging, and not entirely undeserved perception of child welfare workers breaking apart and ruining families – after all, we are paid representatives of sociopolitical structures that have historically oppressed people unluckily born into bad situations.

None of this is to excuse the fuck-ups, of which there are countless in child welfare and other areas that comprise the field. There are wide systemic problems in the delivery of services to vulnerable populations. That we are a largely reactive industry that confronts systemic societal problems certainly doesn’t help. Also not helping: there’s little sign that systemic societal problems show any meaningful signs of abatement. A professor once told me that there will always a need for work in human services, and that’s proven to be right in my experience. But as I wrote, the work is low paying, hard, and little appreciated. Turnover is high on and just behind the frontlines, and there’s stiff competition for mid to upper level management. Often this necessitates prohibitively expensive higher education, a risk in any field that may or may not pay off financially.

***

Anyways, it’s not all bad. I’m just feeling a bit melancholy about it all because I’m about to start something completely new. While I’m still with the same organization, I will now be performing quality assurance related duties. It’s hard to say how often I’ll be able to blog, as I’ll need to devote more brainpower to an area I’m relatively unfamiliar with. It doesn’t help that I write slow and scattered – it takes much more time than I’d like for my thoughts and words to coalesce. So we shall see.

Crows!

Here is an awesome short about crows wrecking shit:

Here are some internet things about crows:

Crows Understand Analogies

Stop Picking On Crows: Study Reveals the Birds Aren’t Evil Predators

Do Crows Hold Funerals for Their Dead?

6 Terrifying Ways Crows Are Way Smarter Than You Thinkl

Solitary Crow On Fence Post Portending Doom, Analysts Warn

Here are some books about crows:

Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans, By John Marzluff

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds, by Bernd Heinrich (mostly about ravens, but there’s some crow talk)

Crows are great and I welcome any cool crow stories. Crow negativity will not be tolerated.

ETA: A few years back I was walking from the house to the garage when  something hit me on the head. It was a chunk of bread. The weird thing was, it felt like it came straight down – the house was on my immediate left (it seemed unlikely someone from that direction threw it on a high enough arc that had an endpoint at my position), and I couldn’t see anyone in my field of view to the right of me. Sure enough, I look up and there’s a crow looking down at me from a wire. Well played, I thought.

Fucking gross

It never fails. After every episode of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, I get an increase in traffic towards a post I wrote 4 months ago. Briefly, Samantha Bee and her husband Jason Jones were resisting desegregation efforts in their district, something I feel is extremely shitty and hypocritical.

Sometimes I can see where it’s been linked.

One website, apparently some kind of message board for Nike shoes, quoted a quote I used, and nothing else:

Samantha Bee is a liberal, right up until she thinks about her children having to go to school with black kids. Then, she turns into Strom Thurmond.” [from the comment section of a Slate article]

That was it, no context given. The take-home message the person received was that Samantha Bee=Strom Thurmond, which was used in a bewildering discussion sequence that hurt my brain.

Yesterday, to my horror, it turned up on a Reddit board for Opie and Anthony. If you don’t know them, you’re not missing anything. Unless you like terrible things. The person that linked to my post used a racial slur, and the rest of the thread consists of assorted, bigoted trash. So my blog was used as evidence for liberal hypocrisy by a trash person in his (it has to be a him) discussion with other trash people.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t all. Later on, it was linked on a thread on the fucking Trump Reddit. Fucking gross.

Regardless, I still stand behind everything I wrote and have no issue pointing out hypocrisy by beloved liberal superstars. If my interpretation is incorrect I’d certainly issue a mea culpa, but I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary. Anyways, this sucks and it feels weird.

So if you happen to see this, and found my blog via bigot Reddit threads, go fuck yourself.

Doom and gloom

In the late 90’s one of my best friends started on the slippery slope to full immersion into fundamentalist Christianity. By this time, we were in different colleges and communicating less and less, usually via AIM (rememeber that?!?). Whatever denomination he settled on, it was one of the sects that believed we were living in the end times. This was preposterous to me. One of his primary arguments was the recent increase in war and natural catastrophes. Nonsense, younger me countered, this shit’s been going on forever and it’s probably not getting appreciably worse. At the time, I had no idea if my rebuttal was true or not, but I was absolutely certain that a divinely prophesied apocalypse was nothing to be taken seriously.

My argument was made with the naive, myopic conceit that things will generally stay the same. Things (vaguely) would get a little better or worse, technology would continue to increase, benefiting some more than others. Basically, my bubble of a life as a middle class, straight white dude would maintain a sense of equilibrium. I’ll get up in the morning, go to work, go home and relax, or do something. Tomorrow will be pretty close to yesterday. Next week will look similar to the previous week. Work will mostly suck, but I’ll have a place to sleep, food to eat, and clean water to drink.

I constantly think about how extremely narrow my life experiences are, and that life looks completely different to different people in different times and different places. What’s normal to me is shared by relatively few people that have ever existed. Most people weren’t born into a white, Roman Catholic, middle class family in the rust belt in the early 80’s. Even within that subsection, things can look and feel wildly different based on any number of environmental factors.

***

In an interview with The Concourse, Walter Scheidel, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford, discusses his new book The Great Leveler which 

draws on thousands of years of history in civilizations across the world, and reaches a rather staggering conclusion: Extreme violence, plague, or total social collapse are the only things that have ever successfully leveled out inequality in societies. ‘Four different kinds of violent ruptures have flattened inequality: mass mobilization warfare, transformative revolution, state failure, and lethal pandemics,’ he writes. ‘I call these the Four Horsemen of Leveling.’

The interview is definitely worth reading in full and I intend to get the book at some point. Scheidel manages to inject a little optimism that is shot down in a way that’s darkly humorous:

Is there anything hopeful or constructive that people concerned about inequality can take from these findings?

Scheidel: That’s what the history is, whether we like it or not. It doesn’t mean that it always has to be this way. It doesn’t mean that there’s no alternative way of improving things, it’s just we haven’t found it yet… History doesn’t determine the future. It just gives a sense of what’s easy and what’s hard.

And yet, this is the line from your book’s conclusion that jumped out at me: “Only all-out thermonuclear war might fundamentally reset the existing distribution of resources.”

Scheidel: Which is technically true. [Laughs]

Income inequality has been getting worse and worse for some time. How long are the socioeconomically disadvantaged, unluckily born into less privileged situations, going to remain relatively docile, as income inequality continues to increase? A reckoning may be on the way if the ruling classes aren’t able to find ways to pacify the masses, with increasing numbers of families sliding out of the middle class. Sports, entertainment, and mind-altering substances have been useful distractions alongside the ever-present need to secure shelter, food and water. I wonder if a tipping point will be reached and what that will look and like.

***

The religion-based doom and gloom believed by my old friend may have a factual basis, but obviously not in the way he thinks. The prospect of numerous apocalypses divorced from religion are ubiquitous, and eschatological preachers no longer have a monopoly in that area. There are innumerable shapes it could take: climate change, gamma ray blast, impact event, supervolcano eruption, nuclear war, famine, plague, and as described above, societal collapse caused by untenable income inequality.

The secular evangelizers are not spewing the inane blather of manipulative purveyors of dogmatic faith. They are individuals who dedicate their lives to studying long term historical trends and empirically investigating the secrets of the cosmos. Or, if not them directly, then the journalists, writers, reporters and bloggers who summarize their premonitions.

I’m loathe to mention our glorious leader and I’m purposefully trying to limit his mentions in my blog, but it’s obvious income inequality, not to mention the other listed apocalypses, isn’t on his radar (except, perhaps, for his venerable adviser’s hard-on for war with Islam). No, foremost among his list of things worth throwing money at is our already bloated as fuck military, a useless wall, and god knows what else.

I haven’t had to deal with any of the phenomena that evoke the idea of impending personal, societal, or global apocalypse. Again, I wonder what that would look and feel like. My interest is not in the minority: we are culturally obsessed with the idea. Hollywood blockbusters are the the most saccharine manifestations of this, portraying collapse in the form of easily digestible entertainment with little constructive thinking required. Such cultural representations are largely ephemeral in our consciousness, and not likely to cause much more than a small amount of cognitive dissonance – after all, collapse may not even occur and, if it does, it will be in the undetermined future. We’ll go on consumed with our daily lives, but there are storm clouds on the horizon that we are only dimly aware of. One day the clouds, perhaps soon, perhaps later, will arrive.

Hey! check out this pair of BFF’s:

I don’t really give a shit about Jeff Sessions committing perjury

The Russia/Trump campaign connections will be, if they aren’t already, the left’s Benghazi. One side will scream for blood, the other will think it’s not that big a deal. For the duration of the presidency this will hound and annoy him, but nothing short of leaked audio purporting to be Trump and Putin collaborating to steal the election will matter. Even then, they’ll probably just resort to the now familiar fake news claim. Shitbags like Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and perhaps Sessions will be sacrificed here and there, but that will likely be the extent.

It’s hard to predict what, if anything, could be bad enough to completely derail Trump’s presidency [1]. Trump-haters (like me!) will continue to loathe everything about him and need little ammunition. On the other side, the old guard neocon branch of the Republican party will have no choice but to let go of their Russia-hatred, as their constituents prove to not give a fuck. Seeing those spineless cowards helplessly wring their hands at Trump’s embrace of Putin and Russia has been simultaneously amusing and pathetic [2]. While their party was hijacked by a reality TV star, they failed to realize Russia hasn’t been our national bogeyman since 9/11. They will adjust accordingly to save their own asses.

Every day, Trump, denizens of his administration, and his fawning media sycophants will say and do horrible things. To me, the Russia angle is a red herring. He already won, and, just my opinion here, would’ve won without Russian help. To the extent that Russia influenced the outcome doesn’t matter.

The horrifying results of November’s election notwithstanding, I can’t help but smirk at the idea of another country daring to manipulate our hallowed political institutions. Hopefully those most upset are aware of our rich history of doing the same thing.

Aside from our national nightmare, there will obviously be geopolitical ramifications. At best, a new cold war may be avoided if Trump and Putin continue fawning over each other. But Russia is already starting to get nervous with hitching their wagon to a petulant, thin-skinned man-child. to At worst, The Baltics, Georgia, and Ukraine are fucked, and another large area of the globe will be thrown into chaos. Fun times.


[1] Maybe, just maybe Tom Arnold will be the source of our salvation

[2] It certainly is weird that the right is totally cool with white, authoritarian strongmen. *insert thinking emoji

***This post is way too short to have footnotes and I’m disappointed in myself for using them