Time To Holster Your Opinions? Intolerance Kills

Gabrielle Giffords, Democratic nominee and gen...
Gabrielle Giffords. Image via Wikipedia

Great piece in today’s New York Times, responding to the terrible shooting yesterday in Tucson:

Within minutes of the first reports Saturday that Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, and a score of people with her had been shot in Tucson, pages began disappearing from the Web. One was Sarah Palin’s infamous “cross hairs” map from last year, which showed a series of contested Congressional districts, including Ms. Giffords’s, with gun targets trained on them. Another was from Daily Kos, the liberal blog, where one of the congresswoman’s apparently liberal constituents declared her “dead to me” after Ms. Giffords voted against Nancy Pelosi in House leadership elections last week.

Odds are pretty good that neither of these — nor any other isolated bit of imagery — had much to do with the shooting in Tucson. But scrubbing them from the Internet couldn’t erase all evidence of the rhetorical recklessness that permeates our political moment. The question is whether Saturday’s shooting marks the logical end point of such a moment — or rather the beginning of a terrifying new one.

I blog at opensalon, under my name, Caitlin Kelly. There, last week, someone decided to threaten me — for expressing an opinion (on boredom, of all things) he disliked — with beating me bloody.

Excuse me?

Did I laugh it off because, hey, he’s just some random guy on the Internet? Because he lives (he says) in a state far away from me?

No. I called my local police and they are investigating it.

Because to threaten someone in this fashion is a crime that can lead to jail time.

A few people at that site sneered at me and derided me for my sensitivity. He’d done it to a bunch of other people, so why was I so overly sensitive?

Because being threatened for speaking my mind, civilly and calmly, is an abuse of my rights. Because it is illegal.

And because the man who shot 20 and killed six people yesterday in Tucson started out “only” rambling on wildly on the Internet before he decided to express his opinions with a Glock instead.

What will it take to restore any sense of civility to public discourse?

When did lethal rage become the default way to express your opinion?

Painful Memories? Take This Drug

Overview Memory
Image via Wikipedia

Would life be better if we could erase our most painful memories?

I can think of many I’d be — literally — happier without: two horrible Christmas Eves; the night my ex-husband walked out for good; a few really terrifying and unsuccessful job interviews.

We’ve all got some, scarred for life and sometimes truly hampered by their lingering effects.

It may become possible, says one American scientist, who may have found a way to do it.

Reports Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

The experiment proved that [certain] proteins are essential to building the brain circuitry that forms a memory, and to recalling the memory later. “It’s a huge step forward,” says Joseph E. LeDoux, a professor at New York University and an authority on memory and emotions.

Huganir and Clem are now experimenting with a drug that removes AMPARs and could prevent memories from forming in the first place. They hope to publish the results next year, and Huganir says that in as little as a decade the research could lead to drugs that help people forget painful experiences. Blocking AMPARs won’t erase the entire memory of an event, says Huganir, but it would eliminate the strong emotions attached to it. That could be a game-changer for the nearly 8 million American adults with post-traumatic stress disorder. Huganir says he regularly gets e-mails from PTSD sufferers asking to be part of human drug trials if and when he holds them. His research may also lead to drugs that aid memory retention by stimulating AMPARs, a potential boon for test takers and Alzheimer’s patients.

Would we all be better off without our sad or traumatic memories?

What if we did get rid of them?

How would we behave differently?

Doing Less, Slowly

Taizu, better known as Genghis Khan. Portrait ...
The first Fed-Ex -- Genghis Khan! Image via Wikipedia

When I wait for my email, I get impatient if it doesn’t appear within seconds. That’s normal now.

So much of our lives, mediated or aided or improved by technology, moves at a dizzying pace.

Is this a good thing?

I’m not sure. There are things we logically want as quickly as possible — cash from an ATM, the results of a mammogram or medical test, photos from our vacation.

But we are now, typically, moving and thinking and reacting with and in such haste.

I first really started to think about this in, of all places, a New York Times elevator. The Times, where I have freelanced for 20 years and where my partner works, moved to a sexy new building a few years ago. The elevators work on a system where you are directed to the one going to your floor. There so many elevators and you have to figure out which one is there fast as the doors open and shut so quickly there’s no time to zone out or dilly-dally.

Snooze, you lose!

Technology, in fact, often dictates the speed and frequency with which we live — not vice versa. I’ve never owned a microwave, and nor do I especially want one. I don’t need anything edible or potable that quickly. When I am thirsty for tea or coffee, I boil a kettle or set up fresh pot of coffee. Then I wait. The anticipation of that pleasure is as much a part of the process as enjoying the final steaming fragrant pot of Earl Grey.

There’s a wonderful book, an international best-seller by a fellow Canadian journalist and Globe and Mail alum, Carl Honore, called In Praise of Slow.

On his website, he explains:

It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.

What happens when we slow down? Are we losing, or gaining?

My little town contains a church from 1685, one I’ve driven past, going about 40 mph, hundreds of times, sometimes faster in a rush to reach the ER of our local hospital.

Every time I pass the church, I wonder about those former residents, of the 1600s and 1700s and 1800s, who walked to it or came by horse or in their carriage over muddy, rutted roads. Before the automobile speeded our travels, we moved only as quickly as the fastest, freshest horses might carry us.

For many centuries, animals’ strength and stamina dictated how quickly we might move around the world. (My favorite factoid is the story of the legendary couriers used by Genghis Khan to send communications across his enormous empire, in horseback. They’d strap in and go, a bell sounding their arrival so the next rider could speed with, already saddled, within seconds.) For millions of people still living in rural agricultural societies, it still does.

Before the age of steam power, ships’ speed relied on the wind, and sailors’ skills. One of the best weeks of my life was a week aboard The Endeavour, a replica of Darwin’s original ship that allows amateurs a taste of 18th century life that is considered the best replica of its kind in the world.

I slept in a tiny rope hammock I set up every night. I climbed the rigging 100 feet into the air to work on a footrope, furling and unfurling enormous, heavy canvas sails. I coiled ropes thicker than my arm. I came away in awe of the strength and skill that life demanded.

I loved how the “real world” disappeared for that week. It was wind, waves, work. Time was measured in watches — four hours on, four hours off. I steered the huge ship from 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. along the New England coast and discovered a whole new taste of time.

As I write this, it’s dawn and the sky is moving — slowly — from gray to pink. I know within a few minutes I’ll soon see the row of rubies I look forward to each morning — the sun’s reflection in a row of large windows on the riverbank facing east. It’s a spectacular, brief light-show.

You have to wait for it.

Are you living in an un-holy hurry?

What, if anything, are you doing to sloooooow down?

Ten Reasons I Love Housework

This is a picture of a stiff whisk broom, a ge...
Image via Wikipedia

What else would I be doing at 8:45 a.m. on New Year’s Day?

Why, washing our ancient, battered hallway kilim (a flat-weave antique rug) in the bathtub, of course! (No, really….Woolite, warm water, handle gently as wet wool, especially old fibers, is fragile. Think of it as a very large sweater. After it dries, it has the softness and sheen of new wool.)

I am ferocious about doing housework. I do it daily. I share and work at home in a one-bedroom apartment: no kids, no pets, one partner, who is a pretty tidy guy.

But the dust! The grime! The shmutz!

OK, I admit it….housework combines a variety of totally alluring qualities, especially in combination, which is why I like it so much:

— It’s a free activity. All I need is some Windex, Pledge and paper towel. In a recession, on a budget, this is a relief.

— I can (and do) do it any time the mood strikes me — 6:00 a.m, midnight, whatever.

— It makes me feel virtuous. I’m inarguably doing a good thing.

— It’s exercise. (And I don’t have to leave the house to do it.)

— It produces immediate results.

— Which offer — yay! —  immediate gratification.

— I know exactly what I’m doing. It’s hard to screw up scrubbing the toilet, shining mirrors, cleaning the bathtub. Unlike all the pieces of technology that keep piling up in the house (for which I am grateful), that so often confound me and tangle in a mess of charge cords, I know how to clean. I’ve been doing it for decades. I’m good at it!

— The place looks great when I’m done: shiny silver, gleaming wood, fluffy pillows, freshly ironed linens.

— It gets me away from the computer and moving.

— Work? Work? For those of us who work alone at home all day, there are very few ways to break up the day that aren’t a total, remorse-inducing time-suck. Suddenly realizing the laundry must be done thisveryminute is, I fully admit, a highly effective way to procrastinate.

I’m not doing nothing.

I’m doing housework!