Tuesday, September 30, 2008

how did we get here? deregulation 101

The stock market (Dow Jones Industrial Average) dropped 788 points yesterday, one of the blackest days on Wall Street since the Great Depression.
Me personally? We lost thousands. On paper. And it could have a devastating impact on our family's financial wellbeing if something doesn't happen quick to shore up this crisis.
So how did this happen? How did we get to this critical place in history?

I know very little about Wall Street and high finance but but based on what I've been reading in the newspaper and hearing from financial experts on TV, deregulation by congress is largely responsible. And of course, greed is the other major culprit: greed in corporate entities, banking houses, lending institutions, stock brokerage firms, and the insurance industry, to name a few of the players.

So what is this deregulation? I'm trying to piece it together legislatively so that I can have a reasonably informed opinion. I thought I might pass along what I've learned, in case anyone else has been feeling the need for a primer.

In a nutshell, this is what I've come up with based on a newspaper article in the business section of my local paper:

After the Great Depression, lawmakers passed consumer protection laws. One of these laws was the Glass Steagall Act of 1933, signed by President FDR.
Glass-Steagall is best known for the creation of the FDIC. But it also prohibited the mixing of investment, commercial banking and insurance services. These kind of high flying dealings are, apparently, what helped create the stock market crash of 1929.

Fast forward to 1999. Enter Phil Gramm, who at the time was the senior Senator from Texas. This is the same Phil Gramm who, until a few weeks ago, was the McCain campaign's chief economic adviser. He was fired after he claimed the recession was "mental" and that we Americans have become a "nation of whiners." The same Phil Gramm who has a Phd in Economics and told us this often enough to prove how much smarter he was than his lawyerly friends in the Senate. This is the same Phil Gramm who early into the Clinton's presidency and on one of the Sunday morning political shows predicted that Clinton's economic plan would tank our economy within 18 months or he would come back on the show and eat his hat. It didn't. And he didn't.

Phil Gramm crafted the Gramm Leech Bliley Act in 1999. Gramm-Leech (aptly named ... Gramm, for all of his railings against "big government" lived off the government his ENTIRE life, including his birth at a military hospital, his education at a state supported university, his career in the Senate, and teaching at another state supported school, Texas A&M University) repealed the consumer protections put into place by the Glass Steagall Act.
Again, these protections were enacted to prevent banking institutions and insurance industries from playing fast and loose with loans and securities and hedge funds and all manner of financial trickery (of which I know virtually nothing) designed to make millions for the financial brokers.

My search turned up a roll call vote on the Gramm-Leech in the Senate in May of 1999 on , a website that helps "the public research and track the activities in the U.S. Congress." Govtrack states that this bill passed in the Senate May 6, 1999 by roll call vote. The totals were 54 Ayes, 44 Nays, 2 Present/Not Voting.

When I looked at the individual votes, I saw that nearly all the YES votes in favor of deregulating were made by Republicans. Nearly all of the NO votes were logged by Democrats. If you want to see how the Senators from your state voted, click HERE.

Plenty of congressional leaders are crying, "this is not a time to blame." (McCain said this before he he blamed Obama).
Not the time to blame? Maybe not for them because they've got business to do. Main streets to save.
But for me this is a call to arms to throw out members of congress who supported this legislation. To hold them accountable. Fortunately, that damn Phil Gramm is no longer my Senator. He's just a washed up political hack.
But many of the AYE voters are still in the Senate. Look for yours. Look for those who are running for reelection in November.

And then look on the presidential ballot. Because one of those Senators who voted YES is running for President.
Can you guess which one?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

fun test: do women concentrate better than men?

Below is a video of a one minute concentration / perceptual test
from the research of Daniel Simons, Ph.D.*
at the University of Indiana.

See how well you do on the test.

But before viewing the test, take this poll.

Now test your concentration. View the video clip, below.

Now comes a second poll.

Complicated, multi-part blog post, I know.

Try to keep up.

According to one source, and I can't verifiy it's reliability, about half of people who view this video do not see the gorilla due to the phenomenon of "inattentional blindness." My husband SAM said "put a nekkid woman in there and I bet people wouldn't miss it." Ah. He'd sweep up the research grant money with that proposal.

Inattentional blindness may help explain the higher rate of car accidents by cell phone users. It may also explain why lifeguards have trouble seeing bodies at the bottom of the pool. Finally, and I have no reference for this, it may explain why my daughters never see their dirty socks strewn in the middle of the playroom floor.

To learn more about inattentional blindness, read a summary written by Daniel Simons here.

*Simons, D. J., & Chabris, C. F. (1999). Gorillas in our midst: Sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. Perception, 28, 1059-1074.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

manly marketing

College students majoring in marketing must have to take an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the masculine ego." Or that's what I assume when I see marketing strategies designed to mask the feminine side of grooming for the sake of the macho psyche.

For instance, there's Maneuver Working Wax. Sounds like a car wax, right? Wrong. It's a hair styling product for men.

Because as we all know, men don't style their hair, they maneuver and work it.

Likewise, men don't soften and moisterize their skin with silky-feely lotions like we delicate ladies do. No. They use Industrial Strength Hand Healer.
You know, a manly medicinal cure for those rough, raw, overworked hands.

The latest that caught my eye, thanks to SAM pointing out an ad in the Sunday newspaper, are "compression shorts. " Have you seen these?

Women wear girdles, or if you are modern and adventurous like Mrs G, you wear Spanx (not to be confused with kinky sex acts).
But not our masculine counterparts. Nuh-uh. Men don't don shapewear to tuck their tummies. They compress their thighs, elevate their groins and tame their torsos with legwear that sounds more like a computer data procedure than a body fat minimizer.

I must suppose it's all in the service of maintaining the image that men are tough and strong where women are soft and weak. At a time when women are putting windshield sized cracks in the glass ceiling and consistently outperforming men in colleges and universities, Madison Avenue is busy catering to the side of men that seems to require reassurance that they'll still be king of the hill. It's as if the more a society approaches gender equality, the more it resorts to contrived differences.

Mir Kamin at blogher tries to understand and explain a recent study that talks about this rising gender disparity in modern societies. Read it here, if you're as amused and confused as I am about this trend.

Friday, September 19, 2008

tree hugger, for real

Just now I was looking up the meaning of "grounding meditation," a component of a treatment program for anxiety that of I'm considering for a referral.
I learned here that grounding is the act of becoming fully aware of physical sensations and being fully "present mentally and emotionally."

One of the exercises suggested for grounding was tree hugging. Not euphemistically speaking but actually wrapping one's arms around a tree.
Call me a conventional homebody who doesn't get out enough, but I thought tree hugging was a term used sarcastically by ditto heads to make fun of liberal, ecology minded, nature loving, granola-crunching types. Yes, I realize people actually do crunch granola (including moi) but I had not known people actually hug trees, for real, let alone that it's recommended as a therapeutic technique.

The webpage then goes on to describe the art of tree hugging:

"This exercise will require a nice looking tree that you wouldn't mind putting your arms around, as well as some privacy, if you're the type to feel self conscious hugging a tree in public."

Um, hello? Must you be a certain type? Don't most of us feel self concious hugging a tree in public?

Well, let's see. Take my poll:

Tree hugger photo borrowed from this website.

Monday, September 15, 2008

more on musicians and oxytocin

No sooner had I posted about
oxytocin and music last week, then I made plans to join some girlfriends and see one of Austin's most awesome musicians, Bob Schneider. His incredible show provided one more note of evidence that this city is, if not the Music Capital of the World, as so frequently touted, then a top contender.

Where else can you hear music this good, at a moments notice, on a Monday night? And I mean, gooooood. I was so impressed and loved every minute of it. Three guitars, a drummer (nay, a percussionist), a string section (or, one guy alternating a cello and a fiddle), a brass section (or, one other guy playing a smallish tuba and a horn), and a squeeze box.

If not because of his music, you may have heard of Schneider because of his
famous ex-girlfriend, Sandra Bullock. She remains a sometimes Austin resident and local bistro owner. You may have also heard of her multi-million dollar Austin lake house debacle rumored to become the couple's love nest (not to be confused with her movie, Lake House). Bullock claimed the house was uninhabitable due to shoddy workmanship, a jury agreed and she was awarded $7 million. Soon after, she bulldozed the 10,000 square foot house to the ground and is now in the process of rebuilding. A different builder, I assume.

But I majorly digress. Back to my original theme, oxytocin.

As I grooved to Bob Schneider's music and felt all googly-eyed like the 21 year old I was 100 years go, I was thinking about how common it is for fans to fall in love with the musician on stage. And the reputation musicians have for falling in lust right back. At least for the night. Present big-assed, middle-aged, perimenopausal fans who don't get out much, excepted.

And because I live and work in a city with so many musicians, I see a fair number in my practice. And what I see is a trend we're all familliar with: a high rate of infidelity. Musicians who can't keep their pants zipped. Traveling troubadours followed from town to town by groupies, obliging them with more than an autograph.

So now with the latest news of oxytocin, this rampant infidelity makes even clearer sense to me.

Bad news for partners of musicians, though, huh? How to feel trust when your partner is on stage oozing the hormone responsible for love, attachment and orgasms while in a room full of adoring, similarly oxytocin intoxicated fans. Add a cold beer or two and you've got a recipe for a cheatin' heart.

Here's one of Bob Schneider's best known songs: Big Blue Sea.

(For a laugh, listen to Schneider wax on about Damien Rice's hair,

Saturday, September 13, 2008

live from hurricane headquarters

It is nearly 1am. I am hunkered down in my living room with three of my fellow storm trackers: husband SAM and two neighbor friends who joined us for dinner (one who is, in fact, a recent survivor of Gustave as it battered Baton Rouge one short week ago).
We are approximately 200 miles from Galveston, where the eyewall of Ike is hitting the island. But the distance doesn't stop us from feeling that we, ourselves, are in the wall of the eye, right along side Geraldo and the palm tree he is clinging to so desperately.

More frightening for myself, however, is a very recent development. My hurricane tracker compadres have all fallen asleep. Each one of them is in a reclining position conducive to sleep and occasional bursts of snoring, strewn across sofas and one large EZ chair recliner. Unfortunate for me, my storm tracking position is seated upright, clinging to one end of the largest sofa so as not to wake my sleeping couch mate. Not only is this position not conducive to sleep, it is not even comfortable.
So here I sit, lonely and abandoned, confronted with the untenable proposition of waking my neighbors and asking them to please go home so that I can retire to my queen sized post in the bedroom.

Back to you, Geraldo.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

no comments got you down?

Leave it to TheBloggess to turn no comments into a badge of honor, as her handmade, "no comments got you down" picker-upper blogger-sticker shows, seen here.

Never mind the fact that, last time I clocked into her blog, she had 270-something comments compared to my whopping 8 comments. Sigh.

But, I won't hold that against her. I will just appreciate that her post made my day.

Ooops, hang on, make that 11 comments now. I'm getting there, huh?

Thank you to all of my regular commenters who regularly make my day and to new commenters, too. Always good to hear from someone new.

Monday, September 08, 2008

listen, its our song OR just another music monday

So many couples have a special song. The first song we danced to. A song we heard on the radio when we fell in love. Our wedding dance song. An album or an artist we listened to together, staring into each other's eyes, promising love and loyalty and "every Saturday night together forever and ever."
It also may be the song we cry hardest to when we break up.

At least one hormone appears to be connected to this music-bonding experience: oxytocin. You may have heard of, or had a personal encounter or two with oxytocin's synthetic evil sister, Pitocin. You know, that friendly-as-a-pit-bull-without-lipstick, labor inducing drug.

Also known as the love and cuddle drug, oxytocin is a natural hormone released by human beings at key relationship events in our lives. Women are believed to be awash in xxytocin when we breast feed, for example. In this way, it is thought that Oxytocin helps cultivate deep bonds of affection, or attachment, as this loving phenomenon is referred to in the psychological literature.

It makes sense, doesn't it? While feeding our helpless infants, our body is sending signals that encourage us to develop one of the most intense feelings known: parental love. From an evolutionary perspective, this helps our species survive. It also makes for some of the greatest joys, and greatest sorrows, of human existence.

HugTheMonkey is a blog dedicated to understanding the role Oxytocin plays in our lives. Its a fascinating site to click around and learn about the many ways oxytocin influences our relationships.

A recent post there tells us that researchers believe we release oxytocin when we listen to and perform music. It may help explain why dancing is such a prevalent romance building ritual. Why romantic movies play such dramatic music. Why so many quarters are dropped into juke boxes for "crying in my beer songs."

I can remember enduring a heartbreaking period in my life (or two, or three) and feeling the need, nay, the compulsion to listen to sad, sappy, "you don't love me anymore" songs. The tears would fall, I would feel like the lonliest, sorriest person on earth, and repeat this masochistic ritual until I reapplied my makeup and went out on the prowl, looking for my next victim.

Some songs can be heard years later, immediately "taking us back" to a loving phase in our life, typically the beginning of a serious relationship. One such song for me is "Back on the Chain Gang" by the Pretenders (apt title, huh?). It was my senior year in college and I was in the middle of a brand new relationship with someone who lived across the continent. Oh moony me. To this day, I hear this song and it catapults me back to that semester. Even though I don't have any remnants of the same feeling now for this (louse) person, the pleasurable feelings from that period come rushing back. At least for the three minutes while the song lasts.

So the next time you and your partner run into a dry spell? Can't remember what compells you to stay with this ignoramus? Break out in song. Or, if you're not the Von Trapp Family, break out the song. Grab a glass of wine, dim the lights, turn on your CD player and dance to your favorite melodies together. Or simply listen. See if this sparks the ole memory. See if you can get some oxytocin flowing.

What are some of your oxytocin inducing songs?

Painting titled, "The Devil's Phonograph," borrowed without the owner's permission.
Can be purchased here.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

think thin

How many times have you had this thought, "I can gain weight just thinking about food." Plenty?

Yeah, me too.

Now, how many times have you had this thought, "I can lose weight just thinking about exercise."

Me either.

Until tonight -- when I was browsing PsyBlog's
post citing a Harvard study done by Crum & Langer* showing that simply thinking about exercise helps with weight loss.

My kinda study.

Apparently, as I lie here pecking away at my keyboard and think hard enough about the exercise I did this morning and appreciate how healthy it was for me, I may actually lose more weight than if I didn't think about it.

And it doesn't have to be real, bonified "put on my sweats and monitor my heartrate" exercise. I can think about the everyday kinds of physical activity I did this week that elevated my heart rate, such as making beds, cooking, doing laundry, getting dressed, walking up and down grocery store aisles, racing to the kids' bedrooms to catch them goofing off when they should be doing their homework, and all such things in the ordinary life of a mom.

BadScience summarizes the study like this: "...amazingly, despite no change in actual exercise levels ... simply being told about the value of what [participants] were already doing caused a significant change for the better on every single one of the objective health measures recorded: weight, body fat, body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio and blood pressure."

So. Let's go people. Listen to those smart Harvard elites. Let's fully appreciate the exercise we've already done and see what happens. Let's give ourselves credit for the healthy choices we've made this week. While we are laying on our arses. And wait for those pounds to ooze out of our pores.

Check back in a week and let me know how it's workin' for ya.

Oh, and lest you think I'm encouraging more exercise in the form of housework, you would be el wrongo.

*Crum AJ Langer EJ. Mind-Set Matters: Exercise and the Placebo Effect. Psychological Science 18(2) 165-171, 2007.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

two for tuesday

Because these two always get it right. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. With the help of their writers, that is.