The Wire: The Greatest Television

[This endorsement of HBO’s “The Wire” is taken from an email I sent my friend in March. This is essentially a first draft, so expect it to be loose and informal and not representative of solid writing.]

I just finished the 5th and final season – it has has been the most satisfying thing I’ve ever watched.  I’d commend this series more fervently then any crime flick, Scorsese included. And rest assured, this is the only television drama I’d ever urge you to consider.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The show is about Baltimore, a bleak, largely African American, impoverished rust belt city ravaged by drugs and failed institutions.  You’ll hear “The Wire” described as a crime drama, but creator David Simon says it’s “really about the American city, and about how we live together. It’s about how institutions have an effect on individuals, and how…whether you’re a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge [or] lawyer, you are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution you’ve committed to.”

Season 1 is introduces the audience to two institutions – The Baltimore Police Department and the Barksdale Drug Syndicate.  The show is a serial, and the season 1 arc presents the investigation of the Barksdale organization by a cop who games the system to coerce his department to support an investigation that higher-ups want to ignore.

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Genius: The New Yorker Obama Cover

This will be the water cooler topic of the day. For the record, I think it’s brilliant and hilarious.

Aerobic Exercise Grows Brain Cells, Increases Brain Mass

[This post expands on a link from my July 3 post.]

It was once thought that the brain does not generate new brain cells and once a neuron was gone, it was gone forever. This is what I, like many, was told as a kid. As it turns out, recent science shows that not only do humans continue to generate new brain cells throughout life, aerobic exercise fosters a higher rate of neurogenesis, or the birth of neurons.

Scientists say that, in addition to brain degeneration from aging being curbed by increased neurogenesis, the degeneration can be reversed. Evidence suggests that risks for neurodegenerative problems like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can be curbed and symptoms alleviated. Additionally, scientists are noticing brain degeneration in illnesses like depression and ADHD and problems like anxiety and stress and say that these ailments can be fought with neurogenesis.

The science is still young and this is not a miracle cure-all. But it’s clear that aerobic exercise grows more brain cells and has an impact on everything from depression to the likelihood one will develop Alzheimer’s. I’ve liked to three articles with excerpts below the flip. Feed your brain and learn about neurogenesis

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The Endorsement: Real-ass Peanut Butter

 

For the first time ever, I decided to buy “natural” peanut butter. It costs a little more so it was a splurge; and I’m skeptical of “natural” and “organic” things that cost significantly more. But real-ass PB is a winner.

Ingredients: peanuts, salt.

That’s it. No hydrogenated oils like the typical peanut butter. And it’s tasty to boot.

Natural peanut butter can be a great supplement to your diet because of the natural ingredients, it has a decent amount of protein and, although it looks fatty, it’s filled with a “good fat”, monounsaturated fat. The “good” fat like poly and mono unsaturated, unlike bad trans and saturated fats, are used by the body for energy and promote heart health and helps lower cholesterol. So don’t be afraid of real peanut butter’s fat content if you’re reasonable about the other fats you take in and don’t sacrifice good fats at the expense of wanting to cut trans and saturated fats.

“He would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark.”

My father would womanize, he would drink. He would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Sometimes he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy. The sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament. ~ Dr. Evil

Was Dr. Evil’s dad John McCain?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) plans to promise on Monday that he will balance the federal budget by the end of his first term by curbing wasteful spending and overhauling entitlement programs, including Social Security, his advisers told Politico.

All this while spending indefinitely on the Iraq occupation and cutting taxes for the wealthy? Impressive! Who said “the issue of economics is not something [McCain has] understood as well as [he] should”? [Hint: it was John McCain. ~ ed.] McCain doesn’t understand economics like a fox, I’d say!

On Obama

I’ve partially bought into Obama. No, I don’t think he’s the Messiah and I don’t expect him to single-handedly turn the economy around, fix health care, end Iraq, improve education and cure cancer. I am disappointed with his faith-based plan, but I still think Obama is the best presidential candidate to come along in my lifetime. To paraphrase Cornell West, the day Obama gets elected, I’ll dance and celebrate, but the next day I’ll be an Obama critic.

As president, he is the establishment and needs a vocal core to keep him focused on progressive governance. Obama, above all, exists in a political world where compromise is the only way things get done. If, to get the things I want as a progressive – health care reform, out of Iraq, pro-choice judiciary, drug law reform, poverty reduction, sophistication of domestic and foreign policy, competent emergency response, focus on global warming – even if Obama’s faith-based plans don’t get him one vote but if it allows him to build a bigger working coalition on other issues and it earns him political capital with which he can advance agenda items I believe in, I’ll gladly take the compromise. I won’t refrain from criticizing the program, but I won’t judge Obama by the concessions he makes as much as I’ll judge him on the progress those compromises buy.

I am optimistic about Obama because I feel that in areas I disagree with him or find him deficient, that, because he his thoughtful, open-minded, and sophisticated, we can employ vocal criticism, activism and the old-school principals of grassroot democracy to pressure President Obama and his Democratic congress to get right on controversial issues.

I’m voting for Obama and I’ll rock the “Hope” poster and the campaign t-shirt, but I will not give him a free pass. I’d urge people who disagree with Obama to still vote for him because I believe at the very least Senator Obama is dedicated to making government work and will respond to pressure from the people to do the right thing. In other words, he may not comply with your viewpoint today on an important issue, but we the people can work with this guy. He is unlike Bush and McCain because he lacks the GOP’s rigid dogma. Examine this statement from his 2006 book “The Audacity of Hope”:

[I]t is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided, just as I cannot claim infallibility in my support of abortion rights. I must admit that I may have been infected with society’s prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God; that Jesus’ call to love one another might demand a different conclusion; and that in years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history.

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Notes from the Underground

Here’s a round up of links I wanted to do full posts on, but don’t have time.

1.) Neurogenesis: your body creates new brain cells. Aerobic exercise increases neurogenesis and helps fight mental illnesses (like depression), senility, and Alzheimer’s.

But something else happened as a result of all those workouts: blood flowed at a much higher volume to a part of the brain responsible for neurogenesis. Functional M.R.I.’s showed that a portion of each person’s hippocampus received almost twice the blood volume as it did before. Scientists suspect that the blood pumping into that part of the brain was helping to produce fresh neurons.

The hippocampus plays a large role in how mammals create and process memories; it also plays a role in cognition. If your hippocampus is damaged, you most likely have trouble learning facts and forming new memories. Age plays a factor, too. As you get older, your brain gets smaller, and one of the areas most prone to this shrinkage is the hippocampus. (This can start depressingly early, in your 30’s.) Many neurologists believe that the loss of neurons in the hippocampus may be a primary cause of the cognitive decay associated with aging. A number of studies have shown that people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia tend to have smaller-than-normal hippocampi. The Columbia study suggests that shrinkage to parts of the hippocampus can be slowed via exercise.

2.) I don’t agree with Obama regarding his new call to expand federal aid to faith-based programs, but at least read what he said and don’t rely on media reports:

Now, make no mistake, as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don’t believe this partnership will endanger that idea – so long as we follow a few basic principles. First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs. And we’ll also ensure that taxpayer dollars only go to those programs that actually work.

That doesn’t mean that the federal funds can’t be used to free up other money that will be used on discriminatory and proselytizing activities.

3.) Hitchens get’s waterboarded – Is this the Christian fundie wet dream, or are they dissapointed that Dawkins and Harris weren’t tortured as well? Hitchens has been unappolagetic pro-war and a proponent of waterboarding. Now he says, “believe me, it’s torture”.

4.) This MTV Choose or Loose election commercial is funny.

5.) A Christian “news” service changes Olympian Tyson Gay’s name to “Tyson Homosexual”. Ha! Fundies say the darndest things!

6.) Two years out and people still express “disgust” and “outrage” over New Orleans Katrina looters (see this famous pic). Why doesn’t anyone talk about the racist vigilantes? Watch this clip from the excellent Danish documentary Welcome to New Orleans. (Watch the complete film, a story of how self reliance and private citizen volunteerism filled a need medical care needs despite the government’s efforts to stop it, @ Google Vide0.)