In the last hours of the recent mass holiday madness, with my hamster-on-the-wheel index spiking past “lethal”, a man came on the radio.
I didn’t need to glance at the dashboard to know it was NPR. The guy had that non-threatening, neutered, self-consciously deferential tone that listener-supported radio prefers in its on-air males. (Think: The antithesis of your average play-by-play football baritone.) But he was making perfect sense about how our alleged brains operate.
Boiled to its essence his message was this: More hippocampus, less amygdala. If I followed it correctly, the amygdala is the part of our limp grey blob that processes fear and ignites us into action at the first sign of threat. It’s as old as we are. See lion. Get stick. Run for tree.
The hippocampus is a bit later-evolved organ and is believed to sort out emotions, using memory to remind us that we survived this or that “threat” before, probably will again and so … chill out. Moreover, by checking the amygdala’s constant firing over threats, perceived insults, slights, disses, yadda yadda it is possible to weaken its constant calls to rage and combat. Conversely, by running rank emotion through the filter of the hippocampus we can strengthen it and, you know, behave a bit more rationally, saving us the wear and tear of constantly spiking blood pressure, not to mention the social ostracization reserved for the world’s pissers and moaners, self-dramatizing stress queens, douchy Steve Jobs-wannabe middle managers and just about everyone on FoxNews.
So, despite the radio voice’s court eunuch inflection, I veered around the latest a-wipe texter blocking my shot down the fast lane and hammered my fist on the wheel, “Damn straight, dude! Let’s all calm the [bleep] down.”
With that in mind I reviewed 2014 with a fresher eye and convinced myself that despite the insanity of psychopathic ISIS rebels, doped-up Boko Haram militias, Vladimir Putin and the House GOP caucus, things weren’t so bad.
Barack Obama finally figured out that the country is actually OK with him playing “emperor”, which means ignoring the fools elected by amygdala-driven rural America and getting stuff done. Immigration, a minor climate change deal, Cuba, etc. Not cure-for-cancer or Jamie Dimon perp walk quality stuff necessarily, but something, for chrissake. Those moves set Mitch McConnell’s jowls flapping like they were caught out in a 100-mph derecho, but the clear consensus was … “What the hell took you so long?”
The last Congress was an obscene joke, with an approval rating a quarter of Obama’s. It was so indifferent to actual work it produced a fifth of the legislation of Harry Truman’s “Do-Nothing Congress”, while devoting countless hours to threatening to sue Obama for … doing something.
The fools have a majority for the next couple years, which means, as usual nothing will get done on anything big, unless you’re one of those who believe another pipeline full of filthy Canadian oil is the only way to “jump start the economy” and “provide quality jobs” … oh wait, that’s already happening. But I’m believing Obama has at long last found a way to function in face of the GOP’s constant 12 year-old girls-on-a-rollercoaster, full-amygdala freak out.
With the Michael Brown-Eric Garner-Tamir Rice (and on and on) cases filling headlines, it was a pretty bad year for unqualified cops. Now New York’s finest are making fools of themselves (when they should be accruing sympathy), by pretending that Bill DeBlasio is the first Mayor to treat them like, you know, public employees being held to a higher standard than street thugs. The hippocampus factor here is that a broader mass of the public has processed a clear pattern of what is really professional incompetence as much as anything else. Lacking knee-jerk public support for every episode of amygdala-panicked gunslinging, the actual adults among the nation’s cops may apply overdue pressure on the fools in their ranks.
In the media … KSTP-TV and Jay Kolls’ astonishingly overplayed “Pointergate” story was the obvious low-point for another year glutted with content-free, over-coverage of airline disasters, ditsy celebrity buffoonery, horse-race political “reporting”, a general lack of oversight of corporate tax manipulations (Medtronic being the exception that proves the rule) and fawning “access reporting” on government, business and cultural issues. But the KSTP-Kolls fiasco was such a blatant, cringe-inducing example of a reporter and organization being played for chumps by an agenda-driving source it has to have a chilling, which is to say spine-stiffening effect on every reporter who watched. Sources may not like it, but skepticism does protect your professional credibility.
Speaking of … . Kudos to crusty old Pat Reusse of the Strib for his recent column acknowledging the abundance of “sweetness” in local sports coverage. While I’m far more concerned about the PR work so-called business reporters do for local “job creators”, Reusse’s point is well taken and long overdue from someone of his stature. The sports beat is the classic example of “access reporting”. Watch every locker room stop talking to you the minute you tell the public what’s really going on. But come on, is any intelligent fan supposed to believe the pep rally prattle that comes out of every training camp? Fortunately, as the internet matures the options are both plentiful and credible. Over the past few years I’ve become a fan of Minnesota native Drew Magary, writing on Deadspin.com. Were daily writers allowed Magary’s license for entirely appropriate vulgarity when describing the NFL ownership group and management Minnesota taxpayers may have saved themselves a quarter billion or more in stadium construction costs. Point being … the countdown to extinction of the stenographer sports writer has accelerated.
Likewise … as an unapologetic car guy, I’m forever dismayed at the shiv car dealer associations drive into the amygdala of every media outlet’s advertising sales manager at the first hint of unflattering coverage of some company’s latest over-teched hangar queen. So here’s a salute to writers like Doug DeMuro at Jalopnik (a sister site of Deadspin). Because they’re not feeding from the hind teat of GM, Mercedes, etc. they provide actual objective consumer information, like DeMuro’s classic series on trying to keep up with repairs on a used Range Rover or “The Myth of German Reliability”. It goes without saying that both Magary and DeMuro also regularly provide a quality in dismaying short supply in the mainstream press … a good, righteous laugh.
Finally, (for now), as someone who believes few art forms thicken the old hippocampus better than good music, rock in particular, I was heartened by the favor millennial hipsters showered on The War on Drugs latest CD, “Lost in the Dream”. Amid a pop landscape glutted with cheesy, cookie cutter (faux) country acts, all contractually obligated to wear the same hat, and the uninterrupted parade of auto-tuned starlet diva/trainwrecks it was pure delight to hear a band kick it out and rock. The lead singer’s mom force fed him a steady diet of Bob Dylan from his “Jokerman” era and it shows, to an effect appreciated on “Best of the Year” lists from Britain to West Hollywood.
Likewise, Spoon, another favorite had a good year, (with two stops in Minneapolis). And while neither dampened the panties of the uber hipsters, I much enjoyed the latest from The Kings of Leon and The Black Keys. Ditto, Pearl Jam’s October show at the Xcel … a Springsteen like tribal celebration that walled off the amygdala for days afterwards …
… until election night.