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April 27, 2006


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Cowtown Pattie and Kman go to the Arts Festival and discover a smokin' band.

* Guess why rates of AIDS among black people have grown so much in recent years.

* Mad magazine's brilliant Sergio Aragones has a website. I especially enjoyed this page, where he answers questions from fans. Here's Wikipedia on Sergio.

* Google is now offering a free webpage creator. The resulting webpages look pretty blah and are anything but dynamic. But they're certainly a snap to make. (Note: Some web-people are concerned that pages created with Google's service will allow spammers to lift your email address, so be warned.) Phillipp Lenssen looks at what people are doing with Google Pages.

* The NYTimes' Katherine Zoepf reports that 25% of all Syrian wives have been beaten.

* Fred has got the musical greats diagnosed.

* Evoca, a new audio webservice, is certainly a cleanly-executed project. But for the life of me I can't imagine what I'd ever do with it ...

* He has to. He's French.

* Snoop Dogg, novelist.

* Shyness can be charming, and (like any personality trait) it can also become a problem. But when does it deserve to be considered a disease?

* How common is white-on-black rape anyway? Kathleen Parker rehearses the figures.

* Bookgasm's Bruce Grossman is recommending some crime novels. One them is by Charles Williams, I was pleased to notice. I read my first Charles Williams ("The Hot Spot") a few years ago, and found it to be seedy-noir bliss, as well as smashingly plotted.



posted by Michael at April 27, 2006


When should shyness be considered a disease?

When it so interferes with life the victim finds it just about impossible to function in society. When it gets that bad it is know as Social Anxiety Disorder. It does isolate people and make their lives just about impossible.

It's often associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Clinical Depression, Comparing it to shyness is most like comparing tuberculosis to the sniffles.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on April 27, 2006 9:18 PM

Re: shyness, as far as evolution is concerned, we should label something a disease to the extent that it reduces fitness -- how well you can survive & reproduce. That's what we're programmed to do, and "disease" is commonly used to mean "something's outta whack."

Now, there's no "bright line," but we could adopt a convention -- if it reduces fitness by X percent on average, then it is; if by less than X percent, then it's not. So, most degrees of shyness wouldn't be a disease for girls. But even mild shyness would be a disease for guys. Assuming "shy" as in "retiring" or "timid," not simply introverted.

Posted by: Agnostic on April 28, 2006 12:10 AM

On shyness --

Agnostic -- Re: shyness, as far as evolution is concerned, we should label something a disease to the extent that it reduces fitness -- how well you can survive & reproduce. That's what we're programmed to do, and "disease" is commonly used to mean "something's outta whack."

By the logic, arthritis and other bone ailments in middle-aged people would not be considered diseases. This doesn’t quite seem reasonable. Also, it would not be reasonable to view “mild shyness” as a disease in men. Johnny Carson was like quite a few comedians and other performers in being very shy and uncomfortable in social situations, yet this did not prevent him from being successful in life or from having children.

I like the term “cosmetic psychopharmacology”, the use of drugs to change natural traits, as mentioned in the news story. It somehow makes an odd kind of sense that here in America, since we have successfully tackled so many diseases that formerly would kill or cripple us, that we now discover new diseases, such as obesity, shyness, attention-deficit disorder, etc.

Michael – There is something not quite right in the statistics about blacks, prisons, and AIDS. I am trying to find time to digest the original report, from 2005 (and available as a pdf file at ), and am not sure that the suggested conclusions follow as definitively as press reports would have us believe. For example, some earlier CDC studies I saw showed higher AIDS rates in cities with high rates of intravenous drug use, and in the South (with some correlations with religious conservatism, as well as lesser access to health care), but the study does not appear to take regional factors into account. Also, another recent Washington Post story suggests that “few men are found to get AIDS” while in prison, and also contained this little twist:

“Of the men who became infected behind bars and acknowledged having gay sex there, half reported that their partners were prison staff members, not other inmates. Whether guards were the source infection, or became infected themselves, in any of those liaisons is unknown.”

Now, I am not trying to downplay the seriousness of AIDS or of terrible problems in prisons, but I find it interesting that recent media reports about the “crisis” of prison rape are now trying to link it too neatly to the ongoing “crisis” of AIDS.

Posted by: Alec on April 28, 2006 6:08 AM

The long-term goal of psychology is turning virtues and vices into unjudgeable symptoms, yes? Shyness, for instance, would formerly have been seen as a lack of fortitude, addiction as a lack of temperance, etc.

Posted by: Brian on April 28, 2006 7:53 AM

Re. Cowtown Pattie's smokin' band.
Based on her rave review, I had ordered "The Texas Gypsies" cd. $15.99, including S&H. Ordered it last Friday, rec'd it on Tuesday, with the packaging personally scrawled on by a band member. A fine cd. Clean production; good vocal/instrumentation mix. Tight band with solid covers of (I kid you not) "I Will Survive" and "Ring of Fire". My only complaint is I wish there was a bit less on the vocals with more emphasis on the (excellent) instrument playing, and songs that were a tad longer. But, if this cd is representative of the band, they would certainly be worth seeing.

Posted by: DarkoV on April 28, 2006 8:18 AM

Alan -- It's an interesting question you raise: Is there any point in thinking of something as everyday as "shyness" and something as extreme as "panic disorder" as lying along the same continnum? I wonder if it isn't (at least sometimes) a mistake to do so ...

Agnostic -- I love your way of reasoning through these questions! I'm not being funny: you always bring an interesting p-o-v to bear. Thanks.

Alec -- I wonder what things'll be like in a hundred years. Will everything non-optimum come to be considered a disease meriting treatment? (And who will be around to speak up for the glories and pleasures and desirability of non-optimumness?) Thanks for the thinking about the AIDS and prison question. Once facts turn into numbers I'm hopelessly lost myself. What's your hunch: that prison-sex is a major element in black AIDS rates? A significant one? A minor one? Part of what gave me pause about the article was that I'd been under the impression that blacks seldom played the catcher role in prison sex. But I'm obviously just going on hearsay and what I've read.

Brian -- Psychologists have to drum up business too, dude.

DarkoV -- Thanks for the review. The clips from the band reminded me a lot of ... oh dear, the name's escaping me ... The guy who ran the band behind Maria Muldaur for a while ... Funny/brilliant, cheerful, rowdy pastiche music ... Anyway, he and his band were amazingly fun, witty, funky and amusing. CP's band seems like an even rowdier, more Texas version. Hmm, I'm getting that itch to order up a copy...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 28, 2006 10:25 AM

"Shyness...would formerly have been seen as a lack of fortitude..."

It is true that courage or fortitude can and should be deployed to overcome shyness (and much else). On the other hand, for the very shy the amount of energy expended to face those that must be faced can be close to debilitating. In such cases, if there is a pharmacological solution (a big if) I see no reason why it should not be tried.

Posted by: ricpic on April 28, 2006 11:06 AM

The traditional pharmacological solution to mild to moderate shyness is alcohol, taken orally. Alcohol, a CNS depressant, acts as a disinhibitor. (See: "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker" or "Dutch* courage".)

* No offense meant. The term seems to originate from the 17th century, when England and the Netherlands were at war. It was intended at the time to be derogatory, but subsequently entered the vernacular. (See also: "dutch treat", "dutch date", "in dutch", "dutch uncle", all of which were also intended to be derogatory.) I use it only to indicate the prevalence of the concept.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on April 28, 2006 2:00 PM

Is it that the famous Jim Kweskin that you may be thinking about in regards to Maria Muldaur?

Posted by: DarkoV on April 28, 2006 2:12 PM

Wow, I haven't thought about Sergio Aragones in years. I enjoyed his website, but I was just a little disappointed that it didn't have little cartoons in the margins.

Posted by: Max Goss on April 28, 2006 2:47 PM

'Snoop Dogg, novelist' made me laugh right out loud.

Posted by: MD on April 28, 2006 3:41 PM

Dan Hicks! That's it. Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks.

Phew. My mind isn't entirely gone. Not yet, anyway.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 28, 2006 3:48 PM

Thanks, Michael, for the nice link!

The Texas Gypsies are an unexpected change of pace to what you would usually consider a "Texas band".

TG first cd is very cool, very good, but hearing and seeing them perform live is a better treat. Their showmanship is really great and a lot of fun - especially the violin player who is a virtuoso AND a knows how to work the audience.

DarkoV - you didn't tell me you bought the cd. "I Will Survive" was a unique rendition, no?

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on April 28, 2006 5:54 PM

RE: Shyness can be attractive, you know. Once my ex and I were at an aquarium where there was a big tank of seals. A fish-chunk dispenser stood alongside -- what a money maker! We were all throwing bits of fish. One seal balanced on a flipper, another turned in circles, another barked his heart out. Way in the back was a sad little seal looking shy. Guess who we all tried to throw fish to! I've tried it at parties -- go sit alone at the side. Pretty soon someone comes. Well, if you don't look cranky!

As for AIDS, it is never mentioned in our local commercial prison but Hepatitis C is major. Everyone there for whatever reason comes down with it and it is a VERY serious disease. When I'm tempted to teach classes over there, I don't -- because of Hep C. I would be interested to see Hep C statistics alongside AIDS statistics. I suspect they track together pretty closely because they use the same transmission paths except that Hep C can be transmitted like any contagious disease through casual contact. AIDS is relatively resistant to contagion unless introduced into the person some way.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on April 28, 2006 6:19 PM

Right -- arthritis etc. are part of the "disease as what lessens quality of life" concept. Some elderly conditions are probably not affected by natural selection, hence nothing is "outta whack," though other conditions may be the cumulative result of infections.

The only reason I reserve "disease" for the "something's outta whack" category is b/c there are plenty of bothersome conditions that we might want improved, but which don't reflect things being screwed up. It keeps a strong check on disease-mongering, basically.

Posted by: Agnostic on April 30, 2006 11:33 AM

Ah, Charles Williams. One of my favorite books is his 1966 caper novel _The Wrong Venus_. Opening paragraph:

Lawrence Colby by the age of thirty had been a Korean paratrooper, art student, PR man, script-writer, a dealer in art forgeries, and newspaperman, and had ghost-written the autobiography of a homicidal maniac; he had been married twice, once to an Italian actress with kleptomania and once to a wealthy middle-aged woman who stoned embassies and slugged cops with protest signs at demonstrations; he had been beaten up in riots, shot through the leg in Houston, Texas, by a woman who was trying to kill her husband, and had been down the Cresta Run at St. Moritz three times; but afterward he was prone to look back on all this part of his life before he met Martine Randall as a time when nothing ever happened.

I must look up more of his books.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on May 1, 2006 4:06 AM

thanks for the boost for Evoca. just the mere mention is appreciated. i am the lead blogger for Evoca and i thought of several ways you could use Evoca.

1) upload a Texas Gypsies sample and let us hear 'em too....all without us having to leave the beauty of your site

2) start a small podcast

3) embed the player into anything: Myspace, Ebay, blogspot, eHarmony, etc

thanks for the mention though!


Posted by: drew on May 1, 2006 10:28 PM

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