‘It’s not just your imagination. Horror films are much more scary than they were in the past. Here’s how they do it…

This new brand of film, the neurothriller, creates a spiral of fear or lust, a warm bath of sorrow, not through classic narrative, but with sound, image, and sophisticated computer technology, all of it tapping the circuitry of the ancient emotional brain…’

Source: Aeon

Attacking ISIS Won’t Make Americans Safer

Via The Atlantic:

”For close to a decade, the trauma of the Iraq War left Americans wary of launching new wars in the Middle East. That caution is largely gone. Most of the leading presidential candidates demand that the United States escalate its air war in Iraq and Syria, send additional Special Forces, or enforce a buffer zone, which the head of Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, has said would require deploying U.S. ground troops. Most Americans now favor doing just that.

The primary justification for this new hawkishness is stopping the Islamic State, or isis, from striking the United States. Which is ironic, because at least in the short term, America’s intervention will likely spark more terrorism against the United States, thus fueling demands for yet greater military action. After a period of relative restraint, the United States is heading back into the terror trap…’

Donald Trump supporters think about morality differently than other voters. Here’s how.

This article is not primarily about Trump. It describes social science research based on so-called Moral Foundations Theory, codified by one of the co-authors, which describes six moral factors the patterns of which form a powerful explanatory framework differentiating the supporters of the major candidates, left and right. Oh yes, and Trump is an outlier, as if that would be a surprise…

Source: Vox

20,000 Libertarians Pledge To Move to the ‘Free State’ of New Hampshire

‘…[O]ver 2,000 people have already moved to New Hampshire (referred to simply as “the shire” by the group), purchasing upwards of $30 million in real estate. The group has chosen New Hampshire for a number of reasons, although chief among them is that the group is able to “maximize [its] odds of success” because of “the easy access to politics.” (New Hampshire has the largest state legislature in the US at 400 persons.)

In the 13 years since its founding, the group has made large strides toward establishing its libertarian utopia. This is most noticeable in the group’s widespread adoption of Bitcoin, which has earned the state the unofficial moniker of “Bitcoin Capital of America.” Self-identified Free Staters in New Hampshire launched Lamassu, one of the most popular Bitcoin ATMs, in 2013. SatoshiDice, the Bitcoin gambling website, was also launched out of New Hampshire in 2012 by Bitcoin mogul and Free Stater Erik Vorhees.

Although both of these Bitcoin businesses have been forced out of the US by various regulatory agencies, the Free State Project hopes to garner enough influence in New Hampshire politics to make the state more friendly to liberty-minded businesses. They seem to be well on their way to this goal, with 16 Free State Project members now serving in the state’s House of Representatives…’

Source: Motherboard

R.I.P. Dan Hicks, 74

‘Dan Hicks, a singer, songwriter and bandleader who attracted a devoted following with music that was defiantly unfashionable, proudly eccentric and foot-tappingly catchy, died on Saturday at his home in Mill Valley, Calif. He was 74… Mr. Hicks began performing with his band, Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, in the late 1960s in San Francisco, where psychedelic rock bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead dominated the music sound. The Hot Licks’ sound could not have been more different.At a time when rock was getting louder and more aggressive, Mr. Hicks’s instrumentation — two guitars (Mr. Hicks played rhythm), violin and stand-up bass, with two women providing harmony and backup vocals — offered a laid-back, all-acoustic alternative that was a throwback to a simpler time, while his lyrics gave the music a modern, slightly askew edge…’

Source: New York Times

Oh, this is very sad, in the same week as two giants from Jefferson Airplane. One of the liabilities of my continuing romance with the music of my young adulthood is that its important practitioners are dropping like flies. My classic jazz and blues musician faves are long gone and more contemporary indie and alternative performers by and large still have a lot of life in them.

Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks have always had, and will always have, a constant place in my favorites playlist. So pleased I got to see him live, in intimate venues, a couple of times in the last decade. Go out and find “Where’s the Money,” “I Scare Myself” “Walkin’ One and Only” or “I Feel Like Singing” for a never-ending kick.

Donald Trump’s Twitter Insults: The Complete List (So Far)

Via The New York Times:
‘In the seven months since declaring his candidacy for president, Donald Trump has used Twitter to lob insults at presidential candidates, journalists, news organizations, nations, a Neil Young song and even a lectern in the Oval Office. We know this because we’ve read, tagged and quoted them all. Below, a directory of sorts, with links to the original tweets.’

Here’s hoping they keep it current.

R.I.P. Signe Anderson, 1941-2016

Jefferson Airplane Singer Dies at 74, same day as Paul Kantner

‘Signe Toly Anderson, the original female vocalist with Jefferson Airplane, who left the band after its first album and was replaced by Grace Slick, died on Thursday at her home in Beaverton, Ore. She was 74.

…Ms. Anderson died the same day as another original member of the Airplane, the singer and guitarist Paul Kantner, who was also 74.

In the 1960s, Ms. Anderson was living in San Francisco and appearing at a popular folk club, the Drinking Gourd, when the vocalist Marty Balin heard her sing and asked her to join a folk-rock group he was forming. The band, soon christened Jefferson Airplane, signed with RCA Victor Records and released its first album, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” in 1966.

By the time that album came out, Ms. Anderson had given birth to her first child and decided to leave the group. She left after a farewell concert at the Fillmore in October 1966 and was replaced the next night by Ms. Slick, formerly of the San Francisco group the Great Society.

…Ms. Anderson stayed in touch with Mr. Kantner, Mr. Balin and other former bandmates and performed with them on occasion. Jorma Kaukonen, the Airplane’s lead guitarist, wrote on his blog that she was “our den mother in the early days” and a voice of reason for “our dysfunctional little family.” Mr. Balin, writing on Facebook, imagined that she and Mr. Kantner “woke up in heaven and said: ‘Hey what are you doing here? Let’s start a band.’” …’

Source: New York Times

Why Ted Cruz Is Unfit to Be President

‘One of the most disturbing developments of the 2016 Republican race for president has been Donald Trump’s popularity among the most racist elements in US society. The New Yorker, for example, had lengthy piece over the summer detailing the excitement he has generated in the neo-Nazi movement. But here’s the thing: Trump isn’t the only guy with dangerous supporters. The media don’t talk about it as much, but Ted Cruz – Trump’s closest competitor for GOP front-runner status – has also won the backing of some downright terrifying people…’

Source: Truth-Out

The Unreal, Eerie Emptiness of China’s ‘Ghost Cities’

‘The Kangbashi District of Ordos, China is a marvel of urban planning, 137-square miles of shining towers, futuristic architecture and pristine parks carved out of the grassland of Inner Mongolia. It is a thoroughly modern city, but for one thing: No one lives there.

…Kangbashi is one of hundreds of sparkling new cities sitting relatively empty throughout China, built by a government eager to urbanize the country but shunned by people unable to afford it or hesitant to leave the rural communities they know. Chicago photographer Kai Caemmerer visited Kangbashi and two other cities for his ongoing series Unborn Cities. The photos capture the eerie sensation of standing on a silent street surrounded by empty skyscrapers and public spaces devoid of life…’

Source: WIRED

Great Balls of Fire

Via NYTimes:

‘Two fireballs streaked across the sky in the past week, creating dazzling, ephemeral displays for hundreds of people below. Dashboard cameras, rooftop cameras and even one mounted on a small airplane captured footage of the bright objects in the night skies.’

Includes wonderful albeit brief videos.

Multitasking is Killing Your Brain

Via Medium: ‘MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller notes that our brains are “not wired to multitask well… when people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.” This constant task-switching encourages bad brain habits. When we complete a tiny task (sending an email, answering a text message, posting a tweet), we are hit with a dollop of dopamine, our reward hormone. Our brains love that dopamine, and so we’re encouraged to keep switching between small mini-tasks that give us instant gratification.’

R.I.P. Paul Kantner, Founding Member Of Jefferson Airplane

‘Paul Kantner, one of the founding members of 1960s San Francisco psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane, died on Thursday aged 74, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Kantner died from multiple organ failure and septic shock after suffering a heart attack earlier this week, the newspaper said, citing the band’s publicist, Cynthia Bowman.’

Source: Huffington Post

I am heartbroken. The Airplane and its spinoff groups (before Jefferson Starship descended into kitsch in the following decade) were the pinnacle of the best decade’s music for me. At least Paul will be joining Jerry, Janis, Jim and Jimi in the heavenly choir. Going home to put Blows Against the Empire on loud!

Absurd Creature of the Week

The Voracious Fish That Looks Like a Pug and Stings Like a Bee:

‘…The bulging eyes and frowny mouth that make [the stargazer] look like an aquatic pug are brilliant adaptations for an ambush predator. And even beyond its … singular looks, this is one of the sea’s most remarkable fishes—it’s venomous and it shocks like an electric eel…’

Source: WIRED

Most of Your Facebook Friends Couldn’t Care Less About You

Via Engadget:

‘Even if you have thousands of Facebook friends, you can probably only count on a handful in a pinch, according to a new study. The author, anthropologist Robin Dunbar, should know. He’s the guy who came up with Dunbar’s number, which shows that in the real world, people can only maintain about 150 stable relationships… ‘

Donald Trump: I could shoot somebody and not lose any voters

‘Donald Trump has led polls for the Republican presidential contest for over six months now. Nothing, it appears, can dislodge him from that top position — not his many offensive comments, not his lackluster debate performances, not his seeming lack of knowledge on basic public policy issues. His seemingly endless poll dominance is a truly bizarre phenomenon — one that Trump himself acknowledged at a campaign stop in Sioux Center, Iowa on Saturday. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?” Trump bragged. “It’s, like, incredible.” …’

Source: Vox

Terror Cells

‘At around the turn of the millennium, some disturbing findings surfaced in the biomedical literature. Macrophages—immune cells whose function is to attack and kill microbes and other threats to the body—do not gather at tumor sites to destroy cancer cells, as had been optimistically imagined. Instead, they encourage the cancer cells to continue their mad reproductive rampage. Frances Balkwill, the British cell biologist who performed some of the key studies of treasonous immune cell behavior, described her colleagues in the field as being “horrified.” …’

Source: Barbara Ehrenreich, The Baffler

How the Koch Bros. Bought the American Political System

1980, the year of Ronald Reagan’s election, was probably more significant for

‘…an utterly private event whose significance would not be noticed for years. Charles and David Koch, the enormously rich proprietors of an oil company based in Kansas, decided that they would spend huge amounts of money to elect conservatives at all levels of American government. David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 1980, but when the campaign was over, he resolved never to seek public office again. That wouldn’t be necessary, he and his brother concluded; they could invest in the campaigns of others, and essentially buy their way to political power.

Thirty years later, the midterm elections of 2010 ushered in the political system that the Kochs had spent so many years plotting to bring about. After the voting that year, Republicans dominated state legislatures; they controlled a clear majority of the governorships; they had taken one chamber of Congress and were on their way to winning the other. Perhaps most important, a good many of the Republicans who had won these offices were not middle-of-the-road pragmatists. They were antigovernment libertarians of the Kochs’ own political stripe. The brothers had spent or raised hundreds of millions of dollars to create majorities in their image. They had succeeded. And not merely at the polls: They had helped to finance and organize an interlocking network of think tanks, academic programs and news media outlets that far exceeded anything the liberal opposition could put together…’

Source: Jane Mayer – The New York Times

Why Pray?

‘Prayer occurs in many faiths. It stays recognisable despite its varied forms. It must be good for something – but what?’

Source: Benjamin Dueholm, Aeon

All your germaphobic habits are pretty much useless

‘Don’t want to get sick this season?Sure, you’ve heard the basics: Carry hand sanitizer everywhere. Grab public-bathroom door handles with paper towels. Hold your breath when your unwell-looking subway seat partner starts coughing.Bad news, germaphobe — your meticulous habits likely aren’t doing much to protect you.Here’s a look at all the weird germ-avoidance behaviors that are probably useless…’

Source: Business Insider


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How to See Five Planets Align in the Morning Sky

‘Over the next two weeks, five planets will line up for a cosmic dance that will dazzle skywatchers all over the world.Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are aligning for the first time in over a decade, and there’s no need for telescopes or binoculars to see the event, since all five planets will look like bright stars in the morning twilight.’

Source: National Geographic

“Cat-gras Delusion”

The Man Who Saw His Cat As An Impostor: ‘Capgras syndrome is a strange disorder in which the sufferer becomes convinced that someone close to them has been replaced by an impostor. Yet now, a new and even stranger variant of the syndrome has been reported – “Cat-gras”. This is the name coined by Harvard neurologists R. Ryan Darby and David Caplan in a new paper in the journal Neurocase. The authors describe the case of a man who believed that his cat was in fact a different cat…’

Source: Neuroskeptic

A new hideaway for the Loch Ness monster?

Retired fisherman uses sonar equipment to uncover new crevice nine miles east of Inverness, big enough to fit the phantom beast:

‘It has evaded capture for years, with dozens of alleged sightings and endless speculation about its whereabouts.But the hunt for the Loch Ness monster has just become even more arduous, after a retired fisherman used sonar equipment to show that it could be hiding at previously undiscovered depths.Tourist sightseeing boat skipper Keith Stewart, 43, claims to have found a crevice large enough for the phantom beast to be hiding in, about nine miles east of Inverness.

Britain’s deepest loch is Loch Morar, allegedly home to another elusive “water kelpie” Morag at 1017 feet.Loch Ness is the UK’s second largest, with an official maximum depth previously recorded at 754 feet.However, Mr Stewart says that his newly discovered crevice measures 889 feet deep, according to his state of the art sonar equipment…’

Source: Telegraph.UK

Why do people keep coming to this couple’s home looking for lost phones?

‘It started the first month that Christina Lee and Michael Saba started living together. An angry family came knocking at their door demanding the return of a stolen phone. Two months later, a group of friends came with the same request. One month, it happened four times. The visitors, who show up in the morning, afternoon, and in the middle of the night, sometimes accompanied by police officers, always say the same thing: their phone-tracking apps are telling them that their smartphones are in this house in a suburb of Atlanta.

But the phones aren’t there, Lee and Saba always protest, mystified at being fingered by these apps more than a dozen times since February 2015. “I’m sorry you came all this way. This happens a lot,” they’d explain. Most of the people believe them, but about a quarter of them remain suspicious, convinced that the technology is reliable and that Lee and Saba are lying.

“My biggest fear is that someone dangerous or violent is going to visit our house because of this,” said Saba by email. (Like this guy.) “If or when that happens, I doubt our polite explanations are gonna go very far.” ‘

Source: Fusion

Scientists Claim to Perform Head Transplant on Monkey

Experts Say Prove It

‘An international team of neuroscientists claims to have successfully carried out a head transplant on a monkey, along with other related experiments. But because the details haven’t been published, experts remain skeptical.

As New Scientist reports, the procedure was led by Sergio Canavero, a neuroscientist who works for the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy. Canavero made headlines last year by suggesting that head transplants are about to become a reality, and that the medical technology required to perform such a seemingly radical procedure already exists. At the time, Canavero said the first human head transplant would happen in about two years. If this latest development is true, his team appears to be right on track…’

Source: Gizmodo

Physicists Successfully Tie the Very First Quantum Knots

‘Theoretical physicists have been predicting that it should be possible for knots to form in quantum fields for decades, but nobody could figure out how to accomplish this feat experimentally. Now an international team has managed to do just that, tying knots in a superfluid for the very first time by manipulating magnetic fields.

… It’s tough to visualize these exotic objects, but they are essentially particle-like rings or loops in a quantum field connected to each other exactly once. A mathematician might not consider these structures to be true knots; typically a knot is defined as a knotted circle, like a pretzel, while a rubber band would be considered an “un-knot.” Hall and Möttönen prefer to think of their structures as knotty solitons….’

Source: Gizmodo

New Solution to Fermi Paradox Suggests Alien Life Goes Extinct Early

‘We have yet to discover a single trace of alien life, despite the extremely high probability that it exists somewhere. This contradiction is popularly known as the Fermi Paradox. A new theory attempts to solve this conundrum by suggesting that habitable planets are quite common in our galaxy, but nascent life gets snuffed out very quickly.

An oft-cited solution to the Fermi Paradox—that is, the lack of observational evidence that our galaxy has been colonized by an extraterrestrial civilization—is the Great Filter hypothesis. Devised by Robin Hanson of George Mason University, this theory suggests that some kind of cosmic-wide obstacle is preventing life from developing beyond a certain stage. Trouble is, we’re not entirely sure if this Great Filter actually exists, or what it looks like.

Some astrobiologists look to our planet’s ancient past and point to the presence of three possible filter points: the emergence of reproductive molecules, simple single-celled life, or complex single-celled life. If we could prove that any one of these critical evolutionary steps are true, that would be exceptionally good news—it would imply that the Great Filter is behind us. On the other hand, some pessimistic futurists fear that the Great Filter looms ahead of us, an event that will likely come in the form of a self-inflicted existential catastrophe…’

Source: Gizmodo

“The Animals are Leaving”

One by one, like guests at a late party
They shake our hands and step into the dark:
Arabian ostrich; Long-eared kit fox; Mysterious starling.

One by one, like sheep counted to close our eyes,
They leap the fence and disappear into the woods:
Atlas bear; Passenger pigeon; North Island laughing owl;
Great auk; Dodo; Eastern wapiti; Badlands bighorn sheep.

One by one, like grade school friends,
They move away and fade out of memory:
Portuguese ibex; Blue buck; Auroch; Oregon bison;
Spanish imperial eagle; Japanese wolf; Hawksbill
Sea turtle; Cape lion; Heath hen; Raiatea thrush.

One by one, like children at a fire drill, they march outside,
And keep marching, though teachers cry, “Come back!”
Waved albatross; White-bearded spider monkey;
Pygmy chimpanzee; Australian night parrot;
Turquoise parakeet; Indian cheetah; Korean tiger;
Eastern harbor seal ; Ceylon elephant ; Great Indian rhinoceros.

One by one, like actors in a play that ran for years
And wowed the world, they link their hands and bow
Before the curtain falls.


— Charles Harper Webb (2006)

Annals of Emerging Disease

Via The New York Times: : What You Need to Know About Zika Virus: This tropical virus is newly spreading in the Western Hemisphere and has just had its first demonstrated North American case. Pregnant women should be warned that there seems to be a link between exposure of babies in utero and microcephaly at birth.

Black Hole Sun Could Support Bizarre Life on Orbiting Planets

Via New Scientist:

‘A black hole sun could be friendlier than you might expect. Planets orbiting a black hole – as they do in the film Interstellar – could sustain life, thanks to a bizarre reversal of the thermodynamics experienced by our sun and Earth.

According to the second law of thermodynamics, life requires a temperature difference to provide a source of useable energy. Life on Earth exploits the difference between the sun and the cold vacuum of space, but what if you flip the temperatures around, with a cold sun and a hot sky?’

Let’s Just Say It: the Republicans Are the Problem

Via The Washington Post:

‘Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates…’

Boy’s Response to Blasphemy Charge Unnerves Many in Pakistan

Via The NY Times we learn that a boy accused of blasphemy by the imam of his mosque, on the basis of a misunderstanding, returned to the mosque bearing his self-severed right hand on a tray. Said imam has fled, fearing repercussions for inciting passions to such an extent. Both the boy and his family feel his action was a loving statement of his devotion to the prophet. This is so wrong on so many levels, as abby commented in pointing me to this coverage. We live in such a sick, sick world.

Barring Donald Trump From Britain?

Via NY Times, although they have no power to do so (it is actually up to the Home Secretary), the British Parliament has been debating two petitions to bar Donald Trump from Great Britain on the basis that his anti-Muslim rhetoric violates British bans on hate speech.

Sense about Science

‘Sense About Science works with scientists and members of the public to change public debates and to equip people to make sense of science and evidence.

Sense About Science responds to hundreds of requests for independent advice and questions on scientific evidence each year. We chase down dodgy science and mobilise networks of scientists and community groups to counter it. We also invite scientists to publish corrections of misreported research in our ‘For the record’ section.

Where we are constantly fire-fighting on a particular issue, we work with scientists and members of the public to draw out the underlying assumptions and to address misconceptions. Examples of this can be seen in the Making Sense of… series and other projects.

Underpinning this, Sense About Science runs programmes to promote general understanding of scientific evidence, such as use of statistics, the process of peer review and how to design a fair test to see whether medicines work.Sense About Science’s campaigns involve wide collaboration across society to make a permanent difference across all areas of our work and to create an environment that supports open public discussion about scientific research, free from intimidation, hysteria and political pressure…’

Source: Sense about Science

Sounds worthwhile. However, while I think that evidence-based conclusions are better than conjecture and assumptions, research findings are only as good as the studies that generated them. In behavioral health, “evidence-based practice” often leads us down the garden path.

A world divided: Elites descend on Swiss Alps amid rising inequality

‘Just 62 people, 53 of them men, own as much wealth as the poorest half of the entire world population and the richest 1 percent own more than the other 99 percent put together, anti-poverty charity Oxfam said on Monday.Significantly, the wealth gap is widening faster than anyone anticipated, with the 1 percent overtaking the rest one year earlier than Oxfam had predicted only a year ago.Rising inequality and a widening trust gap between people and their political leaders are big challenges for the global elite as they converge on Davos for the annual World Economic Forum, which runs from Jan. 20 to 23…’

Source: Reuters (via Boing Boing)

The people of MLK’s sermons, in one graphic

‘Martin Luther King Jr. often used characters in his sermons. Given that he was a Baptist preacher, they were usually biblical figures, like the 12 apostles, Moses, and Lazarus. But he also drew from a wide array of innovative thinkers, both ancient and contemporary…

I looked through 13 well-known King sermons, which admittedly is not comprehensive. But the sermons span from 1953 when he was a guest preacher at his uncle’s Second Baptist Church in Detroit to a handful in 1968, right before his assassination. I think these 82 people give a decent of idea of the people he included as characters in his sermons…’

Source: Vox