How Trump could use emergency powers in the upcoming U.S. election

‘They’re easily exploitable and open to abuse, says Brennan Center for Justice co-director Elizabeth Goitein…’

— via CBC Radio

The 1976 National Emergencies Act gives the President almost unlimited and veto-proof discretion to declare a national emergency under whatever circumstances he chooses.Such a declaration triggers standby powers, some quite narrow and reasonable but some broad enough to make a dictator’s mouth water, including imposing martial law, suspending habeas corpus, freezing anyone’s assets and seizing their property, shutting down the broadcast media and “wire communications facilities,” potentially including the internet, seizing control of transport, restricting travel, and incarcerating so-called subversives. 

The scope of emergency power in emergency has been further expanded by a number of extra-legislative Presidential Emergency Action Documents (PEADs) which has steadily proliferated over recent decades. A president-elect is briefed on these powers at the time of his inauguration (at the same time he receives the nuclear launch codes). 

Presidential abuse of emergency powers has a venerable history in American politics. FDR used that authority for the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor. The growth in subsequent decades of the vast illegal domestic spying operations used to suppress the civil rights and antiwar movements in the ’60s and ’70s has also been justified by emergency powers, as was the ordering of foreign assassinations and the financing of the Vietnam War and other undeclared foreign interventions. 

There are statutes that specifically prohibit interference in elections which cannot be waived by the emergency powers, however, but emergency powers not specifically related to elections, such as the authority to deploy federal troops to suppress civil unrest, could be deployed at will at such times. If they interfere with the election process, they are illegal, but — in a word — so what?

Andrew Cockburn writes in the November 2020 issue of Harper’s of the long history of the failure of Congressional oversight of these powers, whose existence has largely escaped the public’s attention until donald trump began to brag about them (“I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about…”). 

In June, a group including former Carter administration official Joel McCleary, Clinton administration security official Mark Medish, and former senators Gary Hart and Tom Wirth, issued a warning about the president’s emergency powers.

“It looks as though a rolling coup is underway, with Trump and his confederates testing the waters for ways to scupper the election,” Medish [said] recently. Democratic leaders are meanwhile cautious, he said, “about doing anything that might demoralize voters by drawing too much attention to unconventional election threats,” which they feel would risk depressing the vote. As McCleary pithily remarked, when the president decides to ignore it, the Constitution turns out to be “no more than a gentleman’s agreement.”

Nuclear weapons treaty: Campaigners hail new era for nuclear disarmament

‘Campaigners have hailed a “new chapter” after a key step by the United Nations towards banning nuclear arms.
Honduras has become the 50th country to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons so it will now come into force in 90 days time…

The accord was approved by 122 countries at the UN General Assembly in 2017 but needed to be ratified by at least 50 before being enacted…’

— via BBC News

What Can You Do If Trump Stages a Coup?

Citizens prepare to take on a would-be regime:

— via The New Yorker

For months trump has hinted that he might not concede power if he loses in November. His response to questions about committing to a peaceful transfer of power was, “There won’t be a transfer, frankly. THere’ll be a continuation.” Is this plausible? There has been endless speculation about ways trump could orchestrate a power grab on November 4th:

‘The possibilities include familiar tactics—contesting mail-in ballots and turning the process into Bush v. Gore on steroids—and others that sound straight out of a police state. For example, Trump could summon federal agents or his supporters to stop a recount or intimidate voters. According to some experts, this would constitute an autogolpe, or “self coup”: when a President who obtained power through constitutional means holds onto it through illegitimate ones, beginning the slide into authoritarianism…’

Organizing to combat these possibilities has been proceeding. There’s the 50-page downloadable manual Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy and the work of Quaker sociologist George Lakey, known for his 1964 Manual for Direct Action (which is often referred to as the bible for participants in the civil rights movement) and training activists throughout the world in their struggles against repressive regimes. American activists accustomed to the slow pace of organizing for social change would need an entirely new skill set to defeat a fast-moving coup.

A group Lakey helped form this summer called Choose Democracy has been asking people to take a pledge to commit to nonviolent direct action if a coup is attempted. So far it has more than 30,000 signatures. The group is giving training sessions on “Beating an Election-Related Power Grab” in Zoom based on the studies of successful occasions when citizens of a country were able to rise up and defeat a coup. Common factors have included the rapid construction of an alliance drawing from a broad cross-section of society, focusing on the center of the political spectrum, remaining nonviolent, and refusing to compromise with the wannabe despot. 

As far as tactics go, Lakey dismisses the impact of mass protests. We know from the last four years that they have no impact on trump and his cronies. Instead, there have to be ways of depriving trump of the institutional support he would need to govern by focusing on institutions such as banking, business, the military, the media, law enforcement and the judiciary as well as local bureaucracies. 

There are alarming challenges in the US to avoiding violence, mostly the millions of US citizens who are loyal trump supporters and own guns — and not just guns but semi-automatic weapons. 

‘Lakey acknowledged, “There are a lot of alarming things going on already in this country with regard to what I call Trump’s ‘irregulars.’ ” He said that protesters should plan their rallies for places where it would be difficult for violence to break out: in the lobby of an office building or in a car caravan. He told participants to imagine that they were Proud Boys looking to “rumble.” “Ask, ‘What would they welcome?’ And then not do that!” he said. One tip, from the civil-rights movement: “When in doubt, sit down. It’s counterintuitive. But it has been used in multiple cultures, and it works.” (Except with tear gas. Then, he said, “walking slowly would be best.”)…’

In the last analysis, outbreaks of right-wing violence could horrify the public and bring a surge of indecisive people into the opposition. ‘That’s what happened during Thailand’s military coup, in 1992, when soldiers shot into a crowd of nonviolent demonstrators.’

Taking the Zoom training may help people feel empowered and more hopeful. Forewarned is forearmed. 

 

Related:

What happens if Donald Trump fights the election results? ‘Stealing a Presidential election in America is difficult, but it has been done before…,’ writes Eric Lach in The New Yorker. 

A Training to Defend Democracy (Hold The Line): on Zoom, Oct 27 7:30-9:30 pm ET

National Workshops on beating an election-related power-grab (Choose Democracy), led by George Lakey on Zoom , Oct 25-Nov 1 as well as after the election

 

 

Oreo Built a Doomsday Vault in Norway for Cookies to Preserve Them for Generations to Come

‘Asteroid 2018 VP1 is scheduled to graze Earth on Nov. 2, the day before the US elections. It has a real but exceedingly slim (0.41%) possibility of entering our planet’s atmosphere, at which point it would harmlessly disintegrate. But Oreo isn’t taking any chances. The company has built a concrete doomsday vault in Norway to house its cookies.

The vault design is inspired by the famous seed vault in the Arctic that’s meant to preserve the world’s botanical legacy against natural or human-caused disasters. Oreo’s version is much smaller, but it shows the cookie company’s commitment to riding out a truly epic PR stunt….’

— via Design You Trust

Unusual Maps People Shared On This Group That Might Change Your Perspective On Things

Tracking Of An Eagle Over A 20 Year Period

‘To bring back our long-lost excitement for hard pieces of data, aka maps, plans, and geographic drawings, we’re gonna need to start from the very best of them. Luckily, there’s a whole online community on Reddit (created by Patrick McGranaghan, who started the subreddit in 2011 while living in Taiwan) dedicated to the most unusual charts of geographic areas that took maps to a whole new level….’

— via Design You Trust

Trump Revealed His Thoughts on ‘Borat 2′ & Sacha Baron Cohen Responded

Trump on Sasha Baron Cohen:

“I don’t know what happened. But years ago, you know, he [Sacha Baron Cohen] tried to scam me and I was the only one who said no way. That’s a phony guy and I don’t find him funny… To me, he’s a creep…”

Baron Cohen in response:

“Donald—I appreciate the free publicity for Borat! I admit, I don’t find you funny either. But yet the whole world laughs at you. I’m always looking for people to play racist buffoons, and you’ll need a job after Jan. 20. Let’s talk!”…’

— via Just Jared

‘Well, What Do You Mean, We Can’t Join the Klan?’

Inside the bizarre, secret meeting between Malcolm X and the Ku Klux Klan in January 1961:

‘The meeting was the beginning of an uneasy alliance between the NOI and the Ku Klux Klan on shared goals of racial separation. It was also the beginning of Malcolm’s disillusionment with the Black Muslim organization and his embrace of the more mainstream civil rights movement….’

— via POLITICO

Fukushima water release could change human DNA, Greenpeace warns

‘The environmental group claims that the 1.23 million metric tons of water stored at the plant — scene of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster — contains “dangerous” levels of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 and other “hazardous” radionuclides, which it says will have “serious long-term consequences for communities and the environment” if the water is released into the Pacific Ocean.

To cool fuel cores at the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has pumped in tens of thousands of tons of water over the years. Once used, the water is put into storage.

But nine years on from Japan’s worst nuclear disaster, storage space is running out, and the government is still deciding what to do with the water….’

— via CNN

Republican Pollster: Trump’s Is The ‘The Worst Campaign I’ve Ever Seen

 

‘“I’ve never seen a campaign more miscalibrated than the Trump campaign. Frankly, his staff ought to be brought up on charges of political malpractice,” Republican pollster Frank Luntz said…

“It is the worst campaign I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been watching them since 1980. They’re on the wrong issues. They’re on the wrong message. They’ve got their heads up their asses,” he added. “Your damn job is to get your candidate to talk about things that are relevant to the people you need to reach. And if you can’t do your damn job then get out.”

Luntz said that “nobody cares about Hunter Biden,” the son of Democratic nominee Joe Biden and a favored target of right-wing media attacks. With weeks before Election Day, the Trump camp has seized aggressively on a dubious story published by the New York Post that alleges the Bidens were involved in high-level political corruption….

“Hunter Biden does not help put food on the table. Hunter Biden does not help anyone get a job. Hunter Biden does not provide health care or solve COVID. And Donald Trump spends all of his time focused on that and nobody cares,” Luntz said…’

— via HuffPost

This Is CNN’s ‘Doomsday Video’ For Apocalypse Coverage

‘The end of the world has a soundtrack, thanks to CNN.

An ex-intern supposedly unearthed a long-rumored video that CNN founder Ted Turner vowed to broadcast in the event of an apocalypse scenario. As Turner pledged when the 24-hour news channel launched in 1980, the video (above) shows a brass band playing “Nearer My God To Thee,” the same song that onboard musicians reportedly performed as the Titanic sank.

“People thought he was joking,” Michael Ballaban wrote of Turner on Jalopnik. “We have proof that he wasn’t.”

Ballaban said he found the tape in a network archive under the name “TURNER DOOMSDAY VIDEO” while interning for “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” in 2009.

…Turner’s words to celebrate the June 1, 1980, network launch were: …“We’re gonna stay on until the end of the world. When that time comes, we’ll cover it, play ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ and sign off.” …’

— Ron Dicker via HuffPost

The legal reckoning awaiting Donald Trump if he loses the election

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‘If things don’t go Donald Trump’s way on Election Day, the President may face more serious matters than how to pack up the West Wing.

Without some of the protections afforded him by the presidency, Trump will become vulnerable to multiple investigations looking into possible fraud in his financial business dealings as a private citizen — both as an individual and through his company. He faces defamation lawsuits sparked by his denials of accusations made by women who have alleged he assaulted them, including E. Jean Carroll, the former magazine columnist who has accused him of rape. And then there are claims he corrupted the presidency for his personal profits.

As President, Trump has been able to block and delay several of these investigations and lawsuits — including a yearlong fight over a subpoena for his tax returns — in part because of his official position. Many of those matters have wound through the courts and will come to a head whether he is reelected or not.
But with the polls showing that Democratic rival Joe Biden is leading in the race, the stakes become much higher for Trump if he loses the election. A raft of legal issues, including a criminal investigation by New York prosecutors, will come into focus in the weeks after Election Day….’

— via CNNPolitics

Opinion: There Will Be No Trump Coup

A final pre-election case for understanding the president as a noisy weakling, not a budding autocrat.

‘Across the last four years, the Trump administration has indeed displayed hallmarks of authoritarianism. It features egregious internal sycophancy and hacks in high positions, abusive presidential rhetoric and mendacity on an unusual scale. The president’s attempts to delegitimize the 2020 vote aren’t novel; they’re an extension of the way he’s talked since his birther days, paranoid and demagogic.

These are all very bad things, and good reasons to favor his defeat. But it’s also important to recognize all the elements of authoritarianism he lacks. He lacks popularity and political skill, unlike most of the global strongmen who are supposed to be his peers. He lacks power over the media: Outside of Fox’s prime time, he faces an unremittingly hostile press whose major outlets have thrived throughout his presidency. He is plainly despised by his own military leadership, and notwithstanding his courtship of Mark Zuckerberg, Silicon Valley is more likely to censor him than to support him in a constitutional crisis. His own Supreme Court appointees have already ruled against him; his attempts to turn his voter-fraud hype into litigation have been repeatedly defeated in the courts; he has been constantly at war with his own C.I.A. and F.B.I. And there is no mass movement behind him: The threat of far-right violence is certainly real, but America’s streets belong to the anti-Trump left….’

— Ross Douthat via The New York Times

What a second trump term might look like for international relations

‘Trump is already undertaking a nuclear buildup and seems set on dismantling the one remaining treaty between the world’s two main nuclear powers. And there is a real fear that a second Trump term would embolden the authoritarians around the world who have lined up to support him. Not all of his bluster translates into impact—corporations are largely navigating his trade wars, and global climate policy is working around Washington for now—but his abandonment of the international arena is almost certain to have big downstream effects as China rises to fill the gap.

“Whoever occupies the Oval Office from January has to appreciate that America’s alliance network is its greatest comparative advantage over China,” says former NATO Secretary General and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Trump is deliberately letting that network wither.

While the Trump administration notched a win for Middle East stability this year by securing deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the world as a whole has not responded well to his presidency. In a recent Pew survey of 13 democracies, confidence in his leadership on world affairs ranged from 9 percent in Belgium to a high of 25 percent in Japan. Trump is the least trusted of all major world leaders; even among supporters of Europe’s far right parties, his approval never rises above 45 percent.

This means “America First” has huge and mounting costs for America: Increasingly, it is losing the ability to rely on the easy cooperation of old allies, and the global respect that fuels U.S. soft power has almost vanished…’

— By Ryan Heath via POLITICO

25th Amendment: Pelosi pushes new bill to determine whether a President is capable of serving

‘Asked if she has questions about the President’s capability to serve in the office right now, Pelosi said, “What I said about the President was that we don’t know if somebody who — I’ve not said this, I’ve quoted others to say there are those who say that when you’re on steroids and/or if you have Covid-19 or both that there may be some impairment of judgment, but again that’s for the doctors and the scientists to determine.”
The comments prompted an angry retort from Trump, who retweeted several messages suggesting that Pelosi is trying to mount a coup. Trump ultimately responded to Pelosi: “Crazy Nancy is the one who should be under observation. They don’t call her Crazy for nothing!”

Trump puts his own spin on his health as doctors reveal little
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the efforts by House Democrats as “absurd” Friday.
“That’s absurd. Absolutely absurd. Again, right here in the last three weeks before the election, I think those wild comments should be largely discounted,” he said speaking at a news conference in Kentucky.
The new proposal would create a commission of 17 people — eight appointed by Republicans and eight appointed by Democrats — as well as a chair selected by the entire body. That commission could study the President’s health as well as request an exam of the President. If the President refused, the commission could make a judgment on the President’s condition with the information they already had. A majority of the commission could vote to remove the President, but only with the Vice President….’

— via CNNPolitics

Finally, this possibility is being taken seriously, but for the wrong reasons. Trump’s malignant narcissism and possible cognitive deterioration, have raised questions about his fitness to serve since soon after his election. As I have written about several times here, consideration of invoking the 25th amendment process were led by a group of concerned psychiatrists. I am glad the issue is being raised again, but the cognitive and personality impairments caused by Covid infection and/or steroid use are transient. A bipartisan investigation would be deadlocked for so long that it would be a moot point, even if it were not three months to Inauguration Day. Related: What happens if a nominee dies shortly before or after the election. Washington Post: “It’s complicated.” To what extent would these considerations apply if a nominee were unfit to continue his candidacy?

Trump Stimulus Fail: Worst Blunder in Presidential History

‘In May, the House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion economic relief bill. Over the next four and a half months, Republicans in the White House and Senate dithered, alternating between good-faith engagement and lethargy. The apparent final blow came in the form of a series of tweets by President Trump announcing an end to negotiations.

It is possible Trump — who just yesterday declared his desire to cut a deal — intends this as one of his “clever” negotiating ploys, enabling him to turn around and make a deal that he can paint as a capitulation by his panicked foes. But even if that happens, the window to boost the economy in time to help him (obviously the only consideration Trump cares about) is closing fast. Walking away from the extended hand of an opposition party willing to pump trillions of dollars into the economy may go down as the single greatest political blunder in the history of presidential elections….’

— Jonathan Chait via New York Magazine

‘Possible ecological catastrophe’ in Russia’s Kamchatka region

‘Russian investigators said Saturday they were looking into “a possible ecological catastrophe” in the eastern Kamchatka region, after scores of dead sea creatures washed up in one of it bays and surfers reported burns to their eyes and throats.
Images of dead seals, octopi, starfish and urchins on the Khalaktyrsky Beach in the Avacha Bay have been shared on social media for several days.
Surfers in the area have also complained that the sea had an unnatural smell and color….’

— via NBC News

Opinion | Americans showed Trump compassion. He repaid us with contempt.

‘Americans of all political stripes wished President Trump well in his battle with covid-19. Now he is repaying our compassion with reckless disregard and callous contempt for the well-being of anybody but himself. Trump, announcing via Twitter on Monday afternoon that he was ending his hospitalization at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after three days, told Americans that the pandemic is no big deal. “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life,” he wrote. “I feel better than I did 20 years ago!” he added. A more selfish man has never occupied his high office. He received a cutting-edge treatment, monoclonal antibodies, unavailable to virtually all other Americans. He received an antiviral, remdesivir, that is rationed for ordinary Americans. He required oxygen and steroids. Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic Yet Trump has the audacity to tell Americans the virus is no biggie. No doubt the families of the 209,000 dead are greatly reassured….’

— Dana Milbank in The Washington Post

How Do You Protect a Culture Against Genocide?

China’s War on the Uighurs:

‘How do you protect a culture that is being wiped out?

For Uighurs, this is more than just a hypothetical. Repressive measures against the ethnic minority have progressively worsened: the Chinese government has corralled more than 1 million of them into internment camps, where they have been subjected to political indoctrination, forced sterilization, and torture.

The targeting of the Uighurs isn’t limited to the camps: Since 2016, dozens of graveyards and religious sites have been destroyed. The Uighur language has been banned in Xinjiang schools in favor of Mandarin Chinese. Practicing Islam, the predominant Uighur faith, has been discouraged as a “sign of extremism.”

Beijing frames these moves as its way of rooting out terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism. But the aim of China’s actions in Xinjiang is clear: to homogenize Uighurs into the country’s Han Chinese majority, even if that means erasing their cultural and religious identity for good. What is taking place is a cultural genocide….’

— via The Atlantic

Those ‘Doomsday Planes’ Have Nothing to Do With Trump’s Covid-19 Test

Okay, so it is interesting to discuss whether plane spotters’ observation of two E-6B takeoffs and trump’s tweet about his CoViD positivity minutes later were related (probably not, it appears). But the backstory about these aircraft is more fascinating:

 

‘…E-6Bs, which are based on Boeing 707s, are essentially communication relay stations built to receive military orders from the president of the US and the secretary of defense, and then convey those commands to US ballistic missile submarines. They’re also equipped to remotely control Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles through a platform called the Airborne Launch Control System. The idea is for E-6Bs to serve as a redundancy in case ground-based communication systems are disrupted. And they’re also crucial for establishing line-of-sight communication connections that require proximity. The E-6B mission overall is known as TACAMO, or Take Charge And Move Out…

The planes have some dramatic capabilities. One of the most significant is their Very Low Frequency communication platform, which is used to reach nuclear ballistic missile submarines down to 60 feet below the ocean’s surface. These stealth submarines must conceal their positions and often can’t rise to shallower depths or send up buoys to aid communication. Instead, both communication relay planes and the submarines themselves must be equipped with massive antennas, and even then VLF systems are still extremely low-latency, low-bandwidth, and low-throughput, meaning it takes a long time to send very small amounts of data. To transmit even the shortest messages to deep-sea submarines, E-6Bs perform special airborne maneuvers. These are essentially steep, tight turns that go on for long periods of time, looping the plane around and around to get the antennas in a vertical position transmitting straight down into the water. Other military planes are also equipped for VLF communication, but it is especially core to the mission of E-6Bs…’

— via WIRED

The Futility of Rolling Stone’s Best-Albums List

‘In 2003, Wenner and Rolling Stone engaged in a complementary act of canon-building with a list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” a massive undertaking. The list’s flaws were apparent from the beginning. “Predictably,” Edna Gundersen wrote, in USA Today that year, “the list is weighted toward testosterone-fueled vintage rock.” Here was an institution, Rolling Stone, made up primarily of white men, saying that most of the best music ever was made by white men, and leaning on their authority as a counterculture icon to do so. A new Rolling Stone list was revealed last week, with a hundred and fifty-four new entries and some major moves in the rankings. It reflects an admirable attempt by Rolling Stone to evolve with the times and exhibit a more comprehensive consideration of music history. The resulting list was clearly animated by a critical push toward poptimism and an attempt to diversify the critical class.

In a column in the Guardian, from 2018, titled “Bland on Blonde: Why the Old Rock Music Canon Is Finished,” the critic Michael Hann accurately summarized the problems with the current canon: the inherent superiority of rock assumed in the long-standing hierarchy of popular music; the domination of the conversation by white men; and the construction of the canon with albums, a format that many of us still value but which is, quite frankly, obsolete. Hann predicted the rapid fading of the rockist canon and the rise of a new one defined by a more inclusive critical tribunal…’

— via The New Yorker

After Trump’s Coronavirus Diagnosis, What’s His Medical Outlook?

Trump—by virtue of his age, gender, and weight—is at relatively high risk for serious complications from the coronavirus infection. People over the age of sixty-five account for more than eighty per cent of covid-19 deaths in the United States. Compared to a twentysomething, a septuagenarian is more than five times as likely to be hospitalized and is ninety times more likely to die of the coronavirus. For Americans in their seventies, the case fatality rate—a measure of a person’s chance of dying after being diagnosed—is around ten per cent. The true rate of death in that age group is almost certainly lower, since some people who contract the virus never develop symptoms and are never tested for it. On the other hand, we know that older men are more likely to die than women, possibly because of gendered differences in the way the immune system responds to the virus. At six feet three and two hundred and forty-three pounds, the President is also obese, which increases the risk of hospitalization, I.C.U. admission, and death.

— via The New Yorker

In all likelihood, however, he will survive, as the vast majority of infected people do, but especially given his early diagnosis and the world-class attention he has already started, and will continue, to receive. On the other hand, this virus is a capricious killer. Almost surely at the current vantage point, his symptoms are worse than represented.

With his schedule of events and his execrable disdain for masks and social distancing, he is a potential superspreader at a White House with a crippled approach to the coronavirus. Given this, and the false negative rate for CoViD testing among the asymptomatic and presymptomatic, reassurances that other administration figures including Mike Pence are healthy should be viewed with skepticism and should not necessarily obviate the need for quarantine regardless of test results.

Trump did not get the ‘October surprise’ he bargained for. His infection means that his bungling of the pandemic is now guaranteed to remain the overriding story of the last month of the campaign. Those who hope for his speedy return to health should recognize that if his symptoms remain mild he will almost use his recovery as ammunition to scoff at the advice of medical experts while the virus continues to kill a thousand or more Americans per day.

The Real Nightmare Scenario: A Sick Mike Pence

‘…Given the current makeup of the executive branch, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might, with the help of an aggressive attorney general, William Barr, challenge any attempt by Nancy Pelosi to ascend to the presidency if both Trump and Pence are incapacitated by Covid-19—perhaps even preemptively putting out a legal opinion that Pompeo is legally next in line for the acting presidency.

Could Nancy Pelosi assume the acting presidency and fire Barr to get her own contrary legal opinion? Would Barr treat such an order as legitimate? Would the Supreme Court weigh in? How those questions would be answered would almost certainly hinge less on actual legal fights and more on vague public sentiments—questions such as whether the president or vice president looks likely to recover.

“The nation could thus be deeply divided, in a hard-to-resolve way, on the very basic question: Who is the (acting) president of the United States?” legal scholars Jack Goldsmith and Ben Miller-Gootnick wrote back in March at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic…’

— via POLITICO

Opinion: Trump’s taxes show why he is desperate to stay in office

‘The Times has done an impressive job of getting the truth out, and now it is up to the voters to decide whether they want to reelect a flimflam man. The Times account makes clear that Trump is desperate to stay in office in no small part because he needs to profit from the presidency — and to avoid the risk of prosecution for tax fraud and other possible crimes….’

— Max Boot via The Washington Post

There’s a historic insurrection against Donald Trump happening within the GOP

‘There’s a revolution happening within the GOP right under our noses. The latest sign came Sunday, when former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge penned an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer making clear his intent to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden over President Donald Trump in November.
“He lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect and maturity to lead,” Ridge, who also served as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration, wrote of Trump.
Ridge joins fellow Bush Cabinet secretaries Christine Todd Whitman (EPA), Ann Veneman (Agriculture), Carlos Gutierrez (Commerce) and Colin Powell (State) as Biden endorsers. Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, and Chuck Hagel, the former Nebraska Republican senator, both of whom served in the Obama Cabinet, have also backed Biden.
And that’s just Republicans who served in a presidential Cabinet! …

…(T)he hugely ironic reason that the sheer number of prominent Republicans rebelling from him in this election hasn’t received the attention I think it should: Because there are just so damn many of them…’

— Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large via CNNPolitics

Trevor Noah’s scathing theory on why Melania can’t dump trump

‘Trevor Noah said the explosive New York Times report detailing President sonald trump’s massive $421 million in debt ― most of which is coming due over the next four years ― was the “Rosetta stone” that explains everything else. 

“trump doesn’t actually want to be president. He just really needs that Secret Service protection,” “The Daily Show” host said. “Shit, if I had $400 million in loans coming due, I’d also be trying to cancel the election.”

And the debt explains why first lady Melania Trump hasn’t left the president. 

“If she divorces him, she gets half of the $400 million in debt,” Noah cracked. 

Noah also noted that trump was rooting for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to win the Democratic presidential nomination instead of Joe Biden. 

“He wanted [Sanders] to win so that the government would bail him out,” Noah said, adding: “It even explains why trump has been destroying the post office. Good luck collecting your money when you can’t mail him a bill.”…’

— Ed Mazza via HuffPost

Microaggressions aren’t just innocent blunders

Jonathan Kanter, director of the Center for the Science of Social Connection, University of Washington: “New research links them with racial bias”:

‘It’s a pattern that recurs countless times, in myriad interactions and contexts, across American society. A white person says something that is experienced as racially biased, is called on it and reacts defensively.

These comments and other such subtle snubs, insults and offenses are known as microaggressions. The concept, introduced in the 1970s by Black psychiatrist Chester Pierce, is now the focus of a fierce debate.

Most research has focused on the harms done to those on the receiving end of microaggressions. SDI Productions/E+ via Getty Images
On one side, Black people and a host of others representing multiple diverse communities stand with a wealth of testimonials, lists of different types of microaggressions and compelling scientific evidence documenting how these experiences harm recipients.

Some white people are on board, working to understand, change and join as allies. Still, a cacophony of white voices exists in the public discourse, dismissive, defensive and influential. Their main argument: Microaggressions are innocuous and innocent, not associated with racism at all. Many contend that those who complain about microaggressions are manipulating victimhood and being too sensitive….’

— via The Conversation

Bruce Schneier: “The unrelenting horizonlessness of the Covid world”

‘At CNN, …security researcher Bruce Schneier and Harvard media professor Nick Couldry write about acedia, “a malady that apparently plagued many Medieval monks. It’s a sense of no longer caring about caring, not because one had become apathetic, but because somehow the whole structure of care had become jammed up.” According to Schneier and Couldry, the meta-apathy of acedia is one of the strangest and psychologically stressful consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. From CNN:

What unsettles us is not only fear of change. It’s that, if we can no longer trust in the future, many things become irrelevant, retrospectively pointless. And by that we mean from the perspective of a future whose basic shape we can no longer take for granted. This fundamentally disrupts how we weigh the value of what we are doing right now. It becomes especially hard under these conditions to hold on to the value in activities that, by their very nature, are future-directed, such as education or institution-building….

— via Boing Boing

The Mystery of “The Jet-Propelled Couch”

 

Mark Frauenfelder, writing in his newsletter The Magnet, tags this “the most interesting psychiatric case in history”. As a clinical psychiatrist I’m not sure I would be quite so ebullient, but I have a similar love for and fascination with this 1955 account by psychoanalyst Robert Lindner  (1914-1956) of his pseudonymized treatment of a physicist, referred to as Kirk Allen and likely someone who worked at Los Alamos and made important contributions to the Manhattan Project during WWII. I was fairly certain that I had written about ‘The Jet-Propelled Couch’ here on FmH but a search back reveals not.

Allen’s supervisors, observing his erratic behavior and preoccupation on the job, had sent him for psychiatric evaluation and Lindner found that he had an elaborate fantasy life in which he could teleport back and forth between his earthly existence and a life in a part of the universe distant in time and space in which he was the lord of an interstellar empire. Allen kept meticulous notes of his adventures which he shared with Lindner, running to 12,000 pages of manuscript complete with notes, extensive glossary, maps, chronologies of the history of the planet over which Allen ruled, and hundreds of drawings he had made of aspects of alien life. 

Lindner ran the gamut of conventional treatment approaches of the day in trying to cure Allen of his delusion without success. Then, he describes having the “sudden flash of inspiration… in order to separate Kirk from his madness it was necessary for me to enter his fantasy and, from that position, to pry him loose from the psychosis.” Lindner joined in Allen’s fantasy life with enthusiasm and wrote of his growing relish for and obsession with his patient’s adventure stories. He encouraged Allen to return to his other life repeatedly, awaiting their sessions with impatience to hear about Allen’s further exploits on alien worlds. Little by little, however, in what I find the most fascinating aspect of the story, he began to note Allen’s growing discomfort with his coaxing until Allen reluctantly confessed that for several months he had no longer believed in the reality of his stories. He had realized he had been delusional but had continued faking it because he did not want to disappoint his fascinated psychoanalyst. Lindner wistfully mourned the loss of what had been such a passionate fantasy for himself. He was humbled and abit shocked by the ‘there-but-for-the-grace-of-God’ blurring of the distinction between therapist and patient he had experienced in his treatment of Allen. 

I have long used this vignette in teaching my students and trainees about the complexities and pitfalls of treating people with the difficult and challenging beliefs referred to as “delusions”. As an analyst* Lindner could not have been expected to have facility dealing with delusions. Patients with psychotic symptoms were, and are to this day, rarely if ever seen on the psychoanalyst’s couch. Those of us who treat patients with this degree of dysfunction more regularly understand that there is a much more complicated dance, rather than a simple black or white dichotomy, between combatting and joining in the delusions. And similarly the goal of treatment is much more complex and nuanced than a “cure” in which the patient gives up the “unfounded” beliefs and is restored to “reality” or “normalcy”. Through the medium of the relationship with their treater (which I am alarmed to see is seen as a deprecated part of psychiatric treatment in the current medication-centric era of treatment), patients can be helped to move toward a more comfortable degree of joining in the consensus reality of their social group and culture, as they choose.

As Lindner’s case study illustrates, one of the ways to grapple with psychiatric symptoms is to understand them as serving a purpose in their bearer’s life. Delusional systems can actually be thought of as theories the patient has constructed to reassure and comfort them by helping them understand otherwise inexplicable and alarming aspects of their mental and emotional functioning. Even when no longer believed, such a theory or worldview may continue to be enacted or expressed by a patient for various reasons, such as to save face or avoid a breach in an important relationship, as in Kirk Allen’s case. The student should learn to grapple with the complexities embodied in every such symptom and what we call “countertransference,” the effects of the treater’s own often unconsciously motivated attitudes toward and reactions to what their patient is telling them. 

UntitledImageFrauenfelder goes on to dissect the effort that has been given to figuring out who Kirk Allen really was, as Lindner had taken the secret to his grave, dying a year after the book’s publication. Lindner’s case study explained that, as an escape from his childhood unhappiness, Allen had read and reread a series of science fiction novels he found in the library starring a protagonist supposedly sharing his name, a takeoff for fantasizing about additional adventures starring his namesake. As a science-fiction fan myself, when I first read the Lindner essay I shared the feeling of many that Allen’s adventures smacked of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series. However, a scientist named Carter working at Los Alamos could not be identified and, after spending many years trying to figure out who Kirk Allen was, biographer Alan Elms** published a piece in 2002 in the New York Review of Science Fiction arguing that the science fiction writer Cordwainer Smith (pen name of political scientist and psychological war expert Paul Linebarger) was a more plausible choice, despite the fact that no one named Linebarger featured as protagonist in a science fiction series from that time. 

‘The Jet-Propelled Couch’ is available to read here in a Harper’s Magazine archive from 1954. The Kindle edition of The Fifty-Minute Hour can be obtained here. (‘No student’s education in psychotherapy is complete without reading this book.’)


*a practitioner of classical psychoanalysis based on “analytic neutrality” and facilitating insight via interpretation of the patient’s unconscious conflicts through free association, fantasies, and dreams. Generally occurring in 50-minute sessions multiple times a week and, typically, with the patient or analysand lying on a couch with the analyst just behind and out of sight.

**As Frauenfelder points out, Elm was coincidentally the research assistant to Stanley Milgram on the famous electric shock experiment on obedience to authority. 

Colds Nearly Vanished Under Lockdown

Now They’re Coming Back:

(Colds Nearly Vanished Under Lockdown. Now They’re Coming Back)

‘The return of non-Covid respiratory illnesses is putting a new strain on testing supplies around the world—and is a preview of what’s in store for the US….’

— via WIRED

What if trump succeeds in pushing through a right-wing replacement for RBG?

Toobin RBG4 jpg
Jeffrey Toobin writes about four Democratic options:

‘…[I]f Trump fills the Ginsburg seat the next question will be how the Democrats respond. If the Democrats fail to retake the majority in the Senate in November, their options are few except to grin and bear it. But, if they win the majority and Joe Biden wins the Presidency, there are four major possibilities for retribution—which all happen to be good policy as well.

The first is the abolition of the filibuster, which should have happened decades ago. Even in the minority, McConnell will do everything he can to thwart Biden, and the filibuster will be the tool. This antidemocratic relic should be retired once and for all.

Second, statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, with two senators apiece, would be another appropriate rejoinder.

Third, Congress should pass a law expanding the number of lower-court federal judges; that number has not increased since Jimmy Carter was President.

Finally, the greatest and most appropriate form of retribution involves the Supreme Court itself. The number of Justices is not fixed in the Constitution but, rather, established by statute. If Republicans succeed in stealing two seats—the Scalia and Ginsburg vacancies—the Democrats could simply pass a law that creates two or three more seats on the Supreme Court. To do so would be to play hardball in a way that is foreign to the current Senate Democrats. But maybe, in light of all that’s happened, that’s a game they should learn to play….’

— via The New Yorker

Information itself may be what ends the human race

‘IBM estimates that humans produce 2.5 quintillion digital data bytes daily.
We’ll one day reach a point where the number of bits we store outnumber the entirety of atoms on Earth.
In the most severe scenario, it takes just 130 years for all the power generated on Earth to be sucked up by digital data creation and storage….’

— via Big Think

Roger Stone calls for trump to seize total power if he loses the election | Media Matters for America

‘Roger Stone is making baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election and is urging Donald Trump to consider several draconian measures to stay in power, including having federal authorities seize ballots in Nevada, having FBI agents and Republican state officials “physically” block voting under the pretext of preventing voter fraud, using martial law or the Insurrection Act to carry out widespread arrests, and nationalizing state police forces.

Stone, a longtime confidant of the president, made the comments during a September 10 appearance on far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars network. On July 10, Trump commuted a 40-month prison sentence that was handed down to Stone after he was convicted of lying to Congress and tampering with witnesses as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into 2016 election interference. Namely, Stone lied to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks, which released hacked emails with the aim of boosting Trump’s prospects. In the weeks leading up to the commutation, Stone made a number of media appearances where he asked Trump to grant him clemency and said that in exchange, he could be a more effective campaigner for the president’s 2020 reelection efforts….’

— via Media Matters for America

Scientists baffled by orcas ramming sailing boats near Spain and Portugal

(An orca feeding near a Moroccan fishing boat in the Strait of Gibraltar.)

‘Scientists have been left baffled by incidents of orcas ramming sailing boats along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts.

In the last two months, from southern to northern Spain, sailors have sent distress calls after worrying encounters. Two boats lost part of their rudders, at least one crew member suffered bruising from the impact of the ramming, and several boats sustained serious damage.

The latest incident occurred on Friday afternoon just off A Coruña, on the northern coast of Spain. Halcyon Yachts was taking a 36ft boat to the UK when an orca rammed its stern at least 15 times, according to Pete Green, the company’s managing director. The boat lost steering and was towed into port to assess damage.

Around the same time there were radio warnings of orca sightings 70 miles south, at Vigo, near the site of at least two recent collisions. On 30 August, a French-flagged vessel radioed the coastguard to say it was “under attack” from killer whales. Later that day, a Spanish naval yacht, Mirfak, lost part of its rudder after an encounter with orcas under the stern.

Highly intelligent social mammals, orcas are the largest of the dolphin family. Researchers who study a small population in the Strait of Gibraltar say they are curious and it is normal for them to follow a boat closely, even to interact with the rudder, but never with the force suggested here… [A]t least one pod appears to be pursuing boats in behaviour that scientists agree is “highly unusual” and “concerning”. It is too early to understand what is going on, but it might indicate stress in a population that is endangered.

On 29 July, off Cape Trafalgar, Victoria Morris was crewing a 46ft delivery boat that was surrounded by nine orcas. The cetaceans rammed the hull for over an hour, spinning the boat 180 degrees, disabling the engine and breaking the rudder, as they communicated with loud whistling. It felt, she said, “totally orchestrated”. Earlier that week, another boat in the area reported a 50-minute encounter; the skipper said the force of the ramming “nearly dislocated the helmsman’s shoulder”…

It is not known if all the encounters involve the same pod but it is probable. Dr Ruth Esteban, who has studied the Gibraltar orcas extensively, thinks it unlikely two groups would display such unusual behaviour….’

— via The Guardian

The World Lost Two-Thirds Of Its Wildlife In 50 Years. We Are to Blame

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay wrote:

‘Human activities have caused the world’s wildlife populations to plummet by more than two-thirds in the last 50 years, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund.

The decline is happening at an unprecedented rate, the report warns, and it threatens human life as well.

“The findings are clear,” the report states. “Our relationship with nature is broken.”…’

— via NPR

How a Massive Bomb Came Together in Beirut’s Port

Ben Hubbard, Maria Abi-Habib, Mona El-Naggar, Allison McCann, Anjali Singhvi, James Glanz and Jeremy White wrote:

‘In the six years since the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate had arrived in Beirut’s port and been offloaded into Hangar 12, repeated warnings had ricocheted throughout the Lebanese government, between the port and customs authorities, three ministries, the commander of the Lebanese Army, at least two powerful judges and, weeks before the blast, the prime minister and president.

No one took action to secure the chemicals, more than 1,000 times the amount used to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995….’

— via The New York Times

Fascinating longread on the combination of happenstance, dereliction, and corruption that came together with such devastating consequences in longsuffering Beirut in August. Amazing graphics dissect timeline and location details. 

Trump admitted he intentionally downplayed coronavirus threat, new Bob Woodward book reports

Unknown
(Trump admitted he intentionally downplayed coronavirus threat, new Bob Woodward book claims / Boing Boing)

‘An excerpt from RAGE, Bob Woodward’s new book, reveals that Donald Trump admitted he intentionally downplayed the coronavirus threat. At least 190,000 Americans have died of COVID-19.

“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”…’

— via Boing Boing

What astounds me, over and over, is not trump’s nefarious actions but — is it idiocy or brazenness? — that he so readily gets caught. I hope, although it is not likely, that he lives a long life after evicted from the White House in January, so that he has to endure on a daily basis the abject shame of how the history books will remember him.

 

Related: Dr Drang on Woodward

‘The only question I want asked of the legendary journalist while he goes on another of his legendary promotional tours, is whether he ever ran across, in one of his legendary deep background interviews, anyone who estimated how many Americans died because he sat on Trump’s lies for six months to avoid spoiling his legendary book and depressing its legendary sales….’

— via All this

R.I.P. Gary Peacock

 

Master Jazz Bassist Is Dead at 85

(Gary Peacock, Master Jazz Bassist, Is Dead at 85 – The New York Times)

‘He was a free-jazz pioneer early on before becoming part of Keith Jarrett’s enduring trio, where he infused American standards with a Zen sensibility….’

— via New York Times

Hokusai: More than 100 lost works by non-western world’s most famous artist rediscovered

Go beyond ‘The Great Wave’:

(‘Fumei Chōja and the nine-tailed spirit fox’: Fumei Chōja appears as a character in kabuki and bunraku plays which also feature the shape-shifting nine-tailed fox and its adventures in India, China and Japan)

‘One of the world’s most important collections of art has re-emerged after having been lost for more than 70 years.

The corpus – 103 original drawings by the non-Western world’s most famous artist, the 19th century Japanese painter, Hokusai – came to light in Paris and has now been bought by the British Museum.

The newly discovered artworks appear to have formed part of one of the most ambitious publishing projects ever conceived – a Japanese plan to create a huge pictorial encyclopaedia.

Known as the Great Picture Book of Everything, it was conceived by Hokusai (best known for his most famous work – The Great Wave) – but was never completed.

The project was abandoned in the 1830s – either because of cost or possibly because Hokusai insisted on reproduction standards that were difficult to attain.

The Great Picture Book of Everything was to have been a comprehensive way for the Japanese to have access to images of people, cultures and nature around the world – at a time when virtually no Japanese people had been allowed out of Japan for some two centuries –  and virtually no foreigners had been allowed into 99 per cent of the country.

In that ultra-restrictive atmosphere, the project was to have given people an opportunity to explore a highly stylised printed version of the outside world as well as Japan itself.

However, so limited was Hokusai’s access to up-to-date images of foreigners and foreign cultures, that he often had to use very old pictures as his source material – which led to him portraying much of the outside world as it would have looked several hundred years earlier….’

— via Independent

Scientists discover first ‘intermediate-mass’ black hole

Stephen Johnson wrote:

‘In May 2019, a ripple of gravitational waves passed through Earth after traveling across the cosmos for 7 billion years. The ripple came in four waves, each lasting just a fraction of a second. Although the ancient signal was faint, its source was cataclysmic: the biggest merger of two black holes ever observed.

It occurred when two mid-sized black holes — 66 and 85 times the mass of our Sun — drifted close together, began spinning around each other and merged into one black hole roughly 142 times the mass of our Sun.

“It’s the biggest bang since the Big Bang observed by humanity,” Caltech physicist Alan Weinstein, who was part of the discovery team, told The Associated Press….’

— via Big Think

Could the United States Break Up?

 

‘…In 2016, progressive activists in Portland, Oregon, submitted a petition calling for a statewide vote on secession; that same year, a poll showed that 26 percent of Texans supported state independence. In a 2018 survey, 31 percent of Americans believed a civil war was possible within the next five years. A cohort of national security experts put the chances of a civil war within the next 15 years at 35 percent. And who has not entertained the possibility that, if Trump loses the election this fall, he might resist leaving office? Strange turnout patterns during the pandemic would certainly give both candidates a pretext for contesting the results—and what institution these days has the legitimacy to settle the question decisively?

If the idea of the U.S. dissolving seems far-fetched, one reason is that we have been trained to think of secession and civil war as something long settled. The South tried it, they lost, and ever since disunion has seemed a practical impossibility. But in Richard Kreitner’s provocative 400-year history of America, Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union, he argues that the nation’s foundations have always been fragile. The threat of disunion has been raised or attempted in every region and by all political factions at some point in our nation’s past. If we ignore this “hidden thread” in our history and choose to believe in a mythic past when unity actually existed, we make disunion more likely, not less. To build a truly equal and lasting multiracial democracy, he argues, we must stop papering over the constant threat of disunion that haunts our past….’

— via The New Republic

Michael Moore says Trump on course for win in presidential election

 

‘”Are you ready for a Trump victory? Are you mentally prepared to be outsmarted by Trump again? Do you find comfort in your certainty that there is no way Trump can win? Are you content with the trust you’ve placed in the DNC to pull this off?” he wrote.

“I’m warning you almost 10 weeks in advance. The enthusiasm level for the 60 million in Trump’s base is OFF THE CHARTS! For Joe, not so much,” warned Moore. “Don’t leave it to the Democrats to get rid of Trump. YOU have to get rid of Trump. WE have to wake up every day for the next 67 days and make sure each of us are going to get a hundred people out to vote. ACT NOW!” wrote Moore.

He went on to claim that recent polling shows the race tightening in swing states…

Moore, a supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, was one of few to predict that “Rust Belt” voters would abandon Democrats and propel Trump to victory in 2016. ….’

— via Business Insider

The SCP Foundation

‘The SCP Foundation is a fictional organization documented by the web-based collaborative-fiction project of the same name. Within the website’s fictional setting, the SCP Foundation is responsible for locating and containing individuals, entities, locations, and objects that violate natural law (referred to as SCPs). The real-world website is community-based and includes elements of many genres such as horror, science fiction, and urban fantasy.

On the SCP Foundation wiki, the majority of works consist of “special containment procedures”: structured internal documentation that describes an SCP object and the means of keeping it contained. The website also contains thousands of “Foundation Tales”, short stories set within the universe of the SCP Foundation. The series has been praised for its ability to convey horror through its scientific and academic writing style, as well as for its high standards of quality….’

— via Wikipedia

Politics Is Weird Right Now, but Trump’s Convention Is Another Level of Strange

‘Two weeks ago, Mike Pence did something weird. Every day brings with it an opportunity to be freaked out by something new, so you have probably forgotten all about this by now, but what happened was the US vice president took to the podium at a Farmers and Ranchers for Trump rally in Iowa and started talking about meat in a loud, expressionless voice. “I’ve got some red meat for you,” he intoned. “WE’RE NOT GOING TO LET JOE BIDEN AND KAMALA HARRIS CUT AMERICA’S MEAT,” he shouted, opening his mouth wide in that startling way of his, where the whole top of the face stays utterly immobile, eyes dead, and the lower jaw unhinges itself…’

— Via The Guardian

In a deal that sounds like it was brokered by a marriage counselor…

…Kellyanne Conway quitting the White House; George Conway quitting The Lincoln Project

‘Top Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway announced tonight that she’s leaving the White House at the end of the month. Minutes earlier, her husband George Conway tweeted that he’s departing from anti-Trump political action committee The Lincoln Project….’

— via Boing Boing

Very Rare Baby South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher Photographed For The First Time Ever

 

‘We like to think that we’ve come a long way from the days of discovery when adventurers wandered into uncharted lands and came back with sketches and specimens of creatures never seen before.

And while we definitely have, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t making new discoveries all the time or increasing our understanding of old discoveries once thought lost….’

— via Design You Trust

R.I.P., My Favorite Linguist

 

Geoffrey Nunberg Dies at 75

‘Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist whose elegant essays and books explained to a general audience how English has adapted to changes in politics, popular culture and technology, died on Aug. 11 at his home in San Francisco. He was 75.

Mr. Nunberg’s fascination with the way people communicate found expression in acclaimed books like “Going Nucular: Language, Politics, and Culture in Confrontational Times” (2001); in scholarly work in areas like the relationship between written and spoken language; and in lexicography — he was chairman of the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.

He was one of a small group of linguists, among them Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, renowned beyond their academic universes.

“I always saw him as the paragon of public intellectualism,” the linguist Ben Zimmer, who writes a column on language for The Wall Street Journal, wrote in an email. “He was a lucid, effective communicator about thorny linguistic issues for many decades.”…’

— via New York Times

 

Nunberg’s platform as a commentator on NPR’s “Fresh Air” not only gave him importance for those of us with that peculiar fascination with linguistics but  allowed him to illuminate the central role of language as a battleground shaping political attitudes, often on an unconscious level. George Lakoff is the other person in that role for me, but is less visible and accessible. 

Down to two and counting

Can we rescue the northern white rhino from the brink of extinction?

‘An international team of scientists said they successfully extracted eggs from the last two remaining northern white rhinos, a step on the way to possibly saving the subspecies from extinction.

Ten eggs were harvested from the female rhinos at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The scientists said Tuesday they hope to use them to create viable embryos that would be transferred into surrogates since neither Najin and Fatuwill can carry a pregnancy to term.

The coronavirus pandemic had delayed the process, but the team from Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and Safari Park Dvur Kralove in the Czech Republic said, “The ovum pickup went smoothly and without any complications.”

Three embryos were created from the previously extracted eggs.

The next step is to select female southern white rhinos, another rhino subspecies, at Ol Pejeta to serve as surrogate mothers.

The last male northern white rhino, Sudan, died in March 2018. Work to keep northern white rhinos from dying out therefore turns on perfecting in vitro fertilization techniques and keeping the remaining two females alive….’

— via NatGeo

Believe it or not, Donald Trump says he should get a third term

 

‘”We are going to win four more years,” Trump said at a rally in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on Monday. “And then after that, we’ll go for another four years because they spied on my campaign. We should get a redo of four years.”

Of course, what Trump is proposing is banned by the Constitution, which limits presidents to serving two terms. (If Trump lost in 2020, he could, theoretically, run again in 2024). There is no “redo” provision in the Constitution for extraneous circumstances surrounding a president’s first term. And even if there was, Trump’s allegation that he deserves a third term because “they spied on my campaign” wouldn’t pass any sort of smell test.

What Trump deems “spying” was actually an FBI counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 election. On Tuesday morning, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the final volume of its bipartisan investigation into Russia’s activities in 2016….’

— via CNNPolitics

Is the Covid-19 Pandemic Changing our Perception of Time?

 

‘Do you feel like your perception of time is changing during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here is a reminder, it’s been five months since we declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Do you feel baffled by the passing of time these days more than you did before? If you do, you are not alone. A recent study from the UK suggests that 80% of participants felt that social distancing during the pandemic is altering the perception of time for them….’

— via Gildshire

Speak Up for Antarctica

UntitledImage‘This year, we can secure the largest act of ocean protection in history. 2020 marks the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica. It is also the year when the highest temperatures ever were recorded on the continent. With melting ice, warming waters, and increased fishing, all of the creatures that live there need us more than ever. But we need Antarctica just as much. This vast icy continent is critical to stabilizing our climate, and it circulates vital ocean nutrients that sustain fish populations, and humans, all over the world….’

— via Only One Act Antarctica

My Two Favorite Apex Predators Apparently Don’t Get Along

Wolf Pack and Grizzly in Tense Standoff

Info: “I was lucky enough to witness this epic encounter between a pack of wolves and a huge grizzly. It’s not the first bear/wolf interaction I’ve seen but definitely the closest.”

Rumble(“play”, {“video”:”v7e92t”,”div”:”rumble_v7e92t”});

— via Digg

The Strange Theory of Coronavirus from Space

 

‘There are plenty of unusual theories over the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. From claims that the virus is a bioweapon, to the idea that 5G transmissions are behind the pandemic, there’s been no shortage of hard-to-believe ideas.

But there’s one COVID-19 theory so remarkable that it makes the others look boring by comparison: The proposal that the coronavirus came from space.

The space virus theory has been the work of a group of researchers, notably Edward J. Steele and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe. This group has published ten papers on the topic since the pandemic began, but this paper from July 14th offers the most detailed argument.

Steele et al. suggest that COVID-19 arrived on a meteor which was spotted as a bright fireball over the city of Songyuan in North East China on October 11, 2019.

They propose that the meteor might have been “a fragile and loosely held carbonaceous meteorite carrying a cargo of trillions of viruses/bacteria and other primary source cells.”

The authors admit that the Songyuan meteor was spotted over 2,000 km northeast of Wuhan, where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, but they deal with this discrepancy with the hypothesis that a different fragment of the meteor arrived in the Wuhan area…

Needless to say, this is not a theory with any evidence for it. There is no evidence that viruses or bacteria (or any other life) exist in space, and Steele et al. provide no direct evidence that the coronavirus arrived from the heavens.

But it turns out that the theory of life (and disease) from space isn’t new. The theory is called panspermia and a handful of researchers, including Steele and Wickramasinghe, have been advocating it for decades….’

— via Neuroskeptic in Discover Magazine

How to Submit Your Mail-in Ballot Without Using the USPS

‘Fortunately, there are a number of ways to ensure that your mail-in ballot is delivered in time regardless of what happens with USPS….’

— via Lifehacker

Related: Honestly, Just Vote In Person—It’s Safer Than You Think

‘The panic over the US Postal Service is legitimate, but here’s the good news: It’s not that risky to cast a ballot by hand….’

— via WIRED

40 Hamlets, Ranked

 

‘This list of 40 Hamlets include movies dating from 1900 to the 21st century plus TV shows, short films, cartoons, skits, and even comic pages. Yes, everyone wants to put their unique spin on the melancholy Dane. Some are full productions, while others have a rather tangental relation with the original play -and many are quite funny. And the best part is that almost all have video clips that show why they are ranked the way they are. Check out 40 wildly different interpretations of Hamlet at Lithub….’

— via Neatorama

Trump Just Made A Fatal Mistake

Amir Stepak:

‘Throughout Donald Trump’s time in office, pundits have made a habit of declaring the latest scandal his point of no return. There was the Russia investigation, the hush money, the Charlottesville protests and Trump’s racist remarks, the border cages, the Giuliani-Ukraine debacle, the impeachment, the incompetent response to Coronavirus, the Russian bounties, the economic recession, and many others.

Yet, time and again, Trump has defied the prognosticators. He’s never been a popular president, but his hold on his base has been steadfast.

Which is why I completely understand your skepticism as I say the following: Trump’s recent acknowledgement that he’s holding up critical USPS funding for political reasons will likely doom his reelection prospects….’

— via Medium

Fake face mask ID cards on rise

‘The Department of Justice says an increasing number of people in California are going to great lengths to avoid wearing a face covering in public places.

They say fake IDs that claim the person has a medical reason not to wear a mask are turning up big time.

There are legitimate exemptions such as having a disability where a mask could cause problems, but the Justice Department says more and more businesses are being shown fraudulent identification cards as an excuse….’

— via ABC7 New York

I Love Pareidolia

Why the Brain Is Programmed to See Faces in Everyday Objects

‘If you tend to notice faces in inanimate objects around you like the scowling face of a house, a surprised bowling ball, or a grimacing apple, you’re not alone.

‘Face pareidolia’ – the phenomenon of seeing faces in everyday objects—is a very human condition that relates to how our brains are wired. And now research from UNSW Sydney has shown we process these “fake” faces using the same visual mechanisms of the brain that we do for real ones….’

— via Neuroscience News

White House reporter’s question startles Trump

‘Do you regret all your lying?’ 

UntitledImage

‘“I had always thought that if he ever did call on me, this is the one thing that is really central to his presidency,” he said.

Trump’s lying was the “singular piece of his presidency that will be remembered in 10 years”.

Dáte wasn’t surprised by Trump’s response to the question – ignoring it was always going to be the most likely reaction, he thought….’

— via The Guardian

Why You Should Care About QAnon

(Make America Great Again Rally being held in the Florida State Fair Grounds Expo Hall on July 31, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.)

‘The QAnon movement — a loose network of extreme right-wingers with an apocalyptic bent — looks deeper than COVID-19, into what gave rise to Donald Trump’s election. Their conclusion? With or without divine intervention (but probably with it), Trump was elected to put an end to the worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles that rule the government, the media and Hollywood…

Many suggest that Trump either is himself the anonymous “Q” or that he endorses QAnon’s theories. Indeed, as Peter Beinert notes, “Trump himself has suggested that Antonin Scalia might have been murdered, climate change is a Chinese hoax, Ted Cruz’s father was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Clintons may bear responsibility for the murder of Jeffrey Epstein, and wind turbines cause cancer.”

And after all, Trump wore a tie to a coronavirus briefing that was yellow — the color of the maritime flag representing the letter Q (for “quarantine”) and indicating that there are no infected people aboard ship. What better way to signal that the pandemic isn’t real?

These malevolent fairy tales are not shared just by a handful of kooks on the fringes of society. The winner of Georgia’s Congressional GOP primary runoff, Marjorie Taylor Green, was apparently more helped than hindered by her anti-Semitic, Islamophobic comments and endorsement of “Q.” And she is just one of 14 Republican candidates on the ballot in November or competing in primary runoffs, who tweet QAnon’s “secret” acronyms and endorse its theories.

Not only are these beliefs vile, but they are precisely the kind of distraction that Trump and his cronies welcome….’

— via Cognoscenti

The Iconic Arecibo Telescope Goes Quiet After Major Damage

 

‘EARLY MONDAY MORNING, a cable suspended over the Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico broke and left a 100-foot-long gash in the dish of the iconic radio telescope. The 3-inch diameter cable also caused damage to the panels of the Gregorian dome that is suspended hundreds of feet above the dish and houses the telescope’s receivers. It is unclear what caused the cable to break or when radio astronomers using the telescope will be able to resume their research….’

— via WIRED

How the chemical imbalance theory of depression damages patients

‘While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient….

More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions…’

— via Big Think

George Conway’s biting column holds a mirror up to Trump supporters, and it ain’t pretty

George Conway’s biting column holds a mirror up to Trump supporters, and it ain’t pretty / Boing Boing

‘George Conway’s satirical piece in The Washington Post, “I (Still) Believe the President, and in the President,” is like a Lincoln Project video in prose form. Playing the part of a moron, Conway puts a mirror up to Trump — and his supporters — by listing Trump’s outrageous lies, hateful remarks, and sheer idiocy as things he believes in.

Some of my favorite lines:

“I believe it’s normal for the president to say ‘Yo Semites’ and ‘Yo Seminites,’ ‘Thigh Land,’ ‘Minne-a-napolis,’ ‘toe-tally-taria-tism,’ ‘Thomas Jeffers’ and ‘Ulyss-eus S. Grant.'”

“I believe the president ‘aced’ a ‘very hard’ impairment test, and that his ‘very surprised’ doctors found this ‘unbelievable.'”

“I believe the president and the doctor who believes in demon sperm and the medical use of space alien DNA, and not Anthony S. Fauci, who’s an ‘alarmist’ and ‘wrong.'”

“I believe the president’s suggestions that physicians should try injecting patients with household disinfectants, and shining ultraviolet light inside their bodies, make perfect sense.”

“I believe that the president has done a tremendous job fighting the virus — and that he shouldn’t ‘take responsibility at all’ — even though about 160,000 Americans have died. I believe the virus “is what it is.”

“I believe it isn’t racist to call the coronavirus ‘kung flu’ or ‘the China Virus.’ It isn’t racially divisive to say Black Lives Matter is a “symbol of hate,” to celebrate Confederate generals as part of our ‘Great American Heritage,’ or to share video of someone shouting ‘white power,’ which, like displaying the Confederate flag, is ‘freedom of speech.'”

And, for the grand finale, the last graph: “I believe the president won the popular vote in 2016 ‘if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.’ I believe he shouldn’t accept the election results if he loses in November.”

Read the entire article at The Washington Post….’

— via Boing Boing

‘Writing is nature’s way of showing you how sloppy your thinking usually is….’

David Perell

‘Morality pills’ may be the US’s best shot at ending the coronavirus pandemic, according to one ethicist

‘When someone chooses not to follow public health guidelines around the coronavirus, they’re defecting from the public good. It’s the moral equivalent of the tragedy of the commons: If everyone shares the same pasture for their individual flocks, some people are going to graze their animals longer, or let them eat more than their fair share, ruining the commons in the process. Selfish and self-defeating behavior undermines the pursuit of something from which everyone can benefit.

Democratically enacted enforceable rules – mandating things like mask wearing and social distancing – might work, if defectors could be coerced into adhering to them. But not all states have opted to pass them or to enforce the rules that are in place.

My research in bioethics focuses on questions like how to induce those who are noncooperative to get on board with doing what’s best for the public good. To me, it seems the problem of coronavirus defectors could be solved by moral enhancement: like receiving a vaccine to beef up your immune system, people could take a substance to boost their cooperative, pro-social behavior. Could a psychoactive pill be the solution to the pandemic?

It’s a far-out proposal that’s bound to be controversial, but one I believe is worth at least considering, given the importance of social cooperation in the struggle to get COVID-19 under control….’

— via The Conversation

Can a new diagnosis help to heal our souls?

On moral injury:

War correspondent Janine di Giovanni writes in Harpers about the revelation to South Africa-born Toronto psychiatrist Anthony Feinstein of the “deep and sustained trauma” suffered by a war reporter who consulted him after returning from a particularly gruesome assignment in a conflict zone. He wondered whether proper training before her assignment or early intervention after her return could have alleviated her profound suffering.

In the late 90’s, before PTSD was a well-known concept, the idea of a conflict reporter suffering from the disorder was unfamiliar. The 90’s were a decade characterized by wars in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East, which often involved extreme violence and atrocities by lawless paramilitary groups. War reporters, not yet embedded with troops, were freelancers and had no protection, no insurance or security guards, and no conflict training. They were regularly killed or permanently injured and a significant number took their own lives.

Feinstein decided to study PTSD among war reporters, interviewing over a hundred including di Giovanni, and was alarmed by his findings.

‘ “I do not believe there is another profession that has more exposure to war than your group,” he told me. While soldiers often served one or two tours, he said, “You go back year after year after year to war.” Feinstein compiled a database of more than a thousand frontline journalists and concluded that the mean time spent in war zones for career war reporters was nearly fifteen years.’

Feinstein’s findings of the prevalence of PTSD in his subjects was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2002. Feinstein started a full court press with the press to persuade editors to pay attention to their war correspondents’ trauma, prompting many leading news organizations to develop conflict-reporting protocols.

In the 2010’s reporters covering the refugee crisis, who were not themselves at risk of being shot on the front lines, were suffering a new kind of mental health crisis from their profound helplessness and inability to save the tragic drowning victims or alter the circumstances driving them from their homes. He believed these journalists were suffering from moral injury, a term with origins in Jonathan Shay’s 1994 study of veterans with PTSD, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character. Recent studies have established that moral injury, which can co-occur with PTSD but is distinct, has emerged as the

‘biggest psychological challenge confronted by journalists covering the migration crisis…

Feinstein describes it as “a wound on the soul, an affront to your moral compass based on your own behavior and the things you have failed to do.” In other words, this is triggered by one’s feeling of having failed to live up to one’s own ethical standards rather than by external events. For instance, it is common for photographers shooting human catastrophes to feel that they have benefited from the suffering of their subjects, documenting instead of intervening. A complicating factor, especially for American journalists, is the feeling that one’s own country is contributing to or responsible for the suffering observed.

Moral injury of course is not restricted to journalists — soldiers who have witnessed torture (e.g. Abu Graib), doctors working in war zones, survivors of school massacres, prosecutors who feel ineffectual in righting injustice, witnesses of police brutality, are all vulnerable. It strikes me that it is a particular malignant and poignant form of survivor guilt.

Feinstein believes that medical professional might be among the most susceptible. Understanding moral injury will be important to address the problems faced by frontline healthcare workers who risked their lives and were powerless to save so many others during the CoViD crisis, in some cases making guilt-inducing decisions about who lived and who died themselves.

‘And what about the community at large? Will we all suffer from moral injury given what we have witnessed during the pan- demic? Feinstein thinks the predomi- nant emotion will be anxiety, but that people will experience degrees of moral injury. He told me to think of a hierarchy of suffering. Those who have lost people they loved place at the top, and below them are those who lost a business or a chance to celebrate a life milestone such as a wedding or a grad- uation. “These too will leave their mark,” he said.’

Finally, Feinstein speculates on the longterm effect of feeling moral revulsion toward the behavior of the man who is supposed to be our president. As FDR said, ‘The presidency is not merely an administrative office . . . it is preeminently a place of moral leadership.’ Today, those surviving and bearing witness may experience intense guilt about their powerlessness to mitigate the suffering and disaster inflicted by the Mad King.

After identifying the disorder and its scope, Feinstein is turning his attention to sources of resiliency and potential treatments. Is it possible to repair a soul?

Census Bureau announces early end to count; fears of skewed tally rise

‘…(C)ensus experts have said that shortening the calendar for the count would wreak havoc with efforts to reach the very hardest-to-count households — immigrants, minorities, young people, and others — that have long been flagged as most likely to be missed in this year’s tally.

Critics called it an unvarnished attempt by the Trump administration to twist the nation’s population count to exclude groups that, by and large, tended to support Democrats….’

— Via Boston Globe

The Noose Tightens

McConnell signal to Republican Senate candidates: Distance from Trump if necessary

‘Sen. Mitch McConnell is allowing Republican Senate candidates to do whatever it takes to salvage their campaigns ahead of what Republicans increasingly fear could be a devastating election for their party.
In recent weeks, the Senate majority leader has become so concerned over Republicans losing control of the Senate that he has signaled to vulnerable GOP senators in tough races that they could distance themselves from the President if they feel it is necessary, according to multiple senior Republicans including a source close to McConnell.
That could mean breaking with Trump on the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the continued efforts by the President to paint an optimistic picture despite rising cases and deaths across parts of the country, especially in many Republican states in the South and Midwest.
While this may give some senators the flexibility to draw a distinction between themselves and the President, it also forces them to walk a tightrope. Trump remains enormously popular with the Republican base, and any attempts to undercut him risks alienating those voters….’

— via CNNPolitics

 

 

Related: Citing Election Delay Tweet, Influential Trump Ally Now Demands His Re-Impeachment : NPR

‘After voting for President Trump in 2016 and staunchly defending him in conservative publications, a Federalist Society leader appears to be having some very public buyer’s remorse.

Steven Calabresi, co-founder of the powerful conservative legal organization, is now calling on the House of Representatives to do again what it has already done once this year: impeach Trump.

In a scathing opinion piece in The New York Times published online Thursday, the Northwestern University law professor points to what ignited his newfound ire with the president: a tweet Trump sent out shortly after news broke Thursday morning that the U.S. economy had suffered its biggest recorded contraction ever last quarter.

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA,” the president intoned on Twitter. “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

Calabresi declared himself “appalled” by the tweet, which he characterized as “seeking to postpone the November election.”

“Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats’ assertion that President Trump is a fascist,” the conservative legal scholar wrote. “But this latest tweet is fascistic and is itself grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate.”

It was a remarkable turnaround for a man who as recently as November had accused House Democrats of conducting an “unconstitutional” and “Kafkaesque ‘trial’ ” in their Trump impeachment proceedings….’

— via NPR

The similarities between relating to your significant other and interrogating a terrorist

‘“The more you push someone, the more they close up,” say Emily and Laurence Alison, a husband-and-wife psychology team. “The hungrier you are for information, the harder it will be to get that out of someone. But give the person a choice about what they say; give them some autonomy and you begin to build the rapport that may lead to a better conversation,” says Laurence.

This sounds like parenting advice and yet the Alisons’ specialism is helping counter-terrorism officers and the police to improve communication and co-operation with criminal suspects. When the atmosphere turns adversarial and competitive, as it so often does, they turn to the Alisons to help them navigate and negotiate.

For the couple – who’ve been married for 21 years and have a 16-year-old son – the parallels with parenting have long been obvious and were underlined by the response of officers they’ve encountered on the intensive courses they run on how to interrogate terrorists.

Time after time, participants fed back that as well as learning invaluable skills for their professional lives, their approach was helping them deal with family and work relationships….’

— via The Guardian

Where have all the shoes gone?

UntitledImageA fox in a leafy suburb of Berlin has been getting into the spirit of summer – by collecting flip flops.

For weeks residents of Zehlendorf were baffled that a thief was stealing their flip flops and sports shoes from their gardens at night.

Finally a man spotted the culprit on a patch of wasteland, “in flagrante, carrying two blue flip flops in its mouth”, the daily Tagesspiegel reports.

The fox had a hoard of over 100 shoes, but not the man’s missing running shoe.

— Via BBC

Miss Seeing Your Face

UntitledImage

I ran across this photo today (via plasticbag.org). Incidentally, I ran a psychotherapy group today  on my unit, in which I wonderedwhether the clientele were finding it difficult that that the lower half of everyone’s face is masked. I suggested they think about whether they were facing new challenges in reading the faces of the clinicians who were treating them.

It appears that mask-wearing will be with us for a long time, especially as economies reopen and people are spending more time in public settings. Thinking about the psychological impact of masking will be crucial. I am curious about any research data about emotional perception from societies where women are veiled. It would also be interesting to do psychological studies of Asian societies where masking became more common in advance of the West since the SARS and bird flu epidemics earlier in the 21st century or even, to some extent, other respiratory illnesses of the 20th century.

You know that old chestnut about the ‘eyes being the windows to the soul‘ (versions of which have been variously attributed to Jesus and Shakespeare)? I have mulled over the fact that I seem to be able to gauge the emotions of some people clearly by seeing just their eyes, but there are others who, mouths concealed, are opaque to emotional readings. Is the difference an intrinsic one as to where and how people display their emotions? Or does it more lie in the skill of the observer? Thanks to my friend Abby for pointing me in this regard to the 2010 art installation by Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, “The Artist is Present”, in which people lined up for their chance to sit opposite the artist staring wordlessly at her eye to eye, “one of the final taboos of modern New York.” (New York TImes). What happens to eye-to-eye contact in the masking era?

Hardwired human capabilities bear on this. As befits such an inherently social species, an enormous amount of neurological machinery in the human brain has evolved to be devoted to interpersonal perception, given how much of an advantage is provided by having detailed access to the feelings or intentions of others with whom we are interacting. . Broadly speaking, an empathic connection to others, what Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen has called our ‘mind reading ability’,  relies on our capacity for emotional mimicry. When we observe the expressions or nonverbal behaviors of those with whom we interact,   a system of “mirror neurons” (about which I have written before on FmH) activates brain regions which echo the activity in the individual we are watching. Via this internal mimicry, this mechanism gives us an emotional experience when watching another’s behaviors or expressions similar to that we would have if we were performing those same behaviors outwardly ourselves. Watching someone smile or grimace makes you feel the way you would if you were smiling or grimacing yourself. In that way, we have very good access to what another is thinking or feeling. How much is that compromised in the mask-wearing epoch?

There is interesting research establishing that individuals with autism, who are deficient in person-perception, empathic connection, and ‘theory of mind,’1 look less at the eyes, and more at the mouth, of people with whom they are interacting. What impact is the mask-wearing of those with whom they interact having on them?

Some of my patients, who are involvement-averse or affect-intolerant, have commented that things have gotten easier for them since we have begun social distancing and masking half our faces. They feel relief that their facial expressions are betraying less, that there is less their interlocutors are expressing to which they are called upon to respond,  and that they are less under scrutiny while interacting. Some with severe mental illnesses may find it easier to remain in treatment when they do not have to go out during the pandemic lockdown, as most aftercare programs are conducted virtually.

In any case,  those whose vocations relay on nuanced interpersonal interaction, like myself, must be finding it difficult and unfamiliar  not to see the faces of the people they work with.2 This is less of an issue for the therapists conducting their therapy online. Their clients, of course, can be unmasked staring full faced into the camera from the safety of their quarantine. For many that is good enough to do satisfactory psychotherapy, although some of my therapist friends lament their limited access to elements of their clients’ body language below the neck.

But the hospitalized psychiatric patients, to work with whom I physically go into the hospital on a daily basis, are always masked when they are out of their bedrooms in the milieu. Something about this stringent norm is working — our unit has not had one case of viral transmission to staff or patients since the pandemic began. But my patients and I have in some cases never seen one another’s faces despite days or at times weeks of treatment! And if I do see a patient unmasked in passing, I am at times taken aback by how their appearance departs from what I had imagined was behind the mask I stared at day after day. Today I was surprised to see that one of my patients, a young man unmasked for the first time, had a bushy mustache I could not have envisioned.  Facial hair and piercings, etc. act as signifiers over and above facial expressiveness, now concealed. Am I in effect treating a different person than the one they would want to be when interacting with me if they were unmasked?

Some emotions — fear and anger — appear to be more upper-face emotions than others such as happiness or sadness. What will be the societal impact of some emotions becoming easier to read, or seen as more prevalent, than others?  In his powerful 1978 book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander described how a medium incapable of clearly conveying subtlety of emotion potentially shaped social behavior and interaction into something less granular, more grandiose and bolder. If the medium is the message, does this contribute to a tendency toward action over contemplation, grossness over subtlety, and the melodramatic over the sublime? 3 And does mask-wearing analogously act to filter subtleties out of interpersonal communication?

The adverse effects of masking may hit some societies more than others. In less culturally homogeneous societies (such as the U.S.) we need as many cues as we can get to know how someone feels and how they will react. In more culturally homogeneous societies, it is arguably easier to know what people are feeling.

fMRI studies also show that, when viewing images of people from stigmatized groups that inspire disgust (homeless, drug addicts, the lower-caste ‘untouchables’ in Indian society), subjects have reciprocally reduced activation of brain regions associated with the experience of empathy. Some like philosopher Martha Nussbaum argue that stereotyping, xenophobia, and dehumanizing of the outsider may be based on the neurology of disgust or creepiness. If the neural processes allowing empathic connection through the activation of mirror neurons are interfered with by masking, xenophobia and dehumanization may flourish. Paranoid ideation — anticipating vulnerability and threat to oneself in conditions of increased difficulty making sense of incoming information, as I define it — can be facilitated. These are very ingrained processes difficult to reason one’s way beyond.

In my psychiatric work during the pandemic, I have found it more difficult to reassure patients without their seeing my smile. It has been written about extensively in both psychotherapy training manuals and the literature of the art of negotiation that people resonate unconsciously with each other in conversation by matching body language and facial expressions. Masking is making that more of a challenge. Are we in the midst of discovering new ways to misunderstand one another?

It may be necessary to switch increasingly to verbal in place of nonverbal reactions, e.g. chuckling rather than smiling. People may become more gestural with their hands or physical movements such as nodding. All of this may be deliberate or unconscious, borne of necessity, even without our recognition. It is also possible that we may become more skilled at reading the minute expressions in the parts of others’ faces which are still  visible, which we used to overlook. We may shift toward more eye contact, as uncomfortable as that might be in some instances.

I cannot let the opportunity pass without mentioning the work of one of the most influential 20th-21st century psychologists, Paul Ekman, who devoted his life to the observation of nonverbal communication. Ekman found that the facial muscular movements that create emotional expressions can be reliably observed and described. He posited that the correlation between various expressions and their emotional connotations are universal, especially those for disgust, fear, joy, loneliness, and shock. They could be demonstrated even in preliterate cultures, whose members could not have learned the correlations from media exposure. Ekman’s work was devoted to the precise observation, description and categorization of the component ‘micro-expressions’ indicative of various emotions. He developed a training system for the better recognition and analysis of these micro-expressions, which are manifested even when subjects are trying to suppress their display of emotion.

Discerning these micro-expressions is very useful for the detection of deception. It does not take much imagination to envision the importance of recognizing deceit in areas as diverse as witness and suspect interviewing in law enforcement, job interviews, and political candidates, to name a few, in addition to psychiatric treatment. Ekman describes in detail in his book Telling Lies the analysis of the nonverbal behavior of a woman who lied about whether she was feeling suicidal in order to leave the hospital where she was committed for her safety. I face similar quandaries assessing safety in my practice with hospitalized psychiatric patients nearly every day. Emotional deception may be unconscious as well as deliberate,. There is a strong relationship between psychological distress and fooling oneself. Skills-based training in emotion recognition may be useful for patients as well as clinicians, helping patients in psychotherapy to better notice, label, and process emotional experiences which they themselves might not recognize. The alternative and humanistic therapy practices of the ’60’s and ’70’s, which I used to think were unsophisticated and unsystematic for their focus on such buzzwords as “getting in touch with your feelings,” may have been onto something after all. So, if masking remains ubiquitous, we should probably all take Ekman’s training program!

A condition called alexithymia (literally “no words for feelings”), defined only in the last few decades after the work of Boston psychiatrists John Nemiah and Peter Sifneos, involves extreme difficulty in identifying and describing one’s own feelings. By extension, one’s ability to recognize emotion in others is impaired, and interestingly such patients have difficulty with fantasy and imagination. It may affect as much as 10% of the population although may not be manifested until someone is in psychiatric treatment. Alexithymia is a stable personality characteristic of an individual rather than a situational response to stress. It predisposes people to other psychological disorders. Individuals tend to avoid emotionally close relationships and the disorder is negatively correlated with overall life satisfaction and reduces the likelihood patients will respond to treatment efforts. Distress is frequently exacerbated when these individuals enter psychotherapy. Evidence exists for both a neurological basis of alexithymia (e.g. damaged interhemispheric communication) and psychological explanations (e.g that of psychoanalyst Joyce MacDougall who understands alexithymia as a defense against the experience of emotion once it has become too painful). Certain genetic variants in the serotonin system have been found to correlate with alexithymic traits.

The more stringent demands to read emotion with more limited information in a mask-wearing world might make us more sensitive not only to alexithymia but other impairments in nonverbal aspects of person perception and emotional processing. To name a few, these include prosopagnosia (also known as face blindness, famously suffered among others by the great neurologist Oliver Sacks, painter Chuck Close, primatologist Jane Goodall, Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, actor Stephen Fry, and Steve Wozniak),  emotional dysprosody,  and aphantasia.

Interestingly, research has identified a phenomenon called covert facial recognition. In experiments, it can be shown that subjects with prosopagnosia  unconsciously recognize familiar faces without being consciously aware that they are able to do so. Similarly, might people with alexithymia  instinctually recognize emotions in others even when they don’t believe consciously that they are able to name the feelings they are seeing? Might we be able to read emotion conveyed by masked faces better than we think we can?  4

Alexithymia may also have something to do with testosterone and/or other factors in gender identity, biological and/or developmental. Psychologist Ronald Levant coined the term “normative male alexithymia” to describe the assertion that men are at base “emotional mummies” with impaired socialization and capacity for attachment. Unlike true clinical alexithymia, NMA is not full-blown psychopathology but nevertheless affects the quality of men’s lives and that of people around them, he believes. With this concept, I’m backing into the question of whether mask wearing will accentuate gender differences in person perception abilities.  Will women, if they are indeed generally more skillful readers of emotion, find facial obscuration harder to deal with than men who tend to be more oblivious to the challenges it poses? Or will men’s person perception skills, marginal to begin with, be stressed past the tipping point more than those of women?

Throughout my psychiatric career, I have had a strong interest in the condition called Capgras’ syndrome, in which a person becomes convinced that someone important in their life has been replaced by an outwardly identical but subtly, discernably different substitute. Capgras, about which I lecture and to which I have referred before on FmH, occurs in both neurological and psychiatric conditions, and is thought to result from a dysfunction in the machinery of person recognition and familiarity. Studies have shown that the difference between how we react to a familiar vs an unfamiliar face resides in the level of activation of a brain area called the posterior cingulate gyrus. If this malfunctions, the sufferer recognizes the person perceptually but the experience of the person lacks its remembered emotional valence, thus they do not feel emotionally familiar. The conclusion that they have been replaced by an impostor is a natural attempt to make sense of this disturbing dissonance. If emotional aspects of person perception are impaired in the masked world, will we see an increase in Capgras, in which we feel we are relating to emotional impostors? 5

I often point to the 1956 science fiction film Invasion of the Body Snatchers in reference to Capgras’ syndrome. Over and above banal analyses seeing it as an allegory about the Communist threat or a veiled critique of McCarthyism, I have always felt that the terror evoked by this film relied on its profound challenge to our dependence on the sense of the familiar and the dismissal by mental professionals as crazy of those alarmed by the perception that their loved ones were “not themselves.” In a nuance lost in subsequent remakes of the film, those taken over by the aliens retained their ability to convey emotion but were always a little “off”, as if they were imitating genuine emotion, a clear evocation of the experience of Capgras’ sufferers. Other films from the 50’s evoked the same terror, most memorably The Thing (1951) and Invaders From Mars (1953). (For my money, forget the more recent remakes of Body Snatchers or Invaders and go back to the originals. On the other hand, the 1982 version of The Thing with Kurt Russell is fabulous and underrated.). Of course, there are any number of recent horror films which rely more directly on mask-wearing antagonists for their terror. It is a very common trope. The experience evokes something primal.

In a deeper sense, metaphorical masking and unmasking processes are at the core of human interaction and particularly therapeutic interaction. What we keep private and what we keep public, and why, are core concerns for all of us in our public presentations in everyday life. What are the influences on our masking and unmasking? Some sociologists, notably Erving Goffman, assert that misrepresentation is an essential part of our public persona and that the mask come to be more real than the self. In that sense, could social presentation in the mask-wearing age be more authentic? Probably not to the oppressed. In Marxist philosophy, a character mask (German: charaktermaske) is a prescribed social role that serves to conceal the contradictions of a social relation or order. The term was used by Karl Marx in various published writings from the 1840s to the 1860s. In his classic Black Skin, White Masks, Franz Fanon shows how language itself forces the donning of masks and plays a powerful role in the subjugation of the oppressed. Dutch author and former editor of The New York Review of Books Ian Buruma, in his 1984 book Behind the Maskargues that cultural taboos have always functioned like figurative masks shaping the expressions of various emotions and behaviors. Roland Barthes said, “The mask is the meaning.” Masking has always been an alluring fetish in erotic fantasy. In the pandemic era, is it mostly a signifier of good citizenry or of  pervasive fear and panic? It is a topic for a different essay to consider the meaning of the anti-masking philosophy and its relation to toxic individualism and antisociality.

I came to psychiatry after starting in cultural anthropology. When people have asked me to explain this change of direction, I have often said something about not finding it to be such a deviation at all. Especially these days, where the atomization of society is so clear, one cannot avoid an appreciation for the fact that everyone inhabits their own micro-culture with disparate values, assumptions, and cognitive styles.  I realized somewhere along the way that all interaction is essentially cross-cultural, and that I did not have to do fieldwork with indigenous people to experience the challenge of cross-cultural communication. Much as anthropological fieldworkers feel it is a privilege to be allowed into another culture, I feel I am privileged to have the opportunity every day to peer into the lives and the minds of so many disparate people with whom I would never otherwise had any encounters of depth. And to experience the unending fascinating challenge of helping them despite the mask of impenetrability we all wear most of the time.


1 Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, knowledge, etc. — to others, and is considered necessary to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own.

2 It’s a different topic for another day, so I won’t get started on the issue of recently-trained ‘modern’ psychiatrists who don’t believe they have to communicate with their patients. Although I am a skilled psychopharmacologist, readers of FmH know how I decry attempting to treat patients by pill-pushing unaccompanied by the “talking cure”. Some of these folks might well be feeling relieved of the burden of having to read the emotional language of their clientele around now!

3 As Mander described it,”…Television has effects, very important effects, aside from the content, and they may be more important. They organize society in a certain way. They give power to a very small number of people to speak into the brains of everyone else in the system night after night after night with images that make people turn out in a certain kind of way. It affects the psychology of people who watch. It increases the passivity of people who watch. It changes family relationships. It changes understandings of nature. It flattens perception so that information, which you need a fair amount of complexity to understand it as you would get from reading, this information is flattened down to a very reduced form on television. And the medium has inherent qualities which cause it to be that way.”

4 And, while we’re at it, is there any evidence bearing upon whether maskwearing is having an impact on the ability of animals, who are thought of as notably good at resonating with the feelings of their humans, to read our emotions?

5 The Echo Maker by Richard Powers is a superb novel revolving around a case of Capgras, with a guest appearance from an Oliver Sacks-like celebrity neurologist. .

The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

‘In his sci-fi trilogy The Three Body Problem, author Liu Cixin presents the dark forest theory of the universe.

When we look out into space, the theory goes, we’re struck by its silence. It seems like we’re the only ones here. After all, if other forms of life existed, wouldn’t they show themselves? Since they haven’t, we assume there’s no one else out there.

Liu invites us to think about this a different way.

Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent.

Is our universe an empty forest or a dark one? If it’s a dark forest, then only Earth is foolish enough to ping the heavens and announce its presence. The rest of the universe already knows the real reason why the forest stays dark. It’s only a matter of time before the Earth learns as well.

This is also what the internet is becoming: a dark forest.

In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream….’

Yancey Strickler | OneZero

Trump storms out of press briefing after CNN reporter questions his promotion of quack doctor

‘”The woman that you said is a ‘great doctor’ in that video that you retweeted last night said that masks don’t work and there’s a cure for COVID-19, both of which experts say is not true,” Collins told Trump during the evening briefing. “She’s also made videos saying that doctors make medicine using DNA from aliens and that they’re trying to make a vaccine to make you immune from becoming religious. So, what’s the logic in retweeting that?”

Trump shook his head and looked down.

“I can tell you this,” he said. “She was on air with many other doctors. They were big fans of hydroxychloroquine. And I thought she was very impressive in the sense that where she came — I don’t know what country she comes from — but she’s said that she’s had tremendous success with hundreds of different patients. And I thought her voice was an important voice, but I know nothing about her.”

Trump tried to move on to another reporter, but Collins had a follow-up. As she tried to cut in, he clearly grew annoyed. He decided to give up on getting a question from another reporter, said only, ‘Thank you very much, everybody,” and quickly left the room….’

— via Salon.com