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Is Trump Responsible for Deaths of US Soldiers in Niger?

‘…[Rachel Maddow] linked President Donald Trump’s travel ban with the deaths of four soldiers.Maddow’s report, delivered Thursday and reiterated Friday, strongly suggested that Trump’s addition of Chad to his travel ban prompted the country to withdraw its U.S.-partnered counterterrorism troops in Niger, thus causing an increase in attacks by the self-described Islamic State in the area. …’

Source: HuffPost

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In New Alarming Trend, Poachers Target Rescued Circus Lions in South Africa

‘[Poachers are] targeting lions at sanctuaries, private nature reserves, and breeding farms for their body parts. Lion bones are sought after in Asia for use in traditional medicine—as health tonics and wines—and increasingly as a substitute for remedies made from the bones of tigers, whose numbers in the wild are somewhere around 3,900. Lion teeth and claws are also in high demand in China and elsewhere in Asia as necklaces and other adornments and trinkets. In some African countries the heads, tails, and paws are favored for use in traditional medicine, known as muti.

Source: National Geographic

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How ‘Talking’ Corpses Were Once Used to Solve Murders

‘The skull of Richard III, discovered under a parking lot, was analyzed by forensic scientists at the University of Leicester. In Shakespeare’s play about the infamous monarch, Richard is accused of murder when he nears a corpse and it begins to bleed.

For centuries, oozing wounds were seen as proof of guilt in court—but even in death, women’s testimony was considered less credible than men’s…’

Source: National Geographic

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Why We Still Need Monsters

Philosopher Stephen T. Asma of Columbia College Chicago and author of On Monsters and the Evolution of Imagination, argues that the encounter with the monstrous is useful. The term monster is from the Latin word, monstrare, to warn. Monsters activate our sense of repulsion or disgust (about which I have written here), which is why we demonize or monsterize our enemies, casting them as uncivilized or disgusting. Similarly with mass murderers such as Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas.

Calling others monsters is deeply adaptive from an evolutionary perspective, operating to contribute to group survival by getting us to be nervous about both non-human and human predators. Asma gives as an example the fact that the traditional werewolf story was strong in Europe, since wolves were a predator for Europeans, whereas there is a werebear tradition in the Americas because Native Americans were worried about bear predation.

But there is a “xenocurious” as well as a xenophobic piece to considering monsters. For instance, St. Augustine stressed the “wondrous” aspects of the monstrous creatures thought to be living in Africa and the East.

He says, “These guys are scary, but if we can talk to them, and they demonstrate some kind of rationality, they might be capable of being saved, they could be part of redemption.”

This is the project of Western liberalism — to expand the circle of tolerance to those who are different from you. From the liberal point of view, disgust for strangers is terrible. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, for instance, can be read as a way to show that you create aggression and violence by not welcoming difference into your group.

Liberal humanism may also factor into the fact that monster has come to be a term for persons as well, now that we are able to see members of the out-group as humans as well. Simultaneously, we began to understand that we have hidden incomprehensible parts within ourselves that could make us do monstrous or revolting things. Although it is a much older notion (why Medea killed her children, for instance) it comes to fruition in Freud’s notion of the id.

There’s a part of us all that has to be carefully managed. Otherwise it does psychopathological actions. You see this now with the Las Vegas shooter. We want to know why he did it. Is there some part of ourselves that if we don’t manage it correctly, it could, in fact, lead us to some kinds of behaviors like this?

There is an impulse to understand the monstrous. The first question we ask about someone like Stephen Paddock is what his motives were, the second whether there is something wrong with his brain. But sometimes it will remain inexplicable and we must be content with the fact that humans beings can be monsters, although it is probably quite rare.

Our literature and culture creates icons of immorality, and they help shape our behavior and our thinking. A lot of people enjoy horror like The Walking Dead because it’s a form of rehearsal. I’m not expecting a zombie apocalypse, but I do wonder what would happen if the grid went down and we had no electricity and suddenly there’s a food shortage. What would happen if modern society came to some screeching halt? Many of the monster scenarios would be a surrogate training for what could happen between human beings.

Source: Nautilus

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What We Got Wrong About the Lyme Epidemic

‘The genetic and ecological history of the Lyme disease bacterium make it clear: Neither ticks nor the bacterium are invaders onto our pristine landscapes. They are the beneficiaries of an artificial and fragmented ecology created by the real invaders, us. Having sectioned and sliced the continent into a patchwork, we are confronted with the consequences…’

Source: Nautilus

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Why Facebook Is the Junk Food of Socializing

‘Have you ever been walking in a dark alley and seen something that you thought was a crouching person, but it turned out to be a garbage bag or something similarly innocuous? Me too. Have you ever seen a person crouching in a dark alley and mistaken it for a garbage bag? Me neither. Why does the error go one way and not the other?

 

Human beings are intensely social animals. We live in hierarchical social environments in which our comfort, reproduction, and very survival depend on our relationships with other people. As a result, we are very good at thinking about things in social ways. In fact, some scientists have argued that the evolutionary arms race for strategic social thinking—either for competition, for cooperation, or both—was a large part of why we became so intelligent as a species. Back then, if you saw something that looked like a person, by golly it was a person.

 

This affinity for social reasoning, however, has resulted in systematic quirks in human reasoning about the non-human. This happens in two ways. First, we tend to see humanlike agency where there isn’t any, a common form of pareidolia.

 

…Why would we evolve to have a systematic error like this? Like most biases, it takes advantage of patterns in our environment to help us (or, more accurately, paleolithic people) reproduce and survive. In the environment where humans first evolved, mistaking a log for a lion is much safer than mistaking a lion for a log, favoring the survival of those who err on the side of seeing agency in many places. And for a hunter-gatherer at greater risk from wild animals and interpersonal violence than we face today, living things tend to be more dangerous than non-living things. We tend to see agency in everything, and children have it more than adults, suggesting that it has an inborn element.

 

…The other interesting effect of this is that we treat virtual people as real people. …[W]hen we interact with “friends” on social-networking sites or through texting, it can feel like we’re getting quality social contact, but we are not. It turns out that face-to-face interaction with other people—real people, right in front of us, not characters on TV or friends we communicate via text messages—is absolutely vital for longevity and happiness. In fact, it is a larger contributor than exercise or diet! …’

Source: Nautilus

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Why We’ll Have Evidence of Aliens—If They Exist—By 2035

‘The rapid growth in digital processing means that far larger swaths of the radio dial can be examined at one go and—in the case of the Allen array—many star systems can be checked out simultaneously. The array now examines three stars at once, but additional computer power could boost that to more than 100. Within two decades, SETI experiments will be able to complete a reconnaissance of 1 million star systems, which is hundreds of times more than have been carefully examined so far. SETI practitioners from Frank Drake to Carl Sagan have estimated that the galaxy currently houses somewhere between 10,000 and a few million broadcasting societies. If these estimates are right, then examining 1 million star systems could well lead to a discovery. So, if the premise of SETI has merit, we should find a broadcast from E.T. within a generation.

 

…Furthermore, scientists have been diversifying. For two decades, some SETI researchers have used conventional optical telescopes to look for extremely brief laser flashes coming from the stars. In many ways, aliens might be more likely to communicate by pulsed light than radio signals, for the same reason that people are turning to fiber optics for Internet access: It can, at least in principle, send 100,000 times as many bits per second as radio can.

 

…Physicists have also proposed wholly new modes of communications, such as neutrinos and gravitational waves. Some of my SETI colleagues have mulled these options, but we don’t see much merit in them at the moment. Both neutrinos and gravitational waves are inherently hard to create and detect. In nature, it takes the collapse of a star or the merger of black holes to produce them in any quantity. The total energy required to send “Hello, Earth” would be daunting, even for a civilization that could command the resources of a galaxy. …It is hard to imagine that aliens would go to the trouble of smashing together two huge black holes for a second’s worth of signal.

 

But there is a completely different approach that has yet to be explored in much detail: to look for artifacts—engineering projects of an advanced society. Some astronomers have suggested an alien megastructure, possibly an energy-collecting Dyson sphere, as the explanation for the mysterious dimming of Tabby’s star (officially known as KIC 8462852). It is a serious possibility, but no evidence has yet been found to support it.

…It’s also conceivable that extraterrestrials could have left time capsules in our own solar system, perhaps millions or billions of years ago, on the assumption that our planet might eventually evolve a species able to find them. The Lagrange points in the Earth-moon system—locations where the gravity of Earth, moon, and sun are balanced, so that an object placed there will stay there—have been suggested as good hunting grounds for alien artifacts, as has the moon itself.

 

Another idea is that we should search for the high-energy exhausts of interstellar rockets. The fastest spacecraft would presumably use the most efficient fuel: matter combining with antimatter. Their destructive “combustion” would not only shoot the craft through space at a fair fraction of the speed of light, but would produce a gamma-ray exhaust, which we might detect…’

Source: Nautilus

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Lots of Interesting Stuff Recently on Neuroskeptic

If you are a neuroscience nerd like me, maybe you will find all of these recent articles as fascinating as I did:
Problematic Neuropeptides And Statistics: ‘Back in May I discussed a paper published in PNAS which, I claimed, was using scientific terminology in a sloppy way. The authors, Pearce et al., used the word “neuropeptides” to refer to six molecules, but three of them weren’t neuropeptides at all. The authors acknowledged this minor error and issued a correction. Now, it emerges that there may be more serious problems with the PNAS paper. ..’
A Parade of Scientific Mice: ‘Recently I was reading a neuroscience paper and was struck by the cuteness of the two mice that formed part of Figure 1: So I decided to look further and collect a montage of scientific mice. All of these drawings are taken from peer-reviewed scientific papers…’
Is Parkinson’s A Prion Disease? ‘The Journal of Neuroscience recently featured a debate over the hypothesis that Parkinson’s disease is, at least in some cases, caused by a prion-like mechanism – misfolded proteins that spread from neuron to neuron. ..’
“Happy Chemical” Discovered In Beer? ‘A curious flurry of headlines in praise of beer appeared this week: Beer really DOES make you happier! Key molecule boosts brain’s reward centre …’
Is It Time To “Redefine Statistical Significance”? ‘A new paper in Nature Human Behaviour has generated lots of debate. In Redefine Statistical Significance, authors Daniel J. Benjamin and colleagues suggest changing the convention that p-values below 0.05 are called ‘significant’. Instead, they suggest, the cut-off should be set at 0.005 – a stricter criterion…’
Vagus Nerve Stimulation Restores Consciousness: ‘A report that nerve stimulation was able to partially restore consciousness in a patient in a vegetative state has attracted a great deal of attention this week…”
The Heavy Metal Brain: ‘Get your earplugs ready because this post is metal. Last week, a group of neuroscientists published a paper reporting altered brain activity in heavy metal lovers. The paper raised a few eyebrows, not least for its statement that metal fans show “disorders of behavioral and emotional cognition.” …’
Can Neuroscience Inform Everyday Life? The “Translation Problem”: ‘A new paper asks why neuroscience hasn’t had more “impact on our daily lives.” The article, Neuroscience and everyday life: facing the translation problem, comes from Dutch researchers Jolien C. Francken and Marc Slors. It’s a thought-provoking piece, but it left me feeling that the authors are expecting too much from neuroscience. I don’t think insights from neuroscience are likely to change our…’
Scientific Papers Are Getting Less Readable: ;'”The readability of scientific texts is decreasing over time”, according to a new paper just out. Swedish researchers Pontus Plaven-Sigray and colleagues say that scientists today use longer and more complex words than those of the past, making their writing harder to read…’

 

Source: Neuroskeptic

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Happy Diwali

‘Indian Sikh devotees light candles to mark Bandi Chhor Divas, or Diwali, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on October 19th, 2017. Also known as the festival of lights, Diwali is the biggest festival celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists around the world.’

Source: Pacific Standard

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Should We Fear Article V?

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‘The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress..’

We may be dangerously close to a Constitutional convention, if endorsed by two-thirds of the states (by a simple majority in each state), that might advance any of the many reactionary and cockamamie notions for amendments that Republicans have been unable to push through with the other method, a two-thirds vote in Congress, as provided for in Article V of the Constitution.

Source: Should We Fear Article V? – Pacific Standard

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Can Adults Develop ADHD? Probably Not, Researchers Say

adult-onset-adhd-neurosceinenews

‘Researchers report up to 80% of people diagnosed with adult onset ADHD likely do not have the condition. For the 20% of adults who may have ADHD, doctors may have missed the condition during childhood, the researchers conclude…’

Source: Neuroscience News

In my psychiatric practice, I began treating adult ADHD in the ’80’s, soon after it was recognized that the disorder, heretofore thought to affect children and adolescents only, could persist into childhood, albeit with a slightly modified picture as one aged. It was a necessary criterion for diagnosing it in an adult that it had begun in childhood, even if not recognized at the time. As the disorder was popularized, I turned away many people seeking to have their underperformance in life validated by an ADHD diagnosis — and usually seeking to be prescribed stimulants — because a careful look back revealed that they had shown no signs of having had the disorder as children. Unfortunately, this distinction has been lost in the decades since, resulting in an epidemic of overdiagnosis and unjustified treatment in adults. (The reprehensible epidemic of overdiagnosis of ADHD in children is a different matter.) It warms my heart to see some credible research bearing on the issue. However, I might quibble on the basis of my clinical experience with the inflated assertion that “20% of adults may have ADHD.”

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Anger is temporary madness, and the Stoics knew how to curb it

Massimo Pigliucci, professor of philosophy at City College, writes:

‘…[H]ere is my modern Stoic guide to anger management, inspired by Seneca’s advice:

– Engage in preemptive meditation: think about what situations trigger your anger, and decide ahead of time how to deal with them.

– Check anger as soon as you feel its symptoms. Don’t wait, or it will get out of control.

– Associate with serene people, as much as possible; avoid irritable or angry ones. Moods are infective.

– Play a musical instrument, or purposefully engage in whatever activity relaxes your mind. A relaxed mind does not get angry.

– Seek environments with pleasing, not irritating, colours. Manipulating external circumstances actually has an effect on our moods.

– Don’t engage in discussions when you are tired, you will be more prone to irritation, which can then escalate into anger.

– Don’t start discussions when you are thirsty or hungry, for the same reason.

-Deploy self-deprecating humour, our main weapon against the unpredictability of the Universe, and the predictable nastiness of some of our fellow human beings.

-Practise cognitive distancing – what Seneca calls ‘delaying’ your response – by going for a walk, or retire to the bathroom, anything that will allow you a breather from a tense situation.

– Change your body to change your mind: deliberately slow down your steps, lower the tone of your voice, impose on your body the demeanour of a calm person.

– Above all, be charitable toward others as a path to good living.

Seneca’s advice on anger has stood the test of time, and we would all do well to heed it. …’

Source: Aeon Ideas

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The Court Challenge Begins: Is Trump Taking Unconstitutional Emoluments?

Peter Overby writes:

‘On Wednesday morning, a federal judge in Manhattan will hear preliminary arguments in a case that claims President Trump is violating the Constitution’s ban on accepting foreign payments, or emoluments.

Here is what is at stake: The Founding Fathers wrote a clause into the Constitution saying U.S. officials cannot accept “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title” from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. Trump’s critics say that by refusing to sell off his global businesses, the president is failing to uphold the Constitution.

But before that issue can be debated, the court first has to decide whether the plaintiffs even have standing to bring their Emoluments Clause case. And that first step is what is happening in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. …’

Source: NPR

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George Saunders Wins Man Booker Prize For ‘Lincoln In The Bardo’

Camila Domonoske writes:

‘American author George Saunders has won the Man Booker prize for his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, a polyphonous meditation on death, grief and American history.

Saunders, widely lauded for his short stories, was considered the favorite to win the award. His novel centers on the death of Abraham Lincoln’s beloved son Willie and the night that Lincoln reportedly spent in the graveyard, devastated by his grief and lingering by his son’s body.

In the book, Saunders weaves fragments of historical documents (both authentic and imagined) with the voices of ghosts trapped in the graveyard with young Willie, watching in wonder at the strength of his father’s love. The devastating toll of the Civil War is the backdrop for the scene of very particular loss …’

Source: NPR

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LIGO Detects Fierce Collision of Neutron Stars for the First Time

DENNIS OVERBYE writes:

‘After two months of underground and social media rumblings, the first wave of news is being reported Monday about one of the least studied of cosmic phenomena: the merger of dense remnants known as neutron stars, the shrunken cores of stars that have collapsed and burst. …’

Source:  NYTimes.com

First gravitational wave catastrophe that astronomers saw as well as heard, and the most observed astronomical event to date. The video accompanying the article is a lovely explanatory simulation (thanks, Abby).

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A Brief History of the ‘Danse Macabre’

Bethany Corriveau Gotschall writes:

‘In the Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death, skeletons escort living humans to their graves in a lively waltz. Kings, knights, and commoners alike join in, conveying that regardless of status, wealth, or accomplishments in life, death comes for everyone. At a time when outbreaks of the Black Death and seemingly endless battles between France and England in the Hundred Years’ War left thousands of people dead, macabre images like the Dance of Death were a way to confront the ever-present prospect of mortality.

Though a few earlier examples exist in literature, the first known visual Dance of Death comes from around 1424. It was a large fresco painted in the open arcade of the charnel house in Paris’s Cemetery of the Holy Innocents. Stretched across a long section of wall and visible from the open courtyard of the cemetery, the fresco depicted human figures (all male) accompanied by cavorting skeletons in a long procession. A verse inscribed on the wall below each of the living figures explained the person’s station in life, arranged in order of social status from pope and emperor to shepherd and farmer. Clothing and accessories, like the pope’s cross-shaped staff and robes, or the farmer’s hoe and simple tunic, also helped identify each person. …’

Source: Atlas Obscura

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Trump lashing out at enemies again: crossing a line?

‘The cycles of chaos and rhetorical attacks that have been a hallmark of Donald Trump’s presidency reached another peak this week, forcing a rare public appearance Thursday by chief of staff John Kelly, who appeared before the White House press corps in a bid to smooth the waters. …’

Source: The Boston Globe

A growing number of people both inside and outside the government are coming on board voicing the accumulating evidence, at least since election day if not long before, that the president is unhinged. In the Senate, Bob Corker says the White House is “an adult day care center” (insult as that that might be to most of the geriatric daycare patients I have known!)  and Ben Sass suggest that Trump’s actions indicate his inability to uphold his vow in his oath of office to protect the constitution. Increasingly, apologists for the president, such as the skunk Paul Ryan, hold their nose while repeating the  desperately outlandish assertion that this is just how a man acts when he is being unfairly criticized. (I hope, and think, that this puts the final nail in the coffin of Joseph Goebbels oft- quoted assertion that any lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.)

Routinely, members of his administration go on the record needing to contradict the assertions and intentions he has expressed in his deranged late-night tweets, and there’s no telling how many have decided in private not to follow his orders, should they cross some privately drawn line in the sand, such as launching a nuclear attack on North Korea. One can only hope for a mutiny by the relevant military personnel in such a case.

More than two dozen mental health clinicians of national stature, a number of them friends and colleagues of mine, have contributed to the book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, which argues that Trump’s mental state is a clear and present danger to the welfare of the United States and its people and indeed makes him the “most dangerous man in the world”.

Preeminent psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who studied the psychology of obedience to Nazi terror, warns of the “malignant normality” that can transform our everyday life if others do not join those who have already spoken up, as I try to do here in this weblog.

In the final chapter of the book, psychiatrists Dee Mosbacher and Nanette Gartrell summarize the stipulation that many of us have been making that Trump’s inability to distinguish fact from fiction, rageful responses to criticism, lack of impulse control, and wanton disregard for the rule of law indicate emotional impairment rather than deliberate choice. They conclude with the argument, which I find compelling, that we invoke the process embodied in the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which addresses presidential disability and succession, to evaluate whether Trump is fit to serve. This is an increasingly more viable alternative to the impeachment process to get Trump out of office.

The process can be initiated by a request from Trump’s Cabinet members or self-started by Congress. An impartial panel of medical and psychiatric experts would be convened to evaluate Trump’s capacity to discharge his duties, conclusions remaining confidential unless they indicated that he should be removed from office. Let us hope that it is a race between the Cabinet and the Congress to reach such a conclusion. Call it fortunate or unfortunate as you may, Trump can be counted upon to provide a growing  impetus for such a process with his continuing erratic, bizarre, irrational, and outrageous behavior.

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Why Are We So Upset About Harvey Weinstein?

Marie Solis writes:

Women Are Attacked By Men in Nearly All Workplaces:

“The Harvey Weinsteins of the world aren’t confined to Hollywood studio executive suites—men sexually harass women in the workplace in nearly every industry, threatening women’s safety and career prospects.

In its most recent report, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it received 28,000 sexual harassment complaints from employees working for private or government employers in 2015—nearly one-third of the 90,000 charges of workplace discrimination.

And roughly three out of four people who experience sexual harassment fail to report it, largely due to fear of victim-blaming or retaliation, the agency added. …”

Source: Newsweek

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The Asheville Airport Bomber You Never Heard About

Shaun King writes:

‘The story didn’t go viral and Trump didn’t tweet about it because the bomb was not placed by an immigrant, or a Muslim, or a Mexican. It was placed there by a good ol’ white man, Michael Christopher Estes. Unlike the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, whose motive is still hard to discern, Estes wanted to be very clear that his ultimate goal was to accelerate a war on American soil.

Sorry if it sounds like you’ve heard this story before. I’m as tired of writing it as you are reading it, but you know good and well that if Estes was a young Muslim — hell, if he had ever even visited a mosque in the past 25 years — that Trump would be tweeting about him right this very moment to tout how essential a Muslim ban is for American safety. …’

Source: The Intercept

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Should Animal Abusers Be Registered Like Sex Offenders?

‘One of the objectives of the criminal justice system is to protect the innocent and discourage would-be perpetrators from harming them. Whether it does this in reality or not is another matter. But who among us is more innocent or vulnerable than our pets? They rely on us for so much. Most of us consider our pet a member of the family. The question is, how far should the law go to protect them?

This debate has blossomed recently, due to the number of US jurisdictions passing laws creating animal abuse abuser registries. This is much like a sex offender registry. Tennessee passed a statewide law, the first, in 2016. Connecticut, Washington, and Texas may be next. Some other states are considering such a registry as well….

Some supporters of these laws have pointed out that there’s a relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence. Serial killers often start out by abusing animals, before they move up to humans. This is in the most extreme cases, however. According to the Humane Society, the most widespread type of animal abuse is neglect. Neglectful pet owners don’t often harm humans or animals in any other way….

Humane Society Spokeswoman Jennifer Fearing said that rather than public shaming, targeted educational programs and mental health efforts would be more effective and less inflammatory. “We should be very careful to strike a balance between preventing future animal cruelty, protecting civil liberties, and promoting redemption and rehabilitation,” she said.

Lots of animal rights organizations and shelters keep their own lists. But these don’t often get into the hands of authorities. Animal abuse is considered a misdemeanor in most states and the most heinous acts are considered a felony, in all 50. Animal cruelty has also made it to the FBI’s list of Class A felonies. It monitors for such incidence just as it does for major crimes such as murder….

But whether we should go a step farther and have a federal animal abuser registry is still hotly debated. According to polling site Debate.com, 64% of respondents believe we should. Want to weigh in yourself? Click here. If you believe someone is abusing animals, be sure and contact The Humane Society or dial 911. ‘

Source: Big Think

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Our Worrisome Epidemic of Dream Deprivation

‘A CDC report finds that sleep deprivation has gotten so bad, it’s now a public health problem. The report states that nearly 30% of adults get six hours sleep or less sleep per night, on average. Most adults require 7-8 hours nightly.

Another finding, around 30-40% of adults (depending on age) fall asleep inadvertently at least once over the course of a day. Imagine if this person is a bus driver or simply falls asleep at the wheel? A book out last year by Arianna Huffington also argues we’re engrossed in a sleep-deprivation crisis on a societal and perhaps global scale.

While this latest report by a sleep and dreaming expert heralds a similar message, it’s in some ways stranger and more worrisome. We don’t think of dreams as something associated with health. But they are. And a lack of them is concerning.

“We are at least as dream-deprived as we are sleep-deprived.” said Rubin Naiman, PhD author of the report. He’s a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Dr. Naiman writes that REM sleep is crucial to proper health. In the report, he called our current situation a “silent epidemic of REM sleep deprivation.”

His findings, published in the journal, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, was a comprehensive review of all available data. In it, he talks about what causes REM sleep and dream loss and the reasons for it. “Many of our health concerns attributed to sleep loss actually result from REM sleep deprivation,” he said…’

Source:  Big Think

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Where Are the Drones That Could Be Saving Puerto Rico?

Where are the drones that could pick up the slack? We’re now decades into the age of unmanned aviation. Military drones whisk across oceans to spy on enemies and launch missiles. Amazon, FedEx, and their ilk are clamoring for the right to deliver running shoes and pizza to your front lawn via quadcopters….

If the technology is clearly here, it’s the cash and the government motivation that are lacking…

To a large extent, progress has been stymied by the FAA’s reluctance to permit drone flights in commercial airspace…

Yes, drones have a military association that can belie their humanitarian potential. But if the industry and regulators could work together to launch fleets of drones delivering piles of desperately needed supplies to stricken communities, it’s hard to imagine anyone would care who had sent them.

Source: WIRED

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How Science Saved Me from Pretending to Love Wine

Ann Fadiman writes:

‘…I ordered a kit from 23andMe, a genetic-testing company, and spat into a little plastic tube. I was duly informed that I had several variants—none of them particularly rare—in TAS2R38 and TAS2R13, two of the genes that encode for the taste receptors that perceive bitterness. One set of variants intensifies the perception of bitter flavors in general, including prop; the other specifically intensifies the perception of bitterness in alcohol. All the variants were heterozygous, which meant that I had inherited them from only one parent (I feel pretty sure it was my mother, who loved milkshakes) and not from the other (the one who loved wine)….’

Source: New Yorker

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The real reason some people become addicted to drugs

Cogent explanation based on the distinction between liking and wanting.

In the 1980s, researchers made a surprising discovery. Food, sex and drugs all appeared to cause dopamine to be released in certain areas of the brain, such as the nucleus accumbens.

This suggested to many in the scientific community that these areas were the brain’s pleasure centers and that dopamine was our own internal pleasure neurotransmitter. However, this idea has since been debunked. The brain does have pleasure centers, but they are not modulated by dopamine.

So what’s going on? It turns out that, in the brain, “liking” something and “wanting” something are two separate psychological experiences. “Liking” refers to the spontaneous delight one might experience eating a chocolate chip cookie. “Wanting” is our grumbling desire when we eye the plate of cookies in the center of the table during a meeting.

Dopamine is responsible for “wanting” – not for “liking.” For example, in one study, researchers observed rats that could not produce dopamine in their brains. These rats lost the urge to eat but still had pleasurable facial reactions when food was placed in their mouths.

All drugs of abuse trigger a surge of dopamine – a rush of “wanting” – in the brain. This makes us crave more drugs. With repeated drug use, the “wanting” grows, while our “liking” of the drug appears to stagnate or even decrease, a phenomenon known as tolerance.

Source: The Conversation

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Ta-Nehisi Coates to Chris Hayes: why Donald Trump really is a white supremacist

‘I think if you own a business that attempts to keep black people from renting from you; if you are reported to say that you don’t want black people counting your money; if you say—and not even reported, just come out and say—that someone can’t judge your case because they are Mexican; if your response to the first black president is that they weren’t born in this country, despite all proof; if you say they weren’t smart enough to go to Harvard Law School, and demand to see their grades; if that’s the essence of your entire political identity you might be a white supremacist, it’s just possible. …’

Source: Quartz

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Scientists Link ‘Cat’ Parasite to Common Neurological Disorders

‘A new study shows that Toxoplasma gondii—a brain parasite often transmitted to humans by cats—triggers various changes in the human brain which potentially allow the pathogen to exacerbate several pre-existing neurological conditions. It’s a worrisome finding given that nearly one in ten Americans may be infected with the parasite, but more work is needed to assess T. gondii’s full impact on human health.

The new research, published recently in Scientific Reports, links T. gondii with several brain conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and even some cancers. The research, which involved 32 scientists across 16 institutions in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, identifies key vulnerabilities in the human brain that enable the parasite to alter the course of a disease, and potentially make it even worse. The findings could eventually serve as a guide to help scientists design medications and interventions to repair and prevent neurological damage inflicted by T. gondii on the human brain…’

Source: Gizmodo

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Peril to Amazonian Indigenous Peoples is Growing

‘They were members of an uncontacted tribe gathering eggs along the river in a remote part of the Amazon. Then, it appears, they had the bad luck of running into gold miners.

Now, federal prosecutors in Brazil have opened an investigation into the reported massacre of about 10 members of the tribe, the latest evidence that threats to endangered indigenous groups are on the rise in the country.

The Brazilian agency on indigenous affairs, Funai, said it had lodged a complaint with the prosecutor’s office in the state of Amazonas after the gold miners went to a bar in the town of Tabatinga, near the border with Peru, and bragged about the killings. They brandished a hand-carved paddle that they said had come from the tribe, the agency said…’

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Can American Survive the Drumpf Administration?

 

 

‘…On matters concerning the possible disintegration of democratic norms, I turn to the most urgent and acute text on the subject, “How to Build an Autocracy,” an Atlantic cover story by David Frum published earlier this year. Frum, a senior writer for the magazine (and a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush), made the argument in this groundbreaking article that if autocracy came to America, it would be not in the form of a coup but in the steady, gradual erosion of democratic norms. Frum’s eloquent writing and ruthlessly sharp analysis for The Atlantic has made him an indispensably important—perhaps even the leading—conservative critic of President Trump….

I asked Frum to analyze his March cover story. Did he overplay or understate any of the threats? “The thing I got most wrong is that I did not anticipate the sheer chaos and dysfunction and slovenliness of the Trump operation,” he said. “I didn’t sufficiently anticipate how distracted Trump could be by things that are not essential. My model was that he was greedy first and authoritarian second. What I did not see is that he is needy first, greedy second, and authoritarian third. We’d be in a lot worse shape if he were a more meticulous, serious-minded person.”

The Trump presidency is still young, but we thought it would be worthwhile to ask several writers to assess its first several months. Eliot A. Cohen, who served in the State Department under George W. Bush, examines how Trump has affected America’s global standing; Jack Goldsmith, who served as a high official in the Bush Justice Department, investigates the possible damage Trump has done to American institutions. And our national correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates refracts the Trump presidency through the prism of race…’

 

 

Source: The Atlantic

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Great Apes Know When They Don’t Know

‘It’s a familiar problem: you leave the house and while closing the door, the question whether the stove was turned on or off pops up in your head. Although annoying, this problem could easily be solved by turning around and taking a second look. This simple example illustrates an important form of thinking: metacognition or the ability to monitor ones’ own mental states. Before turning around, you assess whether you remember the state of the stove. Once you realize that you don’t remember, you seek additional information. Importantly, in humans, this monitoring process is very flexible and can be applied to all sorts of thoughts, not just the ones about your stove. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the University of St. Andrews asked what great apes would do when they are confronted with such a situation…’

Source: Neuroscience News

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What to Do if You Encounter a Murderous Clown

‘We here at io9 take clown safety very seriously, so we wanted to familiarize everyone with a) how to differentiate between harmless human clowns and their (much more) murderous cousins; and b) how to confront a clown should the situation call for it. Remember, people, clowns are much less afraid of you than you are of them, so it’d behoove you to have a game plan at the ready unless you’re trying to get got…’

Source: io9

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When to Say No to a Police Officer

‘…It’s easier for a white nurse than a black motorist to say no to a cop. Last weekend Alex Wubbels, a nurse at University University Hospital in Salt Lake City refused a cop’s orders to draw blood from an unconscious patient. Wubbels had hospital policy on her side as well as her supervisor’s support, and the cop still handcuffed her and tossed her in the back of a squad car until cooler heads prevailed.

She was right to say no to the officer’s demands, and there has been an outpouring of support nationwide for her standing firm in the face of police bullying and ultimately assault—support that is often conspicuously absent when the victim of police brutality is a person of color.

It is much easier for a person in a position of relative privilege to refuse to comply with a cop’s demands, and every person must gauge their own level of risk in interactions of cops—your safety is your number-one concern, and everyone must make their decisions accordingly. Nonetheless, there are some interactions with police when civilians are within their legal rights to say no. I spoke with Jason Williamson, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, about when we may legally say no to police.

1. When they ask for your consent to search your person, your car, or your home…

2. When they ask you for more information than your name and your driver’s license (and car registration and insurance, if you’re pulled over)…

3. When they ask you to do something illegal (a la Alex Wubbels)…

4. When they try to ask you questions after you are under arrest…

5. When they want to listen when you call your lawyer…

6. When they ask your immigration status or if they ask you to sign something…’

Source: Lifehacker

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Stop Faking Service Dogs

‘…I encounter dogs that are blatantly not service animals on a daily basis. Recently, during a morning visit to my local café, I laughed when a woman whose tiny dog was thrashing around at the limits of its leash and barking fiercely at other customers loudly proclaimed that it was a service animal. “It’s my service dog,” she said to me, scowling. “You’re not allowed to ask me why I need it!”

Data backs my anecdote up. A study conducted at the University of California at Davis found that the number of “therapy dogs” or “emotional support animals” registered by animal control facilities in the state increased 1,000 percent between 2002 and 2012. In 2014, a supposed service dog caused a U.S. Airways flight to make an emergency landing after repeatedly defecating in the aisle. A Google News search for “fake service dog” returns more than 2.2 million results.

This has recently led state governments to try and curb the problem through law. In Massachusetts, a House bill seeks to apply a $500 fine to pet owners who even falsely imply that their animal may be a service dog. In California, the penalty is $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Twelve states now have laws criminalizing the misrepresentation of a pet as a service animal. That’s good, but with all the confusion surrounding what a service dog actually is, there’s less and less protection for their unique status.

A new bill introduced to the Senate this summer by Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin threatens to add to the confusion even more. If it becomes law, you’ll be able to take any animal on a plane simply by telling the airline that it’s an ESA. Alarmingly, the bill seems to include ESAs in its definition of service animals.

Look, I get the desire to bring your pet along with you everywhere you go. My dogs are as important to me as my friends and family. The first criteria my girlfriend and I apply to where we eat, drink, and travel is whether our dogs can enjoy it with us. But out of respect for the needs of disabled people, for the incredible work that real service dogs perform, and for the people managing and patronizing these businesses, we will not lie. We do not take our pets places where they’re not welcome. We never want to compromise the ability of a service dog to perform its essential duties.

As an animal lover, don’t you want the same thing? …’

Source: Outside Online

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Please, please stop sharing spaghetti plots of hurricane models

Technical discussion of why you should not believe everything you hear about the projected plots of Hurricanes:

‘…spaghetti plots are not good decision-making tools. Sorry, they’re just not. To understand why, let’s take a look at the models on Nate Silver’s plot, which he shared with his 2.5 million followers at 7:34pm ET Tuesday:

XTRP: This is not a model. It is simply a straight-line extrapolation of the storm’s current direction at 2pm Tuesday.

TVCN, TVCX: These are useful, as they are consensus forecasts of global model tracks. NHC: This is the official forecast from the National Hurricane Center.

TABD, TABM, TABS: These are simple statistical models, which are essentially useless for track forecasting.

NVGM: Useful, but the model is from about 8am ET, or 12 hours before Silver posted the graphic. Wildly out of date.

HMON: This is NOAA’s new hurricane model, but it was badly wrong during Hurricane Harvey. Also 12 hours old. Essentially useless.

HWRF: This is NOAA’s primary hurricane model, and while it’s OK, it is nearly 12 hours old. Not useful.

COTC: A version of the US Navy’s global model, which is kind of meh for hurricanes and is 12 hours old.

AVNO, AEMN: Two variants of NOAA’s premiere global model, the GFS. Both are worth looking at, but again the forecasts are 12 hours old.

CMC, CEMN: Two variants of the Canadian global model, which is worth looking at, but again the forecasts are 12 hours old.

UKM: The UK Met Office’s global model, which is definitely worth looking at. But the forecasts are 12 hours old.

CLP5: Not a model at all. Just a forecast based on where storms in this location historically go.

This is the essential problem with spaghetti plots. To the untrained eye, all models are created equal, when they most certainly are not. Plots like this also often include forecasts that are 12 or more hours old, which is generally out of date when it comes to hurricanes. Finally, the world’s most accurate model, the European forecast system, is proprietary and not included on such plots.So what should you do? First and foremost, pay attention to the National Hurricane Center, which publishes updated track and intensity forecasts every six hours. I know a lot of these forecasters personally, and they are absolute pros without agendas who dedicate their summers to getting these forecasts right. There are no absolutes in track and intensity forecasts, and there is a lot of uncertainty. They understand all of this as well as anyone can…’

Source: Ars Technica

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Boasting of His Experience, 6-Year-Old Makes Heartfelt Application for Lego Job

‘After Legoland Windsor posted a job listing earlier this year seeking designers to help create animated Lego figures, staff at the British theme park received one application that really caught their eye.

“I am the man [for] the job because I have lots of experience,” wrote a confident Stanley Bolland in a handwritten note.

“I am 6 years old,” he wrote.

According to the BBC, the Legoland job listing had sought applicants with “experience in product design, IT and design packages, as well as an ‘interest or knowledge about Lego and creation of Lego models.’”…

In his letter, Stanley, who lives in the town of Waterlooville, England, cited his one box of Lego blocks ― which he said he hides “so my brother can’t get it” ― as evidence of his experience. …’

Source: HuffPost

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How the Summer of Love helped give birth to the Religious Right

Neil J. Young writes:

‘Sex, drugs, and — Jesus? It’s not what the Summer of Love generally calls to mind. But of all the things that came out of San Francisco in 1967, perhaps none was more unexpected, or more consequential, than the Jesus Freaks or, as they were more commonly known, the Jesus People.

While they would give up their drugs and promiscuous sex, the Jesus People retained much of their countercultural ways, bringing their music, dress, and laid-back style into the churches they joined. Their influence would remake the Sunday worship experience for millions of Americans. As the historian Larry Eskridge has argued, today’s evangelical mega-churches with their rock bands blasting praise music and jeans-wearing pastors “are a direct result of the Jesus People movement.” …’

Source: Vox

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R.I.P. Walter Becker

Co-Founder of Steely Dan Dies at 67

JON PARELES writes:

‘Walter Becker, the guitarist and songwriter who made suavely subversive pop hits out of slippery jazz harmonies and verbal enigmas in Steely Dan, his partnership with Donald Fagen, died on Sunday. He was 67.

His death was announced on his official website, which gave no other details. He lived in Maui, Hawaii…’

Source:  NYTimes.com

Although he was a few years ahead of me, Becker and I went to the same high school, although it wasn’t until after high school that I discovered my passion for Steely Dan.

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R.I.P. John Ashbery; Hear Him Read “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”

Dan Colman writes:

‘Poet John Ashbery has passed away, at the age of 90. About the poet, Harold Bloom once said. “No one now writing poems in the English language is likelier than Ashbery to survive the severe judgment of time. He is joining the American sequence that includes Whitman, Dickinson, Stevens and Hart Crane.” 

In 1976, Ashbery won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Above, you can hear him read the title poem, his masterpiece. The Guardian calls “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” a densely written epic about art, time and consciousness that was inspired by the 16th century Italian painting of the same name.” The text of the poem appears on the Poetry Foundation website…’

Source: Open Culture

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Independent Analysis on Supplements

This could be the best site to scratch your itch about nutritional supplements:

‘What is Examine.com? 

We were frustrated. There was no place we could turn to in order to get unbiased information on supplements. Sure, there was Wikipedia, but it wasn’t getting deep into the science.
Everyone else? Had an agenda. Supplement companies misrepresenting science. Media sensationalizing headlines. Companies and individuals pushing unneeded supplements and other products onto you.

That’s why Examine.com started in 2011. Fully independent from the start, we’ve never sold any supplements. Or done any coaching or consulting. Or any kind of advertising or sponsorship.

Our goal from day 1 has always been: read the research, make sense of it, and put it online. We’re an education company that looks at the research — nothing more, nothing less. …’

Source: Examine.com

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The Photos the U.S. and Saudi Arabia Don’t Want You to See

Nicholas Kristof writes:

‘Let’s be blunt: With U.S. and U.K.
complicity, the Saudi government is
committing war crimes in Yemen.

“The country is on the brink of famine, with over 60 percent of the population not knowing where their next meal will come from,” the leaders of the U.N. World Food Program, Unicef and the World Health Organization said in an unusual joint statement.

Yemen, always an impoverished country, has been upended for two years by fighting between the Saudi-backed military coalition and Houthi rebels and their allies (with limited support from Iran). The Saudis regularly bomb civilians and, worse, they have closed the airspace and imposed a blockade to starve the rebel-held areas into submission.

That means that ordinary Yemenis, including children, die in bombings or starve….’

Source: The New York Times

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The far right is losing its ability to speak freely online. Should the left defend it?

‘… “This is a really terrible time to be a free speech advocate,” said Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It’s a ‘First they came for the … situation,” she said, referring to the famous Martin Niemöller poem about the classes of people targeted by Nazis, “only in reverse”.

Though these are dark days for American exceptionalism, the US remains distinct in its commitment to freedom of speech. Even as many Americans increasingly favor European-style limitations on hate speech, the constitution’s first amendment ensures that any such legislative effort is likely a non-starter.

But the fate of the Daily Stormer – as vile a publication as it is – may be a warning to Americans that the first amendment is increasingly irrelevant…’

Source: The Guardian

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‘Smart’ Rubber Bands Are on Their Way

‘According to a story on Science Alert, the world’s largest rubber band maker, Alliance, Ohio’s, Alliance Rubber Co., is working with researchers to create unbreakable rubber bands that will also be traceable and responsive to external stimuli. This all thanks to the addition of the space-age material graphene, which is said to be 200 times stronger than steel…’

Source: Atlas Obscura

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All the Ways You’re Secretly Being Rude Abroad

When you travel around the world, you probably aim to be respectful of each and every culture you encounter. But you’d be surprised how easy it is to be rude without knowing. This is a primer on cultural sensitivity; however, instead of memorizing all the things you dare not do and where, you can often find resources on the particular cultural mores and customs of any particular place you are visiting by googling before you go.

Source: Lifehacker

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R.I.P. John Abercrombie

‘John Abercrombie, a guitarist whose lyrical style placed him in his generation’s top tier of improvising musicians, died on Tuesday in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. He was 72.

The cause was heart failure, his brother-in-law, Gary Lefkowitz, said.Mr. Abercrombie became known in the mid-1970s as a prominent jazz-rock guitarist. As his style evolved and he moved away from fusion, it was his knack for understatement and his affinity for classic jazz guitar technique that defined his approach.He played in bands led by the drummer Jack DeJohnette and the saxophonist Gato Barbieri, among others, before ECM Records released his first album as a leader, “Timeless,” in 1975…’

Source: New York Times obituary

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If Horror Movies Got Exorcism Right, We Might All Be Possessed

‘Mary Chasteen’s been in the exorcism business since 2008, so she knows Hollywood has it all wrong.

“It’s always portrayed as you’re walking along and, wham, the demon’s in you,” Chasteen tells Inverse. “Then a priest tries to help you and, bam, they’re possessed. It’s ridiculous. You know, if a demon could just override free will, then who wouldn’t be possessed? They’d make evil puppets out of all of us. They would just destroy God’s creation.”

As the auxiliary and confidant to Father Vincent Lampert, Exorcist of the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Pastor of Saint Malachy Parish in Brownsburg, Indiana, Chasteen has seen things that she says will stay with her for the rest of her life. But the disturbing imagery of her real-world work — humans whose bodies, minds, and souls have, according to the Catholic Church, been inundated by demons — isn’t much like what horror films would have you believe.

Many would balk at the idea that Hollywood’s portrayal of demons and exorcism is up for debate. Hollywood’s not exactly known for its realism, but viewers might assume that debating the accuracy of something as far-fetched as exorcisms is pointless, right? Not so, according to Catholicism, which is practiced by roughly 1.2 billion people around the world. Catholics hold that demons, exorcism, and the associated trappings are very real, and a warped version of their beliefs tend to make their way to the screen…’

Source: Inverse

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Eventually, Total Solar Eclipses Will End Forever

‘Every year, the moon moves about 3.8 centimeters (1.5 inches) farther away from Earth. In addition, the sun is slowly growing larger as it fuses hydrogen into helium and consumes its nuclear fuel. The moon has been slowly slipping away from Earth ever since it formed billions of years ago, a time when the moon was closer and larger in the sky. Because it is getting farther away and smaller as viewed by us on Earth, and the sun is getting larger, there is an inevitable day when the moon will become too small in the sky to block the whole sun.

That day is about 600 million years in the future. A paper published by NASA predicts total solar eclipses will end in about 563 million years. However, British astronomer Jean Meeus suggests in his book, More Mathematical Astronomy Morsels, that perturbations in the orbits of the moon and the Earth will result in periods of on-and-off total solar eclipses starting in 620 million years, and the very last one won’t happen until 1.2 billion years from now…’

Source: Popular Mechanics

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Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War?

Robin Wright writes:

‘America’s stability is increasingly an undercurrent in political discourse. Earlier this year, I began a conversation with Keith Mines about America’s turmoil. Mines has spent his career—in the U.S. Army Special Forces, the United Nations, and now the State Department—navigating civil wars in other countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. He returned to Washington after sixteen years to find conditions that he had seen nurture conflict abroad now visible at home. It haunts him. In March, Mines was one of several national-security experts whom Foreign Policy asked to evaluate the risks of a second civil war—with percentages. Mines concluded that the United States faces a sixty-per-cent chance of civil war over the next ten to fifteen years. Other experts’ predictions ranged from five per cent to ninety-five per cent. The sobering consensus was thirty-five per cent. And that was five months before Charlottesville…’

Source: The New Yorker

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Famous Writers React To Drumpf’s Defense Of White Supremacists

Stephen King: “Trump must be removed. Republicans, stand up to this obscene man.”

J.K. Rowling: “One good thing about that abomination of a speech: it’s now impossible for any Trump supporter to pretend they don’t know what he is.”

Joyce Carol Oates shared a photo of a poster comparing Trump to Adolf Hitler.

Jodi Picoult: ‘Just want to point out the last people who used the rhetoric of subduing the “alt-left” to appeal to masses were German Nazis prior to WWII.’

Rainbow Rowell challenged Trump’s comments that the alt-right protesters came in peace: “Those Nazis came to Charlottesville with torches, metal poles & semiautomatic weapons. They did not come in peace or to express an opinion.”

Kumail Nanjiani: ‘How can self professed “non-racist” & “non-white-supremacist” ppl continue to support him? I genuinely wanna know. How do you justify this?’

Gary Shteyngart: “Will Trump lead us into a civil war or nuclear holocaust first? Anyone taking bets?”

Norman Lear: “I fought Nazis in World War II. They aren’t “very fine people…”

Maureen Johnson: “My grandpa was a Marine for over 25 years and fought in WWI and WWII. He would not forgive me if I didn’t fight Nazi sympathizers.”

Brad Thor shared a gif of a dumpster fire.

Jason O. Gilbert: ‘Lincoln: “4 score and 7 seven years ago…” JFK: “Ask not what your country can do for you…” Trump: “Actually the Nazis had a permit…” ‘

Source: Buzzfeed

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One Can Only Hope

Bannon in Limbo as Trump Faces Growing Calls for the Strategist’s Ouster

MAGGIE HABERMAN and GLENN THRUSH write:

‘Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly urged President Trump to fire him. Anthony Scaramucci, the president’s former communications director, thrashed him on television as a white nationalist. Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, refused to even say he could work with him.

For months, Mr. Trump has considered ousting Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist and relentless nationalist who ran the Breitbart website and called it a “platform for the alt-right.” Mr. Trump has sent Mr. Bannon to a kind of internal exile, and has not met face-to-face for more than a week with a man who was once a fixture in the Oval Office, according to aides and friends of the president…’

Source:  NYTimes.com

This may be the only silver lining to come out of the horror of Charlottesville.

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What does it mean that the sperm count among Western men has shrunk by half since the ‘70s?

‘The good news is that 47.1 million sperm per milliliter is still pretty healthy. A person’s sperm count is considered “low” when he has fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen, and plenty of men with low sperm counts are still able to conceive children. Future studies should examine whether there has been a corresponding increase in men clocking in below the 15 million sperm threshold in addition to a general decrease in average sperm concentration. More good news: There are research-based behavioral changes men can make to combat sperm-count decline, such as quitting smoking, eating healthy meals, and avoiding food and drink that have touched pesticides or materials containing BPA.

 

The bad news, according to Levine, is that the new study’s results may foretell “the extinction of the human species” if we don’t figure out what’s causing the lack of sperm and take action…’

Source: Slate

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R.I.P. Haruo Nakajima

First Actor to Play Godzilla Dies at 88

‘Haruo Nakajima, the Japanese actor who played the movie monster Godzilla in a dozen films and whose booming steps in a 200-pound rubber suit sent the denizens of Tokyo running into cinematic history, died on Monday. He was 88.  His daughter, Sonoe Nakajima, said the cause was pneumonia. She did not say where he died.

 

Mr. Nakajima was a 25-year-old stunt actor with just four movies to his credit when he was cast in what are perhaps Japan’s two most famous films of that era, both released in 1954: Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece “Seven Samurai,” in which he had a bit part, and “Godzilla.” ‘

Source: New York Times obituary

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America Once Planned An Unstoppable Nuclear Doomsday Nightmare Weapon

…a locomotive-size missile that would travel at near-treetop level at three times the speed of sound, tossing out hydrogen bombs as it roared overhead. Pluto’s designers calculated that its shock wave alone might kill people on the ground. Then there was the problem of fallout. In addition to gamma and neutron radiation from the unshielded reactor, Pluto’s nuclear ramjet would spew fission fragments out in its exhaust as it flew by. (One enterprising weaponeer had a plan to turn an obvious peace-time liability into a wartime asset: he suggested flying the radioactive rocket back and forth over the Soviet Union after it had dropped its bombs.)

Source: Jalopnik

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Two-Headed Bat Found in Brazil Is the Stuff of Nightmares

‘…[R]esearchers at the Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro published a study on a pair of conjoined bat twins discovered in southeastern Brazil back in 2001. The animals were dead when they were discovered, which is almost always the case with animals born with a rare condition that results in two heads on a single body…’

Source: Gizmodo

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Fighting Words With the Unabomber

‘…[I]t turns out in some of the world’s most baffling criminal cases—notorious kidnappings, domestic terrorism, thinly veiled threats and collusion, false confessions, mysterious deaths—it was not the chance appearance of some wayward DNA, CSI-style, that finally cracked the code, but some seemingly harmless point about language.

Strange to think that a handful of mere words, short of a blatant confession, could end up pointing the finger at unknown perpetrators of a crime. Perhaps like DNA, words and the ways we use language can potentially reveal features of ourselves, our intentions, and our actions, left hastily at the scene without our being aware of it.

It’s thanks to the quirky use of idioms, oddly-placed punctuation, vocal tics, and certain other idiolectal, dialectal and stylistic markers, that anonymous speakers and authors have often been identified. Linguistic evidence left behind in wire taps, ransom notes, texts, tweets, and emails, (and even pet parrots!) has sometimes led to major breakthroughs and even the resolution of many famous cases. Just like DNA analysis, however, these linguistic markers have to be used cautiously in a forensic context.

Source: JSTOR Daily

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Texting While Crossing The Street Now Illegal In Honolulu

Miles Parks writes:

'"Cell phones are not just pervading our roadways, but pervading our sidewalks too," Maureen Vogel, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit National Safety Council, told Reuters. …'

Source: NPR

While this is certainly another aspect of our national epidemic of cell phone – mediated attention deficit disorder, weren't you taught, as I was, to look both ways and keep looking? This new Hawaiian law may be another example of overlegislating common sense. As an aside, who's at fault when a texting driver hits a texting street-crossing pedestrian? (Modern version of irresistible – force – meets – immovable – object? )

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What Is the ‘Regular Order’ John McCain Longs to Return to in Senate?

Ron Elving writes:

‘In an emotional return to the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon, Sen. John McCain admonished the leaders of his party for how they managed the health care bill and called instead for “regular order.”…

That rather vague-sounding phrase — “regular order” — actually has a more concrete meaning, and it is highly relevant to the situation the Senate finds itself in right now…

“Regular order” refers to the procedures and processes that have governed the Senate for generations. It consists of rules and precedents that have been followed with few exceptions for legislation both big and small.

But regular order is not only a process, it is also a state of mind. It implies not only procedures but also a presumption of at least some degree of bipartisanship.

The supermajorities that are required in the Senate — notably the 60-vote minimum to end a filibuster and close debate — have meant leaders of both parties had to look for support across the aisle and to make accommodations.

That is the tradition that has been lost in recent years, as whichever party has the majority gets frustrated by the minority party’s power to jam the works. Pressured by presidents and the media, the majority leadership has done what it could to circumvent regular order…’

Source: NPR

However, as I wrote in my post below about ungovernability, meganations and devolution, McCain may have it backwards. We have crossed a tipping point, arguably, where the current gridlock is the regular order and there may be no going back. To wish for otherwise in the current United States may be Pie in the Sky.

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What McCain did was hard. What Murkowski and Collins did was much harder. 

Alexia Fernández Campbell writes:

‘…when McCain cast a performative last-minute vote against “skinny repeal,” it immediately overshadowed the two women Republican senators who did far more to halt Republicans’ reckless efforts to repeal Obamacare. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) repeatedly stood their ground against the three health bills their colleagues tried to ram through the Senate…’

Source: Vox

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Are Meganations too Big to Succeed?

There are more than 250 self-determination political independence movements around the world, in the face of the fact that nearly 60% of the world’s population lives in the eleven ‘meganations’ with populations greater than one hundred million. Most of these have highly centralized and autocratic governments even if masquerading as democracies, as is the case with the US, indisputably controlled by corporate, investment and, increasingly, foreign interests. Doubts about the autocratic nature of American rule should, of course, be put to rest by the current dysadministration but the culture of incarceration, the suppression of civil liberties, burgeoning citizen surveillance, rendition of terrorist suspects, prisoner abuse, and torture long predate Drumpf.

The global megainstitutions that have arisen to deal with security, peacekeeping, international finance and trade, and development issues — the UN, the IMF, the WTO, the EU, NATO and other trade and treaty organizations — are crippled by their unwieldy size and are too big to fix.

Doubts about the EU, as well as the implosion of the Soviet Union and the breakup of Yugoslavia, have stoked the dozens of separatist movements in Europe, the highest-profile of which include Scottish devolution, Flanders (Belgium) and Catalonia (Spain). Separatist movements occur throughout Asia, most visibly the Kurdish movements, those in Indonesia and various Chinese regions including Tibet. Hundreds of African tribal groups are rebelling against the artificial conglomerations imposed by 19th-century European colonial rule. There are a number of secessionist movements in Canada, over and above the highly visible Parti Quebecois.

Secessionist sentiment in the US rests on factors such as:

— the loss of the US Government’s moral authority, controlled as it is by Wall Street and corporate interests

—  the environmental, economic, social and political unsustainability of the country as manifested by the culture wars and Congressional gridlock.

In short, the US could be seen as a failed state, as recognized by the more than thirty active separatist movements that had arisen in this country by the time George W. Bush left office. Self-determination has a particularly strong voice in Vermont and Massachusetts’ Cape and Islands.

Such self-determination can be construed to be in the spirit of the American Declaration of Independence: “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive…it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government.”

Read more: 3quarksdaily

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R.I.P. Clancy Sigal

Novelist Whose Life Was a Tale in Itself, Dies at 90, SAM ROBERTS writes:

‘The first time Clancy Sigal went to jail he was 5. His mother, a Socialist union organizer, had been arrested in Chattanooga, Tenn., for violating social and legal norms when she convened a meeting of black and white female textile workers. Hauled away to the jailhouse, she took Clancy with her.
As an American Army sergeant in Germany, he plotted to assassinate Hermann Göring at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. A victim of the movie industry’s Communist-baiting blacklist, he represented Barbara Stanwyck and Humphrey Bogart as a Hollywood agent (but improvidently rejected James Dean and Elvis Presley as clients).
During a 30-year self-imposed exile in Britain as an antiwar radical, Mr. Sigal was the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing’s lover and flirted with suicide as a sometime patient of R. D. Laing, the iconoclastic psychiatrist.
In short, in a mixed-bag life of almost a century, Mr. Sigal had enough rambunctious experiences to fill a novel — or, in his case, several of them. He drew on his escapades in critically acclaimed memoirs and autobiographical novels, developing a cult following, especially in Britain. …’

Source: New York Times obituary

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Where Did Time Come From, and Why Does It Seem to Flow?

‘Nautilus: Is the flow of time real or an illusion?

Physicist Paul Davies: The flow of time is an illusion, and I don’t know very many scientists and philosophers who would disagree with that, to be perfectly honest. The reason that it is an illusion is when you stop to think, what does it even mean that time is flowing? When we say something flows like a river, what you mean is an element of the river at one moment is in a different place of an earlier moment. In other words, it moves with respect to time. But time can’t move with respect to time—time is time. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that the claim that time does not flow means that there is no time, that time does not exist. That’s nonsense. Time of course exists. We measure it with clocks. Clocks don’t measure the flow of time, they measure intervals of time. Of course there are intervals of time between different events; that’s what clocks measure…’

Source: Nautilus

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The End of the American Experiment

Umair Haque:

‘It’s Over. So What Can the World Learn?

It’s safe to say, I think, that the American experiment is at an end. No, America might not be finished as in civil war and secession. But it is clearly at an end in three ways.

First, to the world, as a serious democracy. Second, to itself, as a nation with dignity and self-respect. Third, its potential lies in ruins. Even if authoritarianism is toppled tomorrow, the problems of falling life expectancy, an imploding middle class, skyrocketing inequality, and so on, won’t be.

Now, like many fallen nations, maybe America won’t learn much from the failure of its own experiment — but history and the world surely can. So what has the experiment disproven? What was the null hypothesis?

We don’t have to look very far. What does America not have that the rest of the rich world does? Public healthcare, transport, education, and so on. Every single rich nation in the world has sophisticated, broad, and expansive public goods, that improve by the year. Today, even many medium income and even poor nations are building public healthcare, transport, etc. America is the only one that never developed any.

Public goods protect societies in deep, profound, invisible ways …’

Source: Medium