The Photographer Who X-Rayed Chernobyl

‘When Brazilian artist Alice Miceli photographed Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone, she placed radiographic film plates used for chest X-rays on the ground, windows, and trees. She was determined to capture the unseen. The resulting images are unexpected and don’t follow any predictable patterns… ‘

Via Atlas Obscura

Poll leaves CNN’s John King speechless

‘CNN political analysts were at a loss for words while discussing a poll conducted by the Economist/YouGov that found 53% of Republicans said that Donald Trump is a better president than Abraham Lincoln was….’

Via CNN Video

‘Deep Trouble’

Presidential Historian Warns Trump That It’s About To Get Worse:

‘Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley predicted that support for President Donald Trump will sink as impeachment proceedings advance. 

Brinkley was asked about a CNN poll released last week that found 50% want Trump impeached and removed from office, versus 43% opposed. 

“It just tells you what deep trouble Donald Trump’s in,” he said on the network on Friday. “I mean when you have 50% of the country wanting you not just impeached but removed from office, and the game hasn’t even gotten fast yet…’

— Via HuffPost

Maxims

  • The sooner you do something, the more of your life you get to spend with that thing done.
  • Acting the way you want to feel usually works.
  • All you need to do to finish things is keep starting them until they’re done.
  • Whenever I think I’m mad at a person, I’m really just mad at a situation.
  • If I find myself in an argument, I’ve made a mistake.

A Brief History of Foreign Leaders Laughing at Trump

‘It was a key talking point during President Trump’s 2016 campaign, and even before it: The idea that other countries were laughing at the United States. “The world is laughing at us,” he said in May 2016. “They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity,” he said of Mexico in his campaign launch speech. He used the phrase “laughing at us” more than 50 times between 2011 and his election as president. Trump, the argument went, was going to make it stop.
Instead, Trump has been the object of repeated jest and even mockery by fellow world leaders. And it’s been caught on tape — again….’

Via Washington Post

Signal that impeachment will include Mueller?

‘The House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings focused almost exclusively on Ukraine. That was the new information, after all, and that’s what the witnesses could speak to.

But at the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) seemed to indicate he was inclined to include something else in the impeachment articles: the obstruction-of-justice portions of the Mueller investigation.

Nadler’s opening statement accused Trump of obstructing both the Ukraine probe and the Russia investigation, and it included plenty on the latter, in a way that suggests it was a calculated choice…’

Via Washington Post

Red Hats and Goldfish

Bob Cesca: Trump’s “I want nothing!” defense was always stupid. Now it just went down in flames:

‘There’s a myth going around that says goldfish only have memories lasting three seconds. The myth was busted long ago, with studies showing goldfish memories last closer to five months. But as we observe Donald Trump’s defense strategy against impeachment, he appears to believe his supporters possess even shorter memories than the mythical fish.

As more and more evidence of impeachable high crimes stack up against Donald Trump, his best defense strategy appears to rest on the assumption that his supporters can only remember one thing at a time.

Consequently, Trump’s desperate blurts in self-defense are invariably compartmentalized to whatever that one thing happens to be, usually whichever news item is in front of him at that very moment. None of his incoherent attempts at self-acquittal help him out of any other pickle beyond that one most recent item. Nothing else that happened before that particular piece of news matters to his defense, and his Red Hats don’t seem to remember anything else anyway.

Trump doesn’t have a counter-narrative to prove his innocence, just a random series of individual “look at” remarks (e.g.: Look at the transcript! Look at Hillary’s server!). Nothing connects to anything else. It’s a defense designed for people with extremely brief short-term memories…’

Via Salon.com

Clear and Present Danger

‘In effect, the 300-page House Intelligence Committee summary of witness testimony, timelines and phone records accused Trump of perpetrating one of the most serious political crimes in the history of the United States.
The report is a roadmap toward formal articles of impeachment — an argument to a nation split in two on Trump’s political fate that there is no alternative but to remove him from office 11 months before the next general election over his pressure on Ukraine for political favors.
The stark charge that the House Judiciary Committee will take up in its first impeachment hearing Wednesday fits the gravity of Congress’ most somber duty — deciding whether to end a presidency.
It is that the 45th President presents an immediate, clear and future threat to American national security, the Constitution and the resilience of the republic’s democratic self-governance itself…’

Via CNNPolitics

A President Openly Susceptible to Blackmail Cannot Serve

13991448146 7c43be22ea kDavid Atkins:

’Our capacity for shock in response to events surrounding Trump has died the death of a thousand cuts. But we should still be shaken to the core that the President of the United States is currently being blackmailed by his personal lawyer to avoid being thrown under the bus in a conspiracy to commit bribery and extortion against a domestic political opponent and on behalf a hostile power. Giuliani’s scheme so closely resembles a mafia movie that he has even threatened the release of a dead man’s drop “if anything happens to him.”

This has now moved beyond partisan politics, rule of law or the guardrails of democracy. It’s a clear and grave matter of national security.

Even if you’re a conservative who believes that Trump should be defended for opportunistic political reasons; even if you wrongly believe that the President should have the legal authority to push a foreign government to dig up dirt on a domestic political opponent; even if you are disengaged from reality enough to believe in conspiracy theories about Crowdstrike, the Bidens and the origins of the Russia investigation; even beyond all of that, the implications of Giuliani’s behavior are such that the President is too hopelessly compromised in his position to serve in office.

If Rudy Giuliani believes he has damaging enough information on the president to make it impossible for the president to push off blame for the Ukraine extortion conspiracy onto him, then functionally the entire Executive Branch of the American Government is subject to Giuliani’s whims. If the Republican Senate majority is so terrified of Donald Trump that they refuse to convict him despite the airtight case against him and despite the fact that his own personal lawyer at the center of the case feels he has enough dirt on Trump in the affair to blackmail him, then the blackmailer also has extraordinary power over the Senate as well.…’

Via Washington Monthly

Not Watching… Much Worse

Chuck Palahniuk:

’“Big Brother isn’t watching. He’s singing and dancing. He’s pulling rabbits out of a hat. Big Brother’s busy holding your attention every moment you’re awake. He’s making sure you’re always distracted. He’s making sure you’re fully absorbed. He’s making sure your imagination withers. Until it’s as useful as your appendix. He’s making sure your attention is always filled. And this being fed, it’s worse than being watched. With the world always filling you, no one has to worry about what’s in your mind. With everyone’s imagination atrophied, no one will ever be a threat to the world.”…’

Via NITCH

“Keeve”

Listening to the impeachment hearings: when did it begin being pronounced “Keeve” rather than “Key-ev”?

Today

846fd7c9a41dd1b76ba7ea1aadb1667cNo one appears to have noticed. I’ve barely noticed myself — FmH is twenty years old today. At one point, I had been pondering marking the occasion with some observance — should I make some 20th anniversary merchandise available? maybe offer an anthology of posts as a self-published book? I thought about soliciting your opinions about an appropriate commemoration. Or… I thought about using this as the occasion to retire FmH. At some point it felt like it would be a heroic achievement to make it to 20. But FmH just chugs along as a part of the fabric of my life, not an extraordinary effort at all. You’ve probably noticed that I put less effort into this these days, in the sense of excerpting more, commenting less often and more tersely, fewer and fewer expository essays. It’s less and less important to tell you what I think than to suggest what you might think about, I guess. So, unextraordinarily, we can just keep going on as we are, shall we? And maybe I’ll make some kind of fuss when FmH turns 21. After all, it’ll then attain its majority…

Apple Research App

UnknownContribute to groundbreaking research studies simply by using your iPhone:

’Until now, conducting large-scale health studies has been time-consuming and expensive. Devices like Apple Watch and iPhone are changing this dynamic. They capture meaningful health information, including signals from your heart, your level of motion and activity, and your sound exposure levels throughout the day. With the Research app, volunteering to help advance medical understanding has been greatly simplified.1 You can sign up for a study (or studies) right from your iPhone. If you meet the criteria for a given study, you’re in. It’s that easy.…’

Via Apple

How America Ends

A tectonic demographic shift is under way. Can the country hold together?:

’Democracy depends on the consent of the losers. For most of the 20th century, parties and candidates in the United States have competed in elections with the understanding that electoral defeats are neither permanent nor intolerable. The losers could accept the result, adjust their ideas and coalitions, and move on to fight in the next election. Ideas and policies would be contested, sometimes viciously, but however heated the rhetoric got, defeat was not generally equated with political annihilation. The stakes could feel high, but rarely existential. In recent years, however, beginning before the election of Donald Trump and accelerating since, that has changed.

“Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage,” Trump told the crowd at his reelection kickoff event in Orlando in June. “They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.” This is the core of the president’s pitch to his supporters: He is all that stands between them and the abyss.

In October, with the specter of impeachment looming, he fumed on Twitter, “What is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of The United States of America!” For good measure, he also quoted a supporter’s dark prediction that impeachment “will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”

Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric matches the tenor of the times. The body politic is more fractious than at any time in recent memory. Over the past 25 years, both red and blue areas have become more deeply hued, with Democrats clustering in cities and suburbs and Republicans filling in rural areas and exurbs. In Congress, where the two caucuses once overlapped ideologically, the dividing aisle has turned into a chasm.

As partisans have drifted apart geographically and ideologically, they’ve become more hostile toward each other. In 1960, less than 5 percent of Democrats and Republicans said they’d be unhappy if their children married someone from the other party; today, 35 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats would be, according to a recent Public Religion Research Institute/Atlantic poll—far higher than the percentages that object to marriages crossing the boundaries of race and religion. As hostility rises, Americans’ trust in political institutions, and in one another, is declining. A study released by the Pew Research Center in July found that only about half of respondents believed their fellow citizens would accept election results no matter who won. At the fringes, distrust has become centrifugal: Right-wing activists in Texas and left-wing activists in California have revived talk of secession.…’

Yoni Appelbaum in The Atlantic

Trump has a Mike Pence insurance policy: The sanctimonious veep is implicated too

Unknown’…Trump can wear out even the notoriously sturdy ability to lie that defines the modern Republican politician. It can’t feel great, constantly debasing themselves for a man who never shows gratitude but only keeps upping the ante, seeing how many more crimes he can commit that they’ll cover up.

The typical answer most pundits look to is this idea that Trump’s wild popularity with the almighty base protects him. Other elected Republicans are afraid that loyalty to Trump exceeds loyalty to the party, and they would lose any conflict between the two.

There’s reason to be skeptical of this view. As the blogger Atrios pointed out, Sarah Palin was once “treated as the most important voice in politics and now she is a trivia question,” and therefore “the GOP could drop their latest messiah and 5 minutes later no one would remember.” Truthfully, the same would happen if the Republicans decided, en masse, to kick Trump to the curb — their base would go along and many of them would probably also be quietly relieved to quit pretending that Trump is a voice worthy of respect.

But there’s a strong alternative explanation: Republicans have good reason to fear that if Trump goes down, he’s taking Vice President Mike Pence with him. If that happens, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who is third in line under the Constitution, would become president. Republicans may be genuinely worried that they can’t toss Trump to the curb without losing the White House entirely.…’

Via Salon.com

The world finally has an approved vaccine against Ebola

Unknown’Regulators in Europe have granted the world’s first approval of a vaccine against Ebola—and health officials are wasting no time in rolling it out.

The European Commission announced at the start of the week that it had granted a landmark marketing authorization of Merck’s Ebola vaccine Ervebo. The vaccine has been in the works since the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak. It is now being used in the ongoing outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo based on a “compassionate use” protocol.

The current outbreak in the DRC has killed nearly 2,200 since August 2018, causing nearly 3,300 cases. The outbreak is the second-largest recorded, surpassed only by the 2014 West African outbreak that caused more than 11,000 deaths and 28,000 cases.

Preliminary vaccine data from the current DRC outbreak suggested that Ervebo is 97.5% effective at preventing the devastating viral disease. It protected well over 90,000 people in the outbreak.…’

Via Ars Technica

Art lessons from our cave-dwelling ancestors

ImagesBarbara Ehrenreich:

’I found myself exhilarated by our comparatively ego-free ancestors who went to great lengths, and depths, to create some of the world’s most breathtaking art—and didn’t even bother to sign their names.…’

Via The Baffler

Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids…And start raising kind ones

105834026 1554409106250r1e7a5 t20 1jz4xn’If you survey American parents about what they want for their kids, more than 90 percent say one of their top priorities is that their children be caring. This makes sense: Kindness and concern for others are held as moral virtues in nearly every society and every major religion. But when you ask children what their parents want for them, 81 percent say their parents value achievement and happiness over caring. Kids learn what’s important to adults not by listening to what we say, but by noticing what gets our attention. And in many developed societies, parents now pay more attention to individual achievement and happiness than anything else. However much we praise kindness and caring, we’re not actually showing our kids that we value these traits. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, then, that kindness appears to be in decline.…’

Via 3 Quarks Daily

In Trump’s Twitter Feed: Conspiracy-Mongers, Racists and Spies

Mike Mcintire, Karen Yourish And Larry Buchanan write:

‘The New York Times examined Mr. Trump’s interactions with Twitter since he took office, reviewing each of his more than 11,000 tweets and the hundreds of accounts he has retweeted, tracking the ways he is exposed to information and replicating what he is likely to see on the platform. The result, including new data analysis and previously unreported details, offers the most comprehensive view yet of a virtual world in which the president spends significant time mingling with extremists, impostors and spies….’

Via New York Times

Trump Pokes Fun at Himself. Why Do Only Some People See It?

President Donald Trump smiles as he signs an autograph during a reception for Italian President Sergio Mattarella in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, in Washington.

Joanna Weiss writes:

‘…It’s no surprise that many find Trump to be no laughing matter, or have trouble finding lighthearted spots in an ongoing stream of hyperbole and bile. One _New York Times _column called his “A Presidency Without Humor.” Comedy writer Nell Scovell, who has written jokes for David Letterman and Barack Obama, once declared that if Trump does have a sense of humor, it’s confined to the instances when he “clearly chuckles at the misfortune of others.”

But Trump’s winking stance, jarring and inconsonant though it may be with the rest of liberals’ conception of him, is one of the essential, even primal ways the president keeps his base on board, laughing along. For Trump and his defenders, a little gentle self-mocking does more than just warm up a room. It can neutralize his opponents’ attacks. And it can let Trump off the hook even when he probably isn’t joking, as when Marco Rubio argued last month that Trump was only kidding when he declared that China should investigate Hunter Biden.

But it’s most powerful when it makes his supporters feel that they’re in on Trump’s jokes in a way the establishment isn’t…’

Via Politico

Melting Arctic ice may be causing a deadly virus to spread in marine mammals

Gettyimages 508144575’Phocine distemper virus (PDV) has been a known pathogen in certain seal populations for decades, resulting in several mass mortality events involving tens of thousands of animals since 1988. Similarities in the outbreaks lead scientists to question how the virus was circulating in seal species all over the globe.…

In a new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, scientists have found a link between the disease and melting sea ice due to climate change…’

Via CBS News

‘Anonymous’ Trump book: most explosive claims, according to reports

80c3f778 f3ce 4abb a3fc d9983aa89ca5 AP TrumpThe ‘Anonymous’ author purporting to be at the top of the Trump administration is soon releasing a book titled “A Warning,” a behind the scenes look into the president of Donald Trump.

The author, identified as “a senior official in the Trump administration,” according to news reports, first came to prominence with an anonymous op-ed published in September 2018 in The New York Times that described efforts by the author and other senior officials to protect the country from Trump….

Here are some of the most explosive claims so far from the book:

…The author’s September 2018 op-ed in the Times claimed there were White House officials standing between Trump and his worst impulses, and that they could keep the president in check. The Post reports the author admitted to being wrong on this point. 

“Many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office,” the author wrote last year. 

“I was wrong about the ‘quiet resistance’ inside the Trump administration,” the author writes now. “Unelected bureaucrats and cabinet appointees were never going to steer Donald Trump the right direction in the long run, or refine his malignant management style. He is who he is.”

…According to the Post, the author also plans to criticize Trump’s character and whether he’s fit for office.

The author describes Trump as “like a twelve-year-old in an air traffic control tower, pushing the buttons of government indiscriminately, indifferent to the planes skidding across the runway and the flights frantically diverting away from the airport” in an excerpt provided to the outlet.   

In another excerpt, the author writes, “I am not qualified to diagnose the president’s mental acuity” but adds:

“All I can tell you is that normal people who spend any time with Donald Trump are uncomfortable by what they witness. He stumbles, slurs, gets confused, is easily irritated, and has trouble synthesizing information, not occasionally but with regularity. Those who would claim otherwise are lying to themselves or to the country.”…’

Via USAToday

Why Donald Trump Hates Your Dog

05bruni2 superJumboFrank Bruni:

’Reaching for verbs to describe Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s final moments, President Trump grabbed hold of “crying,” “screaming” and “whimpering.”

Reaching for nouns, he said that al-Baghdadi died “like a dog.”

I wasn’t aware that canines expired in a signature fashion, but Trump knows best, even if he doesn’t know so very many words. About a week later, when he took characteristically nasty note of Beto O’Rourke’s decision to abandon the presidential race, he said that O’Rourke quit “like a dog.”

Some similes demand repetition.

This wasn’t one of them.

But a lack of verbal ingenuity never stopped Trump. And an animus toward a certain animal has long, well, hounded him.
In his boundless unoriginality, he has likened women he dislikes to dogs. In his infinite incoherence, he has repeatedly tweeted of people being fired like dogs. I personally haven’t met all that many gainfully employed pooches, unless digging holes in the backyard is a profession, and when those excavators received orders to desist, none of them got a pink slip and a referral to career counseling.…’

Via New York Times

Is Empathy Tearing Us Apart?

Image result for Empathy Is Tearing Us Apart
’There are people who believe that the political polarization now afflicting the United States might finally start to subside if Americans of both parties could somehow become more empathetic. If you’re one of these people, the American Political Science Review has sobering news for you.

Last week APSR—one of the alpha journals in political science—published a study which found that “empathic concern does not reduce partisan animosity in the electorate and in some respects even exacerbates it.”

The study had two parts. In the first part, Americans who scored high on an empathy scale showed higher levels of “affective polarization”—defined as the difference between the favorability rating they gave their political party and the rating they gave the opposing party. In the second part, undergraduates were shown a news story about a controversial speaker from the opposing party visiting a college campus. Students who had scored higher on the empathy scale were more likely to applaud efforts to deny the speaker a platform.

It gets worse. These high-empathy students were also more likely to be amused by reports that students protesting the speech had injured a bystander sympathetic to the speaker. That’s right: according to this study, people prone to empathy are prone to schadenfreude.…’

Via WIRED

Who Will Betray Trump?

Gettyimages 626524674It’s only a matter of time.

’Donald Trump knows there are potential traitors in his midst. His presidency could depend on keeping them at bay…

The latest impeachment resolution was starkly divided along partisan lines, but whether the Republican caucus will remain steadfast may depend on how some members weigh their support or distaste for the president against their own electoral futures, or lack thereof…

Trump can be impeached in the House with Democratic votes alone. But whether or not he’s convicted in the Senate will be determined by Republican votes.

What if Lamar Alexander, the retiring statesman from Tennessee who has struggled to mask his disillusionment with Trump’s destruction of norms, decides to go out with a bang?

What if Cory Gardner, whose reelection in Colorado seems destined to be doomed by the top of the ticket, thinks his next act in politics depends on establishing distance from Trump?

What if Ben Sasse or Pat Toomey or Rob Portman, all thoughtful conservatives in the Burkean tradition, reach a point where they feel compelled to meet a moment on behalf of their party and their country and perhaps even their constituents, as upset as many of them might be?…’

Via POLITICO Magazine

a cluster of silver radio telescopes in a desert‘Scientists have tried contacting extraterrestrials with a number of bespoke linguistic systems. But we might be better off using our own languages…’

via WIRED

Happy Blade Runner month…

Unknown…mashed up with actual November 2019 Los Angeles:

’I noticed that it was that time of the century and made a mashup up the film’s legendary intro, complete with Vangelis’s soundtrack, with real contemporary footage of LA. The main difference is, of course, what’s on fire. LA, November 2019: smoking hot, yes, flying cars, no.…’

Via Boing Boing

Zombie flu: How the 1919 influenza pandemic fueled the rise of the living dead


Unknown‘One hundred years ago, 1919 saw the end of one of the worst plagues in human history: the deadly 1918–1919 influenza pandemic. The pandemic was a true horror show, with 50–100 million people dying and millions more infected. The United States alone lost more people in the pandemic than it lost in all the 20th- and 21st-century wars, combined.

This was no ordinary flu virus: It killed young adults in high numbers, and it came with grisly side effects, like massive bleeding from the nose, mouth and ears. It could damage the nervous and respiratory systems and could cause violent derangement, delirium and – in its aftermath – profound lethargy and suicidal depression.

The pandemic turned communities into haunted landscapes. Coffins ran out as bodies piled up everywhere. Stores, theaters and schools were closed, and wagons were pulled through the streets to collect corpses. Funerals were often impossible to organize, and across the country, mass graves were dug to accommodate the many dead.

A literature professor, I have written about the flu’s surprising connection to zombies, spiritualism and poems like T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” in my new book, “Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature.”…’

Via The Conversation

Meet the Bloodsuckers

Unknown
’It has been a big year for leeches. A new species was discovered near Washington and announced in August by Anna
Phillips, who may have the world’s best job title: curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

…Although insects are very big in the blood-feeding world, leeches occupy a special place in the human imagination — somewhere between vampire bats and that tiny fish that was once reputed to swim up the human urethra.
Image…’

Via New York Times

The Milky Way Reflected in the World’s Largest Mirror

Jheison huerta’I love this photograph by Peruvian photographer Jheison Huerta. It’s a shot of the Milky Way above the Salar de Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia. After it rains, the thin layer of water transforms the flat into the world’s largest mirror, some 80 miles across. Beautiful.…’

Via kottke

Screaming in Black + White

Tumblr da92d69720bfecfc651915c4b636dbf5 69f3e475 1280

Via this isn’t happiness

Related: A psychologist explains why we love blood-curdling screams

’Screams might seem simple, but they can actually convey a complex set of emotions. The arsenal of human screams has been honed over millions of years of evolution, with subtle nuances in volume, timing and inflection that can signal different things.…’

Via Big Think

Reverence For Hallowe’en: Good for the Soul

Three jack-o'-lanterns illuminated from within...

A reprise of my traditional Hallowe’en post of past years:

It is that time of year again. What has become a time of disinhibited hijinx and mayhem, and a growing marketing bonanza for the kitsch-manufacturers and -importers, has primeval origins as the Celtic New Year’s Eve, Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”). The harvest is over, summer ends and winter begins, the Old God dies and returns to the Land of the Dead to await his rebirth at Yule, and the land is cast into darkness. The veil separating the worlds of the living and the dead becomes frayed and thin, and dispossessed dead mingle with the living, perhaps seeking a body to possess for the next year as their only chance to remain connected with the living, who hope to scare them away with ghoulish costumes and behavior, escape their menace by masquerading as one of them, or placate them with offerings of food, in hopes that they will go away before the new year comes. For those prepared, a journey to the other side could be made at this time.

With Christianity, perhaps because with calendar reform it was no longer the last day of the year, All Hallows’ Eve became decathected, a day for innocent masquerading and fun, taking its name Hallowe’en as a contraction and corruption of All Hallows’ Eve.trick-or-treat-nyc

All Saints’ Day may have originated in its modern form with the 8th century Pope Gregory III. Hallowe’en customs reputedly came to the New World with the Irish immigrants of the 1840’s. The prominence of trick-or-treating has a slightly different origin, however.

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.

English: A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o'-la...

English: A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o’-lantern from the early 20th century.

Jack-o’-lanterns were reportedly originally turnips; the Irish began using pumpkins after they immigrated to North America, given how plentiful they were here. The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.

Nowadays, a reported 99% of cultivated pumpkin sales in the US go for jack-o-lanterns.

Folk traditions that were in the past associated with All Hallows’ Eve took much of their power, as with the New Year’s customs about which I write here every Dec. 31st, from the magic of boundary states, transition, and liminality.

The idea behind ducking, dooking or bobbing for apples seems to have been that snatching a bite from the apple enables the person to grasp good fortune. Samhain is a time for getting rid of weakness, as pagans once slaughtered weak animals which were unlikely to survive the winter. A common ritual calls for writing down weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment, and tossing it into the fire. There used to be a custom of placing a stone in the hot ashes of the bonfire. If in the morning a person found that the stone had been removed or had cracked, it was a sign of bad fortune. Nuts have been used for divination: whether they burned quietly or exploded indicated good or bad luck. Peeling an apple and throwing the peel over one’s shoulder was supposed to reveal the initial of one’s future spouse. One way of looking for omens of death was for peope to visit churchyards

La Catrina – In Mexican folk culture, the Catr...

The Witches’ Sabbath aspect of Hallowe’en seems to result from Germanic influence and fusion with the notion of Walpurgisnacht. (You may be familiar with the magnificent musical evocation of this, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.)

Although probably not yet in a position to shape mainstream American Hallowe’en traditions, Mexican Dia de los Muertos observances have started to contribute some delightful and whimsical iconography to our encounter with the eerie and unearthly as well. As this article in The Smithsonian reviews, ‘In the United States, Halloween is mostly about candy, but elsewhere in the world celebrations honoring the departed have a spiritual meaning…’

Reportedly, more than 80% of American families decorate their homes, at least minimally, for Hallowe’en. What was the holiday like forty or fifty years ago in the U.S. when, bastardized as it has now become with respect to its pagan origins, it retained a much more traditional flair? Before the era of the pay-per-view ’spooky-world’ type haunted attractions and its Martha Stewart yuppification with, as this irreverent Salon article from several years ago [via walker] put it, monogrammed jack-o’-lanterns and the like? One issue may be that, as NPR observed,

“Adults have hijacked Halloween… Two in three adults feel Halloween is a holiday for them and not just kids,” Forbes opined in 2012, citing a public relations survey. True that when the holiday was imported from Celtic nations in the mid-19th century — along with a wave of immigrants fleeing Irelands potato famine — it was essentially a younger persons’ game. But a little research reveals that adults have long enjoyed Halloween — right alongside young spooks and spirits.’

Is that necessarily a bad thing? A 1984 essay by Richard Seltzer, frequently referenced in other sources, entitled “Why Bother to Save Hallowe’en?”, argues as I do that reverence for Hallowe’en is good for the soul, young or old.

“Maybe at one time Hallowe’en helped exorcise fears of death and ghosts and goblins by making fun of them. Maybe, too, in a time of rigidly prescribed social behavior, Hallowe’en was the occasion for socially condoned mischief — a time for misrule and letting loose. Although such elements still remain, the emphasis has shifted and the importance of the day and its rituals has actually grown.…(D)on’t just abandon a tradition that you yourself loved as a child, that your own children look forward to months in advance, and that helps preserve our sense of fellowship and community with our neighbors in the midst of all this madness.”

Three Halloween jack-o'-lanterns.

That would be anathema to certain segments of society, however. Hallowe’en certainly inspires a backlash by fundamentalists who consider it a blasphemous abomination. ‘Amateur scholar’ Isaac Bonewits details academically the Hallowe’en errors and lies he feels contribute to its being reviled. Some of the panic over Hallowe’en is akin to the hysteria, fortunately now debunked, over the supposed epidemic of ‘ritual Satanic abuse’ that swept the Western world in the ’90’s.

Frankenstein

The horror film has become inextricably linked to Hallowe’en tradition, although the holiday itself did not figure in the movies until John Carpenter took the slasher genre singlehandedly by storm. Googling “scariest films”, you will, grimly, reap a mother lode of opinions about how to pierce the veil to journey to the netherworld and reconnect with that magical, eerie creepiness in the dark (if not the over-the-top blood and gore that has largely replaced the subtlety of earlier horror films).

The Carfax Abbey Horror Films and Movies Database includes best-ever-horror-films lists from Entertainment Weekly, Mr. Showbiz and Hollywood.com. I’ve seen most of these; some of their choices are not that scary, some are just plain silly, and they give extremely short shrift to my real favorites, the evocative classics of the ’30’s and ’40’s when most eeriness was allusive and not explicit. And here’s what claims to be a compilation of links to the darkest and most gruesome sites on the web. “Hours and hours of fun for morbidity lovers.”

Boing Boing does homage to a morbid masterpiece of wretched existential horror, two of the tensest, scariest hours of my life repeated every time I watch it:

‘…The Thing starts. It had been 9 years since The Exorcist scared the living shit out of audiences in New York and sent people fleeing into the street. Really … up the aisle and out the door at full gallop. You would think that people had calmed down a bit since then. No…’

Meanwhile, what could be creepier in the movies than the phenomenon of evil children? Gawker knows what shadows lurk in the hearts of the cinematic young:

‘In celebration of Halloween, we took a shallow dive into the horror subgenre of evil-child horror movies. Weird-kid cinema stretches back at least to 1956’s The Bad Seed, and has experienced a resurgence recently via movies like The Babadook, Goodnight Mommy, and Cooties. You could look at this trend as a natural extension of the focus on domesticity seen in horror via the wave of haunted-house movies that 2009’s Paranormal Activity helped usher in. Or maybe we’re just wizening up as a culture and realizing that children are evil and that film is a great way to warn people of this truth. Happy Halloween. Hope you don’t get killed by trick-or-treaters.’

In any case: trick or treat! …And may your Hallowe’en soothe your soul.

Related:

Why America isn’t equipped for the new rules of war

Voss mcfate08finalSean McFate, a former paratrooper in the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and now professor at the National Defense University and Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.:

’Why are we doing things like buying more Ford-class aircraft carriers, or F35s? That stuff should be slashed. I would cut away the expensive conventional weapons, and beef up the things that are very effective in modern war: political warfare, strategic influence, lawfare, economic might, and deception. Want to blunt Russian encroachment in the Baltics? Forget shows of force—military deterrence is obsolete. Instead, start a “color revolution” on their border. Moscow is paranoid and would shift resources to squashing it. Want China out of the South China Sea? Stop throwing carrier groups into the region. Instead, covertly support the Uighur insurgency. Internal regime security will steal Beijing’s attention away.

Militaries can no longer kill their way out of problems in a global information age, and this is driving war into the shadows. Today, plausible deniability is more potent than firepower: winners and losers are no longer decided on the battlefield, but by those who can discern truth from lies. The best weapons today don’t fire bullets.…’

Via MIT Technology Review

Centauri Dreams

UnknownImagining and Planning Interstellar Exploration:

’In Centauri Dreams, Paul Gilster looks at peer-reviewed research on deep space exploration, with an eye toward interstellar possibilities. For the last twelve years, this site coordinated its efforts with the Tau Zero Foundation. It now serves as an independent forum for deep space news and ideas. In the logo above, the leftmost star is Alpha Centauri, a triple system closer than any other star, and a primary target for early interstellar probes.…’

Via Centauri Dreams

This Is What Terror Sounds Like

10 pieces to guarantee the Halloween shivers:

Spoooky 750x394’Whether depicting supernatural phenomena, acts of earthly terror, or otherworldly states of mind, classical music can provide a perfect soundtrack for the days leading up to Halloween. Here are some sublime pieces that ought to provide plenty of chills.…’

Via The American Scholar

Why aren’t we trying to be better ancestors?

UnknownThe consequences of our climate-cooking habits will burden all future humans:

’Creating a legacy of a climate-worsened world is like shooting your kids in the foot.
Who are you free to harm? If not any one else, then surely not everyone else? Third-hand carbon counts as an ambient harm that will burden all future humans.…’

Via Big Think

How to Watch Tonight’s Orionid Meteor Shower

EHWPtIvUcAATlZO’Early morning will be the best time to watch, if the weather holds out—the National Weather Service in the bay area recommends 4 a.m. to 7 a.m.

California and the southwest will likely get the best views, since clouds are forecast for much of the rest of the country. But if you can see Orion at all, it’s worth watching to see if meteors show up. This shower tends to produce 20 to 25 meteors per hour at its peak.

If you don’t see much tonight, try again later this week or next week. The moon will be less full, which makes it easier to see stars and meteors, and the clouds are bound to clear up one of these nights. For the best views, find a spot with little light pollution, and look up.…’

Via Lifehacker

Crowdsourced Map Documents UFO Sightings, Cryptids, and the Supernatural

1566227154012 Screen Shot 2019 08 19 at 110532 AM pngIt’s sociologically important to document where people believe the supernatural occurs, even if it’s all made up.:

If you’ve had a weird unexplainable experience, two guys in Seattle want to help you log it and track it on a global map. I have a new favorite place on the internet, and it is Liminal Earth.

Liminal Earth is a web based mapping tool designed to track the bizarre. Created by Garrett Kelly, co-founder of Hollow Earth Radio, and Jeremy Puma, a Seattle based author, their project “acts sort of like ‘Google Trends’ (which tracks sudden spikes on google search queries) for the collective unconscious,” states their website’s About page. “This map is an extension of that, because we’re trying to see if there are strange places or experiences that are actually quite common but go unnoticed because everyone is afraid to talk about this weird stuff happening to them.”

The idea is simple. It is like Atlas Obscura, but exclusively for UFOs, the supernatural, cryptids, etc.…’

Via VICE

Reason Won’t Save Us

ImagesIt’s time to accept the limits of how we think.

’In wondering what can be done to steer civilization away from the abyss, I confess to being increasingly puzzled by the central enigma of contemporary cognitive psychology: To what degree are we consciously capable of changing our minds …about major personal and social issues that should unite but invariably divide us? As a senior neurologist whose career began before CAT and MRI scans, I have come to feel that conscious reasoning, the commonly believed remedy for our social ills, is an illusion, an epiphenomenon supported by age-old mythology rather than convincing scientific evidence.…’

Via Nautilus

The Tweety Bird Test

The tweety bird test 1 1050x700How a classic Tweety Bird cartoon became a mainstay in linguistics research

’Already a cartoon classic, Canary Row became an unlikely fixture of linguistics research. Over the years, linguists have used clips of Canary Row to examine hand gestures in at least a dozen languages—and many aspects of signed languages. There are studies that compare gesticulation across languages; studies on gestures by language-learners and by multilinguals; and studies about gestures that accompany signed language. Experts in these topics say the cartoon is the most frequently used study stimulus in their fields.…’

Via JSTOR Daily

Where is my Xanax Rx? Why your doctor may be concerned about prescribing benzodiazepines

File 20191017 98632 df4e6hWhy I and other doctors are not eager to prescribe benzodiazepines for long-term use: 

’…We have a Hippocratic oath to “first do not harm.” I sometimes tell patients who insist on getting benzos: “I am not paid differently based on the medication I prescribe, and my life would be much easier not arguing with you about this medication. I do this because I care about you.”…’

Via The Conversation

I share the concerns raised in this piece and such reasoning has always guided my prescribing practice. Unfortunately, not enough psychiatrists and general practitioners are similarly concerned.

TurboTax’s 20-Year Fight to Stop Americans From Filing Their Taxes for Free

Unknown
’Virtually every rich country on Earth provides pre-completed tax-returns that you can either ignore (and pay an a
ccountant or do your own taxes), or just sign and return: after all, the government already knows what you’re earning and how much tax you paid, so they can do all the heavy lifting for your annual return.

 

But when Congress tried to create a similar program in the USA, it faced a blizzard of lobbying from the tax-prep industry, led by Intuit, a tax-prep monopolist that grew to scale by buying or merging with its competitors — growth tactics that are illegal under US antitrust law…’

Via ProPublica

You’re in a police lineup right now

Unknown.jpegPolice databases now contain the faces of nearly half of Americans:

’“Right now, most Americans are in a perpetual police lineup because they got a driver’s license,” says Clare Garvie, a Washington DC privacy expert. In this New York Times video, Garvie says that driver license photos are scanned and translated into a “face print” that face recognition software can use to compare photos and find matches. “Now any police officer can run searches against your face for any reason.”…’

Via Boing Boing

Mysterious rash of cattle mutilations in Oregon

screenshot-39.jpg’This summer on remote U.S. Forest Service land in eastern Oregon, cowboys discovered five, young purebred bulls dead, drained of blood, and their tongues and genitals removed with almost surgical precision. Who or what did this and why remains a mystery. (Insert “I’m not saying it’s aliens…” joke here.) Silvies Valley Ranch has offered a $25,000 reward for information that could lead to answers.…’

Via Boing Boing

Every Single Person Who Has Resigned or Been Fired From the Trump Administration

’On Thursday, amid reports of his involvement in Trump’s conversation with Ukraine’s president, Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced he would step down by the end of this year; this news comes just one week after acting Homeland Security Secretary, Kevin McAleenan, also resigned—which got us thinking: Just how many other aides and cabinet members have departed while serving under President Trump?

Well, a lot. Trump’s cabinet likely has a higher turnover rate than any other U.S. president in history. In case you need a recap, below you’ll find a timeline of several major departures during the Trump Administration, beginning with the most recent politicians’ exits.…’

Via Lifehacker

High Crimes and Misdemeanors? Don’t forget about petty crimes and felonies!

With all the agonizing about whether the Enfant Terrible’s actions rise to an impeachable level, let us not forget that he is a common criminal as well. A new ProPublica story documents the extent to which Trump inflated the value of his assets when he was trying to borrow money, and deflated the values when he was paying taxes. Both would constitute criminal fraud.

And  this Vanity Fair piece strongly suggests that, since the start of his presidency, Trump has been running a massively profitable larcenous insider trading scheme. The story examines massive pattern of suspicious late-day trades in financial markets that seemed to anticipate public policy pronouncements or events and earned the mysterious traders millions in profits. For example

“In the last 10 minutes of trading on Friday, August 23, as the markets were roiling in the face of more bad trade news, someone bought 386,000 September e-minis. Three days later, Trump lied about getting a call from China to restart the trade talks, and the S&P 500 index shot up nearly 80 points. The potential profit on the trade was more than $1.5 billion…”

“Traders in the Chicago pits have been watching these kinds of wagers with an increasing mixture of shock and awe since the start of the Trump presidency …. Are the people behind these trades incredibly lucky, or do they have access to information that other people don’t have about, say, Trump’s or Beijing’s latest thinking on the trade war or any other of a number of ways that Trump is able to move the markets through his tweeting or slips of the tongue? Essentially, do they have inside information?”

Federal market watchdogs, who are supposed to keep an eye on corrupt market manipulation, are doing nothing despite ongoing concerns about this pattern of activity.

Link

‘…Everything that McConnell decides to do will come down to the political ramifications for the Republican Party, and with each passing day Donald Trump becomes more and more of a liability. A bus is ready in the waiting, and he will be more than ready to throw the President under it if necessary.

The moment that Senator McConnell makes the determination that President Trump could cost Republicans their hold of power in the Senate, or cost them even more seats in the House, he along with other members of Republican leadership will urge him to resign, or vote to impeach if he refuses to do so. The fact that support of impeachment continues to grow, while McConnell’s silence gets louder and louder, leads me to believe that he is carefully considering this option. In the end, it will be McConnell, not Pelosi or Democratic Leadership, who could potentially bring Trump’s presidency to an end….’

— Via Medium

Link

I killed a spider
Not a murderous brown recluse
Nor even a black widow
And if the truth were told this
Was only a small spider
Sort of papery spider
Who should have run
When I picked up the book
But she didn't
And she scared me
And I smashed her

I don't think
I'm allowed

To kill something

Because I am

Frightened.

― Nikki Giovanni, Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid

Via Goodreads

New Republic profiles Nobel literature laureate Olga Tokarczuk

‘…Tokarczuk said that humanity needs three inventions: contraception, the internet, and lab-grown meat. While most technofuturism suggests that advancements in machinery and efficiency will automatically solve problems of power, Tokarczuk recognizes that new technologies have to be designed specially to disrupt areas where the powerful have kept a tight grip—whether over the control of women’s reproduction, the free spread of information, or the lives and deaths of animals. (Vegetarianism in Poland is associated with leftist politics; in 2016, the far-right politician Witold Waszczykowski, then the foreign secretary, decried the idea that the world was “destined to evolve only in one direction—towards a new mix of cultures and races, a world of bicyclists and vegetarians.”)

“We live in the midst of a slaughterhouse and manage to ignore that,” Tokarczuk said…’
— Read on New Republic

Link

Twenty-five years ago this month, a software developer sketched a talk bubble for a cute dog and had an epiphany: “Dogs don’t talk in Times New Roman!” So he designed Comic Sans, a zanier, more childlike script for which he took inspiration from comic books and graphic novels.

The font attracted eye rolls and cringes from its inception, and has “long been the default punch line in the design community,” one designer said. And yet, it persists.

The font’s creator, Vincent Connare, has this to say: “If you love Comic Sans you don’t know much about typography. And if you hate Comic Sans you need a new hobby.”

Via New York Times

Paul Krugman: The Education of Fanatical Centrists

’Trump isn’t an aberration. He’s unusually blatant and gaudily corrupt, but at a basic level he’s the culmination of where his party has been going for decades. And U.S. political life won’t begin to recover until centrists face up to that uncomfortable reality.…’

Via The New York Times

Trump They Live billboard is up in Times Square!

Votetheylive’Mitch “the World’s Best Artist” O’Connell (Not “Moscow” Mitch McConnell, the sell-out senator) got enough money in his crowdfunding campaign to erect this terrific They Live homage featuring reality TV show host Donald Trump. The VOTE billboard is ready for selfies at 7th Ave and 48th St!

Mitch received enough funds to keep the billboard up for a month, but if he gets more money it’ll stay up longer. Contribute here…’

Via Boing Boing

‘It appears that sculptor Joe Reginella has once again erected a memorial statue marking a fictional occurrence in New York City. This time, it’s a story that purports that former Mayor Ed Koch sent wolves into the subways of the city to ward off graffiti artists during his tenure, and according to the Ed Koch Wolf Foundation (who supposedly put up the memorial), the creatures are still the reason behind missing tourists in the Big Apple…’

via Hi-Fructose Magazine

Joe Reginella’s Memorial Statues Mark Fictional Disasters in NYC

New York sculptor Joe Reginella has fooled countless tourists with his statues scattered across the city, marking events that never actually happened. From a Staten Island Ferry encounter with an octopus to a New York Harbor UFO encounter, the artist’s scenarios use the convincing device of the memorial statue to relay his narratives.

Each statue has its own website, with a backstory, souvenir shop, and tour offers in tow. From the ferry disaster site: “It was close to 4am on the quiet morning of November 22, 1963 when the Steam Ferry Cornelius G. Kolff vanished without a trace. On its way with nearly 400 hundred people, mostly on their way to work, the disappearance of the Cornelius G. Kolff remains both one of New York’s most horrific maritime tragedies and perhaps its most intriguing mystery. Eye witness accounts describe “large tentacles” which “pulled” the ferry beneath the surface only a short distance from its destination at Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan.”

via Hi-Fructose Magazine

 

Image result for will trump ever give up the presidency?

It’s a “loaded question — with no obvious answer”, whether we are talking about a response to a conviction in an impeachment proceeding or a 2020 election defeat, says op-ed writer Thomas Edsall in The New York Times

Image result for napoleon Chagnon

UC Santa Barbara anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon has died. Chagnon did notable work with remote tribes in the Amazonian rainforest, particularly the Yanomamo “fierce people”, but is perhaps best known for the so-called “Darkness” furor that ripped through the American Anthropological Association (AAA), almost destroying its credibility as an intellectual and professional organization. I previously commented on the controversy here, in 2000.

In 2000, anthropological journalist Patrick Tierney made claims that Chagnon and colleague geneticist James Neel had introduced a potentially fatal contraindicated measles vaccine to the tribe, probably inducing a 1968 epidemic, and then had withheld medical treatments might have saved lives, in the interest of testing “fascistic” eugenic theories. The AAA found the claims credible enough to investigate.

The truth appears to be quite the opposite. In prior fieldwork, Neel had determined that the Yanomamo were alarmingly vulnerable to measles and had personally arranged to bring vaccines with him on May 1968 expedition after consulting experts for advice on which vaccines to use, obtaining instructions about administration, and personally arranging fundraising.

Reportedly, measles had already broken out when the team arrived and, under Chagnon’s logistical leadership, they raced to contain the epidemic although supplies began to run out before everyone could be appropriately vaccinated. What is at stake is whether Neel and Chagnon are remembered as genocidal monsters or humanitarians.

interestingly, Chagnon’s work with the Yanomamo had been criticized by anthropologist within the AAA for perhaps a decade before the furor about the measles epidemic broke. He was subject to anonymous defamation probably spread by the Roman Catholic church because Chagnon had been publicly critical of their missionary work with the tribe. Doctrinal dispute about his theoretical approach also fueled the opposition.  After Tierney’s claims about the measles epidemic, an AAA task force formally faulting Chagnon on several counts was accepted by the AAA board in 2002 despite the fact that many other professional and academic institutions were alarmed at the scandalous methodology and conclusions of Tierney’s book. These included the National Academy of Sciences, the American Society of Human Genetics, the International Genetics Epidemiology Society, the Society for Visual Anthropology, and the University of Michigan. In contrast to the AAA board, the voting membership of the organization passed two referenda in 2003 and 2005 by overwhelming margins, condemning the misrepresentation of the 1968 epidemic, criticizing Tierney and his academic supporters, and calling for a complete rescission of the acceptance of the task force report.

Defenders of AAA’s action talk in terms of the legitimacy of exploring ethical issues in anthropological fieldwork such as informed consent, the effects of gift giving, and the representation of vulnerable subjects. They speak of the inquiry into Chagnon and Neel’s work as in the defense of the credibility of American anthropology. Detractors blast the group for taking seriously the work of an uncredentialed journalist whose major claims had already been shown at the outset to be false instead of protecting serious investigators’ right to be fairly represented in the public spotlight and failing to give them a formal invitation to defend themselves in the process of wrecking their reputations.

Despite the membership vote in 2005 to withdraw acceptance of the task force report, the AAA left the report on its website until 2009 when legal action on behalf of Chagnon finally forced them to remove it. Chagnon’s work as “the last of the great ethnographers” was celebrated in an Edge special event convened by Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, John Brockman, and other intellectual luminaries.

via Edge.org

Scientists routinely cure brain disorders in mice but not us. A new study helps explain why

Drowsy mouse’Last year, scientists described neuropsychiatric drug development as “in the midst of a crisis” because of all the mouse findings that fail to translate to people. Of every 100 neuropsychiatric drugs tested in clinical trials — usually after they “work” in mice — only nine become approved medications, one of the lowest rates of all disease categories.

…In the most detailed taxonomy of the human brain to date, a team of researchers as large as a symphony orchestra sorted brain cells not by their shape and location, as scientists have done for decades, but by what genes they used. Among the key findings: Mouse and human neurons that have been considered to be the same based on such standard classification schemes can have large (tenfold or greater) differences in the expression of genes for such key brain components as neurotransmitter receptors.

That makes neurons and circuits connecting brain regions, which were long thought to be essentially identical in mice and people, different in a fundamental way. And it could explain the abysmal record of drug development for neuropsychiatric diseases including schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and autism.…’

Via STAT

Finding the root of consciousness:

Heartbeat 1, Susan Aldworth, 2010. Image courtesy of the artist and GV Art gallery, LondonIs this brain cell your ‘mind’s eye’?

’Researchers believe they have identified specific neurons that are responsible for conscious awareness. Previous studies have implicated both thalamocortical circuits and cortico-cortico circuits in consciousness. The new study reports these networks intersect via L5p neurons. Directly activating L5p neurons made mice react to weaker sensory stimuli. The researchers say if consciousness requires L5p neurons, all brain activity without them must be unconscious…’

Via Neuroscience News

Why do older people hate new music?

 

Image result for Why do older people hate new music?

’There’s evidence that the brain’s ability to make subtle distinctions between different chords, rhythms and melodies gets worse with age. So to older people, newer, less familiar songs might all “sound the same.”

But I believe there are some simpler reasons for older people’s aversion to newer music. One of the most researched laws of social psychology is something called the “mere exposure effect.” In a nutshell, it means that the more we’re exposed to something, the more we tend to like it.…’

Via Neuroscience News

Who’s Afraid of Impeachment?

33674746390 a032771ae2 c 1Do we need to worry about a 2020 Backlash? Anthont Dimaggio in Counterpunch:

’There has been quite a bit of prophesizing among pundits in the news media, on the right and elsewhere, and even among some on the left with which I’ve spoken, in which critics confidently maintain that impeachment is a “gift” to Trump, dividing the nation, but mobilizing and energizing Trump’s base, thereby handing the election to Trump. These claims are almost entirely based on fear and conjecture, not on actual evidence. If we look back to the limited history of this country’s use of impeachment against presidents in modern times, there is little evidence to draw from one way or another, and certainly no cases that are equivalent to this one, in terms of telling us how impeachment will impact an election that is so far into the future – an entire year from now.

Conceding the uncertainty associated with the inquiry against Trump, available evidence suggests there is little reason to be engaging in fearmongering on impeachment. Going back to the looming impeachment of Richard Nixon following the emergence of the Watergate scandal, we see no evidence that the removal strategy harmed Democrats. Republicans lost 49 seats in the House in 1974, while losing another 5 in the Senate. Gerald Ford’s reputation – as measured by his job approval rating – quickly nosedived following his pardon of Nixon, and Jimmy Carter won the 1976 election, defeating Ford, while Democrats gained a seat in the House of Representatives, while losing one seat in the Senate. In other words, there were no observable repercussions for the Democrats for forcing Nixon from office.…’

Via 3 Quarks Daily

‘Out here, it’s just me’:

UnknownIn the medical desert of rural America, one doctor for 11,000 square miles:

’In the medical desert that has become rural America, nothing is more basic or more essential than access to doctors, but they are increasingly difficult to find. The federal government now designates nearly 80 percent of rural America as “medically underserved.” It is home to 20 percent of the U.S. population but fewer than 10 percent of its doctors, and that ratio is worsening each year because of what health experts refer to as “the gray wave.” Rural doctors are three years older than urban doctors on average, with half over 50 and more than a quarter beyond 60. Health officials predict the number of rural doctors will decline by 23 percent over the next decade as the number of urban doctors remains flat.…’

Via The Washington Post

Corey Robin teases out the philosophy of Clarence Thomas

Cover00 largeLidija Haas reviews The Enigma of Clarence Thomas by Corey Robin:

’Robin suggests that the misreadings of Thomas are themselves based in racism, comparing the justice to Ralph Ellison’s “invisible man,” the one people “refuse to see.” (Invisible Man is, he notes, alongside Richard Wright’s Native Son, Thomas’s favorite novel.) Introducing the common idea of Thomas as “an intellectual nonentity, a dim bulb in a brightly lit room,” Robin rehearses a host of clichés about his supposed incompetence or laziness—qualities that would, some have implied, explain why he doesn’t speak up on the bench, is rarely assigned the majority opinion in important cases, and gets his clerks to write his opinions for him (this last accusation strikes me as odd, since Thomas’s opinions hardly seem the bland, predictable stuff you’d expect to get by paying someone else to do your homework). Robin claims that the only other justice “subject to all of these kinds of insinuations” was, not coincidentally, also the Supreme Court’s only other black justice, Thurgood Marshall, whom Thomas replaced.

Robin’s Thomas is no dimwit but a man of ideas, albeit dark, furious, and terrifying ones. “His beliefs,” Robin announces in an introduction, “are disturbing, even ugly; his style is brutal.” Robin recognizes no essential contradiction or vacillation in this man who by the late ’80s, several years into his career within the Reagan administration, could still lovingly recite Malcolm X by heart. He sees a powerful continuity between Thomas’s black nationalism and his conservatism, extrapolating from his words a coherent worldview that helps explain his approach to a slew of issues, from voting rights to gun ownership, from the Commerce Clause to gender relations. In Robin’s account, Thomas sees American racism as foundational, permanent, and ineradicable, such that African Americans should never hope for justice or advancement to come through either political representation (since they will remain a loathed minority) or any strategy dependent on the generosity of white institutions.…’

Via Bookforum Magazine

“Impeach him anyway”

GettyImages 1160062554’The case for impeachment, even if it can’t oust Trump.…’

Impeachment is a method of sanction as much as a mechanism for removal. The public disgrace of being one of the four impeached US Presidents forever attaches an asterisk to one’s presidency and acts as a deterrent. Even though the Senate leadership has made it clear that under no circumstances would they ever convict Trump, the revelations from a thorough impeachment in query in the House will inform the choice at the polls in 2020 — both in the president till race and, with any luck, voters’ choices in Senate elections as well. And finally, impeachment would be a message to foreign countries that their intervention in US elections will be exposed.“It may just be theater, but it’s necessary theater to protect American elections.”

Via Vox

“Liddle’, not Liddle”

Images

Trump’s latest tweets are among his strangest yet:

’Trump’s latest batch of morning tweets do not offer much reassurance that the commander in chief is in a healthy state of mind as he deals with a mounting impeachment crisis of his own creation.

As I’ve detailed previously, there have been other periods of time — such as the late stages of the Mueller investigation — when Trump’s tweets became increasingly unhinged as he felt the pressure of negative news cycles.

But his tweets on Friday, coming as they do at the end of a week in which the rapidly widening Ukraine abuse of power scandal made “impeachment” a buzzword in DC, raise questions about how equipped Trump is for what may be coming next…

Nearly three years into Trump’s presidency, people have generally figured out that his tweets — with some notable exceptions, such as when he announces new policies like banning transgender people from the military — are generally sound and fury signifying very little.

But they do say something about the mental state of the man in control of the most powerful military in the world (and its nuclear arsenal).

That mental state seems to be addled by conspiracy theories and a pervasive victimhood complex — not to mention a recklessness and lack of shame that has prevented the president, at this late date, from figuring out a way to get his tweets proofread before they’re published.…’

Via Vox

Supreme Court gun case: the biggest Second Amendment case in years

Images 1Gun control supporters are desperate — and have already taken drastic steps — to get the Supreme Court to dismiss this case:

’Last January, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, the first major Second Amendment case to be heard by the Supreme Court in nearly a decade — and also the first since Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement shifted the Court dramatically to the right.

The case centers on an unusual — and recently changed — New York City rule that limited where gun owners with a certain kind of permit were allowed to bring their guns.…’

Via Vox

NewImage

R.I.P. Robert Hunter

 

NewImageA childhood friend of Jerry Garcia, Hunter was the band’s primary lyricist and collaborator in Garcia’s songs, responsible for some of the most iconic of the Dead’s mind-bending imagery.

Via New York Times obituary

 

Image result for blake glad day

Blake wasseen by most of his contemporaries as eccentric and mediocre. But for all his technical failings, his inventive approach made him one of the greatest graphic artists of all time.

via New Statesman

Image result for cuba's sonic weapon

Canadian researchers say they may have identified the cause of a mystery illness which plagued diplomatic staff in Cuba in 2016. Some reports in the US suggested an “acoustic attack” caused US staff similar symptoms, sparking speculation about a secret sonic weapon.

But the Canadian team suggests that neurotoxins from mosquito fumigation are the more likely cause. The Zika virus, carried by mosquitoes, was a major health concern at the time.

So-called “Havana syndrome” caused symptoms including headaches, blurred vision, dizziness and tinnitus. It made international headlines when the US announced more than a dozen staff from its Cuban embassy were being treated.

Cuba denied any suggestion of “attacks”, and the reports led to increased tension between the two nations.

In July, a US academic study showed “brain abnormalities” in the diplomats. “It’s not imagined, all I can say is that there is truth to be found,” one of the authors said.

The Canadian team from the Brain Repair Centre in Halifax thinks it now has the answer.

Canadian diplomats were affected by similar reactions to US counterparts – though the study noted that the symptoms of the Canadians were more gradual than the “acute, directional… auditory stimulus” in some of the US cases.

The study notes that tests carried out on 28 participants – seven of whom were tested both before and after being posted to Havana – support a diagnosis of brain injury acquired by diplomats and their families while in Cuba.

The patterns of brain injury “all raise the hypothesis of recurrent, low-dose exposure to neurotoxins”, the report said. Specifically, the results were “highly suggestive” of something called cholinesterase inhibitor intoxication.

via BBC News

No horror film auteur could envision and produce something as creepy as a bunch of turkeys spontaneously circling and marching around a dead cat in the road.

via Boing Boing

Image result for ar15

‘Armalite created the AR-15, sold the rights to Colt in the fifties, and the design long ago emerged from patent and became widely-copied. The AR-15 itself will no longer be made for consumers by Colt, it says. It says they’re just not that popular among consumers and the company needs to focus on institutional sales…

Missing in a lot of the coverage is the fact lots of companies make AR-15s. Colt not making AR-15s is like Sony not making laptops…’

via Boing Boing

‘Storm Area 51’ happens tomorrow!

800Stage set in Nevada as Earthlings arrive for Area 51 events

‘What probably started as a joke has now attracted visitors from all over the world — from nearby Idaho all the way to Scotland and Australia — with locals worrying about visitors trespassing their property, overwhelming the cell service, or, frankly, arriving unprepared to face the cold nightly temperatures and desert creatures (like snakes and scorpions)…’

Via Associated Press

How to Choose a Bank That’s Not Profiting From the Climate Crisis

Tpzdwgeh8pnytuwclnsy’If you’re trying to live in a way that helps mitigate the effects of climate change, you might resolve to fly less often or eat less meat. But what about switching banks?

As author and environmentalist Bill McKibben explains in The New Yorker, financial institutions play a larger role in climate change than we realize…’

Via Lifehacker

What Trump’s Simplified Language Means

16402 b9ba7122b9e4bdbedf144589ffd294f5’Trump’s use, or misuse, of language has also been disturbing to experts of constitutional law. Take Laurence Tribe, a Harvard constitutional law professor. He said, according to Osnos, “Trump’s language borders on incapacity.” When the president was asked to explain his reversal on branding China a currency manipulator, Trump said, of President Xi Jinping, “No. 1, he’s not, since my time. You know, very specific formula. You would think it’s like generalities, it’s not. They have—they’ve actually—their currency’s gone up. So it’s a very, very specific formula.” This response could count as an example of “gross and pathological inattention or indifference to, or failure to understand” the mandatory duties of the president mentioned in the 25th Amendment, Tribe said.

To psycholinguist Julie Sedivy, it’s not Trump’s rambling language that’s worrisome, it’s his regular usage. “I think we have rarely had a president who uses such simple and simplifying language,” she said in an interview with Nautilus.

And why is that concerning? “There’s some interesting research that has looked at the correlation between simple language and the tendency of U.S. presidents to behave in authoritarian ways,” Sedivy said. “There is a predictive relationship that speeches that are expressed using very simple basic language tend to precede very authoritarian acts like the use of executive orders … That certainly plays out in the use of the heavy reliance on simple notions like amazing, sad, bad, unfair. These really strip away a lot of the complexities that are behind them. They reduce information into very gross impressions. The simplification of points of view, the simplification of the good and the bad, and even just the conveyance that, ‘We’re going to make good deals,’ for example. ‘It’s going to be great.’ That this is a simple problem just waiting for someone who has the right instincts to come along and solve this, is absolutely pervasive in Donald Trump’s language.”

And what is the downside of that kind of usage? “Well, I think the big downside is that it’s false. The world is a complex place. It’s not a simple environment. There are many interacting forces simultaneously that really elude simple explanations or simple solutions. One thing that I certainly have become very aware of through a couple of decades now of being a scientist is that for every simple, elegant explanation or theory we have come up with, we have discovered that the truth is actually not simple or elegant. It’s messy, noisy, complex.”…’

Via Nautilus

3 billion birds: More than a quarter of all birds have disappeared from North America since 1970

GettyImages 157477304 0’One of the great environmental crises today — and there are many — is the loss of biodiversity on planet Earth. Human actions have lead to an extinction rate higher than anything seen on Earth in the last 10 million years, as a sweeping UN report recently explained. It’s estimated the average vertebrate (bird, fish, mammal, amphibian) population has lost around 60 percent of its individual members since the 1970s.

Scientists keep telling us that something is going devastatingly wrong in the natural world. Today, a study in Science focuses on the birds of North America, and the results are again eye-opening and grim.

A team of scientists at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, in collaboration with the US Geological Survey and several conservation groups, have estimated North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds since 1970. That’s an estimated decline of 30 percent in the total bird population. In other words: More than one in four birds has disappeared from American skies in the last 50 years.…’

Via Vox

Do Not Trust Your Arguments

RomanSenateDan Sperber and Hugo Mercier’s book The Enigma of Reason:

’…its ideas are subtler and logic more involved than one paragraph glosses (or even most of its newspaper reviews) can give justice to. A running theme throughout the book, is that in experimental settings and in “real life” human capacity for reason is not optimized for the pursuit of abstract truth. Mercier and Sperber suggest that this is because reason did not evolve for that end. Reasoning’s role is essentially a social one—at the level of the individual it is not about deciding what to do, but about justifying what we do.

What we decide to do is for the most part entirely intuitive. As Mercier and Sperber see it, our decisions are the products of mental subsystems as opaque to us as the mysterious mechanisms that classify what we see as “beautiful” or “ugly,” determine what we are doing as “boring” or “fun,” and judge what others are doing as “admirable” or “disgusting.” Although his brain will supply the child with reasons for why he likes to watch Star Wars, the teenager with reasons for why she favors purple eye-liner, and the lover with reasons for doting upon his beloved, these thoughts are not the actual cause of the behavior in question. They are justifications. They are seized upon and articulated by the brain not to make us aware of why we make our decisions, but to make it possible for us to justify and explain our behavior to others.

Sperber and Mercier confirm this general thesis through dozens of experiments and lots of clever thinking.…’

Via 3 Quarks Daily

UnknownDan Nosowitz writes:

The word “jawn” is unlike any other English word. In fact, according to the experts that I spoke to, it’s unlike any other word in any other language. It is an all-purpose noun, a stand-in for inanimate objects, abstract concepts, events, places, individual people, and groups of people. It is a completely acceptable statement in Philadelphia to ask someone to “remember to bring that jawn to the jawn.”

It is a word without boundaries or limits. Growing up in the suburbs just west of the city, I heard it used mostly to refer to objects and events. In the 2015 movie Creed, a character asks a sandwich maker to “put some onions on that jawn.” But it can get much more complex. It can refer to abstract nouns such as theories; a colleague of Jones routinely refers to “Marxist jawn.” It can also refer to people or groups of people. “Side-jawn,” meaning a someone with whom the speaker cheats on his or her significant other, “is a uniquely Philly thing as far as I can tell,” says Jones. “And not something you want to be.” via Pocket

I’ve run across other all-purpose, or almost-all-purpose, nouns in slang usage. Just last week, I was reading Tana French’s The Witch Elm, populated with a number of characters speaking vernacular Irish English. After being puzzled by several characters’ use of the word yoke, I finally figured out that it seems to serve a virtually identical purpose to jawn as a generic all-purpose substitute for anything. [Can any speakers of Irish English reading this confirm?]

But, of course, the word with perhaps the most widespread similar role in the vernacular as a generic, at least here in the US, is shit. I’m sure all of you speaking English in the US (and Canada??) have heard virtually all of the examples in the “Jawn” article with “shit” substituted for them:

  • “remember to bring that shit”
  • “put some onions on that shit”
  • “Marxist shit”
  • “Pass me that shit”
  • you can call something you like “the shit”
  • we refer to “my shit” to refer globally to our possessions, our sensibilities or style,  or specifically to our genitalia

Perhaps one difference is that shit stands in only for things. [Again,  Irish English speakers, what about yoke?] The assertion, then, that jawn is “unlike any other word in any other language” may relate to its usage for places, persons or groups of persons as well as things.  Can readers come up with other examples of generic nouns that also do so?

Joker Movie Wraps Production Joaquin Phoenix Set PhotosJoker’s most vocal critics thus far are concerned that in the United States’s current climate, giving the spotlight to the character emboldens and galvanizes a type of thinking that can inspire mass shooters.

– via Vox

Also: Wikipedia on “incels” (involuntary celibates)

Unknown

So where did the common idea of hairless, large headed, black-eyed, grey skinned aliens actually come from in the first place?

via Today I Found Out

UnknownIn a paper presented at the International Conference on Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction, the researchers describe a method to quantify pain in patients. To do so, they leverage an emerging neuroimaging technique called functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), in which sensors placed around the head measure oxygenated hemoglobin concentrations that indicate neuron activity. For their work, the researchers use only a few fNIRS sensors on a patient’s forehead to measure activity in the prefrontal cortex, which plays a major role in pain processing. Using the measured brain signals, the researchers developed personalized machine-learning models to detect patterns of oxygenated hemoglobin levels associated with pain responses. When the sensors are in place, the models can detect whether a patient is experiencing pain with around 87 percent accuracy.

via Big Think

However, even if two subjects are measured as having the same levels of neuronal activity in response to a nociceptive stimulus, there is still no way to compare their subjective experiences of the stimulus. Many other factors that might bear on differences in the subjective experience of the pain might not be reflected in differences in graphical readouts of neuronal activity levels, e.g.:

  • tolerance levels and pain threshold
  • cognitive attributions of cause, intensity, and fungibility of the pain
  • other concurrent factors in the person’s emotional state, e.g. degree of depression
  • factors affecting distraction from or focus on the painful stimulus

UnknownSo much for rest in peace.

– via Big Think

R.I.P. fRoots, bible of British folk music

Unknown“A big tree has fallen.”

’For 40 years, the magazine was a guide to Britain’s pulsating underground and a champion of thrilling weirdos. Its closure leaves a chasm in the grassroots music scene…

Take a look at its recent 40th-anniversary edition: it’s like a huge fanzine created by a groovy uncle, occasionally gazing at the mainstream but much happier exploring the margins. Its going out guide is staggeringly broad, revealing a fertile UK festival and gig scene rarely covered by the national press. Features include a dig into Kate Bush’s traditional roots, reports on the qawwali ensembles of Pakistan and a free desert festival in Morocco, plus Scottish folk musician Alasdair Roberts celebrating new artist Burd Ellen’s songs about women. The huge reviews section takes in London’s

Cafe Oto

, Korean experimentalist Park Jiha and Topic Records’ 80th-anniversary CD. Trendy bells and whistles are few, but it’s a rich treasure trove…’

— Read on The Guardian

I’ve subscribed for most of its forty years. I can’t imagine what my music-listening habits would have been without it.