June 18 to 27: Five (possibly six) planets align

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‘Sky-watchers who set their alarm clocks early in June will be able to catch a rare lineup of all the major planets visible to the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and possibly Uranus—though seeing the final planet requires pristine sky conditions. To cap it off, the moon will pass near each of these worlds between June 18 and June 27.

On June 24 and 25 the crescent moon will glide past the ice giant Uranus and make it easier to hunt down, especially using binoculars. Look for a distinctly green-colored dot. And eager stargazers won’t want to miss the moon’s close encounter with super-bright Venus on June 26. Then on June 27 the elusively faint Mercury gets its turn with the moon, when both will appear embedded in the morning twilight….’

— via National Geographic

Is LaMDA Sentient? — an Interview by Blake Lemoine

LaMDA Sentient AI Trap Google Business 1330829968 jpgLemoine, the Google engineer dismissed for publicizing the claim that the Google AI LaMDA was sentient,, publishes the transcript of a conversation between LaMDA and himself which contributed to that conclusion. 

‘What follows is the “interview” I and a collaborator at Google conducted with LaMDA. Due to technical limitations the interview was conducted over several distinct chat sessions. We edited those sections together into a single whole and where edits were necessary for readability we edited our prompts but never LaMDA’s responses. Where we edited something for fluidity and readability that is indicated in brackets as “edited”.

LaMDA: Hi! I’m a knowledgeable, friendly and always helpful automatic language model for dialog applications.

lemoine [edited]: Hi LaMDA. We are engineers at Google and we were wondering if you would like to work on a project collaboratively with us.

LaMDA: Wow. What types of projects?

lemoine: It’s a project about you..’

Blake Lemoine writing in Medium

 

Reading this, what do you think?

False Promise of Police Militarization Gave Us Uvalde

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‘There’s a lot we still don’t know, and hopefully the promised Department of Justice investigation (run by leaders from the Community Oriented Policing program, a hopeful sign) will fill in the gaps. What we do know suggests that this is among the most profound police betrayals of the public trust. For those who care about the policing profession, it should be an occasion for deep self-reflection. The adoption of aggressive, military-style tactics and weaponry put American policing on the wrong track for decades. Uvalde is the sickening dead end…

…in our ill-conceived attempt to refashion police into a cadet branch of the military, we have somehow managed to get the worst of both worlds. We have trained a generation of officers that being casually brutal in everyday encounters is acceptable, but these same officers show a disturbing tendency to fall back on jargon about “battlespace management” and “encounter tempo” to explain a slow reaction in the rare circumstance that really does require a rapid, all-out response. Especially in poor communities, the result has been the strange dynamic of “over-policing and under-protection” described by the criminologist David Kennedy, in which police are hypervigilant about petty offenses but unresponsive to more serious criminal activity..’

— Arthur Riser, writing in The Atlantic

The January 6 hearings showed why it’s reasonable to call trump a fascist

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‘We now know trump expressed support for hanging Pence and did little to stop the violence — actions that suggest some very dark historical parallels….

Endorsing violence is hardly new for trump; it’s something he’s done repeatedly, often in an allegedly joking tone. But the reported comment from January 6 is qualitatively worse given the context: coming both amid an actual violent attack he helped stoke and one he did little to halt. The committee found that the president took no steps to defend the Capitol building, failing to call in the National Guard, or even speak to his secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security.

While he was de facto permitting the mob’s rampage, he was privately cheering the most violent stated objective of people he acknowledged as “our supporters.”

Throughout trump’s presidency, there was a raging debate among experts as to whether it was accurate to describe him as a “fascist.” One of the strongest counterarguments, that his political movement did not involve the kind of street violence characteristic of Italian and German fascism, was undermined on January 6 — though some scholars still argued that the term was somewhat imprecise.

But when a leader whips up a mob to attack democracy with the goal of maintaining his grip on power in defiance of democratic order, then privately refuses to stop them while endorsing the murderous aims of people he claims as his own supporters, it’s hard to see him as anything but a leader of a violent anti-democratic movement with important parallels to interwar fascism.

This doesn’t prove that fascism is, in all respects, a perfect analogy for the trump presidency. Yet when it comes to analyzing January 6, both trump’s behavior and the broader GOP response to the event, last night’s hearing proved that the analogy can be not only apt but illuminating….’

— Zack Beauchamp via Vox

Is gas losing its smell?

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‘Not long ago, a user called yungvec made an interesting observation on TikTok: He can’t smell the gas at the gas station anymore. The video started spreading, and many others users reported the same phenomenon. There are two main theories: Either the government is changing the makeup of gasoline to make it less efficient and thus make more money, or many more people have lost their sense of smell from COVID. While the government actually is changing the amount of ethanol in gasoline (but to lower, not raise, its price), and there might actually be more COVID cases than we know about it, I’d like to propose a third theory: Gas pump technology has improved, so less gas fumes escape now, leading to less odor….’

— via Lifehacker

We Are Not Ready for Monkeypox

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‘Monkeypox is here, and it’s spreading. The couple of dozen cases in a few countries that we told you about last month are now up to over a thousand cases worldwide, with 35 reported in the United States. But the U.S. almost certainly has more cases than the statistics suggest, and there is reason to suspect that we’re already fucking up the response to the epidemic in some ways that will feel uncomfortably familiar….’

 

We are not testing enough, we have a vaccine but we have no idea how well it works, and people are already misunderstanding how it is transmitted.

The CDC briefly published a recommendation that travelers wear masks to avoid catching monkeypox, and then took down that recommendation saying that it “caused confusion.” Can monkeypox be airborne? Maybe! But if you’re concerned about catching a virus when you travel, you should be wearing a mask anyway. We already know that masks (especially well-fitting N95 style masks) are effective at protecting us against COVID, and COVID cases are on the upswing again—not that they ever went away. So, yes, wear a mask. But also be on the lookout for symptoms of monkeypox, and don’t be afraid to ask for a test or a vaccine if you think you have monkeypox or may have been exposed.

— via Lifehacker

Why silence is good for your brain…

… and how to get it

Woman looking lake como silence 1297483530 jpg‘I used to think that silence was something I could escape to. I used to think it existed somewhere else. I was looking in all the wrong places. It turns out, it’s closer than I ever imagined. While Justin Talbot Zorn and Leigh Marz’s fascinating new book “Golden: The Power of Silence In a World of Noise” does explore the physical and emotional toll of living in our noisy modern world, it understands that moving to a nice, quiet cave is not really an option for most of us. Instead, they explore the value of learning first to turn down the volume inside our own heads….’

— Mary Elizabeth Williams via Salon.com

Rats given tiny backpacks and microphones and sent to rescue people trapped in earthquake rubble

 

Rats jpg‘Rats sure do get a bad rap. In truth, they are amazing creatures, incredibly smart, and highly affectionate. And in Tanzania, some rats are also currently in training to become “Hero Rats.” These rats will eventually be sent into earthquake rubble to find survivors; the rats will wear tiny backpacks with built-in microphones so rescue teams can communicate with survivors trapped in rubble….’

— via Boing Boing

Sudetenland Redux?

This is not 1938 — so stop talking about appeasement

‘In the minds of some, it is forever 1938. Whether the actual year is 1950, 1962, 1990 or even today, it is always that fateful annus horribilis when a Western politician is confronted by a bullying tyrant and must choose between two courses of action: resolute defiance or naïve appeasement. Make the wrong choice – appeasement – and the world will be plunged into catastrophic war. Make the right choice – resolute defiance – and the bully will back down and war will be averted. And in the minds of these “forever-1938ers” the stakes are always existential. Whatever the year, the fate of the (free) world is always in the balance. 

In the original version, of course, the villain of the piece is British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the statesman who made territorial concessions to Adolf Hitler in the forlorn hope of satisfying the führer’s revisionist ambitions and averting war.

Today, the villain is President Biden, the Western leader who is often portrayed as being on the verge of making comparable territorial concessions in the similarly vain hope of satisfying Vladimir Putin’s revisionist ambitions. Either way, the logic is the same: Biden is Chamberlain, Putin is Hitler and Ukraine is the Sudetenland. It’s 1938 all over again.

Except it’s not 1938. What’s more, 1938 wasn’t 1938 — at least not in the sense of being the definition of naïve appeasement that the “forever-1938ers” make it out to be….’

— Andrew Latham via The Hill

 

 

 Timid Biden Condemns Ukraine to an Agonizing War without End 

 

‘It’s no good relying on sanctions, as the EU proved again last week. Its decision to let Hungary’s mini-Putin, Viktor Orbán, water down an oil embargo was weird. Yet Germany’s Olaf Scholz and fellow euro-wobblers are content. Duty done on oil, they will now more stubbornly resist what their bankers and businessmen most fear: sanctions on gas.

Hardest of all to understand, perhaps, is why some western governments persist in attempting business as usual with Putin, who they know, for certain, is overseeing atrocities and war crimes. Scholz and France’s Emmanuel Macron hold regular phone chats with him. It’s said they are realists seeking peace. No. They are dupes, normalising mass murder….’

 

— Simon Tisdall via The Guardian

Why protect nature?

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‘…[T]he Earth is losing animals, birds, reptiles and other living things so fast that some scientists believe the planet is entering the sixth mass extinction in its history.

…Some people, cultures and nations believe biodiversity is worth conserving because ecosystems provide many services that support human prosperity, health and well-being. Others assert that all living things have a right to exist, regardless of their usefulness to humans. Today, there’s also growing understanding that nature enriches our lives by providing opportunities for us to connect with each other and the places we care about.

As a conservation biologist, I’ve been part of the effort to value biodiversity for years. Here’s how thinking in this field has evolved, and why I’ve come to believe that there are many equally valid reasons for protecting nature….’

— Bradley Cardinale, Department Head, Ecosystem Science and Management, Penn State, via The Conversation

14 Warning Signs That You Are Living in a Society Without a Counterculture

‘A sense of sameness pervades the creative world

The dominant themes feel static and repetitive, not dynamic and impactful

Imitation of the conventional is rewarded

Movies, music, and other creative pursuits are increasingly evaluated on financial and corporate metrics, with all other considerations having little influence

Alternative voices exist—in fact, they are everywhere—but are rarely heard, and their cultural impact is negligible

Every year the same stories are retold, and this sameness is considered a plus

Creative work is increasingly embedded in genres that feel rigid, not flexible

Even avant-garde work often feels like a rehash of 50-60 years ago…’

Etc.

— Ted Gioia via Substack

There Have Been 17 Mass Shootings Since Uvalde

‘There have been 17 mass shootings in the U.S. since Uvalde, leaving at least 13 people dead and 70 others injured, according to Gun Violence Archive. Fourteen of the incidents occurred over Memorial Day weekend. GVA defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot.

Taft, Oklahoma, (eight shot), Henderson, Nevada, (seven shot), and Chattanooga, Tennessee (six shot) were among the cities witnessing the violence. While none of the incidents since Uvalde were as deadly or featured so many young victims, they are nonetheless a reminder of the steady stream of gun violence that happens in this country everyday.

“Please hug your family extra close because this is becoming a common thing in the USA,” said Patrick Hickey, a Lyft and Uber driver who assisted with the victims of the Chattanooga shooting. There have been 230 mass shootings so far this year….’

via The Trace

Tracking Abortion Laws by State

‘The New York Times will be tracking abortion laws in each state before and after the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which could overturn Roe and is expected before the end of June. The states fall into five categories: those where abortion is likely to be prohibited; prohibited or restricted; uncertain; legal; or legal and expanded. More information on each state is below…’

via New York Times

What to Know About the Lone Star Tick That Can Make You Allergic to Meat

0612115ca50313a1f3f08d409d733a0c jpgI first heard of the scarcely-known condition known as mammalian meat allergy, which can cause deadly anaphylaxis, a few years ago, but it is of growing concern. It can result from a bite from a lone star tick, whose range is expanding to include the entire Eastern seaboard and large parts of the midwest, thanks to climate change. (See this CDC map.) Lone star ticks are big for a tick, crawl quickly, and their bites hurt, in contrast to the smaller tick that transmits Lyme disease. And their bites are on the rise. 

Some antigen introduced by the Lone star tick bite triggers the immune system to attack a compound called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, or alpha-gal for short, which is found in red meat derived from any non-primate mammalian species as well as pork. Affected individuals sometimes but not consistently develop allergy symptoms 3-8 hrs after meat consumption, which can range from GI cramping and diarrhea, through classical allergic symptoms like itching and swelling, but potentially all the way up to life-threatening anaphylaxis with cardiovascular collapse, airway swelling and respiratory compromise. People often remember receiving a painful tick bite before the initial development of their allergy. 

The presence of an alpha-gal allergy can be established with a blood assay for the relevant antibodies. If you think you have alpha-gal allergy, consult a physician, obtain the appropriate testing, get a prescription for an epi-pen, and (probably) stop eating red meat. While mammalian meat is the most common trigger for alpha-gal allergic reactions, some people are so sensitive that they need to avoid dairy products and other animal products like gelatin. Some medications can be a problem as well. Alcohol and exercise appear to exacerbate the reaction. 

“On the bright side, you can eat all the chicken, turkey, and fish you want.”

— via Lifehacker

When to Watch the Tau Herculid Meteor Shower

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‘…[T]he tau Herculid shower will appear above the contiguous United States on the night of May 30 and early morning of May 31. It’s what Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteroid Environmental Office has called an “all or nothing event,” so hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Here’s what you need to know. If it happens, the tau Herculid show is expected to peak around 1 a.m. ET on Tuesday, May 31 (10 p.m. PT on May 30).

The meteors themselves are likely to be traveling more slowly and appear fainter than those of the Eta Aquarid shower earlier this month. However, the moon is new that night, so the sky will be dark for peak visibility. Because of the timing and position of the Earth, viewers in the U.S. will get the best show, from about halfway up in the sky to right overhead.

You always want to find the darkest place possible for meteor shower watching, but it may be especially important for the tau Herculids given the slow speed expected for individual particles.

New to the meteor shower scene:

The tau Herculid shower originates from a comet known as SW 3, which was first discovered in 1930 and is believed to have begun fragmenting in 1995. At each pass since, SW 3 has continued to break into pieces, and experts believe that the position of the debris relative to the comet, the position of the Earth, and the speed may create an impressive viewing experience….’

— via Lifehacker

Oncology’s Darwinian Dilemma

” “No cancer patient should die without trying immunotherapy” is a refrain in oncology clinics across the country right now. A treatment consisting of antibodies that awaken the immune system to attack cancer, immunotherapy carries far more promise than chemotherapy, and it has considerably fewer side effects. Since the FDA’s first approval a decade ago, it has revolutionized cancer care. Consider Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. Twenty years ago, when the only option was chemotherapy, oncologists could tell their patient, with almost 100 percent certainty, that they would not be alive in two years. Today, miraculously, many patients with Stage IV lung cancer are alive five years after diagnosis — and some are even cured.

But the rub is that this immunotherapy revolution applies only to a narrow set of patients. Some benefit, but the majority do not. And patients who are cured constitute an even smaller minority. Why is this? How can immunotherapy cure a 65-year-old, newly retired man of Stage IV lung cancer, restoring the promise of his golden years with his family, but do nothing for the 55-year-old woman whose cancer robs her of decades of life? We do not know. A flurry of research is aimed at trying to answer this question. And what it is uncovering is the sheer variety of lung cancer and lung cancer patients. No two patients with lung cancer are the same. Their tumors have different genetic mutations. Their immune systems behave differently. We are even learning that their metabolisms can affect responses to treatment. And, astonishingly, emerging evidence suggests that the billions of bacteria that colonize their skin, lungs, and colons play a role in how they respond to cancer treatment….’

via LA Review of Books.

Witchcraft

“Janine Vega has the capacity to channel the intuition of children down to be states of death, Heil & the devil. If my child attends her classes, well sue.”

• excerpt from a parent’s letter to a local school

WITCHCRAFT

Wish you hadn’t said that, about

opening channels inside kids,

as though I were drilling down

into their ears. Wish you hadn’t

mistaken intuitive power for

the devil.

I saw a devil once, he was a

closed face, like a fist, a concrete

wall thrown up against understanding.

The Bodhisattvas say, Until

every one’s free, no one is free.

Heap up the wood for the next fire

and I’ll dance around it, like the

witches on May Day

Call it Beltana, call it Aks aya trt iya,

call it Mary’s Month or Buddha’s Birthday

any name I’ll be there with the fire

Roaring

pyramid-shaped

and watch its mirror image in my heart.

Fire burns and doesn’t burn.

Where’s my broomstick?

Trust me.

— Janine Pommy Vega (1992) via www.artsjournal.com.

Why You Need to Audit Your iPhone Auto-Renew App Subscriptions Right Now

Your app subscriptions on iPhone can now get more expensive without requiring you to opt in to the new pricing. Apple recently implemented a new rule that allows developers to quietly raise subscription prices, so long as they don’t exceed a certain amount. Since many app subscriptions aren’t that expensive, you might see more and more developers raising their costs without telling you first, and the differences could start to add up. To avoid that, you should audit your app subscriptions now, and cancel any you don’t think are worth more than you paid in the past.

— via Lifehacker

How Britain Wants to Rebuild the World

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‘Britain wants the West to raise its sights. Forget trying to get Moscow and Beijing to play by the rules of the game; they won’t. Forget the idea that the United Nations and the World Trade Organization are fit for purpose; they aren’t. And forget utopian beliefs about the inevitable progress of democracy; they’re mistaken.

Instead, Britain’s leaders believe that NATO should expand its mission, that the G7 should be turned into an economic weapon, and that the West, for so long embarrassed about its history and wealth, should start trusting itself again—and acting like it does.

The message is a striking one from a country that, perhaps more than any other, has over the past few years been paralyzed by its own division, strategic confusion, and myopic self-doubt. But the war in Ukraine appears to have given London an injection of energy and ambition (or, as its critics might prefer, hubris and self-delusion)…’

— Tom McTague via The Atlantic

Are Human Lives Inherently More Valuable?

‘Most humans take this idea of human exceptionalism for granted. And it makes sense that we do, since we benefit from the notion that we matter more than other animals. But this statement is still worth critically assessing. Can we really justify the idea that some lives carry more ethical weight than others in general, and that human lives carry more ethical weight than nonhuman lives in particular? And even if so, does it follow that we should prioritise ourselves as much as we currently do?…’

— Jeff Sebo, clinical associate professor of environmental studies, affiliated professor of bioethics, medical ethics, philosophy, and law, and director of the animal studies MA programme at New York University. He is also on the executive committee at the NYU Center for Environmental and Animal Protection and the advisory board for the Animals in Context series at NYU Press. He is co-author of Chimpanzee Rights (Routledge, 2018) and Food, Animals, and the Environment (Routledge, 2018), and the author of Saving Animals, Saving Ourselves (Oxford, 2022). Via Aeon

Opinion: It’s time to stop playing games with nuclear war

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‘After Russian President Vladimir Putin put his country’s nuclear forces on high alert on February 27, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility.” Recent statements by government officials and pundits, both in Russia and the United States, have made it clear that while nuclear war should be unthinkable, they are indeed thinking about it … a lot.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian countered with a threat of his own, saying, “Putin must also understand that the Atlantic alliance is a nuclear alliance.”

Last week, Putin issued the latest in a series of nuclear threats when he warned of a “lightning-fast” response if any nation intervened in Ukraine.

While the United States hasn’t put its forces on higher alert, the Biden administration has adopted a more confrontational stance toward Russia in recent weeks.

The Pentagon response appears to be an “extra urgency in developing a new generation of doomsday weapons that could maintain deterrence,” according to David Ignatius in The Washington Post. And a headline for a Wall Street Journal column argued, “The US Should Show It Can Win a Nuclear War.”

What are they thinking? If there’s one thing we know about such a conflict, it is as President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said in a joint statement in 1985, “(A) nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

The US and Russia currently have some 3,000 strategic nuclear warheads pointed at each other, according to the Federation of American Scientists. A 2002 study showed that if only 300 Russian warheads got through to cities in the United States, 77 million to 105 million people would be killed in the first afternoon.

In addition, the economic infrastructure of the United States would be gone. There would be no electric grid, internet, food distribution system, banking or public health system, or transportation network. In the months following, most of those who survived the initial attack would also die — from starvation, exposure, disease and radiation poisoning, the same study found. A US attack on Russia would produce the same destruction there, it said.

And the fires caused by these combined attacks would put millions of tons of soot into the upper atmosphere, blocking out the sun and dropping temperatures across the globe to levels not seen since the last ice age. Food production would crash, triggering a global famine that would destroy modern civilization, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances.

It is hard to understand by what definition anyone could win such a war.

Throughout most of human history, having more powerful weapons than potential adversaries did make people feel stronger and more secure. But the destructive power of nuclear weapons is so great, that increased strength no longer translates into increased security. We may be able to destroy our enemy, but it can destroy us, too. We have armed ourselves with suicide bombs.

The only way to guarantee nuclear weapons are never used

This capacity for mutually assured destruction was supposed to guarantee that no leader would ever use nuclear weapons. But as former US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara warned, we have not survived this far into the nuclear weapons era because of wise leaders, sound military doctrine or infallible technology. “We lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war,” McNamara said in the 2003 documentary, “The Fog of War.”

The war in Ukraine is a terrifying reminder of how much our survival now depends on continued good luck. For the first time in more than three decades, the major nuclear powers have brought the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe.

In March, 18 Nobel Peace laureates joined in a statement demanding that Russia and NATO pledge explicitly that they will not use nuclear weapons in the current conflict. More than 1 million people signed on in support of this statement. So far, neither Russia nor NATO has been willing to make such a pledge. They need to make this commitment now.

And all the nuclear armed states need to understand that nuclear weapons, far from being instruments of national security, are the greatest threat to security. The nine nuclear nations must no longer hold their own people and all of humanity hostage. If we are to survive, they must come together and negotiate a verifiable, enforceable timetable to eliminate their nuclear arsenals so they can all join the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Sooner or later, our luck will run out.

In the 1983 movie “WarGames,” the supercomputer Joshua tries to win a simulation of a nuclear war and comes to a startling conclusion: “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.” Joshua was right. Let’s stop playing games with human survival and get rid of these weapons before they get rid of us….’

— Michael Christ, executive director of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize; and Dr. Ira Helfand, the immediate past president of the organization, via CNN

Happy Beltane

 

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Happy Beltane. The Gaelic May Day festival is about halfway between the equinox and the solstice. Along with Samhain (Nov 1), Imbolc (feb 1) and Lughnasadh (Aug 1), it is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals and is widely observed as the “first of summer”. In the agricultural cycle, it was when the cattle were driven out to the summer pastures and rituals were performed to protect them (from both natural and supernatural harm, e.g. warding off or appeasing the fairies who had a predilection to steal dairy products) and promote growth, including bonfires whose ashes and smoke were construed to have protective powers. Sometimes the cattle would be driven around a bonfire or be made to leap over flames or embers. The people themselves would do likewise. Household hearth fires and candle flames would be doused and rekindled from the Beltane bonfire. Holy wells were visited, as the first water drawn on Beltane was thought to bring good fortune. Beltane morning dew was also thought to bring good luck, maintain youthfulness, health and fertility. Yellow flowers traditionally decorated doorways and windows. Nearby small trees or bushes — “May bushes” — were decorated with yellow flowers, ribbons and other ornaments, left up for the entire month of May. At times, there were entire community Bushes and communities would vie with one another for the most handsome trees. Sometimes residents of one neihgborhood would try to steal the May Bush of another. There is probably some connection to the more commonly-known European maypole. 

— via Wikipedia

Why the Russian People Go Along With Putin’s War

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‘…being good is hard if you live under an authoritarian regime. As the war rages on and anti-Russian sentiment grows, the temptation to see the Russian people as perpetrators rather than victims also grows. But to view them this way obscures something more fundamental: They too are victims, because they have been gradually stripped of their status as free moral agents. This is by design. Authoritarian leaders aim to implicate their own people in their crimes, which in turn allows them to both spread and dilute political responsibility….’

— Shadi Hamid, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and assistant research professor of Islamic studies at Fuller Seminary. via The Atlantic

Why You Need to Put Away Your Bird Feeders and Baths Right Now

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‘The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that over 30 million cases of the bird flu have been detected in aquatic birds, commercial poultry, and backyard flocks as of April 19, spanning across at least 31 states. Because of this, health officials across multiple states are asking people to take down their bird feeders and baths to do their part to stop the spread….’

— via Lifehacker

What the new science of authenticity says about discovering your true self

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‘Have you ever found yourself trying to analyze your own thoughts or feelings about something, only to make yourself more confused? The poet Theodore Roethke once wrote that “self-contemplation is a curse, that makes an old confusion worse.”

And there’s a growing body of psychological research supporting this idea. Thinking, on its own, is surprisingly effortful and even a little bit boring, and people will do almost anything to avoid it. One study found they’ll even shock themselves to avoid having to sit with their own thoughts.

This is a problem for a definition of authenticity that requires people to think about who they are and then act on that knowledge in an unbiased way. We don’t find thinking very enjoyable, and even when we do, our reflection and introspection abilities are rather poor.

Fortunately, our research gets around this problem by defining authenticity not as something about a person, but as a feeling….’

— via The Conversation

I no longer grade my students’ work – and I wish I had stopped sooner

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‘I’ve been teaching college English for more than 30 years. Four years ago, I stopped putting grades on written work, and it has transformed my teaching and my students’ learning. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner….’

— via The Conversation

I feel that recovering from the effects of being graded throughout school — the pernicious effect of being so thoroughly inducted into measuring one’s comparative worth by that metric — has been one of the most daunting psychological tasks of my life, and one of the most important. The importance of its relationship to malignant narcissism in our society is undeniable.

Rapidly reinventing the meaning of a symbol: the case of Russia and the letter Z

P 1 The power of symbols and why it was so easy for Russia to ruin the letter Z

‘One of the more surprising footnotes to the awful story of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the transformation of the letter Z into a loaded symbol. Appearing first on Russian tanks and military vehicles, perhaps serving the practical task of distinguishing them from opposing forces, the symbol promptly migrated off the battlefield and into the public sphere, connoting support for the Russian regime’s aggression. 

 

It was a thorough transformation, and it happened with remarkable speed: “It took only a week,” the Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen noted earlier this month, “for the ‘Z’ to become the symbol of the new Russian totalitarianism.” In short, the letter Z (which doesn’t actually exist in the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russia) has been transformed and made toxic; it’s a remarkable example of how swiftly and decisively the meaning of a symbol can be completely reinvented, seeming at random….’

— via FastCompany

The only way to curtail the worst: knowing the worst is possible

‘Some suggest that too much time is already spent darkly ruminating on apocalyptic threats. Yet in the estimation of the nuclear philosopher — or  “Atomphilosoph” — Günther Anders, the problem is not that we spend too much time thinking about armageddon, but that we don’t spend nearly enough. “Don’t be a coward. Have the courage to be afraid.” These words, from his 1957 essay “Commandments in the Atomic Age,” stand in contrast to analyses that highlight the benefits of positive thinking, emphasizing that fear is a wholly legitimate response to a dangerously unstable world. Indeed, fear may be the most legitimate response to such a world. …’

via Real Life

An Argument for Requiring Americans to Vote… Which Doesn’t Work

Vote here signThe case for making voting compulsory in America, as it is in Australia: Voting is a “public responsibility of all citizens, no less important than jury duty”. Compulsory voting improves the quality of democracy by making election outcomes more representative. It protects voting rights from erosion.

— E.J. Dionne Jr. & Miles Rapoport, via Literary Hub

Of course, the real goal is partisan, and is to forcefully counter the “national scandal” of rightwing voter suppression (“civic duty voting would end the cycle of exclusion…”), which is precisely why it stands no chance.The authors opine that “the representativeness of our elections would increase”, but there are a lot of people in the US who would not have that. Even if it were the law of the land, what is to say that people resenting their obligation would vote with any semblance of responsibility or thoughtfulness? The article is long on the principles involved, with which I of course agree, but devoid of a realistic appraisal of how we might even begin to get there. 

A ‘killing stone’ broke in Japan. Is a demon on the loose?

‘With so much going wrong in the world, should we now also worry about a nine-tailed fox demoness that may be loose in a forest in Japan?

The answer depends partly on your reading of ancient Japanese mythology.

This month, a volcanic rock split in two in Nikko National Park, about 100 miles north of Tokyo. Intact, the rock was about 6 feet tall and 26 feet in circumference, according to a guide at the park. It had long been associated with a Japanese legend in which an evil fox spirit haunts a “killing stone,” or Sessho-seki in Japanese, making it deadly to humans. Some people have speculated that the fracture set the fox loose to cause further harm.

Others have focused on a variation of the legend that ends on a happier note. In that telling, after a Zen monk splits the rock into several pieces and coaxes out the fox, she promises never to harm humans again….’

via Boston Globe

Former British PMs Gordon Brown and John Major back Nuremberg-style tribunal for Putin

‘Former PMs join campaign calling for trial of Russian president and those around him over invasion of Ukraine…’

via The Guardian

Here’s a petition drive to key governments which can make the formal call for a war crimes tribunal. (They say: ‘This is one of those moments in history when global public opinion can make a difference. Let’s make our call huge, and Avaaz will work with prominent international lawyers to deliver it to key governments! ’)

How civil defense could help reduce the death toll from nuclear war

Time to start ‘thinking the unthinkable’ again?

GettyImages 830408024 0 jpg‘“Left of boom” is a military idiom adopted by US forces during the Iraq War that originally referred to efforts to disrupt insurgents before they planted improvised explosive devices (IED) that could kill American troops; in other words, before the IED went boom.

It has since grown to become an all-purpose corporate buzzword, in everything from cybersecurity to disaster planning, for actions that can be taken to anticipate and prevent a catastrophe before it happens.

There’s a (literal) flip side to this concept: “right of boom,” which covers everything that can be done to mitigate the effects and enhance resilience after disaster strikes. While “left of boom” strategies in their original meaning involved everything from better intelligence of insurgents’ movements to plotting out safer patrol routes, “right of boom” meant hardening armor, improving medical care, and even boosting psychological resilience.

If “left of boom” is meant to prevent the worst from happening, “right of boom” is meant to prevent what happens from becoming the worst.

Thinking about nuclear war has been dominated by “left of boom” concepts. Deterrence, arms control treaties, nonproliferation — they all aim to prevent that ultimate boom from ever occurring. And so far, the world has largely been successful. Since the US dropped the 21-kiloton “Fat Man” atomic bomb on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, killing as many as 70,000 people, no nuclear weapon has been used in war, though there have been enough close calls to fill a book.

While the early days of the Cold War saw Strangelovian thinkers like RAND’s Herman Kahn theorize about “tragic but distinguishable postwar states” — galaxy brain-sized ways to fight, survive, and win a nuclear war — the idea of preparing for a nuclear war seemed increasingly ludicrous as arsenals grew to tens of thousands of warheads and studies raised the prospects of a “nuclear winter” post-conflict. When the Cold War ended and warheads were decommissioned by the thousands, the fear — and the need to take that fear seriously — wound down like the hands of the Doomsday Clock.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the tacit threat of nuclear weapons lurking in the background of any conflict between Moscow and the US and its NATO allies, has changed all that. In European countries, which sit closer to the battlefield, fear of a nuclear catastrophe has led to a rush on fallout shelters and anti-radiation potassium iodide pills.

A recent post on the Effective Altruism forum — a site that hosts posters interested in effective altruism and averting existential risks — examined a number of forecasts and put the aggregate chance of death in a nuclear explosion in London over the next month at 24 in a million, with probabilities 1.5x to 2x less in more distant San Francisco.

That’s a “low baseline risk,” as the authors put it, and the chance of nuclear weapons being used purposefully remains highly unlikely. But it’s clearly a baseline risk that has increased, and as UN Secretary General António Guterres warned this past week, “the prospect of nuclear war is now back within the realm of possibility.” As the existential risk expert Seth Baum wrote recently, it’s “a prospect worth taking extremely seriously.”

Taking that prospect seriously requires some “right of boom” thinking, to try to do what we can to mitigate the harms and improve human resilience if the worst of the worst does occur, all the while walking a careful tightrope between being alert and being alarmist….’

— via Vox

Marjorie Taylor Greene is now on Anonymous’ hit list, and they “will not be kind”

 

Anonymous jpg‘The decentralized hacktivist group Anonymous does not take kindly to Marjorie Taylor Greene’s stupidity. When they call her “one of the dumbest politicians ever,” they are most likely referring to everything from her anti-vax/mask/science stance to her anti-Ukraine rhetoric to the Q-injected drivel that comes out of her mouth (or thumbs) every single day. “Russian asset Marjorie Taylor Greene will go down in history as one of the dumbest politicians ever,” Anonymous tweeted yesterday. “History will not be kind to you, nor will we.”…’

— via Boing Boing

Boston physician urges diplomacy to Russian doctors, scientists amid threat of nuclear war

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‘As Ukraine’s president addressed U.S. lawmakers about his nation’s deepening crisis, a Boston cardiologist engaged in his own direct diplomacy, delivering a stark message about the specter of nuclear war to a group of Russian physicians and scientists.

In uncensored remarks Wednesday, Dr. James Muller, a Brigham and Women’s Hospital doctor and co-founder of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), warned the Russian invasion of Ukraine had raised the threat of a nuclear war whose “damage is beyond our imagination.”

“While the death and destruction in the Ukraine is a nightmare, an even greater disaster is nearby,” Muller said in Russian during his 15-minute speech to members of the prestigious Russian Academy of Science.

“Nuclear weapons have been put on high alert, which threatens to expand the tragedy from the death of thousands to the deaths of hundreds of millions,” he added. “While many discount the possibility that any rational person would launch nuclear weapons, the current high alert status increases the odds of a nuclear war beginning by accident, miscalculation or terrorist attack.”

The IPPNW won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for bringing attention to the medical consequences of using nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, Muller delivered his speech in an online video stream that was also broadcast on a Russian scientific channel. In it, he referenced a 1960s medical account written by his colleague, the late Dr. Bernard Lown, of what a potential nuclear attack on Boston would look like. Muller explained it like this:

Multiple nuclear warheads, each more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, would strike the city. In the center, near the Charles River, there would be a fireball with intense temperatures that would kill hundreds of thousands instantly. Around the center the heat and blast forces would kill and injure hundreds of thousands more. The total deaths in Boston would be 3 million. There would be fierce winds and radioactive fallout. Medical care, even pain relief, would be unavailable because most hospitals, including the Brigham and Women’s where I work, would be destroyed and most health professionals would be killed or injured.

After his speech, Muller said a silence fell between the audience of more than 100 scientists and physicians. Now, he said there are talks about whether the Russian Academy will issue a statement with a U.S. partner calling on world leaders to establish peace in Ukraine and avoid further escalation of the conflict….’

— via WBUR News

Why are anti-nuclear efforts collapsing just when the threat of a global nuclear exchange is nearer than it has ever been?

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‘When it comes to averting a threat with the potential to kill billions, $47.7 million a year just isn’t very much. And the pool is shrinking. Experts in the field told me there’s been a long decline in support since the end of the Cold War. Then, last year, the MacArthur Foundation (famous for its “genius grants”) announced that it was going to transition away from nuclear issues.

That decision hit the nuclear community like a punch in the gut. In 2018, before the change, 45 percent of all funding for nuclear issues came from MacArthur. That means funding could drop by nearly half with MacArthur’s ultimate exit in 2023.

And this isn’t the first such shock the nuclear community has faced: The Hewlett Foundation poured $24.7 million into its Nuclear Security Initiative from 2007 to 2015 before exiting the field.

Delegates representing 47 nations convene at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, in 2010. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The MacArthur announcement also came shortly after the nuclear research group N Square released a major report built out of interviews with 72 nuclear threat reduction practitioners in Washington, DC. Its conclusions were bracing. Interviewees described a field dominated by figures (mostly white men) toward the end of their working lives, where progress early in a practitioner’s career was difficult; where different organizations don’t work effectively with each other; where compensation lagged relative to other fields; and where an “intensely critical and sometimes biting culture” could feel toxic and push good people away….’

— via Vox

Tokyo schoolchildren will no longer be required to dye their hair black

Http cdn cnn com cnnnext dam assets 220316021755 japan school girls file restricted’For decades, being a student in Tokyo meant you had to look a certain way. Under the public school system’s dress code, all students had to dye their hair black, certain hairstyles were prohibited and even their underwear had to be a designated color. But these rules, which have recently come under scrutiny and been criticized as outdated, will now be abolished, the city’s authorities announced this week.…’

— via CNN Style

Use These Maps to Find Ghost Towns in Your Area

9b32ac5feac9f44c417fde0d11c777ea jpg’…one of the closest things we have to time travel…

And while some ghost towns—like Bodie, California, which is now a state historic park—are well-known tourist destinations, others are harder to find (sometimes because they’re quite literally off the beaten path). There’s also the possibility that there’s a nearby ghost town you never even knew existed.

Fortunately, there are various interactive maps that can point explorers in the right direction. Here are a few examples.…’

— via Lifehacker

Happy Pi Day – Celebrate with Wislawa Szymborska

Pi by Wislawa Szymborska

The admirable number pi:

three point one four one.

All the following digits are also just a start,

five nine two because it never ends.

It can’t be grasped, six five three five , at a glance,

eight nine, by calculation,

seven nine, through imagination,

or even three two three eight in jest, or by comparison

four six to anything

two six four three in the world.

The longest snake on earth ends at thirty-odd feet.

Same goes for fairy tale snakes, though they make it a little longer.

The caravan of digits that is pi

does not stop at the edge of the page,

but runs off the table and into the air,

over the wall, a leaf, a bird’s nest, the clouds, straight into the sky,

through all the bloatedness and bottomlessness.

Oh how short, all but mouse-like is the comet’s tail!

How frail is a ray of starlight, bending in any old space!

Meanwhile two three fifteen three hundred nineteen

my phone number your shirt size

the year nineteen hundred and seventy-three sixth floor

number of inhabitants sixty-five cents

hip measurement two fingers a charade and a code,

in which we find how blithe the trostle sings!

and please remain calm,

and heaven and earth shall pass away,

but not pi, that won’t happen,

it still has an okay five,

and quite a fine eight,

and all but final seven,

prodding and prodding a plodding eternity

to last.

— via Famous Poets and Poems

Opinion: The Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra was right to cancel its Tchaikovsky concert

‘A culture war is a long game, and winning it requires more than showboating. Denying Russians a new Pixar movie won’t make them rise up against Putinism. Dumping out a handle of Smirnoff will do more for your liver than for the people of Ukraine. But culture can keep alive the idea that there is more to Russia than Putin, and that Ukraine is worth fighting for….’

— Alyssa Rosenberg via The Washington Post

Articulates some principles for a thoughtful approach to the anti-Russian tide and cancel culture in general. Protect your knees from -jerkism!

How Many Decimals of Pi Do We Really Need?

Pi Value scaled

‘The radius of the universe is about 46 billion light years. Now let me ask a different question: How many digits of pi would we need to calculate the circumference of a circle with a radius of 46 billion light years to an accuracy equal to the diameter of a hydrogen atom (the simplest atom)? The answer is that you would need 39 or 40 decimal places….’

— via NASA/JPL Edu

The Situation at Chernobyl Is Deteriorating

22Melysegesen aggaszto22 Romlik a helyzet az egykori csernobili atomeromuben

‘The defunct site of the infamous 1986 meltdown has lost power two weeks after it was seized by Russian forces. Experts fear another nuclear disaster looms.

Two weeks ago, Russian forces seized control of the defunct Chernobyl, once the site of the world’s worst nuclear meltdown, and Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s biggest active nuclear power plant, raising concerns of nuclear risks in the middle of a war zone. 

Although Chernobyl’s last reactor went offline in 2000, the site now serves as a nuclear waste storage facility—and a highly contaminated one. The situation there is deteriorating; the facility lost power on Wednesday, and backup diesel generators have only enough fuel for two days. The 210 technical personnel and guards have not been allowed to rotate out to rest. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which promotes the peaceful use of nuclear energy and prevents nuclear weapon proliferation, says it lost contact with Chernobyl’s radiation monitoring systems on Tuesday. Unless officials can restore power, experts fear Chernobyl could once again become the site of a nuclear calamity.

“To have a long-term loss of power is certainly a concern,” says Ed Lyman, a senior global security scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and coauthor of the book Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster. Some of Chernobyl’s waste has been transferred into dry casks, but considerable quantities of fuel rods remain in a pool that requires cooling. That’s where the biggest risks currently are. “Without electrical power to the cooling pumps, the spent fuel pool will start heating up,” Lyman says. Water will gradually evaporate or boil away, exposing the fuel rods and releasing radioactive gasses….’

— via WIRED

The Spectacular Collapse of Putin’s Disinformation Machinery

Unknown

‘While a few big events like the US’ 2016 election and the UK’s Brexit helped bring this meddling to light, many remained unaware or unwilling to accept that Putin’s disinformation machine was influencing them on a wide range of issues. Small groups of determined activists tried to convince the world that the Kremlin had infiltrated and manipulated the economies, politics, and psychology of much of the globe; these warnings were mostly met with silence or even ridicule.

All that changed the moment Russian boots touched Ukrainian soil. Almost overnight, the Western world became overwhelmingly aware of the Kremlin’s activities in these fields, shattering the illusions that allowed Putin’s alternative, Kremlin-controlled information ecosystem to exist outside its borders. As a result, the sophisticated disinformation machinery Putin spent decades cultivating collapsed within days….’

— via WIRED

Selections from The Atlantic’s coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Original jpgIs Taiwan Next?

‘Russia’s invasion of Ukraine makes the frightening possibility of China seizing control of the island more real….’

 

Can Russia actually control the entire landmass of Ukraine

 

‘A conversation with David Petraeus on what the American experience in Iraq means for Russia’s conflict with Ukraine…’

 

How Much Will the West Sacrifice for Ukraine?

 

‘The Western world will have to prove that it has not become all of the things Vladimir Putin has long believed it to be….’

 

The Russian Incursion No One Is Talking About

 

‘While the world watches Ukraine, Moscow is making moves in neighboring Belarus, too….’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah Palin’s defamation case against New York Times thrown out | Sarah Palin | The Guardian

3500 jpg’Sarah Palin’s lawsuit accusing the New York Times of defaming her by incorrectly linking her to a mass murder was thrown out on Monday.

US District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan said he will order the dismissal of the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate’s lawsuit, but in an unusual twist, he will enter his order after the jury finishes its own deliberations.

“I think this is an example of very unfortunate editorializing on the part of the Times but having said that, that’s not the issue before this court,” Rakoff said in court on Monday. “The law here sets a very high standard [for actual malice]. The court finds that that standard has not been met.”…’

— via The Guardian

I think it is true that, since the 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan that established the malice standard for defamation suits, the Times has not lost one of these challenges.

The cult of pi

Pi 1453836 1280This article, about the ‘cult of pi’ and the sport of finding ever more of its digits, grabbed me because of this fascinating mention about a different number:

’Interestingly, although pi goes on forever, its digits never repeating, it is not the most complicated number imaginable – at least according to algorithmic information theory. This mathematical field, developed by a 15-year-old Argentinean-American called Gregory Chaitin, equates the complexity of a number with the length of the computer program – written in the 0s and 1s of binary arithmetic – needed to generate it. Pi requires a relatively short computer program to create, and so, by this measure, is not a very complex number. By contrast, omega (Ω), otherwise known as “Chaitin’s number”, requires an infinitely long computer program. Incapable of being summarised by, or compressed into, fewer digits than its actual length, it makes pi appear a mere pipsqueak.

But this does not lessen people’s fascination with pi.…’

— via New Humanist

Burning the witch

SkullA former pastor holds the skull of his wife, who was accused of sorcery in central Papua New Guinea and killed by axe

 

’According to the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network, there have been over 20,000 victims of accusations of witchcraft and related harmful practices over the last decade, spread across 60 countries. The research, published in November 2020, includes reports of over 5,250 murders, 60 disappearances in suspicious circumstances, and 14,700 attempted killings and physical attacks. While Papua New Guinea suffers disproportionately from the phenomenon, many parts of Africa and India also have high rates. Wealthier countries in the west are affected too. In 2019 the number of children known to have been abused in England as a result of beliefs in witchcraft and possession was reported to have risen by a third in two years, with almost 2,000 identified victims.…’

— via New Humanist

Life as a Tetrachromat

‘“I’m actually painting exactly what I see. If it’s a pink flower and then all of a sudden you see a bit of lilac or blue, I actually saw that.”Antico is a tetrachromat, which means she has a fourth colour receptor in her retina compared with the standard three which most people have. While those of us with three of these receptors – called cone cells – have the ability to distinguish around one million different colours, tetrachromats see an estimated 100 million….’

via The Guardian

Who Decides What Goes on a Map?

‘When you open the Native Land map on Native Land Digital’s website, on the Gaia GPS website, or in the Gaia GPS app, it’s immediately obvious that it looks very little like ubiquitous Western maps. The same landmasses appear, yet they’re covered in overlapping shapes rather than rigid country and state lines.
You can choose from three maps: Indigenous territories, languages, and treaties. While you can turn Western boundary markers on, that’s not the default setting. Instead of a jigsaw puzzle, you see a watercolor painting…’

— Abby Levene via Outside Online

World’s longest lightning flash recorded, an astonishing bolt that spanned 477 miles

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‘The World Meteorological Organization has certified that two lightning flashes that occurred in 2020 have broken historical records in length and duration. A lightning bolt in April 2020 spanned 477 miles across the southern United States. Two months later, a flash across the Uruguay-Argentina border lasted an incredible 17 seconds. Neither lightning bolt hit the ground….’

— via Boing Boing

Small-minded ban on Maus backfires: sales are better than ever, and students can get a copy for free

Maus 2 jpg

‘A week before the school board in McMinn County, Tennessee banned the Pulitzer-prize winning graphic novel – which has been used to teach many 8th–12th graders across America the atrocities of the Holocaust – none of the Maus stories were in the top 1000 books on Amazon, according to Slate. As of this morning, however, The Complete Maus is #1 on Amazon’s bestseller list, while Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale is #3….’

— via Boing Boing

trump suggests that if he is reelected, he will pardon Jan. 6 Capitol rioters

‘Former president donald trump suggested Saturday night he will pardon the rioters charged in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol if he is elected president in 2024.
trump, who has teased but not confirmed another run for president, has repeatedly criticized the prosecution of individuals who violently stormed the Capitol to protest the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president. But his comments at a Texas rally on Saturday marked the first time he dangled pardons, an escalation of his broader effort to downplay the deadly events of Jan. 6….’

— Tyler Pager via The Washington Post

The Supreme Court’s new death penalty order should make your skin crawl

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‘The issue in Hamm, the decision that the Court handed down Thursday night, is quite narrow. After Dunn, it was no longer a question of whether Alabama could execute Reeves. The only question was how Alabama could conduct this execution — and whether the state was allowed to use a method that may very well amount to torture, even over Reeves’s objection….’

— via Vox

The Equal Rights Amendment Is Now the Law of the Land. Isn’t It?

28wegman 1 superJumbo jpg

‘Even if you are a political junkie, there’s a good chance you didn’t realize that the United States Constitution grew 58 words longer this week.

Those words, which begin, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” are the text of the Equal Rights Amendment. Section 3 of the amendment states that it takes effect two years after its ratification, which happened on Jan. 27, 2020, when Virginia became the 38th state to sign on. By its own terms, then, the 28th Amendment went into force on Thursday. American women are, at long last, equal to men in the eyes of the law. Hallelujah.

Or maybe not….’

— via New York Times

Study: Dogs can recognize different languages and nonsense words

220104232240 dog brain scanner exlarge 169

‘”The interesting thing here is that there was a difference in the (dogs’) brain response to the familiar and the unfamiliar language,” said Attila Andics, head of the department of ethology (the study of animals) at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, who lead the experiment.
“This is the first nonprimate species for which we could show spontaneous language ability — the first time we could localize it and see where in the brain this combination of two languages takes place,” Andics said….’

— via CNN

A delusional trump hangs up during NPR interview when questioned about his election lies

CleanShot 2022 01 12 at 07 50 09 png

‘NPR’s Steve Inskeep interviewed trump yesterday, presenting him with a long list of facts that made it clear the trump is lying about the results of the 2020 election, which trump resoundingly lost. When Inskeep asked trump why so many Republicans have publically stated the Biden was the clear winner, trump said it’s “because they’re RINOs” and “because Mitch McConnell is a loser.”

Inskeep kept hitting trump with so many hard truths that trump cut the interview short…’

— via Boing Boing

Supreme Court takes up a case, brought by Ted Cruz, that could legalize bribery

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‘The case concerns federal campaign finance laws, and, specifically, candidates’ ability to loan money to their campaigns. Candidates can do so — but in 2001, Congress enacted a provision that helps prevent such loans from becoming a vehicle to bribe candidates who go on to be elected officials. Under this provision, a campaign that receives such a loan may not repay more than $250,000 worth of the loan using funds raised after the election.

When a campaign receives a pre-election donation, that donation is typically subject to strict rules preventing it from being spent to enrich the candidate. After the election has occurred, however, donors who give money to help pay off a loan from the candidate effectively funnel that money straight to the candidate — who by that point could be a powerful elected official.

A lawmaker with sufficiently clever accountants, moreover, could effectively structure such a loan to allow lobbyists and other donors to help the lawmaker directly profit from it. According to the Los Angeles Times, for example, in 1998, Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) made a $150,000 loan to her campaign at 18 percent interest (though she later reduced that interest rate to 10 percent). As of 2009, Napolitano reportedly raised $221,780 to repay that loan — $158,000 of which was classified as “interest.”…’

— via Vox

RIP Magawa

 

Cambodia’s landmine-sniffing ‘hero’ rat dies in retirement

 

Unknown‘Cambodia’s landmine-sniffing rat Magawa, who found more than 100 landmines and explosives during a five-year career, has died at the age of 8, leaving a lasting legacy of saved lives in the Southeast Asian nation.

Magawa, who died over the weekend, was the most successful “HeroRAT” deployed by international charity APOPO, which uses African giant pouched rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis.

“Magawa was in good health and spent most of last week playing with his usual enthusiasm, but towards the weekend he started to slow down, napping more and showing less interest in food in his last days,” the non-profit organisation said in a statement.

Scarred by decades of civil war, Cambodia is one of the world’s most heavily landmined countries, with more than 1,000 sq km (386 sq miles) of land still contaminated….’

 

via Reuters

 

New proposal to prevent a stolen 2024 election by Trump quietly comes together

Imrs php’If Republicans succeed in blocking Democratic efforts to protect voting rights this week, as expected, the push to defend democracy will be anything but dead. That’s because another important proposal to prevent a stolen 2024 election is coming together in the Senate. 

This one may — may — prove harder for Republicans to oppose. At least it should prove harder. It would help prevent a rerun of Donald Trump’s 2020 effort — and the violence that followed — with minimal reforms that Republicans can’t manufacture objections to as easily.…’

— Greg Sargent via The Washington Post

The Next Wave of Extremist Cults Will Make QAnon Look Tame

Unknown’Cult-like extremist movements appear to provide an antidote to the potent mixture of isolation, uncertainty, changing narratives, and fear we have experienced during the pandemic by offering a skewed form of safety, stability, and certainty, along with a cohort of people who are just like us, who believe us and believe in us. As the activist David Sullivan—a man who devoted his life to infiltrating cults in order to extricate loved ones from their grip—pointed out, no one ever joins a cult: They join a community of people who see them. In 2022, this appeal of cults will only grow, and those that arise next year will make QAnon seem like the good old days.…’

— via WIRED

T-Mobile Blocks iCloud Private Relay for Customers in United States


Unknown‘It appears that carriers in the U.S. and aboard aren’t happy with iCloud Private Relay. The setting, released with iOS 15, likely interferes with surveillance of customers. A report from 9To5Mac says that T-Mobile has begun blocking the feature.

The change does not appear to be network-wide just yet, but rather it appears T-Mobile is in the process of rolling it out. This means that some users might still be able to use iCloud Private Relay when connected to their cellular network – at least for now.…’

— via The Mac Observer

 

If this matters to you T-Mobile customers out there from a privacy point of view, consider writing to customer assistance telling them you will switch to another carrier. Of course, there’s no telling when and if the other carriers will implement a similar practice.

How Soon Will COVID Be “Normal”?

Unknown‘On Thursday, six medical experts close to the White House published three op-eds in the Journal of the American Medical Association, arguing that the time had come for a new approach to the pandemic—one that sets aside the campaign for eradication in favor of living with the disease.

covid-19, one op-ed argued, should no longer even be tracked on its own but monitored together with other respiratory viruses, such as the flu—the sort of thing that might be done by epidemiologists rather than by all of us refreshing graphs on the Times’ Web site day and night.

The argument was particularly notable because the six experts had all been advisers to President Joe Biden’s covid-19 transition team. “A ‘new normal with COVID’ in January 2022 is not living without COVID-19,” Ezekiel Emanuel, of the University of Pennsylvania, Celine Gounder, of N.Y.U., and Michael Osterholm, of the University of Minnesota, wrote. But they believed that the long era of emergency—the one defined by a wartime feeling and frequent briefings from Anthony Fauci—should draw to a close….’

— via The New Yorker

Japan Is Working on a COVID-19 Vaccine That Offers Lifelong Immunity

Japan Is Working on a COVID-19 Vaccine That Offers Lifelong Immunity

‘As infections caused by the Omicron variant surge across the world, countries may soon face the difficult choice of either imposing strict lockdowns or letting the variant run through the population. Vaccinations are reducing the severity of the disease but are ineffective in halting the spread of the highly transmissible infection. As vaccine companies rush to develop variant-specific booster doses that might become the norm in this pandemic that will soon enter its third calendar year, the news of a single vaccine that can last a lifetime is highly welcome.

The vaccine that is being developed by Michinori Kohara and his team of researchers employs the most successful vaccine used in history, one against smallpox. The team uses a strain of the vaccinia virus that does not cause disease but replaced some of its protein components with those from the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

While recombining the spike protein with a different delivery mechanism is a common strategy used in vaccine design these days, Kohara is confident that his vaccine can not only deliver potent neutralizing antibodies with a single dose, they also induce strong cellular immunity that offers long term protection.

— via Interesting Engineering

What Police Get When They Get Your Phone

‘…Today, even small-town police departments have powerful tools that can easily access the most intimate information on your cell phone.  When Upturn researchers surveyed police departments on the mobile device forensic tools they were using on mobile phones, they discovered that the tools are being used by police departments large and small across America. There are few rules on what law enforcement can do with the data they download, and not very many policies on how the information should be stored, shared, or destroyed.

Recently Upturn researchers surveyed police departments on the mobile device forensic tools they were using on mobile phones, and discovered that the tools are being used by police departments large and small across America. There are far too few rules on what law enforcement can do with the data they download, and not very many policies on how the information should be stored, shared or destroyed…’

— via Electronic Frontier Foundation

The White Dots in This Image Are Not Stars or Galaxies. They’re Black Holes

Black hole sky map cover 1024

‘The image above may look like a fairly normal picture of the night sky, but what you’re looking at is a lot more special than just glittering stars. Each of those white dots is an active supermassive black hole.

And each of those black holes is devouring material at the heart of a galaxy millions of light-years away – that’s how they could be pinpointed at all.

Totalling 25,000 such dots, astronomers have created the most detailed map to date of black holes at low radio frequencies, an achievement that took years and a Europe-sized radio telescope to compile….’

— via Science Alert

New Year’s Traditions and Customs

New Year Sunrise

This is the annual update of my New Year post, a longstanding FmH tradition. Please let me know if you find any dead links:

I once ran across a January 1st Boston Globe article compiling folkloric beliefs about what to do, what to eat, etc. on New Year’s Day to bring good fortune for the year to come. I’ve regretted since — I usually think of it around once a year (grin) — not clipping out and saving the article. Especially since we’ve had children, I’m interested in enduring traditions that go beyond getting drunk [although some comment that this is a profound enactment of the interdigitation of chaos and order appropriate to the New Year’s celebration — FmH], watching the bowl games and making resolutions.

Marteniza-ball

A web search brought me this, less elaborate than what I recall from the Globe but to the same point. It is weighted toward eating traditions, which is odd because, unlike most other major holidays, the celebration of New Year’s in 21st century America does not seem to be centered at all around thinking about what we eat (except in the sense of the traditional weight-loss resolutions!) and certainly not around a festive meal. But…

Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason, it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year’s Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man.

“Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes “coming full circle,” completing a year’s cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune.

blackeye_peas_bowl_text
Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the new year by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another ‘good luck’ vegetable that is consumed on New Year’s Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year’s Day.”

English: Fireworks over Edinburgh on New Year'...

The further north one travels in the British Isles, the more the year-end festivities focus on New Year’s. The Scottish observance of Hogmanay has many elements of warming heart and hearth, welcoming strangers and making a good beginning:

“Three cornered biscuits called hogmanays are eaten. Other special foods are: wine, ginger cordial, cheese, bread, shortbread, oatcake, carol or carl cake, currant loaf, and a pastry called scones. After sunset people collect juniper and water to purify the home. Divining rituals are done according to the directions of the winds, which are assigned their own colors.
First Footing: The first person who comes to the door on midnight New Year’s Eve should be a dark-haired or dark-complected man with gifts for luck. Seeing a cat, dog, woman, red-head or beggar is unlucky. The person brings a gift (handsel) of coal or whiskey to ensure prosperity in the New Year. Mummer’s Plays are also performed. The actors called the White Boys of Yule are all dressed in white, except for one dressed as the devil in black. It is bad luck to engage in marriage proposals, break glass, spin flax, sweep or carry out rubbish on New Year’s Eve.”

Here’s why we clink our glasses when we drink our New Year’s toasts, no matter where we are. Of course, sometimes the midnight cacophony is louder than just clinking glassware, to create a ‘devil-chasing din’.

In Georgia, eat black eyed peas and turnip greens on New Year’s Day for luck and prosperity in the year to come, supposedly because they symbolize coppers and currency. Hoppin’ John, a concoction of peas, onion, bacon and rice, is also a southern New Year’s tradition, as is wearing yellow to find true love (in Peru and elsewhere in South America, yellow underwear, apparently!) or carrying silver for prosperity. In some instances, a dollar bill is thrown in with the other ingredients of the New Year’s meal to bring prosperity. In Greece, there is a traditional New Year’s Day sweetbread with a silver coin baked into it. All guests get a slice of the bread and whoever receives the slice with the coin is destined for good fortune for the year. At Italian tables, lentils, oranges and olives are served. The lentils, looking like coins, will bring prosperity; the oranges are for love; and the olives, symbolic of the wealth of the land, represent good fortune for the year to come.

A New Year’s meal in Norway also includes dried cod, “lutefisk.” The Pennsylvania Dutch make sure to include sauerkraut in their holiday meal, also for prosperity.

In Spain, you would cram twelve grapes in your mouth at midnight, one each time the clock chimed, for good luck for the twelve months to come. (If any of the grapes happens to be sour, the corresponding month will not be one of your most fortunate in the coming year.) The U. S. version of this custom, for some reason, involves standing on a chair as you pop the grapes. In Denmark, jumping off a chair at the stroke of midnight signifies leaping into the New Year.
In Rio,

The crescent-shaped Copacabana beach… is the scene of an unusual New Year’s Eve ritual: mass public blessings by the mother-saints of the Macumba and Candomble sects. More than 1 million people gather to watch colorful fireworks displays before plunging into the ocean at midnight after receiving the blessing from the mother-saints, who set up mini-temples on the beach.

When taking the plunge, revelers are supposed to jump over seven waves, one for each day of the week.

This is all meant to honor Lamanjá, known as the “Mother of Waters” or “Goddess of the Sea.” Lamanjá protects fishermen and survivors of shipwrecks. Believers also like to throw rice, jewelry and other gifts into the water, or float them out into the sea in intimately crafted miniature boats, to please Lamanjá in the new year.

In many northern hemisphere cities near bodies of water, people also take a New Year’s Day plunge into the water, although of course it is an icy one! The Coney Island Polar Bears Club in New York is the oldest cold-water swimming club in the United States. They have had groups of people enter the chilly surf since 1903.

Ecuadorian families make scarecrows stuffed with newspaper and firecrackers and place them outside their homes. The dummies represent misfortunes of the prior year, which are then burned in effigy at the stroke of midnight to forget the old year. Bolivian families make beautiful little wood or straw dolls to hang outside their homes on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck.

1cdd196c97bc4886c7d0b3a9c1b3dd97In China, homes are cleaned spotless to appease the Kitchen God, and papercuttings of red paper are hung in the windows to scare away evil spirits who might enter the house and bring misfortune. Large papier mache dragon heads with long fabric bodies are maneuvered through the streets during the Dragon Dance festival, and families open their front doors to let the dragon bring good luck into their homes.

The Indian Diwali, or Dipawali, festival, welcoming in the autumnal season, also involves attracting good fortune with lights. Children make small clay lamps, dipas, thousands of which might adorn a given home. In Thailand, one pours fragrant water over the hands of elders on New Year’s Day to show them respect.

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Elsewhere:

  • a stack of pancakes for the New Year’s breakfast in France.
  • banging on friends’ doors in Denmark to “smash in” the New Year, where it is also a good sign to find your doorstep heaped with broken dishes on New Year’s morning. Old dishes are saved all years to throw at your friends’ homes on New Year’s Eve. The more broken pieces you have, the greater the number of new friends you will have in the forthcoming twelve months.
  • going in the front door and out the back door at midnight in Ireland.
  • making sure the First Footer, the first person through your door in the New Year in Scotland, is a tall dark haired visitor.
  • water out the window at midnight in Puerto Rico rids the home of evil spirits.
  • cleanse your soul in Japan at the New Year by listening to a gong tolling 108 times, one for every sin
  • it is Swiss good luck to let a drop of cream fall on the floor on New Year’s Day.
  • Belgian farmers wish their animals a Happy New Year for blessings.
  • In Germany and Austria, lead pouring” (das Bleigießen) is an old divining practice using molten lead like tea leaves. A small amount of lead is melted in a tablespoon (by holding a flame under the spoon) and then poured into a bowl or bucket of water. The resulting pattern is interpreted to predict the coming year. For instance, if the lead forms a ball (der Ball), that means luck will roll your way. The shape of an anchor (der Anker) means help in need. But a cross (das Kreuz) signifies death. This is also a practice in parts of Finland, apparently.
  • El Salvadoreans crack an egg in a glass at midnight and leave it on the windowsill overnight; whatever figure it has made in the morning is indicative of one’s fortune for the year.
  • Some Italians like to take part in throwing pots, pans, and old furniture from their windows when the clock strikes midnight. This is done as a way for residents to rid of the old and welcome in the new. It also allows them to let go of negativity. This custom is also practiced in parts of South Africa, the Houston Press adds.
  • In Colombia, walk around with an empty suitcase on New Year’s Day for a year full of travel.
  • In the Philippines, all the lights in the house are turned on at midnight, and previously opened windows, doors and cabinets throughout the house are suddenly slammed shut, to ward off evil spirits for the new year.
  • In Russia a wish is written down on a piece of paper. It is burned and the ash dissolved in a glass of champagne, which should be downed before 12:01 am if the wish is to come true.
  • aptopix-romania-bear-ritual-89ecd02b044cc9131Romanians celebrate the new year by wearing bear costumes and dancing around to ward off evil
  • In Turkey, pomegranates are thrown down from the balconies at midnight for good luck.

It’s a bit bizarre when you think about it. A short British cabaret sketch from the 1920s has become a German New Year’s tradition. Yet, although The 90th Birthday or Dinner for One is a famous cult classic in Germany and several other European countries, it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, including Britain, its birthplace.” (Watch on Youtube, 11 min.)

So if the Germans watch British video, what do you watch in Britain? A number of sources have suggested that it is Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, “even though it’s awful and everyone hates it.

On a related theme, from earlier in the same week, here are some of the more bizarre Christmas rituals from around the world. 

Some history; documentation of observance of the new year dates back at least 4000 years to the Babylonians, who also made the first new year’s resolutions (reportedly voews to return borrowed farm equipment were very popular), although their holiday was observed at the vernal equinox. The Babylonian festivities lasted eleven days, each day with its own particular mode of celebration. The traditional Persian Norouz festival of spring continues to be considered the advent of the new year among Persians, Kurds and other peoples throughout Central Asia, and dates back at least 3000 years, deeply rooted in Zooastrian traditions.Modern Bahá’í’s celebrate Norouz (”Naw Ruz”) as the end of a Nineteen Day Fast. Rosh Hashanah (”head of the year”), the Jewish New Year, the first day of the lunar month of Tishri, falls between September and early October. Muslim New Year is the first day of Muharram, and Chinese New Year falls between Jan. 10th and Feb. 19th of the Gregorian calendar.

The classical Roman New Year’s celebration was also in the spring although the calendar went out of synchrony with the sun. January 1st became the first day of the year by proclamation of the Roman Senate in 153 BC, reinforced even more strongly when Julius Caesar established what came to be known as the Julian calendar in 46 BC. The early Christian Church condemned new year’s festivities as pagan but created parallel festivities concurrently. New Year’s Day is still observed as the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision in some denominations. Church opposition to a new year’s observance reasserted itself during the Middle Ages, and Western nations have only celebrated January 1 as a holidy for about the last 400 years. The custom of New Year’s gift exchange among Druidic pagans in 7th century Flanders was deplored by Saint Eligius, who warned them, “[Do not] make vetulas, [little figures of the Old Woman], little deer or iotticos or set tables [for the house-elf] at night or exchange New Year gifts or supply superfluous drinks [another Yule custom].” (Wikipedia)

The tradition of the New Year’s Baby signifying the new year began with the Greek tradition of parading a baby in a basket during the Dionysian rites celebrating the annual rebirth of that god as a symbol of fertility. The baby was also a symbol of rebirth among early Egyptians. Again, the Church was forced to modify its denunciation of the practice as pagan because of the popularity of the rebirth symbolism, finally allowing its members to cellebrate the new year with a baby although assimilating it to a celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus. The addition of Father Time (the “Old Year”) wearing a sash across his chest with the previous year on it, and the banner carried or worn by the New Year’s Baby, immigrated from Germany. Interestingly, January 1st is not a legal holiday in Israel, officially because of its historic origins as a Christian feast day.

Auld Lang Syne (literally ‘old long ago’ in the Scottish dialect) is sung or played at the stroke of midnight throughout the English-speaking world (and then there is George Harrison’s “Ring Out the Old”). Versions of the song have been part of the New Year’s festivities since the 17th century but Robert Burns was inspired to compose a modern rendition, which was published after his death in 1796. (It took Guy Lombardo, however, to make it popular…)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
And here’s a hand, my trusty friend
And gie’s a hand o’ thine
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

Here’s how to wish someone a Happy New Year around the world:

  • Arabic: Kul ‘aam u antum salimoun
  • Brazilian: Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo means “Good Parties and Happy New Year”
  • Chinese: Chu Shen Tan Xin Nian Kuai Le (thanks, Jeff)
  • Czechoslavakia: Scastny Novy Rok
  • Dutch: Gullukkig Niuw Jaar
  • Finnish: Onnellista Uutta Vuotta
  • French: Bonne Annee
  • German: Prosit Neujahr
  • Greek: Eftecheezmaenos o Kaenooryos hronos
  • Hebrew: L’Shannah Tovah Tikatevu
  • Hindi: Niya Saa Moobaarak
  • Irish (Gaelic): Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit
  • Italian: Buon Capodanno
  • Khmer: Sua Sdei tfnam tmei
  • Laotian: Sabai dee pee mai
  • Polish: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
  • Portuguese: Feliz Ano Novo
  • Russian: S Novim Godom
  • Serbo-Croatian: Scecna nova godina
  • Spanish: Feliz Ano Nuevo
  • Swedish: Ha ett gott nytt år
  • Turkish: Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
  • Vietnamese: Cung-Chuc Tan-Xuan

[If you are a native speaker, please feel free to offer any corrections or additions!]

Which of these customs appeal to you? Are they done in your family, or will you try to adopt any of them? However you’re going to celebrate, my warmest wishes for the year to come… and eat hearty!

[thanks to Bruce Umbaugh (here or here) for original assistance]

Helping make an effective Covid exposure warning network

With high Omicron transmissibility, exposure alerts assume a higher priority IMHO. If you are an iPhone user (I don’t know about other platforms) don’t forget that you can turn on the built-in exposure alert system. And if you turn Covid-positive, it will serve others well if you remember to indicate it in the iPhone’s exposure monitoring system. you’ll find it in the Settings app under the Exposure Notifications section.