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Study: Dogs can recognize different languages and nonsense words

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‘”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

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

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‘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

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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

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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

 

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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

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‘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

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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.

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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]

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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.

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Mari Lwyd

‘Around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Welsh families might find themselves challenged by a decorated horse (or similar animal) skull waiting for them on their doorstep. Adorned in colorful ribbons and bells, the equine image of death has an especially ghostly appearance thanks to the white sheet draped over the person carrying it. As revelers sing and parade this head-on-a-stick around the neighborhood, doors open to meet the morbid white horse in battle, specifically, a battle of wits through poetry. This is Mari Lwyd, a midwinter, pagan tradition whereby celebrants earn food and drink only after dominating a poetry slam fronted by a skeletal face….’

via Gastro Obscura

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Sea spray could be dousing you in toxic “forever chemicals” — study

 

3c38a2c9 c184 4483 8eda 46554b2c4376 gettyimages 497312663 jpg‘A study published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology finds that sea spray can transport chemicals, known as PFAAs, into your body via airborne particles. These chemicals are of “high global concern” to humans. The findings have serious implications for understanding how these toxic chemicals make their way into the atmosphere and affect human health, especially for coastal communities….

Forever chemicals, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are toxic chemicals that don’t break down as quickly as other compounds, lingering for years in the atmosphere, environment, and even human blood.

“All PFAS are synthetic and will never degrade in the environment, and we only have information on the toxic effects of a few substances in the class,” the scientists explain…’

— via Inverse

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And Now for the Good News About Omicron

Dcb68fd0f04aef9d5571f03898e37338b6 omicron 2x rhorizontal w700 jpg

‘The first piece of good news is that this wave might be shorter lived than those of other variants. Every country is different, of course, with different population structures and different levels of immunity, both “natural” and from vaccination. But in South Africa, it appears that, while test positivity is still growing throughout the country, in the Omicron epicenter of Guateng the wave may be peaking already, with cases and hospital admissions both taking a visible turn, barely three weeks since the variant was first publicly announced and just five weeks since the first likely case. …

The second piece of good news is that as the wave progresses in South Africa, the cases continue to appear mild. …

And the third piece of good news is that we now have a possible biological explanation for reduced severity, which gives the observed preliminary data another layer of plausibility. That comes from research by the University of Hong Kong, which finds that the new variant is much more efficient in reproducing in the upper respiratory tract, where you can cough and sneeze it out onto others, and much less efficient in the lungs, where it will be most dangerous to the infected host….’

— via New York Mag

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AI argues for and against itself in Oxford Union debate

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‘The Oxford Union has heard from many great debaters over the years, but this week added an artificial intelligence engine to its distinguished speakers.
The AI argued that the only way to stop such tech becoming too powerful is to have “no AI at all”.
But it also argued the best option could be to embed it “into our brains as a conscious AI”.
The experiment was designed to ignite conversation on the ethics of the technology….’

— via BBC News

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Judge rejects Purdue Pharma’s sweeping opioid settlement

 

1000‘A federal judge rejected OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement of thousands of lawsuits over the opioid epidemic Thursday because of a provision that would protect members of the Sackler family from facing litigation of their own. U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in New York found that federal bankruptcy law does not give the bankruptcy judge who had accepted the plan the authority to grant that kind of release for people who are not declaring bankruptcy themselves….’

— via AP News

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Umami Exists and MSG is its Messenger

‘Umami’s not what you think it is. It’s translated as “savoriness”, but that’s usually misinterpreted as a kind of general descriptor, the way food could be called “filling” or “chewy”. It’s also got a sense of being this subtle and higher-order property of good cooking, brought to us from the mysterious East.
Umami is a molecule. Well, actually a class of molecules that hit mGluR1 receptors (among others) in your mouth so that you get a meaty, savory taste. And it’s not only appreciated by the discerning Japanese, but also by the somewhat less discerning hamsters.[1] It’s a basic taste in the same way the other four are: The particular ingredient has been identified in food and the taste receptor has been identified in your mouth. Some don’t believe in umami, but you still experience it unless you are missing the receptors for some reason, which would constitute a minor disability.
The most significant umami compounds are glutamates, which are the salts of glutamic acid, and in practically everything you enjoy as savory. Most cultures have created a glutamate-rich cooking ingredient that seems absolutely disgusting without an additional “this has glutamates” explanation. These include decomposing fish (anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce), decomposing beans (soy sauce, miso), decomposing milk (cheese), and leftover beer-goo….’

— Jehan via Atoms vs Bits

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Don’t strip the Sackler name from museums: a visceral reminder of human greed

The Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

‘A moment of silence, so we can all appreciate how gracious the Sackler family is. Yes, the family business, Purdue Pharma, is infamous for aggressively marketing the prescription painkiller OxyContin and aiding an opioid epidemic that has killed half a million Americans. And it’s true that nobody in the family has offered an explicit apology for their role in this crisis or suffered meaningful consequences for their actions: the Sacklers are still billionaires and have even won immunity from lawsuits. But that doesn’t mean we should think badly of them. You see, the family has been terribly kind and allowed New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to remove the Sackler name from its galleries. In a statement last week, the Met praised the Sacklers for “this gracious gesture” and gushed about the family’s generous support. There was no mention of the human suffering that precipitated the removal. New York’s Met museum to remove Sackler family name from its galleries Read more

The Met cutting public ties with the Sacklers – the result of a long direct action campaign by the artist Nan Goldin – has been widely celebrated. There’s an expectation that other public institutions will now follow suit. But I’m not sure erasing the family name from museums is right. I was at Tate Britain last week, and seeing the Sackler name had a visceral impact on me: it was more thought-provoking than a lot of the art.

Keep the name in museums, I say. Just add a prominent plaque explaining exactly how the family earned the money it donated. Explain how the chronic underfunding of the arts means that cultural institutes are forced to suck up to dodgy philanthropists. Let everyone who sees the name leave with the realisation that greed is a hell of a drug…’

— by Arwa Mahdawi via The Guardian

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Why are we so unsettled by deepfakes?

‘Two aspects are involved in our averse reaction to deepfakes: the uncanny feeling of witnessing something abnormal, and the unsettling feeling of being deceived by one’s own eyes.

This first aspect concerns the uneasiness we feel in noticing that something is not ‘quite right’. There is something creepy about deepfakes that represent people in ways that are slightly ‘off’. Early deepfake videos contained unnatural eye-blinking patterns, for example, which viewers would not consciously notice but nonetheless signalled that something strange was going on. As deepfake technology improves and footage looks and sounds more like authentic material, this aspect of eeriness disappears.

But another emerges: can we really trust what we’re watching?

This is the other side of the uneasy feeling that deepfakes arouse, which concerns footage that is too realistic-looking. Here deepfakes cause a sense of uneasiness because they make us distrust what we see with our own eyes. While trust in the reliability of video and images has already been undermined with the ascent of Photoshop and other forms of manipulation, the potential of deepfake technology to continuously improve the convincingness of inauthentic recordings through machine learning deepens the concern over deception.

Not only can deepfake technology realistically represent people’s image and voice, it also allows for impersonation in real time. We can’t assume that the person we see or hear in digital footage is who we assume them to be, even if we seem to be interacting with them….’

via Psyche

‘A deepfake website that generates “nude” images of women using artificial intelligence is spreading its murky tentacles across the web—spawning look-alike services through partner agreements and recruiting new users through a referral system. The expansion efforts have allowed the service to proliferate despite bans placed on its payment infrastructure. The website, which WIRED is not naming to limit its amplification, has existed since last year. It digitally “removes” clothing from non-nude photos to create nonconsensual pornographic deepfakes. Researchers say its output is “hyper-realistic,” and unlike similar abusive platforms, it can generate pornographic images even when the person in the original photo is fully clothed. Previously, similar technologies have only worked with partially clothed photographs…’

— via WIRED

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Take care of yourself, it’s now an industry

‘A friend often tells me I’m bad at self-care. When I ask him what he means, he usually responds with some version of “Well, you know.” But really, I don’t know what self-care is, what it means to be bad at it, or even why I should be good at it. Being told I’m bad at self-care usually feels like being told I’m bad at a job I didn’t apply for and that I’m not even paid for….’

via The Hedgehog Review

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The lost art of listening

Quot about listening quot vaclav kindl‘Although we are hardwired for grammar;cognitively mapped to construct, comprehend, and interpret meanings that arise from the soundscapes of language, culture and history; and can distinguish sound patterns, dissonances, silences, and noises in the ether,the brain listens only to what the mind is prepared to hear.

In our current historical conjuncture, the mind is not prepared nor is it being prepared to hear the pangs of hunger in the discourse of poverty; the terrorizing memories of male violence and sexual assault from the mother-tongue of surviving women; the anxieties of dis-ease and economic insecurity in the angry and disillusioned voices of youth; the brutality of homelessness in the quiet drawings of children who sleep in cars and shelters; the academic discourse of white supremacy deeply embedded within the sterilized language of meritocracy; the communality of working-class culture splattered in blood, sweat, and country; the groan of disability pushing against the structural forces of ableism; the tongue-tying of identity within sequestered spaces of difference; the diverse voices of radical love driving the outrage against fascist machineries of death; the intubated wheezing of dying democracies; the hushed courage of LGBTQ+ people navigating the heteronormative and cis-gendered architecture of everyday life; and the incessant white noise of power burying the refrain of negative freedom in the hook of capitalist opportunity. That which the mind is not prepared to hear negates our capacity to listen and understand, to learn from those most in need, and to be mindful, aesthetically sensitive, and critically awake to the radical possibilities that arise out of deep and meaningful conversation…’

— by Eric Weiner via 3 Quarks Daily

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trump’s next coup has already begun

‘Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect.

The prospect of this democratic collapse is not remote. People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already.

Who or what will safeguard our constitutional order is not apparent today. It is not even apparent who will try. Democrats, big and small D, are not behaving as if they believe the threat is real. Some of them, including President Joe Biden, have taken passing rhetorical notice, but their attention wanders. They are making a grievous mistake.

“The democratic emergency is already here,” Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at UC Irvine, told me in late October. Hasen prides himself on a judicious temperament. Only a year ago he was cautioning me against hyperbole. Now he speaks matter-of-factly about the death of our body politic. “We face a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024,” he said, “but urgent action is not happening.”

For more than a year now, with tacit and explicit support from their party’s national leaders, state Republican operatives have been building an apparatus of election theft. Elected officials in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states have studied Donald Trump’s crusade to overturn the 2020 election. They have noted the points of failure and have taken concrete steps to avoid failure next time. Some of them have rewritten statutes to seize partisan control of decisions about which ballots to count and which to discard, which results to certify and which to reject. They are driving out or stripping power from election officials who refused to go along with the plot last November, aiming to replace them with exponents of the Big Lie. They are fine-tuning a legal argument that purports to allow state legislators to override the choice of the voters.

By way of foundation for all the rest, Trump and his party have convinced a dauntingly large number of Americans that the essential workings of democracy are corrupt, that made-up claims of fraud are true, that only cheating can thwart their victory at the polls, that tyranny has usurped their government, and that violence is a legitimate response.

Any Republican might benefit from these machinations, but let’s not pretend there’s any suspense. Unless biology intercedes, Donald Trump will seek and win the Republican nomination for president in 2024. The party is in his thrall. No opponent can break it and few will try. Neither will a setback outside politics—indictment, say, or a disastrous turn in business—prevent Trump from running. If anything, it will redouble his will to power…’

— Barton Gellman via The Atlantic

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What’s Really Behind Global Vaccine Hesitancy

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‘The U.S. should not blame South Africa—or any other nation—for vaccine hesitancy, or stop sending vaccines to places that need them. Vaccine access is crucial. But vaccine hesitancy is an urgent problem, and a global one. New variants can emerge wherever populations remain unvaccinated. (Indeed, it’s possible that Omicron emerged elsewhere and was merely detected in South Africa, which has an advanced genomic-sequencing operation.) “If we had had everybody immunized in the world who is over the age of 18 with at least one dose of COVID vaccine, Omicron might not have happened,” Noni MacDonald, a vaccinologist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, told me. Some surveys suggest that vaccine hesitancy is actually higher in rich countries than in poor ones, so the virus is just as likely to evolve into some dreadful new form in an unvaccinated American’s body as in a Congolese or Russian person’s.

If policy makers want to limit the damage that Omicron and future variants do, they’ll have to better understand why people reject vaccines. Something as complex as vaccine hesitancy is bound to have many causes, but research suggests that one fundamental instinct drives it: A lack of trust. Getting people to overcome their hesitancy will require restoring their trust in science, their leaders, and, quite possibly, one another. The crisis of vaccine hesitancy and the crisis of cratering trust in institutions are one and the same….’

— via The Atlantic

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Der Lauf der Dinge

UntitledImageHave you got a spare half hour or so for a meditative contemplation of ‘the way things go’?

It starts out like so many other Rube Goldbergish assemblages you’ve seen on Youtube but becomes chemical and pyrotechnic. Solids, liquids and gases strung together in mundane and inventive ways. Very much a metaphor for the mix of intended and unintended consequences, of the predictable and the surprising, that drives the world. Oh, and lots of car tires.

— via Peter Fischli and David Weiss – YouTube

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Pro-Trump counties now have far higher COVID death rates

‘Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those who live in areas that went for now-President Biden. That’s according to a new analysis by NPR that examines how political polarization and misinformation are driving a significant share of the deaths in the pandemic….’

— Geoff Brumfiel via NPR

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Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict May Inspire Violence: Experts

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‘The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse is emboldening far-right groups across the extremist spectrum, and experts are warning it may inspire more racially motivated violence in the future….’

— via Buzzfeed

 

Related:

‘As many Americans feared that freeing Kyle Rittenhouse seemed to legitimize political violence, Republicans competed for the honor of offering him a job on Capitol Hill….’

— via The Intercept

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Beaches littered with ‘dangerous’ rocks and pebbles

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‘The impostor rocks are missed daily by those walking along the shores as it was revealed that burnt plastic is mimicking the appearance of pebbles and stones.

The “fake” plastic pebbles are being washed up from the sea on a daily basis, and being missed by litter pickers due to their pebble like appearance, NorthWalesLive reports.

“It’s only when you pick them up, and feel how light they are, that you realise they are not stones at all,” said Hilary Rowlands, a founding member of Tywyn Beach Guardians in Gwynedd.

Known as pyroplastics, the “stones” are thought to form when pieces of plastic are melted or burnt and thrown into the sea, where they are slowly weathered grey and smooth as they float on long ocean voyages.

Hilary has also found variants, termed plastiglomerates, which are created when burnt plastic fuses with rock, commonly when people light fires on beaches.

“There’s not a single beach I’ve combed where I haven’t come across them,” she said.

“Sometimes they are covered in oil or impregnated with the toxins that come from burning plastic.

“It’s all dangerous, both to the environment and the marine life.

“The longer-term concern is that they will break down into microplastics and threaten marine food chains.”…’

— via Daily Star

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Covid-19’s “patient zero” was, indeed, a woman who sold seafood, according to new Science report

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‘Covid-19’s patient zero was not somebody who contracted the virus from a Wuhan lab, and was not an accountant from another city altogether, as many have theorized, according to a US scientist who has extensively researched the coronavirus’ origins. Patient zero was, after all, a woman who sold seafood at a Wuhan live-animal market.

Michael Worobey, a virologist and Professor at University of Arizona, who in May seriously considered the theory that the virus leaked from a Wuhan lab, says in a new Science report, titled “Dissecting the Early Covid-19 Cases in Wuhan,” that a corrected timeline of the earliest Covid patients “provides strong evidence of a live-animal market origin of the pandemic.”…’

— via Boing Boing

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Humans Are On Track to Export Our Environmental Problems to Space

‘After Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet, blasted off to the outer reaches of Earth’s orbit amid several global crises, he blithely told reporters that “we can move all heavy industry and all polluting industry off of Earth and operate it in space.”

Unless there is an unfathomable technological leap, cowboy hat-clad Bezos’ idea of offloading all of humanity’s industries to space is not going to happen anytime soon. But as billionaires like Bezos look to harness the riches beyond Earth’s atmosphere, they’re likely to export our environmental problems as well…’

— Paola Rosa-Aquino via WIRED

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Better call your grandparents’ flip phones now, because they may soon stop ringing.

‘Support for 3G, the 20-year-old wireless network standard, is ending in the US next year, when the major wireless carriers are planning to phase out service. That means many Trac phones, older Kindles, early iPads, and classic Chromebooks—any device operating on 3G—simply won’t be able to connect to cellular data networks anymore. The Wi-Fi radios on those devices will still work, but their mobile data capabilities are going kaput.

This so-called 3G sunset will come to pass at different times for different wireless providers. AT&T says it’s shutting down 3G services in February 2022. T-Mobile recently announced it would extend services to March 31 of next year, but not beyond. Verizon plans to pull the plug in December 2022. Carriers are shutting down 3G service in order to make way for the newer pieces of infrastructure that power the speedier 4G LTE and 5G networks currently expanding across the country…’

— via WIRED

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Talk with the Hand! Time to Return to the Ancient Art of Chirology

‘I began to watch the hands of my students, friends, and children when they were engaged in masked conversation, and I observed that the most effective communicators delivered the most histrionic performances. They threw their hands up to signify exaltation and despair; they thrust their hands forward in supplication; they threw their hands down at their sides in grief and resignation; they cut their hands across the air in defiance. You might miss a few muffled words, but you couldn’t miss the point of what they were saying. I had known people with very expressive digits before. Now, though, I saw that the pandemic had given new urgency to the language of the hand….’

via The Hedgehog Review

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Everything You Thought You Knew About ‘Hobo Code’ Is Wrong

‘…(T)he Historic Graffiti Society has found no concrete evidence that hobo code existed. Wray says decades-old claims in newspaper articles are unsubstantiated. The symbols said to be used by hoboes are often contradictory. And while there are photographs of hobo signs taken in the early 1900s, Wray adds, those were staged by newspapers. “Modern Americans are convinced that hobo signs are authentic history, but the evidence against it definitely outweighs the evidence for it,” Wray says.

— via Atlas Obscura

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“How do you feel?”

How do you feel? Dealing with emotions in business - The Business JournalsInterview with Edgar Gerrard Hughes, the author of new book, The Book of Emotions. (known as How Do You Feel? in the US) in The Browser.

  • hard to define precisely what emotions are
  • the concept, as a way of talking about feelings, is a relatively recent (19th C) invention.
  • how are they different from “passions”, “sentiments”, moral or epistemological inclinations, vestiges of our animal nature?
  • widely varying typologies of emotions exist
  • Darwin: emotions are vestigial, not that useful
  • Charles Le Brun: ‘…believed that contorting your face into these different shapes was a way of orienting yourself towards God’
  • emotional expression as a better way of communicating, augmenting or overcoming the limitations of language?

Lost and found emotions, e.g.:

  • compersion, ‘the opposite of jealosy’. A new idea arising from polyamorous communities, joy rather than dismay on your romantic or sexual partner’s intimacy with another
  • solastalgia, preemptive nostalgia for anticipated loss
  • acedia:
    ‘ …a feeling that fifth century monks in North Africa used to have where they’d be sitting in their cells—meditating and praying all day long—but then a complete languor and listlessness would come over them all of a sudden in the afternoons. They’d have no commitment to any sort of spiritual discipline, just this overwhelming urge to give up on everything. In some ways, it’s an afternoon slump, but with a very intense spiritual crisis attached.’
  • gruntled (the opposite of disgruntled) is one of several lost positive emotions. How about ‘mayed‘, the converse of ‘dismayed‘? or ‘ruthful‘ or ‘reckful‘? Why do we tend to keep the bad ones and lose the good ones?

The book does not advance a particular thesis. Rather it is a patchwork quilt reflective of our confusion about emotions. Questions arise:

  • Does what we feel depend on whether we have a word for it (maybe encouraging people to interpret what they are feeling through a specific lens)?
  • Are emotions culturally relative or universal human experiences?
  • Do specific emotions relate to specific neurobiological events or proesses in the brain?
  • …or in the body? Variety as to where in the body emotions are experienced? 19th C psychologist and philosopher William James felt that ‘bodily movements were the emotions themselves.’ Lots of debate about whether the emotions can be separated from bodily sensations. Recently, there is a thought that barely perceptible awareness of internal feelings — referred to as interocepts — form the basis of emotional experiences; sometimes we are not aware of these sensations until deliberately pointed toward them. For instance, there is a suggestion that those who more readily feel their heartbeat — or suppress the awareness less — are more susceptible to anxiety. In Eastern spiritual practices, tuning in to bodily experiences helps stabilize emotional fluctuation.
  • To what extent is an emotion embedded in an interpersonal relationship rather than an individual?
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What to Do If You’re Ever Trapped in a Surging Crowd, Like in Astroworld

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‘When done right, being part of a large crowd can be an invigorating experience. But what about when a crowd begins to feel dangerous? How can you tell when a crowd is too dense? Is there any way to stay safe against a mass of bodies pushing against you?

Although the thought of getting trapped in a large crowd can seem helpless, there are tips to protect yourself as an individual in this situation. In 2019, we spoke to crowd expert Paul Wertheimer about how to survive a human stampede. In light of the recent tragedy, here are additional tips to staying safe in a large crowd….’

— via Lifehacker

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The New Cold War

‘Today, China and the United States are locked in what can only be called a new cold war—an intense security competition that touches on every dimension of their relationship. This rivalry will test U.S. policymakers more than the original Cold War did, as China is likely to be a more powerful competitor than the Soviet Union was in its prime. And this cold war is more likely to turn hot….’

— By John J. Mearsheimer
November/December 2021 via Foreign Affairs

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Happy Guy Fawkes Day

 

300px Gunpowder plot

“Don’t you remember the 5th of November

Is gunpowder treason and plot?

I don’t see the reason why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot

A stick and a stake, for Queen Victoria’s Sake

I pray master give us a faggit

If you dont give us one well take two

The better for us and the worse for you”

UnknownTomorrow is Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night or Gunpowder Night), the anniversary of the ambitious but abortive Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a failed attempt by a group of persecuted English Catholics to assassinate Anglican King James I of England and. VI of Scotland in order to replace him with a Catholic. Guy Fawkes, who was left in charge of the gunpowder placed underneath the House of Lords, was discovered and arrested and the plot unmasked. Fawkes, along with other surviving conspirators, was executed in January 1606 (hung, drawn and quartered).

A law establishing the anniversary of the thwarted plot as a day of thanksgiving was quickly passed and became the annual occasion for anti-Catholic fervor, with the ringing of church bells and the lighting of bonfires, to the point of forgetting the deliverance of the monarch. “Although Guy Fawkes’ actions have been considered acts of terrorism by many people, cynical Britons… sometimes joke that he was the only man to go to Parliament with honourable intentions.”

Fun fact: it seems that the term Guy (which now simply refers to a man or even more broadly a person) became a pejorative to describe someone grotesque because of the conception of Guy Fawkes’ villainy. 

Celebrations of Guy Fawkes Day persist through the British Isles and become occasions for revelling in the burning of effigies (“guys”) of the hate figures of the day alongside Fawkes.The ritual has included Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Boris Johnson, donald trump, and disgraced Hollywood produced Harvey Weinstein among others. 

161105 donald trump effigy mn 1800The annual festival has become much more about festive fun than solemn remembrance:

“One important aspect of the celebration is certainly venting! Shouting into the nights air is a wonderful release and an important part of the celebration through the centuries. There is something magic and healing about noise — cannons, bells and chants. Divide the group and assign each a different chant. Let them compete for noise and drama. Great fun. The chants are important aspects of freedom of expression and freedom to hold one’s own beliefs. Like much of that which is pure celebration chants need not be considered incantations or wishes of ill will at all times. Taken with the rest of celebration they contribute to a much more abstract whole where fun is the primary message for most.”

UnknownSome say that the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night helped shape the modern tradition of trick or treating, although it has ancient pre-Christian origins. Some American colonists celebrated Guy Fawkes Day and those fleeing the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s helped popularize Hallowe’en. By the 19th century, British children wearing masks and carrying effigies of Fawkes were roaming the streets on the evening of November 5 asking for “a penny for the Guy,” with any money gathered being used to buy fireworks — the explosives never used by the plotters —  to be set off while the Guy was immolated on the bonfire. 

UnknownMany feel that Guy Fawkes (Bonfire Night) has a particularly Pagan feel. As with Hallowe’en, it may be no accident that Guy Fawkes Day coincides with the Celtic festival of Samhain, one of the moon festivals featuring large bonfires. Some think of Guy Fawkes Night as a sort of detached Samhain celebration and the effigies of Guy Fawkes burned on the bonfires compare with the diabolical images associated with Samhain or Hallowe’en. But, as one fan says, “Guy Fawkes Night has never sold out to Hallmark… Halloween is all about fakery – makeup, facepaint, costumes, imitation blood. Fireworks Night is about very real, very powerful, very hot flames.” 

V for vendettax

But the folklore of the holiday does continue to morph. We don’t celebrate the thwarting of the plot because we are happy with our oppressive rulers, and Guy Fawkes has gone from being reviled as a villain to revered as a hero. His reputation has gone from that of a religious extremist to one of a populist underdog, especially after Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta and its 2005 film adaptation, in which the masked knife-wielding V, who also plots to bomb the Houses of Parliament, lashes out against the fascist state in a dystopian future Britain. (It was Moore’s collaborator David Lloyd who developed the idea of dressing V as Guy Fawkes.) Since then, protestors have donned V’s mask as an all-purpose badge of rebellion in anti-government demonstrations and the anti-capitalist movement, particularly Occupy. The hacktivist group Anonymous has adopted the Guy Fawkes mask as their symbol. In 2011, it was the top-selling mask on Amazon and has been seen throughout the ongoing Hong Kong protests against Chinese repression. David Lloyd commented, “The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny – and I’m happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way.”

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Here is a collection of verse in celebration of Guy Fawkes Day. You are also welcome to don your masks, listen for some fireworks, scan the horizon from a high place for bonfires dedicated to smashing the state, or free yourself from your unwanted burdens by watching them go up in flames. 

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People with psychosis: healing by rebuilding life stories

‘When asked to tell their life stories, people with schizophrenia tend to tell unusual ones. First, the basic chronology of the life story is shifted. Most people experience a ‘reminiscence bump’ in early adulthood, with many personally significant and relatively well-remembered events occurring between ages 15 to 30 (and especially between ages 20 and 24).

For instance, we might form memories of graduating college, getting a first job, or starting or ending significant romantic relationships. These events become centrepieces of our life stories, defining who we are for decades to come.

However, schizophrenia causes profound disruptions during these same years. People diagnosed with schizophrenia often become unable to care for themselves, lose valued roles and relationships, and undergo treatment. These experiences seem to curtail the reminiscence bump: rates of personally significant memories might steadily increase in the teenage years, then drop sharply following a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

People living with schizophrenia also tend to include unusual kinds of experiences in their life stories, focusing on psychotic episodes, hospitalisations and traumatic events. Their life stories might even include vivid, emotionally intense experiences of psychotic symptoms themselves – for instance, vivid memories of being spied on, conspired against or chosen by God to save the world.

In short, people with schizophrenia tell unusual life stories about unusual kinds of personal experiences. But why do these stories matter? How might they impact mental health and wellbeing? And how might they change through treatment and recovery?…’

via Psyche Ideas

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People with covid jabs have been less likely to die of other causes

‘…Studies from around the world have confirmed that jabs are safe and provide good protection against severe forms of the virus. Now a recent report from the Centres for Disease Control (cdc) in America has produced a novel, and even mysterious, reason to be glad for a covid-19 vaccination. The cdc data show that people vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna covid-19 jabs are one-third as likely to die of other causes too.

The result is bewildering, all the more so for its scale. The cdc’s study started with the health records of more than 11m Americans. Researchers followed these people from December 2020 to July 2021, recording any deaths and their causes. During this period around 6m people in the cohort received jabs for covid-19. …’

via The Economist

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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.

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On the Internet, We’re Always Famous

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‘For the vast majority of our species’ history, those were the two principal categories of human relations: kin and gods. Those we know who know us, grounded in mutual social interaction, and those we know who don’t know us, grounded in our imaginative powers.

But now consider a third category: people we don’t know and who somehow know us. They pop up in mentions, comments, and replies; on subreddits, message boards, or dating apps. Most times, it doesn’t even seem noteworthy: you look down at your phone and there’s a notification that someone you don’t know has liked a post. You might feel a little squirt of endorphin in the brain, an extremely faint sense of achievement. Yet each instance of it represents something new as a common human experience, for their attention renders us tiny gods. The Era of Mass Fame is upon us…

With the possibility of this level of exposure so proximate, it’s not surprising that poll after poll over the past decade indicates that fame is increasingly a prime objective of people twenty-five and younger. Fame itself, in the older, more enduring sense of the term, is still elusive, but the possibility of a brush with it functions as a kind of pyramid scheme.

This, perhaps, is the most obviously pernicious part of the expansion of celebrity: ever since there have been famous people, there have been people driven mad by fame. In the modern era, it’s a cliché: the rock star, comedian, or starlet who succumbs to addiction, alienation, depression, and self-destruction under the glare of the spotlight. Being known by strangers, and, even more dangerously, seeking their approval, is an existential trap. And right now, the condition of contemporary life is to shepherd entire generations into this spiritual quicksand…

I’ve come to believe that, in the Internet age, the psychologically destabilizing experience of fame is coming for everyone. Everyone is losing their minds online because the combination of mass fame and mass surveillance increasingly channels our most basic impulses—toward loving and being loved, caring for and being cared for, getting the people we know to laugh at our jokes—into the project of impressing strangers, a project that cannot, by definition, sate our desires but feels close enough to real human connection that we cannot but pursue it in ever more compulsive ways…’

— Chris Hayes, host of “All In with Chris Hayes,” on MSNBC, and the podcast “Why Is This Happening?”, via The New Yorker

 

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Have we got our ancestors wrong? How have we gotten so stuck?

Original jpgReview: The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow

This new ambitious and earthshaking history of humanity by two anthropologists finds that established narratives of modernity have been based on constricting and false premises which make it impossible to believe in our inherent cooperativeness. The errors arise from the gospel that

‘…for most of human history our ancestors lived an egalitarian and leisure-filled life in small bands of hunter-gatherers. Then, as [Jared] Diamond put it, we made the “worst mistake in human history”, which was to increase population numbers through agricultural production. This, so the story goes, led to hierarchies, subordination, wars, disease, famines and just about every other social ill – thus did we plunge from Rousseau’s heaven into Hobbes’s hell.

— Andrew Anthony via The Guardian

Synthesizing a wealth of recent archeological data, they replace the idea that humanity was forced along through preordained evolutionary stages, in which humans are passive objects of material forrces, with a picture of prehistoric communities shaping their own political organization and social realities. The upshot is that it is not inevitable that we are stuck in the modern system of hierarchies and conspicuous inequalities of wealth and consumption. In fact, I might add, the accepted narrative comes to appear as dictated by the prevailing ideology in a self-serving justification of the status quo.

A more detailed account of the thesis can be found in this piece in The Atlantic by William Deresiewicz, “Human History Gets A Rewrite.” Graeber and Wengrow show that hunter-gatherer societies were more complex and varied than we knew and that these people made deliberate and collective decisions about how to organize themselves, in other words “practicing politics.”

When you think about it for a moment, since these were essentially human beings like ourselves, how could we not have realized that it would not be otherwise? From my own anthropological studies before I became a psychiatrist, I do know however that they are not the first to dispute the commonplace notion of the simple savages unselfish-consciously dwelling in “a kind of eternal present or cyclical dreamtime, waiting for the Western hand to wake them up and fling them into history.” A counterpoint to that can be found as far back as the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss,’ whose eye-opening The Savage Mind (1962) established how prehistoric knowledge organization was based on a sophisticated “scientific” approach.

Carrying their narrative forward to the development of city-states, Graeber and Wengrow show that they were not an inevitable consequence of agriculture, as we thought, but in many instances preceded it. A related assumption they turn on their head is that large populations inherently need layers of bureaucracy to govern them and that scale leads inevitably to hierarchy and political inequality. They describe data showing that many early cities with populations of thousands show no signs of centralized administration. If anything, they claim, aristocracy emerged in the smaller settlements of warrior societies which were in tension with the agricultural states. So ‘the state’ is not the inevitable apex form of human social organization but one of

‘…a shifting combination of, as they enumerate them, the three elementary forms of domination: control of violence (sovereignty), control of information (bureaucracy), and personal charisma (manifested, for example, in electoral politics). Some states have displayed just two, some only one—which means the union of all three, as in the modern state, is not inevitable (and may indeed, with the rise of planetary bureaucracies like the World Trade Organization, be already decomposing). More to the point, the state itself may not be inevitable. For most of the past 5,000 years, the authors write, kingdoms and empires were “exceptional islands of political hierarchy, surrounded by much larger territories whose inhabitants … systematically avoided fixed, overarching systems of authority.” …’

They are suggesting that civilization could be organized around mutual aid and cooperation without the loss of basic freedoms as seen in modern bureaucratic capitalism enforced by state violence. No surprise that Graeber is a committed anarchist.But —

‘…The Dawn of Everything is not a brief for anarchism, though anarchist values—antiauthoritarianism, participatory democracy, small-c communism—are everywhere implicit in it. Above all, it is a brief for possibility, which was, for Graeber, perhaps the highest value of all…

“How did we get stuck?” the authors ask—stuck, that is, in a world of “war, greed, exploitation [and] systematic indifference to others’ suffering”? It’s a pretty good question. “If something did go terribly wrong in human history,” they write, “then perhaps it began to go wrong precisely when people started losing that freedom to imagine and enact other forms of social existence.” It isn’t clear to me how many possibilities are left us now, in a world of polities whose populations number in the tens or hundreds of millions. But stuck we certainly are…’

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Opinion: The GOP rebrands itself as the party of tax cheats

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‘Once upon a time, Republicans portrayed themselves as the party of small government and family values. Recently, though, GOP leaders have been cobbling together a new coalition, welcoming insurrectionists, white-nationalist tiki-torchers and people who think Bill Gates is trying to microchip them.

The latest recruit to the Big Tent? Tax cheats.

Here’s the backstory. Each year, about $600 billion in taxes legally owed are not paid. For scale, that’s roughly equal to all federal income taxes paid by the lowest-earning 90 percent of taxpayers, according to Treasury Department data.

These unpaid taxes — often called the “tax gap” — are predominantly owed by wealthy individuals. The richest 1 percent alone duck an estimated $163 billion in income taxes each year.
To be clear, rank-and-file wage-earners are not necessarily more honest or patriotic. It’s just much harder for them to shortchange Uncle Sam….’

— Catherine Ramped via Washington Post

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The Conspiracy Theory Bubble

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‘True, we’re hearing a lot about Covid-19 and QAnon-related conspiracies. But just because they are more visible does not mean that belief in them has gone up.

I’ve been doing work with Joseph Uscinski of the University of Miami—the leading specialist studying conspiracies theories—and we’ve carried out a number of studies, assessing whether Covid-19 conspiracy theories have proliferated over the course of the pandemic and whether we’ve seen a general increase in belief in conspiracy theories in the last fifty years. Our paper is currently under review, but our findings may surprise you: Belief in conspiracy theories has, if anything, decreased over the pandemic….’

— Hugo Drochon via Persuasion

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Is the era of the skyscraper over?

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‘As millions around the world have settled in to working from home, it’s hard to imagine the office tower ever being a viable proposition again. Planning applications for tall buildings in London plummeted by a third last year, while New London Architecture’s 2021 tall buildings survey found that work started on just 24 buildings of 20 storeys or more – down by almost half from 44 in 2019. Has the age of piling people into great glass shafts, of cities competing for ever higher spires, finally come to an end?…’

— via The Guardian

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‘Longtermism’: the most dangerous secular credo you’ve never heard of

 

Header essay final nn11440305‘…over the past two decades, a small group of theorists mostly based in Oxford have been busy working out the details of a new moral worldview called longtermism, which emphasizes how our actions affect the very long-term future of the universe – thousands, millions, billions, and even trillions of years from now. This has roots in the work of Nick Bostrom, who founded the grandiosely named Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) in 2005, and Nick Beckstead, a research associate at FHI and a programme officer at Open Philanthropy. …

…humanity has a ‘potential’ of its own, one that transcends the potentials of each individual person, and failing to realise this potential would be extremely bad – indeed, as we will see, a moral catastrophe of literally cosmic proportions. This is the central dogma of longtermism: nothing matters more, ethically speaking, than fulfilling our potential as a species of ‘Earth-originating intelligent life’. It matters so much that longtermists have even coined the scary-sounding term ‘existential risk’ for any possibility of our potential being destroyed, and ‘existential catastrophe’ for any event that actually destroys this potential.

Why do I think this ideology is so dangerous? The short answer is that elevating the fulfilment of humanity’s supposed potential above all else could nontrivially increase the probability that actual people – those alive today and in the near future – suffer extreme harms, even death. Consider that, as I noted elsewhere, the longtermist ideology inclines its adherents to take an insouciant attitude towards climate change. Why? Because even if climate change causes island nations to disappear, triggers mass migrations and kills millions of people, it probably isn’t going to compromise our longterm potential over the coming trillions of years. If one takes a cosmic view of the situation, even a climate catastrophe that cuts the human population by 75 per cent for the next two millennia will, in the grand scheme of things, be nothing more than a small blip – the equivalent of a 90-year-old man having stubbed his toe when he was two.

Bostrom’s argument is that ‘a non-existential disaster causing the breakdown of global civilisation is, from the perspective of humanity as a whole, a potentially recoverable setback.’ It might be ‘a giant massacre for man’, he adds, but so long as humanity bounces back to fulfil its potential, it will ultimately register as little more than ‘a small misstep for mankind’.

Elsewhere, he writes that the worst natural disasters and devastating atrocities in history become almost imperceptible trivialities when seen from this grand perspective. Referring to the two world wars, AIDS and the Chernobyl nuclear accident, he declares that ‘tragic as such events are to the people immediately affected, in the big picture of things … even the worst of these catastrophes are mere ripples on the surface of the great sea of life.’…’

— Phil Torres, philosopher at Leibniz University in Hanover Germany, via Aeon Essays

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When does Covid-19 go from “pandemic” to “endemic”?

‘For an infectious disease to be classed in the endemic phase, the rate of infections has to more or less stabilize across years (though occasional increases, say, in the winter, are expected).

“A disease is endemic if the reproductive number is stably at one. That means one infected person, on average, infects one other person,” explained Boston University epidemiologist Eleanor Murray.

“Right now, we are nowhere near that. Each person who’s infected is infecting more than one person.” That’s largely due to the hyper-contagious delta variant and the fact that most of the global population doesn’t yet have immunity — whether through vaccination or infection — so susceptibility is still high.

(For a while, there had been hope that the arrival of vaccines would mean we could reach herd immunity — that is, when enough of a population has gained immunity to confer protection to everyone. But those hopes have been dashed as we’ve failed to vaccinate enough people and more contagious variants have circulated widely.)

But getting the virus’s reproductive number down to one is just “the bare minimum” for earning the endemic classification, Murray said. There are other factors that come into play, too — and assessing these factors is a more subjective business…’

— via Vox

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Harvard Scientist Suggests That Our Universe Was Created in a Laboratory

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‘A Harvard scientist has an interesting theory as to how our universe was formed: in a laboratory by higher “class” of lifeform.

Avi Loeb, bestselling author and the former chair of Harvard’s astronomy department, penned an op-ed in Scientific American this week positing that the universe could have been formed in a lab by an “advanced technological civilization.” If true, he said the origin story would unify the religious idea of a creator with the secular idea of quantum gravity. 

“Since our universe has a flat geometry with a zero net energy, an advanced civilization could have developed a technology that created a baby universe out of nothing through quantum tunneling,” Loeb wrote….’

— via futurism.com

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China tests capability to execute nuclear strike on any target on earth with impunity

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‘A report from Financial Times‘ Demetri Sevastopulo and Kathrin Hille states that China has tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle that goes into space and traverses the globe in an orbital-like fashion before making its run through the atmosphere toward its target. There would be huge implications if such a system were to be operationalized, and according to this story, which says it talked to five officials confirming the test, the U.S. government was caught totally off-guard by it.

… The foundation of this Cold War-era concept is commonly referred to as a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, or FOBS, but instead of carrying a traditional nuclear-armed reentry vehicle, this Chinese system would carry a hypersonic glide vehicle that would possess immense kinetic energy upon reentry. As such, it could make a very long maneuvering flight through the atmosphere at very high speeds to its target.

The FOBS concept has long been a concern because of its potential to bypass not just missile defenses, but even many early warning capabilities. Compared to a traditional intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a FOBS can execute the same strikes but from highly unpredictable vectors. Range limitations also become a non-factor and the timing of an inbound strike is also far less predictable….’

— via The Drive

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Clive Thompson: What I Learned About My Writing By Seeing Only The Punctuation

‘Back in 2016, Adam J. Calhoun wrote a fascinating Medium post in which he showed off something quite cool: What novels look like if you strip away the words, and show just the punctuation.
He’d written some Python code to do this, then processed several famous books. As Calhoun pointed out, it gives you a weird new form of literary x-ray vision.
This image [above]? On the left, it’s Calhoun’s analysis of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, compared to Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, on the right ……’

— Clive Thompson via Creators Hub, Medium

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Two new studies suggest the coronavirus did not originate in China

‘Numerous theories exist around the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, but none has yet been proven.
Parts of the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are so unusualTrusted Source that it has given rise to conspiracy theories that the virus must have been developed in a lab.
Researchers have now discovered in bats living in caves in Laos strains of viruses so similar to SARS-CoV-2 that they believe they could infect humans.
This discovery could prove the natural origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and that direct bat-to-human transmission of the virus is a possible cause of the pandemic….’

— via Medical News Today

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“This was just somebody saying the sky is purple when it’s blue.”

The bizarre rise of ‘sovereign citizens’ claiming not to be bound by the laws of the US has been accompanied by ‘paper terrorism’ involving spurious claims to other people’s homes. ‘Citizens’ invade others’ property, change the locks, and jam the courts with litigation by filing bogus titles and claims on ornate letterheads of fictitious jurisdictions.

— via New York Times

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Six Rules That Will Define Our Second Pandemic Winter

UnknownKatherine Wu, Ed Yong, and Sarah Zhang write in The Atlantic  that the “pandemic’s endgame has shifted” and we are going to have to adjust our expectations.

While vaccines have largely succeeded in preventing severe infections, they are not protecting against all symptomatic infections or eliminating transmission in the US. One simple reason may be that respiratory diseases are difficult to immunize against. Injections in the arm “are just not very good at stimulating immunity in the nose,” where the virus first takes hold. They are good at stimulating immunity deep in the lungs, thus explaining their prevention of severe disease. Thus the most likely scenario is that, especially with the highly transmissible Delta variant and the likely emergence of further variants, the virus will continue to circulate. 

Even though prevention of severe disease is the most robust and enduring effect of vaccination, “rare events are common at scale” and additional layers of prevention — improved air circulation in buildings mask wearing, and social distancing — will continue to be necessary, especially to prevent infections of the unvaccinated such as children.

The proportion of vaccinated matters but so does their distribution. Fewer of the most vulnerable Americans are vaccinated and they tend to cluster together, creating hotspots — with overwhelmed hospitals running out of ICU beds or beds in general, lacking oxygen, and turning people away — even though the vaccination rate is increasing. While in the UK less than 2% of people over 65 are unvaccinated, in the US the number is above 10% in many counties in the South and Mountain states. The more unvaccinated people are concentrated, the more easily the virus can find its next victim. The demographics of vaccination are also shifting the vulnerable people by age group, down to uninoculated children. Even though children are more resilient against infections compared with adults, the Delta variant means they are at relatively greater risk than before. Relative risk keeps shifting, even if the virus stops mutating and becomes a static risk (which is unlikely). 

And as vaccination increases, a higher proportion of cases will appear in the vaccinated, by the math. So panic over the proportion of vaccinated people in a disease outbreak is misguided, and not an indication that vaccination is not useful. 

‘In July, an NBC News article stated that “At Least 125,000 Fully Vaccinated Americans Have Tested Positive” for the coronavirus. In isolation, that’s an alarming number. But it represented just 0.08 percent of the 165 million people who were fully vaccinated at the time. More recently, Duke University reported that 349 students had tested positive in a single week—a figure that represents just 2.5 percent of the more than 14,000 students who were tested. The denominator matters…’

A longer-lived pandemic will make rare events more noticeable, e.g. “long Covid”, reinfection after recovery, atypical symptoms and affected organs. More people will know someone with such effects. And the virus will continue to mutate. In a more immunized population, a stealthy variant of the virus could succeed the super-transmissible and fast-acting Delta variant or its ilk. What is likely is that the virus will not become deadlier. “Viruses want to spread, not kill.” But, no matter the characteristics of a variant, it cannot persist without lax human behaviors. 

 

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Opinion: Our constitutional crisis is already here

American political division

‘The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial. But about these things there should be no doubt:

First, donald trump will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024…

Second, trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary…

Meanwhile, the amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020…

The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have.

Today’s arguments over the filibuster will seem quaint in three years if the American political system enters a crisis for which the Constitution offers no remedy.

Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it….’

— Robert Kagan via The Washington Post

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Why your friends have more friends than you do

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‘Have you ever felt like your friends were more popular than you? You may have been onto something. In 1991, the sociologist Scott Feld compared two numbers: how many friends a participant had and the average number of friends that these friends had. He found that people almost always had fewer friends than their friends did. The reason: friends aren’t distributed equally. People with few friends are less likely to be in your circles while people with many friends are more likely to be in your circles. The result? Your friends are, on average, have more friends than you do….’

— via Boing Boing

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s popularity is plunging

‘Governor Greg Abbott is setting a fine example of how to plummet in popularity. The far-right Republican politician — who in Texas has made it harder to vote, prohibited vaccine and mask mandates in local governments, allowed Texans to carry concealed guns without a permit, and has made it nearly impossible for a woman to get an abortion, even in cases of rape — is losing admirers, according to a new Dallas Morning News and UT Tyler poll. Since March 2020, his approval has plunged by 14 points, from 59% to 45%…’

— via Boing Boing

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Happy Mabon!

‘Mabon falls on the Autumn Equinox and is the second of the three harvest festivals (Lammas, Mabon, and Samhain). Just like Ostara on the opposite side of the Wheel of the Year, at Mabon the days and nights are of equal length. Though it’s typically celebrated on Sept 22 , the exact moment of the Equinox varies from year to year. This is due to a slight misalignment between the Gregorian calendar and the actual rate of the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. The Equinox also occurs at differing local times, so that depending on where you live, it may fall the day before or after the date listed on any given calendar. For this reason, a date range of September 21-24 is often cited in sources on the Wheel of the Year.

Though temperatures may still be warm during the day, summer has truly come to an end. The leaves on deciduous trees have begun to turn colors and fall to the ground, and there is a chill in the evening air. The days were longer than the nights until this moment, and after this the nights will begin their reign. The God is making his exit from the stage of the seasons, heading toward his symbolic death at Samhain in just a few short weeks. As with Ostara, the theme of balance is highlighted here, reminding us that everything is temporary, that no season lasts forever, and that neither dark nor light ever overpowers the other for long.

All Sabbats are occasions to express gratitude to the God and Goddess for the blessings in our lives, but Mabon is particularly so, coming at the height of the harvest season. Traditionally, this was a very busy and physically exhausting time. This holiday provided a brief rest from toiling in the fields—a day to sit back and enjoy the fruits of the labor thus far. In these modern times, most of us are not involved in agriculture, but we can still take a moment to rest from our labor and relax, appreciating all that we have. It is a time to recognize the need for balance between work and play.

But how should you celebrate Mabon? For starters, Mabon rituals can include decorating your altar with acorns, pine cones, seasonal fruits and nuts, and/or a few of the first colored leaves that drop from the trees. As with Lamas, harvest imagery like scythes and baskets can be used. Candles and altar cloths in autumn colors like rusty red, orange, brown, and gold are appropriate. If you have a feast, whether solo or with others, include seasonal vegetables like onions, potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables…’

— via Mabon (Autumn Equinox) – The Wiccan Calendar – Wicca Living

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How Endemic COVID Becomes a Manageable Risk

A Second Major Seasonal Virus Won’t Leave Us Any Choice: During the shift from a pandemic emergency to an endemic hazard, fights over how forcefully we deal with COVID’s acute risk will morph into debates over how we adjust society to reduce the virus’s persistent perils. The twin burden of flu and COVID is going to compel more collective action. We’ve been far too complacent about the seasonal flu, allowing it to sicken and kill too many people each year. With a second serious disease in the picture, we’re going to be forced to take action….’

— Scott Gottlieb via The Atlantic

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Be Concerned, be Very Concerned, About the Nipah Virus

‘The Nipah virus is making news again after tragic reports that a 12-year-old boy died from the virus on Sept. 5 in Kerala’s Kozhikode district. He had been admitted to a private hospital after running a high fever and showing symptoms of encephalitis…

The World Health Organization classifies (Nipah) as a “virus of concern” for future epidemics because “each year it spills over from its animal reservoir into humans,” says Dr. Stephen Luby, a professor of infectious disease at Stanford University. And when humans are infected, it can be transmitted from person to person.

But the virus is not as transmissible as some other viruses. “There are occasional Nipah superspreaders who infect a lot of people,” says Luby. “But the average transmission rate is less than one person per infection.

“However, each time a person is infected, the virus is in an environment that selects for human adaptation and transmissibility. The risk is that a new strain that is more efficiently transmitted person to person could generate a devastating outbreak. Indeed, since 70% of people who are infected with Nipah virus die, such a strain could represent the worst pandemic humanity has ever faced.”…’

— Kamala Thiagarajan via NPR

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Dangerous trend among GOP candidates shows the trump threat is here to stay

‘So is this really how it’s going to be? Are more and more Republican candidates across our great land going to treat it as a requirement that they cast any and all election losses as dubious or illegitimate by definition?

We’re now seeing numerous examples of GOP candidates running for office who are doing something very close to this. Which suggests the legacy of donald trump could prove worse for the health of democracy than it first appeared….’

— Greg Sargent via Opinion: Washington Post

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Can dogs understand human intent?

I’ve got your number…

‘Theory of mind describes humans’ ability to attribute mental states to other people. Evidence suggests that some animals might possess limited forms of theory of mind, including apes, birds, and dogs. A new study suggests that dogs are able to tell the difference when someone withholds a treat unintentionally versus intentionally…’

— via Big Think

Understanding intentionality is a difficult cognitive task and a core facet of theory of mind. The dog evolved in close proximity to humans and forming social bonds across the species was a trait heavily selected for. This made dogs exceptionally skilled at understanding aspects of human mental states and distinguished them from their nondomesticated forebears.

Related:

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The Democrats’ high-risk, high-reward plan to save Roe v. Wade

Austin Texas, 09/01/21

‘With the increasingly likely demise of Roe looming on the horizon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced last week that the US House will soon hold a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), legislation that would enshrine a nationwide right to abortion and preserve many of the specific legal protections recognized by Supreme Court decisions like Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)…’

— via Vox

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Attorney General Merrick Garland: Justice Department will “protect” abortion seekers in Texas

‘After the Supreme Court allowed Texas’s abortion ban to come into effect, providing bounties to private “abortion hunters” who sue women and anyone who helps them get an abortion, uncertainty reigns. The Justice Department yesterday said it would “protect” women seeking abortions in Texas, but without offering details of how beyond that it would employ a federal law known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act…’

— via Boing Boing

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Immunology is Where Intuition Goes to Die

‘…The thing is, the immune system is very complicated. Arguably the most complex part of the human body outside the brain, it’s an absurdly intricate network of cells and molecules that protect us from dangerous viruses and other microbes. These components summon, amplify, rile, calm, and transform one another: Picture a thousand Rube Goldberg machines, some of which are aggressively smashing things to pieces. Now imagine that their components are labeled with what looks like a string of highly secure passwords: CD8+, IL-1β, IFN-γ. Immunology confuses even biology professors who aren’t immunologists…

…It works, roughly, like this…’

— Ed Yong writing in The Atlantic

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Seeing squares: Japan’s tenji block paving guides visually impaired

 

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‘The tactile paving was invented in Japan more than 50 years ago to help those with visual impairments move smoothly and safely around urban environments.

And they’ve gone global over the years, becoming a familiar sight in cities from London to Sydney….’

— via France 24

I was pointed to this by Sean Bonner, who said in his newsletter:

‘It’s a perfect example of how just taking other people into account at the design level can have a massive impact. These are ubiquitous in Tokyo, and at the same time essentially invisible to almost everyone. I love everything about them…’

These are so eminently sensible and humane, I am angered that I have never seen them on the streets of American cities. Have you?

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Texas school system closes after 2 teachers die of COVID-19

 

‘Connally Independent School District officials closed its five suburban Waco schools for the rest of the week after the Saturday COVID-19 death of Natalia Chansler, 41, a sixth grade social studies teacher at Connally Junior High School, said Assistant Superintendent Jill Bottelberghe.

Chansler’s death came days after David McCormick, 59, a seventh grade social studies teacher at Connally Junior High, died of COVID-19, Bottelberghe said.

It was not immediately known if either teacher was vaccinated….’

— via Associated Press

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What It Means Now That the Pfizer Vaccine Is Fully FDA Approved for Adults

80a873dad8ac4cbcb30ced96c1d3e061 jpgThe vaccines are the same and their indications for use have not changed but the FDA has given full approval to the Pfizer vaccine for patients 16 and up, while the Moderna and J & J vaccines are still covered under emergency use authorization. 

One would hope that full approval could reassure anyone holding out from an “authorized” but not fully approved, “experimental” treatment, since a vaccine’s full approval requires more safety data than its emergency authorization. More employers and organizations may be more willing to enact vaccine mandates for a fully FDA-approved vaccine. Also, doctors have the discretion to use fully approved medications as they see fit, including “off label” use different than the FDA-approved stipulations (such as for children or as off-label boosters); whereas, the government prohibits off-label uses for EUA (emergency-use authorized) treatments. Finally, Pfizer gets to pick a brand name rather than us referring to it as “Pfizer vaccine”. It will now be known as “Comirnaty” (silly name, IMHO), with the accent on the “mir”. 

Moderna submitted for full FDA approval about a month after Pfizer, and J & J plans to submit soon. Because EUA’s are only granted when there are no fully approved alternatives, there is a possibility that EUA for Moderna or J & J will be withdrawn if they don’t hurry. 

— via Lifehacker

What I don’t know is the impact this will have on use of the vaccines outside the US. 

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We are effectively alone in the universe

Img jpg’The belief that humans eventually will encounter aliens is based on two assumptions: (a) life evolves easily, and (b) interstellar travel is possible and practical. Neither of these assumptions is likely to be true.…’

— via Big Think

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A strange link between grizzly bear DNA and human language


Img jpg’A genetic study of grizzly bears in coastal BC finds that they are members of three geographically separated DNA groups. Scientists have not yet found any physical boundaries to explain why the groups do not mingle. Oddly, it turns out that each group’s range aligns with the area in which a particular aboriginal language is spoken.…’

— via Big Think

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trumpism is Coming Back to Life Because America’s Letting It

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Trumpism is escalating: its new wave of young guns is openly committed to hardcore authoritarianism, theocracy, and fascism — they don’t even bother to hide their bigotry and hate anymore. Think of people like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Josh Hawley, who openly call for ethnic cleansing, in far less pretty terms than even trump did. Think of all the fake “audits” and efforts to repress and manipulate the vote underway in state after state. That’s escalation: trumpism’s now gunning for from the bottom up what it couldn’t get from the top down — the collapse of America as a free society aspiring to be a modern one, in the steps of Europe or Canada. trumpism now wants a totalitarian society — where every thought, action, relationship, and possibility is controlled, according to a theocratic-fascist blueprint of purity of blood and soil.

trumpism’s hardening: at the same time, this new wave of young guns openly espouses violence, aggression, and brutality as just means to its totalitarian ends. They don’t even pretend to care about democracy anymore — again, think of all those fake vote audits or vote repression efforts. Think of the way figures like MJT and Hawley and their ilk openly harass and bully and threaten their fellow members of Congress. Think of the way that the deadly coup of Jan 6th — which just claimed another two lives — is shrugged away as “tourism,” which is a way to say, “Hey, people died? Good! Great! Maybe they’ll learn their lesson. We don’t care. That’s fair game.” And probably worst of all, trumpism’s retaliating. trump is back on the campaign trail. And he’s openly obsessed with vengeance for a “stolen” election. Jan 6th wasn’t something to be condemned for, to feel shame over — to hide and never come back from. It’s something to avenge. It wasn’t something shameful — it was something humiliating. There’s a big difference. trumpists openly want a repeat of Jan 6th, only a successful one. As numerous scholars of authoritarianism and fascism have pointed out, that’s exactly the pattern by which the Nazis seized power — a failed coup, then, a few years, later, having learned vital lessons, a successful one. What, though, let the Nazis go from failed coup to successful one? It wasn’t just that they learned. It wasn’t just that their movement hardened and escalated and grew committed to avenging the failure of the first one — just like trumpism is getting obsessed with now. Something else — something even more crucial — happened, too.

Society downplayed the dangers…’

— Umair Haque via Eudaimonia and Co

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Why You’re a Brainwashed Little Sheep, According to Anti-Vaxxers and Covidiots

1 KWCN vkiaqLNWM8hNbgVkQ‘They possess a deep sense of anti-establishment angst, along with a need to feel superior to everyone else. They’ve bought so much stock in rugged individualism, they can’t tell the difference between communism and cooperation anymore. Anything that even hints at a shared purpose or common goal gives them mental hives. Anti-vaxxer propaganda appeals to that hidden desire some of us have to be the underdog and fight the system. That’s the narrative that makes them feel special. This problem calls for a flank approach…’

—  Jessica Wildfire via Medium