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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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Why The World Should 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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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

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Can culture degenerate?

Idea essay the voice season 16 1

‘…The person who believes in cultural degeneration – a declinist philosophy by nature – will argue that this democratisation and other factors, such as lowered standards of education and failures of taste-inculcating institutions, have decreased the quality of what is produced. Culture used to be complex and highly developed; now it is rudimentary and bland.

I will push back against this pessimistic reading, offering a short history of cultural degeneration and highlighting the flaws of this way of judging the transformations that make a society look different tomorrow than it did yesterday…’

Christy Wampole, essayist and professor of French at Princeton, via Aeon

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Housekeeping

You may have noticed my August 1 post (now obsoleted) about a chunk of deleted posts from Feb.-Jun. 2021. I’ve managed to recover nearly all of them and restore them to their proper sequence. I am still puzzled about how it happened.

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How to find a pet tardigrade and care for it

 

‘Tardigrades, also called “water bears” or “moss piglets” are a “phylum of eight-legged segmented micro-animals (Wikipedia).” Tardigrades are almost microscopic (0.5 mm on average) and extremely resilient. They can survive extreme conditions all around the planet and can live in severe temperatures and pressures, air deprivation, radiation, dehydration, and starvation. Because of this, Tardigrades can live anywhere on earth such as the frozen peaks of the tallest mountains, the bottom of the ocean, inside of erupting volcanoes, and even outer space. They’ve roamed the Earth for 500 million years. …Tardigrades make wonderful pets, and can be found in your own backyard. Here’s a guide on how to find a pet Tardigrade, care for it, and observe it under a microscope. If you’re lucky, you might even see it lay some eggs while looking at it under the microscope….’

— via Boing Boing

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Is This the Beginning of Runaway Global Warming?

 

‘The planet appears to be overheating so fast, so rapidly, so suddenly, that you and I can feel it in our own lifetimes. That’s incredibly fast. It’s why climate scientists are shocked. Usually, the climate changes in relatively slow ways — maybe fast for it, but compared to a human lifetimes, eons. Thousands of years, even millions.
The climate does not change within decades unless something fundamental is broken. It doesn’t change so swiftly and severely that you and I can talk about how different the seasons were just a decade or two ago — or even a few years ago — unless something has gone deeply wrong, in the most basic planetary systems. We should not be able to feel climate change as rapidly and severely as we are — within the span of a single human lifetime — unless something truly mega-catastrophic is happening….’

—  umair haque via Eudaimonia

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The Real Source of America’s Rising Rage

‘As we all know, Donald Trump isn’t the cause of the Republican Party’s descent into madness. He’s merely the result of decades of evolution that started when Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority,Rush Limbaugh picked up a microphone, and Newt Gingrich reinvented modern conservatism. But these were just warm-up acts. It wasn’t until Fox News was up and running that we started to see permanent changes in the electorate….’

Kevin Drum via Mother Jones

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A person in a dream co-authored a math paper

 

Voevodsky Diagram jpg

‘I don’t understand the 1985 paper, “Higher Algebraic K-Theory of Schemes and of Derived Categories [PDF],” by Robert Wayne Thomason and Thomas Trobaugh. But Thomason’s introduction is fascinating. He says the paper was co-written by a simulacrum of his late friend Thomas Trobaugh who appeared in Thomason’s dreams….’

— Mark Frauenfelder via Boing Boing

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The Galloping Cat (1972)

Oh I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
So
One day when I was
Galloping about doing good, I saw
A Figure in the path; I said
Get off! (Be-
cause
I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good)
But he did not move, instead
He raised his hand as if
To land me a cuff
So I made to dodge so as to
Prevent him bringing it orf,
Un-for-tune-ately I slid
On a banana skin
Some Ass had left instead
Of putting it in the bin. So
His hand caught me on the cheek
I tried
To lay his arm open from wrist to elbow
With my sharp teeth
Because I am
A cat that likes to gallop about doing good.
Would you believe it?
He wasn’t there
My teeth met nothing but air,
But a Voice said: Poor Cat
(Meaning me) and a soft stroke
Came on me head
Since when
I have been bald
I regard myself as
A martyr to doing good.
Also I heard a swoosh,
As of wings, and saw
A halo shining at the height of
Mrs Gubbins’s backyard fence,
So I thought: What’s the good
Of galloping about doing good
When angels stand in the path
And do not do as they should
Such as having an arm to be bitten off
All the same I
Intend to go on being
A cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
So
Now with my bald head I go,
Chopping the untidy flowers down, to and fro,
An’ scooping up the grass to show
Underneath
The cinder path of wrath
Ha ha ha ha, ho,
Angels aren’t the only ones who do not know
What’s what and that
Galloping about doing good
Is a full-time job
That needs
An experienced eye of earthly
Sharpness, worth I dare say
(if you’ll forgive a personal note)
A good deal more
Than all that skyey stuff
Of angels that make so bold as
To pity a cat like me that
Gallops about doing good.

— Stevie Smith via Poetry By Heart

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America’s next Covid tragedy may follow partisan lines

‘…A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that more than 6 in 10 Americans approve of the way (Biden) handled the crisis — validating his decision to anchor his presidency on a vow to return the country to normal.

Biden predicts US to reach 160 million fully vaccinated Americans by the end of the week

But as usual in a polarized nation, the poll showed a massive gulf in perception of his performance between Republicans — only 8% of whom approve of the overall job he is doing — and Democrats. And most worryingly for the cause of ending the pandemic, the survey revealed a chasm in attitudes towards vaccines that helps to explain why Biden fell just short of a goal to have at least 70% of Americans get one dose of vaccine by the Independence Day holiday.

The polls showed that 86% of Democrats have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 inoculation — compared to just 45% of Republicans. And 38% of Republicans say they will definitely not get any doses of vaccine.

Furthermore, In the 10 states where Covid-19 cases rose more than 10% in the last week, according to CNN figures, eight have Republican governors…’

— via CNN

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The best COVID-19 vaccine is one you’ve never heard of…

 

…and it’s not a mRNA vaccine

‘ …The hype around the early-bird vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna has distorted perception. Their rapid arrival has been described in this magazine as “the triumph of mRNA”—a brand-new vaccine technology whose “potential stretches far beyond this pandemic.” Other outlets gushed about “a turning point in the long history of vaccines,” one that “changed biotech forever.” It was easy to assume, based on all this reporting, that mRNA vaccines had already proved to be the most effective ones you could get—that they were better, sleeker, even cooler than any other vaccines could ever be.

But the fascination with the newest, shiniest options obscured some basic facts. These two particular mRNA vaccines may have been the first to get results from Phase 3 clinical trials, but that’s because of superior trial management, not secret vaccine sauce. For now, they are harder and more expensive to manufacture and distribute than traditional types of vaccines, and their side effects are more common and more severe. The latest Novavax data confirm that it’s possible to achieve the same efficacy against COVID-19 with a more familiar technology that more people may be inclined to trust…’

Hilda Bastian via The Atlantic

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‘Birds Aren’t Real’ activists hold rally in Springfield, Missouri

‘All birds in the United States have been killed and swapped with drones operated by the federal government. Birds Aren’t Real is a movement that’s spent several years attempting to expose this tremendous deceit by alerting the public at protests, social media, and a SubReddit with nearly 400,000 members. They’re now taking the rally on the road. The first stop was yesterday in Springfield, Missouri. Video below.

“I think the evidence is all around us, birds sit on power lines, we believe they’re charging on power lines, we believe that bird poop on cars is liquid tracking apparatus,” movement leader Peter McIndoe told KOLR.

Some people insist that Birds Aren’t Real are just pranksters taking the piss out of the ridiculous (and dangerous) conspiracy theories of recent years, but that excuse doesn’t fly with us…’

— David Pescovitz via Boing Boing

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‘We Are as Gods and Might as Well Get Good at It’

I still miss the Whole Earth Catalog and its offshoot, the Whole Earth Review/CoEvolution Quarterly (I have a complete set of back issues boxed up lovingly in my basement.) Former Merry Prankster and Catalog founder Stewart Brand, now 80, is one of my cultural heroes. No one has more clearly articulated a set of cultural values congruent with mine. His statement above, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it,” from the Whole Earth Catalog statement of purpose in 1968, embodies the personal empowerment, self-reliance, and — countering the hubris — responsibility to which we should aspire. Many other countercultural luminaries graced its pages, including Art Spiegel, Howard Rheingold, Kevin Kelly, Anne Herbert, R Crumb, Jay Kinney, Cliff Figalo, .

As Catalog founder Stewart Brand told Reason‘s Brian Doherty in 2010: “This was in an era when JFK was saying, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ We were saying, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; do it yourself!'”

The WEC was first and foremost an actual catalog, selecting for objects that were useful, promoted self-reliance, easily available (this was before online buying) and of high quality and/or low cost. But it was also a catalog of concepts and conceptual frameworks dedicated to “Understanding Whole Systems” and was my introduction to feedback loops, systems analysis, and cybernetics, which serve me well in my work on human interactions as a mental health professional, as well as psychogeography and an ecological perspective. The WEC was the lineal ancestor of or the inspiration for such countercultural icons as Wired, the WELL, Boing Boing, the Long Now Foundation.

In a way, Brand and his merry Whole Earthers acted as midwives for the birth of cyberculture out of the counterculture and one might argue were the spiritual forebears of Apple. In what was only a slight bit hyperbolic, Steve Jobs famously once called the Whole Earth Catalog “Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google existed.” Certainly, the rise of the internet as a whole embodies, you might say, the vastly increased self-reliance through access to information that the pre-wired Whole Earthers dreamt of. Kevin Kelly wrote in 2008 of his realization that the Catalog was really a proto-blog, and,

This I am sure about: it is no coincidence that the Whole Earth Catalogs disappeared as soon as the web and blogs arrived. Everything the Whole Earth Catalogs did, the web does better.

— via Boing Boing

Would that we still upheld its anarchism and communitarian empowerment “that energized the best elements of 1960s counterculture.”

Brand, who turns 80 in December, now splits his time between The Long Now Foundation and Revive & Restore, an effort dedicated to “building the 21st-century genetic rescue toolkit for conservation” to save coral reefs, horseshoe crabs, Asian elephants, and other living things from degradation, depopulation, and worse. Its most visionary ambitions include “de-extincting” animals, such as the passenger pigeon and the wooly mammoth, that long ago went missing. Because he believes in genetic modification of crops and organisms, and in the increased use of nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gases, Brand, who helped to inspire the first Earth Day, has become a pariah among some of his old crowd.

We Are as Gods is a 94-minute documentary about Brand (scored by his friend Brian Eno), with a focus on his current mission to fight species extinction, resurrecting ecosystems and saving the future of the planet.

This piece was inspired by an essay in Reason magazine, which was also founded in 1968, celebrating their shared 50th anniversary.

As I wrote here in 2009:

The Last Whole Earth Catalog, from June 1971, has been scanned in and is available for electronic browsing pleasure. [In fact, the Internet Archive has an awful lot of Whole Earth digitized content. See here.] I was a devotee of the mindset of these folks and a charter subscriber to the quarterly spin-off from the catalogs, known at different times as Whole Earth Review and Coevolutionary Quarterly. I visited them in Sausalito at one point, and had the pleasure of being the next-door neighbor in New Haven of their graphics editor for awhile. (My across-the-street neighbor at the time was the New Haven Zen Center. Nice neighborhood.) In many ways, they were all about hacking the world and your life long before there was electronic hacking. Their closest online literary heir is Kevin Kelly.

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Also:

 

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Opinion: Why donald trump may lose influence in the Republican Party


 

‘Common wisdom holds that former president donald trump remains the dominant force within the Republican Party. The truth is that his personal influence and standing are not as powerful as many imagine, and his power is as likely to decline as it is to increase…

By April 2021, party backers led trump supporters among Republicans by a 50-to-44 margin. trump is still strong, but his standing is falling, not rising. By April 2021, party backers led trump supporters among Republicans by a 50-to-44 margin. trump is still strong, but his standing is falling, not rising…

Other signs point to the gradual erosion of trump’s influence. Candidates may seek his support, but those who fail to get it don’t drop out of the race… Politically sophisticated Republicans believe they can win GOP primaries without trump’s backing today, something few would have dared to do even a few months ago…

trump also canceled his online blog after less than a month because so few people were reading it…

The demand for trump may be a mile wide, but it seems only a few inches deep among a majority of Republican voters. It’s hard to see what trump can do over the next year to strengthen his standing. Those who say that the GOP is trump’s fiefdom are wrong. The barons are restless, and many of the peasants want a new king. Don’t be surprised if these factors depose trump from his metaphorical throne before the next presidential cycle begins…..’

— Henry Olsen via The Washington Post

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A treasure map for an American tyrant

‘Before the day donald trump moved into the White House in 2017, Americans had never had to contend with a president in such deep financial trouble — and with such determination to conceal his true finances from the public. trump’s business empire — the one he espoused during the campaign as an example of his purported financial acumen — was nothing more than a hollow gold-plated shell. While he was dumping money into his hotels, his golf courses, and his real estate deals, they were netting him almost nothing but significant losses year after year. By the time he was running for reelection, trump was over $400 million in debt, most of which would have been due during his second term should he have won in 2020.

And yet for nearly four years, there was effectively nothing whatsoever the public could do about it. As was the case for so many of the countless outrageous abuses of his presidency, the former president largely got away with serving a full term in which he bargained with foreign leaders, signed tax legislation, and named financial regulators, without ever coming clean about his own personal debts and the conflicts of interest and opportunities for corruption they created. While there are supposed to be laws and limits on the presidency, trump was unrestrained, exposing just how toothless those safeguards have become and just how urgently the nation needs to reform the office of the presidency itself.

Presidents in a democratic system of government are not meant to be able to extract personal profits from government service — or hand out pardons to imprisoned buddies, pervert justice, or foment an insurrection. That’s the promise of democracy: that it will be superior to these authoritarian tendencies of tyrants and kings. When these laws and norms are violated, they should be backed up by severe consequences if that democracy is to maintain its integrity. But right now, as it stands after trump’s four years in office, American presidents can, in fact, commit all those abuses — and suffer little more than losing their Twitter account.

trump may not have destroyed the American presidency, but he did put the institution on a perilous path. Because while trump himself has been sitting in Mar-a-Lago brooding over his loss to Joe Biden, all the weaknesses in our legal and constitutional system that he exploited remain, waiting for a future presidential miscreant to take advantage of them — maybe even for trump himself, if he is reelected in 2024. That’s why Congress and the current president must act fast and impose more durable legal guardrails on the commander in chief. …’

 — via The Boston Globe

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Jumping from 25,000 Feet Without a Parachute and Landing Safely

‘…In 2016, Luke Aikins became the first person to intentionally jump and land without the aid of a parachute or wingsuit — check out the video above to see how he does it…

I recommend you also watch a video of the jump narrated by Aikins as he talks through what’s happening before, during, and after the jump….

FYI: The jump height of 25,000 feet seems impressive (and it’s probably trickier hitting the target from higher up) but in terms of speed, about 1500 feet is sufficient for a freefalling human in the spread-eagle position to reach their maximum (terminal) velocity of ~120 mph. Anything over 1500 feet, about half the height of El Capitan’s granite face, doesn’t add any additional speed.

– via Kottke

Thank heavens for the miracle of internet video so I can experience something you would never ever get me to do in the flesh!

Feature

Field Guide

Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake,
up to my neck in that most precious element of all,

I found a pale-gray, curled-upwards pigeon feather
floating on the tension of the water

at the very instant when a dragonfly,
like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,

hovered over it, then lit, and rested.
That’s all.

I mention this in the same way
that I fold the corner of a page

in certain library books,
so that the next reader will know

where to look for the good parts.

 

— Tony Hoagland via McKinley Valentine

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Disclaimers Follow…

 

Do not use if you have ever had an allergic reaction to this product or any of its ingredients. Failure to follow all instructions and warnings can result in serious injury. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Please leave as clean on leaving as you would like to find on entering. Nontransferable and is the sole responsibility of the recipient. Place all seat backs and tray tables in fully upright position. Do not operate heavy machinery while reading this weblog. Post office will not deliver without proper postage affixed. Caution: Dates on calendar are closer than they appear. No animals were harmed in the production of this page. May be used as flotation device in case of emergency. Please note locations of emergency exits upon arrival. No ideas were harmed in the making of this weblog. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Anything you say can and will be used against you. All questions answered, all answers questioned. Detach and include upper portion with payment. May incur damages arising from use or misuse. Objects on screen are closer than they appear. Satisfaction guaranteed; return for full refund. Nutritional need is not established in humans. Caution: do not swallow. May cause irritation. Please inform author if you cannot read this. Product is sold by weight and not by volume. In emergency, break glass, pull down handle. Contents may have settled during shipment. If condition persists, consult your physician. Provided “as is” and without any warranties. Caution! The edge is closer than you think. Do not use if safety seal is torn or missing. Prices subject to change without notice. Subject to all applicable fees and taxes. Freshest if used before date specified. Do not fold, staple, spindle or mutilate. Do not exceed recommended dosage. If swallowed, do not induce vomiting. Take two and call me in the morning. Do not remove under penalty of law. Valid only at participating locations. You have the right to remain silent. Warning, contents are flammable. Subject to change without notice. This page intentionally left blank. Use only in well-ventilated areas. No user-serviceable parts inside. Alarm will sound if door opened. You need not be present to win. Additional parts sold separately. Available for a limited time only. You break it, you’ve bought it. No shirt, no shoes, no service. Keep out of reach of children. Void where prohibited by law. Apply only to affected areas. Other restrictions may apply. Part of a daily balanced diet. You must be present to win. First pull up, then pull down. Close cover before striking. Terms and conditions apply. Do not think of an elephant. Viewer discretion advised. No purchase is necessary. Caution, low-flying ideas. Honk if you can read this. Internet access required. Wash hands after using. Consume in moderation. Limit one (1) per person. Other restrictions apply. Money-back guarantee. Not a low-calorie food. Your mileage may vary. Don’t try this at home. More taste, less filling. Shake well before use. Consume responsibly. For external use only. Mix well before using. Store in a cool place. Use only as directed. Lather, rinse, repeat. Results not typical. Ignore this notice. Slippery when wet. Same-day service. Unplug after use. No preservatives. No trespassing. No exit. No.

— via Follow Me Here…

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The fascinating science of pleasure goes way beyond dopamine

Dopamine

‘Our ability to experience pleasure, as in the fundamental sensation of something being enjoyable or ‘nice’, is a product of what’s known as the ‘reward pathway’, a small but crucial circuit found deep within the brain. As you might suspect, dopamine is the main neurotransmitter involved in the function of the reward pathway. Hence why it’s often called the dopamine reward pathway. So, if the activity of dopamine in the brain makes a vital contribution to the sensation of pleasure, and pleasure is a key aspect of happiness, then it stands to reason that boosting your dopamine levels will make you happier, right?

There’s a superficial logic to this way of looking at things. Unfortunately, the logic doesn’t hold given the daunting complexity and interconnectedness of our brains. There’s a wealth of evidence to demonstrate that simply ‘boosting your dopamine’ doesn’t automatically result in happiness…’

— via Psyche Ideas

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Aphorisms: deep or superficial?

 

 

‘Part of the charm of the aphorism, and mystery, is that it doesn’t really expect its audience to ‘get it fast’, or even get it at all. Its slick form sets out to confound and stymie as much as educate.

One cannot dictate an aphorism to a typist. It would take too long.
– from Karl Kraus (1874-1936)…’

— via Psyche Ideas

… and is the same true of weblog entries like these?

 

 

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35 Medical Facts That Doctors Wish You’d Know

‘The past year and counting was marked by the biggest public health crisis in modern history, and it’s fair to say that healthiness and wellbeing have been at the top of our minds. But in times of anti-vaxxers, covid deniers, and fake news sweeping across the web like a parallel viral storm, we must get our health facts straight. So when someone asked doctors and medical practitioners “What one medical fact do you wish everybody knew?” on r/AskReddit, the thread blew up and it now serves as a perfect source for things we should all know without exceptions…’

— via Bored Panda

My public service announcement: read through these. Don’t stop because they are seeming too obvious and commonsensical to you. You might discover something if you continue.

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Where the next coronavirus could jump from bats to people

 

‘For well over a year we’ve been living through the devastating consequences of a highly transmissible coronavirus. While the pandemic it caused is unprecedented by many measures, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is just one of many SARS-related coronaviruses lurking among wildlife in some regions of the world, many of which could theoretically jump to human populations under the right conditions.

Figuring out what those conditions are is an urgent priority, and scientists have made a lot of progress on that front. They’ve learned, for example, that when forests get fragmented by deforestation or roads, it increases the likelihood of a virus “spilling over” from animal to human. What’s more of a mystery is where, exactly, those conditions come together to create the highest risk for the next coronavirus emergence.

A new analysis, published Monday in the journal Nature Food, begins to answer that important question — specifically, by pinpointing where another coronavirus could jump to humans from horseshoe bats, which are known to carry SARS-related coronaviruses. By combining data on horseshoe bat habitats, land-use change, human population density, and other factors known to increase the risk of spillover, the researchers produced a map of “hot spots” in Asia and Europe where the risk is highest….’

— via Vox

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Michael Flynn says Myanmar-like coup ‘should happen’ in US

 

‘Michael Flynn, former national security adviser in the Trump administration, appeared to call for a Myanmar-like coup to take place in the U.S. during a conference in Texas attended by many supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

MarketWatch reports that Flynn made the remarks while speaking at the conference in Dallas, which was called “For God & and Country Patriot Roundup.” In a video shared online, someone from the audience asks Flynn, “I want to know why what happened in Myanmar can’t happen here?”

This question elicited a round of cheers from the audience.

Once the crowd quieted, Flynn responded, “No reason. I mean, it should happen here.”

Myanmar’s military seized power and overtook the country’s democratically-elected government in February. Since the coup, hundreds have been killed by Myanmar security forces and thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators have been detained according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners….’

— via TheHill

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Coronavirus Variant Excited To Compete With World’s Top Mutations In Tokyo This Summer

‘Having prepared for months to make its mark at this year’s Olympics, coronavirus variant B.1.525—a U.K. native best known for its skillful weakening of antibody responses—confirmed Thursday that it was excited to compete in Tokyo against top mutations from across the globe. “I can’t wait to travel to Japan this July and show the whole world what I’m capable of,” said the highly transmissible permutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, recounting how it had honed its spike proteins and vaccine resistance in anticipation of the international gathering of deadly pathogens. “I know South Africa, Brazil, and India will be bringing the heat, but I’m planning to have a big breakout moment myself. And if I’m not a household name by the closing ceremonies, well, there’s always the 2021 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally later in the summer.” Olympic bookmakers, observing that the United States is overdue to produce a highly lethal mutation, are reported to have the young California variants B.1.427 and B.1.429 favored in the spread….’

— via The Onion

Related: Covid Pandemic’s Deadliest Phase May Be Yet to Come

‘If world leaders don’t act now, the end of the Covid pandemic may come with a horrible form of herd immunity, as more transmissible variants that are taking hold around the world kill millions….’

— via The New York Times

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River Runner

UnknownVia Kottke, this is a magical interactive map of the US that allows you to click anywhere to simulate a raindrop falling there. Using USGS data, the visualization by Sam Learner zooms you in and you follow the river-running path that raindrop takes to the sea.

— via River Runner

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Why Is Everyone Suddenly Talking About COVID-19 Escaping From a Lab?

What put this Wuhan lab leak theory back in the news?

‘There’s been a pretty broad consensus among scientists who study viruses that the one that causes COVID-19 arose naturally and passed from animals to humans sometime in late 2019, in or near Wuhan, China. But an alternate hypothesis—that it escaped from a lab in that city—has been tossed around like a political football since the start of the pandemic, and never treated with more credulity than in recent days.

Is there new evidence that a lab leak may have happened? Not really; nothing has changed scientifically that would change experts’ minds. But scientists and governments have still not been able to pin down the exact source of the coronavirus, despite almost a year and a half of investigations. So it is technically still an open question.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported three researchers at the Wuhan lab had been hospitalized in November of 2019 (the virus was officially discovered in December). Their symptoms were consistent with those of COVID-19, but they were also consistent with “seasonal illness”—in other words, they could have just had colds or the flu. This new information is hardly a smoking gun, but it came out just as the World Health Organization was preparing the next phase of its investigation into the virus’s origins…

….

Could the virus have been created in a lab and deployed as a bioweapon? This scenario is extremely unlikely, according to experts. Genetic analyses have shown that it is very similar to another coronavirus that has existed in the wild, in bats, in another area of China. It doesn’t bear any hallmarks of alteration in a lab; you can read more from a genetic scientist on that theory here.

There’s also a plausibility issue here: The whole idea of a bioweapon—of any weapon—is that you need to be able to use it against your enemy without it taking you out at the same time. Guns shoot at a distance; bombs are strategically placed or dropped. A highly contagious virus would make a bad weapon, since there are no boundaries to contain it to just the intended victims. And the coronavirus has indeed spread globally…’

— via Lifehacker

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Invasion of the mind snatchers: survey shows that 14% of Americans are QNuts

 

‘”A nontrivial 15% of Americans agree with the sweeping QAnon allegation that ‘the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation,” reports PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) in a press release about its survey looking into Americans’ beliefs about QAnon lies….’

— via Boing Boing

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Terms and Conditions Apply

‘A mini-game about pop ups, and the deviousness of websites and apps
EVIL CORP wants your data. It will use every trick in the book (and a few more, just for fun).
Your mission is as follows:
Do not accept any terms & conditions
Say no to all notifications
Always opt out of cookies.
EVIL CORP want you to sign up for everything.
You must never accept anything
Answer all 29 questions to find out how well you did. …’

— via Terms and Conditions Apply

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The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?

‘The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives the world over for more than a year. Its death toll will soon reach three million people. Yet the origin of pandemic remains uncertain: The political agendas of governments and scientists have generated thick clouds of obfuscation, which the mainstream press seems helpless to dispel.

In what follows I will sort through the available scientific facts, which hold many clues as to what happened, and provide readers with the evidence to make their own judgments. I will then try to assess the complex issue of blame, which starts with, but extends far beyond, the government of China.

By the end of this article, you may have learned a lot about the molecular biology of viruses. I will try to keep this process as painless as possible. But the science cannot be avoided because for now, and probably for a long time hence, it offers the only sure thread through the maze….’

— science writer Nicholas Wade via Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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Confronting Disinformation Spreaders on Twitter Only Makes It Worse, MIT Scientists Say

Computer Kid Feel Bad

Basically, the new thinking is that correcting fake news, disinformation, and horrible tweets at all is bad and makes everything worse. This is a “perverse downstream consequence for debunking,” and is the exact title of MIT research published in the ‘2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.’ The core takeaway is that “being corrected by another user for posting false political news increases subsequent sharing of low quality, partisan, and toxic content.”

— via Vice.com

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The Unique History of Bumper Stickers

 

The most notable fact I gleaned from this article by Andrew Sheldon (via AAA Network ) was mention of a 2008 study correlating having bumper stickers on your car with being a more aggressive driver. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising when you think about it, since a bumper sticker seems usually to be an attempt to be “in the face” of surrounding drivers.

 

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LSD flashbacks: never-ending trip

 

‘LSD flashbacks have been studied for decades, though scientists still aren’t quite sure why some people experience them. A subset of people who take psychedelics and then experience flashbacks develop hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), a rare condition in which people experience regular or near-constant psychedelic symptoms. There’s currently no cure for the disorder, though some studies suggest medications may alleviate symptoms…’

— via Big Think

But that’s not all. Some people have a first episode of psychosis (UptoDate article) after a hallucinogen trip or heavy cannabis use and go on to have a persistent or relapsing psychotic disorder (Wikipedia entry on “psychosis”). The verdict is out on whether it is “caused” by the drug use (whatever that means) or if it was an “accident waiting to happen” with any of a number of provocative influences. And, finally, some hallucinogen or stimulant users go on to develop epilepsy, particularly temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE; Wikipedia entry on “temporal lobe epilepsy”), a seizure disorder whose bewildering variety of symptoms can look like psychotic presentations (Google). Just saying…

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Has an Old Soviet Mystery at Last Been Solved?

Unknown

Douglas Preston’s New Yorker article (thanks, abby) is a cogent and readable summary of thoughts on the fate of the Russian skiiers who perished in the infamous1959 Dyatlov Pass incident in the Urals. Preston, who has many New York Times bestsellers on his resume, writes about archaeology and anthropology for the New Yorker, often in their “far-flung correspondents” department. I’ve mentioned Dyatlov on FmH before, pointing to an Atlantic article about the Russian public’s obsession with the mystery. I love a good mystery, especially one that is eerie and chilling (no pun intended), and the Dyatlov Pass incident occupies the intersection of many of my fascinations — backcountry pursuits, extreme weather, indigenous societies, cryptozoology, conspiracy theory, and Cold War intrigue, to name a few. These may be Preston’s interests as well, and he considers them in turn. His conclusions are satisfying and, if similar issues tweak your fancy, it is worth your time.

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Josh Fight: Hundreds Gather In Battle For Their Name

‘Hundreds of people who share the first name Josh gathered on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb., to vie for the “right” to their name. Armed with pool noodles, Joshes from across the country met at Air Park, where they brawled as onlookers with other names cheered from the sidelines….’

— Chloe Weiner via NPR

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How to Kill a Zombie Fire

Follow

‘Underground peat fires are bedeviling: They refuse to die, even when flooded with water. Could this new weapon put them down for good?…  “Smoldering is the most persistent type of combustion on earth, because it’s really easy to start and very difficult to stop,” says Imperial College London engineer Guillermo Rein, co-author of a new paper describing the work in the International Journal of Wildland Fire. “They call them zombie fires, but the equivalent would be like an army of zombies. They are very, very difficult to suppress.”

— via Atlas Obscura

 

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The Supreme Court could make the NRA’s dreams come true

Trump-appointed justices Coney Barrett, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch.

‘…The plaintiffs in Corlett include a New York state gun rights group and two New York men who applied for a license to carry a handgun in public and were denied that license. They claim that “law-abiding citizens” have a Second Amendment right to carry a gun in public — and the Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, could agree with them.

Indeed, Corlett could potentially dismantle more than a decade of judicial decisions interpreting the Second Amendment, imposing prohibitive limits on lawmakers’ ability to reduce gun violence…’

— via Vox

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The US Troops Who Think They Saw Bigfoot in Vietnam

 

UntitledImage

‘Although Americans tend to think of Sasquatch as a North American phenomena, there are legends of hidden giant apes or ape-men all around the word. These legends are fed by unexplained sightings, which are most surprising when they are made by those unfamiliar with the local legends, such as American troops in Vietnam. Gary Linderer of the 101st Airborne reported seeing a five-foot-tall creature with muscular arms when he was on patrol in the Kontum Province near the borders of Laos and Cambodia….’

— via Neatorama

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R.I.P. Bob Fass

 

Pioneer of Underground Radio Dies at 87

‘His provocative “Radio Unnameable,” long a staple of the New York station WBAI, offered a home on the FM dial to everyone from Abbie Hoffman to Tiny Tim….’

— via The New York Times

I credit listening to him on WBAI growing up in New York with much of any of my initial countercultural cred.

Uncategorized

Pentagon: leaked photos and video of UFOs are legitimate

‘Furthering the growing interest in unidentified flying objects, or what the US government refers to as unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), the Department of Defense confirmed on Thursday that recently leaked photos and videos of UFOs were legitimate and taken by navy personnel.

Sue Gough, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, confirmed to CNN that images and footage of a blinking triangular object in the sky, along with other UAPs that were categorized as a “sphere”, “acorn” and “metallic blimp”, were taken by navy personnel in 2019….’

— via The Guardian

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Aliens may be nearby, but we aren’t looking for them

‘…Unless aliens decide to visit Earth, the most likely answer is by scanning the skies for “technosignatures,” which are observational evidence of technological or industrial activity in the Universe.

In a recent paper published in the journal Acta Astronautica, a team of NASA-funded researchers outlined some of the most promising ways scientists and space agencies could search for technosignatures. The paper included a somewhat surprising proposition: Humanity’s “first contact” with aliens is likely to be with a much more advanced civilization.

In other words, there could be many alien civilizations throughout the Universe, or even in our galaxy, but if they’re similar to us in terms of technological advancement, we probably can’t spot them yet. The same goes for those human-like civilizations spotting us.

That’s because the “cosmic footprints” of our civilization and theirs would be relatively small, compared to highly advanced alien civilizations. The researchers call this concept “contact inequality.” …’

— via Big Think

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Former Director of National Intelligence Teases Blockbuster UFO Report

‘The Pentagon’s pilots have seen a lot of UFOs, a lot more than they’ve told the public about. That’s according to John Ratcliffe, Trump’s former Director of National Intelligence. Ratcliffe told Fox News that an upcoming Pentagon report about unidentified aerial phenomena will detail more UFO interactions than had been previously reported…’ 

— via Vice

Yeah but… Vice? Fox News?

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Reexamining Freud’s ‘hysterical girl’ in light of #MeToo

‘More than a century ago, Sigmund Freud published a case study about a young woman he called “Dora.” She was diagnosed with hysteria following allegations of sexual harassment and assault by a family friend (possibly through a deal made by her own father). The teenager was analyzed by the famous neurologist and said to be repressing feelings for not just that one older man but also her father. And, of course, the diagnosis labeled her as being irrationally emotional about something that didn’t happen. Basically, “Dora,” whose real name was Ida, was not just a victim of sexual harassment but also of gaslighting.

The study, titled Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (also published as Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria) has been viewed from a feminine perspective for decades, but perhaps never so visually dynamic and concisely poignant as in the short documentary Hysterical Girl, directed by Kate Novack (The Gospel According to André)

Hysterical Girl revisits, in just 13 minutes, the story of “Dora” by casting actress Tommy Vines as a modern version of the patient. As if being interviewed for the documentary, she tells her side, a confession intercut with a voiceover reading of Freud’s analysis. Also mixed in is the kinetically compiled montage of movie clips, archival films of the doctor, news footage of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford and other accusers of sexual harassment or assault, as well as shots of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and other rapists and predators, plus other materials that create an effective collage overlapping historical parallels.

As usual with Op-Docs, the director has written an accompanying article. Novack’s is very brief, which is good since her doc (produced with Andrew Rossi) perfectly speaks for itself — expressing through a powerfully overwhelming amount of imagery without the possibility of overstating its point. But just in case you need it more spelled out: “During the 11-week treatment,” she writes, “Freud chipped away at the case: Why would you continue to see the man you say assaulted you? Are you out for revenge? Did you secretly want it? A century later, the questions women face in similar circumstances haven’t changed much.” …’

— via Nonfics, with thanks to Barbara

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Spreading Awareness About Recently Created Hand Signal Indicating To Others You’re Under Threat

‘…The Women’s Funding Network…, in connection with the Canadian Women’s Foundation, launched the campaign “Signal for Help” in April of last year. It is a one-handed gesture that anyone who feels threatened can show another person, who could then report the situation to the authorities. These days, people are spreading more awareness about this hand gesture so that those experiencing abuse will know how to discreetly get help and so that others will be able to recognize it and take action.

The hand gesture is simple, but easily recognizable You face the palm towards the other person, tuck your thumb inwards, and then cover it with your other fingers. It’s even better than codewords, because it was designed to be discreet and you can let other people know that you’re in distress without making any sounds or noticeably moving.

‘The gesture can be shown during a video call, which has become our main means of communication during the pandemic, or when answering the door. It is simple enough to make, but also distinct enough that those who know it will recognize it instantly. That is why it is so important to make more people aware of this hand gesture, because the victims can only be helped when the person they are showing it to knows what they are trying to say…’

— via Bored Panda

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Could Brett Kavanaugh Be Booted From the Supreme Court?

‘More concerning than Kavanaugh’s weirdly emotional take on calendars and defensiveness about blacking out was, of course, the credible allegations against him of sexual assault. While the FBI was said to have conducted a “supplemental investigation” of claims against Kavanaugh made by Christine Blasey Ford, Democrats said at the time that the probe was a “farce,” a “sham,” and a “horrific cover-up” that crucially omitted key witnesses at the White House’s request. Now, that investigation may be getting a second look…’

— via Vanity Fair

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The Culture War: Iain M. Banks’s Billionaire Fans

‘What then are we to take from the distinct and quite public fascination of the two richest men in the world—Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, together worth more than $375 billion—with the sci-fi works of Iain M. Banks, an avowedly socialist author who set his far-future fiction in what might best be described as a post-scarcity, anarcho-communist utopia; a world where your Bezoses and your Musks are not just irrelevant, but actively sought out and disempowered by a society comprised of property-less workers and all-caring, mostly-benevolent A.I.s? …’

— via Blood Knife

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First vaccine to fully immunize against malaria builds on pandemic-driven RNA tech

‘Consistently ranked as one of the leading causes of death around the world, malaria doesn’t have an effective vaccine yet. But researchers have invented a promising new blueprint for one — with properties akin to the novel RNA-based vaccine for COVID-19.

Making a vaccine for malaria is challenging because its associated parasite, Plasmodium, contains a protein that inhibits production of memory T-cells, which protect against previously encountered pathogens. If the body can’t generate these cells, a vaccine is ineffective. But scientists recently tried a new approach using an RNA-based platform. 

Their design circumvented the sneaky protein, allowed the body to produce the needed T-cells and completely immunized against malaria. The patent application for their novel vaccine, which hasn’t yet been tested on humans, was published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office on Feb. 4….’

— via The Academic Times, thanks to Kottke

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The Useful Idiot:

Why We’re Not Done With Trump Yet

‘America, we got lucky. On the laundry list of things Donald Trump has been terrible at, transforming our country into a fascist autocracy was only the latest….’

— via HuffPost

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It’s Time to Talk About Violent Christian Extremism

‘For two decades, the U.S. government has been engaging with faith leaders in Muslim communities at home and around the world in an attempt to stamp out extremism and prevent believers vulnerable to radicalization from going down a path that leads to violence.

Now, after the dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory helped to motivate the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, with many participants touting their Christian faith — and as evangelical pastors throughout the country ache over the spread of the conspiracy theory among their flocks, and its very real human toll — it’s worth asking whether the time has come for a new wave of outreach to religious communities, this time aimed at evangelical Christians.

“I personally feel a great burden, since I came from these communities, to try to figure out how to help the leaders,” says Elizabeth Neumann, a former top official at the Department of Homeland Security who resigned from Trump administration in April 2020. The challenge in part is that, in this “particular case, I don’t know if the government is a credible voice at all,” she says. “You don’t want ‘Big Brother’ calling the local pastor and saying, ‘Hey, here’s your tips for the week.’”
Neumann, who was raised in the evangelical tradition, is a devout Christian. Her knowledge of that world, and her expertise on issues of violent extremism, gives her a unique insight into the ways QAnon is driving some Christians to extremism and violence.

She sees QAnon’s popularity among certain segments of Christendom not as an aberration, but as the troubling-but-natural outgrowth of a strain of American Christianity. In this tradition, one’s belief is based less on scripture than on conservative culture, some political disagreements are seen as having nigh-apocalyptic stakes and “a strong authoritarian streak” runs through the faith. For this type of believer, love of God and love of country are sometimes seen as one and the same….’

— via POLITICO

I’ve written before about this community grooming adherents to assume power (probably sounding conspiratorial). Pence was the avatar of Christian authoritarianism in the trump administration. Ironic and perhaps fortunate that, on Jan, 6th, he momentarily remembered his oath uphold the Constitution and became confused about which aspects of love of country were consistent with his love of God.

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RIP Lawrence Ferlinghetti

‘…literary icon who opened doors for the Beat Generation has died at 101…’

— via Literary Hub

Ferlinghetti preferred to call himself the last of the Bohemians rather than the first of the Beats. Founder of City Lights Bookstore and City Lights Press, publisher of Ginsberg, friend of them all. I am deeply saddened.
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‘I Am a Heroin User. I Do Not Have a Drug Problem’

‘Carl Hart is a neuroscientist and Ziff Professor of Psychology at Columbia University—he was the first tenured African-American professor of sciences at Columbia. His research focuses on the “behavioral and neuropharmacological effects of psychoactive drugs in humans.” Hart’s new book, Drug Use For Grown-Ups, is a bold and engaging effort to counter what he sees as generations of misinformation and moral grandstanding about drug use.

Hart explains:

…(M)ost drug-use scenarios cause little or no harm and some responsible drug-use scenarios are actually beneficial for human health and functioning….’

— John Steele via Nautilus

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Why is America getting a new $100 billion nuclear weapon?

We inch closer to doomsday:

‘America is building a new weapon of mass destruction, a nuclear missile the length of a bowling lane. It will be able to travel some 6,000 miles, carrying a warhead more than 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It will be able to kill hundreds of thousands of people in a single shot.

The US Air Force plans to order more than 600 of them.

On September 8, the Air Force gave the defense company Northrop Grumman an initial contract of $13.3 billion to begin engineering and manufacturing the missile, but that will be just a fraction of the total bill. Based on a Pentagon report cited by the Arms Control Association Association and Bloomberg News, the government will spend roughly $100 billion to build the weapon, which will be ready to use around 2029.

To put that price tag in perspective, $100 billion could pay 1.24 million elementary school teacher salaries for a year, provide 2.84 million four-year university scholarships, or cover 3.3 million hospital stays for covid-19 patients. It’s enough to build a massive mechanical wall to protect New York City from sea level rise. It’s enough to get to Mars.

One day soon, the Air Force will christen this new war machine with its “popular” name, likely some word that projects goodness and strength, in keeping with past nuclear missiles like the Atlas, Titan, and Peacekeeper. For now, though, the missile goes by the inglorious acronym GBSD, for “ground-based strategic deterrent.” The GBSD is designed to replace the existing fleet of Minuteman III missiles; both are intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. Like its predecessors, the GBSD fleet will be lodged in underground silos, widely scattered in three groups known as “wings” across five states. The official purpose of American ICBMs goes beyond responding to nuclear assault. They are also intended to deter such attacks, and serve as targets in case there is one….’

— Elizabeth Eaves via Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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R.I.P. Nobel Peace Prizewinner Bernard Lown

 

Inventive Heart Doctor and Antiwar Activist Dies at 99

(Bernard Lown)

‘It was in 1962 that Dr. Lown, a pioneer in the research of sudden cardiac death, developed a new method for correcting dangerously abnormal heart rhythms, called fibrillations. At the time, they were believed to be responsible for 40 percent of the half-million fatal heart attacks in the United States every year. By administering a precisely timed jolt of direct-current electricity, his defibrillator was able to restore normal heartbeats.

…Dr. Lown’s antinuclear work was more controversial. In 1980, seven American and Soviet physicians, including Dr. Lown and Dr. Yevgeny I. Chazov, a Russian cardiologist and personal doctor to the Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev, founded International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Campaigning against nuclear testing and the arms race, the group had gathered 135,000 members in 41 countries by 1985, when it won the peace prize….’

— Via The New York Times

 

I was honored to have known Dr Lown in my work for IPPNW and mourn the passing of a great man. He was one of those, along with Elizabeth Caldicott, to argue persuasively that nuclear was must be considered a public health issue and was within the purview of health professionals. 

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Covid Absolutism

David Leonhardt’s op-ed piece in the New York Times captures a lot of my concerns about our absolutist tendency to “cease all behavior that creates additional risk” during an emergency. During the pandemic, this has led not only to the discouragement but in some places the prohibition of behaviors even minutely increasing risk. Derek Thompson of The Atlantic describes the colossal waste of time, effort and in some cases expense of “hygiene theater“, when we are long past any sense that Covid is spread by unclean surfaces (The Lancet) other than human hands. This week, UC Berkeley banned exercise with or without masks and UMass Amherst has banned outdoor walks, although there are no scientifically documented instances of outdoor transmission unless people were, as one journalist puts it, “breathing the air that other people exhale.” 

In my work as a psychiatrist, I treat OCD, one of the major categories of which is contamination fears leading to excessive cleaning and hand washing. So what’s wrong with keeping exceptionally clean? After all compulsive behaviors function to assuage fears but, famously, mental illnesses are defined not only by their symptoms but by the criteria of causing distress or interfering with function. People with contamination OCD will abrade the skin off their hands from their hand washing behavior and clean so compulsively that they cannot get to sleep or get out of the house for their appointments.

Much of our ritualistic behavior in response to Covid fears is analogous. The price we pay for minimizing danger at all times, especially with scientifically unreasonable behavior, is far worse than the benefit. Leonhardt observes that “some of the clearest voices against Covid absolutism are researchers, and especially those who devoted their careers to studying HIV.

‘They know the history. The demonization of sex during the AIDS crisis contributed to more unsafe sex. If all sex is bad, why focus on safe sex?.. There is a similar dynamic with Covid. People do not have unlimited energy, so we should ask them to be vigilant where it matters most…’

Enforcing unnecessary mask-wearing may undermine wearing masks where they make a difference. Banning college students from outside walks will arguably increase the chance that they surreptitiously gather indoors (Mercury News). And needless deep-cleaning is an enormous waste of resources. 

When I studied cultural anthropology, I thought a lot about the purpose of ritual. It appears that it is not to bring about the desired culturally articulated goal of the ritual. Instead, because rituals are defined so exactingly that we will fail at completing them perfectly as prescribed, they serve to reconcile us to the continued sorrow and distress of life. The Gods cannot be placated. And, similarly, if our Covid rituals as a society are functions of magical thinking, they will not assuage our grief and anxiety but may instead exacerbate it. In short:

‘Rules that are really more about showing that you’re doing something versus doing something that’s actually effective are counterproductive…’

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R.I.P. Chick Corea

 

 

960x0(Jazz Legend Chick Corea Dead At 79)

‘…[O]ne of the most celebrated jazz musicians of all time both in terms of awards and praise and admiration from his fellow artists has passed away. He was 79.

The tragic news was shared on Corea’s Facebook page, and apparently he died of cancer two days ago, but the news was only made public a short time ago….’

— Via Forbes