‘Gelwan’ discoveries

Eliot-GelwanThose of you with more common family names, or with appreciable extended families, may have a hard time seeing the point of this post. But, as I’ve noted before, there are very very few Gelwans. I have always wondered, or you might even say obsessed around, how/if those I find are related to me. I have very little in the way of extended family; I guess this preoccupation of mine reflects an envy of those with large extended families and a thirst for deeper family connection, especially so that my children might come to feel embedded in a broader web. It becomes poignant each year around the holidays, which you all celebrate with enormous extended family gatherings while we have the four of us around the dinner table.

I subscribe to a Google alert for new Gelwan references on the web, and once received a link to this page  (gendrevo.ru). Alas, the page is now gone from the web. It appeared to me to be from a Russian genealogy site in which survivors post remembrance pages for their relatives who died in the Holocaust. On my paternal side, the generation of immigrants were my grandparents, in the early 20th century; my father’s older siblings and he were born in the U.S. between 1910-1915. I have always assumed that Gelwan was an Ellis Island anglicization of something else and thus that researching my family’s roots would become squirrely because the family name of anyone related to me might not have precisely the same pronunciation or spelling. It was explained to me that, as the part of the world from which my ancestors emigrated shifted back and forth between Slavic and Germanic dominance, between Cyrillic and Roman alphabets, so too did the rendering of family names. I would have to pursue the Gelvans, the Gelmans, and even the Hellmans for relatives. [I may have made this up, but I think I learned somewhere along the way that we are actually distantly related to the Hellman’s mayonnaise family…]

The flip side of that coin is that literal Gelwans might not be related to me. For example, I found through Googling traces of a Deborah Gelwan who was in the public relations industry in Sao Paulo, Brazil who is referred to on the web. When I was a child, a Brazilian tourist with the last name Gelwan, possibly from her family, arrived on our doorstep, having looked up Gelwan in the phonebooks on arriving in New York City. It appears that my parents and the visitor determined that it was unlikely we were related (although I cannot imagine how they did this, as my parents spoke no Portugese and rumor has it this visitor spoke no English). Deborah and I are now Facebook friends but we have not established a family relationship.  I would at least love to figure out if these South American Gelwans descended from Eastern European immigrants. I am aware that eastern European Jews did go to South America in the diasporas, but I am not sure about Brazil per se.

Similarly, I have reached out to Gelwans in Lebanon and Iraq but I doubt we are related. It appears to me that Gelwan is a transliteration of a first name, not a family name, in Iraq.

I have even discovered two other Gelwans in the New York area where I grew up, interestingly enough both physicians as I am: Jeffrey, a gastroenterologist and Mark, an ophthalmologist. We’ve spoken by phone but cannot establish a common background. I assumed that it might merely be an accident that we share our name, that Gelwan might be a final common pathway of anglicization from diverse unrelated family names in eastern Europe.

I was told that my family originated in Riga, Latvia. Given that, I’ve written to Vladimir, or Wladimir, Gelwan, who I learned was the principal dancer in the Latvian National Ballet and who now runs a ballet school in Berlin, suggesting that we may be related, but have never gotten a reply back. (What is it with these nonresponses? Someone writing me from afar suggesting they might be my relative, with such a rare name, would immediately pique my interest and would surely get a response, although that might just be me. Do you think the recipients might have worried that my messages represented some kind of con?) I have seen a picture of Vladimir Gelwan on the web and can even imagine a certain family resemblance. I have determined that I will drop in on him when next in Berlin. [Do I have any readers in or near Berlin?]

Given the waves of upheaval that repeatedly washed over eastern Europe in the 20th century, with ever-changing political hegemony over various regions, large scale displacement of populations, the Holocaust, the destruction of records, the changing of names, etc., conventional genealogical research is not possible. It is not as if there is an established family tree, with records waiting around for the taking, as is the case for at least some families with western European origins. My father’s older brother, now deceased, once returned to eastern Europe to try to find some of our roots. Despite a reputation for being extremely resourceful, he apparently had no success at all. Lamentably, I cannot find any notes from his research; otherwise I (acknowledged as someone with no lack of resourcefulness myself!) might pick up the trail where he left off, despite the passage of time having added fifty further years of obfuscation.

It has been a little easier with my mother’s ancestors. She herself, as a young child, emigrated with her family in the 1920’s from the Eastern European town of her origin. Several years ago, my son and I visited there looking for indications of her family,armed with notes from an uncle of mine who had made a similar trip decades before. Unfortunately (probably because they were a Jewish family), the town hall and the burial grounds held no traces. We did see the house where she was born; eerily, we had by coincidence parked our rental car right in front of it when we had entered the town center.

If you have a complicated heritage that will not be easy to trace on ancestry.com or some such geneology research site, my advice is to embark on a project of tracking down and documenting what you can. It only disappears over time. Your children and their children may appreciate it if they thirst for information about their mysterious family origins in the face of our increasing rootlessness in the world.

Perhaps one day someone googling their family name will be linked to this post and wonder how they might be related to Eliot Gelwan. Hurry up, Google, crawl this post and index it!

14-foot python caught with 3 deer in its gut. Bad sign.

‘The Burmese python is a massive snake native to Southeast Asia that arrived in South Florida in the 1980s, possibly released into the wild by careless pet owners. There are now as many as 300,000 of these invasive creatures slithering through the state, and they’ve been known to eat alligators, bobcats, rabbits, and birds.

Now scientists have discovered that Burmese pythons — which can reach 18 feet in length and swallow a bobcat whole — are even more ravenous than they realized. In a new paper in Bioinvasions Records, a team of researchers describe slitting open the intestine of a dead 14-foot python and finding the remains of three different white-tailed deer. The snake appears to have gobbled them up, an adult and two fawns, in just 90 days.

The implications are disturbing. “If this was just one snake that ate three deer in isolation, that’d be one thing” says Scott Boback, a biologist at Dickinson College and lead author of the study. But the incident comes alongside growing evidence that the Burmese pythons are ravaging native wildlife in South Florida’s Everglades. “When you put that all together, you’ve got to say, okay, something serious is going on here.” …’

Source: Vox

Your Periodic Table Is Officially Out of Date

‘Scientists with the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) have officially approved the names of four new elements, completing the seventh row of the periodic table.

The four elements, discovered between 2002 and 2010, aren’t new per se, but the names are. IUPAC officially recognized the discovery of the super-heavy, highly reactive elements in December of 2015, and announced the suggested names back in June of this year. After a five-month chill-out period for the world to digest the new monikers, the bureau made the names official this week.

  • Nihonium and symbol Nh, for the element 113

  • Moscovium and symbol Mc, for the element 115

  • Tennessine

    and symbol Ts, for the element 117

  • Oganesson and symbol Og, for the element 118…’

Source: Gizmodo

What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient

‘What do you think is the most commonly asked question of a person who has, or has had, cancer? If you guessed, “How are you?” you got it right.

But as caring as those words may seem, they are often not helpful and may even be harmful. At a celebratory family gathering a year after my own cancer treatment, a distant relative asked me just that. I answered, “I’m fine.” She then pressed, “How are you really?”“Really” I was fine, I told her.

But what if I hadn’t been? Would I have wanted to launch into a description of bad medical news at what was supposed to be a fun event? Would I have wanted even to be reminded of a bout with cancer? Although my relative undoubtedly meant well, the way her concern was expressed struck me as intrusive…’

Source: Jane Brody, New York Times

Why there is no PTSD in Afghanistan

‘…Nearly four decades of conflict have bankrupted Afghanistan’s infrastructure, if not also the resilience of its people. Its rudimentary healthcare system — once the poster-child of NATO’s development agenda — is scarcely able to cope with the physically ill, let alone those with mental illness and others left psychologically wounded by a cruel epidemic of violence. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and drug-induced psychosis are common fare here; more commonplace yet are major depressive disorder (MDD) and anxiety. What is surprising is that PTSD, or the trauma that follows exposure to violence, is barely diagnosed at all. The question is why…’

Source: Medium

Boycott Trump Supporters

[To my fellow Bostonians: note that your hometown favorites New Balance and the New England Patriots are on the list.]

‘Each of these companies have founders, owners, or CEOs who are prominent supporters of Donald Trump. Here’s the thing – that’s their choice. They chose to help put him into office, knowing full well what it meant to tens of millions of Americans. However, it is also OUR CHOICE, and a choice that we must make, to withdraw our support from any person or corporation which supports this man and what he stands for.Now, in the days ahead, many of these companies will say, “But our company does not actually endorse political candidates.” When your CEO or Chairman or primary investor makes a public endorsement, or gives millions of dollars to fund Donald Trump, they deserve to be held accountable for that public position…’

Source: The Donald J. Trump Resistance


Could Use of 25th Amendment Keep Trump From Becoming President?

‘Amid widespread protests and worrying signs of dysfunction in the administration of President-elect Donald Trump, millions across the United States are likely wondering how, or if, it’s possible to oust the billionaire from the White House before the 2020 presidential election. While there have long been talks of impeachment hearings, a favorite theory this week for removing Trump from power involves the 25th amendment to the Constitution…’

Source: IBTimes

How to Decide Where to Give?

So one of the things to start to do in the face of Trump’s election is to fund social action programs and progressive charities. It’s the end of the year when the push for charitable giving ramps up. How about commenting below on what organizations you find worthwhile? I’ll start the ball rolling with several I have been giving to for a long while and which I find eminently worthy of your consideration: the ACLU, The Southern Poverty Law Foundation, Partners in Health, Oxfam, the Seva Foundation, Physicians Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), Amnesty International, the Intl Rescue Committee. No, I won’t give to the Clinton Fdtn.

This is just a start; I know I’m probably going to have to start focusing more on combating domestic ills in addition to world hunger and injustice. What do people think of supporting Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, for instance? I welcome your suggestions below and maybe this post can become a sort of compendium resource. In particular, who has an idea about how best to support public media and truth in news reporting? And what groups will be good watchdogs in the Trump years? I’m waiting for the emergence of the right umbrella grassroots organization to lead and unify the opposition. I will give to them til it hurts. I would also be interested in increasing my support in the areas of animal rights and environmental action, especially with the ascendancy of the climate denier faction. And I fully expect the Endangered Species Act to be gutted.

And don’t you expect Trump will also gut federal support for the arts?

CharityWatch: ‘Groups included on the CharityWatch Top-Rated list generally spend 75% or more of their budgets on programs, spend $25 or less to raise $100 in public support, do not hold excessive assets in reserve, have met CharityWatch’s governance benchmarks, and receive “open-book” status for disclosure of basic financial information and documents to CharityWatch.’

GiveWell: ‘GiveWell is a nonprofit dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities through in-depth analysis. Thousands of hours of research have gone into finding our top rated charities. They’re evidence-backed, thoroughly vetted, and underfunded.’

Christian Science Monitor: America’s Top 50 charities: how well do they rate?

Consumer Reports: Best and Worst Charities for Your Donations

Charity Navigator: Your Guide to Intelligent Giving

Paradoxical Undressing and the Hide-and-Die Syndrome

I don’t know why but this post from ten years ago continues to be one of the most viewed pieces on FmH. Perhaps there is some high-visibility link to it somewhere on the web that people are compelled to click?

Sources of Very Obscure Death Scenes in Lethal Hypothermia (abstract): “Hypothermia is a relatively rare cause of death in temperate climate zones. In most cases of lethal hypothermia, elderly and mentally ill persons are affected as well as persons under the influence of alcohol or other substances.

Although most cases of death from hypothermia are accidental, they, more often than other types of death from environmental conditions, produce a death scene that is at first obscure and difficult to interpret. The reason for this frequent obscurity is mainly because of the phenomenon of the so-called paradoxical undressing as well as the hide-and-die syndrome. In many cases, the bodies are found partly or completely unclothed and abrasions and hematomas are found on the knees, elbows, feet, and hands.

The reason for the paradoxical undressing is not yet clearly understood. There are two main theories discussed: one theory proposes that the reflex vasoconstriction, which happens in the first stage of hypothermia, leads to paralysis of the vasomotor center thus giving rise to the sensation that the body temperature is higher than it really is, and, in a paradoxical reaction, the person undresses. The other theory says that it seems to be the effect of a cold-induced paralysis of the nerves in the vessel walls that leads to a vasodilatation giving an absurd feeling of heat.

In 20% of cases of lethal hypothermia, the phenomenon of the so-called hide-and-die syndrome also can be observed. Some of these bodies are situated in a kind of “hidden position,” for example, located under a bed or behind a wardrobe. Apparently, this finding is the result of a terminal primitive reaction pattern, which is probably an autonomous behavior triggered and controlled by the brain stem. It shows the characteristics of both an instinctive behavior and a congenital reflex.” (Forensic Pathology Reviews)

Here is a Google search on the topic for those who wish to pursue it further. Note: ‘hide-and-die syndrome’ is also referred to as ‘terminal burrowing’.

Is Lucky’s Monologue Poetry?

Via Guy Tiphane: ‘In Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, the character named Lucky utters a puzzling monologue (below) when ordered to think. The monologue must be a challenge to the actor because of its length (over 700 words), the lack of punctuation, and the apparent randomness of the utterances. It is loaded with puns and possible meanings in the context of a play in which the dialogue leads nowhere.

One of several scholars trying to find meaning in the play, M. Worton wrote about our desire to make the monologue a central source of sense among the nonsense:

“…[T]he reader nonetheless senses that there are connections to be made, just as one senses that Lucky’s speech must have a logical argument hidden within the incoherence. This sense is, however, a product of the cultural history that has taught us to seek for meaning, for a cause-and-effect logic.” (Worton)

As there is no dialogue between Lucky and the other characters of the play, the monologue stands on its own, as an event that they could not control nor predict. I would like to look at the monologue and see if it could stand on its own, outside the play, as what could be called a prose poem, thereby arguing that three genres (drama, prose, and poetry) could be mixed in the same literary work, further questioning the borders that separate them’:

LUCKY: Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment plunged in fire whose fire flames if that continues and who can doubt it will fire the firmament that is to say blast heaven to hell so blue still and calm so calm with a calm which even though intermittent is better than nothing but not so fast and considering what is more that as a result of the labours left unfinished crowned by the Acacacacademy of Anthropopopometry of Essy-in-Possy of Testew and Cunard it is established beyond all doubt all other doubt than that which clings to the labours of men that as a result of the labours unfinished of Testew and Cunard it is established as hereinafter but not so fast for reasons unknown that as a result of the public works of Puncher and Wattmann it is established beyond all doubt that in view of the labours of Fartov and Belcher left unfinished for reasons unknown of Testew and Cunard left unfinished it is established what many deny that man in Possy of Testew and Cunard that man in Essy that man in short that man in brief in spite of the strides of alimentation and defecation is seen to waste and pine waste and pine and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the strides of physical culture the practice of sports such as tennis football running cycling swimming flying floating riding gliding conating camogie skating tennis of all kinds dying flying sports of all sorts autumn summer winter winter tennis of all kinds hockey of all sorts penicilline and succedanea in a word I resume and concurrently simultaneously for reasons unknown to shrink and dwindle in spite of the tennis I resume flying gliding golf over nine and eighteen holes tennis of all sorts in a word for reasons unknown in Feckham Peckham Fulham Clapham namely concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown but time will tell to shrink and dwindle I resume Fulham Clapham in a word the dead loss per head since the death of Bishop Berkeley being to the tune of one inch four ounce per head approximately by and large more or less to the nearest decimal good measure round figures stark naked in the stockinged feet in Connemara in a word for reasons unknown no matter what matter the facts are there and considering what is more much more grave that in the light of the labours lost of Steinweg and Peterman it appears what is more much more grave that in the light the light the light of the labours lost of Steinweg and Peterman that in the plains in the mountains by the seas by the rivers running water running fire the air is the same and than the earth namely the air and then the earth in the great cold the great dark the air and the earth abode of stones in the great cold alas alas in the year of their Lord six hundred and something the air the earth the sea the earth abode of stones in the great deeps the great cold on sea on land and in the air I resume for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis the facts are there but time will tell I resume alas alas on on in short in fine on on abode of stones who can doubt it I resume but not so fast I resume the skull to shrink and waste and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis on on the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the labours abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the skull alas the stones Cunard (mêlée, final vociferations) tennis… the stones… so calm… Cunard… unfinished…

Here is an attempt at annotation of some of the references in the monologue.

Only Place Beyond Earth Where Humans Could Live in the Solar System?

‘…Titan is the only other body in the solar system with liquid on the surface, with its lakes of methane and ethane that look startlingly like water bodies on Earth. It rains methane on Titan, occasionally filling swamps. Dunes of solid hydrocarbons look remarkably like Earth’s sand dunes.

For protection from radiation, Titan has a nitrogen atmosphere 50 percent thicker than Earth’s. Saturn’s magnetosphere also provides shelter. On the surface, vast quantities of hydrocarbons in solid and liquid form lie ready to be used for energy. Although the atmosphere lacks oxygen, water ice just below the surface could be used to provide oxygen for breathing and to combust hydrocarbons as fuel.

It’s cold on Titan, at -180°C (-291°F), but thanks to its thick atmosphere, residents wouldn’t need pressure suits—just warm clothing and respirators. Housing could be made of plastic produced from the unlimited resources harvested on the surface, and could consist of domes inflated by warm oxygen and nitrogen. The ease of construction would allow huge indoor spaces.

Titanians (as we call them) wouldn’t have to spend all their time inside. The recreational opportunities on Titan are unique. For example, you could fly. The weak gravity—similar to the Moon’s—combined with the thick atmosphere would allow individuals to aviate with wings on their backs. If the wings fall off, no worry, landing will be easy. Terminal velocity on Titan is a tenth that found on the Earth…’

Source: Scientific American Blog Network

The Walking Dead’s Ratings Are the Lowest Ever This Season

As many of the commenters on the Jezebel article point out, this probably has everything to do with the conflation between Negan and Trump. No joke. The show diverted itself from the challenges of dealing with a threatening epidemic of the undead to dealing with a narcissistic relentless and unscrupulous dictator. The “fear of the powerful exploiting the masses” supplants the “fear of the outsider.” Thank you very much, already got my hands full thinking about that, so the show becomes an utterly unchallenging bore. As the human threats have become more malignant, the zombies have lost their power. In any human encounter with the undead, there is no longer any suspense about surviving. They are easily dispatched one and all with a single spiking to the head.

How To Win Arguments In The Post-Truth Era 

‘1. Be Perfectly Reasonable: Whatever or whoever you’re criticising, start out by saying that you think they’re great. If you’ve got a whole industry in your sights, take time to praise certain aspects or to point out that you’re not talking about the entire sector, just a few bad apples. Whether or not you believe what you’re saying doesn’t matter – the point is to come across as someone filled with well-mannered common sense who would only be critical if it was absolutely necessary. As French playwright Jean Giraudoux put it: “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

2. Don’t Let the Truth Get in the Way: For those interested in the truth, debating can be tricky. Facts tend to get in the way, sticking their noses in to point out what is true or false. But polemicists are more interested in winning the argument than in being right, so remember that time spent on facts that don’t back up your case is time wasted. Better still, learn how to reframe the data so that it looks like the stats are actually on your side.

3. Use Broad Strokes: Attempt to get away with gross generalisations that aren’t backed up by anything. Forget about subtlety and nuance. Focus instead on crafting pithy broadsides that sound generally true.

4. Embrace Ignorance and Inconsistency: Life as a polemicist will be busy. There won’t be enough time to make sure every contentious assertion you assert is ideologically coherent. But who needs to know anything about anything and have their ideological positions all singing from the same hymn sheet? You’ll just have to take whatever expedient argument you can get.

5. Conflate the Unconflatable: To back up your point of view it’s useful to connect things that haven’t got anything to do with each other.

6. Ad Hominem Attacks, or Play the Man Not the Ball: Hopefully, these pointers will have your argument honed into a rapier of polemic so sharp that it will easily rip your opponent’s thesis asunder. Should you find that you’re still not victorious in the cut and thrust of debate, however, why not make things personal? The purpose of an 82 Perry Street hominem attack, of course, is to make an audience doubt your opponent’s argument. And if insulting people’s appearance, personality, professionalism and mental health don’t work, why not JUST RAISE YOUR VOICE…’

Source: Bruno Diaz, 3:AM Magazine. [I’ve edited his points to remove references to British post-factual polemicists with whom most of us will not be familiar. They do stand as examples of most of his points, if you are seeking amplification.]

Everyone Should Probably Read This Cop Privacy Guide

‘Law enforcement members have a lot to worry about when it comes to their social media presences and online privacy. Criminals may scope out officers on Facebook or Twitter, and the email accounts of anyone at a police department are probably going to be of some worth to crooks.

With that in mind, one UK police organization recently published a guide for officers on how to enable the strongest privacy settings on social media, as well as more securely use various web browsers and mobile operating systems. And it turns out, everyone probably can learn something from this pretty decent guide…’

Source: Motherboard

How Dakota Pipeline Protesters Are Digging in For a Harsh Winter

‘… “With wind chill, temperatures in the 30s and 20s can easily feel down at zero,” says Kevin Lawrence, a meteorologist based in Bismarck. Given the 40-50 inches annual snowfall and consistent wind, Lawrence said he doubted the protectors’ capacity for winter camping. Without insulation and external heating sources, it would be near impossible, he said.

In a statement released Nov. 18th, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier expressed apparent concern that “we’ve seen that many of these protestors are not from North Dakota and may not be familiar with the harshness of our winters, and we urge them to leave the camps and seek appropriate shelter for their own health and safety.”

That danger can be amplified by the authorities themselves: when protesters attempted to remove the highway blockade on Nov. 20th, officers responded by using water cannons on people, in spite of 26-degree weather, and without access to active rewarming or nearby hospitalization…’

Source: Motherboard

What You Need to Know About Betsy DeVos in a Few Words

Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education is a wealthy scion of Michigan’s Republican political machine elite. She is a school choice and charter school advocate with no experience with public schools, her children having attended private Christian schools. More than 80% of Michigan charter schools, the largest proportion by far of any state, are run by private companies, and , under her championship, 1993 legislation in Michigan largely removed them from state oversight and regulation. DeVos and her family have been major funders of successful efforts to defeat legislative reform to bring more oversight to Detroit charter schools. Interestingly, she and the president-elect may disagree on Common Core.

Source: Detroit Patch

Study Finds Connection between Chronic Pain and Anxiety Disorder

painanxietyAt first glance, this was not so surprising. Of course, patients in pain are stressed, and show greater biological expression of neurobiological stress changes. What is a little less obvious but no less true is the converse, that anxious patients are more susceptible to chronic pain.

But the study may suggest an explanation for one clinically puzzling fact — that even though they have markedly different modes of action in the CNS, abusers of opiates and of benzodiazepine anti-anxiety medications often find their appeal interchangeable.

Source: Neurosciencestuff Tumblr

Giving Thanks for the Speed of Light

‘…I think we should do better than just be grumpy about the finite speed of light. Like it or not, it’s an absolutely crucial part of the nature of reality. It didn’t have to be, in the sense of all possible worlds; the Newtonian universe is a relatively sensible set of laws of physics, in which there is no speed-of-light barrier at all.

That would be a very different world indeed. In Newton’s cosmos, when a planet moves around the Sun, its (admittedly feeble) gravitational field changes instantly throughout all of space. In principle, in pre-relativistic laws of physics it would be possible to imagine communication or transportation devices that took you from here to billions of light years away, in as short a time as you can imagine.That seems like fun, but think about what you’re giving up. The speed of light enforces what physicists think of as locality — what happens at one point in spacetime influences what happens nearby in spacetime, and those influences gradually spread out. A universe

That seems like fun, but think about what you’re giving up. The speed of light enforces what physicists think of as locality — what happens at one point in spacetime influences what happens nearby in spacetime, and those influences gradually spread out. A universe without the speed of light would be one that allowed for non-local influences; one where different parts of space weren’t safely separated from one another, but were potentially connected in dramatic ways. That would be convenient for some purposes — but so utterly different from the real world that it’s hard to think through all of the consequences consistently…’

Source: Sean Carroll, Preposterous Universe

Five things to learn from elevators

‘The most terrifying potential lift incident is the dreaded free-fall to the bottom of the shaft if a cable snapped. Talk to anyone in the elevator industry though, and they will tell you that the last instance of this was in 1945 when an errant B-25 bomber pilot turned the wrong way and ran in to the Empire State Building — severing all of the cables on two separate elevators in the process…’

Source: Medium

Jack London, a century on

‘During his short life, [London] smoked sixty Russian Imperiale cigarettes a day. He drank so much that his kidneys began to fail before he reached thirty-five. He ate for dinner, when he could get them, two whole and barely cooked ducks. He was also addicted to morphine. By the end, he had become the absolute inversion of the image that made him and his fictional characters famous…’

Source: TLS

How to Know if Your Country Is Heading Toward Despotism:

 An Educational Film from 1946

‘…[A]ctually identifying despotism can pose a certain difficulty — which despots also know, and they’d surely like to keep it that way. Hence Encyclopedia Britannica’s Despotism, a ten-minute Erpi Classroom Film on how a country slides into that eponymous state. It uses the example of Nazi Germany (which might strike us today as the most obvious one but back in 1946 must have felt almost too fresh), but generalizes the concept by looking back into more distant history, as far as Louis XIV’s immortal remark, “L’état, c’est moi.” …’

Source: Open Culture

Hear a 9-Hour Tribute to John Peel: A Collection of His Best “Peel Sessions”

‘London-based online radio station NTS, in its own way very much a continuation of Peel’s project, has put together a tribute to Britain’s most astute DJ in the form of a nine-hour broadcast of some of the best Peel Sessions. Broken into four parts, it gathers performances captured at the BBC from artists like Gang of Four, The Fall, My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies, Aphex Twin, Cabaret Voltaire, and many others. “Blimey, he was really at the center of everything,” says Eno. “He was putting so many things together. He was the first person who realized pop music was serious, and that it was a place people could really meet and talk to each other. It became the center of a conversation.” A dozen years after Peel’s passing, the conversation continues.’

Source: Open Culture

Bob Dylan Isn’t Even America’s Greatest Literary Songwriter

‘The point here isn’t that Bob Dylan’s writing or music is terrible. Bob Dylan is often wonderful. But the Nobel Prize isn’t just saying he’s wonderful. It’s saying he is an apogee of American song; the one lyricist and performer deserving (so far) of the term “literature”. The Nobel crowns Dylan as a performer who has elevated his genre, and has used it in ways that have never been used before.

When you put Dylan next to Broonzy, or Chandler, or Berry, or, Cole Porter, or Joni Mitchell, or Andre 3000, that claim of clear superiority doesn’t hold up. You can love Dylan or hate Dylan, just as you can love Elvis or hate Elvis. But even if you love Elvis, it’s hard to argue that he was the King because he was somehow an exponentially more talented performer than Ike Turner, or LaVern Baker. Rather, he was the King because critics, and the public, see a white person reshaping black sources as a quintessence of creativity and cool.

In choosing Dylan, the Nobel committee cheekily subverted the usual canons of taste and literature. But Dylan as cheeky subversion is, unfortunately, its own tired trope. The power of Dylan, as an icon, is that he has smuggled the work of supposedly unsophisticated others into the hoity-toity bastion of high culture. In choosing him as the representative of American popular music, the Nobel committee shows the words of those outside the academy can be literature—when they’re spoken by the right people…’

Source: Noah BerlatskyLiterary Hub

Ivanka Trump on Donald’s sexual interest in her: “If he wasn’t my father, I would spray him with Mace”

Hey, call me a gossip rag if you will, but this is too good to pass up.

‘The remark was unearthed by Sarah Kenzidor from the Aug. 24, 2006 issue of The Chicago Tribune; it’s one of several…’

Source: Boing Boing

Addendum: Probably a Fake; Too Good to be True

‘Donald Trump has repeatedly said some disgusting, sexual things about his own daughter, Ivanka. But did Ivanka once reply that if he wasn’t her father that she’d spray him with Mace? No. The quote that seems to suggest otherwise is totally fake.Journalist Sarah Kendzior tweeted out the quote, “If he wasn’t my father, I would spray him with Mace” on November 24th—seemingly in response to something inappropriate Ivanka’s father, Donald Trump, had said. But in truth, she never said that. It’s from a Conan O’Brien comedy monologue.’

Source: Gizmodo

No, Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along

Thank you, Mr. Blow. No reconciliation for me either. My only quibble with his message is the line, “You did real harm to this country…” Let’s be clear that the real harm is still to come. Tip of the iceberg so far.

As an aside: I would also point out that Trump’s statements quoted in the article (“I just appreciate the meeting and I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.”), much as any example of  his verbal performance, illustrate directly just how stupid he is. (Since political correctness had gone by the boards, I’m relieved one can call out stupidity explicitly.) Take a look at anything he says from that vantage point. You will see that Trump struggles to have even one new idea in anything he says. And, when he does, he then invariably repeats it at least three or four times in quick succession with minimal variation, as if to reassure us of his certainty and to create the impression that there is any volume of thought there. But he is really illustrating how impoverished his thought process is and how slowly it moves, if it moves at all.

This is clearly demonstrated in any of his pronouncements. I have long since stopped believing that the American electorate would be concerned if they really knew how unintelligent he was (in fact, it may be part of his appeal); just saying how much of an issue it is for me that there is something so obviously wrong with the man’s mind.

(In the course of my demonstrating against Reagan’s reelection, I was lucky enough to have been interviewed on Boston’s WBZ Radio and I voiced my concern about the likelihood that he was already demonstrating signs of early dementia; and it was clear that Dubya was not very bright. But this is far worse.)

You don’t get a pat on the back for ratcheting down from rabid after exploiting that very radicalism to your advantage. Unrepentant opportunism belies a staggering lack of character and caring that can’t simply be vanquished from memory. You did real harm to this country and many of its citizens, and I will never — never — forget that.

As I read the transcript and then listened to the audio, the slime factor was overwhelming.

After a campaign of bashing The Times relentlessly, in the face of the actual journalists, he tempered his whining with flattery.

At one point he said:

“I just appreciate the meeting and I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.”

He ended the meeting by saying:

“I will say, The Times is, it’s a great, great American jewel. A world jewel. And I hope we can all get along well.”

I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: Never.

You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.

Source: Charles Blow, NYTimes.com

Farewell, America

‘America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.

Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on Nov. 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country. And we are lost for it…’

Source: Neal Gabler, BillMoyers.com; read the entire piece.

Extraordinary Prescience

‘[M]embers of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.

…One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past 40 years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. … All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.’

Source: The New York Times

Late philosopher Richard Rorty (d. 2007) wrote this in 1998. (Thanks to fred for pointing me to this.)

William Trevor, 1928–2016

‘William Trevor, the last great short story writer of the 20th century — so, very possibly, the last great short story writer — died on Sunday at 88. Trevor had an uncanny ability to confer dignity and elegance on the ordinary sadness at the heart of life, and in his best work the everyday miseries we fail to observe because they are so quotidian are elevated to the kind of grand tragedy other writers take entire novels to convey…’

Source: The Awl

Umberto Eco Makes a List of the 14 Common Features of Fascism

  1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”
  2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
  3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
  4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”
  5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
  6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
  7. The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”
  8. The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
  9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
  10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
  11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”
  12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
  13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
  14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

Source: Open Culture

URGENT: proposed law would charge protesters with terrorism

‘This is a disaster. A new law proposed by a State Senator in Washington would allow the authorities to charge protesters with “economic terrorism,” and slap them with serious felony charges that could lead to jail time, just for making their voices heard.The outrageous proposed bill would make any form of protest that causes an “economic disruption” a class C felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. It wouldn’t just apply to people who engage in illegal acts or vandalism, it could be used to prosecute any person or group who organizes a protest that authorities deem as “disruptive.” Broadly interpreted, this law could apply to time honored traditions of nonviolent dissent like boycotts and civil disobedience.

Charging protesters with terrorism clearly violates the First Amendment and is an attempt to silence legitimate dissent. Please sign the petition telling lawmakers to reject this dangerous legislation.’

Source: Action Network

Where Are All The Aliens?

‘Where are all these aliens we suppose exist? If they do exist, why have they not colonized the entire galaxy by now? There are several common answers, and recently Dr. Brian Cox has sided with one of the least pleasant ones: that “One solution to the Fermi paradox is that it is not possible to run a world that has the power to destroy itself and that needs global collaborative solutions to prevent that”.   In other words, a civilization that has the ability to communicate across space might not have a long life expectancy — as it would also have the ability to destroy itself. Stephen Hawking is inclined to agree, stating that “I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet”. This idea is a popular solution, but not one that we like to think about…’

Source: Big Think

In face of extremism, entirely new art forms may emerge

‘It is expected that art in periods of political polarization or extremism will become more explicitly political, that it will become “engaged,” actively commenting on world affairs, a form of protest or action. That is what a great many people are asking of art in the West, and particularly in the United States, after the surprising election…

However, historically, it is not always the case that tyrannies or depressions or famines only produce more explicitly political art. It has also been the case that periods of great inequality and economic anxiety and even incipient conflict can produce the most cerebral and abstract art, indeed, the most revolutionary of conceptual shifts in art – art that appears to ignore economic and social questions altogether, at least on its surface, and dives instead into questions of form…’

Source: Russell Smith, The Globe and Mail

White Nationalists Celebrate ‘an Awakening’ After Donald Trump’s Victory

‘…[I]n the wake of Donald J. Trump’s surprising election victory, hundreds of his extremist supporters converged on the capital to herald a moment of political ascendance that many had thought to be far away…

Emboldened by Mr. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party, [one spokesperson] said he expected people openly associated with the white nationalist movement to run as candidates in the 2018 midterm elections. The rise of populism and the decline of political correctness, he said, present a rare opportunity…’

Source: New York Times


If you are looking for effective advocacy groups and you are particularly concerned about the rise of the rabid right, consider supporting the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Right Way to Resist Trump?

University of Chicago economist Luigi Zingales warned about a Trump presidency five years ago and was laughed at. But he came from Italy, and drew upon the Silvio Berlusconi parallels. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for a total of nine years, Zingales says, because of the incompetency of the opposition, and he warns us against making the same mistakes lest we create a Trump dynasty that will last long beyond his age or term limits would allow.

During the campaign, the opposition’s rabid obsession with his personality flaws, Zingales argues, increased sympathy among moderate voters, increased his popularity, and gave him free advertising. And this trend is continuing since his election, The vehement anti-Trump protests are counterproductive.

“There will be plenty of reasons to complain during the Trump presidency, when really awful decisions are made. Why complain now, when no decision has been made? It delegitimizes the future protests and exposes the bias of the opposition.”

The blueprint provided by the Italian experience — of the only two men to win electoral campaigns against Berlusconi — for how to defeat Trump relies on treating him as “an ordinary opponent”, focusing on issues rather than on his character. To ignore this advice would “crown Mr. Trump as the people’s leader of the fight against the Washington caste” and cripple the opposition’s ability to conduct a battle of principles. The Democrats

“should not do as the Republicans did after President Obama was elected. Their preconceived opposition to any of his initiatives poisoned the Washington well, fueling the anti-establishment reaction (even if it was a successful electoral strategy for the party). There are plenty of Trump proposals that Democrats can agree with, like new infrastructure investments.”

“Finally, the Democratic Party should also find a credible candidate among young leaders, one outside the party’s Brahmins. The news that Chelsea Clinton is considering running for office is the worst possible. If the Democratic Party is turning into a monarchy, how can it fight the autocratic tendencies in Mr. Trump?”

Source: New York Times op-ed

If you’re 27 or younger, you’ve never experienced a colder-than-average month

‘Nowhere on the surface of the planet have we seen any record cold temperatures over the course of the year so far. Every land surface in the world saw warmer-than-average temperatures except Alaska and the eastern tip of Russia. The continental United States has been blanketed with record warmth — and the seas just off the East Coast have been much warmer than average, for which Sandy sends her thanks… This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature. If you were born in or after April 1985, if you are right now 27 years old or younger, you have never lived through a month that was colder than average…’

Source: Grist

Bush’s ethics lawyer: Trump poised to violate Constitution his first day in office

‘The incoming president… is actively soliciting business from agents of foreign governments. Many of these agents, in turn, said that they will accept the president-elect’s offer to do business because they want to win favor with the new leader of the United States.

In an exclusive exchange with ThinkProgress, Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who previously served as chief ethics counsel to President George W. Bush, says that Trump’s efforts to do business with these diplomats is at odds with a provision of the Constitution intended to prevent foreign states from effectively buying influence with federal officials.

The Constitution’s “Emoluments Clause,” provides that “no person holding any office of profit or trust under” the United States “shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” …’

Source: ThinkProgress