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This unqualified nominee is just the beginning of Trump’s efforts to remake the courts

gettyimages_460183416-0Brett Talley…, 36, a Trump nominee for the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama has never tried a case in his life (he has written more horror novels than he’s tried cases). In fact, he has only practiced law for three years, spending the bulk of his time since law school as a clerk or working for Republican campaigns. The American Bar Association unanimously ruled him “unqualified,” only the fourth such rating since 1989 (and the second under President Donald Trump). He pledged his “support to the NRA [National Rifle Association]; financially, politically, and intellectually” in a 2013 blog post and told the Senate Judiciary Committee that despite the pledge, he would not commit to recuse himself from gun control cases. Talley declined to disclose to Congress, when asked for potential conflicts of interests, that his wife, Ann Donaldson, is not only a White House staffer but chief of staff to the White House counsel, whose office is in charge of picking judicial nominees.

via Vox

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How to Lock Down Your Facebook Privacy Settings

]

Facebook deserves a lot of the flack it gets, be it for providing Russian propaganda with a platform or gradually eroding privacy norms. Still, it has some genuine usefulness. And while the single best way to keep your privacy safe on Facebook is to delete your account, taking these simple steps in the settings is the next best thing.

Remember, it’s not just friends of friends you need to think about hiding from; it’s an army of advertisers looking to target you not just on Facebook itself, but around the web, using Facebook’s ad platform. …[W]e’ll show you how to deal with both.

via WIRED

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New Research: It’s Fructan, Not Gluten, That’s Causing Stomach Problems

The gluten protein may not be the real reason for why many people experience bloating after eating wheat-containing food. Instead, a new study proposes fructan as the potential culprit for the sensitivity some are exhibiting.

As much as 13% of the population have bloating after eating gluten-containing foods and seek out alternatives. But perhaps, they should be looking for fructan-free products instead, say researchers from the University of Oslo in Norway and Monash University in Australia.

via Big Think

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The Idea of Creating a New Universe in the Lab Is No Joke

wormholecropped‘Physicists aren’t often reprimanded for using risqué humour in their academic writings, but in 1991 that is exactly what happened to the cosmologist Andrei Linde at Stanford University. He had submitted a draft article entitled ‘Hard Art of the Universe Creation’ to the journal Nuclear Physics B. In it, he outlined the possibility of creating a universe in a laboratory: a whole new cosmos that might one day evolve its own stars, planets and intelligent life. Near the end, Linde made a seemingly flippant suggestion that our Universe itself might have been knocked together by an alien ‘physicist hacker’. The paper’s referees objected to this ‘dirty joke’; religious people might be offended that scientists were aiming to steal the feat of universe-making out of the hands of God, they worried. Linde changed the paper’s title and abstract but held firm over the line that our Universe could have been made by an alien scientist. ‘I am not so sure that this is just a joke,’ he told me.

Fast-forward a quarter of a century, and the notion of universe-making – or ‘cosmogenesis’ as I dub it – seems less comical than ever. I’ve travelled the world talking to physicists who take the concept seriously, and who have even sketched out rough blueprints for how humanity might one day achieve it.’

via Big Think

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What Do Aliens Look Like? Oxford Astrobiologists Base Picture on Evolution

 

oxford-alien-drawings‘When Charles Darwin laid out his theory of natural selection in 1859, little could he have imagined that, a good 150 years later, this cornerstone of evolutionary theory might help us form a mental picture of what alien life looks like. But that’s precisely how a group of researchers from Oxford University have done: In a research paper called “Darwin’s Aliens,” they’ve applied Darwin’s theory to alien life, positing that aliens–like humans–adapt to their environment, undergo natural selection, and move from simple to complex life forms. And, by the end, they could plausibly look something like a “colony of Ewoks from Star Wars or the Octomite” pictured above.’

via Open Culture

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You’ve come a long way, baby brain

brainorganoidhopkins-1024x576‘Minuscule blobs of human brain tissue have come a long way in the four years since scientists in Vienna discovered how to create them from stem cells.

The most advanced of these human brain organoids — no bigger than a lentil and, until now, existing only in test tubes — pulse with the kind of electrical activity that animates actual brains. They give birth to new neurons, much like full-blown brains. And they develop the six layers of the human cortex, the region responsible for thought, speech, judgment, and other advanced cognitive functions.

These micro quasi-brains are revolutionizing research on human brain development and diseases from Alzheimer’s to Zika, but the headlong rush to grow the most realistic, most highly developed brain organoids has thrown researchers into uncharted ethical waters. Like virtually all experts in the field, neuroscientist Hongjun Song of the University of Pennsylvania doesn’t “believe an organoid in a dish can think,” he said, “but it’s an issue we need to discuss.” …’

via Stat News

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Modern physics: ‘Mass ain’t what it used to be…’

13617_88fce63f42b8b78770aae2e70ccb67bc‘…We’ve certainly come a long way since the ancient Greek atomists speculated about the nature of material substance, 2,500 years ago. But for much of this time we’ve held to the conviction that matter is a fundamental part of our physical universe. We’ve been convinced that it is matter that has energy. And, although matter may be reducible to microscopic constituents, for a long time we believed that these would still be recognizable as matter—they would still possess the primary quality of mass.

Modern physics teaches us something rather different, and deeply counter-intuitive. As we worked our way ever inward—matter into atoms, atoms into sub-atomic particles, sub-atomic particles into quantum fields and forces—we lost sight of matter completely. Matter lost its tangibility. It lost its primacy as mass became a secondary quality, the result of interactions between intangible quantum fields. What we recognize as mass is a behavior of these quantum fields; it is not a property that belongs or is necessarily intrinsic to them.

Despite the fact that our physical world is filled with hard and heavy things, it is instead the energy of quantum fields that reigns supreme. Mass becomes simply a physical manifestation of that energy, rather than the other way around.’

via Nautilus

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Was there really a big bang?

keating_brianCosmologist Brian Keating:

‘You can’t prove a theory, but you can falsify alternatives to it. What’s raging right now in cosmology is the question of whether inflation is a theory. Is it science? Is it falsifiable? There are many eminent cosmologists and theoreticians, from Roger Penrose, Paul Steinhardt, and many others who are just as eminent as a physicist working on inflationary cosmology, who claim that not only is it not provable, it’s not even science because it cannot in principal be falsified.’

via Edge.org

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Gene Therapy Restores Seven-Year-Old Boy’s Skin in ‘Major Biomedical Triumph’

Junctional epidermolysis bullosa is the sort of rare disease you are probably lucky to have never heard of. An often lethal genetic condition, from infancy it plagues its victim with painful blisters all over the body that causes the skin to become extremely fragile.

In a major medical breakthrough, on Wednesday Italian researchers announced that they were able to almost entirely reconstruct the skin of a seven-year-old boy afflicted with JED—and they used gene therapy to do it.

It is a breakthrough that not only signals a potential curative treatment for a painful, heartbreaking disease, but demonstrates the great power that new technologies like gene therapy and stem cells may hold to address genetic conditions previously written off as hopeless.

via Gizmodo

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Texas Gunman Once Escaped From Mental Health Facility

‘The gunman behind the worst mass shooting in Texas history escaped from a psychiatric hospital while he was in the Air Force, and was caught a few miles away by the local police, who were told that he had made death threats against his superiors and tried to smuggle weapons onto his base, a 2012 police report showed.

That episode, which came to light on Tuesday, was another in a series of red flags about the threat the gunman, Devin P. Kelley, posed to those around him. But none of the warnings stopped Mr. Kelley from legally purchasing several firearms, including the rifle he used to kill 26 people at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Sunday…’

via New York Times

But this is not an anomaly! I work in a psychiatric hospital and it is not the exception but the rule that there is no mechanism through which the fact of someone’s admission, or the determination that they are dangerous, is conveyed to any authority who might flag them if they later attempted to purchase a firearm!

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Brain Imaging Reveals ADHD as a Collection of Different Disorders

A new study sheds light on ADHD, reporting teens with the disorder fit into one of three specific subgroups with distinct brain impairments and no common abnormalities between them.

via Neuroscience News

I have long decried the maniacal overdiagnosis of ADHD by my colleagues. Of course, this leads to massive overprescribing of stimulant medication. In a bit of circular reasoning, the fact that someone’s mood or functioning often improves when they take stimulants is taken as confirmation of the diagnosis, ignoring the fact that almost anyone feels better when they take these medications. Furthermore, if a diagnosis represents a heterogeneous category, a medication which helps one subgroup may be seen as beneficial overall just by a statistical effect. It has long been clear to me that the ADHD diagnosis is used to explain a variety of unrelated difficulties in very different individuals; now there is some empirical confirmation. And let this stand as a broader challenge to one-size-fits-all diagnosis in psychiatry!

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There’s really been only one mass shooting in US history

Each shooting supplants the previous one almost completely in media attention, memory and public discussion and we act as if it has been the only one. With the Texas church massacre, we have already lost sight of Las Vegas, and so on and so on. We act as if each of these incidents should be analyzed in its own terms. In so doing, no one asks why this has become nearly a weekly occurrence in the US and what the meaning of or explanation for the underlying generic phenomenon might be.

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Is Citizen Participation Actually Good for Democracy?

Russell J Dalton writes:

While participation opportunities have broadly expanded, the skills and resources to utilise these new entryways are unevenly spread throughout the public. I describe a sizeable socio-economic status (SES) participation gap across all types of political action. A person’s education and other social status traits are very strong predictors of who participates.

via 3quarksdaily

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Stop doing companies’ digital busywork for free

‘Over the past year, I stopped responding to customer surveys, providing user feedback or, mostly, contributing product reviews. Sometimes I feel obligated – even eager – to provide this information. Who doesn’t like being asked their opinion? But, in researching media technologies as an anthropologist, I see these requests as part of a broader trend making home life bureaucratic…’

Source: The Conversation

Yes!

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What the Manafort and Papadopoulos indictments tell us about Mueller’s strategy

‘…Put together, the charges against the three men illustrate a clear pattern of using whatever charge you can stand up — even if it doesn’t directly relate to the Russian collusion — to build a case against anyone who was involved, with the ultimate goal of getting the lower-level people to testify against the bigger fish.You’ve probably heard of this kind of approach in mob movies, but it’s also what real prosecutors do. Experts say that Mueller is adapting this playbook for the Russia investigation…’

Source:  Vox

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Reverence for Hallowe’en: Good for the Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Halloween jack-o'-lanterns.

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

Frankenstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related:
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After Death You’re Aware That You’ve Died, Scientists Claim

Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in? Some scientists have studied near death experiences (NDEs) to try to gain insights into how death overcomes the brain. What they’ve found is remarkable, a surge of electricity enters the brain moments before brain death. One 2013 study out of the University of Michigan, which examined electrical signals inside the heads of rats, found they entered a hyper-alert state just before death…’

Source: Big Think

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Is Trump Responsible for Deaths of US Soldiers in Niger?

‘…[Rachel Maddow] linked President Donald Trump’s travel ban with the deaths of four soldiers.Maddow’s report, delivered Thursday and reiterated Friday, strongly suggested that Trump’s addition of Chad to his travel ban prompted the country to withdraw its U.S.-partnered counterterrorism troops in Niger, thus causing an increase in attacks by the self-described Islamic State in the area. …’

Source: HuffPost

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In New Alarming Trend, Poachers Target Rescued Circus Lions in South Africa

‘[Poachers are] targeting lions at sanctuaries, private nature reserves, and breeding farms for their body parts. Lion bones are sought after in Asia for use in traditional medicine—as health tonics and wines—and increasingly as a substitute for remedies made from the bones of tigers, whose numbers in the wild are somewhere around 3,900. Lion teeth and claws are also in high demand in China and elsewhere in Asia as necklaces and other adornments and trinkets. In some African countries the heads, tails, and paws are favored for use in traditional medicine, known as muti.

Source: National Geographic

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How ‘Talking’ Corpses Were Once Used to Solve Murders

‘The skull of Richard III, discovered under a parking lot, was analyzed by forensic scientists at the University of Leicester. In Shakespeare’s play about the infamous monarch, Richard is accused of murder when he nears a corpse and it begins to bleed.

For centuries, oozing wounds were seen as proof of guilt in court—but even in death, women’s testimony was considered less credible than men’s…’

Source: National Geographic

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Why We Still Need Monsters

Philosopher Stephen T. Asma of Columbia College Chicago and author of On Monsters and the Evolution of Imagination, argues that the encounter with the monstrous is useful. The term monster is from the Latin word, monstrare, to warn. Monsters activate our sense of repulsion or disgust (about which I have written here), which is why we demonize or monsterize our enemies, casting them as uncivilized or disgusting. Similarly with mass murderers such as Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas.

Calling others monsters is deeply adaptive from an evolutionary perspective, operating to contribute to group survival by getting us to be nervous about both non-human and human predators. Asma gives as an example the fact that the traditional werewolf story was strong in Europe, since wolves were a predator for Europeans, whereas there is a werebear tradition in the Americas because Native Americans were worried about bear predation.

But there is a “xenocurious” as well as a xenophobic piece to considering monsters. For instance, St. Augustine stressed the “wondrous” aspects of the monstrous creatures thought to be living in Africa and the East.

He says, “These guys are scary, but if we can talk to them, and they demonstrate some kind of rationality, they might be capable of being saved, they could be part of redemption.”

This is the project of Western liberalism — to expand the circle of tolerance to those who are different from you. From the liberal point of view, disgust for strangers is terrible. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, for instance, can be read as a way to show that you create aggression and violence by not welcoming difference into your group.

Liberal humanism may also factor into the fact that monster has come to be a term for persons as well, now that we are able to see members of the out-group as humans as well. Simultaneously, we began to understand that we have hidden incomprehensible parts within ourselves that could make us do monstrous or revolting things. Although it is a much older notion (why Medea killed her children, for instance) it comes to fruition in Freud’s notion of the id.

There’s a part of us all that has to be carefully managed. Otherwise it does psychopathological actions. You see this now with the Las Vegas shooter. We want to know why he did it. Is there some part of ourselves that if we don’t manage it correctly, it could, in fact, lead us to some kinds of behaviors like this?

There is an impulse to understand the monstrous. The first question we ask about someone like Stephen Paddock is what his motives were, the second whether there is something wrong with his brain. But sometimes it will remain inexplicable and we must be content with the fact that humans beings can be monsters, although it is probably quite rare.

Our literature and culture creates icons of immorality, and they help shape our behavior and our thinking. A lot of people enjoy horror like The Walking Dead because it’s a form of rehearsal. I’m not expecting a zombie apocalypse, but I do wonder what would happen if the grid went down and we had no electricity and suddenly there’s a food shortage. What would happen if modern society came to some screeching halt? Many of the monster scenarios would be a surrogate training for what could happen between human beings.

Source: Nautilus

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What We Got Wrong About the Lyme Epidemic

‘The genetic and ecological history of the Lyme disease bacterium make it clear: Neither ticks nor the bacterium are invaders onto our pristine landscapes. They are the beneficiaries of an artificial and fragmented ecology created by the real invaders, us. Having sectioned and sliced the continent into a patchwork, we are confronted with the consequences…’

Source: Nautilus

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Why Facebook Is the Junk Food of Socializing

‘Have you ever been walking in a dark alley and seen something that you thought was a crouching person, but it turned out to be a garbage bag or something similarly innocuous? Me too. Have you ever seen a person crouching in a dark alley and mistaken it for a garbage bag? Me neither. Why does the error go one way and not the other?

 

Human beings are intensely social animals. We live in hierarchical social environments in which our comfort, reproduction, and very survival depend on our relationships with other people. As a result, we are very good at thinking about things in social ways. In fact, some scientists have argued that the evolutionary arms race for strategic social thinking—either for competition, for cooperation, or both—was a large part of why we became so intelligent as a species. Back then, if you saw something that looked like a person, by golly it was a person.

 

This affinity for social reasoning, however, has resulted in systematic quirks in human reasoning about the non-human. This happens in two ways. First, we tend to see humanlike agency where there isn’t any, a common form of pareidolia.

 

…Why would we evolve to have a systematic error like this? Like most biases, it takes advantage of patterns in our environment to help us (or, more accurately, paleolithic people) reproduce and survive. In the environment where humans first evolved, mistaking a log for a lion is much safer than mistaking a lion for a log, favoring the survival of those who err on the side of seeing agency in many places. And for a hunter-gatherer at greater risk from wild animals and interpersonal violence than we face today, living things tend to be more dangerous than non-living things. We tend to see agency in everything, and children have it more than adults, suggesting that it has an inborn element.

 

…The other interesting effect of this is that we treat virtual people as real people. …[W]hen we interact with “friends” on social-networking sites or through texting, it can feel like we’re getting quality social contact, but we are not. It turns out that face-to-face interaction with other people—real people, right in front of us, not characters on TV or friends we communicate via text messages—is absolutely vital for longevity and happiness. In fact, it is a larger contributor than exercise or diet! …’

Source: Nautilus

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Why We’ll Have Evidence of Aliens—If They Exist—By 2035

‘The rapid growth in digital processing means that far larger swaths of the radio dial can be examined at one go and—in the case of the Allen array—many star systems can be checked out simultaneously. The array now examines three stars at once, but additional computer power could boost that to more than 100. Within two decades, SETI experiments will be able to complete a reconnaissance of 1 million star systems, which is hundreds of times more than have been carefully examined so far. SETI practitioners from Frank Drake to Carl Sagan have estimated that the galaxy currently houses somewhere between 10,000 and a few million broadcasting societies. If these estimates are right, then examining 1 million star systems could well lead to a discovery. So, if the premise of SETI has merit, we should find a broadcast from E.T. within a generation.

 

…Furthermore, scientists have been diversifying. For two decades, some SETI researchers have used conventional optical telescopes to look for extremely brief laser flashes coming from the stars. In many ways, aliens might be more likely to communicate by pulsed light than radio signals, for the same reason that people are turning to fiber optics for Internet access: It can, at least in principle, send 100,000 times as many bits per second as radio can.

 

…Physicists have also proposed wholly new modes of communications, such as neutrinos and gravitational waves. Some of my SETI colleagues have mulled these options, but we don’t see much merit in them at the moment. Both neutrinos and gravitational waves are inherently hard to create and detect. In nature, it takes the collapse of a star or the merger of black holes to produce them in any quantity. The total energy required to send “Hello, Earth” would be daunting, even for a civilization that could command the resources of a galaxy. …It is hard to imagine that aliens would go to the trouble of smashing together two huge black holes for a second’s worth of signal.

 

But there is a completely different approach that has yet to be explored in much detail: to look for artifacts—engineering projects of an advanced society. Some astronomers have suggested an alien megastructure, possibly an energy-collecting Dyson sphere, as the explanation for the mysterious dimming of Tabby’s star (officially known as KIC 8462852). It is a serious possibility, but no evidence has yet been found to support it.

…It’s also conceivable that extraterrestrials could have left time capsules in our own solar system, perhaps millions or billions of years ago, on the assumption that our planet might eventually evolve a species able to find them. The Lagrange points in the Earth-moon system—locations where the gravity of Earth, moon, and sun are balanced, so that an object placed there will stay there—have been suggested as good hunting grounds for alien artifacts, as has the moon itself.

 

Another idea is that we should search for the high-energy exhausts of interstellar rockets. The fastest spacecraft would presumably use the most efficient fuel: matter combining with antimatter. Their destructive “combustion” would not only shoot the craft through space at a fair fraction of the speed of light, but would produce a gamma-ray exhaust, which we might detect…’

Source: Nautilus

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Lots of Interesting Stuff Recently on Neuroskeptic

If you are a neuroscience nerd like me, maybe you will find all of these recent articles as fascinating as I did:
Problematic Neuropeptides And Statistics: ‘Back in May I discussed a paper published in PNAS which, I claimed, was using scientific terminology in a sloppy way. The authors, Pearce et al., used the word “neuropeptides” to refer to six molecules, but three of them weren’t neuropeptides at all. The authors acknowledged this minor error and issued a correction. Now, it emerges that there may be more serious problems with the PNAS paper. ..’
A Parade of Scientific Mice: ‘Recently I was reading a neuroscience paper and was struck by the cuteness of the two mice that formed part of Figure 1: So I decided to look further and collect a montage of scientific mice. All of these drawings are taken from peer-reviewed scientific papers…’
Is Parkinson’s A Prion Disease? ‘The Journal of Neuroscience recently featured a debate over the hypothesis that Parkinson’s disease is, at least in some cases, caused by a prion-like mechanism – misfolded proteins that spread from neuron to neuron. ..’
“Happy Chemical” Discovered In Beer? ‘A curious flurry of headlines in praise of beer appeared this week: Beer really DOES make you happier! Key molecule boosts brain’s reward centre …’
Is It Time To “Redefine Statistical Significance”? ‘A new paper in Nature Human Behaviour has generated lots of debate. In Redefine Statistical Significance, authors Daniel J. Benjamin and colleagues suggest changing the convention that p-values below 0.05 are called ‘significant’. Instead, they suggest, the cut-off should be set at 0.005 – a stricter criterion…’
Vagus Nerve Stimulation Restores Consciousness: ‘A report that nerve stimulation was able to partially restore consciousness in a patient in a vegetative state has attracted a great deal of attention this week…”
The Heavy Metal Brain: ‘Get your earplugs ready because this post is metal. Last week, a group of neuroscientists published a paper reporting altered brain activity in heavy metal lovers. The paper raised a few eyebrows, not least for its statement that metal fans show “disorders of behavioral and emotional cognition.” …’
Can Neuroscience Inform Everyday Life? The “Translation Problem”: ‘A new paper asks why neuroscience hasn’t had more “impact on our daily lives.” The article, Neuroscience and everyday life: facing the translation problem, comes from Dutch researchers Jolien C. Francken and Marc Slors. It’s a thought-provoking piece, but it left me feeling that the authors are expecting too much from neuroscience. I don’t think insights from neuroscience are likely to change our…’
Scientific Papers Are Getting Less Readable: ;'”The readability of scientific texts is decreasing over time”, according to a new paper just out. Swedish researchers Pontus Plaven-Sigray and colleagues say that scientists today use longer and more complex words than those of the past, making their writing harder to read…’

 

Source: Neuroskeptic

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Happy Diwali

‘Indian Sikh devotees light candles to mark Bandi Chhor Divas, or Diwali, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on October 19th, 2017. Also known as the festival of lights, Diwali is the biggest festival celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists around the world.’

Source: Pacific Standard

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Should We Fear Article V?

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‘The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress..’

We may be dangerously close to a Constitutional convention, if endorsed by two-thirds of the states (by a simple majority in each state), that might advance any of the many reactionary and cockamamie notions for amendments that Republicans have been unable to push through with the other method, a two-thirds vote in Congress, as provided for in Article V of the Constitution.

Source: Should We Fear Article V? – Pacific Standard

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Can Adults Develop ADHD? Probably Not, Researchers Say

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‘Researchers report up to 80% of people diagnosed with adult onset ADHD likely do not have the condition. For the 20% of adults who may have ADHD, doctors may have missed the condition during childhood, the researchers conclude…’

Source: Neuroscience News

In my psychiatric practice, I began treating adult ADHD in the ’80’s, soon after it was recognized that the disorder, heretofore thought to affect children and adolescents only, could persist into childhood, albeit with a slightly modified picture as one aged. It was a necessary criterion for diagnosing it in an adult that it had begun in childhood, even if not recognized at the time. As the disorder was popularized, I turned away many people seeking to have their underperformance in life validated by an ADHD diagnosis — and usually seeking to be prescribed stimulants — because a careful look back revealed that they had shown no signs of having had the disorder as children. Unfortunately, this distinction has been lost in the decades since, resulting in an epidemic of overdiagnosis and unjustified treatment in adults. (The reprehensible epidemic of overdiagnosis of ADHD in children is a different matter.) It warms my heart to see some credible research bearing on the issue. However, I might quibble on the basis of my clinical experience with the inflated assertion that “20% of adults may have ADHD.”

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Anger is temporary madness, and the Stoics knew how to curb it

Massimo Pigliucci, professor of philosophy at City College, writes:

‘…[H]ere is my modern Stoic guide to anger management, inspired by Seneca’s advice:

– Engage in preemptive meditation: think about what situations trigger your anger, and decide ahead of time how to deal with them.

– Check anger as soon as you feel its symptoms. Don’t wait, or it will get out of control.

– Associate with serene people, as much as possible; avoid irritable or angry ones. Moods are infective.

– Play a musical instrument, or purposefully engage in whatever activity relaxes your mind. A relaxed mind does not get angry.

– Seek environments with pleasing, not irritating, colours. Manipulating external circumstances actually has an effect on our moods.

– Don’t engage in discussions when you are tired, you will be more prone to irritation, which can then escalate into anger.

– Don’t start discussions when you are thirsty or hungry, for the same reason.

-Deploy self-deprecating humour, our main weapon against the unpredictability of the Universe, and the predictable nastiness of some of our fellow human beings.

-Practise cognitive distancing – what Seneca calls ‘delaying’ your response – by going for a walk, or retire to the bathroom, anything that will allow you a breather from a tense situation.

– Change your body to change your mind: deliberately slow down your steps, lower the tone of your voice, impose on your body the demeanour of a calm person.

– Above all, be charitable toward others as a path to good living.

Seneca’s advice on anger has stood the test of time, and we would all do well to heed it. …’

Source: Aeon Ideas

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The Court Challenge Begins: Is Trump Taking Unconstitutional Emoluments?

Peter Overby writes:

‘On Wednesday morning, a federal judge in Manhattan will hear preliminary arguments in a case that claims President Trump is violating the Constitution’s ban on accepting foreign payments, or emoluments.

Here is what is at stake: The Founding Fathers wrote a clause into the Constitution saying U.S. officials cannot accept “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title” from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. Trump’s critics say that by refusing to sell off his global businesses, the president is failing to uphold the Constitution.

But before that issue can be debated, the court first has to decide whether the plaintiffs even have standing to bring their Emoluments Clause case. And that first step is what is happening in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. …’

Source: NPR

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George Saunders Wins Man Booker Prize For ‘Lincoln In The Bardo’

Camila Domonoske writes:

‘American author George Saunders has won the Man Booker prize for his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, a polyphonous meditation on death, grief and American history.

Saunders, widely lauded for his short stories, was considered the favorite to win the award. His novel centers on the death of Abraham Lincoln’s beloved son Willie and the night that Lincoln reportedly spent in the graveyard, devastated by his grief and lingering by his son’s body.

In the book, Saunders weaves fragments of historical documents (both authentic and imagined) with the voices of ghosts trapped in the graveyard with young Willie, watching in wonder at the strength of his father’s love. The devastating toll of the Civil War is the backdrop for the scene of very particular loss …’

Source: NPR

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LIGO Detects Fierce Collision of Neutron Stars for the First Time

DENNIS OVERBYE writes:

‘After two months of underground and social media rumblings, the first wave of news is being reported Monday about one of the least studied of cosmic phenomena: the merger of dense remnants known as neutron stars, the shrunken cores of stars that have collapsed and burst. …’

Source:  NYTimes.com

First gravitational wave catastrophe that astronomers saw as well as heard, and the most observed astronomical event to date. The video accompanying the article is a lovely explanatory simulation (thanks, Abby).

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A Brief History of the ‘Danse Macabre’

Bethany Corriveau Gotschall writes:

‘In the Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death, skeletons escort living humans to their graves in a lively waltz. Kings, knights, and commoners alike join in, conveying that regardless of status, wealth, or accomplishments in life, death comes for everyone. At a time when outbreaks of the Black Death and seemingly endless battles between France and England in the Hundred Years’ War left thousands of people dead, macabre images like the Dance of Death were a way to confront the ever-present prospect of mortality.

Though a few earlier examples exist in literature, the first known visual Dance of Death comes from around 1424. It was a large fresco painted in the open arcade of the charnel house in Paris’s Cemetery of the Holy Innocents. Stretched across a long section of wall and visible from the open courtyard of the cemetery, the fresco depicted human figures (all male) accompanied by cavorting skeletons in a long procession. A verse inscribed on the wall below each of the living figures explained the person’s station in life, arranged in order of social status from pope and emperor to shepherd and farmer. Clothing and accessories, like the pope’s cross-shaped staff and robes, or the farmer’s hoe and simple tunic, also helped identify each person. …’

Source: Atlas Obscura

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Trump lashing out at enemies again: crossing a line?

‘The cycles of chaos and rhetorical attacks that have been a hallmark of Donald Trump’s presidency reached another peak this week, forcing a rare public appearance Thursday by chief of staff John Kelly, who appeared before the White House press corps in a bid to smooth the waters. …’

Source: The Boston Globe

A growing number of people both inside and outside the government are coming on board voicing the accumulating evidence, at least since election day if not long before, that the president is unhinged. In the Senate, Bob Corker says the White House is “an adult day care center” (insult as that that might be to most of the geriatric daycare patients I have known!)  and Ben Sass suggest that Trump’s actions indicate his inability to uphold his vow in his oath of office to protect the constitution. Increasingly, apologists for the president, such as the skunk Paul Ryan, hold their nose while repeating the  desperately outlandish assertion that this is just how a man acts when he is being unfairly criticized. (I hope, and think, that this puts the final nail in the coffin of Joseph Goebbels oft- quoted assertion that any lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.)

Routinely, members of his administration go on the record needing to contradict the assertions and intentions he has expressed in his deranged late-night tweets, and there’s no telling how many have decided in private not to follow his orders, should they cross some privately drawn line in the sand, such as launching a nuclear attack on North Korea. One can only hope for a mutiny by the relevant military personnel in such a case.

More than two dozen mental health clinicians of national stature, a number of them friends and colleagues of mine, have contributed to the book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, which argues that Trump’s mental state is a clear and present danger to the welfare of the United States and its people and indeed makes him the “most dangerous man in the world”.

Preeminent psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who studied the psychology of obedience to Nazi terror, warns of the “malignant normality” that can transform our everyday life if others do not join those who have already spoken up, as I try to do here in this weblog.

In the final chapter of the book, psychiatrists Dee Mosbacher and Nanette Gartrell summarize the stipulation that many of us have been making that Trump’s inability to distinguish fact from fiction, rageful responses to criticism, lack of impulse control, and wanton disregard for the rule of law indicate emotional impairment rather than deliberate choice. They conclude with the argument, which I find compelling, that we invoke the process embodied in the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which addresses presidential disability and succession, to evaluate whether Trump is fit to serve. This is an increasingly more viable alternative to the impeachment process to get Trump out of office.

The process can be initiated by a request from Trump’s Cabinet members or self-started by Congress. An impartial panel of medical and psychiatric experts would be convened to evaluate Trump’s capacity to discharge his duties, conclusions remaining confidential unless they indicated that he should be removed from office. Let us hope that it is a race between the Cabinet and the Congress to reach such a conclusion. Call it fortunate or unfortunate as you may, Trump can be counted upon to provide a growing  impetus for such a process with his continuing erratic, bizarre, irrational, and outrageous behavior.

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Why Are We So Upset About Harvey Weinstein?

Marie Solis writes:

Women Are Attacked By Men in Nearly All Workplaces:

“The Harvey Weinsteins of the world aren’t confined to Hollywood studio executive suites—men sexually harass women in the workplace in nearly every industry, threatening women’s safety and career prospects.

In its most recent report, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it received 28,000 sexual harassment complaints from employees working for private or government employers in 2015—nearly one-third of the 90,000 charges of workplace discrimination.

And roughly three out of four people who experience sexual harassment fail to report it, largely due to fear of victim-blaming or retaliation, the agency added. …”

Source: Newsweek

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The Asheville Airport Bomber You Never Heard About

Shaun King writes:

‘The story didn’t go viral and Trump didn’t tweet about it because the bomb was not placed by an immigrant, or a Muslim, or a Mexican. It was placed there by a good ol’ white man, Michael Christopher Estes. Unlike the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, whose motive is still hard to discern, Estes wanted to be very clear that his ultimate goal was to accelerate a war on American soil.

Sorry if it sounds like you’ve heard this story before. I’m as tired of writing it as you are reading it, but you know good and well that if Estes was a young Muslim — hell, if he had ever even visited a mosque in the past 25 years — that Trump would be tweeting about him right this very moment to tout how essential a Muslim ban is for American safety. …’

Source: The Intercept

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Should Animal Abusers Be Registered Like Sex Offenders?

‘One of the objectives of the criminal justice system is to protect the innocent and discourage would-be perpetrators from harming them. Whether it does this in reality or not is another matter. But who among us is more innocent or vulnerable than our pets? They rely on us for so much. Most of us consider our pet a member of the family. The question is, how far should the law go to protect them?

This debate has blossomed recently, due to the number of US jurisdictions passing laws creating animal abuse abuser registries. This is much like a sex offender registry. Tennessee passed a statewide law, the first, in 2016. Connecticut, Washington, and Texas may be next. Some other states are considering such a registry as well….

Some supporters of these laws have pointed out that there’s a relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence. Serial killers often start out by abusing animals, before they move up to humans. This is in the most extreme cases, however. According to the Humane Society, the most widespread type of animal abuse is neglect. Neglectful pet owners don’t often harm humans or animals in any other way….

Humane Society Spokeswoman Jennifer Fearing said that rather than public shaming, targeted educational programs and mental health efforts would be more effective and less inflammatory. “We should be very careful to strike a balance between preventing future animal cruelty, protecting civil liberties, and promoting redemption and rehabilitation,” she said.

Lots of animal rights organizations and shelters keep their own lists. But these don’t often get into the hands of authorities. Animal abuse is considered a misdemeanor in most states and the most heinous acts are considered a felony, in all 50. Animal cruelty has also made it to the FBI’s list of Class A felonies. It monitors for such incidence just as it does for major crimes such as murder….

But whether we should go a step farther and have a federal animal abuser registry is still hotly debated. According to polling site Debate.com, 64% of respondents believe we should. Want to weigh in yourself? Click here. If you believe someone is abusing animals, be sure and contact The Humane Society or dial 911. ‘

Source: Big Think

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Our Worrisome Epidemic of Dream Deprivation

‘A CDC report finds that sleep deprivation has gotten so bad, it’s now a public health problem. The report states that nearly 30% of adults get six hours sleep or less sleep per night, on average. Most adults require 7-8 hours nightly.

Another finding, around 30-40% of adults (depending on age) fall asleep inadvertently at least once over the course of a day. Imagine if this person is a bus driver or simply falls asleep at the wheel? A book out last year by Arianna Huffington also argues we’re engrossed in a sleep-deprivation crisis on a societal and perhaps global scale.

While this latest report by a sleep and dreaming expert heralds a similar message, it’s in some ways stranger and more worrisome. We don’t think of dreams as something associated with health. But they are. And a lack of them is concerning.

“We are at least as dream-deprived as we are sleep-deprived.” said Rubin Naiman, PhD author of the report. He’s a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Dr. Naiman writes that REM sleep is crucial to proper health. In the report, he called our current situation a “silent epidemic of REM sleep deprivation.”

His findings, published in the journal, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, was a comprehensive review of all available data. In it, he talks about what causes REM sleep and dream loss and the reasons for it. “Many of our health concerns attributed to sleep loss actually result from REM sleep deprivation,” he said…’

Source:  Big Think

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Where Are the Drones That Could Be Saving Puerto Rico?

Where are the drones that could pick up the slack? We’re now decades into the age of unmanned aviation. Military drones whisk across oceans to spy on enemies and launch missiles. Amazon, FedEx, and their ilk are clamoring for the right to deliver running shoes and pizza to your front lawn via quadcopters….

If the technology is clearly here, it’s the cash and the government motivation that are lacking…

To a large extent, progress has been stymied by the FAA’s reluctance to permit drone flights in commercial airspace…

Yes, drones have a military association that can belie their humanitarian potential. But if the industry and regulators could work together to launch fleets of drones delivering piles of desperately needed supplies to stricken communities, it’s hard to imagine anyone would care who had sent them.

Source: WIRED

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How Science Saved Me from Pretending to Love Wine

Ann Fadiman writes:

‘…I ordered a kit from 23andMe, a genetic-testing company, and spat into a little plastic tube. I was duly informed that I had several variants—none of them particularly rare—in TAS2R38 and TAS2R13, two of the genes that encode for the taste receptors that perceive bitterness. One set of variants intensifies the perception of bitter flavors in general, including prop; the other specifically intensifies the perception of bitterness in alcohol. All the variants were heterozygous, which meant that I had inherited them from only one parent (I feel pretty sure it was my mother, who loved milkshakes) and not from the other (the one who loved wine)….’

Source: New Yorker

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The real reason some people become addicted to drugs

Cogent explanation based on the distinction between liking and wanting.

In the 1980s, researchers made a surprising discovery. Food, sex and drugs all appeared to cause dopamine to be released in certain areas of the brain, such as the nucleus accumbens.

This suggested to many in the scientific community that these areas were the brain’s pleasure centers and that dopamine was our own internal pleasure neurotransmitter. However, this idea has since been debunked. The brain does have pleasure centers, but they are not modulated by dopamine.

So what’s going on? It turns out that, in the brain, “liking” something and “wanting” something are two separate psychological experiences. “Liking” refers to the spontaneous delight one might experience eating a chocolate chip cookie. “Wanting” is our grumbling desire when we eye the plate of cookies in the center of the table during a meeting.

Dopamine is responsible for “wanting” – not for “liking.” For example, in one study, researchers observed rats that could not produce dopamine in their brains. These rats lost the urge to eat but still had pleasurable facial reactions when food was placed in their mouths.

All drugs of abuse trigger a surge of dopamine – a rush of “wanting” – in the brain. This makes us crave more drugs. With repeated drug use, the “wanting” grows, while our “liking” of the drug appears to stagnate or even decrease, a phenomenon known as tolerance.

Source: The Conversation

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Ta-Nehisi Coates to Chris Hayes: why Donald Trump really is a white supremacist

‘I think if you own a business that attempts to keep black people from renting from you; if you are reported to say that you don’t want black people counting your money; if you say—and not even reported, just come out and say—that someone can’t judge your case because they are Mexican; if your response to the first black president is that they weren’t born in this country, despite all proof; if you say they weren’t smart enough to go to Harvard Law School, and demand to see their grades; if that’s the essence of your entire political identity you might be a white supremacist, it’s just possible. …’

Source: Quartz

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Scientists Link ‘Cat’ Parasite to Common Neurological Disorders

‘A new study shows that Toxoplasma gondii—a brain parasite often transmitted to humans by cats—triggers various changes in the human brain which potentially allow the pathogen to exacerbate several pre-existing neurological conditions. It’s a worrisome finding given that nearly one in ten Americans may be infected with the parasite, but more work is needed to assess T. gondii’s full impact on human health.

The new research, published recently in Scientific Reports, links T. gondii with several brain conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and even some cancers. The research, which involved 32 scientists across 16 institutions in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, identifies key vulnerabilities in the human brain that enable the parasite to alter the course of a disease, and potentially make it even worse. The findings could eventually serve as a guide to help scientists design medications and interventions to repair and prevent neurological damage inflicted by T. gondii on the human brain…’

Source: Gizmodo

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Peril to Amazonian Indigenous Peoples is Growing

‘They were members of an uncontacted tribe gathering eggs along the river in a remote part of the Amazon. Then, it appears, they had the bad luck of running into gold miners.

Now, federal prosecutors in Brazil have opened an investigation into the reported massacre of about 10 members of the tribe, the latest evidence that threats to endangered indigenous groups are on the rise in the country.

The Brazilian agency on indigenous affairs, Funai, said it had lodged a complaint with the prosecutor’s office in the state of Amazonas after the gold miners went to a bar in the town of Tabatinga, near the border with Peru, and bragged about the killings. They brandished a hand-carved paddle that they said had come from the tribe, the agency said…’

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Can American Survive the Drumpf Administration?

 

 

‘…On matters concerning the possible disintegration of democratic norms, I turn to the most urgent and acute text on the subject, “How to Build an Autocracy,” an Atlantic cover story by David Frum published earlier this year. Frum, a senior writer for the magazine (and a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush), made the argument in this groundbreaking article that if autocracy came to America, it would be not in the form of a coup but in the steady, gradual erosion of democratic norms. Frum’s eloquent writing and ruthlessly sharp analysis for The Atlantic has made him an indispensably important—perhaps even the leading—conservative critic of President Trump….

I asked Frum to analyze his March cover story. Did he overplay or understate any of the threats? “The thing I got most wrong is that I did not anticipate the sheer chaos and dysfunction and slovenliness of the Trump operation,” he said. “I didn’t sufficiently anticipate how distracted Trump could be by things that are not essential. My model was that he was greedy first and authoritarian second. What I did not see is that he is needy first, greedy second, and authoritarian third. We’d be in a lot worse shape if he were a more meticulous, serious-minded person.”

The Trump presidency is still young, but we thought it would be worthwhile to ask several writers to assess its first several months. Eliot A. Cohen, who served in the State Department under George W. Bush, examines how Trump has affected America’s global standing; Jack Goldsmith, who served as a high official in the Bush Justice Department, investigates the possible damage Trump has done to American institutions. And our national correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates refracts the Trump presidency through the prism of race…’

 

 

Source: The Atlantic

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Great Apes Know When They Don’t Know

‘It’s a familiar problem: you leave the house and while closing the door, the question whether the stove was turned on or off pops up in your head. Although annoying, this problem could easily be solved by turning around and taking a second look. This simple example illustrates an important form of thinking: metacognition or the ability to monitor ones’ own mental states. Before turning around, you assess whether you remember the state of the stove. Once you realize that you don’t remember, you seek additional information. Importantly, in humans, this monitoring process is very flexible and can be applied to all sorts of thoughts, not just the ones about your stove. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the University of St. Andrews asked what great apes would do when they are confronted with such a situation…’

Source: Neuroscience News

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What to Do if You Encounter a Murderous Clown

‘We here at io9 take clown safety very seriously, so we wanted to familiarize everyone with a) how to differentiate between harmless human clowns and their (much more) murderous cousins; and b) how to confront a clown should the situation call for it. Remember, people, clowns are much less afraid of you than you are of them, so it’d behoove you to have a game plan at the ready unless you’re trying to get got…’

Source: io9

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When to Say No to a Police Officer

‘…It’s easier for a white nurse than a black motorist to say no to a cop. Last weekend Alex Wubbels, a nurse at University University Hospital in Salt Lake City refused a cop’s orders to draw blood from an unconscious patient. Wubbels had hospital policy on her side as well as her supervisor’s support, and the cop still handcuffed her and tossed her in the back of a squad car until cooler heads prevailed.

She was right to say no to the officer’s demands, and there has been an outpouring of support nationwide for her standing firm in the face of police bullying and ultimately assault—support that is often conspicuously absent when the victim of police brutality is a person of color.

It is much easier for a person in a position of relative privilege to refuse to comply with a cop’s demands, and every person must gauge their own level of risk in interactions of cops—your safety is your number-one concern, and everyone must make their decisions accordingly. Nonetheless, there are some interactions with police when civilians are within their legal rights to say no. I spoke with Jason Williamson, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, about when we may legally say no to police.

1. When they ask for your consent to search your person, your car, or your home…

2. When they ask you for more information than your name and your driver’s license (and car registration and insurance, if you’re pulled over)…

3. When they ask you to do something illegal (a la Alex Wubbels)…

4. When they try to ask you questions after you are under arrest…

5. When they want to listen when you call your lawyer…

6. When they ask your immigration status or if they ask you to sign something…’

Source: Lifehacker

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Stop Faking Service Dogs

‘…I encounter dogs that are blatantly not service animals on a daily basis. Recently, during a morning visit to my local café, I laughed when a woman whose tiny dog was thrashing around at the limits of its leash and barking fiercely at other customers loudly proclaimed that it was a service animal. “It’s my service dog,” she said to me, scowling. “You’re not allowed to ask me why I need it!”

Data backs my anecdote up. A study conducted at the University of California at Davis found that the number of “therapy dogs” or “emotional support animals” registered by animal control facilities in the state increased 1,000 percent between 2002 and 2012. In 2014, a supposed service dog caused a U.S. Airways flight to make an emergency landing after repeatedly defecating in the aisle. A Google News search for “fake service dog” returns more than 2.2 million results.

This has recently led state governments to try and curb the problem through law. In Massachusetts, a House bill seeks to apply a $500 fine to pet owners who even falsely imply that their animal may be a service dog. In California, the penalty is $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Twelve states now have laws criminalizing the misrepresentation of a pet as a service animal. That’s good, but with all the confusion surrounding what a service dog actually is, there’s less and less protection for their unique status.

A new bill introduced to the Senate this summer by Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin threatens to add to the confusion even more. If it becomes law, you’ll be able to take any animal on a plane simply by telling the airline that it’s an ESA. Alarmingly, the bill seems to include ESAs in its definition of service animals.

Look, I get the desire to bring your pet along with you everywhere you go. My dogs are as important to me as my friends and family. The first criteria my girlfriend and I apply to where we eat, drink, and travel is whether our dogs can enjoy it with us. But out of respect for the needs of disabled people, for the incredible work that real service dogs perform, and for the people managing and patronizing these businesses, we will not lie. We do not take our pets places where they’re not welcome. We never want to compromise the ability of a service dog to perform its essential duties.

As an animal lover, don’t you want the same thing? …’

Source: Outside Online

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Please, please stop sharing spaghetti plots of hurricane models

Technical discussion of why you should not believe everything you hear about the projected plots of Hurricanes:

‘…spaghetti plots are not good decision-making tools. Sorry, they’re just not. To understand why, let’s take a look at the models on Nate Silver’s plot, which he shared with his 2.5 million followers at 7:34pm ET Tuesday:

XTRP: This is not a model. It is simply a straight-line extrapolation of the storm’s current direction at 2pm Tuesday.

TVCN, TVCX: These are useful, as they are consensus forecasts of global model tracks. NHC: This is the official forecast from the National Hurricane Center.

TABD, TABM, TABS: These are simple statistical models, which are essentially useless for track forecasting.

NVGM: Useful, but the model is from about 8am ET, or 12 hours before Silver posted the graphic. Wildly out of date.

HMON: This is NOAA’s new hurricane model, but it was badly wrong during Hurricane Harvey. Also 12 hours old. Essentially useless.

HWRF: This is NOAA’s primary hurricane model, and while it’s OK, it is nearly 12 hours old. Not useful.

COTC: A version of the US Navy’s global model, which is kind of meh for hurricanes and is 12 hours old.

AVNO, AEMN: Two variants of NOAA’s premiere global model, the GFS. Both are worth looking at, but again the forecasts are 12 hours old.

CMC, CEMN: Two variants of the Canadian global model, which is worth looking at, but again the forecasts are 12 hours old.

UKM: The UK Met Office’s global model, which is definitely worth looking at. But the forecasts are 12 hours old.

CLP5: Not a model at all. Just a forecast based on where storms in this location historically go.

This is the essential problem with spaghetti plots. To the untrained eye, all models are created equal, when they most certainly are not. Plots like this also often include forecasts that are 12 or more hours old, which is generally out of date when it comes to hurricanes. Finally, the world’s most accurate model, the European forecast system, is proprietary and not included on such plots.So what should you do? First and foremost, pay attention to the National Hurricane Center, which publishes updated track and intensity forecasts every six hours. I know a lot of these forecasters personally, and they are absolute pros without agendas who dedicate their summers to getting these forecasts right. There are no absolutes in track and intensity forecasts, and there is a lot of uncertainty. They understand all of this as well as anyone can…’

Source: Ars Technica

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Boasting of His Experience, 6-Year-Old Makes Heartfelt Application for Lego Job

‘After Legoland Windsor posted a job listing earlier this year seeking designers to help create animated Lego figures, staff at the British theme park received one application that really caught their eye.

“I am the man [for] the job because I have lots of experience,” wrote a confident Stanley Bolland in a handwritten note.

“I am 6 years old,” he wrote.

According to the BBC, the Legoland job listing had sought applicants with “experience in product design, IT and design packages, as well as an ‘interest or knowledge about Lego and creation of Lego models.’”…

In his letter, Stanley, who lives in the town of Waterlooville, England, cited his one box of Lego blocks ― which he said he hides “so my brother can’t get it” ― as evidence of his experience. …’

Source: HuffPost

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How the Summer of Love helped give birth to the Religious Right

Neil J. Young writes:

‘Sex, drugs, and — Jesus? It’s not what the Summer of Love generally calls to mind. But of all the things that came out of San Francisco in 1967, perhaps none was more unexpected, or more consequential, than the Jesus Freaks or, as they were more commonly known, the Jesus People.

While they would give up their drugs and promiscuous sex, the Jesus People retained much of their countercultural ways, bringing their music, dress, and laid-back style into the churches they joined. Their influence would remake the Sunday worship experience for millions of Americans. As the historian Larry Eskridge has argued, today’s evangelical mega-churches with their rock bands blasting praise music and jeans-wearing pastors “are a direct result of the Jesus People movement.” …’

Source: Vox

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R.I.P. Walter Becker

Co-Founder of Steely Dan Dies at 67

JON PARELES writes:

‘Walter Becker, the guitarist and songwriter who made suavely subversive pop hits out of slippery jazz harmonies and verbal enigmas in Steely Dan, his partnership with Donald Fagen, died on Sunday. He was 67.

His death was announced on his official website, which gave no other details. He lived in Maui, Hawaii…’

Source:  NYTimes.com

Although he was a few years ahead of me, Becker and I went to the same high school, although it wasn’t until after high school that I discovered my passion for Steely Dan.

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R.I.P. John Ashbery; Hear Him Read “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”

Dan Colman writes:

‘Poet John Ashbery has passed away, at the age of 90. About the poet, Harold Bloom once said. “No one now writing poems in the English language is likelier than Ashbery to survive the severe judgment of time. He is joining the American sequence that includes Whitman, Dickinson, Stevens and Hart Crane.” 

In 1976, Ashbery won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Above, you can hear him read the title poem, his masterpiece. The Guardian calls “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” a densely written epic about art, time and consciousness that was inspired by the 16th century Italian painting of the same name.” The text of the poem appears on the Poetry Foundation website…’

Source: Open Culture

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Independent Analysis on Supplements

This could be the best site to scratch your itch about nutritional supplements:

‘What is Examine.com? 

We were frustrated. There was no place we could turn to in order to get unbiased information on supplements. Sure, there was Wikipedia, but it wasn’t getting deep into the science.
Everyone else? Had an agenda. Supplement companies misrepresenting science. Media sensationalizing headlines. Companies and individuals pushing unneeded supplements and other products onto you.

That’s why Examine.com started in 2011. Fully independent from the start, we’ve never sold any supplements. Or done any coaching or consulting. Or any kind of advertising or sponsorship.

Our goal from day 1 has always been: read the research, make sense of it, and put it online. We’re an education company that looks at the research — nothing more, nothing less. …’

Source: Examine.com

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The Photos the U.S. and Saudi Arabia Don’t Want You to See

Nicholas Kristof writes:

‘Let’s be blunt: With U.S. and U.K.
complicity, the Saudi government is
committing war crimes in Yemen.

“The country is on the brink of famine, with over 60 percent of the population not knowing where their next meal will come from,” the leaders of the U.N. World Food Program, Unicef and the World Health Organization said in an unusual joint statement.

Yemen, always an impoverished country, has been upended for two years by fighting between the Saudi-backed military coalition and Houthi rebels and their allies (with limited support from Iran). The Saudis regularly bomb civilians and, worse, they have closed the airspace and imposed a blockade to starve the rebel-held areas into submission.

That means that ordinary Yemenis, including children, die in bombings or starve….’

Source: The New York Times

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The far right is losing its ability to speak freely online. Should the left defend it?

‘… “This is a really terrible time to be a free speech advocate,” said Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It’s a ‘First they came for the … situation,” she said, referring to the famous Martin Niemöller poem about the classes of people targeted by Nazis, “only in reverse”.

Though these are dark days for American exceptionalism, the US remains distinct in its commitment to freedom of speech. Even as many Americans increasingly favor European-style limitations on hate speech, the constitution’s first amendment ensures that any such legislative effort is likely a non-starter.

But the fate of the Daily Stormer – as vile a publication as it is – may be a warning to Americans that the first amendment is increasingly irrelevant…’

Source: The Guardian

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‘Smart’ Rubber Bands Are on Their Way

‘According to a story on Science Alert, the world’s largest rubber band maker, Alliance, Ohio’s, Alliance Rubber Co., is working with researchers to create unbreakable rubber bands that will also be traceable and responsive to external stimuli. This all thanks to the addition of the space-age material graphene, which is said to be 200 times stronger than steel…’

Source: Atlas Obscura