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Pro-Trump counties now have far higher COVID death rates

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

— Geoff Brumfiel via NPR

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Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict May Inspire Violence: Experts

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

— via Buzzfeed

 

Related:

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

— via The Intercept

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Beaches littered with ‘dangerous’ rocks and pebbles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— via Daily Star

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

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

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

— via Boing Boing

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Humans Are On Track to Export Our Environmental Problems to Space

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

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

— Paola Rosa-Aquino via WIRED

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

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

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

— via WIRED

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

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

via The Hedgehog Review

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

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

— via Atlas Obscura

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“How do you feel?”

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

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

Lost and found emotions, e.g.:

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

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

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

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

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

— via Lifehacker

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The New Cold War

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

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

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Happy Guy Fawkes Day

 

300px Gunpowder plot

“Don’t you remember the 5th of November

Is gunpowder treason and plot?

I don’t see the reason why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot

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

I pray master give us a faggit

If you dont give us one well take two

The better for us and the worse for you”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V for vendettax

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

440px London QVS April 12 2008 0010 Anons

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

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People with psychosis: healing by rebuilding life stories

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

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

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

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

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

via Psyche Ideas

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

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

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

via The Economist

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Reverence for Hallowe’en: Good for the Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Halloween jack-o'-lanterns.

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

Frankenstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related:
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On the Internet, We’re Always Famous

Unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

— Andrew Anthony via The Guardian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The latest recruit to the Big Tent? Tax cheats.

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

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

— Catherine Ramped via Washington Post

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The Conspiracy Theory Bubble

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

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

— Hugo Drochon via Persuasion

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Is the era of the skyscraper over?

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

— via The Guardian

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— via Vox

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Harvard Scientist Suggests That Our Universe Was Created in a Laboratory

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

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

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

— via futurism.com

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

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

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

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

— via The Drive

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

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

— Clive Thompson via Creators Hub, Medium

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Two new studies suggest the coronavirus did not originate in China

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

— via Medical News Today

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

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

— via New York Times

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Six Rules That Will Define Our Second Pandemic Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Opinion: Our constitutional crisis is already here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Robert Kagan via The Washington Post

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Why your friends have more friends than you do

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

— via Boing Boing

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s popularity is plunging

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

— via Boing Boing

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Happy Mabon!

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

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

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

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

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

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How Endemic COVID Becomes a Manageable Risk

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

— Scott Gottlieb via The Atlantic

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Be Concerned, be Very Concerned, About the Nipah Virus

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

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

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

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

— Kamala Thiagarajan via NPR

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

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

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

— Greg Sargent via Opinion: Washington Post

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Can dogs understand human intent?

I’ve got your number…

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

— via Big Think

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

Related:

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

Austin Texas, 09/01/21

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

— via Vox

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

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

— via Boing Boing

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Immunology is Where Intuition Goes to Die

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

…It works, roughly, like this…’

— Ed Yong writing in The Atlantic

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

 

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

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

— via France 24

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

— via Associated Press

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

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

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

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

— via Lifehacker

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

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We are effectively alone in the universe

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

— via Big Think

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A strange link between grizzly bear DNA and human language


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

— via Big Think

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

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

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

Society downplayed the dangers…’

— Umair Haque via Eudaimonia and Co

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

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

—  Jessica Wildfire via Medium

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Can culture degenerate?

Idea essay the voice season 16 1

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

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

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

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Housekeeping

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

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How to find a pet tardigrade and care for it

 

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

— via Boing Boing

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Is This the Beginning of Runaway Global Warming?

 

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

—  umair haque via Eudaimonia

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The Real Source of America’s Rising Rage

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

Kevin Drum via Mother Jones

Uncategorized

A person in a dream co-authored a math paper

 

Voevodsky Diagram jpg

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

— Mark Frauenfelder via Boing Boing

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The Galloping Cat (1972)

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

— Stevie Smith via Poetry By Heart

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America’s next Covid tragedy may follow partisan lines

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

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

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

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

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

— via CNN

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

 

…and it’s not a mRNA vaccine

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

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

Hilda Bastian via The Atlantic

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

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

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

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

— David Pescovitz via Boing Boing

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

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

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

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

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

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

— via Boing Boing

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

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

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

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

As I wrote here in 2009:

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

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Also:

 

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

— Henry Olsen via The Washington Post

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A treasure map for an American tyrant

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

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

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

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

 — via The Boston Globe

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

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

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

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

– via Kottke

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

Feature

Field Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

where to look for the good parts.

 

— Tony Hoagland via McKinley Valentine

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Disclaimers Follow…

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

— via Follow Me Here…
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The fascinating science of pleasure goes way beyond dopamine

Dopamine

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

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

— via Psyche Ideas

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Aphorisms: deep or superficial?

 

 

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

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

— via Psyche Ideas

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

 

 

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35 Medical Facts That Doctors Wish You’d Know

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

— via Bored Panda

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

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Where the next coronavirus could jump from bats to people

 

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

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

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

— via Vox

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

 

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

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

This question elicited a round of cheers from the audience.

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

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

— via TheHill

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

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

— via The Onion

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

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

— via The New York Times

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River Runner

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

— via River Runner

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

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

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

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

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

….

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

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

— via Lifehacker

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

 

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

— via Boing Boing

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Terms and Conditions Apply

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

— via Terms and Conditions Apply

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

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

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

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

— science writer Nicholas Wade via Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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

Computer Kid Feel Bad

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

— via Vice.com

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The Unique History of Bumper Stickers

 

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

 

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LSD flashbacks: never-ending trip

 

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

— via Big Think

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

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Has an Old Soviet Mystery at Last Been Solved?

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