Journalist and Priestess Dies at 68: ‘Margot Adler, a longtime correspondent for NPR who was also a recognized authority on, and a longtime practitioner of, neo-pagan spiritualism, died on Monday at her home in Manhattan. She was 68.
Her death, from cancer, was announced by NPR.
Ms. Adler joined NPR, then known as National Public Radio, in 1979 and was variously a general-assignment reporter, the New York bureau chief and a political and cultural correspondent.
She was the host of NPR’s “Justice Talking,” a weekly program about public policy broadcast from 1999 to 2008, and was heard often on “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.”
She reported on a wide array of subjects, among them the Ku Klux Klan, the AIDS epidemic, the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Sandy, the Harry Potter phenomenon and the natural world.
Ms. Adler was also a self-described Wiccan high priestess who adhered to the tradition for more than 40 years.’ (NYTimes obituary).
Month: July 2014
These Medical Apps Have Doctors and the FDA Worried
Via WIRED: ‘[The] FDA says it is now working to crack down on questionable healthcare apps, and some app makers may be willing to provide additional disclosures about their software when pushed to do so…’
What happens when lightning hits the sea?
Via BBC News: ‘A man died and several other people were injured in a thunderstorm off the coast of California. What happens when lightning hits the sea, asks Justin Parkinson.’
Simple answer: get out or go deep.
7 rogue wave disasters, from Columbus to cruise ships
Via New Scientist: ‘In 2007, Paul Liu at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration compiled a catalogue of more than 50 historical incidents probably associated with rogue waves. Here are some of the most significant.’
Why Ebola Virus Is Likely to Hit the U.S. But Not Spread
Via National Geographic: ‘There are few direct flights from West Africa to the U.S., so most feverish passengers entering American airports will have something far more routine and less risky than Ebola.
Ebola is contagious only when symptomatic, so someone unknowingly harboring the virus would not pass it on, Monroe said.
Even passengers showing symptoms are unlikely to pass the disease on to fellow travelers, he said.Blood and stool carry the most virus—which is why those at highest risk for Ebola infection are family members who care for sick loved ones and health care workers who treat patients or accidentally stick themselves with infected needles.Theoretically, there could be enough virus in sweat or saliva to pass on the virus through, say, an airplane armrest or a nearby sneeze, said Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist and virologist at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York. But droplets would still need a way to get through the skin.’
Paul Krugman denounces “inversion,” corporate America’s latest “outrageous” scheme
Via Salon.com: ‘In his latest column for the New York Times, leading liberal pundit and celebrated economist Paul Krugman takes on the new trend in the world of corporate tax avoidance, the practice of “inversion,” which is what U.S. corporations call it when they pretend a foreign subsidiary is the real owner of their company as an excuse to shift profits away from America’s higher corporate tax rate.
“The most important thing to understand about inversion,” Krugman writes, “is that it does not in any meaningful sense involve American business ‘moving overseas.’” Inversion, Krugman says, is “a purely paper transaction” but one that “deprive[s] the U.S. government of several billion dollars in revenue that you, the taxpayer … have to make up one way or another.” ‘
The People Who Are Scared of Dogs
Via Pacific Standard: ‘Those who study animal phobias have found that while more people are afraid of spiders or snakes than dogs, living with cynophobia is considerably more challenging—especially today, as dog-wielding humans appropriate more and more public places. [People] living with a fear of dogs [describe] a debilitating phobia that affects where they go and who they see.’
How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism
Via Pacific Standard: ‘[D]eclining wildlife populations are stoking wildlife crimes as prices for contraband animal bits rise, and as communities are forced to travel farther afield and clash with competing groups to find their dinner.
Those crimes, in turn, are fueling further declines in wildlife populations.
And the whole vicious cycle is triggering a heinous global crime wave, including everything from slavery and terrorism to piracy.’
Overweight Americans Have Low Risk of Premature Death
Via Pacific Standard, ‘Why do we use the term “normal weight” when talking about BMI? What’s presented as normal certainly isn’t the norm, and it may not even be what’s most healthy.’
The Complications With Curing Childhood Cancer
Via Pacific Standard, ‘The majority of American children with cancer will be cured, but it may leave them unable to have children of their own. Should preserving fertility in cancer survivors be a research priority?’
The Geography of U.S. Hate
Via Big Think, ‘The image above maps the location of more than 150,000 geocoded tweets that contained words deemed to be racist, homophobic or that targeted people with disabilities. The project was completed by students at Humboldt State University in California. You can view the zoomable map here.’
Powerful and Coldhearted
Via NYTimes.com, ‘Can people in high positions of power — presidents, bosses, celebrities, even dominant spouses — easily empathize with those beneath them? Psychological research suggests the answer is no.’ (thanks, Barbara)
The authors suggest that this is ‘because’ the mirror neuron system of powerful people is less responsive, but this seems to me to be an egregious example of neurological determinism. (You should always see ‘because’ in neurocognitive literature as a red flag, IMHO.) The mirror neuron system may be the neurophysiological basis of empathy, but the observed underactivity in people with power may be a reflection of rather than a reason for their empathic deficits.
New Online Tracking Tool Evades Privacy Settings
Via NPR Science Friday, ‘A new online tracker is snooping on visitors to more than 5,600 popular sites, such as Cancer.org, WhiteHouse.gov and NYDailyNews.com—and its nearly impossible to block. Julia Angwin, author of Dragnet Nation and a senior reporter at ProPublica, talks about “canvas fingerprinting,” as the new technique is called, and what this post-cookie tracker means for privacy online.’ (thanks, Rich)
Racist and hate-filled remarks finally catch up with Ted Nugent
Via Salon.com, ‘Due to growing complaints over the rock singer’s racist past, an Idaho tribe has canceled a show. More may follow…’
It Turns Out Hamas Didn’t Kidnap the Israeli Teens After All
Via NYMag, ‘When the bodies of three Israeli teenagers, kidnapped in the West Bank, were found late last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not mince words. “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay,” he said, initiating a campaign that eventually escalated into the present conflict in the region.
But now, officials admit the kidnappings were not Hamass handiwork after all.
BuzzFeed reporter Sheera Frenkel was among the first to suggest that it was unlikely that Hamas was behind the deaths of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach. Citing Palestinian sources and experts the field, Frenkel reported that kidnapping three Israeli teens would be a foolish move for Hamas. International experts told her it was likely the work of a local group, acting without concern for the repercussions… Today, she was proven right…’
New Phenomenon: Euroderision for Politicians with ‘Bad English’
Via CityLab, ‘If you stumble or make mistakes when trying to speak a foreign language, spare a thought for Europe’s hapless politicians. Recently, the continent’s political masters have been slapped by a new form of satirical attack—Bad English Shaming. A viral-video sub-trend, Bad English Shaming sees public figures foolhardy enough to let their rusty English be recorded on camera getting mocked and mauled for their poor foreign language skills.’
What will Putin do next?
Via The Weekly Wonk, ‘…[T]he downing of flight MH17 could lead to a new chapter in the Eastern Europe conflict. If reports that pro-Russian separatists downed the commercial airliner are true, it could lead to more economic sanctions from the United States, and a more unified international response.’
Via Huffington Post, ‘In a project titled “Mapping it Out: An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartography,” Obrist asked 130 contemporary artists, architects, scientists and designers to reimagine the concept of the map. From renderings of the physical world to abstract images that attempt to navigate the spaces inside our minds, the stunning visualizations turn scientific data and condensed topography into contemporary artworks.’
Annals of Emerging Disease
Via WIRED, ‘Resistant “Nightmare Bacteria” Increase Five-Fold in Southeastern U.S.: There’s worrisome news here in the southeastern US, buried in a journal that is favorite reading only for superbug geeks like me. The rate at which hospitals are recognizing cases of CRE — the form of antibiotic resistance that is so serious the CDC dubbed it a “nightmare” — rose five times over between 2008 and 2012.
Within that bad news, there are two especially troubling points. First, the hospitals where this resistance factor was identified were what is called “community” hospitals, that is, not academic referral centers… That CRE was found so widely not in academic centers, but rather in community hospitals, is a signal that it is probably moving through what medicine calls “the community,” which is to say, anywhere outside healthcare. Or, you know, everyday life.
A second concern is that the authors of the study, which is in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, assume that their finding is an underestimate of the actual problem.
A little background first on CRE. Archive of posts on it is here. The acronym stands for “carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae.” Enterobacteriaceae are a large family of bacteria that normally are carted around in your guts without causing illness. When they escape, though — for instance, during ICU treatment — they are a common cause of serious hospital-acquired infections. “Carbapenems” are a small group of very powerful antibiotics that are viewed as drugs of last resort, which work against infections that have become resistant to most other antibiotics. The acronym CRE indicates a group of resistant organisms that go by other acronyms — NDM, OXA, VIM and KPC, for instance — and that have been spreading across the globe for more than 10 years.
CREs are serious stuff: On average, at least half of those who contract CRE infections die. There are only a few antibiotics — sometimes one, sometimes two, depending on the organism — that work against them at all, and those drugs have significant problems and side effects. Broadly speaking, the emergence of CREs brings us several steps closer to the end of the antibiotic era…’
Do No Harm
‘We seem to be living in a world that is getting less hospitable every day. Look closely at any endeavor our species has engaged in and it appears we are unaware of the harm we do, we ignore the harm we do, we intentionally do harm for our own gain, or sadly in some cases we do harm for our own pleasure and enjoyment.Has no one taught us to do no harm?‘…If you think you are a member of this nonprofit non-organization, you are.
Via Aeon, ‘The death of a fly is utterly insignificant – or it’s a catastrophe. How much should we worry about what we squash?’
The Feminist Horror Author You Need to Read Now
Via Vulture, ‘The best horror writer of the 20th century youve probably never heard of was a British woman who looked like a benign but mildly dotty Hogwarts teacher.
But do not miss the occult mischief behind those 1980s mom-glasses; in a fairly standard Angela Carter story, Harry Potter would be mauled to death by a werewolf before a pan-species initiation of Hermione’s pubescent sexual power.
She made things weird like that, which is why she was great. Carter, however, was not a horror writer in the same sense as Anne Rice or Stephen King; the bulk of her work is classified as magical realism a made-up, jerk-off genre that permits English departments to acknowledge the existence of the human imagination, but her most celebrated book is a high gothic collection of short stories called The Bloody Chamber that you should read immediately if the genre holds any appeal for you.
Or even if it doesn’t — though Carter never broke into the mainstream, an incomplete list of her devotees includes Salman Rushdie, Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Lethem, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Jeannette Winterson, Tea Obreht, Rick Moody, and Ian McEwan…’
I’ve been reading her all along, and I agree.
Ebola Outbreak Update
Via Boing Boing, news that a (highly contagious) infected woman in Sierra Leone fled her quarantine with the assistance of her family. She is at large, presumably among the million-plus people living in Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown Authorities are asking for assistance in tracking her down. In other news, the first death in the Nigerian capital Lagos means that the outbreak, already the largest in history, has reached Africa’s most populous nation and one of its biggest cities (with an estimated 17.5 million people).
Dogs Feel Jealousy
Via IFLScience, ‘While many dog owners will tell you that their canine companion gets jealous if attention is diverted away from them, given the complex cognitions thought to be involved in this emotion many have assumed that jealousy is in fact unique to humans. Some have even proposed that jealousy requires self-reflection and the ability to understand conscious intentions. However, much research into this area has primarily focused on jealousy within romantic relationships over infidelity, neglecting to investigate other forms of this emotion, especially in other species.
Published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers describe the first experimental test of jealousy in dogs which found that these animals displayed jealous behaviors when attention from owners was directed towards a fake pooch. This suggests that a form of this emotion exists in at least one other social species alongside humans.’
Fukushima Monkeys Affected by Irradiation
Via IFLScience, ‘Monkeys living in forests near Fukushima have levels of radioactive caesium in their muscles that may be dangerous. The monkeys were also found to have lower counts of both red and white blood cells than monkeys living further north, which may indicate health effects to come.
The doses detected in the monkeys are far short of those that would cause radiation sickness, and any influence on cancer rates can be hard to pick out from other factors.
The affected monkeys also had decreased counts of both red and white blood cells, consistent with results in people living near Chernobyl. Immature monkeys appeared to have been more affected than adults. No signs of ill health were observed, but healthy white blood cells are essential to protect against infections.’
The 5 Massive New Telescopes That Will Change Astronomy Forever
Via Gizmodo, ‘The biggest building boom in the history of astronomy is upon us. In Chile and Hawaii and in space, astronomers are getting powerful telescopes that dwarf the current state-of-the-art instruments. When the mountain blasting and the mirror polishing are all done, we will have the clearest and most detailed views of outer space ever.’
Outing the Death-Drug Distributors
Via Pacific Standard, ‘Calling all hackers: It’s time to go Assange on capital punishment.’
We Need to Start Tracking Patient Harm Now
Via Pacific Standard, ‘The health care community is not doing enough to track and prevent widespread harm to patients, and preventable deaths and injuries in hospitals and other settings will continue unless Congress takes action, medical experts said last week on Capitol Hill.’
Learn How to Open a Door
Via The Atlantic, ‘If Seinfeld was a show about nothing, the National Geographic Channel’s new show Going Deep With David Rees raises existential questions about what is less than nothing. There are episodes that teach the best way to do such thrilling stunts as open a door, climb a tree, dig a hole, tie your shoes, and make ice. But Rees, the creator of the comic strips “Get Your War On” and “My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable” and author of How To Sharpen Pencils, takes deadly dull themes and makes them both extraordinary and instructive.
It may sound like watching paint dry. But were Rees to ever film a segment on paint drying, I guarantee it would live up to the show’s motto: “DEFAMILIARIZING THE UBIQUITOUS SO AS TO INCREASE OUR APPRECIATION AND WONDER THEREBY.”The show extends the concept of Ree’s hilariously deadpan book about artisanal pencil sharpening, which he has also performed before live audiences. Rees, a native of Chapel Hill, North Carolina who hails from a family of academics, liked the idea of his weird how-to series airing under the august National Geographic banner. .. Rees acknowledges that his most significant influence in making this show was Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.Rees is a kind of a Mr. Wizard anti-hero for millennials…’
I’ve watched the first couple of episodes and I’m hooked. It’s funny and I’ve learned something.
What Is Hezbollah Doing in Europe?
Via The Atlantic, ‘Two years after bombing a Bulgarian airport, the group remains as strong as ever on the continent.’
The Latest Grotesquerie from the Man We Love to Hate
Via Salon.com, ‘The good news in Paul Ryan’s newly released anti-poverty proposal is that, for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, Ryan is not advocating the wholesale destruction of the social safety net. His past budgets – including the most recent – have envisioned catastrophic cuts to social programs all in the service of boosting military spending and alleviating the tax burden on the wealthy. At least for now, he’s transitioned from “destroy the safety net” to “grudgingly accept its continued existence.” So hooray for progress!
The bad news is that Paul Ryan’s view of that safety net is still largely detached from reality. Also, his approach to curing poverty seems to be to treat the poor in as paternalistic and insulting a way as possible by proposing that they sign “contracts” to remain eligible for public assistance. For real. “Contracts.” ‘
The Tyrannosaurus Rex just got way more terrifying
Via Salon.com, ‘Researchers now have more evidence that these carnivorous dinosaurs hunted in packs.’
Gabriel the angel, illuminated in Manhattan
Via Boing Boing, ‘BB pal Scott Matthews snapped this sublime photo of Gabriel on the roof of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. Scott says, “Twice a year the sun rises aligned behind the statue, its kind of my personal Manhattanhenge.” ‘
Upcycled t-shirts with patched-over logos
Via Boing Boing, ‘Logo Removal Service takes discarded gimme shirts bedecked with sponsor logos, and carefully patches over them with new fabric, transforming them into amazing and abstract new one-of-a-kind garments.’
I’ve long been vehemently opposed to being a free advertising billboard for corporate America. I rarely buy items that are conspicuously branded unless I can remove the labels or logos. I should’ve been the one to start a Logo Removal Service!
Anti-Surveillance Camouflage for Your Face
Via The Atlantic, ‘The idea behind CV dazzle is simple. Facial recognition algorithms look for certain patterns when they analyze images: patterns of light and dark in the cheekbones, or the way color is distributed on the nose bridge—a baseline amount of symmetry. These hallmarks all betray the uniqueness of a human visage. If you obstruct them, the algorithm can’t separate a face from any other swath of pixels.
CV dazzle is ostentatious and kind of rad-looking, in a joyful, dystopic way. The first time I saw it, three years ago, I found it charismatic and captivating. Here was a technology that confounded computers with light and color. Since then, more and more people have learned about the technology. Harvey has contributed op-art about dazzle to The New York Times and enthusiasts have held facial dazzle parties. After documents from the Snowden tranche revealed the NSA had harvested an enormous database of faces from images on the web, CV dazzle seemed all the more urgent.
No one I could find, though, had undertaken the real challenge: wearing the dazzle for days while going about everyday life. That final hurdle had been left for me to surmount.’
Another ‘Botched Execution’
Via NBC News.com, ‘An Arizona execution took nearly two hours on Wednesday, and witnesses said the inmate gasped and snorted for well over an hour after the lethal injection. The execution of double-murderer Joseph Wood — which Arizona carried out with a two-drug combination it had never before tried — is certain to fan the debate over how U.S. states carry out the death penalty.’
The Biggest Man-Made Hole on Earth
Via Gizmodo: ‘The land where Bingham Canyon Mine sits was settled by Mormon 166 years ago, but it didn’t emerge as a powerhouse producer until the turn of the 20th century. Today, the mine is 2.5 miles wide and more than half a mile deep. It’s so big, it can be seen from the naked eye aboard the ISS.
Last year, Bingham became the site of the largest landslide thats ever taken place in North America outside of volcanos. But because Rio Tinto, the company that owns the mine, keeps an incredibly close watch on the pit—including using an interferometric radar system to monitor stability—the extraordinary events of April 23, 2013, were predicated long in advance. There was even time to issue a press release.
That night, a landslide shook the area around the mine so hard, it registered as a 5.1 earthquake. Upwards of 70 million cubic meters thundered down into the open pit, creating a huge swath of debris and rock that cascaded down the mines neat, striated walls. No one was hurt, remarkably—except for Rio Tinto, the mines owner, which reported that the “rock avalanche” would cut production by 100,000 tons.
All the most amazing supernovas ever photographed
Via Sploid, ‘NASA has revealed spectacular, newly reprocessed images of four of the most amazing supernovas ever captured by a human science instrument—the Crab Nebula, Tycho, G292.0+1.8, and 3C58—to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Chandra observatory. I decided to go one step further and collect them all…
What you can see here are the complete collection of most important ever captured by humankinds instruments, starting with the rest of the new Chandra series…’
It’s Time for England to Ask: Should Prince George Step Down?
Via Gawker, ‘Prince George, heir to the British throne, turned one human year old on Tuesday. An occasion for celebration, perhaps, and yet we find ourselves troubled: If one thing has become clear over the last year, it is that George Alexander Louis of Cambridge is far from ready to serve as the solemn figurehead of a commonwealth of nations whose combined population numbers in the hundred millions.
Even with a restrained British press, palace media offices have been unable to quell the yearlong deluge of photographs of Prince George at official events crying, screaming, sneering, leering, pouting, shouting, squirming, flailing, grabbing a boob, eating his moms hair, and looking on with chilling coolness as the world around him descends into godless chaos.’
This Molecule Can Prove Youre a Supertaster… Or a Caffeine Junkie
Via io9, ‘Some patients found the drug to be unbearably bitter. Some found it only slightly bitter. Some didnt notice a flavor at all. With a little research, scientists found that those who could taste the bitterness in PROP tended to have more taste receptors, and that this ability seemed to run in families. Now PROP is used in one of tests that determines if someone is a supertaster. Patients swish a cup of liquid, with some PROP mixed in, around in their mouths, or they put a paper saturated with PROP on their tongue. If theyre supertasters, they wont want to be tasting long. Supertasters find PROP overwhelmingly bitter and unpleasant. People with slightly heightened senses of taste find it only slightly bitter. Everyone else tastes only the water or the paper.
Supertasters arent only repulsed by the bitterness in PROP. They can also taste the bitterness in alcohol, and in caffeinated drinks. Adding a lot of sugar to the drinks can mitigate the taste, and supertasters, like everyone else, love the taste of sugared-up coffees. Still, for the most part, people who respond badly to PROP tend to be the sort of people who only go into coffee shops for the pastries, and sit hollowed-eyed in bars, wondering why they never serve cake. Lifes bitter enough already.
An interesting side note – PROP is the first test for a supertaster. The next one? A peppermint LifeSaver. If Wrigley announced on the wrapper that peppermint LifeSavers were medical-strength candy, Id start buying them.’
This Tree Is Growing 40 Different Kinds Of Fruit At Once
Via io9, ‘This single and quite colorfully blossoming tree grows 40 different varieties of peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries, and even almonds… After sculptor Sam Van Aken bought a failing orchard in upstate New York full of hundreds of different fruit trees, he began the painstaking process of grafting several of the different varieties together into one tree. Six years later, the result is this 40-fruit bearing tree, which includes some heirloom varieties that are centuries old.’
New Poll Reveals The U.S. Is Number One In Climate Change Denial
Via io9, ‘54% of Americans agreed with the statement, “The climate change we are currently seeing is largely the result of human activity.” While thats a slight majority, it ranks last compared to the other countries polled, including France 80%, Brazil 79%, South Korea 77% and Great Britain 64%. That result could help explain why the U.S. also ranked last on whether “we are heading for environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly.” On that question, 57.3% of Americans agreed, compared to France 74.7%, Brazil 78.4%, South Korea 77.2% and Great Britain 58.8%.’
Want to Be a Better Person? Take a Walk in the Park
Via Pacific Standard, ‘Plenty of research has suggested immersing yourself in nature has significant mental and physical health benefits. But can it also make you a better person? New research from France suggests it just might.’
Worlds largest aquatic insect discovered in China
Via Gizmodo, ‘A new specimen of an insect was found this month in a mountain in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China. The insect belongs to the order of Megaloptera and has a wingspan of 21 centimeters—8.3 inches.’
Why No One Bothers Putting Apostrophes in “Dont Walk” Signs
Via Gizmodo, do they confuse people?
21 July, 2014 13:55
White holes: Hunting the other side of a black hole
Via New Scientist, ‘Black holes suck – but do they have mirror twins that blow? A far-flung space telescope is peering into galactic nuclei to spot one for the first time…’
[Hmmm… What about that mysterious white hole in Siberia?]
via Telegraph.UK, ‘More than 200,000 people have signed an online petition calling for a polar bear living in ‘deplorable’ conditions in an Argentinian zoo to be moved.Supporters of the online appeal want to transfer Arturo, who has been dubbed the ‘world’s saddest animal’, to Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Canada.’
Stop calling soldiers “heroes”
Via Salon.com: ‘It stops us from seeing them as human — and dismisses their experience. “Hero” sounds like praise, but its not: It glosses over the human cost of war, and keeps us from helping our vets. ‘ — CARA HOFFMAN
[In fact, mightn’t it be more appropriate to refer to many of them as “victims”?]
I’m Presumably in this Database. How About You?
Via Boing Boing, ‘US “suspected terrorist” database had 1.5M names added to it in past 5 years: The scale of the secret blacklist was revealed in a civil suit over the Terrorist Screening Database, and it shocked the judge.99 percent of the names submitted to the list are accepted; the court called this “wildly loose.” The database has grown from 227,932 names in 2009 to its current stratospheric heights. There is no official, public procedure for having your name removed from the list.’
HIV Undetectable In Two Patients Following Bone Marrow Transplants
Via IFLScience, ‘The two men, ages 47 and 53, respectively received bone marrow transplants three and four years ago to treat lymphoma and leukemia. Though the HIV virus is no longer detectable in either of them, they are still undergoing antiretroviral therapy ART as a precaution, and Cooper refuses to say that the men have been “cured” due to the possibility of relapse, as witnessed in other patients whose viral loads had dropped to undetected levels only to reappear later.’
An Experimental Stem Cell Treatment Lead To A Woman Accidentally Growing A Nose On Her Spine
Via IFLScience, ‘Who knows where a nose grows? Here’s a curious case. An 18-year-old woman sustained a spinal cord injury that left her legs paralyzed. Three years later, stem cells from her nose were transplanted into the injury site. She developed back pain eight years afterwards, and imaging revealed a mass at the implantation site. The 3-centimeter-long spinal cord mass was mostly nasal tissue and contained large amounts of thick, mucus-like material.’
Annals of Emerging Disease
‘It’s only a matter of time before the chikungunya virus spreads in the U.S. When the name of a virus translates as “to become contorted” as in, with joint pain you know it is not something you want to catch. Unfortunately, your chances of encountering chikungunya are increasing.Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne illness that has no cure. On the plus side, its unlikely to kill you. On the downside, if you catch it, treatment is about easing the discomfort of symptoms and waiting for it to pass.’ Via Boing Boing.
The polar flip
Via kottke, ‘According to data collected by a European satellite array, the Earths magnetic field is shifting and weakening at a greater pace than previously thought. One of the reasons for the shift might be that the magnetic North and South poles are swapping positions.’
Whats So Funny?
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education, ‘There is, in short, far too much written—and still being written—on the subject of laughter for any one person to master; nor, frankly, would it be worthwhile to try. Confronted with the product of centuries of analysis and investigation, one is tempting to suggest that it is not so much laughter that defines the human species, as Aristotle is supposed to have claimed, but rather the drive to debate and theorize laughter.
Partly in response to the profusion of views and speculation, theories of laughter are typically divided into three main strands. Few books on laughter fail to offer, somewhere near the beginning, a brief enumeration….’
The three theories, broadly, are described as the superiority theory, the incongruity theory, and the relief theory. Each has attractions and shortcomings. What appeals to you? (What makes you laugh?)
There Is Some Hope That We Aren’t Living Inside a Computer Simulation
Via io9, ‘Philosopher Nick Bostroms famous Simulation Argument suggests its highly probable that we live inside a supercomputer. But one philosopher takes this hypothesis to task, arguing in a new paper that there are other post-human scenarios that need to be taken into account.’
Via Combat Flip Flops, ‘This was a bomb.
270 million bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War. 30% of them are still sitting there ready to explode, in fields, behind trees, next to schools.
But local artisans are melting down some of the unexploded ordnance (“UXO“) to hand craft art like this Peacemaker bangle.
Double Bottom Line: When you buy one you help fund the clearing of 3 square meters of UXO. You literally help save life and limb. And you help create jobs. Look good. Feel Good. Do Good.
Made from Unexploded Ordnance UXO and War Scrap2.6” diameter, 8.3” circumference. Made in Laos.’
A Comeback for the Passenger Pigeon?
Via Audubon Magazine, ‘A new project aims bring a famous bird back from extinction.’
We must kill the McMansion! Good riddance to an American embarrassment
Via Salon.com, ‘Our homes dwarf those in every country on Earth. We cant control our environmental impact until that changes…’
The American Century is over: How our country went down in a blaze of shame
Via Salon.com, ‘We face a triple crisis in foreign policy, economics and democracy. Heres how it all went to hell…’
R.I.P. Charlie Haden
Influential Jazz Bassist Is Dead at 76: ‘His jazz career crossed seven decades, with barely a moment of obscurity. He was in his early 20s in 1959, when, as a member of the Ornette Coleman Quartet, he helped set off a seismic disruption in jazz. Mr. Coleman, an alto saxophonist, had been developing a brazen, polytonal approach to improvisation — it would come to be known as free jazz — and in his band, which had no chordal instrument, Mr. Haden served as anchor and pivot.
Mr. Coleman’s clarion cry, often entangled with that of the trumpeter Don Cherry, grabbed much of the attention, but Mr. Haden’s playing was just as crucial, for its feeling of unerring rightness in the face of an apparent ruckus.
In addition to Mr. Coleman, with whom he continued to play intermittently in the 1960s and ’70s and later, in the occasional reunion, Mr. Haden worked with many principal figures of an emerging jazz avant-garde. For a decade starting in 1967, he was a member of a celebrated quartet led by the pianist Keith Jarrett, with Dewey Redman on saxophone and Paul Motian on drums.
The Liberation Music Orchestra, which released its debut album in 1969, was Mr. Haden’s large ensemble, and an expression of his left-leaning political ideals. The band, featuring compositions and arrangements by the pianist Carla Bley, mingled avant-garde wildness with the earnest immediacy of Latin American folk songs. Mr. Haden released each of the band’s four studio albums during Republican administrations; the most recent, in 2005, was “Not in Our Name,” a response to the war in Iraq.
Mr. Haden, who liked to say he was driven by concern for “the struggle of the poor people,” hardly restricted his opinions to the Liberation Music Orchestra. While playing a festival with Mr. Coleman in Lisbon, in 1971, he dedicated his “Song for Ché” to the black liberation movements of Mozambique and Angola, and was promptly jailed.’ (NYTimes obituary)
10 things America does so much worse than Europe
Via Salon.com, ‘Bad healthcare. Limited vacation time. Lower life expectancy. “American exceptionalism” has never rung so hollow.’
Girl believed to be cured of HIV now has detectable levels of the virus
Via Salon.com, ‘In a disappointing turn of events, representatives from the National Institutes of Health announced on Thursday that a young girl previously believed to have been cured of HIV now has detectable levels of the virus. The nearly 4-year-old Mississippi girl was treated aggressively with anti-retroviral drugs for the first 30 hours after her birth and remained without treatment for nearly two years, leading researchers to declare her the first child to be cured of HIV. But, after two recent tests, doctors say the girl has relapsed.’
That Feeling When You Walk Down a Dark Street and Meet a Jellyfish
Via io9, ‘ Every night, at 10 pm, something mystical happens at a derelict building in Liverpool. The storefront shutter opens, revealing a massive, ethereal water tank filled with live jellyfish.
The installation, created by the artistic duo Walter Hugo & Zoniel, is called “The Physical Possibility of Inspiring Imagination in the Mind of Someone Living.” Although its part of the Liverpool Biennial—the largest contemporary art festival in the UK—the artists didnt promote or even announce the exhibit. It just quietly appeared one evening, in order to allow the random passerby to experience the surreal encounter with fresh eyes.
The installation will be on display until July 27. And, if you dont happen to find yourself wandering the streets of Liverpool late at night, you can watch video recordings of streamed footage…’
So Just Swallow!
Via io9, ‘You Have a Painkiller Six Times Stronger Than Morphine In Your Saliva. Right now, you are walking around with a mouth full of extremely powerful, untested pharmaceuticals. Your saliva contains opiorphin, a painkiller thats about six times more powerful than morphine.
After so many decades spent prodding lab rats, one would think that there is nothing more to be discovered about the horrid little things, or how they relate to humans. One would be wrong. What a fool one is! In the early 2000s, scientists discovered that rat saliva contains sialorphin, a powerful painkiller. Rats are, in many ways, analogous to humans. Researchers began wondering if human saliva contained its own painkilling compound.
Enter opiorphin, a painkiller that seems to be both very effective and very simple. It works by preventing the breakdown of little chemicals called enkephalins. These chemicals stimulate the bodys opiate receptors, which block pain signals. Liberal application of opiorphin keeps the bodys own pain-blocking system going. Why such a powerful pain-killer is in saliva is up for debate…
Don’t We Learn Anything??
Via National Geographic: ‘Second Silent Spring? Bird Declines Linked to Popular Pesticides.
Pesticides don’t just kill pests. New research out of the Netherlands provides compelling evidence linking a widely used class of insecticides to population declines across 14 species of birds.
This new paper, published online Wednesday in Nature, gets at another angle of the story—the way these chemicals can indirectly affect other creatures in the ecosystem.Those insecticides, called neonicotinoids, have been in the news lately due to the way they hurt bees and other pollinators. (Related: “The Plight of the Honeybee.”) ‘
How Hot Your City Could Be By 2100 If Climate Change Goes Unchecked
Via Gizmodo, ‘Its a sorry truth that hits you mid-July: Average summer temperatures have been rising since the 1970s. If we continue down this path, according to a new study by Climate Central, in 2100, summers in Boston will feel more like sticky Miami—and summers in Miami will feel like toasty Harlingen, Texas.
Simply type where you live into the chart… and youll get an instant comparison between the average summer high temperature in your city today and the city your home is more likely to feel like in 86 years. If greenhouse gasses and climate change keep chugging along at the rates they are right now, anyway. Its more of a fun thought experiment than an exact science.
It’s surprising to see not only the temperature increase but the comparison city. San Diego average high 78.17 degrees will only be as warm as Lexington, Kentucky 84.61. But Fargo average high 80.24 degrees will warm by over 12 degrees by 2100, making it feel more like Tyler, Texas 92.08. In fact, most American cities will end up feeling like somewhere in Texas or Florida by 2100.Type in Las Vegas, however, and theres no American comparison. Youll be shuttled halfway around the world to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where the average summer high is a balmy 111 degrees.
This map cant tell the future though. This is only a prediction based only on current trends—if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at the rate that they have been increasing since the 1970s. Even though this map shows a very dystopian future, its one that we can hopefully avoid.’
Previously Uncontacted Amazon Tribe Make Contact With Outside World
Via IFLScience, ‘Brazilian officials reported recently that a tribe of people living in the Peruvian Amazon, who previously had no contact with the outside world, have just contacted a settled tribe near the Brazil-Peru border while attempting to flee illegal loggers. The group was first discovered in 2011 from aerial photographs taken by the Brazilian government.
José Carlos Meirelles worked for the Brazilian government agency FUNAI for 20 years in order to protect these indigenous people and their rights. He told Survival International that this situation felt a bit desperate, as it was the first time in 30 years that the uncontacted group were the ones to make first contact with outsiders. “Something serious must have happened. It is not normal for such a large group of uncontacted Indians to approach in this way. This is a completely new and worrying situation and we currently do not know what has caused it.” ‘
A cultural view of agony
Via Mind Hacks, ‘New Statesman has a fascinating article on the ‘cultural history of pain’ that tracks how our ideas about pain and suffering have radically changed through the years. One if the most interesting, and worrying, themes is how there have been lots of cultural beliefs about whether certain groups are more or less sensitive to pain. Needless to say, these beliefs tended to justify existing prejudices rather than stem from any sound evidence.’
Why has the idea of hell survived so long?
Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx by Joachim Patinir, c. 1515–1524. Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Via Aeon, ‘Younger Christians may be ditching doctrines of fire and brimstone – but will Christianity ever get rid of hell entirely?’
Federal judge: Supreme Court should “stfu”
Via Salon, ‘In the wake of the Hobby Lobby ruling, George H.W. Bush appointee Judge Richard George Kopf has some advice for how the Supreme Court can guard against losing even more prestige and legitimacy in the eyes of the public: STFU.
“[T]his term and several past terms has proven that the court is now causing more harm division to our democracy than good by deciding hot button cases that the court has the power to avoid,” Kopf writes at his personal blog, Hercules and the Umpire.
“As the kids say,” Kopf continues, “it is time for the Court to stfu.” ‘
When you fly a drone into fireworks, its quite beautiful
Via CNET, ‘The proliferation of controlled flying objects has incited many an imagination. Some believe drones should be used to deliver vacuum cleaners. Others might have more nefarious, prurient intentions. However, one man thought it might be entertaining to fly a DJI Phantom 2 drone into a fireworks display…
The drone was, according to the poster, Jos Stiglingh, equipped with a GoPro Hero 3 Silver camera. Once the footage was nicely edited and put together with an appropriate sliver of opera, the effect was rather greater than at your average fireworks display. It seems that so many now look all the same. They begin with a small bang and end with multiple bangs and flashes, as if you should always say goodbye with an assault on the senses. Seen from the drone, the whole thing takes on a far greater poetry.
Apparently, the flying machine was undamaged by its experience.’
Facebook manipulation experiment has connections to DoD “emotional contagion” research
Via Boing Boing, ‘here’s a new wrinkle on the massive emotion-manipulation study that Facebook conducted in concert with researchers from Cornell and UCSF: one of its researchers is funded under a US Department of Defense program to study “emotional contagion” and civil unrest.’
A spook’s guide to the psychology of deception
‘Last February, a file from the Edward Snowden leaks was released from a 2012 GCHQ presentation called ‘The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations’. It describes the ‘Online Covert Acti
on Accreditation’ course which draws heavily on the psychology of influence and persuasion. This post will look at how they’re piecing together the science that forms the basis for these online operations.’ (Mind Hacks).
The answer in a few words: not very systematically. The deceivers don’t know what they’re doing but they do it well.
Do we really hate thinking so much we’d rather electrocute ourselves?
‘The story: Quiet contemplation is so awful that when deprived of the distractions of noise, crowds or smart phones, a bunch of students would rather give themselves electric shocks than sit and think.
What they actually did: Psychologists from the universities of Virginia and Harvard in the US carried out a series of 11 studies in which participants – including students and non-students – were left in an unadorned room for six to 15 minutes and asked to “spend time entertaining themselves with their thoughts.” Both groups, and men and women equally, were unable to enjoy this task. Most said they found it difficult to concentrate and that their minds wandered.
In one of the studies, participants were given the option to give themselves an electric shock, for no given reason or reward. Many did, including the majority of male participants, despite the fact that the vast majority of participants had previously rated the shocks as unpleasant and said they would pay to avoid them.
How plausible is this? This is a clever, provocative piece of research. The results are almost certainly reliable; the authors, some of whom are extremely distinguished, discovered in the 11 studies the same basic effect – namely, that being asked to sit and think wasn’t enjoyable. The data from the studies is also freely available, so there’s no chance of statistical jiggery-pokery. This is a real effect. The questions, then, are over what exactly the finding means.’ (Mind Hacks).
Can Your Spinach Hear You Chomping Down on Your Salad?
‘A small, flowering plant called Arabidopsis thaliana can hear the vibrations that caterpillars trigger when they chew on its leaves. According to a new study, the plants can hear danger loud and clear, and they respond by launching a chemical defense.
From anecdotes and previous studies, we know that plants respond to wind, touch, and acoustic energy. “The field is somewhat haunted by its history of playing music to plants. That sort of stimulus is so divorced from the natural ecology of plants that it’s very difficult to interpret any plant responses,” says Rex Cocroft from the University of Missouri, Columbia. “We’re trying to think about the plant’s acoustical environment and what it might be listening for.” ‘ (IFLScience).
Tiny Blood-Slurping Bird Terrorizes the Galapagos
If a vampire bird looks at you like this and you’re for some reason dressed up like a bird, flee immediately.
‘Wolf Island, an often brutally dry rock in the [Galapagos] archipelago, is ruled by vampires—hordes and hordes of tiny vampires. These are the so-called vampire finches, enterprising critters in a brutal environment that have figured out how to nip at the tail feathers of other birds until they draw blood, somehow without their victim putting up much of a fight. Even though they don’t sparkle or battle werewolves or whatever, they’re marvels among the many marvels that are the famed Darwin’s finches.’ (Wired)
Dick Cheney’s demented last laugh
Lindsey Graham, John McCain, William Kristol
‘Neoconservatives destroyed American exceptionalism, but made Obama collateral damage… This July 4, we know our foreign policy must change after the neocons Iraq disaster. Lets take the right lessons.’ (Salon).
Researchers May Have Discovered The Consciousness On/Off Switch
‘Researchers from the George Washington University have managed to switch consciousness on and off in an epileptic woman by stimulating a single region of the brain with electrical impulses. While this is a single case study, it provides an exciting insight into the neural mechanisms behind consciousness, a subject of great interest that is poorly understood despite decades of research. The study has been published in Epilepsy & Behavior.’ (IFLScience).
Ecuadors “Superleaf” Tea
Could It Replace Your Afternoon Coffee? ‘Guayusa reportedly has health benefits for those who drink it as a brew and economic benefits for the indigenous people who grow it.’ (Nat Geo).
Read Boing Boing? The NSA considers you a deep surveillance target
‘The NSA says it only banks the communications of “targeted” individuals. Guess what? If you read Boing Boing, youve been targeted. Cory Doctorow digs into Xkeyscore and the NSAs deep packet inspection rules.’ (Boing Boing). If you click on the link, one bonus is that you get to say hello to my friends at the Puzzle Palace.
Worst Ebola Outbreak Ever
The current outbreak has been overwhelming in terms of both magnitude — more than 500 victims so far — and extent, encompassing parts of three West African nations. Part of the problem is that people who suspect they are affected have noticed that no one who goes into quarantine comes out alive, so they have fled and disseminated the disease much further. No end in sight. (CDC).
The Invention Of The Letter G
The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style tells the story of just how G secured its spot in the alphabet — and how it also changed the position of where we find some of our other letters in the alphabet:
The earliest form of the Roman alphabet had no letter g. Instead, c could represent both the sound g and the sound k. The Roman letter c was in fact a development of the Greek letter gamma. This is why c, not g, still occupies the place in the Roman alphabet corresponding to gamma in the Greek alphabet, even thought the sounds of gamma and g might seem to correspond better than gamma and c from a modern point of view. In order to to make the distinction between g and k clear in writing, the Romans developed the letter g by the addition of a small stroke to c. The Greek historian Plutarch ascribes the invention of g to a Roman named Spurius Carvilius Ruga, who lived in the 3rd century BC. The new letter g was given the place corresponding to the letter z zeta in the Greek alphabet, since zeta was not used to write native Latin words. When the Romans later began to use the letter z again, it was added to the very end of the alphabet, the place it still holds today.
Encouraging science news today
R.I.P. Stephen Gaskin
‘Stephen Gaskin, a Marine combat veteran and hippie guru who in 1971 led around 300 followers in a caravan of psychedelically painted school buses from San Francisco to Tennessee to start the Farm, a commune that has outlived most of its countercultural counterparts while spreading good works from Guatemala to the South Bronx, died on Tuesday at his home on the commune, in Summertown, Tenn. He was 79…
Timothy Miller, a religious studies professor at the University of Kansas who has studied communes, said in an interview that the Farm was “the archetypal hippie commune” in its commitment to higher consciousness, self-sufficiency, a clean environment and a “flamboyant hippie style.”
But where it departed from most of its counterparts was in embracing an entrepreneurial spirit: It created a book-publishing business, marketed pickles and sorghum syrup under the Old Beatnik label, and even dealt in hand-held Geiger counters to measure radiation leaks at nuclear power plants.
It also spurned insularity for outreach. Answering Mr. Gaskin’s call to “change the world,” Farmies, as they called themselves, built 1,200 houses for the victims of a 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, set up volunteer ambulance services in the South Bronx and on an Indian reservation in upstate New York, and started a school lunch program in Belize and an agricultural training program in Liberia. They were among the earliest volunteers to arrive in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
In 1980, Plenty International, a charitable organization Mr. Gaskin started, was awarded one of the first Right Livelihood Awards. Sometimes called the alternative Nobel Prize, the award is presented by the Swedish Parliament to those who have demonstrated “practical and exemplary solutions to the most urgent challenges facing the world today.”
Mr. Gaskin and his wife, the former Ina May Middleton, developed a free midwifery service for women, communard or not. Ms. Gaskin became a widely known advocate for giving birth outside of hospitals, and has written popular books on the subject.
To a degree that startled outsiders in the ’60s, the Farm’s young men in straw hats and beards and women in long skirts lived an almost puritanical life. They took vows of poverty and pooled their assets. Vegetarianism was mandatory. Mr. Gaskin banned alcohol, tobacco and, to the surprise of many, LSD, though not marijuana. Plenty of work — considered a form of meditation — was assigned. Artificial birth control was forbidden.
Mr. Gaskin, who became a minister under Tennessee law, decreed that if couples had sex they must be considered engaged, and if the woman became pregnant, they must marry. Men were expected to treat women with “knightly” chivalry, he said…
In 2000, Mr. Gaskin sought the Green Party’s presidential nomination but drew just 10 of 319 votes. The winner, Ralph Nader, received 295.
His campaign statement declared: “I want it to be understood that we are a bunch of tree-huggers and mystics and peaceniks. My main occupations are Hippy Priest, Spiritual Revolutionary, Cannabis Advocate, shade tree mechanic, cultural engineer, tractor driver and community starter. I also love science fiction.” ‘ (NYTimes.com obituary).
A friend and I visited The Farm in 1980 and stayed for awhile, meeting Stephen. The impression that I was in the midst of something genuine, profound and, even, holy has never left me.
Time To Redraw the Map of the Brain?
‘A provocative and important paper just out claims to have identified a pervasive flaw in many attempts to map the function of the human brain.’ (Neuroskeptic)
Fluid Experiments Support Deterministic “Pilot-Wave” Quantum Theory
The implications could be earth-shattering.
‘[The] idea that nature is inherently probabilistic — that particles have no hard properties, only likelihoods, until they are observed — is directly implied by the standard equations of quantum mechanics. But now a set of surprising experiments with fluids has revived old skepticism about that worldview. The bizarre results are fueling interest in an almost forgotten version of quantum mechanics, one that never gave up the idea of a single, concrete reality.
The experiments involve an oil droplet that bounces along the surface of a liquid. The droplet gently sloshes the liquid with every bounce. At the same time, ripples from past bounces affect its course. The droplet’s interaction with its own ripples, which form what’s known as a pilot wave, causes it to exhibit behaviors previously thought to be peculiar to elementary particles — including behaviors seen as evidence that these particles are spread through space like waves, without any specific location, until they are measured.
Particles at the quantum scale seem to do things that human-scale objects do not do. They can tunnel through barriers, spontaneously arise or annihilate, and occupy discrete energy levels. This new body of research reveals that oil droplets, when guided by pilot waves, also exhibit these quantum-like features.
To some researchers, the experiments suggest that quantum objects are as definite as droplets, and that they too are guided by pilot waves — in this case, fluid-like undulations in space and time. These arguments have injected new life into a deterministic as opposed to probabilistic theory of the microscopic world first proposed, and rejected, at the birth of quantum mechanics.’ (Simons Foundation).
Everything You Need to Know About the ‘Emotion Experiment’
‘The closest any of us who might have participated in Facebook’s huge social engineering study came to actually consenting to participate was signing up for the service. Facebook’s Data Use Policy warns users that Facebook “may use the information we receive about you…for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.” This has led to charges that the study violated laws designed to protect human research subjects. But it turns out that those laws don’t apply to the study, and even if they did, it could have been approved, perhaps with some tweaks. Why this is the case requires a bit of explanation.’ (Wired)