Earth’s CO2 Passes the 400 PPM Threshold–Maybe Permanently

‘In the centuries to come, history books will likely look back on September 2016 as a major milestone for the world’s climate. At a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide is usually at its minimum, the monthly value failed to drop below 400 parts per million.That all but ensures that 2016 will be the year that carbon dioxide officially passed the symbolic 400 ppm mark, never to return below it in our lifetimes, according to scientists…’

Source: Scientific American

A new report confirms that Donald Trump was too lazy to seriously practice for the debate

bloviate_2‘The Times reports that Trump really, really didn’t like traditional debate prep — the format where you stand up at a podium and, you know, practice debating. So he instead focused “mostly on conversations and discussions with advisers.” When the campaign did try to plan a more traditional debate prep, the reporters write, “Mr. Trump found it hard to focus during those meetings, according to multiple people briefed on the process who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.” …’

Source: Vox

Some of’s First-rate Debate Coverage


What Happens the Day After We Find Out We’re Not Alone?

‘So, let’s say that day has arrived, and we finally detect inarguable evidence of an extraterrestrial civilization. What happens next? The distance will be too great to traverse for the foreseeable future, so it’ll still be just us here, but with a mind-boggling piece of new information. How will we react?

…Stuart Langfield spoke to Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for the SETI project in California, who’s no doubt spent a considerable amount of time pondering this very question. After all, it’s likely to be him, a colleague, or someone like them who’ll have to break the news to the rest of us someday…’

Source: Big Think

‘NASA changed all the astrological signs and I’m a crab now’

‘According to a post on NASASpacePlace, everything we thought we knew about the influence the heavens have over our Earthly lives has been thrown into chaos. NASA has announced that the celestial sphere above us contains not twelve canonical zodiacal constellations, but 13. The heretofore overlooked constellation, Ophiuchus, is purported to guide and command events surrounding humans born between November 29 and December 17—so, if you used to be a Sagittarius, then congratulations: you’ve got a new sign, baby!

The addition of Ophiuchus—the snake bearer, in case you were wondering—has obvious and far-reaching implications for the entire western Babylonian-derived zodiac calendar. For one thing, squeezing it in means changing the effective dates of all the other signs. According to Yahoo News, the new 13-sign calendar plays out like this:

  • Capricorn: January 20-February 16
  • Aquarius: February 16-March 11
  • Pisces: March 11-April 18
  • Aries: April 18-May 13
  • Taurus: May 13-June 21
  • Gemini: June 21-July 20
  • Cancer: July 20-August 10
  • Leo: August 10-September 16
  • Virgo: September 16-October 30
  • Libra: October 30-November 23
  • Scorpio: November 23-November 29
  • Ophiuchus: November 29-December 17
  • Sagittarius: December 17-January 20

The changes are as sweeping as they are staggering. For example, I woke up this morning firmly believing that I was an outgoing, courageous, independent, generous Leo. However, now I have to come to grips with the fact that I am in fact a stupid, sulky, inconsiderate, pessimistic Cancer. I have gone from lion to crab, and it weighs heavily upon me…’

Source: Ars Technica

Why This Arctic Language Doesn’t Use an Alphabet

‘So before you feel tricked by a technicality: Inuktitut does have a written language, but it’s just not an alphabet. Instead, as Tom Scott explains, it uses a related system of symbols to express sounds called an abugida.This writing system is in use in the far north of Canada and was originally invented by Christian missionaries. Inuktitut—which can use one compound word to say the equivalent of an English sentence—is built on consonant/vowel pairs. In order to accommodate the language’s sounds and structure, a new set of symbols was developed. (Because different parts of the Arctic were colonized at different times though, Inuktitut is only somewhat comprehensible by people in Alaska or Greenland.)

In written Inuktitut, a letter’s shape determines the consonant sound while its rotation shows the vowels that follows it, e.g. ᐃ or ᐊ. Diacritical marks tell a reader if the vowel sound is long or short, and superscripted symbols show how the sound ends, like the ᖅ in that stop sign image.

This writing system is in use in the far north of Canada and was originally invented by Christian missionaries. Inuktitut—which can use one compound word to say the equivalent of an English sentence—is built on consonant/vowel pairs. In order to accommodate the language’s sounds and structure, a new set of symbols was developed. (Because different parts of the Arctic were colonized at different times though, Inuktitut is only somewhat comprehensible by people in Alaska or Greenland.)In written Inuktitut, a letter’s shape determines the consonant sound while its rotation shows the vowels that follows it, e.g. ᐃ or ᐊ. Diacritical marks tell a reader if the vowel sound is long or short, and superscripted symbols show how the sound ends, like the ᖅ in that stop sign image…’

Source: Gizmodo

What the favorite TV shows of Trump supporters can tell us about his appeal

‘According to new data, supporters of Donald Trump prefer to get their news from television and enjoy watching crime dramas. These findings might sound insignificant. But they actually offer insight into Trump’s rise. As a presidential candidate, he’s claimed that illegal immigrants are flooding the country with “no regard for the impact on public safety,” while warning that if things don’t change, “we’re not going to have a country anymore – there will be nothing left.”

This rhetoric supplements our current media environment, which, as studies have shown, cultivates a false perception of the world as a mean, violent place. And it’s laid the groundwork for many of Trump’s most successful appeals to fear…’

Source: WThe Conversation

Of course, the flaw is that, while it may be true that Trump supporters watch TV news and crime dramas, it is surely not the case that TV news viewers and crime show aficionados are all Trumpies. Nonetheless, as it is said, a nation of vapid TV viewers gets the leadership it deserves.

The Rogue Doctors Spreading Right-Wing Rumors About Hillary’s Health

‘When Hillary Clinton seemed to collapse while getting helped into the back of a black van earlier this month, Jane Orient, a physician in Tucson, Arizona, says it felt like a vindication. In early August, she’d published an op-ed on the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons’ website questioning whether Clinton has a traumatic brain injury that would make her unfit for the presidency. And this month, the Association—of which Orient is the executive director—published a survey apparently showing that other physicians believe much the same thing. Almost instantly, that survey made it to Facebook’s coveted Trending Topics section.

For Orient—and the many media organizations that have recently been circulating her work—Clinton’s stumble looked like proof that they were right.There’s just one thing: Orient and the Association are not just the broad-based coalition of dispassionate, unbiased medical spectators that the conservative media makes them out to be. Instead, Orient and the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, or AAPS, have been unabashedly anti-Clinton for decades. Contrary to its official-sounding name, the AAPS does not represent hundreds of thousands of physicians like, say, the American Medical Association does. Instead, the small non-profit based out of a medical park in Tucson represents a niche group of fewer than 5,000 members, not all of whom are doctors. While it claims to be non-partisan, even Orient admits the group has a guiding “philosophy,” one that just so happens to correlate with conservative politics on every issue from vaccine mandates to abortion rights to immigration.Now, Clinton’s health is the association’s favorite talking point. Orient and others have chimed in on Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis and her persistent cough. “We’re not diagnosing her,” Orient says. “We’re just saying questions have been raised.”This isn’t the first time the AAPS has emerged as conservative conspiracy theorists’ favorite signal booster; the organization has existed for nearly three-quarters of a century. But today, thanks to algorithms that decide whether stories are newsworthy, a burgeoning conservative media industry that includes the likes of Breitbart and Infowars, and rampant distrust of mainstream media, the AAPS now has a network ready and willing to broadcast its ideas to millions of readers.

Now, Clinton’s health is the association’s favorite talking point. Orient and others have chimed in on Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis and her persistent cough. “We’re not diagnosing her,” Orient says. “We’re just saying questions have been raised.”This isn’t the first time the AAPS has emerged as conservative conspiracy theorists’ favorite signal booster; the organization has existed for nearly three-quarters of a century. But today, thanks to algorithms that decide whether stories are newsworthy, a burgeoning conservative media industry that includes the likes of Breitbart and Infowars, and rampant distrust of mainstream media, the AAPS now has a network ready and willing to broadcast its ideas to millions of readers….’

Source: WIRED

Meet the Winners of This Year’s Ig Nobel Prizes

Rats in tiny trousers, pseudoscientific bullshit, the personalities of rocks, and Volkswagen’s, shall we say, “creative” approach to emissions testing were among the research topics honored by the 2016 Ig Nobel Prizes. The winners were announced last night at a live webcast ceremony held at Harvard University.

For those unfamiliar with the Ig Nobel Prizes, it’s an annual celebration of silly science. Or a silly celebration of seemingly dubious science, courtesy of the satirical journal Annals of Improbable Research…

This year’s crop of Ig Nobel Laureates is listed below. Those who attended the ceremony were given just 60 seconds for their acceptance speeches, a longstanding rule that was, as always, vigorously enforced (the Oscars could learn a thing or two from the Ig Nobels). If you happen to be in the vicinity of MIT this Saturday afternoon, many of the winners will be giving free public mini-lectures—five minutes each, plus time to answer questions.

Source: Gizmodo

The Strange Life of Punctuation!

“People don’t know why they get so upset about language,” says linguist David Crystal, but for some reason, they do, especially if you appear to break a rule about punctuation. Linguists like Crystal and Gloria E. Jacobs have all heartily assured us that there’s really nothing to fear about innovative linguistic uses of punctuation in the internet age—it certainly doesn’t mean the end of literacy for the texting generation, quite the opposite in fact… but to no avail. The moral panic is real.

For instance, you may have heard recently that recalcitrant texters (and the journalists describing them) have been leaving off periods at the end of their perfectly good sentences for some reason. A recent study has determined that text messages ending with the humble period can weirdly seem less sincere (compared to the exact same messages with periods on a handwritten note). For some, adding a period in online text might even signify anger, according to Ben Crair in the New Republic…’

Source: JSTOR Daily

The Dalai Lama does a pretty great Donald Trump impression

‘In this clip from “Good Morning Britain,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama pulls off what may be the greatest Donald Trump impression ever by a Tibetan monk. The interview in which this fabulous impression was given by His Holiness was conducted by Piers Morgan, and for surviving that the Tibetan spiritual leader has our greatest empathy.

Earlier this year, His Holiness was asked by a somewhat less vile American news reporter to comment on Trump in another television interview. “That’s your business,” he said, declining the opportunity to throw shade…’

Source: Boing Boing

Happy Mabon

The fields are nearly empty, because the crops have been plucked and stored for the coming winter. It is the time of the autumn equinox, Harvest Home, Mabon, the Feast of the Ingathering, Meán Fómhair or Alban Elfed (in Neo-Druidic traditions), is a ritual of thanksgiving. It is a time of plenty, of gratitude, and a recognition of the need to share our abundance with those less fortunate  to secure the blessings of the Goddess and the God during the winter months. Day and night are of equal length, looking forward to the days’ shortening. The Autumn Equinox is the time of the descent of the Goddess into the Underworld. We also bid farewell to the Harvest Lord who was slain at Lammas. Welsh legend brings us the story of Mabon ap Modron, who dwells, a happy captive, in Modron’s magickal Otherworld — his mother’s womb. Only in this way can he be reborn.

In the northern hemisphere this equinox occurs anywhere from September 21 to 24. Among the sabbats, it is the second of the three pagan harvest festivals, preceded by Lammas/Lughnasadh and followed by Samhain. (via Wheel of the Year – Wikipedia).

This Buenos Aires Radio Show Comes to You Live from a Psychiatric Hospital

‘Every Saturday a non-governmental organization named La Colifata comes to this “neuropsiquiátrico,” or psychiatric hospital, to host Radio La Colifata: the first radio to be run from inside a mental health institution.

…The patients control the show, which lasts for four hours on Saturday afternoons and is broadcast on local radio as well as online. Regular presenters have their own programs; on a recent Saturday, Silvina read her poetry and Hugo Lopez sang a song about loving his cellphone, followed by a debate about modern technology…’

Source: Atlas Obscura

Done in your name:

Survivors of CIA’s torture-decade describe their ordeals

‘For nearly a decade, the CIA kidnapped people from over 20 countries, held them without trial or counsel, and viciously tortured them, sometimes to death — but the only person to serve jail time for the program is the man who blew the whistle on it, and that’s thanks in part to Obama’s insistence that “Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

The survivors of CIA torture and the families of the people the CIA murdered have been stymied in their attempts to get justice in the US courts, because the CIA cites national secrecy and shuts down any attempt to make them account for their crimes.

Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines has interviewed some of the survivors of CIA torture, and the family and friends of one of the CIA’s murder victims. Their harrowing stories may never be heard in a US court, but if you live in the USA, these crimes were committed in your name, by people whose salaries you pay, and you have a duty to learn what was done to these people, especially as the Republican presidential candidate has signalled his enthusiastic support for reviving and broadening this program if he wins…’

Source: Boing Boing

If Our Universe Is Just a Random Occurrence, Science Has a Big Problem

‘…[W]hat do we do if what causes the cosmos can lead to myriad outcomes, of which our universe is just a single, random one? Remove its inevitability, and you remove the ability to empirically test the validity of any of our theories. If what we observe is only one possible outcome, how do we prove or disprove anything? Should we just give up trying? Has the logic of theoretical physics undone science itself?Down the rabbit hole we go…’

Source: Big Think

Essential Guide to Living Lovecraft: The Real World Locations Behind the Horror

‘Down a dark alley, at the corner of your eye something flickers, probably a trick of the waning light, or a stranger up to some banal task. But what hubris leads you to believe that you can understand what happens in and among these haunted buildings much less this ancient world?  You may have passed down this very street, past this very spot a hundred times and thought it familiar, until today when the light and the time were just right, and this simple alleyway became alien, unknown. Like glimpsing an older, stranger reality existing just beneath our own, but no less terrifyingly real…’

Source: Atlas Obscura

An Unborn Baby Overhears Plans for a Murder in Ian McEwan’s Latest Novel

‘Ian McEwan’s compact, captivating new novel, “Nutshell,” is also about murderous spirals and lost messages between fathers and unborn sons, although it’s the father’s fate that hangs in the balance here. I promise not to give away the formidable genius of the plot — but the premise, loosely, is this: Trudy, jittery and fragile, lives in a London townhouse as dilapidated as it is valuable, where she spends hot afternoons coldly plotting the murder of her husband, John. She is heavily pregnant with John’s son. They have separated, their love spent; he inspires nothing more in her than a “retinal crust of boredom.” He has moved to Shoreditch (or “sewer-ditch,” as it used to be known), where he scrapes out a living as a poet and publisher. John may or may not be in love with an aspiring poet named Elodie, who writes about owls, and whose name rhymes with “threnody” — a lamentation to the dead.

The accomplice to this murder — “clever and dark and calculating” but also “dull to the point of brilliance, vapid beyond invention . . . a man who whistles continually, not songs but TV jingles, ringtones . . . whose repeated remarks are a witless, thrustless dribble” — is Claude, a real estate developer. Claude — Hamlet’s Claudius — needs no literary disguise: He is John’s brother, a prosperous brute of a man with whom Trudy (Gertrude) is having an affair.

And the narrator of this saga? Listen carefully now: He is Trudy’s son, still in her womb, who hears his mother and uncle plan and connive over lukewarm coffee in their Hamilton Terrace kitchen, and who must countenance the life-threatening ignominy of his uncle’s lovemaking every night….’

Source: The New York Times Book Review

Mark Twain Makes a List of 60 American Comfort Foods He Missed While Traveling Abroad

Baked apples, with cream.
Fried oysters; stewed oysters. Frogs.
American coffee, with real cream.
American butter.
Fried chicken, Southern style.
Porter-house steak.
Saratoga potatoes.
Broiled chicken, American style.
Hot biscuits, Southern style.
Hot wheat-bread, Southern style.
Hot buckwheat cakes.
American toast. Clear maple syrup.
Virginia bacon, broiled.
Blue points, on the half shell.
Cherry-stone clams.
San Francisco mussels, steamed.
Oyster soup. Clam Soup.
Philadelphia Terapin soup.
Oysters roasted in shell-Northern style.
Soft-shell crabs. Connecticut shad.
Baltimore perch.
Brook trout, from Sierra Nevadas.
Lake trout, from Tahoe.
Sheep-head and croakers, from New Orleans.
Black bass from the Mississippi.
American roast beef.
Roast turkey, Thanksgiving style.
Cranberry sauce. Celery.
Roast wild turkey. Woodcock.
Canvas-back-duck, from Baltimore.
Prairie liens, from Illinois.
Missouri partridges, broiled.
‘Possum. Coon.
Boston bacon and beans.
Bacon and greens, Southern style.
Hominy. Boiled onions. Turnips.
Pumpkin. Squash. Asparagus.
Butter beans. Sweet potatoes.
Lettuce. Succotash. String beans.
Mashed potatoes. Catsup.
Boiled potatoes, in their skins.
New potatoes, minus the skins.
Early rose potatoes, roasted in the ashes, Southern style, served hot.
Sliced tomatoes, with sugar or vinegar. Stewed tomatoes.
Green corn, cut from the ear and served with butter and pepper.
Green corn, on the ear.
Hot corn-pone, with chitlings, Southern style.
Hot hoe-cake, Southern style.
Hot egg-bread, Southern style.
Hot light-bread, Southern style.
Buttermilk. Iced sweet milk.
Apple dumplings, with real cream.
Apple pie. Apple fritters.
Apple puffs, Southern style.
Peach cobbler, Southern style
Peach pie. American mince pie.
Pumpkin pie. Squash pie.
All sorts of American pastry.
Fresh American fruits of all sorts, including strawberries which are not to be doled out as if they were jewelry, but in a more liberal way.
Ice-water—not prepared in the ineffectual goblet, but in the sincere and capable refrigerator.

Source: Open Culture

Why the Soviets Sponsored a Doomed Expedition to a Hollow Earth Kingdom

‘On December 1923, two unlikely travelers arrived in Darjeeling, India intent on finding what could not possibly exist: Shambhala, a kingdom located inside a hollow earth. Along them trailed Soviet spies, Western occultists and Mongolian rebels, all serving their own agendas. Even with so many eyes on them, their expedition still managed to disappear from the face of the earth for months; when they finally emerged, they had a fascinating story to tell and even more secrets to hide…’

Source:  Atlas Obscura

The amazing tool that women in the White House used to fight gender bias

‘President Obama is the first sitting president to call himself a feminist. His administration is the most diverse in history because he’s made an effort to fill the majority of top policy appointments in his executive branch with women and people of color.

But a fascinating anecdote, reported by Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post on Tuesday, reminds us that even self-identified feminists like Obama can still harbor unconscious gender biases:

When President Obama took office, two-thirds of his top aides were men. Women complained of having to elbow their way into important meetings. And when they got in, their voices were sometimes ignored.

So female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.

“We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing,” said one former Obama aide who requested anonymity to speak frankly. Obama noticed, she and others said, and began calling more often on women and junior aides.

The “amplification” strategy seems to have paid off: During Obama’s second term, Eilperin notes, women finally gained parity with men in Obama’s inner circle.

For most women in the workplace, this phenomenon is exhaustingly familiar: A woman offers an idea in a meeting, but nobody notices or acknowledges it until a man later says the same thing.And it’s not in our heads. Decades of research show that women get interrupted more often — by both men and women — and that women are given less credit, or even penalized, for speaking out more…’

Source: Vox

Can We Think Critically Anymore?

In a May 2015 New Yorker article, satirist Andy Borowitz warned of a “powerful new strain of fact-resistant humans who are threatening the ability of Earth to sustain life.” Although humans are endowed with an ability to “receive and process information,” he writes, these faculties have been rendered “totally inactive.”

Readers enjoy Borowitz because his writing is uncomfortably close to reality. While most articles are close enough to the ballpark you can hear the game, this particular piece hardly seems satirical. The medium of the Internet, where most people get their information and news on a daily basis, is not designed for nuanced, critical thinking; it incites our brain’s reptilian response system: scan it, believe it, rage against it (or proudly repost it without having read the content).

Cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin would agree. In fact, he’s written an entire book on the subject. The author of insightful previous works, This Is Your Brain on Music and The Organized Mind, in A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age he takes to task our seemingly growing inability to weigh multiple ideas in making informed decisions, relying instead on emotional reactivity clouded by invented statistics and murky evidence.

Source: Big Think

Isolated Russian Arctic Scientists Surrounded by Bears

‘While working at a remote weather station in the Russian Arctic might sound like a lot of fun, the reality is apparently far grimmer. In addition to the cold, the isolation and the possibility of literally falling off a cliff thanks to climate change, researchers have to deal with unruly locals, like the dozen or so polar bears currently “besieging” scientists on Troynoy Island in Russia’s Great Arctic State Nature Reserve.

According to Russian news agency TASS, the weather station’s five workers have been stuck inside since running out of flares to frighten the bears that arrived late last month, including one that has begun sleeping under their windows…’

Source: Gizmodo

Monkeys Text at 12 Words a Minute Using Only Their Thoughts

‘Using a brain implant, Stanford researchers have developed a mind-machine interface that allows monkeys to text at the very reasonable rate of 12 words per minute. Eventually, the system could be used to help people with movement disorders to communicate more efficiently. The new technology, developed by Stanford researchers Krishna Shenoy and Paul Nuyujukian, allowed monkeys to move a cursor across a keyboard and select letters without having to lift a finger. The animals transcribed passages from the New York Times and Hamlet at a rate of 12 words per minute…’

Source: Gizmodo

The Linguistics of My Next Band Name

Via JSTOR Daily:

‘The answer to the question of why certain combinations of words make good band names, surprisingly, is related to the fact that people don’t really know what words mean, according to linguist Mark Aronoff. Rather, we connect words and names—even names that we may never have come across before—that exist in the same semantic space, absorbing their recurring patterns. It tells us a lot about how we might form new members of that class.’

Lauer’s Pathetic Interview Made Me Think Trump Can Win

‘I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major-party candidates. Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists. I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print-news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed…’

Source: Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine

This Vote Is Legally Binding


Someone always says it, whenever it comes up:
“I guess I’m just not allowed to talk to anyone any more!”

It is my duty to inform you that we took a vote
all us women
and determined that you are not allowed to talk to anyone
ever again.

This vote is legally binding.

Yes, of course, all women know each other,
the way you always suspected.
(Incidentally, so do Canadians. I’m just throwing that out there.)
We went into the women’s room at the Applebee’s at the corner of 54
and all the others streamed in through the doors
into that endless liminal space,
a chain of humans stretching backward
heavy skulled Neanderthal women laughing with New York socialites,
Lucille Ball hand in hand with the Taung child.
We sat around in the couches in the women’s room
(I know you’ve always been suspicious of those couches)
and chatted with each other in the secret female language
that you always knew existed.
Somebody set up a console–
the Empress Wu is ruthless at Mario Kart
and Cleopatra never learned to lose
and a woman who ruled an empire that fell
when the Sea People came
and left no trace
can use the blue shell like a surgical instrument.

Eventually we took the vote.
You had three defenders:
your grandmother and your first-grade teacher
and an Albanian nun who believes the best of everybody.
Your mom abstained.
It was duly recorded in the secret notebooks
that have been kept under the couch in the Applebee’s
since the beginning of recorded time.
And then we went back to playing Mario Kart
and Hoelun took off her bra
and we didn’t think about you again
except that I had to carry this message.

So anyway
good luck with that
it’s just as you always said it was.
Hush now,
no talking,




— Ursula Vernon (Bark Like A Fish, Damnit!) via Boing Boing

Cryptozoologist Thinks Trump Could Be Behind Carolinas Clown Hysteria

‘As everyone who cares about America is probably aware, clown hysteria has taken over the Carolinas. The big-shoed menaces are allegedly lurking in the woods near residences, offering candy and money to children. People are chasing the clowns into the woods with machetes and leaning hard on their 911 autodials. At least one apartment complex has issued an official anti-clown warning.

It’s gotten so bad that police are discouraging people in those areas from dressing as clowns at all.Why clowns? Why now? What’s going to happen next? Atlas Obscura spoke with cryptozoologist Loren Coleman—perhaps the world’s foremost authority on mysterious clowns—about this latest outbreak. Spoiler: he blames old wounds, sad journalists, and “the real clown,” Donald Trump…’

Source: Atlas Obscura

A River In Arctic Russia Has Turned Blood Red

‘Either the End Times are here, or there has been a chemical leak, but, whatever the case, Russia’s Daldykan River, surrounded by delicate tundra, has turned blood red. And now, according to ABC News, pictures of the bright red waters are being shared all over Russian social media.

The river is located in Norilsk, a heavily polluted industrial city that sits above the Arctic Circle. Built around a number of factories, mostly owned and operated by Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel, it is the northernmost city in the world with a population of over 100,000, and it seems as though all that industry might have finally seeped out into the surrounding wilderness. Or at least this is one of the first times it has garnered widespread attention…’

Source: A River In Arctic Russia Has Turned Blood Red | Atlas Obscura

Steven Pinker: a History of Violence


“I argue that despite impressions, the long-term trend, though certainly halting and incomplete, is that violence of all kinds is decreasing. This calls for a rehabilitation of a concept of modernity and progress, and for a sense of gratitude for the institutions of civilization and enlightenment that have made it possible.”

Via Edge

Pinker reviews and extrapolates from persuasive data, and discusses six historical trends toward diminution of violence as civilization has progressed. If he is right I find this a significant antidote to despair in the big picture.

Is Science Finally Ready to Tackle Metaphysical Quandaries? A New Scientist Special Issue


Have you been asking:

  • How do I know I exist? Could you be living inside a simulation created by a more advanced intelligence? Where does your unerring belief that you are not come from?
  • What is consciousness? How does something as physical as the brain create something as immaterial as your sense of self? It could all just be one big trick of the mind
  • Why is there something rather than nothing? In part because nothing is not what you think it is. Also don’t forget the multiverse
  • What is the meaning of life? Your life may feel important to you, but does it have meaning? It’s the biggest of all questions – and it has more than one answer
  • Where do good and evil come from? We all have a sense of morality, and most of us agree on what is good. But in truth, good may not be all that different to pure evil
  • Do we have free will? Biology suggests we might not have free will, but everything changes when you get down to the quantum level
  • What is reality made of? Molecules are made of atoms, atoms of particles, and particles are quantum fluctuations. But where do consciousness, dark matter and mathematics fit in?
  • Is time an illusion? We are born, time passes and we die. So time must exist, right? The trouble is, it’s tricky to pin down what time actually is
  • Can we ever know if God exists? No one has proved that God exists, but then no one has proved there is no God. Is working out the truth a supernatural feat?

Via New Scientist

Recognizable Neural Signature of Consciousness Discovered

stream-of-consciousness“For the past twelve years”, says [Stanislas] Dehaene, “my research team has been using every available brain research tool, from functional MRI to electro- and magneto-encephalography and even electrodes inserted deep in the human brain, to shed light on the brain mechanisms of consciousness. I am now happy to report that we have acquired a good working hypothesis. In experiment after experiment, we have seen the same signatures of consciousness: physiological markers that all, simultaneously, show a massive change when a person reports becoming aware of a piece of information (say a word, a digit or a sound).

“Furthermore, when we render the same information non-conscious or “subliminal”, all the signatures disappear. We have a theory about why these signatures occur, called the global neuronal workspace theory. Realistic computer simulations of neurons reproduce our main experimental findings: when the information processed exceeds a threshold for large-scale communication across many brain areas, the network ignites into a large-scale synchronous state, and all our signatures suddenly appear.

“But this is already more than a theory. We are now applying our ideas to non-communicating patients in coma, vegetative state, or locked-in syndromes. The test that we have designed with Tristan Bekinschtein, Lionel Naccache, and Laurent Cohen, based on our past experiments and theory, seems to reliably sort out which patients retain some residual conscious life and which do not…”

Via Edge

New opioid douses pain without being addictive or deadly in primates

‘BU08028’s lack of nasty side-effects may hinge on its dual-action biochemistry. Like other opioids, it controls pain by targeting the nervous system’s classic μ-opioid peptide receptors, called MOP receptors. But BU08028 also targets “nonclassical” opioid receptors, called NOP receptors for nociceptin receptors, in the nervous system. These receptor proteins generally don’t interact with opioid drugs, yet they share similarities with the receptors that do. NOP receptors regulate pain, like their MOP counterparts, but they are also involved in a host of other brain functions, such as memory, cardiovascular functions, and anxiety…

Next, the researchers hope to test BU08028 at treating chronic pain without risks of addiction or overdoses. Regardless of BU08028’s fate in subsequent trials, the researchers are hopeful that the strategy of co-activating NOP and MOP receptors will eventually lead to a safer painkiller…’

Source: Ars Technica

[Yeah, but they always seem to be nonaddictive and without abuse potential at this stage in the game…]

Hospitals Realize Their Own Noise Is a Health Issue All By Itself

‘Quartz recently reported on a study that found ambient noise in hospitals during the day hits 72 deciBels (dB) and 60 dB at night. To give you an idea of what these numbers represent:At 72 dB, non-stop hospital noise is a bit louder than a vacuum cleaner, which is pretty annoying.60 dB is noise loud enough that the World Health Organization believes it increases the risk of heart disease in addition to being an obstacle to restorative sleep.

What’s also worth noting is that hospital noise is getting worse when it’s compared to readings taken in the 60s. Daytime hospital noise has doubled, and night-time noise has quadrupled.

Some people are more sensitive to noise than others, to be sure. But nonetheless, hospitals are considering the sonic landscape in trying to make each patient’s experience as pleasant and healing as possible. Here are some of the things you may see happening in hospitals in coming years…’

Source: Big Think

The Best Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Ice Cream In North America

‘Like craft beer and specialty coffee, chocolate is having a renaissance: Small artisanal makers have started buying whole cocoa beans and roasting, grinding, and refining them into delicious chocolate made from scratch, called “bean to bar” or “craft.”  Ten years ago there were maybe five of these makers in the country. Now there are about 200. Smart ice cream shops are using this high-quality, scratch-made chocolate to intensify and elevate their ice creams. Here are 12 of the best places to find bean-to-bar chocolate ice cream across the U.S. and Canada…’

Source: Food Republic

[Chocoholics unite!]

America’s airlines are introducing a class below economy

’Airlines have long seen profitability in investing heavily in first- and business-class while degrading the flying experience in coach to cut costs. But why stop there? Coach, they have discovered, can itself be subdivided, and then subdivided again. First there was the creation of premium economy, which charges passengers extra for what used to be a standard amount of legroom, and for the exit-row seats that were previously the dominion of in-the-know flyers. Now there is a new class, a cut below standard economy. Please welcome “basic economy”, known to some as “last class”.

Delta was the first big airline to introduce basic economy, and it refined it last year as one of its five fare classes. Now United and American have both announced that they will be debuting their versions of basic economy later this year.

So what is basic economy? For frugal travellers, it’s shorthand for giving up some of the few remaining comforts of flying economy. The biggest sacrifice is losing the ability to reserve a seat when booking a flight (so be prepared for a middle seat in the back row). If you are travelling with family or colleagues, forget about sitting together. Passengers flying basic economy also forfeit their right to upgrade their seats and to change or cancel their reservations more than 24 hours after booking.

From the airlines’ perspective, last class is an effort to compete with the profitability of no-frills competitors such as Spirit and Frontier. Airlines can cut costs by limiting the things to which passengers are entitled. Eliminating upgrades and standby flying for certain passengers reduces administrative overheads. And forcing some passengers into the seats no one else wants could reduce the risk that they will remain vacant.

But some people suspect a more nefarious motive: Delta and its rivals are making basic economy so unpleasant that people will pay extra to “upgrade” to standard economy. Indeed, when you try to book a reservation on Delta’s basic economy, a screen pops up warning you of all the downsides and requiring you to check a box stating “I agree to the restrictions” before you can proceed. …’

Via The Economist

Flooding of Coast, Caused by Global Warming, Is Not a Hundred Years Off

… It Has Already Begun

‘The inundation of the coast has begun. The sea has crept up to the point that a high tide and a brisk wind are all it takes to send water pouring into streets and homes.

Federal scientists have documented a sharp jump in this nuisance flooding — often called “sunny-day flooding” — along both the East Coast and the Gulf Coast in recent years. The sea is now so near the brim in many places that they believe the problem is likely to worsen quickly. Shifts in the Pacific Ocean mean that the West Coast, partly spared over the past two decades, may be hit hard, too.

These tidal floods are often just a foot or two deep, but they can stop traffic, swamp basements, damage cars, kill lawns and forests, and poison wells with salt. Moreover, the high seas interfere with the drainage of storm water.In coastal regions, that compounds the damage from the increasingly heavy rains plaguing the country, like those that recently caused extensive flooding in Louisiana. Scientists say these rains are also a consequence of human greenhouse emissions…’

Source: The New York Times

The FDA Finally Bans a Bunch Of Pointless Antibacterial Soaps

‘Sorry, that antibacterial soap isn’t doing anything more to clean you up than any other plain bar of soap. The FDA just announced it is eliminating almost all of the active ingredients used in antibacterial soaps after determining that the soaps didn’t have any more impact on preventing the spread of germs and infections than regular soap. These products will no longer be sold under misleading marketing…’

Source: Gizmodo