John McCain just systematically dismantled Donald Trump’s entire worldview

‘John McCain is increasingly mad as hell about President Trump. And on Friday, he went after Trump — hard.

During a speech at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, the Republican senator from Arizona delivered a pointed and striking point-by-point takedown of Trump’s worldview and brand of nationalism. McCain didn’t mention Trump’s name once, but he didn’t have to.

And even considering the two men’s up-and-down history and the terrible things Trump has said about McCain, it was a striking display from a senior leader of a party when it comes to a president of the same party.

In his speech, McCain suggested the Western world is uniquely imperiled this year — even more so than when Barack Obama was president — and proceeded to question whether it will even survive.

“In recent years, this question would invite accusations of hyperbole and alarmism; not this year,” McCain said. “If ever there were a time to treat this question with a deadly seriousness, it is now.” …’

Source: Washington Post

David Brooks: What a Failed Trump Administration Looks Like

‘I still have trouble seeing how the Trump administration survives a full term. Judging by his Thursday press conference, President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued.

Trump’s White House staff is at war with itself. His poll ratings are falling at unprecedented speed. His policy agenda is stalled. F.B.I. investigations are just beginning. This does not feel like a sustainable operation.

On the other hand, I have trouble seeing exactly how this administration ends. Many of the institutions that would normally ease out or remove a failing president no longer exist.

There are no longer moral arbiters in Congress like Howard Baker and Sam Ervin to lead a resignation or impeachment process. There is no longer a single media establishment that shapes how the country sees the president. This is no longer a country in which everybody experiences the same reality.

Everything about Trump that appalls 65 percent of America strengthens him with the other 35 percent, and he can ride that group for a while. Even after these horrible four weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill are not close to abandoning their man.

The likelihood is this: We’re going to have an administration that has morally and politically collapsed, without actually going away.

What does that look like?’

Source: New York Times op-ed

Block Scott Pruitt

Senator Susan Collins from Maine is the first Republican to announce that she will vote NO on Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA. We only need to get a couple more Senators to join her — but we need your help!

Your pressure is working. Just yesterday the nominee for labor secretary, fast food titan Andy Puzder, withdrew his nomination due to growing opposition.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on Pruitt’s confirmation as EPA head tomorrow. Please take  just a minute to call and email your Senators and urge them to vote NO on Scott Pruitt for EPA! Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be connected with the Senate office of your choice. Don’t know who your Senators are? Look them up here.

Source: Center for Food Safety

Whither the adverbs of place?

‘In contemporary English, here refers to the speaker’s location regardless of whether the sentence involves things or people remaining in that place, moving to that place, or leaving that place. We say I have been waiting here for hours or Come here! or Get out of here!

But historically English has used three separate adverbs to convey these three different relations to place. A speaker of the sixteenth century might have said I have been waiting here for hours, but she would have said Come hither! instead of Come here! and Get thee hence! instead of Get out of here!

Likewise, when referring to a location other than where we are, we now use there indiscriminately: Who is there? I will take you there. We sailed from Ireland to Iceland and from there to Greenland. Our sixteenth-century speaker, for her part, might have said Who is there? but I will take you thither or We sailed from Ireland to Iceland and thence to Greenland.

Finally, for asking about places, though English relies now on just where, there were once three separate adverbs. If our twenty-first-century speaker says Where am I? or Where are you going? or Where is that smell coming from? our hypothetical Elizabethan speaker might say Where am I? or Whither goest thou? or Whence cometh that reek?’

Source: 3quarksdaily

Help Fix the Biggest Problem with American Democracy

We elect our President via the Electoral College. States get a vote for each Representative and each Senator. Representatives are somewhat proportional to population but every state has two Senators. This creates a huge imbalance in the power of your vote.

If you live in Texas that’s 733,226 people per elector. In Wyoming it’s just 195,167. Occasionally this has consequences.

Bush and Trump

Presidents we could have avoided.

As well as sacrificing one person one vote there are other issues with the Electoral College.

Presidential candidates largely ignore states where the outcome is nearly certain. If you live in a solid Republican or Democrat state then you will be taken for granted.

Originally the Electoral College was supposed to be a safeguard against the electorate making a horrible mistake. You might have good reason to believe that it no longer serves this purpose.

National Popular Vote

We could fix the imbalance with an amendment to the Constitution. This would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-quarters (38) of the States.

Luckily there is another option. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). The plan is quite simple. Each State passes legislation that promises to throw its Electoral College votes behind the popular vote winner. This only comes into force when enough States have enacted the NPVIC to have a majority in the Electoral College (270 votes)

You might be surprised to learn that the National Popular Vote already has 165 Electoral College votes. Adding Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Texas would be enough to switch to a popular vote. They are also all states that are among the least well represented by the current system.

Most Americans support the National Popular Vote (78% of Democrats, 60% of Republicans and 73% of Independents). (Source: Washington Post, 2007)

What can I do?

You can make a difference. Please do at least one of the following:

  1. Share this page with your friends on Facebook and Twitter with a personal message asking them to take action.
  2. Call your Senators and Representative and ask them to support the National Popular Vote.
  3. Call your State representatives and ask them to support the National Popular Vote.
  4. Donate to the National Popular Vote (this site has no affiliation with National Popular Vote Inc.)
 Source: Robert Ellison,  Democracy Vision: One Person, One Vote

Naomi Klein: ‘Get Ready for the First Shocks of Trump’s Disaster Capitalism’

‘We already know that the Trump administration plans to deregulate markets, wage all-out war on “radical Islamic terrorism,” trash climate science and unleash a fossil-fuel frenzy. It’s a vision that can be counted on to generate a tsunami of crises and shocks: economic shocks, as market bubbles burst; security shocks, as blowback from foreign belligerence comes home; weather shocks, as our climate is further destabilized; and industrial shocks, as oil pipelines spill and rigs collapse, which they tend to do, especially when enjoying light-touch regulation.

All this is dangerous enough. What’s even worse is the way the Trump administration can be counted on to exploit these shocks politically and economically…’

Source: The Intercept

Mental Health Experts Are Publicly Arguing About Whether Donald Trump Is Mentally Ill

‘Ethically speaking, mental health experts are supposed to refrain from publicly offering diagnoses for politicians. And so, for the most part, doctors and psychiatrists have refrained from joining in on the internet speculation that President Donald Trump has narcissistic personality disorder, dementia, or another condition.

But that changed in Tuesday’s New York Times, in a very public way. A pair of letters — written originally in response to Charles Blow’s scathing op-ed about the president — authored by prominent psychiatric experts faced off on the question of Trump’s mental health.

The first, written by Dr. Lance Dodes and Dr. Joseph Schachter and signed by 33 other experts, asserts that Trump is unfit to lead the country given his mental state. The latter, which was penned by Dr. Allen Frances (who literally wrote the criteria that define narcissistic personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV), sharply rebukes Dodes and Schacter’s letter…’

Source: Digg

Dr. Frances makes several arguments. The first is that although Trump has impressive narcissism, he should not be considered to have narcissistic personality disorder because the disorder requires that his personality attributes cause him distress or dysfunction. His second objection to the letter is to reiterate the ethical standards against a clinician making a diagnosis of someone she is not engaged in treating face-to-face.

Here is my response, as a psychiatrist myself. First, the requirement that the patient be distressed is only partly true in modern practice, particularly for the subset of mental conditions known as personality disorders. Rigid personality styles often act to defend the patient against insight into their disorder and any distress caused by their way of doing business in the world. Instead, they cause distress among those around him or her. They cause dysfunction for the afflicted person without distressing her or him.

Secondly, for an ethical relativist, a sufficient emergency such as that we face now allows suspension of some ethical guidelines for the greater good.

Of course, I am far from confident that the opinion of any number of experts that this man is unfit to serve as President will actually influence anything. Frances’ coda that “the antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological” may well be true, but we should all continue to speak our version of truth to power. I am firmly with Dodes and Schachter.

“We should not — and cannot — trust this man.” A CIA vet on Trump’s feud with US spies.

Sean Illing: The president of the United States just tweeted that “Information is being illegally given” to the New York Times and the Washington Post “by the intelligence community.” Are we witnessing a shadow war between President Trump and the intelligence community?

Glenn Carle: What’s happened is that the organs of government sworn to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States have been trying to do their jobs. Intelligence professionals take their responsibilities seriously. Whatever they do, they do it because they believe it is necessary, because they believe duty demands it. They’re not playing political games… The real issue is what I’ve been saying… in public for many months: We are facing the gravest threat to our institutions and our government since 1861, since the country broke in half. This is a graver crisis than Watergate, which was about corruption, not the usurpation of our laws and our checks and balances. It’s graver than World War II, when Hitler never actually threatened our institutions or occupation of Washington.

Source: Vox

Vindictive Trump dragged on providing aid to 188,000 Americans displaced by Oroville dam crisis

‘Some 188,000 people from counties that mostly supported him were evacuated when authorities said the risk of a sudden and dramatic overspill became too high, but Orange Julius remained silent for days after California governor Jerry Brown requested he declare a federal emergency in the state…’

Source: Boing Boing

Almost everything Trump has done since taking office has been a meaningless publicity stunt

‘Though Steve Miller claims that Trump is “a president who has done more in three weeks than most presidents have done in an entire administration,” the reality is that almost everything in his executive orders is either an inflammatory restatement of an existing policy; an unenforceable and meaningless intervention into domains where the administrative branch holds no sway; or (as in the case of the Muslim Ban), is an unconstitutional omnishambles destined to be swiftly undone by the courts…

What Trump has done is created a bunch of presidential news-hits, but not much presidenting…’

Source: Boing Boing

Tell on Trump

‘Through targeted ads on Facebook, we’re reaching out to users who list federal agencies as their employers, and we are exploring ways to advertise in public spaces near federal buildings in Washington, D.C. If you work in the federal bureaucracy and want to bear witness, anonymously or otherwise, to the way the Trump Administration is asserting its authority, we are here to listen. And if you know someone who works for the government and may have information to share, please direct them to TellOnTrump.com.’

Source: Tell on Trump

Immigrant workers plan strike Thursday as part of ‘Day Without Immigrants’ protest

‘Immigrants… across the country plan to participate in the “Day Without Immigrants” boycott, a response to President Trump’s pledges to crack down on those in the country illegally, use “extreme vetting” and build a wall along the Mexican border. The social-media-organized protest aims to show the president the effect immigrants have in the country on a daily basis. The boycott calls for immigrants not to attend work, open their businesses, spend money or even send their children to school…’

Source: Washington Post

Don’t Get Snookered by the Next Pseudoscience Health Craze

‘In the past decade, DNA sequencing has gotten really, really cheap, positioning genetics to become the next big consumer health craze. The sales pitch—a roadmap for life encoded in your very own DNA—can be hard to resist. But scientists are skeptical that we’ve decrypted enough about the human genome to turn strings of As, Ts, Cs and Gs into useful personalized lifestyle advice…’

Source: Gizmodo

Creepiness

633170354-0There has been very little writing or research about this experience. A recent study is the only one you will find if you Google the topic. It seems to find creepiness to be a variant of anxiety and bases the distinction between the creepy and the anxiety-provoking largely on the ambiguity, as opposed to the certainty, of the threat in the former. A recent episode of the podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind dissected the concept of the creep and took a similar tack.

I was surprised that it never mentions another deeply innate aversive emotion distinct from fear or anxiety — namely disgust or repulsion, which I think plays a part in the experience of creepiness which cannot be ignored.

Let’s start with the ‘origin myth’. The concept of creepiness may have arisen from a visceral experience. Someone or something is creepy if it “gives us the creeps.” This sensation is distinct from the visceral experience of fear, which involves autonomic arousal. When we are creeped out, we are not merely afraid. As I experience it, creepiness combines the spine-tingling and the sickening or queasy. It is not simply a variant of fear, but somewhere between fear and disgust and, I would argue, often much closer to the latter.

There are various reasons we find something aversive. If it presents a threat to our safety or bodily integrity, it stimulates anxiety and the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome. Regardless of whether it is a definite danger or merely one of sufficient likelihood, it stimulates the same reaction. There is no different emotional experience associated with an ambiguous threat, if it crosses some probability threshold of threat assessment. Thus, on its own, I find the idea that the distinction between the fearful and the creepy is based merely on the ambiguity of the threat an insufficient explanation.

In contrast, disgust operates to make us avoid those things that might make us physically ill rather than those that might simply harm or injure us. Ulike fear, disgust is protecting us against our own appetites. A food or a sexual encounter is pleasant, but if we are not protected by disgust we will not avoid creepy foods or sexual encounters which might sicken us. Sexual violence is violence done to us in the course of an act we are otherwise prone to enjoy, whereas the same is not true of nonsexual violence like a mugging. That is the sense in which the threat when we are repulsed by something is ambiguous, because our aversion is struggling with our own appetite or attraction in a way it does not when we are simply afraid of something.

Disgust is a distinct experience from fear, serves a distinct purpose, and developed evolutionarily as a distinct mechanism with a distinct neurobiology. In several psychological typologies of basic emotion, e.g. those of Robert Plutchik or Paul Rozin, disgust is distinct from other emotions such as fear, anger and sadness; it is a different archetypical emotion. Paul Ekman says that it invokes a distinct and characteristic facial expression, one of the universal facial expressions of emotion. Physiologically, while fear causes tachycardia and hypertension, disgust drops the heart rate and blood pressure. Changes in skin conductance and respiratory control differentiate the two states as well.

Functional MRI studies have correlated the experience of disgust with the activation of the anterior insula, quite distinct from fear, whose neural correlates include various cortical regions and the amygdala. Lesions of the anterior insula lead to deficiencies in experiencing disgust and also in recognizing it in others. It would be interesting to do fMRI studies of subjects exposed to something they find creepy and see if the consequent neural activation is closer to the fear experience or the disgust experience.

Behavioral studies have found that disgust is elicited, across cultures, by: bodily products and secretions; spoiled foods; disease-bearing animals; visible dirt; violations of the body envelope (blood, gore, mutilation); visible signs of infection or bodily distortion; death and decay. The aversion to pathogens inspired by disgust has been referred to as the behavioral element of the body’s immune system, causing us to avoid contracting disease or contamination rather than having to fight it once infected or contaminated.

In the zombie oeuvre, doesn’t the zombie become creepier and creepier the more decayed and disgusting s/he is? The reanimated newly dead, at first, are merely threatening, not creepy.

Social norms function to protect us from harm, and there are distinct but equally important social norms against both* violent antisocial behavior* and against uncleanliness and disease. The threateningly creepy person, as opposed to the merely threatening one, threatens to violate different social norms which have more to do with contamination and impurity than merely dangerous antisocial behaviors. These are an important, if covert, source of many of our social mores, as argued forcefully in Mary Douglas’ masterful Purity and Danger. Disgust thus has a role in enforcing certain forms of morality. Disgust functions to apply to social contaminants as well as physical ones, inspiring social avoidance as well as other aversions. We shun or expel the moral reprobate much as we avoid a physically disgusting stimulus like a pool of vomit. We refer to criminals with such terms as “slime” or “scum.” The creep, I would argue, is someone who inspires moral disgust.

Some of the cultural differences in what is disgusting — and what is found creepy — can thus obviously be seen in terms of the distinct social norms across cultures. It is perhaps no accident, from this point of view, that the ostracized lowest class in Indian society are “untouchable.” Creepiness may entail a flavor of ethnic otherness. This should be seen in light of the danger of impurity — often, the ethnic other has been seen as unclean and diseased. (If greasy hair is seen as the creep’s attribute, it is because his appearance inspires disgust of his dirtiness and potential disease, I would argue. ) Indeed, research has shown that people more sensitive to disgust tend to make stricter moral judgments. They find their social in-group more attractive and have more negative attitudes toward others. Interestingly, in some studies people of different political persuasions have different fMRI activity patterns in response to disgusting images even if reporting similar conscious reactions to the images. In one study, the reaction to a single image could predict a person’s political persuasion with 95% accuracy.

FMRI studies also show that, when viewing images of people from stigmatized groups that inspire disgust (homeless, drug addicts), subjects have reciprocally reduced activation of brain regions associated with the experience of empathy. Stereotyping, xenophobia, and dehumanizing of the outsider may be based on the neurology of disgust or creepiness. Ethicist Martha Nussbaum, for example (From Disgust to Humanity), argues that the “politics of disgust” supports sexism, racism and antisemitism and that disgust is employed to enforce oppression. She and others argue that it is urgent that reactions of disgust to social others be rebutted.

Women more often react to others as creepy. Studies have shown that women generally report greater disgust than men as well, especially regarding sexual disgust. Interestingly, disgust rises during pregnancy, perhaps mediated by increasing levels of progesterone. (Do innate differences in sensitivity to disgust correlate with progesterone levels even in nonpregnant individuals?) Some have conjectured that this behavioral avoidance (“behavioral immunity”) is a compensation for the pregnant mother’s need to dial down her immune system so as not to attack or reject the embryo. As the immune system is weakened, disgust becomes a more important line of defense.

Why All Americans Should Be Worried About the Oroville Dam Crisis

‘At least 188,000 residents in the areas surrounding the Oroville Dam in Northern California have had to evacuate their homes as workers scramble to prevent a potentially catastrophic breach. Now, reports are surfacing indicating local officials were warned about safety issues with the Oroville Dam 12 years ago, and did little to mitigate them. Besides serving as a scary dose of hindsight, these reports are a grim reminder that experts have been sounding the alarm about our nation’s aging infrastructure for a long time. In most cases, they haven’t gained much traction…’

Source: Gizmodo

Scientists Baffled by McConnell and Ryan’s Ability to Stand Upright Without Spines

‘Doctors at the University of Minnesota Medical School, who have been studying the skeletal structures of both Republicans for months, believe that their ability to stand, walk, and even break into a brisk trot when confronted by reporters’ questions is “virtually inexplicable.” …’

Source: Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker

Andrew Sullivan: The Madness of King Donald

‘I think this is a fundamental reason why so many of us have been so unsettled, anxious, and near panic these past few months. It is not so much this president’s agenda. That always changes from administration to administration. It is that when the linchpin of an entire country is literally delusional, clinically deceptive, and responds to any attempt to correct the record with rage and vengeance, everyone is always on edge. …’

Source: Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine

The Spy Revolt Against King Donald Begins

‘…Our Intelligence Community is so worried by the unprecedented problems of the Trump administration—not only do senior officials possess troubling ties to the Kremlin, there are nagging questions about basic competence regarding Team Trump—that it is beginning to withhold intelligence from a White House which our spies do not trust.

That the IC has ample grounds for concern is demonstrated by almost daily revelations of major problems inside the White House, a mere three weeks after the inauguration. The president has repeatedly gone out of his way to antagonize our spies, mocking them and demeaning their work, and Trump’s personal national security guru can’t seem to keep his story straight on vital issues.

That’s Mike Flynn, the retired Army three-star general who now heads the National Security Council. Widely disliked in Washington for his brash personality and preference for conspiracy-theorizing over intelligence facts, Flynn was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency for managerial incompetence and poor judgment—flaws he has brought to the far more powerful and political NSC.

Flynn’s problems with the truth have been laid bare by the growing scandal about his dealings with Moscow. Strange ties to the Kremlin, including Vladimir Putin himself, have dogged Flynn since he left DIA, and concerns about his judgment have risen considerably since it was revealed that after the November 8 election, Flynn repeatedly called the Russian embassy in Washington to discuss the transition. The White House has denied that anything substantive came up in conversations between Flynn and Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.

That was a lie, as confirmed by an extensively sourced bombshell report in The Washington Post, which makes clear that Flynn grossly misrepresented his numerous conversations with Kislyak—which turn out to have happened before the election too, part of a regular dialogue with the Russian embassy. To call such an arrangement highly unusual in American politics would be very charitable.

In particular, Flynn and Kislyak discussed the possible lifting of the sanctions President Obama placed on Russia and its intelligence services late last year in retaliation for the Kremlin’s meddling in our 2016 election. In public, Flynn repeatedly denied that any talk of sanctions occurred during his conversations with Russia’s ambassador. Worse, he apparently lied in private too, including to Vice President Mike Pence, who when this scandal broke last month publicly denied that Flynn conducted any sanctions talk with Kislyak. Pence and his staff are reported to be very upset with the national security adviser, who played the vice president for a fool. …’

Source: John R. Schindler, Observer

Automation Nightmare: Philosopher Warns We Are Creating a World Without Consciousness

‘A worry for Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist David Chalmers is creating a world devoid of consciousness. He sees the discussion of future superintelligences often presume that eventually AIs will become conscious. But what if that kind of sci-fi possibility that we will create completely artificial humans is not going to come to fruition? Instead, we could be creating a world endowed with artificial intelligence but not actual consciousness…’

Source: Big Think

In Defense of the Most Worthless, Helpless Creature on the Planet

‘…It’s understandable that someone would find the ocean sunfish repellently dumb. Even the mola mola’s many nicknames—schwimmender kopf (“swimming head”) in German, putol (“cut short”) in the Philippines, and “toppled car fish” in Taiwan—belie its absurd reputation. That last one is an especially accurate burn, because the mola mola grows to roughly the size and shape of a trash-compacted car.

Seriously, these things are huge. The ocean sunfish holds the Guinness world record for heaviest, most fecund bony fish. One of the biggest of these gold star boys weighed 5,071 pounds. The average weight is more like one ton, but it carries that heft along six to 10 feet of flattened flesh, flapping through the water like a smashed Prius. A mola mola raised in Monterey Bay Aquarium had to be airlifted out by helicopter and released into the bay when it gained 800 pounds in 14 months and outgrew its tank.

[I]s the mola mola actually as worthless as many of its haters seem to think? To try and settle the world’s nerdiest flame war, let’s go through the finer points of the ocean sunfish’s singular existence….’

Source: Motherboard

Squid Communicate With a Secret, Skin-Powered Alphabet

‘Squid and their cephalopod brethren have been the inspiration for many a science fiction creature. Their slippery appendages, huge proportions, and inking abilities can be downright shudder-inducing. (See: Arrival.) But you should probably be more concerned by the cephalopod’s huge brain—which not only helps it solve tricky puzzles, but also lets it converse in its own sign language.

…Certain kinds of squid send messages by manipulating the color of their skin. “Their body patterning is fantastic, fabulous,” says Chuan-Chin Chiao, a neuroscientist at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. They can display bands, or stripes, or turn completely dark or light. And Chiao is trying to crack their code…’

Source: WIRED

Clown Prince Screws Up Big Opportunity To Avoid Nuclear Holocaust

‘Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled that he wanted to help avoid the nuclear apocalypse during his first phone call with President Donald Trump, and Trump reportedly fumbled it—all because he had no idea what the most important treaty between America and Russia was.

According to news reports, Putin asked if Trump was willing to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the Obama-era nuclear weapons pact that requires each nation to cap their deployed warheads at 1,500 apiece… But there was one problem, according to Reuters: Trump didn’t know what New START was…’

Source: Jalopnik

“This is not who we are,” critics say about the refugee ban. But what if it is?

‘For all the recitations of Emma Lazarus — give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses — the story of American openness to immigrants and refugees is more cramped, more Trumpian, than our national myths suggest. In order to understand and undo the Muslim ban (and given the prioritization of religious minorities in those seven countries, a Muslim ban it is) we need to understand why it is in fact in line with our history, even as it feels so un-American.’

Source: Vox

How a president can be declared unfit to serve

new-hat-for-the-times‘The president of the United States has essentially unconstrained authority to use nuclear weapons however he sees fit.

So what would happen if the president, in the judgment of those closest to him, were to … not be in his right mind?

In such a scenario, there is, in fact, something that could quickly and legally be done to avert global catastrophe. The answer lies in Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.

The amendment states that if, for whatever reason, the vice president and a majority of sitting Cabinet secretaries decide that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” they can simply put that down in writing and send it to two people — the speaker of the House and the Senate’s president pro tem.

 Then the vice president would immediately become “Acting President,” and take over all the president’s powers.

Let that sink in — one vice president and any eight Cabinet officers can, theoretically, decide to knock the president out of power at any time.

If the president wants to dispute this move, he can, but then it would be up to Congress to settle the matter with a vote. A two-thirds majority in both houses would be necessary to keep the vice president in charge. If that threshold isn’t reached, the president would regain his powers.

 Section 4 of the 25th Amendment has never been invoked in reality, though it’s a staple of thriller fiction. But there’s been a sudden surge of interest in it in recent months, as reports of Donald Trump’s bizarre behavior behind closed doors have been piling up, and there is increasingly unsubtle speculation in Washington about the health of the president’s mind.’

Source: Vox

 

Yeah, but…Pence??

What’s The Next Big Dystopian Novel? Margaret Atwood Has Some Ideas

‘I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Margaret Atwood today, about the sudden popularity of her dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale. You can hear that story here. But there was one thing that didn’t make it into the finished piece — a moment when I asked Atwood what she thought the next big trend would be in dystopian reading. People have been devouring The Handmaid’s Tale1984Brave New World, It Can’t Happen Here and The Plot Against America — so what’s the next book we’ll be reporting on?

Well, it won’t be a book, according to Atwood. “The question to be asked is, if somebody does write such a novel where will it be published?” she says. “I think we might go back to newspaper serials … Because events are evolving so fast it would almost take a serial form to keep up with them.”

One installment a week, Atwood says, and “I would make my narrator somebody from within one of the alt-Twitter handles that are popping up all over — as alternative Department of Justice, alternative Parks Department, alternative Education.” Someone inside the government, who’s risking their job to leak information to the public.

Dear readers, you know I asked Margaret Atwood if she’d be willing to write this for me here at NPR. But she says she’s not the right one for the job. “Number one, I’m too old,” she says. “But number two, it would have to be somebody there, who’s pretty close to events as they unfold. Almost like Samuel Pepys’ diary,” she says, referencing the famous English chronicler. “‘Dear diary, you would never believe what happened today! Dear diary, are they on to me? My milkshake tasted funny.'”

Atwood says a story like that would boost newspaper sales, “employ fiction writers and follow the situation while it’s unfolding — while you’re still allowed to read!”

So, speculative fiction writers, get on it! (Though personally, now I’m always going to wonder if it’s really Margaret Atwood tweeting as @AltUSNatParkService.)’

Source: Petra Mayer, NPR

 

Why the sound of noisy eating fills some people with rage

‘Imagine feeling angry or upset whenever you hear a certain everyday sound. It’s a condition called misophonia, and we know little about its causes. Now there’s evidence that misophonics show distinctive brain activity whenever they hear their trigger sounds, a finding that could help devise coping strategies and treatments.

Olana Tansley-Hancock knows misophonia’s symptoms only too well. From the age of about 7 or 8, she experienced feelings of rage and discomfort whenever she heard the sound of other people eating. By adolescence, she was eating many of her meals alone. As time wore on, many more sounds would trigger her misophonia. Rustling papers and tapping toes on train journeys constantly forced her to change seats and carriages. Clacking keyboards in the office meant she was always making excuses to leave the room.

Finally, she went to a doctor for help. “I got laughed at,” she says.

“People who suffer from misophonia often have to make adjustments to their lives, just to function,” says Miren Edelstein at the University of California, San Diego. “Misophonia seems so odd that it’s difficult to appreciate how disabling it can be,” says her colleague, V. S. Ramachandran.

The condition was first given the name misophonia in 2000, but until 2013, there had only been two case studies published. More recently, clear evidence has emerged that misophonia isn’t a symptom of other conditions, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, nor is it a matter of being oversensitive to other people’s bad manners.

Some studies, including work by Ramachandran and Edelstein, have found that trigger sounds spur a full fight-or-flight response in people with misophonia.’

Source: New Scientist

A Wild New Compound Made with ‘Inert’ Helium Could Rewrite Chemistry Textbooks

‘An international team of scientists think they’ve created a stable helium compound, meaning one composed of both helium and sodium atoms together. The discovery would be wild not only because of the way it goes against some of our basic assumptions of chemistry, but would also help scientists better understand the way atoms act in the high-pressure centers of gas giant planets…’

Source: Gizmodo

Why the Higgs Boson Found at the Large Hadron Collider Could Be an ‘Impostor’

‘In 2012, researchers at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland famously found a particle that acted like the Higgs boson, an elusive and long-theorized particle that imbues mass to matter. Usha Mallik, a University of Iowa physicist, thinks that they might have caught an “impostor” masquerading as the Higgs, and that it’s possible we still haven’t found the real Higgs boson at all…’

Source: Motherboard

Left Wing or Right, Don’t Most People Know When They’re Sitting With a Fool?

trump‘President Donald Trump threatened to “destroy” the career of a Texas state senator after a Texas sheriff accused the lawmaker of getting in his way by promoting asset forfeiture reform.
“Want to give his name? We’ll destroy his career,” Trump told Sheriff Harold Eavenson of Rockwall County, Texas. Trump’s comment was met with laughter and Eavenson declined to give the official’s name. …’

Source: Sam Levine, Huffington Post .

Trump staff later explained he was ‘joking.’ Of course, what they meant is that he is the joke. Unfortunately the joke’s on us.  #notmeinfuhrer

Antifascists Have Become the Most Reasonable People in America

liveraf-bolton‘The most aggressive edge of the resistance marches under the banner of anti-fascism, or “antifa.” While most Americans would likely agree that “fascism is bad,” anti-fascism is a more specific set of politics. The antifa banner features black and red flags, signifying an alliance between anarchists and communists. What unites these two groups (who have been known to kill one another from time to time) is a commitment to confront and defeat fascists and white supremacists by whatever means necessary. It’s a coalition that has existed for as long as fascism has; the Italian Arditi del Popolo (People’s Squads) rose to fight Mussolini in 1921, even when the Socialist and Communist Parties refused to support them. In 1924, anarchist lumberjacks allied with the International Workers of the World waged a “drawn battle” with a Ku Klux Klan recruitment drive in Greenville, Maine. American anti-fascists have been fighting a mostly quiet conflict with domestic Nazis at punk rock venues and small white-nationalist gatherings for decades, but, as fascists have snuck their collective jackboot into the curved door of the Oval Office, the struggle has reached the mainstream…’

Source: Pacific Standard

U.S. Animal Abuse Records Deleted—What We Stand to Lose

‘Two weeks into the Trump Administration, thousands of documents detailing animal welfare violations nationwide have been removed from the website of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has been posting them publicly for decades. These are the inspection records and annual reports for every commercial animal facility in the U.S.—including zoos, breeders, factory farms, and laboratories.

These records have revealed many cases of abuse and mistreatment of animals, incidents that, if the reports had not been publicly posted, would likely have remained hidden. This action plunges journalists, animal welfare organizations, and the public at large into the dark about animal welfare at facilities across the country. The records document violations of the Animal Welfare Act, the federal law that regulates treatment of animals used for research and exhibition.

 

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which has maintained the online database, cites privacy concerns as justification for the removal. Critics question that reasoning. The agency has long redacted sensitive information from these records, and commercial facilities do not necessarily have the same right to privacy as private individuals…

Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, an animal advocacy nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., is “shocked” by the purge. He says the documents shed light on cruelty in “substandard roadside zoos, shameful animal circuses, puppy breeding factories and more.” Often, the animals in these facilities may have visible wounds or cramped conditions or no access to water, according to Roberts. He says “the government’s decision to make it harder to access this information further protects animal exploiters in the shroud of secrecy on which their nefarious activities thrive.”

From now on the documents will be accessible only via official requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA requests can take months to process. That’s far too long, Roberts says. When Born Free receives welfare complaints from concerned citizens, he says the organization has always checked USDA records to see if any complaints had already been made involving the facility or animal in question. Waiting months for a FOIA report for information that previously could be obtained with the click of a button “may mean prolonged suffering for an animal in need,” Roberts says.

The impact on journalism—and therefore the public’s awareness of animal suffering—may also be significant. “Long delays in processing federal FOIA requests already hinder the public and journalists in obtaining information that’s essential to ensuring that government is truly working for the people,” says Doug Haddix, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, based in Columbia, Missouri. The added burden of animal requests could slow FOIAs down even more…’

Source: National Geographic

Alibaba CEO Warns That ‘If Trade Stops, War Starts’

‘Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba and the second-richest man in China, visited Australia on Saturday. He had a dire warning for Trump and his hardline, anti-globalization ideas about trade: this could be war.Ma was in Melbourne to celebrate the opening of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s Australia/New Zealand headquarters. Speaking to attendees at the event, Ma said: “Everybody is concerned about trade wars. If trade stops, war starts.” …’

Source: Gizmodo

Kill the DeVos Appointment

It appears that the Senate needs one more vote to deny Betsy DeVos the nomination for Secretary of Education. Republican Senator Richard Burr of NC may be on the fence about whether or not to vote for  DeVos — who is unqualified, opposed to public education, and a plagiarist as well. 
Sen. Burr’s number is 202-224-3154. That phone line takes calls at any time and  is set up so that it only takes a moment to leave a message. Supposedly they are tracking the number of calls they get. It may not matter that you are not his constituent. 

Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, and Portugal join the Netherlands in mocking Donald Trump

‘President Trump’s antagonizing of people around the world has sparked quite the backlash. He’s instituting barely coded religious tests, “yelling” at and hanging up on leaders of democratic countries, and still vowing to build that big, beautiful border wall. (Now partly transparent!) Last week, the Netherlands tried to assuage fears of friction with an “official” welcome video, using President Trump’s own words to promise he’ll be embraced with open arms. As its new saying goes, “America First, the Netherlands Second.”

Turns out that Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, Portugal, and Germany—where citizens’ trust in the U.S. has eroded to a record low—all want to get in on the Trump trolling, too. Comedy shows in these countries have recently produced their own “second” videos, featuring Trump impersonations that sharply mimic his unique oratory eloquence. Some, like Swiss TV show Deville Late Night’s parody, compare their country directly to the Netherlands in Trumpian fashion: “Look at those mountains, those big flat mountains,” the voice-over goes. “We’re not flat like, for example, the Netherlands. They are so flat. Total disaster.”…’

Source: David Canfield, Slate.

British railway guard kicks racist off train

At least go sit, preferably in numbers, by your Muslim brethren being harassed by ignorant racist xenophobes like this:

‘Alexander MacKinnon thought it would be “my word against hers” after he directed racial abuse at Sanaa Shahid on a train out of London—the sneering solicitor said she shouldn’t be in the country, let alone first class. Unfortunately for him, he was overheard…’

Source: Boing Boing

Scientists, and their moral duty to resist trumpism

‘A trio of “scientists against a fascist government” set out a program for resisting trumpism with science, delving into the moral duty of scientists to resist the perversion of their work to attain cruel and evil ends.Trumpism includes savage attacks on ideologically inconvenient science — climate science especially — as well as xenophobic attacks on scientists themselves…’

Source: Boing Boing

Radiation Levels Are Soaring Inside the Damaged Fukushima Nuclear Plant

‘Radiation levels inside a damaged reactor at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant have hit a record high, and are the worst since the plant suffered a triple meltdown nearly six years ago… Radiation levels inside the containment vessel of reactor No. 2 at Fukushima have reached 530 sieverts per hour—a figure described by experts as “unimaginable.” …The radiation level inside the plant now far exceeds the previous high of 73 sieverts per hour, which was recorded soon after the triple meltdown in March 2011…

Needless to say, this plant is not fit for human life. Just one dose of a single sievert is enough to cause radiation sickness and nausea. Exposure to four to five sieverts would kill about half of those exposed to it within a month, while a single dose of 10 sieverts is enough to kill a person within weeks.

These surging radiation levels are complicating plans to dismantle the plant. According to the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, medical professionals aren’t prepared to treat patients who have been exposed to the levels of radiation currently experienced at the facility. This is a big problem for Tepco, which plans to remove fuel debris as part of the decommissioning process. The dismantling of Fukushima is scheduled to start in 2021 and could take nearly a half-century.

Officials with Tepco aren’t entirely sure why radiation levels are on such a dramatic upward trend. Either previous readings were insufficient or incorrect, or conditions inside the plant are changing. Problem is, the interior condition of the plant is still a big mystery. The high readings suggest that some of the melted fuel that escaped the pressure vessel is lingering nearby. Should this be confirmed, it would mark the first time that tainted debris has been found in any of the three reactors that suffered core meltdowns. Tepco has been unable to confirm the condition of the melted fuel owing to the extreme and inhospitable conditions inside…’

Source: Gizmodo 

What Was Our Universe Like Before the Big Bang?

‘…One of the strangest properties of our universe is that it has very low entropy, meaning there is relatively low disorder, or conversely a large amount of order, among all of the particles. Think of it this way: Imagine a bomb full of sand exploding onto an empty surface—that’s the Big Bang. You would expect a pretty uniform heap of sand after the explosion, but instead, our universe immediately arranged into lots of sand castles seemingly for no reason and with no help, and we don’t really know why, Stefan Countryman, a physics Ph.D. student at Columbia University, explained to Gizmodo. The Big Bang could have (and maybe should have) resulted in a high-entropy mass of uniformly distributed, disorganized stuff. Instead, we’ve got star systems, galaxies, and galactic clusters all linked together with dark voids between them. We have order.

Additionally, entropy or disorder can only increase over time—without outside help, the sand castles will erode away. In fact, according to Carroll, our observation of time is dependent on increasing entropy since the universe began. Entropy is a physical property that is completely time dependent, riding the one-way time train into the future.  So: the laws of physics say entropy can only increase, and today’s entropy is still very low. Carroll says that means the early universe had to have had even lower entropy—in other words, it must have been even more organized. That has implications for what things were like before the Big Bang. “There’s a lot of people who think the early universe was simple, smooth and featureless with tiny little ripples and that’s a natural place for universe to start,” said Carroll. “Once you think about entropy… your perspective changes and you realize it’s something you have to explain.” …’

Source: Gizmodo

After years of being “locked in,” patients communicate, say they’re happy

‘Patients with complete “locked-in syndrome”—conscious, but fully paralyzed and unable to move even their eyes—may soon be able to mentally break out.Using a new, noninvasive device that measures brain waves and blood flow, four locked-in patients were able to communicate by answering yes or no questions, neuroscientists report this week in PLOS Biology. The four patients, all completely paralyzed by Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), answered geography questions, correctly identified family members’ names, and even said they were happy and glad to be alive…’

Source: Ars Technica

UFO found in Google Earth image of Antarctica

‘A flying saucer was spotted on a Google Earth image near the South Pole in Antarctica. You can see it right here. Mysterious Universe claims that “melting ice could have formed a round depression as it sank into the surrounding snow, or wind could have created a small whirlwind effect as it blew into alcoves in the rock wall.” Screw that though. I want to believe…’

Source: Boing Boing

A Yale history professor’s 20-point guide to defending democracy under a Trump presidency

Beginning with:

‘1. Do not obey in advance.Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.’

Source: Quartz

Shimon

‘You know the singularity has arrived when the robots start playing marimbas. Shimon, engineer Guy Hoffman’s robot musician, doesn’t play programmed music — it improvises in ensembles with human players, communicating with a “socially expressive head” and favoring musical ideas that are unlikely to be chosen by humans, so as to lead the performance in genuinely novel directions…’

Source: Futility Closet

2017 is why the Senate filibuster exists

‘…There are probably more than enough Republicans who are conflicted about the Republican agenda or committed to the Senate as an institution to stave off calls from President Trump or House conservatives to abolish the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been clear about his disinterest in limiting obstruction during the 115th Congress, and he would probably struggle to form a majority for filibuster reform if he tried. So for the next 23 months, I expect to see a series of struggles to get the Republican agenda through the Senate, with Democrats blocking a GOP agenda with the tacit support of a few Republicans.’

Source: Vox

Happy Imbolc

‘Imbolc, (pronounced “IM-bulk” or “EM-bowlk”), also called Oimealg, (“IM-mol’g), by the Druids, is the festival of the lactating sheep. It is derived from the Gaelic word “oimelc” which means “ewes milk”. Herd animals have either given birth to the first offspring of the year or their wombs are swollen and the milk of life is flowing into their teats and udders. It is the time of Blessing of the seeds and consecration of agricultural tools. It marks the center point of the dark half of the year. It is the festival of the Maiden, for from this day to March 21st, it is her season to prepare for growth and renewal. Brighid’s snake emerges from the womb of the Earth Mother to test the weather, (the origin of Ground Hog Day), and in many places the first Crocus flowers began to spring forth from the frozen earth.

The Maiden is honored, as the Bride, on this Sabbat. Straw Brideo’gas (corn dollies) are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flower bedding. Young girls then carry the Brideo’gas door to door, and gifts are bestowed upon the image from each household. Afterwards at the traditional feast, the older women make special acorn wands for the dollies to hold, and in the morning the ashes in the hearth are examined to see if the magic wands left marks as a good omen. Brighid’s Crosses are fashioned from wheat stalks and exchanged as symbols of protection and prosperity in the coming year. Home hearth fires are put out and re-lit, and a besom is place by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new. Candles are lit and placed in each room of the house to honor the re-birth of the Sun.

Another traditional symbol of Imbolc is the plough. In some areas, this is the first day of ploughing in preparation of the first planting of crops. A decorated plough is dragged from door to door, with costumed children following asking for food, drinks, or money. Should they be refused, the household is paid back by having its front garden ploughed up. In other areas, the plough is decorated and then Whiskey, the “water of life” is poured over it. Pieces of cheese and bread are left by the plough and in the newly turned furrows as offerings to the nature spirits. It is considered taboo to cut or pick plants during this time.

Various other names for this Greater Sabbat are Imbolgc Brigantia (Caledonni), Imbolic (Celtic), Disting (Teutonic, Feb 14th), Lupercus (Strega), St. Bridget’s Day (Christian), Candlemas, Candlelaria (Mexican), the Snowdrop Festival. The Festival of Lights, or the Feast of the Virgin. All Virgin and Maiden Goddesses are honored at this time.’

Source: Wiccan, Pagan and Witchcraft Holidays., Imbolc Lore

I Was Trained for the Culture Wars in Home School, Awaiting a Messiah Like Mike Pence

A former homeschooled far-right evangelical “Christofascist” described the grassroots movement hidden under our noses with a plan in the works for decades to take over American society and government. Something similar could have been written by a right winger talking about the hidden Jewish-banking conspiracy but somehow this has more of a ring of authenticity and, if it has any basis in reality, it is as scary as it gets. My strongest reaction is to feel a certain urgency about relocating outside the US.

The writer says that this plan for a Christofascist takeover had been in preparation since the emergence of evangelical conservatism in the 1970s. Early manifestations included the founding of organizations like Operation Rescue, the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, but perhaps most significantly (and insidiously) the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), whose purpose was to ensure that homeschooling was legal and prevent its regulation “so the children [they] trained would abe able to fly under the radar.” Children homeschooled by extremists of the religious right have been trained to fight what they refer to as the

“Culture Wars. It’s a loose and ambiguous term that basically means anything or anyone that doesn’t align with this very specific view of Christianity must not be allowed to continue…”

Specific agendas include reversal of legislation protecting reproductive rights and preventing discrimination based on race, gender identity and sexual preference. More generally, the aim is to facilitate laws legislating morality;   the  only way to control the legislative process is to prepare to infiltrate the government through the indoctrination of youth. Thus the emphasis on training in effective argument;  they were

‘taught critical thinking skills but given only a narrow view of what was acceptable to argue for. We were, after all, being trained to take over the country for Christ, literally. We knew how to perform logical gymnastics about abortion, Christianity and any evangelical talking point you could throw at us. When we showed up to city council, local political party meetings and tours of the Capitol we asked intelligent questions, were respectful and had a vested interest in how our local political machine ran. We impressed every government official and staff member with our questions, earnesty and demeanor. In short, we were sneaky and polite Trojan horses; we had an agenda. Yes, even as 15-year-olds. It was forcefully handed to us by the adults in our lives who had been preparing for this since before we were born.’

The Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party was the first significant public manifestation of this movement. Now, ‘Trump being elected is also part of the plan, although not Trump specifically; the true goal is Pence.’ Trump’s easy manipulability and ignorance, apathy, and ineptitude about policy allow Pence’s Trojan-horse covert Christofascist piggyback power grab. Trump will do ‘whatever the Right want him to do in order to keep power, allowing Pence to advance his agenda under the radar ‘while filling Congress with ever more evangelical conservative Republicans.’

Pence seems much less threatening than someone abrasive, terrifying and erratic like Trump but he has an insidious, consistent, proven record of working to legalize discrimination and acting against women and marginalized people. His presence in office emboldens the up-and-coming far Right children to further the Christofascist agenda for which they have been trained — “to take back the country for Christ” by outbreeding, outvoting and outactivating.

‘Every class, every event, every pastor or guest speaker reiterated this, choosing to risk the 501c3 status of their church to push their agenda. ‘

And Democrats never even notice the rightwing grassroots organizing where this arises, e.g. the vast network of homeschoolers ‘that HSLDA and others have given [the Republicans] to tap into as a source of free labor,’ for efforts including the Republican Get Out the Vote efforts. Republicans who want to remain in office cannot afford to hamper this effort and thus must maintain marked laxity in overseeing homeschooling. Homeschoolers “are loud, have time and can be activated with one email blast” from Christofascist organizers such as the HSLDA.

‘We are the secret no one knew about and it’s time to come to light. Homeschoolers are a huge reason for the evangelical conservative takeover we’ve seen over the last decade or so…’

Such religious extremists ‘believe it is their Christian duty to save the country from its secular ways in the name of religious freedom’ and believe that their agenda will save the country from destruction ordained by God for our ungodly ways.

‘While it looks like a bunch of backwoods hillbillies playing with guns to anyone outside, they are resilient and in it for the long haul. They want America to succeed, but in their America there isn’t room for anyone unlike them. There’s a reason Trump’s mantra stuck despite his deplorable behaviour. They think America was founded on conservative Protestant ideals because that’s what they’ve been fed, because that’s what aligns with their interpretation of the Bible and they will not go down without a fight…

They will not be won over with sit-downs and respectability politics. This kind of dogma cannot be reasoned with; it must be fought against. Trying to convince them to come to the other side is a waste of time unless they’ve already started on that journey themselves. The ones in power, actively harming our lives, are past this point. We can only fight back.’

Source: Autostraddle (via Barbara)