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Sorry

There will be no posts here for two weeks. I will be gone and off the grid. Please have an enjoyable rest of June and come back after the 4th of July.

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Happy Bloomsday

“I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

— Molly Bloom

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Why Interviewing Alex Jones Is Such a Bad Idea

‘…[E]levating chicanery and those who propagate its—even to debunk the lie—only spreads their nonsense. “Megyn Kelly interviewing Alex Jones is like taking a leaf of poison ivy that you know is making you itch and rubbing it all over someone’s face,” says Stephanie Kelley-Romano, who teaches rhetoric at Bates College and studies how and why conspiracy beliefs take root. “You don’t spread it around.” …’

Source: WIRED

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Alternative therapies for “chronic Lyme” are dangerous, researchers warn

‘That group includes doctors from across the country, including the University of Colorado, the CDC, Yale University, Stanford, and the University of California, San Francisco. In the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the doctors reveal chilling accounts of five patients who pursued such bogus treatments. What followed was years of heart-wrenching suffering, avoidable life-threatening infections, and death…’

Source: Ars Technica

The fact that the diagnosis is not well-founded is less the problem than that the putative sufferers fall victim to snake oil salesmen. It seems to me that, if you seek help for a controversial syndrome you have to hold the caregiver to a higher, rather than a lower, bar regarding the plausibility of the approach they suggest.

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Symptoms of consciousness

‘Where did consciousness come from? A recent piece in New Scientist (paywalled, I’m afraid) reviewed a number of ideas about the evolutionary origin and biological nature of consciousness. The article obligingly offered a set of ten criteria for judging whether an organism is conscious or not…

  • Recognises itself in a mirror
  • Has insight into the minds of others
  • Displays regret having made a bad decision
  • Heart races in stressful situations
  • Has many dopamine receptors in its brain to sense reward
  • Highly flexible in making decisions
  • Has ability to focus attention (subjective experience)
  • Needs to sleep
  • Sensitive to anaesthetics
  • Displays unlimited associative learning..’

Source: Conscious Entities

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Hypnosis Is Actually Not That Mysterious

‘Hypnosis refers to a set of procedures involving an induction — which could be fixating on an object, relaxing or actively imagining something — followed by one or more suggestions, such as “You will be completely unable to feel your left arm.” The purpose of the induction is to induce a mental state in which participants are focused on instructions from the experimenter or therapist, and are not distracted by everyday concerns. One reason why hypnosis is of interest to scientists is that participants often report that their responses feel automatic or outside their control.

Most inductions produce equivalent effects. But inductions aren’t actually that important. Surprisingly, the success of hypnosis doesn’t rely on special abilities of the hypnotist either — although building rapport with them will certainly be valuable in a therapeutic context.

Rather, the main driver for successful hypnosis is one’s level of “hypnotic suggestibility.” This is a term which describes how responsive we are to suggestions. We know that hypnotic suggestibility doesn’t change over time and is heritable. Scientists have even found that people with certain gene variants are more suggestible.

Most people are moderately responsive to hypnosis. This means they can have vivid changes in behavior and experience in response to hypnotic suggestions. By contrast, a small percentage (around 10-15 percent) of people are mostly non-responsive. But most research on hypnosis is focused on another small group (10-15 percent) who are highly responsive.

In this group, suggestions can be used to disrupt pain, or to produce hallucinations and amnesia. Considerable evidence from brain imaging reveals that these individuals are not just faking or imagining these responses. Indeed, the brain acts differently when people respond to hypnotic suggestions than when they imagine or voluntarily produce the same responses.

Preliminary research has shown that highly suggestible individuals may have unusual functioning and connectivity in the prefrontal cortex. This is a brain region that plays a critical role in a range of psychological functions including planning and the monitoring of one’s mental states.

There is also some evidence that highly suggestible individuals perform more poorly on cognitive tasks known to depend on the prefrontal cortex, such as working memory. However, these results are complicated by the possibility that there might be different subtypes of highly suggestible individuals. These neurocognitive differences may lend insights into how highly suggestible individuals respond to suggestions: they may be more responsive because they’re less aware of the intentions underlying their responses.

For example, when given a suggestion to not experience pain, they may suppress the pain but not be aware of their intention to do so. This may also explain why they often report that their experience occurred outside their control. Neuroimaging studies have not as yet verified this hypothesis but hypnosis does seem to involve changes in brain regions involved in monitoring of mental states, self-awareness and related functions.

Although the effects of hypnosis may seem unbelievable, it’s now well accepted that beliefs and expectations can dramatically impact human perception. It’s actually quite similar to the placebo response, in which an ineffective drug or therapeutic treatment is beneficial purely because we believe it will work. In this light, perhaps hypnosis isn’t so bizarre after all. Seemingly sensational responses to hypnosis may just be striking instances of the powers of suggestion and beliefs to shape our perception and behaviour. What we think will happen morphs seamlessly into what we ultimately experience.

Hypnosis requires the consent of the participant or patient. You cannot be hypnotized against your will and, despite popular misconceptions, there is no evidence that hypnosis could be used to make you commit immoral acts against your will…’

Source: Inverse

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Tulpamancers

‘Tulpamancers are people who imagine companions, called tulpas, into being through meditation-like practices. While the word tulpamancer is derived from a Tibetan word for “incarnation,” one ethnographic study found that tulpamancers are mostly young, white men in their late teens and early 20s who congregate on Internet forums like Reddit. They tend to be empathetic, yet socially anxious. Tulpas are not considered a symptom of illness or a disorder, but they may be a coping mechanism for loneliness (or, in some cases, mental illness) for their creators. Many of those creators describe overwhelmingly positive experiences with tulpamancy, and some say the practice has helped ease their depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder…’

Source: Pacific Standard

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The whales are back in New York City

‘For the first time in a century, humpback whales have returned to the waters of New York harbor. And not just occasionally, either. They’re coming in enough numbers that a company can reliably trot tourists out to the ocean—within sight distance of Manhattan’s skyscrapers—to see them…’

Source: Popular Science

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Drumpf’s Justice Department Memo May Be Bigger Than Citizens United

674954374-01‘Yesterday, as the news cycles were dying down, the Drumpf Justice Department (DOJ) dropped a bombshell brief which Bloomberg reported. Citing George Washington as precedent, the DOJ is saying that it is AOK for President Drumpf to take foreign governments’ and state-controlled banks’ money for goods and services without congressional approval, that it is not a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution…’

Source: HuffPost

This is an utter outrage that must be stopped in its tracks, unlike our failure to stop Citizens United. Not only does it open the door to unprecedented influence-peddling by foreign powers but it seems to be a maneuver by Drumpf to exonerate himself for his and his family’s ongoing criminal graft. Is this enough to convince right-minded people to take action, which will probably have to be extra-judicial, against a President rapidly succeeding in removing any checks and balances on his tyranny?

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Can you commit manslaughter by sending texts? We’re about to find out

‘An involuntary manslaughter trial began Tuesday for a Massachusetts woman who as a teen texted her boyfriend and urged him to commit suicide.

The woman, Michelle Carter, faces a maximum 20-year prison term if convicted at a bench trial in Bristol County. Attorneys for Carter, who was 18 at the time of the texts, had tried to fend off the charges, saying her texts to 17-year-old Conrad Roy were protected speech under the First Amendment. The state’s top court, the Supreme Judicial Court, set no line in the sand on when speech loses its constitutional protection. Instead, the court upheld the indictment for involuntary manslaughter on “the basis of words alone.”

Roy, who was found dead about 50 miles south of Boston in a Fairhaven parking lot, took his own life via carbon monoxide fumes inside his truck. The authorities also claim Carter was on the phone with Roy for nearly an hour while he was killing himself….’

Source: Ars Technica

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Drumpf’s Blocking of Twitter Users Violates U.S. Constitution: Rights Institute

trump-his-eyes-bleeding-1REUTERS writes:

‘A free-speech institute on Tuesday sent a letter to President Donald Drumpf demanding the prolific tweeter unblock certain Twitter users on grounds the practice violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Drumpf’s @realDonaldTrump account recently blocked a number of accounts that replied to his tweets with commentary that criticized, mocked or disagreed with his actions. Twitter users are unable to see or respond to tweets from accounts that block them.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University in New York said in its letter that the blocking suppressed speech in a public forum protected by the Constitution. …

Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University law professor who focuses on internet law, said that previous cases involving politicians blocking users on Facebook supported the Knight Institute’s position.

If the institute should sue, Trump could claim his @realDonaldTrump account is for personal use and separate from his official duties as president, Goldman said. But he called that defense “laughable.”
Trump also has a presidential @POTUS Twitter account. The Knight Institute said its arguments would apply with “equal force” to both accounts…’

Source: NYTimes.com

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Drumpf’s Growing Discontent With Jeff Sessions

PETER BAKER and MAGGIE HABERMAN writes:

‘ …in a series of stark early-morning postings on Twitter [Drumpf] faulted his own Justice Department for its defense of his travel ban on visitors from certain predominantly Muslim countries. [Drumpf] accused Mr. Sessions’s department of devising a “politically correct” version of the ban — as if the president had nothing to do with it. …’

Source: NYTimes.com

#schadenfreude

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Drumpf Stomps Planet Earth

Maureen Dowd:

‘We’ve been conditioned by Hollywood to see the president of the United States step up to the lectern to confidently tell us how he will combat the existential threat to the planet — be it aliens, asteroids, tidal waves, volcanoes, killer sharks, killer robots or a 500-billion-ton comet the size of New York City.So it was quite stunning to see the president of the United States step up to the lectern to declare himself the existential threat to the planet…’

Source: NYTimes op ed

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What Makes The Spelling Bee So Hard

Oliver Roeder writes:

‘Since 1996, young spellers have attempted to spell over 14,000 words — from abactor to zymurgy. Twenty-five percent of those words, over 3,500, have been misspelled. This year, yet more words will be plucked from 470,000-odd options in Merriam-Webster’s unabridged dictionary. I sifted through all 21 years’ worth of errors, looking for reasons that some of the best spellers in the world stumbled when the stakes were highest. I found a gantlet of potential pitfalls …’

Source:  FiveThirtyEight

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Consequences for U.S. Planetary Arson?

Naomi Klein, writing on the day Donald Drumpf announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, drew attention to a remedy proposed by some activists: that the U.S., which is vandalizing the climate, should face sanctions from the rest of the world. She also argues that pretty much everything that is inadequate about the Paris accord is the result of U.S. lobbying to weaken it. 

Source: The Intercept

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Why corruption is the new normal in health care

‘Industry payouts to providers, unnecessary admissions to meet quotas, manipulating data for greater reimbursements: In The Huffington Post this week, Shannon Brownlee and Vikas Saini of the Lown Institute call out these ubiquitous practices for what they are – corruption.

“Our health care system is no longer about relieving the suffering of patients or the intrinsic value of maintaining the health of our population. It’s about making money,” Brownlee and Saini write. This systemic corruption contributes to ballooning health care costs and causes immeasurable harm to patients…’

Source: Lown Institute