Some scientists are taking a DIY coronavirus vaccine, and nobody knows if it’s legal or if it works

‘[A]t least 20 … researchers, technologists, or science enthusiasts, many connected to Harvard University and MIT, have volunteered as lab rats for a do-it-yourself inoculation against the coronavirus. They say it’s their only chance to become immune without waiting a year or more for a vaccine to be formally approved….’

— via MIT Technology Review

Miss Seeing Your Face

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I ran across this photo today (via plasticbag.org). Incidentally, I ran a psychotherapy group today  on my unit, in which I wonderedwhether the clientele were finding it difficult that that the lower half of everyone’s face is masked. I suggested they think about whether they were facing new challenges in reading the faces of the clinicians who were treating them.

It appears that mask-wearing will be with us for a long time, especially as economies reopen and people are spending more time in public settings. Thinking about the psychological impact of masking will be crucial. I am curious about any research data about emotional perception from societies where women are veiled. It would also be interesting to do psychological studies of Asian societies where masking became more common in advance of the West since the SARS and bird flu epidemics earlier in the 21st century or even, to some extent, other respiratory illnesses of the 20th century.

You know that old chestnut about the ‘eyes being the windows to the soul‘ (versions of which have been variously attributed to Jesus and Shakespeare)? I have mulled over the fact that I seem to be able to gauge the emotions of some people clearly by seeing just their eyes, but there are others who, mouths concealed, are opaque to emotional readings. Is the difference an intrinsic one as to where and how people display their emotions? Or does it more lie in the skill of the observer? Thanks to my friend Abby for pointing me in this regard to the 2010 art installation by Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, “The Artist is Present”, in which people lined up for their chance to sit opposite the artist staring wordlessly at her eye to eye, “one of the final taboos of modern New York.” (New York TImes). What happens to eye-to-eye contact in the masking era?

Hardwired human capabilities bear on this. As befits such an inherently social species, an enormous amount of neurological machinery in the human brain has evolved to be devoted to interpersonal perception, given how much of an advantage is provided by having detailed access to the feelings or intentions of others with whom we are interacting. . Broadly speaking, an empathic connection to others, what Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen has called our ‘mind reading ability’,  relies on our capacity for emotional mimicry. When we observe the expressions or nonverbal behaviors of those with whom we interact,   a system of “mirror neurons” (about which I have written before on FmH) activates brain regions which echo the activity in the individual we are watching. Via this internal mimicry, this mechanism gives us an emotional experience when watching another’s behaviors or expressions similar to that we would have if we were performing those same behaviors outwardly ourselves. Watching someone smile or grimace makes you feel the way you would if you were smiling or grimacing yourself. In that way, we have very good access to what another is thinking or feeling. How much is that compromised in the mask-wearing epoch?

There is interesting research establishing that individuals with autism, who are deficient in person-perception, empathic connection, and ‘theory of mind,’1 look less at the eyes, and more at the mouth, of people with whom they are interacting. What impact is the mask-wearing of those with whom they interact having on them?

Some of my patients, who are involvement-averse or affect-intolerant, have commented that things have gotten easier for them since we have begun social distancing and masking half our faces. They feel relief that their facial expressions are betraying less, that there is less their interlocutors are expressing to which they are called upon to respond,  and that they are less under scrutiny while interacting. Some with severe mental illnesses may find it easier to remain in treatment when they do not have to go out during the pandemic lockdown, as most aftercare programs are conducted virtually.

In any case,  those whose vocations relay on nuanced interpersonal interaction, like myself, must be finding it difficult and unfamiliar  not to see the faces of the people they work with.2 This is less of an issue for the therapists conducting their therapy online. Their clients, of course, can be unmasked staring full faced into the camera from the safety of their quarantine. For many that is good enough to do satisfactory psychotherapy, although some of my therapist friends lament their limited access to elements of their clients’ body language below the neck.

But the hospitalized psychiatric patients, to work with whom I physically go into the hospital on a daily basis, are always masked when they are out of their bedrooms in the milieu. Something about this stringent norm is working — our unit has not had one case of viral transmission to staff or patients since the pandemic began. But my patients and I have in some cases never seen one another’s faces despite days or at times weeks of treatment! And if I do see a patient unmasked in passing, I am at times taken aback by how their appearance departs from what I had imagined was behind the mask I stared at day after day. Today I was surprised to see that one of my patients, a young man unmasked for the first time, had a bushy mustache I could not have envisioned.  Facial hair and piercings, etc. act as signifiers over and above facial expressiveness, now concealed. Am I in effect treating a different person than the one they would want to be when interacting with me if they were unmasked?

Some emotions — fear and anger — appear to be more upper-face emotions than others such as happiness or sadness. What will be the societal impact of some emotions becoming easier to read, or seen as more prevalent, than others?  In his powerful 1978 book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander described how a medium incapable of clearly conveying subtlety of emotion potentially shaped social behavior and interaction into something less granular, more grandiose and bolder. If the medium is the message, does this contribute to a tendency toward action over contemplation, grossness over subtlety, and the melodramatic over the sublime? 3 And does mask-wearing analogously act to filter subtleties out of interpersonal communication?

The adverse effects of masking may hit some societies more than others. In less culturally homogeneous societies (such as the U.S.) we need as many cues as we can get to know how someone feels and how they will react. In more culturally homogeneous societies, it is arguably easier to know what people are feeling.

fMRI studies also show that, when viewing images of people from stigmatized groups that inspire disgust (homeless, drug addicts, the lower-caste ‘untouchables’ in Indian society), subjects have reciprocally reduced activation of brain regions associated with the experience of empathy. Some like philosopher Martha Nussbaum argue that stereotyping, xenophobia, and dehumanizing of the outsider may be based on the neurology of disgust or creepiness. If the neural processes allowing empathic connection through the activation of mirror neurons are interfered with by masking, xenophobia and dehumanization may flourish. Paranoid ideation — anticipating vulnerability and threat to oneself in conditions of increased difficulty making sense of incoming information, as I define it — can be facilitated. These are very ingrained processes difficult to reason one’s way beyond.

In my psychiatric work during the pandemic, I have found it more difficult to reassure patients without their seeing my smile. It has been written about extensively in both psychotherapy training manuals and the literature of the art of negotiation that people resonate unconsciously with each other in conversation by matching body language and facial expressions. Masking is making that more of a challenge. Are we in the midst of discovering new ways to misunderstand one another?

It may be necessary to switch increasingly to verbal in place of nonverbal reactions, e.g. chuckling rather than smiling. People may become more gestural with their hands or physical movements such as nodding. All of this may be deliberate or unconscious, borne of necessity, even without our recognition. It is also possible that we may become more skilled at reading the minute expressions in the parts of others’ faces which are still  visible, which we used to overlook. We may shift toward more eye contact, as uncomfortable as that might be in some instances.

I cannot let the opportunity pass without mentioning the work of one of the most influential 20th-21st century psychologists, Paul Ekman, who devoted his life to the observation of nonverbal communication. Ekman found that the facial muscular movements that create emotional expressions can be reliably observed and described. He posited that the correlation between various expressions and their emotional connotations are universal, especially those for disgust, fear, joy, loneliness, and shock. They could be demonstrated even in preliterate cultures, whose members could not have learned the correlations from media exposure. Ekman’s work was devoted to the precise observation, description and categorization of the component ‘micro-expressions’ indicative of various emotions. He developed a training system for the better recognition and analysis of these micro-expressions, which are manifested even when subjects are trying to suppress their display of emotion.

Discerning these micro-expressions is very useful for the detection of deception. It does not take much imagination to envision the importance of recognizing deceit in areas as diverse as witness and suspect interviewing in law enforcement, job interviews, and political candidates, to name a few, in addition to psychiatric treatment. Ekman describes in detail in his book Telling Lies the analysis of the nonverbal behavior of a woman who lied about whether she was feeling suicidal in order to leave the hospital where she was committed for her safety. I face similar quandaries assessing safety in my practice with hospitalized psychiatric patients nearly every day. Emotional deception may be unconscious as well as deliberate,. There is a strong relationship between psychological distress and fooling oneself. Skills-based training in emotion recognition may be useful for patients as well as clinicians, helping patients in psychotherapy to better notice, label, and process emotional experiences which they themselves might not recognize. The alternative and humanistic therapy practices of the ’60’s and ’70’s, which I used to think were unsophisticated and unsystematic for their focus on such buzzwords as “getting in touch with your feelings,” may have been onto something after all. So, if masking remains ubiquitous, we should probably all take Ekman’s training program!

A condition called alexithymia (literally “no words for feelings”), defined only in the last few decades after the work of Boston psychiatrists John Nemiah and Peter Sifneos, involves extreme difficulty in identifying and describing one’s own feelings. By extension, one’s ability to recognize emotion in others is impaired, and interestingly such patients have difficulty with fantasy and imagination. It may affect as much as 10% of the population although may not be manifested until someone is in psychiatric treatment. Alexithymia is a stable personality characteristic of an individual rather than a situational response to stress. It predisposes people to other psychological disorders. Individuals tend to avoid emotionally close relationships and the disorder is negatively correlated with overall life satisfaction and reduces the likelihood patients will respond to treatment efforts. Distress is frequently exacerbated when these individuals enter psychotherapy. Evidence exists for both a neurological basis of alexithymia (e.g. damaged interhemispheric communication) and psychological explanations (e.g that of psychoanalyst Joyce MacDougall who understands alexithymia as a defense against the experience of emotion once it has become too painful). Certain genetic variants in the serotonin system have been found to correlate with alexithymic traits.

The more stringent demands to read emotion with more limited information in a mask-wearing world might make us more sensitive not only to alexithymia but other impairments in nonverbal aspects of person perception and emotional processing. To name a few, these include prosopagnosia (also known as face blindness, famously suffered among others by the great neurologist Oliver Sacks, painter Chuck Close, primatologist Jane Goodall, Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, actor Stephen Fry, and Steve Wozniak),  emotional dysprosody,  and aphantasia.

Interestingly, research has identified a phenomenon called covert facial recognition. In experiments, it can be shown that subjects with prosopagnosia  unconsciously recognize familiar faces without being consciously aware that they are able to do so. Similarly, might people with alexithymia  instinctually recognize emotions in others even when they don’t believe consciously that they are able to name the feelings they are seeing? Might we be able to read emotion conveyed by masked faces better than we think we can?  4

Alexithymia may also have something to do with testosterone and/or other factors in gender identity, biological and/or developmental. Psychologist Ronald Levant coined the term “normative male alexithymia” to describe the assertion that men are at base “emotional mummies” with impaired socialization and capacity for attachment. Unlike true clinical alexithymia, NMA is not full-blown psychopathology but nevertheless affects the quality of men’s lives and that of people around them, he believes. With this concept, I’m backing into the question of whether mask wearing will accentuate gender differences in person perception abilities.  Will women, if they are indeed generally more skillful readers of emotion, find facial obscuration harder to deal with than men who tend to be more oblivious to the challenges it poses? Or will men’s person perception skills, marginal to begin with, be stressed past the tipping point more than those of women?

Throughout my psychiatric career, I have had a strong interest in the condition called Capgras’ syndrome, in which a person becomes convinced that someone important in their life has been replaced by an outwardly identical but subtly, discernably different substitute. Capgras, about which I lecture and to which I have referred before on FmH, occurs in both neurological and psychiatric conditions, and is thought to result from a dysfunction in the machinery of person recognition and familiarity. Studies have shown that the difference between how we react to a familiar vs an unfamiliar face resides in the level of activation of a brain area called the posterior cingulate gyrus. If this malfunctions, the sufferer recognizes the person perceptually but the experience of the person lacks its remembered emotional valence, thus they do not feel emotionally familiar. The conclusion that they have been replaced by an impostor is a natural attempt to make sense of this disturbing dissonance. If emotional aspects of person perception are impaired in the masked world, will we see an increase in Capgras, in which we feel we are relating to emotional impostors? 5

I often point to the 1956 science fiction film Invasion of the Body Snatchers in reference to Capgras’ syndrome. Over and above banal analyses seeing it as an allegory about the Communist threat or a veiled critique of McCarthyism, I have always felt that the terror evoked by this film relied on its profound challenge to our dependence on the sense of the familiar and the dismissal by mental professionals as crazy of those alarmed by the perception that their loved ones were “not themselves.” In a nuance lost in subsequent remakes of the film, those taken over by the aliens retained their ability to convey emotion but were always a little “off”, as if they were imitating genuine emotion, a clear evocation of the experience of Capgras’ sufferers. Other films from the 50’s evoked the same terror, most memorably The Thing (1951) and Invaders From Mars (1953). (For my money, forget the more recent remakes of Body Snatchers or Invaders and go back to the originals. On the other hand, the 1982 version of The Thing with Kurt Russell is fabulous and underrated.). Of course, there are any number of recent horror films which rely more directly on mask-wearing antagonists for their terror. It is a very common trope. The experience evokes something primal.

In a deeper sense, metaphorical masking and unmasking processes are at the core of human interaction and particularly therapeutic interaction. What we keep private and what we keep public, and why, are core concerns for all of us in our public presentations in everyday life. What are the influences on our masking and unmasking? Some sociologists, notably Erving Goffman, assert that misrepresentation is an essential part of our public persona and that the mask come to be more real than the self. In that sense, could social presentation in the mask-wearing age be more authentic? Probably not to the oppressed. In Marxist philosophy, a character mask (German: charaktermaske) is a prescribed social role that serves to conceal the contradictions of a social relation or order. The term was used by Karl Marx in various published writings from the 1840s to the 1860s. In his classic Black Skin, White Masks, Franz Fanon shows how language itself forces the donning of masks and plays a powerful role in the subjugation of the oppressed. Dutch author and former editor of The New York Review of Books Ian Buruma, in his 1984 book Behind the Maskargues that cultural taboos have always functioned like figurative masks shaping the expressions of various emotions and behaviors. Roland Barthes said, “The mask is the meaning.” Masking has always been an alluring fetish in erotic fantasy. In the pandemic era, is it mostly a signifier of good citizenry or of  pervasive fear and panic? It is a topic for a different essay to consider the meaning of the anti-masking philosophy and its relation to toxic individualism and antisociality.

I came to psychiatry after starting in cultural anthropology. When people have asked me to explain this change of direction, I have often said something about not finding it to be such a deviation at all. Especially these days, where the atomization of society is so clear, one cannot avoid an appreciation for the fact that everyone inhabits their own micro-culture with disparate values, assumptions, and cognitive styles.  I realized somewhere along the way that all interaction is essentially cross-cultural, and that I did not have to do fieldwork with indigenous people to experience the challenge of cross-cultural communication. Much as anthropological fieldworkers feel it is a privilege to be allowed into another culture, I feel I am privileged to have the opportunity every day to peer into the lives and the minds of so many disparate people with whom I would never otherwise had any encounters of depth. And to experience the unending fascinating challenge of helping them despite the mask of impenetrability we all wear most of the time.


1 Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, knowledge, etc. — to others, and is considered necessary to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own.

2 It’s a different topic for another day, so I won’t get started on the issue of recently-trained ‘modern’ psychiatrists who don’t believe they have to communicate with their patients. Although I am a skilled psychopharmacologist, readers of FmH know how I decry attempting to treat patients by pill-pushing unaccompanied by the “talking cure”. Some of these folks might well be feeling relieved of the burden of having to read the emotional language of their clientele around now!

3 As Mander described it,”…Television has effects, very important effects, aside from the content, and they may be more important. They organize society in a certain way. They give power to a very small number of people to speak into the brains of everyone else in the system night after night after night with images that make people turn out in a certain kind of way. It affects the psychology of people who watch. It increases the passivity of people who watch. It changes family relationships. It changes understandings of nature. It flattens perception so that information, which you need a fair amount of complexity to understand it as you would get from reading, this information is flattened down to a very reduced form on television. And the medium has inherent qualities which cause it to be that way.”

4 And, while we’re at it, is there any evidence bearing upon whether maskwearing is having an impact on the ability of animals, who are thought of as notably good at resonating with the feelings of their humans, to read our emotions?

5 The Echo Maker by Richard Powers is a superb novel revolving around a case of Capgras, with a guest appearance from an Oliver Sacks-like celebrity neurologist. .

The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

‘In his sci-fi trilogy The Three Body Problem, author Liu Cixin presents the dark forest theory of the universe.

When we look out into space, the theory goes, we’re struck by its silence. It seems like we’re the only ones here. After all, if other forms of life existed, wouldn’t they show themselves? Since they haven’t, we assume there’s no one else out there.

Liu invites us to think about this a different way.

Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent.

Is our universe an empty forest or a dark one? If it’s a dark forest, then only Earth is foolish enough to ping the heavens and announce its presence. The rest of the universe already knows the real reason why the forest stays dark. It’s only a matter of time before the Earth learns as well.

This is also what the internet is becoming: a dark forest.

In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream….’

Yancey Strickler | OneZero

Trump storms out of press briefing after CNN reporter questions his promotion of quack doctor

‘”The woman that you said is a ‘great doctor’ in that video that you retweeted last night said that masks don’t work and there’s a cure for COVID-19, both of which experts say is not true,” Collins told Trump during the evening briefing. “She’s also made videos saying that doctors make medicine using DNA from aliens and that they’re trying to make a vaccine to make you immune from becoming religious. So, what’s the logic in retweeting that?”

Trump shook his head and looked down.

“I can tell you this,” he said. “She was on air with many other doctors. They were big fans of hydroxychloroquine. And I thought she was very impressive in the sense that where she came — I don’t know what country she comes from — but she’s said that she’s had tremendous success with hundreds of different patients. And I thought her voice was an important voice, but I know nothing about her.”

Trump tried to move on to another reporter, but Collins had a follow-up. As she tried to cut in, he clearly grew annoyed. He decided to give up on getting a question from another reporter, said only, ‘Thank you very much, everybody,” and quickly left the room….’

— via Salon.com

How the American Idiot made America unlivable

‘Americans have spent decades being impoverished of public health by the American Idiot — the kind of person who votes against better healthcare for everyone, including themselves, their kids, their parents. What the? What kind of idiot does that? A very, very large number of Americans.

The result of that attitude was a society poor in a gruesome and strange way — poor in public health itself. What I mean by that is that American life expectancy is the lowest in the rich world, and plummeting, that Americans have the highest rates of all kinds of preventable chronic diseases, from diabetes to obesity to heart disease. You can see it on American faces, in fact: a society poor in health is a society of unhealthy people.

We expect much, much poorer societies to be impoverished in public health. It’s a strange concept to have to think about precisely because we don’t expect it of a rich country. Perhaps one of a poor one, that’s never really developed at all. This is a syndrome unique to America — a form of poverty that Europeans and Canadians struggle to understand, because, well, they’ve mostly eliminated it. But in America, health poverty is endemic.

So endemic that you can see America’s gotten shockingly poorer and poorer in health — right down to the resurgence of old, conquered diseases, from measles to mumps. Again, that’s the work of the American Idiot — the kind of person who won’t vaccinate their kids, which is an idea that in the end takes society right back to the medieval days of endemic smallpox and polio.

So what was going to happen when a society impoverished in terms of health met a pandemic? Utter catastrophe. America’s mortality rate and infection rate are so high precisely because America was a time bomb of failing public health waiting to go off.

What then are the results of creating a society impoverished in public health? Well, Americans face a gruesome choice that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the rich world, even in much of the poor one: your money or your life. “Medical bankruptcy” is the result — I put in quotes because it’s a notion that scarcely exists elsewhere….’

— Umair Haque via Eudaimonia and Co

Trump and Trump Jr. praise doctor who says diseases are caused by “evil deposits from the spirit husband”

 

‘Trump and Junior are urging their social media followers to heed the Covid-19 advice of Dr. Stella Immanuel, a Houston pediatrician who has determined that many diseases are caused by sex with demons and/or alien DNA. The Daily Beast reported that Dr. Immanuel “praises hydroxychloroquine and says that face masks aren’t necessary to stop transmission of the highly contagious coronavirus.” …’

— via Boing Boing

Arkansas Republican Who Called Virus ‘A Hoax’ In Hospital With Covid-19 Pneumonia

‘Jason Rapert, an anti-gay Republican Arkansas state senator who has called face mask mandates “draconian” and shared articles calling COVID-19 a hoax, has tested positive for COVID-19 after speaking at a church service and other recent events without a face mask.

For the last three months, Rapert has been sharing articles on his social media about how “liberal quacks” are “spreading fear” about coronavirus, about how COVID-19 is the “biggest political hoax in history” and about how the recent face mask mandate ordered by Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is “draconian” and an “overreach of executive power.”

Though Rapert has occasionally mentioned the importance of using masks, he’s now in the hospital being treated for coronavirus and pneumonia….’

— via National Memo

Low suicide rates linked to microdoses of lithium in drinking water

‘A new systematic review of more than a dozen studies from around the world has confirmed an association between geographical areas with naturally high levels of lithium in the water supply and low rates of suicide. The researchers suggest trials should be undertaken to test whether adding trace levels of lithium to a community’s water supply could improve wellbeing and reduce suicide rates….’

— via New Atlas

Pharmaceutical lithium carbonate is used in psychiatry as a mood stabilizer, but some mental healthcliniicians believe that it has specific anti-suicidality effects. A credible explanation of the neurochemical basis for lithium’s benefits is not really known despite widespread speculation. 

Scientists Solve Key COVID Mystery: Why Do Patients Lose Ability To Smell?

 

‘Harvard neuroscientists took a close look at a specialized type of sensory neurons in the nose that detect and transmit smells to the brain.

“Our intuition, and I think the intuition of many other people, would be that the virus would attack these sensory neurons and damage or kill these neurons, and that’s how we lose our sense of smell,” said Datta, an associate professor of neurobiology in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School. The study Datta led was published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

“But in looking at our data, we got a big surprise,” he said. “Which is that it seems like the virus is not actually capable of attacking the neurons that live in your nose.”

Instead, the scientists discovered that two other kinds of cells that support those neurons are being attacked. Those cells can regenerate more quickly.

“And so we think, on the whole, this is good news, and suggests that people who lose their sense of smell, for the most part, are going to go on to get their sense of smell back,” Datta said.

That’s what doctors have seen as the epidemic has progressed — most patients regain their sense of smell in several weeks….’

— via WGBH

A New Theory of Dreaming

David Eagleman and Don Vaughn’s ‘defensive activation theory’: highly original and creative, but is it convincing?

‘Here’s Eagleman​​ and Vaughn​’s theory in nutshell: the role of dreams is to ensure that the brain’s visual cortex is stimulated during sleep. Otherwise, if the visual system were deprived of input all night long, the visual cortex’s function might degrade….’

— Neuroskeptic, via Discover Magazine

The question for me is the basis for their assumption that visual cortical function would rapidly degrade without stimulation, as well as the notion that what happens in REM (dreaming) sleep is primarily stimulation of the visual cortex. As much as a visual experience, I have long thought of dreaming as a captivating emotional experience. I have wondered if the main purpose of dreaming might be to provide a compelling attraction to keep us asleep so that we would not miss out on the other benefits of sleep. This is experience-near — except for nightmares, which are a perversion of the process and tend to awaken us — most people when awakening from a dream try to get back to it, loathe to give it up. Given the survival value of not being caught vulnerable and asleep, we would have evolved to need less sleep if it was possible, if there were not a good reason to sleep as much as we do. And there would have to be a strong mechanism to keep us asleep and counter the attractiveness of awakening. 

Hand to Mouth: Why?

‘If language began with gestures around a campfire and secret signals on hunts, why did speech come to dominate communication?…’

— via Aeon

Cognitive scientist Kensy Cooperrider notes the difficulty of explaining the origin of language. One particularly resilient notion has been that it began as gesture, which seems intuitive and is also borne out by examination of the communication proclivities of our primate relatives. Now to the core problem: people gesture but, outside deaf communities, speech predominates. Some factors include that speech is abstract; that it is better in the dark; that it frees up the hands to do something else; and, perhaps most important, that it takes less caloric expenditure than signing. 

So if there are good reasons to transition from gestural to verbal communication, how did it happen? There is longstanding and growing evidence of the close neurobiological coupling of hand and mouth. The mouth for example, is very active in signing, often echoing in miniaturized form. This provides a notion of a gradual route to adopt a more ‘compact’ form of communicative behavior, with gesture remaining vestigial. 

As challenging as this question is, Cooperrider ends up observing, it is only one piece of an enormously mysterious puzzle:

Even if we were able to establish some version of a gesture-first proposal as not merely plausible but likely, there would be many more layers to contend with. We would also want to understand how we came by our abilities to read other minds, to sequence and combine ideas, to conceptualise abstractions such as ‘tomorrow’ and ‘truth’. We would need to explain, not merely whether we first conveyed meaning by hand or by mouth, but why we felt an itch to mean anything at all. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s speech against misogyny in Congress was overdue

 

‘During a policy disagreement at the US Capitol on Tuesday, Yoho called the Congress member “crazy,” “disgusting,” and “out of [her] freaking mind.” After she left, he reportedly said she was a “fucking bitch,” according to The Hill’s Mike Lillis.

In remarks on Wednesday, Yoho glossed over most of this without taking accountability for his words. “Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language,” Yoho said. “The offensive name-calling words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues and if they were construed that way, I apologize for their misunderstanding.”

Ocasio-Cortez, however, called his deflection out for what it was: the latest example of men engaging in a culture of abuse toward women while using the women in their lives to avoid scrutiny for their actions.

“I will not stay up late at night waiting for an apology from a man who has no remorse over calling women and using abusive language towards women,” she said in a floor speech on Thursday. “But what I do have issue with is using women — wives and daughters — as shields and excuses for poor behavior.”

Her speech, which emphasized that the problem is much bigger than Yoho, was long overdue.

“Mr. Yoho was not alone. He was walking shoulder to shoulder with Representative Roger Williams,” she said. “And that’s when we start to see that this issue is not about one incident. It is cultural. It is a culture of a lack of impunity, of acceptance of violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.”…’

— via Vox

Do humans have a north sense?

‘Possibly we have a sense called magnetoreception which lets us tune into the earth’s magnetic field and know where north is. Birds can do it…

There’s some scientific evidence from 2019 that humans can detect magnetic fields: when placing subjects in an isolation chamber, among many participants, changes in their brain waves correlated with changes in the magnetic field around them.

OR MAYBE:

Humans are sensitive to polarised light… Polarised light is interesting because light across the sky is polarised in a particular pattern depending on the position of the sun. See: the Raleigh sky model…

It has been suggested that Vikings were able to navigate on the open sea in a similar fashion, using the birefringent crystal Iceland spar, which they called “sunstone”, to determine the orientation of the sky’s polarization. This would allow the navigator to locate the sun, even when it was obscured by cloud cover. An actual example of such a “sunstone” was found on a sunken (Tudor) ship dated 1592, in proximity to the ship’s navigational equipment.

So maybe we unconsciously tap into a natural ability to sense polarised light, which is to say a sense of where the sun is, and so end up with a sense of north?

BONUS:

Dogs tend to poop aligned north-south. It’s probably because they’re sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field rather than polarised light. How do the scientists know? Because during magnetic storms, dogs poop any which way….’

— Matt Webb via Interconnected

R.I.P Peter Green

‘Blues guitarist Peter Green, a co-founder of the band Fleetwood Mac, has died at the age of 73.

… A statement from Green’s family on Saturday said, “It is with great sadness that the family of Peter Green announce his death this weekend, peacefully in his sleep. A further statement will be provided in the coming days.”

Green was known for his blues guitar sound even prior to the forming of Fleetwood Mac. He replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers in 1965. Just a couple years later in 1967, Green and fellow Bluesbreakers members, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, formed Fleetwood Mac, along with guitarist Jeremy Spencer….’

— via NPR

Some, myself included, would say the only real Fleetwood Mac was Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. Never mind that Buckingham and Nicks jangly pop. Going to put ‘The Green Manalishi’ on repeat now…

More reason to despair of the American intellect

25% in US see definite or probable truth in CoViD conspiracy theory

‘Most Americans (71%) have heard of a conspiracy theory circulating widely online that alleges that powerful people intentionally planned the coronavirus outbreak. And a quarter of U.S. adults see at least some truth in it – including 5% who say it is definitely true and 20% who say it is probably true, according to a June Pew Research Center survey. The share of Americans who see at least some truth to the theory differs by demographics and partisanship.

Educational attainment is an especially important factor when it comes to perceptions of the conspiracy theory. Around half of Americans with a high school diploma or less education (48%) say the theory is probably or definitely true, according to the survey, which was conducted as part of the Center’s American News Pathways project. That compares with 38% of those who have completed some college but have no degree, 24% of those with a bachelor’s degree and 15% of those with a postgraduate degree.

Partisan affiliation also plays a role in perceptions of the theory. About a third (34%) of Republicans and independents who lean to the GOP say the theory that powerful people intentionally planned the COVID-19 outbreak is probably or definitely true, compared with 18% of Democrats and Democratic leaners. It’s worth noting there is no significant difference in how likely partisans are to have heard at least a little about the theory: 72% of Republicans have heard of the claim, compared with 70% of Democrats.

Conservative Republicans are especially likely to see at least some truth in the theory: Roughly four-in-ten (37%) say it is probably or definitely true. This contrasts with 29% of moderate and liberal Republicans, 24% of moderate and conservative Democrats and 10% of liberal Democrats….’

— via Pew Research Center

Trump Commits Two More Impeachable Offenses This Week Alone

‘Five and a half months have passed since Senate Republicans voted to block additional testimony in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial and to acquit him, and just over two months remain until the first early voting begins. The election is now the only plausible mechanism to challenge the disdain for the rule of law that provoked Trump’s impeachment.

But the underlying crisis has not been resolved. The president still habitually abuses his power (article one) and rejects any restraint mechanisms built into the system (article two). Two new developments this week have driven home the ongoing threat to the rule of law….’

— via New York Magazine

Trump and Portland: How His Use of Federal Forces in Cities Differs From Past Presidents

 

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This is farcical. Urban policy analyst Emily Badger (whose bio says she is “particularly interested in …inequality”), writing in The New York Times, agonizes over legal scholars’ alarm about whether the Enfant Terrible’s use of federal forces as personal shock troopers is constitutional or not, and how the “optics” of the federal response suggest political motivations. Law professor Stephen Vladeck from UTAustin, for example, is quoted repeatedly with one variant after another of how ‘troubled’ he is by some of the unanswered questions. But, really, none of this is debatable. Clearly, it is motivated by the basest political motives. Clearly, it is designed to suppress Black Lives Matter. Clearly, it is the illegal and execrable act of a tyrant. How about agonizing over what is to be done in response to this monstrous despotism before there is no longer a constitutional framework within which to operate? It appears the Times‘ pitiful ineffectual intellectual masturbation will continue until the day it is censored out of existence.

Fireflies Are Going Extinct. Here’s How to Help Save Them

  • ‘Turn off your outside lights. It’ll help fireflies find a mate, which is good for next summer’s populations.
  • Plant some native trees in your yard. The larva of some species grows in rotten logs and forest canopy litter, so let the natural litter around them accumulate.
  • Add water features to your landscaping. Most fireflies thrive around standing water. That doesn’t, however, include swimming pools: Fireflies eat the grubs, snails and smaller insects around natural ponds and streams, and those food sources don’t live in chemically treated environments.
  • Skip the chemicals. Even if fireflies don’t ingest a chemical pesticide directly, they will likely ingest other insects that have been poisoned. Instead, opt for natural options, especially for lawn fertilizers.
  • Don’t over-mow the lawn. It’s where a lot of fireflies hang out during the day, and frequent mowing can disturb them. In fact, planting long grasses can attract even more fireflies to your yard….’

— via Lifehacker

Should the UN Declare a Responsibility to Protect Americans from the Trump Administration?

 

‘Should the United Nations Security Council consider a resolution calling for a responsibility to protect the people of the United States from the Trump administration’s handling of COVID-19?

Responsibility to Protect, otherwise known as R2P, is a 2005 UN resolution that declares that when a state either participates in, permits, or is unable to stop large-scale civilian deaths, it has forfeited its sovereignty and the international community has the responsibility to halt the slaughter. Has the Trump administration failed in its fundamental responsibility to protect its population, and should the international community intervene? Nothing of the kind will happen, of course—but that is because of politics, not because a case cannot be made….’

— Michael Barnett, writing on Political Violence at a Glance

Trump Consults Bush Torture Lawyer on How to Skirt Law and Rule by Decree

‘The Trump administration has been consulting the former government lawyer who wrote the legal justification for waterboarding on how the president might try to rule by decree.

Constitutional scholars and human rights activists have also pointed to the deployment of paramilitary federal forces against protesters in Portland as a sign that Trump is ready to use this broad interpretation of presidential powers as a means to suppress basic constitutional rights.

“This is how it begins,” Laurence Tribe, a Harvard constitutional law professor, wrote on Twitter. “The dictatorial hunger for power is insatiable. If ever there was a time for peaceful civil disobedience, that time is upon us.”…’

— Via The Guardian

Trump Prepping To Dispatch Federal Squads To More Democratic Cities

Trump Prepping To Dispatch Federal Squads To More Democratic Cities

The Impeached president’s stormtroopers

‘The Trump administration is preparing to roll out a plan this week to send military-style federal assault squads already in Portland, Oregon, into other cities, warned White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who only named locations with Democratic mayors.

Attorney General William Barr is “weighing in on that” with acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, Meadows said Sunday on Fox News.

“You’ll see something rolled out this week, as we start to go in and make sure that the communities — whether it’s Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or someplace across the heartland — we need to make sure their communities are safe,” he added.

All three cities named are run by Democrats.

President Donald Trump also indicated that federal squads would likely target cities run by the party that opposes him. He said on “Fox News Sunday” that “violence” was on the increase in “Democrat-run cities.”

“They are liberally run, they are stupidly run,” the president added….’

— via HuffPost

The Border Patrol Was Responsible for an Arrest in Portland

Federal officers in unmarked uniforms fire on demonstrators with tear gas and “less lethal” munitions at Portland’s Federal Courthouse.

 

‘An internal memo, obtained exclusively by The Nation, details a coordinated program of domestic counterinsurgency….’

— via The Nation

 

My burning question is: for which offenses will the Biden Justice Dept arrest and prosecute Trump after Jan 2021? Too little too late, but we need the guilty verdict we never got in the impeachment trial after all. 

Leaked Documents: Police Knew Far-Right Extremists Were the Real Threat at Protests, Not “Antifa”

People with the boogaloo movement, pray as they demonstrate against business closures due to concern about Covid-19, at the State House in Concord, N.H. on May 2, 2020.

‘AS PROTESTS AGAINST police violence spread to every state in the U.S. and dramatic images flooded in from cities across the country, President Donald Trump and his attorney general spun an ominous story of opportunistic leftists exploiting a national trauma to sow chaos and disorder. They were the anti-fascists known as “antifa,” and according to the administration they were domestic terrorists who would be policed accordingly.

But while the White House beat the drum for a crackdown on a leaderless movement on the left, law enforcement offices across the country were sharing detailed reports of far-right extremists seeking to attack the protesters and police during the country’s historic demonstrations, a trove of newly leaked documents reveals….’

— via The Intercept

The US has devolved in ways we could never have imagined

Shilling beans, fighting back against calls for a Goya boycott after company president’s praise for the Boy King

‘When I’m at a loss for words to describe our political reality, I look to the work of Bálint Magyar. He is the Hungarian sociologist who has pioneered and systematized a language that political science can use to describe contemporary demagogues and the regimes they create. More than a decade ago, he described the Mafia state, a distinct political system built around a patron who distributes money and power. A year and a half ago, he told me that Trump acts “like a Mafia boss without a Mafia”: he couldn’t turn the United States into a Mafia state, but he was acting as though he could.

Since then, the U.S. has devolved in ways we couldn’t have imagined, and Magyar has continued his research on post-Communist autocracies, which, in turn, continue to offer ways to examine the American Presidency. Magyar’s new book, co-authored with Bálint Madlovics, is “The Anatomy of Post-Communist Regimes: A Conceptual Framework.” It contains, among other insights, a critique of how we usually talk about and measure corruption. Magyar and Madlovics write that the problem with measurements used by, say, Transparency International, which produces an annual index of perceived corruption, is that the index assumes that corruption represents a departure from a norm: “They understand the state by its formal identity: as dominantly an institution of the public good, with some subordinates who deviate from that purpose and abuse their position by requesting or accepting bribes and appointing cronies without a legitimate basis.” This view of corruption fails when confronted with a government to which corruption is central, or in which corruption is not voluntary but coercive—where the corrupt relationship is forced by one partner upon the other. In other words, conventional measures of corruption are not applicable to the U.S. under Trump. Corruption is no longer deviant in this country: it is instead the defining characteristic of this Presidency….’

— Masha Gessen writing in The New Yorker

R.I.P. John Lewis

UntitledImage Photo by Michael Avedon

”You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone—any person or any force—dampen, dim or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. […] Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.“

—  John Lewis (thanks, Barbara)

UntitledImage Lewis and Barack Obama walked across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma AL fifty years after landmark march.

US presidents join tributes to a civil rights icon

— via BBC News

Researchers develop steerable wireless camera small enough to fit on back of a live bug

A Bug-Sized Camera for Bug-Sized Robots and Bug-Sized Bugs – IEEE Spectrum

‘the wireless camera system can stream video frames (160×120 pixels monochrome) to a cell phone up to 120 meters away for up to 6 hours when powered by a 0.5-g, 10-mAh battery. A live, first-bug view can be streamed at up to 5 frames per second. The system was successfully tested on a pair of darkling beetles that were allowed to roam freely outdoors, and the researchers noted that they could also mount it on spiders or moths, or anything else that could handle the payload. (The researchers removed the electronics from the insects after the experiments and observed no noticeable adverse effects on their behavior.)

The researchers are already thinking about what it might take to put a wireless camera system on something that flies, and it’s not going to be easy—a bumblebee can only carry between 100 and 200 mg. The power system is the primary limitation here, but it might be possible to use a solar cell to cut down on battery requirements….’

— via IEEE Spectrum

Pompeo Says Human Rights Policy Must Prioritize Property Rights and Religion

‘Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a divisive speech on Thursday calling for the United States to ground its human rights policy more prominently in religious liberty and property rights.

Mr. Pompeo’s speech, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, came as he announced the release of a report created by a panel he commissioned last year to suggest how American human rights policy could better reflect the “nation’s founding principles.”

“It’s important for every American, and for every American diplomat, to recognize how our founders understood unalienable rights,” Mr. Pompeo said. “Foremost among these rights are property rights and religious liberty.”

Human rights scholars have criticized Mr. Pompeo’s panel since its inception, noting it was filled with conservatives who were intent on promoting views against abortion and marriage equality. Critics also warned that it sidestepped the State Department’s internal bureau responsible for promoting human rights abroad.
Experts have said that Mr. Pompeo’s efforts to prioritize religion in particular above other ideals in American diplomacy could reverse the country’s longstanding belief that “all rights are created equal” and embolden countries that persecute same-sex couples or deny women access to reproductive health services for religious reasons….’

— via The New York Times

Trump Unleashes His Secret Police in Portland

‘Donald Trump’s war on protesters is escalating, with reports emerging out of Portland, Ore., that federal law enforcement officers, wearing camouflage but without any other visible insignia, have been rounding up American citizens. On Thursday, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported that “federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least July 14. Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation of why they are being arrested, and driving off.”

OPB quotes one person who was arrested by these officers, although never charged. “I am basically tossed into the van,” Mark Pettibone told the broadcaster. “And I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head.” He was taken to a building that he later discovered was a federal courthouse. Only there was he read his Miranda rights, but he was never charged. After he asked for a lawyer, he was released. Videos are circulating on social media of similar detentions.

“It’s like stop and frisk meets Guantanamo Bay,” attorney Juan Chavez told OPB. He added that these detentions were not following any rules of probable cause. “It sounds more like abduction. It sounds like they’re kidnapping people off the streets.”

On the face of it, what these federal officers are doing is illegal and unconstitutional. It’s possible that they are acting under the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by Barack Obama, which legalized the detention of Americans suspected of being terrorists. If so, then the War on Terrorism has truly come home….’

— via The Nation

Police keep using ‘excited delirium’ to justify brutality. It’s junk science

 

Placard of 23-year-old Elijah McClain, dead in 2019 after he was stopped while walking to his apartment by three Aurora Police Department officers. 

‘Across the United States, police officers are routinely taught that excited delirium is a condition characterized by the abrupt onset of aggression and distress, typically accompanying drug abuse, often resulting in sudden death. One 2014 article from the FBI’s Law Enforcement Bulletin describes “excited delirium syndrome” as “a serious and potentially deadly medical condition involving psychotic behavior, elevated temperature, and an extreme fight-or-flight response by the nervous system.”

How often is excited delirium invoked? It’s unclear, but in Florida at least 53 deaths in police custody were attributed to it over the past 10 years. One study showed that 11 percent of sudden unexplained deaths in police custody in Maryland from 1990 to 2004 were attributed to excited delirium. The American College of Emergency Physicians published a controversial position paper in 2009 stating its consensus that excited delirium is a valid disease, associated with a significant risk of sudden death.

But excited delirium is pseudoscience. It’s not a concept recognized by the American Medical Association or the American Psychiatric Association. It isn’t a valid diagnosis; it’s a misappropriation of medical terminology, and it doesn’t justify police violence…

Excited delirium implies that there is a medical condition that predisposes certain individuals, often black men, to die in police custody. It draws upon aspects of real medical conditions such as delirium, psychosis, drug intoxication and sudden cardiac death. But it manipulates them to form a broadly applicable blanket diagnosis that serves the interests of law enforcement and absolves officers of accountability….’

— @MeabhOHare, @JoshuaBudhu, @AltafSaadiMD via The Washington Post

As an emergency and consultation psychiatrist who is routinely asked to see cases of delirium, I concur and am adding my name to those authoritatively attempting to refute this racist trope. 

File this away in case you want to get away with murder

‘THE 50-SQUARE-MILE STRETCH OF YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK that spills over Idaho’s border is a legal no-man’s land. It’s an isolated spot, one devoid of roads or any permanent human inhabitants. It’s also missing legislation to prevent people from being charged with serious crimes.

The loophole has to do with the Sixth Amendment, which dictates that a jury must be comprised of people from the state and federal district where the crime was committed. Because this portion of Yellowstone is in Idaho and the park itself lies within the jurisdiction of Wyoming, it means a jury for a crime committed there would have to come from people who both live in Idaho and fall under Wyoming’s federal jurisdiction.

It would be an impossible jury to form, as this uninhabited part of the park is the only place to fit such criteria. And since Yellowstone is federal land, the individual states involved have no legal jurisdiction to amend the issue.

Brian Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University, brought the loophole into the spotlight in 2005. In a paper published in Georgetown Law Journal called “The Perfect Crime,” Kalt outlined the legal technicalities that put this potentially murderous geographic anomaly on the map. He sent copies of his work to various government authorities before it hit print, hoping someone would close the loophole….’

— via Atlas Obscura

Study: How effective does a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine need to be to stop the pandemic?

‘In a study published July 15 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, my colleagues and I used a computer simulation of every person in the country to show how effective a vaccine would have to be and how many people would have to get vaccinated to end the pandemic. We found that a coronavirus vaccine’s effectiveness may have to be higher than 70% or even 80% before Americans can safely stop relying social distancing. By comparison, the measles vaccine has an efficacy of 95%-98%, and the flu vaccine is 20%-60%….’

— via The Conversation

Your best view in 6800 years

Above Kreva, Belarus on July 13, 2020. 

‘For the next month, comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE), otherwise known as “Neowise,” will be visible in the night sky above much of the Northern Hemisphere. The comet will be at its brightest this week, dimming as it moves away from the sun. If you have clear skies, head outside about an hour after sunset and look near the horizon to the northwest. For the next week or so, if it’s dark enough, Neowise might be visible to the naked eye, but you may need binoculars to see it well. The images in the photos below are made with long exposures, so they may appear stronger than what you’d see with your own eyes, but it’s still worth a look—this is the brightest comet we’ve seen in 23 years, and after this, Neowise won’t be back for another 6,800 years….’

— via The Atlantic

Trump discounts rate of black killings by police

‘President Trump on Tuesday rejected the notion that Black Americans suffer disproportionately from police brutality, saying in an interview that will be televised later today that white people are killed in greater numbers.

Mr. Trump reacted angrily when asked about the issue, which has led to nationwide protests calling for major law enforcement changes.

“Why are African-Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country?” the interviewer, Catherine Herridge of CBS News, asked the president.

“What a terrible question to ask,” Mr. Trump responded. “So are white people. More white people, by the way.”…’

— via New York Times

It would be tempting to attribute the statement to the Boy King’s inability to understand statistics, or to implicit racism, but of course it has more to do with explicit racism in this case.

So long to herd immunity

Can you catch Covid-19 twice? A doctor suggests herd immunity is wishful thinking:

‘My patient caught Covid-19 twice.. Emerging cases of Covid-19 reinfection suggest herd immunity is wishful thinking….’

— via Vox

US Supreme Court rules half of Oklahoma is Native American land

 

‘The US Supreme Court has ruled about half of Oklahoma belongs to Native Americans, in a landmark case that also quashed a child rape conviction.
The justices decided 5-4 that an eastern chunk of the state, including its second-biggest city, Tulsa, should be recognised as part of a reservation.
Jimcy McGirt, who was convicted in 1997 of raping a girl, brought the case.
He cited the historical claim of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to the land where the assault occurred. What does the ruling mean? Thursday’s decision in McGirt v Oklahoma is seen as one of the most far-reaching cases for Native Americans before the highest US court in decades. The ruling means some tribe members found guilty in state courts for offences committed on the land at issue can now challenge their convictions….’

— via BBC News

Peter and Ben

After 30 years of solitude, Peter forms an unlikely friendship with a fellow loner

‘After taking a walk through a remote Welsh valley, Peter committed himself to a life there, and disconnected from the outside world. In doing so, he found a solitary inner peace – a peace he maintained for nearly three decades, until, one day, he stumbled upon a lamb that had been left for dead. Finding kinship with the fellow ‘dropout’, Peter took the abandoned creature home and named him Ben. The short Peter and Ben (2007) by the UK filmmaker Pinny Grylls captures the duo’s relationship three years after their chance meeting, as Peter attempts to return Ben to the wild. With a melancholic piano score and sweeping views of the Welsh countryside, her touching film lends a lyrical beauty to this tale of unlikely connection and camaraderie between outsiders….’

— via Aeon Videos

Drivers Are Hitting Protesters as Memes of Car Attacks Spread

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‘Vehicular attacks have proliferated in recent weeks. Experts believe it is because of the combination of widespread protests across the country and the circulation of dangerous memes among extremist groups about running over pedestrians.

“There has been an increasing amount of propaganda online calling for vehicular attacks on protesters, targeting the Black Lives Matter movement in particular,” said Josh Lipowsky, a senior researcher at the Counter Extremism Project. “It is being used as a form of intimidation against them to get them to halt their protests.”

Attacks with vehicles are easy to conduct, he said, because they do not require a lot of planning or financial resources….’

— via The New York Times

239 experts: one core fact you thought you knew about coronavirus is wrong

Airborne spread, not droplet:

‘The coronavirus is finding new victims worldwide, in bars and restaurants, offices, markets and casinos, giving rise to frightening clusters of infection that increasingly confirm what many scientists have been saying for months: The virus lingers in the air indoors, infecting those nearby.

If airborne transmission is a significant factor in the pandemic, especially in crowded spaces with poor ventilation, the consequences for containment will be significant. Masks may be needed indoors, even in socially-distant settings. Health care workers may need N95 masks that filter out even the smallest respiratory droplets as they care for coronavirus patients.

Ventilation systems in schools, nursing homes, residences and businesses may need to minimize recirculating air and add powerful new filters. Ultraviolet lights may be needed to kill viral particles floating in tiny droplets indoors.

The World Health Organization has long held that the coronavirus is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that, once expelled by infected people in coughs and sneezes, fall quickly to the floor.

But in an open letter to the W.H.O., 239 scientists in 32 countries have outlined the evidence showing that smaller particles can infect people, and are calling for the agency to revise its recommendations. The researchers plan to publish their letter in a scientific journal next week….’

— via New York Times

Related: Airborne Coronavirus: What You Should Do Now


How to protect yourself from a virus that may be floating indoors? Better ventilation, for starters. And keep wearing those masks. (New York Times)

 

The Boogaloo Tipping Point

What happens when a meme becomes a terrorist movement?

‘The boogaloo movement originally grew from the weapons discussion section (“/k/”) of the anarchic anonymous message board 4chan over the past several years. By 2019, its culture had disseminated across social media into a mix of online groups and chat servers where users shared libertarian political memes. In the past six months, this all began to manifest in real life, as users from the groups emerged at protests in what became their signature uniform: aloha shirts and combat gear. As nationwide unrest intensified at the start of the summer, many boogaloo adherents interpreted this as a cue to realize the group’s central fantasy—armed revolt against the U.S. government.

In Colorado earlier in May, then in Nevada in June, police arrested several other heavily armed self-identified boogaloo members, who the authorities claimed were on their way to demonstrations to incite violence. Disturbingly, the boogaloo movement is at least the third example of a mass of memes escaping from 4chan to become a real-life radical political movement, the first being the leftist-libertarian hacktivist collective Anonymous, which emerged in 2008; the second was the far-right fascist group of angry young men called the alt-right, which formed in 2015. (The conspiracy theory QAnon might be considered a fourth, but it is more than a political movement.)

At first glance, armed right-wing militants dressed in floral shirts may seem like another baffling grotesquerie in the parade of calamities that is 2020. However, their arrival can be explained by tracing their online origins. Similar to other right-leaning extremist movements, they are the product of an unhappy generation of men who compare their lot in life with that of men in previous decades and see their prospects diminishing. And with a mix of ignorance and simplicity, they view their discontent through the most distorted lens imaginable: internet memes….’

— via The Atlantic

Looking Beyond 2020, Have Some Republicans Found Their Next Leader in Another TV Personality?

‘When Republicans look at the wreckage that came from their decision to make Trump their leader, the conclusion some are coming to is that what they need is just a better TV personality: someone plays on the same grievances and resentments, but might be a little more competent if given the most powerful job in the world….’

— Paul Waldman writing in The Washington Post

Waldman thinks this is a sign of how broken the Republican Party is, but that doesn’t mean the next demagogue wouldn’t be elected any more than it did Trump. What’s that saying about a populace getting the President it deserves? That will be as true in 2024 as it was in 2016.

If Trump is defeated in the fall, it will not be because of the failure of the appeal of his ideology but rather his colossal imbecility and massive ineptitude in applying it. Don’t expect the Republicans to repeat that mistake, but it would be foolish to expect them to turn away from divisiveness, racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Pundits’ reports of the demise of the GOP, of its inability to continue to compete any longer in a two-party system, are absurdly fanciful.

The massive Black Lives Matter uprising, for example, has provoked a massive backlash, as manifested in both the banal — BLM lawn signs being stolen in the middle of the night — and the terrifying — launching cars into crowds of protesters, mocking the deaths of black men in police custody.

And morbidity and mortality statistics are confirming how many Americans are willing to endanger everyone around them by eschewing mask-wearing and social distancing because it tramples on their god-given right to freedom and stupidity.

Therein lies a mentality — and an incredibly widespread one at that — ripe for the picking.

These Were Created By A Neural Network

 

‘There has been a growing interest in neural networks recently. Just a few weeks ago, I posted about a neural network which created realistic faces based on the blurry photos it was fed with.

Now, a programmer named Aldo Cortesi has created an even stranger algorithm — one that draws silhouettes for nonexistent animals, some of which look plausible and others which look like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
In a post about the project, Cortesi wrote that he was indeed inspired by algorithms that generate human likenesses.
Check out the photos over at Futurism….’

— via Neatorama

What I Saw When I Came Eye to Eye with a Sperm Whale

‘…(I)t’s not a warm and fuzzy moment. In fact, it’s deeply unsettling. Does she know that we are the ones that put the plastic in the oceans? That drive the boats that ran her kind down? That we’re the descendants of the creatures that turned her ancestors into candles and engine grease?

Honestly, I have no idea. I sense nothing beyond profound intelligence and profound otherness. From three feet away, I feel the chasm between us, and I think she does, too. Why are you here? I want to ask. And from across the chasm, the question echoes back….’

Via Outside Online

Canada’s Sparrows Are Singing a New Song. You’ll Hear It Soon

Apparently, birds share their songs like we used to pass around mixtapes. White-throated sparrows in western Canada began singing a variant on the familiar classical sparrow call (“Old-Sam-Peabody-Peabody-Peabody”) about fifty years ago. The variant was syncopated differently, ending in doublets rather than triplets (“Old-Sam-Peabuh-Peabuh-Peabuh–Peabuh”). According to a newly-published study that took twenty years to complete, the novel version of the song has spread all across Canada. New birds appear to adopt the variant version when they winter with birds who sing it the new way. Initially thought to be characteristic only of “an isolated, peripheral population doing their own thing”, it was showing up as Far East as Ontario and by 2019 it was a certified hit, having taken over completely from the Yukon to Ontario and encroaching in the Northeastern US. 

— via The New York Times

The Cheap, Simple Way to Control the Pandemic

Opinion by Laurence J. Kotlikoff (professor of economics at Boston University) and Michael Mina (assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health):

‘Simple at-home tests for the coronavirus, some that involve spitting into a small tube of solution, could be the key to expanding testing and impeding the spread of the pandemic. The Food and Drug Administration should encourage their development and then fast track approval.

One variety, paper-strip tests, are inexpensive and easy enough to make that Americans could test themselves every day. You’ would simply spit into a tube of saline solution and insert a small piece of paper embedded with a strip of protein. If you are infected with enough of the virus, the strip will change color within 15 minutes.

Your next step would be to self-quarantine, notify your doctor and confirm the result with a standard swab test — the polymerase chain reaction nasal swab. Confirmation would give public health officials key information on the virus’s spread and confirm that you should remain in quarantine until your daily test turned negative.

E25Bio, Sherlock Biosciences, Mammoth Biosciences, and an increasing number of academic research laboratories are in the late stages of developing paper-strip and other simple, daily Covid-19 tests. Some of the daily tests are in trials and proving highly effective.

The strips could be mass produced in a matter of weeks and freely supplied by the government to everyone in the country. The price per person would be from $1 to $5 a day, a considerable sum for the entire population, but remarkably cost effective….’

— via The New York Times

Welcome to the United States of ‘Idiocracy’

‘When Mike Judge’s movie “Idiocracy” came out in 2006, almost no one saw it. (The film grossed less than $500,000 at the box office.) Now everyone should see it.
Luke Wilson plays an average Joe who is put into suspended animation and reawakens 500 years later to find himself the smartest person in America because everyone else has gotten so dumb. The No. 1 TV show features contestants being hit in their private parts; crops are watered with a sports energy drink, causing a famine; and the president is a former wrestler and porn star who curses freely and fires automatic weapons on TV.
Is there a better prophecy of our end times? The only thing “Idiocracy” really got wrong was its timeline. It has taken just 15 years, not 500, for America to become an idiocracy. …’

— Max Boot writing in The Washington Post