Opinion: Trump’s taxes show why he is desperate to stay in office

‘The Times has done an impressive job of getting the truth out, and now it is up to the voters to decide whether they want to reelect a flimflam man. The Times account makes clear that Trump is desperate to stay in office in no small part because he needs to profit from the presidency — and to avoid the risk of prosecution for tax fraud and other possible crimes….’

— Max Boot via The Washington Post

There’s a historic insurrection against Donald Trump happening within the GOP

‘There’s a revolution happening within the GOP right under our noses. The latest sign came Sunday, when former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge penned an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer making clear his intent to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden over President Donald Trump in November.
“He lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect and maturity to lead,” Ridge, who also served as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration, wrote of Trump.
Ridge joins fellow Bush Cabinet secretaries Christine Todd Whitman (EPA), Ann Veneman (Agriculture), Carlos Gutierrez (Commerce) and Colin Powell (State) as Biden endorsers. Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, and Chuck Hagel, the former Nebraska Republican senator, both of whom served in the Obama Cabinet, have also backed Biden.
And that’s just Republicans who served in a presidential Cabinet! …

…(T)he hugely ironic reason that the sheer number of prominent Republicans rebelling from him in this election hasn’t received the attention I think it should: Because there are just so damn many of them…’

— Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large via CNNPolitics

Trevor Noah’s scathing theory on why Melania can’t dump trump

‘Trevor Noah said the explosive New York Times report detailing President sonald trump’s massive $421 million in debt ― most of which is coming due over the next four years ― was the “Rosetta stone” that explains everything else. 

“trump doesn’t actually want to be president. He just really needs that Secret Service protection,” “The Daily Show” host said. “Shit, if I had $400 million in loans coming due, I’d also be trying to cancel the election.”

And the debt explains why first lady Melania Trump hasn’t left the president. 

“If she divorces him, she gets half of the $400 million in debt,” Noah cracked. 

Noah also noted that trump was rooting for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to win the Democratic presidential nomination instead of Joe Biden. 

“He wanted [Sanders] to win so that the government would bail him out,” Noah said, adding: “It even explains why trump has been destroying the post office. Good luck collecting your money when you can’t mail him a bill.”…’

— Ed Mazza via HuffPost

‘My Octopus Teacher’

‘A filmmaker forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world….’

— via Netflix

Just watched this tonight. Compelling and visually stunning.

Microaggressions aren’t just innocent blunders

Jonathan Kanter, director of the Center for the Science of Social Connection, University of Washington: “New research links them with racial bias”:

‘It’s a pattern that recurs countless times, in myriad interactions and contexts, across American society. A white person says something that is experienced as racially biased, is called on it and reacts defensively.

These comments and other such subtle snubs, insults and offenses are known as microaggressions. The concept, introduced in the 1970s by Black psychiatrist Chester Pierce, is now the focus of a fierce debate.

Most research has focused on the harms done to those on the receiving end of microaggressions. SDI Productions/E+ via Getty Images
On one side, Black people and a host of others representing multiple diverse communities stand with a wealth of testimonials, lists of different types of microaggressions and compelling scientific evidence documenting how these experiences harm recipients.

Some white people are on board, working to understand, change and join as allies. Still, a cacophony of white voices exists in the public discourse, dismissive, defensive and influential. Their main argument: Microaggressions are innocuous and innocent, not associated with racism at all. Many contend that those who complain about microaggressions are manipulating victimhood and being too sensitive….’

— via The Conversation

Bruce Schneier: “The unrelenting horizonlessness of the Covid world”

‘At CNN, …security researcher Bruce Schneier and Harvard media professor Nick Couldry write about acedia, “a malady that apparently plagued many Medieval monks. It’s a sense of no longer caring about caring, not because one had become apathetic, but because somehow the whole structure of care had become jammed up.” According to Schneier and Couldry, the meta-apathy of acedia is one of the strangest and psychologically stressful consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. From CNN:

What unsettles us is not only fear of change. It’s that, if we can no longer trust in the future, many things become irrelevant, retrospectively pointless. And by that we mean from the perspective of a future whose basic shape we can no longer take for granted. This fundamentally disrupts how we weigh the value of what we are doing right now. It becomes especially hard under these conditions to hold on to the value in activities that, by their very nature, are future-directed, such as education or institution-building….

— via Boing Boing

The Mystery of “The Jet-Propelled Couch”


Mark Frauenfelder, writing in his newsletter The Magnet, tags this “the most interesting psychiatric case in history”. As a clinical psychiatrist I’m not sure I would be quite so ebullient, but I have a similar love for and fascination with this 1955 account by psychoanalyst Robert Lindner  (1914-1956) of his pseudonymized treatment of a physicist, referred to as Kirk Allen and likely someone who worked at Los Alamos and made important contributions to the Manhattan Project during WWII. I was fairly certain that I had written about ‘The Jet-Propelled Couch’ here on FmH but a search back reveals not.

Allen’s supervisors, observing his erratic behavior and preoccupation on the job, had sent him for psychiatric evaluation and Lindner found that he had an elaborate fantasy life in which he could teleport back and forth between his earthly existence and a life in a part of the universe distant in time and space in which he was the lord of an interstellar empire. Allen kept meticulous notes of his adventures which he shared with Lindner, running to 12,000 pages of manuscript complete with notes, extensive glossary, maps, chronologies of the history of the planet over which Allen ruled, and hundreds of drawings he had made of aspects of alien life. 

Lindner ran the gamut of conventional treatment approaches of the day in trying to cure Allen of his delusion without success. Then, he describes having the “sudden flash of inspiration… in order to separate Kirk from his madness it was necessary for me to enter his fantasy and, from that position, to pry him loose from the psychosis.” Lindner joined in Allen’s fantasy life with enthusiasm and wrote of his growing relish for and obsession with his patient’s adventure stories. He encouraged Allen to return to his other life repeatedly, awaiting their sessions with impatience to hear about Allen’s further exploits on alien worlds. Little by little, however, in what I find the most fascinating aspect of the story, he began to note Allen’s growing discomfort with his coaxing until Allen reluctantly confessed that for several months he had no longer believed in the reality of his stories. He had realized he had been delusional but had continued faking it because he did not want to disappoint his fascinated psychoanalyst. Lindner wistfully mourned the loss of what had been such a passionate fantasy for himself. He was humbled and abit shocked by the ‘there-but-for-the-grace-of-God’ blurring of the distinction between therapist and patient he had experienced in his treatment of Allen. 

I have long used this vignette in teaching my students and trainees about the complexities and pitfalls of treating people with the difficult and challenging beliefs referred to as “delusions”. As an analyst* Lindner could not have been expected to have facility dealing with delusions. Patients with psychotic symptoms were, and are to this day, rarely if ever seen on the psychoanalyst’s couch. Those of us who treat patients with this degree of dysfunction more regularly understand that there is a much more complicated dance, rather than a simple black or white dichotomy, between combatting and joining in the delusions. And similarly the goal of treatment is much more complex and nuanced than a “cure” in which the patient gives up the “unfounded” beliefs and is restored to “reality” or “normalcy”. Through the medium of the relationship with their treater (which I am alarmed to see is seen as a deprecated part of psychiatric treatment in the current medication-centric era of treatment), patients can be helped to move toward a more comfortable degree of joining in the consensus reality of their social group and culture, as they choose.

As Lindner’s case study illustrates, one of the ways to grapple with psychiatric symptoms is to understand them as serving a purpose in their bearer’s life. Delusional systems can actually be thought of as theories the patient has constructed to reassure and comfort them by helping them understand otherwise inexplicable and alarming aspects of their mental and emotional functioning. Even when no longer believed, such a theory or worldview may continue to be enacted or expressed by a patient for various reasons, such as to save face or avoid a breach in an important relationship, as in Kirk Allen’s case. The student should learn to grapple with the complexities embodied in every such symptom and what we call “countertransference,” the effects of the treater’s own often unconsciously motivated attitudes toward and reactions to what their patient is telling them. 

UntitledImageFrauenfelder goes on to dissect the effort that has been given to figuring out who Kirk Allen really was, as Lindner had taken the secret to his grave, dying a year after the book’s publication. Lindner’s case study explained that, as an escape from his childhood unhappiness, Allen had read and reread a series of science fiction novels he found in the library starring a protagonist supposedly sharing his name, a takeoff for fantasizing about additional adventures starring his namesake. As a science-fiction fan myself, when I first read the Lindner essay I shared the feeling of many that Allen’s adventures smacked of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series. However, a scientist named Carter working at Los Alamos could not be identified and, after spending many years trying to figure out who Kirk Allen was, biographer Alan Elms** published a piece in 2002 in the New York Review of Science Fiction arguing that the science fiction writer Cordwainer Smith (pen name of political scientist and psychological war expert Paul Linebarger) was a more plausible choice, despite the fact that no one named Linebarger featured as protagonist in a science fiction series from that time. 

‘The Jet-Propelled Couch’ is available to read here in a Harper’s Magazine archive from 1954. The Kindle edition of The Fifty-Minute Hour can be obtained here. (‘No student’s education in psychotherapy is complete without reading this book.’)

*a practitioner of classical psychoanalysis based on “analytic neutrality” and facilitating insight via interpretation of the patient’s unconscious conflicts through free association, fantasies, and dreams. Generally occurring in 50-minute sessions multiple times a week and, typically, with the patient or analysand lying on a couch with the analyst just behind and out of sight.

**As Frauenfelder points out, Elm was coincidentally the research assistant to Stanley Milgram on the famous electric shock experiment on obedience to authority. 

Colds Nearly Vanished Under Lockdown

Now They’re Coming Back:

(Colds Nearly Vanished Under Lockdown. Now They’re Coming Back)

‘The return of non-Covid respiratory illnesses is putting a new strain on testing supplies around the world—and is a preview of what’s in store for the US….’

— via WIRED

What if trump succeeds in pushing through a right-wing replacement for RBG?

Toobin RBG4 jpg
Jeffrey Toobin writes about four Democratic options:

‘…[I]f Trump fills the Ginsburg seat the next question will be how the Democrats respond. If the Democrats fail to retake the majority in the Senate in November, their options are few except to grin and bear it. But, if they win the majority and Joe Biden wins the Presidency, there are four major possibilities for retribution—which all happen to be good policy as well.

The first is the abolition of the filibuster, which should have happened decades ago. Even in the minority, McConnell will do everything he can to thwart Biden, and the filibuster will be the tool. This antidemocratic relic should be retired once and for all.

Second, statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, with two senators apiece, would be another appropriate rejoinder.

Third, Congress should pass a law expanding the number of lower-court federal judges; that number has not increased since Jimmy Carter was President.

Finally, the greatest and most appropriate form of retribution involves the Supreme Court itself. The number of Justices is not fixed in the Constitution but, rather, established by statute. If Republicans succeed in stealing two seats—the Scalia and Ginsburg vacancies—the Democrats could simply pass a law that creates two or three more seats on the Supreme Court. To do so would be to play hardball in a way that is foreign to the current Senate Democrats. But maybe, in light of all that’s happened, that’s a game they should learn to play….’

— via The New Yorker

Information itself may be what ends the human race

‘IBM estimates that humans produce 2.5 quintillion digital data bytes daily.
We’ll one day reach a point where the number of bits we store outnumber the entirety of atoms on Earth.
In the most severe scenario, it takes just 130 years for all the power generated on Earth to be sucked up by digital data creation and storage….’

— via Big Think

Roger Stone calls for trump to seize total power if he loses the election | Media Matters for America

‘Roger Stone is making baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election and is urging Donald Trump to consider several draconian measures to stay in power, including having federal authorities seize ballots in Nevada, having FBI agents and Republican state officials “physically” block voting under the pretext of preventing voter fraud, using martial law or the Insurrection Act to carry out widespread arrests, and nationalizing state police forces.

Stone, a longtime confidant of the president, made the comments during a September 10 appearance on far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars network. On July 10, Trump commuted a 40-month prison sentence that was handed down to Stone after he was convicted of lying to Congress and tampering with witnesses as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into 2016 election interference. Namely, Stone lied to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks, which released hacked emails with the aim of boosting Trump’s prospects. In the weeks leading up to the commutation, Stone made a number of media appearances where he asked Trump to grant him clemency and said that in exchange, he could be a more effective campaigner for the president’s 2020 reelection efforts….’

— via Media Matters for America

Scientists baffled by orcas ramming sailing boats near Spain and Portugal

(An orca feeding near a Moroccan fishing boat in the Strait of Gibraltar.)

‘Scientists have been left baffled by incidents of orcas ramming sailing boats along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts.

In the last two months, from southern to northern Spain, sailors have sent distress calls after worrying encounters. Two boats lost part of their rudders, at least one crew member suffered bruising from the impact of the ramming, and several boats sustained serious damage.

The latest incident occurred on Friday afternoon just off A Coruña, on the northern coast of Spain. Halcyon Yachts was taking a 36ft boat to the UK when an orca rammed its stern at least 15 times, according to Pete Green, the company’s managing director. The boat lost steering and was towed into port to assess damage.

Around the same time there were radio warnings of orca sightings 70 miles south, at Vigo, near the site of at least two recent collisions. On 30 August, a French-flagged vessel radioed the coastguard to say it was “under attack” from killer whales. Later that day, a Spanish naval yacht, Mirfak, lost part of its rudder after an encounter with orcas under the stern.

Highly intelligent social mammals, orcas are the largest of the dolphin family. Researchers who study a small population in the Strait of Gibraltar say they are curious and it is normal for them to follow a boat closely, even to interact with the rudder, but never with the force suggested here… [A]t least one pod appears to be pursuing boats in behaviour that scientists agree is “highly unusual” and “concerning”. It is too early to understand what is going on, but it might indicate stress in a population that is endangered.

On 29 July, off Cape Trafalgar, Victoria Morris was crewing a 46ft delivery boat that was surrounded by nine orcas. The cetaceans rammed the hull for over an hour, spinning the boat 180 degrees, disabling the engine and breaking the rudder, as they communicated with loud whistling. It felt, she said, “totally orchestrated”. Earlier that week, another boat in the area reported a 50-minute encounter; the skipper said the force of the ramming “nearly dislocated the helmsman’s shoulder”…

It is not known if all the encounters involve the same pod but it is probable. Dr Ruth Esteban, who has studied the Gibraltar orcas extensively, thinks it unlikely two groups would display such unusual behaviour….’

— via The Guardian

The World Lost Two-Thirds Of Its Wildlife In 50 Years. We Are to Blame

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay wrote:

‘Human activities have caused the world’s wildlife populations to plummet by more than two-thirds in the last 50 years, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund.

The decline is happening at an unprecedented rate, the report warns, and it threatens human life as well.

“The findings are clear,” the report states. “Our relationship with nature is broken.”…’

— via NPR

How a Massive Bomb Came Together in Beirut’s Port

Ben Hubbard, Maria Abi-Habib, Mona El-Naggar, Allison McCann, Anjali Singhvi, James Glanz and Jeremy White wrote:

‘In the six years since the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate had arrived in Beirut’s port and been offloaded into Hangar 12, repeated warnings had ricocheted throughout the Lebanese government, between the port and customs authorities, three ministries, the commander of the Lebanese Army, at least two powerful judges and, weeks before the blast, the prime minister and president.

No one took action to secure the chemicals, more than 1,000 times the amount used to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995….’

— via The New York Times

Fascinating longread on the combination of happenstance, dereliction, and corruption that came together with such devastating consequences in longsuffering Beirut in August. Amazing graphics dissect timeline and location details. 

Trump admitted he intentionally downplayed coronavirus threat, new Bob Woodward book reports

(Trump admitted he intentionally downplayed coronavirus threat, new Bob Woodward book claims / Boing Boing)

‘An excerpt from RAGE, Bob Woodward’s new book, reveals that Donald Trump admitted he intentionally downplayed the coronavirus threat. At least 190,000 Americans have died of COVID-19.

“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”…’

— via Boing Boing

What astounds me, over and over, is not trump’s nefarious actions but — is it idiocy or brazenness? — that he so readily gets caught. I hope, although it is not likely, that he lives a long life after evicted from the White House in January, so that he has to endure on a daily basis the abject shame of how the history books will remember him.


Related: Dr Drang on Woodward

‘The only question I want asked of the legendary journalist while he goes on another of his legendary promotional tours, is whether he ever ran across, in one of his legendary deep background interviews, anyone who estimated how many Americans died because he sat on Trump’s lies for six months to avoid spoiling his legendary book and depressing its legendary sales….’

— via All this

R.I.P. Gary Peacock


Master Jazz Bassist Is Dead at 85

(Gary Peacock, Master Jazz Bassist, Is Dead at 85 – The New York Times)

‘He was a free-jazz pioneer early on before becoming part of Keith Jarrett’s enduring trio, where he infused American standards with a Zen sensibility….’

— via New York Times

Hokusai: More than 100 lost works by non-western world’s most famous artist rediscovered

Go beyond ‘The Great Wave’:

(‘Fumei Chōja and the nine-tailed spirit fox’: Fumei Chōja appears as a character in kabuki and bunraku plays which also feature the shape-shifting nine-tailed fox and its adventures in India, China and Japan)

‘One of the world’s most important collections of art has re-emerged after having been lost for more than 70 years.

The corpus – 103 original drawings by the non-Western world’s most famous artist, the 19th century Japanese painter, Hokusai – came to light in Paris and has now been bought by the British Museum.

The newly discovered artworks appear to have formed part of one of the most ambitious publishing projects ever conceived – a Japanese plan to create a huge pictorial encyclopaedia.

Known as the Great Picture Book of Everything, it was conceived by Hokusai (best known for his most famous work – The Great Wave) – but was never completed.

The project was abandoned in the 1830s – either because of cost or possibly because Hokusai insisted on reproduction standards that were difficult to attain.

The Great Picture Book of Everything was to have been a comprehensive way for the Japanese to have access to images of people, cultures and nature around the world – at a time when virtually no Japanese people had been allowed out of Japan for some two centuries –  and virtually no foreigners had been allowed into 99 per cent of the country.

In that ultra-restrictive atmosphere, the project was to have given people an opportunity to explore a highly stylised printed version of the outside world as well as Japan itself.

However, so limited was Hokusai’s access to up-to-date images of foreigners and foreign cultures, that he often had to use very old pictures as his source material – which led to him portraying much of the outside world as it would have looked several hundred years earlier….’

— via Independent

Scientists discover first ‘intermediate-mass’ black hole

Stephen Johnson wrote:

‘In May 2019, a ripple of gravitational waves passed through Earth after traveling across the cosmos for 7 billion years. The ripple came in four waves, each lasting just a fraction of a second. Although the ancient signal was faint, its source was cataclysmic: the biggest merger of two black holes ever observed.

It occurred when two mid-sized black holes — 66 and 85 times the mass of our Sun — drifted close together, began spinning around each other and merged into one black hole roughly 142 times the mass of our Sun.

“It’s the biggest bang since the Big Bang observed by humanity,” Caltech physicist Alan Weinstein, who was part of the discovery team, told The Associated Press….’

— via Big Think

Could the United States Break Up?


‘…In 2016, progressive activists in Portland, Oregon, submitted a petition calling for a statewide vote on secession; that same year, a poll showed that 26 percent of Texans supported state independence. In a 2018 survey, 31 percent of Americans believed a civil war was possible within the next five years. A cohort of national security experts put the chances of a civil war within the next 15 years at 35 percent. And who has not entertained the possibility that, if Trump loses the election this fall, he might resist leaving office? Strange turnout patterns during the pandemic would certainly give both candidates a pretext for contesting the results—and what institution these days has the legitimacy to settle the question decisively?

If the idea of the U.S. dissolving seems far-fetched, one reason is that we have been trained to think of secession and civil war as something long settled. The South tried it, they lost, and ever since disunion has seemed a practical impossibility. But in Richard Kreitner’s provocative 400-year history of America, Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union, he argues that the nation’s foundations have always been fragile. The threat of disunion has been raised or attempted in every region and by all political factions at some point in our nation’s past. If we ignore this “hidden thread” in our history and choose to believe in a mythic past when unity actually existed, we make disunion more likely, not less. To build a truly equal and lasting multiracial democracy, he argues, we must stop papering over the constant threat of disunion that haunts our past….’

— via The New Republic