Link

Helping make an effective Covid exposure warning network

With high Omicron transmissibility, exposure alerts assume a higher priority IMHO. If you are an iPhone user (I don’t know about other platforms) don’t forget that you can turn on the built-in exposure alert system. And if you turn Covid-positive, it will serve others well if you remember to indicate it in the iPhone’s exposure monitoring system. you’ll find it in the Settings app under the Exposure Notifications section.

Link

Mari Lwyd

‘Around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Welsh families might find themselves challenged by a decorated horse (or similar animal) skull waiting for them on their doorstep. Adorned in colorful ribbons and bells, the equine image of death has an especially ghostly appearance thanks to the white sheet draped over the person carrying it. As revelers sing and parade this head-on-a-stick around the neighborhood, doors open to meet the morbid white horse in battle, specifically, a battle of wits through poetry. This is Mari Lwyd, a midwinter, pagan tradition whereby celebrants earn food and drink only after dominating a poetry slam fronted by a skeletal face….’

via Gastro Obscura

Uncategorized

Sea spray could be dousing you in toxic “forever chemicals” — study

 

3c38a2c9 c184 4483 8eda 46554b2c4376 gettyimages 497312663 jpg‘A study published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology finds that sea spray can transport chemicals, known as PFAAs, into your body via airborne particles. These chemicals are of “high global concern” to humans. The findings have serious implications for understanding how these toxic chemicals make their way into the atmosphere and affect human health, especially for coastal communities….

Forever chemicals, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are toxic chemicals that don’t break down as quickly as other compounds, lingering for years in the atmosphere, environment, and even human blood.

“All PFAS are synthetic and will never degrade in the environment, and we only have information on the toxic effects of a few substances in the class,” the scientists explain…’

— via Inverse

Uncategorized

And Now for the Good News About Omicron

Dcb68fd0f04aef9d5571f03898e37338b6 omicron 2x rhorizontal w700 jpg

‘The first piece of good news is that this wave might be shorter lived than those of other variants. Every country is different, of course, with different population structures and different levels of immunity, both “natural” and from vaccination. But in South Africa, it appears that, while test positivity is still growing throughout the country, in the Omicron epicenter of Guateng the wave may be peaking already, with cases and hospital admissions both taking a visible turn, barely three weeks since the variant was first publicly announced and just five weeks since the first likely case. …

The second piece of good news is that as the wave progresses in South Africa, the cases continue to appear mild. …

And the third piece of good news is that we now have a possible biological explanation for reduced severity, which gives the observed preliminary data another layer of plausibility. That comes from research by the University of Hong Kong, which finds that the new variant is much more efficient in reproducing in the upper respiratory tract, where you can cough and sneeze it out onto others, and much less efficient in the lungs, where it will be most dangerous to the infected host….’

— via New York Mag

Uncategorized

AI argues for and against itself in Oxford Union debate

122243336 robot png

‘The Oxford Union has heard from many great debaters over the years, but this week added an artificial intelligence engine to its distinguished speakers.
The AI argued that the only way to stop such tech becoming too powerful is to have “no AI at all”.
But it also argued the best option could be to embed it “into our brains as a conscious AI”.
The experiment was designed to ignite conversation on the ethics of the technology….’

— via BBC News

Uncategorized

Judge rejects Purdue Pharma’s sweeping opioid settlement

 

1000‘A federal judge rejected OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement of thousands of lawsuits over the opioid epidemic Thursday because of a provision that would protect members of the Sackler family from facing litigation of their own. U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in New York found that federal bankruptcy law does not give the bankruptcy judge who had accepted the plan the authority to grant that kind of release for people who are not declaring bankruptcy themselves….’

— via AP News

Link

Umami Exists and MSG is its Messenger

‘Umami’s not what you think it is. It’s translated as “savoriness”, but that’s usually misinterpreted as a kind of general descriptor, the way food could be called “filling” or “chewy”. It’s also got a sense of being this subtle and higher-order property of good cooking, brought to us from the mysterious East.
Umami is a molecule. Well, actually a class of molecules that hit mGluR1 receptors (among others) in your mouth so that you get a meaty, savory taste. And it’s not only appreciated by the discerning Japanese, but also by the somewhat less discerning hamsters.[1] It’s a basic taste in the same way the other four are: The particular ingredient has been identified in food and the taste receptor has been identified in your mouth. Some don’t believe in umami, but you still experience it unless you are missing the receptors for some reason, which would constitute a minor disability.
The most significant umami compounds are glutamates, which are the salts of glutamic acid, and in practically everything you enjoy as savory. Most cultures have created a glutamate-rich cooking ingredient that seems absolutely disgusting without an additional “this has glutamates” explanation. These include decomposing fish (anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce), decomposing beans (soy sauce, miso), decomposing milk (cheese), and leftover beer-goo….’

— Jehan via Atoms vs Bits

Link

Don’t strip the Sackler name from museums: a visceral reminder of human greed

The Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

‘A moment of silence, so we can all appreciate how gracious the Sackler family is. Yes, the family business, Purdue Pharma, is infamous for aggressively marketing the prescription painkiller OxyContin and aiding an opioid epidemic that has killed half a million Americans. And it’s true that nobody in the family has offered an explicit apology for their role in this crisis or suffered meaningful consequences for their actions: the Sacklers are still billionaires and have even won immunity from lawsuits. But that doesn’t mean we should think badly of them. You see, the family has been terribly kind and allowed New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to remove the Sackler name from its galleries. In a statement last week, the Met praised the Sacklers for “this gracious gesture” and gushed about the family’s generous support. There was no mention of the human suffering that precipitated the removal. New York’s Met museum to remove Sackler family name from its galleries Read more

The Met cutting public ties with the Sacklers – the result of a long direct action campaign by the artist Nan Goldin – has been widely celebrated. There’s an expectation that other public institutions will now follow suit. But I’m not sure erasing the family name from museums is right. I was at Tate Britain last week, and seeing the Sackler name had a visceral impact on me: it was more thought-provoking than a lot of the art.

Keep the name in museums, I say. Just add a prominent plaque explaining exactly how the family earned the money it donated. Explain how the chronic underfunding of the arts means that cultural institutes are forced to suck up to dodgy philanthropists. Let everyone who sees the name leave with the realisation that greed is a hell of a drug…’

— by Arwa Mahdawi via The Guardian

Link

Why are we so unsettled by deepfakes?

‘Two aspects are involved in our averse reaction to deepfakes: the uncanny feeling of witnessing something abnormal, and the unsettling feeling of being deceived by one’s own eyes.

This first aspect concerns the uneasiness we feel in noticing that something is not ‘quite right’. There is something creepy about deepfakes that represent people in ways that are slightly ‘off’. Early deepfake videos contained unnatural eye-blinking patterns, for example, which viewers would not consciously notice but nonetheless signalled that something strange was going on. As deepfake technology improves and footage looks and sounds more like authentic material, this aspect of eeriness disappears.

But another emerges: can we really trust what we’re watching?

This is the other side of the uneasy feeling that deepfakes arouse, which concerns footage that is too realistic-looking. Here deepfakes cause a sense of uneasiness because they make us distrust what we see with our own eyes. While trust in the reliability of video and images has already been undermined with the ascent of Photoshop and other forms of manipulation, the potential of deepfake technology to continuously improve the convincingness of inauthentic recordings through machine learning deepens the concern over deception.

Not only can deepfake technology realistically represent people’s image and voice, it also allows for impersonation in real time. We can’t assume that the person we see or hear in digital footage is who we assume them to be, even if we seem to be interacting with them….’

via Psyche

‘A deepfake website that generates “nude” images of women using artificial intelligence is spreading its murky tentacles across the web—spawning look-alike services through partner agreements and recruiting new users through a referral system. The expansion efforts have allowed the service to proliferate despite bans placed on its payment infrastructure. The website, which WIRED is not naming to limit its amplification, has existed since last year. It digitally “removes” clothing from non-nude photos to create nonconsensual pornographic deepfakes. Researchers say its output is “hyper-realistic,” and unlike similar abusive platforms, it can generate pornographic images even when the person in the original photo is fully clothed. Previously, similar technologies have only worked with partially clothed photographs…’

— via WIRED

Link

Take care of yourself, it’s now an industry

‘A friend often tells me I’m bad at self-care. When I ask him what he means, he usually responds with some version of “Well, you know.” But really, I don’t know what self-care is, what it means to be bad at it, or even why I should be good at it. Being told I’m bad at self-care usually feels like being told I’m bad at a job I didn’t apply for and that I’m not even paid for….’

via The Hedgehog Review

Link

The lost art of listening

Quot about listening quot vaclav kindl‘Although we are hardwired for grammar;cognitively mapped to construct, comprehend, and interpret meanings that arise from the soundscapes of language, culture and history; and can distinguish sound patterns, dissonances, silences, and noises in the ether,the brain listens only to what the mind is prepared to hear.

In our current historical conjuncture, the mind is not prepared nor is it being prepared to hear the pangs of hunger in the discourse of poverty; the terrorizing memories of male violence and sexual assault from the mother-tongue of surviving women; the anxieties of dis-ease and economic insecurity in the angry and disillusioned voices of youth; the brutality of homelessness in the quiet drawings of children who sleep in cars and shelters; the academic discourse of white supremacy deeply embedded within the sterilized language of meritocracy; the communality of working-class culture splattered in blood, sweat, and country; the groan of disability pushing against the structural forces of ableism; the tongue-tying of identity within sequestered spaces of difference; the diverse voices of radical love driving the outrage against fascist machineries of death; the intubated wheezing of dying democracies; the hushed courage of LGBTQ+ people navigating the heteronormative and cis-gendered architecture of everyday life; and the incessant white noise of power burying the refrain of negative freedom in the hook of capitalist opportunity. That which the mind is not prepared to hear negates our capacity to listen and understand, to learn from those most in need, and to be mindful, aesthetically sensitive, and critically awake to the radical possibilities that arise out of deep and meaningful conversation…’

— by Eric Weiner via 3 Quarks Daily

Link

trump’s next coup has already begun

‘Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect.

The prospect of this democratic collapse is not remote. People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already.

Who or what will safeguard our constitutional order is not apparent today. It is not even apparent who will try. Democrats, big and small D, are not behaving as if they believe the threat is real. Some of them, including President Joe Biden, have taken passing rhetorical notice, but their attention wanders. They are making a grievous mistake.

“The democratic emergency is already here,” Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at UC Irvine, told me in late October. Hasen prides himself on a judicious temperament. Only a year ago he was cautioning me against hyperbole. Now he speaks matter-of-factly about the death of our body politic. “We face a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024,” he said, “but urgent action is not happening.”

For more than a year now, with tacit and explicit support from their party’s national leaders, state Republican operatives have been building an apparatus of election theft. Elected officials in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states have studied Donald Trump’s crusade to overturn the 2020 election. They have noted the points of failure and have taken concrete steps to avoid failure next time. Some of them have rewritten statutes to seize partisan control of decisions about which ballots to count and which to discard, which results to certify and which to reject. They are driving out or stripping power from election officials who refused to go along with the plot last November, aiming to replace them with exponents of the Big Lie. They are fine-tuning a legal argument that purports to allow state legislators to override the choice of the voters.

By way of foundation for all the rest, Trump and his party have convinced a dauntingly large number of Americans that the essential workings of democracy are corrupt, that made-up claims of fraud are true, that only cheating can thwart their victory at the polls, that tyranny has usurped their government, and that violence is a legitimate response.

Any Republican might benefit from these machinations, but let’s not pretend there’s any suspense. Unless biology intercedes, Donald Trump will seek and win the Republican nomination for president in 2024. The party is in his thrall. No opponent can break it and few will try. Neither will a setback outside politics—indictment, say, or a disastrous turn in business—prevent Trump from running. If anything, it will redouble his will to power…’

— Barton Gellman via The Atlantic

Uncategorized

What’s Really Behind Global Vaccine Hesitancy

Original jpg

‘The U.S. should not blame South Africa—or any other nation—for vaccine hesitancy, or stop sending vaccines to places that need them. Vaccine access is crucial. But vaccine hesitancy is an urgent problem, and a global one. New variants can emerge wherever populations remain unvaccinated. (Indeed, it’s possible that Omicron emerged elsewhere and was merely detected in South Africa, which has an advanced genomic-sequencing operation.) “If we had had everybody immunized in the world who is over the age of 18 with at least one dose of COVID vaccine, Omicron might not have happened,” Noni MacDonald, a vaccinologist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, told me. Some surveys suggest that vaccine hesitancy is actually higher in rich countries than in poor ones, so the virus is just as likely to evolve into some dreadful new form in an unvaccinated American’s body as in a Congolese or Russian person’s.

If policy makers want to limit the damage that Omicron and future variants do, they’ll have to better understand why people reject vaccines. Something as complex as vaccine hesitancy is bound to have many causes, but research suggests that one fundamental instinct drives it: A lack of trust. Getting people to overcome their hesitancy will require restoring their trust in science, their leaders, and, quite possibly, one another. The crisis of vaccine hesitancy and the crisis of cratering trust in institutions are one and the same….’

— via The Atlantic

Link

Der Lauf der Dinge

UntitledImageHave you got a spare half hour or so for a meditative contemplation of ‘the way things go’?

It starts out like so many other Rube Goldbergish assemblages you’ve seen on Youtube but becomes chemical and pyrotechnic. Solids, liquids and gases strung together in mundane and inventive ways. Very much a metaphor for the mix of intended and unintended consequences, of the predictable and the surprising, that drives the world. Oh, and lots of car tires.

— via Peter Fischli and David Weiss – YouTube

Link

Pro-Trump counties now have far higher COVID death rates

‘Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those who live in areas that went for now-President Biden. That’s according to a new analysis by NPR that examines how political polarization and misinformation are driving a significant share of the deaths in the pandemic….’

— Geoff Brumfiel via NPR