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

Unknown
(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

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

Michael Moore says Trump on course for win in presidential election

 

‘”Are you ready for a Trump victory? Are you mentally prepared to be outsmarted by Trump again? Do you find comfort in your certainty that there is no way Trump can win? Are you content with the trust you’ve placed in the DNC to pull this off?” he wrote.

“I’m warning you almost 10 weeks in advance. The enthusiasm level for the 60 million in Trump’s base is OFF THE CHARTS! For Joe, not so much,” warned Moore. “Don’t leave it to the Democrats to get rid of Trump. YOU have to get rid of Trump. WE have to wake up every day for the next 67 days and make sure each of us are going to get a hundred people out to vote. ACT NOW!” wrote Moore.

He went on to claim that recent polling shows the race tightening in swing states…

Moore, a supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, was one of few to predict that “Rust Belt” voters would abandon Democrats and propel Trump to victory in 2016. ….’

— via Business Insider

The SCP Foundation

‘The SCP Foundation is a fictional organization documented by the web-based collaborative-fiction project of the same name. Within the website’s fictional setting, the SCP Foundation is responsible for locating and containing individuals, entities, locations, and objects that violate natural law (referred to as SCPs). The real-world website is community-based and includes elements of many genres such as horror, science fiction, and urban fantasy.

On the SCP Foundation wiki, the majority of works consist of “special containment procedures”: structured internal documentation that describes an SCP object and the means of keeping it contained. The website also contains thousands of “Foundation Tales”, short stories set within the universe of the SCP Foundation. The series has been praised for its ability to convey horror through its scientific and academic writing style, as well as for its high standards of quality….’

— via Wikipedia

Politics Is Weird Right Now, but Trump’s Convention Is Another Level of Strange

‘Two weeks ago, Mike Pence did something weird. Every day brings with it an opportunity to be freaked out by something new, so you have probably forgotten all about this by now, but what happened was the US vice president took to the podium at a Farmers and Ranchers for Trump rally in Iowa and started talking about meat in a loud, expressionless voice. “I’ve got some red meat for you,” he intoned. “WE’RE NOT GOING TO LET JOE BIDEN AND KAMALA HARRIS CUT AMERICA’S MEAT,” he shouted, opening his mouth wide in that startling way of his, where the whole top of the face stays utterly immobile, eyes dead, and the lower jaw unhinges itself…’

— Via The Guardian

In a deal that sounds like it was brokered by a marriage counselor…

…Kellyanne Conway quitting the White House; George Conway quitting The Lincoln Project

‘Top Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway announced tonight that she’s leaving the White House at the end of the month. Minutes earlier, her husband George Conway tweeted that he’s departing from anti-Trump political action committee The Lincoln Project….’

— via Boing Boing

Very Rare Baby South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher Photographed For The First Time Ever

 

‘We like to think that we’ve come a long way from the days of discovery when adventurers wandered into uncharted lands and came back with sketches and specimens of creatures never seen before.

And while we definitely have, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t making new discoveries all the time or increasing our understanding of old discoveries once thought lost….’

— via Design You Trust

R.I.P., My Favorite Linguist

 

Geoffrey Nunberg Dies at 75

‘Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist whose elegant essays and books explained to a general audience how English has adapted to changes in politics, popular culture and technology, died on Aug. 11 at his home in San Francisco. He was 75.

Mr. Nunberg’s fascination with the way people communicate found expression in acclaimed books like “Going Nucular: Language, Politics, and Culture in Confrontational Times” (2001); in scholarly work in areas like the relationship between written and spoken language; and in lexicography — he was chairman of the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.

He was one of a small group of linguists, among them Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, renowned beyond their academic universes.

“I always saw him as the paragon of public intellectualism,” the linguist Ben Zimmer, who writes a column on language for The Wall Street Journal, wrote in an email. “He was a lucid, effective communicator about thorny linguistic issues for many decades.”…’

— via New York Times

 

Nunberg’s platform as a commentator on NPR’s “Fresh Air” not only gave him importance for those of us with that peculiar fascination with linguistics but  allowed him to illuminate the central role of language as a battleground shaping political attitudes, often on an unconscious level. George Lakoff is the other person in that role for me, but is less visible and accessible. 

Down to two and counting

Can we rescue the northern white rhino from the brink of extinction?

‘An international team of scientists said they successfully extracted eggs from the last two remaining northern white rhinos, a step on the way to possibly saving the subspecies from extinction.

Ten eggs were harvested from the female rhinos at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The scientists said Tuesday they hope to use them to create viable embryos that would be transferred into surrogates since neither Najin and Fatuwill can carry a pregnancy to term.

The coronavirus pandemic had delayed the process, but the team from Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and Safari Park Dvur Kralove in the Czech Republic said, “The ovum pickup went smoothly and without any complications.”

Three embryos were created from the previously extracted eggs.

The next step is to select female southern white rhinos, another rhino subspecies, at Ol Pejeta to serve as surrogate mothers.

The last male northern white rhino, Sudan, died in March 2018. Work to keep northern white rhinos from dying out therefore turns on perfecting in vitro fertilization techniques and keeping the remaining two females alive….’

— via NatGeo

Believe it or not, Donald Trump says he should get a third term

 

‘”We are going to win four more years,” Trump said at a rally in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on Monday. “And then after that, we’ll go for another four years because they spied on my campaign. We should get a redo of four years.”

Of course, what Trump is proposing is banned by the Constitution, which limits presidents to serving two terms. (If Trump lost in 2020, he could, theoretically, run again in 2024). There is no “redo” provision in the Constitution for extraneous circumstances surrounding a president’s first term. And even if there was, Trump’s allegation that he deserves a third term because “they spied on my campaign” wouldn’t pass any sort of smell test.

What Trump deems “spying” was actually an FBI counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 election. On Tuesday morning, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the final volume of its bipartisan investigation into Russia’s activities in 2016….’

— via CNNPolitics

Is the Covid-19 Pandemic Changing our Perception of Time?

 

‘Do you feel like your perception of time is changing during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here is a reminder, it’s been five months since we declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Do you feel baffled by the passing of time these days more than you did before? If you do, you are not alone. A recent study from the UK suggests that 80% of participants felt that social distancing during the pandemic is altering the perception of time for them….’

— via Gildshire

Speak Up for Antarctica

UntitledImage‘This year, we can secure the largest act of ocean protection in history. 2020 marks the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica. It is also the year when the highest temperatures ever were recorded on the continent. With melting ice, warming waters, and increased fishing, all of the creatures that live there need us more than ever. But we need Antarctica just as much. This vast icy continent is critical to stabilizing our climate, and it circulates vital ocean nutrients that sustain fish populations, and humans, all over the world….’

— via Only One Act Antarctica

My Two Favorite Apex Predators Apparently Don’t Get Along

Wolf Pack and Grizzly in Tense Standoff

Info: “I was lucky enough to witness this epic encounter between a pack of wolves and a huge grizzly. It’s not the first bear/wolf interaction I’ve seen but definitely the closest.”

Rumble(“play”, {“video”:”v7e92t”,”div”:”rumble_v7e92t”});

— via Digg

The Strange Theory of Coronavirus from Space

 

‘There are plenty of unusual theories over the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. From claims that the virus is a bioweapon, to the idea that 5G transmissions are behind the pandemic, there’s been no shortage of hard-to-believe ideas.

But there’s one COVID-19 theory so remarkable that it makes the others look boring by comparison: The proposal that the coronavirus came from space.

The space virus theory has been the work of a group of researchers, notably Edward J. Steele and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe. This group has published ten papers on the topic since the pandemic began, but this paper from July 14th offers the most detailed argument.

Steele et al. suggest that COVID-19 arrived on a meteor which was spotted as a bright fireball over the city of Songyuan in North East China on October 11, 2019.

They propose that the meteor might have been “a fragile and loosely held carbonaceous meteorite carrying a cargo of trillions of viruses/bacteria and other primary source cells.”

The authors admit that the Songyuan meteor was spotted over 2,000 km northeast of Wuhan, where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, but they deal with this discrepancy with the hypothesis that a different fragment of the meteor arrived in the Wuhan area…

Needless to say, this is not a theory with any evidence for it. There is no evidence that viruses or bacteria (or any other life) exist in space, and Steele et al. provide no direct evidence that the coronavirus arrived from the heavens.

But it turns out that the theory of life (and disease) from space isn’t new. The theory is called panspermia and a handful of researchers, including Steele and Wickramasinghe, have been advocating it for decades….’

— via Neuroskeptic in Discover Magazine

How to Submit Your Mail-in Ballot Without Using the USPS

‘Fortunately, there are a number of ways to ensure that your mail-in ballot is delivered in time regardless of what happens with USPS….’

— via Lifehacker

Related: Honestly, Just Vote In Person—It’s Safer Than You Think

‘The panic over the US Postal Service is legitimate, but here’s the good news: It’s not that risky to cast a ballot by hand….’

— via WIRED

40 Hamlets, Ranked

 

‘This list of 40 Hamlets include movies dating from 1900 to the 21st century plus TV shows, short films, cartoons, skits, and even comic pages. Yes, everyone wants to put their unique spin on the melancholy Dane. Some are full productions, while others have a rather tangental relation with the original play -and many are quite funny. And the best part is that almost all have video clips that show why they are ranked the way they are. Check out 40 wildly different interpretations of Hamlet at Lithub….’

— via Neatorama

Trump Just Made A Fatal Mistake

Amir Stepak:

‘Throughout Donald Trump’s time in office, pundits have made a habit of declaring the latest scandal his point of no return. There was the Russia investigation, the hush money, the Charlottesville protests and Trump’s racist remarks, the border cages, the Giuliani-Ukraine debacle, the impeachment, the incompetent response to Coronavirus, the Russian bounties, the economic recession, and many others.

Yet, time and again, Trump has defied the prognosticators. He’s never been a popular president, but his hold on his base has been steadfast.

Which is why I completely understand your skepticism as I say the following: Trump’s recent acknowledgement that he’s holding up critical USPS funding for political reasons will likely doom his reelection prospects….’

— via Medium

Fake face mask ID cards on rise

‘The Department of Justice says an increasing number of people in California are going to great lengths to avoid wearing a face covering in public places.

They say fake IDs that claim the person has a medical reason not to wear a mask are turning up big time.

There are legitimate exemptions such as having a disability where a mask could cause problems, but the Justice Department says more and more businesses are being shown fraudulent identification cards as an excuse….’

— via ABC7 New York

I Love Pareidolia

Why the Brain Is Programmed to See Faces in Everyday Objects

‘If you tend to notice faces in inanimate objects around you like the scowling face of a house, a surprised bowling ball, or a grimacing apple, you’re not alone.

‘Face pareidolia’ – the phenomenon of seeing faces in everyday objects—is a very human condition that relates to how our brains are wired. And now research from UNSW Sydney has shown we process these “fake” faces using the same visual mechanisms of the brain that we do for real ones….’

— via Neuroscience News

White House reporter’s question startles Trump

‘Do you regret all your lying?’ 

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‘“I had always thought that if he ever did call on me, this is the one thing that is really central to his presidency,” he said.

Trump’s lying was the “singular piece of his presidency that will be remembered in 10 years”.

Dáte wasn’t surprised by Trump’s response to the question – ignoring it was always going to be the most likely reaction, he thought….’

— via The Guardian

Why You Should Care About QAnon

(Make America Great Again Rally being held in the Florida State Fair Grounds Expo Hall on July 31, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.)

‘The QAnon movement — a loose network of extreme right-wingers with an apocalyptic bent — looks deeper than COVID-19, into what gave rise to Donald Trump’s election. Their conclusion? With or without divine intervention (but probably with it), Trump was elected to put an end to the worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles that rule the government, the media and Hollywood…

Many suggest that Trump either is himself the anonymous “Q” or that he endorses QAnon’s theories. Indeed, as Peter Beinert notes, “Trump himself has suggested that Antonin Scalia might have been murdered, climate change is a Chinese hoax, Ted Cruz’s father was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Clintons may bear responsibility for the murder of Jeffrey Epstein, and wind turbines cause cancer.”

And after all, Trump wore a tie to a coronavirus briefing that was yellow — the color of the maritime flag representing the letter Q (for “quarantine”) and indicating that there are no infected people aboard ship. What better way to signal that the pandemic isn’t real?

These malevolent fairy tales are not shared just by a handful of kooks on the fringes of society. The winner of Georgia’s Congressional GOP primary runoff, Marjorie Taylor Green, was apparently more helped than hindered by her anti-Semitic, Islamophobic comments and endorsement of “Q.” And she is just one of 14 Republican candidates on the ballot in November or competing in primary runoffs, who tweet QAnon’s “secret” acronyms and endorse its theories.

Not only are these beliefs vile, but they are precisely the kind of distraction that Trump and his cronies welcome….’

— via Cognoscenti

The Iconic Arecibo Telescope Goes Quiet After Major Damage

 

‘EARLY MONDAY MORNING, a cable suspended over the Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico broke and left a 100-foot-long gash in the dish of the iconic radio telescope. The 3-inch diameter cable also caused damage to the panels of the Gregorian dome that is suspended hundreds of feet above the dish and houses the telescope’s receivers. It is unclear what caused the cable to break or when radio astronomers using the telescope will be able to resume their research….’

— via WIRED

How the chemical imbalance theory of depression damages patients

‘While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient….

More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions…’

— via Big Think

George Conway’s biting column holds a mirror up to Trump supporters, and it ain’t pretty

George Conway’s biting column holds a mirror up to Trump supporters, and it ain’t pretty / Boing Boing

‘George Conway’s satirical piece in The Washington Post, “I (Still) Believe the President, and in the President,” is like a Lincoln Project video in prose form. Playing the part of a moron, Conway puts a mirror up to Trump — and his supporters — by listing Trump’s outrageous lies, hateful remarks, and sheer idiocy as things he believes in.

Some of my favorite lines:

“I believe it’s normal for the president to say ‘Yo Semites’ and ‘Yo Seminites,’ ‘Thigh Land,’ ‘Minne-a-napolis,’ ‘toe-tally-taria-tism,’ ‘Thomas Jeffers’ and ‘Ulyss-eus S. Grant.'”

“I believe the president ‘aced’ a ‘very hard’ impairment test, and that his ‘very surprised’ doctors found this ‘unbelievable.'”

“I believe the president and the doctor who believes in demon sperm and the medical use of space alien DNA, and not Anthony S. Fauci, who’s an ‘alarmist’ and ‘wrong.'”

“I believe the president’s suggestions that physicians should try injecting patients with household disinfectants, and shining ultraviolet light inside their bodies, make perfect sense.”

“I believe that the president has done a tremendous job fighting the virus — and that he shouldn’t ‘take responsibility at all’ — even though about 160,000 Americans have died. I believe the virus “is what it is.”

“I believe it isn’t racist to call the coronavirus ‘kung flu’ or ‘the China Virus.’ It isn’t racially divisive to say Black Lives Matter is a “symbol of hate,” to celebrate Confederate generals as part of our ‘Great American Heritage,’ or to share video of someone shouting ‘white power,’ which, like displaying the Confederate flag, is ‘freedom of speech.'”

And, for the grand finale, the last graph: “I believe the president won the popular vote in 2016 ‘if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.’ I believe he shouldn’t accept the election results if he loses in November.”

Read the entire article at The Washington Post….’

— via Boing Boing

‘Writing is nature’s way of showing you how sloppy your thinking usually is….’

David Perell

‘Morality pills’ may be the US’s best shot at ending the coronavirus pandemic, according to one ethicist

‘When someone chooses not to follow public health guidelines around the coronavirus, they’re defecting from the public good. It’s the moral equivalent of the tragedy of the commons: If everyone shares the same pasture for their individual flocks, some people are going to graze their animals longer, or let them eat more than their fair share, ruining the commons in the process. Selfish and self-defeating behavior undermines the pursuit of something from which everyone can benefit.

Democratically enacted enforceable rules – mandating things like mask wearing and social distancing – might work, if defectors could be coerced into adhering to them. But not all states have opted to pass them or to enforce the rules that are in place.

My research in bioethics focuses on questions like how to induce those who are noncooperative to get on board with doing what’s best for the public good. To me, it seems the problem of coronavirus defectors could be solved by moral enhancement: like receiving a vaccine to beef up your immune system, people could take a substance to boost their cooperative, pro-social behavior. Could a psychoactive pill be the solution to the pandemic?

It’s a far-out proposal that’s bound to be controversial, but one I believe is worth at least considering, given the importance of social cooperation in the struggle to get COVID-19 under control….’

— via The Conversation

Can a new diagnosis help to heal our souls?

On moral injury:

War correspondent Janine di Giovanni writes in Harpers about the revelation to South Africa-born Toronto psychiatrist Anthony Feinstein of the “deep and sustained trauma” suffered by a war reporter who consulted him after returning from a particularly gruesome assignment in a conflict zone. He wondered whether proper training before her assignment or early intervention after her return could have alleviated her profound suffering.

In the late 90’s, before PTSD was a well-known concept, the idea of a conflict reporter suffering from the disorder was unfamiliar. The 90’s were a decade characterized by wars in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East, which often involved extreme violence and atrocities by lawless paramilitary groups. War reporters, not yet embedded with troops, were freelancers and had no protection, no insurance or security guards, and no conflict training. They were regularly killed or permanently injured and a significant number took their own lives.

Feinstein decided to study PTSD among war reporters, interviewing over a hundred including di Giovanni, and was alarmed by his findings.

‘ “I do not believe there is another profession that has more exposure to war than your group,” he told me. While soldiers often served one or two tours, he said, “You go back year after year after year to war.” Feinstein compiled a database of more than a thousand frontline journalists and concluded that the mean time spent in war zones for career war reporters was nearly fifteen years.’

Feinstein’s findings of the prevalence of PTSD in his subjects was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2002. Feinstein started a full court press with the press to persuade editors to pay attention to their war correspondents’ trauma, prompting many leading news organizations to develop conflict-reporting protocols.

In the 2010’s reporters covering the refugee crisis, who were not themselves at risk of being shot on the front lines, were suffering a new kind of mental health crisis from their profound helplessness and inability to save the tragic drowning victims or alter the circumstances driving them from their homes. He believed these journalists were suffering from moral injury, a term with origins in Jonathan Shay’s 1994 study of veterans with PTSD, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character. Recent studies have established that moral injury, which can co-occur with PTSD but is distinct, has emerged as the

‘biggest psychological challenge confronted by journalists covering the migration crisis…

Feinstein describes it as “a wound on the soul, an affront to your moral compass based on your own behavior and the things you have failed to do.” In other words, this is triggered by one’s feeling of having failed to live up to one’s own ethical standards rather than by external events. For instance, it is common for photographers shooting human catastrophes to feel that they have benefited from the suffering of their subjects, documenting instead of intervening. A complicating factor, especially for American journalists, is the feeling that one’s own country is contributing to or responsible for the suffering observed.

Moral injury of course is not restricted to journalists — soldiers who have witnessed torture (e.g. Abu Graib), doctors working in war zones, survivors of school massacres, prosecutors who feel ineffectual in righting injustice, witnesses of police brutality, are all vulnerable. It strikes me that it is a particular malignant and poignant form of survivor guilt.

Feinstein believes that medical professional might be among the most susceptible. Understanding moral injury will be important to address the problems faced by frontline healthcare workers who risked their lives and were powerless to save so many others during the CoViD crisis, in some cases making guilt-inducing decisions about who lived and who died themselves.

‘And what about the community at large? Will we all suffer from moral injury given what we have witnessed during the pan- demic? Feinstein thinks the predomi- nant emotion will be anxiety, but that people will experience degrees of moral injury. He told me to think of a hierarchy of suffering. Those who have lost people they loved place at the top, and below them are those who lost a business or a chance to celebrate a life milestone such as a wedding or a grad- uation. “These too will leave their mark,” he said.’

Finally, Feinstein speculates on the longterm effect of feeling moral revulsion toward the behavior of the man who is supposed to be our president. As FDR said, ‘The presidency is not merely an administrative office . . . it is preeminently a place of moral leadership.’ Today, those surviving and bearing witness may experience intense guilt about their powerlessness to mitigate the suffering and disaster inflicted by the Mad King.

After identifying the disorder and its scope, Feinstein is turning his attention to sources of resiliency and potential treatments. Is it possible to repair a soul?

Census Bureau announces early end to count; fears of skewed tally rise

‘…(C)ensus experts have said that shortening the calendar for the count would wreak havoc with efforts to reach the very hardest-to-count households — immigrants, minorities, young people, and others — that have long been flagged as most likely to be missed in this year’s tally.

Critics called it an unvarnished attempt by the Trump administration to twist the nation’s population count to exclude groups that, by and large, tended to support Democrats….’

— Via Boston Globe

The Noose Tightens

McConnell signal to Republican Senate candidates: Distance from Trump if necessary

‘Sen. Mitch McConnell is allowing Republican Senate candidates to do whatever it takes to salvage their campaigns ahead of what Republicans increasingly fear could be a devastating election for their party.
In recent weeks, the Senate majority leader has become so concerned over Republicans losing control of the Senate that he has signaled to vulnerable GOP senators in tough races that they could distance themselves from the President if they feel it is necessary, according to multiple senior Republicans including a source close to McConnell.
That could mean breaking with Trump on the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the continued efforts by the President to paint an optimistic picture despite rising cases and deaths across parts of the country, especially in many Republican states in the South and Midwest.
While this may give some senators the flexibility to draw a distinction between themselves and the President, it also forces them to walk a tightrope. Trump remains enormously popular with the Republican base, and any attempts to undercut him risks alienating those voters….’

— via CNNPolitics

 

 

Related: Citing Election Delay Tweet, Influential Trump Ally Now Demands His Re-Impeachment : NPR

‘After voting for President Trump in 2016 and staunchly defending him in conservative publications, a Federalist Society leader appears to be having some very public buyer’s remorse.

Steven Calabresi, co-founder of the powerful conservative legal organization, is now calling on the House of Representatives to do again what it has already done once this year: impeach Trump.

In a scathing opinion piece in The New York Times published online Thursday, the Northwestern University law professor points to what ignited his newfound ire with the president: a tweet Trump sent out shortly after news broke Thursday morning that the U.S. economy had suffered its biggest recorded contraction ever last quarter.

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA,” the president intoned on Twitter. “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

Calabresi declared himself “appalled” by the tweet, which he characterized as “seeking to postpone the November election.”

“Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats’ assertion that President Trump is a fascist,” the conservative legal scholar wrote. “But this latest tweet is fascistic and is itself grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate.”

It was a remarkable turnaround for a man who as recently as November had accused House Democrats of conducting an “unconstitutional” and “Kafkaesque ‘trial’ ” in their Trump impeachment proceedings….’

— via NPR

The similarities between relating to your significant other and interrogating a terrorist

‘“The more you push someone, the more they close up,” say Emily and Laurence Alison, a husband-and-wife psychology team. “The hungrier you are for information, the harder it will be to get that out of someone. But give the person a choice about what they say; give them some autonomy and you begin to build the rapport that may lead to a better conversation,” says Laurence.

This sounds like parenting advice and yet the Alisons’ specialism is helping counter-terrorism officers and the police to improve communication and co-operation with criminal suspects. When the atmosphere turns adversarial and competitive, as it so often does, they turn to the Alisons to help them navigate and negotiate.

For the couple – who’ve been married for 21 years and have a 16-year-old son – the parallels with parenting have long been obvious and were underlined by the response of officers they’ve encountered on the intensive courses they run on how to interrogate terrorists.

Time after time, participants fed back that as well as learning invaluable skills for their professional lives, their approach was helping them deal with family and work relationships….’

— via The Guardian

Where have all the shoes gone?

UntitledImageA fox in a leafy suburb of Berlin has been getting into the spirit of summer – by collecting flip flops.

For weeks residents of Zehlendorf were baffled that a thief was stealing their flip flops and sports shoes from their gardens at night.

Finally a man spotted the culprit on a patch of wasteland, “in flagrante, carrying two blue flip flops in its mouth”, the daily Tagesspiegel reports.

The fox had a hoard of over 100 shoes, but not the man’s missing running shoe.

— Via BBC

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

 

Merlin 174864987 c5d78c10 05b9 40b2 a4ad 8c9dcd8cfc33 superJumbo

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