‘Do you want to know what you’ll get for Christmas? A movie spoiler? When you’ll die? The study of deliberate ignorance reveals the topics people want to remain in the dark about….’
— via Vice
‘Do you want to know what you’ll get for Christmas? A movie spoiler? When you’ll die? The study of deliberate ignorance reveals the topics people want to remain in the dark about….’
— via Vice
Working together to control the virus should have been “the ultimate shared goal.” Is America too polarized for common sacrifice anymore?
— via The New Yorker
‘On Thursday, six medical experts close to the White House published three op-eds in the Journal of the American Medical Association, arguing that the time had come for a new approach to the pandemic—one that sets aside the campaign for eradication in favor of living with the disease.
covid-19, one op-ed argued, should no longer even be tracked on its own but monitored together with other respiratory viruses, such as the flu—the sort of thing that might be done by epidemiologists rather than by all of us refreshing graphs on the Times’ Web site day and night.
The argument was particularly notable because the six experts had all been advisers to President Joe Biden’s covid-19 transition team. “A ‘new normal with COVID’ in January 2022 is not living without COVID-19,” Ezekiel Emanuel, of the University of Pennsylvania, Celine Gounder, of N.Y.U., and Michael Osterholm, of the University of Minnesota, wrote. But they believed that the long era of emergency—the one defined by a wartime feeling and frequent briefings from Anthony Fauci—should draw to a close….’
— via The New Yorker
‘As infections caused by the Omicron variant surge across the world, countries may soon face the difficult choice of either imposing strict lockdowns or letting the variant run through the population. Vaccinations are reducing the severity of the disease but are ineffective in halting the spread of the highly transmissible infection. As vaccine companies rush to develop variant-specific booster doses that might become the norm in this pandemic that will soon enter its third calendar year, the news of a single vaccine that can last a lifetime is highly welcome.
The vaccine that is being developed by Michinori Kohara and his team of researchers employs the most successful vaccine used in history, one against smallpox. The team uses a strain of the vaccinia virus that does not cause disease but replaced some of its protein components with those from the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.
While recombining the spike protein with a different delivery mechanism is a common strategy used in vaccine design these days, Kohara is confident that his vaccine can not only deliver potent neutralizing antibodies with a single dose, they also induce strong cellular immunity that offers long term protection.— via Interesting Engineering
‘…Today, even small-town police departments have powerful tools that can easily access the most intimate information on your cell phone. When Upturn researchers surveyed police departments on the mobile device forensic tools they were using on mobile phones, they discovered that the tools are being used by police departments large and small across America. There are few rules on what law enforcement can do with the data they download, and not very many policies on how the information should be stored, shared, or destroyed.
Recently Upturn researchers surveyed police departments on the mobile device forensic tools they were using on mobile phones, and discovered that the tools are being used by police departments large and small across America. There are far too few rules on what law enforcement can do with the data they download, and not very many policies on how the information should be stored, shared or destroyed…’— via Electronic Frontier Foundation
‘How to inject more weirdness and randomness into the stuff you read and see…’
— Clive Thompson via Forge
‘The right has recognized that the system is in collapse, and it has a plan: violence and solidarity with treasonous far-right factions…’— Stephen Marche via The Guardian
‘No matter how weird, bizarre or oddly specific something might be, if it exists, there’s most likely a Wikipedia article written about it. And just in case you don’t believe me, the Depths of Wikipedia Instagram account might help change your mind.
— via DeMilked
I once ran across a January 1st Boston Globe article compiling folkloric beliefs about what to do, what to eat, etc. on New Year’s Day to bring good fortune for the year to come. I’ve regretted since — I usually think of it around once a year (grin) — not clipping out and saving the article. Especially since we’ve had children, I’m interested in enduring traditions that go beyond getting drunk [although some comment that this is a profound enactment of the interdigitation of chaos and order appropriate to the New Year’s celebration — FmH], watching the bowl games and making resolutions.
A web search brought me this, less elaborate than what I recall from the Globe but to the same point. It is weighted toward eating traditions, which is odd because, unlike most other major holidays, the celebration of New Year’s in 21st century America does not seem to be centered at all around thinking about what we eat (except in the sense of the traditional weight-loss resolutions!) and certainly not around a festive meal. But…
Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason, it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year’s Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man.
“Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes “coming full circle,” completing a year’s cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune.
Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the new year by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another ‘good luck’ vegetable that is consumed on New Year’s Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year’s Day.”
The further north one travels in the British Isles, the more the year-end festivities focus on New Year’s. The Scottish observance of Hogmanay has many elements of warming heart and hearth, welcoming strangers and making a good beginning:
“Three cornered biscuits called hogmanays are eaten. Other special foods are: wine, ginger cordial, cheese, bread, shortbread, oatcake, carol or carl cake, currant loaf, and a pastry called scones. After sunset people collect juniper and water to purify the home. Divining rituals are done according to the directions of the winds, which are assigned their own colors.
First Footing: The first person who comes to the door on midnight New Year’s Eve should be a dark-haired or dark-complected man with gifts for luck. Seeing a cat, dog, woman, red-head or beggar is unlucky. The person brings a gift (handsel) of coal or whiskey to ensure prosperity in the New Year. Mummer’s Plays are also performed. The actors called the White Boys of Yule are all dressed in white, except for one dressed as the devil in black. It is bad luck to engage in marriage proposals, break glass, spin flax, sweep or carry out rubbish on New Year’s Eve.”
Here’s why we clink our glasses when we drink our New Year’s toasts, no matter where we are. Of course, sometimes the midnight cacophony is louder than just clinking glassware, to create a ‘devil-chasing din’.
In Georgia, eat black eyed peas and turnip greens on New Year’s Day for luck and prosperity in the year to come, supposedly because they symbolize coppers and currency. Hoppin’ John, a concoction of peas, onion, bacon and rice, is also a southern New Year’s tradition, as is wearing yellow to find true love (in Peru and elsewhere in South America, yellow underwear, apparently!) or carrying silver for prosperity. In some instances, a dollar bill is thrown in with the other ingredients of the New Year’s meal to bring prosperity. In Greece, there is a traditional New Year’s Day sweetbread with a silver coin baked into it. All guests get a slice of the bread and whoever receives the slice with the coin is destined for good fortune for the year. At Italian tables, lentils, oranges and olives are served. The lentils, looking like coins, will bring prosperity; the oranges are for love; and the olives, symbolic of the wealth of the land, represent good fortune for the year to come.
A New Year’s meal in Norway also includes dried cod, “lutefisk.” The Pennsylvania Dutch make sure to include sauerkraut in their holiday meal, also for prosperity.
In Spain, you would cram twelve grapes in your mouth at midnight, one each time the clock chimed, for good luck for the twelve months to come. (If any of the grapes happens to be sour, the corresponding month will not be one of your most fortunate in the coming year.) The U. S. version of this custom, for some reason, involves standing on a chair as you pop the grapes. In Denmark, jumping off a chair at the stroke of midnight signifies leaping into the New Year.
The crescent-shaped Copacabana beach… is the scene of an unusual New Year’s Eve ritual: mass public blessings by the mother-saints of the Macumba and Candomble sects. More than 1 million people gather to watch colorful fireworks displays before plunging into the ocean at midnight after receiving the blessing from the mother-saints, who set up mini-temples on the beach.
When taking the plunge, revelers are supposed to jump over seven waves, one for each day of the week.
This is all meant to honor Lamanjá, known as the “Mother of Waters” or “Goddess of the Sea.” Lamanjá protects fishermen and survivors of shipwrecks. Believers also like to throw rice, jewelry and other gifts into the water, or float them out into the sea in intimately crafted miniature boats, to please Lamanjá in the new year.
In many northern hemisphere cities near bodies of water, people also take a New Year’s Day plunge into the water, although of course it is an icy one! The Coney Island Polar Bears Club in New York is the oldest cold-water swimming club in the United States. They have had groups of people enter the chilly surf since 1903.
Ecuadorian families make scarecrows stuffed with newspaper and firecrackers and place them outside their homes. The dummies represent misfortunes of the prior year, which are then burned in effigy at the stroke of midnight to forget the old year. Bolivian families make beautiful little wood or straw dolls to hang outside their homes on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck.
In China, homes are cleaned spotless to appease the Kitchen God, and papercuttings of red paper are hung in the windows to scare away evil spirits who might enter the house and bring misfortune. Large papier mache dragon heads with long fabric bodies are maneuvered through the streets during the Dragon Dance festival, and families open their front doors to let the dragon bring good luck into their homes.
The Indian Diwali, or Dipawali, festival, welcoming in the autumnal season, also involves attracting good fortune with lights. Children make small clay lamps, dipas, thousands of which might adorn a given home. In Thailand, one pours fragrant water over the hands of elders on New Year’s Day to show them respect.
“It’s a bit bizarre when you think about it. A short British cabaret sketch from the 1920s has become a German New Year’s tradition. Yet, although The 90th Birthday or Dinner for One is a famous cult classic in Germany and several other European countries, it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, including Britain, its birthplace.” (Watch on Youtube, 11 min.)
So if the Germans watch British video, what do you watch in Britain? A number of sources have suggested that it is Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, “even though it’s awful and everyone hates it.”
On a related theme, from earlier in the same week, here are some of the more bizarre Christmas rituals from around the world.
Some history; documentation of observance of the new year dates back at least 4000 years to the Babylonians, who also made the first new year’s resolutions (reportedly voews to return borrowed farm equipment were very popular), although their holiday was observed at the vernal equinox. The Babylonian festivities lasted eleven days, each day with its own particular mode of celebration. The traditional Persian Norouz festival of spring continues to be considered the advent of the new year among Persians, Kurds and other peoples throughout Central Asia, and dates back at least 3000 years, deeply rooted in Zooastrian traditions.Modern Bahá’í’s celebrate Norouz (”Naw Ruz”) as the end of a Nineteen Day Fast. Rosh Hashanah (”head of the year”), the Jewish New Year, the first day of the lunar month of Tishri, falls between September and early October. Muslim New Year is the first day of Muharram, and Chinese New Year falls between Jan. 10th and Feb. 19th of the Gregorian calendar.
The classical Roman New Year’s celebration was also in the spring although the calendar went out of synchrony with the sun. January 1st became the first day of the year by proclamation of the Roman Senate in 153 BC, reinforced even more strongly when Julius Caesar established what came to be known as the Julian calendar in 46 BC. The early Christian Church condemned new year’s festivities as pagan but created parallel festivities concurrently. New Year’s Day is still observed as the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision in some denominations. Church opposition to a new year’s observance reasserted itself during the Middle Ages, and Western nations have only celebrated January 1 as a holidy for about the last 400 years. The custom of New Year’s gift exchange among Druidic pagans in 7th century Flanders was deplored by Saint Eligius, who warned them, “[Do not] make vetulas, [little figures of the Old Woman], little deer or iotticos or set tables [for the house-elf] at night or exchange New Year gifts or supply superfluous drinks [another Yule custom].” (Wikipedia)
The tradition of the New Year’s Baby signifying the new year began with the Greek tradition of parading a baby in a basket during the Dionysian rites celebrating the annual rebirth of that god as a symbol of fertility. The baby was also a symbol of rebirth among early Egyptians. Again, the Church was forced to modify its denunciation of the practice as pagan because of the popularity of the rebirth symbolism, finally allowing its members to cellebrate the new year with a baby although assimilating it to a celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus. The addition of Father Time (the “Old Year”) wearing a sash across his chest with the previous year on it, and the banner carried or worn by the New Year’s Baby, immigrated from Germany. Interestingly, January 1st is not a legal holiday in Israel, officially because of its historic origins as a Christian feast day.
Auld Lang Syne (literally ‘old long ago’ in the Scottish dialect) is sung or played at the stroke of midnight throughout the English-speaking world (and then there is George Harrison’s “Ring Out the Old”). Versions of the song have been part of the New Year’s festivities since the 17th century but Robert Burns was inspired to compose a modern rendition, which was published after his death in 1796. (It took Guy Lombardo, however, to make it popular…)
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
And here’s a hand, my trusty friend
And gie’s a hand o’ thine
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne
- Arabic: Kul ‘aam u antum salimoun
- Brazilian: Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo means “Good Parties and Happy New Year”
Chu Shen TanXin Nian Kuai Le (thanks, Jeff)
- Czechoslavakia: Scastny Novy Rok
- Dutch: Gullukkig Niuw Jaar
- Finnish: Onnellista Uutta Vuotta
- French: Bonne Annee
- German: Prosit Neujahr
- Greek: Eftecheezmaenos o Kaenooryos hronos
- Hebrew: L’Shannah Tovah Tikatevu
- Hindi: Niya Saa Moobaarak
- Irish (Gaelic): Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit
- Italian: Buon Capodanno
- Khmer: Sua Sdei tfnam tmei
- Laotian: Sabai dee pee mai
- Polish: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
- Portuguese: Feliz Ano Novo
- Russian: S Novim Godom
- Serbo-Croatian: Scecna nova godina
- Spanish: Feliz Ano Nuevo
- Swedish: Ha ett gott nytt år
- Turkish: Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
- Vietnamese: Cung-Chuc Tan-Xuan
[If you are a native speaker, please feel free to offer any corrections or additions!]
Which of these customs appeal to you? Are they done in your family, or will you try to adopt any of them? However you’re going to celebrate, my warmest wishes for the year to come… and eat hearty!
With high Omicron transmissibility, exposure alerts assume a higher priority IMHO. If you are an iPhone user (I don’t know about other platforms) don’t forget that you can turn on the built-in exposure alert system. And if you turn Covid-positive, it will serve others well if you remember to indicate it in the iPhone’s exposure monitoring system. you’ll find it in the Settings app under the Exposure Notifications section.
‘Fiction writers love it. Filmmakers can’t resist it. But does this trope deepen characters, or flatten them into a set of symptoms?…’
— via The New Yorker
‘Around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Welsh families might find themselves challenged by a decorated horse (or similar animal) skull waiting for them on their doorstep. Adorned in colorful ribbons and bells, the equine image of death has an especially ghostly appearance thanks to the white sheet draped over the person carrying it. As revelers sing and parade this head-on-a-stick around the neighborhood, doors open to meet the morbid white horse in battle, specifically, a battle of wits through poetry. This is Mari Lwyd, a midwinter, pagan tradition whereby celebrants earn food and drink only after dominating a poetry slam fronted by a skeletal face….’
— via Gastro Obscura
The consensus goes something like this:
‘The antibodies induced by delayed third doses will be of higher quality, generating a broader immune response that can more reliably recognize even mutated viruses, such as new variants…’
— Helen Branswell via STAT
‘Umami’s not what you think it is. It’s translated as “savoriness”, but that’s usually misinterpreted as a kind of general descriptor, the way food could be called “filling” or “chewy”. It’s also got a sense of being this subtle and higher-order property of good cooking, brought to us from the mysterious East.
Umami is a molecule. Well, actually a class of molecules that hit mGluR1 receptors (among others) in your mouth so that you get a meaty, savory taste. And it’s not only appreciated by the discerning Japanese, but also by the somewhat less discerning hamsters. It’s a basic taste in the same way the other four are: The particular ingredient has been identified in food and the taste receptor has been identified in your mouth. Some don’t believe in umami, but you still experience it unless you are missing the receptors for some reason, which would constitute a minor disability.
The most significant umami compounds are glutamates, which are the salts of glutamic acid, and in practically everything you enjoy as savory. Most cultures have created a glutamate-rich cooking ingredient that seems absolutely disgusting without an additional “this has glutamates” explanation. These include decomposing fish (anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce), decomposing beans (soy sauce, miso), decomposing milk (cheese), and leftover beer-goo….’
— Jehan via Atoms vs Bits
‘A moment of silence, so we can all appreciate how gracious the Sackler family is. Yes, the family business, Purdue Pharma, is infamous for aggressively marketing the prescription painkiller OxyContin and aiding an opioid epidemic that has killed half a million Americans. And it’s true that nobody in the family has offered an explicit apology for their role in this crisis or suffered meaningful consequences for their actions: the Sacklers are still billionaires and have even won immunity from lawsuits. But that doesn’t mean we should think badly of them. You see, the family has been terribly kind and allowed New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to remove the Sackler name from its galleries. In a statement last week, the Met praised the Sacklers for “this gracious gesture” and gushed about the family’s generous support. There was no mention of the human suffering that precipitated the removal. New York’s Met museum to remove Sackler family name from its galleries Read more
The Met cutting public ties with the Sacklers – the result of a long direct action campaign by the artist Nan Goldin – has been widely celebrated. There’s an expectation that other public institutions will now follow suit. But I’m not sure erasing the family name from museums is right. I was at Tate Britain last week, and seeing the Sackler name had a visceral impact on me: it was more thought-provoking than a lot of the art.
Keep the name in museums, I say. Just add a prominent plaque explaining exactly how the family earned the money it donated. Explain how the chronic underfunding of the arts means that cultural institutes are forced to suck up to dodgy philanthropists. Let everyone who sees the name leave with the realisation that greed is a hell of a drug…’
— by Arwa Mahdawi via The Guardian
‘Though the specter of a new variant hangs over the holidays, young people have no plans to lock themselves down again….’
— Christian Paz via The Atlantic
Are we going to end up with the decimation of an entire age stratum of the population?
’Long before Auto-Tune and deepfake compositions, university professor Lejaren Hiller premiered a concert recital composed by a computer and became an overnight celebrity…’
— via The Guardian
‘Two aspects are involved in our averse reaction to deepfakes: the uncanny feeling of witnessing something abnormal, and the unsettling feeling of being deceived by one’s own eyes.
This first aspect concerns the uneasiness we feel in noticing that something is not ‘quite right’. There is something creepy about deepfakes that represent people in ways that are slightly ‘off’. Early deepfake videos contained unnatural eye-blinking patterns, for example, which viewers would not consciously notice but nonetheless signalled that something strange was going on. As deepfake technology improves and footage looks and sounds more like authentic material, this aspect of eeriness disappears.
But another emerges: can we really trust what we’re watching?
This is the other side of the uneasy feeling that deepfakes arouse, which concerns footage that is too realistic-looking. Here deepfakes cause a sense of uneasiness because they make us distrust what we see with our own eyes. While trust in the reliability of video and images has already been undermined with the ascent of Photoshop and other forms of manipulation, the potential of deepfake technology to continuously improve the convincingness of inauthentic recordings through machine learning deepens the concern over deception.
Not only can deepfake technology realistically represent people’s image and voice, it also allows for impersonation in real time. We can’t assume that the person we see or hear in digital footage is who we assume them to be, even if we seem to be interacting with them….’
— via Psyche
‘A deepfake website that generates “nude” images of women using artificial intelligence is spreading its murky tentacles across the web—spawning look-alike services through partner agreements and recruiting new users through a referral system. The expansion efforts have allowed the service to proliferate despite bans placed on its payment infrastructure. The website, which WIRED is not naming to limit its amplification, has existed since last year. It digitally “removes” clothing from non-nude photos to create nonconsensual pornographic deepfakes. Researchers say its output is “hyper-realistic,” and unlike similar abusive platforms, it can generate pornographic images even when the person in the original photo is fully clothed. Previously, similar technologies have only worked with partially clothed photographs…’
— via WIRED
‘A friend often tells me I’m bad at self-care. When I ask him what he means, he usually responds with some version of “Well, you know.” But really, I don’t know what self-care is, what it means to be bad at it, or even why I should be good at it. Being told I’m bad at self-care usually feels like being told I’m bad at a job I didn’t apply for and that I’m not even paid for….’
— via The Hedgehog Review
‘Although we are hardwired for grammar;cognitively mapped to construct, comprehend, and interpret meanings that arise from the soundscapes of language, culture and history; and can distinguish sound patterns, dissonances, silences, and noises in the ether,the brain listens only to what the mind is prepared to hear.
In our current historical conjuncture, the mind is not prepared nor is it being prepared to hear the pangs of hunger in the discourse of poverty; the terrorizing memories of male violence and sexual assault from the mother-tongue of surviving women; the anxieties of dis-ease and economic insecurity in the angry and disillusioned voices of youth; the brutality of homelessness in the quiet drawings of children who sleep in cars and shelters; the academic discourse of white supremacy deeply embedded within the sterilized language of meritocracy; the communality of working-class culture splattered in blood, sweat, and country; the groan of disability pushing against the structural forces of ableism; the tongue-tying of identity within sequestered spaces of difference; the diverse voices of radical love driving the outrage against fascist machineries of death; the intubated wheezing of dying democracies; the hushed courage of LGBTQ+ people navigating the heteronormative and cis-gendered architecture of everyday life; and the incessant white noise of power burying the refrain of negative freedom in the hook of capitalist opportunity. That which the mind is not prepared to hear negates our capacity to listen and understand, to learn from those most in need, and to be mindful, aesthetically sensitive, and critically awake to the radical possibilities that arise out of deep and meaningful conversation…’
— by Eric Weiner via 3 Quarks Daily
‘Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect.
The prospect of this democratic collapse is not remote. People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already.
Who or what will safeguard our constitutional order is not apparent today. It is not even apparent who will try. Democrats, big and small D, are not behaving as if they believe the threat is real. Some of them, including President Joe Biden, have taken passing rhetorical notice, but their attention wanders. They are making a grievous mistake.
“The democratic emergency is already here,” Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at UC Irvine, told me in late October. Hasen prides himself on a judicious temperament. Only a year ago he was cautioning me against hyperbole. Now he speaks matter-of-factly about the death of our body politic. “We face a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024,” he said, “but urgent action is not happening.”
For more than a year now, with tacit and explicit support from their party’s national leaders, state Republican operatives have been building an apparatus of election theft. Elected officials in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states have studied Donald Trump’s crusade to overturn the 2020 election. They have noted the points of failure and have taken concrete steps to avoid failure next time. Some of them have rewritten statutes to seize partisan control of decisions about which ballots to count and which to discard, which results to certify and which to reject. They are driving out or stripping power from election officials who refused to go along with the plot last November, aiming to replace them with exponents of the Big Lie. They are fine-tuning a legal argument that purports to allow state legislators to override the choice of the voters.
By way of foundation for all the rest, Trump and his party have convinced a dauntingly large number of Americans that the essential workings of democracy are corrupt, that made-up claims of fraud are true, that only cheating can thwart their victory at the polls, that tyranny has usurped their government, and that violence is a legitimate response.
Any Republican might benefit from these machinations, but let’s not pretend there’s any suspense. Unless biology intercedes, Donald Trump will seek and win the Republican nomination for president in 2024. The party is in his thrall. No opponent can break it and few will try. Neither will a setback outside politics—indictment, say, or a disastrous turn in business—prevent Trump from running. If anything, it will redouble his will to power…’
— Barton Gellman via The Atlantic
It starts out like so many other Rube Goldbergish assemblages you’ve seen on Youtube but becomes chemical and pyrotechnic. Solids, liquids and gases strung together in mundane and inventive ways. Very much a metaphor for the mix of intended and unintended consequences, of the predictable and the surprising, that drives the world. Oh, and lots of car tires.
‘Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those who live in areas that went for now-President Biden. That’s according to a new analysis by NPR that examines how political polarization and misinformation are driving a significant share of the deaths in the pandemic….’
— Geoff Brumfiel via NPR
‘After Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet, blasted off to the outer reaches of Earth’s orbit amid several global crises, he blithely told reporters that “we can move all heavy industry and all polluting industry off of Earth and operate it in space.”
Unless there is an unfathomable technological leap, cowboy hat-clad Bezos’ idea of offloading all of humanity’s industries to space is not going to happen anytime soon. But as billionaires like Bezos look to harness the riches beyond Earth’s atmosphere, they’re likely to export our environmental problems as well…’
‘Support for 3G, the 20-year-old wireless network standard, is ending in the US next year, when the major wireless carriers are planning to phase out service. That means many Trac phones, older Kindles, early iPads, and classic Chromebooks—any device operating on 3G—simply won’t be able to connect to cellular data networks anymore. The Wi-Fi radios on those devices will still work, but their mobile data capabilities are going kaput.
This so-called 3G sunset will come to pass at different times for different wireless providers. AT&T says it’s shutting down 3G services in February 2022. T-Mobile recently announced it would extend services to March 31 of next year, but not beyond. Verizon plans to pull the plug in December 2022. Carriers are shutting down 3G service in order to make way for the newer pieces of infrastructure that power the speedier 4G LTE and 5G networks currently expanding across the country…’
‘I began to watch the hands of my students, friends, and children when they were engaged in masked conversation, and I observed that the most effective communicators delivered the most histrionic performances. They threw their hands up to signify exaltation and despair; they thrust their hands forward in supplication; they threw their hands down at their sides in grief and resignation; they cut their hands across the air in defiance. You might miss a few muffled words, but you couldn’t miss the point of what they were saying. I had known people with very expressive digits before. Now, though, I saw that the pandemic had given new urgency to the language of the hand….’
— via The Hedgehog Review
‘…(T)he Historic Graffiti Society has found no concrete evidence that hobo code existed. Wray says decades-old claims in newspaper articles are unsubstantiated. The symbols said to be used by hoboes are often contradictory. And while there are photographs of hobo signs taken in the early 1900s, Wray adds, those were staged by newspapers. “Modern Americans are convinced that hobo signs are authentic history, but the evidence against it definitely outweighs the evidence for it,” Wray says.
— via Atlas Obscura
Lost and found emotions, e.g.:
‘ …a feeling that fifth century monks in North Africa used to have where they’d be sitting in their cells—meditating and praying all day long—but then a complete languor and listlessness would come over them all of a sudden in the afternoons. They’d have no commitment to any sort of spiritual discipline, just this overwhelming urge to give up on everything. In some ways, it’s an afternoon slump, but with a very intense spiritual crisis attached.’
The book does not advance a particular thesis. Rather it is a patchwork quilt reflective of our confusion about emotions. Questions arise:
‘As elected governments fall short on their pledges, some look approvingly to the authoritarian playbook. Are they right?…’
— Rebecca Willis via The Guardian
‘Today, China and the United States are locked in what can only be called a new cold war—an intense security competition that touches on every dimension of their relationship. This rivalry will test U.S. policymakers more than the original Cold War did, as China is likely to be a more powerful competitor than the Soviet Union was in its prime. And this cold war is more likely to turn hot….’
— By John J. Mearsheimer
November/December 2021 via Foreign Affairs
‘Music is often labelled a “universal language,” and according to the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, there is a good reason for that….’
— Tim Brinkhof via Big Think
‘When asked to tell their life stories, people with schizophrenia tend to tell unusual ones. First, the basic chronology of the life story is shifted. Most people experience a ‘reminiscence bump’ in early adulthood, with many personally significant and relatively well-remembered events occurring between ages 15 to 30 (and especially between ages 20 and 24).
For instance, we might form memories of graduating college, getting a first job, or starting or ending significant romantic relationships. These events become centrepieces of our life stories, defining who we are for decades to come.
However, schizophrenia causes profound disruptions during these same years. People diagnosed with schizophrenia often become unable to care for themselves, lose valued roles and relationships, and undergo treatment. These experiences seem to curtail the reminiscence bump: rates of personally significant memories might steadily increase in the teenage years, then drop sharply following a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
People living with schizophrenia also tend to include unusual kinds of experiences in their life stories, focusing on psychotic episodes, hospitalisations and traumatic events. Their life stories might even include vivid, emotionally intense experiences of psychotic symptoms themselves – for instance, vivid memories of being spied on, conspired against or chosen by God to save the world.
In short, people with schizophrenia tell unusual life stories about unusual kinds of personal experiences. But why do these stories matter? How might they impact mental health and wellbeing? And how might they change through treatment and recovery?…’
— via Psyche Ideas
‘There’s a new plan to find extraterrestrial civilisations by the way they live. But if we can see them, can they see us?…’
— via Aeon Essays
‘…Studies from around the world have confirmed that jabs are safe and provide good protection against severe forms of the virus. Now a recent report from the Centres for Disease Control (cdc) in America has produced a novel, and even mysterious, reason to be glad for a covid-19 vaccination. The cdc data show that people vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna covid-19 jabs are one-third as likely to die of other causes too.
The result is bewildering, all the more so for its scale. The cdc’s study started with the health records of more than 11m Americans. Researchers followed these people from December 2020 to July 2021, recording any deaths and their causes. During this period around 6m people in the cohort received jabs for covid-19. …’
— via The Economist
A reprise of my traditional Hallowe’en post of past years:
It is that time of year again. What has become a time of disinhibited hijinx and mayhem, and a growing marketing bonanza for the kitsch-manufacturers and -importers, has primeval origins as the Celtic New Year’s Eve, Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”). The harvest is over, summer ends and winter begins, the Old God dies and returns to the Land of the Dead to await his rebirth at Yule, and the land is cast into darkness. The veil separating the worlds of the living and the dead becomes frayed and thin, and dispossessed dead mingle with the living, perhaps seeking a body to possess for the next year as their only chance to remain connected with the living, who hope to scare them away with ghoulish costumes and behavior, escape their menace by masquerading as one of them, or placate them with offerings of food, in hopes that they will go away before the new year comes. For those prepared, a journey to the other side could be made at this time.
With Christianity, perhaps because with calendar reform it was no longer the last day of the year, All Hallows’ Eve became decathected, a day for innocent masquerading and fun, taking its name Hallowe’en as a contraction and corruption of All Hallows’ Eve.
All Saints’ Day may have originated in its modern form with the 8th century Pope Gregory III. Hallowe’en customs reputedly came to the New World with the Irish immigrants of the 1840’s. The prominence of trick-or-treating has a slightly different origin, however.
The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.
Jack-o’-lanterns were reportedly originally turnips; the Irish began using pumpkins after they immigrated to North America, given how plentiful they were here. The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.
According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.
Nowadays, a reported 99% of cultivated pumpkin sales in the US go for jack-o-lanterns.
Folk traditions that were in the past associated with All Hallows’ Eve took much of their power, as with the New Year’s customs about which I write here every Dec. 31st, from the magic of boundary states, transition, and liminality.
The idea behind ducking, dooking or bobbing for apples seems to have been that snatching a bite from the apple enables the person to grasp good fortune. Samhain is a time for getting rid of weakness, as pagans once slaughtered weak animals which were unlikely to survive the winter. A common ritual calls for writing down weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment, and tossing it into the fire. There used to be a custom of placing a stone in the hot ashes of the bonfire. If in the morning a person found that the stone had been removed or had cracked, it was a sign of bad fortune. Nuts have been used for divination: whether they burned quietly or exploded indicated good or bad luck. Peeling an apple and throwing the peel over one’s shoulder was supposed to reveal the initial of one’s future spouse. One way of looking for omens of death was for peope to visit churchyards
The Witches’ Sabbath aspect of Hallowe’en seems to result from Germanic influence and fusion with the notion of Walpurgisnacht. (You may be familiar with the magnificent musical evocation of this, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.)
Although probably not yet in a position to shape mainstream American Hallowe’en traditions, Mexican Dia de los Muertos observances have started to contribute some delightful and whimsical iconography to our encounter with the eerie and unearthly as well. As this article in The Smithsonian reviews, ‘In the United States, Halloween is mostly about candy, but elsewhere in the world celebrations honoring the departed have a spiritual meaning…’
Reportedly, more than 80% of American families decorate their homes, at least minimally, for Hallowe’en. What was the holiday like forty or fifty years ago in the U.S. when, bastardized as it has now become with respect to its pagan origins, it retained a much more traditional flair? Before the era of the pay-per-view ’spooky-world’ type haunted attractions and its Martha Stewart yuppification with, as this irreverent Salon article from several years ago [via walker] put it, monogrammed jack-o’-lanterns and the like? One issue may be that, as NPR observed,
‘“Adults have hijacked Halloween… Two in three adults feel Halloween is a holiday for them and not just kids,” Forbes opined in 2012, citing a public relations survey. True that when the holiday was imported from Celtic nations in the mid-19th century — along with a wave of immigrants fleeing Irelands potato famine — it was essentially a younger persons’ game. But a little research reveals that adults have long enjoyed Halloween — right alongside young spooks and spirits.’
Is that necessarily a bad thing? A 1984 essay by Richard Seltzer, frequently referenced in other sources, entitled “Why Bother to Save Hallowe’en?”, argues as I do that reverence for Hallowe’en is good for the soul, young or old.
“Maybe at one time Hallowe’en helped exorcise fears of death and ghosts and goblins by making fun of them. Maybe, too, in a time of rigidly prescribed social behavior, Hallowe’en was the occasion for socially condoned mischief — a time for misrule and letting loose. Although such elements still remain, the emphasis has shifted and the importance of the day and its rituals has actually grown.…(D)on’t just abandon a tradition that you yourself loved as a child, that your own children look forward to months in advance, and that helps preserve our sense of fellowship and community with our neighbors in the midst of all this madness.”
That would be anathema to certain segments of society, however. Hallowe’en certainly inspires a backlash by fundamentalists who consider it a blasphemous abomination. ‘Amateur scholar’ Isaac Bonewits details academically the Hallowe’en errors and lies he feels contribute to its being reviled. Some of the panic over Hallowe’en is akin to the hysteria, fortunately now debunked, over the supposed epidemic of ‘ritual Satanic abuse’ that swept the Western world in the ’90’s.
The horror film has become inextricably linked to Hallowe’en tradition, although the holiday itself did not figure in the movies until John Carpenter took the slasher genre singlehandedly by storm. Googling “scariest films”, you will, grimly, reap a mother lode of opinions about how to pierce the veil to journey to the netherworld and reconnect with that magical, eerie creepiness in the dark (if not the over-the-top blood and gore that has largely replaced the subtlety of earlier horror films).
The Carfax Abbey Horror Films and Movies Database includes best-ever-horror-films lists from Entertainment Weekly, Mr. Showbiz and Hollywood.com. I’ve seen most of these; some of their choices are not that scary, some are just plain silly, and they give extremely short shrift to my real favorites, the evocative classics of the ’30’s and ’40’s when most eeriness was allusive and not explicit. And here’s what claims to be a compilation of links to the darkest and most gruesome sites on the web. “Hours and hours of fun for morbidity lovers.”
Boing Boing does homage to a morbid masterpiece of wretched existential horror, two of the tensest, scariest hours of my life repeated every time I watch it:
‘…The Thing starts. It had been 9 years since The Exorcist scared the living shit out of audiences in New York and sent people fleeing into the street. Really … up the aisle and out the door at full gallop. You would think that people had calmed down a bit since then. No…’
Meanwhile, what could be creepier in the movies than the phenomenon of evil children? Gawker knows what shadows lurk in the hearts of the cinematic young:
‘In celebration of Halloween, we took a shallow dive into the horror subgenre of evil-child horror movies. Weird-kid cinema stretches back at least to 1956’s The Bad Seed, and has experienced a resurgence recently via movies like The Babadook, Goodnight Mommy, and Cooties. You could look at this trend as a natural extension of the focus on domesticity seen in horror via the wave of haunted-house movies that 2009’s Paranormal Activity helped usher in. Or maybe we’re just wizening up as a culture and realizing that children are evil and that film is a great way to warn people of this truth. Happy Halloween. Hope you don’t get killed by trick-or-treaters.’
In any case: trick or treat! …And may your Hallowe’en soothe your soul.
This new ambitious and earthshaking history of humanity by two anthropologists finds that established narratives of modernity have been based on constricting and false premises which make it impossible to believe in our inherent cooperativeness. The errors arise from the gospel that
‘…for most of human history our ancestors lived an egalitarian and leisure-filled life in small bands of hunter-gatherers. Then, as [Jared] Diamond put it, we made the “worst mistake in human history”, which was to increase population numbers through agricultural production. This, so the story goes, led to hierarchies, subordination, wars, disease, famines and just about every other social ill – thus did we plunge from Rousseau’s heaven into Hobbes’s hell.
— Andrew Anthony via The Guardian
Synthesizing a wealth of recent archeological data, they replace the idea that humanity was forced along through preordained evolutionary stages, in which humans are passive objects of material forrces, with a picture of prehistoric communities shaping their own political organization and social realities. The upshot is that it is not inevitable that we are stuck in the modern system of hierarchies and conspicuous inequalities of wealth and consumption. In fact, I might add, the accepted narrative comes to appear as dictated by the prevailing ideology in a self-serving justification of the status quo.
A more detailed account of the thesis can be found in this piece in The Atlantic by William Deresiewicz, “Human History Gets A Rewrite.” Graeber and Wengrow show that hunter-gatherer societies were more complex and varied than we knew and that these people made deliberate and collective decisions about how to organize themselves, in other words “practicing politics.”
When you think about it for a moment, since these were essentially human beings like ourselves, how could we not have realized that it would not be otherwise? From my own anthropological studies before I became a psychiatrist, I do know however that they are not the first to dispute the commonplace notion of the simple savages unselfish-consciously dwelling in “a kind of eternal present or cyclical dreamtime, waiting for the Western hand to wake them up and fling them into history.” A counterpoint to that can be found as far back as the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss,’ whose eye-opening The Savage Mind (1962) established how prehistoric knowledge organization was based on a sophisticated “scientific” approach.
Carrying their narrative forward to the development of city-states, Graeber and Wengrow show that they were not an inevitable consequence of agriculture, as we thought, but in many instances preceded it. A related assumption they turn on their head is that large populations inherently need layers of bureaucracy to govern them and that scale leads inevitably to hierarchy and political inequality. They describe data showing that many early cities with populations of thousands show no signs of centralized administration. If anything, they claim, aristocracy emerged in the smaller settlements of warrior societies which were in tension with the agricultural states. So ‘the state’ is not the inevitable apex form of human social organization but one of
‘…a shifting combination of, as they enumerate them, the three elementary forms of domination: control of violence (sovereignty), control of information (bureaucracy), and personal charisma (manifested, for example, in electoral politics). Some states have displayed just two, some only one—which means the union of all three, as in the modern state, is not inevitable (and may indeed, with the rise of planetary bureaucracies like the World Trade Organization, be already decomposing). More to the point, the state itself may not be inevitable. For most of the past 5,000 years, the authors write, kingdoms and empires were “exceptional islands of political hierarchy, surrounded by much larger territories whose inhabitants … systematically avoided fixed, overarching systems of authority.” …’
They are suggesting that civilization could be organized around mutual aid and cooperation without the loss of basic freedoms as seen in modern bureaucratic capitalism enforced by state violence. No surprise that Graeber is a committed anarchist.But —
‘…The Dawn of Everything is not a brief for anarchism, though anarchist values—antiauthoritarianism, participatory democracy, small-c communism—are everywhere implicit in it. Above all, it is a brief for possibility, which was, for Graeber, perhaps the highest value of all…
“How did we get stuck?” the authors ask—stuck, that is, in a world of “war, greed, exploitation [and] systematic indifference to others’ suffering”? It’s a pretty good question. “If something did go terribly wrong in human history,” they write, “then perhaps it began to go wrong precisely when people started losing that freedom to imagine and enact other forms of social existence.” It isn’t clear to me how many possibilities are left us now, in a world of polities whose populations number in the tens or hundreds of millions. But stuck we certainly are…’
‘For an infectious disease to be classed in the endemic phase, the rate of infections has to more or less stabilize across years (though occasional increases, say, in the winter, are expected).
“A disease is endemic if the reproductive number is stably at one. That means one infected person, on average, infects one other person,” explained Boston University epidemiologist Eleanor Murray.
“Right now, we are nowhere near that. Each person who’s infected is infecting more than one person.” That’s largely due to the hyper-contagious delta variant and the fact that most of the global population doesn’t yet have immunity — whether through vaccination or infection — so susceptibility is still high.
(For a while, there had been hope that the arrival of vaccines would mean we could reach herd immunity — that is, when enough of a population has gained immunity to confer protection to everyone. But those hopes have been dashed as we’ve failed to vaccinate enough people and more contagious variants have circulated widely.)
But getting the virus’s reproductive number down to one is just “the bare minimum” for earning the endemic classification, Murray said. There are other factors that come into play, too — and assessing these factors is a more subjective business…’
— via Vox
‘Thus far, the justices have not given much comfort to anti-vaxxers. That could change soon…’— via Vox
‘Back in 2016, Adam J. Calhoun wrote a fascinating Medium post in which he showed off something quite cool: What novels look like if you strip away the words, and show just the punctuation.
He’d written some Python code to do this, then processed several famous books. As Calhoun pointed out, it gives you a weird new form of literary x-ray vision.
This image [above]? On the left, it’s Calhoun’s analysis of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, compared to Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, on the right ……’
— Clive Thompson via Creators Hub, Medium
The bizarre rise of ‘sovereign citizens’ claiming not to be bound by the laws of the US has been accompanied by ‘paper terrorism’ involving spurious claims to other people’s homes. ‘Citizens’ invade others’ property, change the locks, and jam the courts with litigation by filing bogus titles and claims on ornate letterheads of fictitious jurisdictions.
— via New York Times
‘Governor Greg Abbott is setting a fine example of how to plummet in popularity. The far-right Republican politician — who in Texas has made it harder to vote, prohibited vaccine and mask mandates in local governments, allowed Texans to carry concealed guns without a permit, and has made it nearly impossible for a woman to get an abortion, even in cases of rape — is losing admirers, according to a new Dallas Morning News and UT Tyler poll. Since March 2020, his approval has plunged by 14 points, from 59% to 45%…’
‘Mabon falls on the Autumn Equinox and is the second of the three harvest festivals (Lammas, Mabon, and Samhain). Just like Ostara on the opposite side of the Wheel of the Year, at Mabon the days and nights are of equal length. Though it’s typically celebrated on Sept 22 , the exact moment of the Equinox varies from year to year. This is due to a slight misalignment between the Gregorian calendar and the actual rate of the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. The Equinox also occurs at differing local times, so that depending on where you live, it may fall the day before or after the date listed on any given calendar. For this reason, a date range of September 21-24 is often cited in sources on the Wheel of the Year.
Though temperatures may still be warm during the day, summer has truly come to an end. The leaves on deciduous trees have begun to turn colors and fall to the ground, and there is a chill in the evening air. The days were longer than the nights until this moment, and after this the nights will begin their reign. The God is making his exit from the stage of the seasons, heading toward his symbolic death at Samhain in just a few short weeks. As with Ostara, the theme of balance is highlighted here, reminding us that everything is temporary, that no season lasts forever, and that neither dark nor light ever overpowers the other for long.
All Sabbats are occasions to express gratitude to the God and Goddess for the blessings in our lives, but Mabon is particularly so, coming at the height of the harvest season. Traditionally, this was a very busy and physically exhausting time. This holiday provided a brief rest from toiling in the fields—a day to sit back and enjoy the fruits of the labor thus far. In these modern times, most of us are not involved in agriculture, but we can still take a moment to rest from our labor and relax, appreciating all that we have. It is a time to recognize the need for balance between work and play.
But how should you celebrate Mabon? For starters, Mabon rituals can include decorating your altar with acorns, pine cones, seasonal fruits and nuts, and/or a few of the first colored leaves that drop from the trees. As with Lamas, harvest imagery like scythes and baskets can be used. Candles and altar cloths in autumn colors like rusty red, orange, brown, and gold are appropriate. If you have a feast, whether solo or with others, include seasonal vegetables like onions, potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables…’
‘A Second Major Seasonal Virus Won’t Leave Us Any Choice: During the shift from a pandemic emergency to an endemic hazard, fights over how forcefully we deal with COVID’s acute risk will morph into debates over how we adjust society to reduce the virus’s persistent perils. The twin burden of flu and COVID is going to compel more collective action. We’ve been far too complacent about the seasonal flu, allowing it to sicken and kill too many people each year. With a second serious disease in the picture, we’re going to be forced to take action….’
— Scott Gottlieb via The Atlantic
‘Societies that treat women badly are poorer and less stable. Oppressing women not only hurts women; it also hurts men…’
— via The Economist
‘The Nipah virus is making news again after tragic reports that a 12-year-old boy died from the virus on Sept. 5 in Kerala’s Kozhikode district. He had been admitted to a private hospital after running a high fever and showing symptoms of encephalitis…
The World Health Organization classifies (Nipah) as a “virus of concern” for future epidemics because “each year it spills over from its animal reservoir into humans,” says Dr. Stephen Luby, a professor of infectious disease at Stanford University. And when humans are infected, it can be transmitted from person to person.
But the virus is not as transmissible as some other viruses. “There are occasional Nipah superspreaders who infect a lot of people,” says Luby. “But the average transmission rate is less than one person per infection.
“However, each time a person is infected, the virus is in an environment that selects for human adaptation and transmissibility. The risk is that a new strain that is more efficiently transmitted person to person could generate a devastating outbreak. Indeed, since 70% of people who are infected with Nipah virus die, such a strain could represent the worst pandemic humanity has ever faced.”…’
— Kamala Thiagarajan via NPR
‘So is this really how it’s going to be? Are more and more Republican candidates across our great land going to treat it as a requirement that they cast any and all election losses as dubious or illegitimate by definition?
We’re now seeing numerous examples of GOP candidates running for office who are doing something very close to this. Which suggests the legacy of donald trump could prove worse for the health of democracy than it first appeared….’
— Greg Sargent via Opinion: Washington Post
‘How long can a democracy maintain emergency restrictions and still call itself a free country?…’
— Conor Friedersdorf via The Atlantic
‘The contemporary American book review is first and foremost an audition — for another job, another opportunity, another day in the content mine….’
— via n+1
‘Theory of mind describes humans’ ability to attribute mental states to other people. Evidence suggests that some animals might possess limited forms of theory of mind, including apes, birds, and dogs. A new study suggests that dogs are able to tell the difference when someone withholds a treat unintentionally versus intentionally…’
— via Big Think
Understanding intentionality is a difficult cognitive task and a core facet of theory of mind. The dog evolved in close proximity to humans and forming social bonds across the species was a trait heavily selected for. This made dogs exceptionally skilled at understanding aspects of human mental states and distinguished them from their nondomesticated forebears.
‘With the increasingly likely demise of Roe looming on the horizon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced last week that the US House will soon hold a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), legislation that would enshrine a nationwide right to abortion and preserve many of the specific legal protections recognized by Supreme Court decisions like Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)…’
— via Vox
‘After the Supreme Court allowed Texas’s abortion ban to come into effect, providing bounties to private “abortion hunters” who sue women and anyone who helps them get an abortion, uncertainty reigns. The Justice Department yesterday said it would “protect” women seeking abortions in Texas, but without offering details of how beyond that it would employ a federal law known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act…’
— via Boing Boing
‘The coronavirus is changing. So is the disease it causes…’
— James Hamblin writing in The Atlantic
‘…The thing is, the immune system is very complicated. Arguably the most complex part of the human body outside the brain, it’s an absurdly intricate network of cells and molecules that protect us from dangerous viruses and other microbes. These components summon, amplify, rile, calm, and transform one another: Picture a thousand Rube Goldberg machines, some of which are aggressively smashing things to pieces. Now imagine that their components are labeled with what looks like a string of highly secure passwords: CD8+, IL-1β, IFN-γ. Immunology confuses even biology professors who aren’t immunologists…
…It works, roughly, like this…’
— Ed Yong writing in The Atlantic
‘The tactile paving was invented in Japan more than 50 years ago to help those with visual impairments move smoothly and safely around urban environments.
And they’ve gone global over the years, becoming a familiar sight in cities from London to Sydney….’
— via France 24
‘It’s a perfect example of how just taking other people into account at the design level can have a massive impact. These are ubiquitous in Tokyo, and at the same time essentially invisible to almost everyone. I love everything about them…’
These are so eminently sensible and humane, I am angered that I have never seen them on the streets of American cities. Have you?
John Gruber explains some of the nuts and bolts of how Apple’s digital ID plan will work, how it is similar to Apple Pay, and perhaps most important why you will not need to unlock your phone to show your ID (e.g. to the police).
– via Daring Fireball
‘Connally Independent School District officials closed its five suburban Waco schools for the rest of the week after the Saturday COVID-19 death of Natalia Chansler, 41, a sixth grade social studies teacher at Connally Junior High School, said Assistant Superintendent Jill Bottelberghe.
Chansler’s death came days after David McCormick, 59, a seventh grade social studies teacher at Connally Junior High, died of COVID-19, Bottelberghe said.
It was not immediately known if either teacher was vaccinated….’
— via Associated Press
‘Trumpism is escalating: its new wave of young guns is openly committed to hardcore authoritarianism, theocracy, and fascism — they don’t even bother to hide their bigotry and hate anymore. Think of people like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Josh Hawley, who openly call for ethnic cleansing, in far less pretty terms than even trump did. Think of all the fake “audits” and efforts to repress and manipulate the vote underway in state after state. That’s escalation: trumpism’s now gunning for from the bottom up what it couldn’t get from the top down — the collapse of America as a free society aspiring to be a modern one, in the steps of Europe or Canada. trumpism now wants a totalitarian society — where every thought, action, relationship, and possibility is controlled, according to a theocratic-fascist blueprint of purity of blood and soil.
trumpism’s hardening: at the same time, this new wave of young guns openly espouses violence, aggression, and brutality as just means to its totalitarian ends. They don’t even pretend to care about democracy anymore — again, think of all those fake vote audits or vote repression efforts. Think of the way figures like MJT and Hawley and their ilk openly harass and bully and threaten their fellow members of Congress. Think of the way that the deadly coup of Jan 6th — which just claimed another two lives — is shrugged away as “tourism,” which is a way to say, “Hey, people died? Good! Great! Maybe they’ll learn their lesson. We don’t care. That’s fair game.” And probably worst of all, trumpism’s retaliating. trump is back on the campaign trail. And he’s openly obsessed with vengeance for a “stolen” election. Jan 6th wasn’t something to be condemned for, to feel shame over — to hide and never come back from. It’s something to avenge. It wasn’t something shameful — it was something humiliating. There’s a big difference. trumpists openly want a repeat of Jan 6th, only a successful one. As numerous scholars of authoritarianism and fascism have pointed out, that’s exactly the pattern by which the Nazis seized power — a failed coup, then, a few years, later, having learned vital lessons, a successful one. What, though, let the Nazis go from failed coup to successful one? It wasn’t just that they learned. It wasn’t just that their movement hardened and escalated and grew committed to avenging the failure of the first one — just like trumpism is getting obsessed with now. Something else — something even more crucial — happened, too.
Society downplayed the dangers…’
— Umair Haque via Eudaimonia and Co
‘They possess a deep sense of anti-establishment angst, along with a need to feel superior to everyone else. They’ve bought so much stock in rugged individualism, they can’t tell the difference between communism and cooperation anymore. Anything that even hints at a shared purpose or common goal gives them mental hives. Anti-vaxxer propaganda appeals to that hidden desire some of us have to be the underdog and fight the system. That’s the narrative that makes them feel special. This problem calls for a flank approach…’
— Jessica Wildfire via Medium
‘…The person who believes in cultural degeneration – a declinist philosophy by nature – will argue that this democratisation and other factors, such as lowered standards of education and failures of taste-inculcating institutions, have decreased the quality of what is produced. Culture used to be complex and highly developed; now it is rudimentary and bland.
I will push back against this pessimistic reading, offering a short history of cultural degeneration and highlighting the flaws of this way of judging the transformations that make a society look different tomorrow than it did yesterday…’
You may have noticed my August 1 post (now obsoleted) about a chunk of deleted posts from Feb.-Jun. 2021. I’ve managed to recover nearly all of them and restore them to their proper sequence. I am still puzzled about how it happened.
‘Tardigrades, also called “water bears” or “moss piglets” are a “phylum of eight-legged segmented micro-animals (Wikipedia).” Tardigrades are almost microscopic (0.5 mm on average) and extremely resilient. They can survive extreme conditions all around the planet and can live in severe temperatures and pressures, air deprivation, radiation, dehydration, and starvation. Because of this, Tardigrades can live anywhere on earth such as the frozen peaks of the tallest mountains, the bottom of the ocean, inside of erupting volcanoes, and even outer space. They’ve roamed the Earth for 500 million years. …Tardigrades make wonderful pets, and can be found in your own backyard. Here’s a guide on how to find a pet Tardigrade, care for it, and observe it under a microscope. If you’re lucky, you might even see it lay some eggs while looking at it under the microscope….’
— via Boing Boing
‘Many birds, mammals, and fish seem to get smaller as the temperature rises….’
— via Vox
‘The planet appears to be overheating so fast, so rapidly, so suddenly, that you and I can feel it in our own lifetimes. That’s incredibly fast. It’s why climate scientists are shocked. Usually, the climate changes in relatively slow ways — maybe fast for it, but compared to a human lifetimes, eons. Thousands of years, even millions.
The climate does not change within decades unless something fundamental is broken. It doesn’t change so swiftly and severely that you and I can talk about how different the seasons were just a decade or two ago — or even a few years ago — unless something has gone deeply wrong, in the most basic planetary systems. We should not be able to feel climate change as rapidly and severely as we are — within the span of a single human lifetime — unless something truly mega-catastrophic is happening….’
— umair haque via Eudaimonia
‘Chinese artist Ge Yulu has found a devious way to defy the country’s growing network of surveillance cameras: Staring back….’
— via Sixth Tone
‘We can’t let the conversations about the Covid vaccinated and unvaccinated be infected by polarisation…’
— Condé Nast via WIRED UK
‘As we all know, Donald Trump isn’t the cause of the Republican Party’s descent into madness. He’s merely the result of decades of evolution that started when Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority,Rush Limbaugh picked up a microphone, and Newt Gingrich reinvented modern conservatism. But these were just warm-up acts. It wasn’t until Fox News was up and running that we started to see permanent changes in the electorate….’
— Kevin Drum via Mother Jones
Oh I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
One day when I was
Galloping about doing good, I saw
A Figure in the path; I said
Get off! (Be-
I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good)
But he did not move, instead
He raised his hand as if
To land me a cuff
So I made to dodge so as to
Prevent him bringing it orf,
Un-for-tune-ately I slid
On a banana skin
Some Ass had left instead
Of putting it in the bin. So
His hand caught me on the cheek
To lay his arm open from wrist to elbow
With my sharp teeth
Because I am
A cat that likes to gallop about doing good.
Would you believe it?
He wasn’t there
My teeth met nothing but air,
But a Voice said: Poor Cat
(Meaning me) and a soft stroke
Came on me head
I have been bald
I regard myself as
A martyr to doing good.
Also I heard a swoosh,
As of wings, and saw
A halo shining at the height of
Mrs Gubbins’s backyard fence,
So I thought: What’s the good
Of galloping about doing good
When angels stand in the path
And do not do as they should
Such as having an arm to be bitten off
All the same I
Intend to go on being
A cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
Now with my bald head I go,
Chopping the untidy flowers down, to and fro,
An’ scooping up the grass to show
The cinder path of wrath
Ha ha ha ha, ho,
Angels aren’t the only ones who do not know
What’s what and that
Galloping about doing good
Is a full-time job
An experienced eye of earthly
Sharpness, worth I dare say
(if you’ll forgive a personal note)
A good deal more
Than all that skyey stuff
Of angels that make so bold as
To pity a cat like me that
Gallops about doing good.
— Stevie Smith via Poetry By Heart
‘…A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that more than 6 in 10 Americans approve of the way (Biden) handled the crisis — validating his decision to anchor his presidency on a vow to return the country to normal.
Biden predicts US to reach 160 million fully vaccinated Americans by the end of the week
But as usual in a polarized nation, the poll showed a massive gulf in perception of his performance between Republicans — only 8% of whom approve of the overall job he is doing — and Democrats. And most worryingly for the cause of ending the pandemic, the survey revealed a chasm in attitudes towards vaccines that helps to explain why Biden fell just short of a goal to have at least 70% of Americans get one dose of vaccine by the Independence Day holiday.
The polls showed that 86% of Democrats have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 inoculation — compared to just 45% of Republicans. And 38% of Republicans say they will definitely not get any doses of vaccine.
Furthermore, In the 10 states where Covid-19 cases rose more than 10% in the last week, according to CNN figures, eight have Republican governors…’
— via CNN
‘ …The hype around the early-bird vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna has distorted perception. Their rapid arrival has been described in this magazine as “the triumph of mRNA”—a brand-new vaccine technology whose “potential stretches far beyond this pandemic.” Other outlets gushed about “a turning point in the long history of vaccines,” one that “changed biotech forever.” It was easy to assume, based on all this reporting, that mRNA vaccines had already proved to be the most effective ones you could get—that they were better, sleeker, even cooler than any other vaccines could ever be.
But the fascination with the newest, shiniest options obscured some basic facts. These two particular mRNA vaccines may have been the first to get results from Phase 3 clinical trials, but that’s because of superior trial management, not secret vaccine sauce. For now, they are harder and more expensive to manufacture and distribute than traditional types of vaccines, and their side effects are more common and more severe. The latest Novavax data confirm that it’s possible to achieve the same efficacy against COVID-19 with a more familiar technology that more people may be inclined to trust…’
— Hilda Bastian via The Atlantic
‘Eating milk chocolate every day may sound like a recipe for weight gain, but a new study of postmenopausal women has found that eating a concentrated amount of chocolate during a narrow window of time in the morning may help the body burn fat and decrease blood sugar levels…’
— via Harvard Gazette
‘All birds in the United States have been killed and swapped with drones operated by the federal government. Birds Aren’t Real is a movement that’s spent several years attempting to expose this tremendous deceit by alerting the public at protests, social media, and a SubReddit with nearly 400,000 members. They’re now taking the rally on the road. The first stop was yesterday in Springfield, Missouri. Video below.
“I think the evidence is all around us, birds sit on power lines, we believe they’re charging on power lines, we believe that bird poop on cars is liquid tracking apparatus,” movement leader Peter McIndoe told KOLR.
Some people insist that Birds Aren’t Real are just pranksters taking the piss out of the ridiculous (and dangerous) conspiracy theories of recent years, but that excuse doesn’t fly with us…’
— David Pescovitz via Boing Boing
‘The smart QAnoners have already bought their $1200 tickets to “The 2nd Inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States.” The tickets say the grand event is taking place on “August 15, 2021 in front of the Capitol steps,” with “Special Musical Guest Stars: Ted Nugent and Kid Rock.” …’
— via Boing Boing
‘As the author of a new book about a doomed Antarctic expedition explains, something about the southernmost continent really drives people mad…’
— via GQ with thanks to Sean Bonner
I still miss the Whole Earth Catalog and its offshoot, the Whole Earth Review/CoEvolution Quarterly (I have a complete set of back issues boxed up lovingly in my basement.) Former Merry Prankster and Catalog founder Stewart Brand, now 80, is one of my cultural heroes. No one has more clearly articulated a set of cultural values congruent with mine. His statement above, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it,” from the Whole Earth Catalog statement of purpose in 1968, embodies the personal empowerment, self-reliance, and — countering the hubris — responsibility to which we should aspire. Many other countercultural luminaries graced its pages, including Art Spiegel, Howard Rheingold, Kevin Kelly, Anne Herbert, R Crumb, Jay Kinney, Cliff Figalo, .
As Catalog founder Stewart Brand told Reason‘s Brian Doherty in 2010: “This was in an era when JFK was saying, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ We were saying, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; do it yourself!'”
The WEC was first and foremost an actual catalog, selecting for objects that were useful, promoted self-reliance, easily available (this was before online buying) and of high quality and/or low cost. But it was also a catalog of concepts and conceptual frameworks dedicated to “Understanding Whole Systems” and was my introduction to feedback loops, systems analysis, and cybernetics, which serve me well in my work on human interactions as a mental health professional, as well as psychogeography and an ecological perspective. The WEC was the lineal ancestor of or the inspiration for such countercultural icons as Wired, the WELL, Boing Boing, the Long Now Foundation.
In a way, Brand and his merry Whole Earthers acted as midwives for the birth of cyberculture out of the counterculture and one might argue were the spiritual forebears of Apple. In what was only a slight bit hyperbolic, Steve Jobs famously once called the Whole Earth Catalog “Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google existed.” Certainly, the rise of the internet as a whole embodies, you might say, the vastly increased self-reliance through access to information that the pre-wired Whole Earthers dreamt of. Kevin Kelly wrote in 2008 of his realization that the Catalog was really a proto-blog, and,
This I am sure about: it is no coincidence that the Whole Earth Catalogs disappeared as soon as the web and blogs arrived. Everything the Whole Earth Catalogs did, the web does better.
— via Boing Boing
Would that we still upheld its anarchism and communitarian empowerment “that energized the best elements of 1960s counterculture.”
Brand, who turns 80 in December, now splits his time between The Long Now Foundation and Revive & Restore, an effort dedicated to “building the 21st-century genetic rescue toolkit for conservation” to save coral reefs, horseshoe crabs, Asian elephants, and other living things from degradation, depopulation, and worse. Its most visionary ambitions include “de-extincting” animals, such as the passenger pigeon and the wooly mammoth, that long ago went missing. Because he believes in genetic modification of crops and organisms, and in the increased use of nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gases, Brand, who helped to inspire the first Earth Day, has become a pariah among some of his old crowd.
We Are as Gods is a 94-minute documentary about Brand (scored by his friend Brian Eno), with a focus on his current mission to fight species extinction, resurrecting ecosystems and saving the future of the planet.
This piece was inspired by an essay in Reason magazine, which was also founded in 1968, celebrating their shared 50th anniversary.
The Last Whole Earth Catalog, from June 1971, has been scanned in and is available for electronic browsing pleasure. [In fact, the Internet Archive has an awful lot of Whole Earth digitized content. See here.] I was a devotee of the mindset of these folks and a charter subscriber to the quarterly spin-off from the catalogs, known at different times as Whole Earth Review and Coevolutionary Quarterly. I visited them in Sausalito at one point, and had the pleasure of being the next-door neighbor in New Haven of their graphics editor for awhile. (My across-the-street neighbor at the time was the New Haven Zen Center. Nice neighborhood.) In many ways, they were all about hacking the world and your life long before there was electronic hacking. Their closest online literary heir is Kevin Kelly.
‘Common wisdom holds that former president donald trump remains the dominant force within the Republican Party. The truth is that his personal influence and standing are not as powerful as many imagine, and his power is as likely to decline as it is to increase…
By April 2021, party backers led trump supporters among Republicans by a 50-to-44 margin. trump is still strong, but his standing is falling, not rising. By April 2021, party backers led trump supporters among Republicans by a 50-to-44 margin. trump is still strong, but his standing is falling, not rising…
Other signs point to the gradual erosion of trump’s influence. Candidates may seek his support, but those who fail to get it don’t drop out of the race… Politically sophisticated Republicans believe they can win GOP primaries without trump’s backing today, something few would have dared to do even a few months ago…
trump also canceled his online blog after less than a month because so few people were reading it…
The demand for trump may be a mile wide, but it seems only a few inches deep among a majority of Republican voters. It’s hard to see what trump can do over the next year to strengthen his standing. Those who say that the GOP is trump’s fiefdom are wrong. The barons are restless, and many of the peasants want a new king. Don’t be surprised if these factors depose trump from his metaphorical throne before the next presidential cycle begins…..’
— Henry Olsen via The Washington Post
‘Before the day donald trump moved into the White House in 2017, Americans had never had to contend with a president in such deep financial trouble — and with such determination to conceal his true finances from the public. trump’s business empire — the one he espoused during the campaign as an example of his purported financial acumen — was nothing more than a hollow gold-plated shell. While he was dumping money into his hotels, his golf courses, and his real estate deals, they were netting him almost nothing but significant losses year after year. By the time he was running for reelection, trump was over $400 million in debt, most of which would have been due during his second term should he have won in 2020.
And yet for nearly four years, there was effectively nothing whatsoever the public could do about it. As was the case for so many of the countless outrageous abuses of his presidency, the former president largely got away with serving a full term in which he bargained with foreign leaders, signed tax legislation, and named financial regulators, without ever coming clean about his own personal debts and the conflicts of interest and opportunities for corruption they created. While there are supposed to be laws and limits on the presidency, trump was unrestrained, exposing just how toothless those safeguards have become and just how urgently the nation needs to reform the office of the presidency itself.
Presidents in a democratic system of government are not meant to be able to extract personal profits from government service — or hand out pardons to imprisoned buddies, pervert justice, or foment an insurrection. That’s the promise of democracy: that it will be superior to these authoritarian tendencies of tyrants and kings. When these laws and norms are violated, they should be backed up by severe consequences if that democracy is to maintain its integrity. But right now, as it stands after trump’s four years in office, American presidents can, in fact, commit all those abuses — and suffer little more than losing their Twitter account.
trump may not have destroyed the American presidency, but he did put the institution on a perilous path. Because while trump himself has been sitting in Mar-a-Lago brooding over his loss to Joe Biden, all the weaknesses in our legal and constitutional system that he exploited remain, waiting for a future presidential miscreant to take advantage of them — maybe even for trump himself, if he is reelected in 2024. That’s why Congress and the current president must act fast and impose more durable legal guardrails on the commander in chief. …’
— via The Boston Globe
‘…In 2016, Luke Aikins became the first person to intentionally jump and land without the aid of a parachute or wingsuit — check out the video above to see how he does it…
I recommend you also watch a video of the jump narrated by Aikins as he talks through what’s happening before, during, and after the jump….
FYI: The jump height of 25,000 feet seems impressive (and it’s probably trickier hitting the target from higher up) but in terms of speed, about 1500 feet is sufficient for a freefalling human in the spread-eagle position to reach their maximum (terminal) velocity of ~120 mph. Anything over 1500 feet, about half the height of El Capitan’s granite face, doesn’t add any additional speed.
– via Kottke
Thank heavens for the miracle of internet video so I can experience something you would never ever get me to do in the flesh!
Do not use if you have ever had an allergic reaction to this product or any of its ingredients. Failure to follow all instructions and warnings can result in serious injury. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Please leave as clean on leaving as you would like to find on entering. Nontransferable and is the sole responsibility of the recipient. Place all seat backs and tray tables in fully upright position. Do not operate heavy machinery while reading this weblog. Post office will not deliver without proper postage affixed. Caution: Dates on calendar are closer than they appear. No animals were harmed in the production of this page. May be used as flotation device in case of emergency. Please note locations of emergency exits upon arrival. No ideas were harmed in the making of this weblog. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Anything you say can and will be used against you. All questions answered, all answers questioned. Detach and include upper portion with payment. May incur damages arising from use or misuse. Objects on screen are closer than they appear. Satisfaction guaranteed; return for full refund. Nutritional need is not established in humans. Caution: do not swallow. May cause irritation. Please inform author if you cannot read this. Product is sold by weight and not by volume. In emergency, break glass, pull down handle. Contents may have settled during shipment. If condition persists, consult your physician. Provided “as is” and without any warranties. Caution! The edge is closer than you think. Do not use if safety seal is torn or missing. Prices subject to change without notice. Subject to all applicable fees and taxes. Freshest if used before date specified. Do not fold, staple, spindle or mutilate. Do not exceed recommended dosage. If swallowed, do not induce vomiting. Take two and call me in the morning. Do not remove under penalty of law. Valid only at participating locations. You have the right to remain silent. Warning, contents are flammable. Subject to change without notice. This page intentionally left blank. Use only in well-ventilated areas. No user-serviceable parts inside. Alarm will sound if door opened. You need not be present to win. Additional parts sold separately. Available for a limited time only. You break it, you’ve bought it. No shirt, no shoes, no service. Keep out of reach of children. Void where prohibited by law. Apply only to affected areas. Other restrictions may apply. Part of a daily balanced diet. You must be present to win. First pull up, then pull down. Close cover before striking. Terms and conditions apply. Do not think of an elephant. Viewer discretion advised. No purchase is necessary. Caution, low-flying ideas. Honk if you can read this. Internet access required. Wash hands after using. Consume in moderation. Limit one (1) per person. Other restrictions apply. Money-back guarantee. Not a low-calorie food. Your mileage may vary. Don’t try this at home. More taste, less filling. Shake well before use. Consume responsibly. For external use only. Mix well before using. Store in a cool place. Use only as directed. Lather, rinse, repeat. Results not typical. Ignore this notice. Slippery when wet. Same-day service. Unplug after use. No preservatives. No trespassing. No exit. No.— via Follow Me Here…
It’s now used to indicate sex and gender beyond the binary. But X has always been powerful.
– via The New York Times
‘Researchers asked what makes certain words rude, and what happens when you compound profanity with normal words…’
Temple University researcher Jamie Reilly et al. examine this question in a new paper called “Building the perfect curse word: A psycholinguistic investigation of the form and meaning of taboo words… ”
— via Discover Magazine
‘Our ability to experience pleasure, as in the fundamental sensation of something being enjoyable or ‘nice’, is a product of what’s known as the ‘reward pathway’, a small but crucial circuit found deep within the brain. As you might suspect, dopamine is the main neurotransmitter involved in the function of the reward pathway. Hence why it’s often called the dopamine reward pathway. So, if the activity of dopamine in the brain makes a vital contribution to the sensation of pleasure, and pleasure is a key aspect of happiness, then it stands to reason that boosting your dopamine levels will make you happier, right?
There’s a superficial logic to this way of looking at things. Unfortunately, the logic doesn’t hold given the daunting complexity and interconnectedness of our brains. There’s a wealth of evidence to demonstrate that simply ‘boosting your dopamine’ doesn’t automatically result in happiness…’
— via Psyche Ideas
‘Part of the charm of the aphorism, and mystery, is that it doesn’t really expect its audience to ‘get it fast’, or even get it at all. Its slick form sets out to confound and stymie as much as educate.
One cannot dictate an aphorism to a typist. It would take too long.
– from Karl Kraus (1874-1936)…’
— via Psyche Ideas
… and is the same true of weblog entries like these?
‘The past year and counting was marked by the biggest public health crisis in modern history, and it’s fair to say that healthiness and wellbeing have been at the top of our minds. But in times of anti-vaxxers, covid deniers, and fake news sweeping across the web like a parallel viral storm, we must get our health facts straight. So when someone asked doctors and medical practitioners “What one medical fact do you wish everybody knew?” on r/AskReddit, the thread blew up and it now serves as a perfect source for things we should all know without exceptions…’
— via Bored Panda
My public service announcement: read through these. Don’t stop because they are seeming too obvious and commonsensical to you. You might discover something if you continue.
‘Former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes has travelled the world looking for clues to how the US came to elect donald trump and he found parallels everywhere. But is there a way of stopping it from happening again?…’
— via The Guardian
‘For well over a year we’ve been living through the devastating consequences of a highly transmissible coronavirus. While the pandemic it caused is unprecedented by many measures, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is just one of many SARS-related coronaviruses lurking among wildlife in some regions of the world, many of which could theoretically jump to human populations under the right conditions.
Figuring out what those conditions are is an urgent priority, and scientists have made a lot of progress on that front. They’ve learned, for example, that when forests get fragmented by deforestation or roads, it increases the likelihood of a virus “spilling over” from animal to human. What’s more of a mystery is where, exactly, those conditions come together to create the highest risk for the next coronavirus emergence.
A new analysis, published Monday in the journal Nature Food, begins to answer that important question — specifically, by pinpointing where another coronavirus could jump to humans from horseshoe bats, which are known to carry SARS-related coronaviruses. By combining data on horseshoe bat habitats, land-use change, human population density, and other factors known to increase the risk of spillover, the researchers produced a map of “hot spots” in Asia and Europe where the risk is highest….’
— via Vox
‘Michael Flynn, former national security adviser in the Trump administration, appeared to call for a Myanmar-like coup to take place in the U.S. during a conference in Texas attended by many supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
MarketWatch reports that Flynn made the remarks while speaking at the conference in Dallas, which was called “For God & and Country Patriot Roundup.” In a video shared online, someone from the audience asks Flynn, “I want to know why what happened in Myanmar can’t happen here?”
This question elicited a round of cheers from the audience.
Once the crowd quieted, Flynn responded, “No reason. I mean, it should happen here.”
Myanmar’s military seized power and overtook the country’s democratically-elected government in February. Since the coup, hundreds have been killed by Myanmar security forces and thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators have been detained according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners….’
— via TheHill
‘Having prepared for months to make its mark at this year’s Olympics, coronavirus variant B.1.525—a U.K. native best known for its skillful weakening of antibody responses—confirmed Thursday that it was excited to compete in Tokyo against top mutations from across the globe. “I can’t wait to travel to Japan this July and show the whole world what I’m capable of,” said the highly transmissible permutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, recounting how it had honed its spike proteins and vaccine resistance in anticipation of the international gathering of deadly pathogens. “I know South Africa, Brazil, and India will be bringing the heat, but I’m planning to have a big breakout moment myself. And if I’m not a household name by the closing ceremonies, well, there’s always the 2021 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally later in the summer.” Olympic bookmakers, observing that the United States is overdue to produce a highly lethal mutation, are reported to have the young California variants B.1.427 and B.1.429 favored in the spread….’
— via The Onion
‘If world leaders don’t act now, the end of the Covid pandemic may come with a horrible form of herd immunity, as more transmissible variants that are taking hold around the world kill millions….’
— via The New York Times
Via Kottke, this is a magical interactive map of the US that allows you to click anywhere to simulate a raindrop falling there. Using USGS data, the visualization by Sam Learner zooms you in and you follow the river-running path that raindrop takes to the sea.
— via River Runner
What put this Wuhan lab leak theory back in the news?
‘There’s been a pretty broad consensus among scientists who study viruses that the one that causes COVID-19 arose naturally and passed from animals to humans sometime in late 2019, in or near Wuhan, China. But an alternate hypothesis—that it escaped from a lab in that city—has been tossed around like a political football since the start of the pandemic, and never treated with more credulity than in recent days.
Is there new evidence that a lab leak may have happened? Not really; nothing has changed scientifically that would change experts’ minds. But scientists and governments have still not been able to pin down the exact source of the coronavirus, despite almost a year and a half of investigations. So it is technically still an open question.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported three researchers at the Wuhan lab had been hospitalized in November of 2019 (the virus was officially discovered in December). Their symptoms were consistent with those of COVID-19, but they were also consistent with “seasonal illness”—in other words, they could have just had colds or the flu. This new information is hardly a smoking gun, but it came out just as the World Health Organization was preparing the next phase of its investigation into the virus’s origins…
Could the virus have been created in a lab and deployed as a bioweapon? This scenario is extremely unlikely, according to experts. Genetic analyses have shown that it is very similar to another coronavirus that has existed in the wild, in bats, in another area of China. It doesn’t bear any hallmarks of alteration in a lab; you can read more from a genetic scientist on that theory here.
There’s also a plausibility issue here: The whole idea of a bioweapon—of any weapon—is that you need to be able to use it against your enemy without it taking you out at the same time. Guns shoot at a distance; bombs are strategically placed or dropped. A highly contagious virus would make a bad weapon, since there are no boundaries to contain it to just the intended victims. And the coronavirus has indeed spread globally…’
— via Lifehacker
‘”A nontrivial 15% of Americans agree with the sweeping QAnon allegation that ‘the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation,” reports PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) in a press release about its survey looking into Americans’ beliefs about QAnon lies….’
— via Boing Boing
‘A mini-game about pop ups, and the deviousness of websites and apps
EVIL CORP wants your data. It will use every trick in the book (and a few more, just for fun).
Your mission is as follows:
Do not accept any terms & conditions
Say no to all notifications
Always opt out of cookies.
EVIL CORP want you to sign up for everything.
You must never accept anything
Answer all 29 questions to find out how well you did. …’
‘The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives the world over for more than a year. Its death toll will soon reach three million people. Yet the origin of pandemic remains uncertain: The political agendas of governments and scientists have generated thick clouds of obfuscation, which the mainstream press seems helpless to dispel.
In what follows I will sort through the available scientific facts, which hold many clues as to what happened, and provide readers with the evidence to make their own judgments. I will then try to assess the complex issue of blame, which starts with, but extends far beyond, the government of China.
By the end of this article, you may have learned a lot about the molecular biology of viruses. I will try to keep this process as painless as possible. But the science cannot be avoided because for now, and probably for a long time hence, it offers the only sure thread through the maze….’
— science writer Nicholas Wade via Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Basically, the new thinking is that correcting fake news, disinformation, and horrible tweets at all is bad and makes everything worse. This is a “perverse downstream consequence for debunking,” and is the exact title of MIT research published in the ‘2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.’ The core takeaway is that “being corrected by another user for posting false political news increases subsequent sharing of low quality, partisan, and toxic content.”
— via Vice.com
The most notable fact I gleaned from this article by Andrew Sheldon (via AAA Network ) was mention of a 2008 study correlating having bumper stickers on your car with being a more aggressive driver. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising when you think about it, since a bumper sticker seems usually to be an attempt to be “in the face” of surrounding drivers.
‘LSD flashbacks have been studied for decades, though scientists still aren’t quite sure why some people experience them. A subset of people who take psychedelics and then experience flashbacks develop hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), a rare condition in which people experience regular or near-constant psychedelic symptoms. There’s currently no cure for the disorder, though some studies suggest medications may alleviate symptoms…’
— via Big Think
But that’s not all. Some people have a first episode of psychosis (UptoDate article) after a hallucinogen trip or heavy cannabis use and go on to have a persistent or relapsing psychotic disorder (Wikipedia entry on “psychosis”). The verdict is out on whether it is “caused” by the drug use (whatever that means) or if it was an “accident waiting to happen” with any of a number of provocative influences. And, finally, some hallucinogen or stimulant users go on to develop epilepsy, particularly temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE; Wikipedia entry on “temporal lobe epilepsy”), a seizure disorder whose bewildering variety of symptoms can look like psychotic presentations (Google). Just saying…
Douglas Preston’s New Yorker article (thanks, abby) is a cogent and readable summary of thoughts on the fate of the Russian skiiers who perished in the infamous1959 Dyatlov Pass incident in the Urals. Preston, who has many New York Times bestsellers on his resume, writes about archaeology and anthropology for the New Yorker, often in their “far-flung correspondents” department. I’ve mentioned Dyatlov on FmH before, pointing to an Atlantic article about the Russian public’s obsession with the mystery. I love a good mystery, especially one that is eerie and chilling (no pun intended), and the Dyatlov Pass incident occupies the intersection of many of my fascinations — backcountry pursuits, extreme weather, indigenous societies, cryptozoology, conspiracy theory, and Cold War intrigue, to name a few. These may be Preston’s interests as well, and he considers them in turn. His conclusions are satisfying and, if similar issues tweak your fancy, it is worth your time.
‘Hundreds of people who share the first name Josh gathered on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb., to vie for the “right” to their name. Armed with pool noodles, Joshes from across the country met at Air Park, where they brawled as onlookers with other names cheered from the sidelines….’
— Chloe Weiner via NPR
‘Underground peat fires are bedeviling: They refuse to die, even when flooded with water. Could this new weapon put them down for good?… “Smoldering is the most persistent type of combustion on earth, because it’s really easy to start and very difficult to stop,” says Imperial College London engineer Guillermo Rein, co-author of a new paper describing the work in the International Journal of Wildland Fire. “They call them zombie fires, but the equivalent would be like an army of zombies. They are very, very difficult to suppress.”
— via Atlas Obscura