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‘We Are as Gods and Might as Well Get Good at It’

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.

As I wrote here in 2009:

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.

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Also:

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A treasure map for an American tyrant

‘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

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Jumping from 25,000 Feet Without a Parachute and Landing Safely

‘…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!

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— via Follow Me Here…

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Aphorisms: deep or superficial?

‘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?

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The fascinating science of pleasure goes way beyond dopamine

‘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

As a psychiatrist, this reductionism has been one of my pet peeves. Glad to see it begin to be addressed.

 

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35 Medical Facts That Doctors Wish You’d Know

‘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.

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Terms and Conditions Apply

‘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. …’

— via Terms and Conditions Apply

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The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?

‘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

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Confronting Disinformation Spreaders on Twitter Only Makes It Worse, MIT Scientists Say

Computer Kid Feel Bad

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

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Has an Old Soviet Mystery at Last Been Solved?

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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.

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LSD flashbacks: never-ending trip

‘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…

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The Supreme Court could make the NRA’s dreams come true

Trump-appointed justices Coney Barrett, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch.

‘…The plaintiffs in Corlett include a New York state gun rights group and two New York men who applied for a license to carry a handgun in public and were denied that license. They claim that “law-abiding citizens” have a Second Amendment right to carry a gun in public — and the Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, could agree with them.

Indeed, Corlett could potentially dismantle more than a decade of judicial decisions interpreting the Second Amendment, imposing prohibitive limits on lawmakers’ ability to reduce gun violence…’

— via Vox

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How to Kill a Zombie Fire

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‘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

 

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Former Director of National Intelligence Teases Blockbuster UFO Report

‘The Pentagon’s pilots have seen a lot of UFOs, a lot more than they’ve told the public about. That’s according to John Ratcliffe, Trump’s former Director of National Intelligence. Ratcliffe told Fox News that an upcoming Pentagon report about unidentified aerial phenomena will detail more UFO interactions than had been previously reported…’ 

– via Vice

Yeah but… Vice? Fox News?

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Aliens may be nearby, but we aren’t looking for them

‘…Unless aliens decide to visit Earth, the most likely answer is by scanning the skies for “technosignatures,” which are observational evidence of technological or industrial activity in the Universe.

In a recent paper published in the journal Acta Astronautica, a team of NASA-funded researchers outlined some of the most promising ways scientists and space agencies could search for technosignatures. The paper included a somewhat surprising proposition: Humanity’s “first contact” with aliens is likely to be with a much more advanced civilization.

In other words, there could be many alien civilizations throughout the Universe, or even in our galaxy, but if they’re similar to us in terms of technological advancement, we probably can’t spot them yet. The same goes for those human-like civilizations spotting us.

That’s because the “cosmic footprints” of our civilization and theirs would be relatively small, compared to highly advanced alien civilizations. The researchers call this concept “contact inequality.” …’

– via Big Think
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Reexamining Freud’s ‘hysterical girl’ in light of #MeToo

‘More than a century ago, Sigmund Freud published a case study about a young woman he called “Dora.” She was diagnosed with hysteria following allegations of sexual harassment and assault by a family friend (possibly through a deal made by her own father). The teenager was analyzed by the famous neurologist and said to be repressing feelings for not just that one older man but also her father. And, of course, the diagnosis labeled her as being irrationally emotional about something that didn’t happen. Basically, “Dora,” whose real name was Ida, was not just a victim of sexual harassment but also of gaslighting.

The study, titled Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (also published as Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria) has been viewed from a feminine perspective for decades, but perhaps never so visually dynamic and concisely poignant as in the short documentary Hysterical Girl, directed by Kate Novack (The Gospel According to André)

Hysterical Girl revisits, in just 13 minutes, the story of “Dora” by casting actress Tommy Vines as a modern version of the patient. As if being interviewed for the documentary, she tells her side, a confession intercut with a voiceover reading of Freud’s analysis. Also mixed in is the kinetically compiled montage of movie clips, archival films of the doctor, news footage of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford and other accusers of sexual harassment or assault, as well as shots of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and other rapists and predators, plus other materials that create an effective collage overlapping historical parallels.

As usual with Op-Docs, the director has written an accompanying article. Novack’s is very brief, which is good since her doc (produced with Andrew Rossi) perfectly speaks for itself — expressing through a powerfully overwhelming amount of imagery without the possibility of overstating its point. But just in case you need it more spelled out: “During the 11-week treatment,” she writes, “Freud chipped away at the case: Why would you continue to see the man you say assaulted you? Are you out for revenge? Did you secretly want it? A century later, the questions women face in similar circumstances haven’t changed much.” …’

– via Nonfics, with thanks to Barbara
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Could Brett Kavanaugh Be Booted From the Supreme Court?

‘More concerning than Kavanaugh’s weirdly emotional take on calendars and defensiveness about blacking out was, of course, the credible allegations against him of sexual assault. While the FBI was said to have conducted a “supplemental investigation” of claims against Kavanaugh made by Christine Blasey Ford, Democrats said at the time that the probe was a “farce,” a “sham,” and a “horrific cover-up” that crucially omitted key witnesses at the White House’s request. Now, that investigation may be getting a second look…’

— via Vanity Fair
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Spreading Awareness About Recently Created Hand Signal Indicating To Others You’re Under Threat

‘…The Women’s Funding Network…, in connection with the Canadian Women’s Foundation, launched the campaign “Signal for Help” in April of last year. It is a one-handed gesture that anyone who feels threatened can show another person, who could then report the situation to the authorities. These days, people are spreading more awareness about this hand gesture so that those experiencing abuse will know how to discreetly get help and so that others will be able to recognize it and take action.

The hand gesture is simple, but easily recognizable You face the palm towards the other person, tuck your thumb inwards, and then cover it with your other fingers. It’s even better than codewords, because it was designed to be discreet and you can let other people know that you’re in distress without making any sounds or noticeably moving.

The gesture can be shown during a video call, which has become our main means of communication during the pandemic, or when answering the door. It is simple enough to make, but also distinct enough that those who know it will recognize it instantly. That is why it is so important to make more people aware of this hand gesture, because the victims can only be helped when the person they are showing it to knows what they are trying to say.

— via Bored Panda
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The Culture War: Iain M. Banks’s Billionaire Fans

What then are we to take from the distinct and quite public fascination of the two richest men in the world—Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, together worth more than $375 billion—with the sci-fi works of Iain M. Banks, an avowedly socialist author who set his far-future fiction in what might best be described as a post-scarcity, anarcho-communist utopia; a world where your Bezoses and your Musks are not just irrelevant, but actively sought out and disempowered by a society comprised of property-less workers and all-caring, mostly-benevolent A.I.s?

— via Blood Knife

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First vaccine to fully immunize against malaria builds on pandemic-driven RNA tech

‘Consistently ranked as one of the leading causes of death around the world, malaria doesn’t have an effective vaccine yet. But researchers have invented a promising new blueprint for one — with properties akin to the novel RNA-based vaccine for COVID-19.

Making a vaccine for malaria is challenging because its associated parasite, Plasmodium, contains a protein that inhibits production of memory T-cells, which protect against previously encountered pathogens. If the body can’t generate these cells, a vaccine is ineffective. But scientists recently tried a new approach using an RNA-based platform. 

Their design circumvented the sneaky protein, allowed the body to produce the needed T-cells and completely immunized against malaria. The patent application for their novel vaccine, which hasn’t yet been tested on humans, was published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office on Feb. 4….’

— via The Academic Times, thanks to Kottke

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It’s Time to Talk About Violent Christian Extremism

‘For two decades, the U.S. government has been engaging with faith leaders in Muslim communities at home and around the world in an attempt to stamp out extremism and prevent believers vulnerable to radicalization from going down a path that leads to violence.

Now, after the dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory helped to motivate the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, with many participants touting their Christian faith — and as evangelical pastors throughout the country ache over the spread of the conspiracy theory among their flocks, and its very real human toll — it’s worth asking whether the time has come for a new wave of outreach to religious communities, this time aimed at evangelical Christians.

“I personally feel a great burden, since I came from these communities, to try to figure out how to help the leaders,” says Elizabeth Neumann, a former top official at the Department of Homeland Security who resigned from Trump administration in April 2020. The challenge in part is that, in this “particular case, I don’t know if the government is a credible voice at all,” she says. “You don’t want ‘Big Brother’ calling the local pastor and saying, ‘Hey, here’s your tips for the week.’”
Neumann, who was raised in the evangelical tradition, is a devout Christian. Her knowledge of that world, and her expertise on issues of violent extremism, gives her a unique insight into the ways QAnon is driving some Christians to extremism and violence.

She sees QAnon’s popularity among certain segments of Christendom not as an aberration, but as the troubling-but-natural outgrowth of a strain of American Christianity. In this tradition, one’s belief is based less on scripture than on conservative culture, some political disagreements are seen as having nigh-apocalyptic stakes and “a strong authoritarian streak” runs through the faith. For this type of believer, love of God and love of country are sometimes seen as one and the same….’

— Via POLITICO

I’ve written before about this community grooming adherents to assume power (probably sounding conspiratorial). Pence was the avatar of Christian authoritarianism in the trump administration. Ironic and perhaps fortunate that, on Jan, 6th, he momentarily remembered his oath uphold the Constitution and became confused about which aspects of love of country were consistent with his love of God.

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RIP Lawrence Ferlinghetti

‘…literary icon who opened doors for the Beat Generation has died at 101…’

— via Literary Hub

Ferlinghetti preferred to call himself the last of the Bohemians rather than the first of the Beats. Founder of City Lights Bookstore and City Lights Press, publisher of Ginsberg, friend of them all. I am deeply saddened.

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‘I Am a Heroin User. I Do Not Have a Drug Problem’

‘Carl Hart is a neuroscientist and Ziff Professor of Psychology at Columbia University—he was the first tenured African-American professor of sciences at Columbia. His research focuses on the “behavioral and neuropharmacological effects of psychoactive drugs in humans.” Hart’s new book, Drug Use For Grown-Ups, is a bold and engaging effort to counter what he sees as generations of misinformation and moral grandstanding about drug use.

Hart explains:

…(M)ost drug-use scenarios cause little or no harm and some responsible drug-use scenarios are actually beneficial for human health and functioning….’

— By John Steele via Nautilus

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This is How You Recover From Fascism — and America’s Not Doing Any of It

‘The troubling thing is this. America’s not asking the question. It’s not on the lips of pundits. Ezra Klein is still busy pretending fascism didn’t happen, and Chris Hayes is right back to obsessing over political minutiae. American pundits have never been good with either the big picture or the truth. And the average American and politicians take their cues from them. So the whole question of “what does it take to recover from fascism” is going entirely unasked. And in that way, America isn’t learning anything from the Trump Years. So will it? Can it?…’

Umair Haque writing in Eudaimonia and Co

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President Donald J. Trump: The End

‘I have two asks of every American: Give Joe Biden a chance to surprise you on the upside and challenge yourself to surprise him.

American businesses need to surprise us by telling Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch that their network fueled the Big Lie that led to the ransacking of the Capitol and that they are no longer going to advertise on any show that spreads conspiracy theories. The best news I heard this week is that My Pillow chief executive Mike Lindell — an avid Trump backer and advertiser on Fox, who has pressed debunked claims that the 2020 election was rigged — said Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Wayfair and other retailers were dropping his products. Good for them.

Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg have to surprise us by once and for all stopping the elevation — for profit — of news that divides and enrages over more authoritative, evenhanded news sources.

There is no equivalent on the left to the right-wing white supremacists and other extremists who just ransacked the Capitol. Not even remotely. But liberals would surprise a lot of people on the right, and maybe even get a few to support Biden, if they forcefully rejected political correctness when it stifles dissent and called out not only violence by the police — a huge priority — but also the sources of violence in minority neighborhoods that are terrorizing Black, brown and white residents alike. I see it in my hometown, Minneapolis, every day.

And now that the threat of Trump is gone, all of us in the news business need to get back to separating news from opinions. We need more places where Americans of all political stripes can feel that they’re getting their news straight — without being enraged, divided or woke; leave that for the opinion sections.

Finally, as I said, before we tear Biden apart, how about everybody give him a few months to surprise us on the upside? Give him a chance to put country before party and fulfill his oath of office…’

Thomas Friedman via The New York Times

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The 15 most notable lies of Donald Trump’s presidency

‘Trying to pick the most notable lies from Donald Trump’s presidency is like trying to pick the most notable pieces of junk from the town dump.

There’s just so much ugly garbage to sift through before you can make a decision.
But I’m qualified for the dirty job. I fact checked every word uttered by this President from his inauguration day in January 2017 until September 2020…’

— Analysis by Daniel Dale via CNNPolitics

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Trump impeachment: Poll shows Trump’s approval collapsing among Republicans

‘Throughout his presidency, President Donald Trump has remained hugely popular among fellow Republicans. As recently as December, after Trump had lost the 2020 election to President-elect Joe Biden, some polls showed the president with an approval rating in the high 80s among Republicans.

But a new poll by the Pew Research Center suggests that the events of the last few weeks — a pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol, and then Trump was impeached for the second time in his presidency — are finally starting to weigh on Republican voters. The poll was conducted from January 8-12, so it was conducted entirely after the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

The poll shows Trump with a disastrous 29 percent approval rating among US adults. Notably, this rating, the lowest of his presidency, appears to be driven in large part by a significant minority of Republicans who have lost faith in the president. Only 60 percent of Republicans approve of Trump, a stark drop from previous Pew polls.

Pew Research Center
The poll potentially bodes bad news for the Republican Party, as it shows that a rift may be forming within the GOP between hardcore Trump loyalists and Republicans who would prefer to see the party leader fade away. Other recent polls have also found a sharp decrease in Trump’s support, as FiveThirtyEight’s tracker shows, though not all to such a low….’

— Via Vox

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As more MAGA violence looms, impeaching Trump is insufficient

‘…Certainly, Trump deserves to be impeached for inciting an insurrection; lawmakers, direct targets of the attack, have ample justification for doing so. If Trump had any integrity, he would resign. If Vice President Pence had integrity, he would invoke the 25th Amendment. If Republican congressional leaders had integrity, they would see to Trump’s removal before he can do more harm. On Tuesday, an unrepentant Trump said his riot-inciting speech was “totally appropriate” — as if any more grounds were needed to justify his ouster.

Even if Trump were removed in his final week, though, the punishment would be inadequate, because it lets his co-conspirators off the hook. The attack on the Capitol was not a protest but a crime. The many people complicit in encouraging, planning, financing or condoning it need to be held to account: Members of Congress, state legislators and attorneys general, and the Internet platforms, businesses, advertisers and political action committees that aid them, must be prosecuted, hit with civil litigation or defunded.

Trump may preemptively pardon himself in the coming days, but he won’t be beyond civil and financial punishments. Let’s hope his enablers will be likewise held accountable for convincing millions that the election was stolen, and moving some to violence…’

— Dana Milbank in The Washington Post

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Pence to attend Biden inauguration; Trump not to

‘A loyal lieutenant to President Donald Trump, Pence was criticized by the president over his role counting Electoral College votes in Congress and was one of the people trapped inside the U.S. Capitol when Trump supporters stormed the building as the votes were being tallied.

“While the vice president and his family were in a bunker in the Capitol, the president did not reach out to check on his safety nor did he condemn those who said the VP should be executed,” said sources familiar with the matter. Video shows rioters shouting, “Hang Pence!

“We strongly condemn all calls to violence, including those against any member of this administration,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.

Pence and Trump have not spoken since the riots unfolded, according to a source familiar with the matter….’

— Kristen Welker et al via NBC News

I have wondered if trump’s announcement he will not attend the inauguration (what made him expect he was invited anyway??) represented a coded message to his mob that it would be okay to attack that gathering, with Pence and other prominent figures in attendance? Posts on pro-Trump forums continue calls for violence ahead of Inauguration Day. (NPR)

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Opinion: The Capitol Riot Showed Us America’s Ugly Truth

‘But if the Democrats dare to use their power, a brave new world might be possible…’

Roxane Gay in The New York Times

I share Gay’s central point. We do not stand a chance if we give credence to the outpouring of sentiment after the coup attempt that “This is not who we are.” Face it, The Capitol events show us clearly that this is exactly what America has become and we had better face it, or we are whistling in the dark while the monsters descend on us.

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Humble Proposals

I agonized awhile ago over whether a coup was happening. I should have realized, as concrete and simpleminded as trump is, that when he tried to pull it off there would be no doubt.

I think four options are worthy of urgent and immediate consideration in dealing with the unfit lying tyrannical dangerous narcissist:

  1. Reimpeachment and removal from office. If he has not committed high crimes and misdemeanors, there is no meaning to the words. trump’s actions lie at the very core of the offenses contemplated by the Constitution’s impeachment standard. There is so much procedural discretion allowed the two houses of Congress in pursuing their roles in the impeachment process that it could be done incredibly rapidly, many legal experts believe. And keep in mind that removal from office is not the only possible outcome of impeachment. It is possible, and will be necessary, to permanently disqualify him from office in the future
  2. As I have long advocated, utilizing the 25th amendment provision to remove trump from the presidency as unfit to serve. Finally, there is some serious consideration of this option. Vice President Pence would go down in the history books as a decent and honorable man who did much to save the republic if he would orchestrate this move, together with a majority of the Cabinet if there are enough of them left who have not resigned. 
  3. Immediate arrest on one or many of diverse criminal charges which in my mind could include sedition, domestic terrorism, inciting to riot, conspiracy, and accessory murder.  Don’t think for a moment there aren’t a myriad of law enforcement officers impatient to get their hands on trump and take him into custody, especially after his actions led to the killing of Brian Sicknick, one of their own, in the Capitol siege. trump would be welcome to have his court jester Rudy Giuliani argue whether he had immunity from prosecution on these crimes… once he is behind bars. Oh, wait, Giuliani could very well be in custody as well. 
  4. Consideration of involuntary civil commitment to a psychiatric facility. I honestly don’t know why this is not being seriously considered. Tell me if you see anyone but me discussing this in the media, because I haven’t seen it. As a psychiatrist, although I am not familiar with the involuntary commitment regulations in the District of Columbia in particular, it seems clear that trump meets the criteria of presenting a risk of imminent harm to others by virtue of mental illness. I do not believe that any claim of Presidential immunity would extend to civil commitment. 

The choice among the four options essentially comes down to whether this was an act of presidential disability (options 2 and 4) or one of presidential culpability (options 1 and 3). I personally have a hard time seeing his actions as those of a fully rational but morally culpable man, but then I have not evaluated him psychiatrically. [Here is an armchair psychoanalytic formulation of trump from Dave Pell at Nextdraft.] There are many arguments extant right now for each of the two poles. Of course, even if he is arrested and charged criminally, he might require a forensic psychiatric evaluation. Certainly, there is more furor in the mainstream press for responding to him as a criminal insurrectionist than as dangerously mentally ill:

However, I do not see that at all as based on clinical assessment as much as political feasibility and expediency. Why can’t we simply wait for Jan. 20th without taking any action? Both for the sake of the Constitution and because the madman still holds the nuclear launch codes and I for one do not trust that there are adequate safeguards in place against his further acting out. 

Related: 50 Spot On Reactions People Had To The Events In The US Capitol. (Bored Panda)

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Rep. Ilhan Omar on Twitter:

I am drawing up Articles of Impeachment. Donald J. Trump should be impeached by the House of Representatives & removed from office by the United States Senate. We can’t allow him to remain in office, it’s a matter of preserving our Republic and we need to fulfill our oath.

— Twitter
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The Milky Way Gets a New Origin Story

One of the keys to the puzzle appears to be ‘metal-poor disc stars’:

‘…[O]ver the past two years, researchers have rewritten nearly every major chapter of the galaxy’s history. What happened? They got better data.
On April 25, 2018, a European spacecraft by the name of Gaia released a staggering quantity of information about the sky. Critically, Gaia’s years-long data set described the detailed motions of roughly 1 billion stars. Previous surveys had mapped the movement of just thousands. The data brought a previously static swath of the galaxy to life. “Gaia started a new revolution,” said Federico Sestito, an astronomer at the Strasbourg Astronomical Observatory in France.
Astronomers raced to download the dynamic star map, and a flurry of discoveries followed. They found that parts of the disk, for example, appeared impossibly ancient. They also found evidence of epic collisions that shaped the Milky Way’s violent youth, as well as new signs that the galaxy continues to churn in an unexpected way.
The Gaia satellite has revolutionized our understanding of the Milky Way since its launch in December 2013. Taken together, these results have spun a new story about our galaxy’s turbulent past and its ever-evolving future. “Our picture of the Milky Way has changed so quickly,” said Michael Petersen, an astronomer at the University of Edinburgh. “The theme is that the Milky Way is not a static object. Things are changing rapidly everywhere.”…’

— Via WIRED

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The Life in The Simpsons Is No Longer Attainable

‘Someone I follow on Twitter, Erika Chappell, recently encapsulated my feelings about The Simpsons in a tweet: “That a show which was originally about a dysfunctional mess of a family barely clinging to middle class life in the aftermath of the Reagan administration has now become aspirational is frankly the most on the nose [manifestation] of capitalist American decline I can think of.”

For many, a life of constant economic uncertainty—in which some of us are one emergency away from losing everything, no matter how much we work—is normal. Second jobs are no longer for extra cash; they are for survival. It wasn’t always this way. When The Simpsons first aired, few would have predicted that Americans would eventually find the family’s life out of reach. But for too many of us now, it is….’

— Dani Alexis Ryskamp via The Atlantic

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Happy Saint Stephen’s Day

In many countries celebration is far from over once Christmas has come and gone. December 26 is observed as Boxing Day, an official holiday in the UK, former British colonies, and many European countries. When Boxing Day falls on the weekend, as it does this year, the subsequent Monday is observed as a holiday.

There are varied origin stories for Boxing Day. Many of them relate to the British aristocracy’s proclivity for giving gifts or charitable donations to the less fortunate – either their servants, once their own celebration was over and employees were allowed to get some time off; or filling the donation boxes of churches with food and other supplies for the poor.

But the European tradition of giving money and other gifts to those in need or in  service positions dates as far back as the Middle Ages. Some countries call the day after Christmas Saint Stephen’s Day in honor of the first Christian martyr stoned to death in AD 36. Saint Stephen was known for serving the poor, making charity and the distribution of alms a fitting way to celebrate his feast day. Another story, immortalized in the Christmas Carol “Goode King Wenceslaus”, refers to the 10th Century Duke of Bohemia noticing a poor man trying to gather firewood in a blizzard when he was out surveying his lands on the “feast of Stephen,” the day after Christmas. He was moved to go to the man’s house with a box of food, wine, and other items.

In Ireland, where the custom used to be for “wrenboys” to kill a small bird, tie it to a pole decorated with holly and ribbons, and go door-to-door singing the “Wren Song” and asking for money, food, or small gifts, the day was referred to as Wren Day. Reputedly, tradition said that it was bad luck to kill a wren except on the feast of St. Stephen. Sparing the birds today, parades led by people with coal-blackened faces dressed up in wrenboy costumes made of straw, or wearing women’s dresses, mark the festivities. The revelers sing carols and ask for donations to charity. Similar practices occur on the Isle of Man and in parts of Wales. Sylvie Muller writes in more detail of the folklore of the wren and Wren Day in a scholarly article for the Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society.

While not generally observed in the United States, Massachusetts Governor William Weld in 1996 declared December 26 as Boxing Day in that state in response to efforts of a local coalition of British citizens. Unfortunately, it did not gain stature as an employee holiday. The 26th marks the opening of the season for people to return unwanted gifts for exchanges or refunds and to redeem gift cards in the United States. When I first heard of Boxing Day growing up here in the US, I thought in fact that the name had something to do with boxing up these unwanted presents for return.

Observance of Boxing Day has been inconsistent. It is an important day for sport, especially in the horse racing, rugby, football (soccer) and cricket worlds. And, indeed, significant boxing matches have taken place on Boxing Day.

The Boxing Day Dip is a charity event in which hundreds of brave souls, many of them in fancy dress, swim in the sea. It occurs in several venues around the UK and Europe. North Sea water temperatures are usually 49F, or 9.5C, and many participants are in only up to their knees. Roaring bonfires meet them upon their retreat.

The 2012 British film Boxing Day, directed by Bernard Rose, addresses the theme embodied by the holiday as a businessman (Danny Huston) and his chauffeur (Matthew Jacobs) drive into the heart of the Rocky Mts in increasingly perilous weather on the day after Christmas. When the journey becomes life-threatening, the businessman must decide how much he is willing to sacrifice for someone less fortunate.

Even if government offices and banks are closed that days, stores are open and, as is increasingly our wont, it is often observed as a day of commercial excess like Black Friday. (Retailers, after all, increasingly need our charitable giving too!) Also like the recent trend with Black Friday, many retailers run sales for several days before or after December 26, often up to New Year’s Eve, branding it as Boxing Week. So far, thankfully, there has not been a trend for retailers to be open on Christmas Day and force their employees to work on that day as there has been on The Day Before Black Friday holiday. There has been a worker’s movement in the UK to ban the opening of shops on Boxing Day to give employees a much needed day off and place an obstacle in the way of the relentless commercialization of the Christmas holiday season. In any case, many British retailers, especially because of emerging American ownership of retail chains, have begun to emphasize the Black Friday tradition instead, leading to a demonstrable drop in British store traffic on Boxing Day and the days after.

An episode in the 10th season of M.A.S.H. has visiting British soldiers attempting to persuade the uni that it was a “Boxing Day tradition” for officers and service members to switch positions and responsibilities for the day. You can kind of see that as a conceptual extension of the original tradition of the aristocracy giving gifts to the servants, I suppose (not that they would ever take it as far as treating places!).

’Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without seeing a traditional Boxing Day pantomime with the kids. Nothing gets you in the festive spirit like watching classic family favourites such as Dick Whittington, Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel. Panto for short is a traditional Christmas play where audience participation is expected. Kids love getting involved by shouting out “It’s behind you” or “Oh no it’s not, Oh yes it is.” All the stars come out to take part and dress up as pantomime dames such as Widow Twankey which is always portrayed by a man. Other well known pantomime characters include her sons Wishy Washy and Aladdin….’ – Paul Denton

Of course in some countries the day is another excuse for copious drinking. Even teetotalers often spend the day in congenial gatherings with family, friends, and feasting. Boxing Day’ s celebratory foods are a mixed bag, coming as they do from English tradition. The BBC has compiled a menu of recipes for Boxing Day brunch including Christmas cake soufflé, cheesy sprout fondue, and several dishes involving mincemeat.

Sausage rolls (New York Times recipe) are also a traditional Boxing Day dish in the UK. Although the concept of savory chopped meat wrapped in dough exists in most cuisines, the British have proudly claimed sausage rolls as their own. An article in The Telegraph suggests that these easy-to-cook, tasty, and greasy items became holiday fare because of upper class families were left to fend for themselves in the kitchen and to find a use for the leftovers on that day.

Sausage Roll myfavouritepastime.com

In a year in which many have been hard hit in unprecedented ways, perhaps December 26 could be a chance to get back to some version of the original intention of the holiday by making sure to give a meaningful gift to someone in need.

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How real is the threat of prosecution for Donald Trump post-presidency?

As a candidate, Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris said the Department of Justice would have ‘no choice’ but to bring charges against Donald Trump when he leaves office.

‘Previous presidents have tended to take the view that it is better to look forwards in the name of national healing than backwards at the failings of their predecessor. And for good reasons – any prosecution would probably be long and difficult, act as a huge distraction, and expose the incoming president to accusations that they were acting like a tinpot dictator hounding their political enemy.

That a possible Trump prosecution is being discussed at all is a sign of the exceptional nature of the past four years. Those who argue in favor of legal action accept that there are powerful objections to going after Trump but urge people to think about the alternative – the dangers of inaction.

“If you do nothing you are saying that though the president of the United States is not above the law, in fact he is. And that would set a terrible precedent for the country and send a message to any future president that there is no effective check on their power,” said Andrew Weissmann, who was a lead prosecutor in the Mueller investigation looking into coordination between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

As head of one of the three main teams answering to the special counsel Robert Mueller, Weissmann had a ringside seat on what he calls Trump’s “lawless White House”. In his new book, Where Law Ends, he argues that the prevailing view of the 45th president is that “following the rules is optional and that breaking them comes at minimal, if not zero, cost”…’

— Via The Guardian

No surprise that I am firmly on the side of hoping for prosecution. The prior checks and balances on autocratic rule depended on little besides the presumption of good faith on the part of the President, and the last four years have made it abundantly clear that that is not sufficient. As would-be dictators go, trump although brazen has been inept and contemptibly stupid but not to act could embolden someone far more skillful and crafty the next time. To refrain based on some pie-in-the-sky notion of national reconciliation and healing is simply naive.

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Never Too Late

As we’ve seen most recently with Mitch McConnell, William Barr, Mike Pompeo, and Georgia governor Brian Kemp, trump turns on everyone as even the most spineless reach their limit in sustaining lips-to-buttocks devotion to his unprecedented effort to stay in power and spread Covid-19 as widely as possible. Then there’s the news that he has had White House discussions, including perjured former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and pitiful court jester Rudy Giuliani, about invoking martial law to force a “rerun” of the election in battleground states. Not that it is going to happen, but as David Frum pointed out, how unprecedented is it that we reached the point of having to have the first official military denial that they would participate in the overthrow of a democratic election?

Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the conservative thinktank The Ethics and Public Policy Center and former speechwriter to three Republican Presidents, writes in The Atlantic that this state of affairs is the logical extension of “(trump)’s disordered personality, his emotional and mental instability, and his sociopathic tendencies” evident from long before he became president. Increasingly desperate and despondent, enraged and embittered, uncontrollably consumed by his grievances, and preoccupied with ever more bizarre conspiracy theories. Wehner writes that ‘trump is losing his mind’ and is not the first to draw parallels to Lear.

It cannot be emphasized how dangerous his destabilization is, in terms of its influence on both the scores of cowards in the Republican party and his base in the electorate – delegitimizing the governing power of our newly-elected officials and paralyzing medical science’s ability to mount an effective response to a surging pandemic.

‘This is where Trump’s crippling psychological condition—his complete inability to face unpleasant facts, his toxic narcissism, and his utter lack of empathy—became lethal. Trump’s negligence turned what would have been a difficult winter into a dark one. If any of his predecessors—Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, to go back just 40 years—had been president during this pandemic, tens of thousands of American lives would almost surely have been saved…’

As I have said many times here, every day we postpone removing this sick, sick man from office using the 25th Amendment process available to us is a day when we do not stop wholesale massacre.

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How to Criticize with Kindness

‘In Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking Daniel Dennett offers a list of rules formulated decades ago by the legendary social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport:

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  • You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
  • You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  • You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  • Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism….’

— Via Pocket

Let’s be real, though. There is a certain class of disagreement that has become especially prevalent in the last four-plus years in which:

  • there is no way to re-express your target’s position clearly, vividly, and fairly without sounding delusional
  • there are no appreciable points of agreement
  • nothing is learned from your target.
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Opinion: What the Science of Addiction Tells Us About Trump

‘President Donald Trump has made grievance a primary feature of his life and presidency, from the thousands of lawsuits he has filed to, most recently, his repeated claims of national election fraud. His opponents, and even many of his supporters, have wondered why he can’t seem to control his urges to lash out at perceived enemies.

I am a violence researcher and study the role of grievances and retaliation in violent crime. Recently, I’ve been researching the way grievances affect the brain, and it turns out that your brain on grievance looks a lot like your brain on drugs. In fact, brain imaging studies show that harboring a grievance (a perceived wrong or injustice, real or imagined) activates the same neural reward circuitry as narcotics….’

James Kimmel Jr, lecturer in psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and co-director of the Yale Collaborative for Motive Control Studies, writing in POLITICO.

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The benefits of embracing ‘deep time’ in a year like 2020

‘In times of global crisis, focusing on the present is justified. Yet as we move into 2021, there is good reason to spend some time also reflecting on our place within the longer-term past and future. For one, there remain creeping problems that we cannot ignore, such as climate change, antibiotic resistance or biodiversity loss. But also because contemplating deeper time can help replenish our mental energies during adversity, and offer a meditative source of catharsis amid the frenzy of the now….’

— Vincent Ialenti via BBC Future

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Have you noticed…

… that some Follow Me Here reader always hastens to add a one-star rating to any post here that betrays enough contempt for trump? I wonder if he or she is just a trump supporter sensitive to the criticism, or if it is condemnation of the crude inarticulateness of my expressions of hate. In either case, most people with such a negative take on what I post here would simply stop reading, so it seems we have here someone who loves to hate. Oh, and another reader or readers hastens to counteract the one-star rating with a higher one as soon as they see it; at some subsequent point, checking back, I see that the average rating has gone up somewhat. Like much else in trump’s universe, a losing battle it seems… (Am I going to get a one-star rating for this one too?)

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We Had the COVID-19 Vaccine the Whole Time

‘You may be surprised to learn that of the trio of long-awaited coronavirus vaccines, the most promising, Moderna’s mRNA-1273, which reported a 94.5 percent efficacy rate on November 16, had been designed by January 13. This was just two days after the genetic sequence had been made public in an act of scientific and humanitarian generosity that resulted in China’s Yong-Zhen Zhang’s being temporarily forced out of his lab. In Massachusetts, the Moderna vaccine design took all of one weekend. It was completed before China had even acknowledged that the disease could be transmitted from human to human, more than a week before the first confirmed coronavirus case in the United States. By the time the first American death was announced a month later, the vaccine had already been manufactured and shipped to the National Institutes of Health for the beginning of its Phase I clinical trial. This is — as the country and the world are rightly celebrating — the fastest timeline of development in the history of vaccines. It also means that for the entire span of the pandemic in this country, which has already killed more than 250,000 Americans, we had the tools we needed to prevent it ….’

— David Wallace-Wells via New York Magazine

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What Brian Kemp reveals about Donald Trump’s true nature

‘That Trump has turned on Kemp so viciously should function as a warning to every other Republican elected official — and there are hundreds of them — who either continue to publicly support Trump’s ridiculous attempt bid to overturn the election or sit silently by as it unfolds: Loyalty is a one-way street for Trump. And you can never, ever engage in enough sycophancy to ensure that you are spared his rage…’

— via CNNPolitics

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The Arecibo Observatory Is More Than Just a Telescope

(The Arecibo Observatory Is More Than Just a Telescope | WIRED)

‘The world’s second largest radio telescope collapsed on Tuesday. But its legacy is indestructible….’

— Via WIRED

I can’t tell you how sad I’ve been to hear about the loss of Arecibo. Especially after watching the realtime video of the collapse, I haven’t been able to shake the post-apocalyptic feeling it has imbued me with, although I know there were no global disaster factors involved. 

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Could trump Just Fade Away?

Months ago trump predicted the coronavirus would just’ fade away.’ Fittingly, it is suggested he might be the one fading away. David A. Graham, writing in The Atlantic , finds it remarkable that America is already paying much less attention to trump while cautioning that “this is not license for the nation to let down its guard.”

Yascha Mounk makes the case that “the odds that Americans will grow bored with the ever more histrionic antics of the sore loser they just kicked out of office are pretty good.”

But “we’ll likely learn a lot more than we know now” about trump’s execrable deeds both before and during his White House tenure, Timothy Noah predicts.

— via The Atlantic

Although all of us in the Atlantic-reading half of the country are relieved we can ignore him as we should have done long ago, and avert our eyes in contempt and embarrassment from his pitiful buffoonery, we represent less of a consensus in our inherently schismatic society than we would like to believe. I am much less sanguine about the death of trumpism, and certainly don’t feel he will retreat into a mortified loser’s silence whether he announces his 2024 candidacy soon or not (I think there’s a good chance he may stage a counter event simultaneous with the Inauguration) … and whether or not he is trying to wield his influence from behind bars, as I hope. Much more likely his continuing reality show will get far better ratings than previous versions by playing to the audience of 70 million cult members he now captivates, whether the mainstream media manages to persevere in their newfound skill at ignoring him.

Now: how do we make sure he is not even a footnote in the history books?

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“It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”


— William Carlos Williams

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Ordinary Grief

‘Ordinary grief, militant heart

heart without a shadow,

not a hand

the green idiom cycling through

its enclosure

Words remembered in isolation

schoolbook words, days

to be beyond all care

sharp burin

if it was a matter of caring

Death, and death again

a startled spring inside you 

flaring out of season

leaves you not alone to wonder

where the good is in that 

held the note as long as it would hold

the strays, run, limp slipshod across the wet grass 

in wingless flight …’

— Paloma Yannakakis (via Bodega)

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My House

‘i only want to
be there to kiss you
as you want to be kissed
when you need to be kissed
where i want to kiss you
cause its my house and i plan to live in it

i really need to hug you
when i want to hug you
as you like to hug me
does this sound like a silly poem

i mean its my house
and i want to fry pork chops
and bake sweet potatoes
and call them yams
cause i run the kitchen
and i can stand the heat

i spent all winter in
carpet stores gathering
patches so i could make
a quilt
does this really sound
like a silly poem

i mean i want to keep you
warm

and my windows might be dirty
but its my house
and if i can’t see out sometimes
they can’t see in either

english isn’t a good language
to express emotion through
mostly i imagine because people
try to speak english instead
of trying to speak through it
i don’t know maybe it is
a silly poem

i’m saying it’s my house
and i’ll make fudge and call
it love and touch my lips
to the chocolate warmth
and smile at old men and call
it revolution cause what’s real
is really real
and i still like men in tight
pants cause everybody has some
thing to give and more
important need something to take

and this is my house and you make me
happy
so this is your poem’

 

— Nikki Giovanni

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Right-Wing Social Media Finalizes Divorce from Reality

(Right-Wing Social Media Had to Divorce Reality – The Atlantic)

‘Fox News acknowledged Trump’s loss. Facebook and Twitter cracked down on election lies. But true believers can get their misinformation elsewhere….’

— Via The Atlantic

Modern flat-earthers have an insatiable demand for misinformation. How far these delusions spread depends on whether the responsible media will continue to moderate content as they finally started to do just before and after the election, in the face of the continuing demand for reality-defying ideas. Parler will take up the slack among those who see any moderation as censorship, amplifying the hyperpartisanship excluded from mainstream media, with its users barely exposed to counterexamples that might challenge their misconceptions. But will they stay on Parler? Niche social-media properties rarely take hold, and the Parler app is less user-friendly than the much slicker Facebook apparatus. Furthermore some of the wingnuts thrive on baiting and criticizing the opposition and thus are driven to Twitter, where they can “own the libs.” But if the divorce is finalized, some say Democracy is finished.

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Pardon Me

In an item about trump’s pardon of Michael Flynn, Dave Pell commented,

‘trump also pardoned a turkey yesterday. (For a second, I thought he was just gonna pardon the white meat.)…’

— via Next Draft

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Op-Ed: Impeach the president again

‘If ever a presidential act qualified for impeachment, it would be openly trying to reverse an election outcome. While it sounds almost bizarre to make such a suggestion when the president’s term is over in two months, the move would have a useful byproduct: The Senate could prevent Trump from running again in 2024.

The impeachment clause of the Constitution allows the Senate to impose two possible punishments: “removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.” While two-thirds of the Senate is required for removal from office in an impeachment trial, precedents involving the impeachment of judges indicate that only a majority vote would be required to make the penalty a disqualification from future office….’

— Michael A. Cohen in The Boston Globe

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Here Is a Photo of a Single Atom

‘Atoms are really small. So small, in fact, that it’s impossible to see one with the naked eye, even with the most powerful of microscopes. At least, that used to be true.

Now, a photograph shows a single atom floating in an electric field, and it’s large enough to see without any kind of microscope….’

— By Avery Thompson via Popular Mechanics

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Trump Is Winning. Democracy Is Losing

Being perhaps a contradiction in terms, as a gay anti-trump conservative, has at times enhanced Andrew Sullivan (writing in The Weekly Dish)’s acumen as an observer of the political landscape. He was early out of the gate warning us of the need to take trump’s potential to win in 2016 seriously and in my opinion his contempt for the man’s moral and intellectual bankruptcy in the four years since had been unerring, articulating with illuminated prose.

Since the outcome of this month’s election, his columns have breathed a written sigh of relief at trump’s eviction and Biden’s arrival as a “president for all Americans”. Today’s is a more sobering and spot-on appraisal of the continuing menace trump will represent going forward, and how his presidency will stand as the swan song of a broken America’s democracy.

“What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?” an anonymous ‘senior Republican official’ mused to the Washington Post this week. “No one seriously thinks the results will change. He went golfing this weekend. It’s not like he’s plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He’s tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he’ll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he’ll leave.”

The layer upon layer of complacency, cynicism, and nihilism in that quote sums up so much about the GOP elite these past few years. They are proof that their party is a cult controlled by one man, who can get anyone in his party to say that the sky is green if he wants to. The Georgia run-offs alone ensure that no one in the party will seriously challenge the president’s derangement until, if we are lucky, after those elections are held in January — in case he turns on his own party’s candidates. So we are left for two months with an urgent crisis of legitimacy — and for years ahead, an incoming president Biden who will be deemed the beneficiary of massive fraud by a significant chunk of the country…

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The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse

Nicolas Ortega

‘[Historian Peter Turchin at the University of Connecticut] believes he has discovered iron laws that predict the rise and fall of societies. He has bad news…

…The fundamental problems, he says, are a dark triad of social maladies: a bloated elite class, with too few elite jobs to go around; declining living standards among the general population; and a government that can’t cover its financial positions.

His models, which track these factors in other societies across history, are too complicated to explain in a nontechnical publication. But they’ve succeeded in impressing writers for nontechnical publications, and have won him comparisons to other authors of “megahistories,” such as Jared Diamond and Yuval Noah Harari…’

— The Atlantic
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Was Nazi Germany Everyone’s Fault? Is trump’s America?

‘…[H]istorian Richard J. Evans argues against the popular conception.

— Pacific Standard
(Photo: tk_five_0/Flickr)

Historical inquiries into the rise of totalitarian regimes tend to conclude that they were either no one’s fault or everyone’s. For instance, when the US invaded Iraq, ostensibly to topple Saddam, the argument was that he had no popular support and Iraqis would welcome their liberators and rise up en masse.

On the other hand, the consensus has been that Hitler’s rise required mass acquiescence and complicity from ‘good Germans’, and thus their culpability. Most opined that Hitler did not maintain power by violence but rather popular support — pointing to votes in which he received more than 90% approval — and that Nazi terror was directed almost entirely against marginal groups in the service of Aryan supremacy, which appealed to the masses.

The counterargument is that the Germans retroactively interviewd to create that impression would have been young in the ’30’s, and that Nazi propaganda was most effective with younger Germans. A revisionist view is that it is not straightforward to determine the level of public approval for a totalitarian regime. Arguably, there is evidence that Nazi violence was directed against major segments of the German population, especially the working class. In this view, the plebiscites establishing support for Hitler were not free or fair and that those who tried to vote against him were considered traitors and at times beaten by his brownshirts.

There is probably a middle ground between mass culpability and mass innocence, and the sources of political authority are not black or white.

‘People certainly knew about the Holocaust, but that didn’t mean all supported it. Some actively participated. Some were tacitly accepting. And some substantial number disapproved, but were politically neutralized by widespread Nazi terror…’

Much of this has a bearing on the specter of authoritarianism arising in trump’s America in the past four years. The events playing out now represent the greatest potential America has seen for a descent into totalitarianism. It would be hard to argue that the 70 million red staters who supported trump were intimidated by overt terror or the threat of terror. Ballot boxes have clearly not been stuffed to distort the outcomes of the vote, except in trump’s autistic deluded statements about “BIG wins” that are evident to none but himself. And trump’s “brownshirts”, by and large, have not been beating up those who try to vote against him.

But have his supporters, in some sense, been innocent culpable ‘good Germans’? And to what extent is that true of his GOP functionaries and those who have refused to stand against him? In my earlier essay “Is The Coup Happening?” I catalogued some of the disparate motivations at work in his supporters’ complicity in trump’s defiance of the need to accept he lost the election. How do we tease apart the contribution of the appeal of totalitarianism in their support?

One might suggest that terrorizing the working class is playing a role here — duping them into acting against their own interests and suffering for it without even realizing. Some of this relates to the advances in the power of subtle mind control through the mass media in modern America as contrasted with Germany of the ’30’s. I return time and time again to the arguments of Jerry Mander in his provocative 1978 book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, about halfway between the Nazis and us. One of his most powerful expositions was of the ways in which the reductionistic presentation of information on TV and the inherent passivity of the viewer create fertile grounds for our political disempowerment and authoritarian control. This may be even more true in the post-TV internet era. (Is Google making us stupid?) (Parenthetically, one of the strongest antidotes to this is — quite simply — reading.) Related to this is the explosive growth of psychological expertise in manipulative mind control in the advertising and mass marketing industries, techniques clearly exploited in the methodology of media creation trump’s will to power and fabrication of reality.

Certainly innocent susceptibility to propaganda has played a role, as has the appeal of racial purity and tribalism, as they did in Germany. That the “majority minority” US of the 2010’s is a more heterogeneous society than the Germany of the 1930’s makes the appeal to homogeneity and demonization of the outsider much less impactful, makes it easier for those of us who assert that “Black Lives Matter” to stand against, and contributes to the fact that he only garners around 50% rather than 90% support. But now, when we have to think about what degree of reconciliation and healing is desirable and possible with trump gone, we must decide how fair or unfair it is to assume that most or even many of that 70 million bear responsibility for the actions of the trump regime. Let us hope we continue to appreciate how much messier it is than that.

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If this isn’t the definition of white trash, I don’t know what is

In this combination photo provided by the San Angelo, Texas police department, from left, Destiney Harbour, Christin Bradley and Dustin Smock are pictured in booking photos dated Nov. 7, 2020. Harbour, Bradley and Smock have been charged with First D

‘A 2-month-old girl who tested positive for heroin after being found unresponsive with injection marks at a West Texas home over the weekend has died, police said Thursday. San Angelo police said Brixlee Marie Lee died Tuesday at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. Police said Thursday that officers rushed Brixlee to a San Angelo hospital Saturday after responding to a report of an unconscious infant. Hospital staff found injection marks on her extremities and head, and her urine tested positive for heroin, police said. Later that day, she was transported to Cook Children’s, where she remained on life support until she was pronounced dead.

The girl’s mother, Destiney Harbour, 21, was arrested Saturday, along with her mother, Christin Bradley, 37, and Bradley’s boyfriend, Dustin Smock, 34, police said. All three have been charged with causing serious bodily injury to a child…’

(ABC News)

(Sorry to be so unempathic…)

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Why Google Maps is the Creepiest App on Your Phone

Google Maps Timeline.

It wants your search history and limits your features if you don’t share (the log out button is hidden). It wants to know your habits and knows your every move while you’re online. And it doesn’t like it when you’re offline. And it makes it seem like all of this is a favor to you. (Vice)

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Lucky’s Monologue from Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’

This is a repost of an older post on FmH. I just looked at the stats for the search terms that brought people to FmH over the past 12 months, and by my count, 80 of the 1583 hits were directed to this post. Why in the world should that be the case?? Whatever. It’s worth your while.

Samuel Beckett – Lucky's Monologue | Genius

‘Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment plunged in fire whose fire flames if that continues and who can doubt it will fire the firmament that is to say blast hell to heaven so blue still and calm so calm with a calm which even though intermittent is better than nothing but not so fast and considering what is more that as a result of the labours left unfinished crowned by the Acacacacademy of Anthropopopometry of Essy-in-Possy of Testew and Cunard it is established beyond all doubt all other doubt than that which clings to the labours of men that as a result of the labours unfinished of Testew and Cunard it is established as hereinafter but not so fast for reasons unknown that as a result of the public works of Puncher and Wattmann it is established beyond all doubt that in view of the labours of Fartov and Belcher left unfinished for reasons unknown of Testew and Cunard left unfinished it is established what many deny that man in Possy of Testew and Cunard that man in Essy that man in short that man in brief in spite of the strides of alimentation and defecation is seen to waste and pine waste and pine and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the strides of physical culture the practice of sports such as tennis football running cycling swimming flying floating riding gliding conating camogie skating tennis of all kinds dying flying sports of all sorts autumn summer winter winter tennis of all kinds hockey of all sorts penicilline and succedanea in a word I resume and concurrently simultaneously for reasons unknown to shrink and dwindle in spite of the tennis I resume flying gliding golf over nine and eighteen holes tennis of all sorts in a word for reasons unknown in Feckham Peckham Fulham Clapham namely concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown but time will tell to shrink and dwindle I resume Fulham Clapham in a word the dead loss per caput since the death of Bishop Berkeley being to the tune of one inch four ounce per caput approximately by and large more or less to the nearest decimal good measure round figures stark naked in the stockinged feet in Connemara in a word for reasons unknown no matter what matter the facts are there and considering what is more much more grave that in the light of the labours lost of Steinweg and Peterman it appears what is more much more grave that in the light the light the light of the labours lost of Steinweg and Peterman that in the plains in the mountains by the seas by the rivers running water running fire the air is the same and then the earth namely the air and then the earth in the great cold the great dark the air and the earth abode of stones in the great cold alas alas in the year of their Lord six hundred and something the air the earth the sea the earth abode of stones in the great deeps the great cold an sea on land and in the air I resume for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis the facts are there but time will tell I resume alas alas on on in short in fine on on abode of stones who can doubt it I resume but not so fast I resume the skull to shrink and waste and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis on on the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the labours abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the skull alas the stones Cunard tennis… the stones… so calm… Cunard… unfinished…’

— Genius

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These Researchers Tested Positive. But the Virus Wasn’t the Cause

Coronavirus Test Kits Sent to States Are Flawed, C.D.C. Says - The New York  Times

Five geneticists working with the coronavirus’s genome at the Harvard University lab of Dr George Church (one of the founders of the Human Genome Project) and exposed to snippets of its DNA not in themselves infectious tested positive on the widely used coronavirus test made by the Broad Institute in Cambridge when they underwent routine swabs. Unfortunately, the pieces of the pathogen’s genetic materials with which they were working in the lab were the pieces of the viral genome that the coronavirus test targeted.

‘ “I guess it is probably somewhat embarrassing,” Dr. Wannier said. (Out of an abundance of caution, he, his colleagues and their close contacts still isolated or quarantined themselves.) But given the nature of his lab’s ongoing projects, he added, “something like this was bound to happen at some point.”

Contaminated positives such as these are extremely rare, health experts said. People outside the research community should not worry about their own test results being compromised by lab chemicals. Blame also should not be pinned on the test, which did its intended job of rooting out the virus’s genetic material…’

Contaminations, as opposed to true infections, have been more and more frequent given the number of researchers studying the coronavirus. When they occur, they disrupt classes and research productivity and impact emotional wellbeing.

‘The contamination events played out similarly at several institutions. The Church lab, where five people have tested positive, was among the earliest. Nine scientists in three separate research groups at the neighboring Wyss Institute were soon to follow, as well as two members of a lab at M.I.T. run by the Crispr scientist Feng Zhang. Some 50 miles south, 10 people at Brown University suffered a similar experience shortly after the campus reopened for fall term. Six more such cases have been identified at Cornell…

New York Times

Surveying their labs, researchers found that wayward bits of the DNA with which they worked had made their way onto equipment, sinks, door handles, backpacks, clothing and in some cases had hitchhiked home on the researchers contaminating family members. The Church lab has since switched to working on a different fragment of the viral genome to avoid overlap with the Broad test.

(One potential pitfall I see in this situation is that, once a positive Coronavirus test result in a researcher or researchers at a lab has been determined to be from contamination rather than infection, subsequent positive surveillance testing might be discounted or ignored and true infections missed, with potentially dire consequences.)

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Trump’s presidency will end, but first a national transition nightmare

The American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein, writing in USA Today, plots the trump administration’s roadmap for wreaking havoc during the lame duck period. This is not unprecedented. Between Lincoln’s election and inauguration, James Buchanan did nothing to prevent Southern secession or the seizure of forts and armaments the Confederacy would need to fight its war of secession. And Herbert Hoover did next to nothing before FDR’s inauguration while the economy spiraled downward in the Great Depression. But, arguably, these were based on ideological leanings, rigid though they might be, rather than the utter malice and narcissism we are likely to see in our current damaged president’s actions.
  • Expect a slew of executive actions, e.g. to fire civil servants (Washington Post) or open public lands to logging, mining and development. While executive orders enacted by one administration can be reversed by their successor (Washington Post), as Trump did with many of Obama’s actions, this is a cumbersome process and is of course hampered if the Republicans continue to hold the Senate. And the damage cannot always be undone, e.g. with wilderness destruction or court-stacking.
  • The expected slew of preemptive pardons, including those for Trump himself and his family, will encourage them further to act with impunity through Jan. 19th. Ornstein points out that this could provide cover to those who help trump cover his tracks by destroying incriminating or embarrassing documents in violation of the laws intended to preserve records.
  • Expect trumps’ humiliation to precipitate a vindictive putsch of anyone considered disloyal, including intelligence professionals and public health professionals, including Fauci and Birx, who stood up to trump’s anti-science ignorance. Again, these decisions can be reversed under Biden, but not before the damage is done. (I actually hope Fauci is released soon so he can begin working on Biden’s transition team.)
  • trump certainly has the potential to deepen the damage he has done to the US’s standing on the world stage, e.g. by exacerbating tensions with both adversaries — such as Iran, China, etc.— and erstwhile allies. Of course, foreign policy decisions move slowly, and recipients of this behavior will realize they only have to wait ten weeks for relief.
  • I find most concerning the likelihood that trump will spend his remaining weeks on the road soothing himself with rally after rally of his red-hat loyalists, fomenting not only further divisiveness but the possible extremist vigilante actions in response to the “stealing” of the election.
“…unless trump shows a dramatic change in personality, we need to brace ourselves. Change is coming, thank God, but along the way, fasten seatbelts for severe turbulence,” concludes Ornstein. Given that these dangers arise from the psychologically well-known process of the exacerbation of the narcissist’s disordered personality by his humiliating defeat, I hope I am not alone in encouraging a fresh look at the 25th amendment for the swift removal of a president too debilitated to carry out his duties responsibly. This should be done with alacrity to mitigate the above mentioned potential damage. Trump may already be showing a descent into overt paranoia as evidenced by his preoccupation with the conspiracy against him. His removal from office would require decisive action by actors, including Republicans, responding to an urgent situation with a clear commitment to the wellbeing of the country superseding any remaining fear of trump’s wrath. This may well depend on whether trump’s vindictiveness will have any sway after Jan. 20th. I hope he will not retain any semblance of a role as an elder statesmen in the GOP (he is likely to be embroiled in endless court proceedings as both a civil and criminal defendant, if he does not flee to someplace without an extradition treaty with the US.) There has already begun to be a lot of rhetoric about healing the divisive wounds. I hope that Republican politicians will not feel they need to continue to court his redhat wingnuts.
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Why did the universe begin?

Nobel prizewinner Roger Penrose details an astonishing origin hypothesis:

‘While many scientists hold firm that there’s no decent evidence to support the notion that anything existed before the Big Bang, new hypotheses have cracked open the door for the possibility. The UK mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, a professor emeritus at Oxford University and co-recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics, is a convert to the camp of thinkers entertaining the notion of a pre-Big Bang state. In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the PBS series Closer to Truth, Penrose details a somewhat mind-boggling idea he’s advanced known as the ‘conformal cyclic cosmology’ hypothesis, which proposes that our Universe is just one in an infinite series….’

— via Aeon Videos

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How do you know when civilization is collapsing?

‘Only complexity provides an explanation that applies in every instance of collapse. We go about our lives, addressing problems as they arise. Complexity builds and builds, usually incrementally, without anyone noticing how brittle it has all become. Then some little push arrives, and the society begins to fracture. The result is a “rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity.” In human terms, that means central governments disintegrating and empires fracturing into “small, petty states,” often in conflict with one another. Trade routes seize up, and cities are abandoned. Literacy falls off, technological knowledge is lost and populations decline sharply. “The world,” Tainter writes, “perceptibly shrinks, and over the horizon lies the unknown.”

A disaster — even a severe one like a deadly pandemic, mass social unrest or a rapidly changing climate — can… never be enough by itself to cause collapse. Societies evolve complexity, he argues, precisely to meet such challenges. …The last major pandemic makes the case well: The Spanish Flu killed 675,000 Americans between 1918 and 1919, but the economic hit was short-lived, and the outbreak did not slow the nation’s push for hemispheric dominance. Whether any existing society is close to collapsing depends on where it falls on the curve of diminishing returns. There’s no doubt that we’re further along that curve: The United States hardly feels like a confident empire on the rise these days. But how far along are we? …’

New York Times Magazine

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In the last days of the campaign, trump wallows in his contempt for his supporters

‘ trump treats his own supporters as a pack of morons, but they don’t seem to mind and keep on adoring him anyway. …They laugh and cheer, lapping it up as he insults them right to their faces. 

It’s such a weird reaction that CNN host Don Lemon aired a supercut of trump complaining at various rallies that he didn’t even want to be there. …This bit, which he repeats ad nauseam, is trump’s apparent closing argument: Since he lowered himself to speak directly to the hoi polloi, the least they can do is vote for him. In order for the joke to work, you have to accept trump’s premise that his supporters are scum and he taints himself by having to speak to them.  Despite trump’s insistence that he hates holding his rallies, of course, the truth is that he’s hopelessly addicted to them and their main purpose to feed his ego.

…trump sees his own supporters as dupes. He revels in their adoration, but can’t even pretend to return the feeling. Being a sociopathic bully, he revels in rubbing their noses in the fact that he sees them as idiots… ‘

— Amanda Marcotte in Salon.com

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Trump just made Biden’s closing argument for him

‘We needn’t look back over the past four years — joblessness, debt, racial strife and international disdain — to see why Trump is unfit. We need only look back at the past two weeks…’

— Dana Milbank, Opinion, The Washington Post

Milbank is best with these reminder columns. He must keep index cards of trump transgressions compulsively and can whip up compilations for all occasions. Without his cataloguing, I find the trump follies too overwhelming to recall the details.

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trump’s face, hands show his myths and facade are falling apart

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‘President trump’s face is one color, his hands are another, and it seems the longer his presidency goes on, the more striking the difference is. trump wears makeup because he wants to seem healthy and vigorous while he is performing the character he’s created for himself over the years — because he has always placed a higher value on seeming rather than being. Over his presidency, the performance has become lazier and less capable. But people still support this hollow performance. The legendary urban planner Jane Jacobs wrote about the American tendency to substitute image for substance in her final book, “Dark Age Ahead.” In the book, this tendency — accompanied with a disrespect for science and an absence of logic in policymaking — is a harbinger of doom for this country….’

— Linette Lopez in Business Insider

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Covid: Antibodies ‘fall rapidly after infection’

Antibody

Levels of protective antibodies in people wane “quite rapidly” after coronavirus infection, say researchers. …The Imperial College London team found the number of people testing positive for antibodies has fallen by 26% between June and September. They say immunity appears to be fading and there is a risk of catching the virus multiple times.

— BBC News

The loss of antibodies with time is greater in seniors and in those with asymptomatic infections as compared with those with fullblown Covid-19. Exactly how this correlates with active immunity is unclear, as there are other components of the immune system besides antibodies. However, antibody levels in general appear to be predictive of who is protected. There are four other coronaviruses which cause disease in humans (causing common cold symptoms), each of which we can catch multiple times in our lives.

There have been very few documented cases of people getting Covid-19 disease twice, but that may be because immunity is just now beginning to fade since the peak infection rates in the spring. It is hoped, although not clear, if a second infection will be milder than the first because of residual “immune memory.”

If antibody levels and protective immunity fade after an infection, what are the implications for the induction of immunity after vaccination? Researchers say that the vaccine response may behave differently than the response to a natural infection. But it is possible, as for certain other immunizations, that even if the vaccine works people might need follow-up booster doses to restore fading immunity over time.

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Supreme Court: Amy Coney Barrett’s legitimacy crisis, in just 2 numbers

Barrett and soon-to-be ex-Sen. Mitch McConnell

‘In 2016, President Trump lost the national popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He lost it by a lot — 2,865,075 votes, to be precise.

Meanwhile, the Senate just voted to confirm Trump’s third nominee to the Supreme Court. The vote was almost entirely along party lines, with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) crossing over to vote with all 47 members of the Senate Democratic caucus.

Yet, while pro-Barrett senators control a majority of the Senate, they represent nowhere near a majority of the entire nation. Indeed, the senators who voted against Barrett represent 13,524,906 more people than the senators who voted for her. (I derived this figure using 2019 census estimates of each state’s population. You can check my work using this spreadsheet.)

These two numbers — 2,865,075 and 13,524,906 — should inform how we view the actions Barrett will take now that she is one of the nine most powerful judges in the country. Barrett owes her new job to two of our Constitution’s anti-democratic pathologies…’

– Vox
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We May Need the Twenty-fifth Amendment If trump Loses

Jeannie Suk Gersen in The New Yorker reviews the lack of political will to apply the provisions of the 25th Amendment to trump despite abundant and widespread concern about his mental fitness for office, even before his Covid infection and steroid treatment. But at first I thought it would veer off into the question of Biden’s possible cognitive decline, in line with the theme which has run through the campaign of the “two septuagenarians.” In fact, she argues for a new willingness to use the provisions of the amendment as a tool to remove trump from office if he refuses to give up power after losing on November 3: 

‘If, as seems likely, voters deliver a loss for Trump, the Twenty-fifth Amendment comes into different focus, as an essential support to the democratic electoral process rather than an end run around it. In the event that the President’s mental state leads him to try to circumvent the election result in order to stay in power, having Congress remove him via the Twenty-fifth Amendment as “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” would be as legitimate a function of constitutional democracy as can be imagined….’

— Jeannie Suk Gersen in The New Yorker

Arguably, the period from November 3 to Inauguration Day is likely to be, in the words of psychiatrist John Gartner, “the most dangerous moment” in trump’s presidency. Enraging a malignant narcissist by public humiliation will inevitably lead to their desire to regain power by acting out through sadistic aggressive action. Gartner likens the US to the victim of domestic battering by an abusive spouse. The most dangerous moment in the relationship inevitably comes when the hitherto paralyzed victim finally summons up the will and the resources to leave their abuser.

[Editor’s note: Surely you have noticed by now my shift to using lower case in referring to the Orange Menace here. I hope it is clear that this is not a typo but a small symbolic enactment of my inability to show him any respect.]

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Reverence For Hallowe’en: Good for the Soul

Three jack-o'-lanterns illuminated from within...

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.trick-or-treat-nyc

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.

English: A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o'-la...
English: A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o’-lantern from the early 20th century.

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

La Catrina – In Mexican folk culture, the Catr...

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.”

Three Halloween jack-o'-lanterns.

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.

Frankenstein

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.

Related:
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Nuclear weapons treaty: Campaigners hail new era for nuclear disarmament

‘Campaigners have hailed a “new chapter” after a key step by the United Nations towards banning nuclear arms.
Honduras has become the 50th country to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons so it will now come into force in 90 days time…

The accord was approved by 122 countries at the UN General Assembly in 2017 but needed to be ratified by at least 50 before being enacted…’

— via BBC News

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This Is CNN’s ‘Doomsday Video’ For Apocalypse Coverage

‘The end of the world has a soundtrack, thanks to CNN.

An ex-intern supposedly unearthed a long-rumored video that CNN founder Ted Turner vowed to broadcast in the event of an apocalypse scenario. As Turner pledged when the 24-hour news channel launched in 1980, the video (above) shows a brass band playing “Nearer My God To Thee,” the same song that onboard musicians reportedly performed as the Titanic sank.

“People thought he was joking,” Michael Ballaban wrote of Turner on Jalopnik. “We have proof that he wasn’t.”

Ballaban said he found the tape in a network archive under the name “TURNER DOOMSDAY VIDEO” while interning for “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” in 2009.

…Turner’s words to celebrate the June 1, 1980, network launch were: …“We’re gonna stay on until the end of the world. When that time comes, we’ll cover it, play ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ and sign off.” …’

— Ron Dicker via HuffPost

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What a second trump term might look like for international relations

‘Trump is already undertaking a nuclear buildup and seems set on dismantling the one remaining treaty between the world’s two main nuclear powers. And there is a real fear that a second Trump term would embolden the authoritarians around the world who have lined up to support him. Not all of his bluster translates into impact—corporations are largely navigating his trade wars, and global climate policy is working around Washington for now—but his abandonment of the international arena is almost certain to have big downstream effects as China rises to fill the gap.

“Whoever occupies the Oval Office from January has to appreciate that America’s alliance network is its greatest comparative advantage over China,” says former NATO Secretary General and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Trump is deliberately letting that network wither.

While the Trump administration notched a win for Middle East stability this year by securing deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the world as a whole has not responded well to his presidency. In a recent Pew survey of 13 democracies, confidence in his leadership on world affairs ranged from 9 percent in Belgium to a high of 25 percent in Japan. Trump is the least trusted of all major world leaders; even among supporters of Europe’s far right parties, his approval never rises above 45 percent.

This means “America First” has huge and mounting costs for America: Increasingly, it is losing the ability to rely on the easy cooperation of old allies, and the global respect that fuels U.S. soft power has almost vanished…’

— By Ryan Heath via POLITICO

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25th Amendment: Pelosi pushes new bill to determine whether a President is capable of serving

‘Asked if she has questions about the President’s capability to serve in the office right now, Pelosi said, “What I said about the President was that we don’t know if somebody who — I’ve not said this, I’ve quoted others to say there are those who say that when you’re on steroids and/or if you have Covid-19 or both that there may be some impairment of judgment, but again that’s for the doctors and the scientists to determine.”
The comments prompted an angry retort from Trump, who retweeted several messages suggesting that Pelosi is trying to mount a coup. Trump ultimately responded to Pelosi: “Crazy Nancy is the one who should be under observation. They don’t call her Crazy for nothing!”

Trump puts his own spin on his health as doctors reveal little
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the efforts by House Democrats as “absurd” Friday.
“That’s absurd. Absolutely absurd. Again, right here in the last three weeks before the election, I think those wild comments should be largely discounted,” he said speaking at a news conference in Kentucky.
The new proposal would create a commission of 17 people — eight appointed by Republicans and eight appointed by Democrats — as well as a chair selected by the entire body. That commission could study the President’s health as well as request an exam of the President. If the President refused, the commission could make a judgment on the President’s condition with the information they already had. A majority of the commission could vote to remove the President, but only with the Vice President….’

— via CNNPolitics

Finally, this possibility is being taken seriously, but for the wrong reasons. Trump’s malignant narcissism and possible cognitive deterioration, have raised questions about his fitness to serve since soon after his election. As I have written about several times here, consideration of invoking the 25th amendment process were led by a group of concerned psychiatrists. I am glad the issue is being raised again, but the cognitive and personality impairments caused by Covid infection and/or steroid use are transient. A bipartisan investigation would be deadlocked for so long that it would be a moot point, even if it were not three months to Inauguration Day. Related: What happens if a nominee dies shortly before or after the election. Washington Post: “It’s complicated.” To what extent would these considerations apply if a nominee were unfit to continue his candidacy?

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Trump Stimulus Fail: Worst Blunder in Presidential History

‘In May, the House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion economic relief bill. Over the next four and a half months, Republicans in the White House and Senate dithered, alternating between good-faith engagement and lethargy. The apparent final blow came in the form of a series of tweets by President Trump announcing an end to negotiations.

It is possible Trump — who just yesterday declared his desire to cut a deal — intends this as one of his “clever” negotiating ploys, enabling him to turn around and make a deal that he can paint as a capitulation by his panicked foes. But even if that happens, the window to boost the economy in time to help him (obviously the only consideration Trump cares about) is closing fast. Walking away from the extended hand of an opposition party willing to pump trillions of dollars into the economy may go down as the single greatest political blunder in the history of presidential elections….’

— Jonathan Chait via New York Magazine

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‘Possible ecological catastrophe’ in Russia’s Kamchatka region

‘Russian investigators said Saturday they were looking into “a possible ecological catastrophe” in the eastern Kamchatka region, after scores of dead sea creatures washed up in one of it bays and surfers reported burns to their eyes and throats.
Images of dead seals, octopi, starfish and urchins on the Khalaktyrsky Beach in the Avacha Bay have been shared on social media for several days.
Surfers in the area have also complained that the sea had an unnatural smell and color….’

— via NBC News