‘Over the last year, the scientific community has been reluctant to openly discuss its missteps. But coming clean could help prevent the next pandemic….’
— C. Brandon Ogbunu via WIRED
‘Over the last year, the scientific community has been reluctant to openly discuss its missteps. But coming clean could help prevent the next pandemic….’
— C. Brandon Ogbunu via WIRED
‘…The zoologist Arik Kershenbaum argues that because some evolutionary challenges are truly universal, life throughout the cosmos may share certain features…’– via Quanta Magazine
‘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?
‘…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
‘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
‘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
‘…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
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
‘I’ve deliberated many times about discussing grief in a food column – you’re possibly here to read about new ways with couscous – yet the two topics are more linked than one might imagine’
— via The Guardian (thanks to linkmachinego)
‘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….’
‘What if we’re all just trapped in conversations we want to end?’— Inverse
Okay, so you think two methods are useful? Here‘s an article (from scienceofpeople.com) claiming to offer 62 methods.
The (American) Tokyo bureau chief of the New York Times writes about the Japanese reverence for, nay obsession with, flowers, and the discovery of reason to hope in the ‘treasure hunt for floral beauty’
— Via The New York Times
‘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.
‘…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.
‘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.
…(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
The Frigid Consequences of Global Warming:
Climate scientists have spent years exploring the relationship between extreme winter weather and warming temperatures in the Arctic Circle. Some studies suggest that the warming Arctic disrupts a natural phenomenon known as the polar vortex, which normally contains cold air in the north.
People and security members run away after Kurdish animal-rights activists released a bear into the wild, after rescuing several bears that were held in captivity in people’s homes, in Dohuk, Iraq, on February 11, 2021.— Photos of the Week, The Atlantic
As recipient of this year’s Charles Eliot Norton Professorship in Poetry Laurie Anderson will be offering her six Norton Lectures free (via Eventbrite registration) for a virtual audience. The first lecture airs Wednesday at 5:00 pm EST.
— BY Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite via Harvard Gazette
‘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?…’
‘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…’
‘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
‘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
‘…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…’
‘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)
‘Social media platforms have (finally) clamped down on conspiracy theories. But this has simply moved them to ‘alt-tech’ platforms, where there’s no moderation and less critical analysis…’
— Yasmin Green via WIRED UK
‘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.
‘Sweden’s Göteborg Film Festival will be hosted digitally this year, except for The Isolated Cinema, which allows a single viewer to watch all 60 films alone at an abandoned lighthouse, empty theater, or deserted arena…’
— via AV Club
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:
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)
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
‘…[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
‘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
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.
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.
‘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.
‘Those waging the war against this devastating wave of the venomous species have taken on an ‘eat ‘em to beat ‘em’ approach…’
— via Smithsonian Magazine
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.
‘President-unelect Trump has studied every play in the Coups-for-Dummies playbook: court challenges, pressure on Republican officials to overturn the election, even a half-baked plan for martial law from pardoned convict Michael Flynn. But no luck.
Now, Trump’s final hope rests with Tommy Tuberville….’
— Dana Milbank via The Washington Post
‘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:
‘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….’
‘Punish his attorneys. There’s ample precedent for it….’
— Kimberly Wehle, University of Baltimore law professor writing in POLITICO
‘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
… 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?)
‘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
Donald Trump: “If COVID-19 Kills Another 1.8 Million People in the U.S. We Won’t Even Need a Vaccine”
— Via Vanity Fair
‘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
‘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.
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?
“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
‘Ordinary grief, militant heart
heart without a shadow,
not a hand
the green idiom cycling through
Words remembered in isolation
schoolbook words, days
to be beyond all care
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)
‘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
does this really sound
like a silly poem
i mean i want to keep you
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
so this is your poem’
— Nikki Giovanni
‘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.
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
‘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
‘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
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…
‘[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
‘…[H]istorian Richard J. Evans argues against the popular conception.— Pacific Standard
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.
‘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…)
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)
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.
‘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
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.)
‘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
‘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? …’
‘Exactly why the Neanderthals died out 40,000 years ago is still greatly debated, but evolutionary biologist Nicholas Longrich looks at the evidence for a war between them and modern humans….’
— Nicholas R Longrich via BBC Future
‘ 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
‘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.
‘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
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.
‘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
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.]
A reprise of my traditional Hallowe’en post of past years:
It is that time of year again. What has become a time of disinhibited hijinx and mayhem, and a growing marketing bonanza for the kitsch-manufacturers and -importers, has primeval origins as the Celtic New Year’s Eve, Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”). The harvest is over, summer ends and winter begins, the Old God dies and returns to the Land of the Dead to await his rebirth at Yule, and the land is cast into darkness. The veil separating the worlds of the living and the dead becomes frayed and thin, and dispossessed dead mingle with the living, perhaps seeking a body to possess for the next year as their only chance to remain connected with the living, who hope to scare them away with ghoulish costumes and behavior, escape their menace by masquerading as one of them, or placate them with offerings of food, in hopes that they will go away before the new year comes. For those prepared, a journey to the other side could be made at this time.
With Christianity, perhaps because with calendar reform it was no longer the last day of the year, All Hallows’ Eve became decathected, a day for innocent masquerading and fun, taking its name Hallowe’en as a contraction and corruption of All Hallows’ Eve.
All Saints’ Day may have originated in its modern form with the 8th century Pope Gregory III. Hallowe’en customs reputedly came to the New World with the Irish immigrants of the 1840’s. The prominence of trick-or-treating has a slightly different origin, however.
The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.
Jack-o’-lanterns were reportedly originally turnips; the Irish began using pumpkins after they immigrated to North America, given how plentiful they were here. The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.
According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.
Nowadays, a reported 99% of cultivated pumpkin sales in the US go for jack-o-lanterns.
Folk traditions that were in the past associated with All Hallows’ Eve took much of their power, as with the New Year’s customs about which I write here every Dec. 31st, from the magic of boundary states, transition, and liminality.
The idea behind ducking, dooking or bobbing for apples seems to have been that snatching a bite from the apple enables the person to grasp good fortune. Samhain is a time for getting rid of weakness, as pagans once slaughtered weak animals which were unlikely to survive the winter. A common ritual calls for writing down weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment, and tossing it into the fire. There used to be a custom of placing a stone in the hot ashes of the bonfire. If in the morning a person found that the stone had been removed or had cracked, it was a sign of bad fortune. Nuts have been used for divination: whether they burned quietly or exploded indicated good or bad luck. Peeling an apple and throwing the peel over one’s shoulder was supposed to reveal the initial of one’s future spouse. One way of looking for omens of death was for peope to visit churchyards
The Witches’ Sabbath aspect of Hallowe’en seems to result from Germanic influence and fusion with the notion of Walpurgisnacht. (You may be familiar with the magnificent musical evocation of this, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.)
Although probably not yet in a position to shape mainstream American Hallowe’en traditions, Mexican Dia de los Muertos observances have started to contribute some delightful and whimsical iconography to our encounter with the eerie and unearthly as well. As this article in The Smithsonian reviews, ‘In the United States, Halloween is mostly about candy, but elsewhere in the world celebrations honoring the departed have a spiritual meaning…’
Reportedly, more than 80% of American families decorate their homes, at least minimally, for Hallowe’en. What was the holiday like forty or fifty years ago in the U.S. when, bastardized as it has now become with respect to its pagan origins, it retained a much more traditional flair? Before the era of the pay-per-view ’spooky-world’ type haunted attractions and its Martha Stewart yuppification with, as this irreverent Salon article from several years ago [via walker] put it, monogrammed jack-o’-lanterns and the like? One issue may be that, as NPR observed,
‘“Adults have hijacked Halloween… Two in three adults feel Halloween is a holiday for them and not just kids,” Forbes opined in 2012, citing a public relations survey. True that when the holiday was imported from Celtic nations in the mid-19th century — along with a wave of immigrants fleeing Irelands potato famine — it was essentially a younger persons’ game. But a little research reveals that adults have long enjoyed Halloween — right alongside young spooks and spirits.’
Is that necessarily a bad thing? A 1984 essay by Richard Seltzer, frequently referenced in other sources, entitled “Why Bother to Save Hallowe’en?”, argues as I do that reverence for Hallowe’en is good for the soul, young or old.
“Maybe at one time Hallowe’en helped exorcise fears of death and ghosts and goblins by making fun of them. Maybe, too, in a time of rigidly prescribed social behavior, Hallowe’en was the occasion for socially condoned mischief — a time for misrule and letting loose. Although such elements still remain, the emphasis has shifted and the importance of the day and its rituals has actually grown.…(D)on’t just abandon a tradition that you yourself loved as a child, that your own children look forward to months in advance, and that helps preserve our sense of fellowship and community with our neighbors in the midst of all this madness.”
That would be anathema to certain segments of society, however. Hallowe’en certainly inspires a backlash by fundamentalists who consider it a blasphemous abomination. ‘Amateur scholar’ Isaac Bonewits details academically the Hallowe’en errors and lies he feels contribute to its being reviled. Some of the panic over Hallowe’en is akin to the hysteria, fortunately now debunked, over the supposed epidemic of ‘ritual Satanic abuse’ that swept the Western world in the ’90’s.
The horror film has become inextricably linked to Hallowe’en tradition, although the holiday itself did not figure in the movies until John Carpenter took the slasher genre singlehandedly by storm. Googling “scariest films”, you will, grimly, reap a mother lode of opinions about how to pierce the veil to journey to the netherworld and reconnect with that magical, eerie creepiness in the dark (if not the over-the-top blood and gore that has largely replaced the subtlety of earlier horror films).
The Carfax Abbey Horror Films and Movies Database includes best-ever-horror-films lists from Entertainment Weekly, Mr. Showbiz and Hollywood.com. I’ve seen most of these; some of their choices are not that scary, some are just plain silly, and they give extremely short shrift to my real favorites, the evocative classics of the ’30’s and ’40’s when most eeriness was allusive and not explicit. And here’s what claims to be a compilation of links to the darkest and most gruesome sites on the web. “Hours and hours of fun for morbidity lovers.”
Boing Boing does homage to a morbid masterpiece of wretched existential horror, two of the tensest, scariest hours of my life repeated every time I watch it:
‘…The Thing starts. It had been 9 years since The Exorcist scared the living shit out of audiences in New York and sent people fleeing into the street. Really … up the aisle and out the door at full gallop. You would think that people had calmed down a bit since then. No…’
Meanwhile, what could be creepier in the movies than the phenomenon of evil children? Gawker knows what shadows lurk in the hearts of the cinematic young:
‘In celebration of Halloween, we took a shallow dive into the horror subgenre of evil-child horror movies. Weird-kid cinema stretches back at least to 1956’s The Bad Seed, and has experienced a resurgence recently via movies like The Babadook, Goodnight Mommy, and Cooties. You could look at this trend as a natural extension of the focus on domesticity seen in horror via the wave of haunted-house movies that 2009’s Paranormal Activity helped usher in. Or maybe we’re just wizening up as a culture and realizing that children are evil and that film is a great way to warn people of this truth. Happy Halloween. Hope you don’t get killed by trick-or-treaters.’
In any case: trick or treat! …And may your Hallowe’en soothe your soul.
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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?
‘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
‘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
They say he is in a particularly vulnerable window for covid-19 patients and should be watched closely while taking an unusual combination of drugs— via The Washington Post
— via Ann Friedman Weekly
‘What if slime moulds were pointing towards a different way of being: something softer and more transformative? Instead of cringing away from a texture I am told is terrible and wrong, what would happen if I marvelled at its iridescence?…’
— via Wellcome Collection
Okay, so it is interesting to discuss whether plane spotters’ observation of two E-6B takeoffs and trump’s tweet about his CoViD positivity minutes later were related (probably not, it appears). But the backstory about these aircraft is more fascinating:
‘…E-6Bs, which are based on Boeing 707s, are essentially communication relay stations built to receive military orders from the president of the US and the secretary of defense, and then convey those commands to US ballistic missile submarines. They’re also equipped to remotely control Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles through a platform called the Airborne Launch Control System. The idea is for E-6Bs to serve as a redundancy in case ground-based communication systems are disrupted. And they’re also crucial for establishing line-of-sight communication connections that require proximity. The E-6B mission overall is known as TACAMO, or Take Charge And Move Out…
The planes have some dramatic capabilities. One of the most significant is their Very Low Frequency communication platform, which is used to reach nuclear ballistic missile submarines down to 60 feet below the ocean’s surface. These stealth submarines must conceal their positions and often can’t rise to shallower depths or send up buoys to aid communication. Instead, both communication relay planes and the submarines themselves must be equipped with massive antennas, and even then VLF systems are still extremely low-latency, low-bandwidth, and low-throughput, meaning it takes a long time to send very small amounts of data. To transmit even the shortest messages to deep-sea submarines, E-6Bs perform special airborne maneuvers. These are essentially steep, tight turns that go on for long periods of time, looping the plane around and around to get the antennas in a vertical position transmitting straight down into the water. Other military planes are also equipped for VLF communication, but it is especially core to the mission of E-6Bs…’
— via WIRED
‘In 2003, Wenner and Rolling Stone engaged in a complementary act of canon-building with a list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” a massive undertaking. The list’s flaws were apparent from the beginning. “Predictably,” Edna Gundersen wrote, in USA Today that year, “the list is weighted toward testosterone-fueled vintage rock.” Here was an institution, Rolling Stone, made up primarily of white men, saying that most of the best music ever was made by white men, and leaning on their authority as a counterculture icon to do so. A new Rolling Stone list was revealed last week, with a hundred and fifty-four new entries and some major moves in the rankings. It reflects an admirable attempt by Rolling Stone to evolve with the times and exhibit a more comprehensive consideration of music history. The resulting list was clearly animated by a critical push toward poptimism and an attempt to diversify the critical class.
In a column in the Guardian, from 2018, titled “Bland on Blonde: Why the Old Rock Music Canon Is Finished,” the critic Michael Hann accurately summarized the problems with the current canon: the inherent superiority of rock assumed in the long-standing hierarchy of popular music; the domination of the conversation by white men; and the construction of the canon with albums, a format that many of us still value but which is, quite frankly, obsolete. Hann predicted the rapid fading of the rockist canon and the rise of a new one defined by a more inclusive critical tribunal…’
— via The New Yorker
Trump—by virtue of his age, gender, and weight—is at relatively high risk for serious complications from the coronavirus infection. People over the age of sixty-five account for more than eighty per cent of covid-19 deaths in the United States. Compared to a twentysomething, a septuagenarian is more than five times as likely to be hospitalized and is ninety times more likely to die of the coronavirus. For Americans in their seventies, the case fatality rate—a measure of a person’s chance of dying after being diagnosed—is around ten per cent. The true rate of death in that age group is almost certainly lower, since some people who contract the virus never develop symptoms and are never tested for it. On the other hand, we know that older men are more likely to die than women, possibly because of gendered differences in the way the immune system responds to the virus. At six feet three and two hundred and forty-three pounds, the President is also obese, which increases the risk of hospitalization, I.C.U. admission, and death.
— via The New Yorker
In all likelihood, however, he will survive, as the vast majority of infected people do, but especially given his early diagnosis and the world-class attention he has already started, and will continue, to receive. On the other hand, this virus is a capricious killer. Almost surely at the current vantage point, his symptoms are worse than represented.
With his schedule of events and his execrable disdain for masks and social distancing, he is a potential superspreader at a White House with a crippled approach to the coronavirus. Given this, and the false negative rate for CoViD testing among the asymptomatic and presymptomatic, reassurances that other administration figures including Mike Pence are healthy should be viewed with skepticism and should not necessarily obviate the need for quarantine regardless of test results.
Trump did not get the ‘October surprise’ he bargained for. His infection means that his bungling of the pandemic is now guaranteed to remain the overriding story of the last month of the campaign. Those who hope for his speedy return to health should recognize that if his symptoms remain mild he will almost use his recovery as ammunition to scoff at the advice of medical experts while the virus continues to kill a thousand or more Americans per day.
‘…Given the current makeup of the executive branch, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might, with the help of an aggressive attorney general, William Barr, challenge any attempt by Nancy Pelosi to ascend to the presidency if both Trump and Pence are incapacitated by Covid-19—perhaps even preemptively putting out a legal opinion that Pompeo is legally next in line for the acting presidency.
Could Nancy Pelosi assume the acting presidency and fire Barr to get her own contrary legal opinion? Would Barr treat such an order as legitimate? Would the Supreme Court weigh in? How those questions would be answered would almost certainly hinge less on actual legal fights and more on vague public sentiments—questions such as whether the president or vice president looks likely to recover.
“The nation could thus be deeply divided, in a hard-to-resolve way, on the very basic question: Who is the (acting) president of the United States?” legal scholars Jack Goldsmith and Ben Miller-Gootnick wrote back in March at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic…’— via POLITICO
Like Trump, at points in their tenure, the UK’s Boris Johnson and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro both downplayed the coronavirus.— via Vox
‘The Times has done an impressive job of getting the truth out, and now it is up to the voters to decide whether they want to reelect a flimflam man. The Times account makes clear that Trump is desperate to stay in office in no small part because he needs to profit from the presidency — and to avoid the risk of prosecution for tax fraud and other possible crimes….’
— Max Boot via The Washington Post
‘There’s a revolution happening within the GOP right under our noses. The latest sign came Sunday, when former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge penned an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer making clear his intent to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden over President Donald Trump in November.
“He lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect and maturity to lead,” Ridge, who also served as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration, wrote of Trump.
Ridge joins fellow Bush Cabinet secretaries Christine Todd Whitman (EPA), Ann Veneman (Agriculture), Carlos Gutierrez (Commerce) and Colin Powell (State) as Biden endorsers. Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, and Chuck Hagel, the former Nebraska Republican senator, both of whom served in the Obama Cabinet, have also backed Biden.
And that’s just Republicans who served in a presidential Cabinet! …
…(T)he hugely ironic reason that the sheer number of prominent Republicans rebelling from him in this election hasn’t received the attention I think it should: Because there are just so damn many of them…’
— Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large via CNNPolitics
‘Trevor Noah said the explosive New York Times report detailing President sonald trump’s massive $421 million in debt ― most of which is coming due over the next four years ― was the “Rosetta stone” that explains everything else.
“trump doesn’t actually want to be president. He just really needs that Secret Service protection,” “The Daily Show” host said. “Shit, if I had $400 million in loans coming due, I’d also be trying to cancel the election.”
And the debt explains why first lady Melania Trump hasn’t left the president.
“If she divorces him, she gets half of the $400 million in debt,” Noah cracked.
Noah also noted that trump was rooting for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to win the Democratic presidential nomination instead of Joe Biden.
“He wanted [Sanders] to win so that the government would bail him out,” Noah said, adding: “It even explains why trump has been destroying the post office. Good luck collecting your money when you can’t mail him a bill.”…’
— Ed Mazza via HuffPost
‘A filmmaker forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world….’
— via Netflix
Just watched this tonight. Compelling and visually stunning.
‘Research unveiled on Thursday in Science finds that crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds, a manifestation of higher intelligence and analytical thought long believed the sole province of humans and a few other higher mammals….’
— Sharon Begley via STAT News (thanks,Abby)
‘ “He must be stopped before it is too late,” psychologists Alan D. Blotcky and Seth D. Norrholm warn Americans…’
— Via Salon.com
Andrew Prokop wrote:
‘Here’s what key Republican senators have said, and how the timeline could play out….’
— via Vox
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay wrote:
‘Human activities have caused the world’s wildlife populations to plummet by more than two-thirds in the last 50 years, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund.
The decline is happening at an unprecedented rate, the report warns, and it threatens human life as well.
“The findings are clear,” the report states. “Our relationship with nature is broken.”…’
— via NPR
Ben Hubbard, Maria Abi-Habib, Mona El-Naggar, Allison McCann, Anjali Singhvi, James Glanz and Jeremy White wrote:
‘In the six years since the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate had arrived in Beirut’s port and been offloaded into Hangar 12, repeated warnings had ricocheted throughout the Lebanese government, between the port and customs authorities, three ministries, the commander of the Lebanese Army, at least two powerful judges and, weeks before the blast, the prime minister and president.
No one took action to secure the chemicals, more than 1,000 times the amount used to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995….’
— via The New York Times
Fascinating longread on the combination of happenstance, dereliction, and corruption that came together with such devastating consequences in longsuffering Beirut in August. Amazing graphics dissect timeline and location details.
Stephen Johnson wrote:
‘In May 2019, a ripple of gravitational waves passed through Earth after traveling across the cosmos for 7 billion years. The ripple came in four waves, each lasting just a fraction of a second. Although the ancient signal was faint, its source was cataclysmic: the biggest merger of two black holes ever observed.
It occurred when two mid-sized black holes — 66 and 85 times the mass of our Sun — drifted close together, began spinning around each other and merged into one black hole roughly 142 times the mass of our Sun.
“It’s the biggest bang since the Big Bang observed by humanity,” Caltech physicist Alan Weinstein, who was part of the discovery team, told The Associated Press….’
— via Big Think
‘Technology is blurring the lines between consumers and producers, amateurs and professionals, and laypeople and experts. We’re just starting to understand the implications…’
— via Scientific American
‘The SCP Foundation is a fictional organization documented by the web-based collaborative-fiction project of the same name. Within the website’s fictional setting, the SCP Foundation is responsible for locating and containing individuals, entities, locations, and objects that violate natural law (referred to as SCPs). The real-world website is community-based and includes elements of many genres such as horror, science fiction, and urban fantasy.
On the SCP Foundation wiki, the majority of works consist of “special containment procedures”: structured internal documentation that describes an SCP object and the means of keeping it contained. The website also contains thousands of “Foundation Tales”, short stories set within the universe of the SCP Foundation. The series has been praised for its ability to convey horror through its scientific and academic writing style, as well as for its high standards of quality….’
— via Wikipedia
‘Writing is nature’s way of showing you how sloppy your thinking usually is….’
War correspondent Janine di Giovanni writes in Harpers about the revelation to South Africa-born Toronto psychiatrist Anthony Feinstein of the “deep and sustained trauma” suffered by a war reporter who consulted him after returning from a particularly gruesome assignment in a conflict zone. He wondered whether proper training before her assignment or early intervention after her return could have alleviated her profound suffering.
In the late 90’s, before PTSD was a well-known concept, the idea of a conflict reporter suffering from the disorder was unfamiliar. The 90’s were a decade characterized by wars in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East, which often involved extreme violence and atrocities by lawless paramilitary groups. War reporters, not yet embedded with troops, were freelancers and had no protection, no insurance or security guards, and no conflict training. They were regularly killed or permanently injured and a significant number took their own lives.
Feinstein decided to study PTSD among war reporters, interviewing over a hundred including di Giovanni, and was alarmed by his findings.
‘ “I do not believe there is another profession that has more exposure to war than your group,” he told me. While soldiers often served one or two tours, he said, “You go back year after year after year to war.” Feinstein compiled a database of more than a thousand frontline journalists and concluded that the mean time spent in war zones for career war reporters was nearly fifteen years.’
Feinstein’s findings of the prevalence of PTSD in his subjects was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2002. Feinstein started a full court press with the press to persuade editors to pay attention to their war correspondents’ trauma, prompting many leading news organizations to develop conflict-reporting protocols.
In the 2010’s reporters covering the refugee crisis, who were not themselves at risk of being shot on the front lines, were suffering a new kind of mental health crisis from their profound helplessness and inability to save the tragic drowning victims or alter the circumstances driving them from their homes. He believed these journalists were suffering from moral injury, a term with origins in Jonathan Shay’s 1994 study of veterans with PTSD, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character. Recent studies have established that moral injury, which can co-occur with PTSD but is distinct, has emerged as the
‘biggest psychological challenge confronted by journalists covering the migration crisis…
Feinstein describes it as “a wound on the soul, an affront to your moral compass based on your own behavior and the things you have failed to do.” In other words, this is triggered by one’s feeling of having failed to live up to one’s own ethical standards rather than by external events. For instance, it is common for photographers shooting human catastrophes to feel that they have benefited from the suffering of their subjects, documenting instead of intervening. A complicating factor, especially for American journalists, is the feeling that one’s own country is contributing to or responsible for the suffering observed.
Moral injury of course is not restricted to journalists — soldiers who have witnessed torture (e.g. Abu Graib), doctors working in war zones, survivors of school massacres, prosecutors who feel ineffectual in righting injustice, witnesses of police brutality, are all vulnerable. It strikes me that it is a particular malignant and poignant form of survivor guilt.
Feinstein believes that medical professional might be among the most susceptible. Understanding moral injury will be important to address the problems faced by frontline healthcare workers who risked their lives and were powerless to save so many others during the CoViD crisis, in some cases making guilt-inducing decisions about who lived and who died themselves.
‘And what about the community at large? Will we all suffer from moral injury given what we have witnessed during the pan- demic? Feinstein thinks the predomi- nant emotion will be anxiety, but that people will experience degrees of moral injury. He told me to think of a hierarchy of suffering. Those who have lost people they loved place at the top, and below them are those who lost a business or a chance to celebrate a life milestone such as a wedding or a grad- uation. “These too will leave their mark,” he said.’
Finally, Feinstein speculates on the longterm effect of feeling moral revulsion toward the behavior of the man who is supposed to be our president. As FDR said, ‘The presidency is not merely an administrative office . . . it is preeminently a place of moral leadership.’ Today, those surviving and bearing witness may experience intense guilt about their powerlessness to mitigate the suffering and disaster inflicted by the Mad King.
After identifying the disorder and its scope, Feinstein is turning his attention to sources of resiliency and potential treatments. Is it possible to repair a soul?