The World Lost Two-Thirds Of Its Wildlife In 50 Years. We Are to Blame

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay wrote:

‘Human activities have caused the world’s wildlife populations to plummet by more than two-thirds in the last 50 years, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund.

The decline is happening at an unprecedented rate, the report warns, and it threatens human life as well.

“The findings are clear,” the report states. “Our relationship with nature is broken.”…’

— via NPR

How a Massive Bomb Came Together in Beirut’s Port

Ben Hubbard, Maria Abi-Habib, Mona El-Naggar, Allison McCann, Anjali Singhvi, James Glanz and Jeremy White wrote:

‘In the six years since the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate had arrived in Beirut’s port and been offloaded into Hangar 12, repeated warnings had ricocheted throughout the Lebanese government, between the port and customs authorities, three ministries, the commander of the Lebanese Army, at least two powerful judges and, weeks before the blast, the prime minister and president.

No one took action to secure the chemicals, more than 1,000 times the amount used to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995….’

— via The New York Times

Fascinating longread on the combination of happenstance, dereliction, and corruption that came together with such devastating consequences in longsuffering Beirut in August. Amazing graphics dissect timeline and location details. 

Scientists discover first ‘intermediate-mass’ black hole

Stephen Johnson wrote:

‘In May 2019, a ripple of gravitational waves passed through Earth after traveling across the cosmos for 7 billion years. The ripple came in four waves, each lasting just a fraction of a second. Although the ancient signal was faint, its source was cataclysmic: the biggest merger of two black holes ever observed.

It occurred when two mid-sized black holes — 66 and 85 times the mass of our Sun — drifted close together, began spinning around each other and merged into one black hole roughly 142 times the mass of our Sun.

“It’s the biggest bang since the Big Bang observed by humanity,” Caltech physicist Alan Weinstein, who was part of the discovery team, told The Associated Press….’

— via Big Think

The SCP Foundation

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

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

— via Wikipedia

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

David Perell

Can a new diagnosis help to heal our souls?

On moral injury:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Via Boston Globe

Where have all the shoes gone?

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

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

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

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

— Via BBC

Miss Seeing Your Face

UntitledImage

I ran across this photo today (via plasticbag.org). Incidentally, I ran a psychotherapy group today  on my unit, in which I wonderedwhether the clientele were finding it difficult that that the lower half of everyone’s face is masked. I suggested they think about whether they were facing new challenges in reading the faces of the clinicians who were treating them.

It appears that mask-wearing will be with us for a long time, especially as economies reopen and people are spending more time in public settings. Thinking about the psychological impact of masking will be crucial. I am curious about any research data about emotional perception from societies where women are veiled. It would also be interesting to do psychological studies of Asian societies where masking became more common in advance of the West since the SARS and bird flu epidemics earlier in the 21st century or even, to some extent, other respiratory illnesses of the 20th century.

You know that old chestnut about the ‘eyes being the windows to the soul‘ (versions of which have been variously attributed to Jesus and Shakespeare)? I have mulled over the fact that I seem to be able to gauge the emotions of some people clearly by seeing just their eyes, but there are others who, mouths concealed, are opaque to emotional readings. Is the difference an intrinsic one as to where and how people display their emotions? Or does it more lie in the skill of the observer? Thanks to my friend Abby for pointing me in this regard to the 2010 art installation by Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, “The Artist is Present”, in which people lined up for their chance to sit opposite the artist staring wordlessly at her eye to eye, “one of the final taboos of modern New York.” (New York TImes). What happens to eye-to-eye contact in the masking era?

Hardwired human capabilities bear on this. As befits such an inherently social species, an enormous amount of neurological machinery in the human brain has evolved to be devoted to interpersonal perception, given how much of an advantage is provided by having detailed access to the feelings or intentions of others with whom we are interacting. . Broadly speaking, an empathic connection to others, what Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen has called our ‘mind reading ability’,  relies on our capacity for emotional mimicry. When we observe the expressions or nonverbal behaviors of those with whom we interact,   a system of “mirror neurons” (about which I have written before on FmH) activates brain regions which echo the activity in the individual we are watching. Via this internal mimicry, this mechanism gives us an emotional experience when watching another’s behaviors or expressions similar to that we would have if we were performing those same behaviors outwardly ourselves. Watching someone smile or grimace makes you feel the way you would if you were smiling or grimacing yourself. In that way, we have very good access to what another is thinking or feeling. How much is that compromised in the mask-wearing epoch?

There is interesting research establishing that individuals with autism, who are deficient in person-perception, empathic connection, and ‘theory of mind,’1 look less at the eyes, and more at the mouth, of people with whom they are interacting. What impact is the mask-wearing of those with whom they interact having on them?

Some of my patients, who are involvement-averse or affect-intolerant, have commented that things have gotten easier for them since we have begun social distancing and masking half our faces. They feel relief that their facial expressions are betraying less, that there is less their interlocutors are expressing to which they are called upon to respond,  and that they are less under scrutiny while interacting. Some with severe mental illnesses may find it easier to remain in treatment when they do not have to go out during the pandemic lockdown, as most aftercare programs are conducted virtually.

In any case,  those whose vocations relay on nuanced interpersonal interaction, like myself, must be finding it difficult and unfamiliar  not to see the faces of the people they work with.2 This is less of an issue for the therapists conducting their therapy online. Their clients, of course, can be unmasked staring full faced into the camera from the safety of their quarantine. For many that is good enough to do satisfactory psychotherapy, although some of my therapist friends lament their limited access to elements of their clients’ body language below the neck.

But the hospitalized psychiatric patients, to work with whom I physically go into the hospital on a daily basis, are always masked when they are out of their bedrooms in the milieu. Something about this stringent norm is working — our unit has not had one case of viral transmission to staff or patients since the pandemic began. But my patients and I have in some cases never seen one another’s faces despite days or at times weeks of treatment! And if I do see a patient unmasked in passing, I am at times taken aback by how their appearance departs from what I had imagined was behind the mask I stared at day after day. Today I was surprised to see that one of my patients, a young man unmasked for the first time, had a bushy mustache I could not have envisioned.  Facial hair and piercings, etc. act as signifiers over and above facial expressiveness, now concealed. Am I in effect treating a different person than the one they would want to be when interacting with me if they were unmasked?

Some emotions — fear and anger — appear to be more upper-face emotions than others such as happiness or sadness. What will be the societal impact of some emotions becoming easier to read, or seen as more prevalent, than others?  In his powerful 1978 book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander described how a medium incapable of clearly conveying subtlety of emotion potentially shaped social behavior and interaction into something less granular, more grandiose and bolder. If the medium is the message, does this contribute to a tendency toward action over contemplation, grossness over subtlety, and the melodramatic over the sublime? 3 And does mask-wearing analogously act to filter subtleties out of interpersonal communication?

The adverse effects of masking may hit some societies more than others. In less culturally homogeneous societies (such as the U.S.) we need as many cues as we can get to know how someone feels and how they will react. In more culturally homogeneous societies, it is arguably easier to know what people are feeling.

fMRI studies also show that, when viewing images of people from stigmatized groups that inspire disgust (homeless, drug addicts, the lower-caste ‘untouchables’ in Indian society), subjects have reciprocally reduced activation of brain regions associated with the experience of empathy. Some like philosopher Martha Nussbaum argue that stereotyping, xenophobia, and dehumanizing of the outsider may be based on the neurology of disgust or creepiness. If the neural processes allowing empathic connection through the activation of mirror neurons are interfered with by masking, xenophobia and dehumanization may flourish. Paranoid ideation — anticipating vulnerability and threat to oneself in conditions of increased difficulty making sense of incoming information, as I define it — can be facilitated. These are very ingrained processes difficult to reason one’s way beyond.

In my psychiatric work during the pandemic, I have found it more difficult to reassure patients without their seeing my smile. It has been written about extensively in both psychotherapy training manuals and the literature of the art of negotiation that people resonate unconsciously with each other in conversation by matching body language and facial expressions. Masking is making that more of a challenge. Are we in the midst of discovering new ways to misunderstand one another?

It may be necessary to switch increasingly to verbal in place of nonverbal reactions, e.g. chuckling rather than smiling. People may become more gestural with their hands or physical movements such as nodding. All of this may be deliberate or unconscious, borne of necessity, even without our recognition. It is also possible that we may become more skilled at reading the minute expressions in the parts of others’ faces which are still  visible, which we used to overlook. We may shift toward more eye contact, as uncomfortable as that might be in some instances.

I cannot let the opportunity pass without mentioning the work of one of the most influential 20th-21st century psychologists, Paul Ekman, who devoted his life to the observation of nonverbal communication. Ekman found that the facial muscular movements that create emotional expressions can be reliably observed and described. He posited that the correlation between various expressions and their emotional connotations are universal, especially those for disgust, fear, joy, loneliness, and shock. They could be demonstrated even in preliterate cultures, whose members could not have learned the correlations from media exposure. Ekman’s work was devoted to the precise observation, description and categorization of the component ‘micro-expressions’ indicative of various emotions. He developed a training system for the better recognition and analysis of these micro-expressions, which are manifested even when subjects are trying to suppress their display of emotion.

Discerning these micro-expressions is very useful for the detection of deception. It does not take much imagination to envision the importance of recognizing deceit in areas as diverse as witness and suspect interviewing in law enforcement, job interviews, and political candidates, to name a few, in addition to psychiatric treatment. Ekman describes in detail in his book Telling Lies the analysis of the nonverbal behavior of a woman who lied about whether she was feeling suicidal in order to leave the hospital where she was committed for her safety. I face similar quandaries assessing safety in my practice with hospitalized psychiatric patients nearly every day. Emotional deception may be unconscious as well as deliberate,. There is a strong relationship between psychological distress and fooling oneself. Skills-based training in emotion recognition may be useful for patients as well as clinicians, helping patients in psychotherapy to better notice, label, and process emotional experiences which they themselves might not recognize. The alternative and humanistic therapy practices of the ’60’s and ’70’s, which I used to think were unsophisticated and unsystematic for their focus on such buzzwords as “getting in touch with your feelings,” may have been onto something after all. So, if masking remains ubiquitous, we should probably all take Ekman’s training program!

A condition called alexithymia (literally “no words for feelings”), defined only in the last few decades after the work of Boston psychiatrists John Nemiah and Peter Sifneos, involves extreme difficulty in identifying and describing one’s own feelings. By extension, one’s ability to recognize emotion in others is impaired, and interestingly such patients have difficulty with fantasy and imagination. It may affect as much as 10% of the population although may not be manifested until someone is in psychiatric treatment. Alexithymia is a stable personality characteristic of an individual rather than a situational response to stress. It predisposes people to other psychological disorders. Individuals tend to avoid emotionally close relationships and the disorder is negatively correlated with overall life satisfaction and reduces the likelihood patients will respond to treatment efforts. Distress is frequently exacerbated when these individuals enter psychotherapy. Evidence exists for both a neurological basis of alexithymia (e.g. damaged interhemispheric communication) and psychological explanations (e.g that of psychoanalyst Joyce MacDougall who understands alexithymia as a defense against the experience of emotion once it has become too painful). Certain genetic variants in the serotonin system have been found to correlate with alexithymic traits.

The more stringent demands to read emotion with more limited information in a mask-wearing world might make us more sensitive not only to alexithymia but other impairments in nonverbal aspects of person perception and emotional processing. To name a few, these include prosopagnosia (also known as face blindness, famously suffered among others by the great neurologist Oliver Sacks, painter Chuck Close, primatologist Jane Goodall, Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, actor Stephen Fry, and Steve Wozniak),  emotional dysprosody,  and aphantasia.

Interestingly, research has identified a phenomenon called covert facial recognition. In experiments, it can be shown that subjects with prosopagnosia  unconsciously recognize familiar faces without being consciously aware that they are able to do so. Similarly, might people with alexithymia  instinctually recognize emotions in others even when they don’t believe consciously that they are able to name the feelings they are seeing? Might we be able to read emotion conveyed by masked faces better than we think we can?  4

Alexithymia may also have something to do with testosterone and/or other factors in gender identity, biological and/or developmental. Psychologist Ronald Levant coined the term “normative male alexithymia” to describe the assertion that men are at base “emotional mummies” with impaired socialization and capacity for attachment. Unlike true clinical alexithymia, NMA is not full-blown psychopathology but nevertheless affects the quality of men’s lives and that of people around them, he believes. With this concept, I’m backing into the question of whether mask wearing will accentuate gender differences in person perception abilities.  Will women, if they are indeed generally more skillful readers of emotion, find facial obscuration harder to deal with than men who tend to be more oblivious to the challenges it poses? Or will men’s person perception skills, marginal to begin with, be stressed past the tipping point more than those of women?

Throughout my psychiatric career, I have had a strong interest in the condition called Capgras’ syndrome, in which a person becomes convinced that someone important in their life has been replaced by an outwardly identical but subtly, discernably different substitute. Capgras, about which I lecture and to which I have referred before on FmH, occurs in both neurological and psychiatric conditions, and is thought to result from a dysfunction in the machinery of person recognition and familiarity. Studies have shown that the difference between how we react to a familiar vs an unfamiliar face resides in the level of activation of a brain area called the posterior cingulate gyrus. If this malfunctions, the sufferer recognizes the person perceptually but the experience of the person lacks its remembered emotional valence, thus they do not feel emotionally familiar. The conclusion that they have been replaced by an impostor is a natural attempt to make sense of this disturbing dissonance. If emotional aspects of person perception are impaired in the masked world, will we see an increase in Capgras, in which we feel we are relating to emotional impostors? 5

I often point to the 1956 science fiction film Invasion of the Body Snatchers in reference to Capgras’ syndrome. Over and above banal analyses seeing it as an allegory about the Communist threat or a veiled critique of McCarthyism, I have always felt that the terror evoked by this film relied on its profound challenge to our dependence on the sense of the familiar and the dismissal by mental professionals as crazy of those alarmed by the perception that their loved ones were “not themselves.” In a nuance lost in subsequent remakes of the film, those taken over by the aliens retained their ability to convey emotion but were always a little “off”, as if they were imitating genuine emotion, a clear evocation of the experience of Capgras’ sufferers. Other films from the 50’s evoked the same terror, most memorably The Thing (1951) and Invaders From Mars (1953). (For my money, forget the more recent remakes of Body Snatchers or Invaders and go back to the originals. On the other hand, the 1982 version of The Thing with Kurt Russell is fabulous and underrated.). Of course, there are any number of recent horror films which rely more directly on mask-wearing antagonists for their terror. It is a very common trope. The experience evokes something primal.

In a deeper sense, metaphorical masking and unmasking processes are at the core of human interaction and particularly therapeutic interaction. What we keep private and what we keep public, and why, are core concerns for all of us in our public presentations in everyday life. What are the influences on our masking and unmasking? Some sociologists, notably Erving Goffman, assert that misrepresentation is an essential part of our public persona and that the mask come to be more real than the self. In that sense, could social presentation in the mask-wearing age be more authentic? Probably not to the oppressed. In Marxist philosophy, a character mask (German: charaktermaske) is a prescribed social role that serves to conceal the contradictions of a social relation or order. The term was used by Karl Marx in various published writings from the 1840s to the 1860s. In his classic Black Skin, White Masks, Franz Fanon shows how language itself forces the donning of masks and plays a powerful role in the subjugation of the oppressed. Dutch author and former editor of The New York Review of Books Ian Buruma, in his 1984 book Behind the Maskargues that cultural taboos have always functioned like figurative masks shaping the expressions of various emotions and behaviors. Roland Barthes said, “The mask is the meaning.” Masking has always been an alluring fetish in erotic fantasy. In the pandemic era, is it mostly a signifier of good citizenry or of  pervasive fear and panic? It is a topic for a different essay to consider the meaning of the anti-masking philosophy and its relation to toxic individualism and antisociality.

I came to psychiatry after starting in cultural anthropology. When people have asked me to explain this change of direction, I have often said something about not finding it to be such a deviation at all. Especially these days, where the atomization of society is so clear, one cannot avoid an appreciation for the fact that everyone inhabits their own micro-culture with disparate values, assumptions, and cognitive styles.  I realized somewhere along the way that all interaction is essentially cross-cultural, and that I did not have to do fieldwork with indigenous people to experience the challenge of cross-cultural communication. Much as anthropological fieldworkers feel it is a privilege to be allowed into another culture, I feel I am privileged to have the opportunity every day to peer into the lives and the minds of so many disparate people with whom I would never otherwise had any encounters of depth. And to experience the unending fascinating challenge of helping them despite the mask of impenetrability we all wear most of the time.


1 Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, knowledge, etc. — to others, and is considered necessary to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own.

2 It’s a different topic for another day, so I won’t get started on the issue of recently-trained ‘modern’ psychiatrists who don’t believe they have to communicate with their patients. Although I am a skilled psychopharmacologist, readers of FmH know how I decry attempting to treat patients by pill-pushing unaccompanied by the “talking cure”. Some of these folks might well be feeling relieved of the burden of having to read the emotional language of their clientele around now!

3 As Mander described it,”…Television has effects, very important effects, aside from the content, and they may be more important. They organize society in a certain way. They give power to a very small number of people to speak into the brains of everyone else in the system night after night after night with images that make people turn out in a certain kind of way. It affects the psychology of people who watch. It increases the passivity of people who watch. It changes family relationships. It changes understandings of nature. It flattens perception so that information, which you need a fair amount of complexity to understand it as you would get from reading, this information is flattened down to a very reduced form on television. And the medium has inherent qualities which cause it to be that way.”

4 And, while we’re at it, is there any evidence bearing upon whether maskwearing is having an impact on the ability of animals, who are thought of as notably good at resonating with the feelings of their humans, to read our emotions?

5 The Echo Maker by Richard Powers is a superb novel revolving around a case of Capgras, with a guest appearance from an Oliver Sacks-like celebrity neurologist. .

The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

‘In his sci-fi trilogy The Three Body Problem, author Liu Cixin presents the dark forest theory of the universe.

When we look out into space, the theory goes, we’re struck by its silence. It seems like we’re the only ones here. After all, if other forms of life existed, wouldn’t they show themselves? Since they haven’t, we assume there’s no one else out there.

Liu invites us to think about this a different way.

Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent.

Is our universe an empty forest or a dark one? If it’s a dark forest, then only Earth is foolish enough to ping the heavens and announce its presence. The rest of the universe already knows the real reason why the forest stays dark. It’s only a matter of time before the Earth learns as well.

This is also what the internet is becoming: a dark forest.

In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream….’

Yancey Strickler | OneZero

How the American Idiot made America unlivable

‘Americans have spent decades being impoverished of public health by the American Idiot — the kind of person who votes against better healthcare for everyone, including themselves, their kids, their parents. What the? What kind of idiot does that? A very, very large number of Americans.

The result of that attitude was a society poor in a gruesome and strange way — poor in public health itself. What I mean by that is that American life expectancy is the lowest in the rich world, and plummeting, that Americans have the highest rates of all kinds of preventable chronic diseases, from diabetes to obesity to heart disease. You can see it on American faces, in fact: a society poor in health is a society of unhealthy people.

We expect much, much poorer societies to be impoverished in public health. It’s a strange concept to have to think about precisely because we don’t expect it of a rich country. Perhaps one of a poor one, that’s never really developed at all. This is a syndrome unique to America — a form of poverty that Europeans and Canadians struggle to understand, because, well, they’ve mostly eliminated it. But in America, health poverty is endemic.

So endemic that you can see America’s gotten shockingly poorer and poorer in health — right down to the resurgence of old, conquered diseases, from measles to mumps. Again, that’s the work of the American Idiot — the kind of person who won’t vaccinate their kids, which is an idea that in the end takes society right back to the medieval days of endemic smallpox and polio.

So what was going to happen when a society impoverished in terms of health met a pandemic? Utter catastrophe. America’s mortality rate and infection rate are so high precisely because America was a time bomb of failing public health waiting to go off.

What then are the results of creating a society impoverished in public health? Well, Americans face a gruesome choice that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the rich world, even in much of the poor one: your money or your life. “Medical bankruptcy” is the result — I put in quotes because it’s a notion that scarcely exists elsewhere….’

— Umair Haque via Eudaimonia and Co

R.I.P Peter Green

‘Blues guitarist Peter Green, a co-founder of the band Fleetwood Mac, has died at the age of 73.

… A statement from Green’s family on Saturday said, “It is with great sadness that the family of Peter Green announce his death this weekend, peacefully in his sleep. A further statement will be provided in the coming days.”

Green was known for his blues guitar sound even prior to the forming of Fleetwood Mac. He replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers in 1965. Just a couple years later in 1967, Green and fellow Bluesbreakers members, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, formed Fleetwood Mac, along with guitarist Jeremy Spencer….’

— via NPR

Some, myself included, would say the only real Fleetwood Mac was Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. Never mind that Buckingham and Nicks jangly pop. Going to put ‘The Green Manalishi’ on repeat now…

Trump Consults Bush Torture Lawyer on How to Skirt Law and Rule by Decree

‘The Trump administration has been consulting the former government lawyer who wrote the legal justification for waterboarding on how the president might try to rule by decree.

Constitutional scholars and human rights activists have also pointed to the deployment of paramilitary federal forces against protesters in Portland as a sign that Trump is ready to use this broad interpretation of presidential powers as a means to suppress basic constitutional rights.

“This is how it begins,” Laurence Tribe, a Harvard constitutional law professor, wrote on Twitter. “The dictatorial hunger for power is insatiable. If ever there was a time for peaceful civil disobedience, that time is upon us.”…’

— Via The Guardian

The Border Patrol Was Responsible for an Arrest in Portland

Federal officers in unmarked uniforms fire on demonstrators with tear gas and “less lethal” munitions at Portland’s Federal Courthouse.

 

‘An internal memo, obtained exclusively by The Nation, details a coordinated program of domestic counterinsurgency….’

— via The Nation

 

My burning question is: for which offenses will the Biden Justice Dept arrest and prosecute Trump after Jan 2021? Too little too late, but we need the guilty verdict we never got in the impeachment trial after all. 

R.I.P. John Lewis

UntitledImage Photo by Michael Avedon

”You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone—any person or any force—dampen, dim or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. […] Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.“

—  John Lewis (thanks, Barbara)

UntitledImage Lewis and Barack Obama walked across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma AL fifty years after landmark march.

US presidents join tributes to a civil rights icon

— via BBC News

File this away in case you want to get away with murder

‘THE 50-SQUARE-MILE STRETCH OF YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK that spills over Idaho’s border is a legal no-man’s land. It’s an isolated spot, one devoid of roads or any permanent human inhabitants. It’s also missing legislation to prevent people from being charged with serious crimes.

The loophole has to do with the Sixth Amendment, which dictates that a jury must be comprised of people from the state and federal district where the crime was committed. Because this portion of Yellowstone is in Idaho and the park itself lies within the jurisdiction of Wyoming, it means a jury for a crime committed there would have to come from people who both live in Idaho and fall under Wyoming’s federal jurisdiction.

It would be an impossible jury to form, as this uninhabited part of the park is the only place to fit such criteria. And since Yellowstone is federal land, the individual states involved have no legal jurisdiction to amend the issue.

Brian Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University, brought the loophole into the spotlight in 2005. In a paper published in Georgetown Law Journal called “The Perfect Crime,” Kalt outlined the legal technicalities that put this potentially murderous geographic anomaly on the map. He sent copies of his work to various government authorities before it hit print, hoping someone would close the loophole….’

— via Atlas Obscura

Trump discounts rate of black killings by police

‘President Trump on Tuesday rejected the notion that Black Americans suffer disproportionately from police brutality, saying in an interview that will be televised later today that white people are killed in greater numbers.

Mr. Trump reacted angrily when asked about the issue, which has led to nationwide protests calling for major law enforcement changes.

“Why are African-Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country?” the interviewer, Catherine Herridge of CBS News, asked the president.

“What a terrible question to ask,” Mr. Trump responded. “So are white people. More white people, by the way.”…’

— via New York Times

It would be tempting to attribute the statement to the Boy King’s inability to understand statistics, or to implicit racism, but of course it has more to do with explicit racism in this case.

239 experts: one core fact you thought you knew about coronavirus is wrong

Airborne spread, not droplet:

‘The coronavirus is finding new victims worldwide, in bars and restaurants, offices, markets and casinos, giving rise to frightening clusters of infection that increasingly confirm what many scientists have been saying for months: The virus lingers in the air indoors, infecting those nearby.

If airborne transmission is a significant factor in the pandemic, especially in crowded spaces with poor ventilation, the consequences for containment will be significant. Masks may be needed indoors, even in socially-distant settings. Health care workers may need N95 masks that filter out even the smallest respiratory droplets as they care for coronavirus patients.

Ventilation systems in schools, nursing homes, residences and businesses may need to minimize recirculating air and add powerful new filters. Ultraviolet lights may be needed to kill viral particles floating in tiny droplets indoors.

The World Health Organization has long held that the coronavirus is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that, once expelled by infected people in coughs and sneezes, fall quickly to the floor.

But in an open letter to the W.H.O., 239 scientists in 32 countries have outlined the evidence showing that smaller particles can infect people, and are calling for the agency to revise its recommendations. The researchers plan to publish their letter in a scientific journal next week….’

— via New York Times

Related: Airborne Coronavirus: What You Should Do Now


How to protect yourself from a virus that may be floating indoors? Better ventilation, for starters. And keep wearing those masks. (New York Times)

 

What I Saw When I Came Eye to Eye with a Sperm Whale

‘…(I)t’s not a warm and fuzzy moment. In fact, it’s deeply unsettling. Does she know that we are the ones that put the plastic in the oceans? That drive the boats that ran her kind down? That we’re the descendants of the creatures that turned her ancestors into candles and engine grease?

Honestly, I have no idea. I sense nothing beyond profound intelligence and profound otherness. From three feet away, I feel the chasm between us, and I think she does, too. Why are you here? I want to ask. And from across the chasm, the question echoes back….’

Via Outside Online

Welcome to the United States of ‘Idiocracy’

‘When Mike Judge’s movie “Idiocracy” came out in 2006, almost no one saw it. (The film grossed less than $500,000 at the box office.) Now everyone should see it.
Luke Wilson plays an average Joe who is put into suspended animation and reawakens 500 years later to find himself the smartest person in America because everyone else has gotten so dumb. The No. 1 TV show features contestants being hit in their private parts; crops are watered with a sports energy drink, causing a famine; and the president is a former wrestler and porn star who curses freely and fires automatic weapons on TV.
Is there a better prophecy of our end times? The only thing “Idiocracy” really got wrong was its timeline. It has taken just 15 years, not 500, for America to become an idiocracy. …’

— Max Boot writing in The Washington Post

Biden “dominating” Trump in latest national poll

Biden “dominating” Trump in latest national poll:

’A NYT/Siena poll puts Joe Biden 14 points ahead of Donald Trump, leading him 50% to 36%. The margin has widened to cut into Trump’s firewall of white voters, suggesting a growing rejection of his approach to Covid and race.…’ (via Boing Boing)

(Of course, this is only heartening to the extent that you believe the Presidential election is determined by public opinion rather than voter suppression, foreign interference, and other manner of fraud and deceit, as my friend Abby points out. Think it can’t happen here?)

16 ‘Batshit Crazy’ Moments From John Bolton’s Book About Trump

‘Trump asked China to help him win the 2020 election…

Trump told China’s leader that concentration camps are a good idea…

Bolton says Mike Pompeo called Trump “so full of shit.” …

Trump’s White House aides were miserable…

Trump is impossible to brief…

Trump complains in private that he’s been too tough on Russia…

Trump asked Kelly if Finland is part of Russia…

Yes, Trump tried to swap military aid to Ukraine for an investigation of Joe Biden…

Trump said invading Venezuela would be “cool.” …

Trump said his big summit with Kim Jong Un was all for show…

Trump then obsessed for months over sending Kim an Elton John CD…

Trump really wanted to meet Kim Jong Un again…

Trump told Turkey’s president he’d squash a criminal investigation…

Trump asked Bolton to praise him on TV more…

White House trade policy meetings were “college food fights.” …

Trump asked Attorney General Bill Barr to put journalists “in jail.” …’

 

— Via VICE

Donald Trump rally: President talks about ramp walk for 14 minutes

The foreign perspective on ‘the most powerful man on the planet’:

‘As you might recall, the President publicly addressed the incident last week, saying the ramp was “very long and steep”, had “no handrail” and was “very slippery”.
He also claimed to have “run down” the final three metres, which was a weird thing to say, as the footage quite obviously showed it was false.

In any case, after that response from the President, the whole, ridiculous “Trump walked slowly down a ramp” thing appeared to be behind us.
Yet it seems to have been weighing heavily on Mr Trump’s mind. I say that because, as mentioned, he spent a quarter of an hour venting about it at today’s rally.

Usually, we would chop up Mr Trump’s monologue into a few short, easily digestible quotes, because that is how the news generally works. Politician delivers borderline incoherent stream of consciousness; reporter picks out the important bits; you get to move on with your life.
In this case, however, I thought it was worth transcribing Mr Trump’s entire monologue, because breaking it up would rob it of its full effect.
I present to you, without further comment, the most powerful man on the planet talking about that time people filmed him walking slowly down a ramp. Enjoy….’

— via news,com.au

Related:

‘Trump had little more to say about the coronavirus beyond his praise for our increasing testing capacity and his decision to restrict the entry of the Chinese. But the pandemic is worsening—thanks in large part to state reopenings that Trump has encouraged. An even deeper economic recession would likely follow another large, uncontrolled wave of infections. None of this was discussed. But Trump did offer extended reenactments of his journey down a ramp and the sip of water he took at his West Point address earlier this month…’

— via The New Republic

“I’m Sorry” – Warren Ellis

Does it affect your assessment of the sincerity of his recent apologies for decades of alleged abusiveness that he still has this up on his website?

‘I’m sorry I came in your shoes.

I’m sorry I hung your teddy bear from the light fitting and then pointed the anglepoise lamp at it so the first thing you saw when you came home was little Bear Paws swinging from his noose in silhouette on the wall.

I’m sorry about that thing with your chinchilla and the bellows. But I have to point out that it was me who wiped everything off the wallpaper, and your sister did get the fur out of her teeth.

I’m sorry I pissed in the steam iron.

I’m sorry about putting that half a horse from the road accident in the back of your car. But in my defense I thought you might, I dunno, find it useful for something.

I’m sorry I left that half a horse in the back of your car for two weeks.

I’m sorry about your mother almost choking to death on the condom, though I still don’t think it was my fault.

I’m sorry about your mother almost choking to death on the used condom a month later. That might have been my fault, yeah.

I’m sorry I pissed in the washing machine.

I’m sorry about that whole thing with the harpoon gun, the fishing line and the, you know, the string of dogs.

I’m sorry I made you help me stand the dogs in line.

I’m sorry I threw up in the carrot bread mix and didn’t tell anyone.

I’m sorry about exploding those frogs with your drinking straws and then putting them back in the drawer without telling you. Or rinsing them.

I’m sorry I pissed in your sister. On your sister. On. Really. On your sister.

I’m sorry about all these things, and anything else you can think of, and I really really love you and I want you to take me back.

And, um. I’m sorry the back of your house is on fire.

(written 2004)…’

— Via Warren Ellis

Cancelled?

Deaths prompt Alaska officials to remove ‘Into the Wild’ bus

‘An abandoned bus in the Alaska wilderness where a young man documented his demise over 114 days in 1992 has been removed by officials, frustrated that the bus has become a lure for dangerous, sometimes deadly pilgrimages into treacherous backcountry.

An Alaska National Guard Chinook helicopter flew the bus out of the woods just north of Denali National Park and Preserve on Thursday.


Christopher McCandless hiked to the bus located about 250 miles (402 kilometers) north of Anchorage nearly three decades ago, and the 24-year-old Virginian died from starvation when he couldn’t hike back out because of the swollen Teklanika River. He kept a journal of his plight, discovered when his body was found. McCandless’ story was first documented in Jon Krakauer’s 1996 book “Into the Wild,” followed by Sean Penn’s movie of the same name in 2007.

Over the years, the bus became a magnet for those wishing to retrace McCandless’ steps to the bus to pay homage. But the Teklanika River that prevented McCandless from hiking out also has caused problems for people who came later on pilgrimages. Two women, one from Switzerland in 2010 and one from Belarus in 2019, drowned on such pilgrimages.

State officials said there have been 15 other search-and-rescue operations since 2009, including one involving five Italian tourists last winter, one with severe frostbite….’

— Via Tampa Bay Times

Related:

How Chris McCandless Died (FmH)

 

Why Trump Keeps Losing at the Supreme Court

Neal Katyal (former acting U.S. Solicitor General) and Joshua Geltzer (executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection):

‘The legal reasoning may look like it turns on obscure technicalities, but the administration’s cases are falling apart because of something much more deeply wrong…

Trump doesn’t see law as a constraint, but something to be manipulated—and that’s clearly a message his Cabinet seems to have received. Consequently, they play fast and loose with the law. The Court, in this decision and last year’s, is essentially saying that the law still matters.

Ultimately, that’s precisely what’s at stake as long as Trump is president. If all that matters is a president’s policy preferences, then law—including judicial review—is basically a facade: Dress it up enough, and it’ll pass muster. But if law matters—if building a record and considering facts and providing honest reasons matter—then Trump is sure to keep losing….’

— Via The Atlantic

A crossroads in Tulsa: How Trump plans to turn around his losing campaign

Trump strategy boils down to: infect the majority of expected 100,000 who show up to attend tonight’s Tulsa rally. Then return to red communities and spread coronavirus far and wide among MAGA supporters.

— Via CNNPolitics

Related:Tulsa Health Official Has A Stark Wake-Up Call For People Attending Trump Rally

‘“It’s a perfect storm,” warned Bruce Dart, who urged attendees to self-isolate and get tested for the coronavirus following the event….’

— Via HuffPost

Related: Six campaign staffers working on Tulsa rally test positive for coronavirus – CNNPolitics

Related: Trump dismisses the need to wear masks at his campaign rally in Tulsa

‘President Donald Trump told Axios on Friday that he anticipated a “wild evening” at his Saturday campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, while recommending “people do what they want” when it comes to wearing a mask at the event — and even suggested it could be harmful to wear one.

Trump’s comments come as the city has seen a surge in Covid-19 cases in the past few weeks. They also stand at odds with recommendations from public health officials in his own administration who recommend mask-wearing whenever social distancing isn’t possible, and with warnings from experts that indoor concerts and shows are natural superspreading events….’

— Via Vox

Related: When You Get to Hell, This Song Plays on Repeat for All Eternity:

‘2020’s worst piece of “music” is this Donald Trump reelection anthem, sung by seven disturbingly cheerful, mask-less white people….’

— Via VICE

Happy Litha

‘Midsummer or the Summer Solstice is the most powerful day of the year for the Sun God. Because this Sabbat glorifies the Sun God and the Sun, fire plays a very prominent role in this festival…

Most cultures of the Northern Hemisphere mark Midsummer in some ritualised manner and from time immemorial people have acknowledged the rising of the sun on this day. At Stonehenge, the heelstone marks the midsummer sunrise as seen from the centre of the stone circle.In ancient times, the Summer Solstice was a fire-festival of great importance when the burning of balefires ritually strengthened the sun. It was often marked with torchlight processions, by flaming tar barrels or by wheels bound with straw, which were set alight and rolled down steep hillsides. The Norse especially loved lengthy processions and would gather together their animals, families and lighted torches and parade through the countryside to the celebration site.

The use of fires, as well as providing magical aid to the sun, were also used to drive out evil and to bring fertility and prosperity to men, crops and herds. Blazing gorse or furze was carried around cattle to prevent disease and misfortune; while people would dance around the balefires or leap through the flames as a purifying or strengthening rite. The Celts would light balefires all over their lands from sunset the night before Midsummer until sunset the next day. Around these flames the festivities would take place. In Cornwall up to the mid 18th century the number and appearance of fires seen from any given point was used as a form of divination and used to read the future.

Astronomically, it is the longest day of the year, representing the God at full power. Although the hottest days of the summer still lie ahead, from this point onward we enter the waning year, and each day the Sun will recede from the skies a little earlier, until Yule, when the days begin to become longer again…’

— Via The Wheel Of The Year

Related:

Midsommar: What the hell just happened? (The Guardian; spoilers)

Related:

‘Summer officially arrives at 5:43 p.m. eastern time Saturday… We’ve reached peak daylight. Here’s a guide to the 2020 summer solstice….’ (Washington Post)

A Remarkable Turn of Events

Josh Marshall writes on Talking Points Memo  about how badly corrupt attorney general William Barr’s attempted Friday night purge of Geoff Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, went. He issued an announcement that Berman had resigned “effective immediately”, but Berman countered that

“I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York”

 

Berman is no DOJ careerist but a former law partner of Rudy Giuliani and campaign donor to Trump, handpicked by Trump and personally interviewed by the child king before he signed off on Berman’s nomination. This makes sense, of course, because Berman would have to be trusted to oversee Trump’s home turf.

Marshall notes that, while presidents undoubtedly have the power to oust US Attorneys, it is the urgency of the dismissal and its proximity to the election that raise suspicions.

‘Something was and apparently is afoot that required Berman’s immediate removal. We just don’t yet know what it is. There are numerous possibilities. Berman’s office has overseen investigations of numerous Trump associates. Most of the President’s own business dealings would come under the office’s jurisdiction. Perhaps critically, many investigations which have offended foreign potentates friendly to President Trump are also housed in this office…’

 

Clearly, with its plummeting poll numbers and ongoing catastrophes, the Trump reelection campaign is driven to make the most of its tyrannical executive power while it still holds it. Actions like Berman’s refusal to step down are encouraging signs of the erosion of that power. The coming months will surely be exciting!

Related:

Marshall also relays a comment from an anonymous DOJ veteran pointing out that, although Trump indeed has the legal authority to dismiss a U.S. Attorney, he does not have the power to appoint a replacement, which is vested in the judges of the District. If he tried, (a) there would surely be a staff revolt; and (b) findings in cases prosecuted under the illegal appointee would be in jeopardy of being invalidated.

A Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Explains Why This Time Is Different

Interestingly, Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometti feels the current anti-racism protests are different, and will have a more lasting impact, because they come on the heels of the Covid lockdown. People have more time on their hands to think about racism, they are already dealing with despair and fear about the future, and they have the time to come out to the streets to express their concerns.

— Via The New Yorker

Covid Restriction Relaxation and infection rates

Tech writer Timothy B. Lee on Twitter notes the divergence between coronavirus infections in blue states and red states since mid-April. They were largely on the same trajectory until contagion restrictions began to relax. In data from covidtracking.com, upon which he relied, deaths have not yet followed that divergence, but death rates lag infections by several weeks. Of course, infection rates also depend on overall testing rates, but there is no reason to believe these are rising in red states out of proportion to the increase in testing in blue states. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the difference relates to the relaxation of anti-contagion measures. Of course, blue states are starting to open too. Interesting to see what the statistics show in several more weeks.

Happy Independence Day!

Juneteenth and other Emancipation Day celebrations, explained:

A historian explains (Vox) why Juneteenth should be considered the country’s true Independence Day. Schoolchildren are taught that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. But an argument can be made that June 19, 1865, the date when federal troops entered Texas to punish slave holders and former Confederates who had refused to obey the emancipation law, is more significant.

The federal government, however, abandoned protection of blacks within a little more than a dozen years, bringing on widespread lynching. So Juneteenth celebrations commemorate not so much the end but the persistence of the slavers’ racist mentality and behaviors.

Arguably, the exception to the emancipation proclamation allowing continued involuntary servitude for those convicted of crimes allowed the continuation of the war on blacks in the guise of the “war on crime.” So… celebrate Juneteenth as a dream of the end of systemic racism in policing?

Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop

A devastating expose from someone who knows:

‘I was a police officer for nearly ten years and I was a bastard. We all were.
This essay has been kicking around in my head for years now and I’ve never felt confident enough to write it. It’s a time in my life I’m ashamed of. It’s a time that I hurt people and, through inaction, allowed others to be hurt. It’s a time that I acted as a violent agent of capitalism and white supremacy. Under the guise of public safety, I personally ruined people’s lives but in so doing, made the public no safer… so did the family members and close friends of mine who also bore the badge alongside me.
But enough is enough….’

— Via Medium

Here’s What We Know About ‘Asymptomatic Spread’ After Confusing WHO Statements

The recent WHO statement that it is ‘rare’ for asymptomatic coronavirus-infected individuals to transmit the disease to other individuals has raised concern among researchers and public health experts. Here’s a deeper dive into the question of asymptomatic transmission.

  1. The proportion of infected individuals who remain asymptomatic is not known. One reason is that people don’t generally seek testing unless they feel unwell. The only indications come from outbreaks in closed settings — such as prisons, meatpacking plants, nursing homes and cruise ships — where mass testing has been possible. People may also not always be the best judge of their condition — having “no symptoms is in the eye of the beholder. And, without adequate followup (which does not exist), “asymptomatic” people might merely be “presymptomatic”.
  2. Cases of onward transmission from asymptomatic individuals may be rare but it does happen, and researchers are divided on whether such cases indicate a broader trend or is an anomalies. Studies have shown that asymptomatic infected people have similar numbers of virus particles in their throats as people who feel unwell, although they are not spewing them as readily because they are not coughing or sneezing. Speaking and breathing forcefully in proximity to others — e.g. singing in a choir, panting from exertion at a gym, or shouting to be heard in a setting like a nightclub — have all been implicated in transmission.
  3. So we are really talking about an “undetected positive” category comprising the asymptomatic infected, the presymptomatic, and the people who do not realize they feel unwell. It is likely that the virus is being transmitted in undetected cases before the individual can be identified and contained. Despite the misleading WHO statements, we must continue to employ the effective tools we have at our disposal — hand washing, facial coverings, and social distancing.

— Via NPR

“A giant wheezing orange kazoo”

 

After a retrofit to the roadway guardrails to make it more aerodynamic, the Golden Gate Bridge has started to sing (The Guardian). The whistling drone can be heard as far as three miles away and has been described as deafening in the immediate environs. I’ve been reading as much as I could find about this development because I’ve always been fascinated by — no pun intended — wind instruments, such as the Aeolian harp. I can’t find anything suggesting that the guardians of the Gate are planning further repairs to mute the bridge. The singing seems to be restricted to times of high winds through the Golden Gate from the west.

Bryce Dallas Howard, star of The Help, shares things to watch that are not The Help

If you’ve taken a gander at Netflix over the past few days (lol of course you have), you may have noticed that The Help has made its way into the platform’s top 10 most popular titles. Yes, the movie in which Octavia Spencer feeds Bryce Dallas Howard a pie filled with actual shit (coincidentally the only scene in the movie that’s worth a shit), has become one of the most-viewed titles on Netflix in the wake of ongoing nationwide protests in support of Black Lives Matter—which unfortunately makes sense, given that The Help is one of those movies about racial injustice created by and for white people, not unlike Green Book or Driving Miss Daisy. It’s incredibly important for white people to educate ourselves about systemic racism, but a fictional narrative film made by white people and told from the perspective of a white character is neither enlightening nor particularly instructive.

Via AVClub

Will the Banks Collapse?

Imagine if, in addition to all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, you woke up one morning to find that the financial sector had collapsed. To hear more feature stories, get the Audm iPhone app. You may think that such a crisis is unlikely, with memories of the 2008 crash still so fresh. But banks learned few lessons from that calamity, and new laws intended to keep them from taking on too much risk have failed to do so. As a result, we could be on the precipice of another crash, one different from 2008 less in kind than in degree. This one could be worse.

— UCBerkeley law professor Frank Partnoy writing in The Atlantic

“The Perfect Avatar of Elite Incompetence for Our Times”

Jared Kushner is not yet 40, and was a newspaper publisher and commercial real estate magnate in New York City before he became a major player in Trump’s administration. (He remains a slumlord, in Maryland.) He has a degree from Harvard and a J.D./MBA from New York University; his father, a New Jersey real estate titan and convicted felon, donated generously to both institutions prior to Jared’s admission. Kushner himself is by all accounts ambitious and hardworking, but also a cipher—a climber and a sycophant, a snob, someone who isn’t quite filled in. Ivanka Trump has said that her dream man was Christian Bale’s portrayal of Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron’s American Psycho; the man she married, in 2009, is a milder, ganglier, edited-for-television version. As it happened, her father’s chaotic and relentlessly paranoid administration proved the perfect environment for a sufficiently labile and servile nullity to rise quickly.

Via The New Republic

Bated Breath Dept.

Wave of new polling suggests plummeting Trump support

‘The coronavirus pandemic, a severe economic downturn and the widespread demonstrations in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in police custody would pose a serious political challenge to any president seeking re-election. They are certainly posing one to President Trump.

His approval rating has fallen to negative 12.7 percentage points among registered or likely voters, down from negative 6.7 points on April 15, according to FiveThirtyEight estimates. And now a wave of new polls shows Joe Biden with a significant national lead, placing him in a stronger position to oust an incumbent president than any challenger since Bill Clinton in the summer of 1992…’

Via New York Times

The psychological impact of future facial masking

As Rachel Sugar writes in Vox, masks have become a way of life and, by almost all expert accounts, it is almost certain that the future will be masked. Especially with the economy ‘reopening’ and people spending more time in public settings, masking should increase.

Apart from the physical discomforts (especially during stifling weather), the most jarring changes will be the psychological. People now have decreased access to important nonverbal aspects of communication and everyone feels more removed. Judging feelings from seeing only the top half of the face makes even strong emotion seem more muted. (We already know this from psychological studies of women in veiled societies and infants whose mouths are obscured by pacifiers.) Unfortunately, this is more true of some more emotions, such as happiness or sadness, than for fear or anger, which are “upper face emotions.” What will  the impact be of a cultural shift in the ability to perceive some emotional expressions more easily than others? In my psychiatric work during the pandemic, I have found it more difficult to reassure patients without their seeing my smile. Furthermore, there may be new impediments to one of the ways people resonate emotionally — by matching or mimicking the facial expressions of one’s opposite number in a conversation. I have written extensively about the mirror neuron system in FmH over the years, which probably form the neurological basis of person perception and empathy. For instance, “because of the mirror neuron system, smiles are literally neurologically contagious, and so are the good feelings associated with them…” We may be interfering with the hardwired human capacity for empathy. “Now there are new ways to misunderstand each other…”

This may have more of an impact in “melting pot” societies like that of the U.S. with ancestral diversity, looser social norms, and thus the need for as many cues as we can get to know how someone feels and how they will react. In more culturally homogeneous societies, it is arguably easier to know what people are feeling.

I have also, by the way, been concerned with the impact of facial coverings on communication with hearing impaired people who have depended on lipreading. I wonder if it will be possible to develop transparent masks that would be as comfortable to wear and as effective in droplet filtering as current opaque varieties.

It may be necessary (and I have found myself doing so) to switch increasingly to verbal in place of nonverbal reactions, e.g. chuckling rather than smiling. People may become more gestural with their hands or physical movements such as nodding. It is also possible that we may become more skilled at reading the minute expressions in the visible parts of others’ faces which we used to overlook. We may shift toward more eye contact.

It would be interesting to do psychological studies of Asian societies where masking became more common in advance of the West since the SARS and bird flu epidemics earlier in the 21st century or even, to some extent, other pandemic respiratory illnesses early in the 20th century. Of course, the research designs would have to be very clever, as arguably cultural differences in emotional expression between Western and Asian cultures may be more substantial than those between masked and unmasked in the same culture. Only peripherally related, Dutch author (and former editor of The New York Review of Books) Ian Buruma, in his 1984 book Behind the Maskargued that cultural taboos have always functioned like a figurative mask against the expression of hedonistic emotion in Japanese culture.

So, after CoViD, masks may become as commonplace as watches or sunglasses, originally only functional necessities but evolving into fashion accessories. Besides, with the current upsurge in mass demonstrations, widespread facial masking may put a dent in the surveillance society by impairing facial recognition technology.

CoViD may be a vascular disease, which could explain a lot

‘Months into the pandemic, there is now a growing body of evidence to support the theory that the novel coronavirus can infect blood vessels, which could explain not only the high prevalence of blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks, but also provide an answer for the diverse set of head-to-toe symptoms that have emerged.

The most perplexing things about a disease that has proved vexing, deadly, and ‘unprecedented in many ways’

“All these Covid-associated complications were a mystery. We see blood clotting, we see kidney damage, we see inflammation of the heart, we see stroke, we see encephalitis [swelling of the brain],” says William Li, MD, president of the Angiogenesis Foundation. “A whole myriad of seemingly unconnected phenomena that you do not normally see with SARS or H1N1 or, frankly, most infectious diseases.”

“If you start to put all of the data together that’s emerging, it turns out that this virus is probably a vasculotropic virus, meaning that it affects the [blood vessels],” says Mandeep Mehra, MD, medical director of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Heart and Vascular Center.

In a paper published in April in the scientific journal The Lancet, Mehra and a team of scientists discovered that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can infect the endothelial cells that line the inside of blood vessels. Endothelial cells protect the cardiovascular system, and they release proteins that influence everything from blood clotting to the immune response. In the paper, the scientists showed damage to endothelial cells in the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, and intestines in people with Covid-19….’

Via Elemental

Say This Isn’t the End

Original
... say we live on, say we’ll forget the masks
that kept us from dying from the invisible,
but say we won’t ever forget the invisible
masks we realized we had been wearing
most our lives, disguising ourselves from
each other. Say we won’t veil ourselves again,
that our souls will keep breathing timelessly,
that we won’t return to clocking our lives
with lists and appointments. Say we’ll keep
our days errant as sun showers, impulsive
as a star’s falling. Say this isn’t our end

... say I’ll get to be as thrilled as a boy spinning
again in my barber’s chair, tell him how
I’d missed his winged scissors chirping
away my shaggy hair eclipsing my eyes,
his warm clouds of foam, the sharp love
of his razor’s tender strokes on my beard.
Say I’ll get more chances to say more than
thanks, Shirley at the checkout line, praise
her turquoise jewelry, her son in photos
taped to her register, dare to ask about
her throat cancer. Say this isn’t her end

... say my mother’s cloudy eyes won’t die
from the goodbye kiss I last gave her, say
that wasn’t our final goodbye, nor will we
be stranded behind a quarantine window
trying to see our refracted faces beyond
the glare, read our lips, press the warmth
of our palms to the cold glass. Say I won’t
be kept from her bedside to listen to her
last words, that we’ll have years to speak
of the decades of our unspoken love that
separated us. Say this isn’t how we’ll end

... say all the restaurant chairs will get back
on their feet, that we’ll all sit for another
lifetime of savoring all we had never fully
savored: the server as poet reciting flavors
not on the menu, the candlelight flicker
as appetizer, friends’ spicy gossip and rich,
saucy laughter, sharing entrées of memories
no longer six feet apart, our beloved’s lips
as velvety as the wine, the dessert served
sweet in their eyes. Say this is no one’s end

... say my husband and I will keep on honing
our home cooking together, find new recipes
for love in the kitchen: our kisses and tears
while dicing onions, eggs cracking in tune
to Aretha’s croon, dancing as we heat up
the oven. Say we’ll never stop feasting on
the taste of our stories, sweet or sour, but
say our table will never be set for just one,
say neither of us dies, many more Cheers!
to our good health. Say we will never end

... say we’ll all still take the time we once
needed to walk alone and gently through
our neighborhoods, keep noticing the Zen
of anthills and sidewalk cracks blossoming
weeds, of yappy dogs and silent swing sets
rusting in backyards, of neat hedges hiding
mansions and scruffy lawns of boarded-up
homes. Say we won’t forget our seeing
that every kind of life is a life worth living,
worth saving. Say this is nobody’s end

... or say this will be my end, say the loving
hands of gloved, gowned angels risking
their lives to save mine won’t be able to
keep me here. Say this is the last breath
of my last poem, will of my last thoughts:
I’ve witnessed massive swarms of fireflies
grace my garden like never before, drawn
to the air cleansed of our arrogant greed,
their glow a flashback to the time before
us, omen of Earth without us, a reminder
we’re never immune to nature. I say this
might be the end we’ve always needed
to begin again. I say this may be the end
to let us hope to heal, to evolve, reach
the stars. Again I’ll say: heal, evolve, reach
and become the stars that became us—
whether or not this is or is not our end.

Richard Blanco via The Atlantic

Mandela’s Sermon

Blessed are the dehumanized
for they have nothing to lose
but their patience

False gods killed the poet in me. Now
I dig graves
with artistic precision

© 2002, Keorapetse Kgositsile

Via Poetry International

Effrontery Without Limits: Trump Presumes to Speak for George Floyd

‘Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying, ‘There’s a great thing that’s happening for our country,’” President Trump said in the Rose Garden Friday, celebrating a May unemployment report that showed “only” 21 million people — 13.3 percent of the workforce — out of work.

“This is a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody,” Trump continued. “This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”

For about the millionth time in the past four years, America asks: What the hell is he talking about?

Trump has long presumed to speak for the dead and their thoughts as they “look down” at us. But implying, as Trump appeared to do, that George Floyd is having “a great day” in the afterlife because of the May jobs report? Trump’s effrontery has no end….’

— Dana Millbank writing in The Washington Post

Civil disobedience is not our problem

“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience… Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves…and the grand thieves are running the country.”

— Howard Zinn

Will Trump leave?

Imagine that it’s November 3, 2020, and Joe Biden has just been declared the winner of the presidential election by all the major networks except for Fox News.

It was a close, bitter race, but Biden appears to have won with just over 280 electoral votes.Because Election Day took place in the middle of a second wave of coronavirus infections, turnout was historically low and a huge number of votes were cast via absentee ballot. While Biden is the presumptive winner, the electoral process was bumpy, with thousands of mail-in votes in closely fought states still waiting to be counted.

Trump, naturally, refuses to concede and spends election night tweeting about how “fraudulent” the vote was.We knew this would be coming; he’s been previewing this kind of response for a while now. One day goes by, then a few more, and a month later Trump is still contesting the outcome, calling it “rigged” or a “Deep State plot” or whatever. Republicans, for the most part, are falling in line behind Trump. From that point forward, we’re officially in a constitutional crisis.

This is the starting point of a new book by Amherst College law professor Lawrence Douglas called Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020. According to Douglas, a scenario like the one above is entirely possible, maybe even probable. And if nothing else, we’ve learned in the Trump era that we have to take the tail risks seriously. Douglas’s book is an attempt to think through how we might deal with the constitutional chaos of an undecided — and perhaps undecidable — presidential election.

Via  Vox

I am a simple potato guardian who needs my Second Amendment rights

‘ “We’re going after Virginia with your crazy governor. … They want to take your Second Amendment away. You know that right? You’ll have nobody guarding your potatoes.”
— President Trump, to farmers assembled at the White House

I am a potato guardian. This is the only life I have known. Here is my tale, one no doubt familiar to you, just as the concept of a person who guards potatoes in Virginia is familiar….’

Alexandra Petri in The Washington Post

9 Words Formed by Mistake

‘Of all the ways that words come into being—descent from ancient roots, handy neologisms, onomatopoeia, back-formations that make sense, borrowings from other languages—one type stands out from the rest: words that are formed by mistakes. We’re talking here about words formed by what linguists call “false division,” “misdivision,” or “metanalysis”; it’s what happens when the spelling or sound of a word is split in the wrong place, often when the word has jumped from one language to another and is subject to the gravitational pull of new phonetic combinations. Let’s take a look at a few….’

Via Merriam-Webster

Housekeeping

Which do you find more useful. The attribution (“So-and-so writing in such-and-such a source”) in bold header type at the head of the article, or the older-style “Via such-and-such a source” at the bottom after the blockquote? If you’ve noticed, I have been vacillating  between the two and, be it as it may that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, the inconsistency is bothering me. Your comments are welcome…

Study using human brain tissue shows herpes link to Alzheimer’s

adobestock_250192751-768x432-1The new study, reported in StatNews, is the first evidence of an association between herpesvirus HSV-1 and Alzheimer’s Disease using a lab model of a brain. Brain-like tissue infected with HSV-1 became riddled with amyloid plaques, one of the characteristic pathological findings in post-mortem studies of Alzheimer’s patients’ brains, along with tangles of tau protein. The plaques and other pathology that are generally thought to cause the disease may be the brain’s defensive response to viral infection long before the onset of symptoms. Amyloid is known to be antimicrobial but can disrupt brain structure and function. The finding may revitalize research on the connection between infectious agents and Alzheimer’s, a sort of backwater area of investigation, and the possibility that antiviral medications might offer treatment or prevention potential.

I am not a virologist, but it seems clear that some caution about these findings is indicated. The literature has see-sawed back and forth in recent years about whether viral etiologies are likely or not. Algorithms to analyze RNA and DNA sequencing data, and thus findings about viral presence in affected brains, can differ. More than 50% of us are estimated to be infected with HSV-1, far in excess of the proportion who will develop Alzheimer’s Disease. Indeed, non-demented patients may have considerable amyloid plaque at autopsy as well. The presence of higher levels of DNA strands of HSV-1 in postmortem studies of Alzheimer’s brains was first observed around 30 years ago but proving causality has not been easy. More recent studies have contradicted that findingas well, as well as putative links between Alzheimer’s and other herpesvirus or non-herpes viral genomes.

(Props to Abby)

Trump’s disastrous ABC interview illustrated why he usually sticks with Fox News

The event foreshadows the White House policy ahead: There is no serious, coordinated plan to tackle the crisis. Instead, Trump will spend the summer trying to convince his supporters to ignore the data and believe that he turned the coronavirus crisis into an economic success story. That means opening up businesses, even though no expert believes that will help the economy. At the same time, it’ll cause more Americans to die.

Trump, gallingly, has decided to put his bogus campaign message before the health and safety and lives of Americans. As he said earlier Tuesday: “Will some people be badly affected? Yes.”
“Well, I’ll be honest, uh, I have a lot of things going on”

During the interview with Muir, Trump tried to deflect questions about his administration’s failures with regard to obtaining personal protective equipment and deploying an effective coronavirus test by pinning blame on former President Barack Obama. This talking point is absurd, but he has largely gotten away with making it during press briefings.

It took Muir just one question to demonstrate that Trump has no defense beyond deflection.

“What did you do when you became president to restock those cupboards that you say are bare?” he asked.

“Well, I’ll be honest, uh, I have a lot of things going on,” Trump began, in a soundbite tailor-made for an attack ad. “We had a lot of, uh, people, that refused to allow the country to be successful. They wasted a lot of time on ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ — that turned out to be a total hoax. Then they did ‘Ukraine, Ukraine,’ and that was a total hoax. Then they impeached the president for absolutely no reason.”

…None of that was reassuring. But the most terrifying part of the interview came at the beginning, when Trump acknowledged that American lives will have to be sacrificed for the sake of reopening the economy.

Asked by Muir if “lives will be lost to reopen the country,” Trump didn’t try to deny it.

— Aaron Rupar writing in Vox

What Goes On In a Proton? Quark Math Still Conflicts With Experiments.

baryonfluxtubes_1160_cObjects are made of atoms, and atoms are likewise the sum of their parts — electrons, protons and neutrons. Dive into one of those protons or neutrons, however, and things get weird. Three particles called quarks ricochet back and forth at nearly the speed of light, snapped back by interconnected strings of particles called gluons. Bizarrely, the proton’s mass must somehow arise from the energy of the stretchy gluon strings, since quarks weigh very little and gluons nothing at all.

Physicists uncovered this odd quark-gluon picture in the 1960s and matched it to an equation in the ’70s, creating the theory of quantum chromodynamics (QCD). The problem is that while the theory seems accurate, it is extraordinarily complicated mathematically. Faced with a task like calculating how three wispy quarks produce the hulking proton, QCD simply fails to produce a meaningful answer.

via Quanta Magazine

Discriminating against our older selves

‘Although largely unnoticed by mainstream media, something significant has happened with the rise of COVID-19: the marginalization of older Americans. Scorn for elders is now on full display. Some blame them for the shelter-in-place guidelines. Some even say they should be offered up as a sacrifice for the good of the country.

But the coronavirus affects everyone. It’s true that hospitalization and mortality rates increase with age, but a March report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows young adults take up more ICU beds than the very old. This may evolve as the pandemic ensues. However, it highlights the potential issues in ageist assumptions. So why portray only older adults as vulnerable?

…We are professors of gerontology at the University of Southern California. We ask anyone who considers themselves polite, socially aware and considerate of others to rethink the common, casual use of the stereotypical phrases that refer to age. Many people do value and respect the experience of older adults, of course; only by being aware of the implications of our word choices and behaviors can we start to adjust our prejudices….’

— Carolyn Cicero and Paul Nash, writing in The Conversation

“Live and Let Die” played for Trump during factory tour

live-and-let-dieRepublicans broadly agree that mass deaths are an acceptable sacrifice in the effort to “reopen” an economy savaged by the coronavirus pandemic. This approach got its media moment yesterday as Trump toured a mask factory to Paul McCartney’s classic hit Live and Let Die.

“They blasted “Live and Let Die” while Trump walked around a Honeywell plant today in Arizona without a mask,” writes Aaron Rupar on Twitter. “It’s hard to believe this clip is real.”

71,000 dead as of today.

I keep seeing liberal folks accusing the right of hypocrisy, especially with respect to abortion. This is pointless, because they don’t care. We’re at the threshold of a sea change, where many right-wingers ditch pro-life rhetoric in favor of blunter, more sectarian weapons. “All life is sacred” was a lie its own proponts hardly pretended to believe in the first place, so why honor it after they abandon it? The post-Roe political reality of “it’s not her body anyway” is coming.

— Rob Beschizza, writing on Boing Boing

Beginning with the End

final_dadu_emergence_print_v2_4_23-2048x1191-1‘In this essay, Roy Scranton asks what we mean when we say “the world is ending.” Examining the nature of the narratives we tell ourselves about the future, he explores what revelation may be before us.

…Existence has no shape but change, and history is one damned thing after another…’

via Emergence Magazine

Trump Is Unraveling

‘In case there was any doubt, the past dozen days have proved we’re at the point in his presidency where Donald Trump has become his own caricature, a figure impossible to parody, a man whose words and actions are indistinguishable from an Alec Baldwin skit on Saturday Night Live.

President Trump’s pièce de résistance came during a late April coronavirus task-force briefing, when he floated using “just very powerful light” inside the body as a potential treatment for COVID-19 and then, for good measure, contemplated injecting disinfectant as a way to combat the effects of the virus “because you see it gets in the lungs and does a tremendous number on them, so it’d be interesting to check that.”

But the burlesque show just keeps rolling on.

Take this past weekend, when former President George W. Bush delivered a three-minute video as part of The Call to Unite, a 24-hour live-stream benefiting COVID-19 relief. …Bush made a moving, eloquent plea for empathy and national unity, which enraged Donald Trump enough that he felt the need to go on the attack.

But there’s more. On the same weekend that he attacked Bush for making an appeal to national unity, Trump said this about Kim Jong Un, one of the most brutal leaders in the world: “I, for one, am glad to see he is back, and well!”

Then, Sunday night, sitting at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial for a town-hall interview with Fox News, Trump complained that he is “treated worse” than President Abraham Lincoln. “I am greeted with a hostile press, the likes of which no president has ever seen,” Trump said.

By Monday morning, the president was peddling a cruel and bizarre conspiracy theory aimed at MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, a Trump critic, with Trump suggesting in his tweet that a “cold case” be opened to look into the death of an intern in 2001.

I could have picked a dozen other examples over the past 10 days, but these five will suffice. They illustrate some of the essential traits of Donald Trump: the shocking ignorance, ineptitude, and misinformation; his constant need to divide Americans and attack those who are trying to promote social solidarity; his narcissism, deep insecurity, utter lack of empathy, and desperate need to be loved; his feelings of victimization and grievance; his affinity for ruthless leaders; and his fondness for conspiracy theories….’

— Peter Wehner, writing in The Atlantic

Related:

Anne Applebaum: The rest of the world is laughing at Trump (The Atlantic)

George T. Conway III: Unfit for office (The Atlantic)

George Packer: We are living in a failed state (The Atlantic)

The mysterious disappearance of the first SARS virus, and why we need a vaccine for the current one but didn’t for the other

SARS-CoV-1 was more aggressive and lethal than SARS-CoV-2. However, SARS-CoV-2 spreads faster, sometimes with hidden symptoms, allowing each infected person to infect several others. The current estimate is about three, but we scientists won’t know the real number until we can test a lot more people, and can understand the role of people without symptoms.

The most important difference is that contact tracing – or finding out who was exposed to someone infected with the virus – was relatively easy: Everyone had severe symptoms in two to three days.

With SARS-CoV-2, it takes about two weeks for symptoms to appear, and many people don’t have any symptoms at all. Imagine asking someone whom they had contact with for the last two weeks! You can accurately remember most people you had contact with for the past two days, but two weeks? This critical tool for pandemic control is very challenging to implement. This means that the only safe thing to do is to maintain quarantine of everyone until the pandemic is under control.

— Marilyn Roossinck, environmental microbiologist at Pennsylvania State University, writing in The Conversation

Donald Trump, American Idiot

Umair Haque writing in Medium:

‘Immortalized in a song by a SoCal punk band, the American idiot is a figure everyone knows — and Americans, too often, don’t want to admit exists. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. Everyone in my dog park, everyone in the world.

Consider, for a moment, the actions of the American President since the beginning of the pandemic.

— Denying there was one

— Passing an inadequate stimulus bill

— Obstructing any kind of national strategy

— Encouraging “lockdown liberation” protesters

— Cutting funding for the WHO

— And finally, telling people to…drink Lysol

That, my friends, will be remembered as one of the textbook examples of what it means to be an American idiot.

So what does it mean, really? This morning at the dog park, I got ribbed by Massimo and Ben for the above. Yesterday, when I was at the dog park, I got asked, puzzled, by Wolfgang, the funny and gentle German, if it was really true: did Americans carry guns to Starbucks? I looked at him like a deer caught in the headlights of an approaching freight train. Then I nodded and shrugged. “But why?!” he asked, astonished.

He had a point. The point is made to me every single day now, in baffled conservations, in bewildered questions, in shocked and stunned observations: what the hell is wrong with Americans? Are they really this crazy? They can’t be. But they keep on…so are they? What the?

The world, you see, looks at America, and sees something very different than Americans do. It doesn’t just see a lunatic demagogue telling people to drink Lysol after cutting funding for the WHO. It sees a nation of people quicker to carry a gun than read a book, who’ll happily deny their neighbor’s kids healthcare but go to church every Sunday, who predictably, consistently vote against any improvement to their standards of living…which by now have reached standards that people in most of the rest of the world literally don’t believe, and neither do Americans.

If I tell you, for example, the simple fact that a 15 year old boy in Bangladesh now has a higher chance of making it to old age than an America, would you believe me? And yet…it’s true.

American life is made up of a series of abuses and exploitations and degradations that shock the rest of the world — all of it, not just some of it. You’re a kid, and you go to school, where armed, masked men burst in, and fire fake bullets at you — “active shooter drills.” Maybe you go into “lunch debt.” When it’s time to go off to college — good luck, it’s going to cost as much as a home. Therefore, you can forget about every really owning much, because you’re trying to pay off a series of mounting debts your whole life long. By middle age, like most Americans, you’re simply unable to make ends meet — who can, when going to the hospital can cost more than a mansion? Therefore, forget retirement — it’s something that vanished long ago. Maybe you’re working at Walmart in your old age, maybe you’re driving an Uber — but you’re still where you always were, being exploited and abused for pennies, to make the ultra rich richer.

Nobody — and I mean nobody — in the rest of the world thinks this is sane, normal, or desirable. Nobody. It’s so far right that even the hardest of European right eschews such a social model. The left, of course, points out how badly capitalism has failed — and it’s right. America is off the charts — a society so far into collapse that it can’t see normality at all anymore. It doesn’t even appear to vaguely remember that it’s not OK for everyone, more or less, to be exploited their whole lives long.

That brings me back to the American idiot. I don’t say the above to write a jeremiad, but to explain the American idiot to Americans, which is a job that I think sorely needs doing. Not for any lack of trying, perhaps — but certainly for a lack of success.

“The American idiot” isn’t an insult. It’s a term with a precise and specific meaning. The Greeks called those only interested in private life “idiots” — that is what the term really means. So it is for Americans.

What unites those “lockdown liberation” protesters, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, McKinsey and Co running concentration camps, and Faux News?They are all in it for private gain. There is no sense of a common wealth or of a public interest or a shared good whatsoever. In fact, even that’s an understatement.

This way of thinking stems from Ayn Rand, who was an acolyte of Nietzsche’s harder, later more embittered thinking, and to it, the idea of any kind of common good is itself a lie. To even imagine a common good or public interest is to do damage. To what? To the Uberman. To the Zarathustra. To the “master morality”, which must dominate the “slave morality”, is the world is to be fair…’

Biden Predicts Trump Will Try To Delay Election To Help Chances Of Winning

silhouette of statue near trump building at daytime
Photo by Carlos Herrero on Pexels.com

Christina Cabrera writing in TPM:

‘Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said on Thursday that he anticipated President Donald Trump trying to pull some kind of scheme to push back this year’s election in order to boost his own chances of victory.

“Mark my words, I think he is gonna try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held,” Biden said during a Q&A at a virtual fundraising event.

He noted Trump’s refusal to fund the U.S. Postal Service, which is struggling under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, as lawmakers across the country push for mail-in voting to keep the virus from spreading….’

Wildlife Photographer Christina Mittermeier on the White Rhinos:

wr.‘Please step forward in support of @olpejeta, home to the last two northern white rhinos on the planet. There’s an opportunity right now to win a trip there yourself! For a donation of just $10, the winner will get to go on safari to meet the rhinos. Ami will also give you a private photography workshop there. She is one of my favorite people in the world and one of my favorite photographers. I know that she will be an exceptional teacher. You will also gain firsthand knowledge about the incredible efforts to save rhino and other species from extinction. The trip will be scheduled only when it’s safe to travel. Please donate at omaze.com/safari.

 

Where Have All the Heart Attacks Gone?

Harlan Krumholz, M.D., professor of medicine at Yale:

As we fight coronavirus, we need to combat perceptions that everyone else must stay away from the hospital. The pandemic toll will be much worse if it leads people to avoid care for life-threatening, yet treatable, conditions like heart attacks and strokes.

via New York Times

You Can’t Go Home Again: Inside Wuhan’s Postsurge Return to Life

undefinedSo far, Wuhan’s answer has been to create a version of normal that would appear utterly alien to people in London, Milan, or New York—at least for the moment. While daily routines have largely resumed, there remain significant restrictions on a huge range of activities, from funerals to hosting visitors at home. Bolstered by China’s powerful surveillance state, even the simplest interactions are mediated by a vast infrastructure of public and private monitoring intended to ensure that no infection goes undetected for more than a few hours.

But inasmuch as citizens can return to living as they did before January, it’s not clear, after what they’ve endured, that they really want to. Shopping malls and department stores are open again, but largely empty. The same is true of restaurants; people are ordering in instead. The subway is quiet, but autos are selling: If being stuck in traffic is annoying, at least it’s socially distanced.

via Bloomberg

The Boston Dynamics Coronavirus Doctor Robot Dog Will See You Now

boston dynamics robot named spotIf the age of the coronavirus is anything, it’s surreal. And one of the most surreal things yet is happening at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where help has arrived not from extra human medical professionals, but in the form of famous Boston Dynamics robot dog Spot, now traipsing around with a tablet for a face. Spot’s new job is to be an avatar for hospital workers, who remotely operate the machine and speak to patients through the tablet, keeping staffers at a safe distance from sick people.

And even more remarkably, the patients haven’t been freaking out and noping right back home. “Part of it may be that we’re in this strange world of Covid, where it’s almost like anything goes,” says Dr. Peter Chai, of the hospital’s department of emergency medicine. “I think everybody, at least at this point, is starting to get the fact that we’re trying to limit exposure.”

 

..[T]heoretically, they’re the ideal medical professionals. They don’t get sick, they don’t need breaks, and they can do menial tasks like delivering supplies. All of these would free up real doctors and nurses to tend to patients.

via WIRED

Has anyone else read William Gibson’s Agency yet, in which a very similar creature plays an important part?

Earth Day 2020: 7 things we’ve learned since the last Earth Day

‘1) We live with a lot of air pollution, but we can reduce it pretty quickly…
2) The virus that causes Covid-19 almost certainly originated in bats. Many more potential pandemic viruses are out there, lurking…
3) Life keeps disappearing at a stunning pace and scale…
4) We keep discovering new species and learning new facts about old ones …
5) In Australia, volatile weather and climate change converged to feed massive wildfires…
6) Satellites are beginning to obscure our view of the night sky…
7) Trees are superheroes, and the world is starting to recognize it…’

via  Vox

What the anti-stay-at-home protests are really about

‘Anti-social distancing and anti-stay-at-home order rallies are cropping up across the country, reminiscent of the early days of the Tea Party, when well-funded right-leaning groups lit a fire under an already outraged Republican base and helped ignite a political movement.

In fact, Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks, a right-leaning advocacy group that helped support the Tea Party movement back in 2009, said in an interview that “this has the same DNA [as] the Tea Party movement.”

The events — some, like in Michigan, featuring thousands of attendees — are organized largely by conservative groups calling state-based measures too draconian. Some of the groups have posted links and images on Facebook that downplay the seriousness of the virus. And other leaders have advocated against following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, like a ban on big gatherings and the recommendation to wearing face masks in certain public settings (because wearing them would be “counterproductive”). Some of the protests have taken on the feel of 2016 Trump campaign rallies, with participants wearing Make America Great Again hats and waving flags emblazoned with the president’s face…’

Via Vox

It may be that their stance will be fatal… 

“I’m an E.R. Doctor in New York. None of Us Will Ever Be the Same”

This long New York Times piece by an E.R. doctor and writer is worth your while as a cure for the complacency and numbness we are all feeling, perhaps largely unrecognized. Going into the hospital to do my job as a doctor each day, it has become automatic and unfeeling to don my protective gear and keep my distance. This piece is a window into the soul of someone on the front lines (I am not) and the toll that the ‘new normal’ is taking. If she worries (as she reflects in the piece) if it is even worth it being a physician anymore in the face of this virus which paralyzes thinking, feeling and caring people with its apparent ability to do what it will, perhaps writing this is redeeming.  Moral injury from dealing with the epidemic will be a persistent and  growing problem long after people have come off the respirators and stopped dying from the virus. I hope my capacities as a mental health professional can be of some use in adressing it going forward.

Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting

Julio Vincent Gambuto writing in Medium:

‘What is about to be unleashed on American society will be the greatest campaign ever created to get you to feel normal again. It will come from brands, it will come from government, it will even come from each other, and it will come from the left and from the right. We will do anything, spend anything, believe anything, just so we can take away how horribly uncomfortable all of this feels. And on top of that, just to turn the screw that much more, will be the one effort that’s even greater: the all-out blitz to make you believe you never saw what you saw. The air wasn’t really cleaner; those images were fake. The hospitals weren’t really a war zone; those stories were hyperbole. The numbers were not that high; the press is lying. You didn’t see people in masks standing in the rain risking their lives to vote. Not in America. You didn’t see the leader of the free world push an unproven miracle drug like a late-night infomercial salesman. That was a crisis update. You didn’t see homeless people dead on the street. You didn’t see inequality. You didn’t see indifference. You didn’t see utter failure of leadership and systems…

From one citizen to another, I beg of you: take a deep breath, ignore the deafening noise, and think deeply about what you want to put back into your life. This is our chance to define a new version of normal, a rare and truly sacred (yes, sacred) opportunity to get rid of the bullshit and to only bring back what works for us, what makes our lives richer, what makes our kids happier, what makes us truly proud. We get to Marie Kondo the shit out of it all. We care deeply about one another. That is clear. That can be seen in every supportive Facebook post, in every meal dropped off for a neighbor, in every Zoom birthday party. We are a good people. And as a good people, we want to define — on our own terms — what this country looks like in five, 10, 50 years. This is our chance to do that, the biggest one we have ever gotten. And the best one we’ll ever get.

…If we want cleaner air, we can make it happen. If we want to protect our doctors and nurses from the next virus — and protect all Americans — we can make it happen. If we want our neighbors and friends to earn a dignified income, we can make that happen. If we want millions of kids to be able to eat if suddenly their school is closed, we can make that happen. And, yes, if we just want to live a simpler life, we can make that happen, too. But only if we resist the massive gaslighting that is about to come. It’s on its way. Look out….’

What Does Covid-19 Do to Your Brain?

Via Wired:

‘Scientists are racing to figure out why some patients also develop neurological ailments like confusion, stroke, seizure, or loss of smell….’

My thoughts:

All vulnerable patients with infectious illnesses can suffer mental status alterations. High fevers make patients delirious. (The first thing investigated in the emergency room in an acute confusional presentation in a frail elder is the possibility of a urinary tract infection.)

It is possible that the coronavirus can directly invade the CNS but it is not known yet if it can cross the blood-brain barrier. The CNS effects may instead be due to the immune response provoked by the infection, which induces the secretion of immune-active molecules called cytokines. This so-called ‘cytokine storm’, which is also seen as a rare complication of other viral infections such as the flu, has the potential to attack and damage brain tissue.

One piece of evidence about whether the neurological complications are caused by direct viral invasion of the brain or indirect immune-response effects is whether viral particles are found in cerebrospinal fluid obtained by lumbar puncture from affected individuals. Case reports are contradictory with regard to CSF findings. There are not yet good guidelines or standardized protocols for detecting the virus in cerebrospinal fluid, which is a different process than testing nasal or throat swabs.

During the 2003 epidemic with the related coronavirus that caused SARS, which killed 774 people, a proportion of the autopsies performed on victims detected the viral genome in brain tissue in addition to its widespread presence in other organs. In animal models, SARS-CoV inoculated nasally rapidly spread into the brain via the olfactory neurons, showing a preference for the brainstem (which is involved in the control of respiration), and often caused death. The 1993 SARS-CoV and the current SARS-CoV2 which causes CoVid-19 both use the same cell surface receptor, ACE2, as their portals of entry into human cells.

Neurological symptoms likely only affect a proportion of infected patients. Reports first appeared in February in which 36% of a series of patients from Wuhan demonstrated neurological effects. Most were nonspecific (headaches, dizziness, or confusion) but a few patients had distinct neurological syndromes including strokes, prolonged seizures, and anosmia (loss of sense of smell). In some patients, the neurological symptoms preceded respiratory illness.

Interestingly, reports suggest that sudden anosmia may be more common than appreciated and one of the first symptoms of the infection. The olfactory receptors in the nose are “the only central nervous system cells exposed to the exterior world”, said one neuroscientist, and this might be the first place you would see CNS signs of CoVid infection if it was one of the virus’ behaviors. On the other hand, some clinicians think the loss of sense of smell is not a direct effect of the coronavirus infection. Some research suggests that human olfactory neurons do not express the ACE2 receptor, unlike other cells in the respiratory tract. Some theorize that the virus affects support cells for the olfactory neurons instead of those neurons themselves. Others suggest that the loss of smell may be due to secondary infection of the nasopharynx by Candida (yeast) in infected individuals.

A historical parallel to the neurological impact of CoVid-19 may exist. During and after the 1918 “Spanish flu’ epidemic, the world saw an epidemic of an atypical form of brain infection known as encephalitis lethargica or ‘sleeping sickness’ (as distinct from the African sleeping sickness transmitted by tsetse flies), which affected nearly 5 million people around the world between 1915-1926. A third died and many of those who survived where permanently neurologically impaired, left in a speechless, apathetic and immobile condition. Others, who appeared to make a complete recovery, developed neurological or psychiatric disorders years or decades later, e.g. the postencephalitic Parkinsonism which was the basis of the patients described in neurologist Oliver Sacks’ book Awakenings. Interestingly, there is speculation that Adolf Hitler may have had encephalitis lethargica as a young adult. There is strong evidence that he had Parkinsonism in his later years, and one one could certainly speculate that he suffered from mental health disturbances.

No recurrence of this epidemic has been reported. Although the cause of the brain infection remains uncertain, the strong correlation to the influenza epidemic suggests a causal link. Immunological evidence of influenza infection was frequently found in encephalitis lethargica patients, although recent studies show that no viral RNA appears in the few 100-year old samples of brain tissue from these patients. As argued above with respect to the coronavirus, while CNS pathology may be due to direct infection of the brain, a virus may or may not be able to cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the CNS. An alternative mechanism may be via an autoimmune response.

The Challenge of Building the Post-Pandemic World

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Opinion pages are starting to focus on what the world will look like after the pandemic. Wishful thinking, since we are still in the thick of things, but yearning for renewal comes easier around the spring equinox when we literally turn toward the light; Easter, channeling its pagan spring festival antecedents’ theme of rebirth; and Passover, embodying the notion of deliverance from oppression.

But, as Viet Thanh Nguyen writes in The New York TImes on ‘The Ideas That Won’t Survive the Coronavirus’, “Even if America as we know it survives the coronavirus, it can hardly emerge unscathed. ” For Nguyen, our collective near-fatal experience can disabuse us of the illusion of invincibility rooted in ‘the hearty good cheer’ of American exceptionalism, unmasking the symptoms of the social virus with which America is afflicted – ‘inequality, callousness, selfishness and a profit motive that undervalues human life and overvalues commodities’. Perhaps the sensation of imprisonment during quarantine can facilitate empathy with real imprisonment, confinement in refugee and detention camps which are de facto prisons, and the economic imprisonment of ‘poverty and precariousness’ where many live paycheck to paycheck and ‘where illness without health insurance can mean death.’ Nguyen can only note the hope that imprisonment often radicalizes and births new consciousnesses.

As a writer, Nguyen hopes that our struggle with the pandemic may echo the archetypical ‘hero’s journey’ in which a struggle with a truly monstrous ‘worthy opponent’ creates fundamental transformation. The hero is the body politic, the opponent not Covid–19 (‘which, however terrible, is only a movie villain’) but our response, shaped by the structural inequalities of our society, e.g. a government prioritizing the protection of the least vulnerable. And, of course, our response to the coronavirus pandemic is merely a template for the final battle — climate catastrophe. ‘If our fumbling of the coronavirus is a preview of how the United States will handle that disaster, then we are doomed.’

‘But amid the bumbling, there are signs of hope and courage: laborers striking over their exploitation; people donating masks, money and time; medical workers and patients expressing outrage over our gutted health care system; a Navy captain sacrificing his career to protect his sailors; even strangers saying hello to other strangers on the street, which in my city, Los Angeles, constitutes a nearly radical act of solidarity.’

The question of which ideas have survived once we make it through the crisis is one of ‘which story will let the survivors truly live.’

Paul Krugman writes about how the pandemic is hastening the death of American democracy, reflecting on the Wisconsin election this week where the Supreme Court required in-person voting despite the epidemic, and where many who requested absentee ballots never received them. ‘[D]emocracy, once lost, may never come back. And we’re much closer to losing our democracy than many people realize.’

He draws parallels to Hungary over the past decade ‘to see how a modern democracy can die.’ Beginning in 2011 that country’s white nationalist ruling party essentially made its rule permanent by rigging the electoral system and consolidated its control by suppressing independent news media, rewarding friendly business interests and punishing critics. [Sound familiar?] Until recently, such ‘soft authoritarianism’ was as far as it went, ‘neutralizing and punishing opposition without actually making criticism illegal.’ But the coronavirus crisis has been used as an excuse to abandon even the pretense of constitutional government and give Viktor Orban the power to rule by decree.

‘If you say that something similar can’t happen here, you’re hopelessly naïve. In fact, it’s already happening here, especially at the state level. Wisconsin, in particular, is well on its way toward becoming Hungary on Lake Michigan, as Republicans seek a permanent lock on power.’

The parallel process of consolidation of power, suppression of opposition, and rigging of the electoral process underway in Wisconsin for the past two years culminated in Tuesday’s election. The Democratic primary was a moot point with Biden the de facto candidate, but a seat on the State Supreme Court was also at stake. And the insistence on a ‘normal’ election disproportionately suppressed turnout in Democratic-leaning urban areas as opposed to Republican-heavy rural and suburban areas.

‘So the state G.O.P. was nakedly exploiting a pandemic to disenfranchise those likely to vote against it. What we saw in Wisconsin, in short, was a state party doing whatever it takes to cling to power even if a majority of voters want it out — and a partisan bloc on the Supreme Court backing its efforts.’

As I pointed out in an earlier post here, ‘Donald Trump, as usual, said the quiet part out loud: If we expand early voting and voting by mail, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” ’ Does anyone doubt that the same thing could happen, sooner rather than later, at the national level? The prospect of Trump gaining a second term by using voter suppression to eke out an Electoral College win is very real. And, if he does, Krugman finds it likely he will ‘do a full Hungary.’ And, if he loses, would the GOP and Fox News support his likely contention that Biden’s victory was based on voter fraud?

‘[W]hat just happened in Wisconsin …shows that one of our two major parties simply doesn’t believe in democracy. Authoritarian rule may be just around the corner.’

Jamelle Bouie agrees that ‘Trump Wants 50 Wisconsins on Election Day,’ with a more detailed examination of how the state’s GOP pulled off its subversion of a free and fair electoral process and why it mattered so much.

‘Wisconsin Republicans will do anything to protect their hold on the reins, especially when that power has national implications. Wisconsin is a tipping point state in the upcoming presidential election, and a party that controls the rules of the game is one that can put its thumb on the scale for its allies.’

He too points to the extraordinary admission by Trump that his side will lose if every eligible person who wants to vote can cast a ballot. But this is not merely Trump’s demagoguery; the Republican Party in general agrees that it is impossible to persuade a majority of voters to support their agenda in the court of public opinion, so instead they have decided to rig the court itself.

 Timothy Egan sounds a more hopeful note, observing that some of the greatest advances in American history were birthed by disaster, citing Emancipation, Social Security, and robust clean air and water mandates.

One prospect is for a government-run health care system for all.

’When even the most dreadful Republicans — but I repeat myself — say that virus testing and treatment should be free, the door has opened to the obvious next step. Since the outbreak, one in four Republicans have suddenly come around to some version of what most nations already have.

Now, try running for office on a platform of taking away people’s health care. Or tolerating the condition that leaves nearly 28 million Americans with no health care at all. Yep, that’s the current Republican policy, led by President Trump’s attempt to gut Obamacare through the courts. Good luck with that in November.’

In the area of employment policy, ‘progressive pipe dreams’ like paid family leave, working from home, universal sick leave, subsidized day care, and a liveable minimum wage, all seem more plausible all of a sudden. And, given that Covid–19 death are disproportionately related to diet-related impairments of health, we have the opportunity to make some structural changes in the food system. He lists universal free school meals; allowing the >40 million Americans receiving food stamps to shop online and get their groceries delivered like everyone else; standardizing food labelling so that “expired” food that is perfectly safe to eat can be used by food banks; and remedying the harrassment and demeaning of farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants.

Cleaner air appears to be a momentary byproduct of people working at home, bolstered by the projected decrease in emissions to come from our virus-connected economic downturn (although we need to worry about the stimulus to consumption from crashing oil prices). But a lasting influence on the trajectory of climate change will require more global change.

‘We have only a few years to save ourselves from ourselves. Our trashed and overheated world is a slower pandemic. The good news is that, even with the crash in oil prices, renewable energy use is on an upward course. Coal is yesterday, no matter how much Trump tries to promote it and China drags its heels. More than anything, the pandemic has shown how quickly things can change if they must. Carpe diem.’

What does it mean to exhibit the shroud of Turin online?

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The presumption, apparently, is that the medium of a live broadcast can facilitate access to whatever sacred power one might believe the shroud to possess:

‘On Saturday, the archbishop of Turin, Cesare Nosiglia, responded to calls for spiritual solace in these unprecedented days by announcing plans for an extraordinary showing of the Shroud of Turin on the day before Easter.

This object, the supposed burial cloth of Jesus Christ, is famous for its faint impressions of Christ’s bloodstained body that adhered to it, allegedly by miracle. But it is also well-known for the contentious debates over authenticity that still boil even three decades after a carbon-dating analysis determined that the cloth originated in the medieval period. Much of the shroud’s allure comes from its mystery and secrecy. Since it is only rarely shown to the public, announcements like this one are headlining events.

But as a testament to the realities of the COVID-19 crisis, this exhibition will take place over television and through livestreaming social media venues. (You can watch the English-language version on YouTube. It will begin at 5 p.m. local time, 11 a.m. Eastern in the U.S.) Whether Nosiglia knows it or not, his decision to exhibit the Shroud of Turin virtually in real time during a global pandemic finds neat points of synchronicity with the history of the shroud’s rise to becoming Christianity’s most famous—and notorious—sacred artifact. It also forces us to rethink the limits and capabilities of digital mediation as life is exiled to virtual platforms….’

Via Slate

How to force the White House to provide the states with COVID-19 supplies

Gould and Pozen writing in Slate:

‘Our constitutional tradition gives us hardly any tools to address what is happening now: a president who has proved unwilling or unable to meet a genuine disaster with decisive action. The Constitution’s preamble speaks of promoting the general welfare and providing for the common defense, but courts have never read this language to create enforceable duties. Nearly all U.S. constitutional rights are so-called negative rights against government interference, not positive rights that force public officials into action. And unlike many other democracies, our Constitution lacks a “no-confidence” mechanism that could allow a poorly performing president to be replaced immediately with a more effective one.

The upshot, in this case, is a kind of invisible breakdown in our constitutional system. If Trump had taken strong steps over the past two months to limit the spread of COVID-19, those steps could have been tested for conformity with individual liberties, federalism principles, and the separation of powers, as well as relevant statutes. Yet by jeopardizing our national security through inaction, Trump has insulated himself from legal scrutiny or accountability.

Only one institution can remedy this breakdown. In area after area where government intervention might be useful, Congress has the power, under Article I of the Constitution, to compel the executive branch to act.

Recognizing as much, congressional Democrats have introduced bills that would require the executive branch to oversee the production of specific quotas of N95 face masks, face shields, and ventilators. The Defense Production Act of 1950 already empowers the president to do what is “necessary to create, maintain, expedite, expand, protect, or restore production and deliveries or services essential to the national defense,” but Trump did not utilize this power at all until March 27 (he invoked it again last Friday), and even then in a limited manner that falls far short of what many experts recommend. The new bills would give him no choice but to press harder….’

Democrats fear judicial sabotage if Congress is allowed to vote remotely

Speaker Nancy Pelosi says there are “serious constitutional” concerns with remote voting. Is she right?

via Vox

Congress could become incapacitated either by members contracting coronavirus or their reluctance to assemble and risk contagion. Remote voting might be an answer, given surmounting the technological and security challenges. But constitutionality is also a serious barrier, raising the danger of implementing a novel process at risk of being struck down by court challenge. Provisions of the Constitution are open to the interpretation that lawmakers are required to gather together in a single location, the Founding Fathers of course unable to be be faulted for not anticipating cyberspace or virtual reality. However, legislative bodies are empowered to establish their own rules about how votes are to be cast. Democrats worry that the Supreme Court under Roberts would not agree with this argument, especially given the vastly increased tendency of this Court to overturn precedent. The author suggests a mechanism of getting an advisory ruling on the constitutionality of remote voting before a test case is brought, so that the partisan Court would not be considering a specific legal provision that one party supports and the other opposes. However, although used on the state level, Federal advisory opinions are currently unconstitutional and would require an amendment to permit them.

What If a Shrinking Economy Wasn’t a Disaster?

As the coronavirus pandemic grows, it brings a secondary, economic disaster—unemployment, small business closings, local government budget shortfalls. Given the way our economy is structured, widespread job losses and plummeting consumer demand trigger a whole lot of suffering. But, as philosopher Barbara Muraca explained in 2013, the activist and scholarly movement known as degrowth is building a vision of a society where economies would get smaller by design—and people would be better off for it.

Muraca traces the start of the degrowth movement to the 1972 publication of Limits to Growth, an influential report by the Club of Rome. The report presented an ecological argument—that humans were unsustainably consuming the Earth’s resources. In the years that followed, French scholars expanded the argument into social and psychological realms. They critiqued the central role of constant growth in modern western societies. By the early 2000s, degrowth had come to include criticism of wealthy countries’ advocacy of “Western-style” growth-oriented economies in the Global South. For example, some degrowth writers embrace the struggles of indigenous people in Ecuador and Bolivia to achieve a constitutional right to a “buen vivir”—a concept of community-level well-being rooted in economic and cultural relationships with local ecological systems.

When it comes to what an ideal degrowth society would look like, the writers Muraca cites are not a unified bloc. Some focus on small-scale democracy and economic activity, such as local food systems. Others envision the centrally planned production and distribution of a minimal set of goods to satisfy everyone’s basic needs. Some degrowth thinkers have also advocated universal basic income or jobs guarantees as ways to provide for people’s basic necessities while reducing overall economic activity and resource use.

Whatever the specifics, degrowth is a radical idea. But it’s gotten increasing traction among activists and scholars in rich countries, particularly since the worldwide recession in 2008. Given the need to reduce carbon emissions to lessen the impacts of climate change, curbing material consumption in rich places seems to many like a necessary goal.

via JSTOR Daily

Was Modern Art Really a CIA Psy-Op?

The number of MoMA-CIA crossovers is highly suspicious, to say the least….

In the battle for “hearts and minds,” modern art was particularly effective. John Hay Whitney, both a president of MoMA and a member of the Whitney Family, which founded the Whitney Museum of American Art, explained that art stood out as a line of national defense, because it could “educate, inspire, and strengthen the hearts and wills of free men.”

via JSTOR Daily

Despite CDC recommendations to the contrary, hate group intends to hold rally

Michael Hill has no intention of letting a global pandemic cancel plans for the League of the South’s annual conference.

The 68-year-old Hill, president of the League, posted the following to the group’s website March 18.

“At present, we are doing more than simply ‘monitoring’ the situation. We are actively making plans and raising funds to help our members who are in financial straits, and we are moving ahead with our plans for upcoming events, including our 2020 national conference in late June.”

Hill’s decision goes against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations against gatherings of more than 10 people. Older adults in particular are likely at higher risk for the disease, the CDC notes. The average age of the League’s state chairmen and national staff is roughly 57.

via Boing Boing

Although I must be breaking some PC principle to do so, since it doesn’t appear that others are saying this, this and other recent stories, such as —

— have me stating the obvious. The pandemic seems poised as a proof of concept re: social Darwinism. It may be selecting against the unfittest in terms of factors like respect for scientific (e.g. epidemiological and public health) principles, deference for experts, altruistic concern for the good of one’s peers, and openness to being educated.  (If only their selfish ignorance did not place the potentially innocent around them at risk too.) I wonder if there is any empirical data that people in such a demographic are being infected at higher rates?

Hand-Washing Technique Is Surprisingly Controversial

…[W]hat you’re washing with has a much bigger statistical effect than how long you’re washing….

Another good example is the temperature you wash at. Namely, it doesn’t matter. Again, the issue is about the soap and about how you’re rubbing your hands around. That will work in cold water as well as warm. But the Food and Drug Administration’s food code for restaurant safety still expects hand-washing sinks to be able to deliver very hot water.

viaFiveThirtyEight

How Authoritarians Are Exploiting the Covid-19 Crisis to Grab Power

Kenneth Roth writing in New York Review of Books:

For authoritarian-minded leaders, the coronavirus crisis is offering a convenient pretext to silence critics and consolidate power. Censorship in China and elsewhere has fed the pandemic, helping to turn a potentially containable threat into a global calamity. The health crisis will inevitably subside, but autocratic governments’ dangerous expansion of power may be one of the pandemic’s most enduring legacies.

 

It will take some time, but rest assured: a coronavirus vaccine is coming, and it will work

The biopharmaceutical industry will be able to make a Covid-19 vaccine— probably a few of them—using various existing vaccine technologies. But many people worry that Covid-19 will mutate and evade our vaccines, as the flu virus does each season. Covid-19 is fundamentally different from flu viruses, though, in ways that will allow our first-generation vaccines to hold up well. To the extent that Covid does mutate, it’s likely to do so much more slowly than the flu virus does, buying us time to create new and improved vaccines.

via  3 Quarks Daily

The presumption of good faith can help end polarization

Taking time for thoughtful consideration has fallen out of fashion, writes Emily Chamlee-Wright. How can we restore good faith and good judgement to our increasingly polarized conversations?

…Emily Chamlee-Wright recommends practicing the presumption of good faith. That means that we should presume, unless we have good evidence to the contrary, that the other person’s intent is not to deceive or to offend us, but to learn our point of view.

via Big Think