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President Donald J. Trump: The End

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Friedman via The New York Times

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The 15 most notable lies of Donald Trump’s presidency

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

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

— Analysis by Daniel Dale via CNNPolitics

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

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

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

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

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

— Via Vox

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As more MAGA violence looms, impeaching Trump is insufficient

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

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

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

— Dana Milbank in The Washington Post

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Pence to attend Biden inauguration; Trump not to

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

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

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

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

— Kristen Welker et al via NBC News

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

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

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

Roxane Gay in The New York Times

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

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Humble Proposals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rep. Ilhan Omar on Twitter:

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

— Twitter
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The Milky Way Gets a New Origin Story

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

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

— Via WIRED

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The Life in The Simpsons Is No Longer Attainable

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

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

— Dani Alexis Ryskamp via The Atlantic

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Happy Saint Stephen’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sausage Roll myfavouritepastime.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Via The Guardian

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

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Never Too Late

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Criticize with Kindness

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

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

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

— Via Pocket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Vincent Ialenti via BBC Future

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Have you noticed…

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

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We Had the COVID-19 Vaccine the Whole Time

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

— David Wallace-Wells via New York Magazine

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What Brian Kemp reveals about Donald Trump’s true nature

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

— via CNNPolitics

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The Arecibo Observatory Is More Than Just a Telescope

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

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

— Via WIRED

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

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Could trump Just Fade Away?

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

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

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

— via The Atlantic

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

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

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


— William Carlos Williams

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Ordinary Grief

‘Ordinary grief, militant heart

heart without a shadow,

not a hand

the green idiom cycling through

its enclosure

Words remembered in isolation

schoolbook words, days

to be beyond all care

sharp burin

if it was a matter of caring

Death, and death again

a startled spring inside you 

flaring out of season

leaves you not alone to wonder

where the good is in that 

held the note as long as it would hold

the strays, run, limp slipshod across the wet grass 

in wingless flight …’

— Paloma Yannakakis (via Bodega)

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My House

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

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

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

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

i mean i want to keep you
warm

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

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

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

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

 

— Nikki Giovanni

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Right-Wing Social Media Finalizes Divorce from Reality

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

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

— Via The Atlantic

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

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Op-Ed: Impeach the president again

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

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

— Michael A. Cohen in The Boston Globe

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Here Is a Photo of a Single Atom

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

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

— By Avery Thompson via Popular Mechanics

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Trump Is Winning. Democracy Is Losing

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

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

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

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

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The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse

Nicolas Ortega

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

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

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

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

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

— Pacific Standard
(Photo: tk_five_0/Flickr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(ABC News)

(Sorry to be so unempathic…)

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

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

Samuel Beckett – Lucky's Monologue | Genius

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

— Genius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Times

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

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

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

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

Nobel prizewinner Roger Penrose details an astonishing origin hypothesis:

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

— via Aeon Videos

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How do you know when civilization is collapsing?

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

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

New York Times Magazine

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

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

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

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

— Amanda Marcotte in Salon.com

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Trump just made Biden’s closing argument for him

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

— Dana Milbank, Opinion, The Washington Post

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

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

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

— Linette Lopez in Business Insider

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Covid: Antibodies ‘fall rapidly after infection’

Antibody

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

— BBC News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jeannie Suk Gersen in The New Yorker

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

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

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Reverence For Hallowe’en: Good for the Soul

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

A reprise of my traditional Hallowe’en post of past years:

It is that time of year again. What has become a time of disinhibited hijinx and mayhem, and a growing marketing bonanza for the kitsch-manufacturers and -importers, has primeval origins as the Celtic New Year’s Eve, Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”). The harvest is over, summer ends and winter begins, the Old God dies and returns to the Land of the Dead to await his rebirth at Yule, and the land is cast into darkness. The veil separating the worlds of the living and the dead becomes frayed and thin, and dispossessed dead mingle with the living, perhaps seeking a body to possess for the next year as their only chance to remain connected with the living, who hope to scare them away with ghoulish costumes and behavior, escape their menace by masquerading as one of them, or placate them with offerings of food, in hopes that they will go away before the new year comes. For those prepared, a journey to the other side could be made at this time.

With Christianity, perhaps because with calendar reform it was no longer the last day of the year, All Hallows’ Eve became decathected, a day for innocent masquerading and fun, taking its name Hallowe’en as a contraction and corruption of All Hallows’ Eve.trick-or-treat-nyc

All Saints’ Day may have originated in its modern form with the 8th century Pope Gregory III. Hallowe’en customs reputedly came to the New World with the Irish immigrants of the 1840’s. The prominence of trick-or-treating has a slightly different origin, however.

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.

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

Jack-o’-lanterns were reportedly originally turnips; the Irish began using pumpkins after they immigrated to North America, given how plentiful they were here. The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.

Nowadays, a reported 99% of cultivated pumpkin sales in the US go for jack-o-lanterns.

Folk traditions that were in the past associated with All Hallows’ Eve took much of their power, as with the New Year’s customs about which I write here every Dec. 31st, from the magic of boundary states, transition, and liminality.

The idea behind ducking, dooking or bobbing for apples seems to have been that snatching a bite from the apple enables the person to grasp good fortune. Samhain is a time for getting rid of weakness, as pagans once slaughtered weak animals which were unlikely to survive the winter. A common ritual calls for writing down weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment, and tossing it into the fire. There used to be a custom of placing a stone in the hot ashes of the bonfire. If in the morning a person found that the stone had been removed or had cracked, it was a sign of bad fortune. Nuts have been used for divination: whether they burned quietly or exploded indicated good or bad luck. Peeling an apple and throwing the peel over one’s shoulder was supposed to reveal the initial of one’s future spouse. One way of looking for omens of death was for peope to visit churchyards

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

The Witches’ Sabbath aspect of Hallowe’en seems to result from Germanic influence and fusion with the notion of Walpurgisnacht. (You may be familiar with the magnificent musical evocation of this, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.)

Although probably not yet in a position to shape mainstream American Hallowe’en traditions, Mexican Dia de los Muertos observances have started to contribute some delightful and whimsical iconography to our encounter with the eerie and unearthly as well. As this article in The Smithsonian reviews, ‘In the United States, Halloween is mostly about candy, but elsewhere in the world celebrations honoring the departed have a spiritual meaning…’

Reportedly, more than 80% of American families decorate their homes, at least minimally, for Hallowe’en. What was the holiday like forty or fifty years ago in the U.S. when, bastardized as it has now become with respect to its pagan origins, it retained a much more traditional flair? Before the era of the pay-per-view ’spooky-world’ type haunted attractions and its Martha Stewart yuppification with, as this irreverent Salon article from several years ago [via walker] put it, monogrammed jack-o’-lanterns and the like? One issue may be that, as NPR observed,

“Adults have hijacked Halloween… Two in three adults feel Halloween is a holiday for them and not just kids,” Forbes opined in 2012, citing a public relations survey. True that when the holiday was imported from Celtic nations in the mid-19th century — along with a wave of immigrants fleeing Irelands potato famine — it was essentially a younger persons’ game. But a little research reveals that adults have long enjoyed Halloween — right alongside young spooks and spirits.’

Is that necessarily a bad thing? A 1984 essay by Richard Seltzer, frequently referenced in other sources, entitled “Why Bother to Save Hallowe’en?”, argues as I do that reverence for Hallowe’en is good for the soul, young or old.

“Maybe at one time Hallowe’en helped exorcise fears of death and ghosts and goblins by making fun of them. Maybe, too, in a time of rigidly prescribed social behavior, Hallowe’en was the occasion for socially condoned mischief — a time for misrule and letting loose. Although such elements still remain, the emphasis has shifted and the importance of the day and its rituals has actually grown.…(D)on’t just abandon a tradition that you yourself loved as a child, that your own children look forward to months in advance, and that helps preserve our sense of fellowship and community with our neighbors in the midst of all this madness.”

Three Halloween jack-o'-lanterns.

That would be anathema to certain segments of society, however. Hallowe’en certainly inspires a backlash by fundamentalists who consider it a blasphemous abomination. ‘Amateur scholar’ Isaac Bonewits details academically the Hallowe’en errors and lies he feels contribute to its being reviled. Some of the panic over Hallowe’en is akin to the hysteria, fortunately now debunked, over the supposed epidemic of ‘ritual Satanic abuse’ that swept the Western world in the ’90’s.

Frankenstein

The horror film has become inextricably linked to Hallowe’en tradition, although the holiday itself did not figure in the movies until John Carpenter took the slasher genre singlehandedly by storm. Googling “scariest films”, you will, grimly, reap a mother lode of opinions about how to pierce the veil to journey to the netherworld and reconnect with that magical, eerie creepiness in the dark (if not the over-the-top blood and gore that has largely replaced the subtlety of earlier horror films).

The Carfax Abbey Horror Films and Movies Database includes best-ever-horror-films lists from Entertainment Weekly, Mr. Showbiz and Hollywood.com. I’ve seen most of these; some of their choices are not that scary, some are just plain silly, and they give extremely short shrift to my real favorites, the evocative classics of the ’30’s and ’40’s when most eeriness was allusive and not explicit. And here’s what claims to be a compilation of links to the darkest and most gruesome sites on the web. “Hours and hours of fun for morbidity lovers.”

Boing Boing does homage to a morbid masterpiece of wretched existential horror, two of the tensest, scariest hours of my life repeated every time I watch it:

‘…The Thing starts. It had been 9 years since The Exorcist scared the living shit out of audiences in New York and sent people fleeing into the street. Really … up the aisle and out the door at full gallop. You would think that people had calmed down a bit since then. No…’

Meanwhile, what could be creepier in the movies than the phenomenon of evil children? Gawker knows what shadows lurk in the hearts of the cinematic young:

‘In celebration of Halloween, we took a shallow dive into the horror subgenre of evil-child horror movies. Weird-kid cinema stretches back at least to 1956’s The Bad Seed, and has experienced a resurgence recently via movies like The Babadook, Goodnight Mommy, and Cooties. You could look at this trend as a natural extension of the focus on domesticity seen in horror via the wave of haunted-house movies that 2009’s Paranormal Activity helped usher in. Or maybe we’re just wizening up as a culture and realizing that children are evil and that film is a great way to warn people of this truth. Happy Halloween. Hope you don’t get killed by trick-or-treaters.’

In any case: trick or treat! …And may your Hallowe’en soothe your soul.

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

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

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

— via BBC News

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Ron Dicker via HuffPost

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What a second trump term might look like for international relations

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

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

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

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

— By Ryan Heath via POLITICO

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

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

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

— via CNNPolitics

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

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Trump Stimulus Fail: Worst Blunder in Presidential History

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

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

— Jonathan Chait via New York Magazine

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‘Possible ecological catastrophe’ in Russia’s Kamchatka region

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

— via NBC News

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Those ‘Doomsday Planes’ Have Nothing to Do With Trump’s Covid-19 Test

Okay, so it is interesting to discuss whether plane spotters’ observation of two E-6B takeoffs and trump’s tweet about his CoViD positivity minutes later were related (probably not, it appears). But the backstory about these aircraft is more fascinating:

 

‘…E-6Bs, which are based on Boeing 707s, are essentially communication relay stations built to receive military orders from the president of the US and the secretary of defense, and then convey those commands to US ballistic missile submarines. They’re also equipped to remotely control Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles through a platform called the Airborne Launch Control System. The idea is for E-6Bs to serve as a redundancy in case ground-based communication systems are disrupted. And they’re also crucial for establishing line-of-sight communication connections that require proximity. The E-6B mission overall is known as TACAMO, or Take Charge And Move Out…

The planes have some dramatic capabilities. One of the most significant is their Very Low Frequency communication platform, which is used to reach nuclear ballistic missile submarines down to 60 feet below the ocean’s surface. These stealth submarines must conceal their positions and often can’t rise to shallower depths or send up buoys to aid communication. Instead, both communication relay planes and the submarines themselves must be equipped with massive antennas, and even then VLF systems are still extremely low-latency, low-bandwidth, and low-throughput, meaning it takes a long time to send very small amounts of data. To transmit even the shortest messages to deep-sea submarines, E-6Bs perform special airborne maneuvers. These are essentially steep, tight turns that go on for long periods of time, looping the plane around and around to get the antennas in a vertical position transmitting straight down into the water. Other military planes are also equipped for VLF communication, but it is especially core to the mission of E-6Bs…’

— via WIRED

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The Futility of Rolling Stone’s Best-Albums List

‘In 2003, Wenner and Rolling Stone engaged in a complementary act of canon-building with a list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” a massive undertaking. The list’s flaws were apparent from the beginning. “Predictably,” Edna Gundersen wrote, in USA Today that year, “the list is weighted toward testosterone-fueled vintage rock.” Here was an institution, Rolling Stone, made up primarily of white men, saying that most of the best music ever was made by white men, and leaning on their authority as a counterculture icon to do so. A new Rolling Stone list was revealed last week, with a hundred and fifty-four new entries and some major moves in the rankings. It reflects an admirable attempt by Rolling Stone to evolve with the times and exhibit a more comprehensive consideration of music history. The resulting list was clearly animated by a critical push toward poptimism and an attempt to diversify the critical class.

In a column in the Guardian, from 2018, titled “Bland on Blonde: Why the Old Rock Music Canon Is Finished,” the critic Michael Hann accurately summarized the problems with the current canon: the inherent superiority of rock assumed in the long-standing hierarchy of popular music; the domination of the conversation by white men; and the construction of the canon with albums, a format that many of us still value but which is, quite frankly, obsolete. Hann predicted the rapid fading of the rockist canon and the rise of a new one defined by a more inclusive critical tribunal…’

— via The New Yorker

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After Trump’s Coronavirus Diagnosis, What’s His Medical Outlook?

Trump—by virtue of his age, gender, and weight—is at relatively high risk for serious complications from the coronavirus infection. People over the age of sixty-five account for more than eighty per cent of covid-19 deaths in the United States. Compared to a twentysomething, a septuagenarian is more than five times as likely to be hospitalized and is ninety times more likely to die of the coronavirus. For Americans in their seventies, the case fatality rate—a measure of a person’s chance of dying after being diagnosed—is around ten per cent. The true rate of death in that age group is almost certainly lower, since some people who contract the virus never develop symptoms and are never tested for it. On the other hand, we know that older men are more likely to die than women, possibly because of gendered differences in the way the immune system responds to the virus. At six feet three and two hundred and forty-three pounds, the President is also obese, which increases the risk of hospitalization, I.C.U. admission, and death.

— via The New Yorker

In all likelihood, however, he will survive, as the vast majority of infected people do, but especially given his early diagnosis and the world-class attention he has already started, and will continue, to receive. On the other hand, this virus is a capricious killer. Almost surely at the current vantage point, his symptoms are worse than represented.

With his schedule of events and his execrable disdain for masks and social distancing, he is a potential superspreader at a White House with a crippled approach to the coronavirus. Given this, and the false negative rate for CoViD testing among the asymptomatic and presymptomatic, reassurances that other administration figures including Mike Pence are healthy should be viewed with skepticism and should not necessarily obviate the need for quarantine regardless of test results.

Trump did not get the ‘October surprise’ he bargained for. His infection means that his bungling of the pandemic is now guaranteed to remain the overriding story of the last month of the campaign. Those who hope for his speedy return to health should recognize that if his symptoms remain mild he will almost use his recovery as ammunition to scoff at the advice of medical experts while the virus continues to kill a thousand or more Americans per day.

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The Real Nightmare Scenario: A Sick Mike Pence

‘…Given the current makeup of the executive branch, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might, with the help of an aggressive attorney general, William Barr, challenge any attempt by Nancy Pelosi to ascend to the presidency if both Trump and Pence are incapacitated by Covid-19—perhaps even preemptively putting out a legal opinion that Pompeo is legally next in line for the acting presidency.

Could Nancy Pelosi assume the acting presidency and fire Barr to get her own contrary legal opinion? Would Barr treat such an order as legitimate? Would the Supreme Court weigh in? How those questions would be answered would almost certainly hinge less on actual legal fights and more on vague public sentiments—questions such as whether the president or vice president looks likely to recover.

“The nation could thus be deeply divided, in a hard-to-resolve way, on the very basic question: Who is the (acting) president of the United States?” legal scholars Jack Goldsmith and Ben Miller-Gootnick wrote back in March at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic…’

— via POLITICO
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Opinion: Trump’s taxes show why he is desperate to stay in office

‘The Times has done an impressive job of getting the truth out, and now it is up to the voters to decide whether they want to reelect a flimflam man. The Times account makes clear that Trump is desperate to stay in office in no small part because he needs to profit from the presidency — and to avoid the risk of prosecution for tax fraud and other possible crimes….’

— Max Boot via The Washington Post

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There’s a historic insurrection against Donald Trump happening within the GOP

‘There’s a revolution happening within the GOP right under our noses. The latest sign came Sunday, when former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge penned an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer making clear his intent to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden over President Donald Trump in November.
“He lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect and maturity to lead,” Ridge, who also served as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration, wrote of Trump.
Ridge joins fellow Bush Cabinet secretaries Christine Todd Whitman (EPA), Ann Veneman (Agriculture), Carlos Gutierrez (Commerce) and Colin Powell (State) as Biden endorsers. Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, and Chuck Hagel, the former Nebraska Republican senator, both of whom served in the Obama Cabinet, have also backed Biden.
And that’s just Republicans who served in a presidential Cabinet! …

…(T)he hugely ironic reason that the sheer number of prominent Republicans rebelling from him in this election hasn’t received the attention I think it should: Because there are just so damn many of them…’

— Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large via CNNPolitics

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Trevor Noah’s scathing theory on why Melania can’t dump trump

‘Trevor Noah said the explosive New York Times report detailing President sonald trump’s massive $421 million in debt ― most of which is coming due over the next four years ― was the “Rosetta stone” that explains everything else. 

“trump doesn’t actually want to be president. He just really needs that Secret Service protection,” “The Daily Show” host said. “Shit, if I had $400 million in loans coming due, I’d also be trying to cancel the election.”

And the debt explains why first lady Melania Trump hasn’t left the president. 

“If she divorces him, she gets half of the $400 million in debt,” Noah cracked. 

Noah also noted that trump was rooting for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to win the Democratic presidential nomination instead of Joe Biden. 

“He wanted [Sanders] to win so that the government would bail him out,” Noah said, adding: “It even explains why trump has been destroying the post office. Good luck collecting your money when you can’t mail him a bill.”…’

— Ed Mazza via HuffPost

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‘My Octopus Teacher’

‘A filmmaker forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world….’

— via Netflix

Just watched this tonight. Compelling and visually stunning.

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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

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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. 

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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. .

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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

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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

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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…

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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

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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. 

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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

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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

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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.

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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)

 

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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

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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

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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?)

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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