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

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

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

Via Outside Online

Welcome to the United States of ‘Idiocracy’

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

— Max Boot writing in The Washington Post

Biden “dominating” Trump in latest national poll

Biden “dominating” Trump in latest national poll:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s White House aides were miserable…

Trump is impossible to brief…

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

Trump asked Kelly if Finland is part of Russia…

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

Trump said invading Venezuela would be “cool.” …

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

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

Trump really wanted to meet Kim Jong Un again…

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

Trump asked Bolton to praise him on TV more…

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

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

 

— Via VICE

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

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

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

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

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

— via news,com.au

Related:

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

— via The New Republic

“I’m Sorry” – Warren Ellis

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

‘I’m sorry I came in your shoes.

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

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

I’m sorry I pissed in the steam iron.

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

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

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

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

I’m sorry I pissed in the washing machine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(written 2004)…’

— Via Warren Ellis

Cancelled?

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

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

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


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

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

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

— Via Tampa Bay Times

Related:

How Chris McCandless Died (FmH)

 

Why Trump Keeps Losing at the Supreme Court

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

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

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

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

— Via The Atlantic

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

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

— Via CNNPolitics

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

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

— Via HuffPost

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

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

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

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

— Via Vox

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

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

— Via VICE

Happy Litha

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

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

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

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

— Via The Wheel Of The Year

Related:

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

Related:

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

A Remarkable Turn of Events

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Related:

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

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

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

— Via The New Yorker

Covid Restriction Relaxation and infection rates

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

Happy Independence Day!

Juneteenth and other Emancipation Day celebrations, explained:

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

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

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

Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop

A devastating expose from someone who knows:

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

— Via Medium

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

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

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

— Via NPR

“A giant wheezing orange kazoo”

 

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

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

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

Via AVClub

Will the Banks Collapse?

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

— UCBerkeley law professor Frank Partnoy writing in The Atlantic

“The Perfect Avatar of Elite Incompetence for Our Times”

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

Via The New Republic

Bated Breath Dept.

Wave of new polling suggests plummeting Trump support

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

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

Via New York Times

The psychological impact of future facial masking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via Elemental

Say This Isn’t the End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Blanco via The Atlantic

Effrontery Without Limits: Trump Presumes to Speak for George Floyd

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

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

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

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

— Dana Millbank writing in The Washington Post

Civil disobedience is not our problem

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

— Howard Zinn

Will Trump leave?

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

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

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

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

Via  Vox

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

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

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

Alexandra Petri in The Washington Post

9 Words Formed by Mistake

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

Via Merriam-Webster

Housekeeping

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

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

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

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

(Props to Abby)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Aaron Rupar writing in Vox

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

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

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

via Quanta Magazine

Discriminating against our older selves

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

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

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

— Carolyn Cicero and Paul Nash, writing in The Conversation

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

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

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

71,000 dead as of today.

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

— Rob Beschizza, writing on Boing Boing

Beginning with the End

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

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

via Emergence Magazine

Trump Is Unraveling

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

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

But the burlesque show just keeps rolling on.

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

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

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

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

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

— Peter Wehner, writing in The Atlantic

Related:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump, American Idiot

Umair Haque writing in Medium:

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

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

— Denying there was one

— Passing an inadequate stimulus bill

— Obstructing any kind of national strategy

— Encouraging “lockdown liberation” protesters

— Cutting funding for the WHO

— And finally, telling people to…drink Lysol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christina Cabrera writing in TPM:

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

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

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

Wildlife Photographer Christina Mittermeier on the White Rhinos:

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

 

Where Have All the Heart Attacks Gone?

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

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

via New York Times

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

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

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

via Bloomberg

The Boston Dynamics Coronavirus Doctor Robot Dog Will See You Now

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

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

 

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

via WIRED

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

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

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

via  Vox

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

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

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

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

Via Vox

It may be that their stance will be fatal… 

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

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

Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting

Julio Vincent Gambuto writing in Medium:

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

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

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

What Does Covid-19 Do to Your Brain?

Via Wired:

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

My thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Challenge of Building the Post-Pandemic World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Web3 shroud of turin negative wikipedia

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

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

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

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

Via Slate

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

Gould and Pozen writing in Slate:

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

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

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

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

Democrats fear judicial sabotage if Congress is allowed to vote remotely

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

via Vox

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

What If a Shrinking Economy Wasn’t a Disaster?

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

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

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

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

via JSTOR Daily

Was Modern Art Really a CIA Psy-Op?

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

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

via JSTOR Daily

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

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

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

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

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

via Boing Boing

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

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

Hand-Washing Technique Is Surprisingly Controversial

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

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

viaFiveThirtyEight

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

Kenneth Roth writing in New York Review of Books:

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

 

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

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

via  3 Quarks Daily

The presumption of good faith can help end polarization

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

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

via Big Think

Trump comes right out and says extending voting rights would hurt Republicans

‘President Trump on Monday morning became the latest in a procession of Republicans to say making it easier for more people to vote would hurt his party politically.

In an interview on “Fox & Friends,” Trump referenced proposals from Democrats in the coronavirus stimulus negotiations that would have vastly increased funding for absentee and vote-by-mail options. The final package included $400 million for the effort, which was far less than what Democrats had sought.

“The things they had in there were crazy,” Trump said. “They had things — levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”…’

Via Washington Post

The five: trees of the year

From a stately Scottish elm to a might Russian oak, competitors for the title of European tree of the year do their nations proud

The Guardian of the Flooded Village, Chudobín, Czech Republic.

The Guardian of the Flooded Village, Chudobín, Czech Republic. Photograph: Marek Olbrzymek/2020 European Tree of the Year

Last week, a pine tree near a flooded Czech village was voted European tree of the year. Known to the locals of Chudobín as the Guardian of the Flooded Village, the tree is estimated to be 350 years old – the villagers attribute its supernatural powers to tales of a devil who played the violin beneath it during the night. Once part of a larger forest, it was left isolated after the area was flooded during the construction of a dam.

The Allerton Oak

The Allerton Oak.

The Allerton Oak. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

England’s finalist in the tree of the year vote was the Allerton Oak in Calderstones Park, Liverpool. It is thought to be about 1,000 years old, and has a girth of 5.5 metres, producing 100,000 acorns per year. In medieval times, court cases were held beneath its canopy and more recently, it is thought Paul McCartney and John Lennon would cycle past the tree on their way to college.

The Last Ent of Affric

The Last Ent of Affric.

The Last Ent of Affric. Photograph: Niall Benvie

This elm, nicknamed after the sentient trees in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, was crowned Scotland’s tree of the year. The Last Ent of Affric is a lonely specimen, but isolation protected it from Dutch elm disease – social distancing for trees, if you will. It grows near Glen Affric in the Highlands. Its remote location meant it was long forgotten until it was rediscovered in 2012.

The Bird Tree, Corsica

The Bird Tree of Ghisonaccia

The Bird Tree of Ghisonaccia. Photograph: Pierre Huchette/2019 European Tree of the Year

The 2019 French tree of the year was the Bird Tree of Ghisonaccia, in the Haute-Corse area of Corsica. A cork oak about 200-230 years old, it is so named because of its unusual silhouette – similar to a bird of prey with extended wings. The curious shape is thought to have been caused by a fire.

The Abramtsevo Oak

The Abramtsevo Oak.

The Abramtsevo Oak. Photograph: treeoftheyear.org

In 2019, Russia nominated this oak, which stands in the grounds of the Abramtsevo museum, a former artists’ colony north-east of Moscow. The 249-year-old specimen with an impressively far-reaching crown is claimed to have inspired many Russian writers and artists – from the novelist Ivan Turgenev to landscape painters Isaac Levitan and Viktor Vasnetsov.

Via The Guardian

Your brain evolved to hoard supplies and shame others for doing the same

Catesby Holmes writing in The Conversation:

The media is replete with COVID–19 stories about people clearing supermarket shelves – and the backlash against them. Have people gone mad? How can one individual be overfilling his own cart, while shaming others who are doing the same?

As a behavioral neuroscientist who has studied hoarding behavior for 25 years, I can tell you that this is all normal and expected. People are acting the way evolution has wired them.

NYU Tisch Students Asked For Tuition Refunds, And Their Dean Responded With A Bizarre, Unhelpful Dance Video

XyFOmkJEvfUUbhHUVia Boing Boing:

We’re not sure why Dean Allyson Green thought that a video of herself dancing to Rem’s “Losing My Religion” would be in any way a helpful response to NYU students’ recent requests for a tuition refund, given that virtual classes weren’t what they signed up for, especially considering NYU’s costly tuition.
According to Michael Price, the NYU student who uploaded the video on Twitter, Green asked the students to “dance along with her” in the email after explaining that the school wouldn’t be able to give them refunds.

Signs Say Murderous Rapacious Enfant Terrible Will Pivot From Containment for the Sake of Reelection

‘President Trump and some of his senior officials are losing patience with the doctors’ orders.

Amid dire predictions for jobs and the economy, the White House is beginning to send signals to business that there’s light at the end of the tunnel — that the squeeze from nationwide social distancing won’t be endless… Senior Trump officials, including the president himself, have only limited patience for keeping the economy shut down. They are watching stocks tumble and unemployment skyrocket.

Trump tweeted at 10 minutes to midnight: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD [which began a week ago, March 16], WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!” …

At the end of the 15-day period, there will likely be a serious clash between the public health experts — who will almost certainly favor a longer period of nationwide social distancing and quarantining — versus the president and his economic and political aides, who are anxious to restart the economy….’

Via Axios

Helping others as the economy grinds down

Susan Athey and Dean Karlan writing in the Washington Post:

‘As we spend time in self-isolation, let’s think about all the people who depend on us to make a living: the Lyft driver, the dry cleaner, the child-care provider, the barista at the coffee shop. As everything from sports games to evenings out with friends gets canceled because of covid-19, economic activity is grinding to a halt?

People are starting to practice not only social distancing but also economic distancing, which leaves a lot of people — especially the most economically vulnerable — in the lurch. It’s easy to feel powerless watching the human toll mount. What can we do to make a difference when we’re stuck at home, disconnected both socially and economically?…’

Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance

Tomas Pueyo writing in Medium:

‘Strong coronavirus measures today should only last a few weeks, there shouldn’t be a big peak of infections afterwards, and it can all be done for a reasonable cost to society, saving millions of lives along the way. If we don’t take these measures, tens of millions will be infected, many will die, along with anybody else that requires intensive care, because the healthcare system will have collapsed….’ (Via Kottke)

A Guide to Finding Great Art While in Isolation

imageSo you’re stuck at home. There’s a pandemic. What to do?

Maybe you’re into art. Or maybe you’re not — but you always secretly thought you might be if you only had the chance.

Well, now you have the chance. But of course, there’s a problem. Almost all of the art museums have closed. It’s depressing. The incredible Degas show …? Shut. The Gerhard Richter show — maybe the last major one in his lifetime — at the Met Breuer? Closed for business. Just like everything else.

Don’t worry, friends! The museums will eventually reopen. But in the meantime: We are so lucky. There are options galore online…

From the soothing how-to-paint videos of Bob Ross — perfect if you’re feeling anxious — to William Kentridge’s 2012 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University — the most brilliant, challenging and entertaining series of lectures on art ever delivered — there’s something to suit every mood, every taste, every flavor of idleness.

Here are some of my favorites…

Via Washington Post

Some Ask a Taboo Question: Is America Overreacting to Coronavirus?

‘…(I)n recent days, a group of contrarian political leaders, ethicists and ordinary Americans have bridled at what they saw as a tendency to dismiss the complex trade-offs that the measures collectively known as “social distancing” entail.

Besides the financial ramifications of such policies, their concerns touch on how society’s most marginalized groups may fare and on the effect of government-enforced curfews on democratic ideals. Their questions about the current approach are distinct from those raised by some conservative activists who have suggested the virus is a politically inspired hoax, or no worse than the flu….’

Via New York Times

Young and Unafraid of the Coronavirus Pandemic? Good for You. Now Stop Killing People

A senior doctor in a major European hospital writing in Newsweek Opinion:

‘Fatality is the wrong yardstick. Catching the virus can mess up your life in many, many more ways than just straight-up killing you. “We are all young”—okay. “Even if we get the bug, we will survive”—fantastic. How about needing four months of physical therapy before you even feel human again. Or getting scar tissue in your lungs and having your activity level restricted for the rest of your life. Not to mention having every chance of catching another bug in hospital, while you’re being treated or waiting to get checked with an immune system distracted even by the false alarm of an ordinary flu. No travel for leisure or business is worth this risk.

 

Now, odds are, you might catch coronavirus and might not even get symptoms. Great. Good for you. Very bad for everyone else, from your own grandparents to the random older person who got on the subway train a stop or two after you got off. You’re fine, you’re barely even sneezing or coughing, but you’re walking around and you kill a couple of old ladies without even knowing it. Is that fair? You tell me.

 

My personal as well as professional view: we all have a duty to stay put, except for very special reasons, like, you go to work because you work in healthcare, or you have to save a life and bring someone to hospital, or go out to shop for food so you can survive. But when we get to this stage of a pandemic, it’s really important not to spread the bug. The only thing that helps is social restriction. Ideally, the government should issue that instruction and provide a financial fallback—compensate business owners, ease the financial load on everyone as much as possible and reduce the incentive of risking your life or the lives of others just to make ends meet. But if your government or company is slow on the uptake, don’t be that person. Take responsibility. For all but essential movement, restrict yourself.

 

This is epidemiology 101. It really sucks. It is extreme—but luckily, we don’t have pandemics of this violence every year. So sit it out. Stay put. Don’t travel. It is absolutely not worth it.

 

It’s the civic and moral duty of every person, everywhere, to take part in the global effort to reduce this threat to humanity. To postpone any movement or travel that are not vitally essential, and to spread the disease as little as possible. Have your fun in June, July and August when this—hopefully—is over. Stay safe. Good luck.’

Why Philosophers Should Study Indigenous Languages

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’I believe there is much to be learned philosophically from the study of languages that are spoken by only a small number of people, who lack a high degree of political self-determination and are relatively powerless to impose their conception of history, society, and nature on their neighbours; and who also lack much in the way of a textual literary tradition or formal and recognisably modern institutions of knowledge transmission: which for present purposes we may call “indigenous” languages.

This is of course going to be a hard sell, given that the great majority of Anglophone philosophers do not even recognize the value of learning German, Latin, Arabic, Sanskrit, or Chinese, and believe that they can penetrate as deeply as one might possibly go into fundamental philosophical questions from a standpoint of monolingualism.…’

Via 3 Quarks Daily

Why I keep product and service reviews to myself

Unknown‘Adding online ratings is contributing to a feedback industrial complex…’

Via Washington Post

When I buy something online, the transaction is money for goods. The seller has no right to expect I’ll donate my marketing efforts to them. You might argue that if one relies on online product reviews in making purchase decisions one ought to contribute. But I don’t.

An Unsettling New Theory: There Is No Swing Voter

ImagesWhat if everything you think you know about politics is wrong? What if there aren’t really American swing voters—or not enough, anyway, to pick the next president? What if it doesn’t matter much who the Democratic nominee is? What if there is no such thing as “the center,” and the party in power can govern however it wants for two years, because the results of that first midterm are going to be bad regardless? What if the Democrats’ big 41-seat midterm victory in 2018 didn’t happen because candidates focused on health care and kitchen-table issues, but simply because they were running against the party in the White House? What if the outcome in 2020 is pretty much foreordained, too?…’

Via POLITICO

The Worst Thing About Trump’s Unhinged Victory Strut Wasn’t Trump Himself

‘Trump is Trump. While he stepped beyond where has gone before in many respects during Thursday’s “celebration,” it hard to say that no one saw this coming.

But the complicity of those in attendance — the most powerful people within the Republican Party — is what was truly astounding. Yes, the Republican Party threw in its lot with Trump (and his forced takeover of it) long ago. But to sit by or even celebrate while Trump used the White House as a combination of a campaign venue, or a bathroom wall on which to write his darkest thoughts about those who oppose him, was beyond unforgivable….’

Via CNNPolitics

The Law and Wuhan Coronavirus

The law versus wuhan coronavirus 1050x700‘…Such Diseases are Political as Well as Biological’:

Like the Woman coronavirus, three quarters of infectious diseases are zoonotic, i.e. originating in animals and then jumping over to infect humans. These include many of the scariest diseases we face or have faced, including AIDS, Ebola, SARS, and the 1918 influenza pandemic. Zoonotic diseases cannot be eradicated by population-based public health measures such as vaccination, even once a vaccine is developed, because they persist in animal reservoirs. Some argue that environmental law should be used to reduce the risk of future zoonotic outbreaks by regulating potential sources of zoonoses such as ‘wet markets’, factory farms and confined feedlots, and wild animal importation. Warnings about tourism to hotspots should be much more vigorous.

Via JSTOR Daily

Putin and Assad Commiserate About the American Imbecile

‘A video has surfaced of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad laughing about President Trump during Putin’s visit to Damascus last week.

The video, originally posted by a journalist for the Komsomolskaya Pravda, comes just over a month after multiple NATO nation leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, were recorded seemingly mocking the American president at a NATO summit….’

Via Fox News

Why didn’t we know this until now?

Bill Barr, warrior for theocracy:

‘William Barr, the attorney general of the United States, has …served on the board of the Catholic Information Center, although Opus Dei has officially denied that he is a member. Just as the political and media establishment conveniently overlooked Barr’s long-term commitment to the “unitary executive theory” in its most extreme form, they didn’t seem to know that he was even more committed to far-right social conservatism. It wasn’t until Barr gave a speech at Notre Dame last October that everyone finally understood to what degree he is a religious crusader….’

Via Salon.com

New Year’s Customs and Rituals

New Year Sunrise
New Year Sunrise

This is the annual update of my New Year post, a longstanding FmH tradition. Please let me know if you find any dead links:

I once ran across a January 1st Boston Globe article compiling folkloric beliefs about what to do, what to eat, etc. on New Year’s Day to bring good fortune for the year to come. I’ve regretted since — I usually think of it around once a year (grin) — not clipping out and saving the article. Especially since we’ve had children, I’m interested in enduring traditions that go beyond getting drunk [although some comment that this is a profound enactment of the interdigitation of chaos and order appropriate to the New Year’s celebration — FmH], watching the bowl games and making resolutions.

Marteniza-ball

A web search brought me this, less elaborate than what I recall from the Globe but to the same point. It is weighted toward eating traditions, which is odd because, unlike most other major holidays, the celebration of New Year’s in 21st century America does not seem to be centered at all around thinking about what we eat (except in the sense of the traditional weight-loss resolutions!) and certainly not around a festive meal. But…

Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason, it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year’s Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man.

“Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes “coming full circle,” completing a year’s cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune.

blackeye_peas_bowl_text
Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the new year by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another ‘good luck’ vegetable that is consumed on New Year’s Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year’s Day.”

English: Fireworks over Edinburgh on New Year'...
Fireworks over Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve

The further north one travels in the British Isles, the more the year-end festivities focus on New Year’s. The Scottish observance of Hogmanay has many elements of warming heart and hearth, welcoming strangers and making a good beginning:

“Three cornered biscuits called hogmanays are eaten. Other special foods are: wine, ginger cordial, cheese, bread, shortbread, oatcake, carol or carl cake, currant loaf, and a pastry called scones. After sunset people collect juniper and water to purify the home. Divining rituals are done according to the directions of the winds, which are assigned their own colors. First Footing: The first person who comes to the door on midnight New Year’s Eve should be a dark-haired or dark-complected man with gifts for luck. Seeing a cat, dog, woman, red-head or beggar is unlucky. The person brings a gift (handsel) of coal or whiskey to ensure prosperity in the New Year. Mummer’s Plays are also performed. The actors called the White Boys of Yule are all dressed in white, except for one dressed as the devil in black. It is bad luck to engage in marriage proposals, break glass, spin flax, sweep or carry out rubbish on New Year’s Eve.”

Here’s why we clink our glasses when we drink our New Year’s toasts, no matter where we are. Of course, sometimes the midnight cacophony is louder than just clinking glassware, to create a ‘devil-chasing din’.

In Georgia, eat black eyed peas and turnip greens on New Year’s Day for luck and prosperity in the year to come, supposedly because they symbolize coppers and currency. Hoppin’ John, a concoction of peas, onion, bacon and rice, is also a southern New Year’s tradition, as is wearing yellow to find true love (in Peru and elsewhere in South America, yellow underwear, apparently!) or carrying silver for prosperity. In some instances, a dollar bill is thrown in with the other ingredients of the New Year’s meal to bring prosperity. In Greece, there is a traditional New Year’s Day sweetbread with a silver coin baked into it. All guests get a slice of the bread and whoever receives the slice with the coin is destined for good fortune for the year. At Italian tables, lentils, oranges and olives are served. The lentils, looking like coins, will bring prosperity; the oranges are for love; and the olives, symbolic of the wealth of the land, represent good fortune for the year to come.

A New Year’s meal in Norway also includes dried cod, “lutefisk.” The Pennsylvania Dutch make sure to include sauerkraut in their holiday meal, also for prosperity.

In Spain, you would cram twelve grapes in your mouth at midnight, one each time the clock chimed, for good luck for the twelve months to come. (If any of the grapes happens to be sour, the corresponding month will not be one of your most fortunate in the coming year.) The U. S. version of this custom, for some reason, involves standing on a chair as you pop the grapes. In Denmark, jumping off a chair at the stroke of midnight signifies leaping into the New Year.
In Rio,

The crescent-shaped Copacabana beach… is the scene of an unusual New Year’s Eve ritual: mass public blessings by the mother-saints of the Macumba and Candomble sects. More than 1 million people gather to watch colorful fireworks displays before plunging into the ocean at midnight after receiving the blessing from the mother-saints, who set up mini-temples on the beach.

When taking the plunge, revelers are supposed to jump over seven waves, one for each day of the week.

This is all meant to honor Lamanjá, known as the “Mother of Waters” or “Goddess of the Sea.” Lamanjá protects fishermen and survivors of shipwrecks. Believers also like to throw rice, jewelry and other gifts into the water, or float them out into the sea in intimately crafted miniature boats, to please Lamanjá in the new year.

In many northern hemisphere cities near bodies of water, people also take a New Year’s Day plunge into the water, although of course it is an icy one! The Coney Island Polar Bears Club in New York is the oldest cold-water swimming club in the United States. They have had groups of people enter the chilly surf since 1903.

Ecuadorian families make scarecrows stuffed with newspaper and firecrackers and place them outside their homes. The dummies represent misfortunes of the prior year, which are then burned in effigy at the stroke of midnight to forget the old year. Bolivian families make beautiful little wood or straw dolls to hang outside their homes on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck.

1cdd196c97bc4886c7d0b3a9c1b3dd97In China, homes are cleaned spotless to appease the Kitchen God, and papercuttings of red paper are hung in the windows to scare away evil spirits who might enter the house and bring misfortune. Large papier mache dragon heads with long fabric bodies are maneuvered through the streets during the Dragon Dance festival, and families open their front doors to let the dragon bring good luck into their homes.

The Indian Diwali, or Dipawali, festival, welcoming in the autumnal season, also involves attracting good fortune with lights. Children make small clay lamps, dipas, thousands of which might adorn a given home. In Thailand, one pours fragrant water over the hands of elders on New Year’s Day to show them respect.

10768-revelry
Elsewhere:

  • a stack of pancakes for the New Year’s breakfast in France.
  • banging on friends’ doors in Denmark to “smash in” the New Year, where it is also a good sign to find your doorstep heaped with broken dishes on New Year’s morning. Old dishes are saved all years to throw at your friends’ homes on New Year’s Eve. The more broken pieces you have, the greater the number of new friends you will have in the forthcoming twelve months.
  • going in the front door and out the back door at midnight in Ireland.
  • making sure the First Footer, the first person through your door in the New Year in Scotland, is a tall dark haired visitor.
  • water out the window at midnight in Puerto Rico rids the home of evil spirits.
  • cleanse your soul in Japan at the New Year by listening to a gong tolling 108 times, one for every sin
  • it is Swiss good luck to let a drop of cream fall on the floor on New Year’s Day.
  • Belgian farmers wish their animals a Happy New Year for blessings.
  • In Germany and Austria, lead pouring” (das Bleigießen) is an old divining practice using molten lead like tea leaves. A small amount of lead is melted in a tablespoon (by holding a flame under the spoon) and then poured into a bowl or bucket of water. The resulting pattern is interpreted to predict the coming year. For instance, if the lead forms a ball (der Ball), that means luck will roll your way. The shape of an anchor (der Anker) means help in need. But a cross (das Kreuz) signifies death. This is also a practice in parts of Finland, apparently.
  • El Salvadoreans crack an egg in a glass at midnight and leave it on the windowsill overnight; whatever figure it has made in the morning is indicative of one’s fortune for the year.
  • Some Italians like to take part in throwing pots, pans, and old furniture from their windows when the clock strikes midnight. This is done as a way for residents to rid of the old and welcome in the new. It also allows them to let go of negativity. This custom is also practiced in parts of South Africa, the Houston Press adds.
  • In Colombia, walk around with an empty suitcase on New Year’s Day for a year full of travel.
  • In the Philippines, all the lights in the house are turned on at midnight, and previously opened windows, doors and cabinets throughout the house are suddenly slammed shut, to ward off evil spirits for the new year.
  • In Russia a wish is written down on a piece of paper. It is burned and the ash dissolved in a glass of champagne, which should be downed before 12:01 am if the wish is to come true.
  • aptopix-romania-bear-ritual-89ecd02b044cc9131Romanians celebrate the new year by wearing bear costumes and dancing around to ward off evil
  • In Turkey, pomegranates are thrown down from the balconies at midnight for good luck.

It’s a bit bizarre when you think about it. A short British cabaret sketch from the 1920s has become a German New Year’s tradition. Yet, although The 90th Birthday or Dinner for One is a famous cult classic in Germany and several other European countries, it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, including Britain, its birthplace.” (Watch on Youtube, 11 min.)

So if the Germans watch British video, what do you watch in Britain? A number of sources have suggested that it is Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, “even though it’s awful and everyone hates it.

On a related theme, from earlier in the same week, here are some of the more bizarre Christmas rituals from around the world. 

Some history; documentation of observance of the new year dates back at least 4000 years to the Babylonians, who also made the first new year’s resolutions (reportedly voews to return borrowed farm equipment were very popular), although their holiday was observed at the vernal equinox. The Babylonian festivities lasted eleven days, each day with its own particular mode of celebration. The traditional Persian Norouz festival of spring continues to be considered the advent of the new year among Persians, Kurds and other peoples throughout Central Asia, and dates back at least 3000 years, deeply rooted in Zooastrian traditions.Modern Bahá’í’s celebrate Norouz (”Naw Ruz”) as the end of a Nineteen Day Fast. Rosh Hashanah (”head of the year”), the Jewish New Year, the first day of the lunar month of Tishri, falls between September and early October. Muslim New Year is the first day of Muharram, and Chinese New Year falls between Jan. 10th and Feb. 19th of the Gregorian calendar.

The classical Roman New Year’s celebration was also in the spring although the calendar went out of synchrony with the sun. January 1st became the first day of the year by proclamation of the Roman Senate in 153 BC, reinforced even more strongly when Julius Caesar established what came to be known as the Julian calendar in 46 BC. The early Christian Church condemned new year’s festivities as pagan but created parallel festivities concurrently. New Year’s Day is still observed as the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision in some denominations. Church opposition to a new year’s observance reasserted itself during the Middle Ages, and Western nations have only celebrated January 1 as a holidy for about the last 400 years. The custom of New Year’s gift exchange among Druidic pagans in 7th century Flanders was deplored by Saint Eligius, who warned them, “[Do not] make vetulas, [little figures of the Old Woman], little deer or iotticos or set tables [for the house-elf] at night or exchange New Year gifts or supply superfluous drinks [another Yule custom].” (Wikipedia)

The tradition of the New Year’s Baby signifying the new year began with the Greek tradition of parading a baby in a basket during the Dionysian rites celebrating the annual rebirth of that god as a symbol of fertility. The baby was also a symbol of rebirth among early Egyptians. Again, the Church was forced to modify its denunciation of the practice as pagan because of the popularity of the rebirth symbolism, finally allowing its members to cellebrate the new year with a baby although assimilating it to a celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus. The addition of Father Time (the “Old Year”) wearing a sash across his chest with the previous year on it, and the banner carried or worn by the New Year’s Baby, immigrated from Germany. Interestingly, January 1st is not a legal holiday in Israel, officially because of its historic origins as a Christian feast day.


Auld Lang Syne (literally ‘old long ago’ in the Scottish dialect) is sung or played at the stroke of midnight throughout the English-speaking world (and then there is George Harrison’s “Ring Out the Old”). Versions of the song have been part of the New Year’s festivities since the 17th century but Robert Burns was inspired to compose a modern rendition, which was published after his death in 1796. (It took Guy Lombardo, however, to make it popular…)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
And here’s a hand, my trusty friend
And gie’s a hand o’ thine
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

Here’s how to wish someone a Happy New Year around the world:

  • Arabic: Kul ‘aam u antum salimoun
  • Brazilian: Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo means “Good Parties and Happy New Year”
  • Chinese: Chu Shen Tan Xin Nian Kuai Le (thanks, Jeff)
  • Czechoslavakia: Scastny Novy Rok
  • Dutch: Gullukkig Niuw Jaar
  • Finnish: Onnellista Uutta Vuotta
  • French: Bonne Annee
  • German: Prosit Neujahr
  • Greek: Eftecheezmaenos o Kaenooryos hronos
  • Hebrew: L’Shannah Tovah Tikatevu
  • Hindi: Niya Saa Moobaarak
  • Irish (Gaelic): Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit
  • Italian: Buon Capodanno
  • Khmer: Sua Sdei tfnam tmei
  • Laotian: Sabai dee pee mai
  • Polish: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
  • Portuguese: Feliz Ano Novo
  • Russian: S Novim Godom
  • Serbo-Croatian: Scecna nova godina
  • Spanish: Feliz Ano Nuevo
  • Swedish: Ha ett gott nytt år
  • Turkish: Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
  • Vietnamese: Cung-Chuc Tan-Xuan

[If you are a native speaker, please feel free to offer any corrections or additions!]

Which of these customs appeal to you? Are they done in your family, or will you try to adopt any of them? However you’re going to celebrate, my warmest wishes for the year to come… and eat hearty!

[thanks to Bruce Umbaugh (here or here) for research assistance]

What If President Trump Is In Cognitive Decline? No, Seriously

Steve Almond: 

Unknown
’if you examine the Trump presidency through the lens of cognitive decline, some of its more bewildering aspects start to make a lot more sense.

Observers — particularly those troubled by the cruelty of his regime — tend to view Trump as lazy, incompetent, demagogic and mendacious. But it seems increasingly possible that the president’s behavior is also a function of his desperate attempts to mask serious cognitive struggles…

Maybe the reason our president is reported to spend up to nine hours per day engaged in “unstructured executive time” isn’t just because he’s lazy. Maybe he’s trying to duck parts of the job he can’t handle. Maybe the reason he doesn’t read anything — including briefings — is because he can’t absorb or retain complex concepts.

Maybe the reason his unscripted speech is so often incoherent and littered with vagaries (relying on placeholder words such as  “thing” and “they”) is because he cannot summon the specific vocabulary he wants to use.

Maybe the reason Trump seeks out friendly media outlets and rallies is because he can only function in venues that feel safe and familiar, where no one will expose his struggles, where he can ramble and repeat the same slogans and stories and still receive applause…

UnknownWhat many of us don’t understand about cognitive struggles is the tremendous shame people feel. Particularly people — like Trump — who are in constant danger of being exposed.

Perhaps the reason he makes such a point of bragging about his big brain and his amazing memory is because he’s racked with doubts about both. Perhaps part of the reason his lies are so frequent and brazen — consider the whopper he told about why he skipped the climate change meeting at the G7 — is because he doesn’t have enough executive function to orchestrate his lies.

I say none of this lightly.

Trump is unfit for office based on his personal corruption, his disloyalty to the Constitution and his documented crimes.

All of these offenses are predicated on the notion that Trump is, in fact, in control of his faculties. But what if he isn’t?

That may sound like a partisan question, but it’s really a medical one. Simply put: a person in cognitive decline — whether Democrat or Republican — shouldn’t control the nuclear codes.…’

Via Cognoscenti