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)

Why the Coronavirus is So Successful

‘We’ve known about SARS-CoV-2 for only three months, but scientists can make some educated guesses about where it came from and why it’s behaving in such an extreme way….’

— Ed Yong writing in The Atlantic

One of the science writers I consider most lucid and erudite.

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

Smith 360x450 0

’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.

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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: 

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’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

Hong Kong protests: How unrest criminalized a generation

‘(A)lmost everyone who has attended protests in recent months has been at an event deemed unlawful. Many may be guilty of rioting, due to the offense’s broad legal definition, or of violating a ban on facial coverings at public assemblies, which city leaders introduced by invoking rarely-used emergency powers.

The number of people potentially eligible for arrest could number in the hundreds of thousands.

Many of those already arrested …are in their twenties, or even younger. They have been the drivers of the protest movement but have also borne the brunt of the reaction and could be the ones ultimately paying the cost — an entire generation criminalized, in a fight for their future which could end up costing them just that….’

Via CNN

What Senators Have Said About Impeachment

Images’A number of Senate Republicans echoed members of their party in the House, deriding the impeachment as “a sham” and saying that Mr. Trump did nothing wrong. Some attacked House Democrats for delaying the transmittal of the charges to the Senate. 

A handful of Republicans followed the lead of Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, who has asserted that he did not intend to act as an impartial juror. Others said that while the House process had been political, they would conduct a fair trial in the Senate.

Nine members from both parties have not released public statements on impeachment since Wednesday, including some Republicans who have been more skeptical of Mr. Trump or represent Democratic-leaning states.

Many Democrats issued statements promising to be impartial jurors in the Senate trial and challenging Mr. McConnell, who has been coordinating with White House officials. Others addressed the evidence they have seen so far, saying they believed there was clear misconduct.

The full list of senators with recent statements on impeachment…’

Via New York Times

No One in the Senate is Going to Follow the Rules. Try This Instead…

‘This is why all eyes are now on Chief Justice John Roberts. The “rules” suggest that he is in charge of how the Senate trial will go, but no one knows if he will opt to take the Senate trial proceedings firmly in hand or allow Mitch McConnell to use them for more smash-and-grab–style looting. Roberts has every reason to keep his head down and let McConnell do whatever he wants; it would keep both himself and the high court above the ugliness that is sure to come. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, for whom Roberts once served as a law clerk, famously said of his own role presiding over the Clinton impeachment, “I did nothing in particular, and did it very well.” Roberts would surely like nothing more than to follow suit. It is also true, as my friend Sonja West has urged, that the chief justice of the United States has a constitutional duty to behave as more than just a “potted plant in a fancy robe” in this process. The Framers installed the chief justice as the person to preside over the Senate impeachment process because, despite McConnell’s claims, impeachment is not a mere partisan political effort….’

Via Slate

The Photographer Who X-Rayed Chernobyl

‘When Brazilian artist Alice Miceli photographed Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone, she placed radiographic film plates used for chest X-rays on the ground, windows, and trees. She was determined to capture the unseen. The resulting images are unexpected and don’t follow any predictable patterns… ‘

Via Atlas Obscura

‘Deep Trouble’

Presidential Historian Warns Trump That It’s About To Get Worse:

‘Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley predicted that support for President Donald Trump will sink as impeachment proceedings advance. 

Brinkley was asked about a CNN poll released last week that found 50% want Trump impeached and removed from office, versus 43% opposed. 

“It just tells you what deep trouble Donald Trump’s in,” he said on the network on Friday. “I mean when you have 50% of the country wanting you not just impeached but removed from office, and the game hasn’t even gotten fast yet…’

— Via HuffPost

Maxims

  • The sooner you do something, the more of your life you get to spend with that thing done.
  • Acting the way you want to feel usually works.
  • All you need to do to finish things is keep starting them until they’re done.
  • Whenever I think I’m mad at a person, I’m really just mad at a situation.
  • If I find myself in an argument, I’ve made a mistake.

A Brief History of Foreign Leaders Laughing at Trump

‘It was a key talking point during President Trump’s 2016 campaign, and even before it: The idea that other countries were laughing at the United States. “The world is laughing at us,” he said in May 2016. “They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity,” he said of Mexico in his campaign launch speech. He used the phrase “laughing at us” more than 50 times between 2011 and his election as president. Trump, the argument went, was going to make it stop.
Instead, Trump has been the object of repeated jest and even mockery by fellow world leaders. And it’s been caught on tape — again….’

Via Washington Post

Signal that impeachment will include Mueller?

‘The House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings focused almost exclusively on Ukraine. That was the new information, after all, and that’s what the witnesses could speak to.

But at the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) seemed to indicate he was inclined to include something else in the impeachment articles: the obstruction-of-justice portions of the Mueller investigation.

Nadler’s opening statement accused Trump of obstructing both the Ukraine probe and the Russia investigation, and it included plenty on the latter, in a way that suggests it was a calculated choice…’

Via Washington Post

Red Hats and Goldfish

Bob Cesca: Trump’s “I want nothing!” defense was always stupid. Now it just went down in flames:

‘There’s a myth going around that says goldfish only have memories lasting three seconds. The myth was busted long ago, with studies showing goldfish memories last closer to five months. But as we observe Donald Trump’s defense strategy against impeachment, he appears to believe his supporters possess even shorter memories than the mythical fish.

As more and more evidence of impeachable high crimes stack up against Donald Trump, his best defense strategy appears to rest on the assumption that his supporters can only remember one thing at a time.

Consequently, Trump’s desperate blurts in self-defense are invariably compartmentalized to whatever that one thing happens to be, usually whichever news item is in front of him at that very moment. None of his incoherent attempts at self-acquittal help him out of any other pickle beyond that one most recent item. Nothing else that happened before that particular piece of news matters to his defense, and his Red Hats don’t seem to remember anything else anyway.

Trump doesn’t have a counter-narrative to prove his innocence, just a random series of individual “look at” remarks (e.g.: Look at the transcript! Look at Hillary’s server!). Nothing connects to anything else. It’s a defense designed for people with extremely brief short-term memories…’

Via Salon.com

Clear and Present Danger

‘In effect, the 300-page House Intelligence Committee summary of witness testimony, timelines and phone records accused Trump of perpetrating one of the most serious political crimes in the history of the United States.
The report is a roadmap toward formal articles of impeachment — an argument to a nation split in two on Trump’s political fate that there is no alternative but to remove him from office 11 months before the next general election over his pressure on Ukraine for political favors.
The stark charge that the House Judiciary Committee will take up in its first impeachment hearing Wednesday fits the gravity of Congress’ most somber duty — deciding whether to end a presidency.
It is that the 45th President presents an immediate, clear and future threat to American national security, the Constitution and the resilience of the republic’s democratic self-governance itself…’

Via CNNPolitics

“Keeve”

Listening to the impeachment hearings: when did it begin being pronounced “Keeve” rather than “Key-ev”?

In Trump’s Twitter Feed: Conspiracy-Mongers, Racists and Spies

Mike Mcintire, Karen Yourish And Larry Buchanan write:

‘The New York Times examined Mr. Trump’s interactions with Twitter since he took office, reviewing each of his more than 11,000 tweets and the hundreds of accounts he has retweeted, tracking the ways he is exposed to information and replicating what he is likely to see on the platform. The result, including new data analysis and previously unreported details, offers the most comprehensive view yet of a virtual world in which the president spends significant time mingling with extremists, impostors and spies….’

Via New York Times

Trump Pokes Fun at Himself. Why Do Only Some People See It?

President Donald Trump smiles as he signs an autograph during a reception for Italian President Sergio Mattarella in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, in Washington.

Joanna Weiss writes:

‘…It’s no surprise that many find Trump to be no laughing matter, or have trouble finding lighthearted spots in an ongoing stream of hyperbole and bile. One _New York Times _column called his “A Presidency Without Humor.” Comedy writer Nell Scovell, who has written jokes for David Letterman and Barack Obama, once declared that if Trump does have a sense of humor, it’s confined to the instances when he “clearly chuckles at the misfortune of others.”

But Trump’s winking stance, jarring and inconsonant though it may be with the rest of liberals’ conception of him, is one of the essential, even primal ways the president keeps his base on board, laughing along. For Trump and his defenders, a little gentle self-mocking does more than just warm up a room. It can neutralize his opponents’ attacks. And it can let Trump off the hook even when he probably isn’t joking, as when Marco Rubio argued last month that Trump was only kidding when he declared that China should investigate Hunter Biden.

But it’s most powerful when it makes his supporters feel that they’re in on Trump’s jokes in a way the establishment isn’t…’

Via Politico

Is Empathy Tearing Us Apart?

Image result for Empathy Is Tearing Us Apart
’There are people who believe that the political polarization now afflicting the United States might finally start to subside if Americans of both parties could somehow become more empathetic. If you’re one of these people, the American Political Science Review has sobering news for you.

Last week APSR—one of the alpha journals in political science—published a study which found that “empathic concern does not reduce partisan animosity in the electorate and in some respects even exacerbates it.”

The study had two parts. In the first part, Americans who scored high on an empathy scale showed higher levels of “affective polarization”—defined as the difference between the favorability rating they gave their political party and the rating they gave the opposing party. In the second part, undergraduates were shown a news story about a controversial speaker from the opposing party visiting a college campus. Students who had scored higher on the empathy scale were more likely to applaud efforts to deny the speaker a platform.

It gets worse. These high-empathy students were also more likely to be amused by reports that students protesting the speech had injured a bystander sympathetic to the speaker. That’s right: according to this study, people prone to empathy are prone to schadenfreude.…’

Via WIRED

Screaming in Black + White

Tumblr da92d69720bfecfc651915c4b636dbf5 69f3e475 1280

Via this isn’t happiness

Related: A psychologist explains why we love blood-curdling screams

’Screams might seem simple, but they can actually convey a complex set of emotions. The arsenal of human screams has been honed over millions of years of evolution, with subtle nuances in volume, timing and inflection that can signal different things.…’

Via Big Think

Reverence For Hallowe’en: Good for the Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Halloween jack-o'-lanterns.

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

Frankenstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related:

Crowdsourced Map Documents UFO Sightings, Cryptids, and the Supernatural

1566227154012 Screen Shot 2019 08 19 at 110532 AM pngIt’s sociologically important to document where people believe the supernatural occurs, even if it’s all made up.:

If you’ve had a weird unexplainable experience, two guys in Seattle want to help you log it and track it on a global map. I have a new favorite place on the internet, and it is Liminal Earth.

Liminal Earth is a web based mapping tool designed to track the bizarre. Created by Garrett Kelly, co-founder of Hollow Earth Radio, and Jeremy Puma, a Seattle based author, their project “acts sort of like ‘Google Trends’ (which tracks sudden spikes on google search queries) for the collective unconscious,” states their website’s About page. “This map is an extension of that, because we’re trying to see if there are strange places or experiences that are actually quite common but go unnoticed because everyone is afraid to talk about this weird stuff happening to them.”

The idea is simple. It is like Atlas Obscura, but exclusively for UFOs, the supernatural, cryptids, etc.…’

Via VICE

High Crimes and Misdemeanors? Don’t forget about petty crimes and felonies!

With all the agonizing about whether the Enfant Terrible’s actions rise to an impeachable level, let us not forget that he is a common criminal as well. A new ProPublica story documents the extent to which Trump inflated the value of his assets when he was trying to borrow money, and deflated the values when he was paying taxes. Both would constitute criminal fraud.

And  this Vanity Fair piece strongly suggests that, since the start of his presidency, Trump has been running a massively profitable larcenous insider trading scheme. The story examines massive pattern of suspicious late-day trades in financial markets that seemed to anticipate public policy pronouncements or events and earned the mysterious traders millions in profits. For example

“In the last 10 minutes of trading on Friday, August 23, as the markets were roiling in the face of more bad trade news, someone bought 386,000 September e-minis. Three days later, Trump lied about getting a call from China to restart the trade talks, and the S&P 500 index shot up nearly 80 points. The potential profit on the trade was more than $1.5 billion…”

“Traders in the Chicago pits have been watching these kinds of wagers with an increasing mixture of shock and awe since the start of the Trump presidency …. Are the people behind these trades incredibly lucky, or do they have access to information that other people don’t have about, say, Trump’s or Beijing’s latest thinking on the trade war or any other of a number of ways that Trump is able to move the markets through his tweeting or slips of the tongue? Essentially, do they have inside information?”

Federal market watchdogs, who are supposed to keep an eye on corrupt market manipulation, are doing nothing despite ongoing concerns about this pattern of activity.

McConnell, Not Pelosi, Will be the One to Bring Down Trump.

‘…Everything that McConnell decides to do will come down to the political ramifications for the Republican Party, and with each passing day Donald Trump becomes more and more of a liability. A bus is ready in the waiting, and he will be more than ready to throw the President under it if necessary.

The moment that Senator McConnell makes the determination that President Trump could cost Republicans their hold of power in the Senate, or cost them even more seats in the House, he along with other members of Republican leadership will urge him to resign, or vote to impeach if he refuses to do so. The fact that support of impeachment continues to grow, while McConnell’s silence gets louder and louder, leads me to believe that he is carefully considering this option. In the end, it will be McConnell, not Pelosi or Democratic Leadership, who could potentially bring Trump’s presidency to an end….’

— Via Medium

New Republic profiles Nobel literature laureate Olga Tokarczuk

‘…Tokarczuk said that humanity needs three inventions: contraception, the internet, and lab-grown meat. While most technofuturism suggests that advancements in machinery and efficiency will automatically solve problems of power, Tokarczuk recognizes that new technologies have to be designed specially to disrupt areas where the powerful have kept a tight grip—whether over the control of women’s reproduction, the free spread of information, or the lives and deaths of animals. (Vegetarianism in Poland is associated with leftist politics; in 2016, the far-right politician Witold Waszczykowski, then the foreign secretary, decried the idea that the world was “destined to evolve only in one direction—towards a new mix of cultures and races, a world of bicyclists and vegetarians.”)

“We live in the midst of a slaughterhouse and manage to ignore that,” Tokarczuk said…’
— Read on New Republic

Happy Birthday, Comic Sans

Twenty-five years ago this month, a software developer sketched a talk bubble for a cute dog and had an epiphany: “Dogs don’t talk in Times New Roman!” So he designed Comic Sans, a zanier, more childlike script for which he took inspiration from comic books and graphic novels.

The font attracted eye rolls and cringes from its inception, and has “long been the default punch line in the design community,” one designer said. And yet, it persists.

The font’s creator, Vincent Connare, has this to say: “If you love Comic Sans you don’t know much about typography. And if you hate Comic Sans you need a new hobby.”

Via New York Times

Memorial Statue Depicts Wolves of New York City

‘It appears that sculptor Joe Reginella has once again erected a memorial statue marking a fictional occurrence in New York City. This time, it’s a story that purports that former Mayor Ed Koch sent wolves into the subways of the city to ward off graffiti artists during his tenure, and according to the Ed Koch Wolf Foundation (who supposedly put up the memorial), the creatures are still the reason behind missing tourists in the Big Apple…’

via Hi-Fructose Magazine

Joe Reginella’s Memorial Statues Mark Fictional Disasters in NYC

New York sculptor Joe Reginella has fooled countless tourists with his statues scattered across the city, marking events that never actually happened. From a Staten Island Ferry encounter with an octopus to a New York Harbor UFO encounter, the artist’s scenarios use the convincing device of the memorial statue to relay his narratives.

Each statue has its own website, with a backstory, souvenir shop, and tour offers in tow. From the ferry disaster site: “It was close to 4am on the quiet morning of November 22, 1963 when the Steam Ferry Cornelius G. Kolff vanished without a trace. On its way with nearly 400 hundred people, mostly on their way to work, the disappearance of the Cornelius G. Kolff remains both one of New York’s most horrific maritime tragedies and perhaps its most intriguing mystery. Eye witness accounts describe “large tentacles” which “pulled” the ferry beneath the surface only a short distance from its destination at Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan.”

via Hi-Fructose Magazine