One of World’s Most Dangerous Supervolcanoes Is Rumbling

‘A long-quiet yet huge supervolcano that lies under 500,000 people in Italy may be waking up and approaching a “critical state,” scientists report this week in the journal Nature Communications.

Based on physical measurements and computer modeling, “we propose that magma could be approaching the CDP [critical degassing pressure] at Campi Flegrei, a volcano in the metropolitan area of Naples, one of the most densely inhabited areas in the world, and where accelerating deformation and heating are currently being observed,” wrote the scientists—who are led by Giovanni Chiodini of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics in Rome…’

Source: National Geograpic

Ebola Vaccine Gives 100 Percent Protection Against Common Strain of Virus

‘A new Ebola vaccine provides 100 percent protection against one of the two most common strains of the Ebola virus. The results of this trial were released in The Lancet on Thursday. Although the vaccine—known as rVSV-ZEBOV—has yet to be approved by regulators, the New York Times reports that scientists have already created an emergency supply of 300,000 doses, should another Ebola outbreak occur.’

Source: Gizmodo

Can a Nuclear War Really Be Launched in Haste? And By Who?

‘With the transition from the exceptionally restrained Barack Obama to the mercurial Donald Trump, a lot of people have been thinking about the big red button at a president’s disposal. Is launching a nuclear war is as easy to do on impulse as sending out a 3 am tweet? No. And there is no big red button. It’s a matter of entering codes identifying the Commander in Chief — hey, that is kinda the 140 characters of a tweet — found in the nuclear “football,” a briefcase kept near the president at all times. But a president absolutely can make the decision all by himself, with no checks and balances, to launch a nuclear attack. And so—we think—can a handful of other people in the U.S. government…’

Source: Big Think

Why Is the United States So Divided? Simple, It Was Never United at All.

‘North America is really comprised of 11 distinct cultural regions which battle for political and social supremacy constantly…’

Source: Why Is the United States So Divided? Simple, It Was Never United at All. | Big Think

While some might say that our strength has been in our diversity, I have been concerned for a long time that the size and heterogeneity of the US makes it ungovernable, suggesting that it was an accident waiting to happen. And the accident may now have happened.

Intelligence on the wing

‘A few months ago, I might have called [Trump] voters bird brains, but lately I’ve been reading Jennifer Ackerman’s wonderful new book, The Genius of Birds, so I now understand that such an epithet would be an insult to birds. Birds may not be smart enough enough to run a cynical and disingenuous presidential campaign, but birds would never be so stupid as to act so recklessly against their own self-interest…’

Source: Boing Boing

It’s Time for the Nobel Committee to Honor Climate Research

‘Climate science in the United States is in an existential crisis. President-elect Donald Trump has promised to cut funding for Earth science, and the Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives will probably make good on those promises. The broader scientific community has mostly stood in solidarity with climate researchers assaulted by denialism.

They are right to do so. An attack on one branch of science hurts all science in the eyes of the public. Besides, no discipline is safe from politics forever—just ask an evolutionary biologist, or maybe just read some Galileo. But, in one major way, the scientific institutions has failed to support those who study climate. And it is probably the best institution to send a clear, unambiguous message of solidarity: Nominate climate scientists for the Nobel Prize…’

Source: Wired

The Future of ‘Classical’ Music

‘As things stand now, there is absolutely no guarantee that a new work of music will be recognized as such by the educated musical ear, or that it will be possible to hear it as an addition to the great tradition of symphonic sound. A radical break seems to have occurred, with two consequences that the listening public find difficult to absorb: first, modern works of music tend to be self-consciously part of an avant-garde, never content to belong to the tradition but always overtly and ostentatiously defying it; second, these works seem to be melodically impoverished, and even without melody entirely, relying on sound effects and acoustical experiments to fill the void where melody should be. I don’t say the emphasis on acoustics is necessarily a fault from the artistic point of view, [but until sound effects] are used in melodic and harmonic structures, the result will remain at a distance from the audience, outside the reach of our musical affections. 

It is only the loved and repeated repertoire that will ensure the survival of music, and to be loved and repeated music requires a dedicated audience. Music exists in the ear of the listener, not on the page of the score, nor in the world of pure sound effects. And listeners, deterred by the avant-garde, are in ever-shorter supply…

I identify four developments that have led to the place where we now are. Thanks to these developments a new kind of music has emerged which is less music than a reflection upon music, or perhaps even a reflection on the lack of music, or on the impossibility of music in the age in which we live.’

Source: Sir Roger Scruton, Future Symphony Institute

Watching a Man Sting Himself With the Most Painful Insect on Earth Will Give You Nightmares

‘The feeling of getting bitten by a bullet ant, which sits at the top of the Schmidt sting pain index, has been compared to the feeling of being shot, with burning, throbbing, and intense pain that can last for a full 24 hours. That’s how it got the name ‘bullet’ ant, and why Brave Wilderness’ host Coyote Peterson must be completely out of his mind.’

Source: Gizmodo

Argentina On Two Steaks A Day

The classic beginner’s mistake in Argentina is to neglect the first steak of the day. You will be tempted to just peck at it or even skip it altogether, rationalizing that you need to save yourself for the much larger steak later that night. But this is a false economy, like refusing to drink water in the early parts of a marathon. That first steak has to get you through the afternoon and half the night, until the restaurants begin to open at ten; the first steak is what primes your system to digest large quantities of animal protein, and it’s the first steak that buffers the sudden sugar rush of your afternoon ice cream cone. The midnight second steak might be more the glamorous one, standing as it does a good three inches off the plate, but all it has to do is get you up and out of the restaurant and into bed (for the love of God, don’t forget to drink water).

Source: Medium

Nine Ways to Oppose Donald Trump

Over the past few weeks, a number of anguished friends and acquaintances, and even some strangers, have got in touch with me to ask what they might do to oppose Donald Trump. Being a fellow sufferer from oats—Obsessing About Trump Syndrome—my first instinct has been to tell people to get off social media and take a long walk. It won’t do anybody much good, except possibly Trump, if large numbers of people who voted against him send themselves mad by constantly reading about him, cursing him, and recirculating his latest outrages.

But, of course, taking a mental-health break is only a first step toward preserving the Republic. As a daily columnist, I see my role as trying to analyze and critique the Trump program, while also trying to understand some of the phenomena that allowed him to blag his way to the verge of the White House. But for those who want to take a more direct approach, here are some suggestions, starting with something you can do immediately:

Source: John Cassidy, The New Yorker

Oxford University: students must refer to each other with gender-neutral pronoun ‘ze’

‘Oxford University students must refer to each other with the gender-neutral pronoun “ze” instead of “he” or “she,” according to a new handout from the college’s student union officers. The decision is intended to diminish discrimination and prevent transgender students from being offended by the use of incorrect pronouns, according to the Independent. Deliberately choosing to use the undesired pronoun for a transgender person is an offense in the new code. “This issue isn’t about being [politically correct],” Peter Tatchell, a human rights campaigner and LGBT activist, told the U.K.’s Times. “It’s about respecting people’s right to define themselves as neither male nor female.” The plan at Oxford is to see the gender-neutral pronoun “ze” not only used socially, but also adopted in college lectures and seminars.’

Source: The Blaze

However, if I were to be pedantic I would point out that The Blaze has a different grammar problem. I think they want to say “refer to one another” rather than “…each other”. 

Discover Lincos, the Language a Dutch Mathematician Invented in 1960 Just to Talk to Extraterrestrials

“Freudenthal announced that his primary purpose ‘is to design a language that can be understood by a person not acquainted with any of our natural languages, or even their syntactic structures … The messages communicated by means of this language [contain] not only mathematics, but in principle the whole bulk of our knowledge.’”

Source: Open Culture

“No President”: the despair, fear, and resolve of the next four years

A realistic, but firm and inspiring, call for resistance in the years to come:

‘The old rule of thumb for a republic is that all points of view and methods of politics can be endured except the one that denies rule of law in the republic. This alone can and should be treated as a threat, as if coming from outside. During the presidential campaign, Trump went on record, repeatedly, steadily, and memorably in front of us all — in the debates, in the press, in his campaign communications — to register that he would not obey the norms of the republic. He would not submit to the rule of law, and he would not act in the interests of the republic as a citizen. He would not submit to the result of the election, or a smooth succession, if he lost the vote. He did not acknowledge the independence of the judiciary. He had not paid his share of taxes to the state. He would not separate his policies from personal enrichment. In this sense, he was like many of his class. Trump served a salutary function as long as he was not elected, in showing the compromises and corruptions of American society in his own person. He could say, and show, that the “system was rigged” and corrupt because he had done his best to make it so.“I alone can fix our nation because I have contributed at the highest level

I alone can fix our nation because I have contributed at the highest level to its destruction and corruption” is not an admission that can command loyalty or legitimacy. It is a whistle-blowing admission that forfeits standing. Trump can only be understood, paradoxically, as an enemy of the republic, who, through a series of adventures and surprises, has been awarded its highest office. His insinuation during the campaign that critics and genuine whistle-blowers would be subject to retribution once he was elected makes this recognition urgent. His selection of the fascist Stephen Bannon as chief strategist further underscores his seriousness about these issues. This is what differentiates Trump, an illegitimate individual gaining the coercive powers of the chief executive. He is not an ordinary, merely “Republican” President.The thing before our eyes, in other words, is the installation of an extralegal and extrajudicial personality into the presidency — an office that has been expanded, through Republican and Democratic administrations, decade after decade, to dangerous excesses of power. This includes the proliferation of executive orders that have the force of law. Executive orders make the President not merely someone presiding over a tripartite government but a premodern monarch or führer. But it is the more ordinary coercive powers of the executive that add urgency to the situation: The Department of Justice. The Attorney General. Federal prosecutors and the FBI. The Department of Homeland Security. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the TSA. The Department of the Treasury and the IRS. The Department of Defense and the military. Having witnessed the Republican Party fail to eject Trump as a candidate and nearly half of the voting citizenry elect him through the Electoral College, does the system itself have any capacity to restrain such an extralegal personality from reaching the inauguration?

The thing before our eyes, in other words, is the installation of an extralegal and extrajudicial personality into the presidency — an office that has been expanded, through Republican and Democratic administrations, decade after decade, to dangerous excesses of power. This includes the proliferation of executive orders that have the force of law. Executive orders make the President not merely someone presiding over a tripartite government but a premodern monarch or führer. But it is the more ordinary coercive powers of the executive that add urgency to the situation: The Department of Justice. The Attorney General. Federal prosecutors and the FBI. The Department of Homeland Security. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the TSA. The Department of the Treasury and the IRS. The Department of Defense and the military. Having witnessed the Republican Party fail to eject Trump as a candidate and nearly half of the voting citizenry elect him through the Electoral College, does the system itself have any capacity to restrain such an extralegal personality from reaching the inauguration?’

Source: Boing Boing

Researchers: Monkey Vocal Tracts Are ‘Speech-Ready’

‘No one has ever heard a non-human primate speak, at least not a human language. No one has been able to teach one to do so, either. Back in 1969, a team of researchers from Yale, using technology available to them at the time, concluded that most primates, rhesus monkeys specifically, “lack the output mechanism necessary for the production of human speech.” A study just released in Science Advances comes to a very different conclusion: ““A monkey’s vocal tract would be perfectly adequate to produce hundreds, thousands of words,” says cognitive scientist W. Tecumseh Fitch, one of the study’s co-authors, speaking with the New York Times in their article on the study. Or as the new study’s title succinctly puts it, “Monkey Vocal Tracts Are Speech-Ready.” …’

Source: Big Think

Bob Dylan: Nobel Prize Banquet Speech

Banquet speech by Bob Dylan given by the United States Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji, at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2016:

BD_Claxton_1.jpg‘Good evening, everyone. I extend my warmest greetings to the members of the Swedish Academy and to all of the other distinguished guests in attendance tonight.I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize. Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway. These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.

I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize. Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway. These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.

I don’t know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves, but I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It’s probably buried so deep that they don’t even know it’s there.

If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon. In fact, during the year I was born and for a few years after, there wasn’t anyone in the world who was considered good enough to win this Nobel Prize. So, I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.

I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”

When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium. If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.

Well, I’ve been doing what I set out to do for a long time, now. I’ve made dozens of records and played thousands of concerts all around the world. But it’s my songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do. They seemed to have found a place in the lives of many people throughout many different cultures and I’m grateful for that.

But there’s one thing I must say. As a performer I’ve played for 50,000 people and I’ve played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried. The fact that the Nobel committee is so small is not lost on me.

But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. “Who are the best musicians for these songs?” “Am I recording in the right studio?” “Is this song in the right key?” Some things never change, even in 400 years.Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, “Are my songs literature?”

So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.

My best wishes to you all,

Bob Dylan’

 

© The Nobel Foundation 2016

Discoveries Give New Clues To Possible Neanderthal Religious Practices

‘Neanderthals built complex structures, captured birds to ornament themselves with feathers, and successfully hunted mammoth and other formidable megafauna with tools.

But does any of the evidence suggest that they were religious? It’s notably tricky to infer religious behavior from material culture… We do see hints of ceremonial responses to the dead at Neanderthal sites… At Teshik-Tash in Uzbekistan, a Neanderthal child was buried and encircled by goat horns. At Regourdou in France, bear bones, plus a slab of rock topped by tools and another bear bone, were placed at a Neanderthal body positioned at the bottom of a depression. Bear bones in an adjacent room at Regourdou suggest to some archaeologists that bear meat might have been consumed there as a funeral rite…

Looking at the evidence collectively, though, I think at least this conservative conclusion is warranted: Some Neanderthals buried their dead with purpose and care.Next comes our central question: Did Neanderthals engage in some way with the supernatural or the sacred? …’

Source: NPR

CIA: Russia hacked U.S. election for Trump

‘The CIA shared its secret assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, the report goes on to explain. In the meeting, CIA officials referenced a growing body of intel from multiple sources, and told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal.’

Source: Boing Boing

And the US is doing exactly what about this? In particular, exactly what before the electoral college ratifies this election?

The Gadget Apocalypse Is Upon Us

What happened to gadgets? It’s a fascinating story about tech progress, international manufacturing and shifting consumer preferences, and it all ends in a sad punch line: Great gadget companies are now having a harder time than ever getting off the ground. The gadget age is over — and even if that’s a kind of progress, because software now fills many of our needs, the great gadgetapocalypse is bound to make the tech world, and your life, a little less fun.

Source: NYTimes

This protein is mutated in half of all cancers. New drugs aim to fix it before it’s too late

‘It has been nearly impossible to get a good look at Rommie Amaro’s favorite protein in action. Called p53, the protein sounds the alarm to kill cells with DNA damage and prevent them from becoming cancerous—one reason why it has been called the “guardian of the genome.” But it is big and floppy, a molecular shapeshifter that is hard to follow with standard imaging tools. So Amaro, a computational biologist at the University of California (UC), San Diego, turned to supercomputers. She plugged in new x-ray snapshots of p53 fragments and beefed up her program to make a movie of the quivering activity of each of the protein’s 1.6 million atoms over a full microsecond, an eternity on the atomic scale that required about a month of supercomputer time. She watched as four copies of p53 linked up and wrapped themselves around a DNA strand, an essential dance the protein performs before it sends off messages for cellular self-destruction.

Amaro wasn’t just interested in the behavior of healthy p53: She wanted to understand the effects of mutations that the gene for p53 is prone to. In dozens of simulations, she and her colleagues tracked how common p53 mutations further destabilize the already floppy protein, distorting it and preventing it from binding to DNA. Some simulations also revealed something else: a fingerhold for a potential drug. Once in a while, a small cleft forms in the mutated protein’s core. When Amaro added virtual drug molecules into her models, the compounds lodged in that cleft, stabilizing p53 just enough to allow it to resume its normal functions…’

Source: Science

 

Searching for ‘Gelwans’

Eliot-GelwanThose of you with more common family names, or with appreciable extended families, may have a hard time seeing the point of this post. But, as I’ve noted before, there are very very few Gelwans. I have always wondered, or you might even say obsessed about, how/if those people with the Gelwan surname I do find are related to me. I have very little in the way of extended family; I envy those who do and thirst for deeper family connection, especially so that my children might come to feel embedded in a broader web. It becomes poignant each year around the holidays, which I imagine you all celebrate with enormous extended family gatherings while we have the four of us around the dinner table.

I subscribe to a Google alert for new ‘Gelwan’ references on the web, and once received a link to this page  (gendrevo.ru). Alas, the page is now gone from the web. It appeared to me to be from a Russian genealogy site in which survivors post remembrance pages for their relatives who died in the Holocaust. On my paternal side, the generation of immigrants were my grandparents, in the early 20th century; my father’s older siblings and he were born in the U.S. between 1910-1915. I have always assumed that Gelwan was an Ellis Island anglicization of something else and thus that researching my family’s roots would become squirrelly because the family name of anyone related to me might not have precisely the same pronunciation or spelling. As the part of the world from which my ancestors emigrated shifted back and forth between Slavic and Germanic dominance, between Cyrillic and Roman alphabets, so too did the rendering of family names. I would have to pursue the Gelvans, the Gelmans, and even the Hellmans and who knows what else for relatives. [I may have made this up, but I think I learned somewhere along the way that we are actually distantly related to the Hellman’s mayonnaise family…]

gelwan_surnameThe flip side of that coin is of course that literal ‘Gelwans’ might not be related to me. For example, I found through Googling traces of a Deborah Gelwan who was in the public relations industry in Sao Paulo, Brazil who is referred to on the web. Deborah now lives in Orlando FL and runs a couple of businesses. Maybe I’ll get to see her someday.

When I was a child, a Brazilian tourist with the last name Gelwan, possibly from the same family as Deborah, arrived on our doorstep, having looked up Gelwan in the phonebooks on arriving in New York City. It appears that my parents and the visitor determined that it was unlikely we were related (although I cannot imagine how they did this, as my parents spoke no Portugese and rumor has it this visitor spoke no English). Deborah and I are now Facebook friends but we have not established a family relationship. And there are traces of other Gelwans in Brazil as well. I would at least love to figure out if these South American Gelwans descended from Eastern European immigrants. I am aware that eastern European Jews did go to South America in the diasporas, but I am not sure about Brazil per se.

Similarly, I have reached out to Gelwans in Lebanon — a Claude Gelwan was there but apparently now lives in France —  and Iraq but I doubt we are related. It appears to me that Gelwan is a transliteration of a first name, not a family name, in Iraq.

I have discovered several other Gelwans in the New York area where I grew up. Interestingly enough I have long been aware of two brothers, physicians as I am: Jeffrey, a gastroenterologist and Mark, an ophthalmologist. In years past we spoke by phone but cannot establish a common background. I assumed that it might merely be an accident that we share our name, that Gelwan might be a final common pathway of anglicization from diverse unrelated family names in eastern Europe.

Similarly, there is a pharmacist in Brooklyn named Steven Gelwan, who never answered an email from me. Maya Gambarin-Gelwan, I think Steven’s spouse, is yet another New York area physician, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, with a number of scholarly publications. Never heard from her either. There is a Rebecca Gelwan (my late mother’s name by marriage) who studies, or studied, law in Pennsylvania and posts alot of photos and videos of her new baby (congratulations on the newest Gelwan!) but, again, I can’t figure that we are direct relatives. Along with my brother, that’s two Gelwan attorneys. Elise Gelwan, I learn, graduated from medical school at the University of Connecticut. Yet another physician Gelwan! There is a Sam or Sami Gelwan (I think they are the same person) in the New York area as well. If I mention all these names in this post, they may get hits when people vanity-search themselves, and they may get in touch, I hope.

LinkedIn, from which I resigned long ago, has thirteen ‘Gelwan’ profiles, including some of the aforementioned but also a Brazilian photographer Jacob Gelwan, and a Miriam Gelwan in Argentina. A Samantha Gelwan is/was a student at Indiana University in Bloomington. A Mohammed Gelwan is an engineer in Egypt.

From time to time I see passenger manifests listing Gelwans who disembarked at Ellis Island in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. I have found the arrival records of my grandfather’s two sisters and alot of other mysterious Gelwans. But where do I go from there? Some 19th century records show Gelwans emigrating from Ireland to Manitoba, but I cannot find Canadian Gelwans today.

I was told that my family originated in Riga, Latvia. Given that, I’ve written to Vladimir, or Wladimir, Gelwan, who I learned was the principal dancer in the Latvian National Ballet and who now runs a ballet school in Berlin, suggesting that we may be related, but have never gotten a reply back. I have seen a picture of Vladimir Gelwan on the web and can even imagine a certain family resemblance, although he’s certainly got the dancer’s grace that I do not. I’m determined to try and drop in on him when next in Berlin. [Do I have any readers in or near Berlin?]

What is it, by the way, with these nonresponses? I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but a message from afar suggesting the writer might be my relative, with such a rare name, would immediately pique my interest and would surely get a response. Do you think recipients might have worried that my messages represented some kind of con? I don’t want anything from them except connectedness. Is that the problem right there?

Given the waves of upheaval that repeatedly washed over eastern Europe in the 20th century, with ever-changing political hegemony over various regions, large scale displacement of populations, the Holocaust, the destruction of records, the changing of names, etc., conventional genealogical research is not possible. It is not as if there is an established family tree, with records waiting around for the taking, as is the case for many families with western European origins. My father’s older brother, now deceased, once returned to eastern Europe to try to find some of our roots. Despite a reputation for being extremely resourceful, he apparently had no success at all. Lamentably, I cannot find any notes from his research; otherwise I (acknowledged as someone with no lack of resourcefulness myself!) might pick up the trail where he left off, despite the passage of time having added fifty further years of obfuscation.

It has been a little (not much) easier to find information about my mother’s ancestors. She herself, as a young child, emigrated with her family in the 1920’s from Eastern Europe. Several years ago, my son and I visited the small out-of-the-way town of her origin looking for indications of her family, armed with notes from a maternal uncle of mine who had made a similar trip decades before and retracing his steps. Unfortunately (probably because they were a Jewish family), the town hall and the burial grounds held no traces; the Nazis had razed the Jewish cemetery. I discovered when I visited the site that my uncle had funded the reassembly of the smashed fragments of gravestones into a monument there. there were no Jews left but a non-Jew who lived adjacent to teh site of the burial ground kept the key, tended the grounds and let Jewish visitors into the site to see the monument.

My son and I did see the house where my mother had been born; eerily, we had by coincidence parked our rental car right in front of it when we had entered the town center.

We learned that, because of their persecution, the entire family hid from the authorities behind a falsified family name for several generations. Interestingly, that was the same name as a boss of mine, whose family I knew originated in the same region. Instead of being intrigued when I mentioned my discovery to him when I returned from my Eastern European trip, he scoffed. I think he was appalled at the possibility that we were related.

If you have a complicated heritage that will not be easy to trace on ancestry.com or some such geneology research site, my advice is to embark on a project of tracking down and documenting what you can, as soon as you can. It only disappears over time. Your children and their children may appreciate it if information about their mysterious family origins might one day help them find their place in the world in the face of the increasing rootlessness of modern life.

Perhaps one day someone googling their family name will be linked to this post and wonder how they might be related to Eliot Gelwan. Hurry up, Google, crawl this post and index it!

Hillary Clinton’s Inaugural Address

Since the election, many have been yearning for a grassroots umbrella to coalesce the uniformly outraged but splintered opposition. Bill Moyers et al ghostwrite a theoretical counter-inaugural address for Hillary Clinton to give, proposing people band behind her for a sort of shadow government. Doesn’t strike me as reasonable or desirable. Big Donny won because so many found the Clintonocracy so unpalatable. We can do better. I would like it if we could unite behind a woman, though. How about Sen. Warren?

Source: 3quarksdaily

Orwell on the Role of Language in Prettying Up the Ugly Truths of Totalitarialism

‘Two neologisms, “Post-truth” and “Alt-right,” have entered political discourse in this year of turmoil and upheaval, words so notorious they were chosen as the winner and runner-up, respectively, for Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year. These “Orwellian euphemisms,” argues Noah Berlatsky “conceal old evils” and “whitewash fascism,” recalling “in form and content… Orwell’s old words—specifically some of the newspeak from 1984. ‘Crimethink,’ ‘thoughtcrime,’ and ‘unperson’…. They even sound the same, with their simple, thunk-thunk construction of single syllables mashed together.”

“The sheer ugly clumsiness is supposed to make the language seem futuristic and cutting edge,” Berlatsky writes, “The world to come will be utilitarian, slangy, and up-to-the-minute in its inelegance. So the future was in Orwell’s day; so it is in 2016.” As in Orwell’s day, our current jargon gets mobilized in “defense of the indefensible”—as the novelist, journalist, and revolutionary fighter wrote in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.” And just as in his day, the euphemisms pretty up constant, blatant lying and racist ideologies. We can also draw another linguistic comparison to Orwell’s time: the widespread use of the word “fascism.” …’

Source: Open Culture

We Survive Because Reality May Be Nothing Like We Think It Is

‘Professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine Donald H. Hoffman has doubts that reality is much like what we think it is. We live in a mental construction, he says, a sort of utilitarian fantasy, of our own devising. And it’s not a problem that it may not be a true representation of reality — in fact, it may be evolutionarily necessary. His study, “Natural selection and verdical perceptions” concludes, among other things, that “perceptual information is shaped by natural selection to reflect utility, not to depict reality.”  …’

Source: Big Think

Police: This Is How a Dog Wears Pants

Last year, the internet wondered how a dog might wear pants. We now have the answer, as per a tweet by the Bellevue, Washington police dept about a dog they found. The pup sported a green baseball sweater and pants on his hind legs and looked “very angry”. Wouldn’t you?

Source: Gizmodo

The Army Corps of Engineers Has Blocked the Dakota Access Pipeline!

‘The Army Corps of Engineers will not grant the Dakota Access Pipeline the right to drill under the Missouri River, amounting to a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

In a statement, assistant secretary for civil works Jo-Ellen Darcy said that her decision is based on the need to explore alternate routes from the pipeline’s crossing. Her office had announced in November that it was delaying plans to move forward on the easement in order to allow for further discussion with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation lies just half a mile south of the proposed crossing site…’

Source: Gizmodo

In this day and age, I’ll take good news wherever I can get it, thus the exclamation point in my headline. We’ll see how long this lasts…

Google Translate AI invents its own language to translate with

‘The online translation tool recently started using a neural network to translate between some of its most popular languages – and the system is now so clever it can do this for language pairs on which it has not been explicitly trained. To do this, it seems to have created its own artificial language…’

Source: New Scientist

[What language did Skynet speak?]

Tumblr of tweets from Trump supporters who regret voting for Trump

‘Here’s a Tumblr of tweets from Trump voters who are surprised that their President Elect is already breaking the promises he made to them. Some are angry that he is not prosecuting Hillary. Others are mad that he is going to take away their Medicare and Social Security. Still others are mad that he wants to hire someone from Goldman Sachs…’

Source: Boing Boing

Too bad it doesn’t mean a hill of beans about whether he actually ends up taking the job on Jan. 20.

14-foot python caught with 3 deer in its gut. Bad sign.

‘The Burmese python is a massive snake native to Southeast Asia that arrived in South Florida in the 1980s, possibly released into the wild by careless pet owners. There are now as many as 300,000 of these invasive creatures slithering through the state, and they’ve been known to eat alligators, bobcats, rabbits, and birds.

Now scientists have discovered that Burmese pythons — which can reach 18 feet in length and swallow a bobcat whole — are even more ravenous than they realized. In a new paper in Bioinvasions Records, a team of researchers describe slitting open the intestine of a dead 14-foot python and finding the remains of three different white-tailed deer. The snake appears to have gobbled them up, an adult and two fawns, in just 90 days.

The implications are disturbing. “If this was just one snake that ate three deer in isolation, that’d be one thing” says Scott Boback, a biologist at Dickinson College and lead author of the study. But the incident comes alongside growing evidence that the Burmese pythons are ravaging native wildlife in South Florida’s Everglades. “When you put that all together, you’ve got to say, okay, something serious is going on here.” …’

Source: Vox

Your Periodic Table Is Officially Out of Date

‘Scientists with the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) have officially approved the names of four new elements, completing the seventh row of the periodic table.

The four elements, discovered between 2002 and 2010, aren’t new per se, but the names are. IUPAC officially recognized the discovery of the super-heavy, highly reactive elements in December of 2015, and announced the suggested names back in June of this year. After a five-month chill-out period for the world to digest the new monikers, the bureau made the names official this week.

  • Nihonium and symbol Nh, for the element 113

  • Moscovium and symbol Mc, for the element 115

  • Tennessine

    and symbol Ts, for the element 117

  • Oganesson and symbol Og, for the element 118…’

Source: Gizmodo

What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient

‘What do you think is the most commonly asked question of a person who has, or has had, cancer? If you guessed, “How are you?” you got it right.

But as caring as those words may seem, they are often not helpful and may even be harmful. At a celebratory family gathering a year after my own cancer treatment, a distant relative asked me just that. I answered, “I’m fine.” She then pressed, “How are you really?”“Really” I was fine, I told her.

But what if I hadn’t been? Would I have wanted to launch into a description of bad medical news at what was supposed to be a fun event? Would I have wanted even to be reminded of a bout with cancer? Although my relative undoubtedly meant well, the way her concern was expressed struck me as intrusive…’

Source: Jane Brody, New York Times

Why there is no PTSD in Afghanistan

‘…Nearly four decades of conflict have bankrupted Afghanistan’s infrastructure, if not also the resilience of its people. Its rudimentary healthcare system — once the poster-child of NATO’s development agenda — is scarcely able to cope with the physically ill, let alone those with mental illness and others left psychologically wounded by a cruel epidemic of violence. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and drug-induced psychosis are common fare here; more commonplace yet are major depressive disorder (MDD) and anxiety. What is surprising is that PTSD, or the trauma that follows exposure to violence, is barely diagnosed at all. The question is why…’

Source: Medium

Boycott Trump Supporters

[To my fellow Bostonians: note that your hometown favorites New Balance and the New England Patriots are on the list.]

‘Each of these companies have founders, owners, or CEOs who are prominent supporters of Donald Trump. Here’s the thing – that’s their choice. They chose to help put him into office, knowing full well what it meant to tens of millions of Americans. However, it is also OUR CHOICE, and a choice that we must make, to withdraw our support from any person or corporation which supports this man and what he stands for.Now, in the days ahead, many of these companies will say, “But our company does not actually endorse political candidates.” When your CEO or Chairman or primary investor makes a public endorsement, or gives millions of dollars to fund Donald Trump, they deserve to be held accountable for that public position…’

Source: The Donald J. Trump Resistance

 

Could Use of 25th Amendment Keep Trump From Becoming President?

‘Amid widespread protests and worrying signs of dysfunction in the administration of President-elect Donald Trump, millions across the United States are likely wondering how, or if, it’s possible to oust the billionaire from the White House before the 2020 presidential election. While there have long been talks of impeachment hearings, a favorite theory this week for removing Trump from power involves the 25th amendment to the Constitution…’

Source: IBTimes