Starved Polar Bears Invade Settlements, No Longer Fearing Humans

Ji8xigwhof8erizahnmyRussian authorities have declared a state of emergency in the remote, sparsely populated Novaya Zemlya islands in the Arctic Ocean, the BBC reported this weekend, after “dozens” of polar bears whose food sources are limited due to climate change started rooting through homes and other buildings near the settlement of Belushya Guba looking for something to eat.

According to the BBC, officials said that the bears no longer fear either police patrols or the signals used to keep them away from humans, and that they have even crossed onto the grounds of the local air defense garrison. Though the animals are considered endangered by Russia (the IUCN Red List classifies them as “vulnerable,” with a decreasing population), officials said that if non-lethal means fail to drive the bears away, they may be forced to cull the animals, the BBC added.…’

Via Russian Authorities Declare State of Emergency After ‘Mass Invasion’ of Polar Bears in Remote Settlement

Meet the Guardian of Grammar Who Wants to Help You Be a Better Writer

Dreyer4 superJumboBenjamin Dreyer sees language the way an epicure sees food. And he finds sloppiness everywhere he looks:

’With his finely tuned editing ear, Benjamin Dreyer often encounters things so personally horrifying that they register as a kind of torture, the way you might feel if you were an epicure and saw someone standing over the sink, slurping mayonnaise directly from the jar.…’

Via New York Times

Sleeping When Sick is Special

UnknownCould Have Its Own Gene:

’In 1909, the Japanese scientist Kuniomi Ishimori collected spinal fluid from sleep-deprived dogs and injected it into active, rested pooches. Within hours, the latter fell into a deep sleep. By coincidence, a pair of French researchers did the same experiments a few years later and got the same results. These studies, and others like them, suggested that the blood of sleepy animals contains some kind of soporific secret sauce of chemicals. Ishimori called these “hypogenic substances.” Others labeled them “somnogens.”

The sources of these sleep-inducing chemicals have proved surprisingly elusive, and scientists have found only a few that fit the bill. Now Hirofumi Toda from the University of Pennsylvania has discovered another—a gene called nemuri that triggers sleep, at least in fruit flies. Unexpectedly, it also becomes active during infections and acts to kill incoming microbes. It seems to be part of a self-regulating system, analogous enough to an internal thermostat that we might call it a sleep-o-stat. It can send animals to sleep when they most need shut-eye, whether because they’re sick or because they just haven’t slept enough.

This sleep-o-stat works separately from the daily body clocks that make us feel more tired at night.…’

Via The Atlantic

Would Jesus have wanted Christianity?

Unknown’The reason it’s hard to love our “neighbor” is because, from an evolutionary standpoint, people outside of our groups have always been suspected as possible threats. The way to love “others” is by engaging with them long enough that we begin to see, in them, ourselves. That is, we see our own struggles and challenges reflected back.  …[T]he “last thing” Jesus wanted to do was found a religion that would divide humanity even more. Jesus would be “mortified” …that his followers started a religion in his name.…’

Via Would Jesus have wanted Christianity? – Big Think

Race, not abortion, was the founding issue of the religious right

06Eagan’Here are some facts that might surprise you.

In 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, the biggest white evangelical group in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, supported its legalization. The group continued that support through much of the 1970s. And the late Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, did not give his first antiabortion speech until 1978, five years after Roe.

Though opposition to abortion is what many think fueled the powerful conservative white evangelical right, 81 percent of whom voted for Donald Trump, it was really school integration, according to Randall Balmer, chairman of the religion department at Dartmouth.…’

Via The Boston Globe

Get that impeachment engine running

08LettersEditor’s note:

’In conjunction with the Feb. 5 op-ed “The case for starting impeachment hearings,” by Ben Clements and Ron Fein, we asked readers whether, in the case of President Trump, it was too soon to start the process or long overdue. We received nearly 50 responses, and sentiments ran about 4 to 1 in favor of beginning the move toward impeachment (though many of the nays were just as critical of the president). The following is an edited sample:…’

Via The Boston Globe

Institutional silence on Trump’s mental state

07LEE6WEBBandy X. Lee and Leonard L. Glass on ‘Malignant Normalcy’:

’A year ago, we affirmed our duty as psychiatrists to alert the public about a president’s mental state if it posed a danger to society. To fulfill that responsibility, we both contributed to the book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.” Now, almost two years later, there appears to be consensus among all but the president’s most loyal supporters that Trump is indeed unstable and dangerous. Yet the voice of those most qualified to assess mental impairment has been largely absent, slowing the public’s understanding, and hampering its ability to demand protective action.

…What was remarkable and alarming was that, in the face of this overwhelming agreement, the APA decided to escalate the Goldwater rule into a total gag order, so that a member who speaks out about a public figure and identifies himself/herself as a psychiatrist is in violation of the APA’s ethical code. This is unlike any other medical speciality…

To make matters worse, around this time last year, the emergency medicine specialist and White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson, without proper training in mental health and without appropriate independence, declared his employer and commander in chief “mentally fit to serve.” He did so based on a 10-minute dementia screen that has been discouraged from use for ruling out dementia after several studies in 2015 showed full-blown Alzheimer patients and hospitalized schizophrenia patients scored in the normal range. Specialists therefore recommend that full neuropsychiatric testing still be performed for those suspected of having early dementia. Dr. Jackson’s actions have only served further to eclipse the opinions of mental health professionals in the face of perhaps the greatest public mental health crisis we have faced in our lifetimes, but this is not new: White House physicians are known to cover up presidents’ conditions in ways that are thought to have negatively influenced the course of history. Authoritative scholars, therefore, suggest that the White House physician remain strictly the president’s personal physician, and that fitness for office tests be outsourced to an independent body.

Dr. Robert Jay Lifton called this the spread of “malignant normality,” based on his study of how Nazi doctors were acculturated into accepting the task they were given in the killing process at Auschwitz as “normal.” Human beings are very adaptable, and there is almost no degree of pathology we could not grow accustomed to, unless those with clear knowledge of what was happening were to speak out. Based on the experience of physician compliance with Nazism, we now have the Declaration of Geneva, the universal physician’s pledge that recognizes either silence or active cooperation with a destructive regime as running counter to medicine’s humanitarian goals. For this reason, we continue to believe that public discourse by mental health professionals on what is at the source a national mental health crisis is the first step to having clarity and empowering the people. The American Psychiatric Association has failed to respond to this emergency; at a minimum, it should cease threatening and demeaning those psychiatrists who do…’

Via Boston Globe

In Defense of Schadenfreude

Images
’Historian Tiffany Watt Smith argues that schadenfreude, the joy we derive from another’s misfortune, is just a natural part of the very complex emotional responses we have as human beings.…’

Via Longreads

The Cautious Case for Climate Optimism

Joe Darrow writes:

>’Whatever you may have read over the past year — as extreme weather brought a global heat wave and unprecedented wildfires burned through 1.6 million California acres and newspaper headlines declared, “Climate Change Is Here” — global warming is not binary. It is not a matter of “yes” or “no,” not a question of “fucked” or “not.” Instead, it is a problem that gets worse over time the longer we produce greenhouse gas, and can be made better if we choose to stop. Which means that no matter how hot it gets, no matter how fully climate change transforms the planet and the way we live on it, it will always be the case that the next decade could contain more warming, and more suffering, or less warming and less suffering. Just how much is up to us, and always will be….’

Source: NYMag

Michelob ASMR Superbowl ad freaked some people out

Christina Maxouris writes:

‘…[Y]es, a lot of people find ASMR relaxing. Others find it horrifying. Or at the very least it freaks them out, like the Michelob Ultra ad featuring Kravitz did.

It’s not Kravitz that’s the problem, it’s just that ASMR is not for everyone! For every person that chills out to the sound of someone rubbing Velcro or sipping from a beer bottle, there’s someone else who thinks ASMR feels like being haunted by a very quiet ghost with no sense of personal space. …’

Source: CNN

It’s So Cold Out! Where’s the Global Warming?!

Xkcd cold weather global warming’In what is now an annual tradition, when the temperatures in some part of the US plunge below zero degrees on the Fahrenheit scale, some nitwit Republican climate change-denier live-tweets from the back pocket of industry something like “It’s so cold out where’s the global warming when we need it???? #OwnTheLibs”. This time around, it was our very own Shitwhistle-in-Chief who tweeted merrily about the current polar vortex bearing down on the Midwest…’

Via kottke

As the article tells it, there are two major factors in the relationship between climate change and severe cold snaps. The first is perception. Quite simply, as it warms up, cold snaps that used to be more typical now seem more memorably extreme. The second reason is a more meteorological one. Global warming is causing a warming in polar latitudes that diminishes the temperature gradient between the poles and the middle latitudes. As a result, the jet stream is weakened and slowed. It thus takes a more meandering course and, in so doing, splits the stratospheric polar vortex into eddying swirls, some of which wander southward and bring their cold air to lower latitudes. 

A step closer to self-aware machines

UnknownEngineers create a robot that can imagine itself:

’Robots that are self-aware have been science fiction fodder for decades, and now we may finally be getting closer. …Columbia Engineering researchers have made a major advance in robotics by creating a robot that learns what it is, from scratch, with zero prior knowledge of physics, geometry, or motor dynamics. Initially the robot does not know if it is a spider, a snake, an arm—it has no clue what its shape is. After a brief period of “babbling,” and within about a day of intensive computing, their robot creates a self-simulation. The robot can then use that self-simulator internally to contemplate and adapt to different situations, handling new tasks as well as detecting and repairing damage in its own body. The work is published today in Science Robotics.…’

Via 3 Quarks Daily

‘We’re all passengers in a billionaire hijacking’

5c53821974c587082f6bee48 1920 1440Anand Giridharadas, the critic who has the world’s richest people buzzing:

’Q: What does Davos stand for in your view? Do you have any particular thoughts on this year’s, specifically?

Anand Giridharadas: I think Davos is a family reunion for the plutocrats that broke the modern West. I’ve never been to it, so I’m a cultural critic looking from a distance, but it seems to me to be a gathering of people who think that they are changing the world when they are exactly what needs changing. A gathering of people who use the idea of making a difference as a kind of lubricant in the engine of making a killing, of people who promote generosity as a cheap substitute for justice.…’

Via Business Insider

Happy Imbolc

UnknownToday is Groundhog Day and, this year, since Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, spring is coming early. In the Pagan calendar, it is Imbolc (or Imbolg), which has marked the beginning of spring since ancient times, coming at the midpoint between the astronomical winter solstice (“Yule”) and the spring equinox (“Ostara”) in the northern hemisphere. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals that fall at the ‘quarter cross points’ between the equinoxes and the solstices, along with Beltane, Lugnasadh, and Samhain.

Imbolc was a time to celebrate Brigid (Brigit, Brighid, Bride, Bridget, Bridgit, Brighde, Bríd), the Celtic Goddess of inspiration, healing, and smithcraft with associations to fire, the hearth and poetry. When Ireland was Christianized in the 5th century, the festival of Brigid became Saint Brigid’s Day, although the chronology of the transmigration from the Celtic goddess to the Christian saint is not universally accepted. Imbolc derives from the Old Irish imbolg meaning in the belly, a time when sheep began to lactate and their udders filled and the grass began to grow.It thus coincided with the beginning of the lambing season, the spring sowing, and some of the earliest blooming plants. The gentle curve of a ‘just-showing’ pregnancy embodies the promise of renewal, expectancy and hope.

Evidence indicates that Imbolc has been an important date in the Irish, Scottish and Manx calendar since ancient times. The holiday was a festival of hearth and home with celebrations often embodying hearth fires, feasting, divination for omens of good fortune, and candles or bonfires representing the return of warmth and light. The point of many rituals seemed to be to invite Brigid, and the good fortune she would bring, into the home. Activities included:

— Brigid crosses, consisting of reeds or willows woven in a four-armed equilateral cross, often hung over doors, windows, or stables for protection

— making Bridey (Brideog, Breedhoge, or ‘Biddy’) dolls, representing Brigid, which were paraded from house to house. People would make a bed for her and leave her food and drink.Images

— visiting of holy wells, which are circled ‘sunwise’ and offerings left. Water from the well was used to bless home, family members, livestock and fields.

— a “spring cleaning” was customary

— Imbolc was traditionally a time of weather divination. Old traditions of watching to see if various animals returned from their winter dens seem to be forerunners of Groundhog Day.

Although many of the customary observances of Imbolc died out during the 20th century, it is still observed and in some places has been revived as a cultural event.Brigid’s Day parades have been revived in the town of Killorglin, County Kerry, which holds a yearly “Biddy’s Day Festival”. Men and women wearing elaborate straw hats and masks visit public houses carrying a Brídeóg to bring good luck for the coming year. They play folk music, dance and sing. The highlight of this festival is a torchlight parade through the town followed by a song and dance contest. Most recently, neopagans and Wiccans have observed Imbolc as a religious holiday.

’…It is the festival of the Maiden, for from this day to March 21st, it is her season to prepare for growth and renewal. Brighid’s snake emerges from the womb of the Earth Mother to test the weather, (the origin of Ground
Hog Day), and in many places the first Crocus flowers began to spring forth from the frozen earth.

The Maiden is honored, as the Bride, on this Sabbat. Straw Brideo’gas (corn dollies) are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flower bedding. Young girls then carry the Brideo’gas door to door, and gifts are bestowed upon the image from each household. Afterwards at the traditional feast, the older women make special acorn wands for the dollies to hold, and in the morning the ashes in the hearth are examined to see if the magic wands left marks as a good omen. Brighid’s Crosses are fashioned from wheat stalks and exchanged as symbols of protection and prosperity in the coming year. Home hearth fires are put out and re-lit, and a besom is place by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new. Candles are lit and placed in each room of the house to honor the re-birth of the Sun.

Inbolc7Another traditional symbol of Imbolc is the plough. In some areas, this is the first day of ploughing in preparation of the first planting of crops. A decorated plough is dragged from door to door, with costumed children following asking for food, drinks, or money. Should they be refused, the household is paid back by having its front garden ploughed up. In other areas, the plough is decorated and then Whiskey, the “water of life” is poured over it. Pieces of cheese and bread are left by the plough and in the newly turned furrows as offerings to the nature spirits. It is considered taboo to cut or pick plants during this time.

Various other names for this Greater Sabbat are Imbolgc Brigantia (Caledonni), Imbolic (Celtic), Disting (Teutonic, Feb 14th), Lupercus (Strega), St. Bridget’s Day (Christian), Candlemas, Candlelaria (Mexican), the Snowdrop Festival. The Festival of Lights, or the Feast of the Virgin. All Virgin and Maiden Goddesses are honored at this time…’

(Via Celtic Connection)

Imbolc also corresponds with Candlemas, the Christian observance of the baby Jesus’ presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem to officially induct him into Judaism when he was forty days old. It was originally described in the Gospel of Luke as a purification ritual. On Candlemas, a priest traditionally blesses candles which are distributed to the faithful for use throughout the year. In some places, they are placed in windows during storms to ward off damage.

Interestingly, in Scotland, along with Michaelmas, Lammas and Whitsun, Candlemas is one of the four  term and quarter days, the four divisions of the legal year, historically used as the days when contracts and leases would begin and end, servants would be hired or dismissed, and rent, interest on loans, and ministers’ stipends would become due. Although they were later fixed by law as falling on the 28th day every three months, they originally occurred on holy days, corresponding roughly to old quarter days used in both Scotland and Ireland.

Some foreign observances:

In France and Belgium, Candlemas (FrenchLa Chandeleur) is celebrated with crêpes.

In Italy, traditionally, it (Italian: La Candelora) is considered the last cold day of winter.

Tenerife (Spain), Is the day of the Virgin of Candelaria (Saint Patron of the Canary Islands). 2 February.

In Southern and Central Mexico, and Guatemala City, Candlemas (Spanish: Día de La Candelaria) is celebrated with tamales. Tradition indicates that on 5 January, the night before Three Kings Day (the Epiphany), whoever gets one or more of the few plastic or metal dolls (originally coins) buried within the Rosca de Reyes must pay for the tamales and throw a party on Candlemas. In certain regions of Mexico, this is the day in which the baby Jesus of each household is taken up from the nativity scene and dressed up in various colorful, whimsical outfits.

In Luxembourg, Liichtmëss sees children carrying lighted sticks visiting neighbors and singing a traditional song in exchange for sweets.

Sailors are often reluctant to set sail on Candlemas Day, believing that any voyage begun then will end in disaster—given the frequency of severe storms in February, this is not entirely without sense.

(Via Wikipedia)

What Is the Most Poisonous Mushroom?

Thumb wide mediumDeath Cap Mushrooms are Spreading Across North America:

’…Dr. Kathy Vo, a medical toxicologist in San Francisco, publishes case studies on rare or unusual poisonings. Amanita phalloides poisonings, she told me, are some of the worst. “When the liver starts to fail, you see bleeding disorders, brain swelling, multi-organ failure. It’s very, very rough,” she said.

The levels of fluid loss, Vo said, are some of the most dramatic she’s seen. The body flushes everything it has. “There’s not an antidote,” she said. “That’s what makes this particularly deadly. We institute a variety of therapies, but there’s not an A, B, C, D. It’s not always the same. The best bet for the patient is fluid, fluid, fluid; keep watching the liver, and if the liver is failing, go for a transplant.”

On average, one person a year has died in North America from ingesting death caps, though that number is rising as the mushroom spreads. More than 30 death-cap poisonings were reported in 2012, including three fatalities, while 2013 saw five cases and no deaths. In 2014, one person died of death-cap poisoning in Michigan; two in California; and one in Vancouver, after a Canadian man traveled to California, ate the mushrooms as part of a meal, and returned to Vancouver, where he became ill and died.

Amanita phalloides are said to be quite tasty, and a person who eats one could feel fine for a day or two before illness sets in. The poison is taken up by the liver cells, where it inhibits an enzyme responsible for protein synthesis; without protein, the cells begin to die, and the patient may start to experience nausea and diarrhea—symptoms that can easily be attributed to general food poisoning or other ailments. “If the patient doesn’t realize the connection, doesn’t see the illness as a result of eating a mushroom a day or two earlier, it’s a hard diagnosis,” said Vo.…’

Via The Atlantic

A Bold New Theory Proposes That Humans Tamed Themselves

07a450473’Why are we so much less violent day-to-day within our communities (in pretty much all cultures) than our closest primate relatives, chimpanzees, are within theirs? At the same time, how is it that human violence directed toward perceived enemy groups has been so destructive?…’

Via 3 Quarks Daily

Five Flavors

UnknownA selection of famous, but different, anarchists:

’It takes an independent mind to declare oneself an anarchist, but even so, the stories and characters of people who identify as anarchists can be surprising. Here’s five snapshots of different anarchists, each with a different take on the controversial political philosophy and different experiences. As a quick note, this list is in no way meant to be exhaustive; there are many more influential, controversial, famous, and infamous anarchists out there other than those described here.…’

Via Big Think

Elephant Seals Took Over a Beach During the Shutdown and They’re Not Giving it Back

1548875538594 42675183472 36deb959c3 hElephant seals lounging on Drakes Beach.

’During the government shutdown, while nobody was looking, a herd of elephant seals took over a popular California beach and forced authorities to close the area to visitors.

The opportunistic animals are iconic residents of Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County near San Francisco, where they can usually be seen lounging on the sand from afar.

But with National Park Service employees furloughed, and no one around to wrangle them, 50 to 60 seals moved into Drakes Beach, known by locals for its expansive shoreline and pristine views.

Had the shutdown not occurred, “we probably would have tried to move the seals further away from the parking area,” John Dell’Osso, chief of interpretation and resource education at Point Reyes National Seashore, told Motherboard in an email.

“This would be done by a standard practice of using tarps and waving them at the seals to the point where they turn around and go further down the beach,” Dell’Osso explained.

A mid-January storm, coupled with extreme tides called “king tides,” drove the seals away from Chimney Rock, a secluded point on the peninsula where the animals tend to congregate, Dell’Osso theorized.…’

Via Motherboard

Warmer Temperatures and Disease Decimated This West Coast Starfish in Two Years

1548872516731 Sunflower seastar’The sunflower sea star, one of the largest starfish species in the world, has been practically wiped out along the west coast of North America, putting ecosystems at risk, according to a study published Wednesday in Science Advances.

Led by Drew Harvell, a Cornell University professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, the authors found that a recent outbreak of sea star wasting disease reduced the population by 80 to 100 percent across 3,000 kilometers of its territory.…’

Via Motherboard

CDC: Quit Kissing Adorable Hedgehogs

Unknown’The CDC has identified an outbreak of salmonella caused by contact with hedgehogs. A hedgehog can appear healthy and still carry salmonella. Conscientious hygiene is required for anyone living with a hedgie.…’

Via Big Think

We may finally know what causes Alzheimer’s – and how to stop it

B2201418 oral bacteria tem’If you bled when you brushed your teeth this morning, you might want to get that seen to. We may finally have found the long-elusive cause of Alzheimer’s disease: Porphyromonas gingivalis, the key bacteria in chronic gum disease.

That’s bad, as gum disease affects around a third of all people. But the good news is that a drug that blocks the main toxins of P. gingivalis is entering major clinical trials this year, and research published today shows it might stop and even reverse Alzheimer’s. There could even be a vaccine.

Alzheimer’s is one of the biggest mysteries in medicine. As populations have aged, dementia has skyrocketed to become the fifth biggest cause of death worldwide. Alzheimer’s constitutes some 70 per cent of these cases and yet, we don’t know what causes it.…’

Via New Scientist

Nearly 200 cognitive biases rule our everyday thinking – Big Think

980x’Buster Benson (a marketing manager at Slack) decided to organize 175 known biases into a giant codex… Benson (with help from illustrations by John Manoogian III), sorted biases for duplicates and grouped them into four larger categories, each called a “conundrum” or “problem”. All four of these limit our intelligence but are actually trying to be helpful. According to Benson, “Every cognitive bias is there for a reason — primarily to save our brains time or energy.” But the end result of utilizing such mental shortcuts, which are often useful, is that they also introduce errors into our thinking. By becoming aware of how our minds make decisions, we can be mindful of the inherent inaccuracies and fallacies and hopefully act with more fairness and grace.…’

Via Big Think

Secret government UFO reading list revealed

NewImage
FOIA release sheds light on the DOD’s own struggle to understand UFOs:

’The public finally had a chance in 2017 to see some of the government’s tightly guarded UFO footage — never mind the sudden admission that it existed in the first place. The handful of clips that were de-classified were eye-popping, depicting flying somethings with ridiculous maneuvering capabilities, far beyond anything we’d seen in human craft. Sure, we wondered where they came from and who was driving those things, but just as urgent was a desire to wrap our heads around how they were doing the things they were doing. Apparently, the Department of Defense (DOD) was right there with us, because their recently published reading list suggests their suspicions went in some seriously sci-fi directions.…’

Via Big Think

The “Real” Warp Drive

UnknownSure, it sounds like science fiction. But some researchers suggest that warp drives might actually be a possibility:

’…nothing in relativity suggests that spacetime cannot contract or stretch faster than light. If spacetime around the ship bends in a certain way, the craft can be swiftly propelled and, in theory, travel a vast distance in little time.

The ship itself does not violate the Einsteinian prohibition on faster-than-light travel because, within its bubble of spacetime, the ship is not traveling faster than light. To a stationary observer, the ship would appear to be moving at light speed (or close to it). But it is actually the surrounding distortion of spacetime that is driving the bubble from origin to destination, kind of like a surfer riding a wave. Consequently, the ship is not empirically moving faster than light relative to anything else in its bubble. Yet if the ship and light leave the same space at the same time, the ship might get there faster than the light does.…’

Via JSTOR Daily

Trump Reportedly Demanded NASA Fly Manned Mission to Mars by 2020

For the Greater Glory of the Orange Infant:

Unknown’This absurd conversation was actually televised at the time, and mentioned in the New York Times coverage of the conversation, which speculated that he had made the suggestion “perhaps jokingly.”

But according to Sims new book, Trump was dead serious.

In the lead up to the interview, Sims says, the situation was tense. Due to the position of the ISS, there was only a 20 minute period in which the interview could be accomplished, so Trump had to be right on time.

Then, according to Sims, Trump went off on a tangent about Mars, and demanded that NASA send a manned mission there before the end of his term.

Then, something happened. Trump “suddenly appeared distracted, distant,” wrote Sims. “I could sense the gears inside of his head starting to turn. I was losing him.” As the clock ticked down, Trump “suddenly turned toward the NASA administrator.” He asked: “What’s our plan for Mars?”
When the NASA administrator explained that it would take until the 2030s to send a manned mission, Trump didn’t accept it.

“Trump bristled,” Sims writes. The president allegedly asked, “But is there any way we could do it by the end of my first term?”

President Deals then tried to negotiate.

Trump did not seem worried about the time. Sims wrote that he leaned in toward Lightfoot and made him an offer. “But what if I gave you all the money you could ever need to do it?” Trump asked. “What if we sent NASA’s budget through the roof, but focused entirely on that instead of whatever else you’re doing now. Could it work then?”

Lightfoot told him he was sorry, but he didn’t think it was possible. This left Trump “visibly disappointed,” Sims wrote. “But I tried to refocus him on the task at hand. We were now about 90 seconds from going live.”

As if this could get any more absurd, with only seconds to spare before the absolute deadline to connect with the ISS, Trump stopped to look in a bathroom mirror.

“Space Station, this is your President,” Trump said to his own reflection, according to Sims.…’

Via Splinter

10 logical fallacies you can probably do without

10 of the most sandbagging, red-herring, and effective logical fallacies.

Unknown‘…Many an otherwise-worthwhile argument has been derailed by logical fallacies. Sometimes these fallacies are deliberate tricks, and sometimes just bad reasoning. Avoiding these traps makes disgreeing so much better.…’

Via Big Think

Human Screams Occupy a Privileged Niche in the Communication Soundscape

Abstract:

Images’Screaming is arguably one of the most relevant communication signals for survival in humans. Despite their practical relevance and their theoretical significance as innate [1] and virtually universal [2, 3] vocalizations, what makes screams a unique signal and how they are processed is not known. Here, we use acoustic analyses, psychophysical experiments, and neuroimaging to isolate those features that confer to screams their alarming nature, and we track their processing in the human brain. Using the modulation power spectrum (MPS, [4, 5]), a recently developed neurally-informed characterization of sounds, we demonstrate that human screams cluster within restricted portion of the acoustic space (between ∼30–150 Hz modulation rates) that corresponds to a well-known perceptual attribute, roughness. In contrast to the received view that roughness is irrelevant for communication [6], our data reveal that the acoustic space occupied by the rough vocal regime is segregated from other signals, including speech, a pre-requisite to avoid false-alarms in normal vocal communication. We show that roughness is present in natural alarm signals as well as in artificial alarms, and that the presence of roughness in sounds boosts their detection in various tasks. Using fMRI, we show that acoustic roughness engages subcortical structures critical to rapidly appraise danger. Altogether, these data demonstrate that screams occupy a privileged acoustic niche that, being separated from other communication signals, ensures their biological and ultimately social efficiency.…’

Via Current Biology

Shhh…

‘Residents of Cremona, Italy, are hearing a lot of that lately. The city, the birthplace of the world’s finest string instruments, has thrown itself behind an effort to preserve every note before the instruments are too fragile to play.
That requires absolute silence in the cobblestoned area around the auditorium where the sounds of Stradivarius instruments are being recorded. The streets are shut down, and a dropped glass or even the sound of a woman’s high heels clicking make for an “an auditory nightmare,” said one of the people behind the project. …’

Source: The New York Times

Insect collapse: ‘We are destroying our life support systems’

Damian Carrington writes:

‘“We knew that something was amiss in the first couple days,” said Brad Lister. “We were driving into the forest and at the same time both Andres and I said: ‘Where are all the birds?’ There was nothing.”

His return to the Luquillo rainforest in Puerto Rico after 35 years was to reveal an appalling discovery. The insect population that once provided plentiful food for birds throughout the mountainous national park had collapsed. On the ground, 98% had gone. Up in the leafy canopy, 80% had vanished. The most likely culprit by far is global warming.

“It was just astonishing,” Lister said. “Before, both the sticky ground plates and canopy plates would be covered with insects. You’d be there for hours picking them off the plates at night. But now the plates would come down after 12 hours in the tropical forest with a couple of lonely insects trapped or none at all.”

“It was a true collapse of the insect populations in that rainforest,” he said. “We began to realise this is terrible – a very, very disturbing result.”

Earth’s bugs outweigh humans 17 times over and are such a fundamental foundation of the food chain that scientists say a crash in insect numbers risks “ecological Armageddon”. When Lister’s study was published in October, one expert called the findings “hyper-alarming”. …’

Source: The Guardian

Steven Pinker’s ideas are fatally flawed. These eight graphs show why

Steven PinkerJeremy Lent in openDemocracy:

’Pinker is… an intellectual darling of the most powerful echelons of global society. He spoke to the world’s elite this year at the World’s Economic Forum in Davos on the perils of what he calls “political correctness,” and has been named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” Since his work offers an intellectual rationale for many in the elite to continue practices that imperil humanity, it needs to be met with a detailed and rigorous response.…’

Via openDemocracy

Earth’s magnetic field is acting up and geologists don’t know why

D41586 019 00007 1 16383826’Something strange is going on at the top of the world. Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core. The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move.

On 15 January, they are set to update the World Magnetic Model, which describes the planet’s magnetic field and underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

The most recent version of the model came out in 2015 and was supposed to last until 2020 — but the magnetic field is changing so rapidly that researchers have to fix the model now. “The error is increasing all the time,” says Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Information.

The problem lies partly with the moving pole and partly with other shifts deep within the planet. Liquid churning in Earth’s core generates most of the magnetic field, which varies over time as the deep flows change. In 2016, for instance, part of the magnetic field temporarily accelerated deep under northern South America and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Satellites such as the European Space Agency’s Swarm mission tracked the shift.…’

Via Nature

R.I.P. Joseph Jarman, 81

 

12JARMAN OBIT1 superJumbo v2Mainstay of the Art Ensemble of Chicago:

’Joseph Jarman, a saxophonist, flutist, woodwind player and percussionist who helped expand the parameters of performance in avant-garde jazz, especially as a member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, died on Wednesday at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, N.J. He was 81.

His former wife, the writer and scholar Thulani Davis, said the cause was cardiac arrest as a result of respiratory failure.

Over the last two decades Mr. Jarman was less active in music than in other pursuits, notably his ministrations as a Buddhist priest and aikido instructor. With Ms. Davis, he founded the Brooklyn Buddhist Association in 1990. And his students at the Jikishinkan Aikido Dojo, which he established in Brooklyn, typically did not enroll there because of his jazz career; some may not have known much about it.

But Mr. Jarman was revered for his tenure in the Art Ensemble, from its inception in the late 1960s, through his departure in the early 1990s and again early in this century.
The group was an indomitable presence in experimental music, and a flagship of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a nonprofit cooperative with a focus on new music and African-American artists. It drew inspiration not only from jazz and blues but also from world music, ritual and folklore, all keen interests of Mr. Jarman’s.…’

Via New York Times obituary

Ranking Every Type of Sushi by How Healthy It Is

Ian Lecklitner writes:

‘The upshot here is, I feel like crap, partly because my body is full of plastic, but mostly because my insatiable, kraken-like desire for sushi is ruining the ocean. It’s true: Our collective sushi habits are certainly contributing to the deteriorating health of the oceans. “The United Nations comes out with The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture every two years, and the 2016 version basically shows that we overfished more than one-third of all fisheries — another 55 percent were maxed out, meaning we would be overfishing those, too, if we removed any more fish,” Hunnes explains. “A mere nine percent of fisheries are underfished.”

More than anything, similar to our previous fish ranking, this list should also emphasize the importance of understanding both where and how your seafood is caught (sushi-grade or not), which can dramatically impact the health and sustainability of that meal. To keep track of that kinda stuff, we recommend checking out SeafoodWatch.org. …’

Source: MEL Magazine

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

980xShe met mere mortals with and without the Vatican’s approval.

’For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.…’

Via Big Think

The states with the happiest Americans spend more money on ‘public goods’

ImagesThe states with the happiest Americans spend more money on ‘public goods’.

’Study reveals the Americans who live in states that spend more on tangible “public goods” are happier.
This spending makes communities “more livable.”
Pain of higher property taxes largely balanced out by higher property values and quality of life.…’

Via Big Think

ACLU Warns: Trump’s Attorney General Pick Is the ‘Godfather’ of America’s Surveillance Hell

Uznql6raocoqbacwczy1’The corporate lawyer and former chief U.S. law enforcement officer nominated to replace Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department has a controversial past involving the warrantless surveillance of Americans and once fought to make it easier for phone companies to secretly hand over customer records to the government, legal experts at the American Civil Liberties Union warned on Wednesday.

In 1992, William Barr, who previously served as U.S. attorney general under President H.W. Bush, was instrumental in the development of a program that enabled the Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Agency to collect the telephone records of millions of Americans, regardless of whether they were suspected of criminal activity.…’

Via Gizmodo

A Pale Blue Dot

Il 570xN 485802879 1d4sWhen I posted (below) about the fiftieth anniversary of the ‘Good Earth’ photo, I neglected to link to this, which never fails to move me.

Via YouTube

Crossword, sudoku plague threatens America!

189ec27b d87e 499c a0ad 657169245a99Ron Rosenbaum:

’The world is divided between those who willingly waste precious moments, hours, weeks, years of life doing crosswords, double-crostics, sudoku, and other word and number puzzles—and those (like myself) who are virtually allergic to them. (The puzzles, not the people.)

I’m not claiming any superiority for those who share my allergy. (Well, that’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.) I just think our brains are wired differently. Really differently.

Try this experiment at a dinner party (if you want to ruin it). Mention a frequent obsession of puzzle people, the NPR “news quiz” show, Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! (Or, as I call it, “Wait Wait … Please Kill Me!”) About half the attendees will exhibit violent, often physical reactions ranging from cringing to shuddering. Meanwhile, the other half will have sublime self-satisfied smiles. They sometimes get the answers before the guests! The show is so mentally stimulating!

What always gets to me is the self-congratulatory assumption on the part of puzzle people that their addiction to the useless habit somehow proves they are smarter or more literate than the rest of us. Need I suggest that those who spend time doing crossword puzzles (or sudoku)—uselessly filling empty boxes (a metaphor for some emptiness in their lives?)—could be doing something else that involves words and letters? It’s called reading.…’

Via Slate

Green Burials and the Truth About the Dirty Death Industry

Yynwzasvlcmfwsnben1c’In the U.S., 18th and 19th century burials involved at most, a pine casket and a plot in a cemetery or on your land. But embalming techniques pioneered during the Civil War so thousands of soldiers could be brought home helped spawn the modern funeral industry. The death of Abraham Lincoln and the public viewings of his embalmed body as it was brought from Washington, D.C. to its final resting in Springfield, Illinois likely also contributed to the shift in how Americans conceive of death.

“The reports we get from that era is he [Lincoln] looked pretty doggone good for being dead after being assassinated with a bullet to the head,” Bill Hoy, an end of life expert at Baylor University, told Earther. “That confirmed that [embalming] is especially helpful for two things: One, when our dead’s death occurs a few days from home, and two, when an injury or disease process was such that dead just look horrible, and people thought ‘I don’t want that to be my last picture.’”

But while the growth of arterial embalming fluid gave loved ones more time to say goodbye and create a last memory, the processes also cuts bodies off from what some would argue is their final purpose, of giving life the Earth.

The modern green burial movement is a sort of course correction for the Western world. Acciavatti said that it’s always been much bigger in Europe compared to the U.S. “[i]n part because embalming was never really a thing there, but also because we’re so behind the curve in terms of green movements in the U.S.” But the U.S. is now catching up.

Ramsey Creek Preserve, the first modern green burial cemetery in the U.S., opened 20 years ago in South Carolina. Since then, roughly 150 green burial sites have opened their gates (if they even have them), allowing family and friends to bury loved ones in a more natural way. That generally means wrapping their body in a shroud, digging a grave that’s three feet deep—far enough down to not be detected by scavengers but not so far down as to be cut off from microbial decay—and keeping the grave unmarked.…’

Via Earther

How Far Does the Periodic Table Go?

Efforts to fill the periodic table raise questions of special relativity that “strike at the very heart of chemistry as a discipline.”

How far does the periodic table go 1050x700

’Until December 2015, there were holes in the periodic table, elements synthesized but not yet officially recognized. But as we enter the International Year of the Periodic Table, the classic periodic table has been filled to its seventh row: In late 2015, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry officially confirmed elements 113, 115, 117, and 118. The new elements also received their final names: nihonium, moscovium, tennessine, and oganesson. Efforts to find the next elements, 119 and 120, are underway.

Exactly how many elements are still to be discovered? Is there an end to the periodic table? When will we reach it? What does it teach us about the nature of the elements?…’

Via JSTOR Daily

This is the worst oil disaster you’ve never heard of

5399Janis Searles Jones and Philippe Cousteau:

’Eight years ago, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico devastated communities, wildlife and livelihoods all along the Gulf coast. While dying dolphins and oil-soaked marsh grass dominated the headlines, the human cost was catastrophic. Now, it appears that a new disaster is slowly unfolding that may soon eclipse that horrific event to become the worst environmental disaster in US history.

In 2004, Hurricane Ivan triggered an undersea mudslide that sank an oil platform owned by Taylor Energy. Since then, between 300 and 700 barrels of oil have been spewing into the Gulf of Mexico every day. Let’s put that into perspective. The Deepwater Horizon disaster spilled almost 200m gallons of oil into the Gulf. To date, the Taylor spill has released as much as 140m gallons of oil into the Gulf.…’

Via The Guardian

Wonderful set of New Year’s wishes from Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman writes:

‘If you have come here for New Year’s Wishes, I don’t have a new one. But here are the ones that already exist. This is from 2014:

Fifteen Years ago, I wrote:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

And almost a decade ago I said,

…I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.

Half a decade ago, I wrote:

And for this year, my wish for each of us is small and very simple.

And it’s this.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

And here, from 2012 the last wish I posted, terrified but trying to be brave, from backstage at a concert:

It’s a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world.

So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we’re faking them.

And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it’s joy we’re looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation.

So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.

I meant, and mean them all. I wasn’t going to write a new one this year. But…

Be kind to yourself in the year ahead.

Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand.

Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.

Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them.

Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love….’

Source: Neil Gaiman’s Journal

Dr. Michio Kaku: Let’s not advertise our existence to aliens

Our best bet for survival? Lie low.

Unknown

’If advanced alien civilizations do exist, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku asks: Why would they want anything to do with us? It would be like an academic talking to a squirrel, he suggests, and he has a great point.

Hollywood and science fiction novels have conditioned us for years to believe that aliens either want to hang out on our intellectual level and learn from us… or destroy us. If alien life really does have the technology and know-how to make it all the way here, perhaps we should just play it cool and not assume that we are the top species in the universe.

Kaku speculates that our hypothetical demise would come at the hands of an intelligence civilization that sees us as no more than deer in the woods and wipes us out by accident — just as we have done to (what we deem) less remarkable species since time immemorial…’

Via Big Think

New Year’s Customs and Rituals

New Year Sunrise

New Year Sunrise

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

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

Marteniza-ball

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

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

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

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

English: Fireworks over Edinburgh on New Year'...

Fireworks over Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10768-revelry
Elsewhere:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whr Hv All th Vwls Gn?

John Williams writes:

‘Time was that you had to be an experimental weirdo to ditch vowels. In “Finnegans Wake,” James Joyce used the word “disemvowelled” in a section thatincludes this exchange of crystal-clear dialogue:

— Nnn ttt wrd?

— Dmn ttt thg.

Before we are all Joyce — God bless him — I would suggest that we take a deep breath, a mndfl one even, and consider the culling of our five (maybe six) friends. After all, there are words that can hardly do without them: muumuu, audio and oboe, just to queue up a few. One cannot text someone “b” and expect them to know one is referring to an oboe.

And what about that old Scrabble lifesaver “euoi” — “a cry of impassioned rapture in ancient Bacchic revels?” If you know of another way to identify a cry of impassioned rapture in ancient Bacchic revels, I’d like to hear it. Really. I’ll wait.

Panicked that we might be sliding (even more quickly) toward a fully emoticon-based pictographic language, I called the linguist, Columbia professor and prolific author John McWhorter to ease my mind. First, he assured me I wasn’t crazy to suggest an uptick in this trend.

“There is a fashion in American language culture right now to be playful in a way that is often childlike,” Mr. McWhorter said. “This business of leaving out the vowels and leaving you to wonder how to pronounce something, it channels this kid-ness in a way — like saying ‘because science,’ or the way we’re using -y, when we say something like, ‘well, it got a little yell-y.’ ”

Mr. McWhorter acknowledges that the more often vowels are dropped, the more people get used to it and make adjustments to rapidly understand implied meanings. “You can imagine someone naming a band MGMT in 1976, and everyone would just be baffled,” he said. But he doesn’t see disemvowelling creeping into more formal areas, and expects the trend won’t move “beyond the realm of that which is ironic or iconic.” …’

Source: New York Times

Arctic warming is not just a data point

NewImagePaul Nicklen:

’I have either lived or worked in the Arctic for most of my life. There is no place that I love more. The Arctic is also warming twice as fast as anywhere else on Earth. On this day, four years ago, I photographed two young bears who were lying dead next to one another. Top polar bear scientists are saying that we will likely lose 30 percent of the polar bear population by 2050 due to starvation and we could lose polar bears all together within a hundred years. I want the world to realize that these are not just data points falling off a sheet paper. These are individuals that are and will starve to death due to the lack of sea ice. What is it going to take for us to wake up? It was on this day that @sealegacy was born. I am proud of the work that @sealegacy is doing. We have come a long way but we are only just getting started. If we are going to create real and lasting change for our planet, then we need to quickly scale our organization and take on bigger campaigns. Please go to the link in my bio and please consider a donation of any size. Please join us in #turnthetide #becomepartofthesolution #gratitude…’

Via Instagram

Ready for a Super Blood Wolf Moon in January?

Emily Petsko writes:

‘…The new year will get off to a brilliant start when a rare reddish-orange body called a Super Blood Wolf Moon graces the sky in January…

This phenomenon is actually the convergence of a few lunar events. For one, there’s a total lunar eclipse, also known as a Blood Moon… Secondly, the Super Blood Wolf Moon takes place during a supermoon. This occurs when a moon’s full phase coincides with the point in its orbit when it comes closest to Earth. These two factors make it look 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than it normally does, according to Space.com. Finally, a full moon in January has been called a Wolf Moon ever since colonial times, so that’s where the “wolf” part of the name comes from.

If you’re in North America, you can expect to see the Super Blood Wolf Moon on January 20. Totality will occur around 9:12 p.m. PST or 12:12 a.m. EST on January 21, but Forbes suggests pulling up a chair an hour beforehand to watch the moon change from partial eclipse to total eclipse….’

Source: Mental Floss

Best Epigraphs of 2018

Ashley Holstrom writes:

‘Epigraphs are a lovely part of books—usually a fancy line from a very old work that the author feels in their soul. This year was (another) hard one, and the epigraphs of 2018 are a comfort.

I once had a teacher who said epigraphs were snooty, and something only authors who think they’re as good as the greats do. But I disagree. They’re a great way to lead you to more books! And this year’s selections made my TBR list even longer.

Last year I collected the best epigraphs of the year, and it’s my new favorite end-of-year tradition. So let’s get to it! …’

Source: Book Riot

Gen. Wesley Clark: Was Trump blackmailed into pulling out of Syria?

220x125’During a CNN appearance on December 24, Clark stressed that “there doesn’t seem to be any strategic rational for the decision. And if there is no strategic rational, then you have to ask, ‘Why was the decision made? I can tell you that people around the world are asking this. And some of our friends and our allies in the Middle East are asking, ‘Well, did Erdogan blackmail the president? Was there a payoff or something? Why would a guy make a decision like this?’”…’

Via Salon.com

Gigantic Poster Features Every Product the Fictional ACME Corporation Ever Produced

567190 fringefocus robloukotka‘If the ACME Corporation were a real company, its R&D department would have been pretty busy. The fake manufacturer, featured in the Looney Tunes’s Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons, seemingly made every type of product in the Looney Tunes universe, from explosives to refrigerators to trampolines to instructional karate manuals.

Chicago-based artist Rob Loukotka knows them all. His studio, Fringe Focus, has put them all on one 24-inch by 36-inch poster, creating an exhaustive illustrated compendium of all of the ACME-brand products that fueled the endless coyote-on-bird rivalry.

First designed as part of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign—it vastly overshot its $3000 goal, raising more than $105,000 in less than a month—the poster features all 126 ACME products (the full list is here) that appear in the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner sketches.

To come up with the design, Loukotka watched 43 Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoons that aired between 1949 and 1994, spending more than 100 hours creating intricate renderings of products like the ACME Bird Seed, ACME Glue, the ACME Instant Icicle Maker, the book Birds and Their Habitat, and more.

Spend enough time with the poster and you’ll no doubt start wishing you could buy some of the whimsical inventions for yourself, forgetting that most of them ended up spectacularly backfiring on the poor coyote.…’

Via Mental Floss

Study: modern masters like Jackson Pollock were “intuitive physicists”

Art2 800x515Collective Suicide (1936), by Mexican muralist David A. Siqueiros, is an example of the “accidental painting” technique developed by the artist.

’In the 1930s, a small group of New York City artists began experimenting with novel painting techniques and materials, including Mexican muralist David A. Siqueiros and Jackson Pollock. For the last few years, a team of Mexican physicists has been studying the physics of fluids at work in those techniques, concluding that the artists were “intuitive physicists,” using science to create timeless art.

“One of the things I have come to realize is that painters have a deep understanding of fluid mechanics as they manipulate their materials,” said Roberto Zenit, a physicist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico who is leading the research. “This is what fluid mechanicians do. The objective is different, but the manipulation of these materials that flow is the same. So it is not a surprise that fluid mechanics has a lot to say about how artists paint.”

Zenit is not the first physicist to be fascinated by Pollock’s work in particular. Back in 2001, for instance, physicist Richard Taylor found evidence of fractal patterns in Pollock’s seemingly random drip patterns. His hypothesis met with considerable controversy, both from art historians and a few fellow physicists. In a 2006 paper published in Nature, for instance, Case University physicists Katherine Jones-Smith and Harsh Mathur claimed Taylor’s work was “seriously flawed” and “lacked the range of scales needed to be considered fractal.” (To prove the point, Jones-Smith created her own version of a fractal painting—using Taylor’s criteria—in about five minutes using Photoshop.)

Then, in 2011, Boston College physicist Andrzej Herczynski^ and Harvard mathematician Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan collaborated with art historian Claude Cernuschi on an article for Physics Today examining Pollock’s use of a coiling instability in his paintings. It’s basically a mathematical description for how a viscous fluid folds onto itself like a coiling rope—just like pouring maple syrup on pancakes. The patterns that form depend on how thick the fluid is (its viscosity) and how fast it’s moving. Thick fluids form straight lines when being spread rapidly across a canvas, but will form loops and squiggles and figure eights if poured slowly.…’

Via Ars Technica

How Opioids Hijack the Brain

’To understand what goes through the minds and bodies of opioid users, The New York Times spent months interviewing users, family members and addiction experts. Using their insights, we created a visual representation of how the strong lure of these powerful drugs can hijack the brain.

Dr. Pedro Mateu-Gelabert, one of the nation’s top opioid researchers, said this work brings “an emotional understanding” to the epidemic but “without glamorizing or oversimplifying.”…’

Via The New York Times

The ‘visual representation’ is hokey and adds nothing but glitz to the narrative. Nevertheless, it is insightful. However, it is hard to understand why it took the Times months of interviewing, when the reporters could have interviewed Dr Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, or read one of her review papers on the neurobiology of addiction, deriving the same sophisticated understanding in thirty minutes or less.

Regardless, it is important to understand that addiction is not just a weakness of will and that recovery is not just a matter of determination. Motivation and commitment are necessary but far from sufficient in the face of the powerful neurobiological changes precipitated by a period of consistent use of an addictive drug. And this is true not only with respect to opioids (so fashionable to think about given the nationwide ‘epidemic’) but but any class of addictive drug. (And, for that matter, we speculate that non-drug-related ‘addictive’ behaviors such as gambling may involve similar mechanisms.). Essentially, the machinery of pleasure, reward and satisfaction have been hijacked by the substance use. With abstinence, such changes do not reverse for months or even years. 

‘The good Earth’

Earthrise

’It’s the 50th anniversary of perhaps the most remarkable photograph ever taken, Earthrise… In what was at that time the biggest television broadcast in terms of audience ever, the crew described the moon as they orbited it, and then ended the broadcast with a reading from Genesis and, finally, with this:

“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

The crew fired their engine to leave lunar orbit and return to Earth on Christmas Day from behind the moon, out of radio contact with the rest of humanity. When they finally saw the Earth again, Jim Lovell broke radio silence to declare, “Please be informed there is a Santa Claus.”…’

Via Six Colors

The history of Jews, Chinese food, and Christmas

GettyImages 514694012 0As explained by a rabbi:

’For over a century, American Jews have eaten American Chinese food on Christmas. This pastime has evolved to a near-holy tradition, parodied on Saturday Night Live, analyzed in academic papers, and reaffirmed by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.

Perhaps the foremost expert on the practice is Rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut, PhD, executive director of American Friends of Rabin Medical Center, rabbi of Metropolitan Synagogue in New York, and author of A Kosher Christmas, the premier (and only?) comprehensive study of what Jews do at Christmastime.

I spoke to Plaut about Chinese food on Christmas, and why he used to sit on Santa Claus’s lap.…’

Via Vox

Dear Anonymous Inside the Trump Administration


Merlin 148364211 7fe0fe18 ffcc 46fb 89b8 3624cecf4aa3 superJumbo’Dear Anonymous,

It’s time we revisit that famous op-ed of yours.

In September, you acknowledged that you were a member of the “quiet resistance” within Donald Trump’s administration. You told us that you and others were “working diligently” to “frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” You said that while you agreed with many of the president’s policies, you were appalled by the president’s amorality, his chaotic management, his “repetitive rants,” his fondness for dictators.

You also believed that your efforts to resist Trump were often successful. On foreign policy, you noted, the administration’s policies were far more sober and serious than the president’s reckless rhetoric.

You were wrong. This week proves it. Assuming you haven’t departed the administration already, now would be the time for you to go. Ditto for all of your fellow “resisters.”

This is the central lesson of James Mattis’s stunning resignation on Thursday. Secretaries of defense come and go — we’ve had five in the last eight years — and some of them run afoul of the president they serve.
But Mattis is the highest-ranking cabinet member to resign over differences of policy and principle since Cyrus Vance quit the State Department in 1980 after Jimmy Carter’s Desert One fiasco. He is the only defense secretary to leave this way since the position was created in 1947.

Mattis resigned because he no longer shares your analysis. He no longer believes he can be a steadying or blocking force in the councils of government because it isn’t clear there are “councils of government.” Donald Trump made a snap decision to remove U.S. troops from Syria following a phone call with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He did so over the unanimous objections of his national-security team. He did so after leading members of that team had said publicly and recently that the U.S. would not withdraw.

A president who sticks it to his own team while sticking with a foreign strongman is not worth sticking by.

Mattis also resigned because he has concluded that the problem with Trump isn’t that he’s an empty vessel. It’s that he’s a malignant one.

Here was the fundamental mistake in your view of Trump: You thought he could be handled. You thought of him as a child who simply needed to be kept away from dangerous toys, as former economic adviser Gary Cohn did when he removed a letter from the president’s desk ordering the end of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.
But our Commodus-in-Chief isn’t just an irascible buffoon whose worst impulses can be confined to Twitter but whose policy instincts largely align with yours. Trump thinks of himself as a man of ideas. Withdrawal from Syria, along with partial withdrawal from Afghanistan, is consonant with the quasi-isolationism he’s preached for decades. He is sympathetic to Erdogan, as he is to other tyrants, because he is indifferent to considerations of human rights and civil liberties.…’

Via The New York Times Opinion

Teenage Dolphins Get High on Puffer Fish Toxin

Dolphins high’In 2014, BBC aired a two-part documentary that featured intimate and close-up footage of dolphins using remote-controlled cameras disguised as sea creatures like turtles and fish. In one of the scenes, a group of adolescent dolphins captures a puffer fish and passes the ball-shaped little guy around. But as narrator David Tennant explains, what the dolphins really appear to be after is the toxin released by the puffer.

When attacked, puffer fish release a neurotoxin. In high doses, it can kill, but in small doses, it has a narcotic effect. It seems to be affecting the dolphins. They appear totally blissed out by the whole experience. And remarkably, all take turns in passing the puffer around.…’

Via Kottke

Four seasons in the life of a Finnish island

Jani ylinampa kotisaari’Nestled amongst hundreds of stunning shots of the aurora borealis taken by Finnish photographer Jani Ylinampa is a series of four photos of Kotisaari, showing the island from a drone’s point of view for each of the four seasons (clockwise from upper left): spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

But seriously, go check out Ylinampa’s Instagram account…it’s packed with aurora borealis photos. What a magical place to live, where the sky lights up like that all the time.…’

Via Kottke

Trump is a better punchline than president, and he hates it

No sense of humor:

‘While this pales in comparison with his mounting moral, constitutional, and possibly criminal sins, his latest tantrum against “Saturday Night Live” finds him wading deeper into the wannabe dictator muck.…’

Via Boston Globe

What is that they say about political jokes, that the problem with them is that too many of them get elected? Trump would just be funny if he weren’t so pitiful and his impact on human misery so profound.

How the Big Rip could end the world

980x’A cosmological model predicts that the expanding Universe could rip itself apart. Too much dark energy could overwhelm the forces holding matter together. The disaster could happen in about 22 billion years.…’

Via Big Think

Are Big Questions a Good Idea?

Unknown’Philosophers are supposed to ask Big Questions. The Big Questions is the title of a popular introduction to philosophy and of a long-running BBC programme in which people discuss their ethical and religious perspectives. But since we philosophers, following in the footsteps of Socrates, claim to practice critical thinking, it behooves us to ask whether Big Questions are a good idea.

It’s not easy to say precisely what makes a question big; but we can at least give a few examples form the history of philosophy so that we have some idea what we’re talking about:…’

Via 3 Quarks Daily

A Complete Guide to All 17 (Known) Trump and Russia Investigations

TrumpRussia 872734326’After three weeks of back-to-back-to-back-to-back bombshells by federal prosecutors and special counsel Robert Mueller, it’s increasingly clear that, as 2018 winds down, Donald Trump faces a legal assault unlike anything previously seen by any president—at least 17 distinct court cases stemming from at least seven different sets of prosecutors and investigators. (That total does not count any congressional inquiries, nor does it include any other inquiries into other administration officials unrelated to Russia.)…

Here’s a complete rundown of the various known investigations targeting Trump’s world from local, state, and federal prosecutors:..’

Via WIRED

How Zoos Respond When Natural Disasters Strike

Science Zoo Wildfires 1059590024 wDisaster-Prepping for the Animals:

’As climate change escalates the intensity and frequency of natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes, zoos are having to find new ways to keep their animals safe. This means stocking up on emergency provisions for a hundred or more species, each with their own special medical, dietary, and habitat needs. It also means knowing, at a moment’s notice, which species need to move if keeping them outdoors becomes unsafe. Collecting such information requires years of planning. But zoos only began doing the work fairly recently.…’

Via WIRED

Q: What’s worse than drug addiction?

A: drug addiction treatment.

Images’Many drug treatment centers are run as for-profit institutions. Making a buck off of treating people’s addictions often runs counter to actually helping addicts. Some Chinese drug centers are experimenting with removing an addict’s nucleus accumbens, which saps them of their ability to feel pleasure.…’

Via Big Think

Alzheimer’s Protein Accidentally Transmitted to Patients Via Discontinued Medical Treatments

’Researchers report human growth hormone, prepared from human tissue prior to 1985, may have been contaminated with seeds of the amyloid beta protein. In a new study, researchers injected mice with the original c-hGH batches containing amyloid beta which seeded amyloid pathology, even decades after storage. Findings support the hypothesis that the Alzheimer’s causing proteins can be transmitted to from contaminated materials.…’

Via Neuroscience News

Video shows Trump’s next chief of staff calling him ‘terrible human being’

5674’One of Mick Mulvaney’s first tasks as acting chief of staff to Donald Trump will perhaps be explaining why he previously publicly called his boss “a terrible human being”.

Video has emerged of Mulvaney, previously a Republican congressman, admitting his disdain for Trump shortly before the presidential election in November 2016.

“Yes, I’m supporting Donald Trump; I’m doing so as enthusiastically as I can given the fact I think he’s a terrible human being,” Mulvaney said.…’

Via The Guardian

After suicides in Acton and Boxborough, a communion of sorrow

Rinaldi09acton02 HERO

This Boston Globe article describes the grief and the search for answers in the aftermath of a suicide cluster (six adolescents and young adults within 20 months) in the communities served by the community hospital where I practice psychiatry. While I thought it was thoughtful and searching, I had several concerns (I wrote essentially a version of this post to the reporter and the editor of The Globe).

The article mentions almost in passing the opinion of one set of parents that antidepressant use may have increased their son’s suicidal thinking and contributed to his death. This comment goes unchallenged and unexplored despite the issue being complex and far from incontrovertible. The question of the possible exacerbation of  suicidal thoughts by antidepressants has largely been put to rest, after the concern emerged about a decade ago, by substantial sophisticated research and analysis by psychiatric experts in psychopharmacology and suicidology. In rare isolated cases with particularly vulnerable patients, the agitating side effects of some antidepressants could conceivably worsen their distress to a tipping point. But, in most of the cases where a patient feels that their suicidal thinking escalated after beginning a medication, it is more simply that the medication has not yet kicked in to be the hoped-for ‘fix’ to halt the ongoing progression of their depression.

Furthermore, antidepressant prescribing has increasingly migrated from the psychiatrist’s consulting room to the primary care practice over the past few decades. PCPs, internists, pediatricians and family practitioners have briefer and less frequent visits with their patients (Big Pharma has by and large succeeded in persuading them that antidepressant prescribing is simple, does not require much attention, and will facilitate getting nuisance patients without ‘real’ medical concerns out of their offices more quickly). I have many gifted and empathic primary care colleagues but, by and large, they have less specific training and experience than mental health professionals in creating an alliance with a closed-off patient who may not be communicating suicidal distress with clarity or candor. Medical practice increasingly subscribes to the mistaken notion that simply prescribing the right medicine, outside the context of a therapeutic healing relationship, is sufficient treatment. Nevertheless, prescribing the proper medication is an efficient, some say even essential, component of treating a suicidal depression. Not proposing an antidepressant medication to such a deeply depressed patient has been seen as medical malpractice. The danger of reductively suggesting an irrefutable harmful link between suicide and the antidepressants is that it will have a chilling effect discouraging some from accepting such treatment and depriving sufferers of potentially lifesaving options. We saw this a decade ago.

Parenthetically, of far more concern than antidepressants is that suicidal patients are quite commonly given anti-anxiety medications. These include benzodiazepines such as lorazepam [Ativan], diazepam [Valium], clonazepam [Klonopin], alprazolam [Xanax] and the like. These medications act, exactly like the more familiar effect of alcohol, to lower inhibitions. Shy people socialize more comfortably, with a looser tongue, under the influence of alcohol, and anxiolytics work by the same mechanism at the same brain loci. Unfortunately, among the inhibitions they loosen are our compunctions against acting on any self-destructive impulses we may harbor. Both alcohol and anxiolytics are implicated in a high proportion of suicide attempts and successful suicides and, in my opinion and that of many responsible mental health practitioners, should be avoided when one is struggling with suicidal thoughts or urges.

Particularly in this portrait of a grieving community searching for explanations, one must recognize the impact of the social forces that impede delivery of adequate outpatient care. When we are discharging patients from our acute-stay inpatient unit at my hospital after a suicide crisis, it is outrageous that it typically takes weeks or at times months until they can get an intake with a community mental health provider, especially a psychiatrist. Staffs of inpatient units that stabilize patients in dangerous and acute crises are universally demoralized that patients no matter how motivated will be frustrated in finding adequate support to maintain their gains and their safety in the ensuing months. There are far too few providers, for one thing because insurance company reimbursement for outpatient mental health services does not make it worth many providers’ while. Furthermore, in all too many states providers are not even required to provide coverage for mental health treatment in parity to that for other kinds of medical treatment. (Massachusetts is a parity state, not that it makes that much difference.) The relationship between suicide and inadequacy of community mental health service provision ought to be clear.

I’m not actually sure  I would call the six suicides in Acton-Boxborough in the past 20 months a ‘cluster’ and I have seen similar incidences in the other nearby communities involving Lincoln-Sudbury and Concord-Carlisle high schools serviced by my hospital. We have seen a wholesale failure to halt the society-wide increase in suicide, particularly among adolescents and young adults. The article considers the possible contribution of local stresses such as academic pressure to suicide. We have grappled with suicide all too often only on the level of individual emotional factors and circumstantial psychosocial stress. However, we ignore at our peril the fact that large-scale cultural stresses and societal breakdown undoubtedly play an important part in encouraging people to take their lives. Particularly since Trump came to power in 2016, Americans have experienced a drastic acceleration in the postmodern erosion of cohesion of the social fabric, the wholesale betrayal of the expectation of the moral integrity of public figures, and relativity in what is even true on all levels. It is essential not to overlook how social breakdown impacts our young adults at times when they have not yet established a sense of the meaning of their lives, what to believe, or whom to trust. In his seminal 1897 treatise Suicide, the luminary French sociologist Emile Durkheim helped us to understand that suicide correlates not just with individual emotional factors or situational stress but with such society-wide strife and anomie. It is now a given in grappling with suicide, and one cannot ignore this level of analysis.

Reminder: The Geminids Are Peaking Tonight

Jsxkndrjjlbgvpvtgpaj’The Geminid meteor shower has been raining down on us the past few days, and if you want to see it, tonight is the best night.

Read more Brave the cold for a glimpse at this expansive star show. The Geminids appear to come more of less from the Gemini constellation, but they travel far across the sky. You don’t need a telescope to see them, just endurance: the shower is at its best around 2am, your local time.…’

Via Lifehacker

You may not even need a telescope to see Comet 46P/Wirtanen in the night sky this month

Unknown’Astronomer Carl Wirtanen discovered his namesake comet in 1948. He was a skilled object hunter and used photos of the night sky to spot the quickly moving object, at least astronomically speaking.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen’s orbit keeps it pretty near to the sun. Its aphelion, or farthest point from the sun, is about 5.1 astronomical units (AU), which is just a tad bigger than Jupiter’s orbit. Its perihelion, or closest approach to the sun, is about 1 AU, just about the Earth’s distance from the sun. This path takes about 5.4 years to complete, meaning it comes back into view quite frequently compared to other famous comets.

Right now, it is approaching its perihelion. Its closest point to the sun will fall on Dec. 16 – which is why it will be brightest on this day.

UnknownComet 46P/Wirtanen is a particularly active comet – called a hyperactive comet – and tends to be brighter than other comets of a similar size. This makes it a good candidate for viewing. Predictions suggest it will be as bright as a magnitude 3, which is a little brighter than the dimmest star in the Big Dipper, Megrez. However, there are some predictions that keep it beyond naked eye visibility at a brightest magnitude of only 7.6. The dimmest object visible with the naked human eye is magnitude 6, under perfect observing conditions.…’

Via The Conversation

A Summary Statement:

Michael A. Cohen writes:

‘There were extensive efforts by Russian officials to assist the Trump campaign and that multiple Trump aides were approached;

• These Trump aides have uniformly lied to the FBI and prosecutors about these contacts;

• Collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, in some form, likely took place;

• Efforts to mislead the public and prosecutors, as well as obstruct justice, have continued into Trump’s presidency and will likely implicate White House officials, including the president, in wrong-doing;

• Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and perhaps other officials are in serious legal peril.

If this is correct then the felony offenses prosecutors say Trump committed are small potatoes compared to what is looming on the horizon. …’

Source: Boston Globe

R.I.P. Dr. Lisa Schwartz

Critic of Medical Excess Is Dead at 55:

Merlin 147770952 b70924ad f148 4fcf a7e9 8181c78abd73 superJumbo’Dr. Lisa Schwartz, who with her husband devoted her life to warning patients about the dangers of unnecessary medical tests and treatment and excessive diagnoses, died on Nov. 29 in Lebanon, N.H. She was 55.

Her husband, Dr. Steven Woloshin, said the cause was cancer.

Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Woloshin were the directors of the Center for Medicine and Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, part of Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine. There they trained hundreds of journalists to become more skeptical about claimed scientific breakthroughs and miracle cures, and to better communicate the benefits and risks of medical tests and treatments.…’

Via New York Times

Why Does Alex Acosta Still Have a Job?

The cabinet official’s connection to a shady deal for an alleged child molester:

03goldberg superJumboIt is the perverse good fortune of Alexander Acosta, Donald Trump’s secretary of labor, to be part of an administration so spectacularly corrupt that it’s simply impossible to give all its scandals the attention they deserve.

Last Wednesday, The Miami Herald published a blockbuster multipart exposé about how the justice system failed the victims of Jeffrey Epstein, a rich, politically connected financier who appears to have abused underage girls on a near-industrial scale. The investigation, more than a year in the making, described Epstein as running a sort of child molestation pyramid scheme, in which girls — some in middle school — would be recruited to give Epstein “massages” at his Palm Beach mansion, pressured into sex acts, then coerced into bringing him yet more girls. The Herald reported that Epstein was also suspected of trafficking girls from overseas.

What’s shocking is not just the lurid details and human devastation of his alleged crimes, but the way he was able to use his money to escape serious consequences, thanks in part to Acosta, then Miami’s top federal prosecutor. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Acosta took extraordinary measures to let Epstein — and, crucially, other unnamed people — off the hook.

The labor secretary, whose purview includes combating human trafficking, has done nothing so far to rebut The Herald’s reporting. (A spokesman for his department has referred reporters to his previous statements about the case.) It should end his career.…’

Via The New York Times

69-Year-Old Troll Loses Case to Make Himself 20 Years Younger

Waezdtkst8kohnje7h70’Emile Ratelband, a 69-year-old man who has insisted he should be allowed to legally change his age to make himself 20-years younger, finally had his day in court. As of Monday, December 3, 2018, he is still legally 69 years old, and time will continue to have its way with him, just as it does for all of us.

Last month, Ratelband gained international attention when he told a Dutch court that he doesn’t feel 69-years-old and his age hinders his ability to meet women on the Tinder dating app. He called himself a “young god” and complained that when his actual age is listed on Tinder no one wants to talk to him. He fantasized that were he allowed to be 49, “with the face I have, I will be in a luxurious position.” He also believes that he would have more job opportunities if he were younger. Ratelband is a motivational speaker whose website describes him as “a man who lives a dream and who didn’t even know he had one.”…’

Via Gizmodo

You’ve Never Seen Thunderstorms Like These Before

10 Mitch Dobrowner MammatusA Supercell Storm Chaser Photographs Thundering Formations:

’FOR THE PAST decade, photographer Mitch Dobrowner has spent a few weeks every summer pursuing extreme weather across the midwestern United States with veteran storm chaser Roger Hill, who, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, has witnessed more tornadoes (more than 650) than anyone in history. During their first outing, in 2009, Dobrowner and Hill spotted a high-precipitation supercell thunderstorm in the Black Hills of South Dakota at noon and followed it all day in Hill’s eight-seater van until giving up the chase at midnight in Valentine, Nebraska.

“It looked like a spaceship,” recalls Hill, who runs Silver Lining Tours, which offers 11 storm-chasing outings each year. “Hail the size of grapefruits, lightning strikes every three or four seconds.”

Dobrowner’s black and white images of that megastorm are some of the most spectacular in his ever-expanding portfolio of extreme weather photography. Although tornadoes get all the attention on TV, Dobrowner is more interested in supercells, massive storm systems that sometimes spawn tornadoes. “I see them as living things,” he says. “Some are gorgeous and beautiful, some are tornadic and violent. And the longer they last the more form they take. Eventually, they mature and die. So I try to take a portrait, almost like with a person.”…’

Via WIRED

Why the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation is up for debate

34585512d271c0b5e816094f498c42c0e8ca5672’Tibetan monks from all over the world are scheduled to visit India to discuss the issues related to the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Some, including the Dalai Lama himself, have questioned if the institution should be continued. The final decision will have far reaching effects, since China is unlikely to let the monks have the last word on the matter.…’

Via Big Think

Surrounded by foes, Emperor Trump moves to put himself above the law

Amanda Marcotte:

’The heat is turning up on Donald Trump this week, as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is making news every day, giving a strong impression that justice circles ever closer to Trump himself. … As the walls close in around the president this week, there’s been a detectable shift in the way that Trump and his protectors in both the right-wing media and the Republican Party have defended him. The pretense of innocence is slipping away and in its place is rising a new excuse: Donald Trump and his associates are and should be above the law….

This pretense of respect for rule of law is quickly eroding as it becomes likelier that Trump could be in real trouble. While Trump still occasionally throws the word “innocent” around, he’s been increasingly bold about implying that he and his associates simply cannot be held accountable to the same rules as everyone else.…’

Via Salon.com

Trump Is Compromised by Russia

Omirmkrisciilkr32f99Michelle Goldberg, NYT opinion columnist:

’One of the chief questions in the Trump-Russia scandal has been whether Vladimir Putin has leverage over the president of the United States, and, if so, what that leverage looks like. The significance of the fabled “pee tape,” after all, is not that it would reveal Donald Trump to be a pervert bent on defiling the place where Barack Obama slept. Rather, the tape matters because, if real, it would show the president to be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

That’s also why evidence of Trump’s business involvement with Russia would be significant, as Trump himself acknowledged shortly before his inauguration, when he tweeted, “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA — NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”

We still don’t know for certain if Russia has used leverage over Trump. But there should no longer be any doubt that Russia has leverage over him.…’

Via New York Times

Strange seismic waves rippled around Earth, and nobody knows why

Detected as far as 10,000 miles away but, bizarrely, nobody seems to have felt them:

01 mayotte hw8hfe adapt 1900 1’On the morning of November 11, just before 9:30 UT, a mysterious rumble rolled around the world.

The seismic waves began roughly 15 miles off the shores of Mayotte, a French island sandwiched between Africa and the northern tip of Madagascar. The waves buzzed across Africa, ringing sensors in Zambia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. They traversed vast oceans, humming across Chile, New Zealand, Canada, and even Hawaii nearly 11,000 miles away. These waves didn’t just zip by; they rang for more than 20 minutes. And yet, it seems, no human felt them. Only one person noticed the odd signal on the U.S. Geological Survey’s real-time seismogram displays. An earthquake enthusiast who uses the handle @matarikipax saw the curious zigzags and posted images of them to Twitter. That small action kicked off another ripple of sorts, as researchers around the world attempted to suss out the source of the waves. Was it a meteor strike? A submarine volcano eruption? An ancient sea monster rising from the deep?

“I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it,” says Göran Ekström, a seismologist at Columbia University who specializes in unusual earthquakes. “It doesn’t mean that, in the end, the cause of them is that exotic,” he notes. Yet many features of the waves are remarkably weird—from their surprisingly monotone, low-frequency “ring” to their global spread. And researchers are still chasing down the geologic conundrum. Why are the low-frequency waves so weird? In a normal earthquake, the built-up tensions in Earth’s crust release with a jolt in mere seconds. This sends out a series of waves known as a “wave train” that radiates from the point of the rupture, explains Stephen Hicks, a seismologist at the University of Southampton. The fastest-traveling signals are Primary waves, or P-waves, which are compression waves that move in bunches, like what happens to an extended slinky that gets suddenly pushedat one end. Next come the secondary waves, or S-waves, which have more of a side-to-side motion. Both of these so-called body waves have relatively high frequencies, Hicks says, “a sort of ping rather than a rumbling.”

Earthquakes 101 Finally, chugging along at the end come slow, long-period surface waves, which are similar to the strange signals that rolled out from Mayotte. For intense earthquakes, these surface waves can zip around the planet multiple times, ringing Earth like a bell, Hicks says. However, there was no big earthquake kicking off the recent slow waves. Adding to the weirdness, Mayotte’s mystery waves are what scientists call monochromatic. Most earthquakes send out waves with a slew of different frequencies, but Mayotte’s signal was a clean zigzag dominated by one type of wave that took a steady 17 seconds to repeat. “It’s like you have colored glasses and [are] just seeing red or something,” says Anthony Lomax, an independent seismology consultant.

Mayotte’s volcanic roots Based on the scientific sleuthing done so far, the tremors seem to be related to a seismic swarm that’s gripped Mayotte since last May. Hundreds of quakes have rattled the small nation during that time, most radiating from around 31 miles offshore, just east of the odd ringing. The majority were minor trembles, but the largest clocked in at magnitude 5.8 on May 15, the mightiest in the island’s recorded history. Yet the frequency of these shakes has declined in recent months—and no traditional quakes rumbled there when the mystery waves began on November 11.

The French Geological Survey (BRGM) is closely monitoring the recent shaking, and it suggests that a new center of volcanic activity may be developing off the coast. Mayotte was formed from volcanism, but its geologic beasts haven’t erupted in over 4,000 years. Instead, BRGM’s analysis suggests that this new activity may point to magmatic movement offshore—miles from the coast under thousands of feet of water. Though this is good news for the island inhabitants, it’s irksome for geologists, since it’s an area that hasn’t been studied in detail. “The location of the swarm is on the edge of the [geological] maps we have,” says Nicolas Taillefer, head of the seismic and volcanic risk unit at BRGM. “There are a lot things we don’t know.” And as for the November 11 mystery wave, he says, “it’s something quite new in the signals on our stations.”

Motion in the ocean Though baffled, scientists aren’t without leads. For one, they know that Mayotte is on the move. Since mid-July, GPS stations on the island have tracked it sliding more than 2.4 inches to the east and 1.2 inches to the south, according to a BRGM report from November 12. Using these measurements, Taillefer notes, the agency estimates that a magma body that measures about a third of a cubic mile is squishing its way through the subsurface near Mayotte.…’

Via National Geographic