Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The culture wars are going to be even more unbearable for the next week or so

Well, I had forgotten until Twitter reminded me that today's mass shooter in American is not the first transgender person to "go postal" and shoot up a school.

I have posted before about how unhelpful it is for either side to rush to identify the background of mass murderers, who obviously must be psychologically disturbed extremists acting inhumanely, as a way of point scoring in the political and culture wars.*    

That said, it is also extremely bad for any group to keep telling itself that, if people don't 100% agree with or support their ideological positions, they are evil and must want them dead.   

Now, while I have complained for years that the American Right has spent the last 3 or 4 decades increasingly demonising (now, often in the literal sense) anyone even slightly to their left, I don't think I am "two sides-ing" this [see below] by pointing out that, indeed, transgender activists and commentators are routinely, on social media, absolutists about their cause and allow for no argument or nuance at all, and accuse the likes of JK Rowling of all sorts of ill will and evil.   Just this morning people were posting about this soup throwing transgender person:

who in the above video said "she [Posey Paker] is advocating our genocide", and in his latest video is weeping into his home webcam about how "they" want to kill him.    

While I don't doubt transgender folk can face danger on the street from stupid Right wing thugs who ridiculously want to categorise each and every one of them as a danger to women and children, and having a couple of dozen incel young men (what is it with Victoria? - it's such a weird state) giving Nazi salutes at rallies is something that is an extraordinarily bad look for the, um, anti-trans cause,  I still think it's a counterproductive wild exaggeration for them to talk at rallies as if they may as well be Jews in Nazi Germany, or something.   I mean, the political response from (Australian and New Zealand) government has been nearly entirely positive for the transgender side, and the Liberals are not winning any votes over it.

And again, of course, I think both extremes of the transgender rights debate are acting hysterically.   

But, going back to America:  I agree with those who have commented on Twitter and elsewhere that, while Trump may only  have got a few thousand MAGA dills to attend his Waco rally, the 100% fascist nature of the  imagery and rhetoric was not emphasised enough (or condemned enough) in the media:

A defiant and incendiary Donald Trump, facing a potential indictment, held the first rally of his 2024 presidential campaign Saturday in Waco, Texas, a city made famous by deadly resistance against law enforcement.

In an extraordinary display, Trump opened his rally by playing a song, “Justice for All,” that features a choir of men imprisoned for their role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol singing the national anthem and a recording of Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Some footage from the insurrection was shown on screens.

Trump, in his speech, defended the insurrectionists and railed against prosecutors, including those overseeing multiple investigations of the Republican former president.

“You will be vindicated and proud,” Trump said “The thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system will be defeated, discredited and totally disgraced.”

So, yeah, the transgender culture war is very ugly, and might sometimes even have helped inspire  deadly action, but in terms of long term danger to democracy and society overall, there is no doubt at all that radical rhetoric from the MAGA Right is the far, far bigger danger to America.


 * It's also - obviously - painfully stupid of the Right to argue it's all because mental health treatment being "de-institutionalised", what, 50 years ago; or because of "side doors"; or because there just aren't enough "good guys with guns" on or near the school.   Their pathetic "it's anything other than too easy access to guns" is just so obviously stupid to the rest of the planet, and a significant number of Americans too. 

Monday, March 27, 2023

Recipe posting, again

I feel like I've been on a bit of a meat bender lately.   Last night it was lamb shanks braised in red wine and tomato.   On mashed potato, of course.

Not sure that it's worth noting the recipe, as it was pretty much just following some Youtube videos with a kind of generic recipe for anything cooked in red wine and tomato:  brown the seasoned shanks on all sides in bit of olive oil in your iron casserole dish;  take them out and throw in a diced onion, diced carrot and a (diced) stick or two of celery; fry off a bit, then put in some thyme or whatever spare herb you have (I also used sumac which I stumbled across in the cupboard), and a cup or two of red wine, the shanks, about a cup or two of passata, and a cup or two of chicken stock.   Oh, and I added quite a few halved cherry tomatoes too.  The liquid should just about cover the shanks, but doesn't have to completely.   Bring to boil and cover and put in oven at 180 degrees for 2 1/2 hours, turning the shanks a couple of times during the cooking.   Quite delicious, but my food photography skills need an upgrade:

 It's not as much meat as it looks - honest!

On Saturday, it was pork belly time, again.   I only posted a recipe for it last month, but this time it was Chinese style braised pork belly, with a recipe from a very non-Asian woman, but I think it's relatively authentic.

The step that surprised me was the first - browning the pieces of pork belly in a bit of melted sugar.  Yes, this dish has it all: sugar, salt and fat (that all get incorporated into the reduced, sticky sauce at the end.)   But it was delicious:

 It's not like you need to eat a lot to get your calories.  And I found out that sucking on the braised star anise still gives a great licorice burst, even after an hour or more of braising.

And to round off this collection of recipes for my own benefit, I followed a Youtube video of making a Filipino chicken and mango dish a few ago, and it came out good too.  Like my lamb shanks, it's not a precise recipe, and you just wing it a bit: 

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Presumably, he finally believed a lawyer who said "you know, they don't have to give you bail"

 Also:  can you imagine his lawyers' feelings about him doing a rally at Waco this weekend?  

Friday, March 24, 2023

Maybe we'll AI guess our way in the secret of life, the universe, and everything

I must admit, some examples I see of ChatGPT generated material seem surprisingly good, and I notice that someone asked it to (I presume - I can't see the prompt) come up with a dark matter theory, and this is the result:

Now, I'm pretty sure that this is rubbish, and people have pointed out that the AI is good at inventing stuff to fill in gaps in its knowledge.

But - it would be kind of funny if, in future, one of these AI's comes up with a theory which someone bothers to check, and it turns out to be correct.

I wonder if it currently thinks "42" is the answer to the big question in the title...

Update:   Sure seems quite a few researchers are getting nervous over the question of how we're even going to tell if true, self conscious AI has been reached:  

Compassion fatigue in the lab

Science has an interesting article about the quite serious issue of compassion fatigue amongst those who care for, and work with, laboratory animals:

Health care workers and pet veterinarians are no strangers to compassion fatigue. Being surrounded by suffering and dying patients can extract a profound mental, emotional, and physical toll—a sort of traumatic stress by proxy. But the condition also strikes a shocking number of lab animal workers, a community of tens of thousands worldwide that includes everyone from cage cleaners to veterinarians who oversee entire animal facilities.

Besides the symptoms Sessions experienced, those who handle lab animals may face insomnia, chronic physical ailments, zombielike lack of empathy, and, in extreme cases, severe depression, substance abuse, and thoughts of suicide. As many as nine in 10 people in the profession will suffer from compassion fatigue at some point during their careers, according to recent research, more than twice the rate of those who work in hospital intensive care units. It’s one of the leading reasons animal care workers quit.

Yet few in the animal research community want to talk about the problem—and few want to listen.

Everyone Science spoke to for this story who works with lab animals stressed that they are critical for biomedical research. These caregivers also feel deeply bonded to these creatures, from rodents to rabbits to monkeys. This dichotomy puts them in a difficult position: Unlike doctors or pet vets, those in the lab animal community aren’t just surrounded by pain and death—they’re often the ones causing it. Experimental drugs can sicken animals, implanted devices may cause discomfort, and euthanasia typically comes long before an animal would die of natural causes.

“It’s one of the only caring professions where you have to harm the beings you’re caring for,” says Megan LaFollette, program director at the North American 3Rs Collaborative, which focuses on improving the lives—and reducing the numbers—of research animals.

That’s made those in this field loath to reach out for help. At best, friends and family don’t understand what they do, or why. At worst, animal rights groups vilify them as torturers and murderers. Institutions are squeamish about discussing or addressing compassion fatigue, for fear of attracting negative attention to their animal research programs, often hidden from public view in university basements or windowless facilities. So those who tend to lab animals have largely suffered in silence: Compassion fatigue is an invisible population’s invisible disease.

 This is an obviously difficult problem.  Look at the dichotomy in this person's job:

Catherine Schuppli is all too familiar with the dilemma. A veterinarian who oversees two rodent facilities at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, she seeks to foster empathy in the workers she trains so they provide better—and more compassionate—animal care. She shows her trainees videos of rats navigating obstacle courses, hoisting tiny buckets on a string, and even playing fetch with miniature balls. “The staff comes to realize how smart and cute they are,” Schuppli says.

But on other days, Schuppli trains people how to decapitate the rats. Using what is effectively a tiny guillotine—a common form of euthanasia when gas or drugs could compromise an autopsy—she sometimes performs several of the procedures per day. The work has made her angry, depressed, and drained of energy—all of which she’s tried to suppress. While training others how to turn their emotions on, she’s found herself shutting her own off.

 The article goes on to note that addressing it as a problem has not been easy.   I can see why...

Thursday, March 23, 2023

A plausible solution to a mystery


Scientists think they know why interstellar object 'Oumuamua moved so strangely

Long story short:  venting naturally formed hydrogen, which would not have been detectable from earth.

Or to put it another way: "enjoy every sandwich"

 Perhaps it's increasing age that causes such thoughts, but I like to think of it more as a kind of mindful appreciation of simple life experiences that is good to teach to children.  Adrian Chiles in The Guardian writes "The secret of happiness?  Embrace the boring, lay claim to the mundane and rejoice in repetition":

...the abhorrence of the boring is at the root of a whole lot of bad stuff. From before the South Sea bubble of the early 18th century, the catnip of big investment returns has driven us wild with desire and into many a financial crisis. If only we stuck to boring investments in boring companies promising boringly modest but steady returns. But no – just too boring. I was talking to a former banker about the 2008 financial crisis. “Hands up,” he said. “It was us driving the car when it crashed, but there were plenty of people in the back seat egging us on to go faster and faster.”

The older I get, the more I think the secret of happiness is the ability to embrace the boring, lay claim to the mundane and rejoice in repetition. In affairs of the heart and the wallet, in relationships and family life, and the workplace too, we’d enjoy more lasting success if we stopped being bored by the boring, stopped seeking what we tell ourselves is the next exciting thing. After all, everything gets boring in the end if you let it.

I once went to a mass on a Monday night in a massive church on the Bury New Road in Manchester. There were but six of us in attendance, plus the priest who gave a short but brilliant sermon. Afterwards, modestly fielding my compliments, he told me he had been ordained almost exactly 40 years to the day. “I treat every mass as if it is my first or my last,” he said. Yes, I thought, that’s the secret. On the bus home, for some reason Mick Jagger came to mind. I’m not a massive Stones fan but I thought of how many thousand times he’d performed Satisfaction or Sympathy for the Devil. And each time, he does it as though it’s the first or last time.

I thought of all the radio and television programmes I’ve grumped my way through, having dared to have got a bit bored with it all. And how many times I’ve lamented the drudgery of changing nappies, combing out nits, watching the Tweenies over and again, driving the kids around and so on. I so wish that I’d been more Mick, or more priest, and treated everything like it was the first or the last time I was doing it.


Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Time for some Third Way politics/social philosophy again?

While it may not be exactly a social crisis, as the Trumpian Right and its fans in Australia keep claiming, I do keep getting the feeling that we are at some kind of inflection point on the issue of, well, how to run and maintain a successful society. 

On both sides of the Pacific, we seem to be watching towns or cities in which it's being realised, by the underclass, the police and politicians, that if enough people choose to thumb their nose at social mores in terms of property law and civil behaviour, we can't really jail our way out of it.   There can literally be just too many people behaving badly.   (Well, I suppose this is assuming that custodial punishment has to be in the form it currently is, and we're not about to go back to hulks on the Thames, followed by transportation to a far away island, as a way of running our criminal justice system.)

The key role of parenting is recognised in both countries (we're talking the US and Australia, if that's not obvious) as an issue with poor youth behaviour, and drug or alcohol consumption as a leading cause of poor or absent parenting is well known.   And, of course, we are talking primarily about a black underclass, which in both countries, has only recently, in generational terms, come out of official discrimination.   

These thoughts are prompted by the online discussion and news reporting on the state of crime and homelessness in places like San Francisco and Alice Springs, although in both countries there are many other locations with similar problems.

Noah Smith, for example, seems gobsmacked by someone who ran for District Attorney in SF responded to this story:


with this:

The reception to his "just live with it" attitude has not been positive:

The other thing that prompted me to post about this was an essay by Darrel Owens about the serious literacy problem in black education in the Bay area.   This got noticed at Hot Air too.  The essay was thoughtful and to a large degree reasonable, although he strained the friendship when briefly endorsing the idea of enormous reparation as a solution.   How's this for ridiculous virtue signalling:

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors have signaled they're ready to right racist wrongs of the past — at least in spirit.

In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the 11 members accepted a draft plan of more than 100 reparations recommendations for the city's eligible Black residents. Those proposals include a whopping one-time payment of $5 million to each adult and a complete clearing of personal debt — including credit cards, taxes and student loans. Black residents would also be able to collect an annual income of at least $97,000 for 250 years and buy homes within the city limits for $1.

The move by the board was largely procedural – an intermediate step in a much longer process. It does not bind the city to any of the ideas presented in the 60-page proposal by the San Francisco African American Reparations Advisory Committee, which in 2020 was tasked with addressing "the institutional, City sanctioned harm that has been inflicted upon African American communities."

Apparently, the city has no money to be offering any reparations, let alone $5 million per black adult.

Anyway, the Owens essay has opened the argument about culture and change - with Owens arguing you can't just tell people to change their culture overnight:

 In my Substack on Black and Asian race relations in San Francisco, the most common criticism I received was that Black San Franciscans could solve their problems with better cultural practices. That Asian Americans also had been discriminated against in the past such as the Chinese Exclusion Act or WWII concentration camps, and thus Black Americans have no excuse. AKA the old model minority idea.

It’s a particularly silly criticism because the majority of Asian Americans are foreign-born and the 96% can trace ancestry after or around the 1965 immigration act. However, discrimination against Asian Americans is still rampant, particularly in the immigration and employment system; and in Silicon Valley’s management positions.

In comparison, only 9% of Black Americans are foreign born — rather the inverse of Asian Americans. Vast majority of Black Americans trace their ancestry back to slavery. When controlling for Black Americans of foreign ancestry, they have educational attainment on par with immigrants broadly, including 41% degree-attainment among African immigrants, comparable with Asian Americans.

This matters because foreign-born Americans on average tend to commit less crime than U.S.-born Americans. So, yes, when talking criminal justice and poverty, it is a cultural problem. But it’s an American cultural problem of centuries of imposed segregation and disinvestment against Blacks, that was explicitly legal until one and a half generations ago. Asking wide swaths of Black America to imitate foreign cultures they don’t know as a means to break 400 years of imposed suppression in the country they’ve lived in for generations is moronic and absurd. No other ethnic group can do it or has been expected to.

 Further down he writes:

To be clear: this conversation isn’t new. The academic gap has happened every decade since schools have existed in the U.S. However the stakes are worse because the rise of the Information Economy requires a degree of intelligence beyond the basic trade skills of the past, and we’re not even reaching the bare minimum for Black children.

If we’re going to make our educational system so heavily dependent on the activities of children at home rather than in-class, the least we can do is financially and culturally support families. You cannot erase decades of poverty, drug addiction, environmental pollution and impaired child development, explicit disinvestment and redlining in Black neighborhoods by just saying “try harder.” We’re not just investing in the future of those families or a race, we’re investing in the future of our cities and nation.

Many people don’t see it this way and I’m sure they’ll tell me so. I’ll predict their arguments: “It’s not my job to take care of other people’ kids. It’s not my job to fix Black people’s cultural problems. My family / this ethnicity dealt with racism and overcame it; so to can Black people.”

The Hot Air response to this, though, notes that attempts to improve black education in Baltimore have failed miserably.  It seems that the Right love to point out the failure in Baltimore - here's a recent Fox News article about it.  But they may have a point in that there is good reason to consider Baltimore has a clear example of showing that throwing money at a problem does not always work.   (It's schools are apparently very well funded.) 

What I tend to find frustrating that both sides of politics seem to currently be dominated by bogus ideological approaches that we know are not going to work:   on the Right, you have teary oddball and former drug addict Jordan Peterson as the advocate for personal responsibility and keeping your room tidy as the route to success in life - what black person is going to find him convincing?   On the Left, in Australia, we have (as I have been complaining recently) comfortable and increasingly radical urban advocates going on about the "anti colonial" task, how everything bad now is the fault of "settlers", "never ceded" sovereignty, and a protracted "treaty"  process as some sort of resolution to poverty in remote communities that have no economic reason to exist.

I wish there could be a revival of "third way" politics to navigate a path between the extremes, with an  emphasis on hope and unity, and that paints a picture of success that is based on realism and positive views about what constitutes a good life, rather than each side pointing to the other and screaming "no, it's all your fault!".

While you could say that the Democrats and Labor are, essentially, still close to being "third way" parties, they by and large don't really talk that way any more, and let essentially culture war issues get too much of a public run.   (Although, to be fair, when you have Republicans over-reacting to drag shows and legislating about medical treatment, it's not something easily ignored.)

I guess I just feel that there is room for a revival of more explicitly "third way" approaches that no one is taking up at the moment.   And we need better public philosophers of society and life than the current batch.   

I may add to this later...

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The rise of the multiverse in popular imagination

I did enjoy this guest essay at the New York Times (gift link):

I fantasised about multiple timelines, and it nearly ruined my life

Many things I like and have commented on over the years get a mention:   Hugh Everett, Narnia, the recent bad decision to over-use the multiverse in Marvel movies, and the sometimes unclear messaging of Everything Everywhere All at Once.   And it starts with something I hadn't heard of before:

The patient was elderly and lived alone. She was showing signs of depression, but it was clear that something more was amiss. She insisted she was trapped in the wrong timeline.

The ward to which she’d been committed was unstuck in time, she told her doctors. Outside, the future had already arrived, and it was not a good one. “She described then that the world outside the ward had been destroyed,” reported the doctors in Exeter, England, who wrote a report about the case in a 2019 issue of the journal Neurology and Neurosurgery.

The woman was diagnosed with a variation of Capgras syndrome. First defined a century ago, Capgras typically describes a person’s belief that someone close to him or her — a spouse or a child — has been replaced with a duplicate impostor. But in this case, the patient believed that the whole world — everything she could observe of it — was a duplicate, a fake.

Go read the whole thing...

Obviously true

I note that there is some nervousness amongst some moderate commentators that a prosecution on the Stormy Daniels payment may not stick with a jury.   Be that as it may, it takes some remarkable political blindness to think that it's OK for a person's lawyer to be criminally punished for a payment, while completely leaving alone the person who paid the lawyer.   

I do tend to think, though, that regardless of the New York case outcome, the prosecutions that definitely will sink Trump will be about his outrageously corrupt and criminal calls to Georgia officials to fix the vote count for him. 

A very accurate meme

 OK, well, perhaps the "existential threat to humanity" is too much:  even under the worst forecast, perhaps a few of our descendants may get to hunt crocodiles in the swamps of Antarctica for food...

He's such a catch. (Subtitle: pre-nup lawyers get the big bucks, again)

I don't know, but I reckon by the time you've hit your 80's, and especially if you've had multiple marriages already, it's a bit ridiculous to be wanting to remarry, even if you have a good companionship thing going with someone you just met.   (An observation prompted by news of Rupert Murdoch's engagement, a short time after getting unhitched from Jerry Hall.)

And I mean, really:   what 66 year old woman in her right mind wants to be in bed with this?:

Monday, March 20, 2023

A living out of grievance

Some notes from the world of indigenous grievance:

Lidia Thorpe:

Victorian independent senator Lidia Thorpe has made allegations she was sexually harassed and assaulted at Parliament House, including in the Senate chamber, during her time as a Greens senator. 

"It has been a very hard time for me in this place. I was sexually assaulted four times in my first six months," Senator Thorpe said. ...

Senator Thorpe confirmed her allegations of sexual assault and harassment were about Labor and Coalition parliamentarians, not members of the Greens. 

She said she chose not to speak out at the time, but the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service (PWSS) were aware of her complaints. 

"I didn't want any action taken," she said.


*  Chelsea Watego, the Queensland academic I have mentioned before, (sued her University because she didn't like the workspace they gave her, dropped the case, blamed lack of support from her union, got arrested and pleased guilty to obstructing police, lodged a complaint that they had discriminated against her, and lost that case too) has a video of a Byron Bay TED talk(!) about "Black joy is for Black people" which is not about joy at all, but about intense grievance:


 * Sandy O'Sullivan has just left for a 3 month tour of the US and England is a part of Queer indigenous academia which, as far as I can tell, is centred in Macquarie University.   She seems, between posting selfies on Twitter every second day (some sort of psychological necessity for her, apparently), to be slowly writing a book on "anti-colonialism" and gender.  She is joined in this field of study by Madi Day, who has become a Fullbright scholar:

Madi Day, from the Department of Indigenous Studies, received the Fulbright Sir John Carrick New South Wales Scholarship, funded by the New South Wales State Government, and will undertake their scholarship at Southern Connecticut State University this year.

Day is a career researcher who works across Indigenous studies, trans studies and gender studies. They are completing their PhD titled Coloniality, gender and heterosexuality in so-called Australia.

Day’s Fulbright research will offer a comparative study of coloniality, gender and heterosexuality across Australia and the United States as settler colonial nation-states. The research will also examine how anti-colonial approaches are integrated into gender studies departments in the United States, and whether this could be improved in gender studies in Australia.

Madi also gave a talk, the details of which I cannot find online, which featured the term "heterosexual terrorists", apparently:

 * Dr Corrine Sullivan, by the way, is currently an Associate Professor at Western Sydney University, but got her BA and PhD at - yes, Macquarie University.    Her research interests are this:

Her current research project explores Indigenous Australian sexuality and gender diversity. For Indigenous Australians that identify as sexually and/or gender diverse there can be significant implications on cultural/social identities, and are at risk of being ostracised, ignored, silenced, be socially and culturally stigmatised, and may face rejection and ejection from their families and communities. The key objectives of this research initiative are to fill the gap in this area of knowledge by; working with Indigenous Australians who identify as sexually and/or gender diverse, and with Indigenous community organisations to develop appropriate educational resources that can contribute toward building inclusive communities. The outcomes of this research will inform law-making, policy, as well as access and delivery of support and services that are culturally appropriate, relevant, and morally unbiased.

 I'm not entirely sure how the comments in this (about queer indigenous being ostracised within their own community) are meant to tie in with Sandy O'Sullivan's and Madi Day's apparent project to convince us all that it was only the colonisers/settlers who brought in the idea of just two genders, and fighting discrimination is an "anti-colonial" project.   Guess we'll see when their little-read books (apart from within indigenous studies faculties) are published.

Contrary to appearances, I do worry that a post like this gives the impression that I have suddenly become a fan of Andrew Bolt and his dubious criticisms.  No, I have really come here via my own reading what passes for academic commentary on aboriginal issues on Twitter and elsewhere.    

It seems pretty clear to me that too much funding is going into the more esoteric sociological aspects of aboriginality and, most worryingly, into helping them promote an ever increasingly radical view (ironically, while making a good living from selling the idea) that the economically and socially struggling members of the First Nations community should only hold the rest of the country they live in with contempt.    Now that I think of it, it's pretty much the Left wing version of Fox News - selling grievance as a way of making a good living.


On the upside, sort of

What with all those photos of kilometres of dead (native) fish in a part of the Darling River last week:

 I've been meaning to say:  "wow, I had no idea the Darling River had so many fish!"  

Because isn't that the impression most people have of this river?  Pretty much a hot, overgrown creek that rarely seems to have all that much water in it?  Sure, the Murray looks capable of holding a bunch of fish, but my impression was that the Darling had carp, algae and maybe some turtles, and that was about it.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Heavy sighs have got something going for them

Here's an article at the Washington Post I'll gift link:

5-minute breathing exercises can improve your mood and reduce anxiety

Cyclic sighing appears to be particularly effective among different breathing exercises and better than mindfulness meditation, a study says

Yes, this is not a topic I have followed closely, but my impression is that breathing exercises, as a way of helping address blood pressure, anxiety, etc have been pretty well studied, and shown to be pretty effective.

This latest article suggests they help mood generally, which is perhaps a little surprising?:

A study in Cell Reports Medicine showed that just five minutes of breathwork each day for about a month could improve mood and reduce anxiety — and these benefits may be larger than from mindfulness meditation for the same amount of time.

“We’re always busy doing instead of being,” said David Spiegel, an author of the study. “And it’s a good idea to just take a few minutes to collect yourself, commune with your body and help it prepare to deal with whatever you want to deal with.”

In a randomized controlled study of 108 adults, the researchers compared three different breathwork exercises, in which participants deliberately guided their breathing in various ways, and mindfulness meditation, in which people observed their breathing but didn’t try to control it. The participants did the breathwork at home, following video instructions.

One group of participants was told to practice cyclic sighing. Participants were instructed to slowly inhale through the nose to expand the lungs, and inhale again to maximally fill the lungs. Then they were asked to slowly and fully exhale the breath through the mouth.

A second group focused on box breathing, which is spending the same amount of time slowly inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling and holding, before repeating the sequence.

A third group practiced cyclic hyperventilation, which “emphasizes inhalation rather than exhalation. It’s kind of the mirror image of the cyclic sighing exercise,” said Spiegel, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and director of the Center on Stress and Health at Stanford University.

They took one deep inhalation through the nose, exhaled passively and then let the air “fall out from the mouth,” he said. Every 30 cycles, they would hold the breath after passive exhalation for 15 seconds....

The positive effects of breathwork took time to kick in: The more days the participants spent doing their breathing exercises, the better they felt each successive day.

Cyclic sighing appeared to be particularly effective among the different breathing exercises. Participants in this group reported even greater positive mood improvements compared with participants who practiced mindfulness meditation.

Now, John:  don't come here and ruin it for me with some criticism or other...:)



Yet another exotic way to die

The BBC reports on a disease you can catch if near certain nut plantations in India:

Kyasanur forest disease (KFD) – named after the forest in which it originated –  is a tick-borne haemorrhagic disease with a fatality rate of around 5%. Also known as "monkey fever", it was first discovered in 1957 after an outbreak in Shivamogga, the district of Karnataka in which Aralagodu is also situated.

In the following decades, recurring outbreaks remained largely confined to the area. But in recent years, the disease has begun to spread, with cases popping up for the first time in 2013 in the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, followed by Goa in 2015 and Maharashtra in 2016.  

Still, the disease barely registers on global health watchlists; outbreaks largely occur in rural areas bordering forest land and affect a tiny percentage of India's population. But the spread of the disease is indicative of a much larger, more worrying trend, as highlighted most recently by the Covid-19 pandemic: the increasing likelihood of zoonotic disease spilling over into human populations.


Friday, March 17, 2023

The things that can happen

Gee, who would expect to die of...bacteria contaminated eyedrops?:

US health officials say that eyedrops may have killed one person and severely injured several others due to drug-resistant bacterial contamination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified 68 patients across 16 states with a rare strain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

The strain had never been found in the US before this latest outbreak.

In addition to the one death, eight patients have suffered vision loss, and four have had eyes surgically removed.

Most of the patients diagnosed with the infection reported using eyedrops and artificial tears, according to the CDC.

Ten different brands were initially identified as possibly linked to the outbreak, the CDC said. Eyedrops that are made in India and imported to the US under two brands were subsequently pulled from shelves in January and February.

In January, the CDC warned people to stop using EzriCare Artificial Tears and Delsam Pharma's Artificial Tears. The next month, the company that owns the brands - Global Pharma - issued a voluntary recall following a formal recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Twitter is such a bizarre mess now

I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice - but the Musk fiddling with Twitter is really making it a complete mess.   It seems to be a on "watch this funny/scary video" bender now.   And really, I just seem to get shown about 10% of the tweets of the people I follow and want to see - or I can change to the "following" tab and it sometimes works to change the view, sometimes not.

I kind of wish it would give up the ghost entirely, so we really can get a decent replacement going.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Up periscope, down periscope

I don't really know what to think of the AUKUS deal, now that it has been warmly embraced by a Labor government, savagely attacked by an ex Labor PM who always seems far too willing to endorse China and attack those who criticise it (while at the same time, being correct that the SMH was being ridiculously bellicose in its recent "this is how a war with China will go down" articles), and met with scepticism by the likes of Hugh White and John Quiggin (the latter having long had it in for defence spending on navies, though.)   

The trouble is, of course, that the term "armchair expert" seems to just about have been invented for opinions on defence programs and procurement, as well as international relations.  Everyone thinks they have a better idea.

So my opinion is certainly going to be ill informed, but I will put it out there again anyway:   we should have gone with Japanese submarines, with some built in Adelaide.  

Update:  There's an article at SMH today by a former diplomat (not sure that's much of a qualification on technical defence issues, TBH) who argues that submarines are going to be made redundant soon anyway:

Manned submarines are nearing the end of their utility in hostile waters because of developments in smart sea mines, unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and underwater sensors. China has already made a strong start on this, and will deploy them in large numbers in its coastal region and strategically important areas of the South China Sea and East China Sea.

Australia plans to buy at least three American Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines while it proceeds to build its SSN-AUKUS subs. The acoustic signature of the Virginia-class is known to China. It will be programmed into China’s defensive and offensive capabilities, which are cheap counters to an extremely expensive submarine – one that carries 132 increasingly vulnerable sailors.

By the time Australia gets the submarines from the US in the 2030s, it will be simply too dangerous to deploy them to contested areas that could take advantage of their performance and firepower. They will be restricted to home or benign waters, undercutting their main justification. Russia has already shown this to be true in the air. Its air force rarely ventures into contested territory, preferring to fire missiles from a distance. That is also the future of underwater warfare.

While that sounds sort of plausible, predictions as to the future use of naval power always seems to be a bit of a guessing game.   Going way, way back to when I used to be in navy cadets, and hence sometimes heard the opinions of actual navy officers, I remember that in (probably) the early 1980's there was an Australian senior submariner talking about how the (then new) technology of cruise missiles was going to make surface ships redundant.   Navies would move to having more submarines full of cruise missiles, he argued, with which to sneak up within range and launch from afar, with no significant danger of detection and destruction, in the way surface ships are vulnerable.

Again, sounds kind of plausible, but things haven't exactly panned out like that, have they?   Perhaps because you can fit a hell of a lot more missiles on a surface vessel than a submarine?   Perhaps because the visibility of (say) an aircraft carrier armed to the gills is helpful towards defusing some potential attacks?   

So I don't know - I'm a little skeptical of the "submarines will be redundant soon anyway" argument.

On the other hand, it's a little hard to see where we are going to get enough Australians who want to serve on submarines.   Perhaps we should follow the rest of shipping and just contract Filipinos to do it!

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

An extremely silly memory post

First, the not-so-silly bit:  an article about how "working memory" works:

In a study in PLOS Computational Biology, scientists at The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory compared measurements of brain cell activity in an animal performing a working memory task with the output of various computer models representing two theories of the underlying mechanism for holding information in mind. The results strongly favored the newer notion that a network of neurons stores the information by making short-lived changes in the pattern of their connections, or synapses, and contradicted the traditional alternative that memory is maintained by neurons remaining persistently active (like an idling engine).

While both models allowed for information to be held in mind, only the versions that allowed for synapses to transiently change connections ("short-term synaptic plasticity") produced neural activity patterns that mimicked what was actually observed in real brains at work. The idea that brain cells maintain memories by being always "on" may be simpler, acknowledged senior author Earl K. Miller, but it doesn't represent what nature is doing and can't produce the sophisticated flexibility of thought that can arise from intermittent neural activity backed up by short-term synaptic plasticity.

Sounds like synapses must reconfigure themselves very, very quickly, then.   How do they do that, I wonder?

Anyway, now for the silly bit.  For some reason, every now and then a memory of a bit of music written for just one episode of Lost in Space, and which I haven't heard for decades, bubbles up to my awareness.    This happened yesterday, and it's the "groovy" music that nearly brainwashes poor Penny (girls being much more susceptible to such things), but fails to win over good old, sensible boy Will Robinson.

Actually, I had trouble remembering the context in full until I went to Youtube.  For a while I wondered if it was from Get Smart, as I had an idea that it featured an episode with hypnotic hippy music too.   But the internet sorted me out - the Get Smart episode has a track with the message to kill, kill, kill the dean, and bump off a square.  (How could I forget that!)

It turns out that someone has gone to the trouble of editing together and fiddling with the various dance bits from the Lost in Space episode in question ("The Promised Planet") to make a whole video of the track, and it's exquisitely silly:


If you don't like this self made clip, there is this alternative, which is also repetitive but maybe better? 

I like this comment following:

I needed this video...that weird Penny Dance has haunted me for years and needed to see it like this...a 10 hour cut would be epic...this song is my Ring Tone by the way...
And wow - the audio track is up on Youtube too and I guess I could convert it to a ringtone too?   I have never bothered with silly ringtones, but I am tempted.

As for the whole story of that episode of Lost in Space (season 3, when they were getting desperate for ideas), I have a watched some guy's commentary on it to refresh my memory.  The Robinsons think they have landed on Alpha Centauri, but the station is run by teenagers, who turn out to be aliens who cannot turn into adults even though they want to.   Before I re-watched the end scene, I remembered how at age 9 or 10 I thought the line "all I wanted to do is be able to shave" was sort of poignant: 

Lost in Space was sometimes like that:   the execution may be very, very silly, but sometimes there was the hint of an idea that might make for something decent if told another way.   

Anyway, I wonder why my brain is dredging this up for my attention every now and then? Must be something about the strength of the synaptic connections made when 9 years old!

Update:  I just remembered that there's another track last heard by me about 50 years ago, which I remember bits of every now and then:  a cover version on some cheapo LP of  this "psychedelic" song by a German band that I don't think was ever played in Australia.  My mother bought the LP, not me.

Tears for the transhumanists

As noted in this story at Nature, gene editing by CRISPR on human embryos is still not a thing, basically because it's too clumsy a technique:

As well as addressing broader concerns about ethics and social justice, editing embryos would require a safe and effective genome-editing platform to minimize the chances of harm to the embryo, the resulting child and any descendants. Most research on genome editing in embryos, however, has been done using animal models such as mice, which might not accurately reflect what happens in human embryos. And, although potential genome-editing therapies have been widely studied in adult human cells, embryos might respond differently than adult cells to the DNA damage caused by some of the tools.

Only a handful of laboratories have directly tried to edit the genomes of human embryos using the popular editing system CRISPR–Cas9, and several of these presented concerning results at the summit.

The Cas9 enzyme works by breaking both strands of DNA at a site designated by a guiding piece of RNA. The cell then repairs the break, either by using an error-prone mechanism that stitches the two ends together but sometimes deletes or inserts a few DNA letters in the process, or by replacing the missing DNA with a sequence copied from a template provided by the researcher. DNA breaks created by Cas9 in embryos are usually repaired using the error-prone pathway, said Dietrich Egli, a stem-cell biologist at Columbia University in New York City, at the conference.

Egli and other researchers also reported on the consequences of the double-strand breaks made by Cas9. Developmental biologist Kathy Niakan, now at the University of Cambridge, UK, recounted that her lab found that some human embryos lost large regions of chromosomes when they were edited using CRISPR–Cas91. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive biologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, also said that his team had found large DNA deletions at the editing site in human embryos, and that these deletions might not be detected using standard tests2.

“Can human embryos at this stage really tolerate this kind of intervention?” asked Dagan Wells, a reproductive geneticist at the University of Oxford, UK, who also reported concerning responses to DNA breaks in human embryos. About 40% of the embryos in one of his genome-editing studies failed to repair broken DNA. More than one-third of those embryos continued to develop, he said, resulting in the loss or gain of pieces of chromosomes in some cells. That could harm the health of the child if such embryos were allowed to develop further. “These results are really a warning,” he said.



Fad nerve

Here, I'll gift an article from the New York Times about the (rather faddish) attention that has been given to the vagus nerve on social media.   

I've had Youtubes recommended to me about "toning" this nerve (really, a bunch of nerves), and none of it sounded very convincing:

In recent years, the vagus nerve has become an object of fascination, especially on social media. The vagal nerve fibers, which run from the brain to the abdomen, have been anointed by some influencers as the key to reducing anxiety, regulating the nervous system and helping the body to relax.

TikTok videos with the hashtag “#vagusnerve” have been viewed more than 64 million times and there are nearly 70,000 posts with the hashtag on Instagram. Some of the most popular ones feature simple hacks to “tone” or “reset” the vagus nerve, in which people plunge their faces into ice water baths or lie on their backs with ice packs on their chests. There are also neck and ear massages, eye exercises and deep-breathing techniques.

Now, wellness companies have capitalized on the trend, offering products like “vagus massage oil,” vibrating bracelets and pillow mists, that claim to stimulate the nerve, but that have not been endorsed by the scientific community.

 Apparently, stimulation of it by implanted devices has seemed to help some conditions, but if you aren't going to go under the knife, you've still got to resort to things like putting your face in ice water.

I'm ok, thanks...

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

"Stupidest cult" watch


Yet more retrocausation and superdeterminism discussion

Gee, I would not have guessed that it is now over a year since I had a fairly lengthy post about the confusing issue of the difference between the ideas of "retrocausation" and "superdeterminism" as explanations for (or solutions to) the quantum measurement problem.   

But there is an article up at the Conversation which tries to explain the distinction between the two:

Quantum mechanics:  how the future might influence the past

I have to say, though, that the explanation doesn't make a lot of intuitive sense to me.   (Ha!, you might laugh - I'm expecting intuitive sense from quantum mechanics?)   I have the strongest feeling that Sabine Hossenfelder is going to have a problem with these paragraphs:

Superdeterminism agrees with retrocausality that measurement choices and the underlying properties of the particles are somehow correlated.

But superdeterminism treats it like the correlation between the weather and the barometer needle. It assumes there’s some mysterious third thing – a “superdeterminer” – that controls and correlates both our choices and the particles, the way atmospheric pressure controls both the weather and the barometer.

So superdeterminism denies that measurement choices are things we are free to wiggle at will, they are predetermined. Free wiggles would break the correlation, just as in the barometer case. Critics object that superdeterminism thus undercuts core assumptions necessary to undertake scientific experiments. They also say that it means denying free will, because something is controlling both the measurement choices and particles.

These objections don’t apply to retrocausality. Retrocausalists do scientific causal discovery in the usual free, wiggly way. We say it is folk who dismiss retrocausality who are forgetting the scientific method, if they refuse to follow the evidence where it leads.

I await her commentary...


Monday, March 13, 2023


From the Oscars today, and a little movie from 1984:

Incidentally, Stephen Colbert did a protracted interview with Steven Spielberg (alone, and with John Williams) and showed it segmented over a couple of nights last week.

I have said it before, but Spielberg always comes across as a very decent and quite humble man who has made no significant enemies in his career, and makes for a loyal and good friend.   He and Williams have been close friends for 50 years!  And for a man in his 90's, Williams still seems as sharp as a tack.   Their discussion of Williams' music in some of Spielberg's key movies is enlightening:


I also liked this short clip of Spielberg talking about the movie he has watched most often (excluding any of his own).   As it happens, I've never seen it all - only bits and pieces:

Update: for the first time in quite a few years, I watched all of the Oscars because, although I don't think it's the greatest movie ever made, Everything Everywhere All at Once did seem to have an unusually large number of likeable personalities attached to it.   And it was, at heart, good natured and positive, and made on a small budget:  all things that it's nice seeing a film being rewarded for.  And hey, Spielberg was going to be there too (I feel guilty for not having seen The Fabelmans yet), and I like Jimmy Kimmel as host, so it was worth a look.

The reviews for the show have been positive - the near universal theme being that it felt like a relief to watch a version which wasn't, um, trying too hard.   It felt like a throwback to an older style, with one slightly sardonic male host making relatively safe jokes, and although I suppose Asian representation was a significant theme, it didn't feel like the show was an intense complaint about it, in the way that in recent years they seemed to be in relation to black and female representation.   

So, good job everybody.

My main complaint about the awards given:   I reckon that song from RRR is pretty awful, as is all of that silly movie.   I don't understand why it received such sympathetic reviews in the States.

Why isn't the Washington Post leading with a headline: "Defamation case evidence shows Fox staff and management thought their audience was dumb and gullible but had to be pandered to"

The Washington Post has another deep dive into the Dominion defamation evidence - communications between Fox management, some of whom formerly worked for Trump.   

The evidence is just red hot, but you have go a fair way in the article to get to the worst of it, and look at the bland headline:

Ex-Trump aide at Fox wrestled with election lies, network’s interests

That's ridiculously soft.   Read what they were saying amongst themselves:

Despite his behind-the-scenes lobbying, Shah counseled a middle course in dealing with her claims on air. On the day after Carlson publicly challenged Powell, Shah and a Carlson producer weighed whether Carlson should devote time in his next show to Powell’s claim that she had an affidavit that would link Dominion to Venezuela.

“Might wanna address this, but this stuff is so f------ insane. Vote rigging to the tune of millions? C’mon,” Shah wrote.

Carlson’s producer, Alex Pfeiffer, responded: “It is so insane but our viewers believe it so addressing again how her stupid Venezuela affidavit isn’t proof might insult them.”

Shah advised that Carlson should mention the affidavit noting it was “not new info, not proof” but then quickly “pivot to being deferential.”

Pfeiffer, who has since left the network, answered that the delicate dance was “surreal.”

“Like negotiating with terrorists,” he added, “but especially dumb ones. Cousin f----- types not saudi royalty.”

In the following weeks, Trump continued to court voices who embraced his false claims the election was stolen — and Powell continued to appear on Fox.

On Jan. 3 — three days before the Capitol was attacked by Trump supporters as Congress met to confirm Biden’s win — Shah exchanged text messages with another former White House spokesman, Josh Raffel, who had been primarily responsible for handling communications for Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Raffel flagged to Shah a tweet noting that Trump’s daily schedule now carried with it the vague assurance that the president would make “many calls and have many meetings” and “work from early in the morning until late in the evening.”

“I think what they meant is The President will wake up early and commit many, many crimes including but not limited to obstruction of justice, attempted fraud, and treason in an effort to conduct a coup. Then he’ll fly to a rally in furtherance of the same,” Raffel wrote. (Now a public relations executive in New York, Raffel declined to comment on the text.)

“It’s really disheartening,” Shah responded. “The only clear cut evidence for voter fraud is the failed attempts from Trump.”

Hey John:   next time you are over at New Catallaxy, can you bring to cranky old Tom's attention that he's been had?   For years his theme has been "MSM journalists hate their readers" because they don't  write stuff that endorses his political and social biases.

Now the evidence is out there, in black and white, that in fact Fox (the heroic network that tells it like it is - hahaha) has management, including those who work with Carlson, who secretly despised the stupidity of their audience - such as Tom.  And Carlson himself despises Trump.

It's a harsh lesson, but time for Tom, and a host of New Catallaxy participants, to admit that they've been had, as those on the MSM side have been trying to tell them for years....


Saturday, March 11, 2023

Monbiot on Brand

I enjoyed George Monbiot's take down of Russell Brand (and Rogan and Greenwald) both in The Guardian and on Twitter.   (I also learned for the first time that George has a full public disclosure of this income and assets - and it certainly appears he hasn't become rich through journalism and advocacy.   It's quite refreshing to see this openness from someone like him and I wish there were more of it.)

I happened to watch Brand's smug, loudmouthed performance on Bill Maher's show on Youtube last week.  I don't care for Maher, who suffers to a much milder degree from "a pox on both their houses" form of criticism, while actually complaining most about the Left, but his guests can make him worth watching.   Brand is like Maher X 20, though.  As Monbiot says:  

I can’t help noticing that most of the people who say “left? right? It’s all meaningless, man” are those who have made a major shift from left to right. Denying that left and right exist any longer seems to be a form of self-justification.

Someone else on Twitter made this wry observation of Brand as guru, too:

I am also more on the side of those on Twitter who responded to Monbiot with "actually, I've never cared for Brand, there always seemed something off about him, and his true addiction has always been to seeking attention".  

Monbiot thinks that Brand is merely chasing money and been corrupted by the algorithm, so to speak:

I don’t believe for a moment that his transition is ideological. I think it’s cynical. 

Here I think George is not giving enough credence to the psychological rule that if you pretend something long enough, you start to believe it.   But that rule also tends to make me agree with him here:

I think Russell, like Glenn Greenwald(@ggreenwald),@joerogan and other such entrepreneurs, who do not seem to be not committed to the far right themes they now amplify, but appear to use them to ramp up their numbers, are more dangerous than the actual fascists.

I think that second "not" is an error, by the way;  but I agree with the idea that someone who makes a lot of money by spouting fascist arguments while privately not believing or fully endorsing them (to a degree, surely we can put Carlson in that group now too?) may be more dangerous simply because of their successful reach and greedy motivation to never admit error.