Later On

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Archive for July 22nd, 2021

We’re all teenagers now

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Paul Howe, professor of political science at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Canada  and author of Teen Spirit: How Adolescence Transformed the Adult World (2020), has an extract of his book in Aeon:

Most of us are familiar with the law of unintended consequences. In the 1920s, Prohibition put a halt to the legal production and sale of alcohol in the United States only to generate a new set of social ills connected to bootlegging and wider criminal activity. More recently, mainstream news media outlets, in pursuit of ratings and advertising dollars, lavished attention on an outlandish, orange-hued candidate when he first announced his run for president in 2015, and inadvertently helped to pave his way to the White House – oops. Aiding and abetting his campaign was a communications tool – social media – originally designed to bring people together and create community, but which now seems to serve more as a vehicle of division and discord.

A different development has been seen as an unqualified boon: the mass expansion, over the past century, of public education. In place of a narrowly educated elite and the minimally schooled masses, we now have a society where the vast majority possess knowledge and skills necessary for success in various dimensions of their lives, including work, community engagement, democratic participation and more. Some might fall short of their potential, but the general impact is clear: extending greater educational opportunity to one and all has provided untold benefits for both individuals and society at large over the long haul.

The latest work from Robert Putnam, the pre-eminent scholar of social change in the modern US, illustrates the common wisdom on the matter. His book The Upswing (co-authored with the social entrepreneur Shaylyn Romney Garrett) sets the stage by describing the social strife of the Gilded Age, the final decades of the 19th century when rapid industrialisation and technological change generated social dislocation, inequality, civic discord and political corruption. In response to this troubled state of affairs, the Progressive movement sprang into being, bringing a new community spirit to society’s problems, along with a series of pragmatic solutions. One signal achievement was the establishment of the modern public high school, an innovation that began in the US West and Midwest and spread quickly throughout the country. Enrolment at the secondary level among those aged 14 to 17 leapt from about 15 per cent in 1910 to 70 per cent by 1940.

In Putnam’s account, the clearest benefit of educating Americans to a higher level was unparalleled economic growth and upward social mobility for the newly educated lower classes – positive effects that unfolded over the first half of the 20th century and made the US a more prosperous and egalitarian society. These benefits were part and parcel of a more general upswing that encompassed rising levels of social trust, community engagement, political cooperation, and a stronger societal emphasis on ‘we’ than ‘I’.

But it did not last. For reasons not entirely clear, the 1960s saw individualism resurfacing as the dominant mindset of Americans and the ethos of US society, turning the upswing into a downswing that has continued to the present day and lies at the heart of many contemporary social and political problems.

Hidden in this puzzling arc of social change is another unintended consequence. Universal secondary education not only elevated Americans by spreading relevant knowledge and skills to the masses. It also gave rise to a more complex social and cultural transformation, as the adolescent period became pivotal in shaping who we are. The fact is that high school is, and always has been, about more than just education. In the late 1950s, the sociologist James Coleman investigated student life in 10 US high schools, seeking to learn more about adolescents and their orientation towards schooling. In The Adolescent Society: The Social Life of the Teenager and Its Impact on Education (1961), he reported that it was the social, not the educational, dimension of the high-school experience that was paramount to teens. Cloistered together in the high-school setting, teenagers occupied a separate and distinct social space largely immune from adult influence. Coleman warned that:

The child of high-school age is ‘cut off’ from the rest of society, forced inward toward his own age group, made to carry out his whole social life with others his own age. With his fellows, he comes to constitute a small society, one that has most of its important interactions within itself, and maintains only a few threads of connection with the outside adult society.

The emergence of a segregated teenage realm occurred well before Coleman put his finger on the problem. In their classic study of the mid-1920s, the sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd described the high school in ‘Middletown’ (later revealed to be Muncie, Indiana) as ‘a fairly complete social cosmos in itself … [a] city within a city [where] the social life of the intermediate generation centres … taking over more and more of [their] waking life.’

Life beyond the classroom reinforced the pattern: a national survey from around the same time found that the average urban teenager spent four to six nights a week socialising with peers rather than enjoying quiet nights at home with the family. With the advent of modern high school, the day-to-day life of teenagers was transformed, their coming-of-age experiences fundamentally altered. Adolescence became a kind of social crucible where teens were afforded the time and space to interact intensively with one another and develop by their own lights.

So while there was clear educational benefit gained from the reading, writing and arithmetic taking place in high-school classrooms across the land, a wider set of changes started to emanate from this new social configuration. The most visible was the emergence of a more sharply defined youth culture rooted in shared interests and passions that flourished more freely within adolescent society. Young people flocked to the movies like no other demographic, their enthusiasm for the silver screen and its celebrity icons helping to propel Hollywood to the forefront of popular culture. They latched on to new musical styles – jazz in the 1920s, swing in the 1930s – and embraced them as their own; devoured the new literary sensation of the times, comic books; and adopted common ways of dressing and personal styling as emblems of youth fashion. Embodied in these trends was a heightened emphasis on the fun and the frivolous side of life that would slowly reset societal standards as time went on.

Other changes were more subtle but equally portentous. Sociological studies conducted between the two world wars reveal a rapid liberalisation of attitudes towards practices such as betting, smoking and divorce, with rates of disapproval among youth declining by 20 to 35 percentage points in the space of just a single decade. In this same period, young people grew increasingly tolerant of social misdemeanours such as habitually failing to keep promises, using profane language, and keeping extra change mistakenly given by a store clerk – minor incivilities by today’s standards, but harbingers of a changing social landscape where the transgression of established norms was starting to become more common and accepted.

This rapid evolution in everyday behaviour reflected a deeper transformation: the character of rising generations, their values, temperament and traits, were being reshaped by the powerful influence of peers during the formative years of adolescence. Hedonistic desires were more openly expressed, pleasurable activities more freely pursued. Conscientiousness was downplayed, social norms treated with greater scepticism and disdain. Impulsiveness and emotionality were more commonly displayed, an open, adventurous spirit widely embraced.

What these diverse adolescent qualities amounted to were the building blocks of a nascent individualism that would reshape society profoundly as they came to full fruition over the course of the next few decades. Traits conducive to self-focused and self-directed thought and action were more deeply etched in teenagers and slowly altered the character of society at large as whole groups socialised in this manner moved forward to adulthood.

The effects of peer influence, this argument implies, run deeper than is commonly imagined, affecting not just superficial features of the self during the teenage years, but the kind of person we become. Important research from the personality psychologist Judith Rich Harris, synthesised in her seminal book, The Nurture Assumption (1998), backs up this idea. Harris reviewed the body of research on the nature versus nurture debate, finding it consistently showed environmental effects outside the home loomed larger than had previously been realised. And she presented evidence that . . .

Continue reading.

I commented on the article:

Fascinating article, and the hypothesis of adolescents “setting” their cultural outlook through being grouped with coevals during the transition to early adulthood (a) makes sense and (b) explains a lot. I am now elderly but in middle age (in the 1980’s), a common topic of conversation among people of my age was how much older our parents seemed to have been when they were the age we were. We (in our view) still had a youthful outlook, but our parents had always had an older (more adult?) outlook and attitude. And of course our parents had spent their adolescent years not among coevals but embedded in an adult workforce, where they picked up the culture and expectations of those adults, whereas we had picked up in our adolescent years the culture and outlook of other adolescents.

Another thought: I recall reading about things that happened in Iraq after George W. Bush had the US invade (and pretty much destroy) that country, and among those things was the US practice of imprisoning anyone whom they suspected of being a “terrorist” (sometimes just being anti-US). That amounted, various writers pointed out, to an intensive education in terrorism, by putting together practiced and knowledgeable insurgents and terrorist with many who had been merely discontented, but in the prisons, they learned a lot — skills, attitudes, and outlooks — and made connections so that they left as members of a network. (Another unforeseen side-effect.)

By penning up adolescents together for the years of their transition from childhood to early adulthood, we pretty much ensured that a new culture would evolve and they would leave that environment with that cultural outlook embedded in them.

Both those are examples of the rapidity with which memes evolve. (“Memes” in the sense Richard Dawkins meant when he defined the term in Chapter 11 of The Selfish Gene, as units of human culture.) Memetic evolution is the result of the same logic that explains the evolution of lifeforms: reproduction with variation, occasional mutation, and a natural selection that results in some changes being successful (reproducing more) and others not so successful — cf. The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore.

Cultures evolve very quickly, but even lifeforms can evolve fairly quickly in circumstances in which selection is intense — cf. the rapid evolution when a species becomes island-bound. The schools (and prisons) made a cultural island, and cultural evolution was swift.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2021 at 8:13 pm

GOP Legislators in Missouri Oppose Vaccine Efforts as State Becomes COVID Hotspot

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Jeremy Kohler reports in ProPublica:

Amid the current surge in COVID-19 cases in Missouri, a recent Facebook conversation between two Republican state lawmakers is telling.

Around Independence Day, State Rep. Bill Kidd, from the Kansas City suburbs, revealed that he has been infected by the coronavirus.

“And no, we didn’t get the vaccine,” he wrote in a post that has since been deleted. “We’re Republicans 😆”

State Rep. Brian Seitz, a Republican from Taney County, home to the tourist destination of Branson, commented on the post by falsely claiming that the virus had been developed by top government scientist Anthony Fauci and billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates. They “knew what was coming,” Seitz wrote.

“The jury is still out on the ‘vaccine’ (who knows what’s in that),” he wrote.

As the number of coronavirus infections rises around the country, lawmakers like Kidd and Seitz have adopted responses that trouble many health officials. In Tennessee, Republicans legislators threatened to shut down the state health department, saying it was targeting minors for mass vaccinations without the consent of parents. In Ohio, lawmakers allowed a doctor to testify at a legislative hearing last month that coronavirus vaccines could leave people magnetized (they can’t). During a hearing in the Montana Senate, a senator said he had read articles about “putting a chip in the vaccine.” (There are no chips in vaccines.)

Just as with his insistence that he won the election, former president Donald Trump’s attitudes about COVID-19 hold great sway with his supporters. Trump routinely bashed Fauci and infectious disease experts throughout the pandemic and questioned the severity of the coronavirus.

He also strongly carried Missouri’s southwest corner in the November election. While Trump beat Joe Biden by 15.4 percentage points statewide, in rural Taney County, the margin was 57.8 points.

Those supporters now tend to oppose efforts to get everyone vaccinated, believing they are being led by Democrats, said Ken Warren, a professor of political science at Saint Louis University who tracks state and local politics. “It’s a sad reality,” he said. “We can’t get together on anything, even fighting COVID.”

Such attitudes are accelerating an anti-vaccine sentiment that has run strong in the state legislature for years, particularly with lawmakers from the area of Missouri now facing increased infection rates. In 2018, Republican state Rep. Lynn Morris, a pharmacist from southwest Missouri, pushed a proposal to prohibit discrimination against unvaccinated children. Public school children are required to be vaccinated against several diseases, but families can claim a medical or religious exemption. The Legislature took up a similar proposal in 2019. Each failed.

Late last year, state Rep. Suzie Pollock, a Republican from south-central Missouri, proposed a bill to prohibit discrimination against people who choose not to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. She claimed the vaccine against the virus had “been rushed” and that its efficacy was “in question,” myths that have been relentlessly amplified by right-wing media.

The bill did not advance, but Gov. Mike Parson signed into law a related bill blocking local governments from requiring proof of coronavirus vaccination for people seeking to access transportation systems or other public services.

It’s not enough for some. “Now people are pushing back even against the idea of private employers like hospitals and health care providers telling their employees you have to be vaccinated,” said state Rep. Shamed Dogan, a Republican from the St. Louis suburbs. “I think that some of the legitimate concerns of government overreach have turned into this broader resistance to any vaccination, which is something I don’t agree with.”

Late in this year’s legislative session, Pollack pushed a proposal that would allow more parents to opt out of vaccinating their children against diseases including polio, measles and mumps. Pollock insisted she was not against vaccines, but said that people should have the freedom to choose. The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee voted 10-6 in favor of the bill.

The full House defeated it on April 28 in a 79-67 vote.

“There is a tremendous skepticism about the good that government can do,” said Dan Ponder, a political science professor at Drury University in Springfield and director of the Meador Center for Politics & Citizenship there.

Ponder said many residents of southwest Missouri question the motives behind the policies that governments are pushing and show “a tremendous skepticism about information.” He added, “People don’t believe the vaccines are working. People don’t believe the federal government isn’t going to come down here and … basically strong-arm them into taking a vaccine.”

Indeed, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deployed a two-person “surge response” team to southwest Missouri this month to combat an outbreak attributed to the dangerous delta variant, both Parson and U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, from south-central Missouri, tweeted opposition to federal agents going door to door to compel vaccines, something President Joe Biden’s administration said it never had any intent to do.

On Sunday, Springfield Mayor Ken McClure told CBS’ Face the Nation that his community was “being hurt” by rampant vaccine misinformation. He said people were sharing “health-related fears, what it might do to them later on in their lives, what might be contained in the vaccinations. And that information is just incorrect.”

Taney County is near the heart of the surge of the delta variant, which health officials say spreads more easily than earlier versions of the virus. The county is leading the state with the highest rate of coronavirus cases over the past seven days, according to Missouri health department data. Surrounding counties have similarly high rates, raising alarms for federal health officials.

Despite the spike, just 28% of Taney County’s residents are fully vaccinated, below the state average of 40%.

Seitz, who once owned a newspaper that promoted Branson’s entertainment industry, boasted in an interview that the Ozark tourist town was doing gangbuster business after a year of being mostly shut down.

“There were 27,000 people at our July 3 celebration,” he said, noting that he attended with U.S. Rep. Billy Long and “he said something like, ‘I’m so glad to see there are very few chin diapers in the crowd.’ The roar was huge … we’re so happy not to be forced by government to either wear a mask or take a vaccine.”

Seitz said he had no business telling his constituents how to live. The media has shifted its focus from deaths to the raw numbers of cases, he said, glossing over that most people who catch the virus don’t die. While 600,000 American deaths have been attributed to COVID-19, Seitz questioned whether people were dying from the disease or from existing health problems: “If a person is grossly overweight and caught a very virulent virus, did they die because they were in very ill health or did they die because of the virus?”

Seitz falsely claimed that COVID vaccines have not been tested and are unsafe. He backed down on his comment about Fauci on Kidd’s Facebook post, acknowledging that the virology expert did not create the coronavirus but asserting that he had been engaged for years in experiments to make viruses more dangerous or transmissible. Fauci has insisted the U.S. government did not participate in experiments that could have caused the pandemic.

Seitz said he had nothing against people who take the vaccine or wear masks. It’s their choice, he said. He said it wasn’t his job to keep people safe, but to keep people free.

“I haven’t had the flu even since 1994,” he said. “Why would I take a vaccine? … My life was normal for the past year, very few instances of wearing a mask, and so forth, and I’m just fine.”

Betsy Fogle, who recently completed her first session as a Democratic state representative from Springfield, said it was “fascinating kind of watching the narrative and the rhetoric” in the state capital of Jefferson City surrounding COVID-19, “and then watching it all get politicized and polarized. And then seeing that real-life impact that has on our neighbors back in Springfield when our hospitals are full and our hospital CEOs are begging people to get vaccinated and people just aren’t doing it.”

She said there was a mentality among Republican leaders “that COVID is a hoax, or that vaccines are a hoax, and that trickles down.”

She said she has several constituents who didn’t get vaccinated “because they think that this is a joke, and then these people reach out a month later to say, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t listen.’”

Kidd, the Republican from the Kansas City area, posted almost two weeks after his initial Facebook post that he was seeking prayers because he was “having a difficult time with COVID” and “really sick.” Kidd posted again  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2021 at 6:02 pm

Time to assume that health research is fraudulent until proven otherwise?

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Richard Smith, editor of The British Medical Journal (BMJ)  until 2004, cofounder of the Committee on Medical Ethics (COPE), for many years the chair of the Cochrane Library Oversight Committee, and a member of the board of the UK Research Integrity Office, writes in a blog of the BMJ:

Health research is based on trust. Health professionals and journal editors reading the results of a clinical trial assume that the trial happened and that the results were honestly reported. But about 20% of the time, said Ben Mol, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Monash Health, they would be wrong. As I’ve been concerned about research fraud for 40 years, I wasn’t that surprised as many would be by this figure, but it led me to think that the time may have come to stop assuming that research actually happened and is honestly reported, and assume that the research is fraudulent until there is some evidence to support it having happened and been honestly reported. The Cochrane Collaboration, which purveys “trusted information,” has now taken a step in that direction.

As he described in a webinar last week, Ian Roberts, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, began to have doubts about the honest reporting of trials after a colleague asked if he knew that his systematic review showing the mannitol halved death from head injury was based on trials that had never happened. He didn’t, but he set about investigating the trials and confirmed that they hadn’t ever happened. They all had a lead author who purported to come from an institution that didn’t exist and who killed himself a few years later. The trials were all published in prestigious neurosurgery journals and had multiple co-authors. None of the co-authors had contributed patients to the trials, and some didn’t know that they were co-authors until after the trials were published. When Roberts contacted one of the journals the editor responded that “I wouldn’t trust the data.” Why, Roberts wondered, did he publish the trial? None of the trials have been retracted.

Later Roberts, who headed one of the Cochrane groups, did a systematic review of colloids versus crystalloids only to discover again that many of the trials that were included in the review could not be trusted. He is now sceptical about all systematic reviews, particularly those that are mostly reviews of multiple small trials. He compared the original idea of systematic reviews as searching for diamonds, knowledge that was available if brought together in systematic reviews; now he thinks of systematic reviewing as searching through rubbish. He proposed that small, single centre trials should be discarded, not combined in systematic reviews.

Mol, like Roberts, has conducted systematic reviews only to realise that most of the trials included either were zombie trials that were fatally flawed or were untrustworthy. What, he asked, is the scale of the problem? Although retractions are increasing, only about 0.04% of biomedical studies have been retracted, suggesting the problem is small. But the anaesthetist John Carlisle analysed 526 trials submitted to Anaesthesia and found that 73 (14%) had false data, and 43 (8%) he categorised as zombie. When he was able to examine individual patient data in 153 studies, 67 (44%) had untrustworthy data and 40 (26%) were zombie trials. Many of the trials came from the same countries (Egypt, China, India, Iran, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey), and when John Ioannidis, a professor at Stanford University, examined individual patient data from trials submitted from those countries to Anaesthesia during a year he found that many were false: 100% (7/7) in Egypt; 75% (3/ 4) in Iran; 54% (7/13) in India; 46% (22/48) in China; 40% (2/5) in Turkey; 25% (5/20) in South Korea; and 18% (2/11) in Japan. Most of the trials were zombies. Ioannidis concluded that there are hundreds of thousands of zombie trials published from those countries alone.

Others have found similar results, and Mol’s best guess is that about 20% of trials are false. Very few of these papers are retracted.

We have long known that peer review is ineffective at detecting fraud, especially if the reviewers start, as most have until now, by assuming that the research is honestly reported. I remember being part of a panel in the 1990s investigating one of Britain’s most outrageous cases of fraud, when the statistical reviewer of the study told us that he had found multiple problems with the study and only hoped that it was better done than it was reported. We asked if had ever considered that the study might be fraudulent, and he told us that he hadn’t.

We have now reached a point where those doing systematic reviews must start by assuming that a study is fraudulent until they can have some evidence to the contrary. Some supporting evidence comes from the trial having been registered and having ethics committee approval. Andrew Grey, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Auckland, and others have developed a checklist with around 40 items that can be used as a screening tool for fraud (you can view the checklist here). The REAPPRAISED checklist (Research governance, Ethics, Authorship, Plagiarism, Research conduct, Analyses and methods, Image manipulation, Statistics, Errors, Data manipulation and reporting) covers issues like “ethical oversight and funding, research productivity and investigator workload, validity of randomisation, plausibility of results and duplicate data reporting.” The checklist has been used to detect studies that have subsequently been retracted but hasn’t been through the full evaluation that you would expect for a clinical screening tool. (But I must congratulate the authors on a clever acronym: some say that dreaming up the acronym for a study is the most difficult part of the whole process.)

Roberts and others wrote about the problem of the many untrustworthy and zombie trials in The BMJ six years ago with the provocative title: “The knowledge system underpinning healthcare is not fit for purpose and must change.” They wanted the Cochrane Collaboration and anybody conducting systematic reviews to take very seriously the problem of fraud. It was perhaps coincidence, but a few weeks before the webinar the Cochrane Collaboration produced guidelines on reviewing studies where there has been a retraction, an expression of concern, or the reviewers are worried about the trustworthiness of the data.

Retractions are the easiest to deal with, but they are, as Mol said, only a tiny fraction of untrustworthy or zombie studies. An editorial in the Cochrane Library accompanying the new guidelines recognises that there is no agreement on what constitutes an untrustworthy study, screening tools are not reliable, and “Misclassification could also lead to reputational damage to authors, legal consequences, and ethical issues associated with participants having taken part in research, only for it to be discounted.” The Collaboration is being cautious but does stand to lose credibility—and income—if the world ceases to trust Cochrane Reviews because they are thought to be based on untrustworthy trials.

Research fraud is often viewed as a problem of “bad apples,” but Barbara K Redman, who spoke at the webinar insists that it is not a problem of bad apples but bad barrels if not, she said, of rotten forests or orchards. In her book Research Misconduct Policy in Biomedicine: Beyond the Bad-Apple Approach she argues that research misconduct is a systems problem—the system provides incentives to publish fraudulent research and does not have adequate regulatory processes. Researchers progress by publishing research, and because the publication system is built on trust and peer review is not designed to detect fraud it is easy to publish fraudulent research. The business model of journals and publishers depends on publishing, preferably lots of studies as cheaply as possible. They have little incentive to check for fraud and a positive disincentive to experience reputational damage—and possibly legal risk—from retracting studies. Funders, universities, and other research institutions similarly have incentives to fund and publish studies and disincentives to make a fuss about fraudulent research they may have funded or had undertaken in their institution—perhaps by one of their star researchers. Regulators often lack the legal standing and the resources to respond to what is clearly extensive fraud, recognising that proving a study to be fraudulent (as opposed to suspecting it of being fraudulent) is a skilled, complex, and time consuming process. Another problem is that research is increasingly international with participants from many institutions in many countries: who then takes on the unenviable task of investigating fraud? Science really needs global governance.

Everybody gains from the publication game, concluded Roberts, apart from the patients who suffer from being given treatments based on fraudulent data.

Stephen Lock, my predecessor as editor of The BMJ, became worried about research fraud in the 1980s, but . . .

Continue reading. And do read at least some of the many thoughtful comments. I fear that, just as with climate change and ocean pollution, humans are unable to stop themselves from destroying what they most need. (Easter Island is the canonical example.)

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2021 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Ventriloquist gets a volunteer

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Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2021 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Humor, Video

How Kevin McCarthy is boosting the integrity of the Jan. 6 investigation

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Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman have a very interesting column in the Washington Post:

We should be thankful that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) just pulled Republicans out of any involvement in the select committee to examine the Jan. 6 insurrection. In so doing, he ensured that the committee’s investigation will both have more integrity and be more likely to undertake a valuable accounting.

Which goes to a larger truth about this moment: Efforts at a real examination of arguably the worst outbreak of political violence in modern times — and efforts to protect our democracy more broadly — will not be bipartisan. These things will be done by Democrats alone.

McCarthy’s handling of the Jan. 6 committee illustrates the point. It comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that she is nixing two of McCarthy’s picks to serve on it: Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

McCarthy mustered great outrage about this, railing that it was an “abuse of power” that had cost the committee “all legitimacy and credibility.”

In fact, precisely the opposite is true: By pulling out, McCarthy has boosted the committee’s legitimacy and credibility immeasurably. The less involved McCarthy is with this committee, the more likely it will be to undertake a genuine and comprehensive accounting.

McCarthy’s picks were expressly designed to prevent that accounting. This is not speculation or a mere guess at McCarthy’s motives. It is unavoidably clear from the public statements and conduct of Banks and Jordan themselves.

Banks’s first act on getting named by McCarthy was to release a statement declaring that the committee must investigate the “hundreds of violent political riots” in which “many more innocent Americans and law-enforcement officers were attacked.”

That’s an explicit declaration that the insurrection and President Donald Trump’s incitement of it should not be the focus of the committee and is a less serious matter than those riots.

Similarly, after Jordan was picked, he immediately declared he wants to serve on the committee because “this is impeachment Round 3,” unwittingly revealing — or perhaps unabashedly declaring — that he saw his role as solely a means for working to exonerate Trump.

What’s more, Jordan had already played a prominent role in spreading the very lies about the 2020 election that helped inspire the insurrection the committee will be investigating. Given that the committee is charged with probing the causes of the violence — and that those lies are a major cause — any real accounting must also implicate Republicans such as Jordan.

On top of all this, remember that McCarthy could have exercised even more control over the investigation — yet declined. Back in May, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the Homeland Security Committee chair, announced an agreement with the ranking Republican on an evenly divided 10-member bipartisan commission, with both parties having veto power over subpoenas.

Guess who voted against that commission? McCarthy, Banks and Jordan did.

All three also voted to object to President Biden’s electors, a vote that represented the culmination of the lies this committee will investigate as a cause of the violence.

frantic appeal to Trump to call off the rioters; he likely has firsthand experience of Trump’s truly sociopathic and insurrectionist intentions that day.

And Jordan was present in a Dec. 21 White House meeting with Trump and others, at which they discussed how to overturn Biden’s electors on the day of what would become the insurrection. What was said at that meeting will be of great interest to the committee.

“Anyone who is a material witness to the key events leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection doesn’t really belong on the committee,” Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the select committee, told us.

“The investigative inquiry is being shaped right now,” Raskin continued, “but those are likely to be key events in the chronology.”

Here’s the bottom line: By nixing Banks and Jordan, Pelosi actually protected the integrity of the committee’s investigation, from their openly advertised intention to misdirect, disrupt and sabotage it. By appointing publicly committed saboteurs, McCarthy openly advertised the same intention. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2021 at 11:42 am

Genetic Memory: How We Know Things We Never Learned

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David Treffert published an interesting article in Scientific American in January 2015. It begins:

I met my first savant 52 years ago and have been intrigued with that remarkable condition ever since. One of the most striking and consistent things in the many savants I have seen is that that they clearly know things they never learned.

Leslie Lemke is a musical virtuoso even though he has never had a music lesson in his life. Like “Blind Tom” Wiggins a century before him, his musical genius erupted so early and spontaneously as an infant that it could not possibly have been learned. It came ‘factory installed’. In both cases professional musicians witnessed and confirmed that Lemke and Wiggins somehow, even in the absence of formal training, had innate access to what can be called “the rules” or vast syntax of music.

Alonzo Clemons has never had an art lesson in his life. As an infant, after a head injury, he began to sculpt with whatever was handy–Crisco or whatever–and now is a celebrated sculptor who can mold a perfect specimen of any animal with clay in an hour or less after only a single glance at the animal itself–every muscle and tendon perfectly positioned. He has had no formal training.

To explain the savant, who has innate access to the vast syntax and rules of art, mathematics, music and even language, in the absence of any formal training and in the presence of major disability, “genetic memory,” it seems to me, must exist along with the more commonly recognized cognitive/semantic and procedural/habit memory circuits.

Genetic memory, simply put, is complex abilities and actual sophisticated knowledge inherited along with other more typical and commonly accepted physical and behavioral characteristics. In savants the music, art or mathematical “chip” comes factory installed. In addition to the examples mentioned above, I describe others in my book, Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired and Sudden Savant.

Genetic memory is not an entirely new concept. In 1940, A.A. Brill quoted Dr. William Carpenter who, in comparing math prodigy Zerah Colburn’s calculating powers to Mozart’s mastery of musical composition, wrote the following:

In each of the foregoing cases, then, we have a peculiar example of the possession of an extraordinary congenital aptitude for certain mental activity, which showed itself at so early a period as to exclude the notion that it could have been acquired by the experience of the individual. To such congenital gifts we give the name of intuitions: it can scarcely be questioned that like the instincts of the lower animals, they are the expressions of constitutional tendencies embodied in the organism of the individuals who manifest them.

Carl Jung used the term “collective unconscious” to define his even broader concept of inherited traits, intuitions and collective wisdom of the past.

Wilder Penfield in his pioneering 1978 book, Mystery of the Mindalso referred to three types of memory. “Animals,” he wrote, “particularly show evidence of what might be called racial memory” (this would be the equivalent of genetic memory). He lists the second type of memory as that associated with “conditioned reflexes” and a third type as “experiential”. The two latter types would be consistent with the terminology commonly applied to “habit or procedural” memory and “cognitive or semantic” memory.

In his 1998 book, The Mind’s Past, Michael Gazzaniga wrote:

The baby does not learn trigonometry, but knows it; does not learn how to distinguish figure from ground, but knows it; does not need to learn, but knows, that when one object with mass hits another, it will move the object … The vast human cerebral cortex is chock full of specialized systems ready, willing and able to be used for specific tasks. Moreover, the brain is built under tight genetic control … As soon as the brain is built, it starts to express what it knows, what it comes with from the factory. And the brain comes loaded. The number of special devices that are in place and active is staggering. Everything from perceptual phenomena to intuitive physics to social exchange rules comes with the brain. These things are not learned; they are innately structured. Each device solves a different problem … the multitude of devices we have for doing what we do are factory installed; by the time we know about an action, the devices have already performed it.

Steven Pinker’s 2003 book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Naturerefutes the “blank slate” theories of human development. Brian Butterworth, in his 1999 book, What Counts: How Every Brain is Hardwired for Math, points out that babies have many specialized innate abilities, including numerical ones that he attributes to a “number module” encoded in the human genome from ancestors 30,000 years ago.

Marshall Nivenberg, from the National Heart Institute, provided insight into the actual DNA/RNA mechanics of this innate knowledge in an article titled “Genetic Memory” published in 1968 in JAMA.

Whether called genetic, ancestral or racial memory, or intuitions or congenital gifts, the concept of a genetic transmission of sophisticated knowledge well beyond instincts, is necessary to explain how prodigious savants can know things they never learned.

We tend to think of ourselves as being born with a magnificent and intricate piece of organic machinery (“hardware”) we call the brain, along with a massive but blank hard drive (memory). What we become, it is commonly believed, is an accumulation and culmination of our continuous learning and life experiences, which are added one by one to memory. But the prodigious savant apparently comes already programmed with a vast amount of innate skill -and knowledge in his or her area of expertise–factory-installed “software” one might say–which accounts for the extraordinary abilities over which the savant innately shows mastery in the face of often massive cognitive and other learning handicaps. It is an area of memory function worthy of much more exploration and study.

Indeed recent cases of “acquired savants” or “accidental genius” have convinced me that we all have such factory-installed software. I discussed some of those cases in detail in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2021 at 11:27 am

A non-vegan lunch today: Peameal bacon

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Three slices of Canadian peameal bacon.

I follow a whole-food plant-based diet because, based on a mountain of nutritional and medical research studies, it is the most healthy diet, but from time to time I will enjoy some food — dairy or eggs or animal product — not in line with the diet since a rare foray into those foods will do no great harm. (They certainly are not part of my daily diet.)

Today I have to try peameal bacon, a Canadian thing of long standing.

House-cured peameal bacon with maple dijon mustard on toasted Portfino Brioche bun

Portfino is a local bakery that makes very good bread (which also is not a part of my normal diet: too much processing to be a whole food).

Update: Sandwich was excellent. It included some greens, and the peameal bacon was done as a stack of thin slices — somehow I expected a single thick slice, but the total amount was as expected and the thin slices worked well. Now I’ve had it and satisfied my curiosity, so I can resume my regular diet.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2021 at 10:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Kevin McCarthy lacks integrity

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

The story that grabbed headlines today was that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rejected two of the five people House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) chose to put on the House select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection. McCarthy immediately withdrew all of the five people he had appointed, accusing the Speaker of partisanship.

But let’s call this like it is. The Republicans killed a bill to create a bipartisan select committee to investigate the insurrection. Then, when Pelosi set up a select committee instead on the exact same terms that Republicans had used to set up one of their many Benghazi committees, McCarthy tried to sabotage the process by naming as three of his five picks men who bought into former president Trump’s Big Lie and challenged the votes on the night of January 6.

One of those men, Jim Jordan (R-OH), is known for disrupting hearings; another, Jim Banks (R-IN), after being selected to sit on the committee, said that Pelosi “created this committee solely to malign conservatives and to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.” Banks has repeatedly tried to blame Pelosi for the response of the Capitol Police on January 6, when, in fact, it is overseen by a three-person Capitol Police Board. It is likely that McCarthy chose Jordan precisely to push Pelosi into rejecting him: McCarthy did not make Jordan the ranking member on the committee despite his seniority.

Pelosi refused to accept Jordan and Banks but did accept Troy Nehls (R-TX), who also voted to challenge the results of the 2020 election. Nonetheless, McCarthy made a show of pulling all his appointees from the committee, saying “this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth.”

But, of course, one of Pelosi’s own picks is Republican Liz Cheney (R-WY), who voted with Trump 92.9% of the time, but who recognizes the insurrection as one of the most dangerous threats to our democracy in our history. She responded today to McCarthy, her party’s leader, supporting Pelosi’s decision and telling reporters that the Speaker had “objected to two members and the rhetoric around this from the minority leader and from those two members has been disgraceful. This must be an investigation that is focused on facts, and the idea that any of this has become politicized is really unworthy of the office that we all hold and unworthy of our republic.”

Cheney said she is “absolutely confident that we will have a nonpartisan investigation.”

On January 13, of course, McCarthy said: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by [Trump] to accept his share of responsibility.” Now, six months later, Republicans have lined up behind the former president and are seeking to sabotage the investigation into the January 6 insurrection, clearly unhappy about what that investigation will reveal.

In the Senate, a vote to advance the $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill failed today, but 11 Republicans eager to make the deal work delivered a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) indicating their intention to vote for such a bill once it is hammered out. Schumer has promised to bring the procedural process up again if it has the votes to pass. If Republicans refuse to join the measure, Democrats can simply fold it into the larger bill they’re hoping to pass through reconciliation without the Republican votes necessary to break a filibuster.

McConnell has taken a stand against the Democrats’ infrastructure plans. In a speech on July 6, he focused on the larger package, saying: “The era of bipartisanship on this stuff is over….This is not going to be done on a bipartisan basis. This is going to be a hell of a fight over what this country ought to look like in the future and it’s going to unfold here in the next few weeks. I don’t think we’ve had a bigger difference of opinion between the two parties.” But many Republicans recognize that the infrastructure package is popular, and they would like to have their names on it rather than giving another win to the Democrats. Schumer has given them more time but has made it clear he will not let them run out the clock.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters today that no Republican senators will vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling when a deal cut two years ago to suspend the ceiling ends on July 31. McConnell wants to see spending cuts to bring down the deficit. (It is worth noting that the Republicans just demanded that funding to beef up the IRS to catch tax cheaters be stripped from the new infrastructure bill, although the commissioner of the IRS, Charles Rettig, estimates we lose $1 trillion a year in unpaid taxes.)

During the Trump administration, Congress voted at least three times to raise the debt ceiling. Under Trump, the nation added $7.8 trillion to the national debt, about $23,500 for every person in the country. The bulk of this debt came before the coronavirus pandemic. Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, which chopped the federal tax rate from 35% to 21%, hurt revenues at the same time that administration spending increased dramatically. And then the pandemic hit.

Under Trump, the deficit rose 5.2%. The only presidents to raise it faster in their terms were George W. Bush, under whom the deficit rose 11.7% as he cut taxes and started two wars, and Abraham Lincoln, under whom it rose 9.4% as he paid for the Civil War.

The Democrats are treating McConnell’s threat to shut down the government as political posturing. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “We expect Congress to act in a timely manner to raise or suspend the debt ceiling, as they did three times on a broad bipartisan basis during the last administration,” and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) tweeted: “We are not going to have a ‘big fight’ over the debt ceiling. We are just going to handle our business like grownups.” Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) added: “We don’t bargain over the debt ceiling. We just do our jobs. And if you choose not to do your job, then you answer for the consequences.”

The takeaway from today is that . . .

Continue reading for the conclusion — and take a look at the notes, particularly the video clip of Liz Cheney.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2021 at 10:16 am

Setting aside the iKon OG-1: Too fierce for me

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Even though I compensated for Martin de Candre’s drying effect by using Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel in the lather, it was a pleasure to return this morning to a shaving soap that takes care of one’s skin all on its own — in this case, Declaration Grooming’s Milksteak formula, specifically Cuir et Épices. The Green Ray brush made a magnificent lather, and I then very carefully set to work with my iKon OG-1. For all my care, I still got a fearsome nick on my chin — a cut, really — and decided that since I had many comfortable razors (and by “comfort,” I mean “feels good on the face,” which includes “non-threatening” and “not inclined to nick”), there was no reason to continue with the OG-1, so now it has been relegated to my basket of spare parts. I might use the handle for something, for example.

I’ll note that some of my most comfortable (and efficient) razors are from iKon — the 101, the 102, the X3, the stainless open comb and stainless slant — but this one does not belong in that pantheon. Above all, a shave should be enjoyable, something you look forward to, and I’ve noticed that the prospect of shaving with the OG-1 does not carry those feelings.

A splash of Booster Oriental Spice, and the shave was done. Not my best shave, but it certainly had memorable moments.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2021 at 9:26 am

Posted in Shaving

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