Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for September 3rd, 2021

The power of no: how to build strong, healthy boundaries

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Eleanor Morgan writes in the Guardian:

No. A tiny, yet mighty word. To hear it can make us feel childlike; sheepish or in trouble. How does it make you feel to say “no”? Strong? Nervous? Guilty? Do you say it often enough?

In July, when the gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from most of her Olympics appearances, citing emotional exhaustion that was affecting her ability to perform, her “no” was a thunderbolt. Reactions were largely supportive, but opinions were divided along political lines in the US. White, male sports pundits (and, predictable as the arrow of time, Piers Morgan) used the word “selfish”. It was a similar story when the tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open in May, speaking of “long bouts of depression” and “huge waves of anxiety” before her pre- and post-match press conferences.

For both women, after a lifetime of intensive training, in the world’s gaze, the stakes of saying no were huge. But the message was clear: they were removing themselves from systems that might not protect them. A superstar athlete such as Biles pulling away from the most venerated sporting event in the world to prioritise her state of mind felt culturally seismic, yet remarkably simple. Why, if feeling completely overwhelmed, shouldn’t she put others’ expectations second? Why shouldn’t anyone?

“The Olympic games are emotionally exhausting,” says Steve Magness, an Olympic athletics coach and performance scientist. “You spend years building towards a moment and have external pressure coming at you which manifests into unbelievable internal pressure. I don’t think the everyday person understands that.” Magness has spent a decade researching toughness, namely, our “deep misunderstanding” of what it really means. “The easy decision for Biles was to push onwards no matter what. You can always defend ‘trying’. The hard decision was to say no.”

For Magness, the root of strength is being clear what you are capable of. “Toughness is about having self-awareness to figure out where you are, and whether the path forward is the right one to take. Think of the mountain climber, striving for their goal, almost at the peak of the mountain. They still have to maintain clarity about what they’re capable of, as the difficulty isn’t reaching the top of the mountain, it’s coming back down. In that example, toughness is turning around – even if the goal is right there.”

Yet the word is potent for non-athletes, too. As psychological themes become more ingrained in our daily lexicon, “boundaries” has become a buzzy word. But in our interpersonal relationships, defining personal limits can be problematic. “We live in a society that does not glorify choosing yourself. It is not honoured,” says relationship therapist Nedra Tawwab, author of the recently published book Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself. “We are constantly living in others’ headspace and not our own heart space. We’re thinking about what they might say or do; whether they’ll be angry, or whether setting a boundary will even end the relationship.” It is normal to care, “but when your life is impacted by not having healthy boundaries for yourself, we need to pay attention”, says Tawwab.

“As a black woman, Biles has continued to endure so much without taking care of her needs,” says Tawwab, “But there are so many consequences of that ‘strong black woman’ narrative. We need to be more selfish and speak up for our needs. In order for us to be well, we need to change the idea that speaking up makes us angry or unresilient. I am happy to see people coming out and saying: ‘This is how I really feel and I can’t take any more,’ because hopefully it inspires other women to do the same. ”

When there are hierarchies of power – such as in the workplace – saying no can feel particularly difficult. But as the borders between work and the rest of our lives have become increasingly blurred, thanks to more people home-working, it is even more vital. “Research tells us that people who proactively state their boundaries, such as leaving or stopping work on time, taking leave or prioritising non-work-related activities, are much better at managing their mental health,” says Dr Jo Yarker, an occupational psychologist, researcher and senior lecturer at Birkbeck University, London.

Yarker and Tawwab both suggest . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 6:50 pm

Kayfabe Ascendent

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Two very interesting videos:

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 6:13 pm

Tackling Inflammation to Fight Age-Related Ailments

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Jane E. Brody writes in the NY Times:

The quest for a fountain of youth is many centuries old and marred by many false starts and unfulfilled promises. But modern medical science is now gradually closing in on what might realistically enable people to live longer, healthier lives — if they are willing to sacrifice some popular hedonistic pleasures.

Specialists in the biology of aging have identified a rarely recognized yet universal condition that is a major contributor to a wide range of common health-robbing ailments, from heart disease, diabetes and cancer to arthritis, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. That condition is chronic inflammation, a kind of low-grade irritant that can undermine the well-being of virtually every bodily system.

Chronic inflammation occurs to varying degrees with advancing age in all mammals independent of any existing infection. Researchers call it “inflammaging.” As Roma Pahwa of the National Cancer Institute and Dr. Ishwarlal Jialal of California Northstate University put it in a recent report, “Although chronic inflammation progresses slowly, it is the cause of most chronic diseases and presents a major threat to the health and longevity of individuals.”

However, recent studies have identified measures potentially available to everyone that can minimize the potency of chronic inflammation and stymie — and possibly even reverse — its progression. The measures will come as no surprise to people familiar with the healthful advice that has been offered in this column for many years: Adopt a wholesome diet (details to follow), get regular exercise, avoid or reduce excess weight, get adequate quality sleep, minimize stress and don’t smoke.

In essence, chronic inflammation, which can last indefinitely, results from the failure of the immune system to completely shut down its response to an illness, insult or injury. Among the factors that cause it are the body’s failure to eliminate an inflammation-inducing agent like a bacterium or fungus; exposure to a foreign substance, like asbestos or silica dust, that can’t be eliminated; and the presence of an autoimmune condition like rheumatoid arthritis.

As people age, their immune responses become less well regulated, resulting in elevated blood levels of inflammatory substances like C-reactive protein and chemokines, and allowing inflammatory agents like interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-a (TNF-alpha) to persist in body tissues.

The drug metformin, commonly used to treat Type 2 diabetes, is known to have an anti-inflammatory effect and will be tested for its ability to delay the development of age-related diseases in a forthcoming trial called TAME, the acronym for Targeting Aging with Metformin.

Another consequence of aging is the accumulation of so-called senescent cells, normal cells that stop dividing, contribute to tissue aging and secrete substances like cytokines that induce inflammation. Elimination of senescent cells can counter chronic inflammation, said Steven N. Austad, director of aging studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. A combination of two drugs, dasatinib and quercetin, was shown in a Mayo Clinic study in obese mice to remove senescent cells and permit cell growth to resume in the brain. The findings were reported in January in Cell Metabolism.

But consumers don’t have to wait for the results of drug studies in people to take steps that can ward off chronic inflammation and the age-related ailments that it may contribute to or cause. Many practical measures known to counter chronic inflammation can be safely adopted now.

Let’s start with what to eat and the foods to avoid eating. What follows will likely sound familiar to aficionados of a Mediterranean-style diet: a plant-based diet focused on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and cold-water fish and plants like soybeans and flax seeds that contain omega-3 fatty acids.

A Mediterranean-style diet is rich in micronutrients like magnesium, vitamin E and selenium that have anti-inflammatory effects, and its high-fiber content fosters lower levels of two potent inflammatory substances, IL-6 and TNF-alpha.

Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, strongly recommends limiting or eliminating consumption of foods known to have a pro-inflammatory effect. These include all refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice and pastries; sugar-sweetened beverages; deep-fried foods; and red meat and processed meats. They are the very same foods with well-established links to obesity (itself a risk factor for inflammation), heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

In their stead, Dr. Hu recommends frequent consumption of foods known to have an anti-inflammatory effect. They include green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and collards; fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines; fruits like strawberries, blueberries, apples, grapes, oranges and cherries; nuts like almonds and walnuts; and olive oil. The recommended plant foods contain natural antioxidants and polyphenols, and the fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, all of which counter inflammation.

Coffee and tea also contain protective polyphenols, among other anti-inflammatory compounds.

The bottom line: the less processed your diet, the better.

At the same time, don’t . . .

Continue reading. And there’s no paywall on this one. It’s a gift article.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 4:56 pm

A shoebill’s greeting

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3 September 2021 at 4:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

3 Perplexing Physics Problems (3PPP)

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Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science, Video

Medical Students Practice Pelvic Exams on Anesthetized Women Without Their Consent

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I find this shocking, and I hope there are lawsuits to come.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 2:44 pm

The fungal mind: on the evidence for mushroom intelligence

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Fleecy milk-cap fungus (Lactifluus / Lactarius vellereus) on the forest floor in beech woodland in autumn, France, November

Nicholas P Money, professor of biology and Western Program director at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, whose latest book is Nature Fast and Nature Slow: How Life Works from Fractions of a Second to Billions of Years (2021), writes in Aeon:

Mushrooms and other kinds of fungi are often associated with witchcraft and are the subjects of longstanding superstitions. Witches dance inside fairy rings of mushrooms according to German folklore, while a French fable warns that anyone foolish enough to step inside these ‘sorcerer’s rings’ will be cursed by enormous toads with bulging eyes. These impressions come from the poisonous and psychoactive peculiarities of some species, as well as the overnight appearance of toadstool ring-formations.

Given the magical reputation of the fungi, claiming that they might be conscious is dangerous territory for a credentialled scientist. But in recent years, a body of remarkable experiments have shown that fungi operate as individuals, engage in decision-making, are capable of learning, and possess short-term memory. These findings highlight the spectacular sensitivity of such ‘simple’ organisms, and situate the human version of the mind within a spectrum of consciousness that might well span the entire natural world.

Before we explore the evidence for fungal intelligence, we need to consider the slippery vocabulary of cognitive science. Consciousness implies awareness, evidence of which might be expressed in an organism’s responsiveness or sensitivity to its surroundings. There is an implicit hierarchy here, with consciousness present in a smaller subset of species, while sensitivity applies to every living thing. Until recently, most philosophers and scientists awarded consciousness to big-brained animals and excluded other forms of life from this honour. The problem with this favouritism, as the cognitive psychologist Arthur Reber has pointed out, is that it’s impossible to identify a threshold level of awareness or responsiveness that separates conscious animals from the unconscious. We can escape this dilemma, however, once we allow ourselves to identify different versions of consciousness across a continuum of species, from apes to amoebas. That’s not to imply that all organisms possess rich emotional lives and are capable of thinking, although fungi do appear to express the biological rudiments of these faculties.

Just what are mushrooms? It turns out that this question doesn’t have a simple answer. Mushrooms are the reproductive organs produced by fungi that spend most of their lives below ground in the form of microscopic filaments called hyphae. These hyphae, in turn, branch to form colonies called mycelia. Mycelia spread out in three dimensions within soil and leaf litter, absorbing water and feeding on roots, wood, and the bodies of dead insects and other animals. Each of the hyphae in a mycelium is a tube filled with pressurised fluid, and extends at its tip. The materials that power this elongation are conveyed in little packages called vesicles, whose motion is guided along an interior system of rails by proteins that operate as motors. The speed and direction of hyphal extension, as well as the positions of branch formation, are determined by patterns of vesicle delivery. This growth mechanism responds, second by second, to changes in temperature, water availability, and other opportunities and hardships imposed by the surrounding environment.

Hyphae can detect ridges on surfaces, grow around obstacles, and deploy a patch-and-repair system if they’re damaged. These actions draw upon an array of protein sensors and signalling pathways that link the external physical or chemical inputs to cellular response. The electrical activity of the cell is also sensitive to changes in the environment. Oscillations in the voltage across the hyphal membrane have been likened to nerve impulses in animals, but their function in fungi is poorly understood. Hyphae react to confinement too, altering their growth rate, becoming narrower and branching less frequently. The fungus adapts to the texture of the soil and the anatomy of plant and animal tissues as it pushes ahead and forages for food. It’s not thinking in the sense that a brained animal thinks – but the fundamental mechanisms that allow a hypha to process information are the same as those at work in our bodies.

We tend to associate consciousness and intelligence with the appearance of wilfulness or intentionality – that is, decision-making that results in a particular behavioural outcome. Whether or not humans have free will, we take actions that seem wilful: she finished her coffee, whereas her friend left her cup half full. Fungi express simpler versions of individualistic behaviour all the time. Patterns of branch formation are a good example of their seemingly idiosyncratic nature. Every young fungal colony assumes a unique shape, because the precise timing and positions of branch emergence from a hypha vary. This variation isn’t due to genetic differences, since identical clones from a single parent fungus still create colonies with unique shapes. Although the overall form is highly predictable, its detailed geometry is usually irreproducible. Each mycelium is like a snowflake, with a shape that arises at one place and time in the Universe.

Fungi also show evidence of learning and memory. Working with fungi isolated from grassland soil, German mycologists measured the effect of temperature changes on the growth of mycelia. When heated up quickly for a few hours, the mycelia stopped growing. When the temperature was reduced again, they bounced back from the episode by forming a series of smaller colonies from different spots across the original mycelium.

Meanwhile, a different set of mycelia were exposed to a mild temperature stress before the application of a more severe temperature shock. Colonies that had been ‘primed’ in this way resumed normal growth very swiftly after the severe stress, and continued their smooth expansion, rather than recovering here and there in the form of smaller colonies. This outcome suggests that they . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The article concludes:

. . . Fungal expressions of consciousness are certainly very simple. But they do align with an emerging consensus that, while the human mind might be particular in its refinements, it’s typical in its cellular mechanisms. Experiments on fungal consciousness are exciting for mycologists because they’ve made space for the study of behaviour within the broader field of research on the biology of fungi. Those who study animal behaviour do so without reference to the molecular interactions of their muscles; likewise, mycologists can learn a great deal about fungi simply by paying closer attention to what they do. As crucial players in the ecology of the planet, these fascinating organisms deserve our full attention as genuine partners in sustaining a functional biosphere.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 2:38 pm

Lina Khan Leads the Government’s New Attempt to Break Up Facebook

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Today’s issue about the Federal Trade Commission’s new case to break up Facebook, which it filed two weeks ago after the judge dismissed its first complaint in January. There are a number of significant political and legal differences between this case and the last one, but the biggest one is that this complaint was issued under new Chair Lina Khan. The Facebook case truly belongs to her.


  • ShortageWatch: What broken McDonald’s ice cream machines tell us about the economy.
  • Lessons from Afghanistan: How defense contractors are trying to trick Congress, again.
  • How you can help the antitrust enforcers at the Federal Trade Commission crack down on unfair practices in the economy.
  • The U.S. railroad regulator sort of blocks a merger.
  • Is there an electronic signature cartel?

After last week’s piece on McKinsey and Afghanistan, I got invited onto TheHill TV’s Rising to debate the withdrawal with former Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah. It got pretty heated. I’d like to say we disagreed without being disagreeable, but that wouldn’t be true. You can watch it here.

Lina Khan Goes for Facebook’s Throat

The Biden administration has been aggressive rhetorically on monopoly power, issuing an executive order and appointing important thinkers like Tim Wu and Lina Khan to key posts. But so far, the moves, while significant, have been mostly bureaucratic jujitsumodest stabs at private equity, or new policy that has not yet had time for enforcement. Last week, however, Biden’s Federal Trade Commission, led by Khan, lowered the boom and asked a judge to break up Facebook.

This is not the first time the FTC has asked for a break-up. It filed a request to take Facebook to court for antitrust violations last January, under Trump FTC Chair Joe Simons. The first complaint went through the anti-competitive acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram, and then Facebook’s cutting off of competitors like Vine from its platform, alleging these were illegal attempts to maintain its monopoly. It had a bunch of fun quotes, what are known as ‘hot docs,’ when executives illustrated obvious anti-competitive intent over email, like Zuckerberg writing in 2008 that “it is better to buy than compete,” or Sheryl Sandberg emailing Zuckerberg with the phrase “This makes me want instagram more” after receiving a report that Instagram was taking market share.

In June, however, the judge, Obama appointed James Boasberg, tossed the first complaint.

The point of a complaint is to get to trial, which means that the agency has to describe how Facebook broke the law. After filing a motion to dismiss, if the judge says ‘yeah that’s a plausible violation of law,’ there’s a trial. If not, the judge dismisses the complaint. Boasberg said that even if everything alleged by the FTC were true, nothing described was actually illegal. So the commission, he said, had to try again.

The new complaint is 80 pages, and is an attempt to answer the judge’s objections. The underlying legal claims are the same as they were the first time – Facebook engaged in predatory schemes and illegal mergers to maintain its monopoly. In this new complaint, the FTC answers the judge and shows more clearly where lawbreaking occurred.

But the FTC far beyond legal reformulations, and put Lina Khan’s stamp onto the case. The key shift is in tone. Take the press release announcing the complaint. Here’s the headline for the press release for the old complaint in January: FTC Sues Facebook for Illegal Monopolization.

That’s bureaucratic. Staid. It’s a memo-speak, a plain omelette.

Here’s the new press release headline: FTC Alleges Facebook Resorted to Illegal Buy-or-Bury Scheme to Crush Competition After String of Failed Attempts to Innovate.

The new tone is aggressive, confident, almost brash. The FTC enforcement staff is walking tall, snapping necks and cashing checks. The new commission wants to drive a Range Rover, bro.

The Case Turns Partisan

Politically, this complaint reveals the schism among conservatives, and the challenge that creates for Khan. Despite conservative rhetoric about big tech, the Republicans on the commission refused to support the complaint. The vote among the five commissioners at the Federal Trade Commission was 3-2, as both Republican Commissioners, Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson, voted against bringing it. Republican opposition is not a result of anything Khan did; when Trump’s FTC brought the case, that vote was also 3-2; Phillips and Wilson voted against that earlier complaint, and Trump’s Chair had to rely on the two Democrats to get a majority.

This vote, on something so charged for conservatives, shows how much political capital Phillips and Wilson are willing to use to both protect big tech and to make antitrust partisan. They are joined by key leaders on the Republican side, House Judiciary GOP lead Jim Jordan, Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Republican House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy.

Jordan, McMorris Rodgers, and McCarthy are a phalanx of Republican leaders who are working to protect dominant firms. A few months ago, these three released an agenda ostensibly designed to take on big tech; in reality it was designed to ward off more serious legislation to break up big tech. Their basic view, which they noted in press materials, was that “the laws currently on the books can and should be used to break up Big Tech.” It is a self-evidently silly position to assert that antitrust laws are capable of dealing with big tech when their own allies on the commission refuse to vote for such a case. But Jordan et al are hoping conservatives don’t notice that their own FTC members are actually protecting Facebook. (And so far, they haven’t.)

Conservatives did not let Jordan go entirely unscathed, with right-winger Mike Davis revealing the hollowness of this agenda in a widely circulated policy critique. Nevertheless, the pro-monopoly contingent of the GOP is gaining power; at the last committee hearing where Khan testified, one Republican member after another attacked Khan for making the FTC partisan, when in reality, the Republican Commissioners simply vote against bringing cases against dominant firms The Republicans, torn on big tech, do not even support the antitrust case against Facebook originally brought by Trump’s FTC.

How the FTC Will Take Facebook to Trial

The hurdles to overcome in this complaint were not political, however, but . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 2:27 pm

Identity Theft, Credit Reports, and You

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Like the home fire extinguisher sitting in your kitchen closet: you hope never to need it, but it’s extremely useful if you do.

Patrick McKenzie posts at Kalzemeus:

This is outside my usual brief, but one of my hobbies is that I used to ghostwrite letters to credit reporting agencies and banks. It is suddenly relevant after the Equifax breach, so I’m writing down what I know to help folks who might need this in the future.

That’s a pretty weird hobby? (Sidenote hidden here.)

I’m not a lawyer. I am not your lawyer. I no longer have enough free time to write letters for people. But feel free to read the below to help guide your research in dealing with your credit-related problems.

What problems can this advice help with? What can’t it?

Was your data leaked, or possibly leaked, without an account being opened yet? You might have heard your data was included in the Equifax breach or be unsure about that. Someone could, potentially, use that data to open accounts at financial institutions. Someone could also potentially have robbed your home while you were out. You wouldn’t call the police immediately after returning home on the possibly you might have been robbed – you’d do it only if there was actually evidence of a specific crimeYou don’t need to do anything just because your data was leaked or might have been leaked.

I realize some folks find that advice unsatisfying. If you cannot sleep at night without doing anything, direct each of the three credit reporting agencies to put a “freeze” or “hold” on your records. Do not sign up for credit monitoring; it is a great revenue source for credit reporting agencies but almost never a good purchase for consumers. If you want to see what is on your credit report, you’re legally guaranteed three free reports a year (see here); once every 4 months is plenty for most people. You can also get free ones through banks these days; American Express and Capital One, among others, will give them for free as a customer acquisition / retention tool.

Do not use the following advice to correct a problem with an account which is factually yours. If someone has stolen your credit card number and used it to buy things, you should not send letters. Just call your bank; they’ll take care of it. For reasons beyond the scope of this post, that is a really well-understood scenario that banks are very customer-friendly about. The only thing we’re talking about here is accounts / debts which were never yours.

Was an account opened in your name without your consent? Great, you’re in the right place. The rest of this article assumes that you’ve either checked a credit report or been told by a bank that an account exists in your name which you didn’t open. (There exist steps related to the below to help improve one’s situation in the circumstance where your problem is that you’ve not paid debts you legitimately owed, but that problem is out of scope here.)

Understanding the players

There are three big credit reporting agencies (CRAs) in the US: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Their business model is keeping records, organized on a per-person basis, about debts. They sell this information to banks for the banks to use in underwriting processes. They also sell credit scoring, a product which gives the bank a single number (or small set of numbers) to evaluate your creditworthiness. The most common score is FICO, named after Fair, Isaac, And Company (which developed it), but there are several varieties of this product. It’s sort of like Kleenex: Fair Isaac was so successful at owning this space that people call credit scores FICO scores.

A brief note about credit scoring.

The CRAs get data from many, many places, but the ones most immediately relevant to you are financial institutions (I’ll call them “banks”, but there are many that aren’t strictly banks) and non-bank creditors (I’ll call them “debt collectors”, since that is the majority case, even though e.g. AT&T can be a creditor which reports to a CRA).

You never have to deal directly with FICO; they provide math which either a CRA or a bank does. You only care about the data sources backing that math, which are at the CRAs, and the actual accounts underlying the data, which are maintained by banks.

The most interesting items on your credit reports are called tradelines in the industry. The exact data included depends on the type of underlying account / fact, the reporter, and how fragmentary the data is (it is often very incomplete), but in rough overview it is when the account was opened, a monthly balance history, and a monthly report of what state the account was in (paying as agreed, late by 30 days, late by 60 days, defaulted, etc).

A CRA can’t “close an account.” A bank maintains an account. A CRA only has a tradeline. The action you want is them to correct and/or delete that tradeline.

CRAs do not collect debts. Debt collectors (or original creditors, or lawyers hired by either of the two) collect debts. The interplay between debt collectors and CRAs is subtle: because many banks (and insurance companies, and landlords, and other institutions) make decisions partially based on credit scores, debt collectors can de-facto threaten to harm your future interests by reporting debts against you to the CRA in the present.

Never pay a penny of a debt which isn’t yours. Paying waives your legal rights, because . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 2:06 pm

Weird logic (I’m looking at you, Texas)

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A post on Facebook:

So the state can mandate that a 14-year-old girl carry the pregnancy forced upon her by a rapist to term and endure delivery at her age, BUT the state CANNOT mandate that same girl wear a mask at school, because that’s too great a burden for the state to impose.  WHAT?!

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 2:00 pm

What Might Have Been at Tora Bora

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Peggy Noonan writes on her website:

A missed opportunity to get bin Laden set the stage for 20 years of frustrating, painful war in Afghanistan.
The Wall Street Journal: September 1, 2021

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, / The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”
— Maud Muller, by John Greenleaf Whittier

I keep thinking of what happened at Tora Bora. What a richly consequential screw-up it was, and how different the coming years might have been, the whole adventure might have been, if we’d gotten it right.

From the 2009 Senate Foreign Relations Committee report “Tora Bora Revisited: How We Failed to Get bin Laden and Why It Matters Today”:

On October 7, 2001, U.S. aircraft began bombing the training bases and strongholds of Al Qaeda and the ruling Taliban across Afghanistan. The leaders who sent murderers to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon less than a month earlier and the rogue government that provided them sanctuary were running for their lives. President George W. Bush’s expression of America’s desire to get Osama bin Laden ‘dead or alive’ seemed about to come true.

The war was to be swift and deadly, with clear objectives: defeat the Taliban, destroy al Qaeda and kill or capture its leader, Osama bin Laden. Already the Taliban had been swept from power, al Qaeda ousted from its havens. American deaths had been kept to a minimum.

But where was bin Laden? By early December 2001 his world “had shrunk to a complex of caves and tunnels carved into a mountainous section” of eastern Afghanistan, Tora Bora. For weeks U.S. aircraft pounded him and his men with as many as 100 strikes a day. “One 15,000-pound bomb, so huge it had to be rolled out the back of a C-130 cargo plane, shook the mountains for miles.”

American commandos were on the scene, fewer than 100, but everyone knew more troops were coming. Bin Laden expected to die. He wrote his last will and testament on Dec. 14.

But calls for reinforcement to launch an assault were rejected, as were calls to block the mountain paths into Pakistan, which bin Laden could use as escape routes. “The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army, was kept on the sidelines.”

Sometime around Dec. 16, bin Laden and his bodyguards made their way out, on foot and horseback, and disappeared into Pakistan’s unregulated tribal area.

How could this have happened? The report puts responsibility on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top commander, Gen. Tommy Franks. Both supported a small-footprint war strategy, and it was a bad political moment for a big bloody fight: Afghanistan’s new president, Hamid Karzai, was about to be inaugurated. “We didn’t want to have U.S. forces fighting before Karzai was in power,” Gen. Franks’s deputy told the committee. “We wanted to create a stable country and that was more important than going after bin Laden at the time.” Washington seemed to want Afghan forces to do the job, but they couldn’t. They didn’t have the capability or fervor.

Gen. Franks took to saying the intelligence was “inconclusive.” They couldn’t be sure Osama was there. But he was there.

Central Intelligence Agency and Delta Force commanders who’d spent weeks at Tora Bora were certain he was there. Afghan villagers who sold food to al Qaeda said he was there. A CIA operative who picked up a radio from a dead al Qaeda fighter found himself with a clear channel into the group’s communications. “Bin Laden’s voice was often picked up.” The official history of the U.S. Special Operations Command determined he was there: “All source reporting corroborated his presence on several days from 9-14 December.”

Bin Laden himself said he was there, in an audiotape released in February 2003. He boasted of surviving the bombardment. “Warplanes continued to fly over us day and night,” he said. “Planes poured their lava on us.”

There were enough U.S. troops in or near Afghanistan to get him, the report said. It would have been a dangerous fight on treacherous terrain in hostile territory. There would have been casualties, maybe a lot. But commanders on the scene said the reward was worth the risk.

In Washington the White House was already turning its attention to Iraq. Late in November, after the fall of Kabul, President George W. Bush asked Rumsfeld about Iraq war plans. Rumsfeld ordered up an assessment. Gen. Franks was working on air support for Afghan units being assembled to push into the mountains around Tora Bora. Now he was told an Iraq plan would have to be drawn up. The report noted that for critics of the Bush administration, “the shift in focus just as Franks and his senior aides were literally working on plans for the attacks on Tora Bora represents a dramatic turning point that allowed a sustained victory in Afghanistan to slip through our fingers.”

It changed the course of the war in Afghanistan. The most wanted man in the world, the reason those poor souls jumped from the high floors of the twin towers, the man whose capture was an integral part of the point and mission of the war was allowed to . . . disappear. The American presence descended into a muddle of shifting strategies, unclear purpose and annual reviews. The guiding military wisdom in Washington—that too many troops might stir up anti-American sentiment and resistance—was defied by the facts of Tora Bora. The unwillingness to be supple, respond to circumstances and deploy the troops to get bin Laden “paved the way for exactly what we hoped to avoid—a protracted insurgency.”

Why didn’t Washington move and get him? Maybe it was simply a mistake—“the fog of war.” Maybe leaders were distracted by Iraq. Maybe it was a lack of imagination: They didn’t know what it would mean to people, their own people, to get the bastard. And maybe this: Maybe they consciously or unconsciously knew that if they got the guy who did 9/11, killed him or brought him to justice, that would leave a lot of Americans satisfied that justice had been done. That might take some steam out of the Iraq push. Maybe they concluded it would be better not to get him, or not right away . . .

Bin Laden was found almost 10 years later, in May 2011, and killed in a daring operation ordered by Barack Obama, who was loudly, justly lauded. He made the decision against the counsel of Vice President Joe Biden.

But what if we’d gotten Tora Bora right?  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 1:45 pm

They saw a YouTube video. Then they got Tourette’s

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Grace Browne writes in Wired:

Kirsten Müller-Vahl had a major mystery on her hands. It was June 2019 and Müller-Vahl, a psychiatrist at Hannover Medical School in Germany and head of its Tourette’s outpatient department, was being inundated by patients with tics unlike anything she had seen before. 

Not only were the tics complex in nature, involving several muscle groups, even more bizarrely the symptoms of each patient bore a striking resemblance to one another. “The symptoms were identical. Not only similar, but identical,” she says. Although all had been formally diagnosed with Tourette’s by other physicians, Müller-Vahl, who has been working with patients with Tourette’s syndrome for 25 years, was certain it was something else entirely. Then a student came forward who knew where she had seen those tics before. 

All the patients were displaying the same tic-like behaviours as the star of a popular YouTube channel. Gewitter im Kopf (meaning ‘thunderstorm in the head’) documents the life of Jan Zimmermann, a 23-year-old from Germany with Tourette’s. The channel’s raison d’etre is to speak openly and humorously about Zimmerman’s disorder, and it has proven to be a hit amassing more than two million subscribers in two years.  

Some of Zimmerman’s tics are specific. He can be often be seen saying the phrases “Fliegende Haie” (flying sharks), “Heil Hitler”, “Du bist häßlich” (you are ugly) and “pommes” (chips). Other tics include smashing eggs, and throwing pens at school. 

The patients that visited Müller-Vahl’s clinic were pretty much mimicking Zimmerman’s tics. Many also were referring to their condition as Gisela, the YouTuber’s nickname for his condition. In total, about fifty patients presented with symptoms that were similar to those of Zimmerman’s to her clinic. Many patients readily admitted to having watched his videos. Zimmerman did not respond to a request for comment. 

Although the spectrum of the symptoms of Tourette’s is wide, similar symptoms tend to crop up over and over, Müller-Vahl says. Classic tics are usually simple, short, abrupt; mainly located in the eyes or in the face or the head, such as blinking, jerking and shrugging. The syndrome typically manifests at around six years old, and much more often in boys – an average of three to four boys to one girl. What springs to mind when you picture Tourette’s – an uncontrollable urge to utter obscenities in public – is actually rare, she says. 


But if it wasn’t Tourette’s, what was it? According to Müller-Vahl, these patients were actually suffering from something called functional movement disorder, or FMD. This might present like Tourette’s, but where the latter has a neurological basis (although the root cause is not yet known, it is thought to be related to abnormalities in brain regions such as the basal ganglia), the cause of FMD is psychological. In FMD, the hardware is intact, but the software isn’t working properly, whereas with Tourette’s, the software is working just fine, but it’s the hardware that isn’t. People with FMD physically have the ability to control their bodies, but they’ve lost hold of the reins, resulting in involuntary, abnormal behaviours. 

For some patients, all their symptoms disappeared when Müller-Vahl explained that what they had wasn’t Tourette’s. For others, a course of psychotherapy improved their symptoms significantly. Still, the sheer number of patients with the exact same symptoms puzzled Müller-Vahl and her colleagues. 

Mass sociogenic illness – also known as mass psychogenic illness or historically called mass hysteria – spreads like a social virus. But instead of a perceptible viral particle, the pathogen and method of contagion is invisible. Symptoms spread by unconscious social mimicry to vulnerable people, thought to be triggered by emotional distress. (It isn’t included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, although it does bear a keen resemblance to conversion disorder, which entails the “conversion” of emotional distress into physical symptoms.) Historically, mass sociogenic illness affects women more than men. The reason why is unknown, but one hypothesis is that females generally tend to have higher levels of anxiety and depression, which could make them more susceptible to the illness.

Outbreaks of mass sociogenic illness are dotted throughout history. Perhaps the most famous began in October 2011, in Le Roy, a tiny town in upstate New York, when . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more — and the prognosis that we’ll continue to see such outbreaks.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 10:57 am

Achilles and the Game Changer

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The base of Simpson’s Emperor (here, the 3 Super), like the brushes in the two previous posts, ends in a knob, but the top is different — the Emperor sets the knot into a kind of modified Persian Jar top shape, a shape that use for quite a few of their brushes (though not all — the Milk Churn doesn’t share the shape, for example). The knot here is of a generous size, and it did a good job with Van Yulay’s Achilles shaving soap, a soap that is getting very low now.

This RazoRock Game Changer is the original, the .68-P, and it delivers a comfortable and efficient shave. After a final rinse and dry, a splash of Achilles aftershave finished the job and brightened the day.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 9:50 am

Posted in Shaving

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