Later On

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

Archive for November 2nd, 2021

Cosmic rays and computers

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Written by Leisureguy

2 November 2021 at 8:11 pm

Scientists: don’t feed the doubt machine

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Cecília Tomori, an anthropologist and public-health scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, writes in Nature:

Researchers at the COP26 climate talks this month know well how doubt can be weaponized to delay action — something many COVID-19 scientists have taken too long to appreciate. They point out problematic methods, poor study design and unjustified claims, but their efforts would be much more effective if they first considered a larger strategy: how ‘sciency-ness’ is used to distract from reality and hinder effective policy.

Much of my own work focuses on how industry exploits scientific credentials to bolster false claims that undermine breastfeeding to increase sales of formula milk and, ultimately, damage health. The strategies and patterns recur across industries: they have been documented in tobacco, fossil fuels, pharmaceuticals, food, and more. This influence is so powerful that public-health researchers consider it a distinct area of study: ‘commercial determinants of health’.

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been saddened at how science has been hijacked. Arguments around herd immunity exemplify this: proponents claimed that acquiring immunity by infection was fine for most people and also that communities were well on their way to achieving herd immunity. The messages downplayed dangers for those with high risks of exposure or severe illness. Technical arguments over infection rates silently cemented the assumption that disabled or immunocompromised people did not merit collective protective action; nor did the workers whose jobs required dangerous public contact.

Although many scientific champions did provide appropriate context, I watched several respected colleagues step into debates on when, or if, society would reach herd immunity without realizing that the discussion was not simply a scientific debate. Their too-narrow focus unintentionally helped to promote controversy and doubt, and that ultimately impeded an effective public-health response. The same happened around mask use, vaccination and school policies. This helped to shift public opinion on which public-health measures were ‘acceptable’: the fewer the better.

The field of agnotology (the study of deliberate spreading of confusion) shows how ignorance and doubt can be purposefully manufactured. Famous scholars include David Michaels, Marion Nestle and Naomi Oreskes. In September, Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, a non-profit organization based in Arlington, Virginia, quoted environmentalist Bill McKibben on Twitter in regard to climate change: “We spent a long time thinking we were engaged in an argument about data and reason …. But now we realize it’s a fight over money and power.” Hayhoe elaborated: “‘Objections’ were always, entirely, professionally, and verrrry cleverly couched in scientific terms. They [industry] focused their lasers on the science and like cats we followed their pointer and their lead.” Some elements of manufactured doubt in this pandemic might seem fuzzier, especially when vested interests are not always clear. Nonetheless, the same lessons apply.

ow can researchers keep from being distracted like cats? By gaining a better understanding of how strategies are deployed to manufacture doubt and ignorance.

First, researchers must learn to identify authors of research, and their relationships with industry and with non-profit groups that have specialized agendas. How the tobacco industry paid scientists and physicians to serve as advisers and consultants to undermine the body of evidence pointing to the harms of tobacco is extensively documented. More recent examples abound. For instance, the non-profit International Life Sciences Institute, based in Washington DC and funded by leading companies in the food and chemical industries, promotes doubt about science that links ultraprocessed foods with health concerns, and provides experts to promote personal responsibility rather than regulations on junk food in policies to combat obesity.

Second, scientists should consider what  . . .

Continue reading.

See also: Truth decay: when uncertainty is weaponized

and Beware: transparency rule is a Trojan horse

Written by Leisureguy

2 November 2021 at 6:07 pm

Could psychological synchronization produce mass psychosis/delusion/hysteria?

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For example, consider the Satanic Panic of the 1980s — people wildly deluded, with serious damage done to many lives. I remember this well. 

And now there’s this: “QAnon supporters gather in downtown Dallas expecting JFK Jr. to reappear.” The report doesn’t say, but I assume they thought that Elvis would also appear, perhaps with Amelia Earhart. 

It’s easy to make fun of these people because they are so deluded, but mass hysteria/psychosis does happen, and it can sweep through a society like a plague. We see it now in the delusion that Donald Trump won the presidential election because there were so much fraud in the voting, although no one can actually find any. 

I was watching this video, when it struck me that there is a weird kid of psychological synchronization that occurs, with the same push-pull to align beliefs/delusions, acting psychologically much like gravity  does on moons and mechanical forces on pendula.

Written by Leisureguy

2 November 2021 at 5:34 pm

Dr. Aaron T. Beck, Developer of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Dies at 100

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Rest in Peace, Dr. Beck. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) was the first therapy actually put to the test, and it turned out to work as well as medication for most depression. Benedict Carey reports in the NY Times:

Dr. Aaron T. Beck, whose brand of pragmatic, thought-monitoring psychotherapy became the centerpiece of a scientific transformation in the treatment of depression, anxiety and many related mental disorders, died on Monday at his home in Philadelphia. He was 100.

His death was confirmed by Alex Shortall, an executive assistant at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., outside Philadelphia. Dr. Beck’s daughter Dr. Judith Beck is its president.

Dr. Beck was a young psychiatrist trained in Freudian analysis when, in the late 1950s, he began prompting patients to focus on distortions in their day-to-day thinking, rather than on conflicts buried in childhood, as therapists typically did. He discovered that many people generated what he called “automatic thoughts,” unexamined assumptions like “I’m just unlucky in love” or “I’ve always been socially inept,” which can give rise to self-criticism, despair and self-defeating attempts to compensate, like promiscuity or heavy drinking.

Dr. Beck found that he could undermine those assumptions by prompting people to test them out in the world — say, by socializing without alcohol to observe what happens — and to gather countervailing evidence from their own experience, like memories of healthy relationships. Practicing these techniques, in therapy sessions and in homework exercises, fostered an internal dialogue that gradually improved people’s mood, he showed.

Dr. Beck’s work, along with that of Albert Ellis, a psychologist working independently, provided the architecture for what is known as cognitive behavior therapy, or C.B.T. Over the past several decades, C.B.T. has become by far the world’s most extensively studied form of psychotherapy. In England, it forms the basis for a nationwide treatment program offering a number of related talk therapies.

“There is more to the surface than meets the eye,” Dr. Beck was fond of saying.

The influence of C.B.T. on the treatment of mental disorders is hard to exaggerate. Researchers have adapted the approach — originally developed for depression — to manage panic attacks, addictions, eating disorders, social anxiety, insomnia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Therapists teach a variation to help parents manage children’s outbursts at home, and some have used it, in combination with medication, to manage the delusions and hallucinations of schizophrenia. Sports psychologists have made use of the principles for performance anxiety.

Dr. Beck, who spent his career at the University of Pennsylvania, led the way.

“One by one, he took each condition in psychiatry and laid out his thinking about how it should be addressed — and others followed up,” said David Clark, a professor of psychology at Oxford University, who designed and helped institute England’s talk therapy program. “I’m not sure that that’s ever been done, in quite that way.”

Steven Hollon, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University, said of Dr. Beck: “He took a hundred years of dogma, found that it didn’t hold up, and invented something brief, lasting, and effective to put in its place. He basically saved psychotherapy from itself.” . . .

Continue reading.

From the list of books I find myself repeatedly recommending:

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, by David Burns, MD, is based on the principles of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and CBT has been proven to work. The preface mentions several studies on the book’s effectiveness, and the book by itself proved to be more effective in treating depression than medication by itself; the book used with a CBT-trained therapist is even better. If you feel life is pointless and a burden, this book may help. Also check out the companion book, The Feeling Good Handbook.

Written by Leisureguy

2 November 2021 at 3:06 pm

Screen credit sequence from Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch”

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Written by Leisureguy

2 November 2021 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Video

The Extractive Circuit: Capitalism comes for *you*

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Ajay Singh Chaudhary writes in The Baffler:

THE MACHINERY—THE ACTUAL FORM AND FUNCTION—of twenty-first-century capitalism is an extractive circuit which quite literally crisscrosses the world. Its global value chains stretch through physical infrastructure and “frictionless” financial flows at the speed allowed by fossil fuels; telecommunications;  and geophysical, technological, psychosocial, and bodily limits and “optimizations.” It connects economically and ecologically dispossessed agricultural communities in the Global South with regimes of hyperwork in the Global North; rare earth “sacrifice zones” with refugees; migrant labor with social reproduction; ocean acidification and atmospheric carbon with profitable opportunity. It has required the transformation of states; it has ripped through biomes and through flesh. Capital often appears and is treated as a historical abstraction; this is doubly true of globalized, financialized capital. The extractive circuit is the leaden reality of a global human ecological niche organized for maximal profitability—no matter how difficult or costly to maintain. Its realities underscore the generalization of a colonial social relation in socioecological terms, even as older modes of imperialism and neocolonialism are hardly swept aside. Its speed, frenzy, coercion, and brutality reach into the very heart of the imperial metropole, far beyond where such relations were already present. Feelings of exhaustion—depression, desperation, fatigue, exasperation—course through its wirings, neurons, biochemicals, and sinews.

At every “node” along such a circuit, “inputs”—ecological, political, social, individual—are extracted and “exhausted.” The circuit, like capital, crosses boundaries without entirely obliterating them, and, similarly, connects a vast potential political subject across disparate lines—Global North and South, gender, class, race, nationality, religion, and sexuality. The extractive circuit is the socioecological portrait of capitalism historically and its transformations to maintain profitability in the face of immanent headwinds, like the long economic downturn and ecological limits themselves.

Just as Marx once invited us to look behind the factory door—above which was inscribed “No admittance except on business”—to understand the way in which a nascent industrial capitalism was creating value, we need to “unbox” the extractive circuit, catalog its parts, and pry past a few bezels if we want to see Actually Existing Capitalism today.

The Rest is Nodes

Consider the Philippines. Over the past several decades, the Filipino economy has become increasingly dependent on the export of low-cost labor, largely along gendered lines, in the form of care-workers to North America and Europe (mostly women), and extremely low-cost manual laborers to the Gulf states (mostly men). Remittances now make up ten percent (or more) of the annual GDP of the Philippines.

In the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia being the case par excellence, migrant workforces are employed in sometimes slave-like conditions to do much of the country’s basic labor, both “unskilled” and “skilled.” (As much as 83 percent of the Saudi Arabia workforce is migrant according to the IMF.) Yet, for all its repressiveness through arms of direct coercion like its notorious morality police, Saudi Arabia is a remarkably weak state. This imported workforce is vital for the social and political maintenance of that weak state, which in turn serves a key function in the globalized order not only as an oil producer but, crucially, as a control on the world’s oil spigot. Far from the Malthusian fears of “peak oil,” oil is in fact plentiful in the world, in the Gulf region and elsewhere, and Saudi Arabia is a key player in limiting its production to control prices. As paths for economic advancement narrow in places like the Philippines and as industries such as fishing are decimated by changing ocean temperature, acidification, coral bleaching, and other cumulative effects of global climate change, conditions intensify this political economic shift to migration. In turn such shifts drive profitable increases in energy demand, low-cost labor, through dispossession and even social and ecological crises themselves. As Melissa Walker observed of the “disposable Third World woman,” Filipino and Southeast Asian labor more broadly is viewed—in terms of dislocation and distance but also cultural imagination—as docile and pliant. In the Gulf, male Asian workers are considered additionally useful as “less politically menacing” than local and regional alternatives. Ecological resources become sources of social value and “human capital” is naturalized as closely as possible to the supposed infinite free “gifts of nature.”

Now imagine a Global North worker, across the globe, likely “middle class.” Probably white but not necessarily so. Place her in California—an increasingly unsuitable geography for mass human habitation. Say she’s white collar—perhaps an office assistant, accountant, or coder. In the 1970s her labor would likely have been lower in waged-hours than it is today, and it would have included, in the famous phrase of Arlie Hochschild, a “second shift” of unwaged “free” domestic labor. Cooking, cleaning, care work: the often “invisible” aspects of social reproduction found in the home. Today, our imaginary Californian works longer hours, in a “productively optimized” labor process, still for a lower wage than a male counterpart, even as part of her “second shift” is now itself displaced onto migrant labor, including everything from general health care work to at-home care and domestic work to independent contract labor for household maintenance, which can range from food preparation and delivery to, in concentrated urban centers, laundry and far beyond. The extractive circuit produces prodigious amounts of such “disposable” people.

This move toward “outsourcing” domestic labor was already occurring in much earlier periods (the 1960s, 1950s, and earlier), but in the United States that was, at the time, shifted instead to differently racialized gendered labor; a largely black, racialized caste system underwrote white middle class “normalcy” in the United States. Such a caste system unquestionably . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 November 2021 at 2:17 pm

Another great female jazz vocalist: Claire Austin

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I did not know of Eva Cassidy. For me, Claire Austin was the great voice that should have more recognition. She was a walk-on with Turk Murphy’s Jazz Band in San Francisco — visited the club, as if she could sing a number, and blew them away. Here is one of my favorites with that band: “Oh, Daddy” (Blast this one out.)

Details: Oh Daddy; Claire Austin with Turk Murphy’s Jazz Band
Good Time Jazz No.69 (LK-318)
Claire Austin(voc); Turk Murphy(tb); Bob Helm(cl); Wally Rose(p); Dick Lammi(bj); Bob Short(tu) Los Angeles, April 1 or 11, 1952

And let’s listen to another. Rec LA April 2nd 1954 – Claire Austin voc, Kid Ory tbn, Don Ewell pno, Ed Garland sbs, Minor Hall dms.

One more? Okay. (And there are a lot more on YouTube.)

They’re all good, but I’m partial to Turk Murphy’s Jazz Band (the house band at Earthquake McGoon’s Saloon in San Francisco). 

Written by Leisureguy

2 November 2021 at 1:57 pm

Posted in Iran, Music, Video

The Tragedy of Eva Cassidy

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Ted Gioia writes:

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Eva Cassidy’s death at age 33, and the passing of time hardly softens the blow. True, other music stars also die young, but they almost always enjoy a taste of fame and fortune before they leave us—and Cassidy had none of that. Fans celebrate her posthumous renown and record sales, but her actual life brought her mostly rejection, financial struggles, and illness.

The biggest concert of her career took place in front of a tiny audience. Her breakout music video was made on a handheld camcorder. Her most important record was self-financed. All the accolades came after her death on November 2, 1996.

Eva Cassidy would eventually sell more than ten million records, and dominate the charts with three albums and a hit single. But during most of her life, Cassidy’s music didn’t even pay the rent, and she worked for fourteen years at Behnke Nurseries in Largo Maryland—where she watered plants, transplanted seedlings, unloaded huge bales of peat moss or truckloads of trees, and undertook a range of other greenhouse responsibilities.  

Cassidy was only 5 foot 2 inches, but she did physically arduous work day after day, sometimes the only woman on a crew of men. It was dirty, tiring labor, and she kept it up as long as she could. But then the medical problems started.

And that also differentiates Eva Cassidy from so many other music stars who died young. In those cases, even as we mourn, we recognize that their hard and fast lifestyles contributed, more often than not, to their passing. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” Neil Young once sang—and it’s hardly a coincidence that Kurt Cobain quoted that very line in his suicide note. But that wasn’t true of Cassidy. She died of melanoma.

It’s a miracle that her beloved album Live at Blues Alley was even recorded. She had to cash in a small pension to cover the costs—and with all the other medical expenses, putting that money into a recording must have struck many as foolish. And even after setting up equipment to record her two-day booking at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., technical problems forced her to discard all the tracks from the first night.

So it all came down to one evening, January 3, 1996, when Cassidy showed up for a final chance at a live album—just three days before a huge blizzard shut down the entire city. Cassidy herself was suffering from a cold, and wondered if any of the music would be worth releasing. But at this point, there was no turning back, and she took the stage, ready to sing with all the heart and soul she possessed.

You’ve heard this music, even if you don’t own the album. You may have heard it on the radio or in a playlist. Or you have heard it in movies or TV shows, where it has been licensed—everywhere from Love Actually to Maid in Manhattan. Or you have watched skaters competing with her music in the background in the Olympics. And it shows up in TV commercials, or gets sampled. Cassidy’s admirers are legion nowadays, and the forthcoming release of a 25th anniversary edition of Live at Blues Alley is likely to expand their numbers further.

Sad to say, Cassidy came very close to becoming a star in her lifetime, but it just didn’t happen. One of her admirers was Bruce Lundvall (1935-2015), a very influential person in the music business. Lundvall had run the US division of CBS Records, where . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and on YouTube are more videos of her singing.

Written by Leisureguy

2 November 2021 at 1:29 pm

Contagion: The days after the insurrection

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Today the Washington Post published the third and final instalment of their trilogy on the January 6 uprising. I have previously blogged part 1 (“Red Flags”) and part 2 (“Bloodshed”) with gift links (no paywall) to the original reports. Today the Post published part 3, “Contagion,” and again I am using a gift link. The final part begins:

On the day after, the right side of Capt. Carneysha Mendoza’s face burned painfully where pepper spray and other chemicals had seeped into her pores. She could still picture the enraged faces of those who had attacked her and her colleagues under the Capitol dome. Some had worn fatigues like the ones Mendoza donned as an Army soldier stationed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

That day, the United States had weathered a faceless attack orchestrated covertly from beyond the country’s borders. This time, Mendoza had faced a very different enemy: fellow Americans, many of them wrapped in red, white and blue, inflamed by a sitting president.

Mendoza waited in her office at the headquarters of the U.S. Capitol Police for news she did not want to hear. Capitol Police bike patrol officer Brian D. Sicknick, who had collapsed hours after responding to the riot, lay in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital. The 42-year-old had suffered two strokes, destroying the tissue at the back of his brain.

Just after 9:30 p.m., the call came. Sicknick had gone into cardiac arrest. He was gone. Mendoza rounded up other officers and headed to the hospital.

As they arrived, Sandra Garza, Sicknick’s partner of 11 years, stood alone in a room with his body, saying goodbye. A blanket covered him up to his chest. Garza touched his hand. It was already cold. She moved her fingers up his arm, where it seemed warmer, and let her hand linger.

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Near midnight, when it was time to remove Sicknick’s body, Mendoza and her fellow officers lined a hallway leading to a rear loading dock. They saluted as he rolled past, toward a van that would take him to the medical examiner’s office. Mendoza ordered the convoy first to drive by the Capitol.

Two thousand miles away, in the western suburbs of Phoenix, Clint HickmanClint HickmanAs chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in 2020, the longtime Republican resisted Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results. woke up late on Jan. 7 in a house that was not his own.

After a grueling year as chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the Republican had eagerly handed off his gavel at a long-planned ceremony on the morning of Jan. 6, only to arrive home to find two sheriff’s deputies waiting in an unmarked car in his driveway.

Their tone was urgent: You shouldn’t be home tonight, one said.

“It’s not that bad,” Hickman responded. As chairman, he had faced threats and a large protest outside his home after he and the board had certified Joe Biden’s win in the county in late November.

The deputy asked whether he had been listening to the news. There are massive protests in Washington, the deputy said. They’ve broken into the Capitol.

Hickman had to see for himself. Following his wife into the house, he looked at the scenes on the television and blanched. If President Donald Trump’s supporters were willing to attack the Capitol, who knows what they might do on a residential street in Phoenix. He and his wife rounded up their three children and relocated to a relative’s house, where he stayed up late, watching until Congress confirmed Biden’s victory.

Morning had come, and Maricopa County was quiet. Hickman was unsure if the threat had passed. He called his family farm. He wouldn’t be coming in to work today. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 November 2021 at 11:04 am

Fougère in the morning

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Creed’s Green Irish Tweed fragrance is a classic, and the fragrance is quite forward in their shaving soap, an excellent soap that delivered this morning a thick and creamy lather, thanks in part to the Rooney butterscotch Emilion.

I thoughly enjoyed each of the passes with my RazoRock Game Changer .68-P, and at the end my face was perfectly smooth and untroubled.

A splash of Barrister & Mann’s excellent Fougère Classique, accompanied by a squirt of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel, finished the shave in fine style. 

Written by Leisureguy

2 November 2021 at 10:31 am

Posted in Shaving

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