Later On

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

Archive for January 2022

North Carolina superintendent abruptly removes MLK-themed novel from 10th grade class

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This superintendent should not be allowed near any educational enterprise. Judd Legum reports in Popular Information:

An acclaimed MLK-themed novel was removed from a 10th-grade English class in North Carolina. Haywood County Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte told Popular Information that he pulled the book, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, in a matter of hours after receiving one parent complaint. Nolte said he did not read the book — or even obtain a copy — prior to making the decision. 

The 10th-grade parent, Tim Reeves, addressed the Haywood County School Board on January 10. Reeves said that his son received Dear Martin in 10th-grade English class on January 6. Reeves learned from his son that the book contained “explicit language” including the “f-word,” the “s-word,” and “GD.” Reeves said that he was “appalled.” He said the “language” and “sexual innuendos” in the book are “concerning to me as a parent.” 

Reeves acknowledged that his son hears “lots of language every day” but objected to its inclusion in a “textbook.” Reeves suggested that providing Dear Martin to 10th graders violated the “age of consent” because “they are still adolescents.”  

Dear Martin “tells the story of an Ivy League-bound African American student named Justyce who becomes a victim of racial profiling.” The book covers Justyce’s “experiences at his mostly White prep school and the fallout from his brief detainment.” In the book, Justyce’s diary includes a letter to King in which Justyce explains how he sought to emulate the civil rights icon. 

Stone’s book was a finalist for the American Library Association’s William C. Morris Award, a New York Times #1 bestseller, and was named one of TIME Magazine’s top 100 young adult books of all time. Common Sense Media, a non-profit that evaluates books and other media for children, found the book was appropriate for 14-year-olds, who are typically in 9th grade. It also awarded the book 5 out of 5 stars for “overall quality.” 

When Reeves arrived at the School Board at the meeting, however, Nolte told him that he had removed Dear Martin from 10th grade English class. 

In an interview, Nolte told Popular Information that he first heard from Reeves about his concerns “earlier that day.” According to Nolte, Reeves had previously spoken to the high school principal who offered to provide an alternative text for Reeves’ son. But Reeves was not satisfied and wanted the school to remove the text from the class. 

Nolte said that, before making the decision to remove the book, he did not have an opportunity to “read all of it.” Instead, Nolte “talked to some people who had read different sections of it” and “looked at some of the parts of it that were published online.” Nolte also said he “didn’t talk to the teacher at all about why she picked that text.” 

Nolte then concluded that “the amount of profanity and other descriptions or images in it” made Dear Martin inappropriate for a 10th-grade English class. There is no blanket prohibition on novels with profanity but Nolte said he was concerned with the frequency. “I made the best judgment I could make I feel pretty comfortable with it,” Nolte concluded. 

Nolte’s approach appears inconsistent with the official policies of Haywood County Public Schools. Under the policy,  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2022 at 9:50 am

Chameleon car

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Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2022 at 9:36 am

John Deere is facing a farmer revolt

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Interesting video. In the first half of the video, notice how the union did get results for its members.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2022 at 9:12 am

5 minutes 11.11 seconds

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Following the protocol laid out in the previous post, I timed today’s shave. To be clear, the time does not reflect collecting and setting out the shave paraphernalia, nor does it include the post-shave sponge work around the sink and putting away the tools used. I start timing when I turn on the hot water to start the shave and stop timing when I’ve applied the aftershave.

Today’s shave is a bit longer than the 5 minutes I was accustomed to, but that was when my pre-shave routine was washing my stubble with MR GLO. Now I use Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave as my pre-shave, and that includes some time spent in massaging a small dab of the substance into stubble and skin and then wetting my face before applying lather. But the effect of this pre-shave easily repays the slight increase in time required.

I had wet the Omega Pro 48 (10048) knot well before my shower to let it soak while I showered, so in the shave I merely rewet the knot under the hot-water tap to heat it up, shook it well, and loaded it with Grooming Dept Mallard Corretto, a soap that’s a new favorite. (BTW, West Coast Shaving and The Razor Company now have Grooming Dept Mallard soaps in stock — at least for now.)

My DLC-coated iKon stainless-steel slant, here riding on an Above the Tie handle, has excellent acoustics: I could hear the small popping sounds in a rush as the blade (a Derby Extra) mowed the stubble down. It produced a very smooth result, with no damage (nor any threat of damage, now that I use a good angle).

One-half of a splash of Barrister & Mann’s Fougère Classique emptied the small bottle. I added a squirt of Hydrating Gel to eke it out, and applied. What a great fragrance! B&M semi-promised that this aftershave would return. However, the new batch has yet to appear.

All told, 5 minutes 11.11 seconds of pleasure with which to start the week. 

The computer goes in for repair in about 3 hours, so no shave posts for about a week (I’m told).

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2022 at 8:35 am

Posted in Shaving

Timing your shave

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Photo by Veri Ivanova on Unsplash (modified by author)

In the Guide, I recommend that novice DE shavers time their shave from time to time. Because one’s attention is so focused on the act of shaving — which helps induce a state of flow — his sense of how long the shave takes (in clock time) is lost: it takes as long as it takes. This loss of a sense of objective duration is one of the characteristics of the flow state.

As a result, a novice whose timed shaves initially take (say) 20 minutes may find, when he times his shave a couple of months later, that his shave now takes 15 minutes, though the duration feels the same.

I noticed over a few years the duration of my shaves dropped from around 25 minutes at the start to 5 minutes, though I felt I was shaving always at the same speed. (Never shave in haste. That’s a mug’s game.)

Today I’ll time my shave for the first time in a while. I expect the time will be a little longer because my prep is just a bit longer. Even so, the time will be only two or three minutes longer than what I estimate is the time for a shave with canned foam and a safety razor, and I get an enormous return in pleasure, satisfaction, and morning outlook for that two or three minutes.

If you are inclined toward obsessiveness careful record keeping, when you might want to compare one timed shave to subsequent timed shaves, you might note:

  • Prep: describe pre-shave preparation (e.g., pre-shave oil/cream/gel/soap, whether use lathering bowl, shaving soap or cream, hot towel, whatever)
  • Shave: the razor and (if DE) blade used
  • Post shave: whether alum block used, whether styptic needed, aftershave.
  • Time from when prep begins until aftershave applied.
  • Result of shave (quality of result)

Again: DO NOT RUSH. In the timed shave, try to take the same amount of time that you typically do. You’re not going for a personal record, you’re trying to find how long your usual morning shave takes. No haste, no hurry. Enjoy the process.

The payoff is seeing what a difference a year makes.



Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2022 at 6:03 am

Posted in Shaving

Trump’s call for more chaos and violence

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Is it just me, or do things look really bad?

Heather Cox Richardson tonight:

Last night, at a rally in Conroe, Texas, former president Trump told supporters that if he runs for president and wins in 2024, he will pardon the January 6 insurrectionists. Observers note that this promise might encourage the bigger fish ensnared by the investigation to keep quiet; Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that “Trump…is committing a form of obstruction of justice in full public view.” Others note that the promise of pardoning the insurrectionists might well become a litmus test for any Republican candidate in 2024.

That promise of pardons might also be for crimes not yet committed. Trump called for “the biggest protest we have ever had” in New York City, Washington, and Atlanta if the prosecutors “do anything wrong or illegal.” The specificity of the cities he mentioned suggests that the cases against him in New York City, Georgia, and Washington are weighing on his mind. “These prosecutors are vicious, horrible people. They’re racists and they’re very sick—they’re mentally sick,” he said. “They’re going after me without any protection of my rights from the Supreme Court or most other courts. In reality, they’re not after me, they’re after you.”

Observers saw his comments as a call for violence if the various legal cases against him lead to indictments. Crucially, these statements were clearly part of a plan: he did not say them off the cuff but appeared to read them from a teleprompter. It seems likely that as investigators get closer, he is turning to the threat of street violence to try to get them to back off.

It is not clear that will work, since more than 750 people who took to the streets for him in January 2021 are now facing criminal prosecution. Many have blamed him for where they are. It might be hard to rally more people with that history, and it seems that the promise of future pardons might be designed to address that wavering faith.

But Bunch noted that, overlooked by those not attuned to the siren songs of the right, Trump’s use of the word “racist” is a call to white supremacists. Three of the main prosecutors investigating the former president—Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney Fani Willis; New York State attorney general Letitia James; and Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg (who recently took over from Cyrus Vance, Jr.)—are Black. So is Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who chairs the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“[I]t’s both alarming and yet utterly predictable that Trump would toss the gasoline of racial allegations onto his flaming pile of grievances, knowing how that will play with the Confederate flag aficionados within the ex-president’s cult,” Bunch wrote. Trump, he said, “is seeking to start a race war.”

But, as a sign of just how tied the Republican Party is to the former president now, on ABC News’s This Week, today, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) refused to rule out supporting Trump in 2024 despite last night’s incendiary speech.

Collins’s reluctance to offend the former president didn’t do her much good: tonight, in an astounding statement, he referred to her as “Wacky Susan Collins.”

The statement was astounding not because he was insulting a Republican senator.

Referring to bipartisan congressional discussions about clarifying the law to guarantee that no one ever again will argue that the vice president can overturn the results of an election (this is where Collins came up), Trump claimed those discussions themselves proved the plan his team came up with was, in fact, legal. (It is not.) He went on to say: “Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome and they now want to take that right away. Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!”

After more than a year of insisting he just wanted to address the problem of voter fraud, which he falsely claimed had stolen the election from him, Trump just came right out and said he wanted to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Former U.S. attorney and legal commentator Joyce White Vance wrote: “This is what prosecutors call guilty knowledge. And also, intent.” CNN’s Jim Acosta was more succinct: he tweeted, “Coup coup for Cocoa Puffs.”

It is unlikely Trump’s admission was a slip. He tends to . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2022 at 8:58 pm

1776 and all that — Should the US exist?

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The title question is what those on the Right seem to be asking — that is, should there be a Federal government? Heather Cox Richardson:

I’ve thought a lot lately about Representative Lauren Boebert’s (R-CO) tweet on January 6, 2021, saying, “Today is 1776.”

It’s clear that those sympathetic to stealing the 2020 election for Donald Trump over the will of the majority of Americans thought they were bearing witness to a new moment in our history.

But what did they think they were seeing?

Of course, 1776 was the year the Founders signed the Declaration of Independence, a stunning rejection of the concept that some men are better than others and could claim the right to rule. The Founders declared it “self-evident, that all men are created equal” and that ordinary people have the right to consent to the government under which they live.

But that declaration was not a form of government. It was an explanation of why the colonies were justified in rebelling against the king. It was the brainchild of the Second Continental Congress, which had come together in Philadelphia in May 1775 after the Battles of Lexington and Concord sparked war with Great Britain.

At the same time they were declaring independence, the lawmakers of the Second Continental Congress created a committee to write the basis for a new government. The committee presented a final draft of the Articles of Confederation in November 1777. Written at a time when the colonists were rebelling against a king, the new government decentralized power and focused on the states, which were essentially independent republics. The national government had a single house of Congress, no judiciary, and no executive.

“Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States,” it read. The organization of the new government was “a firm league of friendship” entered into by the states “for their common defence.”

With the weight of governance falling on the states, the confederation languished. It was not until 1781 that the last of the states got around to ratifying the articles, and in 1783, with the end of the Revolutionary War, the government began to unravel. The Congress could make recommendations to the states but had no power to enforce them. It could not force the states to raise tax money to redeem the nation’s debts, and few of them paid up. Lacking the power to enforce its agreements, the Congress could not negotiate effectively with foreign countries, either, and individual states began to jockey to get deals for themselves.

As early as 1786, it was clear that the government was too decentralized to create an enduring nation. Delegates from five states met in September of that year to revise the articles but decided the entire enterprise needed to be reorganized. So, in May 1787, delegates from the various states (except Rhode Island) met in Philadelphia to write the blueprint for a new government.

The Constitution established the modern United States of America. Rather than setting up a federation of states, it united the people directly, beginning: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It corrected the weakness of the previous government by creating a president with explicit powers, giving the government the power to negotiate with foreign powers and to tax (although it placed the power of initiating tax bills in the House of Representatives alone), and creating a judiciary.

Those still afraid of the power of the government pushed the Framers of the Constitution to amend the document immediately, giving us the Bill of Rights that prohibits the government from infringing on individuals’ rights to freedom of speech and religion, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, and so on. The catch-all Tenth Amendment stated that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

That reservation of powers to the states created a crisis by the 1830s, when state leaders declared they would not be bound by laws passed in Congress. Indeed, they said, if voters in the states wanted to take Indigenous lands or enslave their Black neighbors, those policies were a legitimate expression of democracy. To defend their right to enslave Black Americans, southern leaders took their states out of the Union after the election of 1860.

In the wake of the Civil War, Americans gave the federal government the power to enforce the principle that all people are created equal. In 1868, they added to the Constitution the Fourteenth Amendment, which declared that “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It gave the federal government—Congress—the power to enforce that amendment.

It seemed that the Fourteenth Amendment would finally bring the Declaration of Independence to life. Quickly, though, state legislatures began to discriminate against the minority populations in their borders—they had always discriminated against women—and the American people lost the will to enforce equality. By the early twentieth century, in certain states white men could rape and murder Black and Brown Americans with impunity, knowing that juries of men like themselves would never hold them accountable.

Then, after World War II, the Supreme Court began to use the due process and the equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to overrule discriminatory laws in the states. It ended racial segregation, permitted interracial marriage, gave people access to birth control, permitted reproductive choice, and so on, trying to enforce equality before the law.

But this federal protection of civil rights infuriated traditionalists and white supremacists. They threw in their lot with businessmen who hated federal government regulation and taxation. Together, they declared that the federal government was becoming tyrannical, just like the government from which the Founders declared independence. Since the 1980s, the Republican Party has focused on hamstringing the federal government and sending power back to the states, where lawmakers will have little power to regulate business but can roll back civil rights.

That effort includes rewriting the Constitution itself. In San Diego, California, last December, attendees at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s policy conference announced they would push a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, returning power to the states.

ALEC formed in 1973 to …

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Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2022 at 5:11 pm

Pentagon Professes Shock That U.S. Airstrikes Frequently Kill Civilians

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Peter Maass writes in the Intercept:

THE PENTAGON IS not known for staging revivals of classic movies, but it just reenacted a famous scene from “Casablanca.”

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin — after months of news reports about civilians killed by U.S. bombs, including the deaths of seven children and three adults in a Kabul drone attack — just issued a directive to reduce what the military traditionally describes as collateral damage. “We can and will improve upon efforts to protect civilians,” Austin vowed this week. “The protection of innocent civilians in the conduct of our operations remains vital to the ultimate success of our operations, and as a significant strategic and moral imperative.”

His two-page directive calls for the creation of a “Civilian Harm and Mitigation Response Plan” in 90 days that will lay out a comprehensive approach to improve the training of military personnel and the collection and sharing of data, so that the wrong people don’t get killed so often. He also ordered the establishment of a hazily defined “civilian protection center of excellence” to institutionalize the knowledge needed to prevent wrongful killings. The underlying idea is that military culture will be changed so that protecting civilians is a core goal.

If you were just tuning into the catastrophe of America’s forever wars, you might be impressed by Austin’s directive, in the same way you might be impressed by Capt. Louis Renault in “Casablanca” when he shuts down Rick’s Café because, shockingly, gambling was happening in the casino. Renault’s horror was feigned, of course. He was a regular visitor to the cafe, and after blowing his whistle on gambling, he was handed his winnings for that night.

It’s not as though the Pentagon is taking action — or pretending to take action, as is much more likely — because battlefield abuses have suddenly been brought to its attention. From the beginning, one of the hallmarks of the post-9/11 wars has been the widely reported killing of civilians by U.S. forces. These things have been revealed in exhaustive detail year after year by generations of journalists (I even did a bit of it during the Iraq invasion), as well as nonprofit organizations and military whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Daniel Hale

There has even been a begrudging chorus of admissions by the Pentagon that go back more than a decade. In 2010, the Joint Chiefs of Staff completed its classified “Joint Civilian Casualty Study.” In 2013, a Pentagon office called Joint and Coalition Operational Analysis published a report titled “Reducing and Mitigating Civilian Casualties: Enduring Lessons.” The remarkable thing about that 2013 report — other than the fact that it included most of the remedies Austin mentioned this week — was that it contained a list of a dozen other reports on civilian casualties that JCOA alone had published in the previous five years.

And five years later, in 2018, the Joint Chiefs completed yet another classified report on civilian casualties. The Washington Post, which revealed its existence, described that report as “a major examination of civilian deaths in military operations, responding to criticism that [the Pentagon] has failed to protect innocent bystanders in counterterrorism wars worldwide.” Sound familiar? And that secret report came two years after President Barack Obama had issued an executive order that said the military was killing too many civilians and needed to take a range of actions to change that.

You get the point. The Pentagon’s protestations of disappointment at what has happened, and its promises to do better, are the standard confetti of insincerity. In many ways, it’s similar to executives at Facebook expressing dismay and regret at some of the ways their platform has been used and abused, and promising to do a better job. The important thing to watch is not what powerful institutions promise to do but what they actually do. And when they do nothing after promising again and again to make changes, you would be foolish to regard their latest vow as meaningful.

“While a serious Defense Department focus on civilian harm is long overdue and welcome, it’s unclear that this directive will be enough,” noted Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project. “What’s needed is a truly systemic overhaul of our country’s civilian harm policies to address the massive structural flaws, likely violations of international law, and probable war crimes that have occurred in the last 20 years.”

The best template for understanding the endurance of the Pentagon’s failures on civilian casualties might be its record on curbing sexual abuse in its ranks. This is a problem that has existed forever but jumped into the public realm in a particularly strong way with the 1991 Tailhook scandal, when 83 women and seven men were sexually assaulted at a Navy conference in Las Vegas. Since then, the military has continually promised to do everything it could to fight sexual abuse. There has been no shortage of studies and plans and hearings, but the problem persists, with nearly one in four servicewomen reporting sexual assault in recent studies, and more than half reporting sexual harassment.

There is now hope of real change after Congress finally passed legislation in December that transfers to independent military prosecutors the authority to pursue sexual assault cases. Under an executive order signed by President Joe Biden this week, sexual harassment has also been added as a crime to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. These moves came more than three decades after Tailhook.

It would be good if …

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Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2022 at 4:52 pm

Posted in Daily life, Military

4 Reasons Movies Shouldn’t Be Watched On Laptops

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Full disclosure: I routinely watch movies on my laptop computer. Pehraps when the pandemic passes, if I haven’t, I’ll go to a movie theater again.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2022 at 2:52 pm

HIV ‘Created by Scientist’ for Biological Warfare, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Says

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Not for the Nobel prize in Biology, obviously. From

Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai — who on Friday became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize — on Saturday repeated her previous claims that HIV was “created by a scientist for biological warfare,” AFP/Yahoo! News reports. In August, Kenya’s East African Standard quoted Maathai as saying that HIV/AIDS was created by scientists “for the purpose of mass extermination,” according to AFP/Yahoo! News. “We know that the developed nations are using biological warfare, leaving guns to primitive people. They have the resources to do this,” the Standard quoted Maathai as saying during a workshop on Aug. 30 in the central Kenyan town of Nyeri, according to AFP/Yahoo! News. “AIDS is not a curse from God to Africans or the black people. It is a tool to control them designed by some evil-minded scientists, but we may not know who particularly did,” she added, according to the Standard, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 10/9) Saturday, Maathai repeated her belief that HIV was deliberately “devised to destroy black people,” according to Reuters. She added that her comments published in the Standard were “intended to promote an inquiring attitude” toward HIV/AIDS among Africans and “combat the fatalistic notion that it was a curse from God,” Reuters reports. “Would you solve the problem if you believed it was a curse from God?” Maathai asked, adding that she was “encouraging people to ask questions.” Although Maathai said she never indicated that a specific region or nation was responsible for creating HIV/AIDS, she is “suspicious” about the “secrecy surrounding the origin of the virus,” according to Reuters. “Some people say it came from the monkeys, and I doubt it. … But I say it cannot be that only black people are cursed because we are dying more than any other people on this planet, and that’s a fact” (Kanina, Reuters, 10/9).

Although the United States “congratulated” Maathai on Friday for winning the Nobel Prize, officials also “tempered [their] praise” about her claims that HIV/AIDS was created as a biological weapon, according to

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I think it’s obvious that there are more possibilities than the only two she mentions (and perhaps the the only two that she sees):

  1. “a curse from God to Africans or the black people”
  2. “a tool to control them designed by some evil-minded scientists”

I can think of other possibilites.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2022 at 2:38 pm

E.O. Wilson Saw the World in a Wholly New Way

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David Sloan Wilson, SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University and president of Prosocial World, a new spinoff of The Evolution Institute, and author of Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others and This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution and Prosocial: Using Evolutionary Science to Build Productive, Equitable, and Collaborative Groups (with Paul W.B. Atkins and Steven C. Hayes) has a very interesting article in Nautilus. From the article:

. . . While Ed played a prominent role in modernizing whole organism biology, he was by no means alone. Evolutionary theory was proving its explanatory scope and many people were taking part in the effort, leading the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky to coin the oft-repeated phrase, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” What this meant to me as a graduate student was that I could choose any topic, begin asking intelligent questions based on evolutionary theory (often with the help of mathematical models), and then test my hypotheses on any appropriate organism. I didn’t need to become a taxonomic specialist and I could change topics at will. In short, I could become a polymath based on a theory that anyone can learn.

In Sociobiology, Ed claimed that evolutionary theory provides a single conceptual toolkit for studying the social behaviors of all creatures great and small. It combined the authority of an academic tome with the look and feel of a coffee table book, complete with over 200 illustrations by the artist Sarah Landry. Its publication was noted on the front page of The New York Times.

It was Sociobiology’s last chapter on human social behavior that landed Ed in trouble—in part for a good reason. For all its explanatory scope, the study of evolution was restricted to genetic evolution for most of the 20th century, as if the only way that offspring can resemble their parents is by sharing the same genes. This is patently false when stated directly, since it ignores the cultural transmission of traits entirely, but it essentially describes what became known as the Modern Synthesis. There was a large grain of truth to the critique that Sociobiology was genetically deterministic. On the other hand, it’s not as if the critics had a synthesis of their own to offer!

Only after the publication of Sociobiology did evolutionary thinkers begin to take cultural evolution seriously. Ed was among them with books such as On Human Nature, and others.2 Today, Darwinian evolution is widely defined as any process that combines the three ingredients of variation, selection, and replication, no matter the mechanism. This definition is true to Darwin’s thought (since he knew nothing about genes) and can accommodate a plurality of inheritance mechanisms such as epigenetics (based on changes in gene expression rather than gene frequency), forms of social learning found in many species, and forms of symbolic thought that are distinctively human.

While human cultural inheritance mechanisms evolved by genetic evolution, that doesn’t make them subordinate, as if genes—in one of Ed’s metaphors—hold cultures on a leash. On the contrary, as the faster evolutionary process, cultural evolution often takes the lead in adapting humans to their environments, with genetic evolution playing a following role (gene-culture co-evolution).

Part of the maturation of human cultural evolutionary theory is the recognition of group selection as an exceptionally strong force in human evolution—something else that Ed got right. According to Harvard evolutionary anthropologist Richard Wrangham in his book, The Goodness Paradox, naked aggression is over 100 times more frequent in a chimpanzee community than small-scale human communities. This is due largely to social-control mechanisms in human communities that suppress bullying and other forms of disruptive self-serving behaviors, so that cooperation becomes the primary social strategy (this is called a major evolutionary transition).

Nearly everything distinctive about our species is a form of cooperation, including our ability to maintain an inventory of symbols with shared meaning that is transmitted across generations. Our capacity for symbolic thought became a full-blown inheritance system that operates alongside genetic inheritance (dual inheritance theory). Cultural evolution is a multilevel process, no less than genetic evolution, and the increasing scale of cooperation over the course of human history can be seen as a process of multilevel cultural evolution. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2022 at 2:24 pm

This Small U.S. Town Has Medicare For All

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Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2022 at 2:18 pm

Hunter S. Thompson and the Four Secrets to Gonzo Journalism’s Success

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This article will appeal principally to readers of a certain age. Peter Richardson writes in the New Republic:

Fifty years after the publication of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson’s celebrity remains a durable fact. Yet there was nothing inevitable about his notoriety or the style that gave rise to it. Gonzo journalism—Thompson’s unique blend of hyperbolic commentary, satire, invective, hallucination, and media critique—developed unevenly, haphazardly, almost by accident. That body of work, and the rock-star celebrity it created, almost didn’t happen.

In 1965, Thompson was a freelancer begging for assignments when The Nation commissioned an article on the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. Thompson parlayed his first-person account into a bestselling book, and Random House quickly signed him for three more titles on short schedules. The second book stalled, however, and Thompson struggled with his magazine work. Playboy spiked his lengthy profile of Jean-Claude Killy, the Olympic skier who became a pitch man for Chevrolet. Fortunately for Thompson, Warren Hinckle ran the Killy piece in the premiere issue of Scanlan’s Monthly.

Hinckle also published “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” Thompson’s 1970 account of the famed sporting event—or rather, the drunken revelry surrounding it. Illustrated by Ralph Steadman, that piece is usually considered the first work of gonzo journalism. Thompson set the debauchery at Churchill Downs against a backdrop of political violence—including President Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia and the slaughter at Kent State University, which occurred the same week as the Derby. Finishing the story was an ordeal, and Thompson considered it an abject failure. When it was heralded as a breakthrough, he compared the experience to “falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.”

Thompson’s next articles skipped the gonzo pyrotechnics, but “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” which Rolling Stone ran in November 1971, etched gonzo journalism in the public imagination. Based on a pair of wild weekends in the desert, the two-part article was a freewheeling epitaph for the 1960s counterculture. It made a bigger splash than the Kentucky Derby piece, but in a letter to James Silberman, his editor at Random House, Thompson worried that it would diminish his credibility as a serious journalist. Once again, he had underestimated gonzo’s career-altering appeal.

Gonzo journalism thrived at Rolling Stone, especially during the Nixon era. As the decade wore on, Thompson’s outsize persona—which featured his drug consumption, gun fetish, and “fortified compound” near Aspen—began to eclipse his work. Yet Thompson understood his literary gift quite apart from his celebrity. In 1975, he correctly described himself as “one of the best writers currently using the English language as both a musical instrument and a political weapon.”

p>But how, exactly, did Thompson achieve that status in a single decade? With the benefit of hindsight, we can identify four separate developments that pushed Thompson toward his unique niche in the media ecosystem.


Early in his career, Thompson admired the Kennedys, detested Nixon, and attended the 1964 GOP convention in San Francisco. Even so, he considered American politics a dead end. He wanted to follow the example set by Tom Wolfe in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965). An early version of the New Journalism, that book featured Southern California’s hot-rod scene as well as the spectacular growth of Las Vegas. Later, Wolfe profiled the psychedelic scene around novelist Ken Kesey, whom Thompson had introduced to the Hell’s Angels. In short order, Thompson also carved out a niche as a student of exotic West Coast subcultures.

His outlook changed dramatically in 1968. By that time, Thompson had befriended Hinckle, who presided over Ramparts magazine. Through his connection with the legendary San Francisco muckraker, Thompson learned that all hell would break loose at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He asked Silberman to obtain press credentials for him and booked a trip to Chicago. His sources were correct: Thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets and public parks, and police officers flayed provocateurs, peaceful protesters, and observers alike. The clashes provided a dramatic backdrop for the debates inside the convention, especially over the party’s position on the Vietnam War. Senator Edmund Muskie maintained that the anti-war contingent wanted peace at any price, the peace plank was defeated, and Hubert Humphrey received the party’s nomination. By the end of the convention, both Humphrey and Muskie earned Thompson’s lasting contempt.

The real story was in the streets, however, where Thompson recoiled from the police violence he witnessed. Scampering from agitated cops on Michigan Avenue, he encountered two officers blocking his retreat to his hotel.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2022 at 11:47 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Media, Writing

The moral calculations of a billionaire

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Eli Saslow reports in the Washington Post (gift link: no paywall):

BOCA RATON, Fla. — The stock market had been open for only 17 minutes when Leon Cooperman picked up the phone to check how much money he’d made. He dialed a private line to his trading desk in New Jersey, just as he did a dozen times each day.

“Decent start to the morning?” he asked.

“Oh yeah. The market’s shaky, but you’re up.”

“Give me numbers.”

“Looks like six, seven million.”

“Fine. Thank you. Let’s keep holding steady,” said Cooperman, 78. He hung up and watched a stock graph on his computer screen as it rose from one minute to the next, charting another good day to be a billionaire in America. Outside the office, he could see his wife leaving to play in her weekly bridge game and a group of golfers strolling past on a private course. He’d chosen to live in Florida for at least 183 days each year in part to benefit from the state’s low tax rate for residents, and from 7 a.m. until midnight he was typically seated at the desk in his office, managing the more than $2.5 billion he’d made during a career as an investor and a hedge fund manager.

He’d been earning more than his family could spend since about 1975, and in the decades since then he’d come to see the act of making money less as a personal necessity than as a serious game he could play and win. He invested it, traded it, lent it, gave it away and watched each day as the accounts continued to grow beyond his needs, his wants and sometimes even his own comprehension.

“I don’t want to say it’s all play money at this point, but what else could I possibly spend it on?” he sometimes wondered. His wife’s walk-in closet was already bigger than the South Bronx apartment where he’d grown up. Their Florida home had a custom-built infinity pool, and in five years he’d never once gone in for a swim.

He checked the stock graph on his screen and called his trading desk again.

“Still good? Any news?”

“Very good, yeah. The highfliers are getting killed, but the value stocks are doing great. You’re up about 10 million.”

The past year had been the best time in history to be one of America’s 745 billionaires, whose cumulative wealth has grown by an estimated 70 percent since the beginning of the pandemic even as tens of millions of low-wage workers have lost their jobs or their homes. Together, those 745 billionaires are now worth more than the bottom 60 percent of American households combined, and each day Cooperman could see that gap widening on his balance sheet — up an average of $4,788 per minute in the stock market, $1.9 million per day and $700 million total in 2021. As a record amount of wealth continued to shift toward a tiny fraction of people at the pinnacle of the economy, Cooperman could sense something else shifting, too.

“Billionaires shouldn’t even exist in America,” read one note he’d received after he went on TV to recommend stock picks.

“One day, we’re coming after all of you with pitchforks,” read another message.

“Wake up, moron. YOU and your insatiable greed are at the root of our biggest societal problems.”

He responded to most of the personal emails, kept record of the occasional death threats and wrote letters to politicians such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) whenever they criticized billionaires in their speeches, because he couldn’t understand: What exactly had he done wrong? What rule had he broken? He’d been born to poor immigrant parents on the losing end of a capitalist economy. He’d attended public schools, taken on debt to become the first in his family to attend college, worked 80-hour weeks, made smart decisions, benefited from some good luck, amassed a fortune for himself and for his clients and paid hundreds of millions in taxes to the government. He had a wife of 57 years, two successful children, and three grandchildren who were helping him decide how to give most of his money away to a long list of charities. “My life is the story of the American Dream,” he’d said while accepting an award at one charity gala, and he’d always imagined himself as the rags-to-riches hero, only to now find himself cast as the greedy villain in a story of economic inequality run amok.

And now came another series of emails from a stranger who ran a charity in New Jersey. She said billionaires were avoiding paying their fair share of taxes by using loopholes in the tax code. She said their legacy of excessive wealth was “burdening future generations.” She said Cooperman had no idea what it was like to live in poverty or to choose each month between paying rent or buying food.

“She makes decent points,” Cooperman said as he read the email again, and it made him think back to a question he’d begun wondering about himself: In a time of historic inequality, what were the moral responsibilities of a billionaire?

“Thank you for your emails. It might be helpful for me to provide you with some background about myself,” he wrote back, and then he attached a short biography and copies of his letters to politicians. “There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of who I am.”


He knew what people imagined when they thought of a billionaire. He’d read the stories of excess and extravagance and witnessed some of it firsthand, but that wasn’t him. He didn’t spend $238 million on a New York penthouse like hedge fund manager Ken Griffin; or vacation at his own private island in Belize like Bill Gates; or throw himself $10 million birthday parties featuring camels and acrobats like investor Stephen Schwarzman; or drop $70,000 a year on hair care like Donald Trump; or buy a preserved 14-foot shark for an estimated $8 million like Steven Cohen; or spend more than $1 billion on art like media mogul David Geffen; or budget $23 million for personal security like Facebook did for Mark Zuckerberg.

He didn’t have his own spaceships like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos; or a 600-foot flying airship like Sergey Brin; or a decommissioned Soviet fighter jet like Larry Ellison; or a $215 million yacht with a helipad and a pool like Steve Wynn; or a private train with three staterooms like John Paul DeJoria; or a $5 million luxury car collection like Kylie Jenner.

What Cooperman had for transportation was a 25-year-old Schwinn bicycle he liked to ride around the neighborhood and a Hyundai he used for running errands a few times each week.

He rechecked the . . .

Continue reading. Gift link, no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2022 at 10:59 am

Making informed decisions

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Informed decisions are based on good information, and some of that information is about prior decisions that led to where you are now:

A core component of making great decisions is understanding the rationale behind previous decisions. If we don’t understand how we got “here,” we run the risk of making things much worse.

A Lesson in Second-Order Thinking

The post at the link is well worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2022 at 4:31 am

52 things Jason Kottke learned in 2021

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His list begins:

For the last few years, I’ve been a fan of Tom Whitwell’s annual list of 52 things he learned during the past year — here’s his list for 2021. This year, I kept track of my own list, presented here in no particular order:

    1. “In Fargo, Carl says ‘30 minutes, Jerry, we wrap this thing up’ when there are exactly 30 minutes of the movie remaining.”
    2. There’s a Boeing 727 cargo plane that’s used exclusively for horse transportation nicknamed Air Horse One.
    3. In March 2020, the Covid-19 testing capacity for all of NYC was 120 tests per day.
    4. “The last time ships got stuck in the Suez Canal [in 1967], they were there for eight years and developed a separate society with its own Olympic Games.”
    5. The pronunciation of the last name of the man who lent his name to Mount Everest (over his objections) is different than the pronunciation of the mountain.
    6. While recording the audiobook version of Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White needed 17 takes to read Charlotte’s death scene because he kept crying.
    7. America’s anti-democratic Senate, in one number. “Once Warnock and Ossoff take their seats, the Democratic half of the Senate will represent 41,549,808 more people than the Republican half.”
    8. The first rap video shown on MTV was Rapture by Blondie.
    9. As of 2019, only 54% of Americans accept the theory of evolution.
    10. When CBD is taken orally (as in a pill, food, or beverage), as little as 5% of it enters your bloodstream. “If you’re at the coffee shop and like ‘oh, yeah, give me a CBD,’ you’re just wasting $3.”
    11. The size of FedEx boxes is proprietary. “The size of an official FedEx box, not just its design, is proprietary; it is a volume of space which is a property exclusive to FedEx.”
    12. In golf, finishing four strokes under par on a single hole is called a condor.
    13. A commemorative press plate is given to authors and photographers who have made the front page of the NY Times for the first time.
    14.  . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2022 at 4:27 am

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with

Miami’s Condo Empire and the Ticking Clock: Denial and Death

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Matthew Shaer has a long, disheartening, and pessimistic report on South Florida’s inability to address the problems of condo towers. It’s worth reading because it shows, in microcosm the same problems that affect US government at every level, from state to Federal: the inability to accomplish things.

The link is a gift link: no paywall. From the article:

Pull up a map of the Florida coast, drop your finger onto the surface and you’ll almost certainly land on a town or city with its own disaster in the making. According to one recent study, 918,000 of Florida’s condo units are, like the ones in Champlain Towers South, more than 30 years old; many towers were thrown up during the boom years, when oversight was lax, developers were incentivized to prize speed over attention to detail and every permit was a rubber stamp away. Even in the most rigorously built structures, secured to the face of the earth by heavy pylons driven through yards of shifting sand, the coastal environment has inevitably taken its toll. Facades are pitted by the salt and sea air. Balconies are crumbling. Pool decks are spidered with cracks. And water — and rising sea levels — are a fact of life. Water on the roads, water slopping up and out of the drains, water in subterranean garages and the very foundations of condo towers packed with hundreds of residents who are frequently blind to the dangers that lie underfoot or, more tragic still, unable to fund the repairs that could save their lives.

And time is running out. “It is a ticking-clock scenario,” Eric Glazer, a veteran condo-law specialist told me. “A bomb got set off, back in the day, and it’s about to go off.”

Continue reading — gift link, no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2022 at 8:47 pm

An interesting — and skeptical — look at cryptocurrencies

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The Hill has an extremely interesting video and article on cryptocurrencies, and in this case the video (well worth watching) does not just cover the same ground as the article. In the video Matt Stoller makes a point that the two in the center panel carefully avoid hearing: cryptocurrencies are very like the currency once issued by individual banks, before the central US bank, the Federal Reserve, was created in 1863. Before that, the country switched back and forth between centralized currency and currency issued by individual banks, and the reason was that the latter approach simply did not work, however attractive it might be in the abstract.

As Stoller points out, when a nation-state issues a currency, it manages that currency. It guards against counterfeiting. It ensures that the currency must be accepted in payments for debt. It can work to keep the money stable,  fighting inflation when necessary but also handing out money in crises (as in the pandemic) to keep economic activity going and avoiding a recession/depression.

All that is unavailable with cryptocurrency. Thus cryptocurrency is based purely on shared belief, and that means it becomes highly volatile, open to counterfeiting, and is like a shell game in which you are the mark.

The two in the middle panel of the video do not seem able to grasp that.

By all means, watch the video and read the report. (You’ll have to turn the sound on for the video — it’s muted by default.)

Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2022 at 7:07 pm

Effects of a recent insight on appetite

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I recently had an insight (which I of course blogged) about changing the focus of my attention regarding appetite from my mouth to my gut. That was six days ago — less than a week.

Since I wrote that post, I have in fact been ignoring my mouth’s cravings for stimulation and paying attention instead to my gut and its feelings about actual need. The result is that I’ve lost quite steadily — 2.9 lbs in the past six days, though I doubt that rate will long continue.

It’s been effortless, mainly because when I focus on my gut, I find that I don’t get hungry very often. That’s doubtless because I’m sedentary in my habits.

I start the day with a chewable B12 tablet and a Brazil nut. Then, after I’m dressed, I have three pieces of fruit — right now a small pear, a good sized tangerine, and an enormous apple (Cosmic Crisp), with three little squares of Lindt 100% Cacao chocolate. I sip a pint of hot tea over the next few hours. (The tea stays hot because I use a Temperfect mug.)

I find that my gut doesn’t feel any hunger until about 4:30pm. I then have a bowl of food, with the contents influenced by Greger’s Daily Dozen. Today, for example, the bowl contained:

2 tablespoons each of walnuts, beans (soybeans today), and intact whole grain (unpolished kodo millet today), plus 1/3 cup greens (today a mix of collards and rainbow chard, cooked with BBQ onions (basically the same as spring onions), a yellow bell pepper, 2 jalapeño peppers, half a dozen mushrooms, 2 diced Meyer lemons (including the peel, which contains a lot of vitamin C), a splash of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar, a good dash of tamari, and some veg broth), and 1/3 cup other vegetables (today this recipe), along with 1 tablespoon flaxseed (freshly ground), 1/2 tsp turmeric, about 2 teaspoons black pepper, and 1 tsp Bragg’s nutritional yeast). [Recently I also include 1 tsp amla (Indian gooseberry).]

I mixed all that up and topped it with some Huy Fong Sriracha, and I switched to iced tea (brewed from a mix of hibiscus and white tea).

All of that — fruit and dinner bowl — checks off most of Greger’s Daily Dozen, with the collards counting as cruciferous as well as greens. It was tasty and filling, and I’ll finish in half an hour or so with a bowl of mixed berries (frozen berries that I let thaw) with roasted unsalted pumpkin seed, thus completing the checklist (except for exercise, and I’m thinking about that).

Switching my attention from mouth to gut has been interesting, and for me it works by cutting out eating that is unrelated to hunger.

Update 4/16/2022. I just came across this:

kuchisabishii (Japanese: 口寂しい) — When you’re not hungry, but you eat because your mouth is lonely.

Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2022 at 5:47 pm

Stendhal syndrome: Can beautiful art make you mentally ill? 

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Tom Brinkhoff writes in Big Think (and you can listen to the article at the link):

In 1817, the French author Marie-Henri Beyle, better known by his literary alias Stendhal, traveled to Florence. The purpose of this voyage was a visit to the Basilica of Santa Croce, an imposing cathedral that housed the tombs of three of the most remarkable individuals in human history: the philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, the artist Michelangelo, and the astronomer Galileo Galilei.

Each of these three individuals had played a crucial role in the development of art and science. They had also made a powerful impact on a young Stendhal, informing the shape and substance of the novels he would later write down. For this very reason, the author felt a strong but strange feeling when he entered the Basilica and approached the burial tombs within. As he recalls in Naples and Florence: A journey from Milan to Reggio:

I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime… I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations… Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves.’ Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.”

Stendhal is not the only person to have experienced a visceral reaction from being in the presence of art and artifacts; in 2019, the New York Times devoted an entire article to surveying health-related incidents reported by the major museums of Florence. Nor was Stendhal the first to put his experience into words; two centuries ago, Longinus described a similarly overwhelming sensation brought on by exposure to beauty, the Sublime.

Regardless, it was Stendhal whose name would ultimately become associated with this condition as Italian scientists and culture critics, no doubt flattered by the author’s description of their national treasures, coined the term “Stendhal syndrome.” While the tantalizing notion that art can make us physically or mentally ill is certainly enticing, scientists still aren’t sure what this syndrome actually is, let alone whether or not it even exists.

The history of Stendhal syndrome

Stendhal syndrome was born in Italy, and to this day, many of the most comprehensive studies on the subject have been conducted in this country. In 1989, the Santa Maria Nuova hospital in Florence published a write-up of all 106 emergency cases that had been brought in by ambulance from museums and galleries around the city. Reported symptoms ranged from disorientation and dizziness to heart palpitations, hallucination, and loss of identity.

Italian researchers quickly pushed their nationalistic interpretation of Stendhal syndrome onto the rest of the academic world. Santa Maria Nuova hospital listed “an impressionable personality” as a precipitating factor, along with “the stress of travel and the encounter with a city like Florence, haunted by the ghosts of the great, death and the perspective of history.” Patients were advised to leave Italy so their eyes could readjust to earthly imperfection.

Subsequent research papers contested the hospital’s notion that the syndrome was connected to a specific place. Surely Italian art was not the only art capable of evoking psychosomatic responses. In France, Michel Proust suffered from constant asthma attacks while working on In Search of Lost Time, and in Russia, Fyodor Dostoevsky became so fixated on a religious painting that his wife worried he would slip into an epileptic fit.

Nor is Stendhal syndrome tied to Italian Renaissance, for that matter. The way in which some primary sources relate what many ancient pilgrims felt when they finally arrived at their spiritual destinations is eerily similar to what’s found in the hospital report; on average, the city of Jerusalem treats as many people with inexplicable medical problems — referred to as “Jerusalem syndrome” — as Florence’s biggest museums.

Today, aestheticians and neuroscientists agree that Stendhal syndrome — far from being confined to the heartland of Italy — is actually a universal experience brought about by our shared ability to appreciate beauty. “While the object of beauty may change from one person to another,” one recent survey of scientific literature on the syndrome announced, “the awe and the thrill experienced by an enthralled beholder remains the same.”

Possible explanations

A 2017 article from Psychology and Cognitive Sciences – Open Journal defined the syndrome as “a rare psychiatric condition characterized by a state of dizziness, panic, paranoia or madness caused by being exposed to artistic or historical artifacts.” It then proceeds to list off the radically different but equally viable explanations for Stendhal syndrome that have been put forward over the past decades.

One of these holds that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2022 at 4:17 pm

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