Later On

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

Archive for July 25th, 2022

US bakes in extreme heat as federal climate action flops

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The headline is from this report in The Hill. It is a (strong) indication that the US government no longer works, and of course there are many other indications. There are various causes, but the issue is whether a government that does not work can last — and what will happen if the US government collapses. That’s a question that now seems worth pondering and including in your personal plans.

Of course, the US government has faced serious crises before — the Civil War is a prime example — but the difference is that climate change and global heating is going to continue to worsen. A crippled government will find it difficult to respond — as this report indicates.

It’s only fair to point out that just one of the two major US political parties opposes taking action on climate change, but the issue is larger than that party: it’s whether the US can work if one party has gone crazy.

Update: Via the Atlantic newsletter: “The U.S. Has No Plan to Prevent the Next Pandemic.”

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2022 at 3:48 pm

A Popular Theory About Depression Wasn’t “Debunked” by a New Review

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Ruairi J Mackenzie writes in Technology Networks in the Neuroscience News and Research section:

A new paper that reviews the evidence around the serotonin “chemical imbalance” theory of depression has caused an online storm, with figures from across psychiatry commenting on the study’s merits and limitations. In this article, we cut through the hype and take a look at what the paper has changed about our understanding of depression.

Psychiatry gave up on the “chemical imbalance” theory long ago

The review article, published by an international research team including first author Prof. Joanna Moncrieff, aimed to assess the available evidence for and against the serotonin theory of depression systematically. The team explain this theory near the start of their paper: “[The theory is] the idea that depression is the result of abnormalities in brain chemicals, particularly serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT).” The theory has been around for decades, but their overarching conclusion is that it is not correct, given that there appears to be no link between measurable serotonin concentration and depression.

The reaction of many academics to this finding can be summed up, briefly, as “Obviously!” In comments to the UK-based Science Media Centre, Dr. Michael Bloomfield, consultant psychiatrist and head of the translational psychiatry research group at University College London (UCL), said, “The findings from this umbrella review are really unsurprising. Depression has lots of different symptoms and I don’t think I’ve met any serious scientists or psychiatrists who think that all causes of depression are caused by a simple chemical imbalance in serotonin.”

Prof. Phil Cowen, a professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Oxford, said, “No mental health professional would currently endorse the view that a complex heterogenous condition like depression stems from a deficiency in a single neurotransmitter.”

Prof. Allan Young, director of the Centre for Affective Disorders at King’s College London, said, “Most psychiatrists adhere to the biopsychosocial model with very few people subscribing to a simple “chemical imbalance” theory.”

While the review has made headlines for “debunking” the serotonin imbalance theory, the reaction from many researchers suggests that this idea, in fact, has not been treated seriously within the field itself for years.

Psychiatry forgot to tell the public that it gave up on the “chemical imbalance” theory long ago

If you read the above point and felt rather perplexed to discover that the chemical imbalance theory has actually been in the academic wastebin for some years, you are not alone. The review authors highlighted a study (n = 893) that found that 88.1% of respondents believed a “chemical imbalance” to be a cause of depression. This idea, the authors point out, was heavily pushed by drug companies aiming to sell serotonin-selective reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) compounds. Eli Lilly, for example, promoted their compound Prozac in 2008 with the following: “Many scientists believe that an imbalance in serotonin, one of these neurotransmitters, may be an important factor in the development and severity of depression. PROZAC may help to correct this imbalance by increasing the brain’s own supply of serotonin.”

This attitude wasn’t just a marketing ploy embraced by an unwitting public – Northwestern University’s Dr. Christopher Lane highlighted in a commentary in Psychology Today a 2005 study that explored the disconnect between advertisements of SSRIs and the scientific evidence to support their use. Lane quotes Daniel Carlat, the editor of The Carlat Psychiatry Report, “I’ll often say something like the way Zoloft works, is, it increases the level of serotonin in your brain (or synapses, neurons) and, presumably, the reason you’re depressed or anxious is that you have some sort of a deficiency. And I say that [chuckles] not because I really believe it, because I know the evidence really isn’t there for us to understand the mechanism.”

Lane further highlights that another study, this time a survey of 237 psychology students, which found that 46% had heard a physician explain the chemical imbalance theory to them. While academia long ago dismissed the imbalance theory, that message appears not to have reached the public.

Whether SSRIs are effective or not isn’t in question

While the original review paper focuses mainly on the serotonin theory, an accompanying article by Moncrieff and her coauthor Mark Horowitz in The Conversation took a different tack, arguing that the evidence against the serotonin hypothesis also disproves the need for SSRIs full stop. “We conclude that it is impossible to say that taking SSRI antidepressants is worthwhile, or even completely safe,” they write. This conflation has been a particular source of frustration among commenting psychiatrists. “Many of us know that taking paracetamol can be helpful for headaches and I don’t think anyone believes that headaches are caused by not enough paracetamol in the brain,” writes Young. “There is consistent evidence that antidepressant medicines can be helpful in the treatment of depression and can be life-saving.”

Young’s statement is backed up by a significant body of research. While a debate separately exists around the critical element of whether antidepressants are more helpful than placebo, Moncrieff and Horowitz’s review can’t add any evidence to the pile either way, although Moncrieff has previously authored peer-reviewed articles highly critical of a drug-based approach to treating mental health. “It is important to point out that this study did not in fact look into the effectiveness of antidepressants directly. Antidepressants with serotonergic activity were already being used effectively for patients with depression prior to the theory of serotonin changes of depression,” commented Dr. Livia de Picker, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp.

Is depression even a single disease?

While Moncrieff’s review is focused on disproving the idea of a particular cause of depression, perhaps the focus of debate should instead be on the idea that depression is a single disease. “Today, it is largely accepted that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2022 at 3:12 pm

Cilantro hummus

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Hummus after one serving removed

I got the idea for using cilantro (fresh coriander) from a post at A Different Kitchen. I followed my usual recipe, using a can of chickpeas (well rinsed), with a few variations:

• added zest of a (Meyer) lemon
• used a whole lemon, peeled, to get the pulp as well as the juice — could have used two, I think
• added two yellow cayenne peppers, chopped (and then of course blended)

I would have also used half an avocado if I had had one on hand. The tahini was Soom, which I like a lot.

I sprinkled it with a little smoked paprika. Very nice.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2022 at 12:18 pm

A Russian sociologist talks about the current situation in Russia

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Loren Balhorn interviewed Boris Kagarlitsky,a professor of sociology at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences and an editor at Rabkor, for the Jacobin. The whole interview is interesting and very much worth reading. It begins:

As the Russian attack on Ukraine drags into its fifth month, the war risks losing international public attention, replaced — in Europe at least — by rising food and gas prices, spiraling inflation, and another summer of record-breaking temperatures. Like wars from Afghanistan to Yemen, the longer it lasts the more it becomes normalized and accepted. For the people of Ukraine, however, the invasion remains an inescapable reality, with Russian troops pushing further into the country’s east and civilian casualties mounting.

The news from Russia, by contrast, has grown noticeably quieter since the beginning of the invasion. Initial reports of antiwar protests, jingoistic pro-government rallies and shuttered McDonald’s franchises have long since disappeared from the headlines. Support for the war might be muted, but few signs of public opposition have emerged in recent months, either. Have Russians resigned themselves to their fate? Loren Balhorn spoke with Boris Kagarlitsky, a Moscow-based sociologist and host of the popular Russian YouTube talk show Rabkor, to learn more about the impact of the war and how strong Vladimir Putin’s grip on power really is.

LOREN BALHORN — At the start of the invasion of Ukraine, there were lots of reports of antiwar protests across Russia. Things seem to have grown quiet since then, with more and more media outlets claiming that most Russians back Putin. You live in Moscow — what’s the mood like?

BORIS KAGARLITSKY — Initially there were quite a lot of protests, but they were crushed in a very brutal way. At least on the surface, the movement was physically suppressed. People are going to jail almost daily — Alexei Gorinov, for example, was just sentenced to seven years in prison for making an antiwar statement during a session of the Krasnoselsky municipal council in Moscow.

This is a way to make people afraid, and to some extent it works. No less than four million people have left the country since the so-called “special operation” began. Ukraine reported that about seven to eight million people left the country, but about half of them have already returned. In that sense, the number of people who emigrated from Russia is approximately the same as the number of people who fled Ukraine. Given that nobody is being bombed here, it gives you an idea of the public’s attitude.

LOREN BALHORN — So, you don’t think the majority supports the war?

BORIS KAGARLITSKY — That’s the most interesting sociological and political problem: Russian people are neither for the war nor against it. They do not react to the war.

Of course, there are opinion polls published by pro-Kremlin media which are enthusiastically quoted by Western and some pro-Ukrainian sources, trying to prove that all Russians support Putin and are fascists. But that has nothing to do with reality. As a sociologist, I can confirm that since the war, the number of people who agree to respond to opinion polls has collapsed to a level that is totally unrepresentative. Before the war it was below 30 percent, which is already very low. Now, it’s considered a big success when 10 percent agree to respond. Usually it’s 5 to 7 percent.

Of those 5 percent, about 65 to 70 percent support the war. There are two interpretations of this data. One, mostly shared by the liberal opposition, is that people are simply afraid to answer. I think that’s not exactly the case. Among those 95 percent who refuse to respond, there could be a considerable number who are against the war but don’t dare say so. My suspicion, however — which of course I cannot prove — is that most people don’t have any opinion at all.

LOREN BALHORN — No opinion at all? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2022 at 10:38 am

The audacious PR plot that seeded doubt about climate change

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Dishonesty and bad faith are endemic in business and politics — and doubtless in all large swaths of human relations — and those will be what will destroy us. Ignoring reality is a strategy for failure because reality endures.

Jane McMullen reports for BBC News:

Thirty years ago, a bold plan was cooked up to spread doubt and persuade the public that climate change was not a problem. The little-known meeting – between some of America’s biggest industrial players and a PR genius – forged a devastatingly successful strategy that endured for years, and the consequences of which are all around us.

On an early autumn day in 1992, E Bruce Harrison, a man widely acknowledged as the father of environmental PR, stood up in a room full of business leaders and delivered a pitch like no other.

At stake was a contract worth half a million dollars a year – about £850,000 in today’s money. The prospective client, the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) – which represented the oil, coal, auto, utilities, steel, and rail industries – was looking for a communications partner to change the narrative on climate change.

Don Rheem and Terry Yosie, two of Harrison’s team present that day, are sharing their stories for the first time.

“Everybody wanted to get the Global Climate Coalition account,” says Rheem, “and there I was, smack in the middle of it.”

The GCC had been conceived only three years earlier, as a forum for members to exchange information and lobby policy makers against action to limit fossil fuel emissions.

Though scientists were making rapid progress in understanding climate change, and it was growing in salience as a political issue, in its first years the Coalition saw little cause for alarm. President George HW Bush was a former oilman, and as a senior lobbyist told the BBC in 1990, his message on climate was the GCC’s message.

There would be no mandatory fossil fuel reductions.

But all that changed in 1992. In June, the international community created a framework for climate action, and November’s presidential election brought committed environmentalist Al Gore into the White House as vice-president. It was clear the new administration would try to regulate fossil fuels.

The Coalition recognised that it needed strategic communications help and put out a bid for a public relations contractor.

Though few outside the PR industry might have heard of E Bruce Harrison or the eponymous company he had run since 1973, he had a string of campaigns for some of the US’s biggest polluters under his belt.

He had worked for the chemical industry discrediting research on the toxicity of pesticides; for the tobacco industry, and had recently run a campaign against tougher emissions standards for the big car makers. Harrison had built a firm that was considered one of the very best.

Media historian Melissa Aronczyk, who interviewed Harrison before he died in 2021, says he was a strategic linchpin for his clients, ensuring everyone was on the same page.

“He was a master at what he did,” she says.

Before the pitch, Harrison had assembled a team of both seasoned PR professionals and almost total novices. Among them was Don Rheem, who had no industry credentials. He had studied ecology before becoming an environmental journalist. A chance meeting with Harrison, who must have seen the strategic value of adding Rheem’s environmental and media connections to the team, led to a job offer on the GCC pitch.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is an opportunity to get a front row seat at probably one of the most pressing science policy and public policy issues that we were facing.’

“It just felt enormously important,” Rheem says.

Terry Yosie – who had recently been recruited from the American Petroleum Institute, becoming a senior vice-president at the firm – remembers that Harrison began the pitch by reminding his audience that he was instrumental in fighting the auto reforms. He had done so, in part, by reframing the issue.

The same tactics would now help beat climate regulation. They would persuade people that the scientific facts weren’t settled, and that alongside the environment, policy makers needed to consider how action on climate change would – in the GCC’s view – negatively affect American jobs, trade and prices.

The strategy would be implemented through an extensive media campaign, everything from placing quotes and pitching opinion pieces (so-called op-eds), to direct contacts with journalists. . .

Continue reading. The report includes a link to a video, which can be viewed only in the UK, that provides more information:

Big Oil v the World

Drawing on thousands of newly discovered documents, this three-part film charts how the oil industry mounted a campaign to sow doubt about the science of climate change, the consequences of which we are living through today.

Watch now on BBC iPlayer (UK Only)

It is thanks to the efforts of such PR professionals and the industries that funded them that we face the climate catastrophe that is our future.

A quotation commonly attributed to Vladimir Lenin (though not found in any of his works): “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them.” Though Lenin may not have written or said those words, it certainly seems true that capitalists will embrace their own destruction so long as they make money from it. In this, they resemble alcoholics who embraces illness and death so long as they can drink, cigarette smokers who continue smoking even while fighting lung cancer, and gambling addicts who will continue to play until all their money is gone and their credit is exhausted and their lives are ruined. In other words, capitalists are addicts who are willing to destroy anything for their fix, and now they are well on their way to destroying our livable world.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2022 at 10:04 am

The wonderful Monday morning shave — with a note on the pre-shave I use

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Monday mornings are the best, a sentiment that comes from the excellence and pleasure of shaving a two-day stubble. The Monday shave seems to start the week right, pleasure powering pleasant anticipation of the week to come.

Sandalwood Rose is a very pleasant fragrance in Mystic Water’s shaving soap, which produces a superb lather, this morning with Mr Pomp’s assistance. And Lo Storto, Fatip’s fine slant, did a wonderful job.

I noticed an exceptional softness to my skin as I did the final rinse, and it made me realize that this softer, better result has been present for a while — in fact, from the time I started my new tub of Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave. I don’t know whether he has improved the formula since that first tub I got almost a year and a half ago, or whether the tub I had been using had in its dregs become diluted with water from my wet fingers as I scooped out a little to the point that it was no longer so effective, but — whatever the cause — this new tub seems more noticeably effective at both moisturizing and assisting with the shave by improving glide and protection. I highly recommend the pre-shave.

A splash of Stirling Soap Company’s Vetiver, with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel, and I’m ready for the day if not the week. And today marks 6 weeks from my pacemaker surgery, so I can resume Nordic walking — yay! 

The tea this morning: Murchie’s Baker Street Blend: “Lapsang Souchong, smooth Keemun, rich Ceylon, Gunpowder, and floral Jasmine.”

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2022 at 7:54 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

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