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Un Obscura Laberinto
The Ocean is Troubled to its Depths
At least for a little while…

Dr. Carl Hart – neuroscientist, psychologist, activist, grew up in the Miami hood, Columbia University professor

His areas of expertise are in the psychology and neuroscience of drug use and addiction. His interests and activism stem from the findings of his scientific research and work: drugs are not the problem. The problems have a hell of a lot more to do with social injustices and inequalities, like poverty and racism, as well as ignorance.

Please help raise awareness by spreading the word about him and his work so that we can help to try to tackle the problems, both social and personal.
13th-Jun-2015 01:54 pm - Damn, that's pretty damning
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But, it is certainly true:

“When the missionaries [who were white, of course] came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”

It's attributed to Desmond Tutu, but he didn't say it. Oddly, it's from a controversial German play about Hitler and the Holocaust and the Pope at that time. I'm trying to imagine how on earth such a line could come up in such a play…?

The introduction of Christianity into Africa is/was a contributing factor to how screwed up things got and still are in Africa…

…I'll have more to say about this…
self inflicted
Wow, you know, headaches every fucking day all day long with little relief from motrin and tylenol – this shit's getting old.

I am so tired of being in so much pain all the goddamn time. If it's not one thing, it's another. Every single day, it's something. I can't even fucking live my life. Just being alive is literally equivalent to pain.
I literally have no idea what it feels like to not feel like shit.
National and international scale, systematic and deeply organized secrecy permeating several aspects of society is, as we all know, an essential feature of contemporary conspiracy "theories". I've already brought up the issue of how thoroughly implausible such secrecy is, but a thought suddenly hit me and I had to share: Even the CIA and the NSA, who are literally in the business of secrecy, couldn't keep their own dirty secrets secret.
9th-Jun-2015 01:31 am - And so the Earth spins…
More posts will be coming soon. I am working on a few, in addition to a couple of other art projects. But things are coming slowly. My dear Mother had total knee replacement surgery last week, and I am helping to take care of her and to be with her while her husband is at work so that she's not home alone.

Don't send me a message and tell me you're sorry to hear about my Mother. Some surgeries are a good thing. She's been looking forward to this for a few years. It is quite painful for a little while and it is a long recovery, but it is certainly worth it to her to have a new knee.

However, my grandfather (her father) isn't doing well at all right now, but we're not really sure what's going on. I feel a special kind of connection with him, and he is one family member I am deeply grateful for. So, this is distressing to me.

There is also the underlying and ever-present depression that I have to struggle with everyday. It doesn't leave me very hopeful when I am watching my depression getting worse every year.
One of the hardest aspects of the struggle for me has to do with the fact that I know what I need to do in order to keep myself from slipping off the edge into the abyss. And I work very hard doing this everyday. It takes so much effort just to keep myself doing these things that I love, that I am passionate about, that give meaning to my life, because right now these are the things that are keeping me alive. But anyone who would look at me from the outside, look at my life right now, and what I do with my time everyday, how I am living my life, anyone who would look would think I look like I'm doing just fine, and they most likely wouldn't believe that I'm suffering everyday from major depression. They most likely wouldn't believe that it takes so much effort just for me to look like I'm doing okay.
But they never see the personal hell that is in my own mind.

People have a very hard time taking depression seriously. They love to tell people like me that, "everyone gets depressed at times, everyone goes through hard times, you just gotta pull yourself out of the negativity and get on with life." Or they simply blame us for being so negative all the time, that it's our fault for having such a negative perspective on everything. Or blah blah blah

I really find it so hard to understand why so many people refuse to take depression seriously:
There is no other disease or illness so horrible and so painful that it causes so many of its victims to commit suicide.

Maybe people should think about that the next time they want to tell a depressed person that it's their own fault and they just need to get over it.

I probably need to read The Book of Disquiet again.

And lastly, my heart aches for a certain someone…
In search of time
U.S. Police Shootings 'Grossly Underreported': "A Washington Post study found that during the first five months of 2015, 385 people were killed by police. … According to the report, half the victims were white. But among unarmed victims, two-thirds were black or Hispanic. Overall, blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred."

A Demonstration of White Privilege
The idea that free speech is protected equally across racial lines is a fiction. The racial identity of the protesters are as, and sometimes more, important than the content of the speech. This was vividly evidenced on the violent crackdown on the wave of Black Lives Matter protests that swept through the US, and on Friday, police protection of the anti-Islam protesters in Phoenix.

Friday's protest in Arizona was as much a display of white privilege as it was an anti-Islam protest.

The overwhelmingly white throng of 500 anti-Muslim protesters - who spewed racial and religious slurs, donned camouflage as if prepping for war, and brandished guns and other weaponry - embodied every element of a "violent mob", or an "imminent threat".
In fact, the demonstration was spearheaded by a biker gang.

Indeed, if black, Latino or Muslim American protesters acted the same, police would be on-site to suppress, not protect.

The Rohingya of Myanmar

In Myanmar, attacking the Rohingya is good politics

Aung San Suu Kyi's inexcusable silence about the Rohingya Muslims
1st-Jun-2015 06:24 pm - Life has a rhythm
self inflicted
Hmm, interesting research into whether or not we can hack our sleeping brains to help us unlearn social biases.

They used the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to figure out biases people have that they don't realize they have. There are several different tests you can take – click the link to take one – each one for a specific bias.
I couldn't pass up testing myself on black-white skin colour bias.
My test results.
Even though I'm glad my results are what they are and I feel like they accurately represent this aspect of my mind, I have to be honest: I'm not sure what I think about the legitimacy of this kind of test to reveal what it's intended to reveal. I worry about the potential consequences of relying on things like this to reveal "the truth" about people's feelings and/or attitudes. There is similarly themed work being done in the neurosciences, putting people in brain scanners to reveal what's "really" going on in their "minds", whether they're aware of it or not. Scientists might be careful about how they use this data, but everyone else may not be, and probably won't be. I worry about the idea of any sort of substitute for observing and analyzing how people in fact behave in the world, what choices they make, how they in fact treat other people.
I don't know, this is one of those things that's really, really difficult to sort out philosophically, scientifically, ethically, socially, politically…
27th-May-2015 08:38 pm - Wave-Particle Duality?
pion-muon decay
"During the summer of '25… I asked him [Pauli] this question: 'Was light [a] wave or a particle?' And I can remember this kind of cynical laugh of his."

Interview with Hendrik Casimir, 28 January 1964, Archive for the History of Quantum Physics
26th-May-2015 01:33 am - Beautiful music and singing.
…with adorably hilarious children.

Yes, the Islamic State has to do with an extremist and very strict ideology couched in the language of Islam.
And it makes for a good show.
Which is precisely what they're shooting for.

But have a look behind the curtain and things start to look a little different.

It's more business and politics than it is about being the only true Muslims.
Because it turns out they're making a killing off their hypocrisies.

BBC Documentaries podcast relevant episodes:

The World's Richest Terror Army

ISIS: Looting for Terror

The Islamic State's Social Media Machine, Part 1

Jordan Takes On the Islamic State's Digital Machine, Part 2

Bureaucracy and Brutality
25th-May-2015 07:57 am - Don't Panic.
pion-muon decay
And know where your towel is.

24th-May-2015 08:59 am - Florida Sandhill Crane
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Woke this morning to find a lonely Florida Sandhill Crane right outside. He just now left. His calls were echoing quite nicely off all the buildings. Apparently, sandhill cranes have one of the longest fossil records of any living bird. Like I've said, present day dinosaurs. :)
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Osama bin Laden was reading about 9/11 truther conspiracy theories.
That's awesome.

I highly recommend these podcast episodes on the topic of the Loving v. Virginia case, which was a case, relevant to Black History, about a marriage deemed illegal. Some really interesting things come up in the discussion.

Stuff You Missed in History: Loving v. Virginia, Part 1
…Part 2
self inflicted
I loathe using the word "race" to refer to different colours of skin – and a few other physical characteristics, but mainly just skin colour. The word "race" just needs to be abolished.

Firstly, because it has no basis in the human biological sciences; so it is just plain biological nonsense.

Secondly, because it just legitimizes the idea that there is some real and fundamental difference between "those" people and "us", when there isn't any fucking difference. Not any more significant a difference than differences in height! Or whether you can curl your tongue or not. Or whether you have thick eyebrows or thin eyebrows. So we ought not give a single iota of legitimacy to such an idea, precisely because it is the underlying tenet of any sort of prejudice and bigotry and discrimination.

So we shouldn't be calling it "racial" discrimination, because that word carries too much weight, and weight gives reality to something. We should instead call it exactly for what it is, namely, trivial physiological characteristics. Calling it "skin-colour" discrimination has the effect, I think, of bringing attention to the superficiality on which the prejudice and discrimination are based. In other words, using the term "skin-colour" dismantles the façade and nullifies the currency of bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination to reveal its illegitimacy.

The illegitimacy of the term "race" in a biological sense, when applied to humans, begins with the fact that it's not even a clear concept at all. If there are distinct races, we should be able to clearly define and delineate them. But how are we to decide which characteristics are the ones that delineate one race from another?

Furthermore, who is doing the defining makes a difference. Because some people would classify Jews and Muslims as different races of people. We might say that Jews and Muslims in the Arab world are all the same race; but they might think otherwise.
We often speak of Europeans, but the Europeans from the Netherlands and those from Greece are quite different.
If a dark-haired, tan-skinned southern Italian finds himself in Sweden, chances are they don't consider him white. In Nigeria, he's definitely white. But what would he be if he were in Turkey? Or, in Afghanistan? Or, in Australia? Or in Ecuador?
Many of the people of Sri Lanka have skin as dark as most blacks in the U.S. Are they black?
Koreans have skin no different from anyone in the U.S. who would call him- or herself white. But apparently, they're still not white.
I think most native Hawaiians are darker than Koreans, so what are they?
The Caucasus region includes Russia, Turkey, Iran, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, so why doesn't "Caucasian" refer to people from those nations? Why do white people in the U.S. call themselves "Caucasian"?

So, what exactly do we mean by "race"? If it's biological, what exactly is the relevant biology? We start with some visible characteristics, but which characteristics are relevant, how relevant, etc., is inconsistent. In some cases skin colour matters, but in others, not. In some cases, the texture of hair is relevant, but sometimes not. In some cases, shape of the nose is relevant, but sometimes not. Seems we're just cherry-picking here and there each time.

The more specific and relevant question we really need to stop and ask here: what is the significance of differences in a few specified visible characteristics? Aren't we just noticing the obvious fact that there is visible variability amongst humans? Why does some variability matter and some doesn't? What's the significance? When you notice that some person has these specific visible differences – skin, hair, eyes, nose, cheekbones – and you conclude this person is of a different race from you, what does it mean to say that he's a different race, beyond those few visible characteristics? In other words, what is it that you think you're picking out as different, beyond those few visible characteristics, that makes him a different race from you?
If your answer is, "nothing, it's just those physical differences," well then you've got a problem, because that's not what it means biologically to be a race.

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In fact, I daresay that the more intelligent you are, the greater your risk of falling for conspiracy mythologies. Because one of the features of intelligence is the ability to hold several things in your mind and see the relations between them, whatever those relations are, as well as seeing where there aren't relations, and then to draw something further out of that.

An obvious example is any sort of math problem.
Another good example is medical diagnosis. Related to that, psychological diagnosis.
Another obvious example is scientific research, as well as being able to design an experiment.
I would also say that many forms of creative thinking are also examples, such as a cook creating a new dish or meal; interior design; making clothes without using any patterns or guides; architecture, etc.

So, if you're pretty good at being able to see how things are related, or not, how things fit together, or not, it's easy to get swept up into the alluring mythology of conspiracy theories because seeing connections and patterns is what they're all about.

It's not intelligence that guards you against falling for bullshit; it's critical thinking. (Critical reasoning, critical analysis, whatever you want to call it.)

Slate Magazine is a pretty good source of good critical thinking. With respect to the topic of conspiracy mythology, I recommend an episode of their podcast (the first part anyway, since they go into other topics further into the episode):
Slate's Political Gabfest: Hersh's Conspiracy "Theory" on the Killing of Osama bin Laden
You may have to scroll down a bit on the page to get to the embedded player to listen to the podcast.
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I've been spending more and more time over the past year trying to learn what I can about the recent history of the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula, in order to try to get some kind of understanding of how things got to where they are now.

So, I just want to share with y'all a lengthy quote, from "Muslims and Democracy", by Abdou Filali-Ansary, 1999:
He used the term Dahriyin, which literally means "temporalists," to refer to secularists. The word itself, which is of Koranic origin, had originally been applied to atheists. … Through his choice of terminology, Al-Afghani implicitly equated these nineteenth century positivists with the seventh century opponents of the Prophet. For Muslim readers, this formulation defined the terms of a large and enduring misunderstanding. From then on, secularism was seen as being intimately related to, if not simply the same thing as, atheism. …

These initial choices of terminology gave birth to the opposition in the mind of Muslims between, on the one hand, the system of belief and the social order that they inherited and lived in, and on the other, the alternative adopted by Europeans. … The feeling that has prevailed since then among Muslims is that there is a strict and irreducible opposition between two systems – Islam and non-Islam. To be a secularist has meant to abandon Islam, to reject altogether not only the religious faith but also its attendant morality and the traditions and rules that operate within Muslim societies. It therefore has been understood as a total alienation from the constituent elements of the Islamic personality and as a complete surrender to unbelief, immorality, and self-hatred, leading to a disavowal of the historic identity and civilization inherited from illustrious ancestors. It is worth noting that the vast majority of Muslims in the nineteenth century, even those who were part of the educated elite, lived in total ignorance both of the debates going on in Europe about religion and its role in the social order and of the historical changes reshaping European societies. They were not aware of the distinction between atheism and secularism. The consequences of this misunderstanding still profoundly shape the attitudes of Muslims today.

… In the latter part of the nineteenth century and early in the twentieth, the confrontation with the colonial powers, thought to be the carriers and defenders of a mixture of aggressive Christian proselytism and of the new secularism, played an important role in strengthening this dualism. In the diverse conflicts that local populations waged to defend their independence, identity and religion became intimately fused. …

One of the most striking consequences of this evolution is that Islam now appears to be the religion that is most hostile to secularization and to modernity in general. Yet intrinsically, Islam would seem to be the religion closest to modern views and ideals, and thus the one that would most easily accommodate secularization. "The high culture form of Islam," writes Ernest Gellner, "is endowed with a number of features – unitarianism, a rule-ethic, individualism, scriptualism, puritanism, an egalitarian aversion to mediation and hierarchy, a fairly small load of magic – that are congruent, presumably, with the requirements of modernity or modernisation." In a similar vein, Mohamed Charfi observes that, on the level of principles, Islam should favor individual freedoms and the capacity for religious choice. The historical developments noted above, however, caused Muslim societies to evolve in the opposite direction – toward the loss of individual autonomy and total submission to the community and the state.
pion-muon decay
This is in response to Rationally Speaking Episode 133: Sean Carroll on "The Many-Worlds Interpretation is probably correct"

That was painful.

I find it very interesting that Sean says this:
I advocate it [many-worlds] because I think that it is discounted both within the popular imagination and among professional physicists more than it should be. But if all of my colleagues were going around saying that Everettian quantum mechanics is obviously right and we don't need to think about it, I'd probably be on the other side saying "no" because I'm skeptical.

It's statements like that that give skepticism a bad name, that misrepresent skepticism. Being skeptical is not simply going against the majority no matter what the majority says. That's just being a contrarian.
He's also implying that the current majority are going around saying that their interpretation of quantum mechanics is obviously right and we don't need to think about it, but I am extremely skeptical of that claim. I think he is really misrepresenting the rest of the physics community and is probably being rather unfair.

So, here are my thoughts, including a bit of explanation of the little of quantum mechanics that I'm familiar with, then some critique, and then some history thrown in at the end.

Let's get one utterly crucial thing straight:
Quantum mechanics is a mathematical theory, what Sean is referring to as "the formalism." I do not think it would really be correct to say "the formalism of QM"; because QM is the formalism. From a mathematical perspective, QM makes sense just fine. For example, a mathematician doesn't have the slightest problem with infinitely dimensional space, while the rest of us hear that bit about QM and think, That's crazy. But that's because infinitely dimensional space is a mathematical concept. Which is where Heisenberg and co. got it from. (As I said, I'll come back to the history, but just as a side comment: in the very early days of the development of QM, Heisenberg specifically went to meet with David Hilbert himself.)

An interpretation of QM is a theory about that formalism, specifically, what it means, what it really says about the world. Even to speak of particles and waves and fields is to slide over into interpretive talk. So, for example, the whole wave-particle issue is purely a problem for the interpretation of QM; because the mathematics is what it is, and it works, regardless of what you want to call it.
And it does work, frighteningly well.

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self inflicted
This isn't actually news to me. Back when I was living in Michigan, I was aware of the similar conditions of Detroit. This sort of thing just angers and depresses me.
I think it was Ghandi who said something to the effect of: the worst violence you can inflict upon someone is poverty.

The slow poisoning of Freddie Gray and the hidden violence against black communities

I'll have more to say about this at some point.
Students are opting out of testing

This is fabulous!
Since I don't have kids, and spend nearly zero time around kids and parents, I hadn't heard about this movement last year. I'm glad I'm hearing about it now. Because, seriously y'all, education is one of the most important aspects of contemporary life, and yet it's one of those things at the bottom of the list of things the government is willing to put money into. WTF??? Children are the future! Those who are children now are going to be running things when you and I are old, so it might be a swell idea to prepare them with the best minds we can give to them.

And let's talk about teachers. Why on earth are the people who are performing one of the most important jobs in our society being paid so little and getting so little benefits? And why the hell do we have such low standards for teachers? I mean, why do we not require those who want to be teachers to go through rigorous training and education themselves, both on teaching and on the subject(s) they will be teaching? Why do we not require a degree in English to teach English? Or a degree in Political Sciences to teach Political Sciences? Or a degree in Biology to teach Biology? (Didn't we used to?) Or if not a degree specifically, then some equivalent that is part of the specific training and education program that anyone who wants to go into education must pass? We should have separate institutions altogether that are devoted to preparing those who want to go into education, instead of them just going to regular universities and colleges. Because preparing someone to be a seventh grade science teacher is a very different thing from preparing someone to be a scientist. Even those who want to work with very young kids should have thorough training in child development and psychology, and other things that would obviously be relevant to dealing with small children.

All right, enough ranting. I was supposed to be taking a shower…
BBC Podcast: Alistair Cooke Memorial Lecture w/ Prof. David Blight

Listen on BBC's website.

Download mp3 file. (Right-click, and "save" or "save link as". Or just click to play it in the browser.)
12th-May-2015 07:40 pm - La Yekthar – Saudi Satire
pion-muon decay
This guy cracks me up.
It is worth pointing out that, by directly uploading his show onto YouTube, he gets around all of the censorship of media in Saudi Arabia.
(If the subtitles don't automatically show up, click the "CC" button.)

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11th-May-2015 06:12 pm - Truth About Measles & the MMR Vaccine
Measles is much worse than you think.
The antivaxers will try to tell you it's not really that bad, and that exposure is good because it builds up antibodies. (Not really that bad??? Have a look at the photos below.)

Let me assure you that the antivaxers have no idea what they're talking about.

1 in every 4 cases of measles requires hospitalization. Complications with measles can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and eye irritation or infection that can lead to blindness.
But it's much worse than that!
The virus actually destroys antibodies that your body had previously built up against whatever else you'd been exposed to before. Which, of course, leaves you (or a child) completely vulnerable to all other pathogens, and it can take at least a couple of years or so to build up all those antibodies again. Which means that measles decreases herd immunity for all other pathogens.

This should not be taken lightly, because measles is also one of the most contagious illnesses: 90% of those who get exposed to the virus and were not vaccinated become infected.

The worst and most dangerous thing about measles isn't the measles: it's what comes after.
Because it destroys all the built up antibodies, the worst and most dangerous consequences, and the majority of the fatal consequences in children, are due to illnesses picked up in the 2-3 years following a measles infection.

The facts are there. I'm not a parent but I can't even fathom that a parent, after being confronted with such facts, would still think it's a good idea to not vaccinate his or her child or children.
There is no excuse, especially since, because of the antivaccination cult, study after study after study after study has demonstrated the complete safety of vaccines. Not to mention the fact that Andrew Wakefield has been shown to be a fraud. (But he's still making tons of money off of it because of his cult following!)

Please help spread the information and the facts – in my humble opinion, we all have a social responsibility to each other. The antivaccination cult has already been starting to die; no sense in letting it suffer too long.

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Part I
Part II

Picking right up where I left off:

V. Biology Lessons: Understanding Viruses; and Conspiracy Mythology Biology Fail

A significant source of fodder for conspiracy mythology that has anything to do with anything biological is just a lack of knowledge and understanding of the relevant biological information, especially the kind of ignorance and misunderstanding that stems from having an extremely simplistic view of the biology. And the problem is, the biology that we were all taught in high school, and even in 100 or 200 level college biology courses, is a very simplistic view of biology. But before you automatically blame our education system – not that I'm defending it, but… – you have to realize and take into consideration that biology gets really complicated and really messy really quickly. Not to mention that we're always learning new things.
Therefore, in order to make sense of the rest of the story and really grasp in that larger picture just how easily, in fact, it would have been for something like HIV to emerge and spread into an epidemic, we're going to have to have a bit of a biology lesson.

Infectious diseases were not new to Africa, especially not in the Congo rainforest. I mean, a goddamn rainforest is about as good as it gets for an overwhelming abundance of life – so many different species of so many different kinds of organisms, from mammals to birds to reptiles to insects to plants to microorganisms, too many to count, and some will go extinct without our ever having known about them! Wherever there is a dense abundance of life, the amount of microorganisms is many orders of magnitude greater than the amount of macroorganisms. One very important reason for that is the fact that all of those animals, insects, plants, etc., are home to a whole lot of those microorganisms.

Such as viruses. All viruses require a host in order to replicate. So, for a virus to be successful as a species, it needs, ideally, to be able to replicate itself inside at least one type of host indefinitely without triggering that organism's immune response to attack and get rid of the virus – the "home" host for the virus – as well as be able to shed itself from the host in order to be transmitted to another host. An organism that serves as the "home" host doesn't get sick or diseased from the virus. All of the viruses that cause human illnesses and diseases originate from other living organisms that are home to those viruses. (In some cases, we picked up a virus from the "home" host; in other cases, we picked up a virus from a sick or diseased host.)

So the peoples that had been living in or very close to the Congo rainforest were regularly exposed to all sorts of viruses, only some of which were, by sheer biological luck, able to utilize humans as a host in order to replicate and spread, sometimes causing illness or disease in the process. But due to how small and separated the communities of those peoples were, transmission and outbreaks were pretty well restricted and/or contained.
Which means, the exposure to human biology – the time spent utilizing humans as hosts – was also limited.

Here's why that's really important:
As a virus replicates, it mutates every so often, because the replication process is imperfect and produces "errors" (mutations). Exactly when and how it mutates is random – though the average rate of mutation is very predictable – but the more time it spends replicating inside a host, the more it mutates. Most of the mutations will probably be disadvantageous, and so, by natural selection, those particular copies of the virus won't be able to replicate. The copies that do replicate either have no mutations, mutations that have neutral or no effects, or mutations that are advantageous. As a mutated copy replicates, some of its copies will have mutations. And so on. Consequently, it is appropriate to say, that, over time, as a virus successfully replicates and thus accumulates mutations, it "learns" about its host, so to speak; and "learns more" the more time it spends replicating in its host.
Now add transmission to a new host to this picture. If what gets transmitted to the next person is a copy of the virus that is mutated relative to the initial version that infected the first person, then as the virus replicates in its next host, it accumulates even more mutations, and thus, "learns" even more about its human hosts. And given that this "learning" is through the process of natural selection, what this really means is that the virus is "fitting itself" to our biology.
So, the more a virus spreads, the more it mutates, and therefore, the more it "learns" about us and evolves "to better fit itself" to our biology.

One thing a virus can "learn" about us is how to evade (or better evade) our immune system.

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8th-May-2015 04:57 pm - Knit Shawl
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self inflicted
Part I
Part III

I want to discuss one particular conspiracy myth, because it has to do with a very serious topic that hits several deep nerves in me. I was also motivated by having learned that someone I know whom I care a lot about has bought into this particular conspiracy mythology; and while I know that he buys into some others, if I had to choose only one to change his mind about, it's this one:
The conspiracy mythology that HIV was created by the U.S. government, or an organization contracted by the U.S. government – or some sort of secret world government – as a method of population control over blacks, hispanics, and homosexuals.

I want to address this from a perspective particularly focused on the claim of population control over blacks. It's not just supposed to be population control over blacks here in the U.S., but blacks generally. And so it's taken as an attack on Africa, on the African peoples.
I don't know how popular this conspiracy myth is amongst blacks here in the U.S., but I would not be surprised if it is relatively popular. I mean, I would think it would be rather obvious why such a conspiracy myth would be appealing to blacks here in the U.S.

I also realize that there may not be very many people in general who buy into this particular conspiracy mythology, and so it may very well be unnecessary to put so much effort into discussing and debunking the myth. (Of course, I could be wrong about that.) However, I think it might at least be worthwhile as an exercise, especially for showing just how very, very wrong a conspiracy myth can be – how far it misses the mark and how far it draws attention away from the actual issues that really matter. And I would say this is a typical conspiracy myth, so it serves to show how very wrong conspiracy myths usually are.

In what immediately follows, I take what might perhaps seem to some readers like an odd approach to this topic; if it does seem so, just bear with me, and my intentions and methodology should become salient, I hope. If you're hoping for pretty solid evidence that clearly contradicts, discredits, disproves and debunks the conspiracy myth, there is plenty of that to come.

I will also sometimes use the term 'myth' as a personified stand-in to refer to the conspiracy theorist who created it, all other conspiracy theorists who advocate it, and anyone who believes in it and spreads it onto others. There are two reasons for this: (i) it's just easier to say 'myth', and (ii) it is helpful to distinguish between a belief and a person who holds that belief. Because one of the psychological challenges to confronting someone's beliefs is that people tend to identify with their own beliefs; so that any challenge or confrontation to their beliefs is taken as a personal attack against themselves. This is why it is so hard for so many people to ever admit they are wrong, especially to themselves. I have no problem admitting that it took me a long time to get over that psychological hurdle myself, so I know it's hard. (The nice thing is that, once you get over it, it quickly becomes easier and easier every time; until you reach the point where you welcome discovering you were wrong, because it means you get to learn something, and thereby get one step closer to the truth (whatever that means, but let's leave that philosophical discussion for another day).) The language we use influences how we think. So I figure it might be at least a little helpful to use the language in a way that distinguishes the conspiracy myth from the believer, and makes the myth the target of the attack.

I. Disrespectful to Africans, Past and Present

One of the first things that strikes me as deeply disturbing is how much this conspiracy myth is actually incredibly disrespectful to Africans, both past and present.
Yes, disrespectful.
Because not once does this myth ever bother to take one look at Africa itself – what happened there, what is currently going on there, what the experiences of the people are, both today and in the past. Not once does this myth ever bother to talk to any Africans about their perspectives on and experiences with HIV and AIDS, about what they know and believe, about what they've seen, and haven't seen. Not once does this myth ever bother to take one step into the history that Africa and Africans have suffered over the past century and a half, as if all that history means nothing in light of the rise and epidemic of HIV, as if all that history suffered has nothing to do with it.
Disrespectful, because this conspiracy myth gets to ignore all that history of Africa over the past century and a half, and gets to ignore what Africans themselves might have to say; so that this myth doesn't ever have to learn about that history, but can remain ignorant of it, because according to this mythology, that history just isn't relevant, isn't important, and neither is anything an African has to say.
Disrespectful, lastly, because this conspiracy myth takes the African suffering of an epidemic and turns it completely around to make it all about the U.S., and not about Africa at all.

And so I daresay that an African should be insulted, not just because the conspiracy myth displays the ignorance of the past century and a half of African history, but because of how it does so, the way that it displays that ignorance. But to even understand that aspect of it, one has to have some knowledge and understanding of that very history.

It is the history of European Colonialism in Africa, the Scramble for Africa, the invasion by the European Imperialists. Read more...Collapse )

Morgan Freeman on Baltimore Protest Coverage: ‘F-ck the Media’

The screen icon discussed police brutality and the televised news media’s coverage of the Baltimore protests in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody.

“F-ck the media.”

Original article on the Daily Beast.
By Marlow Stern

I’m seated across from Morgan Freeman, the Oscar-winning acting legend, discussing his latest film Five Flights Up. One of the through lines of the movie, a sweet little rom-com also starring Diane Keaton, is a young Muslim man whose truck has been stopped by the NYPD on a bridge. A televised standoff ensues, with media figures and the public wildly speculating about the cause of the stop. Most, as is their wont, immediately jump to the “he has a bomb” conclusion.

“Isn’t that always happening?” says Freeman of the media’s penchant for unsubstantiated, biased conjecture during live news events. “Look at MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN. Go between those three. There’s a take, there’s a take, and there’s a take. It’s just commentary. CNN wants to be pure news, but the others are just commentary. They’re just commenting on things.”

Which brings us to the TV news media’s coverage of the Baltimore protests in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American who was arrested on April 19 for possession of a switchblade. He was later found dead while in police custody, having sustained injuries to his spinal cord and larynx.

“People are saying, ‘You were not all there when we were just talking and trying to make a point, but if we set something on fire, all of a sudden you’re all here. Why is that? What’s the difference?’” Read more...Collapse )
Is it just me, or does it seem a bit odd that 9/11 truthers tend to be basically anti-Semitic, and that Osama bin Laden was definitely anti-Semitic?

And isn't it interesting that, in both cases the anti-Semitism comes along with belief in conspiracy mythology about Jews ruling the world?

My twisted sense of humor can't help but find this rather funny. (No less disgusting for that, though.)
3rd-May-2015 07:25 pm - One bad decision by our government
spaces in between
I post this because it relates to my criticism of contemporary conspiracy mythology, and the fact that conspiracy theorists utterly fail to have knowledge about and understanding of the political and historical complexities surrounding or leading up to some event or state of affairs.

Eugene Rogan, Associate Professor of the Modern History of the Middle East, Oriental Institute, St Antony's College, Oxford University, on the BBC World Service Documentary "The Rise of Islamism":
Many governments made the mistake to believe that they could harness religious enthusiasm to counter-effect the danger of nationalism. It was something that Sadat tried to do, in harnessing the support of the Muslim Brotherhood to his own regime. It's something we have seen foreign governments, such as the Americans and back in the Taliban, while they were fighting against the Soviet Union. Or, indeed, the way in which the government in Saudi Arabia has tried to deploy Wahhabism as a shield to protect them against nationalism. But the thing that local governors or foreign powers overlook is that, the moment you begin to play on religious sentiment, you set in motion forces well beyond your control. And any ruler, foreign or domestic, who believes they might control the religious impulse, and contain it to advance their own goals and go no further, has been shown to be deeply wrong. And they have, almost without exception, had to pay a high consequence for making that mistake.

I'm sure you can guess which conspiracy mythology this relates to.
30th-Apr-2015 06:28 pm - Addendum: Alien Conspiracy Mythology
"A search of 100,000 galaxies for signs of highly advanced extraterrestrial life, carried out by researchers in the US, has found no evidence that they harbour advanced civilizations."

When conspiracy theorists and believers say that either or both of the conspiratorial government or "the scientists" are hiding from the public whatever scientifically related thing they think they're hiding, it leaves me practically speechless. Because of how tremendously clueless they really are.
Because, they have no idea what it would really mean for that to occur, for that to be possible.
They have no idea how incredibly and fantastically enormous of a conspiracy that would have to be.
Because of all the journal articles that are being published every single day, in thousands and thousands of journals all over the world, which are all publicly accessible in some way or another.
Not to mention all the additional science news outlets that report on a fraction of those journal articles.
And then, all the actual books, including textbooks, that are being published each year.
For all of that to just be some world wide cover-up would be an enormous amount of work!!! I mean, you really have no idea how much work it would be. Because it's not as if they'd be simply putting up a front that there are all these scientific articles being published everyday and books being published every year. No, those articles and books exist, full length, with tons of graphs and diagrams and models and notes and citations and whatever else, and you can read them. If all those are fake, who's writing them? It can't be the scientists, since they're supposedly busy doing secret work.
The government would have to employ hundreds of millions of people just to do all of that. Because it's gotta be world wide, which means it's gotta be done in several different languages.

That's a lot of jobs.

A moment's thought tells you that that fact alone is enough to know that the conspiracy bullshit is bullshit.
Thank you.
self inflicted
Original article.

United States of Amnesia: What White America Doesn't Understand About the Baltimore Protests

By Chauncey DeVega

Baltimore’s young people responded to the police theft of Freddie Gray’s life with protests that eventually grew into a spasm of violence. While the direct motivator, Gray’s death is not the only direct cause of the uprising. The protests and violent exhalations by Baltimore’s black youth (and others) are the result of a long pattern of police abuse, harassment and violence toward that city’s African-American community in the context of systemic class inequality, custodial citizenship and mass incarceration.

The causes of black urban unrest in the United States are not “unknown unknowns.” Rather, they were described in great and compelling detail by the 1968 Kerner Commission, which was tasked by President Johnson with determining the causes of the urban riots during the 1960s.

The reasons young people in Baltimore and other parts of the United States have been moved to street protests in response to police violence are only mysteries to those American policymakers and members of the public who choose to live in a state of denial.

(White) America is a country with a limited historical perspective and a very short-term memory. As Gore Vidal famously said, “We live here in the United States of Amnesia. No one remembers anything before Monday morning. Everything is a blank. They have no history.”

Thus, the American people are robbed of any meaningful social or historical context for the police abuse in Baltimore, Ferguson, and the many other locales where police thuggery and state violence are routinely visited upon black and brown Americans, as well as the poor and the mentally ill, with relative impunity.

White riots and pogroms against Black Americans are a fixture of American history. But the corporate news media enables many white Americans' intentional forgetting and mass amnesia.

Here, the uprising and righteous anger of black young people in Baltimore (and elsewhere) is almost by default described as a riot. Deeper questions about class inequality and racism are removed from the dominant media frame and replaced by tired, trite and profoundly unsophisticated claims that the uprising in Baltimore was caused by absent black fathers, broken homes and an urban culture of poverty and violence. In everything but name, Baltimore’s black youth have been branded by the news media and American opinion leaders as feral street urchins: this is the language of racialization and dehumanization.

Read more...Collapse )
self inflicted
Part II
Part III

While there are many reasons as to why belief in conspiracy theories today is dangerous, there is one that I think is the most important: they are distracting attention away from the real and serious issues and problems that are in fact affecting the lives of thousands, if not millions. People, especially here in the U.S., are basically being blinded because what gets their attention are the ridiculously and naïvely fanciful stories of a childishly simplistic (mis)understanding of the world. It's an insult to their intelligence that they don't notice because it's been heavily dressed up in a whirlwind of rhetoric that preys upon some basic human emotions stirred by the common struggle of the human condition in the context of the technologically, politically and socioeconomically infused complex confusion of our contemporary world. Those emotions are understandable, and perhaps the "comfort" that conspiracy theories offer is the satisfaction of having an identifiable other to blame. But whatever the psychological explanation might be for the appeal of conspiracy theories, the point is that they end up pulling people's attention away from the things that really do matter. And that has further, negative consequences.

An excellent example: Big Pharma. While people pay attention to and continue to spread all sorts of false claims about the "evils" of Big Pharma, this does a wonderful job of distracting your attention away from what the big pharmaceutical companies are actually doing that you should actually be concerned or outraged about. The problem is, things in the real world are much more subtle and much more complicated than all the fanciful rumors and horror stories and conspiracy theories. What people need to realize and appreciate is that sometimes a subtle thing, while it seems small and innocuous, actually ends up having big and harmful consequences. In fact, its subtlety may be the very reason it has such consequences, because subtleties are easily overlooked.

People also need to get over the fact that things are complicated. If you really want to know and understand the sleazy things that big pharmaceutical companies are actually doing, you need to know about all the laws and regulations; the actual complex and nuanced relationships between the business side, the science side, the legal side, and the medical practice side; you need to understand details about how clinical experiments and trials are supposed to work and how they're supposed to be done, and all of that requires you to have a modest grasp on statistics. Furthermore, and just as important, you need to know what is actually being done to try to solve these problems, because there are, in fact, a whole lot of people in governments and organizations across the globe that are working very hard to fix these problems and tie up loopholes that get taken advantage of. (Trust me, governments are getting sick of paying for the messes that Big Pharma have made, both accidentally and intentionally.)

And lastly, you need to accept and know about all the good things the pharmaceutical companies have actually done, too, and all the good things they are still doing for the world. (Relevant current case in point: what the biggest pharma companies are doing to try to help create a vaccine against ebola, including trying to speed up how long the process usually takes. Some of these companies are genuinely making it a top priority and genuinely making a big effort.)

I am going to switch my terminology from 'conspiracy theory' to 'conspiracy myth', because that is exactly what these stories really are, myths.

A key theme to all conspiracy mythology is the idea that "behind" what we see and hear day to day is some group of people who are "running the show", and what we see and hear day to day is an elaborately created deception, blah blah blah.
Aside from all the other things wrong with these sorts of claims, this also serves to distract your attention away from something that is so general about the human world and so important to realize when we try to understand our world. In this case, the reality that matters is in fact quite the opposite of what the conspiracy mythology would have you think. The conspiracy mythology paints a picture of certain groups of people, such as governments, as basically having unlimited power, unlimited knowledge, and unlimited capacity to organize, coordinate and execute their operations exactly as planned. But the reality that matters is, first, things are always far more complex and complicated and confusing than the cartoonish fantasy described by the conspiracy mythology. Second, governments, and other groups of powerful people in the world, are incompetent just as often as they are competent and successful, and that even their successes don't turn out exactly as were planned or attempted; they are fallible and just as susceptible to human error as the rest of us; they suffer the same human limitations in knowledge and power that the rest of us do. In other words, what conspiracy mythology is consistently covering up is the fact that, just like everyone else, the most powerful groups of people in the world frequently don't get what they want, and they frequently fuck up.

Which means that a whole lot of what's fucked up about the world today is due to failures, whether from human error, unforeseeable events or consequences, poor decisions or judgments, misunderstandings, lack of knowledge – including of things that could not have been known by the relevant parties at the time – limitations on resources, and, of course, plain ol' unfortunate chance.
Of course some things are fucked up the way they are because rich and powerful people made them that way because it benefitted them; but more often than you'd probably think, it's rather because of how powerless the most powerful people in the world in fact are.

And to that reality, conspiracy mythology makes you blind. Read more...Collapse )
29th-Apr-2015 12:09 pm - Baltimore Riots
In search of time
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Baltimore riots: the fire this time and the fire last time and the time between

Demonstrators attempt to keep protests calm during Baltimore demonstrations.

Kimberly Moffitt, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; John Rennie Short, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Kate Drabinski, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Michael Sierra-Arevalo, Yale University

Editor’s note: Protests erupted Monday into violence in Baltimore following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a black man who died after being taken into police custody. We asked scholars to comment on the implications of the riots, which occurred 47 years after Baltimore exploded after the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
Read more...Collapse )
28th-Apr-2015 02:16 pm - Real Southern Cornbread
pion-muon decay
All corn; no wheat flour. And no sugar. It's yummier than I expected.
What makes it real southern cornbread? It's made from stone ground cornmeal, and that makes all the difference in the world. If the package doesn't state that it's stone ground, then it's not.

27th-Apr-2015 02:03 pm - Black rice
Beautiful, delicious, and the nutritionally best rice there is. It's black colour is purplish, which shows when cooked. It's purple for the same reason that blueberries are; but it beats blueberries for nutritional benefits.

Black rice cooked with a bit of butter. Chopped pecans, lots of sesame seeds, allspice, a couple of pinches of chipotle, and sea salt to taste.

pion-muon decay
Let me remind you that birds are present day dinosaurs. We actually have fossils of at least a few different species that are somewhere between being dinosaurs and being birds, beautifully demonstrating that evolution.
(As a side note: I've been noticing right outside my window the past week or so a momma crow teaching her kid how to fly and all there is to know about being a crow. I think their nest is on the roof right over my bedroom.)

24th-Apr-2015 06:27 pm - The AQ Test
In search of time

Unsurprisingly, I scored 44 (out of 50).
However, I do have to add that I am a bit familiar with Simon Baron-Cohen's theory on autistic spectrum disorder, and I have some disagreements with it.
spaces in between
I am getting tired of hearing and reading that this or that trait is "determined by (your) genes". Stop using this phrase.

Unless you are talking about one of the very few specific traits that we know really does come down to one or a few genes, and we know which genes those are and how they work – like eye colour, or skin colour, or sickle cell. But otherwise, just stop.

Not even your sex is "determined by your genes".
If it were, then the Olympics, and the professional sports world in general, wouldn't be having the sex and gender problems they're having these days, now would they?

Almost every use of the phrase "determined by (your) genes" is either false, vacuous, or unforgivably misleading.
On the one hand, nothing is determined by your genes. On the other hand, everything is determined by your genes.
In the first place, genes themselves don't really do anything, but whatever it is their RNA equivalents do do, they can't do any of it without the cellular environment and the molecular, chemical environment beyond, nor without all of the non-coding DNA and/or its RNA equivalents. In the second place, there wouldn't be a you at all without your genes.

The truth of the matter is that the phrase "determined by (your) genes" is incapable of being a correct or accurate description. It makes about as much sense as saying that the computer programming of the robots that constructed a car in the factory determined the gas mileage of the car, or how much oil it uses, or the sound of the horn, or how fast the windshield wipers move, or the temperature the a/c blows out, or how long it takes for the brake pads to wear down…

Not too long ago, geneticists worked out the genetics of height. (I come back to this further below to point out a few things.) Quite obviously, height is a highly heritable trait. But deprive a child enough from the nutrients s/he needs, and that malnourishment will override the inheritance of height from the parents. (There are other things you could do, too: keep the child completely confined to a very small space; never allow the child to walk, and so on.)

One might be tempted to say that, in that case, the child's genes do not determine his/her height. But you see, this is one of the many problems with using that kind of language: it gives the impression that it's an all or nothing affair as to whether genes are responsible for a particular phenotypic trait; so that, if it (the trait) turns out one way, then it was because of the individual's genes, but if it turns out any other way, then it wasn't due to genes but something else.

But that literally doesn't make any sense. Read more...Collapse )
18th-Mar-2015 01:57 pm - Rap Against Rape
self inflicted
I have never understood how men for thousands of years have been able to completely and utterly miss the fact that being abusive and oppressive, being violent, makes you a coward, not a man. (I mean, unless you want to say that 'being a man' inherently involves being a coward…)

(Here's an interesting historical fact for y'all: in hunter-gatherer communities, women were always treated as equals, treated with the same respect and dignity that men gave each other. It wasn't until humans invented agriculture and made the switch to agricultural communities that men started to oppress women and treat them as objects (property).
Here's another quite interesting follow-up fact: studies strongly suggest that the best social environment for raising children – for their health, both mental and physical, for their behavior, for their education – is hunter-gatherer communities. Hmmm… makes you think, doesn't it?)

pion-muon decay
I meant to post this awhile ago. This interview is just beautiful. (Well, except for Cooper's mispronunciation of 'thimerosal'. That was painful.)
16th-Mar-2015 12:23 pm - Take me to Mongolia
spaces in between

(No, I haven't seen the movie 'Mongol' that I saw mentioned somewhere. Never heard of it before, don't know about it.)
20th-Jan-2015 09:44 pm - More from the disabled sector
pion-muon decay
Inspiration Porn, Part Two, continued from Part One

I am sort of picking up where I left off, but then taking things into a bit of a technical discussion on some things that perhaps might seem tangential and not all that relevant to the main issues. Bear with me for a bit, as I think they are very relevant. (Because I am meticulous and thorough, and because these things get at some of the deeper and more metaphysical issues.)

There is an obvious sense in which a person missing both arms, or who is blind or deaf, or is unable to walk, has or is of a condition that can be medically defined and characterized as atypical in a way that limits and/or restricts capabilities that are considered typical. We could take this to characterize what it means to be disabled. However, such a characterization is inadequate for addressing the ethical, social, and political aspects and implications that we take disability to have. So disability must be understood within the larger social, political, and historical context. The last is relevant for technological reasons. For example, I am extremely nearsighted; and were the technology to make glasses strong enough, as well as contacts, not available, I could not have been able to do the majority of things I have done in my day to day life over the years. But because of the historical context and thus the technology available to me, my extremely myopic eyesight has never been a disability for me. In a different context, I would have effectively been blind.

Blindness seems to any sighted person as an obvious disability. But what is it that truly makes being blind a disability? Being blind in a world of sighted people.
Now let's be very careful here, because I am certainly not saying something as idiotic as, "disabilities don't really exist because they're just pure social constructions."
So, let me attempt to clarify and explain; but it will take a few inferential and theoretical steps.

One could try to state what might seem to be my position as, there is a biological / medical aspect to disability and a social aspect; or, put slightly differently, part of being disabled has to do with something biological / medical, and part of it has to do with something social.
But that is not my position. Because my position is far more complicated than that. Because my position is being informed by what I have been learning from evolutionary biology, genetics, and their intersections with the study of human behavior. And one of the conclusions that we have come to – by 'we' I mean something like the collective embodiment of scientific knowledge, if that makes sense – is that we must abandon our previous way of dichotomizing the world into 'nature' and 'nurture'. From which it follows that thinking of our world as dichotomized into 'biological' and 'social' is fundamentally misguided and can no longer make sense. There is a direct similarity with our abandonment of the 'gene / environment' dichotomy: it no longer makes sense to speak of either as distinct and isolated from the other, for we now know that there are constantly going on all sorts of complex gene-environment interactions. In the same way, the biological and the social interact in complex and interesting ways that blur the line between the two enough that it would be appropriate to say that they are, metaphorically speaking, entangled.

Let me give you a simple example of how this can be. The Wellesley effect: take some random women and have them live together, and within a few months, their menstrual cycles will synchronize. (Obviously, the women have to still be menstruating. I would also think that being on birth control pills would prevent one's cycle from shifting.) Now, you have to appreciate just how kind of amazing that is all by itself. There is, of course, a biological explanation: pheromones. However, that only tells us about the biological mechanisms that allow for such a thing to take place; but it doesn't actually fully explain what occurs. Because: it's not random who synchronizes whom. You see, within the group of women living together, for some, their cycles will end up shifting dramatically, while for others, their cycles drift only slightly, or not at all. But what accounts for that difference? It is the social structure amongst the women: those who are more extroverted, outgoing, socially dominant, will synchronize to their cycles the cycles of those who are less extroverted, less outgoing, less socially dominating; in other words, the cycles of the latter will shift to be in line with the cycles of the former, so that if their cycles start out "opposite" to each other, so to speak, then it is those women in the latter category who will experience a dramatic shift in their cycles, while those in the former will experience only a slight shift or none at all. The same effect is observed in all other primates, as well as a lot of, if not all, mammals. (They all have social hierarchies that aren't too hard to figure out after some observations and/or experiments with the social group.) So here we have an amazing and very clear interaction between the social and the biological, with the social having a causal effect on the biological.

I think to really start to appreciate just how deeply connected the social and the biological are, how much they interact, and thus, that we really cannot pull them apart and take them as distinct from each other, you have to realize that the biological needs the social in order to survive. You have to take that very seriously and not underestimate just how important a point it really is. (Forgive me for speaking a bit metaphorically here, with my use of 'the biological' and 'the social'; but I think you know what I mean well enough, and those terms are just easier.) Let me explain what I mean.

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