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Thursday, February 24, 2022


Ukrainian day one non-combatant casualty.

This could go bad all the way very quickly.  I did, however, see heartening lengthy threads of Twitter posts showing large anti-invasion street protests in numerous Russian cities. Takes extreme courage to do that in Putin's Russia.
St. Petersburg RU
Worldwide condemnation.

Monday, February 21, 2022

NSFW: Critical Race Theory, in 28:07

The commander in chief had had it with the press. He’d spent his time in the highest office of the land trying to do the best for his people, but all the press did was undermine him and endanger the nation. There he was, making the country great again, and what did they write about? His marriages, his divorces, his children, even his weight! It was time the purveyors of fake news paid the price for their slander, sedition, and outright treason. The most powerful man in the country decided it was time to push back…
Donald Trump? Nope. England's King Henry VIII.
Excellent read thus far. Goes to my "Deliberation Science" stash.

Friday, February 18, 2022


 While my fellow Americans whine about Covid-19 inconveniencing their #FreeDumb,

This young Ukrainian soldier may be about to die defending her country from Vladimir Putin.
Eastern Ukraine separatist pro-Russian militia fighter.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Synaptic overload

I have always loved to read, averaging 2-3 books a week for decades (even back during my prior road rat musician life), plus all of my periodicals (and online surfing, since the 'net came along). For all of its frustrations, my experience of the Covid-19 pandemic has been mitigated a good bit by my voracious reading Jones.

Today, though, I'm mired in a bit of cognitive overload, given my recent pace, e.g., 

The foregoing go to my abiding interest in so-called "Deliberation Science," in particular as it bears on what I view as our manifold "Exigent Priorities." I've cited lots of other topically relevant titles in prior posts.
Then there's other, broader stuff. to wit,
In addition to the cogency, a humorous riot, this one.
Like all creatures on Earth, our bodies are carefully tuned to ensure our continued survival. But it would be a pointless waste of ego to think that they make us capable of experiencing reality as it really is. We are each locked into our own umwelt, profoundly limited by our senses, constrained by our biology, shackled by the inescapable bounds of our evolutionary history. We’re hopelessly tethered to what we can uncover while stuck on (or perhaps near) this planet, a speck of dust in the vastness of the cosmos. We see only the merest sliver of reality. We’re peering at the universe through a keyhole.

Yet thanks to science and math, and insatiable curiosity, we know that there is so much more than we see, and hear, and smell, and touch, or can even imagine. Our brains come pre-installed with a whole battery of glitches and errors, which means we have to fight our prejudices, preconceptions and biases. But we also come pre-installed with the burning desire to do so. The very fact that we can recognize that our perception is limited and skewed, and human, is precisely what gives us the ability to unskew our faulty intuitions and go beyond those limits.

This is our glorious purpose. We can see the totality of the electromagnetic spectrum, from X-rays to the Hawking Radiation leaking out of otherwise invisible black holes. We may not be able to reliably perceive time, but we do know that we can’t, and correct for that by building clocks that don’t lose so much as a second throughout the entire duration of the universe. We may not have the olfactory sensitivity of dogs, but we can tell you with exquisite accuracy—because astrophysicists have identified the presence of ethyl formate in the heart of our galaxy—that the Milky Way smells like rum and raspberries.

Look how far we have come. We’ve exceeded our programming and reached way beyond our grasp, into the depths of our cells, the crevices of our minds, the structure of atoms and the fabric of the universe. In the last few thousand years we have developed science, the only tool capable of seeing the world as it really is rather than as we perceive it to be. It is not without flaw, but only science can ever take us beyond our biological limits from the subjective to a genuinely objective view. Science is now—and will always be—the only way to compose the ultimate guide to everything.

Rutherford, Adam; Fry, Hannah. The Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything (Abridged): Adventures in Math and Science (pp. 275-276). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition. 

How about these peeps?
Most of human history is irreparably lost to us. Our species, Homo sapiens, has existed for at least 200,000 years, but for most of that time we have next to no idea what was happening. In northern Spain, for instance, at the cave of Altamira, paintings and engravings were created over a period of at least 10,000 years, between around 25,000 and 15,000 BC. Presumably, a lot of dramatic events occurred during this period. We have no way of knowing what most of them were.

This is of little consequence to most people, since most people rarely think about the broad sweep of human history anyway. They don’t have much reason to. Insofar as the question comes up at all, it’s usually when reflecting on why the world seems to be in such a mess and why human beings so often treat each other badly – the reasons for war, greed, exploitation, systematic indifference to others’ suffering. Were we always like that, or did something, at some point, go terribly wrong?

It is basically a theological debate. Essentially the question is: are humans innately good or innately evil? But if you think about it, the question, framed in these terms, makes very little sense. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are purely human concepts. It would never occur to anyone to argue about whether a fish, or a tree, were good or evil, because ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are concepts humans made up in order to compare ourselves with one another. It follows that arguing about whether humans are fundamentally good or evil makes about as much sense as arguing about whether humans are fundamentally fat or thin.

Nonetheless, on those occasions when people do reflect on the lessons of prehistory, they almost invariably come back to questions of this kind. We are all familiar with the Christian answer: people once lived in a state of innocence, yet were tainted by original sin. We desired to be godlike and have been punished for it; now we live in a fallen state while hoping for future redemption. Today, the popular version of this story is typically some updated variation on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and the Foundation of Inequality Among Mankind, which he wrote in 1754. Once upon a time, the story goes, we were hunter-gatherers, living in a prolonged state of childlike innocence, in tiny bands. These bands were egalitarian; they could be for the very reason that they were so small. It was only after the ‘Agricultural Revolution’, and then still more the rise of cities, that this happy condition came to an end, ushering in ‘civilization’ and ‘the state’ – which also meant the appearance of written literature, science and philosophy, but at the same time, almost everything bad in human life: patriarchy, standing armies, mass executions and annoying bureaucrats demanding that we spend much of our lives filling in forms.

Of course, this is a very crude simplification, but it really does seem to be the foundational story that rises to the surface whenever anyone, from industrial psychologists to revolutionary theorists, says something like ‘but of course human beings spent most of their evolutionary history living in groups of ten or twenty people,’ or ‘agriculture was perhaps humanity’s worst mistake.’ And as we’ll see, many popular writers make the argument quite explicitly. The problem is that anyone seeking an alternative to this rather depressing view of history will quickly find that the only one on offer is actually even worse: if not Rousseau, then Thomas Hobbes.

Hobbes’s Leviathan, published in 1651, is in many ways the founding text of modern political theory. It held that, humans being the selfish creatures they are, life in an original State of Nature was in no sense innocent; it must instead have been ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’ – basically, a state of war, with everybody fighting against everybody else. Insofar as there has been any progress from this benighted state of affairs, a Hobbesian would argue, it has been largely due to exactly those repressive mechanisms that Rousseau was complaining about: governments, courts, bureaucracies, police. This view of things has been around for a very long time as well. There’s a reason why, in English, the words ‘politics’ ‘polite’ and ‘police’ all sound the same – they’re all derived from the Greek word polis, or city, the Latin equivalent of which is civitas, which also gives us ‘civility,’ ‘civic’ and a certain modern understanding of ‘civilization’.

Human society, in this view, is founded on the collective repression of our baser instincts, which becomes all the more necessary when humans are living in large numbers in the same place. The modern-day Hobbesian, then, would argue that, yes, we did live most of our evolutionary history in tiny bands, who could get along mainly because they shared a common interest in the survival of their offspring (‘parental investment’, as evolutionary biologists call it). But even these were in no sense founded on equality. There was always, in this version, some ‘alpha-male’ leader. Hierarchy and domination, and cynical self-interest, have always been the basis of human society. It’s just that, collectively, we have learned it’s to our advantage to prioritize our long-term interests over our short-term instincts; or, better, to create laws that force us to confine our worst impulses to socially useful areas like the economy, while forbidding them everywhere else.

As the reader can probably detect from our tone, we don’t much like the choice between these two alternatives...

Graeber, David. The Dawn of Everything (pp. 1-3). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.
I sorely miss the late David Graeber.

In the week between December 31, 2020, and January 6, 2021, my family suffered two impossible traumas: the shattering death by suicide of my beloved twenty-five-year-old son, Tommy, and the violent mob insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that left several people dead, more than 140 Capitol and Metropolitan Police officers wounded and injured, hundreds of people (including several in our family) fleeing for their lives, and the nation shaken to its core. Although Tommy’s death and the January 6 insurrection were cosmically distinct and independent events, they were thoroughly intertwined in my experience and my psyche. I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to disentangle and understand them to restore coherence to the world they ravaged. Each of these traumas was itself the product of an underlying crisis. Tommy’s death by suicide followed a merciless advance of mental illness that seized and ultimately controlled the dazzling mind and pure heart of this brilliant and empathetic young man. Like millions of other young Americans, he grew despondent during the COVID-19 pandemic, which left him vulnerable to the darkest impulses created by his illness. Similarly, before the attempted coup of January 6 destroyed our fundamental expectations about the peaceful transfer of power in America, the norms of our constitutional democracy had already been overrun by years of political propaganda, social media disinformation, racist violence, conspiracy theorizing, and authoritarian demagoguery.

Raskin, Jamie (2022-01-03T22:58:59.000). Unthinkable . HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
At once a heart-wrenching and infuriating read.

My sister bought me the "We Have Been Harmonized" book for my birthday.
The China we once knew no longer exists. The China that was with us for forty years—the China of “reform and opening up”—is making way for something new. It’s time for us to start paying attention. Something is happening in China that the world has never seen before. A new country and a new regime are being born. And it’s also time for us to take a look at ourselves. Are we ready? Because one thing is becoming increasingly clear: over the coming decades, the greatest challenge for our democracies and for Europe won’t be Russia, it will be China. Within its borders, China is working to create the perfect surveillance state, and its engineers of the soul are again trying to craft the “new man” of whom Lenin, Stalin, and Mao once dreamed. And this China wants to shape the rest of the world in its own image.

Strittmatter, Kai (2020-08-31T23:58:59.000). We Have Been Harmonized. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Lots more. I stay overbooked.
I will have plenty to say about Todd's cool book. For now, I'll just toss this out there.

Teaching kids "the art of insubordination?" LOL, I have to confess, my first reaction here was "Jonah and Charlotte!"—the Byrde family kids in the gloriously preposterous Netflix series "Ozark." Who wrote that screenplay? Aaron Sorkin's long-lost brother Jethro? No one is that consistently quick and sharp with the lip.

Rx for synaptic overload, yeah, I'm re-watching it.

Off to drop the mid-day dose of sucky Sinemet. Ugh. 
“It’s almost a given today that the welfare of unknown peoples like the Uyghurs in far-off places like Xinjiang province is none of our business. As a result, the mind stops seeking and absorbing news of them, and so, in a sense, they cease to exist. Their nonexistence stems from and reinforces the profound self-absorption into which Americans have sunk in the past decade. The recent Joe Rogan–Neil Young–Spotify outrage ginned up far more passion and interest than the fact that Russia is poised to extinguish the independent state of Ukraine.”—George Packer
More to come...

Friday, February 11, 2022

As we lurch toward 1,000,000 US Covid19 deaths

From very early in the pandemic, it was clear that SARS-CoV-2 can damage the heart and blood vessels while people are acutely ill. Patients developed clots, heart inflammation, arrythmias, and heart failure.

Now, the first large study to assess cardiovascular outcomes 1 year after SARS-CoV-2 infection has demonstrated that the virus’ impact is often lasting. In an analysis of more than 11 million U.S. veterans’ health records, researchers found the risk of 20 different heart and vessel maladies was substantially increased in veterans who had COVID-19 1 year earlier, compared with those who didn’t. The risk rose with severity of initial disease and extended to every outcome the team examined, including heart attacks, arrhythmias, strokes, cardiac arrest, and more. Even people who never went to the hospital had more cardiovascular disease than those who were never infected.

The results are “stunning … worse than I expected, for sure,” says Eric Topol, a cardiologist at Scripps Research. “All of these are very serious disorders. … If anybody ever thought that COVID was like the flu this should be one of the most powerful data sets to point out it’s not.” He adds that the new study “may be the most impressive Long Covid paper we have seen to date.”

Others agree the results of the study, published in Nature Medicine on 7 February, are powerful. “In the post-COVID era, COVID might become the highest risk factor for cardiovascular outcomes,” greater than well-documented risks such as smoking and obesity, says Larisa Tereshchenko, a cardiologist and biostatistician at the Cleveland Clinic, who recently conducted a similar, much smaller analysis. She cautions that the new study will need to be replicated, and that it was retrospective, possibly introducing inaccuracies such as incorporating faulty diagnoses from patient records…

Just how the virus causes long-term damage to the heart and blood vessels remains a matter of debate and active research. One possible mechanism is inflammation of the endothelial cells that line the inside of the heart and blood vessels, Al-Aly says. But the researchers also include a laundry list of potential mechanisms, including lingering damage from direct viral invasion of the heart muscle; elevated levels of proinflammatory chemical messengers called cytokines that lead to scarring of the heart; and persistent virus in sites not effectively dealt with by the immune system. “The putative mechanistic pathways are still in the realm of speculation or hypothesis,” Al-Aly says.

The authors say their findings suggest millions of COVID-19 survivors could suffer long-term consequences, straining health systems for years to come. “Governments and health systems around the world should be prepared to deal with the likely significant contribution of the COVID-19 pandemic to a rise in the burden of cardiovascular diseases,” they write in the paper.

Al-Aly adds: “What really worries me is that some of these conditions are chronic conditions that will literally scar people for a lifetime. It’s not like you wake up tomorrow and suddenly no longer have heart failure.”

Hopkins now tallies more than 915,000 US Covid-19 deaths to date as I post this (915,620 at 10:30 a.m. EDT), with a weekly death rate of more than 16,000.

As a lucky-to-be-alive 2018 heart valve replacement patient (just turned 76, and now wrassling daily with Parkinson's), you won't find me at any of these pre-adolescent #FreedumbConvoy2022 anti-vax / anti-mask rallies. I'm triple-vaxxed, masked-up, and continuing to lie low.

Yeah, that puts me in the Sheeple cohort. 


919,172 US deaths. We comprise 4.3% of world population, but 19% of aggregate Covid19 cases and 16% of total Covid19 deaths.


I guess we'll know shortly. I certainly hope not.

Lots of misinformed opinion out there. Two knowledgeable, credible sources: Anne Applebaum, and Tom Nichols.

It could all quickly go quite bad. In the words of the eminent foreign policy analyst Mike Tyson, "everybody got a plan 'til they get hit."
It took just one virus to cripple the world’s economy and kill millions of people; yet virologists estimate that trillions of still-unknown viruses exist, many of which might be lethal or have the potential to spark the next pandemic. Now, they have a new—and very long—list of possible suspects to interrogate. By sifting through unprecedented amounts of existing genomic data, scientists have uncovered more than 100,000 novel viruses, including nine coronaviruses and more than 300 related to the hepatitis Delta virus, which can cause liver failure.  

“It’s a foundational piece of work,” says J. Rodney Brister, a bioinformatician at the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s National Library of Medicine who was not involved in the new study. The work expands the number of known viruses that use RNA instead of DNA for their genes by an order of magnitude. It also “demonstrates our outrageous lack of knowledge about this group of organisms,” says disease ecologist Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit research group in New York City that is raising money to launch a global survey of viruses. The work will also help launch so-called petabyte genomics—the analyses of previously unfathomable quantities of DNA and RNA data. (One petabyte is 1015 bytes.)

That wasn’t exactly what computational biologist Artem Babaian had in mind when he was in between jobs in early 2020. Instead, he was simply curious about how many coronaviruses—aside from the virus that had just launched the COVID-19 pandemic—could be found in sequences in existing genomic databases…


Props to Zoe Chance for the heads-up. Just got it. About halfway through. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Who wouldn't want to be "influential?"

Well, the target market for this book is everyone.
Once upon a time, on an auspicious day in history, you were born—influential. In fact, influence was your only means of survival. You had no sharp teeth or claws to protect you. You couldn’t run away or camouflage yourself. You didn’t seem that smart yet, but you had an innate ability to express your desires, connect with other human beings, and persuade them to take care of you. Which they did, day and (sleepless) night, for years.

When you learned to speak, you expressed yourself more precisely, using your words to become even more influential. You told people what you wanted and what you absolutely did not want. NO! You learned quickly that life could be negotiable and began asking for later bedtimes, more television, your favorite treats. You were like a tiny carpet merchant in a Moroccan bazaar. Wielding influence was as automatic as breathing. You were growing physically stronger too, but your greatest strength was the power to persuade people to take action on your great ideas.

Interpersonal influence is our human advantage, passed down in our DNA. It is what allowed our species to band together, work together, and span the globe. It will remain our advantage in an increasingly digital world, for as long as people are in charge…

Chance, Zoe. Influence Is Your Superpower (pp. 3-4). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This was a fun and illuminating read. It jumped my never-diminishing priority books queue and kept me riveted. Given my persistent (and chronically dubiety-afflicted) Jones for "Deliberation Science," it gave me a lot to think about. We have much important stuff to attend to.

Welcome to Zoe's World of Gators, Judges, Sharks, and even a Kindly Brontosaurus.

The Gator is Dr. Chance's metaphor for Daniel Kahneman's "System 1" ancient lizard brain: quick, efficient, heuristic cut-to-the chase thinking model, adaptive in a world of relatively simple opportunities and threats ("The 4 F's of evolution: Feeding, Fighting, Fleeing, and Reproduction"). 
The Judge is neocortical "System 2"—"deliberative," logical, methodical (simplistically regarded as "reasoned"). "Just The Facts."
I been diggin' me some Kahneman & Tversky for decades. "Behavioral ECON" has a lot going for it.
Dr. Chance hardly needs my interpretations. She's got this stuff down cold:

Cool, 'eh?

Lots to unpack here. First off, you owe it to yourself to buy and study her book. Read the Amazon reviews (confirmation bias and all, LOL). I pretty much agree with all of the reviewers' assessments.

Some things that bedevil our thinking, particularly as it goes to persuasion and influence:

There is no first-person singular present-tense active voice usage of the word "wrong." No one ever says "I AM wrong."
[props to Kathryn Schulz]  Our aggregate default is that we're right about everything. To the extent that we continue to survive, that's an understandable assumption—as it pertains to minor, inconsequential issues, anyway, and it inexorably tilts us toward "confirmation bias."
Our education system mostly tells us there's one "right answer" to every question—lurking amid a boatload of "wrong ones."
And, those who quickly alight on the "right answer" get reinforced and nurtured as they move through the system.
Being wrong is not a synonym for being "stupid" or ignorant. 

Neither is "ignorant" a synonym for "stupid." But it's mostly epithetically spun that way

Humans "reason" to WIN the argument.

 Should truth happen along the way, so much the better. (See "Why Do Humans Reason?" by Sperber & Mercier) Evolutionary adaptive utility, "The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword."

He/She with the best story WINS!

Trial Lawyering 101. Prior to writing and movable type, stories were the whole ballgame. Hence, our evolved affinity.

Once you decide that X is right or wrong / good or bad, you cannot unring that bell.

A staple look-before-you-leap admonishment of mine back when I was teaching "Critical Thinking."

If, when it's all said and done, your logic is impeccable, and your facts and evidence are bulletproof, yet you remain unpersuasive, what have you really accomplished?''

Another classroom staple of mine. That one was "exceeding my brief" as it were, but my Sups never noticed or cared. Anyway, my overall teach-to-the-text priority focus as a piddly Adjunct necessarily had to be "OK, here's how this stuff works. Take it or leave it."

Once you finish her book you will have a firm grip on just why. I love it when I learn stuff.
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT the individual genetic and developmental differences that impact the sensory portions of our nervous systems, it’s remarkable that we can agree on a shared reality at all.  Linden, David. Unique (p. 253). Basic Books. Kindle Edition
Stay tuned. More to come, but gonna post this much now and go prep for my grandson Calvin, who is coming to stay the night...


Back to Zoe.
to wit,
Page 144
Yeah. Recall a riff of mine:

Loud Boy comes to mind. LOL Recall Amanda Ripley's "conflict entrepreneurs?" Poster Boy Joe.


Yeah, the word "influence" can conjure up some negativity. e.g., add the word "peddling." 'eh? Dr. Chance would just say "don't let the Bad Guys have all the fun."

Thinking about some of my recent readings that jibe with Dr. Chance's work.

Hardly exhaustive. e.g., James Alcock's "Belief" also jumps to mind. How about "Moral Tribes?"

You get the idea.
Yeah, it's difficult, daunting, often overwhelming. But, as my wise old friend "Uncle Al" liked to say (the eminent South Knoxville auto body & paint artisan, older brother to my drummer), "if all we had to do was sign up for the checks we'd all be millionaires."
You, Me, We

As our paths cross, entwine, diverge, and reconnect, we form a greater whole, a sprawling, living web of influence. You are already part of this collective power. The root of the word “influence” is the Latin influere, “to flow in.” As a river. A current. Your influence flows from other people, and to other people, and from them to others, and on and on. Sometimes you’re aware of those who lifted you up or helped inspire your great ideas, sometimes not. Sometimes you’re aware of your own ripple effects, sometimes not. Small nudges here and there, sacrifices by brave and committed individuals, kind acts by not-so-committed individuals, accidents and acts of fate: They all connect us.

Awakening to this web is like embarking on a choose-your-own-adventure book. You can step up to be the hero, play a supporting role as the sidekick, stand your ground as the ally, or sit this one out. You can also change your mind along the way. Not every great idea will be right for you. But when you do choose to step forward, now you can do it bigger and better…

Not all battles are yours to fight. But my hope is that when you choose your own, the tools and ideas in this book will help you recruit allies who will improve your chances of succeeding and making the process more enjoyable. Margaret Mead was talking about influence when she famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Together, and with big enough dreams, we can make magic happen. We can reverse the path of climate change. We can eradicate the caste systems that have kept generations of people poor, sick, and humiliated. We can collaborate on technical solutions to cure our worst diseases. We can join together to face the darkness and move beyond our fears.

You don’t have to change the whole world. Or save it. But each one of us can make a difference for someone. You can help in your community. You can lobby your leaders to get policies passed that will make life easier for the people at work, at your school, or in your town. You can organize the members of your church, mosque, or temple to protect and serve people who need it. You can mediate a conflict within your family. You can be a role model. A mentor. A teacher…
[Zoe, pp. 226-228]
Or an old washed-up guitar player writing a blog, trying to figure stuff out.

A compelling read, at the right time
Reviewed in the United States on February 6, 2022
Verified Purchase

I forget now precisely how I came upon this book, but I’m glad I did. I have long been a student of how subject matter experts think — predominantly with respect to the cognitive processes of physicians and lawyers — and have an abiding interest in processes of “deliberation.” Specifically, these days regarding our public discourse polarization, with its increasingly fractious tribal “talking past each other” trend, in the face of serious social problems in need of resolution or effective mitigation.

I started undergraduate school in my 30s, originally as an advertising major, so I am fairly up to speed on “persuasion” tactics in marketing. I then went on to grad school In a program called “Ethics and Policy Studies.” All “deliberation” all the time, on complex, thorny issues. Followed that up with a fun stint teaching “critical thinking” at my U. I would ask my students “what if your logic and evidence are bulletproof, your reasoning crystal clear, yet you change no minds? What have you really accomplished?” I never really gave that enough attention.

Were I teaching that course today, Dr. Chance’s book would be a required text.

One thing has become painfully clear across the ensuing decades: logical reasoning is not enough, by any means. Dr. Chance’s work and this book provide an accessible and thorough addition to both the scholarly literature and practical “News You Can Use.” Well worth your time.

A particularly endearing aspect of this book to me is Zoe‘s candid recounting of often difficult episodes from her own life and career. Her humanity pours through in addition to her obvious expertise. Very nice.
I will have more to say on this topic soon. Suffice it to say for now that I've focused inordinate "choirboy" attention on those rational, deliberate "Judges," while according the cognitive Gators short shrift. Zoe Chance has nudged me in a more fruitful direction. We have work to do.
Good discussion with the author.