Saturday, July 13, 2024

CAN UKRAINE WIN THE WAR? VORFREUDE: ANTICIPATING HAPPINESS; THE DARK SIDE OF FIREWORKS; WE ARE ALL CONSPIRACY THEORISTS; ALICE MONRO’S DAUGHTER REVEALS ABUSE; BEST PRO-CHOICE STATEMENT; RUSSIAN PILOT PROVIDES DETAILS OF MISSILE ATTACK ON CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL; ABORTION AND RACIAL ISSUES; WHAT TYPE OF EXERCISE LOWERS MORTALITY

Big Ben and the River Thames

*
A LULLABY FOR EINSTEIN

Einstein said that clocks
stop at the speed of light.
“Don’t think about it, child;
I knew a physicist
who went out of his mind
trying to figure it out,”
my father warned,
looking at his watch.

But that’s what keeps me sane,
seeing in my mind
that silent starfall of time.

In an ecstatic vision
I see a flock of clocks —
grandfather clocks, cuckoo clocks,
school clocks and office clocks;
great railroad clocks,
tyrants of train stations,
four-faced like pagan gods —

From cathedrals,
from city squares,
London, Vienna,  New York, Moscow —
millions and millions of clocks
mutely sweeping through cosmic dust,
their pointing, merciless hands
going nowhere at last
at the speed of light.

That’s what eternity means.
I heard it the other night:
no more ticking or chiming,
cuckooing, beeping or bonging.  
All that racket is over.
Good night, sweet Albert,
good night.

~ Oriana


Grand Central Station clock, New York

*
ALICE MUNRO’S DAUGHTER REVEALS ABUSE

Tributes flowed in from across the literary world after the death in May at age 92 of Nobel Prize-winning Canadian writer Alice Munro, who is credited with perfecting the contemporary short story. But Munro’s many admirers must now grapple with a darker aspect of her legacy that has just come to light.

In a heart-wrenching essay by Andrea Robin Skinner, Munro’s youngest daughter who is now 58 years old—published on Sunday in the Toronto Star alongside a reported companion piece by the paper—Skinner reveals that she was sexually abused by her stepfather, Munro’s second husband Gerald Fremlin, since she was 9, and that when she informed Munro of the abuse years later, the celebrated writer turned a blind eye and stood by her daughter’s abuser.

The revelation of what until now had been a long-held family secret has rocked readers and colleagues of Munro, whose works often explored themes of women’s lives, complex familial dynamics, sex, trauma, and secrecy.

According to Skinner, Fremlin, a cartographer who died in 2013, climbed into bed with her when she was 9 and touched her inappropriately. She also detailed how, throughout her childhood when the two were alone, Fremlin would crack lewd jokes, press her about her “sex life,” describe Munro’s “sexual needs” to her, and expose himself and occasionally masturbate in front of her.

“At the time, I didn’t know this was abuse. I thought I was doing a good job of preventing abuse by averting my eyes and ignoring his stories,” Skinner writes.

Skinner says she first revealed her abuse by Fremlin to Munro when she was 25, having been hesitant to open up about it earlier, fearing her mother’s reaction. “I have been afraid all my life that you would blame me for what happened,” Skinner wrote in a 1992 letter, parts of which she shared with the Star.

According to Skinner, what inspired her to finally disclose her torment to her mother was Munro’s reaction to a short story in which a girl died by suicide after being sexually abused by her stepfather. At the time, Munro questioned to Skinner why the girl in the story didn’t tell her mother.

But when Skinner revealed her own experience with Fremlin, Munro was shockingly unsympathetic: “As it turned out, in spite of her sympathy for a fictional character, my mother had no similar feelings for me.”

“She said that she had been ‘told too late,’ she loved him too much, and that our misogynistic culture was to blame if I expected her to deny her own needs, sacrifice for her children, and make up for the failings of men,” Skinner writes. “She was adamant that whatever had happened was between me and my stepfather. It had nothing to do with her.” Meanwhile, Fremlin denied wrongdoing and deflected blame onto Skinner.

Skinner says she and her family ultimately moved on, “acting as if nothing had happened,” until Skinner became pregnant in 2002. Skinner decided after the birth of her own twins to cut off contact with Fremlin—who she did not want near her children—as well as Munro, who Skinner says was more concerned about her own personal inconvenience by the move.

Skinner’s quiet estrangement continued until she read a 2004 New York Times story about Munro in which her mother heaped praise on Fremlin.

“I wanted to speak out. I wanted to tell the truth. That’s when I went to the police to report my abuse,” Skinner recalls. “For so long I’d been telling myself that holding my pain alone had at least helped my family, that I had done the moral thing, contributing to the greatest good for the greatest number. Now, I was claiming my right to a full life, taking the burden of abuse and handing it back to Fremlin.”

In 2005, Fremlin was charged with indecent assault and convicted without a trial after pleading guilty. He was sentenced to two years’ probation, a result Skinner says she was satisfied with because she wasn’t seeking for him to be punished nor did she believe he was still a threat to others given his old age.

“What I wanted was some record of the truth, some public proof that I hadn’t deserved what had happened to me,” Skinner writes in her essay. She had also hoped her story would “become part of the stories people tell about my mother. I never wanted to see another interview, biography or event that didn’t wrestle with the reality of what had happened to me, and with the fact that my mother, confronted with the truth of what had happened, chose to stay with, and protect, my abuser.”

But that’s not how things panned out. “My mother’s fame meant the silence continued,” Skinner writes. Munro retired in 2013 and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature a few months later.

“Many influential people came to know something of my story,” Skinner writes, “yet continued to support, and add to, a narrative they knew was false.”

“Everybody knew,” Skinner’s stepmother Carole Munro told the Star, recounting being asked by a journalist at a dinner party years ago about rumors related to Skinner—and affirming that they were true. (Robert Thacker, author of an acclaimed biography of Munro, told the Globe and Mail on Sunday that he was aware of the allegations of what happened to Skinner, who had reached out to him directly before his book was published in 2005, but he declined to mention it because he didn’t want to overstep in a sensitive family matter.)

Skinner’s story stayed out of the public eye. But now, with her essay sending shockwaves through the literary world, the narrative surrounding her mother is beginning to change.
“I know I’m not alone in feeling deeply unnerved by what feels like a seismic shift in our understanding of someone who was formative to me and others as a writer,” Pulitzer finalist Rebecca Makkai said in a series of posts on X reflecting on the recent news.

“Lots of people reflexively denying that Alice Munro could have knowingly spent her life with the pedophile who abused her daughter, or rushing to say they never liked her writing,” Canadian magazine writer and editor Michelle Cyca posted on X. “Harder to accept the truth that people who make transcendent art are capable of monstrous acts.”

“The Alice Munro news is so completely and tragically consistent with the world she evoked in her stories—all those young people betrayed and sabotaged by adults who were supposed to care for them,” American novelist and essayist Jess Row posted on X.

American novelist and essayist Brandon Taylor shared his gratitude toward Skinner. “I’m so in awe of her courage,” he said in a series of posts on X, adding that her account was “personally devastating in that I recognize so much of my own story and history in her experience.”

In a statement from Munro’s Books, which was founded by Jim and Alice Munro but has been independently owned since 2014, the company said it “unequivocally supports Andrea Robin Skinner as she publicly shares her story of her sexual abuse as a child.”

“Along with so many readers and writers, we will need time to absorb this news and the impact it may have on the legacy of Alice Munro, whose work and ties to the store we have previously celebrated,” the statement added.

In a co-published statement from the Munro family, Andrea and her three siblings—Andrew, Jenny, and Sheila—thanked the owners and staff of Munro’s Books for “acknowledging and honoring Andrea’s truth, and being very clear about their wish to end the legacy of silence.”

While Skinner says she never reconciled with her mother before Munro’s death, she has with her siblings—who reached out in 2014 to seek understanding and healing together and have supported her coming out publicly with what is sure to put their mother’s reputation in a much different light.

Skinner, for her part, has made clear that this is not about Alice Munro’s reputation. “I just really hope that this story isn’t about celebrities behaving badly,” she told the Star. While some will gravitate toward it simply “for the entertainment value,” she adds: “I want so much for my personal story to focus on patterns of silencing, the tendency to do that in families and societies.”

https://time.com/6995658/alice-munro-legacy-daughter-andrea-skinner-abuse-fremlin-silence-complicity/?utm_source=pocket-newtab-en-us

Oriana:
Sometimes it seems that every other writer, actor, or cultural celebrity of any kind has sex-related skeletons in his or her closet. Famous women are not exempt, to put it mildly. “Mommy Dearest,” about Joan Crawford’s physical and verbal abuse of her adopted children, seemed to open the floodgates.

[Actually, no one revealed cruelty against children as effectiveness as Charles Dickens. His influence led to the abolition of child labor.]

I think it’s good that silence has been broken, and society as a whole is more aware of the  widespread problem of sexual child abuse, regardless of whether it’s priests or famous actors. At the same time, we have not figured out how to respond. Should we strictly separate the work from its creator? Or should we start boycotting the work? What if the accusations turn out to be false, or exaggerated?

No one has offered a satisfying answer. Perhaps such an answer doesn’t exist. We know that people are flawed, and that power (and being a parent or a parental figure confers a significant amount of power). And there is such a thing as false memories. But even if the accusations are later retracted, the damage has been done.

Still, it seems that hardly anyone has escaped abuse of one sort or another. Perhaps we should focus more on seeking ways to facilitate healing. But to do that, I agree that first we must know the truth.

(A digression: In “Mildred Pierce,” one of Joan Crawford’s famous movies, the mother is a self-sacrificing angel, while it’s the daughter who is a monstrous narcissist.

Not related, but I can’t resist quoting Joan’s last words: ~ 'Dammit, don't you dare ask God to help me' ~ Joan Crawford. The parting shot of formidable Hollywood legend Joan Crawford was aimed at her housekeeper, who had begun praying aloud at the actor's bedside.)

Joan Crawford, 1945 

https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/talkabout/articles/11-famous-last-words-oscar-wilde-leonard-nimoy/152953

**
Beneath the veneer of economic policy, Nazism and communism are very similar: extremist, violent, dogmatic, intolerant, controlling, and anti-democratic. ~ Louis Smith

*
CAN UKRAINE WIN THIS WAR?

Ukraine can win this war.

Russian storage depot on fire

Russian army has been running on fumes for months now, perhaps up to a year. They pulled out everything from their Soviet-era storage facilities that was useful and now they’re refurbishing stuff that is still somehow half-useful. Covert Cabal reported recently no “good” tanks are left and whatever is left in Soviet-era storage sites are mainly tanks useful only as scrap, or else needing an overhaul that is more expensive than a new tank.

This is the situation similar to what Nazi Germany faced in 1943–44. Production was inadequate for the insatiable needs on the front and old, obsolete vehicles were pushed on the front line, damaged vehicles given a new lease of life as something else. Nazis might take an R35 tank and rebuild it with a more modern anti-tank gun to make it somewhat useful on the front. Russians take a T-72A, strip the gun and make some internal modifications to turn the hulk into an adequately armored APC, to survive Ukrainian artillery, drones and perhaps mines.

These too will run out in due course. Russian production lines exist, but they’re grossly inadequate for the needs of the front line. Russia is throwing men at the front line sure, but they’re running dry there too and need to rely on ever incentive payments to meet the quota, as well as foreign mercenaries. The pool of such people is not bottomless and Russia is close to hitting the limit.

To speak nothing of the money. Russia is financing the war from pre-war financial reserves and they’re running dangerously low. Once money runs out their entire economy will crash, Zimbabwe style. 

In the worst case Ukraine can win the war by outlasting Russia.

It would be better if they could do it on the battlefield, but if Ukrainians can only maintain their posture for another year or so, not allowing any Russian breakthroughs and inflicting ever increasing losses, Russians will run out of steam and begin to collapse much like they did in 1917. ~ Tomaž Vargazon

Emilios Aristidis:
On top of that, Ukrainians are currently being trained by NATO. That makes Ukrainians even tougher to deal against, as Russian troops are severely undertrained.

Quality matters too.

Some claim that this war is exactly what led to the downfall of the USSR after the invasion of Afghanistan.

Russian oil refinery burning

Leonid Malnikov:
All signs so far point to a very similar outcome. Even if Russia finally pulls out (due to some kind of a “peace agreement”), the sheer cost of engaging in such a war will bear on them for years. After Afghanistan, USSR fell down few years later, essentially, as it was finally broke, and people realized their lives don’t matter to the State.

Geoff Caplan:
Yes — the Russian home front is the key to Ukrainian victory. Their economy is in terrible trouble — and they are trying to hide the figures. Soaring war costs and crashing export revenues have led to unprecedented fiscal deficits — their wealth fund will be running out around now. Inflation is soaring and the Rouble is tanking. Taxes are rising and real wages are falling. They have a chronic labour shortage. They are running out of spares for their oil fields, their planes, trains and cars, their industrial machinery, their power plants, their lifts… The arms sector is booming but almost every civilian industrial sector is shrinking. Health and social services are being cut.

I follow a number of economists with specialist knowledge of Russia - and there is a consensus that the cracking point is close. When the crash comes, Putin will be struggling to keep his armies in the field as he copes with unrest at home. A 1917 scenario is a real possibility within the next 12–18 months, provided that Ukraine can hold out.

Ukrainian troops (note women)

Dmitry Zolochev:

Let Putin suffer his Hitlerian decision to start an unnecessary war. He needs to sweat bricks. Russians need to wake up and protest that the war must end because it can’t be won.

Kevin Lamm:

If Russia was a democracy, the war would be over. If Russia had freedom of the press, the war would be over. Russia today is a case study of why totalitarianism is fucking stupid and democracy is worth preserving.

I honestly can't think of a single instance when one democracy fought a war against another democracy. It just doesn't happen.

When Russia inevitably implodes on itself in the coming years, I really hope they give democracy another chance. Then again it IS Russia so they'll probably find a way to fuck it up.

Ihor Nedoschybko:
If Russia was a democracy..there would be no war

from another source:

First, if Ukraine can destroy the Kerch Strait bridge, they probably take Crimea through siege. Russia feeds and arms their forces in Crimea using that bridge, and without it their ability to continue that (bearing in mind poor Russian logistics) are compromised. Sending those supplies across the water cannot possible support their forces there and can also be targeted, and sending them through contested Ukraine is quite a lot farther and more costly, and is also in danger in the parts of Ukraine it would have to drive through.

That is Crimea eventually falling. It is a matter of when, not if.

Now the parts of Ukraine with a direct land connection to Russia? That is much more problematic. For Ukraine to take that would take military capability Ukraine, but in the end if those areas are returned to Ukraine (and again, keeping those areas is not a victory for Russia, I am speculating in what a full victory for Ukraine would look like) it will not be because they were lost militarily.

Why? Let's talk sanctions:

The sanctions are doing more than you might think. Russia is hurting. Russia is buying artillery shells from North Korea and drones from Iran, nations Russia used to supply, now they are a customer. That speaks to Russia's military industry. Russia cannot build Armata tanks to send into war, they are sending T54/55s built in 1948. And Russia cannot build more SU-57's, an aircraft not seen over Ukraine.

Russia is mainly selling gas and oil to China and India, and they are selling it for currency that only buys goods and services from China and India. That will not help them to win the war.

So as long as the sanctions continue, Russia's clock is ticking. They can put off the inevitable, but in the end Russia will have to abandon this war that they started. Economics demand it.

Will the sanctions end? No, not until the war ends, and not for a while after that. So the west will keep the sanctions up for as long as it takes, as that serves the interests of the west.

Will the military aid end? No. It will slow down, but we are still talking about spares, older weapons systems and ammunition which is not front of the line for NATO. This is an investment for the west into Russian defeat, and the harder Russia loses, the more secure the west is when this war is over.

Russia is sending T54/55s into war, Ukraine is now sending Abrams, Leopards and Challengers. Russia cannot take steps forward, their ability to project power is a joke. Russia is getting hit at home by Ukraine, and now by terrorists. And now NATO has expanded, now closer to Russia than ever, now covering both sides of the exit from St. Petersburg, making getting submarines out in a stealthy way more difficult for Russia. And in the end Ukraine has kept fighting, and the west has kept supporting them.

Russia has succeeded to the greatest extent that they are able to militarily and economically, and can go no further, and cannot be said to have won this war.

And the future is more bleak for Russia than the present.

Note the hammer and sickle. Russia has never renounced communism and its crimes.

https://www.reddit.com/r/changemyview/comments/1bnolej/cmv_russia_cannot_win_the_war_in_ukraine_at_this/

Russia has shown itself to be inept in the Ukraine. NATO isn’t involved but the Russians lie to their people and pretend it is. If Russia was foolish enough to step over the line Russia knows it would be in serious trouble and be looking at a lot of the nations held captive by Russia getting their freedom and Russia be moved to being a nation with no capacity to threaten others.

*
RUSSIAN TORTURE OF UKRAINIAN POW’s

The most horrible Russian war crimes are happening right now — most heinous crimes are committed by Russia’s army in Ukraine against Ukrainians, whom Kremlin propagandists still cynically call “a brotherly people.”

There are over 100,000 war crimes recorded by the team of international war crimes prosecutors.


Oleksii Kretsu, a Ukrainian soldier from Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, spent nearly 2 years in Russian captivity.

He recently was exchanged in a POW exchange and returned to Ukraine. He returned infected by tuberculosis and hepatitis B, contracted while in a Russian prison.

His recollection of the time in Russian captivity sounds like a storyline of a horror film.

“As soon as they removed the restraints from our hands and the blindfolds from our eyes, they gave us a ‘welcome’ – beating us with shockers, batons, hands, feet, and anything else they could get hold of.”

“The treatment was terrible, and the conditions were horrific, simply unbearable. Every single day during the morning check, we were humiliated. The same shocker was used on us without hesitation.”

“In the morning, from wake-up at 6:00 AM to 10:10 AM, we stood motionless in the cell. You stand facing the door: you can't even lower your head because they consider you to be sleeping. Each cell had surveillance cameras, usually two… Every movement was monitored.”

“In winter, if it was -10 degrees outside, the cell temperature was, at best, 10-12 degrees Celsius. The small cells were mostly unheated during winter. We had to stand for hours in thin prison clothes, motionless, without any movement.”

They fed us grains soaked in boiling water and often in cold water. The only thing that tasted good was jelly with a piece of white bread. They also gave us mashed potatoes made from greenish potatoes, which were salad-colored.”

“They also beat us during interrogations. I'm just a simple border guard, not an assault trooper, not a marine, not a machine gunner. And even then, I lost half of my teeth during these interrogations. What they did to the machine gunners or snipers is terrifying to imagine.

Oleksandr Hrytsiuk from Kivertsi, Volyn region, was captured in April 2022. In January 2024, his wife was informed that his body had been returned from captivity.

When his wife arrived in Kyiv for body identification, she was shocked by what she saw.
“It was a very horrifying sight. What struck me the most was how emaciated the body was.”

The pathologist said that Oleksandr’s body weighed less than 50 kilograms. He was tall — 180 cm, and before captivity, he weighed 110 kg and was physically healthy.

“What was left of him were just bones and skin. His head was all bruised, his nose was crooked, and his index fingers had no nails. Whether they were ripped out or smashed, I do not know. There were signs of torture all over his body,” his wife says.

Some of his cellmates survived and later later told the story how they were tortured.

Every day they were beaten — either in the cell or taken out of the cell to interrogation chambers. The Russians beat Ukrainian prisoners brutally, and Oleksandr was their prime target, because he was tall, he was from western Ukraine, and didn’t want to speak Russian. The guards barely fed them, sometimes even just threw them some dog food mixed with dog hair.

“They called him a ‘Banderite’, saying all Banderites must be killed and cut to pieces. He was beaten very cruelly, to the point of losing consciousness. Between beatings, they were forced to stand motionless for hours, sometimes with their hands raised.

This is only a small part of Russian war crimes.

There are many more details on terrifying conditions of Ukrainian POWs in Russian captivity.
Please read and spread the word. ~ Elena Gold, Quora

Wally Bond:
And the Russians  can’t work out why we have zero respect for them and despise them with a passion. Looks like the only way they will learn is through a lot more pain and suffering than they already are in.

Mark Kempson:
It is the leadership that must take responsibility for this. It makes me sick. I have been to Russia — back in the Soviet days — and remember it quite fondly. Certainly, it was nothing like life in Australia, but the people I encountered seemed decent enough.

Victoria Shymlosky:
Yes there are many horrible war crimes, crimes against humanity perpetrated by Russian military on Ukrainian POWs and civilians since the beginning of time the Russian genocidal war in Ukraine. I also saw pictures of Azov soldiers, the ones who survived also showed signs of torture, beatings and starvation. Barbaric and cruel treatment, executions by the Russian fascist invaders. Putin is to blame as much as his criminal government and military leadership!

Just Chriss:
1000 warm crimes? Flatten Moscow. Russia needs to end. Its like a rotten egg. You can’t save it.

Joe Mannion:
Shocking and horrifying. We must never forget how the Russians treat their prisoners of war. It is in stark contrast with how Ukraine treats its Russian prisoners, with humanity and decency. Never forget.

Elena Gold:
Russia hasn’t started with war crimes in Ukraine. They’ve been doing the same thing in Chechnya in 1990s.

Antti Martikainen:
Sounds like Soviet Union. This is Russia — it has been for a very very long time. They starve and abuse and kill millions. And will kill starve and abuse as long as we let them.

*
RUSSIAN PILOT GIVES INFORMATION ABOUT THE MISSILE ATTACK ON CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL

The pilot forwarded documents to Ukraine related to the activities of his military unit as well as private photos of the command staff of the 22nd Heavy Bombing Aviation Division, Kyiv Post reports.

Feeling that it was wrong for Russia to have undertaken a missile attack on the Ohmatdyt Children’s Hospital in Kyiv on Monday, a Russian pilot decided to pass on information about his fellows at Russia’s 22nd Heavy Bomber Aviation Division to Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence of Ukraine (HUR), a source within Ukrainian intelligence told Kyiv Post Thursday evening.

The pilot indicated that his division is constantly shelling Ukrainian cities with X-101 missiles.
The pilot told HUR’s chatbot that he and some of his colleagues – at military unit 06987, based at Engels Airfield in Russia’s Saratov Oblast – were shocked by the attack on Ukraine’s largest children’s hospital – including many with cancer and others there being treated for injuries from previous Russian attacks – and couldn’t understand why they were forced to attack Ukrainian civilian infrastructure.

The information provided includes documents from the personnel files of senior officers as well as the personal data of Russian military personnel and their families. The most valuable are stamped documents from the 22nd Heavy Bombardment Aviation Division, the source said.

Ohmatdyt Children's Hospital

Russia launched more than 40 missiles at several cities across Ukraine on July 8, 2024 in an attack that killed at least 20 people and smashed into a children's hospital in Kyiv, officials said.
~ Anna Magdalena W., Quora


Russian pilots and officers of the 22nd Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Division
“The Russian soldier wrote that he was shocked by the attack on the children’s hospital and did not understand, as did several of his colleagues, why they were forced to strike at the civilian infrastructure of Ukraine. Therefore, he decided to transfer to Ukraine documents related to the activities of the military unit, as well as private photos of the command staff of the 22nd Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Division.”

*
PALESTINIANS ARE COMMITTED TO DESTROYING ISRAEL RATHER THAN BUILDING THEIR OWN FUTURE

That, precisely, is the problem.

You have to see it from the Palestinian’s perspective. From the Jewish perspective, Jews fleeing pogroms, expulsions, and discrimination immigrated legally to a multi-ethnic empire and bought land. From the Palestinian perspective, the immigrants bought land that had previously been rented to them, costing them their farms.

Then, the Palestinians refused to accept Jewish refugees during the Holocaust led to the preventable death of hundreds of thousands who were trying to flee the Reich. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was a friend of Hitler’s:


Hitler and the Grand Mufti

And after the war, Europe’s surviving Jews had no place to go; the Jewish community in the Middle East was an obvious one, and so they struggled to get there.

It was clear that the situation vis-a-vis Palestine was untenable and the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to propose partitioning the region (Palestine was never a country) between Arab and Jew, giving the Jews more land (but largely desert land) because it expected that numerous Jews would immigrate from Europe.

So from the Jewish and most of the world’s perspectives, this was a way for the Jews to escape the horrors they had experienced as a minority in Europe. But from the Arab perspective, it was a bunch of people immigrating and founding a country in the region in which they lived as the majority for some time, and they swore to reclaim it.

Sadly, this has been an entirely self-defeating attitude;
Yasir Arafat, the head of the PLO, said that not agreeing to the original partition plan was the worst mistake the Palestinians ever made. The way of war has not worked for them. They tried to destroy Israel in wars and with terrorism, losing a bit more each time they did.

Today, they continue to maintain the fiction of “refugee camps” — apartment blocks in which most of the inhabitants weren’t even alive when they left or were expelled from Israel.

Meanwhile, as many Middle Eastern Jews were expelled from Arab countries as Arabs were expelled from Israel during the 1948 war, but rather than settling them in “refugee camps,” the Israelis incorporated them in their society and they became citizens and prospered.

As Abba Eban famously quipped, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. ~ Joshua Hill, Quora

Oriana:

As long as the Palestinians believe that Israel “stole our land,” there can be no solution. If Israel stole the land, then it has no right to exist. And the never-ending hostilities continue.

Israel: apartment buildings. Most Israelis live in apartments rather than houses

*
AN EXCELLENT PRO-CHOICE STATEMENT FROM A RETIRED PHYSICIAN

I’m a retired physician. I did a number of first trimester abortions many years ago while in my residency in a county hospital. The hospital did ALL the obstetrics for this large, mostly rural mountainous county, since the insurance industry was making its move in the late 1970’s to dominate American medicine and precipitated the “malpractice crisis,” making coverage so expensive that no Ob-Gyns would do obstetrics.

Interestingly, about a third of the women presenting for abortion were girls, down to 12 years old. At that age the girl/mothers often had an unusual relationship to their fetus — they were both its mother and its half-sister. Puzzle it out; it’s not that hard. So THOSE abortions were necessary. The vast majority of our abortion patients were poor whites, uniformly members of fundamental Bible-believing churches in the hills. Few of those under 18 had ever been educated regarding sex and reproduction by their white trash Christian parents, so we did it, after completing the abortion. So much for families managing their children’s reproductive education.

Now, the one thing that impressed me as I looked at the “POC” (products of conception) was (1) how small they were – 1″ to 1½” long, and (2) they were NOT identifiably human. A 10 week embryo of a human is indistinguishable from that of a cow, a dolphin, a rat, or a lemur. Turtle embryos are the only ones I can ID consistently, maybe lizards. I’ve looked at the photos, and despite having taken a college embryology course prior to completing medical school, and having done a number of abortions, I can’t be at all certain which one (? or more) is/are human. Some aren’t, that’s all I can say.

The point is that a 12 week human embryo is NOT a person. It is a POTENTIAL person. Provided it gets over the 14 week hump where God murders 40% of them. Yes, your God is the biggest aborter of human embryos in the cosmos. Embryos become fetuses, and fetuses become people. Traditionally in the past, Peoplehood was only conferred on a fetus at birth, but we have gotten so good at rescuing some of God’s second and third trimester abortion attempts that personhood is generally conferred at the point where the fetus is capable of independent survival. Again, technology has dragged that date down from 32 weeks 150 years ago, to nearly 22 weeks today.

Myself, I really can’t support saving fetuses under 25 weeks. It incinerates an ungodly amount of time and resources, with only a 50% chance of normal-ish survival. We spend tens of millions on individual fetuses who go on to birth, only to live with intellectual and physical disability. It’s cruel and wasteful, but the threshold continues downward, really as an intellectual exercise, or a competition for bragging rights among academic institutions. The current record is 21 weeks, but this unfortunate “person”, if he/she miraculously were to grow up with more than Golden Retriever intelligence, would probably say “no, thank you. I don’t need that.”

So, no, a zygote at conception is NOT a person. It is a POTENTIAL person. The only reason you think it is an actual human is that someone told you your god insisted on it. Except he/she didn’t. It’s nowhere in the Bible. A declaration of peoplehood by some evangelical jabroni carries the same weight as the Medieval proclamations by MEN with no conduit to God, that eating fish on Friday was mandated by God, or the Medieval speculation over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. THIS is what passes for Christian thought. Even the Pope can’t speak for God; unless you haven’t noticed, every Pope in history has been a fcking idiot.

So you’re trying to force a decision made by some mortal man/men of dubious character and provenance on the rest of us because you fear going to Hell. Well, I can’t talk you out of an idiotic belief like Hell, but I can tell you that 3/4 of the American people support abortion rights, generally first trimester. Many of us extend that to 20 weeks, but it isn't a hill I’ll die on. Once we, the sane majority, undo your immoral gerrymandering and voter suppression laws, we will reclaim our democracy, and you evangelicals will return to your status in the 1960’s — a cultural joke, men with white belts and DA haircuts, and women in plain clothes with ridiculous bouffant hair. This is OUR country, a diverse, secular country which tolerates religion.

[“Tolerant”, you ask? Yeah, despite my over-the-top rhetoric, I’m tolerant of people of divergent outlooks, AS LONG AS they are tolerant of me. Otherwise I get techey]. ~ Robert Barnes, Quora

Alan Brown:
There are modern and deeply racist reasons for the modern American attitude. Paradoxically those pushing them want more WHITE babies as the mantra is that they're being “outbred" by black people.

Romania and Bulgaria had similar abortion bans in Cold War days because the population was declining. It resulted in tens of thousands of abandoned children being mistreated in orphanages.

Michael Bezman:
Professionally, as a former pediatrician and anesthesiologist, humanistically, morally, ethically — I applaud Robert Barnes.

More from Robert Barnes:

I should have been more specific. I was referring to abortions done for reasons of preference — “we can’t afford another one, I don’t want the cost and chaos of another one.” By 15 or 16 weeks a pregnant woman should have a pretty good idea of he ability/desire to carry it to term. If a fetus threatens a woman’s life, I favor abortion right up to labor. 

We need to be careful at this stage of the battle to fight for the issues that are most common or most threatening. I don’t favor a push back against any ban on the so-called “partial birth abortion,” abortion in the late 3rd trimester, even if the fetus is viable. My reason is that this procedure is essentially a myth. It isn’t a thing, but the Republican Party voters think that hundreds are being performed every week. It’s another example of their shameless use of the Illusory Truth Effect. They’re good at it, and no one in the middle or on the left calls them out for it.

As a practical matter I favor limiting abortions of healthy, viable fetuses to 22 weeks. Above that, there would have to be a significant fetal or maternal risk. My reasoning includes (1) fetal sensory perception becomes an issue around that time, and (2) it would be more defensible than a greater gestational age. The crazies would have a harder time fighting it. The justification for raising the gestational age should prominently include the mention that, while the anti-abortionist’s god forbids therapeutic abortion, mine does not. It’s a matter of religious freedom.

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ABORTION AND RACIAL ISSUES

In the United States, the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women. Antiabortion activists, including some African-American pastors, have been waging a campaign around this fact, falsely asserting that the disparity is the result of aggressive marketing by abortion providers to minority communities.

Black women are not alone in having disproportionately high unintended pregnancy and abortion rates. The abortion rate among Hispanic women, although not as high as the rate among black women, is double the rate among whites. Hispanics also have a higher level of unintended pregnancy than white women. Black women's unintended pregnancy rates are the highest of all.

These higher unintended pregnancy rates reflect the particular difficulties that many women in minority communities face in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using their chosen method of birth control consistently and effectively over long periods of time. 

Moreover, these realities must be seen in a larger context in which significant racial and ethnic disparities persist for a wide range of health outcomes, from diabetes to heart disease to breast and cervical cancer to sexually transmitted infections (STI), including HIV.

Abortion rates have been declining in the United States for a quarter of a century, from a high of 29.3 per 1,000 women aged 15–44 in 1981 to an historic low (post-Roe v. Wade) of 19.4 in 2005. The overall number of abortions has been falling too, dropping to 1.2 million in 2005. Currently, about one-third of all abortions are obtained by white women, and 37% are obtained by black women. Latinas comprise a smaller proportion of the women who have abortions, and the rest are obtained by Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and women of mixed race.

The abortion rates among women in minority communities have followed the overall downward trend over the three decades of legal abortion. At the same time, however, black women consistently have had the highest abortion rates, followed by Hispanic women. This holds true even when controlling for income: At every income level, black women have higher abortion rates than whites or Hispanics, except for women below the poverty line, where Hispanic women have slightly higher rates than black women.

These patterns of abortion rates mirror the levels of unintended pregnancy seen across these same groups. Among the poorest women, Hispanics are the most likely to experience an unintended pregnancy. Overall, however, black women are three times as likely as white women to experience an unintended pregnancy; Hispanic women are twice as likely.

Because black women experience so many more unintended pregnancies than any other group—sharply disproportionate to their numbers in the general population—they are more likely to seek out and obtain abortion services than any other group. In addition, because black women as a group want the same number of children as white women, but have so many more unintended pregnancies, they are more likely than white women to terminate an unintended pregnancy by abortion to avoid an unwanted birth.

The disparities in unintended pregnancy rates result mainly from similar disparities in access to and effective use of contraceptives. As of 2002, 15% of black women at risk of unintended pregnancy (i.e., those who are sexually active, fertile and not wanting to be pregnant) were not practicing contraception, compared with 12% and 9% of their Hispanic and white counterparts, respectively. These figures—and the disparities among them—are significant given that, nationally, half of all unintended pregnancies result from the small proportion of women who are at risk but not using contraceptives.

Whether an at-risk woman practices contraception, however, does not in itself tell the whole story. For an individual woman who is attempting to avoid a pregnancy, the particular method she chooses and the way she uses it over time also matter. In fact, all of the major contraceptive methods are extremely effective if used "perfectly." In actual practice, however, there are significant variations in a method's effectiveness in "typical use" (i.e., for the average person who may not always use the method correctly or consistently).

The IUD has a very low failure rate because it is long-acting and requires little intervention by the user. Coitus-related methods such as condoms are at the other end of the typical-use effectiveness scale, because they depend on proper use at every act of intercourse. The pill, which is not coitus-related but must be taken every day, is usually more effective than the condom, but less effective than an IUD. Factoring together the method choices and the real-life challenges to effective use over long periods of time, women of color as well as those who are young, unmarried or poor have a lower level of contraceptive protection than their counterparts.

Studies by Guttmacher Institute researchers, published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health in 2007 and in Contraception in 2008, sought to shed some light on the reasons women at risk of unintended pregnancy do not use contraceptives at all or use them only sporadically. Geographic access to services is a factor for some women; however, for many, it is more a matter of being able to afford the more effective—usually more expensive—prescription methods.

Beyond geographic and financial access, life events such as relationship changes, moving or personal crises can have a direct impact on method continuation. Such events are more common for low-income and minority women than for others, and may contribute to unstable life situations where consistent use of contraceptives is lower priority than simply getting by.

In addition, a woman's frustration with a birth control method can result in her skipping pills or not using condoms every time. Minority women, women who are poor and women with little education are more likely than women overall to report dissatisfaction with either their contraceptive method or provider. Cultural and linguistic barriers also can contribute to difficulties in method continuation.

These themes resonate beyond the domains of contraceptive use, unintended pregnancy and abortion. Indeed, they probably underlie many of the stark racial and ethnic disparities that exist across a broad range of health indicators. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented data in March 2008 indicating that black teens were more than twice as likely as their white or Mexican-American counterparts to have one or more of the four STIs studied (chlamydia, trichomoniasis, genital herpes and human papillomavirus), independent of income and number of sexual partners.

Reported cases of syphilis are triple the rate for Hispanics than for whites, according to the American Social Health Association. According to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, the AIDS case rate for African-American men is more than eight times that for whites; the rate for Latinos is more than three times that for whites. Hispanic women are more than twice as likely as whites to be diagnosed with cervical cancer; black women are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than white women, but 30% more likely to die from it.

Beyond sexual and reproductive health, African-Americans and Hispanics bear a greater disease burden than whites across a range of important health indicators.
Blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to have diabetes. New cases of colorectal, pancreatic and lung cancer occur more often in African-American women than in any other group. There is a higher incidence of stomach and liver cancer among Hispanics, male and female, than among whites and a higher mortality rate from these cancers as well.

Access to health care, including financial access, remains a significant issue that particularly affects minority communities; however, there is increasing recognition of the critical importance of quality of care as it affects health-seeking behavior and outcomes. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported that "minorities are less likely than whites to receive needed services, including clinically necessary procedures." The IOM offered a number of explanations for this finding, including
linguistic and cultural barriers that interfere with effective communication between a patient and a provider.

The IOM also noted
a level of mistrust for the health system in general that exists in minority communities. Mistrust can cause a patient to refuse treatment or comply poorly with medical advice, which in turn can cause providers to become less engaged—leading to a vicious cycle. These obstacles are difficult enough to surmount in cases where a patient is ill and presumably motivated to receive some kind of treatment. In the case of a prevention intervention such as birth control, however, where the need for "treatment" may seem less pressing, the cumulative effect of these obstacles could be daunting.

Perhaps it is because they are more acutely aware of the larger societal issues surrounding health disparities, members of the Black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific American caucuses in Congress, overwhelmingly, are strong and reliable advocates of reproductive heath and rights, including abortion rights. So, too, is an array of organizations representing women of color, including African American Women Evolving (AAWE), the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and Sistersong, among others.

https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2008/08/abortion-and-women-color-bigger-picture

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VORFREUDE: TO FEEL HAPPIER, TRY ANTICIPATING HAPPINESS

Be honest: there are times when you have felt schadenfreude, or “delight in another’s misfortunes”. But what about vorfreude? I recently came across this lovely word, which my German-speaking friend translated as “the anticipation of joy”. It struck me as such a hopeful concept – surely we could all do with less schadenfreude and more vorfreude. So what exactly is anticipatory joy, how do we cultivate it and will it make us happier?

The idea is to find joy in the lead-up to an event,” says Dr Sophie Mort, a clinical psychologist and mental health expert at the meditation and mindfulness app Headspace. “For example, we often feel joy and excitement when planning a trip, thinking about going on a date or anticipating a special meal.” It’s easy to look forward to holidays and special occasions, but a joy-filled life is also about everyday occurrences. Rory Platt, a writer at the personal development company The School of Life, says: “The trick lies in filling our calendar with lots of little moments to look forward to – like tiny baubles that, when seen from a distance, combine to make a more glittering future.”

But vorfreude is not about wishing your life away and thinking you will be happy in an imagined future. “Looking forward to something can trigger joy in the present moment,” says Karen Neil, a health coach and the founder of Mindful Medicine. This can boost your mood, reduce your stress levels and help to avoid burnout. A 2017 study published in Frontiers of Psychology found that anticipating positive events activated the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex, which is associated with a higher level of wellbeing.

Doesn’t getting your hopes up risk disappointment? Perhaps it’s safer to keep expectations low. Emma Mills, a mindfulness expert and the author of Inhale Exhale Repeat, begs to differ. “There is a saying: ‘If you worry, you suffer twice.’ Anticipatory joy is the opposite of that.” Even if an anticipated event turns out to be a letdown, vorfreude helps people bounce back. “Optimists have improved coping abilities when dealing with unplanned distress and they tend to recover far faster,” says Tania Taylor, a psychotherapist and vorfreude advocate.

If you are going through a tough time and feel as though you have nothing to look forward to, don’t beat yourself up. “It’s important that positive psychology doesn’t get confused with toxic positivity,” says Taylor. “When I was going through cancer treatment, I spent most days binge‑watching television. It’s OK to sit tight when everything feels overwhelming without feeling guilt that you are not looking for joy.” If feelings of hopelessness persist, she stresses, it’s important to seek help from a GP, a therapist or charities such as Samaritans or Shout. [in the US, Jewish Family Services — you don’t have to be Jewish to obtain counseling.]

If you are ready for vorfreude, it shouldn’t feel like a chore. “Mostly, it will involve exploring what you already have in your life that you look forward to,” says Taylor. Willem Kuyken, a professor of mindfulness at the University of Oxford, has researched the benefits of cultivating joy. In his book Mindfulness for Life, he writes: “It takes only a small step out of habit and into awareness to enjoy the people we love around us, to savor food or to dance to music in our kitchen while cooking. These moments are available to us all the time.”

With that in mind, here are some simple ways to get more vorfreude in your life.

Start (really) small
If the concept of vorfreude is completely alien to you, take baby steps. “Try to notice one joyful thing each day,” says Neil. You could frame this as a photo challenge: spend a little time every day looking for one beautiful flower, interesting sight or cute dog to photograph.

Think positive
“Plan a morning affirmation or positive statement and look forward to starting your day with it in your mind,” says Taylor. “Some people create a screensaver with it on their phone so it’s the first thing they see.” An example she gives is: “Today I will look for good moments and remember them.” Mort suggests: “May I be open to joy and have many moments of joy ahead.”

Turn routine into ritual
“A very small thing that I get vorfreude from is anticipating my first coffee of the day,” says Mort. “When I wake up, it’s the first thing I think about: how it will smell, how it will taste and how I will feel while drinking it. It’s a ritual that I love and I really allow myself to focus on it.”

Find joy in the everyday
“At the end of my evening meditation classes, I suggest people consider three things they are looking forward to tomorrow,” says Mills. “It could be their morning walk in the park or listening to a podcast on their commute; maybe sitting down to enjoy their packed lunch at work or looking forward to having a bath at the end of the day.”

Come off autopilot
“Perhaps you have a hobby such as gardening, or a pet to spend time with,” says Karen Atkinson, the CEO of MindfulnessUK. “Coming out of autopilot and consciously looking forward to these moments is an achievable way for anyone to experience vorfreude.”

Avoid mind traps
“To change your mindset to become more joyful, you must first become familiar with your own negative thought patterns,” says Atkinson. These “mind traps” include catastrophizing and discounting the positive. “For example, instead of thinking: ‘I’m only going away for one night – it’s hardly a holiday,’ say to yourself: ‘What a treat – a night away, going out to dinner and meeting friends. How lovely.’” The “shoulds” are another trap. “You may think: ‘I should have a more thriving social life, like everyone else.’ Instead, recognize that FOMO [fear of missing out] can add stress. Remember how fortunate you are to go out and have fun once in a while – really cherish the opportunity.

Savor the moment just before the event
“There is a small moment just before you eat your pastry, or the movie begins, or as you get in your bubble bath,” says Mills. “In that moment, the pastry hasn’t been eaten yet – it’s a joy about to be enjoyed. Savor the moment and think how lucky you are.” She likes a Kurt Vonnegut quote: “And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point: ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”

Treat yourself
“Schedule brief excursions and small indulgences,” says Platt. “Perhaps aim to finish work an hour early on Fridays to get dinner with a friend, visit an art gallery or take yourself on a solo cinema trip.” Don’t feel guilty about it. The team at The Mindfulness Project says: “Giving yourself permission to look forward to these pleasures can prepare you to enjoy them.”

Schedule movement
“I’ll plan 10 minutes of gentle stretching or book an activity session such as a yoga, pilates or a sound bath class,” says Taylor. If that sounds more like punishment than pleasure, remember exercise is individual, too – so find something you enjoy.

Plan a fantasy holiday
“The other day, I saw a social media post about a cheap mini-break to Rome. It had me getting excited about a variety of really affordable getaways – even though my passport has expired,” says Taylor. “I must get around to renewing it, but it doesn’t stop me from getting enjoyment out of the anticipation of what might be.”

. . . and enjoy a buildup to a real one
Some research shows that planning and anticipating a holiday can make you happier than the holiday itself,” says Mort. “This switched me from being a spontaneous ‘Oh, I’ll leave it till the last minute and book just before I go away’ person to being someone who takes time to mull over where I want to go, why I want to go there and how it might be when I get there.”

Go on a mindful walk
“When I’m out walking the dog, I try to be aware of what’s around me, whether that’s the blossom coming out on the trees or the stars at night,” says Neil. “Thoughts and worries may come: ‘Spring is early – it must be climate change.’ But I try to let go of all that on the walk.”

Do something creative
“Research examining the impact of creativity on mental health is largely positive,” says Taylor. “Try planning some time to let your creative side flare.” You don’t have to be a natural artist. If you can’t paint or draw, her ideas include “cutting out pictures that are meaningful to you in magazines and creating a collage, writing your own poem or story or watching YouTube origami tutorials armed with a piece of plain paper”.

Go to the library
“Making a regular trip to your local library is a great way to insert vorfreude into your life,” says Taylor. “Have you ever had that feeling when you are really enjoying the book you are reading, but you’re also excited to start the next one? That’s a perfect example.” Mort suggests setting a reading challenge – it could be reading all the books on the Booker long list, finally getting round to reading Moby Dick or rereading your favorite books.

Read a poem a day
“I recommend buying a poetry anthology – then you can look forward to reading the poem of the day over breakfast or lunch or at bedtime,” says Mills. She suggests A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year: “I look forward each evening to seeing which poem it is.”

Do something for others
“‘Sympathetic joy’ is experiencing the joy of others,” says Neil. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture – planning a little treat for someone else can spark vorfreude. “I got my hands on some small Easter egg packs this year,” says Taylor. “I couldn’t wait to hide the eggs around the house and garden for my adult children to find, and to watch them laugh at the ridiculous things their parents have them doing.”

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

~ Emily Dickinson

Find a talisman
“‘Sympathetic joy’ is experiencing the joy of others,” says Neil. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture – planning a little treat for someone else can spark vorfreude. “I got my hands on some small Easter egg packs this year,” says Taylor. “I couldn’t wait to hide the eggs around the house and garden for my adult children to find, and to watch them laugh at the ridiculous things their parents have them doing.”

Make time for silence
Vorfreude isn’t just about parties, holidays and hobbies. “Just a few minutes of meditation a day can not only change our perspective, but also physically alter our brains, rewiring them towards more positive thoughts and emotions,” says Mort. “Close the door, light a candle and embrace moments of stillness. Look forward to the peace that comes with each session.” Platt stresses the importance of having a break from the grim news cycle. “We owe it to ourselves to switch off from time to time in order to focus on all that remains good and hopeful in the here and now.”

Get ready for bed
“I must be getting old, because I really look forward to my bed and a good night’s sleep,” says Taylor. “Every night, I look forward to going to sleep listening to hypnotherapy.” Mills, too, gets joy from having a bath, putting on pajamas and climbing into fresh sheets. Double the pleasure by squeezing in an afternoon nap – vorfreude doesn’t get much easier than that.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2024/apr/09/the-vorfreude-secret-30-zero-effort-ways-to-fill-your-life-with-joy

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A life is like a garden, perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP’ – Leonard Nimoy

LLAP: “Live long and prosper.”

Oriana:

I only wonder: if you become a master at treating yourself, before and during joyful rituals and so forth, will you ever even consider having children, with sleepless nights and the self-sacrifice that it involves? Will you be able to make any sacrifices? 

The Victorian formula was that we are here not to feel good, but to do good. To be sure, doing good things for others generally happens to make us feel good. But still, a cup of delicious coffee, as well as anticipating that pleasure, is a lot more appealing than changing diapers. Going on a long dreamed-of vacation has everything to recommend it, but  . . . will anyone ever want to enlist in the army, never mind the increased benefits? 

We know that human population has begun to shrink already, which is great news for the planet, but  . . . as always, there is a curse inside every blessing. Some are already worried that some young people give their reason for not having children as "I want to live my own life." It is (or has become) a legitimate need; in the best-case scenario, societies will try to make life easier and more joyful, including even child care and military service, not to mention a myriad of ordinary jobs — which don't really have to start so early in the morning  — or do they?

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FIREWORKS AND AIR POLLUTION

Each year, Americans set off nearly 300 million lbs (136,000 tonnes) of fireworks – nearly one pound for every person living in America. In 2022, that figure jumped to more than 460 million pounds (209,000 tonnes) of fireworks. That's a lot of explosions and sparkles – but also a lot of smoke and waste, which may not only harm the planet, but also potentially the lungs of people nearby too.

Fireworks have been around for thousands of years, with many historians believing the first firecrackers originated in China in the 2nd Century BC. But we're now beginning to understand the scale of the impact they have on wildlife, the environment and human health.

While most attention about the dangers of fireworks focuses on injuries caused by burns and explosions, there are other far-reaching effects of these celebratory spectacles, especially when set off in large displays like the 4 July celebrations and New Year.

Certainly, firework-related injuries have increased in recent years, with men making up 70% of those injured, and 66% of injuries in the US happening in the weeks before and after July 4.

But Peter Brimblecombe, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia, in the UK, and who lives in Waikiki, Hawaii, published a paper in 2023 analyzing how fireworks can also contribute to particulate pollution in the air.

Fireworks generate large amounts of smoke, which can have an often visibly negative impact on air quality, but they also release other pollutants that are harder to see.

In some areas, the concentration of fine particulate pollution known as PM2.5 can be between 1.5 and 10 times higher than normal on the night of 4 July and the following day, according to one study of air quality in California in 2019 and 2020. These fine soot particles have been linked to a range of health problems including asthma, heart disease and low birth weight.

Another study of 315 sites across the US in 2015 showed that PM2.5 concentrations were on average 42% higher nationally during the 4 July holiday. The worst affected areas – those that were closest to large firework displays – saw the PM2.5 concentration nearly quadruple. But the pollution is usually short-lived and tends to diminish by noon the following day.

"Definitely, pollutant loads increase during the events," says Brimblecombe. "Poor air quality and the associated health risks have been part of New Year's Eve on Oahu [in Hawaii] for many years. And it remains a problem that continues to draw attention.”

In his own study, Brimblecombe found a "sharp rise" in the PM2.5 concentration during firework celebrations.

Fireworks also release a large amount of other air pollutants, particularly sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide alongside particulate matter. Heavy metals, which give fireworks their bright colors, are also often toxic and tests in mice have shown particulate pollution containing these can be harmful. One recent study of air pollution in northern Utah by researchers at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, found that concentrations of metals such as copper, potassium, barium, chromium, vanadium and strontium spiked during the Independence Day holidays due to smoke from fireworks.

Individuals exposed to high levels of air pollutants have shown increased prevalence of chronic cough, phlegm and breathlessness – and are therefore at an increased risk of developing asthma, lung cancer, and other respiratory diseases. But there isn't necessarily a direct link between fireworks and long-term health impacts; although pyrotechnicians may be exposed to these health issues over the long term, most effects on audiences from fireworks are short-term, explains Brimblecombe.

"The link to health is harder to make, but I think it is more the workers than the general public that suffer," he says. "However, there is some evidence from Iceland that asthma attacks increased, but the statistics are poor as few people live in Iceland.

“Those with respiratory exposure may be affected by short high-concentration episodes,” he adds. “And staying upwind of the displays could limit [this] exposure.”

Some scientists have estimated that several hundred million people globally are exposed to firework smoke every year, although it is hard to say how accurate that figure really is.

One paper studying how fireworks affect respiratory health noted the need for more research, particularly into how fireworks impact those with asthma and other respiratory diseases. The researchers found that individuals suffering with respiratory conditions should "avoid heavy exposure.”

The report added that children are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of ambient air exposure.

IMPACT ON THE PLANET

Fireworks can also trigger wildfires that lead to far longer lasting and widespread air pollution. One analysis of wildfires on federal land in the US over a 37-year period from 1980 found that 11,294 of nearly 600,000 fires over that period could be attributed to fireworks. Two thirds of these occurred in the two-week period around 4 July.

Large wildfires can send pollution high into the atmosphere, causing it to spread over thousands of miles, during which time it can become more toxic.

But fireworks also generate other waste that lasts far longer once the dazzling explosions fade and the smoke clears.

One study by the US Geological Survey and National Park Service found water samples taken from around Mount Rushmore between 2011-2015 showed elevated levels of perchlorate, which is used as a propellent in fireworks, in the areas where firework displays had taken place on Independence Days between 1998-2009. It also found elevated levels of the chemical in the soil where the fireworks were launched and where rocket debris landed. Another study from 2007 of a lake in Ada, Oklahoma, showed perchlorate levels rose following 4 July fireworks displays by up to 1,028 times the levels seen in the preceding days. It then took 20-80 days for the contamination to return to background levels.

There are concerns that this contamination can find its way into drinking water, where high levels of perchlorate can interfere with human thyroid function. The Environmental Protection Agency is now funding a study to assess just how much perchlorate from fireworks gets into the lakes, rivers and streams around the US.

But there are other problems that stem from the physical debris left behind by fireworks displays.

"Research on plastic pollution from fireworks is certainly gathering momentum," says Elizabeth Westhead, a bioscientist at the University of East London, UK. Westhead co-authored a study on microplastics levels in the River Thames in London during the New Year period. "[There's] growing evidence about its environmental impact," she says.

Westhead and her colleagues studied a stretch of the River Thames near Westminster – where the annual New Year fireworks are held – and found microplastics were "significantly higher" in the area following the dramatic fireworks in 2020. The study found microplastics increased by more than 1,000% over a 24-hour period.

"This short-term high influx of microplastics from fireworks will have detrimental impact on the ecology of the river and neighboring waterways," says the study's lead author Ria Devereux, a sustainability researcher at the University of East London. "I was curious, especially as I didn't come across any literature on microplastics from fireworks. I expected some microplastics, but nowhere near the amount that I found.

"I think we were all in shock that so many microplastics entered the water system from a 15-minute firework event.”

The study is significant, Devereux explains, because microplastics and polymer chemicals can be taken up by aquatic and marine animals, making their way into the food chain.

But getting people to pay attention to the plastic pollution caused by fireworks may take some time, concedes Westhead. "It will take even more time and much more work to influence public opinion on a very popular tradition," she says.

Light shows using drones and beams of colored light are starting to appear as alternatives to fireworks

DISTRESSED WILDLIFE

It's a well-known fact that dogs are scared of fireworks. But studies have shown the devastating impact they can have on birds too.

A study tracking Arctic geese in Europe found that on one New Year's Eve the birds suddenly left their sleeping sites and flew to remote areas – up to 500km (311 miles) without rest. And the impacts lasted long after New Year's Eve. The birds never returned to their original sleeping sites. In one extreme case, hundreds of birds, primarily starlings, were found dead on the streets of Rome after a 2021 New Year's Eve firework event. In 2011, around 5,000 dead blackbirds fell from the sky on one single night in a small town in Arkansas, after being frightened out of their nighttime roosting sites and flying into trees and houses. Wildlife officials blamed the deaths on fireworks.

The annual timing of some large-scale firework events, such as July 4 and New Year's Eve, coincides with reproductive and migratory wildlife behavior, one study noted, and so may have long-term population effects on the animals.

A MORE SUSTAINABLE OPTION

Environmentally friendly fireworks do exist – they have a clean-burning nitrogen-based fuel which create little smoke. There are also attempts to find alternatives to the harmful heavy metals without losing the brightly colored sparks that make fireworks so appealing. "Quite a lot of emphasis at present on removing heavy metals that have ecosystem impacts has led to less polluting fireworks," says Brimblecombe.

But, they're still loud.

Laser shows and drones are just some of alternatives that have been used – they're reusable, have no emissions, and they're quiet. Drones are not without their drawbacks, though – they too disturb wildlife.

As researchers on one study on the impacts of fireworks on urban air quality summarized: "It is up to the local communities involved to decide in a balanced manner whether this form of amusement is worth the risky atmospheric cocktail it generates.”

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20240703-how-4-july-fireworks-pollute-the-air-and-might-damage-your-health


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SAM HARRIS: THE TERRIFYING POWER OF BAD IDEAS

“THE IDEA THAT ANY BOOK WAS INSPIRED BY THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE IS POISON — intellectually, ethically, and politically. And nowhere is this poison currently doing more harm than in Muslim communities, East and West. Despite all the obvious barbarism in the Old Testament, and the dangerous eschatology of the New, it is relatively easy for Jews and Christians to divorce religion from politics and secular ethics.

A single line in Matthew—“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”—largely accounts for why the West isn’t still hostage to theocracy. The Koran contains a few lines that could be equally potent—for instance, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256)—but these sparks of tolerance are easily snuffed out. Transforming Islam into a truly benign faith will require a miracle of re-interpretation. And a few intrepid reformers, such as Maajid Nawaz, are doing their best to accomplish it.”

“Religion produces a perverse solidarity that we must find some way to undercut. It causes in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one’s own group are behaving like psychopaths.

We can build strong communities and enjoy deeply moral and spiritual lives, without believing any divisive nonsense about the divine origin of specific books.”

“But it remains taboo in most societies to criticize a person’s religious beliefs. Even atheists tend to observe this taboo, and enforce it on others, because they believe that religion is necessary for many people. After all, life is difficult—and faith is a balm. Most people imagine that Iron Age philosophy represents the only available vessel for their spiritual hopes and existential concerns.

This is an enduring problem for the forces of reason, because the most transformative experiences people have—bliss, devotion, self-transcendence—are currently anchored to the worst parts of culture and to ways of thinking that merely amplify superstition, self-deception, and conflict.”

“More British Muslims have joined the ranks of ISIS than have volunteered to serve in the British armed forces. In fact, this group has managed to attract thousands of recruits from free societies throughout the world to help build a paradise of repression and sectarian slaughter in Syria and Iraq. This is an astonishing phenomenon, and it reveals some very uncomfortable truths about the failures of multiculturalism, the inherent vulnerability of open societies, and the TERRIFYING POWER OF BAD IDEAS.

No doubt many enlightened concerns will come flooding into the reader’s mind at this point. I would not want to create the impression that most Muslims support ISIS, nor would I want to give any shelter or inspiration to the hatred of Muslims as people. In drawing a connection between the doctrine of Islam and jihadist violence, I am talking about ideas and their consequences, not about 1.5 billion nominal Muslims, many of whom do not take their religion very seriously.

But a belief in martyrdom, a hatred of infidels, and a commitment to violent jihad are not fringe phenomena in the Muslim world. These preoccupations are supported by the Koran and numerous hadith. That is why the popular Saudi cleric Mohammad Al-Areefi sounds like the ISIS army chaplain. The man has 9.5 million followers on Twitter (twice as many as Pope Francis has). If you can find an important distinction between the faith he preaches and that which motivates the savagery of ISIS, you should probably consult a neurologist.

Understanding and criticizing the doctrine of Islam—and finding some way to inspire Muslims to reform it—is one of the most important challenges the civilized world now faces. But the task isn’t as simple as discrediting the false doctrines of Muslim “extremists,” because most of their views are not false by the light of scripture.
A hatred of infidels is arguably the central message of the Koran.

The reality of martyrdom and the sanctity of armed jihad are about as controversial under Islam as the resurrection of Jesus is under Christianity. It is not an accident that millions of Muslims recite the shahadah or make pilgrimage to Mecca. Neither is it an accident that horrific footage of infidels and apostates being decapitated has become a popular form of pornography throughout the Muslim world. Each of these practices, including this ghastly method of murder, find explicit support in scripture.



Yes, many Muslims happily ignore the apostasy and blasphemy of their neighbors, view women as the moral equals of men, and consider anti-Semitism contemptible. But there are also Muslims who drink alcohol and eat bacon. All of these persuasions run counter to the explicit teachings of Islam to one or another degree. And just like moderates in every other religion, most moderate Muslims become obscurantists when defending their faith from criticism. They rely on modern, secular values—for instance, tolerance of diversity and respect for human rights—as a basis for reinterpreting and ignoring the most despicable parts of their holy books. But they nevertheless demand that we respect the idea of revelation, and this leaves us perpetually vulnerable to more literal readings of scripture.

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/sleepwalking-toward-armageddon

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“Victory in defeat — there is none higher.” ~ Robert Heinlein


KJV, Exodus 2:22, "And she bore him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land".

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WE ARE ALL CONSPIRACY THEORISTS

If you want to understand how people fall for conspiracy theories, and if you want to help them, then you have to understand the conspiracy universe. More specifically, you need to know where their favorite theories are on the broader spectrum of conspiracies.

What type of person falls for conspiracy theories? What type of person would think that the World Trade Center was a controlled demolition, or that planes are secretly spraying chemicals to modify the climate, or that nobody died at Sandy Hook, or that the Earth is flat? Are these people crazy? Are they just incredibly gullible? Are they young and impressionable? No, in fact the range of people who believe in conspiracy theories is simply a random slice of the general population.

Many dismiss conspiracy theorists as a bunch of crazy people, or a bunch of stupid people, or a bunch of crazy stupid people. Yet in many ways the belief in a conspiracy theory is as American as apple pie, and like apple pie it comes in all kinds of varieties, and all kinds of normal people like to consume it.

My neighbor down the road is a conspiracy theorist. Yet he’s also an engineer, retired after a successful career. I’ve had dinner at his house, and yet he’s a believer in chemtrails, and I’m a chemtrail debunker. It’s odd; he even told me after a few glasses of wine that he thinks I’m being paid to debunk chemtrails. He thought this because he googled my name and found some pages that said I was a paid shill. Since he’s a conspiracy theorist he tends to trust conspiracy sources more than mainstream sources, so he went with that.

I’ve met all kinds of conspiracy theorists. At a chemtrails convention I attended there was pretty much the full spectrum. There were sensible and intelligent older people who had discovered their conspiracy anything from a few months ago to several decades ago. There were highly eccentric people of all ages, including one old gentleman with a pyramid attached to his bike. There were people who channeled aliens, and there were people who were angry that the alien-channeling people were allowed in. There were young people itching for a revolution. There were well-read intellectuals who thought there was a subtle system of persuasion going on in the evening news, and there were people who genuinely thought they were living in a computer simulation.

There’s such a wide spectrum of people who believe in conspiracy theories because the spectrum of conspiracy theories itself is very wide. There’s a conspiracy theory for everyone, and hence very few people are immune.

THE MAINSTREAM AND THE FRINGE

One unfortunate problem with the term “conspiracy theory” is that it paints with a broad brush. It’s tempting to simply divide people up into “conspiracy theorists” and “regular people” — to have tinfoil-hat-wearing paranoids on one side and sensible folk on the other. But the reality is that we are all conspiracy theorists, one way or another. We all know that conspiracies exist; we all suspect people in power of being involved in many kinds of conspiracies, even if it’s only something as banal as accepting campaign contributions to vote a certain way on certain types of legislation.

It’s also tempting to simply label conspiracy theories as either “mainstream” or “fringe.” Journalist Paul Musgrave referenced this dichotomy when he wrote in the Washington Post:
"Less than two months into the administration, the danger is no longer that Trump will make conspiracy thinking mainstream. That has already come to pass."

Musgrave obviously does not mean that shape-shifting lizard overlords have become mainstream. Nor does he mean that flat Earth, chemtrails, or even 9/11 truth are mainstream.

What he’s really talking about is a fairly small shift in a dividing line on the conspiracy spectrum. Most fringe conspiracy theories remain fringe, most mainstream theories remain mainstream. But, Musgrave argues,
there’s been a shift that’s allowed the bottom part of the fringe to enter into the mainstream. Obama being a Kenyan was thought by many to be a silly conspiracy theory, something on the fringe. But if the president of the United States (Trump) keeps bringing it up, then it moves more towards the mainstream.

Both conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists exist on a spectrum. If we are to communicate effectively with a conspiracy-minded friend we need to get some perspective on the full range of that spectrum, and where our friend’s personal blend of theories fit into it.

There are several ways we can classify a conspiracy theory: how scientific is it? How many people believe in it? How plausible is? But one I’m going use is a somewhat subjective measure of how extreme the theory is. I’m going to rank them from 1 to 10, with 1 being entirely mainstream to 10 being the most obscure extreme fringe theory you can fathom.

This extremeness spectrum is not simply a spectrum of reasonableness or scientific plausibility. Being extreme is being on the fringe, and fringe simply denotes the fact that it’s an unusual interpretation and is restricted to a small number of people. A belief in religious supernatural occurrences (like miracles) is a scientifically implausible belief, and yet it is not considered particularly fringe.

Let’s start with a simple list of actual conspiracy theories. These are ranked by extremeness in their most typical manifestation, but in reality, the following represent topics that can span several points on the scale, or even the entire scale.

Big Pharma: The theory that pharmaceutical companies conspire to maximize profit by selling drugs that people do not actually need

Global Warming Hoax: The theory that climate change is not caused by man-made carbon emissions, and that there’s some other motive for claiming this

What type of person falls for conspiracy theories? What type of person would think that the World Trade Center was a controlled demolition, or that planes are secretly spraying chemicals to modify the climate, or that nobody died at Sandy Hook, or that the Earth is flat? Are these people crazy? Are they just incredibly gullible? Are they young and impressionable? No, in fact the range of people who believe in conspiracy theories is simply a random slice of the general population.

There’s a conspiracy theory for everyone, and hence very few people are immune.

Many dismiss conspiracy theorists as a bunch of crazy people, or a bunch of stupid people, or a bunch of crazy stupid people. Yet in many ways the belief in a conspiracy theory is as American as apple pie, and like apple pie it comes in all kinds of varieties, and all kinds of normal people like to consume it.

My neighbor down the road is a conspiracy theorist. Yet he’s also an engineer, retired after a successful career. I’ve had dinner at his house, and yet he’s a believer in chemtrails, and I’m a chemtrail debunker. It’s odd; he even told me after a few glasses of wine that he thinks I’m being paid to debunk chemtrails. He thought this because he googled my name and found some pages that said I was a paid shill. Since he’s a conspiracy theorist he tends to trust conspiracy sources more than mainstream sources, so he went with that.

I’ve met all kinds of conspiracy theorists. At a chemtrails convention I attended there was pretty much the full spectrum. There were sensible and intelligent older people who had discovered their conspiracy anything from a few months ago to several decades ago. There were highly eccentric people of all ages, including one old gentleman with a pyramid attached to his bike. There were people who channeled aliens, and there were people who were angry that the alien-channeling people were allowed in. There were young people itching for a revolution. There were well-read intellectuals who thought there was a subtle system of persuasion going on in the evening news, and there were people who genuinely thought they were living in a computer simulation.

There’s such a wide spectrum of people who believe in conspiracy theories because the spectrum of conspiracy theories itself is very wide. There’s a conspiracy theory for everyone, and hence very few people are immune.

The mainstream and the fringe

One unfortunate problem with the term “conspiracy theory” is that it paints with a broad brush. It’s tempting to simply divide people up into “conspiracy theorists” and “regular people” — to have tinfoil-hat-wearing paranoids on one side and sensible folk on the other. But the reality is that we are all conspiracy theorists, one way or another. We all know that conspiracies exist; we all suspect people in power of being involved in many kinds of conspiracies, even if it’s only something as banal as accepting campaign contributions to vote a certain way on certain types of legislation.

It’s also tempting to simply label conspiracy theories as either “mainstream” or “fringe.” Journalist Paul Musgrave referenced this dichotomy when he wrote in the Washington Post:
Less than two months into the administration, the danger is no longer that Trump will make conspiracy thinking mainstream. That has already come to pass.

Musgrave obviously does not mean that shape-shifting lizard overlords have become mainstream. Nor does he mean that flat Earth, chemtrails, or even 9/11 truth are mainstream. What he’s really talking about is a fairly small shift in a dividing line on the conspiracy spectrum. Most fringe conspiracy theories remain fringe, most mainstream theories remain mainstream. But, Musgrave argues, there’s been a shift that’s allowed the bottom part of the fringe to enter into the mainstream. Obama being a Kenyan was thought by many to be a silly conspiracy theory, something on the fringe. But if the president of the United States (Trump) keeps bringing it up, then it moves more towards the mainstream.

Both conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists exist on a spectrum. If we are to communicate effectively with a conspiracy-minded friend we need to get some perspective on the full range of that spectrum, and where our friend’s personal blend of theories fit into it.

It’s very rare to find someone who only believes in one conspiracy theory. They generally believe in every conspiracy theory that’s less extreme than their favorite one.

There are several ways we can classify a conspiracy theory: how scientific is it? How many people believe in it? How plausible is? But one I’m going use is a somewhat subjective measure of how extreme the theory is. I’m going to rank them from 1 to 10, with 1 being entirely mainstream to 10 being the most obscure extreme fringe theory you can fathom.

This extremeness spectrum is not simply a spectrum of reasonableness or scientific plausibility. Being extreme is being on the fringe, and fringe simply denotes the fact that it’s an unusual interpretation and is restricted to a small number of people. A belief in religious supernatural occurrences (like miracles) is a scientifically implausible belief, and yet it is not considered particularly fringe.

Let’s start with a simple list of actual conspiracy theories. These are ranked by extremeness in their most typical manifestation, but in reality, the following represent topics that can span several points on the scale, or even the entire scale.

Big Pharma: The theory that pharmaceutical companies conspire to maximize profit by selling drugs that people do not actually need

Global Warming Hoax: The theory that climate change is not caused by man-made carbon emissions, and that there’s some other motive for claiming this

JFK: The theory that people in addition to Lee Harvey Oswald were involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy

9/11 Inside Job: The theory that the events of 9/11 were arranged by elements within the US government

Chemtrails: The theory that the trails left behind aircraft are part of a secret spraying program

False Flag Shootings: The theory that shootings like Sandy Hook and Las Vegas either never happened or were arranged by people in power

Moon Landing Hoax: The theory that the Moon landings were faked in a movie studio

UFO Cover-Up: The theory that the US government has contact with aliens or crashed alien crafts and is keeping it secret

Flat Earth: The theory that the Earth is flat, but governments, business, and scientists all pretend it is a globe

Reptile Overlords: The theory that the ruling classes are a race of shape-shifting trans-dimensional reptiles

If your friend subscribes to one of these theories you should not assume they believe in the most extreme version. They could be anywhere within a range. The categories are both rough and complex, and while some are quite narrow and specific, others encapsulate a wide range of variants of the theory that might go nearly all the way from a 1 to a 10. The position on the fringe conspiracy spectrum instead gives us a rough reference point for the center of the extent of the conspiracy belief.

Flat Earth and Reptile Overlords are examples of theories that exist only at the far end of the spectrum. It’s simply impossible to have a sensible version of the Flat Earth theory due to the fact that the Earth is actually round.

Similarly, there exist theories at the lower end of the spectrum that are fairly narrow in scope. A plot by pharmaceutical companies to maximize profits is hard (but not impossible) to make into a more extreme version.

Other theories are broader in scope. The 9/11 Inside Job theory is the classic example where the various theories go all the way from “they lowered their guard to allow some attack to happen,” to “the planes were holograms; the towers were demolished with nuclear bombs.” The chemtrail theory also has a wide range, from “additives to the fuel are making contrails last longer” to “nano-machines are being sprayed to decimate the population.”

There’s also overlapping relationships between the theories. chemtrails might be spraying poison to help big pharma sell more drugs. JFK might have been killed because he was going to reveal that UFOs were real. Fake shootings might have been arranged to distract people from any of the other theories. The conspiracy theory spectrum is continuous and multi-dimensional.

Don’t immediately pigeonhole your friend if they express some skepticism about some aspect of the broader theories. For example, having some doubts about a few pieces from a Moon-landing video does not necessarily mean that they think we never went to the Moon, it could just mean that they think a few bits of the footage were mocked up for propaganda purposes. Likewise, if they say we should question the events of 9/11, it does not necessarily mean that they think the Twin Towers were destroyed with explosives, it could just mean they think elements within the CIA helped the hijackers somehow.

Understanding where your friend is on the conspiracy spectrum is not about which topics he is interested in, it’s about where he draws the line.

THE DEMARCATION LINE

My neighbor down the road is a conspiracy theorist. Yet he’s also an engineer, retired after a successful career. I’ve had dinner at his house, and yet he’s a believer in chemtrails, and I’m a chemtrail debunker. It’s odd; he even told me after a few glasses of wine that he thinks I’m being paid to debunk chemtrails. He thought this because he googled my name and found some pages that said I was a paid shill. Since he’s a conspiracy theorist he tends to trust conspiracy sources more than mainstream sources, so he went with that.

I’ve met all kinds of conspiracy theorists. At a chemtrails convention I attended there was pretty much the full spectrum. There were sensible and intelligent older people who had discovered their conspiracy anything from a few months ago to several decades ago. There were highly eccentric people of all ages, including one old gentleman with a pyramid attached to his bike. There were people who channeled aliens, and there were people who were angry that the alien-channeling people were allowed in. There were young people itching for a revolution. There were well-read intellectuals who thought there was a subtle system of persuasion going on in the evening news, and there were people who genuinely thought they were living in a computer simulation.

There’s such a wide spectrum of people who believe in conspiracy theories because the spectrum of conspiracy theories itself is very wide. There’s a conspiracy theory for everyone, and hence very few people are immune.

Other theories are broader in scope. The 9/11 Inside Job theory is the classic example where the various theories go all the way from “they lowered their guard to allow some attack to happen,” to “the planes were holograms; the towers were demolished with nuclear bombs.” The chemtrail theory also has a wide range, from “additives to the fuel are making contrails last longer” to “nano-machines are being sprayed to decimate the population.”

There’s also overlapping relationships between the theories. chemtrails might be spraying poison to help big pharma sell more drugs. JFK might have been killed because he was going to reveal that UFOs were real. Fake shootings might have been arranged to distract people from any of the other theories. The conspiracy theory spectrum is continuous and multi-dimensional.

Don’t immediately pigeonhole your friend if they express some skepticism about some aspect of the broader theories. For example, having some doubts about a few pieces from a Moon-landing video does not necessarily mean that they think we never went to the Moon, it could just mean that they think a few bits of the footage were mocked up for propaganda purposes. Likewise, if they say we should question the events of 9/11, it does not necessarily mean that they think the Twin Towers were destroyed with explosives, it could just mean they think elements within the CIA helped the hijackers somehow.

Understanding where your friend is on the conspiracy spectrum is not about which topics he is interested in, it’s about where he draws the line.

The drawing of such dividing lines is called “demarcation.” In philosophy there’s a classical problem called the “demarcation problem,” which is basically where you draw the line between science and non-science. Conspiracists have a demarcation line on their own personal version of the conspiracy spectrum. On one side of the line there’s science and reasonable theories they feel are probably correct. On the other side of the line there’s non-science, gibberish, propaganda, lies, and disinformation.

I have a line of demarcation (probably around 1.5), you have one, your friend has a line. We all draw the line in different places.

To some extent, we are all conspiracy theorists. ~

This is an excerpt from the book Escaping the Rabbit Hole by Mick West.

https://bigthink.com/the-present/conspiracy-theories-2653392476/

Oriana:

I always thought myself immune to conspiracy theories — and then I started reading about the odd facts and peculiar gaps in the investigation regarding the JFK assassination. To be sure, the newfound curiosity lasted only so long, but long enough to give me a taste of "something is off; they are not telling us the truth."  Or at least not the whole truth. To be sure, my robust other interests and activities have soon prevailed, but I can see how someone with a rather empty life might become obsessed. So yes, I can go along with the statement that we are all conspiracy theorists — it's just a question of degree.

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WHY CITIES BECOME “HEAT ISLANDS”

Contributing factors driving the Urban Heat Islands index are built environments, such as roads, buildings and parking lots, a reduced percentage of green space with not enough plants to help cool the air and dense populations.

More than 5 million people in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco live in environments where urban heat islands (UHIs) are capable of amplifying summer temperatures by at least 10°F, according to the analysis. Excessive heat warnings are in effect across the Bay Area through Friday due to the current extreme heat wave.

In cities with sprawling heat intensity, such as Houston, which is also currently affected by searing temperatures, high UHI index values are spread across a vast developed land area.

"Urban heat islands already expose residents to disproportionate heat risks and cooling costs, which will only climb as long as carbon pollution drives up global temperatures," said Climate Central's Jennifer Brady in a statement.

The extreme heat has killed at least 28 people, mostly in Oregon and California, where it's hampering emergency services' response to wildfires, but also in Maryland, the Washington Post notes.

People in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Wednesday (July 7) sweltered through a record fifth straight day of temperatures over 115°F.

Across Oregon, new daily record high temperatures were set on Wednesday, the NWS' Portland office noted. These included Portland, which hit 100°F, the city's airport, which reached 104°F, and Salem and Eugene, which each peaked at 106°F.

At least 10 people in Oregon have died of "suspected heat-related illnesses" as of Wednesday from the heat wave that began last week, state officials said.

Death Valley has in recent days reached at least 129°F, just 1°F shy of the hottest reliably measured temperature on Earth, and similar temperatures have been forecast for Thursday.

A motorcyclist died from heat exposure in Death Valley on July 6, when the temperature reached 128°F, which the National Park Service noted would be a new daily record if confirmed.

https://www.axios.com/2024/07/11/heat-islands-us-record-temperatures?utm_source=pocket-newtab-en-us

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ESSENCE OF RELIGION: PROMISE OF HELP FROM SUPERHUMAN POWER

~ “In his substantial, richly informed book RELIGION: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It Matters (Princeton University, $35), Christian Smith offers a social scientific theory that disputes the notion, advanced by titans of social thought like Clifford Geertz and Max Weber, that religion is a cultural meaning system. “Religion is not at heart a set of replies to existential questions,” Smith writes, “even if it often involves this.”

For Smith, the paradigmatic expression of religion is something like praying to God to cure your wife’s cancer, or beseeching a cloud spirit to bring rain to your withering crops. Having surveyed religious traditions across the world and throughout history, he sees religion, at its core, as a set of “culturally prescribed practices” that aim to help people access “superhuman powers” in the hope of “realizing human goods” and avoiding bad things, typically “in conditions and situations they cannot control and with problems that they cannot solve.” Smith is quick to acknowledge that this is not all religion provides, nor the sole reason people practice religion. But he maintains it is the “central” reason. And unlike other things religion does, like providing an identity (which a profession can also do) or seeking existential meaning (which philosophy can also do), it is “unique to religion.”

A methodological hazard of discussing religion at this level of abstraction is the need, as Crane says, “to generalize the views of billions of people.” Smith hopes to avoid this difficulty by focusing less on subjective religious belief and more on public religious practices, which are “more or less objective.” This has allowed him, he believes, to focus on what religion is. He distinguishes this from what religion can do, its “secondary outgrowths” (things like fostering identity, meaning, community and so on). Though these derivative features are “often crucial” for the personal experience and institutional strength of religion, they do not constitute its “ultimate raison d’être.”

Smith’s is a theoretical work, but he provides ample illustrations of his theory, including religious traditions that might at first seem like counterexamples, such as American Protestant evangelicalism, which stresses the importance of beliefs and attitudes over rituals and customs. In all cases, he finds formalized calls for heavenly assistance, often involving this-worldly concerns like financial security and family health, to be central. Worries about things like the meaning of life and the problem of evil are peripheral. “If religion could not promise the help of superhuman powers,” he concludes, “then religion would not exist.” ~

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/20/books/review/the-meaning-of-belief-tim-crane-learning-religion.html?mabReward=ACTM7&recid=0vKMVZA1N84eZR6OU6rhMZ9XjiL&recp=0&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine

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WILD SAINTS AND FOOLS FOR CHRIST (aka “HOLY FOOLS”)


A monk wandering in the desert encounters a naked man grazing like a mountain goat. The monk sneaks up and grabs him. The captured man, who “cannot tolerate the smell” of human beings, breaks loose and flees.

“It is for the sake of God that I am pursuing you,” the monk cries out.

“It is for the sake of God that I am running away from you!” the man replies.

He continues to run until the monk finally throws off his clothes and joins him in nudity. Finally, he offers the monk some advice.

“Flee from men and be silent—and you shall be saved.”

This tale comes from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, a fifth-century compendium of stories from hermits living in the Wadi El Natrun desert. Early Christian lore is full of tales like these, accounts of ascetics who sought salvation through a return to wildness. These bestial saints wandered through the desert, eating only raw food and clothed only in their long, unruly hair; their nails had grown into claws, and they shied away from people like wild deer.

The ascetics reportedly lived alongside lions and gazelles, sharing their food and water, forgetting human civilization and all its evils. Consider Raphael’s depiction of Saint Mary of Egypt, a legendary desert hermit: her golden hair is so overgrown that it verges on a pelt. In fact, he seems to have used one of her locks to belt the rest of her hair around her stomach, like a monk’s cowl.

“The Deserts were turned into a City by Monks,” claims the Life of St. Antony, a text attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria. Indeed, by the fourth century, there are accounts of up to 5,000 monks living in the deserts of Egypt, writes musicologist James W. McKinnon. Most of these, however, weren’t wandering the wilds; rather, they lived in small monastic communities, writes archaeologist and historian Darlene L. Brooks Hedstrom, inhabiting simple clay cells spaced far apart, to allow each monk solitude. In the heat of the afternoon, the whole area resounded with the sound of continuously chanted psalms.

As sociologist Judith Adler writes, early Christian writers idealized “ascetic social worlds” and monastic habitats.

“Desert—in the sense of wild and uncultivated rather than specifically sandy or rocky space—became newly valorized as the spiritual/intellectual center of a cosmopolitan monastic movement,” Adler writes (italics in original).

Christian ascetic writers cast wasteland, where there is “neither perpetrator nor victim of injustice, nor complaint of a tax collector” as an earthly “paradise of the fathers,” while market towns and cities that saints were said to “flee” were depicted as a dark, uninhabitable “wilderness of this world.”

In this viewpoint, the right-thinking mind can discover a hidden, inverted world concealed beneath the commonplace—one where civilization is wilderness, and wilderness is the city of Heaven.

Still, this flight from civilization was something of a fantasy. Historian Oliver Freiberger notes that most hermitages were set close enough to towns for easy travel, and that hermits stayed connected with local communities, weaving ropes and baskets for market, giving advice, and receiving small gifts.

And monastic life was certainly not free of human foibles. According to Evagrius of Pontus, monks were particularly vulnerable to the attacks of the “noonday demon,” which
besets the monk at about the fourth hour (10 a.m.) of the morning, encircling his soul until about the eighth hour (2 p.m.). First it makes the Sun seem to slow down or stop moving, so that the day appears to be fifty hours long. Then it makes the monk keep looking out of his window and forces him to go bounding out of his cell to examine the Sun to see how much longer it is to 3 o’clock.

In this context, the wild life of desert wanderers might have seemed like a more liberated alternative to monastic rule. For instance, Freiberger relates the story of a young monk who, fed up with his seniors, simply casts off his cloak and walks into the wilderness.

Others went in the opposite direction, from wilderness to urban life. According to legend, after thirty years grazing in the wild, St. Simeon felt a divine call to go to the city. He arrived at its gates with a dead dog strapped to his belt, and, oddly enough for a saint, he quickly established himself as a public menace, writes religious studies scholar Jesse Perillo, by blowing out the candles right before Mass, pelting locals with walnuts, overturning market stalls, flagrantly violating rules of fasting, walking around naked, relieving himself in public, and (perhaps worst of all) openly associating with actors. It was a sixth-century version of freaking out the normies.

At the same time, he performed miracles—curing diseases, driving out demons, saving a building from an earthquake—all the while using his constant mischief to distract the public from his holiness. In doing so, he established a lineage of “holy fools.” In his footsteps followed figures such as St. Andreas, who staggered about pretending to be drunk, curled up with the stray dogs to sleep at night, and quenched his thirst from puddles in the road.

As historian David K. Prestel writes, holy fools have often been identified with a verse from Corinthians: “If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”

As different as the prankish urbanite “fools for Christ” seem from the silent ascetics of the desert, they deal in the same kind of reversal: to the right eyes, wisdom becomes folly and folly wisdom; the desert becomes the city of God, the city a barren wasteland.

https://daily.jstor.org/wild-saints-and-holy-fools/

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CAN VACCINES IMPROVE LONGEVITY?

Can vaccinations keep declining immune systems in fighting form — even into old age? It’s beginning to look that way.

A growing body of research suggests that vaccines may do more than prevent the specific disease at which they’re aimed. They may have other positive effects, priming the immune system to better prepare it to fight other disease-causing viruses or bacteria throughout life.

It’s called immune fitness, and it means the immune system is resilient and trained to respond appropriately to challenges, such as viruses or other microbes. Just as exercising, avoiding smoking, and eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of disease, being fully vaccinated at all stages of life can help build immune fitness.

The positive, incidental benefits of vaccines have long been known. Doctors in the 1800s saw that smallpox vaccination improved rashes and reduced susceptibility to measles, syphilis, and other infections. In the twenty-first century, we’re starting to understand on the level of the immune system how that happens, and how important it is to change our thinking from a focus only on vaccines for children to vaccination throughout the life-course. This is important to prevent specific diseases but also given the increasing evidence of vaccine effects beyond the targeted disease.

Evidence in support of this concept has mounted during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. A study by Cedars-Sinai Health System found that employees who had been given vaccination against tuberculosis called BCG, were significantly less likely to test positive for Covid-19 or to have reported Covid symptoms compared to those who had not received BCG. Similarly, a study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic found Covid patients who had either measles vaccine (MMR) or tetanus-diphtheria-attenuated pertussis (Tdap) vaccination were less likely to be admitted to intensive care units or to die.

One possible explanation is that vaccines prompt natural responses that improve immune system resilience by either reprogramming cells belonging to the immune system (so-called trained immunity) or pushing the “reminder button” by boosting pre-existing memory cells generated by prior vaccinations. That may give the immune system a head start when confronted with the Covid virus, SARS-CoV-2, reducing the risk of severe Covid-19 disease, and it may do the same with other pathogens. The research presents an exciting path of exploration into the specific elements of the immune system that make older people so much more vulnerable than the young to Covid-19 and other infectious diseases and suggests that vaccinations can confer protection beyond the target diseases for which they were specifically designed.

Due to the success of infant and childhood vaccination programs in countries with strong public health systems, and the changing demographics of aging populations, the burden of infectious diseases has shifted to older age groups and an increasing proportion of patients with vaccine-preventable diseases are older adults. In the U.S., the number of adults who die from a disease that could have been prevented or mitigated by a vaccine is 350-times higher than the number of such deaths in children, writes Béatrice Laupèze of GSK, Wavre, Belgium, and coauthor of a perspective in the July issue of NPJ Vaccines.

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of older adults to infectious diseases. It is concerning that many adults during the Covid-19 pandemic have put off regular medical care and have fallen behind on recommended immunizations. This not only puts them at risk for diseases such as the flu and pneumococcal pneumonia, but they may also miss out on the opportunity to improve their overall immune fitness.

“We are in the midst of a revolution in immunology,” write the authors of the NPJ Vaccines article. “It is clear that external influences of diet, exercise, combined with good hygiene, and avoidance of toxins such as smoking have far-reaching effects on health including immune health. We now understand that vaccination is an immune event of similar significance…”

Vaccines do not, on their own, turn back the clock on aging immune systems. But this new field of immunology adds to evidence that establishing healthy life-long habits including vaccination through the life course can boost immune fitness and the chance for a long and healthy life.

https://www.statnews.com/sponsor/2021/09/24/can-vaccines-boost-immune-fitness-beyond-diseases-theyre-aimed-for/

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WHAT TYPE OF EXERCISE LOWERS MORTALITY?

In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in August 2023, Dr. del Pozo Cruz and his colleagues analyzed data from 500,705 participants followed up for a median period of 10 years to see how different forms of exercise related to a person’s mortality risk.

The study looked at the effect of moderate aerobic physical activity, such as walking or gentle cycling, vigorous aerobic physical activity, such as running, and muscle-strengthening activity, like weight lifting.

Its findings indicated that a balanced combination of all of these forms of exercise worked best for reducing mortality risk.

More specifically, around 75 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, plus more than 150 minutes of vigorous exercise, alongside at least a couple of strength training sessions per week were associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality.

When it came to reducing the risk of death linked to cardiovascular disease specifically, Dr. del Pozo Cruz and his collaborators suggested combining a minimum of 150–225 minutes of moderate physical activity with around 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, and two or more strength training sessions per week.

Dr. Brocklesby, who goes by “Eddie,” is herself an example of the importance of combining different forms of exercise. Indeed, training and participating in a triathlon — which is an endurance multisport race where participants compete in swimming, cycling, and running — involves achieving a balanced “diet” of moderate and vigorous exercise, as well as strength training.

HOW LITTLE EXERCISE IS ENOUGH?

But what about people who are not nearly as athletic? What is the minimum “amount” of exercise that could help fend off some of the conditions that pose the highest threat to health?
Dr. del Pozo Cruz and his team may also have found an answer to this question. In December 2022, they published the findings to a previous study in the European Heart Journal.

This research suggested that engaging in vigorous exercise for only 2 minutes a day could help slash the risk of death related to cancer or cardiovascular events.

The researchers found that study participants who never engaged in vigorous exercise had a 4% risk of dying within 5 years, but introducing less than 10 minutes of vigorous activity weekly halved this risk. Moreover, their risk of death halved again for those who engaged in at least 60 minutes of exercise per week.

IS ANY PHYSICAL ACTIVITY GOOD?

Dr. del Pozo Cruz emphasized that almost any amount of any form of exercise is better than none, a point reinforced by a new study arguing that any activity at all is better for heart health than a sedentary lifestyle.

However, he also cautioned that physical activity related to chores or to one’s job, as opposed to exercise in a leisure context, may sometimes do more harm than good.

Once again, his idea is supported by recently published research, which found a link between physically demanding occupations and a higher risk of cognitive impairment.

Some of the most common occupations linked to intensive physical activity cited in this research were in nursing and care, retail, and farming, where individuals are on their feet a lot, and often having to deal with stressful situations.

So while all forms of exercise can be good for health, strenuous or intensive physical activity in a work environment could end up compounding the risk of various health conditions.

And even exercise for leisure can affect aspects of physical health — such as joint integrity — particularly later in life.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/in-conversation-why-exercise-is-key-to-living-a-long-and-healthy-life#Is-any-physical-activity-good?

Oriana:

But then perhaps the best predictor of mortality is IQ. People with higher IQ tend to live longer. 

One interesting explanation that has been proposed is the link between low IQ and a bad childhood:

A lower IQ can be a sign of a bad childhood. It can be a signal that things haven’t gone well for you as you developed. Maybe you’re from a deprived background, or you had malnutrition or an illness as a child. This may have affected your IQ by stopping your brain from developing to its full potential, and it also might as a result affect your life expectancy.

https://nesslabs.com/iq-death-smarter-people-live-longer
 

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ending on beauty:

A CLEAR MIDNIGHT

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes
thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death and the stars.

~ Walt Whitman