Trump True Believers march in D.C., no masks, no sense


Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

One week after the presidential race was called for Joe Biden, supporters of President Donald Trump gathered in Washington to protest the results and echo his unfounded claims of voter fraud.

While aides say that Trump is coming around to the reality that he lost, the president’s public attacks on the validity of the election results and his unwillingness to concede has allowed for conspiracy theories and misinformation to fester, particularly among his most devoted fans…

Top government and industry officials said in a statement on Thursday that the 2020 election was “the most secure in American history” and that there was “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised.”

Trump’s true believers are like those who came before them. They loved Gov. Wallace and his racist message just like they love Trump.

Christian Crusaders own Trump’s Health and Human Services Dept


Rolling Stone/Brian Stauffer

❝ It was dusk on a Friday in March 2017, and the women’s health clinic in San Antonio was mostly deserted, except for a nurse finishing some end-of-the-week paperwork, when the phone rang. The man on the other end of the line introduced himself as Dr. Meyerstein with the Office of Refugee Resettlement in Washington, D.C., the agency charged with the temporary care of children apprehended while crossing the border alone…

❝ Meyerstein was a civil servant who had worked for ORR’s unaccompanied-minor program since the Obama administration, but depositions and internal documents show he was acting on orders from a tight group of pro-life crusaders recently installed in the top ranks of ORR’s parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services: Maggie Wynne, counselor to the secretary of HHS; Matt Bowman, a lawyer in their Office of the General Counsel; and Scott Lloyd, the man recently tapped to helm ORR…

❝ The girl, meanwhile, remained unaware of any of it. Staff members at her shelter had been told to withhold her second set of pills, but no one mentioned that her pregnancy — and, with it, the contours of the rest of her life — was being debated by a handful of bureaucrats based in a beige, Brutalist office building 1,600 miles away.

She’d already requested a medical abortion and had taken the first course of medication.

❝ ORR director Lloyd…believes every abortion should be subject to his personal authorization.

RTFA to learn about religious rules imposed by the fake president and his flunky crusaders. Women’s individual rights are now shoved back to the 19th Century and biblical decision-making.

Lab-grown brain bits offer medical opportunity — and ethical dilemmas for folks who watch old movies

❝ Xuyu Qian yanked open an incubator door at the University of Pennsylvania to reveal rows of cylindrical tubes swirling, like shaken-up snow globes, with a strange and exotic flurry. The pale, peppercorn-sized spheres were lab-grown globules of human brain tissue, or, as Qian occasionally refers to them, “minibrains.”

“Minibrain” is a controversial nickname, loathed by some scientists who fear it conjures alarmist images of fully functioning brains trapped in vats, while the reality today is balls of cells that can’t think or feel…

❝ …As the technology, which scientists refer to in journal articles as “cerebral organoids,” improves, the more the “minibrain” title fits…“People are more worried about if they reach a certain level — if it’s really like a human brain. We’re not there; we’re very far from there,” said Hongjun Song, who leads the laboratory at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, where Qian works. “But the question people ask is, ‘Do they have consciousness?’ The biggest problem I have so far is I think, as a field, we don’t know…”

RTFA. Don’t worry about full-time ethicists. That job title is always ready to take on any topic regardless of knowledge – or ignorance.

My experience with scientists as a profession assures me of relevant and timely reflection. If not overdone conservatism. But, as someone who reads science as the predominant endeavor in building a better life for all – it’s always worth adding useful philosophy to material achievements.

The Bundys and their religious government

❝ The Bundys are Mormons who believe that the Constitution was inspired, if not more or less dictated wholesale, by God—and that the founding of the United States was the first step toward the restoration of Zion on the continent where most of the Book of Mormon takes place. They’ve taken much of this from W. Cleon Skousen, a fervent Mormon and formative figure of the postwar America extreme-right who believed in a divine America beset by internationalist conspiracies to overthrow the Constitution. The Bundys have identified parts of the Skousenite philosophy and built their own system on top of it—as much a practical guide to living as a political schema, and it’s something they teach as all their own, without citing any influences besides the Constitution and the Bible.

❝ The Constitution, for the Bundys, is an expression of certain natural rights, which are basically our rights to life, liberty, and property, with a heavy emphasis on property. These are supposed to have been implanted by God and so natively obvious that all people sense them intrinsically. Property, for them, is gotten and maintained, in a very frontier way, by your right to “claim, use, and defend” it, as they repeat ad nauseam. It’s a strange irony of the Bundys’ ability to generate media attention that this is maybe the key trio of words in their entire ideology, but that if you Google “claim, use, defend” along with the name “Bundy,” they seem to have not been able to get a single reporter to quote the phrase.

Yeah, they sound like so many of the John Birchers, Minutemen, Klan members I’ve encountered in almost 60 years of activism for civil liberties, civil rights. Including a few family members back East. Religious bigotry comes even easier than distorting the Constitution to most of these folks. Analysts who care about this crap more than I — have written, will write over and again detailed analyses of what drives this variety of populist ideology. I can’t crank up enough curiosity to drag my attention past their nutball crap. Focussing on their outlaw habits pretending to be civil disobedience is dangerous enough. More than that is deadly boring.

Rat brained humanoid

❝ Researchers can grow stem cells into tiny clumps of cells, called organoids, that display similar activity and structure to human brains…Now, though…several labs have inserted those organoids into rat brains and connected them to blood vessels; some of the organoids have even grown physical links with the rat brains.

The aim of this kind of research is noble: to work out how lab-grown clusters of brain cells could be used to understand or even treat brain diseases or injuries. But while a handful of cells in a rat brain may not be a problem now, and the idea of imbuing animals with human characteristics or consciousness seems distant, the integration…is giving some ethicists cause for concern.

❝ That’s especially the case as the number of organoids placed inside a rat’s head increases. “People are talking about connecting three or four,” says Stanford bioethicist Hank Greely to Stat. “But what if you could connect 1,000? That would be getting close to the number of cells in a mouse brain … At some future point it could be that what you’ve built is entitled to some kind of respect.”

Or you could elect them to Congress – most likely as a fundamentalist conservative – and hardly tell the difference.

Why do people get their knickers in a bunch over engineered foods

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine just issued a book-length report, strongly reaffirming what American and European scientists have long said: Food from genetically modified crops is no more dangerous to eat than food produced by conventional agriculture

The report also finds no clear evidence that genetically modified crops cause environmental harm. It acknowledges the importance of continuing monitoring..Other studies are less equivocal, finding no special risks to the environment from genetically modified agriculture.

And yet the public is deeply concerned. One survey finds that only 37 percent of Americans believed that genetically modified food is safe to eat. According to my own recent survey, 86 percent of Americans favor labeling of genetically modified food, apparently because of perceived health risks — 89 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of independents.

What explains that? New research, by Sydney Scott and Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania and Yoel Inbar of the University of Toronto, offers some important clues.

Scott and his colleagues asked a representative sample of Americans whether they supported or opposed genetically engineering plants and animals. They also asked them to register agreement or disagreement with this statement: “This should be prohibited no matter how great the benefits and minor the risks from allowing it.”

…Astonishingly, 71 percent of the opponents, and 46 percent of the whole sample, were absolutists: They want to ban genetic engineering regardless of the benefits and risks.

On its face, that’s ridiculous. Suppose that the risks of genetic modification are zero and that the benefits are high, because genetically modified food is both cheaper and healthier. If so, how could rational people want to ban it?

Controlling for demographic and other differences, Scott and his coauthors found that disgust was the best predictor of whether people would proclaim absolute opposition to genetic modification.

The conclusion is simple: People who most strongly oppose genetic modification are not weighing risks and benefits. Their opposition is a product of the fact that they find the whole idea disgusting.

What’s disgusting about genetic modification of food? I speculate that many people have an immediate, intuitive sense that what’s healthy is what’s “natural,” and that efforts to tamper with nature will inevitably unleash serious risks — so-called Frankenfoods. The problem with that speculation is that it’s flat-out wrong.

None of which surprises me. Pop culture is useless for many reasons, especially questions of judgement that may involve rationality. A nation that elected and then re-elected Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush doesn’t fit that requirement.

A number of factors contribute – starting with the collapse of American education over the past 60 years. We embrace some of the silliest myths in psychologizing ideology and apply them to endeavors with reams of solid science – which we promptly ignore. We are the only Western industrial nation that feels the need to identify every area of political and economic life with approval from spirits in the sky. Laughable to much of the world.

But, it all fits together nicely with the anti-GMO side of “natural” living. Trouble is, folks, you’re giving respectability to something about as sound as giving your friendly neighborhood fundamentalist the right to deny civil rights on the basis of gender identity because their one true book says it’s a sin.

Express train kills pilgrims – pilgrims kill engineer, burn trains

A speeding train has run over a group of Hindu pilgrims at a crowded station near Dhamara, a small town in Bihar state, killing at least 28 people.

Railways spokesman Anil Saxena said that some of those hit by the express train were Hindu pilgrims who had left two trains.

“Passengers got out of the train, came on the track and they were moving on that track. That is the time they got run over,” Arunendra Kumar, chairman of the Railway Board, told a news conference in New Delhi.

After the incident, a mob reportedly assaulted the train driver to death and set two trains on fire.

Many railway personnel have run away and left the station completely unmanned, according to officials…

About 40 people on average die every day on India’s vast but decrepit railway network. Some passengers fall off overcrowded commuter trains.

The train was an express – express by Indian standards since it was proceeding at 48mph – not scheduled to stop at the station. The death of the pilgrims was a tragedy though not unusual among folks who apparently think every train stops at every station.

Which logically precedes the vigilante behavior after the accident.

HPV vaccination succeeds in Australia – why not in the USA?

The American government’s goal of vaccinating young girls against the human papillomavirus has been disappointing, with less than a third of teenagers having completed a full course of HPV vaccine. But now the United States can look to Australia, which six years into a successful nationwide HPV vaccination campaign has experienced a sharp decline in the number of new cases of genital warts among young men and women.

The country, one of the first to establish a nationally financed HPV vaccination program for girls and young women, has also seen a decrease in the number of cases of cervical abnormalities, a precursor to cervical cancer.

Australia’s program, which started in 2007, offers free HPV vaccination to girls who are 12 and 13 years old, and catch-up programs for girls and women under 26. The vaccine protects against genital warts as well as cancers of the cervix, head and neck…

The findings suggest that Australia’s program, which has experienced little of the resistance that has stymied vaccination efforts in the United States, has been an overwhelming success, said Basil Donovan, an author of the study and a professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney…

Australia’s vaccination campaign sharply contrasts with the program in the United States where, studies show, parents often opt out of HPV vaccination for their children, calling the vaccine unnecessary, citing concerns about its safety or saying they have difficulty explaining to their teenagers what the shots are for. Some parents have also hesitated over fears that HPV vaccination might give their teenagers license to have sex, even though studies have countered the notion that the vaccine alters sexual behavior.

“There was little resistance to the HPV vaccine in Australia, just the usual anti-vaccination people and a few religious groups,” Dr. Donovan said. “But even the religious groups have gone quiet, and I suspect that many of them are quietly getting their children vaccinated.”

Will anyone ever come up with a vaccine against the ignorance and bigotry that fuels the anti-science crusade in the American Right?

Just the gift for bioterrorist moms!

Shopping online can be a real time-saver, and you can get some great deals. But skip lollipops that come with the virus that causes chickenpox.

This caution comes after a woman in Nashville, Tenn., advertised lollipops contaminated with the varicella virus on Facebook. The tainted pops were intended for parents who want to expose their children to the disease.

A Nashville TV station spotted the woman’s posts, in which she also offered to ship spit and cotton swabs, all for a mere $50, payable through PayPal. The woman, Wendy Werkit, told WSMV reporter Kimberly Curth that she had shipped lollipops that had been sucked on by her children, “so that other peoples’ kids can get chickenpox.”

State health officials were horrified at the prospect, and pointed out that not only is the varicella vaccine much safer for children than getting the disease itself, but spreading the virus could pose a serious risk to children who can’t be vaccinated because they are undergoing cancer treatment or have other health problems…

Before the vaccine was introduced, parents would sometimes expose their children to others who were sick with the disease, so the children would have a reduced risk of serious infection as adults. The idea has since been adopted by some parents leery of vaccines.

Some parents also think that the natural immunity children gain from having a disease is better than the immunity they get from shots…

These people are a case study in being “naturally” stupid. Yes, that’s stupid not ignorant. If you have at least a 6th grade education, you know better.

Of course, a lot of this centers around the nutball home-schoolers dedicated to one or another religious sect. They work very hard at excluding reason, science and rational thought from their children and their own lives. They equally pose a health threat to members of the larger community who may not know they’re standing in the grocery checkout line next to the village idiot.