News 03.09.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 03.09.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@junybreeze / via @dana_chels
News 03.09.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 03.09.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

When i started it, they all just called it that crap. Like, ‘Oh, they’re over there doing that crap.’ ” This nurse, whom I’ll call Jamie, was on the line from a Veterans Affairs medical center in the Northeast. She’d been struggling for a few minutes between the impulse to tout the program she’d piloted, which offers Reiki to vets as part of their medical care, and the impulse to “tread lightly,” because some of the doctors, nurses, and administrators she works with still think that Reiki is quackery or—you know.

Reiki, a healing practice codified in the early 20th century in Japan, was until recently an unexpected offering for a VA medical center. In Japanese, rei roughly translates to “spiritual”; ki is commonly translated as “vital energy.” A session often looks more like mysticism than medicine: Healers silently place their hands on or over a person’s body to evoke a “universal life force.” A Reiki treatment can even, practitioners believe, be conducted from miles away.

Reiki’s growing popularity in the U.S.—and its acceptance at some of the most respected American hospitals—has placed it at the nexus of large, uneasy shifts in American attitudes toward our own health care. Various non-Western practices have become popular complements to conventional medicine in the past few decades, chief among them yoga, meditation, and acupuncture, all of which have been the subject of rigorous scientific studies that have established and explained their effectiveness. Reiki is the latest entrant into the suite of common additional treatments. Its presence is particularly vexing to naysayers because Reiki delivers demonstrable salutary effects without a proven cause.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 03.09.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 03.09.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Tom Goldstein, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, took an “invisibility cloak” from a pile on a chair in his office and pulled it on over his head. To my eye, it looked like a baggy sweatshirt made of glossy polyester, printed with garish colors in formless shapes that, far from turning Goldstein invisible, made him impossible to miss.

It was mid-January. Early that morning, in my search for a suitable outfit to thwart the all-seeing eyes of surveillance machines, I had taken the train from New York City to College Park. As I rode the subway from Brooklyn to Penn Station, and then boarded Amtrak for my trip south, I counted the CCTV cameras; at least twenty-six caught me going and returning. When you come from a small town, as I do, where everyone knows your face, public anonymity—the ability to disappear into a crowd—is one of the great pleasures of city living. As cities become surveillance centers, packed with cameras that always see, public anonymity could vanish. Is there anything fashion can do?

I could have worn a surgical mask on my trip, ostensibly for health reasons; reports of an unexplained pneumonia outbreak in China were making the news, and I’d spotted a woman on the C train in an N95 respirator mask, which had a black, satiny finish. Later, when I spoke to Arun Ross, a computer-vision researcher at Michigan State University, he told me that a surgical mask alone might not block enough of my face’s pixels in a digital shot to prevent a face-recognition system from making a match; some algorithms can reconstruct the occluded parts of people’s faces. As the coronavirus spread through China, SenseTime, a Chinese A.I. company, claimed to have developed an algorithm that not only can match a surgically masked face with the wearer’s un-occluded face but can also use thermal imaging to detect an elevated temperature and discern whether that person is wearing a mask. For my purposes, a full-face covering, like the Guy Fawkes mask made popular by the “V for Vendetta” graphic novels and films, would have done the trick, but I doubt whether Amtrak would have let me on the train. During Occupy Wall Street, New York enforced old anti-mask laws to prevent protesters from wearing them.

Goldstein’s invisibility cloak clashed with the leopard-print cell-signal-blocking Faraday pouch, made by Silent Pocket, in which I carried my phone so that my location couldn’t be tracked. As a luxury item, the cloak was far from the magnificent Jammer Coat, a prototype of anti-surveillance outerwear that I had slipped on a few weeks earlier, at Coop Himmelb(l)au, an architecture studio in Vienna. The Jammer Coat, a one-of-a-kind, ankle-length garment with a soft finish and flowing sleeves, like an Arabic thawb, is lined with cellular-blocking metallic fabric and covered with patterns that vaguely resemble body parts, which could potentially render personal technology invisible to electronic-object detectors. Swaddled in the cushy coat, I could at least pretend to be the absolute master of my personal information, even if its designers, Wolf and Sophie Prix, wouldn’t let me leave the studio in it.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

Tuscany Tote in Midnight

Shop the Tuscany Tote in Midnight
at Belgrave Crescent &

Here is a partial list of what one company promises sitting under a small panel of red lights will improve: athletic performance and recovery (owing to faster muscle recovery and joint repair), sleep (thanks to increased melatonin production and a “healthy circadian rhythm”), and skin quality (because of reduced inflammation and increased collagen production).

These red lights, in this case made by Joovv, are one of dozens of at-home versions of what’s known as light therapy, or photomedicine, or photobiomodulation, a technology based on the idea that light can change us on a cellular level. This past summer, the journal Frontiers in Medicine published an issue dedicated to photomedicine, and its 12 articles have an overwhelming effect similar to Joovv’s marketing copy, covering dermatological concerns like aging, skin cancer, and psoriasis as well as autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes. I like the way a 2016 journal article phrases it with a bad joke that gives away the researcher’s quiet exuberance: After a brief overview of peer-reviewed light-therapy treatments (for arthritis, hearing loss, and chemotherapy side effects), the conclusion states that “after decades confined to the ‘scientific wasteland,’ [photobiomodulation] may be finally emerging into the light of day (pun intended).”

Read the rest of this article at: The Cut

News 03.09.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 03.09.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Trash is new. During the nineteenth century, New York was dirty but much of its garbage consisted of leftovers and scraps and other items to reuse. Sunday’s roast became Monday’s hash; Monday’s bread became Wednesday’s bread pudding. Pigs roamed the streets, eating old lettuce and radish tops. “Swill children” went from house to house, collecting food scraps that they sold to farmers as fertilizer and animal feed. Bones became glue. Old grease was turned into tallow candles, or mixed with ashes to make soap. Disposable packaging was almost nonexistent.

In nearly every decade of the nineteenth century, the city’s population doubled. New York began to dump its excess into the Atlantic Ocean. In 1895, George Waring, a former military officer, became sanitation commissioner. “Colonel Waring’s broom . . . saved more lives than a squad of doctors,” the social reformer and journalist Jacob Riis wrote, of the man who put sanitation workers in white suits. Waring made New York households and businesses separate out food waste and ashes; he diverted horse manure for use as fertilizer. Food waste was turned into soap, grease, or compost, or carted to pig farms in New Jersey. Some of the ash became cinder blocks. Some went for expanding the footprint of Rikers Island. Three years after his appointment, Waring died, of yellow fever. His sorting program continued until the First World War, when it was abandoned because of labor and material shortages. By 1918, the city was again dumping waste into the ocean. Or depositing it in landfills.

The story of New York’s garbage hasn’t changed as much in the past century as you might imagine, given that we now have the technology to 3-D-print a baby Yoda, or to run a car on old vegetable oil. Paper and plastic are separated, but recycling of organics—food waste, yard waste, pretty much anything that rots—remains voluntary, even though such material makes up about a third of New York’s trash. All but five per cent of the city’s organic waste goes to landfills.

Organic waste doesn’t just stink when it’s sent to landfills; it becomes a climate poison. Yes, we’ve been schooled again and again in the importance of recycling—by friends, by pious enemies, even by “wall-e.” But the recycling of organics is arguably more important than that of plastics, metal, or paper. Composting transforms raw organic waste into a humus-like substance that enriches soil and enhances carbon capture. In landfills, starved of oxygen, decomposing organics release methane, a greenhouse gas whose warming effects, in the long run, are fifty-six times those of CO2. The United States has greater landfill emissions than any other country, the equivalent of thirty-seven million cars on the road each year.

Last April, the New York State legislature enacted laws requiring large businesses and institutions to recycle their food waste, but New York City is exempt from the new rules. In 2013, when Michael Bloomberg was in his final year as mayor of New York, he instituted an organics-recycling program, which officials said could become mandatory in a few years. Bill de Blasio, who was the public advocate at the time, supported that vision, but as mayor he has failed to fund it.

I live not far from Times Square, near a food-cart-storage facility, a family-run butcher shop, and a La Quinta hotel; one of the lower floors of my building houses a catering business. Since the sides of the street are reserved exclusively for cars, there’s no room for dumpsters. Instead, each night a low wall of piled garbage bags appears, as if left by malign elves. Sometimes there are bags of kaiser rolls and tired fruit. A caramel-colored goo oozes onto the sidewalk. Walking by the trash embankment the other evening, I startled one of our neighborhood rats, which sped across the curb and down a sewer drain.

All of which I find, to be honest, totally normal.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 03.09.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In the late 1990s, Jaak Panksepp, the father of affective neuroscience, discovered that rats laugh. This fact had remained hidden because rats laugh in ultrasonic chirps that we can’t hear. It was only when Brian Knutson, a member of Panksepp’s lab, started to monitor their vocalisations during social play that he realised there was something that appeared unexpectedly similar to human laughter. Panksepp and his team began to systematically study this phenomenon by tickling the rats and measuring their response. They found that the rats’ vocalisations more than doubled during tickling, and that rats bonded with the ticklers, approaching them more frequently for social play. The rats were enjoying themselves. But the discovery was met with opposition from the scientific community. The world wasn’t ready for laughing rats.

That discovery was just the tip of the iceberg. We now know that rats don’t live merely in the present, but are capable of reliving memories of past experiences and mentally planning ahead the navigation route they will later follow. They reciprocally trade different kinds of goods with each other – and understand not only when they owe a favour to another rat, but also that the favour can be paid back in a different currency. When they make a wrong choice, they display something that appears very close to regret. Despite having brains that are much simpler than humans’, there are some learning tasks in which they’ll likely outperform you. Rats can be taught cognitively demanding skills, such as driving a vehicle to reach a desired goal, playing hide-and-seek with a human, and using the appropriate tool to access out-of-reach food.

The most unexpected discovery, however, was that rats are capable of empathy. Since the 1950s and ’60s, behavioural studies have consistently shown that rats are far from the egoistic, self-centred creatures that their popular image suggests. It all began with a study in which the rats refused to press a lever to obtain food when that lever also delivered a shock to a fellow rat in an adjacent cage. The rats would rather starve than witness a rat suffering. Follow-up studies found that rats would press a lever to lower a rat who was suspended from a harness; that they would refuse to walk down a path in a maze if it resulted in a shock delivered to another rat; and that rats who had been shocked themselves were less likely to allow other rats to be shocked, having been through the discomfort themselves. Rats care for one another.

But the discovery of rat empathy was also met with incredulity. How could a rat be empathic? Surely, there must have been something wrong with the experimental procedures. So the rat empathy research programme languished for some 50 years. The world was no more ready for empathic than for laughing rats.

In 2011, the issue of rats’ empathy resurfaced when a group of scientists found that rats will reliably free other rats who are trapped inside a tube. It was not that they were merely curious or wanted to play with the apparatus: if it was empty or contained a toy rat, they would tend to ignore it. And the tube wasn’t easy to open – it required effort and skill – so it seems that the rats really wanted to free their fellow rat. Most scientists were not convinced, suggesting instead that the rats probably just wanted someone to hang out with, or that they found it annoying that the trapped rat was making such irritating noises and wanted it to stop. The rats, according to these scientists, were not acting out of concern for the other, but out of pure egoism. What else could one expect from a rat?

While this sort of skepticism is usually praiseworthy in scientists, it has been bad news for rats. Since that 2011 experiment, there has been an explosion of different studies that continue to place rats in harmful situations to see if others will help them. They find the same pattern: rats are more likely and quicker to help a drowning rat when they themselves have experienced being drenched, suggesting that they understand how the drowning rat feels. Rats will also help a trapped rat even when they can escape and avoid the situation, something many humans fail to do. The results of these studies are compelling, but they don’t show us much more than what we already suspected from the work done in the 1950s and ’60s – that rats are empathic; meanwhile, the studies have inflicted, and continue to inflict, significant fear and distress on the rats.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.

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