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Chilling at a Texas bar

April 15, 2021

HarborBridgeMy recipe for a livable neighborhood is that it has, within walking distance, at least one marina, two bodegas, three coffee shops, and four bars. Fajitaville, a beachside bar, is featured in a new country-western video (youtube). In better news, Brad Lomax, the owner of Water Street Oyster Bar, just received a permit to start local oyster farming. Good for him! Those both are a bit far to walk. Though I have done so. To get to Fajitaville from my house requires crossing the harbor bridge, shown right. Which, yes, you can do on foot.

Fortunately, we have some closer bars. And where would Texas bars be, without the frozen margarita machine? It was invented fifty years past, at Mariano’s Mexican Cuisine, in Dallas.

Not quite magic

April 14, 2021

Batteries are one of those conceptually simple things that are quite difficult in practice, because they have to do well on so many dimensions. So be careful not to get excited about any new battery technology. While it likely does leapfrog existing technology on one or two of those dimensions, the question is whether it also can be made to cut the butter on the rest. It can take years to realize it doesn’t really.

Genes, cancer, and magic

April 13, 2021

I quite enjoyed this article on how cancers have their own extra-chromosomal genes, for its description of the research that led to that discovery. That helps explain why cancer has been such a hard nut to crack. For hope, read about CRISPRoff, providing epigenetic — and therefore reversible — genetic control. (Cite.)

The Great Replacement

April 12, 2021

You will be replaced. That is a certainty. In a short, few decades, the world will be full of new people, many not yet born. If you still are around, many of those you now know will since have died. The human world is created anew in a couple of generations. We live at a time when cultural and technological change outpace the turnover in people. Your grandchildren will not dress like you, will not think like you, and may not even speak like you. They will change more over their lifetime than you have in yours.

A particularly ugly style of social movement fashions that inevitability into a threat, promising its adherents it will protect their people from the coming change. What “their” means sometimes is identified with ethnicity. Sometimes, with religion. Sometimes, with a nebulous notion such as “real” Americans. That typically is served with a fictional history of those people, of what makes them important, of how they came to be, of what role they play in the larger world.  When that kind of movement is large enough to affect the politics of a modern democracy, it produces a kind of polarization that is not soon fixed. A University of Chicago political scientist claims that the January 6th insurrectionists were more likely to come from counties featuring a rapid decline in non-Hispanic white population. Of course, that is a likely index for all sorts of other changes.

TassoInMadhouseThe Atlanta-Journal Constitution dives into the experience of Bruno Cua, a young man who answered Trump’s call to insurrection. From the article’s description, Milton, Georgia, is more where people move to escape the changing world, than a place experiencing its larger shifts. But the ideology fits, from his belief that Washington politicians are “swamp rats” imposing a “tyranny” on the rest of us, to his urge to “save” America. His participation in the January 6th insurrection was an escalation of his local bullying. If someone raised as a fundamentalist Muslim had committed such crimes, I suspect his parents would see a connection between the criminal’s radicalization and how he had been raised. There is little hint in the article that their son’s arrest has caused them much self-reflection. Let’s hope criminal conviction will give Bruno opportunity for a bit of rethinking.

I’m glad the military will better screen recruits for extremism, and caution those leaving against patriot cults like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.

2020 deaths

April 8, 2021

US mortality statistics now are available for 2020. Unsurprisingly, deaths jumped by 18% over 2019, making it clear we suffered a deadly epidemic. 345,000 deaths were attributed to Covid-19, making it the third leading cause after heart disease and cancer. There were some increases in other categories of death: heart disease deaths increased by 4.8%, unintentional injury by 11.1%, Alzheimer by 9.8%, diabetes by 15.4%, and influenza and pneumonia by 7.5%. Since the flu season was low, I can’t help but wonder if some of those pneumonia deaths were undiagnosed Covid-19.

Contrary to quite a bit of speculation that it would rise, suicide declined by 5.6%. There no doubt will be a bump in homicide.

It’s all about sex

April 7, 2021

Spring_winecupsThe idea that sexual behavior can create a reproductive boundary that leads to speciation goes all the way back to Darwin. So I am not surprised to read about a study of south African passerines that observes this up close. (Cite.)

Our winecups started blooming a couple of weeks back. I tend to view them as our first wildflower, marking the start of spring. The phacelia sneaks in earlier, but is subtle. The winecups are showy — the photo likely doesn’t do them justice.

Lost and found

April 6, 2021

I can imagine all sorts of plausible ways that coins minted in the Arab peninsula made their way to the Providence Plantations at the end of the 17th c. It will take more evidence than the mere finding of those to close the story of Henry Every. Still, it is a fascinating find, one that should inspire my sister the detectorist.

The patriot cults

April 5, 2021

It is an old kind of joke, that the soi disant patriot loves America. He just hates its east coast, its left coast, its large cities, its elites, its big businesses, its universities, and its media. The cartoon telling of that joke shown below is from Mad Magazine in 1969. Someone at the time might have hoped that kind of patriotism was part of a cultural moment, soon to die. Yet a half century on, it is more problem now than then. Perhaps the notion of patriot only makes sense in some kind of opposition:

Given all of these confused loyalties, perhaps the real meaning of “patriot,” what really fuels the sense of attachment it carries, is not the various positive meanings it is occasionally given, but its opposite: not “love of country,” in other words, but hatred of the “traitor.”

David Frum confronts a similar tension in how conservative politicians toss aside long proclaimed conservative principles, to appease the patriots:

DeSantis surely does not agree with those Republicans who dismiss COVID-19 as a hoax, the COVID-19 vaccines as a menace, and vaccine certificates as the mark of the anti-Christ. He has repeatedly said that he will take the vaccine when it’s his turn. But he must reckon with a party in which anti-vaccination has joined pro-gun as an indispensable cultural marker — and as a potential veto bloc for anyone aspiring to a future Republican presidential nomination. To appease those cultural blocs, Republican politicians must be willing to sacrifice everything, including what used to be the party’s foundational principles. To protect the gun, or to avoid contradicting the delusions of anti-vaccine paranoiacs, property rights must give way, freedom to operate a business must yield. The QAnon-curious Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene expressed the new mentality when she took to Facebook to denounce vaccine passports as “corporate communism.” It sounded crazy. But if you understand that she interprets communism to mean “any interference in the right of people like me to do whatever we want, regardless of the rights of others” — then, yeah, the property rights of corporations will indeed look to her like a force of communism.

What Frum describes is the result of cultish thinking, once on the fringe, now become the main stream of a political party. Trump showed how to ride that. DeSantis is trying to copy the pattern.

MadMagazine_1969And the patriots? As with all cults, they are targets for grift. Nothing but grist to their leaders. Groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys and Three Percenters have some of the characteristics of prison gangs, and may evolve into that as some of their membership find their natural residence. I haven’t read that Texas real estate agent Jenna Ryan belongs to any well-known group. But she did follow Infowars and Gateway Pundit, and seemingly had her cell, some of whose other members also have been arrested. She now regrets buying into Trump’s lies. Well, of course. Many who take such actions are late to the realization that it’s better to reject a cult leader’s bullshit before committing crimes for him. The amazing thing about such movements how far their adherents will go to maintain their loyalty. Even those who exit such groups relatively unscathed will find in their future that such experience wears badly.

Viral origin

March 31, 2021

Except the clues embedded in their genetic code — sparse compared to the much larger and more complex genome of animals — viruses don’t carry their history. I am far from confident that the current search for the origins of Covid-19 will provide any definite answer. And not just because of the current political tensions regarding that.

“Life, itself.”

March 30, 2021

Work continues apace on cells with entirely synthetic genomes, now producing cells that can divide. Presumably, that is an active cell line, not one that dies out after a few generations — the paper is behind a paywall. In any case, reproduction is a significant step, holding all sorts of promising potential. And worrisome — any self-sustaining cell that escapes and somehow survives adds to the world’s microbiome.

Speaking of reproduction, two different teams now have produced human blastocysts — or at least, what look quite a bit like blastocysts — from somatic cells. (Cite and cite.) Previous cloning technology started with germ cells. Of course, creating human embryos in the lab raises some ethical issues. And as the technology to do that expands, those who view conception as some magical event seem ever more silly.