Greetings on Sunday, November 27, 2022. In exactly one month I’ll be greeting my surrogate parents and Hili in Poland, and I’ll meet Szaron and Kulka for the first time! Don’t forget the approach of Xmas as well as Coynezaa, the holiday that begins on Christmas Day and ends on my birthday, December 30,
It’s National Bavarian Cream Pie Day, a pie filled with an eggy-custard mixed with gelatin and whipped cream. I’ve never had one, and am not sure I’d seek one out. Have a slice:
I was going to post a live Hendrix video in honor of Electric Guitar Day, but I couldn’t find a live performance of “Sweet Angel,” my favorite. Here instead is Mark Knopfler playing “Sultans of Swing,” another virtuoso piece. He explains his style before he starts the song at 1:57.
Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the November 27 Wikipedia page.
*Over at the WaPo, Andrew Delbanco takes up the thorny question of reparations for the oppression suffered by minority Americans, mostly black, in his op-ed “Reparations for Black Americans can work. Here’s how.” He goes through the history of the reparations argument in the U.S. (yes, interred Japanese-Americans got them in WWII, and Martin Luther King favored some kind of payback), and then comes up with a solution that sounds good to me:
Today, a great many White Americans feel as demeaned and discarded as Black Americans, and just as forgotten. In the grim metrics of poverty rates, infant mortality and maternal deaths in childbirth, Black Americans and Native Americans continue to hold the lead. But in the distribution of suffering, as measured by other markers such as opioid addiction, alcoholism and suicide, the racial gap is closing.
This multiracial reality can be addressed only with a multiracial response of the sort envisioned by King. Beginning with a robust defense of the right to vote, such a response must include subsidized housing for low-income Americans; improved access to health care; investments in public transportation; expanded child tax credits; preschool and wraparound services for all children of the sort that affluent families take for granted. It must include renewed investment in community colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, tribal and regional public colleges, where low-income White students as well as Black, Hispanic and Native American students are likely to enroll. At elite private colleges, it should mean less dependence on the blunt instrument of standardized testing, and more bridge programs for recruiting and preparing children from low-asset families, White as well as non-White. All this might sound like a fanciful wish list, and a partial one at that — but it is no departure from the American creed of equal opportunity, in which both parties profess to believe. I have no doubt that a racially inclusive approach to repairing our society stands a better chance than any effort that is racially exclusive.
The fact that some of the benefits go to other ethnic groups should lessen the resentment that many people (though not I) feel about the issue of reparations for slavery.
*Yesterday’s World Cup results are pretty much what one expects (click to enlarge). In Argentina’s victory over Mexico, Messi scored one goal and assisted with the other, and apparently broke the game wide open with his vigorous passes and dribbles—old man that he is. This was critical for Argentina, for had they lost to Mexico (remember, they’d already lost to Saudi Arabia in the Cup’s biggest upset), they’d have very little chance to reach the finals.
Here are five minutes of highlights from the Argentina/Mexico game:
As for the other games:
Kylian Mbappé scored two second-half goals to grab a share of the World Cup scoring lead, and an in-control France finished Denmark, 2-1, to secure its place in the knockout stages with a game to go.
. . .Saudi Arabia again tried to summon the magic that helped it produce the greatest moment in the country’s soccer history, but Poland’s goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, and its star striker Robert Lewandowski made sure their team didn’t suffer the same fate as Lionel Messi and Argentina.
With 10 minutes remaining, and Saudi Arabia fresh off two good chances to score, Lewandowski doused the Saudis’ hopes, pouncing on an errant pass from Abdulelah al-Malki and then easily rolling the ball into the back of the net for his first World Cup goal.
. . .Australia grabbed hold a World Cup lifeline on Saturday, beating Tunisia, 1-0, on a first-half goal by Mitchell Duke at Al Janoub.
The victory, Australia’s first at the World Cup since 2010, temporarily scrambled the standings in Group D. And it briefly tied the Socceroos with France in first place with three points. (France restablished sole position of first, and clinched a spot in the knockout round, but beating Denmark, 2-1, later Saturday.
*The Guardian has an interview with physicist Sabine Hossenfelder with the provocative title, “Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder: ‘There are quite a few areas where physics blurs into religion.” This is guaranteed to piss off her colleagues who think the multiverse might be real, but Hossenfelder doesn’t care! A few Q&As with the Biner. As the article notes, “Her second book, Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions, came out in August.” (h/t Barry)
You write that a lot of research in physics, such as hypotheses for the early universe, is “religion masquerading as science under the guise of mathematics”. Could you elaborate on that?
There are quite a few areas where the foundations of physics blur into religion, but physicists don’t notice because they’re not paying attention. It’s a lack of education in the philosophy of science in general. For example, the most commonly accepted story about the beginning of the universe is the big bang, and to some extent this is really just the simplest way you can extrapolate the equations into the past – and then you can add inflation, which is an exponential phase of expansion; or, like Roger Penrose, you can make it a cyclic universe. But maybe it was a big bounce, or it started with the collision of membranes. These ideas are all possible – they’re all compatible with the observations that we have. But I would call them ascientific – the kind of idea that evidence says nothing for nor against.
You don’t have much time for the multiverse either. Why not?
It’s another one of those ideas that I’d call ascientific. If you want to believe that there are infinite copies of you with small alterations – one of them maybe won the Nobel prize, another became a rock star – you can believe this if you want to, it’s not in conflict with anything we know. But from a scientific perspective, if you want to make progress in our understanding of natural law, I’d say it’s a waste of time exactly for that reason, because you can’t test it.
Can you understand why some giants of physics, such as Stephen Hawking, came to believe we are living in a multiverse?
I have guesses, but I can’t ask him. It’s not just Stephen Hawking, there’s quite a number of people in the foundations of physics, though if you read the popular science press, it overstates the number, because they’re very prominent. It’s very niche, actually, this whole multiverse thing. Those people are really confused about what science can actually do. How they come to this conclusion that the multiverse must exist is that they have some theory that predicts some things that agree with observations – that’s all well and fine. And then they jump to the conclusion that therefore all the mathematics that appears in this theory also has to exist in some sense. But this is not how it works. You’ve just assigned reality to some mathematical expressions. You can’t support it with a scientific argument.
You’re very exacting when assessing other scientists’ work, so I’m interested to know: which physicists working today do you hold in the highest regard?
Oh Jesus. Then you’ll print this and everyone else will hate me. Well, I very much admire Roger Penrose, who has a really sharp mind and has done so many amazing things. He has also been outspoken in his criticism of some of the trends in the foundations of physics, including string theory. And he’s courageous, putting forward some ideas that are fairly out-there – like the stuff with the gravitationally induced collapse, or how consciousness plays a role in the human brain, or the cyclic universe. It’s all very original.
*Caity Weaver’s piece at the NYT: “Could I survive the ‘Quietest place on Earth?‘” describes just three hours she spent in a sound-eliminating room in Orfield Laboratories, located in Minneapolis The “quiet room” was crated
The room of containment, technically an “anechoic chamber,” is the quietest place on the planet — according to some. According to others, it’s more like the second-quietest. It is quieter than any place most people will ever go, unless they make a point of going to multiple anechoic chambers over the course of a lifetime.
. . . Earlier this year, members of the public began, apparently spontaneously, and via TikTok and YouTube, convincing one another that the room was created as an invitation to compete; that spending a few hours alone inside it entitled a person to a cash prize; that the value of this cash prize was up to $7 million; and that anyone could attempt to win it. Orfield Labs was bombarded with phone calls and emails from people demanding a shot at winning the money. There was no contest. But the mystique of the too-quiet room, if construed by outsiders, has perhaps been bolstered by the company’s website, which advertises an experience called “The Orfield Challenge,” whereby, for $600 an hour, a person can attempt to set a new “record” for time spent in the chamber.
A person inside an anechoic chamber will not hear nothing. The human body is in constant motion — inhaling and expelling air, settling limbs into new positions, pumping blood — and so, constantly creating sounds (although usually we cannot hear them). Environments we think of as ultraquiet are typically quite a bit louder than the floor of the human hearing threshold, which is around zero decibels; a library reading room, for instance, might clock in at 40 decibels. An anechoic chamber does not sharpen hearing; it removes the noise that otherwise drowns out the soft, ceaseless sounds of a body, enabling them to be perceived with novel clarity. The body is only totally still — totally silent — in death.
. . . In 2004, Guinness World Records certified the anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories as the quietest place on Earth, with an ambient sound level of –9.4 decibels A-weighted. (“A-weighting” measures frequencies according to audibility for humans; negative decibels correspond to sound levels below typical human hearing.) Eight years later, after the chamber was further sealed up to prevent sound leakage, new tests gave a reading of –13 decibels A-weighted. Guinness reaffirmed its status as Earth’s quietest place.
. . . The chamber was outfitted with an office chair for my three-hour stay. Orfield Laboratories’ gray-ponytailed manager, Michael Role, outlined the complicated terms I would need to adhere to in order to set a new record: I would need to stay in the room for three hours. It was my choice to have the lights on or off. Faced with the prospect of staring at a 12-by-10-foot room for three hours with no adornments except a chair and hundreds of hanging fiberglass pyramids, I opted for total darkness. “Sometimes people like to lay down or sit on the floor, so I leave a nice padded blanket in here,” Role said, handing me a blue blanket — which I spread across the floor — before shutting the door (unlocked, he assured me), leaving me in lightless silence.
The room was designed by the Army to test out enemy loudspeakers designed to broadcast deceptive noises. Did Weaver survive her three hours in the room, setting a record? You’ll have to read the article to find out.
*I’m sure you’re going to want to read this (not!): “How to know if you have a genetic risk of Alzheimer’s?” The answer depends on whether or not you have a specific allele of the APOE gene (“APOE-4”), a gene whose product helps transport cholesterol through the blood.
There are three variants of the gene, each conferring a different risk. People with the APOE2 variant appear to have a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s; the APOE3 variant — the most common type — is “neutral,” meaning it does not increase or decrease risk; and the APOE4 variant raises a person’s risk. Everyone has two versions of the gene, one inherited from their mother and one from their father.
About 25 percent of people carry one APOE4, increasing their chance of developing Alzheimer’s by two or three times. Another 2 to 3 percent of people have two copies of APOE4, as [actor Chris]. Hemsworth does. This is associated with a roughly 10-fold higher risk. Having APOE4 is also linked to earlier onset of the disease.
. . .Scientists aren’t exactly sure why a gene involved in capturing cholesterol plays such a large role in Alzheimer’s disease. It’s possible that changes in cholesterol can damage brain cells or cause inflammation in the brain, which could lead to dementia.
Having the APOE4 gene variant, either one or two copies, does not mean you will definitely get Alzheimer’s disease. Some conditions, such as Huntington’s disease, are directly caused by a specific gene mutation. Alzheimer’s disease and APOE4 don’t work like that. The gene is just one factor that contributes to people’s risk. Some people with the gene variant are never diagnosed with the disease, and many people without APOE4 develop Alzheimer’s.
How do you know if you have the bad allele, and whether it’s homozygous or heterozygous? Well, you can get genetically tested at your local hospital, or you can send in our DNA to a company like 23andMe, who, for an extra fee, can tell you all the diseases you’re likely to get. This is why, me being a worrier, I just got the basic ancestry information and abjured the health data. It’s your own choice, using “choice” as shorthand for “what the laws of physics determine you do”, of course.
Now, how do you stave off the disease? The same way you stave off almost everything:
All the experts interviewed for this article agreed that regardless of your genetic status, it is possible to reduce your overall risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. Studies show that tried and true healthy habits — exercise, eating well, limiting your alcohol intake, getting enough sleep, not smoking and being socially engaged — are key to fending off neurodegenerative disease.
Well, I’m screwed, especially about the sleep part. But there’s good news, too!
Finally, higher education has consistently been shown to be one of the best ways to lower a person’s risk for dementia. The hypothesis is that education helps people’s brains become more resilient, a concept known as cognitive reserve. Even if there are visible changes to a person’s brain, the more education they have, the less likely they are to display dementia symptoms.
This isn’t natural selection for genetic variants associated with higher education. Such alleles do exist, but many people are already past reproductive age when they get Alzheimer’s, reducing their reproductive deficit compared to people without dementia.
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the Hili dialogue with Andrzej is very strange. Malgorzata explains:
In case you do not understand: Hili doesn’t really know what postmodernism is. Andrzej knows that she doesn’t know and assures her that she will not encounter it here. But Hili thinks that if postmodernism is strange and there is something strange in the hedge, maybe, the two strange things have something in common. This is my interpretation of this strange dialogue. Andrzej, when asked, refused to elaborate, leaving me to guess.
Here you go:
Hili: I think postmodernism is strange.A: It’s not here.Hili: Over there in the hedge, there is something strange.
Hili: Dziwi mnie postmodernizm.Ja: Tu go nie ma.Hili: Tam w żywopłocie jest coś dziwnego.
From Malcolm: Sheepdogs herd a balloon:
A picture I received from Iran with this note:
« Dear Masih. As I was protesting, one of the regime’s militia members attacked me with a taser & baton. He was such a savage, he even bit my eyebrow and broke my toenail. I was saved by ordinary people.»#IranRevoIution pic.twitter.com/F5F3unSLoY
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) November 26, 2022
From Frits, taken from Mastodon (I’m not a member but welcome screenshots of good “bellows”, or whatever they call emissions from Mastodon):
From Luana: a tweet from Andrew Doyle, creator of Titania McGrath. Be sure to see the ACLU’s bit in the tweet, which I’ve put below it.
Many people believe we have reached “peak woke” and that this regressive movement will soon eat itself.
But the ideological capture of our major institutions is complete, and these high priests won’t give up without a fight.
It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better… pic.twitter.com/7gxmFouEBC
— Andrew Doyle (@andrewdoyle_com) November 26, 2022
The ACLU is circling the drain, but won’t go down without screams of authoritarianism. As Lewis Carroll wrote in The Hunting of the Snark, “What I tell you three times is true.”
From Simon: a Hummingbear!
Very Very rare HummingBear pic.twitter.com/hOzWLgVJAK
— jonathan slater☮️(blue check mark) (@jonslater37) November 11, 2022
From the Auschwitz Memorial: A mass deportation of Norwegian Jews took place eighty years ago today. Nearly all of them died in Auschwitz.
26 November 1942 | German ship S.S. Donau left Oslo in occupied #Norway, carrying 532 of Norway’s Jews, en route to #Auschwitz. They arrived there on December 1. A total of 772 Norwegian Jews were deported for extermination. 26 survived the war. pic.twitter.com/2J4Z5fbCdU
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) November 26, 2022
Tweets from Matthew. Here’s Chicago photographed from the ISS. Sadly, neither the Unversity nor my crib is in this picture. They can’t see Jerry from their house! UPDATE: See below:
Clear skies over Chicago just before sunset this evening! pic.twitter.com/VIgExmxOZZ
— 若田光一 WAKATA Koichi (@Astro_Wakata) November 25, 2022
Reader Phil actually found the University and several other landmarks in the photo. Here’s his guide to the photo, which included a note:
The Point [a nearby small peninsula sticking into the Lake] is barely resolvable, I was able to follow 55th east from Midway to Washington Park. The Plaisance [the strip of grass that bisects the University] is only two pixels wide. No ducks were harmed in the creation of this image.
Below: the statement may also be vice versa:
A cat seeing a deer for the first time. pic.twitter.com/Zl5i2ckW93
— B&S (@_B___S) November 24, 2022
Beautiful drone footage of a school of stingrays swimming off the coast of Australia shot by Drone Shark App. pic.twitter.com/I9Zbe6Q3k7
— Fascinating (@fasc1nate) November 24, 2022
A low-level murmuration:
Windy conditions last night prevented the starling murmuration @RSPBMinsmere from its normal patterns high in the sky, they came in low and rolled over the tops of the reedbed instead. So relax to a different view of the spectacle instead🙂@Natures_Voice @RSPBEngland #starlings pic.twitter.com/UTbHo86bIf
— Whistling Joe (@whistling_joe) November 25, 2022