January 11, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Longtime Illinois speaker suspends campaign for the gavel (SHIA KAPOS, 01/11/2021, pOLITICO)

The speaker's decision to pull back on his campaign signals a huge revolt from the machine-style politics that have governed nearly every aspect of the state, where Madigan also serves as the head of the Illinois Democratic Party.

Illinois Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin, have been agitating to challenge Madigan's hold on power since he was drawn into an influence peddling scandal last year involving a local electric utility company. Madigan hasn't been charged, but federal documents identify "Public Official A" as the state's House speaker and Republicans have latched onto the connections.

Amazing the damage one guy has done.

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:21 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Evolution's engineers: Organisms do not evolve blindly under forces beyond their control, but shape and influence the evolutionary environment itself (Lynn Chiu, 1/11/21, Aeon)

Humans are shaping the evolutionary future of life on Earth. We're not only causing mass extinctions, we're also forcing animals, plants and fungi to adapt to our manufactured world: city birds, for instance, are now singing higher notes, since the pitch seems to help their song carry over the sound of traffic. But while cultural knowledge and engineering have upgraded the human capacity to catalyse environmental change, the proclivity is common to all species. Scatter a few bacteria in a Petri dish and they will produce nutrient-rich byproducts that new bacteria strains can exploit, rapidly causing a multitude of diverse microbial populations to evolve. Beavers create ponds that are used as breeding grounds for ducks; web spiders make retreats that are exploited as hibernation sites by earthbound insects; plants modify soils through substances secreted from their roots. The way these organisms change their environment in turn changes the evolutionary pressures that they and others face as they struggle to survive and reproduce. Their actions, in other words, bias what is selected for. This process is known as 'niche construction' and all species do it, even if their effects are sometimes more modest and localised than ours.

Yet the theory of niche construction is controversial among evolutionary biologists, partly because natural selection is traditionally believed to work 'blindly': it is thought to sculpt organisms over millennia to become adapted to their ecological niches, with no steer from the goals or purposes of organisms.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Batteries Power You Car. Now How About Your City?Grid-scale plants can now store enough renewable energy for hundreds of thousands of homes. (CHERYL KATZ, 1/11/21, Mother Jones)

The twin smokestacks of the Moss Landing Power Plant tower over Monterey Bay. Visible for miles along this picturesque stretch of the Northern California coast, the 500-foot-tall pillars crown what was once California's largest electric power station--a behemoth natural gas-fired generator. Today, as California steadily moves to decarbonize its economy, those stacks are idle and the plant is largely mothballed. Instead, the site is about to begin a new life as the world's largest battery, storing excess energy when solar panels and wind farms are producing electricity and feeding it back into the grid when they're not.

Inside a cavernous turbine building, a 300-megawatt lithium-ion battery is currently being readied for operation, with another 100-megawatt battery to come online in 2021. Together, they will be able to discharge enough electricity to power roughly 300,000 California homes for four hours during evenings, heatwaves, and other times when energy demand outstrips supply, according to project developer Vistra Energy.

These aren't the only super-sized batteries that will soon be operating at the Moss Landing plant. An additional 182.5 megawatts produced by 256 Tesla megapack batteries are scheduled to begin feeding into California's electric grid in mid-2021, with plans to eventually add enough capacity at the site to power every home in nearby San Francisco for six hours, according to the Bay Area utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, which will own and operate the system. Elsewhere in California, a 250-megawatt storage project went online this year in San Diego, construction has begun on a 150-megawatt system near San Francisco, a 100-megawatt battery project is nearing completion in Long Beach, and a number of others are in various stages of development around the state.

Driven by steeply falling prices and technological progress that allows batteries to store ever-larger amounts of energy, grid-scale systems are seeing record growth in the U.S. and around the world. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Growing GOP problem: Powerlessness (Mike Allen, Jim VandeHei, 1/11/21, Axios)

Conservatives long ago lost so many key institutions that define the national conversation, including culture, media and higher education.

But since 1980, the party had political power and policy-making capability.
Now, President Trump has cost Republicans those tools, and the party will have to rebuild around new people and ideas.

Principled Conservative opposition to Identitarianism has been based for decades on the universality of the Founding and the faith that society is and should be color blind.  This is the mainstream American culture that we sat so comfortably in.

Trumpism is, of course, an Identitarian response not just to Left Identitarianism but thereby to American culture itself.  One can hardly be surprised that the culture rejects this counter-culture ideology.

And, as Andrew Breitbart said, "Politics is downstream from Culture." 

To precisely the extent that conservatism and the GOP are identified as hostile to traditional American culture we will quite properly be excluded from both. 


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The History of Placebos & Why Doctors Should Use Them More Often (Jeremy Howick, Jan. 11th, 2021, National Interest)

Recently, placebo-controlled surgery trials have been used. In perhaps the most famous of these, American surgeon Bruce Moseley found 180 patients who had such severe knee pain that even the best drugs had failed to work. He gave half of them real arthroscopy and the other half placebo arthroscopy.

Patients in the placebo arthroscopy group were given anaesthetics and a small incision was made in their knees, but there was no arthroscope, no repairing of damaged cartilage, and no cleaning out of loose fragments of bone.

To keep the patients ignorant about which group they were in, the doctors and nurses talked through a real procedure even if they were performing the placebo procedure.

The fake surgery worked as well as the "real" surgery. A review of over 50 placebo-controlled surgery trials found that placebo surgery was as good as the real surgery in more than half the trials.

Honest placebos

A placebo can work even if a patient does not believe it is a "real" treatment.

In the first of the studies of open-label placebos (placebos that patients know are placebos) I know of, two Baltimore doctors by the names of Lee Park and Uno Covi gave open-label placebos to 15 neurotic patients. They presented the placebo pills to the patients and said: "Many people with your kind of condition have been helped by what are sometimes called sugar pills and we feel that a so-called sugar pill may help you, too."

The patients took the placebos, and many of them got better after having the placebo - even though they knew it was a placebo. However, the patients were neurotic and a bit paranoid so they didn't believe the doctors. After the placebo made them better, they thought the doctors had lied and actually given them the real drug.

More recently, several higher-quality studies confirm that open-label placebos can work. These "honest" placebos may work because patients have a conditioned response to an encounter with their doctor. Just like an arachnophobe's body can react negatively to a spider even if they know it's not poisonous, someone can react positively to treatment from a doctor even if they know the doctor is giving them a sugar pill.

The history of learning how placebos work

An early study investigating the inner pharmacology of placebo mechanisms is Jon Levine and Newton Gordon's 1978 study of 51 patients who had impacted molars extracted. All 51 patients had received a painkiller called mepivacaine for the surgical procedure. Then, at three and four hours after the surgery, the patients were given either morphine, a placebo or naloxone. The patients didn't know which one they had received.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which means that it stops drugs such as morphine and endorphins from producing their effects. It literally blocks the cell receptors, so it stops morphine (or endorphins) from docking onto those receptors. It's used to treat morphine overdose.

The researchers found that naloxone blocked the painkilling effect of placebos. This shows that placebos cause the release of painkilling endorphins. Since then, many experiments have confirmed these results. Hundreds of others have shown that placebo treatments affect the brain and body in several ways.

The main mechanisms by which placebos are believed to work are expectancy and conditioning.

In a comprehensive study published in 1999 of conditioning and expectancy mechanisms, Martina Amanzio and Fabrizio Benedetti divided 229 participants into 12 groups. The groups were given a variety of drugs, were conditioned in a number of ways and were given different messages (to induce high or low expectancy). The study found that placebo effects were caused by both expectancy and conditioning.

Despite the progress, some researchers argue - and I agree - that there is something mysterious about how placebos work. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Rooftop solar market ends tricky 2020 by smashing records, surpassing 13GW total capacity (Michael Mazengarb, 11 January 2021, Renew Economy)

Australia's rooftop solar market has defied a challenging 2020 to set a number of new installation records, with the market overcoming disruptions to grow by a massive 39 per cent year-on-year, new analysis from consultancy SunWiz has detailed.

In its latest annual assessment of the rooftop solar market, SunWiz found that the industry had overcome disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and some tricky government policy settings, to record almost 3,000MW of new installations throughout 2020, with installation rates increasing as the year progressed.

According to data collected on system registrations, 2020 ended the year with its strongest ever rate of new rooftop solar installations, with virtually every Australian state and territory recording the highest level of new small-scale solar installations in the month of December.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Defying humanitarian warnings, Pompeo brands Yemen's Houthis as 'terrorists' (New Arab, 11 January, 2021)

The US moved to designate Yemen's Houthis as a terror organisation on Sunday, in a last minute Trump administration move that will only be solidified if Congress fail to object.Tags:Yemen, Houthis, US, Terror, Saudi Arabia, Saudi-led coalition,
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has moved to brand Yemen's Iranian-linked Houthi rebels as terrorists, a last-minute move in defiance of aid groups who fear it will worsen a humanitarian crisis.

Unless Congress blocks the decision, the Houthis will be blacklisted on January 19 - one day before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, whose aides had hoped to mount a fresh push to end Yemen's devastating six-year-old war.

One of the most consistent policies of Trumpism is opposition to Muslim democracy and self-determination everywhere.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Stop Wasting Your Money on Bourbon That's Too OldDistillers and whiskey experts generally agree that bourbon doesn't need to be aged for decades. So where did the myth of older whiskey is better come from? (Lew Bryson, Jan. 11, 2021, Daily Beast)

After intensive lobbying, the bonding period was extended to 20 years in 1958, giving the industry more time to sell the whiskey before the tax was due. ("It also allows you to just let it evaporate out of existence so you never get taxed on it," Mitenbuler shrewdly noted.)

That's when age became a selling point for bourbon. "A lot of industries are moving to luxury at this point," said Mitenbuler. "How can we improve the image and get more money for it? Age. Scotch sells on 'older is better,' and so does wine." That's when you started seeing premium bourbons at 10 and 12 years old. The image of bourbon changed from a Southern guzzle to America's spirit, a noble drink. Everything was looking great for American whiskey.