March 17, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Comparison of mental health symptoms before and during the covid-19 pandemic: evidence from a systematic review and meta-analysis of 134 cohorts (BMJ 2023;380:e074224, 3/08/23)

Conclusions High risk of bias in many studies and substantial heterogeneity suggest caution in interpreting results. Nonetheless, most symptom change estimates for general mental health, anxiety symptoms, and depression symptoms were close to zero and not statistically significant, and significant changes were of minimal to small magnitudes. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Judge Rules Trump Lawyer Must Testify in Documents Inquiry (Alan Feuer and Maggie Haberman, 3/17/23, NY Times)

A federal judge has ruled that prosecutors overseeing the investigation into former President Donald J. Trump's handling of classified documents can pierce assertions of attorney-client privilege and compel one of his lawyers to answer more questions before a grand jury, two people familiar with the case said on Friday.

In making her ruling, the judge, Beryl A. Howell, found that the government had met the threshold for a special provision of the law known as the crime-fraud exception. That provision allows prosecutors to work around attorney-client privilege when they have reason to believe that legal advice or legal services have been used in furthering a crime.

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


Is Exercise Actually the Most Effective Antidepressant? (TANNER GARRITY, 3/17/23, Indide Hook)

Here's some not-so-great data on antidepressants:

Only 60% of patients respond positively to antidepressants.
Antidepressants can help people improve 9.6 points on a depression scale, but a placebo can help them improve 7.8 points.
People with depression actually don't have less serotonin than people without depression.
That's not to say SSRIs don't work, only that, according to some data, they're about 25% more effective than a Skittle. (Not to mention, they can induce long-term side effects like weight gain or sexual dysfunction.)

Looking to bridge this treatment gap, researchers have started looking into other options for relief. And somewhat surprisingly, exercise has emerged as a capable alternative.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Unearthed genetic sequences from China market may point to animal origin of COVID-19 (JON COHEN, 3/16/23, Science)

A scientific sleuth in France has identified previously undisclosed genetic data from a food market in Wuhan, China, that she and colleagues say support the theory that coronavirus-infected animals there triggered the COVID-19 pandemic. Several of the researchers presented their findings on Tuesday to the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO), an expert group convened last year by the World Health Organization (WHO).

"The data does point even further to a market origin," says Kristian Andersen, an evolutionary biologist at Scripps Research who attended the meeting and is one of the scientists analyzing the new data. If so, the findings weaken the view of a vocal minority that a virology lab in Wuhan was the likely origin of SARS-CoV-2, perhaps when the coronavirus infected a lab worker who spread it further.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


4Chan Troll Living With His Mom Arrested for Threatening Anti-Nazi Sheriff (Mack Lamoureux, March 17, 2023, Vice News)

A mid-30s 4Chan user who lives in his mom's house was arrested on charges of threatening to kill a Florida sheriff who recently went viral for his anti-Nazi tirade.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


India: How electric vehicles are driving a green transition (Murali Krishnan, 3/17/23, Deutsche-Welle)

With a surging car market, India's transition to electric mobility will be faster as automobile companies make big-ticket investments in the development of infrastructure to facilitate electric vehicle penetration in the country, industry experts expect.

"I am bullish about the EV market. Given the right impetus, rising EV adoption will create an immediate requirement to embrace the next-generation needs of the automotive industry," Jaideep Wadhwa, director of Sterling Gtake E-Mobility, a motor control units' manufacturer for EVs, told DW.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


Steve Bannon Is Neck-Deep in Guo Wengui's Allegedly Fraudulent Business Empire: Federal investigators have asked witnesses about Bannon's connections to the far-right mogul. (DAN FRIEDMAN, 3/17/23, Mother Jones)

In late November 2021, Steve Bannon appeared in a live broadcast on GTV, a media outlet that he'd helped his friend Guo Wengui launch a year earlier. Bannon used the appearance to celebrate HCoin, a supposed cryptocurrency that Guo was selling. The currency, Bannon said, was a "monumental" and "extraordinary" success. Bannon also hailed the Himalaya Exchange, Guo's purported platform for trading digital assets like HCoin. Bannon lauded GTV. He even touted Guo's fashion company. These ventures, Bannon suggested, were an opportunity for Guo's fans, mostly Chinese emigres, to hurt China's rulers. "If you look at institutionalization of the counteroffensive to Chinese Communist Party, it's pretty impressive," Bannon gushed.

That was just one of numerous occasions in which Bannon has heaped praise on Guo and his companies, often in venues where his words mostly reach Guo's anti-Communist followers.

On Wednesday, federal agents arrested Guo and accused him, along his former financier William Je, of stealing more than a $1 billion from thousands of Guo's own supporters by soliciting investments in some of the same companies that Bannon has promoted. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Netanyahu Holds the Key to De-escalating Israel's Crisis (Neri Zilber, March 16, 2023, New/Lines)

Because of mass demonstrations along the highways, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced last week to use a helicopter instead of what is usually the 20-minute drive from Jerusalem to Israel's international airport near Tel Aviv. Like a tinpot ruler afraid of his own people, the long-serving Netanyahu also deployed an empty helicopter as a decoy against protesters and to ensure the logistical shame wasn't caught on camera.

In another sign of ignominy, upon arrival at the airport, Netanyahu met with visiting U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who was unable to leave the airport and flew out after only a few hours. The Israeli premier then embarked on a diplomatic trip to Rome, where he and his wife used the long weekend to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Israel these days feels like a country on the brink. In the face of massive public opposition to proposed curbs in the supreme court's powers, Netanyahu's far-right government -- just over two months in office -- is pushing ahead with its plan to radically overhaul the judiciary and arrogate nearly unchecked power to itself.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets for 10 successive weeks, in demonstrations and strike actions, as part of the largest and longest protest movement in Israel's history. The twin pillars of the country's military strength and economic power -- elite combat reservists and tech workers -- are in open revolt and have taken highly public leadership roles in the protests. The shekel has depreciated, Israelis are moving money out of the country, and global credit rating agencies warn of further negative repercussions.

On an almost daily basis, the government appears to be in open warfare, not only against the court (its first and immediate target) but also its own attorney general, legal advisers and national police. Senior ministers have been forced to cancel multiple public appearances because of demonstrations, while Netanyahu's wife, Sara, was recently besieged at a hair salon in swanky north Tel Aviv and had to be extracted by riot police.

"Whoever thinks that a real civil war, of human lives, is a limit that we will not reach, has no clue," said President Isaac Herzog in yet another harrowed primetime address to the nation on March 15. "Precisely now -- in the 75th year of our independence -- the abyss is within touching distance. We are at a crossroads: a historic crisis or a defining constitutional moment."

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


'Dead' Electric Car Batteries Find a Second Life Powering Cities (Peter Yeung, March 13, 2023, Reasons to Be Cheerful)

Last month, a small warehouse in the English city of Nottingham received the crucial final components for a project that leverages the power of used EV batteries to create a new kind of circular economy.

Inside, city authorities have installed 40 two-way electric vehicle chargers that are connected to solar panels and a pioneering battery energy storage system, which will together power a number of on-site facilities and a fleet of 200 municipal vehicles while simultaneously helping to decarbonize the UK's electrical grid.

Each day Nottingham will send a combination of solar-generated energy -- and whatever is left in the vehicles after the day's use -- from its storage devices into the national grid.  The so-called "vehicle to grid" chargers deliver this energy just when it's needed most, during peak evening demand, when people are home cooking, using hot water or watching TV. Later, the same chargers pull energy from the grid to recharge the vehicles in the wee hours of the night, when folks are sleeping and electricity is cheaper and plentiful.

"We are trying to create a virtual power station," says Steve Cornes, Nottingham City Council's Technical Lead. "The solar power and battery storage will help us operate independently and outside of peak times, making our system more resilient and reducing stress on the national grid. We could even make a profit."

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


The multiverse: Our universe is suspiciously unlikely to exist--unless it is one of many, says physicist (Martin Rees, 3/15/23, The Conversation)

The conditions of the universe can be described through its "fundamental constants"--fixed quantities in nature, such as the gravitational constant (called G) or the speed of light (called C). There are about 30 of these representing the sizes and strengths of parameters such as particle masses, forces or the universe's expansion. But our theories don't explain what values these constants should have. Instead, we have to measure them and plug their values into our equations to accurately describe nature.

The values of the constants are in the range that allows complex systems such as stars, planets, carbon and ultimately humans to evolve. Physicists have discovered that if we tweaked some of these parameters by just a few percent, it would render our universe lifeless. The fact that life exists therefore takes some explaining.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Shiites the big winners in Iraq since US toppled Saddam (Tony GAMAL-GABRIEL, March 16, 2023, AFP)

Twenty years after US-led forces ousted Iraq's Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, the long-oppressed Shiite majority dominates the country's politics, with all the powers and pitfalls that come with government.

The big winners of the 2003 invasion, Shiite Muslims, despite their frequent internal squabbles, hold preeminence over Sunnis and the ethnic Kurdish minority in post-war Iraq's sectarian power sharing system.

They have ties with, and are watched over by, big neighbour Iran, which can be tricky as Tehran's ruling Shiite clerics have been declared foes of the United States since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In a country of 42 million people where Shiites comprise the majority, two decades of power have also meant Iraq's Shiite figures are now held primarily accountable for the country's many problems.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Analysis: US grid could be 90 percent carbon-free by 2030 with IRA tax credits (ZACK BUDRYK, 03/16/23, The Hill)
Under the provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act, the American electrical grid could achieve up to 90 percent of its electricity without carbon emissions by 2030, according to an analysis published Wednesday by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The combination of the Inflation Reduction Act and the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law could increase the share of clean electricity from 41 percent in 2022 to between 71 percent and 90 percent by 2030, the report found. Researchers analyzed a broad range of scenarios, accounting for unknown quantities such as future fuel prices and technology costs.

Better to drop all subsidies though and just tax the externalities of fossil fuels.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


'Donald Trump Hates America!' Joe Scarborough Disgusted by Trump Calling the US 'Greatest Threat to Western Civilization Today' (Colby Hall, Mar 17th, 2023, Mediate)

At issue was a recent video released by Trump in which the leading Republican 2024 candidate strongly suggested that the United States is the greatest threat to Western civilization today, not Russia. Morning Joe played a portion of the clip in which Trump said:

Our greatest threat, but the greatest threat to Western civilization today is not Russia. It's probably more than anything else ourselves and some of the horrible USA hating people that represent us. It's the abolition of our national borders. It's the failure to police our own cities. It's the destruction of the rule of law from within. It's the collapse of the nuclear family. And fertility rates like nobody can believe is happening. It's the Marxists who would have us become a godless nation worshiping at the altar of race and gender.

"Blah blah blah," a disgusted Scarborough interrupted before saying, "You know, it's boring to me. What's boring to me is the hatred for America, the hatred from America that you hear spewing from Donald Trump's mouth."

To be fair, he's correct that Russia is no threat. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


March 16, 2023 (Heather Cox Richardson, 3/16/23, Letters from an American)

Yesterday, Tamar Hallerman and Bill Rankin of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the special grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, investigating the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election in that state, heard yet another recording of former president Trump pushing a key lawmaker--in this case, Georgia House speaker David Ralston--to convene a special session of the legislature to overturn Biden's victory. 

One juror recalled that Ralston "basically cut the president off. He said, 'I will do everything in my power that I think is appropriate.' ... He just basically took the wind out of the sails." Ralston, who died last November, did not call a special session. 

This is the third such recorded call. One was with Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, and another was with the lead investigator in Raffensperger's office. Ralston had reported the call, but it was not public knowledge that there was a recording of it.

Hallerman and Rankin interviewed five members of the grand jury, which met for 8 months and heard testimony from 75 witnesses. The jurors praised the elections system, and one said, "I tell my wife if every person in America knew every single word of information we knew, this country would not be divided as it is right now." Another said: "A lot's gonna come out sooner or later.... And it's gonna be massive. It's gonna be massive."

The special grand jury recommended Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis indict people involved in the attempt to overturn the election. The cases are now in her hands.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Republican Operatives Are Astroturfing Opposition to Solar Power (Molly Taft, February 21, 2023, Gizmodo)

Several grassroots groups opposed to solar projects in local areas may have one thing in common: a Virginia-based group with powerful GOP connections advising them on strategy. National Public Radio and environmental news collective Floodlight published an expose Friday on a group called Citizens for Responsible Solar, a nonprofit founded in 2019, and its substantial influence in fighting renewable energy across the country--and connections to polluters and prominent climate deniers.

The group, according to its website, says its purpose is to "advocate for responsible solar policies that balance the demand for renewable energy with the interests of counties and their residents." But as NPR reports, the founder of Citizens for Responsible Solar, Susan Ralston, has a long resume in GOP politics and relationships with conservative heavy-hitters--she worked for both George W. Bush and Karl Rove. For her anti-solar groups work, Ralston has hired staff members and consultants with similarly strong ties to GOP political figures and dark money groups, including Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

And it looks like Ralston was being paid well by parties with a vested interest in not seeing renewable energy projects succeed. According to NPR, her consulting firm, SBR Enterprises Inc, received almost $300,000 between 2018 and 2020 from the Paul E. Singer Foundation, the charitable giving outlet of wealthy venture capitalist Paul Singer. Singer's investment firm is the largest shareholder of coal company Peabody Energy...

Leading Denier Think Tank Uses AI Image of Dead Whale and Wind Turbines (Molly Taft, 3/16/23, Gizmodo)

Readers of the daily email newsletter of one of the country's leading right-wing, fossil fuel-funded think tanks were treated to a bizarre sight this week: an AI-generated image of a dead whale washed ashore on a beach in front of wind turbines, above a fearmongering story about offshore wind. Unfortunately, what is isolated to one newsletter today could spread around the right-wing ecosystem tomorrow.

I cover climate and read breaking news about renewable energy every day; if there were a real photo of a dead whale in front of a wind farm like this, chances are I would have seen it. Still, the image gave me a jump when I opened the email from the Texas Public Policy Foundation. For a moment, I wondered if I'd somehow missed a huge story about a dead humpback that had washed ashore in front of a wind farm.

The story under the image is old hat for this particular newsletter. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, or TPPF, is one of the leaders in the national right-wing push against renewable energy--specifically against offshore wind. Despite its location in Texas, the group has lent its sizable financial muscle to anti-offshore wind efforts on the East Coast, joining a lawsuit against a project filed by local fishermen and creating an entire movie about the evils of wind energy.

The image is at least recognizably an AI generation: there's the tell-tale uncanny valley nature of the pattern of the debris of the beach, and the blades of the wind turbines are, well, bendy, in a way that you certainly don't see in real life. The biggest giveaway is the DALL-E generator watermark at the lower right hand corner of the image. When I plugged in various search terms, like "beached dead humpback whale in front of offshore wind turbines" into the DALL-E generator, I got images that looked a lot like what was at the top of my newsletter. (Some of mine were much better, not gonna lie.)