A history of hypochondria wonders why we worry (Becca Rothfeld, April 12, 2024, Washington Post)

In the late 14th century, a spate of patients scattered across Europe developed an unusual delusion: They came to believe that their bodies were made of glass. Those suffering from this bizarre affliction were terrified of shattering — at least one of them insisted on sleeping in heaps of straw so as to prevent any mishaps.

There’s nothing new about socially communicable mental disorders.


The 1990s card game that ‘predicted’ 9/11, Donald Trump, Covid and the Capitol riot: Illuminati: New World Order continues to attract conspiracy theorists three decades after its launch for its apparently uncanny ability to foretell the future (Joe Sommerlad, 29 April 2021, The Independent)

Illuminati: New World Order was released by Steve Jackson Games and cast the player as a puppet-master pursuing world domination on behalf of their chosen mythic secret society, the game offering a choice of the Bavarian Illuminati, the Discordian Society, the UFOs, the Servants of Cthulhu, the Bermuda Triangle and the Gnomes of Zurich.

The goal of Illuminati – spun off from the same company’s 1982 board game that was in turn inspired by The Illuminatis! Trilogy (1975) fantasy novels by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson – is to develop and consolidate a power structure through which to rule the globe from the shadows on behalf of your chosen order, manipulating society and dealing out apocalyptic blows to your opponents as you go.

“Maybe the Illuminati are behind this game,” Mr Shea wrote in his introduction to the original game’s rulebook.

“They must be – they are, by definition, behind everything.”

While the game’s preoccupation with globalist deep state conspiracy themes was clearly wildly ahead of its time, anticipating our bamboozled, boggle-brained era of fictional election-rigging claims, QAnon, anti-vaxxers, 5G paranoia and seething app-based nonsense cauldrons like Telegram, it’s the 2,000AD, Tarot-style illustrations on the cards themselves that are the real source of fascination. […]

Illuminati has long-since been discontinued and become a collector’s item, with unsealed decks sold on Amazon and eBay for almost $2,000, the wildly inflated price an indicator of high demand among a certain sort of feverish-minded consumer.

In addition to the game’s artwork, a further source of intrigue is the fact that the Secret Service raided the offices of Steve Jackson Games in Austin, Texas, on 1 March 1990 and confiscated hard drives and documents, some of which pertained to the board game.

While conspiracy theorists believe this represented the feds moving in to hastily hush up Illuminati and stop the developers revealing the existence of its secret societies to the wider world (why would you choose to make that information public in board game form, rather than, say, by hosting a press conference?), this is simply untrue.

One of the company’s employees, Loyd Blankenship, was also a hacker who served as the system operator for a messaging board that had published a stolen set of files detailed how America’s 911 emergency response systems worked, a fact the Secret Service had been tipped off to and been a granted a search warrant to investigate.


Some people just want to watch the world burn: the prevalence, psychology and politics of the ‘Need for Chaos’ (Kevin Arceneaux, Timothy B. Gravelle, Mathias Osmundsen, Michael Bang Petersen, Jason Reifler and Thomas J. Scotto, 22 February 2021, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society)

Across all four countries, most people fell in the Low Chaos category and few people fell in the High Chaos category, but combining the Rebuild and High Chaos categories showed that there is support for some degree of chaos-seeking at around 20% in the four Anglo-Saxon countries. Is this something that should be worrying from a normative standpoint? We believe that the Latent Profile Analysis helps answer this question. If 20% of a country yearned for a violent overthrow of the current system, it would be worrying, but it seems that a considerable fraction of this 20% does not want destruction for the sake of destruction, but rather they imagine rebuilding society’s institutions in a way that does not involve violence. We leave aside whether their particular vision is a ‘good’ one, and simply note that most Utopian visions begin with the notion that society must be remade in some fundamental way.

We then turned our attention to exploring whether demographic and political characteristics help differentiate who falls in the different latent profile categories. Echoing previous research, we found evidence that chaos-seeking tends to be higher among the young, men and those with less than a college degree. Interestingly, we did not find consistent differences in terms of demographics between the Rebuilder and High Chaos subtypes. This would suggest that chaos-seekers, whether they like destruction for the sake of destruction or not, may be motivated by a sense of marginalization and grievance that exists at high levels in Western society today [7].

We also found that individuals who identify as Right wing were also more likely to fall in the High Chaos category, yet when we turned our attention to the political preferences of these individuals, the only consistent pattern that emerged was a dislike of immigration. Consistent with [8], we do not find much evidence that individuals in the High Chaos category are idealistic visionaries who want to dismantle social and political institutions to build a better world. Our evidence was much more consistent with the results of previous research that paint individuals high on the NFCChaos scale as nihilists who are only looking out for themselves. In contrast, individuals who fell in the Rebuild category did seem to have something approaching a social outlook. They do not like new lifestyles and, in the USA, they are not fans of capitalism. Perhaps these individuals want to replace established political institutions to make the world a better place (at least their view of what constitutes ‘better’.).


THE COWARDICE OF COCKTAILS AND OTHER THINGS (G.K. Chesterton, 1932, Sidelights on New London and Newer York And Other Essays)

Cocktails are perhaps the only practical product of Prohibition. They are certainly, I should imagine, the only part of Prohibition in which America will really succeed in setting a Great Example to the world. But the way in which the Prohibitionist morality operated is obvious enough. The reason why the American millionaire does not drink wine or beer with his meals, like all poorer and better Christians, is simple if not dignified. It was summed up admirably by an American in an excellent cartoon in Life; a cartoon entitled ‘Henpecked.’ He prefers to be a Prohibitionist on public occasions; especially those highly important public occasions when he meets his wife. Hence arose, originally, the habit of the males of the party consuming hurried, secret and very potent drinks before they assembled at the table. It was necessary that the sort of drink should be one that could be gulped down quickly; it was necessary that it should be very strong for its size; and it was natural that it should be made a sort of separate science of luxury In itself. Later, of course, the case was complicated by other modern movements, and some sections of feminine society becoming fast society. But that was what determined the novelty and the nature of this remarkable sort of refreshment. It was, quite simply, a tippling husband hiding from a nagging wife. It is not a very noble origin even for a modern mode.

Now this fashion of accepting fashions from anywhere or anybody, and merely as such, has, as in the present case, produced fashions that are really inferior, even as such. America happens to be teetotal (in theory) and America happens to be very rich; and for these two rather undignified reasons we are bound to accept the dregs of its secret drinking. We are to swill the rinsings of its ridiculous cocktail glasses, like sneakish servants or schoolboys after a dinner-party; instead of drinking decently at our own dinner-table after our own dinner. These historical origins of the thing explain but do not excuse. The Cocktail Habit is to be condemned, not because it is American or alcoholic, not because it is fast or fashionable, but because it is, on a common-sense consideration, a worse way of drinking; more hasty, less healthy, even less desirable to anybody left to the honest expression of his own desires. It is not Victorian or Edwardian; it is not peculiar to Victoria any more than Vespasian; it is rudimentary human nature that it is more natural to sit still and talk, and even drink, after dinner, than to stand up and gulp before dinner.

I know it is possible to hear a feeble voice pleading, in the defence of these things, that they give a man an appetite for his meals. Perhaps the last touch is given to their degradation and destruction, by this being said in their defence. The cocktail is the coward’s drink; in the light of its actual origins in America. The cocktail is the weakling’s drink; even in the light of the excuses made for it in England. In the first aspect, it is unworthy of a generation that is always claiming to be candid and courageous. In the second aspect, it is utterly unworthy of a generation that claims to keep itself fit by tennis and golf and all sorts of athletics. What are these athletes worth if, after all their athletics, they cannot scratch up such a thing as a natural appetite? Most of my own work is, I will not venture to say, literary, but at least sedentary. I never do anything except walk about and throw clubs and javelins in the garden. But I never require anything to give me an appetite for a meal. I never yet needed a tot of rum to help me to go over the top and face the mortal perils of luncheon.

Quite rationally considered, there has been a decline and degradation in these things. First came the old drinking days which are always described as much more horrible, and which were obviously much more healthy. In those days men worked or played, hunted or herded or ploughed or fished, or even, in their rude way, wrote or spoke, if only expressing the simple minds of Socrates or Shakespeare, and then got reasonably drunk in the evening when their work was done. We find the first step of the degradation, when men do not drink when their work is done, but drink in order to do their work. Workmen used to wait in queues outside the factories of forty years ago, to drink nips of neat whisky to enable them to face life in the progressive and scientific factory. But at least it may be admitted that life in the factory was something that it took some courage to face. These men felt they had to take an anæsthetic before they could face pain. What are we to say of those who have to take an anæsthetic before they can face pleasure? What of those, who when faced with the terrors of mayonnaise eggs or sardines, can only utter a faint cry for brandy? What of those who have to be drugged, maddened, inspired and intoxicated to the point of partaking of meals, like the Assassins to the point of committing murders? If, as they say, the use of the drug means the increase of the dose, where will it stop, and at what precise point of frenzy and delusion will a healthy grown-up man be ready to rush headlong upon a cutlet or make a dash for death or glory at a ham-sandwich? This is obviously the most abject stage of all; worse than that of the man who drinks for the sake of work, and much worse than that of the man who drinks for the sake of play. And this judgment has nothing to do with prejudice or period or age or youth; but is such as any rational sort of rationalist, however young, ought to be able to see for himself. I am well aware that any number of nice people drink cocktails; that they do not always do it basely and morbidly for this reason; that they often do it more nobly and honourably, for no reason. But that does not make such rationalists very much more rational.


Remembering Wes Powell – The Man from Puddle Dock (Wayne D. King, 1/27/24, InDepthNH)

From its earliest days, residents of Puddle Dock took pride in their attachment to this rough and tumble area of brothels, criminals, ner-do-wells and plain old hardworking folks doing their best to cope with the challenges of life on the margins.

It was here that Wesley Powell grew up. […]

During a break in the speechifying, Wes Powell excused himself and headed for the men’s room. As he approached the door, he was met by a very large NY State Trooper who politely told him that the “Governor” would like a word with him, gesturing to Rockefeller, who was standing nearby.

Knowing that Rockefeller was probably looking to make some sort of a political deal with him, Wes Powell politely declined. The trooper became more insistent and said, “The governor would like to speak with you now.” Wes Powell replied once more, as he pushed his way past the Trooper, that he was not interested in speaking with the “Governor” and headed into the men’s room.

As he stood at the urinal, he felt a tap on his shoulder and turned his head to see a writer for a New York newspaper who said to him “Governor, if you do not cooperate with Governor Rockefeller and drop out of this race you will be reading some stories about yourself that you will wish you weren’t.”

Wesley Powell finished at the urinal and turned to address the reporter.

“Write any damn thing you want,” he said, “just make sure you tell them one thing . . .” He then delivered a powerful right-hand fist to the jaw of the reporter, who slumped against the wall. “Make sure to tell them I’m from Puddle Dock.”


Revisiting the Erasure of Kurdish Identity in Syria: Growing up as a Kurd in the country was a scarring experience for children that included the denial of one’s own name (Ronahi Hasan, December 20, 2023, New/Lines)

The Kurdish people, estimated at 45 million by the Kurdish Institute of Paris, have never recognized what they consider the artificial boundaries that divide them across four nation-states — Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey — and have struggled to form an independent state of their own since the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916.

Under this agreement, western Kurdistan was definitively separated from northern Kurdistan and became part of the newly formed state of Syria. These changes made Kurds in Syria the largest non-Arab ethnicity. The Kurds hoped for a degree of freedom and coexistence in modern Syria. What came instead was the opposite: Successive Syrian governments, under the direction of the Baath Party, have continued their cruel treatment of the Kurds.

Kurds have a distinct culture, language (Kurdish) with many dialects, and history. We have a rich cultural heritage, with unique traditions in music, dance, clothing and cuisine. While the majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims, there are also Kurdish communities that practice Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Yarsanism, Yazidism, Alevism and Judaism.

Kurdish society places a high value on hospitality, honor and tribal ties, and extended families often live in close-knit communities. The Kurds have a complex history marked by periods of autonomy and resistance against various ruling powers.

The Kurdish problem stands as one of the most intractable and enduring conflicts in the Middle East, perhaps even in the world. Kurds remain politically, culturally and economically ghettoized within the boundaries of Turkey, Iran, Syria and, until recently, Iraq. While the Kurds in Iraq have achieved far-reaching self-rule in the Kurdistan Region, whose autonomy was written into Iraq’s constitution in the post-Saddam Hussein era, even Kurds in Iraq still face an uncertain future, as issues like the future status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories remain unresolved.

“Li ser xeta” and “le bin xeta” are two Kurdish phrases rooted in our minds. Kurds in Syria call the Kurdish regions in Turkey “li ser xeta,” which means above the line; that is, north of the Syria-Turkey border. By the same token, we call the Kurdish areas in Syria “le bin xeta,” meaning below the line. We grew up using these two phrases to protect our sense of belonging and to reject what we consider the artificial lines that divide our land.

The most important fact about the Israel/Palestine conflict is that it is not distinct.


Baseball Star Shohei Ohtani’s New Contract Is a Massive Tax Avoidance Scheme. Nice! (ERIC BOEHM, 12.15.202, reason)

But unlike most sports contracts, that $700 million won’t be doled out over the 10-year term of the deal—and, as a result, both Ohtani and the Dodgers are poised to dodge (sorry) some of the taxes they might be otherwise obligated to pay on the record-breaking deal.

The 29-year-old Ohtani will collect $2 million in each of the next 10 years. The rest of Ohtani’s $68 million salary will be deferred for a decade, and the Dodgers will owe it to him in annual installments starting in 2034. By the time Ohtani collects the last of those payments in 2043, he’ll be 49 years old (and almost certainly well into retirement).

Because he’ll be playing most of his games in high-tax California, taking most of his pay via what’s effectively a fixed annuity gives Ohtani the possibility of avoiding some massive tax payments. “By the time he starts receiving the $68 million payments, he may be able to avoid state income taxes by living someplace like Florida without an income tax, or by moving back to Japan,” The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

Disincentives work.


Early Signs of Success: 2,500 Refugees Resettled in the U.S. Through the Safe Mobility Office (SMO) Initiative So Far (MATTHEW LA CORTE, DECEMBER 13, 2023, Niskanen Center)

Seven months after the announced launch of the Safe Mobility Office (SMO) initiative, data exclusively obtained by the Niskanen Center shows that approximately 2,500 refugees have arrived in the U.S. so far as part of the program. More than 10,000 migrants have already been referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) and are undergoing refugee processing — many of whom will be resettled in the United States in the next few months.

Given that SMOs are still in their early stages, these findings suggest the program is already moderately successful. Especially considering President Biden’s fiscal year 2024 refugee plan calls for up to 50,000 refugees to be resettled from Latin America and the Caribbean, the early progress proves that the SMO initiative can lead to expanded resettlement in the hemisphere. This region’s scale-up and attention to processing are impressive, considering that just 6,000 refugees were resettled from those regions in FY23.


N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu plans to endorse Nikki Haley for president (Maegan Vazquez, Hannah Knowles and Dylan Wells, December 12, 2023, Washington Post)

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) plans to endorse Nikki Haley for president, according to two people familiar with the decision, providing a potential boost to the former U.N. ambassador as she seeks to solidify her standing as the leading alternative to former president Donald Trump in the first GOP primary state.

The big thing for NH is that Nikki would win Kelly Ayotte the gubernatorial seat, whereas Donald cost her the Senate seat.