Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Cardinal de Retz of the Fronde

Jean François Paul de Gondi, cardinal de Retz (September 29, 1613 – August 24, 1679) was a French churchman, writer of memoirs, and agitator in the Fronde.

The Florentine banking family of the Gondi had been introduced into France by Catherine de' Medici; Catherine offered Jérome (Girolamo) de Gondi in 1573 the château that he made the nucleus of the Château de Saint-Cloud; his hôtel in the Faubourg Saint-Germain of Paris became the Hôtel de Condé in the following generation. The Gondi acquired great estates in Brittany and became connected with the noblest houses of the kingdom.

                                                                 Cardinal de Retz

Early Life

Jean-François de Gondi was born in Montmirail, in the Brie region of northern France. He was the third son in his family, and according to Tallemant des Réaux was made a knight of Malta on the very day of his birth. The death of his second brother, however, destined him for a closer connection with the Church. The Retz side of his family had much church influence, and though young Jean-François was not much attracted to the clergy, his family insisted that he join it. They said he lacked the appearance of a soldier, being short, near-sighted, ugly and awkward.

He was tutored by St. Vincent de Paul and educated at the Sorbonne. When he was eighteen, he wrote Conjuration de Fiesque, a little historical essay, influenced by the Italian of Agostino Mascardi, and audaciously insinuating revolutionary principles.

Family Background

The district of Retz or Rais is in southern Brittany, and has been under the control of several different families. Retz always spelled the word "Rais." The barony of Retz first belonged to the House of Retz, then to the Chabot family and the Laval family. Gilles de Rais, a Laval and comrade in arms of Joan of Arc, was executed without an heir, so the barony passed successively to the families of Tournemine, Annebaut and Gondi.

In 1581, it became a duchy, with Albert de Gondi its first duke. His brother Pierre de Gondi became bishop of Paris in 1570 and cardinal in 1587. Pierre was succeeded by his nephews Henri de Gondi (d. 1622) and Jean-François de Gondi (d. 1654), for whom the episcopal see of Paris was erected into an archbishopric in 1622. Finally, Jean François was then succeeded by Pierre's great-nephew Jean François Paul de Gondi.

Archbishop of Paris

Retz received no preferment of importance during Cardinal Richelieu's life. Even after the minister's death, though he was presented to Louis XIII and well received, he found difficulty in attaining the co-adjutorship with reversion of the archbishopric of Paris. But almost immediately after the king's death, Anne of Austria appointed him to the coveted post on All Saints Eve, 1643. Retz, who had, according to some accounts, already plotted against Richelieu, set himself to work to make the utmost political capital out of his position. His uncle had lived in great seclusion; Retz, on the contrary, gradually acquired a very great influence with the populace of the city. This influence he gradually turned against Cardinal Mazarin, which helped lead to the outbreak of the Fronde in October 1648.

Of the two parties who joined the Fronde, Retz could only depend on the bourgeoisie of Paris. He had some speculative tendencies in favour of popular liberties, and even perhaps of republicanism, but represented no real political principle, which inevitably weakened his position. When the breakup of the Fronde came he was left in the lurch, having more than once been in no small danger from his own party. However, because of a misapprehension on the part of Pope Innocent X, he had been made cardinal.

In 1652, he was arrested and imprisoned, first at Vincennes, then at Nantes; he escaped after two years, and traveled through Europe. He went to Rome more than once, and helped elect Pope Alexander VII. In 1662, Louis XIV received him back into favor, and asked him to formally serve as envoy to Rome several times. In order for this reconciliation to occur, he resigned his claims to the archbishopric of Paris. He was appointed abbot of St-Denis, and restored to his other benefices with the payment of arrears.

Later Life

The last seventeen years of Retz's life were passed partly in his diplomatic duties (he was again in Rome at the papal conclaves of 1667 and 1669), partly in Paris, partly at his estate of Cornmercy, but mostly at St. Mihiel in Lorraine. His debts were enormous, and in 1675 he made over to his creditors all his income except twenty thousand livres, and, as he said, to "live for" them. He did not succeed in living very long, however, for he died at Paris on 24 August 1679. During these last years he corresponded with Madame de Sévigné, a relative by marriage.


During the last ten years of his life, Retz wrote his Memoirs, which go up to the year 1655. They are addressed in the form of narrative to a lady who is not known, though guesses have been made at her identity, some even suggesting Madame de Sévigné herself. In the beginning there are some gaps. They are known for their narrative skill and the verbal portraits of their characters. Alexandre Dumas, père drew heavily on the Memoirs for Vingt ans après. Besides these memoirs and the youthful essay of the Conjuration de Fiesque, Retz has left diplomatic papers, sermons, Mazarinades and correspondence.

Retz and François de La Rochefoucauld, the greatest of the Frondeurs in literary genius, were personal and political enemies, and each left a portrait of the other. De la Rochefoucauld wrote of Retz: "Il a suscité les plus grands désordres dans l'état sans avoir un dessein formé de s'en prévaloir." (He caused the greatest disorder to the State, without having formed a plan of how he would prevail).

The Memoirs of the cardinal de Retz were first published in a very imperfect condition in 1717. The first satisfactory edition appeared in the twenty-fourth volume of the collection of Joseph François Michaud and Jean Joseph François Poujoulat (Paris, 1836). In 1870 a complete edition of the works of Retz was begun by Alphonse Feillet in the collection of Grands Ecrivains.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Advanced Fission Research Paths

There is an upbeat article about innovation in nuclear fission energy production that is available at:

and this link ends with a link to a two-hour-long video of a kickoff for a nuclear engineering boot camp presentation at Berkeley.  This is important stuff, nearly all of it undercovered by most general media.

Monday, November 28, 2016

High Temperature Solid Water

Inside Tiny Tubes, Water Turns
Solid When It Should Be Boiling
MIT researchers discover astonishing behavior of water confined in carbon nanotubes.
By David L. Chandler, MIT News, November 28, 2016

It’s a well-known fact that water, at sea level, starts to boil at a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, or 100 degrees Celsius. And scientists have long observed that when water is confined in very small spaces, its boiling and freezing points can change a bit, usually dropping by around 10 C or so.

But now, a team at MIT has found a completely unexpected set of changes: Inside the tiniest of spaces — in carbon nanotubes whose inner dimensions are not much bigger than a few water molecules — water can freeze solid even at high temperatures that would normally set it boiling.

The discovery illustrates how even very familiar materials can drastically change their behavior when trapped inside structures measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter. And the finding might lead to new applications — such as, essentially, ice-filled wires — that take advantage of the unique electrical and thermal properties of ice while remaining stable at room temperature.

The results are being reported today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, in a paper by Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor in Chemical Engineering at MIT; postdoc Kumar Agrawal; and three others.

“If you confine a fluid to a nanocavity, you can actually distort its phase behavior,” Strano says, referring to how and when the substance changes between solid, liquid, and gas phases. Such effects were expected, but the enormous magnitude of the change, and its direction (raising rather than lowering the freezing point), were a complete surprise: In one of the team’s tests, the water solidified at a temperature of 105 C or more. (The exact temperature is hard to determine, but 105 C was considered the minimum value in this test; the actual temperature could have been as high as 151 C.)

“The effect is much greater than anyone had anticipated,” Strano says.

It turns out that the way water’s behavior changes inside the tiny carbon nanotubes — structures the shape of a soda straw, made entirely of carbon atoms but only a few nanometers in diameter — depends crucially on the exact diameter of the tubes. “These are really the smallest pipes you could think of,” Strano says. In the experiments, the nanotubes were left open at both ends, with reservoirs of water at each opening.

Even the difference between nanotubes 1.05 nanometers and 1.06 nanometers across made a difference of tens of degrees in the apparent freezing point, the researchers found. Such extreme differences were completely unexpected. “All bets are off when you get really small,” Strano says. “It’s really an unexplored space.”

In earlier efforts to understand how water and other fluids would behave when confined to such small spaces, “there were some simulations that showed really contradictory results,” he says. Part of the reason for that is many teams weren’t able to measure the exact sizes of their carbon nanotubes so precisely, not realizing that such small differences could produce such different outcomes.

In fact, it’s surprising that water even enters into these tiny tubes in the first place, Strano says: Carbon nanotubes are thought to be hydrophobic, or water-repelling, so water molecules should have a hard time getting inside. The fact that they do gain entry remains a bit of a mystery, he says.

Strano and his team used highly sensitive imaging systems, using a technique called vibrational spectroscopy, that could track the movement of water inside the nanotubes, thus making its behavior subject to detailed measurement for the first time.

The team can detect not only the presence of water in the tube, but also its phase, he says: “We can tell if it’s vapor or liquid, and we can tell if it’s in a stiff phase.” While the water definitely goes into a solid phase, the team avoids calling it “ice” because that term implies a certain kind of crystalline structure, which they haven’t yet been able to show conclusively exists in these confined spaces. “It’s not necessarily ice, but it’s an ice-like phase,” Strano says.

Because this solid water doesn’t melt until well above the normal boiling point of water, it should remain perfectly stable indefinitely under room-temperature conditions. That makes it potentially a useful material for a variety of possible applications, he says. For example, it should be possible to make “ice wires” that would be among the best carriers known for protons, because water conducts protons at least 10 times more readily than typical conductive materials. “This gives us very stable water wires, at room temperature,” he says.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The RAF Fauld Explosion

The RAF Fauld explosion was a military accident which occurred at 11:11am on Monday, 27 November 1944 at the RAF Fauld underground munitions storage depot. The RAF Fauld explosion was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history and the largest to occur on UK soil.

Between 3,500 and 4,000 tonnes of ordnance exploded—mostly comprising high explosive (HE)-filled bombs, but including a variety of other types of weapons and including 500 million rounds of rifle ammunition. The explosion crater with a depth of 100 feet (30 m) and 250 yards (230 m) across is still clearly visible just south of the village of Fauld, to the east of Hanbury in Staffordshire, England. It is now known as the Hanbury Crater. A nearby reservoir containing 450,000 cubic metres of water was obliterated in the incident, along with a number of buildings including a complete farm. Flooding caused by destruction of the reservoir added to the damage directly caused by the explosion.

                                                RAF Fauld bombs stacked  underground

The exact death toll is uncertain; it is believed that about 70 people died in the explosion.


The cause of the disaster was not made clear at the time. However, there had been staff shortages, a management position that had remained empty for a year, and 189 inexperienced Italian POWs were working in the mines at the time of the accident. In 1974, it was announced that the cause of the explosion was probably a site worker removing a detonator from a live bomb using a brass chisel rather than a wooden batten. An eyewitness testified that he had seen a worker using brass chisels in defiance of the strict regulations in force.


Two huge explosions were witnessed at No. 21 Maintenance Unit RAF Bomb Storage dump on 27 November 1944 at 11:15 hours. Eyewitnesses reported seeing two distinct columns of black smoke in the form of a mushroom cloud ascending several thousand feet, and saw a blaze at the foot of the column. According to the Commanding Officer of M.U. 21 (Group Captain Storrar) an open dump of incendiary bombs caught fire and it was allowed to burn itself out without damage or casualties. Property was damaged within a radius of ¾ mile of the crater.

Debris and damage occurred to all property within a circle extending for 1,420 yards (1,300 m). Upper Castle Hayes Farm completely disappeared and Messrs. Peter Ford's lime and gypsum works to the north of the village and Purse cottages were completely demolished. The lime works was destroyed by the destruction of the reservoir dam and the subsequent release of water into the works. Hanbury Fields Farm, Hare Holes Farm and also Croft Farm with adjacent cottages were all extensively damaged. Debris also damaged Hanbury village. The crater was some 300 yards (270 m) by 233 yards (213 m) in length and 100 feet (30 m) deep covering 12 acres. Approximately one third of the RAF dump exploded, an area of 65,000 square yards, but barriers of rock pillars between No. 3 and No. 4 sections held and prevented the other munition storage areas from exploding in a chain reaction. Damage from earth shock extended as far as Burton upon Trent.


While much of the storage facility was annihilated by the explosion, the site itself continued to be used by the RAF for munitions storage until 1966, when No. 21 Maintenance Unit (21 MU) was disbanded. Following France's withdrawal from NATO's integrated military structure in 1966, the site was used by the US Army, between 1967 and 1973, to store US ammunition previously stored in France.

Burton-on-Trent Library has a documented file on the explosion.

By 1979 the site was fenced off and since then nature has taken over, with the area covered with over 150 species of trees and wildlife. The area is restricted as a significant amount of explosives are still buried deep in the site; the UK government has deemed their removal unfeasible on the grounds of cost.

No. 21 MU was the subject of a number of paintings under the collective title "the bomb store" by artist David Bomberg. He was briefly employed as a war artist by the War Ministry in 1943.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro Dies

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (August 13, 1926 – November 25, 2016) was a Cuban politician and revolutionary who governed the Republic of Cuba as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as President from 1976 to 2008. Politically a Marxist–Leninist and Cuban nationalist, he also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from 1961 until 2011. Under his administration, Cuba became a one-party socialist state; industry and business were nationalized, and state socialist reforms implemented throughout society.

Born in Birán as the son of a wealthy Spanish farmer, Castro adopted leftist anti-imperialist politics while studying law at the University of Havana. After participating in rebellions against right-wing governments in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, he planned the overthrow of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, launching a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953. After a year's imprisonment, he traveled to Mexico where he formed a revolutionary group, the 26th of July Movement, with his brother Raúl Castro and Che Guevara. Returning to Cuba, Castro took a key role in the Cuban Revolution by leading the Movement in a guerrilla war against Batista's forces from the Sierra Maestra. After Batista's overthrow in 1959, Castro assumed military and political power as Cuba's Prime Minister. The United States opposed Castro's government, and unsuccessfully attempted to remove him by assassination, economic blockade, and counter-revolution, including the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961. Countering these threats, Castro formed an alliance with the Soviet Union. In response to U.S. nuclear missiles in Turkey, and perceived U.S. threats against Cuba, Castro allowed the Soviets to place nuclear weapons on Cuba, sparking the Cuban Missile Crisis—a defining incident of the Cold War—in 1962.

Adopting a Marxist-Leninist model of development, Castro converted Cuba into a one-party socialist state under Communist Party rule, the first in the Western Hemisphere. Policies introducing central economic planning and expanding healthcare and education were accompanied by state control of the press and the suppression of internal dissent. Abroad, Castro supported anti-imperialist revolutionary groups, backing the establishment of Marxist governments in Chile, Nicaragua, and Grenada, and sending troops to aid allies in the Yom Kippur War, Ogaden War, and Angolan Civil War. These actions, coupled with Castro's leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1979 to 1983 and Cuba's medical internationalism, increased Cuba's profile on the world stage. Following the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991, Castro led Cuba into its "Special Period" and embraced environmentalist and anti-globalization ideas. In the 2000s he forged alliances in the Latin American "pink tide"—namely with Hugo Chávez's Venezuela—and signed Cuba to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas. In 2006 he transferred his responsibilities to Vice-President Raúl Castro, who formally assumed the presidency in 2008.

In the developing world, Castro was viewed as a champion of socialism, anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism, and lauded for securing Cuba's independence from "American imperialism". He was widely described as "an inspiration to revolutionary movements", and an "iconic personality".  Conversely, Western critics alleged that he was a dictator whose administration oversaw multiple human-rights abuses. Through his actions and his writings, he has significantly influenced the politics of various individuals and groups across the political spectrum around the world.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Black Friday explained

Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States (the fourth Thursday of November). Since 1932, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the U.S., and most major retailers open very early (and more recently during overnight hours) and offer promotional sales. Black Friday is not an official holiday, but California and some other states observe "The Day After Thanksgiving" as a holiday for state government employees, sometimes in lieu of another federal holiday such as Columbus Day. Many non-retail employees and schools have both Thanksgiving and the following Friday off, which, along with the following regular weekend, makes it a four-day weekend, thereby increasing the number of potential shoppers. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005, although news reports, which at that time were inaccurate, have described it as the busiest shopping day of the year for a much longer period of time. Similar stories resurface year upon year at this time, portraying hysteria and shortage of stock, creating a state of positive feedback.

In 2014, spending volume on Black Friday fell for the first time since the 2008 recession. $50.9 billion was spent during the 4-day Black Friday weekend, down 11% from the previous year. However, the U.S. economy was not in a recession. Christmas creep has been cited as a factor in the diminishing importance of Black Friday, as many retailers now spread out their promotions over the entire months of November and December rather than concentrate them on a single shopping day or weekend.

The earliest evidence of the phrase Black Friday applied to the day after Thanksgiving in a shopping context suggests that the term originated in Philadelphia, where it was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. This usage dates to at least 1961. More than twenty years later, as the phrase became more widespread, a popular explanation became that this day represented the point in the year when retailers begin to turn a profit, thus going from being "in the red" to being "in the black".

For many years, it was common for retailers to open at 6:00 a.m., but in the late 2000s many had crept to 5:00 or 4:00. This was taken to a new extreme in 2011, when several retailers (including Target, Kohl's, Macy's, Best Buy, and Bealls) opened at midnight for the first time. In 2012, Walmart and several other retailers announced that they would open most of their stores at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, prompting calls for a walkout among some workers. In 2014, stores such as JCPenney, Best Buy, and Radio Shack opened at 5:00 PM on Thanksgiving Day while stores such as Target, Walmart, Belk, and Sears opened at 6:00 PM on Thanksgiving Day. Three states, Rhode Island, Maine, and Massachusetts, prohibit large supermarkets, big box stores, and department stores from opening on Thanksgiving, due to blue laws.

There have been reports of violence occurring between shoppers on Black Friday. Since 2006, there have been 7 reported deaths and 98 injuries throughout the United States. It is common for prospective shoppers to camp out over the Thanksgiving holiday in an effort to secure a place in front of the line and thus a better chance at getting desired items. This poses a significant safety risk (such as the use of propane and generators in the most elaborate cases, and in general, the blocking of emergency access and fire lanes, causing at least one city to ban the practice.)

Origin of the Term

For centuries, the adjective "black" has been applied to days upon which calamities occurred. Many events have been described as "Black Friday", although the most significant such event in American History was the Panic of 1869, which occurred when financiers Jay Gould and James Fisk took advantage of their connections with the Grant Administration in an attempt to corner the gold market. When President Grant learned of this manipulation, he ordered the treasury to release a large supply of gold, which halted the run and caused prices to drop by eighteen percent. Fortunes were made and lost in a single day, and the president's own brother-in-law, Abel Corbin, was ruined.

The earliest known use of "Black Friday" to refer to the day after Thanksgiving occurs in the journal, Factory Management and Maintenance, for November 1951, and again in 1952. Here it referred to the practice of workers calling in sick on the day after Thanksgiving, in order to have a four-day weekend. However, this use does not appear to have caught on. Around the same time, the terms "Black Friday" and "Black Saturday" came to be used by the police in Philadelphia and Rochester to describe the crowds and traffic congestion accompanying the start of the Christmas shopping season. In 1961, the city and merchants of Philadelphia attempted to improve conditions, and a public relations expert recommended rebranding the days, "Big Friday" and "Big Saturday"; but these terms were quickly forgotten.

Use of the phrase spread slowly, first appearing in The New York Times on November 29, 1975, in which it still refers specifically to "the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year" in Philadelphia. Although it soon became more widespread, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 1985 that retailers in Cincinnati and Los Angeles were still unaware of the term.

As the phrase gained national attention in the early 1980s, merchants objecting to the use of a derisive term to refer to one of the most important shopping days of the year suggested an alternative derivation: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss for most of the year (January through November) and made their profit during the holiday season, beginning on the day after Thanksgiving. When this would be recorded in the financial records, once-common accounting practices would use red ink to show negative amounts and black ink to show positive amounts. Black Friday, under this theory, is the beginning of the period when retailers would no longer be "in the red", instead taking in the year's profits. The earliest known published reference to this explanation occurs in the Philadelphia Inquirer for November 28, 1981.

In 2013, an internet rumor alleged that the phrase originated in the American south before the Civil War, from the practice of selling slaves on the day after Thanksgiving. This was debunked by in 2015. Although the concept of a national day of thanksgiving originated in the time of George Washington, it was not until 1863 that President Lincoln declared an annual holiday to be celebrated on the last Thursday (now the fourth Thursday) in November; and this proclamation would have been ignored in the Confederacy until after the Civil War

Violence and Chaos

Despite frequent attempts to control the crowds of shoppers, minor injuries are common among the crowds, usually as a result of being pushed or thrown to the ground in small stampedes. While most injuries remain minor, serious injuries and even deliberate violence have taken place on some Black Fridays.

In 2008, a crowd of approximately 2,000 shoppers in Valley Stream, New York, waited outside for the 5:00 am opening of the local Wal-Mart. As opening time approached, the crowd grew anxious and when the doors were opened the crowd pushed forward, breaking the door down, a 34-year-old employee was trampled to death. The shoppers did not appear concerned with the victim's fate, expressing refusal to halt their stampede when other employees attempted to intervene and help the injured employee, complaining that they had been waiting in the cold and were not willing to wait any longer. Shoppers had begun assembling as early as 9:00 PM the evening before. Even when police arrived and attempted to render aid to the injured man, shoppers continued to pour in, shoving and pushing the officers as they made their way into the store. Several other people incurred minor injuries, including a pregnant woman who had to be taken to the hospital. The incident may be the first case of a death occurring during Black Friday sales; according to the National Retail Federation, "We are not aware of any other circumstances where a retail employee has died working on the day after Thanksgiving."

On the same day, two people were fatally shot during an altercation at a Toys 'R' Us in Palm Desert, California.

During Black Friday 2010, a Madison, Wisconsin woman was arrested outside of a Toys 'R' Us store after cutting in line, and threatening to shoot other shoppers who tried to object. A Toys for Tots volunteer in Georgia was stabbed by a shoplifter. An Indianapolis woman was arrested after causing a disturbance by arguing with other Wal-Mart shoppers. She had been asked to leave the store, but refused. A man was arrested at a Florida Wal-Mart on drug and weapons charges after other shoppers waiting in line for the store to open noticed that he was carrying a handgun and reported the matter to police. He was discovered to also be carrying two knives and a pepper spray grenade. A man in Buffalo, New York, was trampled when doors opened at a Target store and unruly shoppers rushed in, in an episode reminiscent of the deadly 2008 Wal-Mart stampede.

On Black Friday 2011, a woman at a Porter Ranch, California Walmart used pepper spray on fellow shoppers, causing minor injuries to a reported 20 people who had been waiting hours for the store to open. The incident started as people waited in line for the newly discounted Xbox 360. A witness said a woman with two children in tow became upset with the way people were pushing in line. The witness said she pulled out pepper spray and sprayed the other people in line. Another account stated: "The store had brought out a crate of discounted Xbox 360s, and a crowd had formed to wait for the unwrapping, when the woman began spraying people 'in order to get an advantage,' according to the police. In an incident outside a Walmart store in San Leandro, California, one man was wounded after being shot following Black Friday shopping at about 1:45 am.

On Black Friday 2012, two people were shot outside a Wal-Mart in Tallahassee, Florida, during a dispute over a parking space.

On Black Friday in 2013, a person in Las Vegas who was carrying a big-screen TV home from a Target store on Thanksgiving was shot in the leg as he tried to wrestle the item back from a robber who had just stolen it from him at gunpoint. In Romeoville IL, a police officer shot a suspected shoplifter driving a car that was dragging a fellow officer at a Kohl's department store. The suspect and the dragged officer were treated for shoulder injuries. Three people were arrested.

At the Franklin Mills Mall in Philadelphia a fight was caught on camera in which a woman was taken to the ground. The video also caught a separate, possibly related, fight happening simultaneously.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Rumor: The Basics

A rumor (American English) or rumour (British English) is "a tall tale of explanations of events circulating from person to person and pertaining to an object, event, or issue in public concern."

In the social sciences, a rumor involves some kind of a statement whose veracity is not quickly or ever confirmed. In addition, some scholars have identified rumor as a subset of propaganda. Sociology, psychology, and communication studies have widely varying definitions of rumor.

Rumors are also often discussed with regard to "misinformation" and "disinformation" (the former often seen as simply false and the latter seen as deliberately false, though usually from a government source given to the media or a foreign government). Rumors thus have often been viewed as particular forms of other communication concepts.

As a Political Communication Strategy

Rumor has always played a major role in politics, with negative rumors about an opponent typically more effective than positive rumors about one's own side.

In the past, much research on rumor came from psychological approaches (as the discussion of Allport and DiFonzio demonstrates above). The focus was especially on how statements of questionable veracity (absolutely false to the ears of some listeners) circulated orally from person to person. Scholarly attention to political rumors is at least as old as Aristotle's Rhetoric; however, not until recently has any sustained attention and conceptual development been directed at political uses of rumor, outside of its role in war situations. Almost no work had been done until recently on how different forms of media and particular cultural-historical conditions may facilitate a rumor's diffusion.

The Internet's recent appearance as a new media technology has shown ever new possibilities for the fast diffusion of rumor, as the debunking sites such as,, and demonstrate. Nor had previous research taken into consideration the particular form or style of deliberately chosen rumors for political purposes in particular circumstances (even though significant attention to the power of rumor for mass-media-diffused war propaganda has been in vogue since World War I; see Lasswell 1927). In the early part of the 21st century, some legal scholars have attended to political uses of rumor, though their conceptualization of it remains social psychological and their solutions to it as public problem are from a legal scholarly perspective, largely having to do with libel and privacy laws and the damage to personal reputations.

Working within political communication studies, in 2006, Jayson Harsin introduced the concept of the "rumor bomb" as a response to the widespread empirical phenomenon of rumoresque communication in contemporary relations between media and politics, especially within the complex convergence of multiple forms of media, from cell phones and internet, to radio, TV, and print. Harsin starts with the widespread definition of rumor as a claim whose truthfulness is in doubt and which often has no clear source even if its ideological or partisan origins and intents are clear. He then treats it as a particular rhetorical strategy in current contexts of media and politics in many societies. For Harsin a "rumor bomb" extends the definition of rumor into a political communication concept with the following features:

  1. A crisis of verification. - A crisis of verification is perhaps the most salient and politically dangerous aspect of rumor. Berenson (1952) defines rumor as a kind of persuasive message involving a proposition that lacks 'secure standards of evidence' (Pendleton 1998).
  2. A context of public uncertainty or anxiety about a political group, figure, or cause, which the rumor bomb overcomes or transfers onto an opponent.
  3. A clearly partisan even if an anonymous source (e.g. "an unnamed advisor to the president"), which seeks to profit politically from the rumor bomb’s diffusion.
  4. A rapid diffusion via highly developed electronically mediated societies where news travels fast.

In addition, Harsin locates the "rumor bomb" within other communication genres, such as disinformation (intentional false information) and propaganda,as rumor has been viewed by others. However, he distinguishes it from these concepts as well, since disinformation is often too associated with government, and propaganda is a widely varying concept used to describe attempts to control opinion without regard for ethics and accuracy of statement. Similarly, "spin" is a generic term for strategic political communication that attempts to frame or re-frame an event or a statement in a way that is politically profitable for one side and detrimental to another, though at its core it may simply be a red herring (Bennett 2003, p. 130).

In addition, a "smear campaign" is a term that loosely means a coordinated effort to attack a person's character. Unlike a "smear campaign," rumor bombs need not be about discrediting a person (as is the case, for example, in claims about Iraq and 9/11 or weapons of mass destruction moved to Syria). “Spin” also specifically refers to an event and its re-framing. Rumor bombs may seek to produce events themselves.

A rumor bomb can be seen as having some characteristics of these general concepts, but rumor bombs happen in very particular cultural and historical conditions. They are not about mouth-to-ear interpersonal rumors as much rumor research has been interested in. They begin in a rapport between deliberate "disinformers" and media, whether TV news, talk shows, newspapers, radio, or websites. They then circulate across these media, perhaps but not necessarily resulting in interpersonal mouth-to-ear rumor diffusion.

Harsin distinguishes the rumor bomb from other more general concepts of rumor by emphasizing changes in politics, media technology, and culture. According to Harsin, rumor in politics has always existed, but recent changes have created an environment ripe for a new kind of political rumor: a new media "convergence culture" where information produced on the internet can influence the production of media content in other forms;new media technologies and business values that emphasize speed and circulation that combine with entertainment values in news, political marketing, and public craving of tabloid news that mirrors other entertainment genres.

Rumors of affairs, of "weapons of mass destruction" and their alleged removal to other countries"John Kerry is French," Obama is a Muslim, John McCain had an illegitimate black child—all of these involve statements whose veracity is in question or that are simply false. Other statements may have an ambiguous nature that makes them potentially appealing to different audiences who may interpret them in particular ways and circulate them. Harsin builds on rumor research that has emphasized social cognition and diffusion of propaganda. He extends Prashant and Difonzio's work in particular, since they attempt to distinguish rumor from gossip, in that rumor is supposedly about public issues and gossip is about private, trivial things. The emergence of infotainment and tabloidization in especially American and British news has broken that distinction, since politics is now just as much about bringing the private into the public view, as was clear with the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Monterey Jack cheese

Monterey Jack (sometimes shortened simply to Jack cheese) is an American semihard cheese, customarily white, made using cow's milk. It is commonly sold by itself, or mixed with Colby to make a marbled cheese known as Colby-Jack (or Co-Jack). Cheddar-Jack and Pepper Jack varieties are also available.

In its earliest form, Monterey Jack was made by the Mexican Franciscan friars of Monterey, California, during the 18th century. Californian businessman David Jack sold the cheese commercially. He produced a mild, white cheese, which came to be known as "Jack's Cheese", and eventually "Monterey Jack".

A common misspelling is "Monterrey" Jack, presumably in confusion with the Mexican city of Monterrey.


Most of the softer types generally found in American markets are aged for only one month, while another variety, Dry Jack, is aged for up to six months.


An aged version of this cheese, known as Dry Monterey Jack, can be grated and used much like Parmesan cheese. Dry Jack was originally created by accident in 1915 when a San Francisco cheese wholesaler stored and forgot a number of wheels of fresh Jack cheese. When shipments of hard cheese from Europe were subsequently interrupted as World War I intensified, he rediscovered the stored Jack, which had become a well-aged hard cheese his customers found to be a good substitute for classic, aged hard cheeses such as Parmesan.

Another version called pepper jack mixes hot peppers with Monterey Jack. Pepper jack is often used as an alternative cheese in dishes such as quesadillas, but can be eaten with bread or crackers as a snack. Other versions are flavored with garlic or pesto, though they are less common than pepper jack.

Health Impact

Because of its low content of tyramine, an organic compound thought to be associated with headaches, it is frequently recommended as one of the few cheeses that is safe to eat for migraine sufferers.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dragons That Can Fly -- Really!

They are not very big. In fact, they are Draco Lizards and live in the jungle.  But they have wings and can soar up to 100 feet.  There is an interesting BBC video at:

Monday, November 21, 2016

Mercury's Huge Canyon

Giant “Great Valley” Found on Mercury
On Earth, massive chasm would reach between Detroit, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

University of Maryland, November 17, 2016 -- A newly discovered giant valley on the planet Mercury makes the Grand Canyon look tiny by comparison. Located by scientists at the University of Maryland, the Smithsonian Institution, the German Institute of Planetary Research and Moscow State University, the expansive valley holds an important key to the geologic history of the innermost planet in our solar system.

Discovered using stereo images from NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft, the “great valley” lies in the planet’s southern hemisphere and overlaps the Rembrandt Basin—a large crater formed by a relatively recent impact from an asteroid or other such body. But the “great valley” formed in a much different way, according to a research paper published online November 16, 2016 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Unlike Earth, which has a crust and upper mantle (collectively known as the lithosphere) divided into multiple tectonic plates, Mercury has a single, solid lithosphere that covers the entire planet. As the planet cooled and shrank early in its history, roughly 3-4 billion years ago, Mercury’s lithosphere buckled and folded to form the valley, much like the skin of a grape folds as it dries to become a raisin.

“This is a huge valley. There is no evidence of any geological formation on Earth that matches this scale,” said Laurent Montesi, an assistant professor of geology at UMD and a co-author of the research paper. “Mercury experienced a very different type of deformation than anything we have seen on Earth. This is the first evidence of large-scale buckling of a planet.”

The valley is about 250 miles wide and 600 miles long, with steep sides that dip as much as 2 miles below the surrounding terrain. To put this in perspective: if Mercury’s “great valley” existed on Earth, it would be almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and reach from Washington, D.C. to New York City, and as far west as Detroit.

More notable than its size, according to Montesi, is how the valley most likely formed and what that reveals about Mercury’s geologic history.

The valley’s walls appear to be two large, parallel fault scarps—step-like structures where one side of a fault moved vertically with respect to the other. Both scarps plunge steeply to the flat valley floor below. According to Montesi and his co-authors, the best explanation is that Mercury’s interior cooled rapidly, forming a strong, thick lithosphere. The entire floor of the newly discovered valley is one giant piece of this lithosphere that dropped between the two faults on either side.

This would make sense if, like most planets, Mercury has been steadily cooling since its formation. But Montesi notes that there are several clues to suggest that Mercury went through a more recent period of warming. This analysis, if true, would upend some time-tested assumptions about Mercury’s geologic past.

“Most features on Mercury’s surface are truly ancient, but there is evidence for recent volcanism and an active magnetic field. This evidence implies that the planet is warm inside,” Montesi said. “Everyone thought Mercury was a very cold planet—myself included. But it looks like Mercury might have heated significantly in recent planetary history.” 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Leap of Faith (1992 film)

Leap of Faith is a 1992 American comedy-drama film directed by Richard Pearce and starring Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Lolita Davidovich, Liam Neeson, and Lukas Haas. The film is about Jonas Nightengale, a fraudulent Christian faith healer who uses his revival meetings, in Rustwater, Kansas, to milk believers out of their money.

Jonas Nightengale (Steve Martin), a faith healer, makes a living traveling across America holding tent revival meetings and conducting purported "miracles". He is helped by his friend and manager Jane Larson (Debra Winger) and an entourage of fellow con artists.

Their bus breaks down in the fictional Rustwater, Kansas, a town with a 27 percent unemployment rate that is in desperate need of rain to save its crops. Learning they will be stuck in Rustwater for days waiting for replacement parts to come in for one of the many big trucks of their fleet, Jonas decides, in an effort to cut some of their losses while the truck is being repaired, to hold revival meetings despite the town's small size. Early on Jonas meets Marva, a waitress in a local café. She rebuffs his persistent advances.

Local sheriff Will Braverman (Liam Neeson) is skeptical and tries to prevent his townspeople from being conned out of what little money they do have. First, he engages in some legal harassment, sending all of the city and county inspectors to examine his facilities. After seeing the excessive pageantry of the first show and the counting of money by the team on Jonas' tour bus, Braverman decides to investigate Jonas' past. He learns that Jonas, claiming to have been born in a humble log cabin in the Appalachians, is in fact Jack Newton, a native of New York City. Between the age of 15 and 18 he lived a life of crime, including petty theft and drug possession. Braverman shares this information with the townspeople who have gathered for another tent revival. Jonas storms off the stage, soon returning to successfully spin Braverman's report, leaving the crowd more energized than ever, much to Braverman's exasperation.

Jonas also gives back the collections for the day, saying he could not take their money in good conscience knowing that they doubted him and that if his faith was strong God would send them a sign. He also has his crew secretly plant an additional $80 among the crowd, setting up the believers for a miracle the next day. The next morning, the huge crucifix forming the backdrop of the revival tent with Jesus' eyes normally closed is found to somehow have his eyes opened. A shocked Jonas, in front of all the townspeople and numerous television cameras from the region's network affiliates, proclaims it a miracle which is amplified as townsfolk who had money planted on them reveal their unexplained fortunes.

Throughout all of this is a subplot involving Jane and Braverman, who find themselves falling for each other. She becomes enchanted by Braverman's simple farm life and his interest in butterflies. However, after Braverman's disclosure of Jonas' past Jane breaks off their budding relationship. They soon, however, meet again and Jane confesses to Braverman that she is tired of manipulating people. He makes it clear he would like a permanent relationship with her if she will stay.

Meanwhile, Jonas can't understand why Marva won't date him. Marva points to her brother Boyd who walks with crutches following an auto accident in which also their parents died. Marva explains that doctors couldn't find anything physically wrong with him, so as a last resort she took him to a faith healer who subsequently blamed it on Boyd's supposed lack of faith. Marva now detests faith healers, having had one blame her brother for his own psychosomatic disability.

Boyd comes to believe that Jonas can make him walk again. He goes to the revival and implores Jonas to heal him. Jonas finishes the show while pretending not to notice the boy, but is compelled to return to the stage after the crowd begins to chant "one more."

Jonas spins the expected failure to heal Boyd by blaming Braverman, who is present, saying that if a failure occurs, it will be due to Braverman's skepticism. Boyd walks to the open-eyed crucifix and touches the feet of Jesus Christ. He drops his crutches and begins to walk unassisted. The awed crowd sweeps the stage. After the show, an enraged Jonas rails to Jane that he was conned and that Boyd upstaged him. Jane doesn't believe it was a con. The production crew are thrilled with all the money that came in as a result of Boyd being healed and want Boyd to join the show. A clearly annoyed Jonas reluctantly agrees and stalks off the bus. Jane follows him out and they argue.

After the revival, Jonas enters the empty, darkened tent and mocks the crucifix and Christianity. Boyd walks in while Jonas is talking. Boyd thanks Jonas for healing him, but Jonas insists angrily that he did nothing. Boyd says it doesn't matter, that the job still got done. Jonas accuses Boyd of being a better con artist than he himself. Boyd wants to join Jonas on the road, telling him a lot of ways he can help out exist and promising to earn his keep. Jonas agrees to meet Boyd the following morning, implying Boyd can come. Then Boyd's sister Marva arrives. She sends him out of the tent saying that people are looking for him. She thanks Jonas, who tells her that he will not be meeting her brother Boyd the next morning. He asks her to tell Boyd that "just because a person didn't show up doesn't mean that the person doesn't care about them." referencing a set up earlier in the movie where Jane defended Jonas by telling Braverman the story of a five-year-old Jonas waiting in vain for four days for his mother to return, for many years while living in an orphanage holding steadfast to the belief that one day she indeed would. (The line is also found in the 1999 film adaptation of Graham Greene's The End of the Affair.)

Jonas leaves the tent and sees the crowd that has gathered just outside it, many praying, some sleeping in groups, and others feeding the crowd that has gathered. He begins to understand that Boyd's miracle, and the faith that enabled it, are real after all. He packs a bag and departs alone under the cover of darkness, leaving behind his entire road show and most of all of the rest of everything that he owns - including his silver-sequined jacket and an envelope for Jane containing his ring that she had long coveted - and hitches a ride on the nearby Interstate from which they had come to Rustwater at the start of the story. Braverman and Jane drive to Jonas' motel room and find him gone.

Jonas hitches a ride with a truck driver bound for Pensacola, Florida. When asked by the driver if he is in some kind of trouble, Jonas replies "No sir, no sir. Probably for the first time in my life". As they continue to ride along, the drought, threatening the crop harvest that is the centerpiece of the town's economy, comes to a dramatic end in a miraculous downpour. Jonas laughs silently to himself as he realizes the truth, and the film ends as he rides off into the stormy evening, hanging out the truck window loudly thanking Jesus for the rain.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Aspect Ratio of Pipes

Scientists Discover Method for Sculpting
How Chemicals Spread in Fluid Flows

 Solely adjusting the aspect ratio of a pipe – regardless of its shape – precisely controls how medicine, pollutants, nutrients and chemicals travel down it and hit their target

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Nov. 17, 2016) — Art was created with proportions in mind so spaces would make mathematical sense. Now two mathematicians from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and their team have created art of their own: a method that precisely sculpts how fluids spread chemicals as they travel to hit their target.

The work, to appear in the Nov. 17 advance online issue of Science, has profound implications in fields such as medicine, chemistry and environmental management, for example, where having the ability to precisely control how drugs, chemicals and pollutants approach their destination is potentially critical for optimizing their effect, potency and lifespan.

“You might want a chemical, for example, to hit its target all at once or you might want it to build up gradually,” said McLaughlin, chair of UNC-Chapel Hill’s department of mathematics. “Until now, scientists had little control on the exact way for a chemical to do that. This work gives them a simple method so that they can achieve either of these goals — or anything in between.”

McLaughlin and his colleague, Roberto Camassa, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, revealed that the secret to such control lies solely in the relative dimensions of the tube, not the properties of the fluid or the chemical dissolved within it. Specifically they showed that the relationship between a pipe’s width and height — or aspect ratio — governs the shape of the chemical spread as it flows with the fluid down the tube.

A circle and square are just as wide as they are tall, while an ellipse and rectangle are wider in one dimension than the other. By squishing the tube away from being a perfect circle, the researchers showed that they can change the way that a solute reaches its target: Solute traveling down a skinny pipe barrages its target fast, but if the same solution travels down a fat pipe, the solute crawls slowly upward to its target until the big punch hits at the end.

They found that precisely the same effect occurs in rectangular ducts, such that in skinny ones, solute arrives at the target strong, like a heavy punch; if you stretch the rectangle into a square, the solute reverses its approach, arriving in a slow and gradual upward swing.

“That was the big surprise,” said Camassa. “We stumbled upon this incredible disconnect between two different geometries. It’s one of nature’s universal principles governing the shape of solute spreading and it can be used to optimize results in many industries that deal with chemicals dissolved in fluid flows.”

The implications reach far and wide, particularly in microfluidic devices, which contain miniaturized components for routing and processing very small amounts of fluids. They are used in health care for making small, biological test kits or for precisely manufacturing drugs. This new work can be used to optimize microfluidic devices for any particular goal. For example, researchers can potentially optimize the delivery of cancer drugs or antibiotics to minimize damage to surrounding tissues and thus minimize side effects.

Economics also play a big role, explained McLaughlin and Camassa, who are both in UNC-Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Precision elliptical pipes may be difficult and expensive to manufacture. But the new work shows that rectangular pipes, which are easier and cheaper to produce, can do the same job, delivering a fluid with calculated precision given the right aspect ratio. As a bonus, rectangular ducts stretch solute much less than ellipses, an effect that can be important in delivering more highly concentrated substances, another factor when considering cost and shape of a pipe.

The team, including graduate students Manuchehr Aminian and Francesca Bernardi, and postdoctoral scholar Daniel Harris, has revealed one of nature’s universal principles governing how fluids spread solute in microfluidic environments.

“It’s sort of a slam dunk, having analysis, computation and experiment, all these approaches confirming each other, ” said McLaughlin. “It says that this phenomenon is really there and can be used for far-reaching applications.”

Friday, November 18, 2016

Moondance from Van Morrison

"Moondance" is a popular song written by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison and is the title song on his 1970 album Moondance.

Morrison did not release the song as a single until November 1977, seven and a half years after the album was released. It reached the Billboard Hot 100, charting at #92. The single's B-side, "Cold Wind in August", had been released in the same year, on his latest album at the time, A Period of Transition.

"Moondance" is the most frequently played song by Van Morrison in concert, as it is the only song known to have been played over a thousand times.

Composition and Recording

"Moondance" was recorded at the Mastertone Studio in New York City in August 1969, with Lewis Merenstein. as producer.

The song is played mostly acoustic, anchored by a walking bass line (played on electric bass by John Klingberg), with accompaniment by piano, guitar, saxophones, and flute with the instruments played with a soft jazz swing. It's a song about autumn, the composer's favorite season. Towards the end of the song, Morrison imitates a saxophone. The song also features a piano solo, played by Jeff Labes, which is immediately followed by an alto saxophone solo by Jack Schroer. The song ends with a trill on the Flute during the cadenza that fades out.

Music journalist Erik Hage wrote that the significance of the song "lies in its direct jazz approach", expanding that observation with "Astral Weeks had suggestions of jazz, but this song would take the genre head on. It would become Van Morrison's most successful and definitive jazz composition."

Schroer's solo is commented on in Saxophone Scales and Arpeggios, as a reason why saxophonists should learn scales. The scale used in Schroer's "Moondance" solo is Aeolian A (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) or could simply be considered as a C Major scale and is played primarily over a D minor to A minor vamp that resolves via a sharp V (#5=F7) to natural V (5=E7#9) dominant chord.

Morrison commented on writing the song: "With 'Moondance' I wrote the melody first. I played the melody on a soprano sax and I knew I had a song so I wrote lyrics to go with the melody. That's the way I wrote that one. I don't really have any words to particularly describe the song, sophisticated is probably the word I'm looking for. For me, 'Moondance' is a sophisticated song. Frank Sinatra wouldn't be out of place singing that."

Critical Response

The Allmusic reviewer describes "Moondance" as "one of those rare songs that manages to implant itself on the collective consciousness of popular music, passing into the hallowed territory of a standard, a classic."

Biographer John Collis praised the song for being more commercially accessible for most radio stations than a lot of his earlier work. He calls "Moondance" "an important song in the development of Morrison's career, since it indicated to radio station programmers a previously unsuspected versatility. Stations that would never have considered playing, say 'Slim Slow Slider' found that the smooth, jazzy sophistication of 'Moondance' was more to their taste."

"Moondance" was listed as #226 on the Rolling Stone magazine's 2004 feature, The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It is also one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.


  • Van Morrison - vocals, guitar
  • John Klingberg - bass guitar
  • Jeff Labes - piano
  • Gary Mallaber - drums
  • John Platania - guitar
  • Jack Schroer - alto saxophone
  • Collin Tilton - tenor saxophone, flute

Afterword by the Blog Author

Moondance is a masterpiece of melodic jazz, a definitive autobiographic statement of monogamy and male sexuality demonstrated heartfeltedly by the composer.

The tricky, diaphanous melodic line is never fully there; instead, the listener completes and finishes the melody (rather like George Shearing’s definitive 1949 performance of Harry Warren’s September in the Rain).

Pianist Jeff Labes does critically important jazz piano work to gird Moondance, rather in the manner that Russ Freeman supported Chet Baker on the My Funny Valentine album in the 1950s.  Yet with Moondance we have the added baby boomer demanded authenticity of Morrison as a singer-songwriter.

Moondance is jewel of “classic” jazz.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Tabula Rasa and Epistemology

Tabula rasa refers to the epistemological idea that individuals are born without built-in mental content and that therefore all knowledge comes from experience or perception. Proponents of tabula rasa generally disagree with the doctrine of Innatism which holds that the mind is born already in possession of certain knowledge. Generally, proponents of the tabula rasa theory also favor the "nurture" side of the nature versus nurture debate when it comes to aspects of one's personality, social and emotional behavior, knowledge and sapience.


Tabula rasa is a Latin phrase often translated as "blank slate" in English and originates from the Roman tabula used for notes, which was blanked by heating the wax and then smoothing it. This roughly equates to the English term "blank slate" (or, more literally, "erased slate") which refers to the emptiness of a slate sheet previous to it being written on with chalk. Both may be refreshed repeatedly, by melting the wax or by erasing the chalk.


In Western philosophy, the concept of tabula rasa can be traced back to the writings of Aristotle who writes in his treatise "Περί Ψυχῆς" (De Anima or On the Soul) of the "unscribed tablet." In one of the more well-known passages of this treatise he writes that:

Have not we already disposed of the difficulty about interaction involving a common element, when we said that mind is in a sense potentially whatever is thinkable, though actually it is nothing until it has thought? What it thinks must be in it just as characters may be said to be on a writing-tablet on which as yet nothing stands written: this is exactly what happens with mind.

This idea was further developed in Ancient Greek philosophy by the Stoic school. Stoic epistemology emphasizes that the mind starts blank, but acquires knowledge as the outside world is impressed upon it. The doxographer Aetius summarizes this view as "When a man is born, the Stoics say, he has the commanding part of his soul like a sheet of paper ready for writing upon." Diogenes Laërtius attributes a similar belief to the Stoic Zeno of Citium when he writes in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers that:

Perception, again, is an impression produced on the mind, its name being appropriately borrowed from impressions on wax made by a seal; and perception they divide into, comprehensible and incomprehensible: Comprehensible, which they call the criterion of facts, and which is produced by a real object, and is, therefore, at the same time conformable to that object; Incomprehensible, which has no relation to any real object, or else, if it has any such relation, does not correspond to it, being but a vague and indistinct representation.

Psychology and Neurobiology

Psychologists and neurobiologists have shown evidence that initially, the entire cerebral cortex is programmed and organized to process sensory input, control motor actions, regulate emotion, and respond reflexively (under predetermined conditions). These programmed mechanisms in the brain subsequently act to learn and refine the ability of the organism. For example, psychologist Steven Pinker showed that—in contrast to written language—the brain is "programmed" to pick up spoken language spontaneously.

There have been claims by a minority in psychology and neurobiology, however, that the brain is tabula rasa only for certain behaviours. For instance, with respect to one's ability to acquire both general and special types of knowledge or skills, Howe argued against the existence of innate talent. There also have been neurological investigations into specific learning and memory functions, such as Karl Lashley's study on mass action and serial interaction mechanisms.

Important evidence against the tabula rasa model of the mind comes from behavioural genetics, especially twin and adoption studies. These indicate strong genetic influences on personal characteristics such as IQ, alcoholism, gender identity, and other traits. Critically, multivariate studies show that the distinct faculties of the mind, such as memory and reason, fractionate along genetic boundaries. Cultural universals such as emotion and the relative resilience of psychological adaptation to accidental biological changes (for instance the David Reimer case of gender reassignment following an accident) also support basic biological mechanisms in the mind.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Better Antibiotic Molecules

Researchers Discover New Antibiotics by sifting through the Human Microbiome

Rockefeller University Science News, November 15, 2016 -- Most antibiotics in use today are based on natural molecules produced by bacteria—and given the rise of antibiotic resistance, there’s an urgent need to find more of them. Yet coaxing bacteria to produce new antibiotics is a tricky proposition. Most bacteria won’t grow in the lab. And even when they do, most of the genes that cause them to churn out molecules with antibiotic properties never get switched on.
Researchers at The Rockefeller University have found a way around these problems, however. By using computational methods to identify which genes in a microbe’s genome ought to produce antibiotic compounds and then synthesizing those compounds themselves, they were able to discover two promising new antibiotics without having to culture a single bacterium.

The team, which was led by Sean Brady, head of the Laboratory of Genetically Encoded Small Molecules, began by trawling publicly available databases for the genomes of bacteria that reside in the human body. They then used specialized computer software to scan hundreds of those genomes for clusters of genes that were likely to produce molecules known as non-ribosomal peptides that form the basis of many antibiotics. They also used the software to predict the chemical structures of the molecules that the gene clusters ought to produce.
Unearthing the humimycins

The software initially identified 57 potentially useful gene clusters, which the researchers winnowed down to 30. Brady and his colleagues then used a method called solid-phase peptide synthesis to manufacture 25 different chemical compounds.

By testing those compounds against human pathogens, the researchers successfully identified two closely related antibiotics, which they dubbed humimycin A and humimycin B. Both are found in a family of bacteria called Rhodococcus—microbes that had never yielded anything resembling the humimycins when cultured using traditional laboratory techniques.

The humimycins proved especially effective against Staphylococcus and Streptococcus bacteria, which can cause dangerous infections in humans and tend to grow resistant to various antibiotics.
Further experiments suggested that the humimycins work by inhibiting an enzyme that bacteria use to build their cell walls—and once that cell-wall building pathway is interrupted, the bacteria die.

A similar mode of action is employed by beta-lactams, a broad class of commonly prescribed antibiotics whose effect often wanes as bacteria develop ways to resist them. Yet the scientists found that one of the humimycins could be used to re-sensitize bacteria to beta-lactams that they had previously outsmarted.

Synergistic effects

In one experiment, they exposed beta-lactam resistant Staphylococcus microbes to humimycin A in combination with a beta-lactam antibiotic, and the bugs once again succumbed. Remarkably, that held true even when humimycin A had little effect by itself—a result that Brady attributes to the fact that both compounds work by interrupting different steps in the same biological pathway.

“It’s like taking a hose and pinching it in two spots,” he says. Even if neither kink halts the flow altogether on its own, “eventually, no more water comes through.”

To further test that proposition, Brady and his colleagues infected mice with a beta-lactam resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus, a microbe that often causes antibiotic-resistant infections in hospital patients. Mice that were subsequently treated with a mixture containing both humimycin A and a beta-lactam antibiotic fared far better than those treated with only one drug or the other—a finding that could point towards a new treatment regimen for humans infected with beta-lactam resistant S. aureus.

Brady hopes that this discovery will inspire scientists to mine the genomes of bacteria for more molecules that could yield similarly useful results. And he looks forward to applying his methods to the many bacterial species that lie beyond the human microbiome, and that might harbor their own molecular treasures—not to mention the even greater number of bacteria whose genomes have not yet been sequenced, but that undoubtedly will be over time.