incidents

‘I think that God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.’ –Oscar Wilde

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[W]hy are some societies more religious than others? One answer is religious coping: Individuals turn to religion to deal with unbearable and unpredictable life events. To investigate whether coping can explain global differences in religiosity, I combine a global dataset on individual-level religiosity with spatial data on natural disasters. Individuals become more religious if an earthquake recently hit close by. Even though the effect decreases after a while, data on children of immigrants reveal a persistent effect across generations.

{ J. S. Bentzen | PDF }

acrylic on canvas, in four parts { Keith Haring, Untitled, 1984 }

THREAT TO ‘SHOOT THE PLACE UP’

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Vyacheslav Molotov (1890 – 1986) was a Soviet politician and diplomat, and a leading figure in the Soviet government from the 1920s, when he rose to power as a protégé of Joseph Stalin. […] Molotov served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1939 to 1949 and from 1953 to 1956. […]

The Winter War was a military conflict between the Soviet Union (USSR) and Finland. It began with a Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939, three months after the outbreak of World War II, and ended three and a half months later with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940. […]

The Molotov cocktail is a term coined by the Finns during the Winter War, as a generic name used for a variety of improvised incendiary weapons. During the Winter War, the Soviet air force made extensive use of incendiaries and cluster bombs against Finnish troops and fortifications. When Molotov claimed in radio broadcasts that they were not bombing, but rather delivering food to the starving Finns, the Finns started to call the air bombs Molotov bread baskets. Soon they responded by attacking advancing tanks with “Molotov cocktails,” which were “a drink to go with the food.”

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

watercolour on paper { JMW Turner, Clouds at Dawn or Sunset, c.1834 }

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong

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The Grim Reaper, the personification of death, is a well known mythological and literary figure. Reported characteristics include a black cloak with cowl, a scythe, and cachexia. High quality scientific research linking the Grim Reaper to mortality has been scarce, despite extensive anecdotes.

Walking speed is a commonly used objective measure of physical capability in older people, predicting survival in several cohort studies. A recent meta-analysis found that being in the lowest fourth of walking speed compared with the highest was associated with a threefold increased risk of mortality. Moreover, the association between slow walking speed and mortality seems consistent across several ethnic groups and shows a dose-response relation. Although the association between walking speed and mortality has been well documented, the plausible biological relation between the two remains unclear.

We assessed whether the relation between slow walking speed and mortality results from the increased likelihood of being caught by Death. By assessing this relation using receiver operating characteristics curve analysis, we hypothesised we would be able to determine the walking speed of the Grim Reaper—information of importance to public health. […]

[1705] men have been followed for a mean of 59.3 months. Walking speed at baseline was not available in 77 men, mostly through inability to complete the test. A total of 266 deaths occurred during follow-up. […]

Based on receiver operating characteristics analysis and estimation of the Youden index, a walking speed of 0.82 m/s (2 miles (about 3 km) per hour) was most predictive of mortality. Therefore, we predict that this is the likely speed at which the Grim Reaper prefers to ambulate under working conditions. Older men who walked at speeds greater than 0.82 m/s were 1.23 times less likely to encounter Death. In addition, no men walking at speeds of 1.36 m/s (3 miles (about 5 km) per hour) or above were caught by Death (n=22, 1.4%). This supports our hypothesis that faster speeds are protective against mortality because fast walkers can maintain a safe distance from the Grim Reaper. Interestingly, the predicted walking speed of Death estimated in the present study is virtually identical to the gait speed (0.80 m/s) associated with median life expectancy at most ages and for both sexes in a recent meta-analysis of gait speed and mortality using data from diverse populations. This indicates that the preferred walking speed of the Grim Reaper while collecting souls is relatively constant irrespective of people’s geographical location, sex, or ethnic background.

{ British Medical Journal | PDF }

Are you better at exits? Or entrances?

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Every year, millions of tonnes of plastic debris ends up in the sea […] Where does all the plastic come from anyhow? And how does it get into the sea? […]

Researchers calculated that ten rivers (eight in Asia and two in Africa) are responsible for around 90 percent of the global input of plastic into the sea.

{ Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research | Continue reading }

Sticks and stones may break my bones

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Thirty years after the Chernobyl disaster, it has become clear that radioactivity might be less harmful than originally thought. Some researchers even believe it may be beneficial in small doses. […]

After Chernobyl, horrific victim projections made the rounds. A very small risk, multiplied by 600 million Europeans, resulted in hundreds of thousands additional cancer cases — a completely fictitious number. It could be that there wasn’t even a single case. We simply do not know. […]

The catastrophe began with the explosion of Unit 4 on April 26, 1986. Firefighters tried to extinguish the flames and to cover the open reactor core. Many of the helpers were exposed to extremely high doses of radiation and, by 1998, 39 of them had died as a result.

Whether there was an increase in cancer cases in the area after the accident is an open question, however. The statistics have not proven such a thing: Higher cancer rates in the population have thus far not been determined. […] There is however one exception: Over 6,000 children contracted thyroid cancer after the accident and 15 of them died. A large number of the cases can be tied to the radioactive iodine that the wind carried into the region in the first days. This tumor is, if identified early enough, easily treated.

An increase in thyroid cancer has also been observed in the area surrounding Fukushima’s destroyed nuclear reactor. Last year around 300,000 people who were 18 or younger at the time of the disaster were examined. Researchers found 137 cases. […]

Those who travel to Chernobyl today will feel like they are entering a nature paradise. In the area surrounding the reactor that was the epicenter of the disaster, there are once again wolves and Przewalski horses — and even European bison and lynx have now infiltrated the uninhabited forests. There are probably more animals living in the area than before the disaster. The still-elevated radiation seems to be less damaging to nature than humans are.

{ Der Spiegel | Continue reading }

ink on paper { Keith Haring, Untitled, 1983 }

‘The animal needing something knows how much it needs, the man does not.’ –Democritus

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On 27 July 1890, aged 37, Van Gogh is believed to have shot himself in the chest with a revolver (although no gun was ever found). There were no witnesses and the location where he shot himself is unclear.

Biographer David Sweetman writes that the bullet was deflected by a rib bone and passed through his chest without doing apparent damage to internal organs—probably stopped by his spine. He was able to walk back to the Auberge Ravoux, where he was attended by two physicians. However, without a surgeon present the bullet could not be removed. After tending to him as best they could, the two physicians left him alone in his room, smoking his pipe.

The following morning (Monday), Theo rushed to be with his brother as soon as he was notified, and found him in surprisingly good shape, but within hours Vincent began to fail due to an untreated infection caused by the wound. Van Gogh died in the evening, 29 hours after he supposedly shot himself. According to Theo, his brother’s last words were: “The sadness will last forever.”

Van Gogh’s 2011 biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith argue that van Gogh did not commit suicide but was shot accidentally by a boy he knew who had “a malfunctioning gun.”

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

In 1953, Nicolas de Staël’s depression led him to seek isolation in the south of France. He suffered from exhaustion, insomnia and depression. In the wake of a disappointing meeting with a disparaging art critic on March 16, 1955 he committed suicide. He leapt to his death from his eleventh story studio terrace, in Antibes. He was 41 years old.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

In the spring of 1968, Rothko was diagnosed with a mild aortic aneurysm. Ignoring doctor’s orders, Rothko continued to drink and smoke heavily, avoided exercise, and maintained an unhealthy diet.[…] Meanwhile, Rothko’s marriage had become increasingly troubled, and his poor health and impotence resulting from the aneurysm compounded his feeling of estrangement in the relationship. Rothko and his wife Mell separated on New Year’s Day 1969, and he moved into his studio.

On February 25, 1970, Oliver Steindecker, Rothko’s assistant, found the artist in his kitchen, lying dead on the floor in front of the sink, covered in blood. He had sliced his arms with a razor found lying at his side. The autopsy revealed that he had also overdosed on anti-depressants. He was sixty-six years old.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

art { Nicolas de Stael, Still Life with Hammer, 1954 | Mark Rothko, Untitled (Black on Grey), 1970 }

related { the way we glamorise the suicides of famous artists inhibits our understanding of mental illness }

‘The dead govern the living.’ –Auguste Comte

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Aircraft are an interesting set of examples because they’re so well studied and corrected. We don’t spend time correcting hospital mistakes with nearly the speed and detail we do aircraft accidents, for example.

It used to be that airliners broke up in the sky because of small cracks in the window frames. So we fixed that. It used to be that aircraft crashed because of outward opening doors. So we fixed that. Aircraft used to fall out of the sky from urine corrosion, so we fixed that with encapsulated plastic lavatories. […] And so we add more rules, like requiring two people in the cockpit from now on. Who knows what the mental capacity is of the flight attendant that’s now allowed in there with one pilot, or what their motives are. At some point, if we wait long enough, a flight attendant is going to take over an airplane having only to incapacitate one, not two, pilots. And so we’ll add more rules about the type of flight attendant allowed in the cockpit and on and on.

There’s a wonderful story of the five whys.

The Lincoln Memorial stonework was being damaged. Why? By cleaning spray eroding it. Why? Because it’s used to clean bird poop. So they tried killing the birds. Didn’t work. Why are the birds there? To eat insects. Let’s kill the insects! Didn’t work. Why are the insects there? Because the lights are on after dusk. So let’s just turn the lights off. That works.

{ Steve Coast | Continue reading }

I never meant 2 cause u any sorrow

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Drawing on county-level data from Kansas for the period 1977-2011, we examine whether plausibly exogenous increases in the number of establishments licensed to sell alcohol by the drink are related to violent crime. During this period, 86 out of 105 counties in Kansas voted to legalize the sale of alcohol to the general public for on-premises consumption. We provide evidence that these counties experienced substantial increases in the total number of establishments with on-premises liquor licenses (e.g., bars and restaurants). Using legalization as an instrument, we show that a 10 percent increase in drinking establishments is associated with a 4 percent increase in violent crime. Reduced-form estimates suggest that legalizing the sale of alcohol to the general public for on-premises consumption is associated with an 11 percent increase in violent crime.

{ SSRN }

‘You could die, but the desert would hide the secret of your death, it would remain after you, to cover your memory with ageless wind and heat and cold.’ –John Fante

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Four drug deaths last month in Britain have been blamed on so-called “Superman” pills being sold as Ecstasy, but actually containing PMMA, a synthetic stimulant drug with some MDMA-like effects that has been implicated in a number of deaths and hospitalizations in Europe and the U.S. The “fake Ecstasy” was also under suspicion in the September deaths of six people in Florida and another three in Chicago. An additional six deaths in Ireland have also been linked to the drug.

PMMA, or paramethoxymethamphetamine, causes dangerous increases in body temperature and blood pressure, is toxic at lower doses than Ecstasy, and requires up to two hours in order to take effect. […]

The Spice products—synthetic cannabinoids—are still the most common of the novel synthetic drugs. Hundreds of variants are now on the market. Science magazine recently reported on a UK study in which researchers discovered more than a dozen previously unknown psychoactive substances by conducting urine samples on portable toilets in Greater London.

{ Addiction Inbox | Continue reading }

photo { Todd Papageorge, Studio 54, 1978–80 }

It was Me, L Boogs and Yan Yan, YG, Lucky ride down Rosecrans

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Commercial drone flights are set to become a widespread reality in the United States, starting next year, under a 2012 law passed by Congress. […]

Military drones have slammed into homes, farms, runways, highways, waterways and, in one case, an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane in midair. […]

Several military drones have simply disappeared while at cruising altitudes, never to be seen again. […]

The documents describe a multitude of costly mistakes by remote-control pilots. A $3.8 million Predator carrying a Hellfire missile cratered near Kandahar in January 2010 because the pilot did not realize she had been flying the aircraft upside-down.

{ Washington Post | Continue reading }

Krzysztof, a physics professor, has more faith in computers and logic than in God. It is winter. His son, Pawel, anxious to try out a new pair of skates, asks him if he can go out to the local pond which has just frozen over. Krzysztof determines that the ice is thick enough through a series of scientific calculations. Pawel goes skating, the ice breaks, and he drowns.

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{ Collapse of Antarctic ice sheet is underway and unstoppable but will take centuries | What Caused a 1300-Year Deep Freeze? }

quote { Krzysztof Kieślowski, The Decalogue I, 1988 }

And 5 hours later we up in the hotel like a honeymoon we up in the hotel

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Amnesia comes in distinct varieties. In “retrograde amnesia,” a movie staple, victims are unable to retrieve some or all of their past knowledge—Who am I? Why does this woman say that she’s my wife?—but they can accumulate memories for everything that they experience after the onset of the condition. In the less cinematically attractive “anterograde amnesia,” memory of the past is more or less intact, but those who suffer from it can’t lay down new memories; every person encountered every day is met for the first time. In extremely unfortunate cases, retrograde and anterograde amnesia can occur in the same individual, who is then said to suffer from “transient global amnesia,” a condition that is, thankfully, temporary. Amnesias vary in their duration, scope, and originating events: brain injury, stroke, tumors, epilepsy, electroconvulsive therapy, and psychological trauma are common causes, while drug and alcohol use, malnutrition, and chemotherapy may play a part. […]

When you asked Molaison a question, he could retain it long enough to answer; when he was eating French toast, he could remember previous mouthfuls and could see the evidence that he had started eating it. His unimpaired ability to do these sort of things illustrated a distinction, made by William James, between “primary” and “secondary” memory. Primary memory, now generally known as working memory, evidently did not depend upon the structures that Scoville had removed. The domain of working memory is a hybrid of the instantaneous present and of what James referred to as the “just past.” The experienced present has duration; it is not a point but a plateau. For those few seconds of the precisely now and the just past, the present is unarchived, accessible without conscious search. Beyond that, we have to call up the fragments of past presents. The plateau of Molaison’s working memory was between thirty and sixty seconds long—not very different from that of most people—and this was what allowed him to eat a meal, read the newspaper, solve endless crossword puzzles, and carry on a conversation. But nothing that happened on the plateau of working memory stuck, and his past presents laid down no sediments that could be dredged up by any future presents.

{ The New Yorker | Continue reading }