Weekly round-up

A weekly summary of things we think you might like to know

Is there any future for progressive politics? Earlier this week we published our thoughts on the future of Britain’s Labour Party. Now Dominic Sandbrook covers almost the same ground for the Mail. Why is this important? Because progressive politics are in deep decline in so many countries, not just in the UK. Read it and ask yourself these questions: What real human needs do progressive ideas address? Who do progressives represent? Are graduates really cleverer than school leavers, or do both groups know a lot about different things?

DOMINIC SANDBROOK: Labour isn’t working and will it ever again? | Daily Mail Online

Vaccines go on getting better and better One goal for progressives might be to control Malaria,which has been a curse for milennia. Efforts so far have always been partial, or had unexpected consequences, like DDT. Now there is real hope that a vaccine may at last be getting ahead. Here’s Nature, a glimmer of hope……….

A malaria vaccine called R21 has proved to be 77% effective at preventing the disease in children in a small, early trial. There is one approved malaria vaccine — GlaxoSmithKline’s RTS,S vaccine — but this jab is the first to reach the World Health Organization’s goal of at least 75% efficacy. R21 has been in the works for several years, and it informed the development of the Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which came out of the same group at the University of Oxford. Large-scale phase III trials to prove the vaccine’s safety and efficacy are still to come, but this offers hope for a disease that kills 1,200 people each day, mostly children under 5.BBC | 4 min read
Read more: Building a better malaria vaccine (Nature | 12 min read, from 2019)
Reference: The Lancet pre-print

Beware all or none thinking You can always spot someone who’s going to get it wrong because they oversimplify. You see it every walk of life from politics to public health. One example is from human evolution: how could a small, arboreal ape have decided to step down from the tree and start a new life on the ground without being eaten by lions? The answer is-it didn’t. Early ancestors were mosaic species, living partly in the trees and partly on the ground.Some slowly opened up the ground habitat over more and more generations.When did malaria kick in, though? Nature: Bipedalism didn’t stop us from climbing trees

An analysis of the shoulder girdle of a human ancestor that lived millions of years ago suggests that Australopithecus afarensis retained features that helped it to climb in trees, even after developing the ability to walk on two legs. The shoulder blades belong to a near-complete fossil of a specimen dubbed Little Foot, discovered in South Africa in the 1990s. “We see incontrovertible evidence in Little Foot that the arm of our ancestors at 3.67 million years ago was still being used to bear substantial weight during arboreal movements in trees,” says anatomist Kristian Carlson.Heritage Daily | 5 min read
Reference: Journal of Human Evolution paper

Green Islands A lovely video story of how Denmark is developing windfarms and sustainable energy products on artifical islands. Notice to language teachers- just the sort of teaching material that will get your students learning from Intermediate right up to the most Advanced.

we thank Mr Gary Herbert of Buckinghamshire for this

#labourparty #left #keirstarmer #vaccine #malaria #humanevolution #littlefoot #renewables #windfarms

Friday Night Cocktails:Cherry Brandy

Spring is here, and the cherry blossom is starting to bloom (see above if you don’t believe us). So what better basis for a refreshing spring cocktail than cherry brandy? Before we start, some hard science. Cherry brandy is not just brandy with cherries added as an afterthought. According to that excellent website The Drink Shop:

Rather, most cherry brandies are in fact liqueurs, with most producers macerating their own choice of cherries with the base spirit of vodka before the addition of other enhancing flavours.

And they should know! Recipes for this delicious drink abound on the internet, but we at LSS have always favoured a time-saving bottle of Bols.,Warniks or De Kuyper carefully stacked in our collection. It was a great favourite of King George IV of England, who used to drink gallons of the stuff, according to historians. So yes, you can take it neat or over ice. Be warned-it’s pretty powerful. Safer to dilute the stuff down into longer drinks which you can sip in the shade of a cherry tree, if you are lucky enough to have one. Best not to try public trees in the street, though. You might get some funny looks.

Our old favourite the Singapore Gin Sling makes the best of cherry brandy. Add six ice cubes to your shaker, juice of 1/2 lemon, 1/2 fresh orange, 1 measure cherry brandy, 3 measures of dry gin, 3 drops Angostura bitters, and shake. Pour with cubes to a nicely-chilled hurricane glass and top with ice cold soda water. Decorate with cocktail cherries and lemon slices. Drink with planet-saving paper straws.

For a real pinky cherry blossom ambience, you won’t beat a Cherry Julep. Put five ice cubes to your shaker, juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 teaspoon of grenadine, 1 teaspoon of sugar syrup,1 measure of cherry brandy,1 measure of sloe gin, 2 measures of dry gin. Shake ’em until they rattle, and stand to one side, briefly. Find a medium to long glass generously filled with smashed or chopped ice, and add your mix from the shaker. You won’t be sorry. Sip that with your A la recherche du temps perdu, aesthetes!

Just the cherry: if you are so unfortunate to have run out of cherry brandy, you can still use that old bottle of cocktail cherries that’s been gathering dust in the fridge to decorate any number of other drinks. Of course there are hundreds to choose from: but for today we like the Club, because it’s so easy.

You just put thre ice cubes into a mixing glass, add 2 drops of Angostura Bitters, 1 measure of good scotch whisky,and a dash of grenadine. Stir, but don’t shake, as Mr Bond used to say. Now pour into a cocktail glass. Decorate with a spiral of lemon and a cocktail cherry on a stick. ( A cocktail stick, not one from a cherry tree)

We wish you all a happy friday night.

All recipes are derived from The Ultimate Cocktail Book, published by Hamlyn. We strongly reccomend this tome

Cherry Brandy : TheDrinkShop.com

#cherrybrandy #cherry #cocktails

The Dangers of Groupthink

A philosophical friend of ours attributes many of the ills of the world not to human evil, but to Groupthink. You’ve probably heard of the word, but as we are about to make so many crucial decisions collectively-the environment, economy and the future of football come to mind-it might be worth taking a couple of minutes to examine this phenomenon again.

Groupthink was first characterised by pioneering American Psychologist Irving Janis. Psychology Today defines it as:

Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when a group of well-intentioned people makes irrational or non-optimal decisions spurred by the urge to conform or the belief that dissent is impossible.

We link to the full article below. * It’s a lovely starting point, raising questions of why it happens, how it happens and laying out some of the disastrous consequences. Well, you should read it, but to make sure that you do, we are going to set you two little exercises.

Here’s the link

Groupthink | Psychology Today

exercise one: Have you ever worked in a place where you believe that groupthink was going on around you? Did it lead to some bad decisions?

exercise two: here’s a list of some of the worst blunders ever,* from that excellent website How Stuff Works. You’ll notice they are from many areas including business, medicine and history. How many would you attribute to groupthink, or are there other factors as well?

10 of the Worst Decisions Ever Made | HowStuffWorks

Here is a sure way to keep your groupthinking levels low: read more of Psychology Today and How Stuff Works. What admirable websites!

#groupthink #psychology #irvingjanis #decisionmaking #error #blunder

Unloved Labour’s Loss

UK elections are approaching fast and Labour, Britain’s mildly left, progressive party, is in for another drubbing. OK, they might win a few seats. But not to be sweeping everywhere is a drubbing indeed. Not that we wish to insult our Tory readers, but eleven years of rule has hardly been successful, to say the least. But there’s a deeper problem- a thriving opposition keeps the Government honest. Most of our current prooblems stem from the fact that the Conservative Party cannot see itself losing power-and rightly so. So why does Labour keep losing-and is it just in the UK? We have two great links for you to The Atlantic * and Open Democracy*, but here are some possible reasons:

The Tory Press The British Press, largely owned by expatriate billionaires, is indeed a deeply biased,shrill and aggressive trumpet of their interests. Adept at playing on the deepest ignorances and prejudices of its ageing readership, it acts like a colossal brake on any kind of forward thinking enterprise. However, progressive forces in the past found ways to overcome this “home advantage.” And anyway-why don’t more people buy more “progressive” newspapers? Verdict-an excuse, not a reason

Collapse of the Left wing Project Starting with George Orwell, it slowly became clear that the Marxist project was not a glorious path to the Emancipation of Humankind, but rather a sure way to erect ghastly murderous tyrannies. Even milder cases, like Venezuela and Cuba are far from shining examples of liberty and prosperity. Verdict– a new definition of “progress” is needed.

The Poor and the workers are not the same thing Once upon a time the poor did most of the work and produced most of the wealth. It was right on moral and economic grounds to transfer money to them from the wealthy. Nowdays large numbers of poor people-pensioners, the long term sick and disabled, for example- are in receipt of large financial transfers from other sectors of the economy. There is a strong moral and humanitarian case that this is right. But however brutal the fact, they are not actually producing. Verdict a government is not the local Social Services Department.

It’s about identity stupid. The collapse of class based politics (see above) and the rise of globalisation has left millions profoundly anxious about who they are, and why they exist. Nationalism and religion provide emotionally satisfying answers, particularly to those whose pride has been deeply wounded. Hence the rise of Muslim fundamentalism and far right identitarians like the Proud Boys. Thinkers like Eric Kaufman and Amy Chua have explored this in depth. Of course progressives deplore tribalism. But to deny it it exists as a fundamental driving urge is to make the same mistake as Puritans who tried to deny sex, with the same disastrous consequences. Verdict Progress must be universal, but most people don’t think universally

Surprisingly, we think progressives have been winning the intellectual arguments for more than ten years now, as the research of Thomas Piketty and Wilkinson and Pickett demonstrate. And if workers confine themselves behind national walls while capital roams free, the conditions of the former are unlikely to improve substantially. The key is to show people that it is in their interests to reach out.

How Culture Killed the Labour Party – The Atlantic

Why does England vote Tory? | openDemocracy

Eric Kaufman Whieshift

Amy Chua Political Tribes

Thomas Piketty Capital inthe 21st century

Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson The Spirit Level

#labour #capital #inequality #LabourParty #ConservativeParty #progress #socialism #progress #Left #Right

Microbes-known to be unknown

What made the Black Death so terrifying was that people had no idea of what caused it. No concept of micro organisms like bacteria, viruses and fungi. So, short of a few prayers and rituals there was nothing to be done except hide or run away. Neither were of much use according to the mortality figures. Twenty first century people think we know so much more than medievals, on things like microbiology, physics, chemistry, technology, you name it. But, before you get all smug, are there vast areas of knowledge which we have overlooked? Or, more scarily-we don’t know that we don’t know, to paraphrase the thoughts of the immortal Donald Rumsfeld?

Take microbiology for example. The last year has been an object lesson in our ignorance of zoonotic diseses. If you want to know the cost of ignorance, ask your local finance minister. Now Patrick Greenfield of The Guardian raises the intriguing possibility that we know very little indeed about microbiology in general. It may be a serious omission. Microbes produce oxygen. They keep the soils and oceans working, recycling everything that humans and animals breathe and eat. Anyone who likes beer, wine, bread, yoghurt or cheese should be very concerned indeed about microorganisms. So even very small changes in theplanet’s vast microbial community could be very significant indeed. Here’s Patrick’s killer quote:

But despite their importance to human life and the health of the Earth, a new scientific paper has shown our “profound ignorance” of microbial biodiversity and how it is changing.

We at LSS rarely take a personal view. But for a long time, humanity has been extracting all kinds of poisons which were hitherto safely locked up in the rocks and spewing them into the environment, These include lead, cadmium, arsenic,mercury and chromium. All washed innocently into the land and sea, and all likely to have a deadly effect on our microbial chums. Could a little of the money used to buy football players be better spent elsewhere?

Microbes are ‘unknown unknowns’ despite being vital to all life, says study | Microbiology | The Guardian

Frontiers | Is Global Microbial Biodiversity Increasing, Decreasing, or Staying the Same? | Ecology and Evolution (frontiersin.org)

#microbes #bacteria #ecology #pollution #toxicmetals ##virus #fungi

Round Up of the week:brain structure,food and that wretched virus again

Our weekly round up things we think might still be important five years from now.

Brain architecture. Sometimes small clues lead to mighty discoveries. Secondly, when you discover a small but consistent pattern in everyones’ brain, you’re probably on to something deep in neural architecture, whatever that something is. The way the brain processes words and numbers differently has always fascinated. One for more research-and this time Nature gives us a video! Human brains struggle to subtract

When solving problems, people tend to think about adding something before they think of taking something away — even when subtracting is the better solution. Experiments show that this newly discovered psychological phenomenon applies across a range of situations, from improving a physical design to solving an abstract puzzle.Nature | 6 min video
Reference: Nature paper

When food was politics Even if you can’t get to Spain this year, here’s a story which will resonate. When the Christians conquered Granada in 1492, they tried to ban the locals from eating Muslim food. But locals carried on defiantly in secret, as archaeology now shows. Here’s The Conversation with a a great food story:


Coronavirus variants A year of experience shows that letting the coronavirus rip only leads to mutations and more infections. What are variants, and how do they work? Nature tells us below in a video called the Science of Coronavirus Variants

SARS-CoV-2 variants are complicated: each one is made up of a collection of mutations, all of which have the potential to change the virus in unexpected ways. A Nature video explores what they might mean for the future of the pandemic.Nature | 6 min video (on YouTube)

Weaning people off cars How do you get people out of gas-guzzlers and can you make them more healthy as you do it? There are different approaches. Here El Pais contasts the French approach, which is to get us all on bikes, with the Spanish who seem to be staking their all on electric cars. Does this reflect a cultural difference, we wonder?


warning- English followers will need their translation apps for this one

#brain #thinking #coronavirus #covid-19 #sars-cov-2 #pandemic #herdimmunity #spain #muslim #christian #food #granada #electricbicycles #greentransport

Friday Night: deconstructing the text with cocktails

Reading novels is tough work even when you’re sober. All those names! All those plotlines! All that worrying if the Heroine and the Hero are going to get it together by the end of the book. And now all these academics come along saying it isn’t enough just to read a book, you have to deconstruct its meaning. There are things like semiotics, symbolism and subalterns. There are Marxist readings, feminist readings, structuralists, post modernists and goodness knows who else who all seem to know more about everything than the actaul author of the book did. It’s enough to make you give up reading and take up a field sport like clay pigeon shooting. And paint all the targets with names like DERRIDA, LACAN and BAUDRILLARD, just to have the pleasure of exploding their theories.

So now we’ve come up with an alternative-a drinker’s reading of the text. And just to start you off, we’ve chosen that old favourite: The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. The plot as usual, is a bit confusing. The Hero, Gatsby, lives on a penninsular near Long Island, and still fancies some old flame whose name we can’t remember, who lives on a nearby penninsular. She in turn is married to a bloke called Tom who, to put it politely,is having an affair with a woman called Myrtle, whose husband is, understandably, a bit miffed. Don’t worry too much-the point is that , in order to win the affections of his lost love, Gatsby throws the most amazing parties where everyone wears great clothes and drinks cocktails until they fall over. Educated readers will recall the last lot of twenties as a whirlwind of Jazz, flappers, fast cars prohibition, cocktails, gangsters, ocean liners and aviation records. And Fitzgerald’s masterwork puts you right in there, clinking glasses with the likes of Babe Ruth and Rudolf Valentino, as ’twere. You don’t think anyone obeyed Prohibition, do you? It was just like the drug laws today.

We’ve found an amazing site called Great Drinksby, * where you can choose from amazing specials of the roaring twenties like Long Island Iced Tea, Manhattan , Mint Julep and lots, lots more. And to help it down a video of the old Gershwin classic I’ll make a New step to Paradise sung by the incredibly cool Mr Rufus Wainwright. * So the next time some deluded intellectual tries to draw you into textual exegesis, tell them that you prefer the drinkers road to textual deconstruction. Cheers!

Great Gatsby? Great Drinksby! Top 10 Roaring ’20s Cocktails – E! Online

#thegreatgatsby #cocktails #longisland #manhattan #fscottfitzgerald #postmodernism

John Locke, and the limitations of our time

If you had asked Thomas Jefferson who were his three top thinkers he would have replied Newton, Francis Bacon and John Locke. We chose this week’s hero because when we looked him up,we found he illustrated something very profound, but also very trite, about heroes and about people in general.

Jefferson was right. Locke is a towering figure by any standards. leave aside that he was an excellent teacher and doctor. His Two Treatises of Government had a profound effect on the Founding Fathers of he United States. His contributions to philosophy are immense, effortlessly bridging Bacon and Spinoza, and thereby opening the way to the marvellous Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. His writings against slavery, in favour of religious toleration and for liberalism in general seem to lie at the root of the modern world. His contributions to economic theory were far from negligible.

Yet this anti slaver by night was a keen instigator of the dreadful slave codes of South Carolina in his day job. This founder of liberalism advocated compulsory work for the children of the poor from age three onwards, to tap their productivity and instil a healthy work ethic. Enterprising readers will no doubt find many more examples of how he was not an all round nice guy of the sort so beloved of Hollywood movies. Few great men and women are. Few ordinary people are. Locke had a living to earn, and like the rest of us was a child of his times. if he saw amazingly clearly on some issues, then that is to his credit. If he took things for granted that we now find odd or barbaric, he is not alone. It wasn’t so very long ago that smoking was seen as normal, admirable, and a certain guarantor of both public wisdom and private virtue.There are many today who would love to use his faults to close down his work. They are the enemies, the sorts that fill up the academies and secret police departments in totalitarian states. Locke and his followers discussed ideas, not people. They did all the good stuff in History.

John Locke – Wikipedia

#locke #empricism #liberalism #philosophy #americanrevolution #foundingfathers #politicaltheory

RNA spells new hope

Once, long ago in the far off mists of history (about AD 2001) all the smart talk was DNA. Remember the human genome project? How it would solve all crimes? Epigenetics? * CRISPR? Alright, it is good stuff still. But now there’s a new kid on the block. Astute readers may recall how DNA has a Cinderella sister called RNA, hitherto relegated to a fetch and carry role for its snooty sister. Now poor old RNA may be about to step forward to a leading role in medicine, giving us all longer, healthier lives.

We allknow how the latest generation of vaccines against COVID-19 are based on RNA. And we can be pretty sure that RNA vaccines are only going to get better. Now the Conversation‘s Oliver Rogoyski explains how it could be a major way ahead in drug development and diagnostics. It’s a nice little read. And once again, it illustrates a nice little point: thinking hard about solutions is usually more productive than wailing about how bad everything is.


For those who want to know more about genetics this series of books by Nessa Carey is agreat starting point

#rna #dna #medicine #vaccines #covid-19 #nessacarey

Has Quantum Computing hit a snag?

By now, LSS regulars can cite our Three Big Things For The Future by heart. They are Artificial Intelligence (AI) Quantum Computing (QC) and CRISPR (no, we’re not going there). As every schoolchild will know, AI and CRISPR are swimming along nicely. And last year (LSS 24 June 2020) we enthused about the latest achievements of the QC crowd. It seemed only a matter of months before there would be a Quantum Computer in every home, running the washing machine, cutting the lawn and solving all those irritating mathematical paradoxes you had never quite got round to.

As anyone who has tried to build a quantum computer in their garage will tell you, one of the best things you can have is a Majorana particle. Or even two, if you can get hold of them. And that’s where the rot has started. Controversy over their detection, production, measurement, recording and writing up for journals is now ruffling feathers across the whole field. What such a particle is, and what is going on is well explained in the link to the Nature Briefings article Quantum Computing’s reproducibility crisis below:

A shadow has fallen over the race to detect a new type of quantum particle, the Majorana fermion, that could power quantum computers. Controversy over experiments that initially claimed to have detected Majorana particles — but remain unconfirmed — is eroding confidence in the field, says physicist Sergey Frolov, who calls for more accountability and openness from researchers and journal editors.Nature | 9 min read

It’s the sort of crisis that has beset every new field of applied science since the Industrial Revolution, and will be loved by economic historians and Hegelians alike, for obvious reasons. Our advice has always been the same too: don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.

Quantum computing and quantum supremacy, explained | WIRED UK

#quantumcomputing #quantumphysics #appliedscience #technology #fermion #majorana