Neanderthals show us how to fight off Alzheimers (with some help from Jimmy Osmond)

It’s January and the media is full of New Year Resolution tropes. How to Manage your Money better. How to Lose Weight. How to Drink Less. (that’s a bit cheeky from a journalist!) A big favourite this year is how to ward off dementia and Alzheimers, which we found in the Daily Mail. Though why their readership might be interested we cannot imagine. And one of the tips we found in there was: keep your brain alive. Challenge it with new things. So dare we, gentle readers, add our own voice, a sort of friendly suggestion, in this general spirit of helpfulness?

If you really want to keep your brain alive, remember that everything you learned fifty years ago is probably wrong, or at least stands in need of serious revision. Let’s take Neanderthals as an example. Fifty years ago they had a terrible press. Nasty, stupid, primitive and utterly without learning in Sciences or the Liberal Arts was how they came across. The very word “Neanderthal” was used as a term of abuse. To describe the supporters of certain football clubs in South East London, for example. Now all this prejudice has been upended, as this article [1] by Paul Pettitt of The Conversation explains. Alright, there were no galleries, art critics or summer shows. But there was plenty of art for art’s sake, and that’s what really counts. Combine that with the genetic discoveries of the ingenious Dr Paabo and you get the picture of a close relative that was hardly different at all.

What’s true in Paleontology is probably true for most things: Economics. Information Technology, Medicine, anything really. Take music for example, and look at our link to the UK chart from this day in 1973 [2] Did Little Jimmy Osmond really say the last word in music? Do you still listen to Blockbuster by The Sweet? If so, how often? Do your grandchildren, and great grandchildren, greet Wizzard‘s Ball Park Incident with the same enthusiasm as you do? If you really want to keep those old grey cells alive, start by questioning everything you know. And keep going.

[1]https://theconversation.com/neanderthals-the-oldest-art-in-the-world-wasnt-made-by-homo-sapiens-194113?ut

[2] https://www.officialcharts.com/charts/singles-chart/19730114/7501/

#dementia #alzheimers #neanderthal #art #little jimmy osmond

Poverty and mental health: the implications are enormous

We’ve always suspected a connection between stress and health on these pages (LSS passim). And sharper minds than our own have long advocated a link between the stresses of poverty (hunger, violence, cold etc) and later mental health outcomes. A flick through the literature reveals a torrent of studies; this example from Sage is just a jumping-off point [1] But this excerpt from it summarises the situation admirably:

While a link exists between poverty and mental health, little is known about how experiencing material hardship, such as insecurity of food, housing, utilities, and medical care, throughout early childhood affects adolescent mental health.

So far, our learning is statistical and inferential, and those with a vested interest in maintaining these deep inequalities can hade behind the fact that no individual case can be causatively linked to the general problem. Much as they did with tobacco addiction and climate change, in fact.

But researchers in the United States are on the verge of establishing a direct and demonstrable neural pathway which explains the phenomenon. Writing in New Scientist, Grace Wade explains how researchers at UC Irvine are working on a direct link between the basolateral amygdala, the brain organ that mediates stress stimuli, and the Nucleus accumbens, the region that deals in pleasure reward all things dopamine-related. [2] It’s early days and so far the studies have only been done in mice. But if proved the implications for how we organise our societies are profound indeed.

Because up to now, the dominant political modality has been that tolerating enormous inequalities is worth it, because of the favourable outcomes it produces. Let the rich get as rich as they possibly can: if the rest exist in a hungry, stressed-out netherworld, that’s too bad- they’re still better off than they would have been otherwise. But if all society can do is turn out a race of stunted, damaged individuals, what quality of life is that? What’s more: a provable demonstrable pathway gives grounds for legal suits against the advocates and operators of such systems. Those who own right wing news channels, newspapers or fund “free market” think tanks will need to act quickly to suppress this research, discredit its authors and distract attention from it as quickly as possible. Where would they be if we solved poverty and global warming?

Warning: some of these links are a bit paywalled, and may require registering or other fiddly stuff

[1]https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0044118X211001896

[2] https://www.newscientist.com/article/2353702-we-may-now-know-how-childhood-adversity-leaves-its-mark-on-the-brain/

[3] https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.07.28.454015v1

for a general read on the effects of inequality and poor health we recommend The Spirit Level byRichard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett Penguin 2009, which we’ll link to via Goodreads, to keep things fair and equal, as t’were

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6304389-the-spirit-level

#mental health #environment #poverty #inequality #neurology #dopamine

Will 2023 be the last year you enjoy privacy?

Remember 1999? The internet was pretty cool then wasn’t it? Everyone went on to show how advanced they were over fuddy-duddy old newspapers and holiday bookings, or to look for lost loves, who turned out be a little tired and aged-looking, to put it mildly. Since when, we have all blithely loaded everything-bank and financial records, medical reports, legal documents, and gigabytes of sensitive commercial information. A whole technology has grown up to support this need, with bits like satellites, clouds, servers, cables and all kinds of tecchy stuff that only people with serious deficits in their social lives can understand. And all of it protected by cryptographic algorithms, which are entirely proof against hacking and cracking. Or so their creators blithely assure us.

Up to now, that is. Because the power of Quantum Computing [1] is soon going to be so awesome that it will slice through current defences faster than a journalist through a bottle of gin. We’ve a couple of links to bring you up to speed today, including an excellent baseline articles by David Castelvecchi for Nature. [2] We’ll let our experts expound on the technical stuff, because what we want to do here is concentrate on the social implications. Clearly no company, institution or Government Department is going to be safe. As for individuals- your bank accounts savings and identity documents will all be wide open. So will e mails and posts on things like whatsapp. You may have undergone medical procedures which are unknown to current partners or employers. Visited web sites or carried out searches which were entirely private. They will not be so any longer. Intimate pictures of friends and family, even addresses will be public. And if you’re thinking “I’ll be careful in the future, but no one will see what I’ve done up to now”, think again. As David points out, teams of hackers are already gathering data on everything that’s already going on, so they can break it when the quantum algorithms become available. And when we consider that the best and most ruthless hacking teams are based in Russia and its satellite nations, we cannot assume this power will be used for the good.

Could any good come of this? According to a leading entrepreneur in computer technologies told us that 25% of the world’s power consumption goes on the internet. If it collapsed, that might get us a long way nearer our targets on global warming. Something to think about indeed.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_computing

[2] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00339-5

#quantum computing #algorithms #encryption #privacy #hacking #cyber security

Weekly Round Up: Predictions, Essays, Conspiracies, Bees

interesting items from a week of news

Saw it coming? Did Exxon Mobile know all along about climate change? Could they, should they, have said “hey, guys-there might be a problem here!” a little more loudly? Try this from the BBC

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-64241994

Write me a thousand word essay.….ever since the dawn of time, schoolchildren everywhere have groaned beneath the burden of those dread words. Even when they took you for a day out at the Natural History Museum or Sandown Races, the teachers at our school could not resist spoiling everything with that baleful command. Now comes a machine which ends all that drudgery. We say: what’s not to like? The Guardian is a little more nuanced, however:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/jan/13/chatgpt-explainer-what-can-artificial-intelligence-chatbot-do-ai

Conspiracy Antidote? It’s not what people say they believe. it’s the deep psychological reasons about why they try to believe it that is the problem. A truth George Orwell realised more than eighty years ago. The Conversation has ideas about how we might start to tackle this major problem of out time.

https://theconversation.com/bullying-power-and-control-why-people-believe-in-conspiracy-theories-and-how-to-respond-194227?utm_med

Bee aware No bees equals no pollination equals no crops equals starvation. It’s as stark as that. Now at least there is some hope that humanity is paying attention to the plight of our buzzing friends,to whom we have done so much to harm. Here’s Nature, First Vaccine for Bees

The world’s first honeybee vaccine has been approved in the United States. It prevents American foulbrood, a highly contagious bacterial disease that reduces larvae to brown goo. The vaccine contains a dead version of the bacteria, and is incorporated into the royal jelly that worker bees feed to the queen. The queen deposits the vaccine in her ovaries, which gives the developing larvae immunity.The New York Times | 5 min read

Medical Disputes As the UK is racked by disputes between Government and medical unions, we thought that Mr Rishi Sunak might like this one from Robert Palmer, before he and they go into the negotiations, or get round the table, or whatever it’s called. “doctor, doctor, give me the news” the PM might well say

#chatbot #global warming #climate change #big oil #AI #bees #agriculture #conspiracy

Drinks Night: St Benedict and Moist January

LSS is not an influencer website and receives no reimbursement, financial or otherwise, from products mentioned herein

When St Benedict of Nursia founded his Order around AD 500, he did so in an intensely practicable way As Professor Davis[1] tells us, before Benedict had his way monasticism was more like a reckless competition for feats of endurance among lonely ascetics, with little regard for the practical aspects of life , or how it might benefit the wider community. But by reducing the severity of the rules, and making community life more agreeable, Benedict founded an order which became the guardian of learning, and a considerable refuge of economic know-how, throughout the Middle Ages.

There was in fact a spirit of humanity in St Benedicts Rule: it did not attempt to make the monastic life more difficult than was necessary (p71)

Now all of us know we must cut back from the excesses of the recent holiday period. And there has been much discussion of the so-called “dry January” whose acolytes are enjoined to eschew the demon booze for the whole calendar month. But-is it feasible? Is it practicable? What would St Benedict have said? It is in his spirit therefore that we avow the institution of a moist January, when drinks are modest and restraint at a premium. And we instituted a survey of friends and readers to see what they thought and suggested.

A number of Christian readers opined that there was no need for a dry January at all, citing the Miracle at Cana (John 1:32) as proof that wine may be enjoyed in moderation at all seasons. Those of other faiths, or none, had thoughts as well. Bill from Kent recommended Schonhoffer wheat Beer at a modest 2%. Lindsay, who also hails from England’s garden, offers the whole Majestic Wines website https://www.majestic.co.uk. They seem to have a whole range of low alcohol stuff. Jill of Fulham points us to the free newspaper put out by the Waitrose chain of supermarkets, tps://www.waitrose.com/ecom/shop/browse/groceries/beer_wine_and_spirits/low_alcohol_and_alcohol_free_drinks A view at least partially endorsed by Morag of West Sussex. Margaret of Dorset liked Beck’s Blue lager. If you must “Go Total” then Gaynor of London suggests Badoit water, while Nigel of Sutton Coldfield suggested Gordon’s Alcohol free Gin. Alcohol free Gin and Tonic ? To us it’s like the Himalayas with no Yeti. Something rather special is missing, however good the other parts might be. Finally Karen of Sussex chimes in the two beers: Erdinger and Bud Light.

Well ,that is just a cut-down version of our vast international intercontinental survey. Whichever Rule you decide to follow, Dry, Moist or Standard, we wish you a happy weekend and welcome to the First Friday Night of this New Year.

[1] RHC Davis A History of Medieval Europe Longman 1989

#dry january

Drivers, will you remember Louis Thorold?

Recently driving on a narrow strip of road in Sussex, England, we noticed that someone had vandalised the 40mph road safety signs. To what sort of person is a little road safety so objectionable that they must spend their time doing that, when there are so many important things in the world? Perhaps Louis Thorold could have answered, had he lived. But he was killed at the age of five months in a motor accident [1]

Libby Brooks has the full story here in the Guardian. We’ll let you read it for yourselves, together with the work of the Louis Thorold Foundation, which his parents have set up in its memory [2] It aims to campaign for every measure which might reduce roadside mortality. That there might never be another case like Louis’. Good luck with that one. For they are up against the Cult of the Car which Libby describes as

the legacy of a car-is-king culture promoted since the 1960s by manufacturers, road designers and motorists’ organisations. 

who have of course used their power to object to every rational measure of road safety introduced ever since. Older British readers will recall the furore they caused when a sensible minister called Barbara Castle introduced a few restrictions on drunken driving in 1967. Followed by the outrage at the introduction of 70mph speed limits on our motorways. More recently there were digs at speed cameras from bloated loudmouths using their bully pulpits in press and TV to try to suggest that the little boxes did not cut road accidents. They do [3].

Strange to say in the light of the foregoing, we like cars at LSS. We love the style and ingenuity of their designs. Some of them. The freedom they give to discover the world. The way a motoring culture binds so many into a democratic network of “wayfarers all” where everyone on the motorway or at a service area is a common man, or woman however fleetingly. We hope and believe that clever engineers and scientists will quite soon find ways to reduce the ecological impact of these flawed but still wondrous devices. What we object to is the way that lives can be ruined because some confuse an obsession for haste with a love of liberty. Please readers can you donate to the memory of Louis?

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jan/12/baby-killed-car-parents-road-deaths-louis-thorold-foundation

[2]https://www.louisthorold.com/

[3]https://www.axa.ie/articles/driving/do-speed-cameras-reduce-serious-road-accidents/

#louis thorold #road safety #speed cameras #cars #transport #barbara castle #drink driving

What shall we call the next type of human?

News that a new type of artificial pancreas has been developed does not surprise us. [1] Andrew Gregory covers it here for the Guardian, [1] but it’s the longer term trends that interest here .

The idea of artificial bits to replace failing organs of the human body is not new. It’s grown from primitive beginnings; think of the wooden legs and hands beloved of pirates and other pre-industrial types. The invention of devices like spectacles and hearing aids took the process a little further. A glance at Wikipedia[2] reveals a veritable cornucopia of functioning body parts such as hearts, limbs, lungs and testes. Complex neurological engineering on things like eyes and brains is starting to break down the barriers between living tissue and technology. Advances in gene-editing techniques (LSS passim) take the whole process down to a more fundamental level.

The science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke speculated on species which, starting out as flesh and blood animals like ourselves, slowly transformed. Firstly into hybrid machine-biological entities, and finally into beings of pure energy, with unimaginable powers of reason and knowledge. If so, the old Homo sapiens branding may no loner be applicable. So how about some new names for a new being? Homo Cyborgensis? Homo terminatorensis? We’d love to learn your thoughts.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/jan/10/nhs-england-artificial-pancreas-type-1-diabetes

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_organ

#prosthetics #genetic engineering #future #cyborg

Strikes Ban: Short term good, long term bad?

Foreign readers may not have noticed, but the UK has recently been plagued by a series of labour disputes, resulting in a chronic series of strikes and other actions. Whether public or private sector, all tend to occur in heavily “public-facing” sectors like railways, healthcare, law and education. LSS is not going to get involved in the rights and wrongs. Feelings in such matters always run high, and each side will have its case to put. But we might consider the long term consequences of a particular action by the British Government,as we think it might have wider implications.

For this Government has introduced legislation which will effectively emasculate the right to withdraw labour across a wide variety of these sectors[1] On the face of it, it’s an attractive idea. It will be popular with much of the public, many of whom are seriously inconvenienced when people like nurses or railway workers strike. The Government claims that similar legislation exists in certain European countries, which guarantees minimum service levels. And removing the bargaining power of large groups of workers could in theory effectively reduce the levels of pay inflation. What’s not to like?

Our doubts start with the last point. Yes, this legislation may well crush pay levels for nurses, dragging them down further in ancillary professions like health care, social work and housing. But what are the consequences of creating a vast, impoverished network of overworked, usually female, wage-slaves? The long term effects of chronic poverty are well known: low efficiency, low productivity and poor educational outcomes, which is passed on down the generations. There is little incentive to invest in new technologies, such as robotics and AI. Britain will drift further back technologically, and therefore culturally. This has happened before: the late nineteenth century saw low wage, low investment Britain fall behind its competitors in key sectors like metallurgy, textiles and shipbuilding. A poor hungry proletariat is not the raw material from which future progress may be forged.

The American writer Gore Vidal once observed that “England’s problems stem from an ancient, unsolved class war.” That war has not gone away, and continued efforts to fight it will result in continued bad outcomes. For both sides.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-64219016?at_link_id=F166DD7E

#trades unions #uk government #nurses #low pay #railways #strikes #class war #gore vidal

Getting Old? The reason may be hiding in your genes

Juan Carlos Izpisua is the Lionel Messi of molecular genetics. A world beater who left his homeland to lift his laurels in the top professional locations in the world. For Messi, that was FC Barcelona, followed by PSG. For Izpisua, it it is currently the Altos Labs in California, the world capital of biology. Oh, and they both speak Spanish, by the way.

Ippy is 62 now, which is even older than Messi. But he thinks he knows why this is. It’s called endogenous retroviruses and according to Manuel Ansede of El Pais [1] they make up no less than 8% of your genome. Molecular fossils if you will, that have got in there from somewhere else and are now getting a free ride. And one of them, the snappily named HERV K(HML-2) may be directly infecting the processes that make you old. At least, according to old Ippy it does, But don’t worry-he’s investigating the causes and hopes to do something about the whole mess quite soon.

And just like PSG has the top guns in football, this Altos Labs outfit seems to deploy a roll call of the absolute world top guns in Molecular Biology, as Manuel makes plain. It’s not the only hang-out for people of this sort in California. There’s whole clusters of them around the Salk Institute, UCLA and other institutions dotted around places like San Diego. It’s a perfect example of the potent mix of universities, research institutes and dynamic entrepreneurs which we think are the most potent engines of human progress you can get. It’s a theme we shall be returning to in later blogs. In the meantime-hats of to Izpisua and all his teams, and let’s wish them many more happy discoveries before they get old.

[1] https://elpais.com/ciencia/2023-01-06/virus-ancestrales-integrados-en-el-adn-humano-resucitan-y-promueven-el-envejecimiento.html

Englishpersons- you’ll need the ol’ translator for this one

[2]https://altoslabs.com/

#Izpisua #molecular genetics #ageing #cancer #California

Weekly Round up: Spanish Dinners, American Reform, Indian Measles, British Research, and a French Song

Interesting stories from the week gone by

Spanish Dinners How can you find out what people are really think? Spanish Mayor Michel Montaner has one answer. Every night he goes to dinner with a different family of his constituents. As the Rioja and Paella kick in, people drop their inhibitions and tell him what’s really on their minds. But what would English people really say if Rishi Sunak dropped in for a curry and a glass of Cobra?

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jan/07/no-topic-off-table-spanish-mayor-hearing-voters-out-over-dinner

Time to stop the steal American readers: why does Wyoming (population 581.381) get the same number of Senators as California (population 39 538, 223)? How come Donald Trump beat Hilary Clinton in 2016, although he had 2 868 686 less votes? Could one tiny part of the answer lie in the reform of the so called Electoral College, that strange machine whose sole purpose seems to be to baffle foreign TV viewers on Election Night? Thanks to P Seymour

https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/msnbc-opinion/jamie-raskin-right-electoral-college-threatens-democracy-rcna63346

Indian Measles There is one ineradicable truth. If you ignore science, you get poor outcomes. Certain regions of India have always had low vaccination rates, and the result is a mass outbreak of measles, a disease which could have been eradicated by now. Not that India is unique in denigrating the experts. We remember a certain popular British “newspaper” leading the charge against vaccines here in the 2000s, with appropriately baleful results. Nature Briefings, Measles Outbreaks threaten eradication

Large measles outbreaks, centred mostly in four cities, mean India is set to miss its self-imposed deadline of eliminating the disease by 2023. The country already had persistently low immunization rates when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted measles vaccination campaigns. Between 2019 and 2021, only 56% of children received both doses of the measles vaccine by the time they were 3 years old.Nature | 5 min read

LSS gets smug Well, we can’t help it. Because our old doctrine that “research in one one field usually has spin offs in others” was never more true than this story. Remember Covid-19 and the success of mRNA vaccines? Now this same class of vaccine may be effective against some types of tumours. We’re in early days. But next time someone down the Dog and Duck spouts off about tax cuts, you point out the advantages of a little spending on education.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-64176038

This week’s song Medieval music is its own treasure house of sounds, but can be a little forbidding for newcomers. As a way in we offer this old French song S’on me Regarde, which probably dates form the thirteenth century,as the melody and harmonies will not be unpleasing to the modern ear

#democracy #spain #electoral college #usa #uk mRNA #India #measles #medieval music