applied science social commentary xcience

Revivification News During Easter Week

An interesting collision of science news and religious holy days took place this past week.

While the Christian world got ready to observe Easter, remembering how Jesus was executed and then resurrected, the world of Science was announcing the cellular reanimation of hours-dead pig brains. (Nature, MedicalExpress)

Nothing divine was going on with the reanimated pig brains – the researchers were just checking a hunch. They have been working with tissue taken from brains, dead ones of course. The fact that the tissue is from dead animals and is isolated in 2D sheets instead of in a 3D matrix of neural tissue, like it normally is, presents problems. Such as: How do you know the results aren’t being affected in some way by these limitations? Are the results from studies applicable to living specimens?

To further complicate studies dead tissue has biochemical processes happening that change the very things being studied in a short time. It was inevitable that compounds would be developed to perfuse the tissue to try to maintain some semblance of the chemical environment that the tissue was in while still in a living creature. The blood replacement they used in this particular lab they call BrainEx (for Ex Vivo).

What they noticed was that even after hours of being ‘dead’ the tissue showed signs of cellular viability. So they devised a simple test – through a hog processing company they got access to a few heads from recently killed pigs. After extracting the brains they perfused them with the Brainex solution. And what they found has many many people wondering . . . neural cellular integrity was preserved, some neuronal, glial, and vascular cellular functionality was restored.

They didn’t see any evidence of global, coordinated neural activity so while the parts might have limited restored functionality the brain itself wasn’t switched back on in any real sense. But this is just a first step . . . who knows where it might lead? Just like in the old Brer Rabbit story I’m guessing it will become a tarbaby that will lead us into a philosophical and ethical thorny briar patch. (and I just mentioned the issues around using that term in a recent post)

Some of the easy ones to predict are: when can we say the creature is really dead? Or a human? For those jurisdictions that use brain death as a determining factor – will they revised ‘when’ that can be said to take place with finality? What about the stock in cryogenic-suspension companies that only preserve the head – will that go up? What does Dead really mean? I’m sure others will come up with more.

So while all the wannabe Doctor Frankensteins of the world have some hope . . . I’m wondering if next Easter some people will be replacing that Bunny with a Piggy. After all this aspect has nothing seriously connecting it with the religious event (and is likely pagan inspired) and neither animal lays eggs.

social commentary

History Herstory Makes Monetary Misery

Nothing kills a joke like having to explain it. And if the joke has anything off-colour about it that can see it called into question at some later date in a completely non-comedic context then that joke becomes a sin and anyone who has retold it becomes a sinner.

Welcome to the Future.

Anything of any cultural significance with an age older than 30 years ago is suspect. Anyone who performed any time before 30 years ago is a potential risk for public institutions to be associated with.

Case in point: Kate Smith, “The First Lady of Radio”, “The Songbird of the South”

In the first year of her career as a radio performer she sang a top 20 song which came from a theatrical production which was a satire on racism.

A satire. Defined as the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

The song’s name is all that is needed to call Ms. Smith’s suitability for public association into question: “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”

Is the problem only the name of the song?
Is the problem that a serious subject like racism was attacked by using humour as the weapon?
Or Is the problem that our current society can brook NO connection to racism of any kind unless it is a clear, unambiguous attack on racism?

Popular cultural content reflects the culture of the time. Culture evolves over time. Eventually some of what was generally accepted becomes unacceptable.

And that leaves us with a problem: What to do with all the popular cultural content we come to have a problem with?

It appears that the most risk averse entities in our world (those who can be directly affected by negative public opinion) choose to simply remove it from their world leaving the rest of us with gaping holes in the history of pop culture. But hey it’s all about the Benjamins (money) ain’t it? Threaten the cash flow and watch the icons go (away).

I liked the popular radio program Prairie Home Companion. It ran for decades (1974 to 2016) and was much loved and well respected. All it took to push all that back catalogue out of public access was one or two suggestions of a touch on the back or hurt feelings by women that happened in the middle of the societal recriminations flowing from the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

The accusations weren’t criminal. No sexual encounters of unbalanced power dynamic took place or even were alluded to. But a risk averse Minnesota Public Radio decided that not only was Garrison Keillor a problem but no one should be allowed to access ANY of the thousands of Home Companion programs is had in its catalogue of content. This situation existed from November 2017 to April 2018.

That it happened at all is a shame. That it took legal action to restore the back catalogue to public access is a shame.

Let’s return to the current case, Kate Smith.

She didn’t write the song. It was even performed at one point by a person of colour. It’s Satire. But apparently we have to pander to the Lowest Possible Common Dummy rule. IF anyone could possibly construe / misconstrue the lyrics as being a serious derogatory attack on people of colour then nobody should be allowed to associate [us] with that. Fill in the [us] with whichever entity you want like Baseball teams for instance.

It’s a shame that those who set themselves up as the protectors of public virtue can only see the public as small minded, immature, ignorant masses that have to be protected from bad things like humour they don’t get. Leaving the rest of us questioning the rationality of those in charge and worrying if we’ve ever said something that will come back to haunt us at some point.

Almost makes one want to become a public Asshole just so no one can later get any traction from accusing us of being one. Kind of like President Trump has apparently done.

But this yen to rewrite our history by excising things we don’t want to be exposed to, this urge to engage in revisionism, hurts us in the long run. There’s the ‘those who forget history are doomed to repeat it’ warning.

Understanding how we got to where and what we are as a nation or culture becomes much harder when you grow up not even knowing all the bits that collectively brought your world to where it is.

If you weren’t made aware of past cultural treasures that helped form the culture your live in because they were officially forgotten then how can you understand your culture? You don’t know what you never knew and no one informed you about. It might as well have not existed or happened . . . except that it did. You just don’t know about it.

Then there are terms that have been part of the lexicon like Call A Spade A Spade or Tarbaby.

If you use those terms in something you are publishing nowadays you open yourself to accusations of racism even though the origins had no racist connotations at all. The spade referred to is an entrenching tool – a shovel. The tarbaby is a thing that burns and sticks to you if you touch it. And for a whole generation of adults those meanings have been completely supplanted by racist redefinitions. And that means that for many that is the only definition they have or have ever had. Which means that any published article, book, song, movie, play – anything that used them can be subject to the same treatment that Kate Smith is going through now.

Sad isn’t it? That You have to live in a dummed down, white washed, world because Fear of the Stupid and Ignorant made it so. Ironic isn’t it that the term ‘white washed’ which we use to describe the actions of this purging of offensive content will sooner or later suffer the same fate.

I’ll leave this off at this point because I’m pretty sure I’ve laid enough ammunition for somebody to excoriate me with at some later date. Think I’ll get working on my next project ‘Getting In Touch With Your Inner Asshole’.


The other shoe drops on Cuba

In a previous post I worried about the ramifications of a shift backwards in US policy towards Cuba and how it could affect Canadian businesses.

Essentially the unwinding of Obama era shifts meant than Canadian (and other nations’) businesses could be sued if they did any business with any Cuban entity associated with the Cuban military. And that covers more business than you’d think – most of the hotels for instance. An additional complication is a Canadian law, Foreign Extraterritorial Measures (United States) Order, which ” bars Canadian companies from complying with any U.S. law that seeks to limit their business dealings with Cuba.” And the Canadian business person could face prison time.

In 1996 the Helms–Burton Act was passed. Title III allowed Americans to sue companies from other countries that operate out of properties and facilities that the Castro government seized (nationalized) after the revolution. This was originally intended to target European companies but every president since has chosen not to enforce Title III so as to keep trade between the US and others unencumbered and unaffected by the legal morass that would happen if the law were enforced.

Well the current president has decided it is time to take that step . . . and as unpredictable as he may be the reactions to this are predictable. Canada and others are pushing back.

But how effective that might be is another matter – lawsuits in US courts against non-US entities are possible. Let’s say a Cuban exile family sues a Canadian company doing business, and making a profit, with an arm of the Cuban military that operates an economic entity that was nationalized by Castro. Canada will take any judgement US courts levy out of the assets of US interests in Canada . . . but if the entity bringing suit (a family) has no assets in Canada then what else can Canada do? As I point out in my previous post how bad it could get would be whatever US courts decide to do. Impound expensive airliners until a payment is made? Seize property and other assets for forfeiture sale? Could happen if things get moving along this direction.

So where does that leave the ‘best friends’ relationship Canada and the USA have enjoyed?


Erisology: The Science of Arguing About Everything – The Atlantic

Discourse or discord? How one becomes the other and why that happens is the substance of this piece.

In talking about this article I dredged up memories if things I hadn’t thought of in 40+ years. Like recognizing one of the common bugaboos of not defining terms the same way leading to people misinterpreting the other side’s message. I remember running into this again and again. And also the experience of being looked at as some kind of noodge for insisting terms be clearly defined before discussion proceeds further.

It also affirms that my thoughts and changing posture on ‘social networking’ aren’t mine alone.

Generally I find that whenever I stop to read a piece from The Atlantic I never come away feeling that my time was wasted or I was treated as some dumb, naive, easy-to-persuade mark. I can’t say that about many publications

applied science

Augmented Autistics With Super Power Glasses

I was going to use the title Applied Emotional State Decoding Aids Autistics or something similar but that wasn’t as catchy . . .

As we grow we learn about the world around us. A large part of the world is the other people in that world, people that we need to interact with and relate to socially. Understanding the emotional state of another person is a key part of socialization. Not understanding that can be a massive impediment to participating in the socialness of the world.

Back in 2016 I blogged about machine systems that could gather information about aspects of humans and use that to decode their emotional states. Today I heard part of a Quirks and Quarks interview about an application of that. A beneficial one.

As we grow we learn about the world around us. A large part of the world is the other people in that world, people that we need to interact with and relate to socially. Understanding the emotional state of another person is a key part of socialization.

For most of us this becomes an automatic ability that we don’t even think about – we just have a good guesstimate of what the emotional state of someone else might be because we can ‘read’ and process the cues. Like reading a story in a book where the author hasn’t used any words or terms you don’t know or referred to things you don’t know about yet. The process of reading the story just flows along. Moving through story this way is like walking, you don’t have to think about each step you take as you walk – you just walk.

But what is it like if you have to do some thinking about each step? What happens when you encounter words you have never seen before? Or references to events, people and places you have no knowledge of? You were moving along nicely up to now . . . but now you have to mentally ‘stop the car and get out’ and try and figure out what’s in front of you. Because if you don’t and it comes up again the story won’t make sense after a while. And so the ‘flow’ is broken.

If that story is a conversation with another person part of it is the unspoken messaging of emotional state via facial expression. Autism makes this part much more difficult.

If you have to stop and try to figure out what that combination of eyes, mouth, etc . . . is telling you about how ‘they’ feel that takes time and distracts from dealing with processing what they are saying . . . and now, maybe, you have some idea about how hard conversing with others can be for a person ‘on the spectrum’ Imagine how much work you have to do if you are conversing with 2 or 3 or 4 other people?

Using Google’s Glass technology they have been able to give some autistic children a way to know what emotions people around them are experiencing. It’s such a big deal to the children that they think ‘Super Power Glasses’ is the best name for them – a testament to the impact this technology has on them ‘in their eyes’.

“not only do the kids become more interested in faces, but it also improves their ability to read emotions ”

Dennis Wall – research lead – assistant professor of pediatrics, psychiatry and biomedical data sciences at Stanford University in California

It is a study at this point but it points in a positive direction for improving the lives of autistics and their caregivers. The JAMA published study can be found here.

This is an example of the kinds of changes Augmented Reality is bringing to our experience of the world around us. Perhaps by the time we can create machines that should really worry us that line separating us from the machine will not be so easy to see even with a machine to help us.

For a different take on augmenting biological vision systems check out this article on giving mice the ability to see in the InfraRed part of the spectrum. Down the road that might come to humans as well.