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Archive for December 13th, 2013

A scary but interesting tool for state control

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Michael Todd writes in Pacific Standard:

Brazil’s protests started with in 2012 demonstrations about the cost of public transit that morphed this year over the Southern Hemisphere’s winter as concerns over public spending on next year’s World Cup and 2016’s Summer Olympics spurred larger gatherings in more places. The protests have dwindled, but it’s anyone guess if the so-called Brazilian Autumn will flare up again in 2014.

What if it wasn’t necessary to guess?

A gaggle of academics suggest the timing and size of protests—and of a basket of other conflicts, ranging from crying babies to global terrorism—can be predicted using a mathematical equation.

And if it predicts the trajectory of confrontation, can intervention be far behind?

A new paper in Nature Scientific Reports looked a number of publicly available datasets on asymmetrical–David versus Goliath–conflicts, and notes that both their severity and timing followed a similar statistical pattern. The more the researchers looked, adding on studies of similar asymmetrical incidents like sexual assaults on women, online trading attacks on a company’s share price, or cyberhacking into a nation’s infrastructure, the more times they found the equation fit the distribution.

“This suggests it’s an innate property of the two-sided asymmetric confrontation,” said lead author Neil F. Johnson, talking briefly like the physicist that he is. “We think that when you got a group of humans who are self-organized on the fly and coordinating themselves to oppose some bigger power, this simple math law is exactly what you’re going to get. It’s the way that they engage themselves, small and adaptive versus big and sluggish.”

The “simple math law” Johnson gets is known as a power law. . .

Continue reading to learn about practical applications that might devolve.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2013 at 4:23 pm

Using on-line games to tackle teen suicide

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Very interesting article in The Switch (in the Washington Post) by Hayley Tsukayama:

Developers at Pixelberry didn’t know what to do when a player sent a message to the help line for their iOS game High School Story to say that she was contemplating taking her own life.

“We were scared that we were going to say the wrong thing,” said Oliver Miao, chief executive and c0-founder of Pixelberry. After calling the National Suicide Helpline for advice, the developers at Pixelberry kept the lines of communication open with the player for a week, telling her to seek professional help but also letting her know that they were listening. At the end of the week, the player said she would get professional help and told developers that the game was the reason she was still alive.

That experience, along with news stories about the suicide of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick and others, inspired Miao and the rest of the team at Pixelberry to write a new story arc for their game to tackle one particular cause of teen suicides head-on: cyberbullying.

Miao still remembers getting bullied as a kid — something he said was an isolating and horrifying experience. But at least his bully couldn’t ever follow him home, he said. Now, with bullies pursuing their victims over social media, it can seem almost impossible to escape them.

“At the time I was growing up I didn’t have Facebook or the Internet,” Miao said. “It was contained to the classroom where I was being bullied.”

High School Story has had 4 million downloads, and gets about half a million players per day. So Miao realized he had a unique platform to reach out to the thousands of teens who tune into his game each day — 80,000 of whom are likely to contemplate suicide before they leave high school, according to figures from the National Centers for Disease Control.

“That’s a crazy high number,” said Miao. And while other factors besides bullying can push teens to think about taking their own life, Miao said that his personal experiences convinced him to highlight the issue bullying. That fit in with Miao’s original vision of the game, which he launched with the ultimate goal of using it as an education tool.

“I’m hoping that if we can affect even a fraction of those people, we might help hundreds if not thousands of teens have a better life,” he said.

The new story arc deals with plight of a character named Hope, who is being bullied by a girl named Chelsea. It’s an in-game journey that the studio hopes will give teens better tools to deal with real-life bullying situations. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2013 at 2:29 pm

Raising the Minimum Wage: Old Shibboleths, New Evidence

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Studies show that the “common-sense” predictions about the effects of raising the minimum wage are, like so many “common-sense” predictions, wrong.

Laura D’Andrea Tyson writes in the NY Times:

The last several decades have been especially hard on American workers in jobs that pay the minimum wage. Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour today is 23 percent lower than it was in 1968. If it had kept up with inflation and with the growth of average labor productivity, it would be $25 an hour.

Congressional Democrats have proposed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and index it to inflation, and President Obama signaled support in a recent speech highlighting the economic and political dangers of growing income inequality. Predictably, opponents of an increase in the minimum wage are once again invoking the hackneyed warning that it will lead to higher unemployment, especially among low-skilled, low-wage workers who are the intended beneficiaries.

I heard the same refrain in 1996 when I served as chairwoman of President Bill Clinton’s National Economic Council, and he worked with congressional Democrats to raise the minimum wage to $5.15 an hour at a time when it had fallen in real terms to a 40-year low. To hear Republican opponents and lobbyists for retailers and fast-food companies, we were about to inflict a cold-hearted fate on young people and minority workers. The same chorus is voicing the same dire predictions today.

As it happened, the United States experienced a spectacular boom in employment and prosperity from 1996 to 2000. Indeed, these years proved to be a rare and all-too-brief period when incomes improved at every wage level. Contrary to the warnings of the naysayers, a higher minimum wage did not impede robust employment growth; it did contribute to healthy income gains for low-wage workers.

Since then, a raft of meticulous economic research, including work by David Card and Alan B. Krueger, who served as chief economist at the Labor Department in the Clinton administration and more recently as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration, has decisively demolished the old shibboleths. The weight of the evidence consistently finds no significant effects on employment when the minimum wage increases in reasonable increments.

For a good overview, look to a paper by Arindrajit Dube of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; T. William Lester of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and Michael Reich of the University of California, Berkeley. Using two decades of data and side-by-side comparisons of bordering counties in the United States, they find that higher minimum wages raise the earnings of low-wage workers and have negligible effects on employment levels. According to their estimates, an increase of 10 percent in the minimum wage would have a statistically negligible effect on employment in industries and occupations employing minimum-wage workers.

In 1996, the prevailing view among economists was that an increase in the minimum wage would reduce employment. But opinions have changed in response to the evidence. In a recent survey of a panel of leading economists, only a third expected that an increase in the minimum wage to $9 an hour would make it “noticeably harder for low-skilled workers to find employment,” and nearly half agreed that the economic benefits of raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation would outweigh the economic costs. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2013 at 2:10 pm

Anti-marijuana propaganda groups go into overdrive

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The tide is turning and some are feeling desperate. Amanda Reiman writes at the Drug Policy Alliance:

This week, Dr. Oz had a segment on his show about cannabis, asking the question, is it addictive?

However, in an effort to get to the answer, the doctor created a circus of images and animations, and very little actual talk about science and outcomes. But, what else can we expect from daytime TV? Dr. Oz showed his allegiance to propaganda by continuing to ask questions that we have answers to: Is long term cannabis use harmful? Is cannabis addictive? Is cannabis a gateway drug? Is long-term cannabis use harmful?

To illustrate this point, Dr. Oz presented animated pictures of the lungs and brain as proof of long term harms, however, a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined a sample of over 5000 adults over 20 years and assessed the impact of smoking cannabis on lung functioning.

The authors concluded, “Occasional and low cumulative cannabis use was not associated with adverse effects on pulmonary function.” Furthermore, Dr. Oz failed to mention the many alternatives to smoking cannabis, alternatives that will become more widely available under regulation rather than prohibition.

Is cannabis addictive? According to Dr. Paula Riggs, who appeared on the Dr. Oz show as the voice of warning around cannabis, about 1 in 11 regular cannabis users will experience symptoms of addiction, namely, withdrawals and a persistent desire to use despite negatives life outcomes.

The other guest was neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart who astutely asked the audience, “How many of you do caffeine?” Indeed, most of the audience applauded. He then asked, what would happen if you did not use it? You would get a headache. The point is, physical dependence on a substance is common in our society, and we accept it.

Physical dependence on sugar, caffeine, nicotine, Ambien, Vicodin is considered part of life for adults who choose to or need to consume these substances. We accept the chance of addiction as a risk we are willing to take to enjoy coffee, or find pain relief from Vicodin. Dr. Hart framed it perfectly when he said that ANY activity that prevents someone from living their life to its fullest can be of concern, chemical or not.

Is cannabis a gateway drug? Here is what we know: yes, most people who try heroin have tried cannabis previously. This is NOT because cannabis use makes you want to try heroin. It’s because cannabis is more readily available and socially acceptable. Most people who try heroin have also tried alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.

And, as Dr. Oz himself stated, there are 19 million Americans who use cannabis on a regular basis, so why is the number of those who use heroin so much lower? In 2012, about 335,000 people reported heroin use in the past month.

Dr. Oz seemed to think that cannabis use inevitably leads to harder drug use, and, his attempt to present the brain of an older person with a history of harder drug use as a certainty for “young innocent” cannabis users was just plain bizarre.

Dr. Oz presented this information in usual dramatic style and then closed with the argument that pervades rational discussion of cannabis regulation: the children. Framing cannabis as a neurotoxic agent destroying adolescent brains is a common framework for prohibitionists to rail against cannabis regulation.

But, here’s the rub. No one in the movement to end cannabis prohibition supports use by young people, unless under the close care of a doctor. And, most of us in this movement believe that heavy cannabis use by minors is an indicator of deeper issues.

We also know that, under prohibition, cannabis is easily obtained by young people with little oversight. Under cannabis regulation, young people must show proof of age to obtain it, and money from tax revenue goes to youth education and prevention. Quite plainly Dr. Oz, if you want to keep cannabis out of the hands of young people, as most of us do, the answer is regulation, NOT prohibition. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2013 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Drug laws

“One of Our Greatest Coups”: The CIA & the Capture of Nelson Mandela

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The CIA apparently is quite proud of helping the apartheid government of South Africa capture Nelson Mandela.

Have you noticed how often the CIA makes a horrible mess—e.g., firing a missile from a drone into a wedding party? or into a conference of tribal leaders trying to work out how to fight Al-Qaida? or sending a hapless former FBI agent into Iran to spy? or helping the Contras smuggle drugs? or … the list is long.

Democracy Now! has a video program on this episode, along with a transcript. Their blurb:

As South Africa prepares to hold a state funeral for Nelson Mandela, we look at how the CIA helped the South African government track down and capture Mandela in 1962. In 1990, the Cox News Service quoted a former U.S. official saying that within hours after Mandela’s arrest a senior CIA operative named Paul Eckel admitted the agency’s involvement. Eckel was reported as having told the official, “We have turned Mandela over to the South African security branch. We gave them every detail, what he would be wearing, the time of day, just where he would be. They have picked him up. It is one of our greatest coups.” Several news outlets have reported the actual source of the tip that led to the arrest of Mandela was a CIA official named Donald Rickard. On Thursday, Democracy Now! attempted to reach Rickard at his home in Colorado. On two occasions, a man who picked up the phone hung up when we asked to speak with Donald Rickard. The activist group RootsAction has launched a campaign to urge the CIA to open its files on Mandela and South Africa, and the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has questioned why corporate media outlets have largely ignored the story. We speak to journalist Andrew Cockburn, who first reported on the CIA link to Mandela’s arrest in 1986 in The New York Times.

From the opening of the program:

While Obama referenced the Kennedy administration in his memorial, he made no mention of the multiple reports that the CIA, under Kennedy, tipped off the apartheid South African regime in 1962 about Mandela’s whereabouts. In 1990, the Cox News Service quoted a former U.S. official saying that within hours after Mandela’s arrest, a senior CIA operative named Paul Eckel admitted the agency’s involvement. Eckel was reported as having told the official, quote, “We have turned Mandela over to the South African security branch. We gave them every detail, what he would be wearing, the time of day, just where he would be. They have picked him up. It is one of our greatest coups.”

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2013 at 1:47 pm

Posted in Government

Dispatch from the War on Christmas

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2013 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Religion, Video

If corporations are people, they are sociopaths: Tobacco company division

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It’s well know that a corporation has a sociopathic profile—see here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here for examples.

And to continue the string of stories, consider this report in the NY Times by Sabrina Tavernise:

Tobacco companies are pushing back against a worldwide rise in antismoking laws, using a little-noticed legal strategy to delay or block regulation. The industry is warning countries that their tobacco laws violate an expanding web of trade and investment treaties, raising the prospect of costly, prolonged legal battles, health advocates and officials said.

The strategy has gained momentum in recent years as smoking rates in rich countries have fallen and tobacco companies have sought to maintain access to fast-growing markets in developing countries. Industry officials say that there are only a few cases of active litigation, and that giving a legal opinion to governments is routine for major players whose interests will be affected.

But tobacco opponents say the strategy is intimidating low- and middle-income countries from tackling one of the gravest health threats facing them: smoking. They also say the legal tactics are undermining the world’s largest global public health treaty, the W.H.O. Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which aims to reduce smoking by encouraging limits on advertising, packaging and sale of tobacco products. More than 170 countries have signed it since it took effect in 2005.

More than five million people die annually of smoking-related causes, more than from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, according to the World Health Organization.

Alarmed about rising smoking rates among young women, Namibia, in southern Africa, passed a tobacco control law in 2010 but quickly found itself bombarded with stern warnings from the tobacco industry that the new statute violated the country’s obligations under trade treaties.

“We have bundles and bundles of letters from them,” said Namibia’s health minister, Dr. Richard Kamwi.

Three years later, the government, fearful of a punishingly expensive legal battle, has yet to carry out a single major provision of the law, like limiting advertising or placing large health warnings on cigarette packaging.

The issue is particularly urgent now as the United States completes talks on a major new trade treaty with 11 Pacific Rim countries that aims to be a model for the rules of international commerce. Administration officials say they want the new treaty to raise standards for public health. They single out tobacco as a health concern, wording that upset the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, which said that the inclusion would leave the door open for other products, like soda or sugar, to be heavily regulated in other countries.

“Our goal in this agreement is to protect the legitimate health regulations that treaty countries want to pursue from efforts by tobacco companies to undermine them,” said Michael Froman, the United States trade representative, in a telephone interview. The language is not yet final, he said. . .

Continue reading. In the view of tobacco companies, shortening their lives is okay if it turns a profit.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2013 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Business, Health, Law

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