Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 25th, 2019

Here’s the direction to US is going: Inside Liberty University’s ‘culture of fear’

leave a comment »

This piece by Will Young in the Washington Post directly relates to the previous post. Notice that the fear discussed seems felt primarily by conservatives, who seem predisposed in that direction, with their fear driving their anger. Young writes:

In my first week as editor in chief of the Champion, Liberty University’s student-run weekly, our faculty adviser, Deborah Huff, ordered me to apologize. I’d noticed that our evangelical school’s police department didn’t publish its daily crime log online, as many other private university forces did, so I searched elsewhere for crime information I might use in an article. I called the Virginia Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators to find out what the law required Liberty to disclose. But the public affairs worker there told the Liberty University Police Department, which complained to Huff. She called to upbraid me: Apparently, I had endangered our newspaper’s relationship with the LUPD. Huff and Chief Richard Hinkley convened a meeting inside a police department conference room, and Huff sat next to me while I proffered the forced apology to Hinkley — for asking questions. Huff, too, was contrite, assuring the police chief that it wouldn’t happen again, because she’d keep a better eye on me.

This wasn’t exactly a rude awakening. I’d spent the previous three years watching the university administration, led by President Jerry Falwell Jr. (who took a very micromanaging interest), meddle in our coverage, revise controversial op-eds and protect its image by stripping damning facts from our stories. Still, I stuck around. I thought that if I wrote with discretion and kept my head down, I could one day win enough trust from the university to protect the integrity of our journalism. I even dreamed we could eventually persuade the administration to let the Champion go independent from its supervision. I was naive.

Instead, when my team took over that fall of 2017, we encountered an “oversight” system — read: a censorship regime — that required us to send every story to Falwell’s assistant for review. Any administrator or professor who appeared in an article had editing authority over any part of the article; they added and deleted whatever they wanted. Falwell called our newsroom on multiple occasions to direct our coverage personally, as he had a year earlier when, weeks before the 2016 election, he read a draft of my column defending mainstream news outlets and ordered me to say whom I planned to vote for. I refused on ethical grounds, so Falwell told me to insert “The author refused to reveal which candidate he is supporting for president” at the bottom of the column. I complied. (Huff and the police department declined to comment on the contents of this essay. Falwell and the university did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

Eventually I quit, and the School of Communication decided not to replace me, turning the paper into a faculty-run, student-written organ and seizing complete control of its content. Student journalists must now sign a nondisclosure agreement that forbids them from talking publicly about “editorial or managerial direction, oversight decisions or information designated as privileged or confidential.” The form also states that the students understand they are “privileged” to receive “thoughts, opinions, and other statements” from university administrators.

What my team and I experienced at the Champion was not an isolated overreaction to embarrassing revelations. It was one example of an infrastructure of thought-control that Falwell and his lieutenants have introduced into every aspect of Liberty University life. Faculty, staff and students on the Lynchburg, Va., campus have learned that it’s a sin to challenge the sacrosanct status of the school or its leader, which mete out punishments for dissenting opinions (from stripping people of their positions to banning them from campus). This “culture of fear,” as it was described by several of the dozen Liberty denizens who talked to me for this story — most of them anonymously to protect their jobs or their standing — worsened during my four years on campus because of the 2016 presidential election.

By 2016, Liberty’s efforts to limit free expression were already well-established. (“The big victory was finding a way to tame the faculty,” Falwell told the New York Times last year for a story about privileging Liberty’s financial growth over its academics.) But the school’s methods became even more aggressive after Falwell endorsed Donald Trump early that year, according to multiple current and former faculty members. “The closer you get to the president’s office,” says former history professor Brian Melton, discussing a chilling effect at the school, “the worse it becomes.” Falwell’s staff now operates masterfully to squash challenges to his views and his rise in national political influence.

The dissent that did exist — like off-message campus speakers, insufficiently sycophantic board members, student activists and our newspaper staff — was ruthlessly neutralized. Liberty, founded on principles of fundamental Christianity, is now a place that has zero tolerance for new questions and ideas. Those who harbor them must remain silent, or leave.

Falwell, 57, possesses a certain Orwellian gift for painting Liberty as a bastion of tolerance where alternate viewpoints are not just permitted but encouraged. In March, he attended the signing of Trump’s executive order on college free speech and later claimed on “PBS NewsHour” that Liberty was inclusive of all ideas because it had invited Jimmy Carter to deliver its 2018 commencement address and Bernie Sanders to speak in 2015 at the assembly that students are required to attend twice a week. After Falwell learned last month that I was writing this essay, he posted a column on Liberty’s site disputing “sensational stories . . . that we do not allow opposing views.” He wrote, “If there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that there will be a strong and critical response to this article by a few former students and a handful of national media determined to paint Liberty in a completely different light on these issues.”

His Twitter account is a much better reflection of his approach to dissent. Falwell’s profile announces that “Haters will be blocked,” and several students who have disagreed or argued with him on Twitter have met this fate. Falwell outright lied on the platform to Sojourners Web editor Sandi Villarreal — who is now my colleague — when he said he’d removed a Champion op-ed criticizing Trump’s “locker room talk” defense because there was simply not enough room on the page. (The piece was already laid out on the page when he pulled it.) In fact, much of Falwell’s message control has to do with safeguarding Trump.

Mark DeMoss was something like Liberty royalty. His late father, Arthur S. DeMoss, gave $20 million to build DeMoss Hall, the school’s main academic building. Mark was also an alumnus, a former chief of staff to university founder Jerry Falwell Sr. and eventually a public relations executive who counted Liberty among his clients. He won a seat on the school’s board of trustees in 1991 after serving as Liberty’s spokesman and became the board’s executive committee chairman in 2008.

In January 2016, days before Trump was scheduled to speak at Liberty, Falwell emailed DeMoss asking whether he should endorse Trump for president. DeMoss says he recommended against endorsing anyone, and Falwell thanked him for the “great advice.” Falwell, at the speech, held back his imprimatur. But a week later, he anointed the billionaire with his support. DeMoss was horrified. “The bullying tactics of personal insult have no defense — and certainly not for anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ,” he told The Washington Post at the time. Falwell seemed to take the rebuke in stride, saying he was “disappointed” in DeMoss but understood “that all the administrators and faculty have their own personal political views.”

Within a few months, though, DeMoss would be gone. The night before a Liberty board meeting that April, the executive committee, including Falwell, convened without DeMoss to vote on a motion to oust him from his role as chairman. DeMoss says that his criticism of the endorsement was the cause. (Before the meeting, Falwell called him a pawn of rival campaigns.) DeMoss resigned as a trustee days later, on April 25, 2016, citing “a lack of trust.”

A week after that, Liberty changed the sign on DeMoss Hall to “Arthur S. DeMoss Hall,” making clear that the structure honored the father and not the wayward son. The message to faculty and students was clear: If you challenge Falwell, you will be not only removed but erased.

The culture of Liberty is governed by lists of principles. According to the Faculty Handbook, for instance, professors are expected to “promote . . . free market processes” and “affirm . . . that the Bible is inerrant in the originals and authoritative in all matters.” One cause of perpetual insecurity at Liberty is the school’s militant refusal to award tenure to any faculty member (outside the law school, which must offer it for accreditation). Instructors are instead hired on year-to-year contracts; during the spring semester, they find out whether they will be coming back the next fall.

The result is constant, erratic faculty turnover. One recently fired teacher describes the spring as a cycle of stressed-out, fearful professors wandering into each other’s offices to ask if they had their contracts renewed yet. “If you’re a conservative Christian in the academic world, the chances of you getting a job are nil in many areas,” says Melton, who worked at Liberty as an associate professor for 15 years before resigning because of what he described as the school’s surveillance and fear tactics. “The administration knows that, and . . . they wield that very effectively, keeping people quiet.”

Late-notice faculty removals have also become more commonplace, according to Melton, stemming in part from Falwell’s stated desire to tame the teaching corps. “He considers the faculty to be disposable beasts of burden,” Melton says. Last summer, 14 professors at Liberty’s School of Education were suddenly told that their contracts would not be renewed as part of what former Liberty spokesman Len Stevens called a “reorganization.” This June, a dozen faculty members at Liberty’s School of Divinity were notified that their contracts would not be renewed. By that late in the year, it is too late to find another job in higher education for the fall.

For former faculty members, Liberty’s culture of fear can live on. The school often requires terminated professors to sign a nondisclosure agreement if they want their severance packages, several told me — a practice that is extremely uncommon in higher education, according to Robert Bezemek, a California lawyer who represents labor unions at universities. (As Melton puts it, “They force this NDA on you by leveraging the ability to feed your family against you.”) Even former teachers who hadn’t signed NDAs told me they feared that talking to me on the record would somehow get them blacklisted from jobs elsewhere or imperil their friends who still work at Liberty. One thought my request to speak with him was a trap, calling my previous connection with the school “fishy.” When I contacted another for an interview, she warned me, “The university is on to you.” I confess I harbor a certain paranoia, too, from years of being watched at the Champion. Melton and several other current and former members of the faculty told me that they believe the administration surveils everything they do on Liberty’s server, tracking when instructors complete a task late and searching for evidence of “disloyalty” to Liberty or Falwell, as a former professor put it. Another onetime instructor declined to use his university-issued laptop because he thought Liberty had equipped it with spyware.

One cause for alarm came just before Trump’s inauguration, when then-Provost Ronald Hawkins ordered all campus faculty members to fill out an anonymous survey that asked respondents to rate how politically and socially liberal they were on a scale of 1 to 5. “We are interested in how we compare with other institutions on political and social views,” Hawkins’s office said in a follow-up email to faculty members. But, according to a former professor who talked with others in her department, many initially refused to take the survey out of fear that if a department had too many left-leaning professors, the administration might target it for more oversight or even firings. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2019 at 1:56 pm

Lenin would be proud: Amazon Requires Police to Shill Surveillance Cameras in Secret Agreement

leave a comment »

Lenin is credit with saying something along the lines of “Capitalists will sell us the rope used to hang them,” though the quotation seems to be apocryphal. Be that as it may, Americans paying money to put themselves under government surveillance. George Orwell must be spinning in his grave. Caroline Haskins writes in Motherboard:

Amazon’s home security company Ring has enlisted local police departments around the country to advertise its surveillance cameras in exchange for free Ring products and a “portal” that allows police to request footage from these cameras, a secret agreement obtained by Motherboard shows. The agreement also requires police to “keep the terms of this program confidential.”

Dozens of police departments around the country have partnered with Ring, but until now, the exact terms of these partnerships have remained unknown. A signed memorandum of understanding between Ring and the police department of Lakeland, Florida, and emails obtained via a public records request, show that Ring is using local police as a de facto advertising firm. Police are contractually required to “Engage the Lakeland community with outreach efforts on the platform to encourage adoption of the platform/app.”

In order to partner with Ring, police departments must also assign officers to Ring-specific roles that include a press coordinator, a social media manager, and a community relations coordinator.

Ring donated 15 free doorbell surveillance cameras to the Lakeland Police Department, and created a program to encourage people to download its “neighborhood watch” app, Neighbors. For every Lakeland resident that downloads Neighbors as a result of the partnership, the documents show, the Lakeland Police Department gets credit toward more free Ring cameras for residents: “Each qualifying download will count as $10 towards these free Ring cameras.” A Ring doorbell camera currently costs $130 on Amazon.

Police already have access to publicly-funded street cameras and investigative tools that help them track down almost any criminal suspect. But Ring cameras are proliferating in the private sphere, with close to zero oversight. Amazon is convincing people to self-surveil through aggressive, fear-based marketing, aided by de facto police endorsements and free Ring camera giveaways. Consumers are opting into surveillance. And police are more than eager to capitalize on this wealth of surveillance data.

The result of Ring-police partnerships is a self-perpetuating surveillance network: More people download Neighbors, more people get Ring, surveillance footage proliferates, and police can request whatever they want.

Chris Gilliard, a professor of English at Macomb Community College who studies digital redlining and discriminatory practices enabled by data mining, said in a phone call that this surveillance network can heighten fear of crime and put people’s lives at risk.

“When really powerful companies, or police for that matter, are incentivized to find crime, they’re going to find it no matter what,” Gilliard said. “It’ll ultimately shift the definition of what is a crime and lead to over-policing in some ways. Frankly, [it’s] the broken windows style that tends to harm marginalized communities more.”

THE MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING

The memorandum of understanding is pitched as “a solution to the Lakeland Police Department to help reduce crime and assist with investigations in your community.” The document, which includes an “Amazon Legal” watermark, was signed by Ring and Lakeland Police Department representatives on December 13, 2018.

The agreement gives the Lakeland Police Department access to Ring’s “Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal.” This portal is an interactive map that shows police all of the active Ring doorbell cameras in their town. The exact addresses of the doorbell cameras are hidden. Police can use the portal to directly interact with Ring doorbell camera owners and informally request footage for investigations, without a warrant.

Andrew Ferguson, a professor at the University of the District of Columbia School of Law, said in a phone call that products like Ring can remove typical due process. Typically, police have to get a warrant from a judge before collecting digital evidence. Ring’s Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal, given to police for free as a part of the agreement, lets police request footage directly from Ring owners.

“What people fundamentally misunderstand is that self-surveillance is potentially a form of government surveillance,” Ferguson said. “Because the information that you are collecting—you think to augment and improve your life—is one step away from being obtained by law enforcement to completely upend your life.” . . .

Continue reading.

There’s much more. It’s odd to see the US voluntarily turn itself into a police state.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2019 at 1:35 pm

The Multimillion-Dollar Junkets That Introduced Americans to Olive Oil

with one comment

You’ll notice some similarities to the previous post, but in this case the result seems benign. Megan Giller writes in Taste:

Twenty years ago, Americans’ kitchens were outfitted with canola oil and margarine, to be used sparingly. If Americans had heard of olive oil, they knew to avoid it: The USDA promoted a low-fat diet pyramid, with a base of carbs at the bottom and fats at the tip-top, to be used sparingly. Then, seemingly overnight, grocery store aisles were lined up with bottles and rectangular cans of the newfangled “healthy fat.”

It all comes back to a group of 100 or so food writers, chefs, importers, and scientists who traveled to the Mediterranean in the 1990s and early 2000s with a nonprofit called the Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust. Together, they introduced the Mediterranean diet and, most important, olive oil to America.

Today, the world consumes almost twice the amount of olive oil that it did in 1990, and olive consumption has risen about 179 percent since 1999. But in the early 1990s, “olive oil was not a mainstream product,” explains Sara Baer-Sinnott, the current president of Oldways.

A politician and restaurant owner named K. Dun Gifford wanted to change that.

In the late ’80s, he traveled to Italy and China and saw that, as processed foods and sugary treats were spreading across the world, the old ways of eating were disappearing. A large, boisterous man who had worked for Robert and Ted Kennedy and who was good friends with Julia Child, Gifford knew how to work a room and get what he wanted—and what he wanted was to change the way Americans ate.

He firmly believed that the Mediterranean diet, first written about in 1980 by Ancel Keys, was the answer—and that by promoting the traditional Mediterranean way of eating, Americans would be healthier. But how to get the word out? Gifford decided to seek out “multipliers” (we’d call them “influencers” today) to broadcast the concept.

In 1990, he formed Oldways, a nonprofit centered around public health as it relates to diet, with Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Greg Drescher, two gourmands he’d worked with at the American Institute of Wine & Food. They started planning immersive trips to Greece, Italy, and Spain to introduce influential people to unfamiliar ingredients and dishes.

The multiple-week excursions—all costing thousands of dollars per person and free of charge to the travelers—were billed as “conferences,” featuring discussions with Mediterranean experts like Jenkins and cookbook author Paula Wolfert, as well as nutritionists like author and NYU professor Marion Nestle. There were guests like Bobby Flay, Rick Bayless, Lidia Bastianich, and Madhur Jaffrey, too. “It was like going to food camp,” recalls Ari Weinzweig, owner of specialty grocery store and importer Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who also attended.

On one trip, in 1992, Oldways whisked a group to Spain, where they stayed at high-end hotels, attended private olive oil tastings, and feasted on foods that were unheard-of for Americans at the time, like spinach with pine nuts and raisins, gazpacho, and romesco sauce. The next year, Oldways traveled to Turkey, where, as Paula Hamilton described afterward in the Oakland Tribune, guests ate exotic dishes like “pureed chick peas sprinkled with toasted pine nuts, thumbnail-sized meatballs, and creamy eggplant spread.”

But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. “The trips were primarily around the Mediterranean because the sponsorship for it came through the International Olive Oil Council,” recalls Jenkins, who stopped working with Oldways in the early 2000s. In 1995, the New York Times reported that the IOOC “has spent about $2 million a year to finance Oldways conferences on the Mediterranean diet.” The IOOC, which is now called the International Olive Council (IOC), only contributed part of the funds to make the conferences a reality, though. Dozens of other sponsors like hotels, restaurants, and entities like the Tourist Office of Spain contributed to the bottom line.

Oldways’ agenda was clear: On each expedition, guests received a thick booklet that included traveling plans, speakers and talks, and advertisements from the region’s producers. On that 1992 trip to Spain, a full page in the program read, “Olive oil, the new American favorite, appetizers to zucchini…and all those wonderful chickens, burgers, seafoods, soups & salads and healthy eating in between! For more information on olive oil, including free recipes and color brochures, contact: International Olive Oil Council.”

So predictably, and by design, it was the olives and olive oil that caught guests’ eyes. As Sally Schneider wrote in Food & Wine in 2000 after attending a junket, “My real education in the world of olives began on the Northern Aegean island of Chios.” She included an “an olive buyer’s guide” in the story and recommended them as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2019 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Business, Food, Media

Why Doctors are So Drug Happy

leave a comment »

An interesting blog post by Dr. Michael Greger:

Who funds most of the studies that show drugs are safe and effective? The drug companies themselves. This is the topic of my video Eliminating Conflicts of Interest in Medical Research.

“It is self-evidently absurd to look to investor-owned companies for unbiased evaluations of their own products…One result of the bias in this literature is that physicians learn to practice a very drug-intensive style of medicine. Even when lifestyle changes would be more effective, physicians and their patients often believe that for every ailment there is a drug.” It’s gotten so bad that “[p]hysicians can no longer rely on the medical literature for valid and reliable information.” That’s quite an accusation. Says who? Says a long-time editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world.

To help expose some of the conflicts of interest corrupting the medical profession, the Drug Company Gift Disclosure Act was introduced in Congress where it died year after year until it was successfully integrated into the Affordable Care Act. Now, there’s a database detailing which doctors get the billions of dollars that are dished out, “permit[ting] patients to make better informed decisions when choosing health care professionals and making treatment decisions.” (I explain how you can easily look up your own doctor in my video Find Out If Your Doctor Takes Drug Company Money.)

In 2008, medical groups endorsed a version of the Act that didn’t require public disclosure unless doctors got at least $500 in gifts, but the 2009 version got stricter, requiring disclosure if you pocketed even $100, leading groups like the American Academy of Family Physicians to start to get a bit nervous. The final wording in Obamacare, however, requires disclosure of even a $10 meal, leading countries around the world to look to the United States for leadership in healthcare ethics. You don’t see that every day!

Now that we have this massive public record, we can really see how honest doctors have been. The financial disclosures by the authors of all the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association guidelines were matched to the public disclosures of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they received from Big Pharma. The result? “The overall agreement between author and company disclosure was poor.” Nationally, female physicians each received thousands of dollars less than male doctors on average from drug companies each year, though it’s not clear if this is because the women were more ethical or the industry was sexist.

What about conflicts of interest for online clinical support websites? “Point-of-care evidence-based medicine websites allow physicians to answer clinical queries using recent evidence at the bedside” of a patient. Clinicians caring for patients are increasingly reviewing treatment recommendations on these sites to make clinical decisions in real time. For instance, if you’re with a patient, you can just whip out your phone and check one. It’s important that “[m]embers of groups developing formal clinical guidelines are discouraged from interacting with the health industry in a manner that may create a conflict of interest.” Researchers examined one such website called UpToDate, which seemed to provide the most comprehensive diagnoses. Did they find any conflicts of interest? Yes, in every single UpToDate article they examined.

So what do we do with this information? Let’s say we see an article claiming that candy consumption is not associated with health risks and the authors disclose that their research was supported by the National Confectioners Association, a group that used to run ads that said things like: “Put candy in their school lunch. It’s good for them.” We may want to take the results of that article with a grain of salt.

“The problem with financial COIs [conflicts of interest] is that you simply don’t know what to believe.” Maybe this “preoccupation with disclosure hijacked the debate…” Maybe, as Dr. Kassirer, the former chief editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, critiqued, the focus instead should be on eliminating commercial conflicts, not just disclosing them. It’s like campaign finance reform, where the issue is managed more by public disclosure rather than getting money out of politics. Indeed, he writes that “the vast attention paid to failure to disclose conflicts of interest is misplaced, and that more attention must be focused on the financial conflicts themselves.”

After Dr. Kassirer effectively resigned from the New England Journal of Medicine, disillusioned with the direction they were taking, Dr. Marcia Angell took over. She was the first female chief editor in the journal’s hundred-year history and lasted about a year. Medical journals “consistently refer to ‘potential’ conflicts of interest,” she wrote, “as though that were different from the real thing, and about disclosing and ‘managing’ them, not about prohibiting them. In short, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2019 at 12:33 pm

Another wooden-tub shaving soap, with Baby Smooth and Blenheim Bouquet

with 5 comments

This is a fine vintage (now) shaving soap, which I believe was made by Truefitt & Hill pre-out-sourcing. It was a private-label soap sold by a vendor who’s now retired, the business name sold to a disreputable dealer (alas). But the soap: the soap is wonderful, and my Rooney Style 1 Size 1 created a superb lather.

The Baby Smooth is a great favorite and I love the shave I get with it. Speaking of favorites, Mantic59 wanted to know which of these razors is my favorite. The problem is that (as the article plainly states), they’re all my favorites: those are my favorite razors, as the title states. But he’s working on something and needed to know The One, and I found I couldn’t do it. I went in and stared into the razor drawer and finally came up with a Favorite Five, but at another time I would probably have a different Favorite Five.

I ended the shave with a good splash of Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet on a totally smooth face. A fine way to start the day.

Yesterday afternoon was not hot, just pleasantly warm with a light breeze, and Miss Molly took a nap on the sofa:

The tummy is irresistible, and she doesn’t mind at all if you pat it gently, just lies limp and seems to enjoy it.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2019 at 8:50 am

Posted in Cats, Molly, Shaving

%d bloggers like this: