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Archive for October 6th, 2019

Why can’t we agree on what’s true any more?

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William Davies writes in the Guardian:

We live in a time of political fury and hardening cultural divides. But if there is one thing on which virtually everyone is agreed, it is that the news and information we receive is biased. Every second of every day, someone is complaining about bias, in everything from the latest movie reviews to sports commentary to the BBC’s coverage of Brexit. These complaints and controversies take up a growing share of public discussion.

Much of the outrage that floods social media, occasionally leaking into opinion columns and broadcast interviews, is not simply a reaction to events themselves, but to the way in which they are reported and framed. The “mainstream media” is the principal focal point for this anger. Journalists and broadcasters who purport to be neutral are a constant object of scrutiny and derision, whenever they appear to let their personal views slip. The work of journalists involves an increasing amount of unscripted, real-time discussion, which provides an occasionally troubling window into their thinking.

But this is not simply an anti-journalist sentiment. A similar fury can just as easily descend on a civil servant or independent expert whenever their veneer of neutrality seems to crack, apparently revealing prejudices underneath. Sometimes a report or claim is dismissed as biased or inaccurate for the simple reason that it is unwelcome: to a Brexiter, every bad economic forecast is just another case of the so-called project fear. A sense that the game is rigged now fuels public debate.

This mentality now spans the entire political spectrum and pervades societies around the world. A recent survey found that the majority of people globally believe their society is broken and their economy is rigged. Both the left and the right feel misrepresented and misunderstood by political institutions and the media, but the anger is shared by many in the liberal centre, who believe that populists have gamed the system to harvest more attention than they deserve. Outrage with “mainstream” institutions has become a mass sentiment.

This spirit of indignation was once the natural property of the left, which has long resented the establishment bias of the press. But in the present culture war, the right points to universities, the BBC and civil service as institutions that twist our basic understanding of reality to their own ends. Everyone can point to evidence that justifies their outrage. This arms race in cultural analysis is unwinnable.

This is not as simple as distrust. The appearance of digital platforms, smartphones and the ubiquitous surveillance they enable has ushered in a new public mood that is instinctively suspicious of anyone claiming to describe reality in a fair and objective fashion. It is a mindset that begins with legitimate curiosity about what motivates a given media story, but which ends in a Trumpian refusal to accept any mainstream or official account of the world. We can all probably locate ourselves somewhere on this spectrum, between the curiosity of the engaged citizen and the corrosive cynicism of the climate denier. The question is whether this mentality is doing us any good, either individually or collectively.

Public life has become like a play whose audience is unwilling to suspend disbelief. Any utterance by a public figure can be unpicked in search of its ulterior motive. As cynicism grows, even judges, the supposedly neutral upholders of the law, are publicly accused of personal bias. Once doubt descends on public life, people become increasingly dependent on their own experiences and their own beliefs about how the world really works. One effect of this is that facts no longer seem to matter (the phenomenon misleadingly dubbed “post-truth”). But the crisis of democracy and of truth are one and the same: individuals are increasingly suspicious of the “official” stories they are being told, and expect to witness things for themselves.

On one level, heightened scepticism towards the establishment is a welcome development. A more media-literate and critical citizenry ought to be less easy for the powerful to manipulate. It may even represent a victory for the type of cultural critique pioneered by intellectuals such as Pierre Bourdieu and Stuart Hall in the 1970s and 80s, revealing the injustices embedded in everyday cultural expressions and interactions.

But it is possible to have too much scepticism. How exactly do we distinguish this critical mentality from that of the conspiracy theorist, who is convinced that they alone have seen through the official version of events? Or to turn the question around, how might it be possible to recognise the most flagrant cases of bias in the behaviour of reporters and experts, but nevertheless to accept that what they say is often a reasonable depiction of the world?

It is tempting to blame the internet, populists or foreign trolls for flooding our otherwise rational society with lies. But this underestimates the scale of the technological and philosophical transformations that are under way. The single biggest change in our public sphere is that we now have an unimaginable excess of news and content, where once we had scarcity. Suddenly, the analogue channels and professions we depended on for our knowledge of the world have come to seem partial, slow and dispensable.

And yet, contrary to initial hype surrounding big data, the explosion of information available to us is making it harder, not easier, to achieve consensus on truth. As the quantity of information increases, the need to pick out bite-size pieces of content rises accordingly. In this radically sceptical age, questions of where to look, what to focus on and who to trust are ones that we increasingly seek to answer for ourselves, without the help of intermediaries. This is a liberation of sorts, but it is also at the heart of our deteriorating confidence in public institutions.


The current threat to democracy is often seen to emanate from new forms of propaganda, with the implication that lies are being deliberately fed to a naive and over-emotional public. The simultaneous rise of populist parties and digital platforms has triggered well-known anxieties regarding the fate of truth in democratic societies. Fake news and internet echo chambers are believed to manipulate and ghettoise certain communities, for shadowy ends. Key groups – millennials or the white working-class, say – are accused of being easily persuadable, thanks to their excessive sentimentality.

This diagnosis exaggerates old-fashioned threats while overlooking new phenomena. Over-reliant on analogies to 20th century totalitarianism, it paints the present moment as a moral conflict between truth and lies, with an unthinking public passively consuming the results. But our relationship to information and news is now entirely different: it has become an active and critical one, that is deeply suspicious of the official line. Nowadays, everyone is engaged in spotting and rebutting propaganda of one kind or another, curating our news feeds, attacking the framing of the other side and consciously resisting manipulation. In some ways, we have become too concerned with truth, to the point where we can no longer agree on it. The very institutions that might once have brought controversies to an end are under constant fire for their compromises and biases.

The threat of misinformation and propaganda should not be denied. As the scholars Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris and Hal Roberts have shown in their book Network Propaganda, there is now a self-sustaining information ecosystem on the American right through which conspiracy theories and untruths get recycled, between Breitbart, Fox News, talk radio and social media. Meanwhile, the anti-vaxx movement is becoming a serious public health problem across the world, aided by the online circulation of conspiracy theories and pseudo-science. This is a situation where simple misinformation poses a serious threat to society.

But away from these eye-catching cases, things look less clear-cut. The majority of people in northern Europe still regularly encounter mainstream news and information. Britain is a long way from the US experience, thanks principally to the presence of the BBC, which, for all its faults, still performs a basic function in providing a common informational experience. It is treated as a primary source of news by 60% of people in the UK. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2019 at 7:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Media

Spiced Seared Eggplant with Buckwheat Groats

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This is a NY Times recipe that I modified. I substituted buckwheat groats (a whole food) for Israeli couscous (a processed food in the sense that it’s made from flour rather than being an intact whole grain). Buckwheat is a seed that’s not a grain, and it is high in protein. I have increased the amount of water and cooking time because buckwheat groats take a little longer to cook than couscous.

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne

1.5 cups buckwhet groats

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups cubed eggplant with skin (about 1 small eggplant)
1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped
ground black pepper

2-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup canned diced tomatoes (I used a can of Ro-Tel original)
2 cups water

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
Yogurt, for serving (optional)

In a small bowl, combine cinnamon, cumin, and cayenne.

Heat a heavy pot (2 to 3 quarts) with a tight-fitting lid over medium until hot but not smoking. Add buckwheat groats and toast, stirring often, until golden and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer toasted groats to a bowl.

Add oil to pot and raise heat to medium-high. When it shimmers, add eggplant, onion, and pepper and cook, stirring often, until onions are softened and golden and the eggplant is browned and slightly shrunken, 10 to 12 minutes. Add garlic and stir just until fragrant.

Add tomato paste and the prepared spice mixture and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Stir in toasted groats, tomato, and water, cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the groats have absorbed all the liquid, 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let rest 2 minutes. Uncover, stir in paprika and parsley, then taste and adjust the seasoning with salt. Serve immediately and dollop with yogurt, if desired.

Pretty tasty.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2019 at 5:55 pm

An Ancient Fruit Holds Secrets for How to Farm in Climate Change

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Marisa Endicott writes in Mother Jones:

Cloverleaf Farm, a small produce operation in Davis, California, managed to do okay during the extreme drought that lasted from 2012 to 2016. But in the first wet year after the long dry period, the farm lost its entire apricot crop to disease—$40,000 to $50,000 down the drain.

Researchers predict that as climate change worsens, there will be more frequent shifts between extreme dry spells and floods. As Cloverleaf learned the hard way, the phenomenon is already taking a toll on growers in the country’s largest food producing state. During the drought, California’s agricultural and related industries lost $2.7 billion in one year alone. Big cash crops like almonds and grapes are at particular risk in the future, unnerving farmers and vintners already taking hits from erratic and extreme weather.

Katie Fyhrie, a grower at Cloverleaf Farm, worries that the farm won’t be able to keep producing stone fruits—which depend on the timing and duration of winter chill—in the long-term. “It can be confusing to figure out how to move forward,” Fyhrie says. “Where we’re at right now, versus where we’re going to be 10, 20, 30 years down the line. It’s a really tricky thing to balance.”

Ancient plant species might hold important clues about which crops will survive in a harsher climate. With that in mind, Fyhrie and her team have started growing elderberries. An indigo pearl-sized fruit that grows on a big bushy plant, the elderberry is relatively unknown in the United States; the majority of the commercial market comes from an imported European variety. But Native American communities have been using a Western elderberry subspecies for centuries.

The elderberry that’s native to California grows remarkably well in drought conditions. After a couple of years, you can completely remove irrigation and the plant will keep producing. This last season, Cloverleaf harvested 130 pounds of berries from each of its most mature trees, none of which are irrigated. “That is a huge deal that we’re getting berries that are good for you, really versatile for a lot of products, and that require no additional fertilizer or water,” Fyhrie says. 

Elderberries are just one of “many hardy ancient foods and crops that may be a poised to make a twenty-first century comeback,” as Amanda Little puts it in her recent book The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World. Global warming is “forcing us to think differently about the quality and resilience of the crops we grow—both in the poorest parts of the world and the wealthiest,” she writes. Some researchers are trying to breed almonds, apples, and avocados that are more resistant to hot weather and drier saltier land. General Mills is now using Kernza—derived from ancient perennial wheatgrass native to the Kansas plains—in some of its cereals, snack bars, and crackers. In comparison to traditional wheat, Kernza is much more sustainable and better at sequestering carbon.

With support from a sustainability grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture awarded in fall of 2018 and in partnership with the University of California–Davis, Cloverleaf is running field trials with elderberries, developing best practices guides for growers, and doing nutritional and market analyses. The idea is to explore boosting grower adoption and consumer interest in the berry.  

At Cloverleaf, Fyhrie uses the fruit in syrup, jelly, and even fruit leathers and an elderflower cordial. Dried elderberries can be used for tea and baked goods. They’re also used in food coloring and dyes. Because of the berries’ antioxidant and antiviral properties (in certain subspecies at least), they’re popular in the health food community and are commonly used as supplements or to treat colds and flu.

While not all native plants are going to fare well under climate change, many . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2019 at 11:34 am

Wines, grouped

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2019 at 6:08 am

Posted in Drinks

Apples, sorted by sweetness

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2019 at 6:06 am

Posted in Food, Plant-based diet

The Science of Persuasion

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2019 at 5:32 am

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