Later On

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Archive for December 16th, 2020

Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine

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Adrienne LaFrance has an article that made me renew my Atlantic subscription:

The doomsday machine was never supposed to exist. It was meant to be a thought experiment that went like this: Imagine a device built with the sole purpose of destroying all human life. Now suppose that machine is buried deep underground, but connected to a computer, which is in turn hooked up to sensors in cities and towns across the United States.

The sensors are designed to sniff out signs of the impending apocalypse—not to prevent the end of the world, but to complete it. If radiation levels suggest nuclear explosions in, say, three American cities simultaneously, the sensors notify the Doomsday Machine, which is programmed to detonate several nuclear warheads in response. At that point, there is no going back. The fission chain reaction that produces an atomic explosion is initiated enough times over to extinguish all life on Earth. There is a terrible flash of light, a great booming sound, then a sustained roar. We have a word for the scale of destruction that the Doomsday Machine would unleash: megadeath.

Nobody is pining for megadeath. But megadeath is not the only thing that makes the Doomsday Machine petrifying. The real terror is in its autonomy, this idea that it would be programmed to detect a series of environmental inputs, then to act, without human interference. “There is no chance of human intervention, control, and final decision,” wrote the military strategist Herman Kahn in his 1960 book, On Thermonuclear War, which laid out the hypothetical for a Doomsday Machine. The concept was to render nuclear war unwinnable, and therefore unthinkable.

Kahn concluded that automating the extinction of all life on Earth would be immoral. Even an infinitesimal risk of error is too great to justify the Doomsday Machine’s existence. “And even if we give up the computer and make the Doomsday Machine reliably controllable by decision makers,” Kahn wrote, “it is still not controllable enough.” No machine should be that powerful by itself—but no one person should be either.

The Soviets really did make a version of the Doomsday Machine during the Cold War. They nicknamed it “Dead Hand.” But so far, somewhat miraculously, we have figured out how to live with the bomb. Now we need to learn how to survive the social web.

People tend to complain about Facebook as if something recently curdled. There’s a notion that the social web was once useful, or at least that it could have been good, if only we had pulled a few levers: some moderation and fact-checking here, a bit of regulation there, perhaps a federal antitrust lawsuit. But that’s far too sunny and shortsighted a view. Today’s social networks, Facebook chief among them, were built to encourage the things that make them so harmful. It is in their very architecture.

I’ve been thinking for years about what it would take to make the social web magical in all the right ways—less extreme, less toxic, more true—and I realized only recently that I’ve been thinking far too narrowly about the problem. I’ve long wanted Mark Zuckerberg to admit that Facebook is a media company, to take responsibility for the informational environment he created in the same way that the editor of a magazine would. (I pressed him on this once and he laughed.) In recent years, as Facebook’s mistakes have compounded and its reputation has tanked, it has become clear that negligence is only part of the problem. No one, not even Mark Zuckerberg, can control the product he made. I’ve come to realize that Facebook is not a media company. It’s a Doomsday Machine.

The social web is doing exactly what it was built for. Facebook does not exist to seek truth and report it, or to improve civic health, or to hold the powerful to account, or to represent the interests of its users, though these phenomena may be occasional by-products of its existence. The company’s early mission was to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Instead, it took the concept of “community” and sapped it of all moral meaning. The rise of QAnon, for example, is one of the social web’s logical conclusions. That’s because Facebook—along with Google and YouTube—is perfect for amplifying and spreading disinformation at lightning speed to global audiences. Facebook is an agent of government propaganda, targeted harassment, terrorist recruitment, emotional manipulation, and genocide—a world-historic weapon that lives not underground, but in a Disneyland-inspired campus in Menlo Park, California.

The giants of the social web—Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram; Google and its subsidiary YouTube; and, to a lesser extent, Twitter—have achieved success by being dogmatically value-neutral in their pursuit of what I’ll call megascale. Somewhere along the way, Facebook decided that it needed not just a very large user base, but a tremendous one, unprecedented in size. That decision set Facebook on a path to escape velocity, to a tipping point where it can harm society just by existing.

Limitations to the Doomsday Machine comparison are obvious: Facebook cannot in an instant reduce a city to ruins the way a nuclear bomb can. And whereas the Doomsday Machine was conceived of as a world-ending device so as to forestall the end of the world, Facebook started because a semi-inebriated Harvard undergrad was bored one night. But the stakes are still life-and-death. Megascale is nearly the existential threat that megadeath is. No single machine should be able to control the fate of the world’s population—and that’s what both the Doomsday Machine and Facebook are built to do.

The cycle of harm perpetuated by Facebook’s scale-at-any-cost business model is plain to see. Scale and engagement are valuable to Facebook because they’re valuable to advertisers. These incentives lead to design choices such as reaction buttons that encourage users to engage easily and often, which in turn encourage users to share ideas that will provoke a strong response. Every time you click a reaction button on Facebook, an algorithm records it, and sharpens its portrait of who you are. The hyper-targeting of users, made possible by reams of their personal data, creates the perfect environment for manipulation—by advertisers, by political campaigns, by emissaries of disinformation, and of course by Facebook itself, which ultimately controls what you see and what you don’t see on the site. Facebook has enlisted a corps of approximately 15,000 moderators, people paid to watch unspeakable things—murder, gang rape, and other depictions of graphic violence that wind up on the platform. Even as Facebook has insisted that it is a value-neutral vessel for the material its users choose to publish, moderation is a lever the company has tried to pull again and again. But there aren’t enough moderators speaking enough languages, working enough hours, to stop the biblical flood of shit that Facebook unleashes on the world, because 10 times out of 10, the algorithm is faster and more powerful than a person. At megascale, this algorithmically warped personalized informational environment is extraordinarily difficult to moderate in a meaningful way, and extraordinarily dangerous as a result.

These dangers are not theoretical, and they’re exacerbated by megascale, which makes the platform a tantalizing place to experiment on people. Facebook has conducted social-contagion experiments on its users without telling them. Facebook has acted as a force for digital colonialism, attempting to become the de facto (and only) experience of the internet for people all over the world. Facebook has bragged about its ability to influence the outcome of elections. Unlawful militant groups use Facebook to organize. Government officials use Facebook to mislead their own citizens, and to tamper with elections. Military officials have exploited Facebook’s complacency to carry out genocide. Facebook inadvertently auto-generated jaunty recruitment videos for the Islamic State featuring anti-Semitic messages and burning American flags.

Even after U.S. intelligence agencies identified Facebook as a main battleground for information warfare and foreign interference in the 2016 election, the company has failed to stop the spread of extremism, hate speech, propaganda, disinformation, and conspiracy theories on its site. Neo-Nazis stayed active on Facebook by taking out ads even after they were formally banned. And it wasn’t until October of this year, for instance, that Facebook announced it would remove groups, pages, and Instragram accounts devoted to QAnon, as well as any posts denying the Holocaust. (Previously Zuckerberg had defended Facebook’s decision not to remove disinformation about the Holocaust, saying of Holocaust deniers, “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.” He later clarified that he didn’t mean to defend Holocaust deniers.) Even so, Facebook routinely sends emails to users recommending the newest QAnon groups. White supremacists and deplatformed MAGA trolls may flock to smaller social platforms such as Gab and Parler, but these platforms offer little aside from a narrative of martyrdom without megascale.

In the days after the 2020 presidential election, Zuckerberg authorized a tweak to the Facebook algorithm so that high-accuracy news sources such as NPR would receive preferential visibility in people’s feeds, and hyper-partisan pages such as Breitbart News’s and Occupy Democrats’ would be buried, according to The New York Times, offering proof that Facebook could, if it wanted to, turn a dial to reduce disinformation—and offering a reminder that Facebook has the power to flip a switch and change what billions of people see online.

The decision to touch the dial was highly unusual for Facebook. Think about it this way: The Doomsday Machine’s sensors detected something harmful in the environment and chose not to let its algorithms automatically blow it up across the web as usual. This time a human intervened to mitigate harm. The only problem is that reducing the prevalence of content that Facebook calls “bad for the world” also reduces people’s engagement with the site. In its experiments with human intervention, the Times reported, Facebook calibrated the dial so that just enough harmful content stayed in users’ news feeds to keep them coming back for more.

Facebook’s stated mission—to make the world more open and connected—has always seemed, to me, phony at best, and imperialist at worst. After all, . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2020 at 6:46 pm

America, We Have a Problem

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Thomas B. Edsall writes in the NY Times:

The turbulence that followed the Nov. 3 election has roiled American politics, demonstrating an ominous vulnerability in our political system.

Donald Trump used the 41-day window between the presidential election and the Dec. 14 meeting of the Electoral College to hold the country in thrall based on his refusal to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory and his own defeat.

Most troubling to those who opposed Trump, and even to some who backed him, was the capitulation by Republicans in the House and Senate. It took six weeks from Election Day for Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, to acknowledge on Tuesday that “the Electoral College has spoken. Today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.”

Trump’s refusal to abide by election law was widely viewed as conveying an implicit threat of force. Equally alarming, Trump, with no justification, focused his claims of voter fraud on cities with large African-American populations in big urban counties, including Detroit in Wayne County, Milwaukee in Milwaukee County, Philadelphia in Philadelphia County and Atlanta in Fulton County.

Bob Bauer, a senior legal adviser to the Biden campaign, told reporters that the Trump campaign’s “targeting of the African-American community is not subtle. It is extraordinary,” before adding, “It’s quite remarkable how brazen it is.”

Viewing recent events through a Trump prism may be too restrictive to capture the economic, social and cultural turmoil that has grown more corrosive in recent years.

On Oct. 30, a group of 15 eminent scholars (several of whom I also got a chance to talk to) published an essay — “Political Sectarianism in America” — arguing that the antagonism between left and right has become so intense that words and phrases like “affective polarization” and “tribalism” were no longer sufficient to capture the level of partisan hostility.

“The severity of political conflict has grown increasingly divorced from the magnitude of policy disagreement,” the authors write, requiring the development of “a superordinate construct, political sectarianism — the tendency to adopt a moralized identification with one political group and against another.”

Political sectarianism, they argue,

consists of three core ingredients: othering — the tendency to view opposing partisans as essentially different or alien to oneself; aversion — the tendency to dislike and distrust opposing partisans; and moralization — the tendency to view opposing partisans as iniquitous. It is the confluence of these ingredients that makes sectarianism so corrosive in the political sphere.

There are multiple adverse outcomes that result from political sectarianism, according to the authors. It “incentivizes politicians to adopt antidemocratic tactics when pursuing electoral or political victories” since their supporters will justify such norm violation because “the consequences of having the vile opposition win the election are catastrophic.”

Political sectarianism also legitimates

a willingness to inflict collateral damage in pursuit of political goals and to view copartisans who compromise as apostates. As political sectarianism has surged in recent years, so too has support for violent tactics.

In a parallel line of analysis, Jack Goldstone, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, and Peter Turchin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, contend that a combination of economic and demographic trends point to growing political upheaval. Events of the last six weeks have lent credibility to their research: On Sept. 10, they published an essay, “Welcome To The ‘Turbulent Twenties,’” making the case that the United States is “heading toward the highest level of vulnerability to political crisis seen in this country in over a hundred years.” There is, they wrote, “plenty of dangerous tinder piled up, and any spark could generate an inferno.”

Goldstone and Turchin do not believe that doomsday is inevitable. They cite previous examples of countries reversing downward trends, including the United States during the Great Depression:

To be sure, the path back to a strong, united and inclusive America will not be easy or short. But a clear pathway does exist, involving a shift of leadership, a focus on compromise and responding to the world as it is, rather than trying desperately to hang on to or restore a bygone era.

The Goldstone-Turchin argument is based on a measure called a “political stress indicator,” developed by Goldstone in his 1991 book, “Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World.” According to Goldstone, the measure “predicted the 1640s Puritan Revolution, the French Revolution of 1789, and the European Revolutions of 1830 and 1848.”

Goldstone wrote that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2020 at 6:17 pm

What’s behind those effortless, flawless dance moves one enjoys watching

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Earlier today I posted a clip of Ann Reinking doing a dance number and linked to an article that included several clips. Her assurance, grace, strength, poise, flexibility, accuracy, …. — it takes one’s breath away. But of course what we don’t see is how she achieved that smoothness of movement in the particular routine.. Michelangelo said, “It takes work to remove the traces of work,” and we generally don’t see the dancer’s work.

Here’s a glimpse of it though:

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2020 at 3:45 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

Life begins at 40: the demographic and cultural roots of the midlife crisis

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Dante seems to be thinking a bout a man’s mid-life crises in the opening lines of The Divine Comedy, wherein he describes a man in midlife who has lost his way:

When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray.

Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was,
that savage forest, dense and difficult,
which even in recall renews my fear:

so bitter—death is hardly more severe!
But to retell the good discovered there,
I’ll also tell the other things I saw.

I cannot clearly say how I had entered
the wood; I was so full of sleep just at
the point where I abandoned the true path.

But when I’d reached the bottom of a hill—
it rose along the boundary of the valley
that had harassed my heart with so much fear—

I looked on high and saw its shoulders clothed
already by the rays of that same planet
which serves to lead men straight along all roads.

At this my fear was somewhat quieted;
for through the night of sorrow I had spent,
the lake within my heart felt terror present.

And just as he who, with exhausted breath,
having escaped from sea to shore, turns back
to watch the dangerous waters he has quit,

so did my spirit, still a fugitive,
turn back to look intently at the pass
that never has let any man survive.

I let my tired body rest awhile.
Moving again, I tried the lonely slope—
my firm foot always was the one below.

And almost where the hillside starts to rise—
look there!—a leopard, very quick and lithe,
a leopard covered with a spotted hide.

He did not disappear from sight, but stayed;
indeed, he so impeded my ascent
that I had often to turn back again.

The time was . . .

Years ago I read Daniel J. Levinson’s The Seasons of a Man’s Life, a report on a 10-year psychological study he had done to discover the character of the stages of a man’s life. He specifically studied the lives of men and not women because (a) he was a man and he was interested to learn more about what he had experienced and what he could expect, and (b) he strongly suspected that the stages of a woman’s life would be different, with the impacts of post-puberty fertility (which brings the possibility and often the actuality of childbirth and the changes that entails) and menopause (which ends fertility and brings further change).

As I recall, from having read the book decades ago, he discovered that men must deal with ten-year milestones, points in a man’s life when certain key tasks must have been fulfilled or now be abandoned. This time is when he sets his priorities for the next part of his life. They go like this:

Around 10 years of age, childhood ends and in the next decade the youth must explore possibilities to learn more about the adult world.

Around age 20 the exploration ends because it’s time to make choices and build the framework and direction for one’s life as an independent adult. This is a big transition, and it brings a fair amount of stress.

Around age 30, there’s another transition, but at this point a man is usually established in his adult life, so this one is more a matter of course corrections and adjustments to priorities.

Around age 40 is another big transition, as stressful as at age 20 and perhaps even more so: at age 20 one more or less expects the stress of making big choices, but at age 40 most would expect their lives to be set. However, at this time mortality becomes clearer, and most want to figure out what their true life accomplishment will be.

Around age 50 is like around age 30: course corrections, but not the big stress.

And around age 60 is another stressful transition — it’s passing-the-torch time, and looking forward to what you will be doing as the younger generation supplants you.

Basically, he found that the 20 year transitions — 20, 40, 60, and (presumably) 80 are the stressful ones, with 10, 30, 50, and (presumably) 70 not being so traumatic and upsetting.

It’s an interesting book and worth reading. Gail Sheehy interviewed him at length and basically took what she wanted of his study’s findings to write her book, Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, which I also read. I prefer Levinson’s book. It might be interesting to read it again.

With that as preamble, take a look at the 2019 Wilkins–Bernal–Medawar lecture given by Mark Jackson at The Royal Society:

Abstract

In 1965, the psychoanalyst and social scientist Elliott Jaques introduced a term, the ‘midlife crisis’, that continues to structure Western understandings and experiences of middle age. Following Jaques’s work, the midlife crisis became a popular means of describing how—and why—men and women around the age of 40 became disillusioned with work, disenchanted with relationships and detached from family responsibilities. Post-war sociological and psychological studies of middle age regarded the midlife crisis as a manifestation of either biological or psychological change, as a moment in the life course when—perhaps for the first time—people felt themselves to be declining towards death. Although the midlife crisis has often been dismissed as a myth or satirized in novels and films, the concept has persisted not only in stereotypical depictions of rebellion and infidelity at midlife, but also in research that has sought to explain the particular social, physical and emotional challenges of middle age. In the spirit of the pioneering research of John Wilkins, John Bernal and Peter Medawar, each of whom in different ways emphasized the complex interrelations between science and society, I want to argue that the emergence of the midlife crisis—as concept and experience—during the middle decades of the twentieth century was not coincidental. Rather it was the product of historically specific demographic changes and political aspirations—at least in the Western world—to keep alive the American dream of economic progress and material prosperity.


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Introduction

In 1965, the Canadian-born psychoanalyst and social scientist Elliott Jaques introduced a term, the ‘midlife crisis’, that continues to shape Western accounts of ageing, love and loss. Working at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London, Jaques was well known for his studies of organizational structures, introducing terms such as ‘corporate culture’ into contemporary discussions of occupational hierarchies and working practices.1 His research was based on empirical studies of institutions such as factories, churches and hospitals. But it was also shaped by his practice as a psychoanalyst and by the theories of Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein. Psychoanalytical influences are particularly evident in his formulation of the midlife crisis. Jaques had begun to think about the concept in 1952—at the age of 35—when a period of personal reflection was prompted by the conclusion of his own analytical sessions with Klein and by reading Dante’s Inferno—a poetic account of a midlife journey into, and eventually through, darkness and depression. The ‘beautiful lines’ at the start of the Inferno, Jaques wrote many years later, ‘melded with my own inner experiences of the midlife struggle with its vivid sense of the meaning of personal death’.2

When Jaques first presented his paper on ‘death and the midlife crisis’ to the British Psychoanalytical Society in 1957, it generated only a muted response and was not accepted by the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis until eight years later.3 In the published version, which was based on a study of 300 creative artists as well as case histories from his clinical practice, Jaques argued that during the middle years of life, when the ‘first phase of adult life has been lived’, adjustment to a new set of circumstances was necessary: work and family had been established; parents had grown old; and children were ‘at the threshold of adulthood’. The challenge of coping with these pressures, when combined with personal experiences of ageing, triggered awareness of the reality of death: ‘The paradox is that of entering the prime of life, the stage of fulfilment, but at the same time the prime and fulfilment are dated. Death lies beyond.’4

According to Jaques, those who reached midlife without having successfully established themselves in terms of marriage and occupation were ‘badly prepared for meeting the demands of middle age’. As a result, they were likely to display what became the clichéd features of a midlife crisis: disillusionment with life; dissatisfaction with work; a desperation to postpone mental and physical decline; detachment from family responsibilities; and infidelity with a younger, more athletic accomplice. It was psychological immaturity, Jaques argued, that generated a depressive crisis around the age of 35 that was energetically masked by a manic determination to thwart advancing years:

The compulsive attempts, in many men and women reaching middle age, to remain young, the hypochondriacal concern over health and appearance, the emergence of sexual promiscuity in order to prove youth and potency, the hollowness and lack of genuine enjoyment of life, and the frequency of religious concern, are familiar patterns. They are attempts at a race against time.5

Jacqus warned that, for those who did not work carefully through the psychological anguish of midlife, impulsive strategies intended to protect against the tragedy of death were unlikely to be successful: ‘These defensive fantasies’, he insisted, ‘are just as persecuting, however, as the chaotic and hopeless internal situation they are meant to mitigate.’6

As Jaques’s turn of phrase became more popular on both sides of the Atlantic, he was regularly cited as the originator of the term.7 His concept of the midlife crisis shaped research into the life course and informed self-help and therapeutic approaches to the individual and relational challenges of middle age. Already by the late 1960s, Jaques’s work was framing attempts to understand and resolve the ‘search for meaning’ that was thought to typify the midlife identity crisis.8 In Britain, the impact of the midlife crisis on marriage inspired efforts to address the personal, familial and social determinants—and consequences—of rising levels of divorce. It also influenced the psychoanalytical approaches to resolving marital tensions adopted by Henry V. Dicks and his colleagues at the Tavistock Clinic.9 Elsewhere, the midlife crisis became a notable motif in the work of researchers investigating the impact of life transitions on marriage trajectories, personal identity, and health in men and women—most notably in studies by American authors such as Roger Gould, Gail Sheehy, George Vaillant and Daniel Levinson.10 The fantasies of middle-aged men hoping to retain their youthful vigour also figured in literary and cinematic treatments of marriage, love and loss during the middle years—most famously in novels by Sloan Wilson, David Ely, John Updike and David Nobbs.11

In the post-war decades, the midlife crisis was understood in two principal ways. On the one hand, problems of midlife were read in terms of  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2020 at 3:38 pm

Impatience: a deep cause of Western failure in handling the pandemic

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Branko Milanovic writes at Global Inequality:

 In  October 2019, Johns Hopkins University and the Economist Intelligence Unit published the  Global Epidemic Preparedness Report (Global Health Security Report). Never was a report on an important global topic better timed. And never was it more wrong.

The report argued that the best prepared countries are the following three: the US (in reality, the covid outcome, as of mid-December 2020, was almost 1000 deaths per million), UK (the same), and the Netherlands (almost 600). Vietnam was ranked No. 50 (while its current covid fatalities per million are 0.4), China was ranked 51st (covid fatalities are 3 per million), Japan was ranked 21st (20). Indonesia (deaths: 69 per million) and Italy (almost 1100 deaths per million) were ranked the same; Singapore (5 deaths per million) and Ireland (428 deaths per million) were ranked next to each other. People who were presumably most qualified to figure out how to be best prepared for a pandemic have colossally failed.

Their mistake confirms how unexpected and difficult it is to explain the debacle of Western countries (where I include not only the US and Europe, but also Russia and Latin America) in the handling of the pandemic. There was no shortage of possible explanations produced ever since the failure became obvious: incompetent governments (especially Trump), administrative confusion, “civil liberties”, initial underestimation of the danger, dependence on imports of PPE…The debate will continue for years. To use a military analogy: the covid debacle is like the French debacle in 1940. If one looks at any objective criteria (number of soldiers, quality of equipment, mobilization effort), the French defeat should have never happened. Similarly, if one looks at the objective criteria regarding covid, as the October report indeed did, the death rates in the US, Italy or UK are simply impossible to explain: neither by the number of doctors or nurses per capita, by health expenditure, by the education level of the population, by total income, by quality of hospitals…

The failure is most starkly seen when contrasted with East Asian countries which, whether democratic or authoritarian, have had outcomes that are not moderately but several orders of magnitude superior to those of Western countries. How was this possible? People have argued that it might be due to Asian countries’ prior exposure to epidemics like SARS, or Asian collectivism as opposed to Western individualism.

I would like to propose another deeper cause of the debacle. It is a soft cause. It is a speculation. It cannot be proven empirically. It has never been measured and perhaps it is impossible to measure with any degree of exactness. That explanation is impatience.

When one looks at Western countries’ reaction to the pandemic, one is struck by its stop-and-go character. Lockdown measures were imposed, often reluctantly, in the Spring when the epidemic seemed to be at the peak, just to be released as soon as there was an improvement. The improvement was perceived by the public as the end of the epidemic. The governments were happy to participate in that self-deception. Then, in the Fall, the epidemic came back with vengeance, and again the tough measures were imposed half-heartedly, under pressure, and with the (already once-chastened) hope that they could be rescinded for the holidays.

Why did not governments and the public go from the beginning for strong measures whose objective would not have been merely to “flatten the curve” but to either eradicate the virus or drive it out to such an extent, as it was done in East Asia, so that only sporadic bursts might remain? Those flare ups could be dealt again using drastic measures as in June when Beijing closed its largest open market, supplying several million people, after a few cases of covid were linked to it.

The public, and thus I think, the governments were unwilling to take the East Asian approach to the pandemic because of a culture of impatience, of desire to quickly solve all problems, to bear only very limited costs. That delusion however did not work with covid.

I think that impatience can be related to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2020 at 2:30 pm

Former Houston Police Department captain’s crusade to stop voter fraud ends with him in handcuffs

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Miya Shay reports for KTRK in Houston just how insane the Right has become:

A former Houston Police Department Captain was arrested and charged for running a man off the road and pointing a gun at his head in an attempt to prove claims of a massive voter fraud scheme in Harris County, according to a news release from the Harris County’s DA’s office.

Mark Anthony Aguirre, 63, was arrested by Houston police Tuesday and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

“He crossed the line from dirty politics to commission of a violent crime, and we are lucky no one was killed,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said. “His alleged investigation was backward from the start – first alleging a crime had occurred and then trying to prove it happened.”

According to court documents, Aguirre told police that he was part of a group of private citizens called the “Liberty Center,” who were conducting a civilian investigation into the alleged ballot scheme.

According to Aguirre, he had been conducting surveillance for four days on a man who was allegedly the mastermind of a giant voter fraud scheme. Aguirre told authorities the man was hiding 750,000 fraudulent ballots in a truck he was driving.

Instead, the victim turned out to be an innocent air conditioner repairman, court documents said.

Aguirre ran his SUV into the back of the truck to get the technician to stop and get out, according to court documents.

When the technician got out of the truck, Aguirre pointed a handgun at the technician, forced him to the ground and put his knee on the man’s back until police came, the court document said.

Aguirre allegedly directed police to a parking lot nearby where another suspect, who has not been identified, took the truck.

According to court documents, there were no ballots in the truck. The truck was filled with air conditioning parts and tools.

“I think it’s a political prosecution. I really do,” said Terry Yates, Aguirre’s attorney. “He was working and investigating voter fraud, and there was an accident. A member of the car got out and rushed at him and that’s where the confrontation took place. It’s very different from what you’re citing in the affidavit.”

Aguirre allegedly never told police that he had been paid a total of $266,400 by the Houston-based Liberty Center for God and Country, with $211,400 of that amount being deposited into his account the day after the incident.

“Does the Liberty Center endorse that?” ABC13 reporter Jessica Willey asked . . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

And, of course, their lunacy is unfalsifiable. If you point out that the truck was full of air-conditioning parts, then that just shows they were clever enough to ship the fraudulent ballots another way. If you searched the shop and showed that it contained only air conditioners and air conditioner parts and equipment to repair air conditioners, then that shows just how clever and sneaky they are and the power of the forces these warriors of the Right are fighting.

Everything can be interpreted as supporting the delusion.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2020 at 12:11 pm

Right-Wing Embrace Of Conspiracy Is ‘Mass Radicalization,’ Experts Warn

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The US may be much more damaged than we now realize, with the corrosive effects of right-wing paranoia and aggression greatly weakening US strength. (No wonder Russia is so grateful to Donald Trump for his contribution to this movement.) Hannah Allam reports for NPR:

The widespread embrace of conspiracy and disinformation amounts to a “mass radicalization” of Americans, and increases the risk of right-wing violence, veteran security officials and terrorism researchers warn.

At conferences, in op-eds and at agency meetings, domestic terrorism analysts are raising concern about the security implications of millions of conservatives buying into baseless right-wing claims. They say the line between mainstream and fringe is vanishing, with conspiracy-minded Republicans now marching alongside armed extremists at rallies across the country. Disparate factions on the right are coalescing into one side, analysts say, self-proclaimed “real Americans” who are cocooned in their own news outlets, their own social media networks and, ultimately, their own “truth.”

“This tent that used to be sort of ‘far-right extremists’ has gotten a lot broader. To me, a former counterterrorism official, that’s a radicalization process,” said Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw terrorism cases and who’s now a law professor at Georgetown University.

McCord was speaking at a recent online conference, Millions of Conversations, an organization aimed at reducing polarization. Along with McCord, several other former officials who served in senior national security roles said the mass embrace of bogus information poses a serious national security concern for the incoming Biden administration.

Weekend protest

They added that there’s no easy foil for a right-wing propaganda effort that amplifies fears and grievances on a nonstop loop. Those beliefs already have inspired political violence at protests over lockdowns and racial injustice. Political conspiracies drew thousands to last weekend’s pro-Trump rally, after which the Proud Boys and other violent extremist groups wreaked havoc in downtown Washington, D.C.

“Breaking through that echo chamber is critical or else we’ll see more violence,” said Elizabeth Neumann, who in April resigned her post leading the Department of Homeland Security office that oversees responses to violent extremism.

While it’s impossible to pin down the scope of such beliefs, analysts say, the numbers are staggering if even a fraction of President Trump’s more than 74 million voters support bogus claims that say, for example, the election was rigged, the coronavirus is a hoax, and liberals are hatching a socialist takeover.

Traffic numbers for right-wing outlets and livestreams suggest the support extends well beyond the margins. Recent polls also signal the spread: One survey found that around 77% of Trump supporters believe that Joe Biden won the election as a result of fraud despite no evidence to support that claim.

At the online conference, participants characterized the shift as a mass radicalization. Neumann said the issue keeps her up at night worrying about where the country is heading. She talked about family members who’ve gone down the right-wing rabbit hole of disinformation. She said conversations with them require patience and negotiation, such as laying out her conditions for coronavirus safety protocols at family gatherings.

Neumann said it’s hard to imagine what it would take to replicate those tough conversations on a national scale, given the power and reach of conservative media.

“I am wrestling with: How do I help people that have, unbeknownst to them, they’ve become radicalized in their thought? They hold views they didn’t hold 10 years ago because all they listen to is that conservative infotainment,” Neumann said. “Unless we help them break the deception, we cannot operate with 30% of the country holding the extreme views that they do.”

Show of force

Jason Dempsey, a military analyst and former Army officer on the panel, said too many people are turning to force as a response to fears over political divisions, whether through the military and law enforcement, or the formation of local armed groups. The election-rigging rhetoric only ups the ante as Democrats are painted no longer just as fellow citizens with different views but as enemies who must be vanquished.

“There are no . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article:

On the conference call, the analysts agreed that the leftist fringe also is hardening and promoting its own conspiracies. But they said there’s simply no equivalency with the right in terms of the volume of disinformation and conspiracy, or in its connections to violent acts.

“There is a monetization of outrage on both sides,” Neumann said, “but in particular the conservative infotainment sector makes money off of that outrage.”

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2020 at 11:52 am

The Big Thaw: How Russia Could Dominate a Warming World

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Abrahm Lustgarten reports in ProPublica:

IT WAS ONLY November, but the chill already cut to the bone in the small village of Dimitrovo, which sits just 35 miles north of the Chinese border in a remote part of eastern Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region. Behind a row of sagging cabins and decades-old farm equipment, flat fields ran into the brambly branches of a leafless forest before fading into the oblivion of a dreary squall. Several villagers walked the single-lane dirt road, their shoulders rounded against the cold, their ghostly footprints marking the dry white snow.

A few miles down the road, a rusting old John Deere combine growled on through the flurries, its blade churning through dead-brown stalks of soybeans. The tractor lurched to a halt, and a good-humored man named Dima climbed down from the cockpit. Dima, an entrepreneur who farms nearly 6,500 acres of these fields, was born in the Liaoning Province of northeastern China — his birth name is Xin Jie — one of a wave of Chinese to migrate north in pursuit of opportunity in recent years. After Dima’s mostly Chinese laborers returned home this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he has been forced to do much of the work himself. Bundled against the wind in a camouflage parka, he bent to pick a handful of slender pods from the ground, opening one to reveal a glimpse at Russia’s future.

A great transformation is underway in the eastern half of Russia. For centuries the vast majority of the land has been impossible to farm; only the southernmost stretches along the Chinese and Mongolian borders, including around Dimitrovo, have been temperate enough to offer workable soil. But as the climate has begun to warm, the land — and the prospect for cultivating it — has begun to improve. Twenty years ago, Dima says, the spring thaw came in May, but now the ground is bare by April; rainstorms now come stronger and wetter. Across Eastern Russia, wild forests, swamps and grasslands are slowly being transformed into orderly grids of soybeans, corn and wheat. It’s a process that is likely to accelerate: Russia hopes to seize on the warming temperatures and longer growing seasons brought by climate change to refashion itself as one of the planet’s largest producers of food.

Around the world, climate change is becoming an epochal crisis, a nightmare of drought, desertification, flooding and unbearable heat, threatening to make vast regions less habitable and drive the greatest migration of refugees in history. But for a few nations, climate change will present an unparalleled opportunity, as the planet’s coldest regions become more temperate. There is plenty of reason to think that those places will also receive an extraordinary influx of people displaced from the hottest parts of the world as the climate warms. Human migration, historically, has been driven by the pursuit of prosperity even more so than it has by environmental strife. With climate change, prosperity and habitability — haven and economic opportunity — will soon become one and the same.

And no country may be better positioned to capitalize on climate change than Russia. Russia has the largest land mass by far of any northern nation. It is positioned farther north than all of its South Asian neighbors, which collectively are home to the largest global population fending off displacement from rising seas, drought and an overheating climate. Like Canada, Russia is rich in resources and land, with room to grow. Its crop production is expected to be boosted by warming temperatures over the coming decades even as farm yields in the United States, Europe and India are all forecast to decrease. And whether by accident or cunning strategy or, most likely, some combination of the two, the steps its leaders have steadily taken — planting flags in the Arctic and propping up domestic grain production among them — have increasingly positioned Russia to regain its superpower mantle in a warmer world.

FOR THOUSANDS of years, warming temperatures and optimal climate have tracked closely with human productivity and development. After the last ice age, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2020 at 11:39 am

Russian Media Mourn as Putin Acknowledges Biden’s Win—But Say Trump ‘Burned’ U.S. on His Way Out

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The attitude — possessive and grateful — Russian media have for Donald Trump is remarkable. Julia Davis reports in The Daily Beast:

On Tuesday, the Kremlin finally acknowledged that U.S. President Donald J. Trump has been defeated by President-elect Joe Biden, by sending an official congratulatory message to the incoming American president. Russian state media immediately noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin was the last leader of the G20 to recognize Biden’s indisputable victory.

Russian state TV hosts, pundits and lawmakers were also quick to point out the unusually dry language of Putin’s greetings, noting that—unlike his prior telegrams to Trump and Obama—Putin didn’t express any hope that U.S.-Russia relations might improve in the near future. “There are no hopes expressed in Putin’s letter to Biden, none whatsoever,” noted Olga Skabeeva, the co-host of Russia’s state TV program 60 Minutes. She added: “We’re disappointed in Americans.”

Describing American president as “our candidate Trump,” “our friend Donald,” “our Grandpa” and “poor, poor Trump,” Kremlin-controlled state TV shows conceded that Trump’s days in the Oval Office are numbered. While the doom and gloom in Russian state media inevitably surrounded most discussions acknowledging Trump’s electoral defeat, pundits and experts celebrated the bright side of their favored candidate’s four-year reign. “Mission accomplished,” rejoiced Karen Shakhnazarov, CEO of Mosfilm Studio and an ever-present pundit on Russian state TV news talk shows. Appearing on state TV program The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev, Shakhnazarov opined that Trump’s mission was to destroy the political system of the United States, and he successfully did exactly that.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2020 at 11:33 am

The Best Knee Replacement Alternative for Osteoarthritis Treatment

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More benefits of a whole-food plant-only diet:

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2020 at 11:29 am

The Dazzling Razzle of Ann Reinking and Where to See It

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Ann Reinking was a national treasure. (I’ll mention that All That Jazz is one of my all-time favorite movies.) New York has a fine article on her and her career and contributions with several excellent clips. Here’s one:

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2020 at 11:24 am

Posted in Art, Movies & TV, Video

Tagged with

Leviathan and the Game Changer, which today needed a blade changer

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I do like Barrister & Mann’s Leviathan: good lather, great fragrance. The Wee Scot did a fine job, and the Game Changer produced a good result, though some effort was required. After the shave I changed the blade, using one of my antique “Swedish” Gillette blades. These were much admired a few years back, though I believe they are now rare. I still have a small stash, though the dispenser, which allows you to push a blade out with your thumb, is no longer useful: the oil on the blades has dried enough that the blades are slightly stuck together, so that I ultimately had to use a screwdriver to pop the dispense apart and peel of a blade by hand.

A splash of Leviathan aftershave was a highly satisfactory conclusion to the shave Mid-week and things fare well. I hope the same is true for you.

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2020 at 10:39 am

Posted in Shaving

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