Later On

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Archive for August 30th, 2021

Afghanistan: 3 Unlearned Lessons

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Robert Wright writes at Nonzero Newsletter:

. . .  Unlearned Lesson #1: The presence of a foreign army can strengthen the enemy by expanding its popular support.

In Vietnam, the United States underestimated the enemy’s grassroots support by misunderstanding the enemy’s nature. Many American officials saw the Viet Cong as fundamentally an incarnation of Communist ideology—and to some extent as a creation of outside Communist powers. They failed to see that it was in large part an incarnation of nationalism, of longstanding resistance against Western powers—first France and now the United States. So they didn’t appreciate that the presence of American troops was a kind of fuel for the enemy.

This misunderstanding was a central theme of Frances FitzGerald’s 1972 book Fire in the Lake. The book won a Pulitzer Prize and was a New York Times bestseller—which you’d think would be enough to keep FitzGerald’s point circulating for a long time.

Not long enough, apparently. In Afghanistan we again failed to see how a foreign military presence could energize nationalism and expand the enemy’s base. In a way our failure to get this picture is understandable; the Taliban seemed first and foremost a religious organization, and to the extent that it had a secular identity, that identity seemed rooted more in Pashtun ethnicity than in Afghan nationality. But such is the galvanizing power of a foreign army—especially one whose drones occasionally kill civilians—that unlikely carriers of a nationalist torch can wind up carrying it.

I didn’t totally get this until I listened to a recent edition of Aaron Mate’s Pushback podcast. Daniel Sjursen, a retired Army officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and has taught at West Point, told Mate that “we kind of made the Taliban… What we ended up doing by our very presence was forming them into the national resistance organization they always wanted to be.” The Taliban became “the only game in town” for nationalists; the Taliban could say, “I’m a real Afghan. I’m a nationalist Afghan. Those people in Kabul, they’re working with the Americans.”

Sjursen added, “And we never got that. We thought that, well, more militarization will fix the problem of militarization being the problem.”

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 6:47 pm

The mind does not exist

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Joe Gough,  a PhD student in philosophy at the University of Sussex in the UK, writes in Aeon:

Someone’s probably told you before that something you thought, felt or feared was ‘all in your mind’. I’m here to tell you something else: there’s no such thing as the mind and nothing is mental. I call this the ‘no mind thesis’. The no-mind thesis is entirely compatible with the idea that people are conscious, and that they think, feel, believe, desire and so on. What it’s not compatible with is the notion that being conscious, thinking, feeling, believing, desiring and so on are mental, part of the mind, or done by the mind.

The no-mind thesis doesn’t mean that people are ‘merely bodies’. Instead, it means that, when faced with a whole person, we shouldn’t think that they can be divided into a ‘mind’ and a ‘body’, or that their properties can be neatly carved up between the ‘mental’ and the ‘non-mental’. It’s notable that Homeric Greek lacks terms that can be consistently translated as ‘mind’ and ‘body’. In Homer, we find a view of people as a coherent collection of communicating parts – ‘the spirit inside my breast drives me’; ‘my legs and arms are willing’. A similar view of human beings, as a big bundle of overlapping, intelligent systems in near-constant communication, is increasingly defended in cognitive science and biology.

The terms mind and mental are used in so many ways and have such a chequered history that they carry more baggage than meaning. Ideas of the mind and the mental are simultaneously ambiguous and misleading, especially in various important areas of science and medicine. When people talk of ‘the mind’ and ‘the mental’, the no-mind thesis doesn’t deny that they’re talking about something – on the contrary, they’re often talking about too many things at once. Sometimes, when speaking of ‘the mind’, people really mean agency; other times, cognition; still others, consciousness; some uses of ‘mental’ really mean psychiatric; others psychological; others still immaterial; and yet others, something else.

This conceptual blurriness is fatal to the usefulness of the idea of ‘the mind’. To be fair, many concepts build bridges: they exhibit a specific, generally harmless kind of ambiguity called polysemy, with slightly different meanings in different contexts. The flexibility and elasticity of polysemy binds disparate areas of research and practice together, priming people to recognise their similarities and interrelatedness. For example, if a computer scientist talks about ‘computation’, they normally mean something slightly different than an engineer, a cognitive scientist or someone chatting with a friend means. The overarching concept of computation links all these conversations together, helping us to spot the commonalities between them.

The problem is that making links like this isn’t always a good idea. Sometimes it spurs creative interactions between different areas of expertise, and offers helpful analogies that would otherwise be hard to spot. But other instances of polysemy lead to harmful conflations and damaging analogies. They make people talk past each other, or become invested in defending or attacking certain concepts rather than identifying their shared goals. This can cement misunderstandings and stigma.

You’ve got to give it to mind and mental: they’re among the most polysemous concepts going around. Lawyers talk of ‘mental’ capacity, psychiatrists talk of ‘mental illness’, cognitive scientists claim to study ‘the mind’, as do psychologists, and as do some philosophers; many people talk of a ‘mind-body problem’, and many people wonder whether it’s OK to eat animals depending on whether they ‘have a mind’. These are only a few of many more examples. In each case, mind and mental mean something different: sometimes subtly different, sometimes not-so-subtly.

In such high-stakes domains, it’s vital to be clear. Many people are all too ready to believe that the problems of the ‘mentally ill’ are ‘all in their mind’. I’ve never heard anyone doubt that a heart problem can lead to problems outside the heart, but I’ve regularly had to explain to friends and family that ‘mental’ illnesses can have physiological effects outside ‘the mind’. Why do people so often find one more mysterious and apparently surprising than the other? It’s because many of the bridges built by mind and mental are bridges that it’s time to burn, once and for all.

The psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and ‘antipsychiatrist’ Thomas Szasz argued that there was no such thing as mental illness. He believed that mental illnesses were ‘problems of living’, things that made it hard to live well because they were bound up with personal conflicts, bad habits and moral faults. Therefore, mental illness was the sufferer’s own personal responsibility. As a consequence, Szasz claimed that psychiatry should be abolished as a medical discipline, since it had nothing to treat. If a person’s symptoms had a physiological basis, then they were physical disorders of the brain rather than ‘mental’ ones. And if the symptoms had no physiological basis, Szasz claimed, then they didn’t amount to a true ‘illness’.

This argument relied heavily on the idea that mental illnesses are categorically distinct from ‘physiological’ ones. It’s an instance of how the dualistic connotations of mind, associated with certain metaphysical theories of the mental, can be imported inappropriately into psychiatry. Yet many mental illnesses have physiological causes and effects, and even those with no clear physiological cause often warrant medical intervention, because the people suffering from such conditions still deserve medical help.

In contrast with Szasz, I believe that mental illnesses are mental only in that they are psychiatric. Ordinary understandings of the mind, and what is and isn’t part of it, have nothing to do with it. Perception is generally considered to be mental, a part of the mind – yet, while medicine considers deafness and blindness to be disorders of perception, it doesn’t class them as mental illnesses. Why? The answer is obvious: because psychiatrists generally aren’t the best doctors to treat deafness and blindness (if they need treatment, which many Deaf people in particular would reject).

When people talk about ‘the mind’ and ‘the mental’ in psychiatry, my first thought is always ‘What exactly do they mean?’ – which precise meaning of mind and mental are they drawing on, which other area are they trying to appeal to, which bridge are they trying to get me to cross? A ‘mental’ illness is just an illness that psychiatry is equipped to deal with. That’s determined as much by practical considerations about the skills psychiatrists have to offer, as it is by theoretical or philosophical factors. But this pragmatic approach hides itself behind appeals to ‘mental illness’. In many contexts, the term mental tends to bring along inappropriate and stigmatising connotations – showing that the wrong bridges have been built. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

There are also ways of mapping immunity in cognitive terms. In the 1960s and ’70s, the work of the US psychologist Robert Ader uncovered a surprising feature of the immune system. He trained rats to avoid a harmless sweetener by administering it alongside a sickness-inducing chemical called cyclophosphamide. When testing that the training had worked, by administering just the sweetener, the rats began to die. The more sweetener, the faster they died. This was a mystery. It turned out that cyclophosphamide is an ‘immunosuppressant’, a chemical that turns off the immune system. The immune system had ‘learned’ to turn off in response to the sweetener alone, and this left the rats vulnerable to normally harmless pathogens in their environment, which killed them. In other words, Ader discovered that the immune system is amenable to classic Pavlovian conditioning.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 6:29 pm

Biden Deserves Credit, Not Blame, for Afghanistan

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David Rothkopf writes in the Atlantic:

America’s longest war has been by any measure a costly failure, and the errors in managing the conflict deserve scrutiny in the years to come. But Joe Biden doesn’t “own” the mayhem on the ground right now. What we’re seeing is the culmination of 20 years of bad decisions by U.S. political and military leaders. If anything, Americans should feel proud of what the U.S. government and military have accomplished in these past two weeks. President Biden deserves credit, not blame.

Unlike his three immediate predecessors in the Oval Office, all of whom also came to see the futility of the Afghan operation, Biden alone had the political courage to fully end America’s involvement. Although Donald Trump made a plan to end the war, he set a departure date that fell after the end of his first term and created conditions that made the situation Biden inherited more precarious. And despite significant pressure and obstacles, Biden has overseen a military and government that have managed, since the announcement of America’s withdrawal, one of the most extraordinary logistical feats in their recent history. By the time the last American plane lifts off from Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 31, the total number of Americans and Afghan allies extricated from the country may exceed 120,000.

In the days following the fall of Kabul earlier this month—an event that triggered a period of chaos, fear, and grief—critics castigated the Biden administration for its failure to properly coordinate the departure of the last Americans and allies from the country. The White House was indeed surprised by how quickly the Taliban took control, and those early days could have been handled better. But the critics argued that more planning both would have been able to stop the Taliban victory and might have made America’s departure somehow tidier, more like a win or perhaps even a draw. The chaos, many said, was symptomatic of a bigger error. They argued that the United States should stay in Afghanistan, that the cost of remaining was worth the benefits a small force might bring.

Former military officers and intelligence operatives, as well as commentators who had long been advocates of extending America’s presence in Afghanistan, railed against Biden’s artificial deadline. Some critics were former Bush-administration officials or supporters who had gotten the U.S. into the mess in the first place, setting us on the impossible path toward nation building and, effectively, a mission without a clear exit or metric for success. Some were Obama-administration officials or supporters who had doubled down on the investment of personnel in the country and later, when the futility of the war was clear, lacked the political courage to withdraw. Some were Trump-administration officials or supporters who had negotiated with and helped strengthen the Taliban with their concessions in the peace deal and then had punted the ultimate exit from the country to the next administration.

They all conveniently forgot that they were responsible for some of America’s biggest errors in this war and instead were incandescently self-righteous in their invective against the Biden administration. Never mind the fact that the Taliban had been gaining ground since it resumed its military campaign in 2004 and, according to U.S. estimates even four years ago, controlled or contested about a third of Afghanistan. Never mind that the previous administration’s deal with the Taliban included the release of 5,000 fighters from prison and favored an even earlier departure date than the one that Biden embraced. Never mind that Trump had drawn down U.S. troop levels from about 13,000 to 2,500 during his last year in office and had failed to repatriate America’s equipment on the ground. Never mind the delay caused by Trump and his adviser Stephen Miller’s active obstruction of special visas for Afghans who helped us.

Never mind the facts. Never mind the losses. Never mind the lessons. Biden, they felt, was in the wrong.

Despite the criticism, Biden, who had argued unsuccessfully when he was Barack Obama’s vice president to seriously reduce America’s presence in Afghanistan, remained resolute. Rather than view the heartbreaking scenes in Afghanistan in a political light as his opponents did, Biden effectively said, “Politics be damned—we’re going to do what’s right” and ordered his team to stick with the deadline and find a way to make the best of the difficult situation in Kabul.

The Biden administration nimbly adapted its plans, ramping up the airlift and sending additional troops into the country to aid crisis teams and to enhance security. Around-the-clock flights came into and went out of Afghanistan. Giant cargo planes departed, a number of them packed with as many as 600 occupants. Senior administration officials convened regular meetings with U.S. allies to find destinations for those planes to land and places for the refugees to stay. The State Department tracked down Americans in the country, as well as Afghans who had worked with the U.S., to arrange their passage to the airport. The Special Immigrant Visa program that the Trump administration had slowed down was kicked into high gear. Despite years of fighting, the administration and the military spoke with the Taliban many times to coordinate passage of those seeking to depart to the airport, to mitigate risks as best as possible, to discuss their shared interest in meeting the August 31 deadline.

The process was relentless and imperfect and, as we all have seen in the most horrific way, not without huge risks for those staying behind to help. On . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 4:54 pm

How to block Facebook from snooping on you

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Geoffrey Fowler reports in the Washington Post:

If you ever get that eerie feeling Facebook or Instagram are listening to you, you’re not entirely hallucinating.

Facebook says it’s not literally activating the microphones on our smartphones, but it is tracking what we do in other apps, websites and even real-world stores. That much data can make ads feel as on-point as if it was in the room. In a recent column, I investigated everything Facebook can passively learn about you, even when you stop using it for long stretches.

Don’t be fooled by the kinder, gentler image of Instagram, either: It’s owned by Facebook and does the same kind of tracking as Facebook.

So what can you do about it? If you’re very committed — or a bit techie — there are some steps you can take to try to hide from Facebook’s personal data vacuum.

Help Desk: Ask our tech columnist a question

I polled some of the smartest privacy experts about evasive maneuvers they recommend, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Bennett Cyphers, Disconnect’s Patrick Jackson, former chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission Ashkan Soltani and Jumbo Privacy’s Pierre Valade. Stopping the snooping entirely would be really difficult, so I focused this advice on steps that could make the biggest impact.

Just remember: These changes only impact what Facebook and Instagram can learn about you outside of their apps. Everything you and your friends do inside the apps — from tapping the “Like” button to posting status updates and profile information — will still feed the company personal information. (And anything you make public can be seen by people and companies alike.)

Here are seven steps to stop Facebook tracking, starting with the nuclear option.

1. Quit Facebook and Instagram

They’ll beg you to stay, and encourage you to just temporarily “deactivate” your account for a while. But if you do fully delete your accounts on both services, Facebook will no longer build out a profile with your activities to target ads.

To completely delete your Facebook account:

  • Click on this link in a browser where you’re logged in to Facebook.
  • Select Permanently Delete Account, then click on Continue to Account Deletion.
  • Click Delete Account, enter your password and continue and say goodbye forever.

Before you do this, you might want to download a copy of the data from your Facebook account. Use this link.

To quit Instagram, it’s a similar process:

  • Click on this link in a web browser where you’re logged in to Instagram.
  • Pick a reason, such as privacy concerns.
  • Tap Delete.

There is one privacy downside to quitting Facebook: The company still receives and collects data about people who don’t have accounts. The only way you can actually see what it knows about you is to maintain an account.

2. Change these Facebook privacy settings

Facebook has lots of bad default settings you should change. But the most important one to combat tracking is called Off-Facebook Activity. (Read a column I wrote about it here.)

Your Off-Facebook Activity settings are easiest to access on the Web by clicking this link.

  • You’ll see a page that shows you the apps, websites and other businesses where Facebook has been tracking you.
  • Tap More Options, then Manage Future Activity, then toggle Future Off-Facebook Activity to off.

While you’re at it, I also recommend changing a setting that gives Facebook permission to connect into other apps and websites. Just know that adjusting this setting would keep you from logging into apps where you used Facebook to set up your account.

  • Access your apps and websites setting page with this link.
  • Tap Turn Off next to apps, websites and games. . . .

Continue reading. (No paywall on this one, thanks to NextDraft.) There are 7 steps in all.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 3:47 pm

Why would anyone listen to those who know what they’re talking about when others are so fascinating?

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And click to tweet to read the thread.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 3:25 pm

“Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”: Third conservative radio host who condemned vaccines dies of Covid

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David Kihara reports in Politico:

A conservative Florida radio host who spoke out against Covid-19 vaccines died after a weekslong fight with the virus, marking the third radio personality to die from coronavirus who publicly rejected vaccines.

The death of Marc Bernier, 65, who was a mainstay on talk radio in Daytona Beach, was announced Saturday night by WNDB, the radio station he was affiliated with for three decades.

“It’s with great sadness that WNDB and Southern Stone Communications announce the passing of Marc Bernier, who informed and entertained listeners on WNDB for over 30 years. We kindly ask that privacy is given to Marc’s family during this time of grief,” WNDB stated on Twitter.

Bernier was known for inviting differing viewpoints on his show, including Democrats, but had publicly railed against vaccines. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that Bernier had been hospitalized since Aug. 7.

When Florida’s Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in July urged people to get vaccines on Twitter by saying the “greatest generation had to defeat the Nazis to preserve our way of life, you’re only being asked to get a shot. So be a patriot,” Bernier replied on the platform: “Should say, ‘Now the US Government is acting like Nazi’s. Get the shot!’”

Fried, who is challenging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022, on Sunday said in a statement that “My heart goes out to his family and friends.”

On Aug. 4, another Florida conservative radio host who had criticized the coronavirus vaccine, Dick Farrel, died from Covid-19 complications. Farrel, whose given name was Farrel Austin Levitt, had worked at several radio stations in Florida, including WIOD in Miami and WPBR in Palm Beach, and had served as a fill-in anchor on Newsmax.

He had strongly condemned the coronavirus vaccine, posting on Facebook on July 3, “why take a vax promoted by people who lied 2u all along about masks, where the virus came from and the death toll?” He also criticized Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infection disease doctor, calling him a “power tripping lying freak,” according to The Washington Post, which reported on his death.

But the Post also reports that Farrel had changed his stance on vaccines after he became infected with Covid-19. He had reportedly urged a longtime friend to get the vaccine and regretted not getting it himself.

Florida has become one of the nation’s hot spots for the virus amid the Delta variant surge. Last week, the state had more than 151,000 new infections and over 170 deaths. There are more than 16,000 people hospitalized in Florida due to the virus.

DeSantis has also maintained a hands-off approach to the virus, fighting against any attempts to require students to wear masks or businesses to require proof of vaccinations, though the governor has urged people to get the vaccine.

Last week, Phil Valentine, a 62-year-old conservative radio host in Nashville, Tenn., who had questioned the necessity of vaccines, also died from the virus. Valentine, the son of former six-term Rep. Tim Valentine (D-N.C.), had a nationally syndicated show. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 3:16 pm

Why Facebook Won’t Stop Pushing Propaganda: It’s their business model.

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“I ran because our kids needed to see you don’t have to be white and you don’t have to be a man to run for office in our town.” 
Lynsey Weatherspoon

Monica Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery write in the Atlantic:

Joyce Jones’ Facebook page is almost an archetype of what the social network is supposed to look like: Pictures of her kids, her kids’ friends, her sports teams, her kids’ friends’ sports teams. Videos of her husband’s sermons at New Mount Moriah Baptist Church. Memes celebrating achievement and solidarity, holiday greetings, public health messages. It’s what Mark Zuckerberg extols when he talks about how his company is all about “bringing people together.”

So when Jones decided to run for mayor in her Alabama town last year, it seemed obvious that she’d try to bring people together on Facebook. Her bid to be Montevallo’s first Black mayor, challenging a 12-year City Council incumbent, drew an enthusiastic, diverse crew of volunteers. They put up a campaign page, One Montevallo, and started posting cheery endorsements alongside recycling updates and plugs for drive-in movies.

It was a historic moment for Montevallo, whose population (7,000) is two-thirds white and which sits in Shelby County, the infamous plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. It was also a turning point for Jones, who grew up in the shotgun house her father had built on a dirt road far from the neighborhood where her grandmother cleaned houses. “My cousins and I would come with her,” the 45-year-old recalls. “We would do yardwork in the houses that she worked in. We never ever thought that living here was an option.”

“Now I’ve been living here for 17 years. We have a wonderful home. We have raised four wonderful children. And part of what I was being challenged with was: It’s not okay for me to make it out. I have to do something to make sure that other people have every opportunity. I ran because our kids needed to see you don’t have to be white and you don’t have to be a man to run for office in our town.”

But getting her campaign message out was tough. “We’re in a pandemic, so we couldn’t go to churches and meet people,” Jones told me. Montevallo does not have a news outlet of its own, and the Shelby County Reporter, based in nearby Columbiana, has a single staff reporter for the 14 communities it covers. “For us, the fastest way to get news is through social media,” she says.

Jones is not quite sure how the rumors started, but she remembers how fast they spread. Facebook accounts popped up and shared posts to Montevallo community groups, implying she wanted to defund police (she does not). Someone made up a report of a burglary at her home, referencing her landlord’s name—to highlight that she was renting, she believes. Another account dredged up a bounced check she’d written for groceries as her family struggled during the 2008 recession.

“The algorithm, how fast the messages were shared and how quickly people saw them, that was just eye-opening to me,” Jones says. Her campaign would put up posts debunking the rumors, but the corrections were seen far fewer times than the attack posts. “It was so much more vitriolic, and it would get so many hits. It was just lightning fast.”

Soon, Jones noticed a chill around her. “I’d be going to the grocery store and people who would normally speak to you and be nice to you would avoid you. I’d go to a football game and people would avoid me. I was baffled by all that. It’s one thing to not know me, but it’s another to know me my whole life and treat me like the plague.”

One night her then 16-year-old son, who had been hanging out at the park with a group of families he’d grown up with, called to ask her to pick him up. The adults had been talking about her, not realizing he was within earshot. When Jones came to get him, he told her, “For the first time, I felt like the Black kid.”

“What happens on Facebook doesn’t just stay on Facebook,” Jones says. “It comes off social media. You have to live with that.”

There’s a direct connection between Jones’ ordeal, last November’s election, the January 6 insurrection, and the attacks on American democracy that have played out every day since then. That connection is Facebook, specifically, it’s the toxic feedback loop by which the platform amplifies falsehoods and misinformation. That loop won’t end with the belated bans on Donald Trump and others, because the fundamental problem is not that there are people who post violentracist, antidemocratic, and conspiratorial material. It’s that Facebook and other social platforms actively push that content into the feeds of tens of millions of people, making lies viral while truth languishes.

The technical term for this is algorithmic amplification, and it means just that: What you see on Facebook has been amplified, and pushed into your feed, by the company’s proprietary algorithm. When you (or Mother Jones, or Trump) create a post, it’s visible to no one except those who deliberately seek out your page. But within instants, the algorithm analyzes your post, factoring in who you and your connections are, what you’ve looked at or shared before, and myriad other data points. Then it decides whether to show that post in someone else’s News Feed, the primary page you see when you log on. Think of it as a speed-reading robot that curates everything you see.

The way social media companies tell it, their robots are benevolent, serving only your best interests. You’ve clicked on your cousin’s recipes but not your friend’s fitness bragging? Here is more pasta and less Chloe Ting. You’ve shown an interest in Trump and also fanciful pottery? Here are some MAGA garden gnomes. The founding narrative of social media companies is that they merely provide a space for you, dear user, to do and see what you want.

In reality, as the people who work at these companies know quite well, technology reflects the biases of those who make it. And when those who make it are corporations, it reflects corporate imperatives. In Facebook’s case, those imperatives—chief among them, to grow faster than anyone else—have played out with especially high stakes, making the company one of the world’s most significant threats to democracy, human rights, and decency.

Facebook has been proved to be a vehicle for election disinformation in many countries (see: Brexit, Trump, Duterte). It has been an organizing space and megaphone for violent extremism and genocidal hate (see: KenoshaMyanmarSri Lanka, and Afghanistan). Its power is so far-reaching, it shapes elections in small-town Alabama and helps launch mobs into the Capitol. It reaches you whether or not you are on social media, because, as Jones says, what happens on Facebook doesn’t stay on Facebook.

That’s why one of the most significant battles of the coming years is over whether and how government should regulate social media. So far, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much much more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 2:41 pm

Bobby Kennedy, His Killer and a Conscience Confronted

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Michael Moore ponders the right response to Sirhan Sirhan’s release on parole:

I guess I can talk a good game when I want. Don’t get me wrong — when I say something, I mean it, deep in my bones. When I joined the call for an end to our system of mass incarceration, I meant it: Tear down the private, profit-making prisons now, close all the other prisons and start over. Release the millions of Black and Brown people (many falsely accused and convicted) and restore their lives, their right to vote, give them jobs and a guaranteed income. Apologize for this crime against their humanity. 

As you can see, I don’t really care about how the stands I take may affect me, my career or what anybody thinks about me. I mean, I care, I’d be an idiot not to care, but what I’m saying about not giving a damn is this: I know who I am, I’m confident I will not say or do anything that will bring harm to anyone, and while I am human and will therefore make mistakes, when I do I will express true remorse, ask for forgiveness and make amends.

You’ve probably figured this out about me by now. Yes, I am that guy willing to be booed off the Oscar stage on the fifth night of an immoral and illegal war, acting as if I wasn’t aware that the acceptance speech I was giving was, as more than one Hollywood pundit put it, “a career-ending move.”

And my reward for that insubordination, just a few days later, was to be told by the studio that they were pulling out of my next film. Shutting it down. All because I had spoken a simple truth — that the invasion of Iraq was predicated on a lie, and that we were never going to find any weapons of mass destruction there because there weren’t any there. I said this on a night when over 70% of the American public said they enthusiastically supported the war and proudly supported George W. Bush. In other words, I was cooked. 

But then, just 15 months later, I showed the country a new movie (Fahrenheit 9/11), showed them how they were lied to, what the brutal human cost of that war was, and lo and behold, the nation did a one-eighty and sided with me. They came out to the movie by the millions. The majority turned against the war. Two years later they threw the Republicans out of Congress, gave the majority of the seats to the Democrats in both the Senate and the House — and that was the end of that for George W. Bush. The Dems blocked him for his final two years — and then we elected our first Black president, whose middle name was sweetly, ironically, Hussein.

So I learned a long time ago to never be afraid to speak my mind, to do so with self-assuredness after carefully researching what action we must take. Each time I’ve done this — calling for an end to that war, or for the elimination of a majority of the 350 million guns in our homes, showing how easy and affordable it would be to have free health care for all in the U.S., and exposing capitalism as the greatest terrorist threat on Earth — I’ve been met with hostility, threats and acts of violence. And that’s just from moderate Democrats. 

So late on Friday afternoon, some 40 hours ago, the news flashed across the screen of my smartphone that a parole board in California had voted to release Sirhan Sirhan from prison, 53 years after he murdered Senator Robert F. Kennedy (minutes after RFK had won the California presidential primary in 1968). . .

Continue reading. The question he addresses — how rightly to respond — tests one’s principles and values with a hard case.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 2:25 pm

Two photos show the toll the pandemic takes on health workers

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Get vaccinated. Wear a mask. — and for that matter, in your car, use the seatbelts. It’s not tyranny, it’s safety.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 8:44 am

The Great Monday Shave; or, OMG! What a fantastic shave!

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From time to time — and more frequently as you gain experience — you’ll have a shave that simply could not be better. That happens more often when conditions are right — for example, and 2- or 3-day stubble, first-rate and familiar products (“first-rate” because they do a better job, and “familiar” because you know how to get the best from them. 

I had a shave like that this morning. The Omega Pro 48 (10048) brush is certainly first-rate, and it’s not only familiar to me but over the time the familiarity developed the brush lost its youthful pugnacity and lathercidal ways and accepted gracefully a milder role, well broken in, so that it is soft on the face and lather lives well within it. Picking up that brush and loading it on the puck is like running into an old friend — the same sort of pleasure of encounter and pleasure of the conversation to follow.

Meißner Tremonia has unfortunately retreated from our shores and now seems to reside only in Europe, but during its brief stay I collected a good number of the soaps and a couple of the shaving pastes as well. Lavender de Luxe has a lovely traditional fragrance, deepened with geranium and cypress, and the lather is everything lather should be. (Full disclosure: Local water is very soft.)

Fine’s superb take on the vintage Merkur white bakelite slant is a marvel (well, not the Fine Marvel) — light, precise, and high-performing. A light touch brings out its best performance, and in three easy passes my face was as smooth as it’s been since infancy. It’s a shame the Fine site no longer carries the razor, which truly is one of the World’s Best Razors (as one of their razors now claims to be, in the absence of the Fine Slant). 

I finished off with a good splash of Lavanda aftershave fortified with a squirt of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel (and I should mention that some credit for the quality of the shave goes to Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave).

What a fine way to start the week! I would never have kept my beard all those years had I known this was possible.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 8:33 am

Posted in Shaving

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