Later On

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Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

U.S. workers are among the most stressed in the world, new Gallup report finds

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The finding is not all that surprising, given (a) the adversarial relationship most companies have with their employees and (b) the finance sector’s encouragement of that aversarial relaationship — for example, Wall Street constantly pressures Costco to cut employee wages.

Jennifer Liu writes in CNBC MakeIt:

U.S. workers are some of the most stressed employees in the world, according to Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace report, which captures how people are feeling about work and life in the past year.

U.S. and Canadian workers, whose survey data are combined in Gallup’s research, ranked highest for daily stress levels of all groups surveyed. Some 57% of U.S. and Canadian workers reported feeling stress on a daily basis, up by eight percentage points from the year prior and compared with 43% of people who feel that way globally, according to Gallup’s 2021 report.

This spike isn’t surprising to Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief workplace scientist, who tells CNBC Make It that rates of daily stress, worry, sadness and anger have been trending upward for American workers since 2009. Concerns over the virus, sickness, financial insecurity and racial trauma all contributed to added stress during the pandemic.

But stress spikes were especially acute for women in the last year: 62% of working women in the U.S. and Canada reported daily feelings of stress compared with 52% of men, showing the lasting impact of gendered expectations for caregiving in the household, ongoing child-care challenges and women’s overrepresentation in low-wage service jobs most disrupted by the pandemic. By contrast, the daily stress levels for women in Western Europe went down in the last year, which researchers attribute to social safety nets for parents and workers to prevent unemployment.

And while employee engagement dipped in the rest of the world, it rose to 34% in the U.S. The correlation of higher engagement but also higher stress can result in burnout and mental health challenges and indicates “the intersection of work and life needs some work,” Harter says.

Young people expect their workplace to improve their overall well-being

These sentiments come at a time when younger generations expect their workplaces to provide more value than just a paycheck, Harter says, drawing on previous Gallup research. And in turn, he says organizations have a responsibility to help improve employee well-being if they want to support a resilient workforce; improve learning and performance; and attract top talent.

He points to five elements workplaces can focus on to improve employee engagement and help individuals thrive: career well-being, social well-being, financial well-being, physical well-being and community.

Stress in any one of these areas, such as financial stress due to inequitable pay, or community stress due to an unsafe work environment, can negatively impact a worker’s mental health.

Leaders can do an audit, like through surveys and focus groups, to see if any of their company policies, structures, communications or programs negatively impact their employees’ overall well-being. And when leaders introduce new programs or benefits, Harter says, leaders should connect the value of them to “those five elements, so people understand why you’re providing various benefits, and why you’re trying to provide an overall culture of thriving.”

Who plays the biggest role in employee well-being

It’s crucial CEOs communicate this priority from the top, Harter says, but managers play the biggest role in actually helping improve worker well-being throughout all levels of an organization.

“The most important thing employers can do is to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 June 2021 at 12:07 pm

Florida Pol Threatens to Put ‘Hit Squad’ on Rival Congressional Candidate

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Guess that politician’s political party. (One guess only, please.)

Benjamin Hart reports in New York:

An obscure Florida Republican congressional candidate was heard on a recording claiming that he could send a “hit squad” after a leading GOP candidate in the race.

Politico reports that William Braddock, a 37-year-old lawyer, made the comments about Anna Paulina Luna, who is running for a vacant seat in Florida’s 13th District. Braddock was speaking with Erin Olszewski, a conservative activist who was so alarmed by the conversation that she turned it over to the police.

“I really don’t want to have to end anybody’s life for the good of the people of the United States of America,” Braddock said, according to Politico.
“That will break my heart. But if it needs to be done, it needs to be done. Luna is a f—ing speed bump in the road. She’s a dead squirrel you run over every day when you leave the neighborhood.”

Later, Braddock said that to make sure Luna didn’t win the race, he would “call up my Russian and Ukrainian hit squad, and within 24 hours, they’re sending me pictures of her disappearing,” adding that he wasn’t joking.

Asked by Politico whether it was him on the recording, Braddock dissembled, and claimed the tape may have been altered.

On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Luna had obtained a stalking injunction against Braddock, who she claims is working with two other political adversaries to kill her. One of them, Amanda Makki, ran against Luna in a primary for the same congressional seat last year.

“I received information yesterday (at midnight) regarding a plan (with a timeline) to murder me made by William Braddock in an effort to prevent me from winning the election for FL-13,” she wrote.

Luna claimed that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 4:05 pm

To ban teaching about systemic racism is a perfect example of systemic racism

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I am indebted to The Eldest for pointing out the nice recursion of the title. Someone then commented about a video of a teacher who totally understands teenagers:

Teacher: I’m not allowed to teach you about critical race theory.

Class: What’s that?

Teacher: I’m not allowed to tell you.

Class: What?? Not fair! (Then they all looked it up in Wikipedia.)

Chris Argyris in his (excellent) books on management theory and what distinguishes a learning organization from one that resists learning. One difference, of course, is success vs. failure over the long term, but also organizations that resist learning typically have double-layer taboos on some topics within the organization: not only can you not talk about X, you also cannot talk about not talking about X. It will be interesting to see whether the Right is so far gone they will prohibit teachers from explaining why they cannot teach critical race theory. (My guess is that the Right is indeed so far gone — and even farther.)

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 2:25 pm

How to think about pleasure

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Sam Dresser has an interesting article in Psyche:

Need to know

Over breakfast one April day in 1778, James Boswell asked Samuel Johnson why he gave up booze. Dr Johnson replied that he didn’t like to lose power over himself, but assured his friend that he would one day drink again when he grew old (he was 68 at the time). Boswell replied: ‘I think, Sir, you once said to me, that not to drink wine was a great deduction from life.’ To which Dr Johnson answered: ‘It is a diminution of pleasure, to be sure; but I do not say a diminution of happiness. There is more happiness in being rational.’

It is a common notion, even in our own day, that pleasure is in some sense a distraction from happiness – or that it doesn’t lead to the kind of happiness that really matters. Pleasure, in and of itself, is ‘lower’ than the real heavy hitters, such as Truth and Virtue and Wisdom and God, those hallowed founts of authentic happiness. It is universal – indeed inherent – that we humans are drawn to pleasure. Yet pleasure-seeking itself is often seen as an indulgence, and therefore rings with a kind of selfishness, even a kind of confusion. Pleasure doesn’t last, the idea goes, but Truth does, or Rationality does, or Wisdom does, and so those are the things that we ought to seek.

Whenever and wherever they are found, moralists and their dreary ilk often describe their own times as characterised by debauched hedonism. But does it accurately describe our time? Are we in the thrall of a love affair with pleasure? I don’t think so. Even if more people are more comfortable than they used to be, it’s still hard to admit to doing something pleasurable just because it’s pleasurable. More often, pleasure is excused as a little reward, a diversion, a break from the demands of the ‘real world’. Pleasure is something that will allow you to work harder, to catch your breath before returning to the turmoils of life. Searching for pleasure for pleasure’s sake is an act tinged with shame and, when it’s admitted to, excuses ought be made.

Lord Byron gave our tense relationship with pleasure a memorable couplet: ‘O pleasure! you’re indeed a pleasant thing / Although one must be damn’d for you, no doubt.’ Those who give in to pleasure have often been compared, unkindly, to animals. The Roman Stoic Epictetus told those who identified pleasure with goodness to go ‘lead the life of a worm, of which you judged yourself worthy: eat and drink, and enjoy women, and ease yourself, and snore.’ Friedrich Nietzsche located a being that, for him, was perhaps even lower than the worm: ‘Man does not strive for pleasure,’ he wrote. ‘Only the Englishman does.’

This isn’t true of all pleasures, however. The trouble for Dr Johnson, as he was quick to explain, was ‘sensual pleasure. When a man says, he had pleasure with a woman, he does not mean conversation, but something of a very different nature.’ (You can almost see the wink on his vast face.) The pleasures he disdains are the bodily pleasures, the ones we get from aged whisky and taking off your boots after a long hike. The pleasures that count, for Dr Johnson and for many other thinkers, are the pleasures of the mind. These are the pleasures that are pure, unmarred by the Earth. They’re to be kept clean and separate from the pleasures of the body, which are for the lower sorts of people. Or, as Dr Johnson rather flatly put it: ‘[T]he greatest part of men are gross.’

The purpose of this Guide is simple: I want to talk about some of the ways that people have thought about pleasure over the years. Pleasure is a surprisingly slippery idea, surprising because it seems so obvious what it is. But trying to actually nail it down is like nailing down a cloud. Regardless, that makes it more important to reflect on pleasure – its value, its nature, and the places that people have found it. My hope is that, by thinking through what pleasure is, by analysing and probing and querying it, perhaps you’ll be more likely to find it in the places you least expect (but no promises, of course).

Think it through

Pleasure is everywhere and yet it’s hard to work out quite what it is

The sheer variety of ways that people procure pleasure is unsettling, as well as a testament to the plasticity of our species. The differences can be small – I can’t understand why people like to watch golf – and the differences can be great, especially across cultural and temporal gulfs – the pleasure people once got in attending the afternoon execution seems, to me, a bit odd.

Think of pleasure in your own life. What is common to all of the things that give you pleasure? The throughline between warm scarves and charity work and calling your grandmother; between the cool side of the pillow, the sad-happiness of nostalgia, the pop of a champagne bottle opening – what could it be other than that these are all, in their way, pleasing? So, the question is: if pleasure can be found in all these sundry ways, then what is it? And the most common answer is a tad ho-hum: stuff that feels good. Stuff that you like. The experiences that make you say: ‘Yep! There it is.’

Many philosophers have accepted this, or a version of it, and have taken it to mean that there’s not a whole lot more to be said about the nature of pleasure (moralising about how others go about getting pleasure, of course, is a different story). Pleasure is what it is. Its very heterogeneity, its inconceivable variety, has led many to conclude that it’s an elementary component of our existence, or an absolutely simple experience. Edmund Burke said it was so simple it was ‘incapable of definition’. John Locke held that pleasure ‘cannot be described … the way of knowing [pleasure] is … only by experience.’

This view of pleasure as unanalysable, it seems to me, makes the nature of pleasure even stranger given its ubiquity in our lives. Can it really just be, as William James held, that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

16 June 2021 at 2:16 pm

The ‘20-5-3’ Rule Prescribes How Much Time You Should Spend Outside

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Michael Easter, author of The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self, has an extract from the book in Prevention:

The herd of 400-pound caribou was running 50 miles an hour and directly at me. The 30 animals had been eating lichen in the Arctic tundra in Alaska when something spooked them. I was sitting in their escape route. The ground began to vibrate once they cracked 100 yards. At 50 yards, I could see their hooves smashing the ground and kicking up moss and moisture. Then they were at 40 yards, then 35.

I could hear their breathing, smell their coats, and see all the details of their ornate antlers. Just as I was wondering if the rescue plane would be able to spot my hoof-pocked corpse, one of the caribou noticed me and swerved. The herd followed, shaking the earth as they swept left and summited a hillcrest, their antlers black against a gold sky.

That moment when those caribou shook the earth also shook my soul. It was transcendent, wild as a religious experience. And it’s not even the most intense thing I did in Alaska. I experienced savage weather, crossed raging rivers, and faced a half-ton grizzly. My brain was feeling less hunkered down in its typical foxhole—a state I’d compare to that of a roadrunner on meth, dementedly zooming from one thing to the next. My mind felt more like it belonged to a monk after a month at a meditation retreat. I just felt . . . better. The biologist E. O. Wilson put what I was feeling this way: “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction.”

When I returned from the wild, my Zen-like buzz hung around for months. To understand what was happening, I met with Rachel Hopman, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Northeastern University. She told me about the nature pyramid. Think of it like the food pyramid, except that instead of recommending you eat this many servings of vegetables and this many of meat, it recommends the amount of time you should spend in nature to reduce stress and be healthier. Learn and live by the 20-5-3 rule.

20 minutes

That’s the amount of time you should spend outside in nature, like a neighborhood park, three times a week. Hopman led a new study that concluded that something as painless as a 20-minute stroll through a city botanical garden can boost cognition and memory as well as improve feelings of well-being. “But,” she said, “we found that people who used their cell phone on the walk saw none of those benefits.”

Other research discovered that 20 minutes outside three times a week is the dose of nature that had the greatest effect on reducing an urban dweller’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

In nature, our brains enter a mode called “soft fascination.” Hopman described it as a mindfulness-like state that restores and builds the resources you need to think, create, process information, and execute tasks. It’s mindfulness without the meditation. A short daily nature walk—or even a walk down a tree-lined street—is a great option for people who aren’t keen on sitting and focusing on their breath. But turn off your phone—alerts from it can kick you out of soft-
fascination mode.

5 hours

The minimum length of time each month you should spend in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 June 2021 at 1:55 pm

Seemingly normal: Profile of one insurrectionist — a geophysicist who seriously wounded a defenseless Capitol police officer

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Melanie Warner reports in Politico:

The text message showed up on John Bergman’s phone in late January. Sent to him by a former work colleague, it came with the question “Have you seen this??” and linked to an article and video from a news channel. Bergman pressed play.

It was a scene from the Capitol riots on January 6. Amid a throng of rioters outside the building’s western terrace tunnel was a figure wearing a tan Carhartt jacket, teal backpack, steel-toed boots and black tactical helmet. The article identified the man as Bergman’s longtime friend, Jeffrey Sabol. In the video, Sabol vaulted over a railing and appeared to drag a defenseless cop down a set of stairs.

Bergman could barely fathom what he was seeing. He had worked with Sabol for a decade and had known him for 18 years. “I’ve always revered Jeff as one of the most intelligent, capable, thoughtful, helping people,” Bergman says. “We had just spoken a few weeks earlier, and next thing I know he’s in Washington, D.C., doing this crazy thing.”

Sabol, 51, is a geophysicist from Kittredge, Colorado, a small town in the mountains outside Denver. In the weeks after the insurrection, he became one of the approximately 465 people charged so far for their participation in the January 6 insurrection. Sabol faces eight counts, several of them felonies, including the assault of police officers. He and four other defendants named in the same indictment are accused of participating in some of the day’s worst violence, which took place around 4:30 p.m. and resulted in several officers being stripped of their protective gear, dragged, stomped on, and attacked with crutches and a flagpole. [Politico article here includes a video of Sabol in action during the insurrection. – LG]

According to the indictment, Sabol wrested a baton from a second D.C. police officer who had been knocked down by another rioter outside the Capitol’s western terrace entrance, which would be the site of Joe Biden’s inauguration two weeks later. The officer later needed staples to close a wound on his head. Before being dragged into the mob by Sabol and others, prosecutors say, these officers had tried to reach a woman who died amid the throng (the D.C. medical examiner declared her death an amphetamine overdose). Images published in the government’s criminal complaint against Sabol show the woman lying on the ground at the top of the stairs wearing jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt, while Sabol and other men clash with police above her.

Sabol, who is divorced and has three teenagers back home in Colorado, also seems to appear in a YouTube video shot about two hours earlier and unearthed by a Twitter user who is part of a group of self-styled “sedition hunters.” In it, Sabol, known to the sedition hunters as #OrangeNTeal because of his highly identifiable jacket and backpack, runs headfirst into a row of officers trying to hold the line and prevent rioters from breaching the west steps of the Capitol.

Denied bail, Sabol is now locked in a cell at the Washington, D.C., Correctional Treatment Facility awaiting trial, deemed by a judge to be the “epitome of a flight risk” because of what he did after the riots. Unlike defendants who posted about their Capitol exploits on social media, Sabol immediately seemed to have grasped the gravity of his post-January 6 predicament. Back home in Colorado, he destroyed several electronic devices in his microwave and instructed friends to delete anything he had sent them, according to Sabol’s own statements to investigators. Several days later, he arrived at Logan Airport in Boston with a ticket to Zurich, Switzerland. Worried he had been recognized, he never got on the plane. Instead, he rented a car and drove to New York state, eventually ending up in a suburb of New York City. At some point along the way, he tossed his phone off a bridge and grew so distraught that he attempted to take his own life by slashing his wrists and thighs, his criminal complaint states.

“I’ve really been struggling with this, that my bro tried to kill himself,” Bergman says, his voice cracking with emotion. “It scared the shit out of me.”

Sabol’s actions on January 6 and the days afterward have left many in his life confused and grappling for answers. How did a highly educated, middle-aged man with so much to lose participate in what FBI director Christopher Wray called “domestic terrorism,” and then try to kill himself? How did someone with strong views about government overreach, but also plenty of friends and neighbors outside his political bubble, end up on the steps of the Capitol, in attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results?

In some ways, Sabol’s radicalization mirrors that of other insurrectionists, a group that collectively has put a new face on American extremism. While many of those arrested for political terrorism in recent decades have been young, underemployed and socially isolated, the majority of the 465 (and counting) defendants in the Capitol attack are much like Sabol—older individuals, mostly white men, with well-established careers. A report by the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats found that 67 percent of Capitol defendants are at least 35 years old, and 30 percent worked in white-collar jobs. Sabol was a geophysicist for an environmental services company. Other defendants include an investment manager at BB&T Bank (who died by suicide after his arrest), a State Department employee, an Olympic gold medalist swimmer, a real estate agent, many small-business owners, a doctor and an attorney. There are several dozen current or former military members, and at least 10 current or former law-enforcement officers. For all the public attention to right-wing groups and militias, just 12 percent of the defendants belonged to organized operations like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers or boogaloo boys. The majority of the defendants, including Sabol, also came not from the heart of Trump country but from counties Biden won.

Based on multiple interviews with people who knew him, as well as extensive public records, Sabol’s story offers a vivid example of how “normal” this new form of radicalization might look from the outside—and how hard it can be to detect. Sabol, according to his ex-wife, was involved in volatile episodes at home, and court records show that he was charged with misdemeanor child abuse in 2016, for injuring his teenage son. Yet in letters sent to the court on his behalf, 30 friends, neighbors and family members, including Army officers and a Denver police sergeant, describe the man they know in glowing terms. The kind of guy who gives his jacket to an underdressed hiker and goes down a 14,000-foot mountain in a T-shirt. A guy who steps in to prevent altercations. A guy with a peace-sign tattoo on his back.

“We discussed all kinds of topics—parenting, religion, politics, relationships, work, hobbies, and life experiences. Never once did I detect any indication of him being a fanatic of any sort,” wrote a retired schoolteacher who volunteered with Sabol at a youth horse-riding organization nearly every Saturday for the past two years. “I can’t conceive of him being a danger to the community in any way.”

Nearly six months after the insurrection, hundreds of defendants are awaiting trial or plea deals as their cases move through the justice system. Sabol is among the approximately 50 who have been denied bail and are being held in jail in Washington, D.C., in their cells for nearly 20 hours a day due to Covid concerns. The Biden administration has taken a number of steps to begin to combat violent domestic extremism across different federal departments, even as Congress recently failed to agree to create a commission to study the events of January 6.

But the larger problem—of how so many Americans came to see violence or forced entry into a government building as their best options, and whether it could happen again—isn’t at all resolved. Millions of Americans continue to hold some of the same beliefs that propelled Sabol to the Capitol. Experts say the new wave of right-wing extremism on display at the Capitol is both unprecedented in its size and scope—and far more challenging to track and root out. Understanding Jeffrey Sabol’s transformation reveals how radicalization can happen under the radar, while offering lessons for those who want to combat it going forward: about how personal challenges can collide with political messages, and how a person’s job, education level, community and even their social media profile aren’t reliable predictors of extremist behavior. Thousands of people descended on the Capitol terrace, with thousands of individual routes taken to get there.

Where will they go next? “What’s concerning is that many did not see January 6 as the end of something,” says Susan Corke, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They saw it as the beginning.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it indicates that there’s trouble ahead.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2021 at 12:11 pm

Operation Underground Railroad’s Carefully Crafted Public Image Is Falling Apart

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The report by Anna Merian and Tim Marchman in Vice is amazing (and, unfortunately, credible). It begins:

im Caviezel appeared onscreen in Oklahoma on a Friday night, his digital visage bathed in the hot lights of Rhema Bible College’s amphitheater and the adulation of his audience, and proceeded to make a real mess. 

“You can do something now. You can end this,” he told the audience. “If we let our little ones continue to be slaughtered, boy, there’s gonna be a judgment on this world, and especially our country.” 

Caviezel, an actor known for playing Jesus Christ and for his passionate commitment to Christianity, was appearing at the Health & Freedom conference, a dizzying multi-day event devoted to election conspiracy theories and COVID denialism headlined by people like pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood, who frequently and enthusiastically promotes conspiracy theories associated with QAnon. (The event was, in fact, ostensibly two conferences, one devoted to business and the other to health. They were indistinguishable.) Caviezel was there to promote his newest role, in which he plays Tim Ballard, the founder and most recognizable face of the famed anti-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad, or OUR. The film, Sound of Freedom, has been in the works—and its release beset with mysterious delays—for several years. (You can, however, view a trailer here.)

Ballard couldn’t appear in person in Oklahoma, Caviezel explained. “He’s down there saving children as we speak. They’re pulling children out of the darkest recesses of hell,” he said. “All kinds of places, the adrenochroming of children.” 

 

“You said adrenochrome?” host Clay Clark, an Oklahoma personality who bills himself as a “growth consultant” and business guru, asked a moment later.  “We need to discuss that.” 

“Essentially, you have adrenaline in your body … and when you are scared, you produce adrenaline,” Caviezel explained. “If a child knows he’s going to die, his body will secrete this adrenaline. And they have a lot of terms that they use that he takes me through, but it’s the worst horror I’ve seen. It’s screaming alone. Even if I never, ever, ever saw it, it’s beyond. And these people that do it, there will be no mercy for them.” The audience applauded, solemnly.

Caviezel, whose agents and managers did not reply to several requests for comment, had just promoted one of the more extreme and lurid conspiracy theories out there, and one central to the cosmology of QAnon—the utterly false idea that a cabal of elites is torturing and killing children to obtain a fictionalized biological substance—and he’d done it in the same breath that he promoted OUR. (Adrenochrome is a real chemical compound, but the idea that it can only be harvested from terrified torture victims was purely the stuff of horror movies before Q came along. For QAnon believers, however, it has a much larger significance. The concept that evil elites are harvesting the substance from murdered children is a central facet of their belief system; they believe those elites take the substance to maintain their youthful appearances or life force.) 

All of this was awkward at best for OUR, which has spent the better part of a year insisting that it “does not condone conspiracy theories and is not affiliated with any conspiracy theory groups, like QAnon, in any way, shape, or form,” as it says on its website. Caviezel’s comments generated a minor tsunami of headlines linking him, the film, Ballard, and the organization to a poisonous conspiracy theory and a stunningly fringe conference, the highlight of which was Lin Wood, who claimed in November that associating him with QAnon is a “smear,” making the shape of a Q in the air for an adoring crowd. (Wood has more recently claimed to be confused about QAnon even is, writing on Telegram on June 2: “I have been repeatedly attacked for being a ‘Qanon conspiracy theorist. Why? I can do research to educate myself on Q. I can do research to educate myself on Anons. My question is: What is QAnon???”) 

In response to a request for comment from VICE World News, a spokesperson for OUR wrote, “Operation Underground Railroad does not condone child trafficking conspiracy theories, such as the harvesting of adrenochrome, nor is the organization affiliated with any conspiracy theory groups, including QAnon. OUR has clearly stated that the effort to knock out child exploitation and human trafficking is being harmed [by] a number of conspiracy theory groups who have chosen to latch onto child exploitation and human trafficking and used a variety of conspiracy theories as a vehicle to deceptively bolster their causes.” The spokesperson also said that Ballard “participated in the conference out of respect to, and at the invitation of, Jim Caviezel to help promote the upcoming movie Sound of Freedom in which Caviezel plays the lead role.” In response to a specific question about Caviezel’s use of the phrase “he takes me through,” a second spokesperson said that Ballard had never explained the process of adrenochrome harvesting to Caviezel.

Before the blowback and the cleanup came, though, Caviezel and Ballard had a movie to promote. 

 

“This is one of the best films I’ve ever done in my life,” Caviezel said. He drew a parallel between it and The Passion of the Christ, an independently-financed film that was, he suggested, successful despite unnamed forces in Hollywood working against it because of people just like those in the audience. “Whether it ever gets seen in this industry is up to your prayers.” 

A moment before that, Ballard had appeared from what looked very much like a recording booth in an undisclosed location where he was, according to Clark, “actually rescuing kids, tonight.”

“I’m here doing an operation overseas which I hope to be able to tell you about soon,” he said. “It’s involving the rescue of children as young as 12 years old … that’s the only reason I’m not there with you.” The movie in which an actor best known for playing Christ portrayed him was, he said, “an opportunity for the world to understand what’s happening.” It would, he suggested, do nothing less than “save the lives of children.” 

This was classic Ballard: Urgent, heroic, a little bombastic, and deeply self-serving. The narrative of a small organization fighting desperately to shine a light on the darkness of children being trafficked and sexually abused also served to paper over another, truer narrative. In this one, OUR is rife with internal divisions, losing key employees who are starting up rival anti-trafficking groups, and under a serious and widening criminal investigation, which VICE World News has confirmed now involves federal authorities and focuses not just on OUR, but on for-profit companies connected to it.

 

After years of success—tens of millions of dollars of donations, flattering stories in the national press, high-profile partnerships with celebrities across the political spectrum, and seats for its founder before Congress and at Donald Trump’s right hand—OUR has reached a new stage. Its carefully-crafted image is coming undone.

OUR remains under investigation by a county attorney in Utah, Troy Rawlings of Davis County, as it has been since last fall. “The investigation is still very active and fruitful,” Rawlings told VICE World News in early June.

The scope of that investigation appears to have widened beyond what VICE World News and FOX 13 have previously reported, which was that Rawlings’ office was looking into whether OUR has made misleading claims in fundraising appeals. VICE World News has confirmed that several people have been interviewed about their dealings with OUR not just by investigators from Rawlings’ office, but by the FBI. Investigators from the IRS and Homeland Security are also said to be involved, according to people familiar with the scope of the investigation. (A spokesperson for OUR declined to say whether Ballard or other OUR staffers had spoken to the FBI, IRS, or DHS, writing, “We can’t comment specifically on your speculative inquiry.” In response to detailed inquiries about the investigation, the same spokesperson wrote, “OUR has complied with all laws that regulate nonprofits and intends to cooperate fully with any official inquiry, if asked.” The FBI and DHS declined to comment, citing policies of not confirming or denying ongoing investigations; the IRS did not respond to a request for comment.) . . .

Continue reading. There’s much much more, including links to other reports on the organization:

A Famed Anti-Sex Trafficking Group Has a Problem With the Truth

Inside a Massive Anti-Trafficking Charity’s Blundering Overseas Missions

Also, this video of Caviezel’s interview:

Written by Leisureguy

10 June 2021 at 6:00 pm

The ‘Frog-Pond Effect’ Distorts Your Self-Image

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Markham Heid writes in Elemental:

For a 2012 study in PLOS One, researchers invited a young woman into a laboratory at Ohio University.

The woman learned that she would be taking part in an “aesthetic judgment” experiment. The researchers took a photograph of her face and then asked her to sit at a table that held two objects: a computer monitor and a mirror.

On the monitor, the woman viewed a series of headshots of what the study termed “attractive professional models” — all of them women. Following this barrage of beautiful faces, the woman’s own photograph appeared on the screen. But it wasn’t just a single photo; the woman saw 13 pictures of herself scattered across the monitor. Looking closely, she could see that each version of her face was different from all the others.

Using a specially designed photo-editing program, the researchers had taken the woman’s photograph and created “morphs” — copies manipulated to make the woman appear either more or less attractive. Along with her original headshot, the woman was now looking at eight photographs that airbrushed and otherwise enhanced her appearance — dramatically, in some cases — and four photographs that marred her looks.

With the mirror to guide her, the woman was instructed to pick out her true image from the false ones. Even though the complimentary headshots outnumbered the adulterated ones by a two-to-one margin, the woman selected one of the unflattering photographs as the most authentic representation of what she saw in the mirror.

The researchers repeated versions of this experiment with roughly 70 other men and women. Over and over again, the people who looked at lineups of beautiful faces tended to select self-portraits that had been manipulated to look less attractive.

On the other hand, when the researchers flipped the script and showed people unattractive faces, those people tended to view their own faces more favorably.

Since the inception of social-comparison theory in the early 1950s, psychologists and sociologists have piled up evidence that human beings form opinions of themselves — their looks, aptitude, intelligence, and achievement — based in large part on the qualities they see in the people with whom they identify and associate. When those comparisons lead to inaccurate self-representations or appraisals, this distortion is sometimes referred to as the “frog-pond effect.”

The phrase stems from a 1966 paper that found college students at elite universities who had low GPAs tended to view their own academic abilities less favorably than students at lower-tier colleges who had good GPAs. “It is better to be a big frog in a small pond than a small frog in a big pond,” the author of that paper wrote.

The “frog-pond effect” continues to show up in research today.

“We use the term ‘frog-pond effect’ as shorthand for this tendency of people with a high rank in a low-rank group to evaluate themselves more favorably than people with a low rank in a high-rank group,” says Ethan Zell, PhD, author of the PLOS One study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

In other words, we look at other people as a frame of reference when we are evaluating ourselves. While “upward” social comparisons can make us feel less attractive, less capable, or otherwise inferior, “downward” social comparisons tend to have just the opposite effect. “These effects are magnified when we’re comparing ourselves to people we view as peers, or those in a similar situation to ourselves,” Zell explains.

It’s difficult to overstate the role that social comparison plays in our lives, perhaps especially when we’re young or vulnerable.

Research has found that all of us engage in social comparisons — consciously or unconsciously — dozens and perhaps hundreds of times each day. To one extent or another, these comparisons influence every facet of our well-being and behavior, from our confidence and self-regard, to our willingness to take risks, to the likelihood that we’ll develop anxiety or depression.

Upward social comparison is not inherently harmful. “It can inspire us to take better care of ourselves, or to be ambitious in positive ways,” Zell says. But like anything else, too much of it can cause problems.

Unfortunately, modern life may overwhelm us with comparisons that distort our self-image and so threaten our well-being.

Inthe context of social media, the “highlight reel” effect describes people’s tendency to put only their best, most-flattering selves online. There’s mounting evidence, especially among young people, that the more time we spend looking at these glamorized depictions of others, the more the frog-pond effect and upward social comparisons do a number on our egos.

“Social media and technology have really expanded the reach of comparisons,” Zell says. Like the young woman in his study whose self-assessment took a hit after she viewed beautiful faces, many of us can’t help but feel inferior when we’re exposed to image after image or post after post of people who seem cooler, more interesting, funnier, prettier, or more stylish than we are.

“When we’re surrounded by people we view as somehow better than us — even if objectively we’re above average — that can be really demoralizing or deflating,” Zell explains.

Social media influencers may be especially damaging to our self-appraisals. We tend to view these people as peers, rather than what they really are — minor celebrities who are often paid handsomely to project a certain image or lifestyle. We may hear about their bad days or insecurities, but the overall message our brain is receiving is “this is a better version of me.”

Before social media, most of our comparisons were based on face-to-face interactions with friends, schoolmates, co-workers, and those who occupied our real-world social spheres. We saw the good and the bad — the features and the flaws — in something closer to equal measure. And this helped properly calibrate our self-assessments.

There’s also evidence that, in offline contexts, we frequently downplay our shiniest attributes. Research has found that being the target of an upward social comparison is unpleasant for us, and so we tend to shift our behavior in an effort to better mesh with our peers. “We can sense when other people feel bad because we’re better off than them and we adjust, but that doesn’t seem to be the case on social media,” Zell explains.

All of this suggests that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 June 2021 at 11:52 am

Why hatred should be considered a contagious disease

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Izzeldin Abuelaish, Professor of Global Health, University of Toronto, writes in The Conversation:

A significant portion of violence in the world is based on hatred. People find so many reasons to hate one another: their class, gender, authority, religion, skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, creed, customs, nationality, political opinions, physical attributes or imagined attributes. And many of those who are targets of hatred in turn hate their haters and return the violence.

Hatred and violence are threats to human health and global stability. As a medical doctor who researches public health as a tool for peace, I consider hatred a contagious disease and a health emergency of international concern.

Hatred and violence have considerable costs in terms of human health and life. Hatred should be acknowledged as a contagious disease, a public health issue and a determinant of health because prevention is needed — and because of the limited health-care resources available to fight it.

In a 2002 report, the World Health Organization called violence a “leading worldwide public health problem” and estimated that 1.6 million lose their lives to violence every year. The report is almost 20 years old now. How many more have died as a result of violence since then?

A long history of hatred

The world has recently seen the latest example of hatred-inspired violence playing out between Palestinians and Israelis.

A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was announced after 11 days of violence that killed more than 250 people, including 66 children and 39 women, and wounded 2,000 in Gaza. Beyond the deaths is the destruction to infrastructure from the Israeli attacks — called a war crime by some international organizations — that has displaced thousands of Palestinians.

What do we expect from all those who are exposed to different varying aspects of harm from discrimination, racism, violence, intimidation, humiliation, oppression, occupation, hate crime, hate speech, incitement and violence?

The WHO defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation.”

Fueled by hate

Health, freedom, justice, education, well-being, violence and war depend on who you are and where you live. Many of the current violent civil or civil-military conflicts across the globe are either based on, or fuelled by, hatred.

In an academic paper I co-authored in 2017 with Dr. Neil Arya, entitled The Palestinian–Israeli conflict: a disease for which root causes must be acknowledged and treated, we noted that hatred goes side by side with violence. Hatred self-perpetuates, usually through cycles of hatred and counter-hatred, violence and counter-violence — sometimes manifested as revenge.

Hatred has been studied for centuries by philosophers and theologians, and more recently by social psychologists, anthropologists and evolutionary scientists.

There is no consensus on a definition of hatred that is scientific, comprehensive and holistic.

Hatred is more than just . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 9:11 pm

Noah Smith offers a few thoughts on depression

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Noah Smith writes:

In 2013 I wrote a post about clinical depression on my old blog. To this day, people still write to me to tell me that this post was helpful for them. One time, pretty recently, someone even told me that in a grocery store line. So of all the posts I’ve ever written, this is the only one that I’m reasonably sure did some net good for the world. In any case, if you suffer from depression, or if you know someone who does, I hope this helps in some way.

Like everyone else, I’m very sad to hear about the suicide of Aaron Swartz, the gifted programmer and activist. I had heard of him a few times, but never really knew all the things he did. I wish I could have known him. Really, that’s the worst thing about people dying…all the living people who will never get to benefit from their continued existence.

What do I have to say about Swartz’ death? Well, maybe a little bit, since Swartz is said to have suffered from clinical depression. I do know a little bit about this topic, since I myself have struggled with depression for over a decade. Mine was first triggered by the sudden death of my mother in 1999, although I also have a family history of depression on my mom’s side (the Swartz side, ironically, though I don’t think Aaron and I were related).

Obviously, everyone’s experience of depression is different, so I don’t intend these thoughts to be a universal guide or general theory. Also, bipolar disorder, or “manic depression”, is another thing entirely. But that said, here are my thoughts on depression.

1. Depression is not sadness. During the most intense part of a major-depressive episode, what I’ve felt is nothing at all like sadness. Mostly, it’s a kind of numbness, and utter lack of desire and will. Underneath that numbness, there’s the sense that something awful is happening – there’s a very small voice screaming in the back of your mind, but you hear it only faintly. There’s an uncomfortable wrongness to everything, like the world is twisted and broken in some terrible but unidentifiable way. You feel numb, but it’s an incredibly bad sort of numbness. This is accompanied by a strange lack of volition – if a genie popped out and offered me three wishes at the depth of my depression, my first wish would be for him to go away and not bother me about the other two. Looking back on this experience, I’ve conjectured that part of depression might be like some kind of mental “fire sprinkler system” – the brain just floods the building completely to keep it from burning down.

Depressed people often remark that it’s impossible to remember what depression is like after it’s over, and impossible to imagine feeling any other way when you’re in the middle of it. Therefore, most of what I’m saying here comes from things I wrote when I was in the middle of major depressive episodes. I think my most colorful description was that depression was like “being staked out in the middle of a burning desert with a spear through your chest pinning you to the ground, with your eyelids cut off, staring up at the burning sun…forever.”

2. Coming out of depression is the most dangerous time. Coming out of depression, I’ve found, is like having your emotional system turned back on. But when it’s turning back on, it sputters and backfires. You feel incredibly raw. You have days where you feel elated, like you’re walking on air. And you have days when you feel black despair, rage, hysterical sadness. These latter are the only times that I’ve seriously thought about harming myself. And I’ve done a few…unwise things during these periods.

One of the most common negative episodes, for me, is what I’ve heard people call the “spiral” – a flood of negative emotions makes you feel like you’re bringing down the people around you, which triggers more negative emotions, etc. I often experience this when coming out of depression. It comes on very rapidly. If you see this happening to a depressed person, get them away from large groups of people and high-energy social situations, as fast as possible.

3. Depressed people don’t need good listeners, a sympathetic ear, or a shoulder to cry on. Most of the time, when our friends are having life problems, what they need is a sympathetic ear. They need someone to listen to their problems, to understand and accept the validity of their feelings, and to empathize. So when our friends have depression, the natural urge is to sit there and listen, and ask “What’s it like?”, and “Why do you feel that way?”, and to nod, and make a concerned face, and tell them you understand (even though you don’t), and to give them a hug. This is a good impulse, but when the person is depressed rather than sad, it’s a completely misplaced impulse. This is not what depressed people need, and although it doesn’t hurt them, in my experience it doesn’t do them any good at all. One reason is that depressed people tend not to think that anyone can really understand what they’re going through (and in fact it’s very hard for a non-depressed person to understand, thank God). Another is that, while for a normal sad person, getting negative thoughts out in the open helps expunge them, for depressed people airing the negative thoughts just forces them to think their negative thoughts, without expunging them. Another is that the emotional disconnection that I mentioned in point 1 tends to short-circuit the warm, good feeling that usually comes from someone being sympathetic and friendly toward you.

4. Depressed people do need human company. [And it’s interesting to me that in his commencement address today at Johns Hopkins, Michael Bloomberg talked at length about the importance of human relationships for happiness, for creativity, for productivity, and for getting the most out of life. – LG] For some reason, human company helps. In fact, it is the single thing that helps the most. But not the kind of company a sad person needs. What a depressed person needs is simply to talk to people, not about their problems or their negative thoughts or their depression, but about anything else – music, animals, science. The most helpful topic of conversation, I’ve found, is absurdity – just talking about utterly ridiculous things, gross things, vulgar offensive things, bizarre things. Shared activities, like going on a hike or playing sports, are OK, but talking is much, much more important. I really have never figured out why this works, but it does.

And of course,

relationships are very, very important. Friends, I think, are the most important, because friends offer opportunity for understanding and positive interaction without much feeling of obligation or shame (see point 6). Family and lovers are important, but really, the friendship component of these relationships has to dominate, so the depressed person doesn’t constantly think negative thoughts about how they’ve let you down. Essentially, to help a depressed person, friends need to become a bit more like family, and family a bit more like friends. Also, you should realize that just because your depressed friend or family member is unresponsive, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing him or her a lot of good.

5. Cognitive behavioral therapy really works. I’ve taken one antidepressant drug (Lexapro), but it did nothing perceptible for me. (This is not to say that antidepressants in general don’t work; for that, ask PubMed. This is just about my personal experience.) What has worked for me is cognitive behavioral therapy. The “cognitive part” is the most important. Basically, depressed people have negative thoughts that they can’t get out of their head; cognitive therapy teaches you to habitually identify, examine, and correct these negative thoughts. That really helps; once those negative thoughts aren’t always racing unnoticed through the back of your mind, your brain has a much easier time repairing the damage done by a depressive episode. Also, “behavioral” therapies can be important for improving your lifestyle.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is best done by a counseling therapist, and there are many good therapists, but also many crappy ones. It is easy to see who is good and who is crappy, but since depressed people have low volition, sometimes they need a push to ditch a bad therapist and keep looking for a good one.

6. . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 9:00 pm

Depression and its treatment

with 3 comments

Depression is the most common mental illness in the US, so it’s a good idea to know more about it. Astral Codex 10 has a lengthy post describing depression and various treatments, along with a lengthy collection of comments following the post. The post begins:

I’m trying to build up a database of mental health resources on my other website, Lorien Psychiatry. Every time I post something, people here have made good comments, so I want to try using you all as peer review.

This is a rough draft of my page on depression. I’m interested in any feedback you can give, including:

1. Typos

2. Places where you disagree with my recommendations / assessment of the evidence

3. Extra things you think I should add

4. Your personal stories about what things have or haven’t helped, or any extra insight that your experience with depression has given you

5. Comments on the organization of the piece. I don’t know how to balance wanting this to be accessible and easy-to-read with having it be thorough and convincing. Right now I’ve gone for a kind of FAQ format where you can only read the parts you want, but I’m doubtful about this choice.

6. Comments on the level of scientific formality. I tried to get somewhere in between “so evidence-based that I won’t admit parachutes prevent injury without an RCT” and “here’s some random stuff that came to me in a dream”, and signal which part was which, but tell me if I fell too far to one side or the other.

Ignore the minor formatting issues inevitable in trying to copy-paste things into Substack, including the headings being too small and the spacing between words and before paragraphs being weird. In the real page, the table of contents will link to the subsections; I don’t know how to do that here so it might be harder to read.

Here’s the page:


Depression

The short version: Depression has a combination of biological, psychological, and social causes. You can address the social causes by changing your life circumstances (and research suggests people underestimate the potential benefits of making major life changes). You can address the psychological causes with therapy; possible therapies are diverse and complicated but I especially recommend “behavioral activation” therapy (where you try to keep a schedule and also do new, interesting things) and David Burns’ book Feeling Good. You can address the biological causes with a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and supplements. Consider exercising more and adapting a modified Mediterranean diet. Consider taking antidepressants like escitalopram and bupropion, and supplements like l-methylfolate. Other non-chemical biological options include light therapy (safe and easy), transcranial magnetic stimulation (more complicated), and electroconvulsive therapy (difficult but extremely effective last-ditch solution). If something treats your depression, continue it for some length of time depending on the type of intervention, then consider withdrawing it to see if you can maintain your mood without it.

The long version:

1. What is depression?
1.1: Is depression caused by biochemistry or life events?
1.2. How can I tell if I have depression?
1.2.1. How do I know if I have depression vs. something else?
2. How do you treat depression?
2.1. What kind of lifestyle changes help with depression?
2.1.1: What do you mean by getting away from the depressing thing?
2.1.2: What kind of diet helps with depression?
2.1.2.1: What if I have special dietary needs (vegetarian/vegan/paleo/gluten-free/etc)?
2.1.3: What kind of exercise helps with depression?
2.1.4: What’s the role of sunlight in treating depression?
2.1.5: What’s the role of hygiene, routine, and behavioral activation in treating depression?
2.2. What kind of therapies help with depression?
2.2.1. How can I get a therapist?
2.2.2. How can I get therapy without a therapist?
2.3. What kind of medications help with depression?
2.4. What kind of supplements help with depression?
2.5. What else treats depression?
2.6. What should I try to treat my depression?
2.7. If something helps treat my depression, how long do I have to do it for?

1. What is depression?

Depression is a condition marked by low mood, low motivation, persistent negative self-talk, and countless similar and related issues.

Although it’s fair to call it a “mental illness” as a heuristic, it isn’t “just” “in your head”. Severe depression sometimes affects the psychomotor system as well, producing unusually slow movements and decreased muscle strength. Some depressed people feel like their limbs “have lead weights tied to them”, and this feeling is “real” – it’s the extra work it takes to maintain a posture despite decreased ability to exert muscle force. It’s linked to decreased efficiency in almost every part of the body, including the immune system, the cardiovascular system, and (especially) the gastrointestinal system. Chronically depressed people live almost a decade less than non-depressed people, and there’s increasing evidence that this isn’t just because they’re too depressed to eat right and exercise, it’s also because the same neurological processes affecting their emotional system are affecting the nerves that regulate the heart, lungs, stomach, etc. The emotional / psychological symptoms of depression are so striking that they trick us into thinking depression is “just” an emotion – but even if you could eliminate every emotional symptom tomorrow, depression would still be a serious disease of dysregulated bodily systems.

We don’t understand exactly what depression is, but we have clues about how it works on a neurological, biochemical, and cognitive levels. The following is extremely speculative but (I think) the best picture we can draw from the evidence so far.

On the neurological level,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much, much more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2021 at 12:44 pm

America is in deep trouble: QAnon is spreading in churches. These pastors are trying to stop it

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Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2021 at 5:46 pm

Liz Cheney v. her party (especially Kevin McCarthy)

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), whom the Republican House conference dumped as chair last week after she refused to kowtow to former president Trump, said some interesting things to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday this morning. She reiterated that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has information about conversations with Trump surrounding the events of January 6 and should be subpoenaed if he will not talk about those things voluntarily (and, by implication, under oath).

Cheney is bringing back into the media cycle a number of things we heard between the election and January 6, but she has said that McCarthy should be subpoenaed enough times that it’s hard to believe she is talking generally.

On ABC’s This Week, Cheney also repeated the information she gave last week: that Republicans were afraid to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial because they were frightened for their lives. You may recall that the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff (D-CA) said something similar in his closing remarks in January 2020 at Trump’s first impeachment trial, and Republicans claimed to be outraged. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) told reporters: “That’s insulting and demeaning to everyone to say that we somehow live in fear and that the president has threatened all of us.”

And yet, sixteen months later, here we are.

Cheney is not the only Republican who is turning on the former president and his loyalists. Last night, Trump posted a statement claiming that “the entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona”—where the bizarre “audit” is underway—“has been DELETED!” The statement goes on to make sweeping claims about “this unbelievable Election crime,” and so on.

But, in real time, the Republican recorder of Maricopa County wrote on Twitter in response to Trump’s statement: “Wow. this is unhinged,” Stephen Richer wrote. “I’m literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now.” He went on: “We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country. This is as readily falsifiable as 2+2=5. If we don’t call this out….”

And Maricopa County did call it out. In a remarkable Twitter thread, the Maricopa County official account destroyed the effort by the private company Cyber Ninjas to recount the 2020 votes in that county. “The 2020 elections were run w/ integrity, the results certified by the county & state were accurate, & the 2 independent audits conducted by the County are the true final word on the subject,” the account said. “We know auditing. The Senate Cyber Ninja audit is not a real audit.” The account went on to list all the many ways in which this audit is simply a propaganda effort to shore up the Big Lie that the election was stolen.

This weekend we also learned that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2021 at 9:08 am

The Darkness Descends

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“この世界は, 暗黒に包まれている. 風は止み. 海は荒れ. 大地は腐っていく.” — Final Fantasy

Translation: “This world is surrounded by darkness. The wind stops. The sea is rough. The earth is rotten.”

Noah Smith uses that quotation as the epigraph for his post:

There is a Darkness creeping over our world.

That is a melodramatic thing to say. But when I reach for words to express the profound unease that I feel watching the advance of illiberalism across my planet, the language of fantasy novels, children’s movies, and video games is the only one that seems up to the task. Throughout my youth, I consumed a great many stories that all had the same basic premise — an ancient evil, long ago banished from our world, is now returning, and once again we are called upon to rise up and fight it. Perhaps all those stories shaped my worldview and made me see complex, gritty reality in epic, Manichean terms. Or perhaps the stories were written by people who had themselves lived through a global wave of illiberalism, and were trying to pass down a warning.

There is plenty of darkness in the world even at the best of times. Wars, ethnic cleansing, rights violations, suppression of speech and religion…these things are always, or almost always, happening in some part of the globe. No leader and no country is spotless. And yet observers of comparative government and human rights are able to clearly identify times when respect for the rights and liberties of human beings begins to gutter and wane.

We are now in one of those times. The news headlines from around the world give us a continual stream of dark portents. Concentration camps and forced mass sterilization of minorities in China. Millions rendered stateless by a new law in India amid a retreat of secularism. A coup attempt and election denial as a normalized political strategy in America. Rising authoritarianism in Turkey, in Hungary, in Brazil, in the Philippines, in Israel. Protesters massacred in Myanmarmassacred in Iransuppressed in Belarussuppressed in Hong Kong. Mass surveillance everywhere. Internet shutdowns. “Anti-terrorism” laws.

But headlines are just anecdotes. Unfortunately, data tell the same story.

Freedom House, a think tank that tracks political and civil liberties around the world, warns in its 2020 report that “democracy and pluralism are under assault”. You can quibble with Freedom House’s measurements and definitions, but at least they’re consistent across time, and for a decade and a half now they’ve shown a world inching toward illiberalism: . . .

Continue reading. The charts are chilling. And later in the column:

Trump did various nasty things (family separation, using federal agents as cops, etc.). But the biggest threat here by far is the apparent rejection of electoral democracy by the dominant faction of the Republican Party. Trump’s attempt to brazenly deny the result of the 2020 election and use every means short of civil war to overturn the result might not a one-off thing; they provided a blueprint that the GOP now seems to be embracing for the future:

If electoral democracy in America relies on Democrats never losing an election, it’s doomed. If the GOP doesn’t change its tune and agree that the rules by which Americans choose their leaders are legitimate, the next decade could be one of rolling constitutional crises…or worse.

But beyond America’s flirtation with autocracy, the coalition that it assembled to win the Cold War is just much weaker now than it was in the 1980s. . .

Read the whole thing. There’s much more.

Later in the column:

How did our world begin to fall into Darkness? Why did a 25-year trend of increasing human freedom and human rights stall and go into reverse? Everyone is going to have their favorite answer to this question. Those will include the death of the WW2 generation, the rise of social media, new disruptive technologies, economic inequality, the failures of late capitalism, and so on. Any and all of those might well be contributing factors. But while we’re here, I might as well tell you my answer.

My answer is “fear”.

If Freedom House and V-Dem are to believed, the Darkness began to return right around the mid to late 2000s. Two notable geopolitical events occurred in that decade — the rise of China, and the Iraq War. And both events can be interpreted as being broadly part of the same overarching trend — diminution of the United States of America.

The Iraq War did incalculable damage to the moral standing the U.S. had accumulated since its intercession in World War 2 and its construction of the postwar liberal order. We invaded a non-threatening country on the thinnest of false pretexts (don’t deny it), inflaming an entire region of the globe. Hundreds of thousands died. A few of our troops committed well-publicized atrocities. If I had to tell you a single moment when the Darkness was released from the barriers that sealed it beyond the boundaries of the world, it would be this moment:

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2021 at 10:37 am

The Republican party has demonstrably lost its collective mind (and conscience)

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Heather Cox Richardson points out some salient facts:

As expected, this morning the House Republicans removed Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney from her position as conference chair after she refused to stop speaking out against the former president for instigating the January 6 attack on our Capitol and the counting of electoral votes for President Joe Biden. The Republicans ousted her by voice vote, which meant that no one had to go on the record for or against Cheney, and the Republicans kept the split in the party from being measurable. It also ensured that she would lose; she has survived a secret ballot vote before.

Before the vote, Cheney allegedly told her Republican colleagues: “If you want leaders who will enable and spread his destructive lies, I’m not your person; you have plenty of others to choose from.” After the vote, she went in front of the cameras to say that she would lead the fight to reclaim the party from Trump, and said: “I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again goes anywhere near the Oval Office.”

After her ouster, Trump Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn (NC) tweeted ““Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye Liz Cheney.” The former president echoed Cawthorn: “Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being. I watched her yesterday and realized how bad she is for the Republican Party. She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our Country.”

After convincing his caucus to dump Cheney and embrace Trump, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told reporters: “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with.”

This was a breathtaking statement. McCarthy himself challenged the certification of Biden’s win, and just last week, Trump made a big announcement in which he called the election of 2020 “fraudulent.” The Big Lie animating the Republicans today is that Trump, not Biden, really won the 2020 election.

But McCarthy is not alone in his gaslighting. Yesterday, in the Senate Rules Committee markup of S1, the For the People Act protecting the vote, ending gerrymandering, and pushing big money out of our elections, Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said: “I don’t think anyone on our side has been arguing that [voter fraud] has been pervasive all over the country.”

The false claim of widespread voter fraud is, of course, exactly what Trump Republicans have stood on since the 2020 election. It is the justification for their voter suppression measures in Republican states, including Texas, Iowa, Georgia, Florida, and, as of yesterday afternoon, Arizona.

In today’s House Oversight Committee hearing on the January 6 insurrection, Republican lawmakers in general tried to gaslight Americans, as they tried to paint that unprecedented attack on our democracy as nothing terribly important. Although 140 law enforcement officers were injured, five people were killed, more than 400 people have been charged with crimes, and rioters did more than $30 million worth of damage, Republican representatives downplayed the events of the day, insisting that they were not really out of the ordinary. Representative Andrew Clyde (R-GA) said that calling the attack on the Capitol an insurrection is a “bald-faced lie” and that “if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit….”

CNN later called Clyde’s remarks “absolute nonsense.” Even the definition of insurrection Clyde quoted—“an organized attempt by a group of people to defeat their government and take control of their country usually by violence”—showed the attack of January 6 to be an insurrection. And, as lawyer and CNN analyst Asha Rangappa noted tonight on Twitter, at his second impeachment trial even Trump’s own lawyers did not dispute that the events of January 6 were a violent insurrection. The record is clear.

Republican lawmakers like Clyde did, though, echo the former president’s interview on the Fox News Channel in March when he said that when his supporters went into the Capitol they posed “zero threat” and were “hugging and kissing the police and the guards…. A lot of the people were waved in, and then they walked in and they walked out.”

The former president appears to be continuing to exercise control over his underlings. Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and former Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller provided testimony at the House Oversight Committee hearing, and what they would not say was revealing. Rosen refused to answer questions about whether Trump asked him to try to overturn the 2020 election. Miller’s prepared remarks had included a sentence that said “I stand by my prior observation that I personally believe his comments encouraged the protesters that day.” In his testimony, he omitted that line, and later tried to walk it back, trying to draw a line between people who marched on the Capitol and those who broke into it.

But with Cheney and her supporters now in open revolt, and with news about the Capitol attack dropping, and even with more information coming about the ties between the former president and Russia, will Republican Party leaders manage to sweep everything under the rug?

Today, at a hearing on domestic extremism before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas both testified that the most serious domestic national security threat in the U.S. right now is that of white supremacist gangs. “I think it’s fair to say that in my career as a judge, and in law enforcement, I have not seen a more dangerous threat to democracy than the invasion of the Capitol,” Garland said. “There was an attempt to interfere with the fundamental passing of an element of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power. And if there has to be a hierarchy of things that we prioritize, this would be the one we’d prioritize. It is the most dangerous threat to our democracy. That does not mean that we don’t focus on other threats.”

For his part, President Biden is refusing to get sucked into the Republican drama, instead focusing on the country. Today an advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the Pfizer vaccine for children as young as 12, and the CDC signed off on the recommendation, making it easier to reopen schools in the fall.

Today Biden met at the White House with . . .

Continue reading. It’s worth noting that the domestic terrorist threat comes almost totally from the radical right.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2021 at 9:52 pm

Conservative critics of the CIA think that “excellence” and “diversity” are opposites

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As Susan M. Gordon, deputy director of national intelligence from 2017 to 2019, points out, we see a lot of blatant bias from conservatives. She writes in the Washington Post:

A recent installment of the CIA’s social media series, “Humans of CIA”, depicted a young (to me, at least) Latina telling her story as she walked the sacred halls of Langley. It is part of the Agency’s effort to share real stories and show the many faces, perspectives, and experiences of today’s intelligence officers. Their aim is to connect to America, and if they’re lucky, attract new talent.

Well, you would have thought the free world had come to an end.

And not because trolls on Twitter had lots of inane comments about the officer herself or the sad decline of the Agency because it aspired to be an inclusive, diverse organization. (Without trolls and inane comments, there would be no Twitter.)

What was shocking — more exhausting than shocking, really — was the number of notable leaders who decided to weigh in with similar commentary.

Mike Pompeo — a former CIA director, no less — tweeted this spectacular non sequitur: “The collection of incredibly talented patriots serving at the CIA is what makes it the best spy agency in the world — and we must continue to recruit the best and brightest. We can’t afford to risk our national security to appease some liberal, woke agenda.”

His implication, of course was that women such as the one in the video do not represent the best and brightest — even though she is definitionally one of the “talented patriots” he longs for. Not to be outdone, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted: “If you’re a Chinese communist, or an Iranian Mullah, or Kim Jong Un . . . would this scare you? We’ve come a long way from Jason Bourne.”

When reminded that Bourne was, um, fictional, Cruz clarified: “My point is that CIA agents should be bad-asses — not woke, fragile flowers.”

This is what systemic bias sounds like, for all those who don’t know or question its existence. It is the suggestion that there is only one look to excellence, only one kind of experience of value, and that any change of the status quo — or the Hollywood-fed stereotype — must mean a reduction in standards. It is also how power keeps power.

And it’s not just in intelligence that the battle is still being fought. In March, when the Air Force and the Army made long overdue changes in uniforms and personal (hair) standards, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson used his on-air time to opine, “So we’ve got new hairstyles and maternity flight suits. Pregnant women are going to fight our wars. It’s a mockery of the U.S. military.” He does know that women have served in the military since its inception and in combat for decades, right? Our military’s record of achievement is their record of achievement.

As a woman, I am plenty familiar with the false choice between diversity or excellence; the seemingly legitimate argument of “merit-based” selection that advances the notion that if organizations increase diversity and expand inclusion, they sacrifice mission or quality. Nothing could be further from my experience during my more than 30 years in the intelligence community, no matter how many times it is stated or implied. In reality, the smart move is to choose both. Inclusion and excellence. Diversity and mission. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2021 at 4:11 pm

“No legal objection, per se”

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E.M. Liddick writes in War on the Rocks:

The commander turns to me. “Any issues, Eric?”

I am the legal advisor to a special operations task force conducting counter-terrorism operations. Our mission: locate and capture — or kill — terrorists.

My “morning,” like so many others, began a few hours earlier, but that means little when day blurs into night, night into day. I had removed my boots and lain down in my uniform on my well-worn twin-sized mattress shortly before the last of our teams began their return to base at about 3 a.m.

The pager, habitually positioned on a ledge near my head, buzzed obnoxiously around 5 a.m., jolting me awake, spiking my heart rate. I reached for it, desperate to reclaim the silence, before swinging my legs off the bed and exhaling an audible groan.

Sleepwalking and squinting, I made my way down the hall to the joint operations center to answer the page. A flurry of activity had replaced the normal quiet found in the few hours between an operation and sunrise. As the commander and operations officer intently focused on an unfolding situation, I walked over to the chief of operations. With a quiet and solemn voice, he broke the news: We just lost one of our men.

With a start, the fog lifted. My brain revved from zero to 60, rifling through battle drills and searching for potential legal issues. Knowing this tragedy could beget more, I sent a runner to wake my deputy and paralegal. When they arrived, I explained the situation and assigned tasks, reminding them that, though we all justifiably felt anger, we needed to be the ones who remained unemotional. I tried to exude confidence and certainty, but my face, I fear, betrayed insecurity and anxiety.

Now, roughly four hours after that obnoxious buzz, I find myself staring at an oversized screen. On it, I observe three congregating individuals, two on bicycles, one who appears young — perhaps a boy, but I can’t be sure — and I, as the legal advisor, am being asked by the commander whether he may legally kill these three humans. I am the judge — he the jury and executioner.

This is a story about how a lawyer’s professional responsibilities, when tossed into the pressure cooker of combat, can produce unpalatable consequences; a story about the reaches of war and post-traumatic stress and moral injury on its less obvious participants; and how the hidden costs of war may be more expansive than we realize.

****

The reports began surfacing almost a decade into the “Global War on Terror”: Drone pilots operating from within the safety of the United States were beginning to show signs of post-traumatic stress.

I remember balking, laughing even. How could a drone pilot who worked in an air-conditioned box in Nevada or wherever, a pilot who worked eight or ten or twelve hours before returning home for dinner, a pilot who faced no real physical danger suffer from post-traumatic stress or moral injury? Absurd, I thought.

Now, almost two decades into that same war and confronting my own grief, I ask: How could I be so scornful, so wrong, so quick to judge?

Much has been written about the invisible wounds of combat, injuries suffered by, among others, infantry soldiersmedicsdrone pilotsinterrogatorsspecial operations forces, and even journalists. Their wounds seem easy to comprehend, with their proximity to the action or direct causal link between the push of a button and manufactured death. But no one speaks about the potential for these wounds to affect others, like judge advocates, who find themselves far removed from the physical danger or the direct causal link. Yet, I feel these wounds within me.

Sure, I was geographically closer to the action, but, psychologically, I remained nearer to Nevada and those drone pilots. I faced little danger beyond sporadic, and ineffective, mortar attacks. I didn’t receive or return fire, didn’t experience “friendly fire,” didn’t fear improvised explosive devices, and, most importantly, didn’t order the strikes or pull the trigger that took another human life. Instead, I was a mere cog in the machinery of death, advising in relative comfort away from the action, fueled by a steady supply of caffeine, snacks, and adrenaline, providing a cloak of legality to the decision-maker’s choice to approve a strike, to pull a trigger — to kill.

Even so, every cog contains some thing. And this something has changed since I returned home. I am different, and the difference is the weight of the guilt I feel. But it is not only the moral weight of how even legal advice kills, but also the burden of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2021 at 1:43 pm

Why People Feel Like Victims and Victimhood’s Role in Social Acrmony

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Mark MacNamara writes in Nautilus:

In a polarized nation, victimhood is a badge of honor. It gives people strength. “The victim has become among the most important identity positions in American politics,” wrote Robert B. Horwitz, a communications professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Horwitz published his study, “Politics as Victimhood, Victimhood as Politics,” in 2018.1 He focused on social currents that drove victimhood to the fore of American political life, arguing it “emerged from the contentious politics of the 1960s, specifically the civil rights movement and its aftermath.” What lodges victimhood in human psychology?

In 2020, researchers in Israel, led by Rahav Gabray, a doctor of psychology at Tel Aviv University, conducted a series of empirical studies to come up with an answer.2 They identify a negative personality trait they call TIV or Tendency toward Interpersonal Victimhood. People who score high on a TIV test have an “enduring feeling that the self is a victim in different kinds of interpersonal relationships,” they write.

The study of TIV is built around four pillars. The first pillar is a relentless need for one’s victimhood to be clearly and unequivocally acknowledged by both the offender and the society at large. The second is “moral elitism,” the conviction that the victim has the moral high ground, an “immaculate morality,” while “the other” is inherently immoral. The third pillar is a lack of empathy, especially an inability to see life from another perspective, with the result that the victim feels entitled to act selfishly in response. The fourth pillar is Rumination—a tendency to dwell on the details of an assault on self-esteem.

You only need to spend only a few minutes watching or reading the news, in any country, to hear and see victimhood raging. We caught up with Gabray to get the science behind the headlines.

Is TIV an aberration in the personality?

Sometimes it may be, if one is high on the TIV scale. But we didn’t research clinical patients. That’s not what interested me. I’m interested in how this tendency appears in normal people, not those with a personality disorder. What we found was that like in a bell curve, most people who experience TIV appear in the middle range.

You found a correlation between TIV and what you referred to as “anxious attachment style”, as opposed to “secure and avoidant” styles. What is the anxious style?

Another way to say it is an “ambivalent attachment style.” So when a child is very young, and care is uncertain, perhaps the caregiver, or the male figures in the child’s life, don’t act consistently, sometimes they may act very aggressively without warning, or they don’t notice that the child needs care. That’s when the anxious attachment style or ambivalent attachment style is created.

So victimhood is a learned behavior after a certain age.

Yes, normally children internalize the empathetic and soothing reactions of their parents, they learn not to need others from outside to soothe themselves. But people with high TIV cannot soothe themselves. This is partly why they experience perceived offenses for long-term periods. They tend to ruminate about the offense. They keep mentioning they are hurt, remembering and reflecting on what happened, and also they keep dwelling on the negative feelings associated with the offense: hopelessness, insult, anger, frustration.

Why is it so difficult for people with a high degree of TIV to recognize that they can hurt other people?

They don’t want to divide up the land of victimhood with other people. They see themselves as the ultimate victim. And when other people say, “OK, I know that I hurt you, but you also hurt me,” and want them to take responsibility for what they did, the person with TIV is unable to do it because it’s very hard to see themselves as an aggressor.

In one of your studies, you conclude that TIV is related to an unwillingness to forgive, even to an increased desire for revenge. How did you come to that? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2021 at 1:32 pm

Republicans have lost their grip on reality

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Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2021 at 5:36 pm

Snapchat Can Be Sued Over Role In Fatal Car Crash, Court Rules

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As a joke, I sometimes would suggest that sharp curves on roads should be posted with a sign giving the highest speed to date someone has traversed the curve. I meant it as a service for those competing for a Darwin award. It was a joke.

But Snapchat seemed to have liked the idea in general. Bobby Allyn reports for NPR:

Three young men got into a car in Walworth County, Wis., in May 2017. They were set on driving at rapid speeds down a long, cornfield-lined road — and sharing their escapade on social media.

As the 17-year-old behind the wheel accelerated to 123 miles per hour, one of the passengers opened Snapchat.

His parents say their son wanted to capture the experience using an app feature — the controversial “speed filter” — that documents real-life speed, hoping for engagement and attention from followers on the messaging app.

It was one of the last things the trio did before the vehicle ran off the road and crashed into a tree, killing all of them.

Was Snapchat partially to blame? The boys’ parents think so. And, in a surprise decision on Tuesday, a federal appeals court ordered that the parents should have the right to sue Snap Inc.

The ruling, from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has set off intense debate among legal watchers about the future of a decades-old law that has shielded tech companies from civil lawsuits.

The boys’ parents sued Snap Inc., the maker of Snapchat, after the tragedy. They alleged that the company “knowingly created a dangerous game” through its filter and bore some responsibility.

The district court responded how courts usually do when a tech platform is sued in a civil lawsuit: by dismissing the case. The judge cited the sweeping immunity that social media companies enjoy under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The law provides legal immunity to tech companies from libel and other civil suits for what people post on sites, regardless of how harmful it may be.

But the appeals court’s reversal paves a way around the all-powerful law, saying it doesn’t apply because this case is not about what someone posted to Snapchat, but rather the design of the app itself.

Continue reading. There are more details of the decision, and they are interesting — partly because different courts have given different decisions in similar cases. Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2021 at 10:39 am

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