1. Youngstown, U.S.A.The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
Youngstown was transformed not only by an economic disruption but also by a psychological and cultural breakdown. Depression, spousal abuse, and suicide all became much more prevalent; the caseload of the area’s mental-health center tripled within a decade. The city built four prisons in the mid-1990s—a rare growth industry. One of the few downtown construction projects of that period was a museum dedicated to the defunct steel industry.
This winter, I traveled to Ohio to consider what would happen if technology permanently replaced a great deal of human work. I wasn’t seeking a tour of our automated future. I went because Youngstown has become a national metaphor for the decline of labor, a place where the middle class of the 20th century has become a museum exhibit.
In the past few years, even as the United States has pulled itself partway out of the jobs hole created by the Great Recession, some economists and technologists have warned that the economy is near a tipping point. When they peer deeply into labor-market data, they see troubling signs, masked for now by a cyclical recovery. And when they look up from their spreadsheets, they see automation high and low—robots in the operating room and behind the fast-food counter. They imagine self-driving cars snaking through the streets and Amazon drones dotting the sky, replacing millions of drivers, warehouse stockers, and retail workers. They observe that the capabilities of machines—already formidable—continue to expand exponentially, while our own remain the same. And they wonder: Is any job truly safe? Continue reading Considering Post-Work America
Children, construction workers, and seniors are subject to bouts of what are technically called: “impacted cerumen”, or more commonly called ear wax buildups. Recently I experienced this when I foolishly sanded a deck without wearing any ear protection. I thought the respirator was sufficient to keep the debris from my face and lungs, which it was; but I didn’t even think about putting some cotton balls in my ears. Big mistake!
A couple of days later my hearing became almost non-existent: using an online hearing test I could not hear anything above 900 khz, even at 90 db. So, I went to my VA Clinic where they used an otoscope and determined I had a case of impacted cerumen, and issued a prescription for Debrox, an ear cleaning kit. I took it home, and used it several times; but while I washed out some wax, my ears were still plugged up.
My loving wife suggested hydrogen peroxide, which I tried, again on several occasions. Although there was considerable oxidizing, which is detectable by the “bubbling effect”, my ears were still plugged. So I made an appointment with an area audiology clinic.
The clinic asked me to fill out several forms, and asked for information on my insurance status. I replied I had Medicare, and VA Veterans Choice. The doctor used an otoscope and confirmed the blockage, and then proceeded to use suction to remove the debris. As a patient it was easy to hear the debris being suctioned out, and the process was not particularly uncomfortable. One ear seemed to be “back to normal”, but the other one still seemed partially blocked. I went home and used warm water and the Debrox syringe for several days, and my hearing seemed almost normal.
However, a problem became apparent several days later, when I received an invoice from the clinic for $160. Upon closer examination I discovered to my horror that the clinic had charged a total of $498 for the service, of which $380 was for what was listed as “Office Outpatient New”, and $118 was for “Rmvl Impacted Cerumen Spx I/Both Ears”. Medicare had paid $338, and I was responsible for the balance of $160.
Going online I discovered the typical cost for this process was $88, according to the Health Care Blue Book, under section 69210 which covered the care I had received. Reviewing the costs amply demonstrated the perfidy of American health care. Simply comparing $88 with $498 was bad enough; but seeing the clinic had charged 50% more than Medicare covered got my hackles up again.
So to address this in the future I spent some time exploring options, ranging from Q-tips: (bad idea); to a trip to a sauna: (none nearby); to a trip to the Ocean: (credit card balance ruled that out); to hydrogen peroxide lavages with the soft rubber bulb ear syringe: (time for that no one has – as Yoda would say).
My solutions ended up with this sequence: a) use Debrox, and a warm water lavage syringe to wash out the ear wax buildup; and if that did not suffice, then go onto plan B, which consisted of the purchase of:
a Water Pik WP-450 portable
a Bionix 7215 wand for the Water Pik
an ACC-Life Syringe
pint of hydrogen peroxide
The key notion with this system, which costs less than $100 net, is the wand, and nozzle. Just using the Water Pik alone is hazardous, as the force of water/hydrogen peroxide, even on low settings can cause pain, push debris further into the ear canal, or rupture of the eardrum since it is a single stream. The nozzle on the syringe mentioned directs a reduced flow of three streams to the sides of the ear canal rather than straight ahead, and the use of hydrogen peroxide is preferred to water since it is an anti-bacterial agent which water is not.
Checking the prices for each was also shocking, where my trusty Amazon Prime account came up a bit short on the ‘best value’ option, when two of these items were priced more than double what I could buy them for at other sites.
Instead I ended up buying the Bionix 7215 from “Affiliated Medical Sales” for a cost of $12.99, ,or almost half the Amazon listed price. Same with the Water Pik WP-450 which was obtainable on eBay for $54 instead of $87.
The four items work great as a complete care package, and I can heartily recommend this system. I cannot recommend the audiology clinic I attended, nor some of the sellers on Amazon who charge double the going rate for these items.
What I found most objectionable in this episode was the clinic “setup fee” which comprised 75% of the cost for the clinic visit. This is where the VA beats the hell out of private health care systems. Once entered into the VA system, all of a patient’s medical records are available to providers nationwide. The private clinic employs at least eight “assistants” and two doctors, thus the majority of the costs for obtaining services from private care facilities is due to administrate staff and facilities maintenance, not medical care per se.
Furthermore, the politically charged notion of expanding the role of insurance companies, even Medicare, to provide satisfactory health care to all Americans is a bad joke. We should be moving toward a single payer national system modeled on the VA or FEHB systems. Insurance is appropriate for extraordinary circumstances, not for routine medical care, and Medicare is not effective as long as providers can attach whatever co-pay’s they chose to the cost of care invoice.
If you’re looking for a single recent anecdote illustrating almost everything dysfunctional about the modern American system of funding higher education, try this one: On Monday, one week after the long-embattled chain of for-profit schools abruptly closed all of its remaining campuses, Corinthian Colleges filed for bankruptcy.However, Corinthian’s former students lack the same opportunity to wipe out their bad debts and start over again at Net Worth Zero (plus an abysmal credit rating), because student-loan debt, for the most part, cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
What led to Corinthian’s downfall? Like most for-profit schools, it was almost entirely dependent on federally backed student aid (especially those bankruptcy-proof loans) to function. The beginning of the end for Corinthian arguably came last June, when the feds temporarily halted all financial aid to Corinthian schools.
Federal agencies ranging from the Department of Education (DoE) to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), in addition to the attorneys general of several different states, have alleged that Corinthian-owned schools defrauded their students in multiple ways: inflating or lying about post-graduation job-placement rates, teaching courses whose credits were not accepted by reputable universities or state professional-licensing boards, even engaging in what the CFPB called“predatory lending scheme[s]” bad enough that in February, the DoE and CFPB announced $480 million in debt relief for certain Corinthian students.
The main site at ALMA is at an elevation of 16,400 feet. Roughly half the atmosphere is below you at that point, and oxygen levels are pretty low. It can have some minor adverse effects in the best conditions, and downright life-threatening effects in the worst. So you have to pass a basic physical on site, and if you don’t pass, you don’t get approved for the ALMA high site.
I didn’t pass.
So, as the pied piper led the children up the mountain, I was the boy left behind. While the rest of the ACEAP team is visiting the highest astronomy project in the world, I’m writing this, and the taste is bitter indeed.
There isn’t a clear trend for those who don’t pass. Overweight sedentary folks have passed while young, marathon-running vegetarians haven’t. It all depends on how you react to high altitudes. If the medics deem you too much of a risk, you don’t go, and there’s no arguing with them, as it should be. That “I’ll be fine” approach at high altitudes is how you get into trouble.
It’s tempting to sit and stew about it. Curl up a fist and start pounding sand. But that’s not how science works. On twitter right now there is buzz about the explosion of SpaceX’s Dragon this morning. I’m sure Elon Musk is having a bad day as well, so at least I’m in good company. I have a feeling, however, that Musk and his team aren’t going to pack it up and get out of the space business. Not everything happens as planned, in science and in life.
A teenager flashing a gang sign ran into the store ahead of the group, surveillance video shows. The teens, said to number between 40 and 50, sprinted down the store’s main aisle about 1:50 a.m. Sunday, according a sheriff’s deputy’s report.
“The length of the store from front to rear was lined with items that been shattered, destroyed, turned over and thrown about,” the report stated. The teenager seen leading the group of young men and women told a Walmart employee the group planned the event to see how much damage they could cause, according to the report.
Note: Too many people do not know or understand the first two amendments to the U.S. Constitution, so here they are:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
(Six principal components)
Constitutional scholars and even Supreme Court opinions have contended that the two religion clauses are in conflict. E.g.,Thomas v. Review Board, 450 U.S. 707 (1981). As the Free Exercise Clause implies special accommodation of religious ideas and actions, even to the point of exemptions to generally applicable laws. Such a special benefit seems to violate the neutrality between “religion and non-religion” mandated by the Establishment Clause.
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
(One, or perhaps two components)
The Supreme Court in 2008 definitively held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that weapon for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. Moreover, this right applies not just to the federal government, but to states and municipalities as well. Thus Justice Stevens remediation effort for rewording the amendment does not appear plausible, except by legislative action.
“The secret of ugliness consists not in irregularity, but in being uninteresting.”
Creative culture is woven of invisible threads of influence — someone sees something created by another and it sparks something else in their own mind. We can trace some of these influences, but thanks to the psychological phenomenon of cryptomnesia, few of these unconscious impressions are remembered by those who receive them, even fewer recorded, and fewer still retained by posterity — and yet the rare chance to witness the cross-pollination of great minds is nothing short of magical.
In a journal entry from November of 1855, seven years after she became the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 37-year-old Mitchell recounts attending a lecture by Emerson, which “turned at length upon beauty” and impressed her greatly. Embedded in her intellectually smitten account is timeless insight into what makes a great public speech:
Last night I heard Emerson give a lecture. I pity the reporter who attempts to give it to the world. I began to listen with a determination to remember it in order, but it was without method, or order, or system. It was like a beam of light moving in the undulatory waves, meeting with occasional meteors in its path; it was exceedingly captivating. It surprised me that there was not only no commonplace thought, but there was no commonplace expression. If he quoted, he quoted from what we had not read; if he told an anecdote, it was one that had not reached us.
It’s become a symbol that’s hard to ignore this year: The black flag with white Arabic writing flown by ISIS, the militant group in Iraq and Syria that calls itself the Islamic State, and displayed everywhere from the suburbs of New Jersey to the window of a Sydney café during a hostage crisis.
The flag is often called the Black Standard or the Black Banner. “The black banner of Islam as an idea goes back to the 8th century, when the Second Dynasty of Islam came to power with black banners,” says Jonathan Bloom, a professor of Islamic Art at Boston College.
The US wasn’t beaten up in Afghanistan by any standard. It simply couldn’t achieve what it wanted to, but that wasn’t surprising except to jingoistic Americans (a minority among the educated but a majority in any administration). Like most empires in the past – Greek, Roman, Arab, Byzantine, Ottoman, British, Soviet – American governments believe that they are spreading good in the world and therefore have a natural, indeed divine, right to success.This self-bestowed divine mandate is why all empires expect to succeed but seldom do for very long. This is also why they commit atrocities during their conquests: their good cause justifies the means. Even the Nazis sincerely believed that. Bertrand Russell aptly put it during Vietnam: “It is the attempt to create empires that produces crimes against humanity because, as the Nazis also reminded us, empires are founded on a self-righteous and deep-rooted belief in racial superiority and God-given mission.” Of course, the oppressors’ self-righteous belief in their own goodness is delusional to varying degrees – Americans are by no means as deluded as the Nazis. Nevertheless, it is a psychosis and, like all diseases of the mind, leads to moral chaos (as seen in US foreign policy).
Is the US embarrassed about this chaos? Perhaps no more than a patient in a mental health institute. Only a tiny part of the patient’s mind is even aware that he is ill. This tiny part is the highly educated and liberal elite of the United States who truly stand for freedom and equality for all in the world. They are not only embarrassed but also ashamed, and have been working hard for 50 years to make the rest of the body realise how sick it really is. It’s not because they feel they have been “beaten up” by a couple of poor nations like Vietnam or Afghanistan. Even if America had achieved its ambitions in those places, these people would have stood up against all such adventures. Ironically, this is what makes America great: the tiny minority who has the ethical sense and the moral courage to stand up against a very powerful but sick body.
“Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations”
“The first premise of this Court’s relevant precedents is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.”
“.. in this Court’s jurisprudence is that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals”
“A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families”
“Precedent protects the right of a married couple not to procreate, so the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate. “
“States have contributed to the fundamental character of marriage by placing it at the center of many facets of the legal and social order. There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle, yet same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage and are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would find intolerable.”
“The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”
“..marriage was once viewed as an arrangement by the couple’s parents based on political, religious, and financial concerns; but by the time of the Nation’s founding it was understood to be a voluntary contract between a man and a woman. “
“Under the centuries-old doctrine of coverture, a married man and woman were treated by the State as a single, male-dominated legal entity.”
“As women gained legal, political, and property rights, and as society began to understand that women have their own equal dignity, the law of coverture was abandoned.”
“Even when a greater awareness of the humanity and integrity of homosexual persons came in the period after World War II, the argument that gays and lesbians had a just claim to dignity was in conflict with both law and widespread social conventions. Same-sex intimacy remained a crime in many States.”
“Under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
“…justice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.”
“Like choices concerning contraception, family relationships, procreation, and childrearing, all of which are protected by the Constitution, decisions concerning marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make.”
“… just as a couple vows to support each other, so does society pledge to support the couple, offering symbolic recognition and material benefits to protect and nourish the union”
“…for an expanding list of governmental rights, benefits, and responsibilities. These aspects of marital status include: taxation; inheritance and property rights; rules of intestate succession; spousal privilege in the law of evidence; hospital access; medical decision-making authority; adoption rights; the rights and benefits of survivors; birth and death certificates; professional ethics rules; campaign finance restrictions; workers’ compensation benefits; health insurance; child custody, support, and visitation rules.”
“The States have contributed to the fundamental character of the marriage right by placing that institution at the center of so many facets of the legal and social order. There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle. “
“The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest. With that knowledge must come the recognition that laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.”
“If rights were defined by who exercised them in the past, then received practices could serve as their own continued justification and new groups could not invoke rights once denied. This Court has rejected that approach, both with respect to the right to marry and the rights of gays and lesbians”
” …but rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era. Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied.”
“Decisions about whether to marry and raise children are based on many personal, romantic, and practical considerations; and it is unrealistic to conclude that an opposite-sex couple would choose not to marry simply because same-sex couples may do so”
“These considerations lead to the conclusion that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them. Baker v. Nelson must be and now is overruled, and the State laws challenged by Petitioners in these cases are now held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as oppositesex couples.”
The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court also must hold—and it now does hold—that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.
We already have lots of indoctrination and propaganda being laid on students in History and Civics classes – so adding religion into the typical school day or curriculum, would only add to the perfidy of being required to subscribe to yet another collection of illogical, unprovable, and biased sets of dogma favored by the local School Board.
A lot of what I personally learned in American History and Civics classes was false at best, or a purposeful lie in general, as the History class only considered the period 1750-1900, and the Civics class spent an inordinate amount of time on meaningless fluff, such as having us memorize the name of Cabinet Secretaries, (who would be leaving office soon due to the General Election), and yet no time at all considering different forms of citizen affiliation, or -horrors- even a hint that laissez faire capitalism might have some inherent problems.
I absolutely hated “high school” partially because we were treated like children at school, and at home, except in Math & Science classes. Even English class was lame – making several centuries of magnificence into nothing more than classes in grammar, with an occasional book report.
Now comes this meme suggesting religion, widely understood to mean ‘in the Christian tradition’, should be taught/encouraged/promoted in public schools. The World needs citizens who possess basic real knowledge about an ever expanding base of information, with the capacity to examine, evaluate, and extrapolate that knowledge; we do not need citizens to become conversant with a citizen’s responsibility to Priests as outlined in Leviticus, or to be indoctrinated with endless doctrine about impossibilities, such as of human habitation on this planet occurring as written in Genesis.
Religion needs, and thrives on young minds – but much of what it teaches is less valid to the modern age than a strong course in Sociology, which instead of religion, SHOULD be taught at every grade level. We need to learn how to live as social animals with all of creation, not just with those who look like us.
“Just released data for 2014, and projected estimates for 2015, show that many NATO countries continue to miss the goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.” – Foreign Policy Review – June 2015
And this is only the “on budget” figures, which do not include funding for JSOC, occupation costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, or any of the other expenses in the “dark budget”. In addition, since we still have the largest economy in the World, the estimated 7.4% of our GDP of $14.7 trillion works out to just over a trillion dollars a year, or about five times what China spent in 2014, or eight times what Russia spent.
Want to know what the comparable numbers are for Canada or Australia? How about Norway, or OTOH: Israel or Saudi Arabia?
THE problems with our country’s political discourse are many and grave, but an insufficient attention to Obamacare isn’t among them. We have talked Obamacare to death, or at least into home hospice care. The “Obamacare” shorthand itself reflects our need to come up with less of a mouthful than “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” given how regularly the topic recurs. “Obamacare” is like “J. Lo” or “KFC.” It saves syllables and speeds things along.
So explain this: according to a recent poll, roughly 40 percent of Americans don’t even know that it’s a law on the books.
Now if I learned that 40 percent weren’t aware of when Obamacare was to be fully implemented or whether any of it had yet gone into practice or precisely how it’s likely to affect them, I wouldn’t be surprised or distressed. Obamacare is nothing if not unwieldy and opaque: “Ulysses” meets “Mulholland Drive.” The people confused about it include no small number of the physicians I know and probably a few of the law’s authors as well.
But 40 percent of Americans are clueless about its sheer existence. Some think it’s been repealed by Congress. Some think it’s been overturned by the Supreme Court. A few probably think it’s been vaporized and replaced with a galactic edict beamed down from one of Saturn’s moons. With Americans you never know.
According to a survey I stumbled across just weeks ago, 21 percent believe that a U.F.O. landed in Roswell, N.M., nearly seven decades ago and that the federal government hushed it up, while 14 percent believe in Bigfoot.
That we Americans are out to lunch isn’t news. But every once in a while a fresh factoid like the Obamacare ignorance comes along to remind us that we’re out to breakfast and dinner as well. And it adds an important, infrequently acknowledged bit of perspective to all the commentary, from us journalists and from political strategists alike, about how voters behave and whom they reward. We purport to interpret an informed, rational universe, because we’d undercut our own insights if we purported anything else.
But only limited sense can be made of what is often nonsensical, and the truth is that a great big chunk of the electorate is tuned out, zonked out or combing Roswell for alien remains. Polls over the last few years have variously shown that about 30 percent of us couldn’t name the vice president, about 35 percent couldn’t assign the proper century to the American Revolution and 6 percent couldn’t circle Independence Day on a calendar. I’m supposing that the 6 percent weren’t also given the holiday’s synonym, the Fourth of July. I’m an optimist through and through.
And this has consequences, as stated in a Newsweek article by Jacob Hacker in Nov. 2011
For more than two centuries, Americans have gotten away with not knowing much about the world around them. But times have changed — and they’ve changed in ways that make civic ignorance a big problem going forward. While isolationism is fine in an isolated society, we can no longer afford to mind our own business. What happens in China and India (or at a Japanese nuclear plant) affects the autoworker in Detroit; what happens in the statehouse and the White House affects the competition in China and India. Before the Internet, brawn was enough; now the information economy demands brains instead. And where we once relied on political institutions (like organized labor) to school the middle classes and give them leverage, we now have nothing. “The issue isn’t that people in the past knew a lot more and know less now,” says [Jacob] Hacker. “It’s that their ignorance was counterbalanced by denser political and social organizations.”
That’s what the wise and wonderful Neil Gaiman explores in a fantastic lecture two and a half years in the making, part of the Long Now Foundation’s nourishing and necessary seminars on long-term thinking.
Nearly half a century after French molecular biologist Jacques Monod proposed what he called the “abstract kingdom” — a conceptual parallel to the biosphere, populated by ideas that propagate like organisms do in the natural world — and after Richard Dawkins built upon this concept to coin the word “meme,” Gaiman suggests stories are a life-form obeying the same rules of genesis, reproduction, and propagation that organic matter does.
The tragedy in Charleston last week will no doubt lead to more discussion of several important and recurring issues in American culture—particularly racism and gun violence—but these dialogues are unlikely to bear much fruit until the nation undertakes a serious self-examination. Decrying racism and gun violence is fine, but for too long America’s social dysfunction has continued to intensify as the nation has ignored a key underlying pathology: anti-intellectualism.
America is killing itself through its embrace and exaltation of ignorance, and the evidence is all around us. Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter who used race as a basis for hate and mass murder, is just the latest horrific example. Many will correctly blame Roof’s actions on America’s culture of racism and gun violence, but it’s time to realize that such phenomena are directly tied to the nation’s culture of ignorance.
In considering the senseless loss of nine lives in Charleston, of course racism jumps out as the main issue. But isn’t ignorance at the root of racism? And it’s true that the bloodshed is a reflection of America’s violent, gun-crazed culture, but it is only our aversion to reason as a society that has allowed violence to define the culture. Rational public policy, including policies that allow reasonable restraints on gun access, simply isn’t possible without an informed, engaged, and rationally thinking public.
Some will point out, correctly, that even educated people can still be racists, but this shouldn’t remove the spotlight from anti-intellectualism. Yes, even intelligent and educated individuals, often due to cultural and institutional influences, can sometimes carry racist biases. But critically thinking individuals recognize racism as wrong and undesirable, even if they aren’t yet able to eliminate every morsel of bias from their own psyches or from social institutions. An anti-intellectual society, however, will have large swaths of people who are motivated byfear, susceptible to tribalism and simplistic explanations, incapable of emotional maturity, and prone to violent solutions. Sound familiar?
And even though it may seem counter-intuitive, anti-intellectualism has little to do with intelligence. We know little about the raw intellectual abilities of Dylann Roof, but we do know that he is an ignorant racist who willfully allowed irrational hatred of an entire demographic to dictate his actions. Whatever his IQ, to some extent he is a product of a culture driven by fear and emotion, not rational thinking, and his actions reflect the paranoid mentality of one who fails to grasp basic notions of what it means to be human. Continue reading “Anti-intellectualism is killing America”
I’ve been to ~30-35 countries, some of them more than a dozen times and have a 1/2″ thick passport, so I have seen my share of Americans abroad. Here are some simple things to remember:
1. Every country will be different from the US. Stop trying to make your experience in another country like home and start trying to make that experience different.
2. Always eat the local food and drink the local beer. Don’t go eat at a McDonald’s to see how it is different in Thailand than in the US. You went to another country, get out of your comfort zone and experience things. In my heirarchy, there are 3 ways to order food. The lowest is when the menu has english (they probably tend to cater to tourists). The middle is when the menu has pictures (but no english) and the top is when you can’t read the menu. This is not a hard and fast rule, but I have generally found the best and most authentic food this way. When I travel on business, the locals always wanted to take me out to the fancy new restaurant because it was on my expense account. I always asked to go to the “hole in the wall” places that they frequent. These casual places were incredible.
3. Learn the language. Not all of it, but learn to say please, thank you, hello, goodbye, yes, no and do you speak English, all in their language. Imagine walking down the street in Dallas and having someone come up to you and just start speaking in German. People believe Parisians are rude but I find them to be very nice – because I address them in French. From my accent they can tell I am not a native speaker and will jump to english very quickly.
4. Stop asking them to translate. Figure out how much things cost. I absolutely HATE when americans ask “how much is this in US dollars” or “how much is a liter.” You are in their country and they can’t be expected to translate into every currency for their customers. Figure these things out ahead of time.
5. Take the subway. The best (and often safest) way to learn is city is through their subway system. 95% of the time the subway goes to all the things you want to see (duh, they are big attractions, of course they build a line along that route…) Being in the subway allows you to see how the people really live. You can see their advertisements, which stops are most popular. It’s real life. In places like Moscow, some of the best art that you will see is in the metro stations.
6. Be aware of your surroundings. You will stand out because you are a tourist. That makes you a target for pickpockets. If a stranger tries to talk to me I reflexively put my hand on my wallet while I talk to them. This casual move allows me to be more comfortable and put all my attention to communicating with them.
7. Offer to take people’s pictures. When you see the husband taking a picture of his wife, offer to take the picture of the two of them. It is a small gesture that people love.
8. Talk to the locals. I love Germany because many restaurants and beer halls have communal tables. Talk to the locals. One of my favorite evenings was talking to an 80-year old guy in Munich one night while my friends all chatted away. He couldn’t speak english and my german is terrible, but we were able to communicate. In most cities you’ll tend to bump into people who can communicate in some manner, often in english.
9. Tours are fine, but exploring is more fun. Tours are structured and don’t necessarily give you the real experience. You’re in your tour bubble, you talk to people from your group, you eat at touristy places that can handle large groups. It’s a “mass market” experience.
10. Protect your passport. Don’t make the mistake of carrying it around with you. If the hotel does not have a safe in the room, they have one downstairs. As I said earlier, pickpockets target tourists and your passport is the one way home.
11. Prepare. Get your chargers and adapters ahead of time. Make sure your credit card has a chip in it. Check with your credit cards and ATM cards to see what the fees are. Travel with multiple credit cards, but don’t carry them all with you.
12. Get on the local time. Nothing worse than the 6:40 AM arrival in a foreign country. Do NOT take a nap. Get caffeine right away. Stay awake. Your sleeping is already out of whack, don’t make it worse. Especially with that “only 5 minute rest” that becomes 4 hours before you realize it. Get on the local time, eat your meals on the local time, even if you are not hungry. Focus that first day on getting on schedule, that will pay off for the whole trip.
Among the methods I have seen employed to dodge questions are:
“That’s a good question.” – This statement and the act of moving away from the original by creating a discussion about your perception of the question’s “quality” are a timeless dodge in the field of question avoidance.
The pseudo answer – This is an answer which seems to answer the question asked, but upon closer examination really does not. This requires exceptionally good social skills and at least a rudimentary knowledge of the subject being discussed to be successful.
Feigning a lack of attention – If the person who is asked the question pretends that they did not hear the question or that they weren’t paying attention, this is usually a sufficient enough irritant to have the questioner either ask another person the question or to lose their composure enough to forget the question which they originally asked.
Asking for more detail about the question – This places the questioner in an awkward position as they might have provided sufficient detail to their question and accidentally reveal its answer by further explaining the question.
Answering the question with a question – Carefully deployed, this act stymies further questioning or throws all but the most advanced interrogators off-track. If done properly, the questioner may find themselves unable to answer your question or may view continued discussion to be a wasted effort and abandon further conversation
All of the above work to varying degrees. However, if they are “over-utilized”, they will eventually backfire or fail completely, as it will become obvious as to what you are attempting to do. I would suggest only employing them in “emergency situations” rather than as part of a daily conversation.
“I will address this in one of the subsequent slides”. Some rude listeners will actually come back at this by the end of the presentation and raise the question again, but most of them will be cut off, especially if the talk is long and there are others who want to ask something else.
“Let’s take this offline”. This is a very popular phrase, often said in cases where the answer is too long to be reasonably discussed within a possibly tight schedule. However, answering in obscure terms, promising details in an offline discussion and then running away from it, is a reasonable dodging technique.
“This is ongoing work”. Not really a dodging technique per se, but a pretty decent way to answer painlessly is to say that your current presentation is about a smaller result and now you are working on something bigger, which also will cover the question being asked. They can always ask for preliminary details, but… you can take that offline, can’t you?
Acknowledgement. I once attended a PhD defence where a scientific opponent asked a question in the lines of “what are going to do about X?”. The answer was absolutely brilliant because it started with “we mostly rely on the method published in your book…”. Even on smaller scale, quickly acknowledging that you are aware of the work of the person who asks the question, and you agree that it is related, can help dodging very heavy accusations and/or redirect them to a broader community.
Here’s a little flowchart for how to handle questions during a presentation.
You’re asking for a ‘crafty way to dodge a question’, but that really is one of the stupidest things a person can do. Audiences can see right through it and will lose confidence in your qualification to be speaking to them and they will lose respect for you. DON’T DO IT.
As the presenter, you are in control of the presentation and responsible for ensuring the presentation gets completed as planned and that the audience gets what they needed. If the question is really getting outside of the objectives of the presentation, you should defer the question by saying you’ll talk to the individual after the presentation so as to not take up the time of the rest of the audience, because you know they don’t need that answer.
But if the question is germane to the topic and of interest to the rest of the audience the decision of what to do next comes down to do you know the answer or not.
If you don’t know the answer, say “I don’t know.” Immediately follow that with “But I can find out for you.” Write down the question. At the end of the presentation, check back with the individual to ensure that the question you wrote down is what they wanted to know and that they still care (people often figure out by the end of the presentation that they really didn’t need to know the answer to the question they asked).
A presenter that tries to bull-shit their audience deserves to die a blistering death. Don’t do it. No matter how good you think you are at bull-shitting, the audience can tell. Be honest. Admitting you don’t know something can earn you big points with your audience. They will acquire more trust in you because they will have learned you are honest with them.
This is a hard lesson for people to learn. People hate saying “I don’t know.” They want to get around that in any way possible. They say things like “I’m not 100% sure.” No. You either know the answer or you don’t. If you aren’t sure, you risk providing negative training by giving them bad information that you will then have to work hard to get them to unlearn. In my old group, we used to have a foam ball we called the “BS Ball”. We would throw that ball at people, during their dry-runs, when they began to BS.
In my environment, getting caught BSing can be devastating to your career. The astronauts are putting their lives and careers in our hands when we train them. They have to have 100% confidence that we can be trusted. Many years ago, I was teaching a crew member that was known for his sternness. He asked me a question, I didn’t know the answer so I immediately said “I don’t know.” We continued and he asked another question and again I said “I don’t know.” He stood up. For a brief moment I felt panic – that he was going to walk out of the room because he thought I was a moron that didn’t know my subject. To the contrary, he leaned over the table and offered his hand. He shook my hand and he said “Thank you. You don’t know how many people are unwilling to say that to me.”
It takes a lot of work to build trust, but it can be dissolved in moments. Don’t risk it.
So, as you know, I chatted with Kim Kardashian the other day. Made news beyond even the Panoply network:
Naturally many hope the newest West will be named South. But in an interview with an NPR Chicago radio show, Kim 100 percent shot that down.
I had, I thought, a very pleasant chat with a very famous person—a chat that totally conformed to the needs of this comedy news quiz. I thought it was a good booking. When I heard about it I said “great,” because she has a persona that’s well-known, she’s ripe fodder for good comedy, and she issued a book of selfies, which is fun to talk about, and as a guest she didn’t seem particularly shy or retiring. But really, how do you ever retire when your job is just being alive? And yes, I would say that the resulting chat went pretty well: Continue reading Kardashian and Monks on NPR
President Obama offered condolences Thursday, June 18th, 2015 to the families of the nine victims, and to Charleston as a whole, after Wednesday night’s shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. In his remarks, he also spoke candidly about mass shootings, which he indicated are a uniquely American problem.
“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” Obama said. “Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear, at some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”
Pope Francis lives modestly, having renounced the Papal Apartments for a small cell in the Vatican guesthouse. In this regard, he honors his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. But the Pontiff’s relationship with language is far more florid, at times even baroque. In interviews, he plays free-association to grand effect, drawing on art, poetry, and the history of science. In September 2013, Francis gave an expansive interview, disseminated by the Vatican, that attested to his facility at wedding abstract thought to concrete policy. He came off as a pragmatist (“There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now have lost value or meaning”), a mystical aesthete (he describes the gospel as having “freshness and fragrance”), and a Jesuit mistrustful of authority (a true Jesuit, Francis said, “must be a person whose thought is incomplete”).
He is a Renaissance man who believes in the theological uses of doubt, an ascetic given to rich, occasionally gnomic pronouncements, and a pope who broadcasts his fallibility (“I am a really, really undisciplined person”)—small wonder Francis has attracted fierce devotion even among the secular American left.
Pope Francis begins by invoking the musical prayer in which St. Francis of Assisi likens the Earth, “our shared home,” to “a sister, with whom we share equally in life,” and also to “a mother who cradles us in her arms.”
As he prepares to address the United Nations summit on climate change in September, followed by a speech on the same topic at a special joint meeting of Congress the same month, the pope’s secretaries have prepared a document unprecedented in the Vatican’s history: A nearly 200-page encyclical that ambitiously—and persuasively—integrates the problems of global poverty and man-made climate change, proposing collective solutions for both. Still more radical, the encyclical characterizes both problems as unequivocal moral failures on the part of mankind.
(An Italian PDF of the encyclical leaked Sunday; the Vatican has asked that journalists ignore the leak.) (See below for downloadable copies of the authentic encyclical.)
on Huffington Post by Carla Seaquist – posted: Updated:
America is in deep trouble — economic, political, cultural, moral. Yet few public figures are speaking honestly to us about our fallen state, much less pointing the way upward.
Leave it to a fictional character to do the job — brilliantly.
In the opening sequence of the new HBO series The Newsroom, a world-beaten (as opposed to world-beating) TV news anchor finds himself on a journalism panel, seated between — in a reflection of today’s stark partisan divide — a bleeding-heart liberal and a bombastic conservative.
When a student in the audience asks, “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”, initially the anchor ducks and says, “The New York Jets.” Then, fantasizing a woman in the audience holding up cue cards responding to the question that say “It isn’t” followed by “But it can be” (we’ll learn she’s his former executive producer and lover), and forced by the moderator who demands a “human moment” from him, the anchor snaps, “America isn’t the greatest country, Professor,” and goes on to deliver a speech, a cry from the heart, about why.
After ticking off the metrics of decline (“We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math… forty-ninth in life expectancy,” etc.), the anchor gets to the heart of the matter — the moral heart — which heart bears quoting in full:
We stood up for what was right, we fought for moral reasons, we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured disease, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easily.
Wrapping up but running out of steam, the anchor reverts to his newsman role and, in a nod to Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, says: “We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered.” Pausing, he concludes: “First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.” Continue reading “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore” – Newsroom Video
Note: There are approximately 6,500 languages known on Earth, the largest being Mandarin Chinese spoken by over 1.2 Billion people, while English speakers are about 840 million. There are about 2,500 recognized deities/Gods, the largest being Christian with approximately 2.1 billion adherents. Currently there are about 7.21 billion people on Earth
Conclusion: Only 29.13% of the Earth’s inhabitants are Christian; while only 11.65% of the Earth’s population speak English – so to assert rightful hegemony for either of these over all others seems to be a faulty proposition – without resorting to a pleading appeal for special cases.
Big List of Deities/Gods
* * * *
Ab Kin zoc
Ac Yanto Acan
Adityas Continue reading Not Just One – actually there are 2,531 Gods
The Julia Roberts film “Erin Brockovich” is in its fourth week as one of the most popular movies in America. It’s billed as being based on a true story. But the film tells only half of it — and the half it doesn’t tell isn’t pretty.
The film is about a down-on-her-luck but defiant, twice-divorced, working-class mother of three. As a lowly clerk in a small, private law firm, she independently starts looking into a case involving pollution in the small town of Hinkley, Calif. In the movie, the foul-mouthed, full-cleavaged Brockovich travels to the town on her own initiative, investigates the case with the help of dogged smarts and a few low-cut dresses and persuades her employer to take on the case. When he joins forces with a big-time Los Angeles law firm, she defiantly resists. In time, her street smarts outbalance the incompetent, unfeeling lawyers at the downtown firm, and the residents come out with a $333 million award — and Brockovich herself gets a check for $2 million.
The truth is different. That’s not unusual for Hollywood, and doesn’t mean that the film — which has garnered favorable reviews — is bad.
But many plaintiffs in the Hinkley case say the movie misrepresents what happened. Far from being the populist victory the movie depicts, the Hinkley lawsuit was a case study in how the rise of private arbitration, as an alternative to costly public trials, is creating a two-tiered legal system that not only favors litigants who can afford it over those who cannot, but is open to potential conflicts of interest and cronyism. The case never went to trial, because Pacific Gas & Electric, the utility accused of polluting Hinkley, and the plaintiffs’ lawyers agreed to private arbitration before a panel of for-hire judges, some of whom had socialized with the plaintiffs’ attorneys. Continue reading Erin Brockovich – the real story
WASHINGTON—Saying there were no other options remaining and that continued intervention would only prolong the nation’s suffering, experts concluded Tuesday that the best course of action is to keep the United States as comfortable as possible until the end.
According to those familiar with its condition, the country’s long, painful decline over the past several decades has made it clear that the most compassionate choice at this juncture is to do whatever is possible to ensure America is at ease during its last moments.
“We need to accept the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have long—simply helping it pass that time in comfort is the humane thing to do,” said economist Danielle Martin, speaking on behalf of a large group of experts ranging from sociologists and historians to lawmakers and environmentalists, all of whom confirmed they had “done everything [they] could.” “Attempting to stabilize the country in its current enfeebled state would not only be extremely expensive, but it would also cause unnecessary agony as it enters this final stage. With how hard the nation is struggling to perform even basic functions, letting it meet its end naturally is the merciful decision here.”
“We just need to remember all the good times we had. Like the moon landing—that was really nice, wasn’t it?”
Added Martin: “At the end of the day, it’s nearly 240 years old—what can you reasonably expect?”
Others agreed with Martin, saying that, with America having gradually become a weak, almost unrecognizable shadow of its former self, the priority now should be ensuring that it is given whatever palliative support it needs and using the remaining time to put the nation’s affairs in order.
Sources also emphasized that citizens who have not already begun to emotionally prepare themselves for the country’s demise should begin to do so.
“At a time like this, it’s completely understandable to wish for some kind of 11th-hour miracle, but expecting the U.S. to somehow magically return to the way it was in its prime isn’t healthy or realistic,” said Georgetown University researcher Andrew Fischer, who later stressed that just because the nation still has “the occasional good day,” this should not cause anyone to get their hopes up for a sudden recovery. “It’s important to manage expectations and realize that sometime very soon, we’re all going to have to say goodbye.”
“We just need to remember all the good times we had,” Fischer continued. “Like the moon landing—that was really nice, wasn’t it?”
Many of those with close ties to the United States said they were having difficulty coming to terms with the country’s imminent passing, but that letting it go peacefully was ultimately for the best.
“At one point, I would’ve done anything if it meant having America around for just a little longer, but I can’t watch it slowly waste away like this anymore,” said Tampa, FL resident Kathy Muniz, adding that it “breaks [her] heart” when she sees how hard the U.S. struggles to put on a brave face and pretend that everything is fine. “The kindest thing now is to just do what we can to keep the nation’s spirits up while nature takes its course.”
“Really, I think any country in America’s position would want the same,” Muniz added.
Along with other bloggers and websites, we have recently been contacted by an entity representing themselves as a agent for ‘Getty Images’ – in reference to a complaint by them that we have displayed an image on this site which Getty Images claims had restricted distribution rights assigned to it.
When notified we assumed this was in the form of a “cease and desist” notice, and promptly removed the image they referenced based on their statement of intellectual property rights to the image. We had no way of knowing for sure whether it was a legitimate claim, or not; since there is nothing to be seen or detected in/on the image like a watermark, copyright symbol, nor were we sure the agent was a legitimate representative of the copyright holder.
However, the initial email message was followed by two other emails which asserted a claim for damages for the improper display of the image, with the payment due of $249.00 The exact wording of the third email follows below:
“Thank you for taking the time to address this matter. I apologize for the delay in our response.
As you may know, Getty Images represents the world’s leading photographers and licenses their work to provide the world’s most compelling visual imagery to its customers. Getty Images’ responsibility to its represented photographers is not only to appropriately license the use of their images to its customers, but to also protect its represented photographer’s intellectual property from unauthorized use. We have an obligation to our photographers to investigate and seek restitution for past unauthorized uses.
To clarify, our claim in this matter is only regarding one image—and not two. While Getty Images appreciates the removal of its represented imagery from this website, we do not consider the matter closed. Our photographers are one-person businesses who depend on their royalties for their livelihood. We have an obligation to see that they are compensated for their work—whether that work was licensed through the proper channels or used without prior authorization.
The image in question is a Getty Images Rights Managed image. Pricing for this type of imagery is dependent on usage factors such as size, type of use, placement, and duration of use. For more information regarding pricing for the image at issue please visit http://www.gettyimages.com/pricecalculator/200120473-003. I have had the opportunity to review and it appears the image was used in the context of your organization’s blog. In consideration of this use Getty Images is prepared to accept $249 as settlement for the past unlicensed use of the image to date. Please note that Getty Images is not adding any fees or attempting to recuperate any of the additional costs associated with the internal and external resources engaged as a result of this unlicensed use.
As hard as this is to imagine, similar correspondence has been sent to many other bloggers, and web hosts. Just go to Google and search for “Getty Images Unauthorized Use” for responses by other parties.
Please note, the image in question was attached to a article from somewhere on the Web, which we copied in part, commented on, and added to our personal blog. The image in question was not a component for use on the commercial side of our Website, only in the personal blog. Furthermore, there was no way of determining that the image had any restriction on its display: there was no watermark, no copyright marking, nor any other indication that is was restricted in any manner. We were, and still are, convinced that we were within our rights to copy and paste the article segment into our blog. The image itself was not a significant component of the article, and was fundamentally similar to thousands of other images available via Google or other repositories.
But it gets stranger still, as the fourth email message makes clear:
“Copyright law requires permission from the photographer—or an authorized representative of the photographer—before any image can be copied or displayed. Because copyright is something that exists upon creation, indication of copyright (such as watermarks or copyright symbols) is not a requirement of copyright protection—and has not been for over 25 years. If it was assumed that the imagery could be taken due to the lack of indication advising otherwise, that assumption would have been inconsistent with laws protecting intellectual property like this.
Like with all stock image companies, you can view watermarked versions of our images on our website. Like with all stock image companies, customers are authorized to us a watermark-free version of the image once the image has been licensed. Customers are not required to identify what stock image company they licensed an image from.
Absent the appropriate licensing surrounding the specific use of the imagery in question, Getty Images will continue its pursuit of our lost licensing and royalties in an effort to prevent the progression of this case.”
Bloggers and commentators tend to believe the principle of “Fair Use” applies to content they post on a blog, or on social media. According to an article on Fair Use, there are four main considerations supporting that assumption. To determine whether a given use is fair use one must consider the following four factors, which are not exclusive, but are the primary—and in many cases the only—factors courts examine.:
• the purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
• the nature of the copyrighted work;
• the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
• the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
These factors may be expanded to refute infringement claims and invoke fair use via:
Criticism and commentary
Public interest news reporting
Research and scholarship
Non-profit, non-commercial, and personal use
But one good outcome was achieved from this episode, namely being redirected to a website which provides thousands of stock images which are “free for general use” by bloggers and other commentators. It can be accessed at: http://www.photopin.com/
In the future, Flexible Reality will remove any and all images from articles or posts that indicate any connection to Getty Images, regardless of apparent or potential distribution concerns. We want nothing whatsoever to do with a company that engages in this form of extortion.
It takes a lot of bureaucracy to kill with a drone.
Intelligence on potential targets must pass through layers of offices at the Pentagon or CIA before ultimately making their way to the president. A target must meet a set of criteria, outlined by White House lawyers in classified memos, that rely on opaque and uncommon definitions of words like “imminent,” “continuing” and “threat.” Permission to take the actual shot then proceeds through a military chain of command that involves remote operators manning the controls and officials of various stripes watching via video feed.
This bureaucratic process conveys the idea that the messy local politics of Yemen or Pakistan can be navigated from afar in a clinical way that results in the flawless (or nearly flawless) elimination of terrorists. In covert wars in confusing places like these, it seems amazing that a bureaucracy of killing exists at all. The pileup of acronyms and PowerPoints (the favored aesthetic medium of the military), combined with complicated legal systems, are meant to operate as mechanisms of accountability and control over a novel military technology. But amid the euphemisms and flow charts, it’s easy to lose sight of profound questions: Who are we killing? With whom are we at war? Where are we at war? Why?
Of course national security is not the only aspect of American life to be taken over by bureaucracy, as David Graeber makes clear in his lively and compelling book of essays, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. If you want to understand the bureaucratic logic behind all sorts of drones — killer drones, worker drones — Graeber is an impeccable as well as unorthodox source.
Graeber is an anarchist, anthropologist, and cultural critic whose historical tome, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, became required reading for the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. It seems natural that, as an anarchist, Graeber would turn his sights on the soul-crushing structures of bureaucracy in both the public and private sector. In The Utopia of Rules, his curiosity ranges across cultural phenomena, from Batman and buddy cop movies to the language of postcolonial Madagascar, the origins of the postal service and the dream of flying cars.
By the late 20th century, Graeber argues, citizens in the great free society of the Unites States had come to spend “ever more hours struggling with phone trees and web interfaces, while the less fortunate spent ever more hours of their day trying to jump through the increasingly elaborate hoops required to gain access to dwindling social services.” Bureaucracy dominates our lives and is, in fact, a defining feature of how the United States (and some European states) project power domestically and across the world.
The proposition that the United States is a nation of bureaucrats grates on anti-government ideals of individualism and self-reliance, Graeber notes. Bureaucrats are supposed to be the antithesis of true Americans. After civil servants died in the Oklahoma City bombing, President Bill Clinton was forced to point out that bureaucrats are “people … just like most of you.” Our reliance on bureaucracy also clashes with a free-market ideology that defines bureaucracy as government red tape. One of President Ronald Reagan’s famous quips was, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
But the complete interdependence of the U.S. military and the defense industry is a forceful example of how corporations actually love bureaucratic rules that work in their favor. The true definition of the corporate rallying cry in favor of “deregulation” is in fact “changing the regulatory structure in ways that I like,” Graeber writes.
Accompanying the expansion of bureaucracy is an expansion of the use of force, or at least the threat of it, into parts of life that were not previously administered. We might think of police as principally protecting us from violent crime, solving murders and muggings and rapes, but they are mainly occupied in enforcing disputes over property and non-violent behaviors. “Bureaucrats with guns,” as Graeber puts it. He notes that the United States became a world power as it built up international administrative and enforcement bodies like the United Nations, the World Bank, NATO, and the World Trade Organization; global bureaucrats with mandates in addition to guns.
“The legal order, and hence the zones where state violence is the ultimate enforcer of the rules, has expanded to define and regulate almost every possible aspect of human activity,” Graeber writes.
The “utopia of rules” in the title of the book is twofold. In their ideal form, rules exist to control bad behavior. Even young children create rules for their games because they recognize that play, creativity, and joy can be destructive and arbitrary. Societies create rules to stop the worst inclinations of the mob.
Behind the utopia of rules is a belief in fairness — that the rules are the same for everyone. This, Graeber argues, is predicated on the idea that the system is perfect. He asks, “Is this not what we always say of utopians: that they have a naïve faith in the perfectibility of human nature and refuse to deal with humans as they actually are?”
The problem is that those in power can always interpret or change the rules to their benefit.
Let’s return to drone strikes. The United States argues it has the right to use force almost anywhere in the world under the framework of counterterrorism, a bureaucratic logic that combines the spheres of war and criminality. This is a controversial position internationally, under which the U.S. has killed thousands of “militants” whose threat to the U.S. or connections to al Qaeda are tenuous or unexplained.
And even if one buys the legal argument for the drone campaign, it’s not always clear the White House follows the bureaucratic rules it has set up. For example, when asked about civilian casualties, the White House continually points to President Obama’s May 2013 promise that there must be “near-certainty” that civilians will not be harmed in a drone strike. Then, this April, the White House admitted that hostages had been killed accidentally in a drone strike — including the American Warren Weinstein — casting into further doubt past claims about the quality of intelligence and protection of civilians. Soon after, the Wall Street Journalreported that Obama had secretly waived the “imminent threat” requirement for all strikes in Pakistan. So much for the rules. Continue reading David Graeber’s “Utopia of Rules…” as applied to drones
The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy is only 180 pages long — three essays, an introduction and an afterword — but I made more than 80 notes as I read it, underlining passages and dog-earing pages I wanted to come back to and/or read aloud to other people and talk about further.Unlike the enormous and comprehensive Debt,Utopia of Rules is mostly argument, not history. It sets out to investigate the problem of “bureaucracy” — basically, rules, and the simmering threat of violence that underpins them. Hidebound adherence to awful, runaround bureaucracy was always the sin laid at the feet of slow-moving, Stalinist states under the influence of the USSR. Capitalism, we were told, was dynamic, free, and open. But if that’s so, why is it that since the USSR imploded, bureaucracy under capitalism has exploded? If you live in a western, capitalist state, you probably spend more time filling in paperwork, waiting on hold, resubmitting Web-forms, attending performance reviews, brainstorming sessions, training meetings, and post-mortems than any of your ancestors, regardless of which side of the Iron Curtain they lived on.
Moreover, the anti-authoritarian Left has always had a critique of this kind of hidebound adherence to rules. The left-wing uprisings in 1968 spraypainted walls with “Demand the impossible!” Today, if the Left can critique bureaucracy, it can only do so in the language of the Right: by attacking civil servants and unions, when almost all the red tape you encounter in your daily life comes from trying to get your “free market” HMO to pay up, get your bank to correct its errors — or, if you’re unlucky enough to need welfare in America or the UK, from dealing with “accountability” officers, much beloved by the right, who require you to complete paperwork straight out of a USSR-themed Ren Faire, all the time. Sometimes in triplicate.
Bureaucracy is pervasive and metastatic. To watch cop-dramas, you’d think that most of the job of policing was crime-fighting. But it’s not. The police are just “armed bureaucrats.” Most of what police do is administrative enforcement — making sure you follow the rules (threatening to gas you or hit you with a stick if you don’t). Get mugged and chances are, the police will take the report over the phone. Drive down the street without license plates and you’ll be surrounded by armed officers of the law who are prepared to deal you potentially lethal violence to ensure that you’re not diverging from the rules. Continue reading The Utopia of Rules – a review
via The Intercept by Glenn Greenwald – Jun. 7th, 2015
* * * *
Two years ago, the first story based on the Snowden archive was published in The Guardian, revealing a program of domestic mass surveillance, which, at least in its original form, ended this week. To commemorate that anniversary, Edward Snowden himself reflected in a New York Times op-ed on the “power of an informed public” when it comes to the worldwide debate over surveillance and privacy.
But we realized from the start that the debate provoked by these disclosures would be at least as much about journalism as privacy or state secrecy. And that was a debate we not only anticipated but actively sought, one that would examine the role journalism ought to play in a democracy and the proper relationship of journalists to those who wield the greatest political and economic power.
That debate definitely happened, not just in the U.S. but around the world. And it was revealing in all sorts of ways. In fact, of all the revelations over the last two years, one of the most illuminating and stunning — at least for me — has been the reaction of many in the American media to Edward Snowden as a source.
When it comes to taking the lead in advocating for the criminalization of leaking and demanding the lengthy imprisonment of our source, it hasn’t been the U.S. government performing that role, but rather — just as was the case for WikiLeaks disclosures — those who call themselves “journalists.” Just think about what an amazing feat of propaganda that is, one of which most governments could only dream: Let’s try to get journalists themselves to take the lead in demonizing whistleblowers and arguing that sources should be imprisoned! As much of an authoritarian pipe dream as that may seem to be, that is exactly what happened during the Snowden debate. As Digby put it yesterday:
It remains to be seen if more members of the mainstream press will take its obligations seriously in the future. When the Snowden revelations came to light two years ago it was a very revealing moment. Let’s just say that we got a good look at people’s instincts. I know I’ll never forget what I saw.
So many journalists were furious about the revelations, and were demanding prosecution for them, that there should have been a club created called Journalists Against Transparency or Journalists for State Secrecy and it would have been highly populated. They weren’t even embarrassed about it. There was no pretense, no notion that those who want to be regarded as “journalists” should at least pretend to favor transparency, disclosures and sources. They were unabashed about their mentality that so identifies with and is subservient to the National Security State that they view controversies exactly the same way as those officials: Someone who reveals information that the state has deemed should be secret belongs in prison — at least when those revelations reflect poorly on top U.S. officials.
The reaction of American journalists was not monolithic. Large numbers of them expressed support for the revelations and for Snowden himself. Two of the most influential papers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, themselves published Snowden documents (including, ironically, most of the stories which Snowden critics typically cite as ones that should not have been published). In the wake of a court ruling finding the domestic mass surveillance program likely unconstitutional, the New York Times editorial page argued that Snowden should be given clemency. Journalists awarded the Snowden-based reporting the Pulitzer, the Polk and most other journalism awards. So there was plenty of journalistic support for the disclosures, for journalism. Many have recently come around for the first time to advocating that Snowden should not face prosecution.
But huge numbers of journalists went on the warpath against transparency. The Democrats’ favorite “legal analyst,” Jeffrey Toobin, repeatedly took to the airwaves of CNN and the pages of The New Yorker to vilify Snowden. The NSA whistleblower was so repeatedly and viciously maligned by MSNBC hosts such as Melissa Harris-Perry, Ed Schultz, Joy Ann Reid and Lawrence O’Donnell that one would have thought he had desecrated an Obama shrine (had Snowden leaked during a GOP presidency, of course, MSNBC personalities would have erected a life-sized statue of him outside of 30 Rock). People like Bob Schieffer and David Brooks, within days of learning his name, purported to psychoanalyze him in the most banal yet demeaning ways. And national security journalists frozen out of the story continuously tried to insinuate themselves by speaking up in favor of state secrecy and arguing that Snowden should be imprisoned. Continue reading Media lessons about journalism