Archive for the 'Society' Category

Moved to FREEDAmerica!

Dear Readers,

I’m FREED!, so to speak, or rather write.  I’m moving my articles and commentary to my new site at FREEDAmerica.  

We’re developing exciting projects like FREEDRevolution.us. (what do Trump’s tweets really mean?!?) and FREEDWork.  I may occasionally post here if I remember.  But don’t count on it.

I invite you to check us out at FREEDAmerica, sign up for our mailing list, contact us there to volunteer, and follow us as well on Twitter and Facebook.

Best Wishes,

Marc Freedman

 

The good 1% and the bad 1%

I send my compliments to Mark Suster on Putting Tom Perkins Comments into Context.

Perkins opened his Wall Street Journal letter Progressive Kristallnacht Coming? with the headline:

I would call attention to the parallels of Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.’

Really?

Boorish entitlement has never worked, at least not in public.  It never ceases to amaze me that many well educated successful people can stoop to third grade name calling and be so insular and oblivious to the rest of the world.

Suster, a self-professed one percenter himself, called the letter insensitive and tone deaf.  That’s far too mild.  He did a terrific job on his comprehensive post.  So I’ll skip further pontification and just recommend you click on his link above.

The Russian Tea Party

Not to gloss over the titled intent of the article Understanding Russia’s homophobia, the most interesting part for me was the history lesson on Russian culture and how similar it is to the U.S.  You could have changed countries and names and easily been reading about our version of ultra-nationalists, including American exceptionalism, ruling oligarchs and corporatists, conservatives, Tea Party, fundamental Christians, NeoNazis, and old white men (and some women) still pining for the fantasy of the “Good Old Days”.  It was only two years ago that our own national homophobia was still institutionalized.   Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.   Case in point, as documented in the piece – fancypants liberals from Russia – or the US – spouting French.

The Civil War anew: U.S. economic slavery 150 years later

The New York Times commemorates the Civil War’s 150th anniversary with an ongoing series called Disunion.  The closed patriarchy of slaveowners clashed with the freedom and opportunity of the West.  The article Mitchel Thompson’s War documents the strong support for the war in the Union Midwest.

Slave ownership made for bad economics …

[F]uture governor Richard Ogilvy told how, as a young laborer in Kentucky, he could charge only $6 a month, lest he lose out to slave labor, which could be rented out at $75 a year.

… and bad culture.

Rev. Charles Beecher  said the question was not “ whether black men are forever to be slaves, but whether the sons of Puritans are to become slaves themselves.”

The country was growing up and recognizing the externalities of an unjust and imbalanced socioeconomic system.

Northwest Illinois farmers’ mantra became “free territories, free homesteads, and protection to free labor.”

Is it any different today as billionaire industrialists have created their own plantations of wealth, often squirreled overseas to save every last penny … where their enterprises are too big to fail … their jobs are guaranteed with golden parachutes … their adverse actions have no consequences?   Their money has bought the political power to increase their holdings at the expense of the rest of the country.  They’ve destroyed the middle class, weakened the social network, gutted job security, increased poverty, and cheapened life for those who are not privileged.

150 years ago:

[A] new Republican Party alliance was struck between Western free farmers and Eastern industrialists.

Where is the alliance, Republican or otherwise, that will break today’s slavery?

When will the technology and innovation industries meet their social obligations and join with the people to make the US great again?

Bad news on climate change

We know global warming has been unprecedented in the past several hundred years. A new report  from Oregon State and Harvard researchers goes much further back, reconstructing temperature over the past 11,300 years, from the time almost of the last ice age.   It’s not a pretty sight.

Current temps (so far) aren’t ahistorical.  It was this warm for a long period that extended from five to ten thousand years ago (the Early Holocene).  What’s shocking is the speed of warming.  The warmup from the ice age to the Early Holocene took about 2,000 years.  Thanks to human industry it just took 50 years with no end in sight.

Commentary in the New York Times is here and here.  The abstract from the research follows.

Surface temperature reconstructions of the past 1500 years suggest that recent warming is unprecedented in that time. Here we provide a broader perspective by reconstructing regional and global temperature anomalies for the past 11,300 years from 73 globally distributed records. Early Holocene (10,000 to 5000 years ago) warmth is followed by ~0.7°C cooling through the middle to late Holocene (<5000 years ago), culminating in the coolest temperatures of the Holocene during the Little Ice Age, about 200 years ago. This cooling is largely associated with ~2°C change in the North Atlantic. Current global temperatures of the past decade have not yet exceeded peak interglacial values but are warmer than during ~75% of the Holocene temperature history. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change model projections for 2100 exceed the full distribution of Holocene temperature under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios.

Balance, not Bluster: Free market ideology is anti-science

Research from the University of Western Australia sheds light on the irrationality of extremism, typified by the far right of the Republican party in the U.S.

The data is from a survey called  NASA faked the moon landing|Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science. While the study finds support for crank magnetism (if you believe in one anti-science theory, you believe in others), it found an even greater correlation with free market ideology where believers rejected science from humans causing climate change to smoking causing lung cancer and HIV causing AIDS.

Science Blogs has excellent commentary at More data on why people reject science.

The survey unfortunately doesn’t break down free market ideology.  The free market is a proven part of modern economics.  But it’s just one cog in a strong and healthy civilization. A strict belief that elevates the free market at the expense of the other pillars of society is a fundamental part of what caused the global recession and the breakdown of the middle class in the U.S.

Of course if you are one such believer you’ll reject this piece of science as well.  Please continue on to the next blog on fairies, unicorns, little green men, the drug war, universal forces that take an interest in your personal affairs, and  the salvation (i.e. continuing destruction) of America through greed and anarchy.

A real gun license

Gail Collins writes in Arms and the Duck in the New York Times:

[I]t’s only in movies that people are good shots during a violent encounter. In 2008, Al Baker reported in The Times that the accuracy rate for New York City officers firing in the line of duty was 34 percent.

And these are people trained for this kind of crisis. The moral is that if a lunatic starts shooting, you will not be made safer if your fellow average citizens are carrying concealed weapons.

I’ve been kickboxing for ten years.  I’m a muscular macho guy in great shape.  When I began sparring I had the false confidence of the pro-gun crowd, as well as the oil rig workers in Collins’ article, and got creamed.  I could barely last one round.

The first lesson any fighter must learn is to conquer your fear.  A combat situation is fundamentally different from any exercise, class, or simulation, including shooting at defenseless animals.  It’s biologically impossible to keep your wits about you.   The natural adrenaline rush is conducive to running, not effective fighting … not thinking … and absolutely not firing a gun. Be very afraid of those with concealed guns.

Now if you really have to have a License to Kill, there should be a way to qualify where you’re trained and have proven you can be effective under extreme pressure.  Perhaps a Marines Boot Camp.  With copious live and accurate return fire. That ought to cull the herd.

Texas, not so great

No, the United States is not the greatest country in the world and Texas is not the greatest state.  I’m sorry.  You’ll just have to leave your ranch, take down that orange U of Texas flag, and join the rest of us in reality.

I’ll leave the first to Aaron Sorkin and just handle Texas … Texas where we proudly executed a retarded man and ignored the U.S. Supreme Court, and wallow in the bottom with states like Mississippi when it comes to health care.

Execution

Of Mice And Men: The Execution of Marvin Wilson
By Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic
Aug 8 2012

How the State of Texas blew off a Supreme Court decision so it could execute a mentally retarded man.

At 6:26 p.m local time last night, an hour or so after the last appeal was denied, Texas executed a mentally retarded black man named Marvin Wilson, a man who could not handle money or navigate a phone book, a man who sucked his thumb and could not always tell the difference between left and right, a man who, as a child, could not match his socks, tie his shoes or button his clothes, a 54-year-old man with an IQ of 61. …

Health Care

Texas is the #1 state with the highest medically uninsured residents and was rated among the 10 worst US States for Women’s Health from Health.com.

Texas ranked dead last in the percentage of women receiving first-trimester prenatal care in 2006 (just 62%, versus 89% in Massachusetts), and the percentage of women with health insurance (31% had no coverage in 2008-2009, compared to 5% of women in Massachusetts and 20% in the U.S. overall).

Women in the Lone Star state had the third-highest rate of chlamydia infections (12% in 2010, up from 9% in 2007). Nationwide, the chlamydia rate was 7% in 2010, compared to 3% in West Virginia, the state with the lowest infection rate.

 

Corpocracy: Corporate Class Warfare

Bob Cringely writes IT class warfare – It’s not just IBM.  The essay embraces the complexity, nuance, and global dimensions of the self-destruction of the IT industry. He writes primarily to speak to the legions of unemployed older and previously well-paid U.S. IT professionals.  But the ills discussed don’t just apply to IBM … or the IT industry.  As he writes, “It is about the culture of large corporations today, not yesterday.”

Technology has become synonymous with innovation.  It’s a growth engine that has transformed business and everyday life and even led to the creative destruction of a few industries.  It’s telling when this poster child for capitalism is just another casualty.

Cringely calls it an issue of a new culture.  But he refers to the wrong culture.  It’s not the state of affairs in the boardroom.   He mentions Wall Street number crunchers, CEOs pushing for short-term results, an economic depression.  Such business factors, as well as CEOs both ruthless and enlightened, have come and gone over the decades.

The latter half of the 20th century had reached a social balance where the wealthy and their proxy in commerce – large companies – shared power with the government and the people.  Economies were strong, workers were empowered, and the middle class thrived in an engine of increasing consumer demand that grew and benefited everyone.

That balance tipped with the rush to a fully free and open marketplace. This is the culture that has changed and created the “corpocracy“, the rise and supremacy of corporations. Externalities, real costs, consumer safeguards, social commitments, and civic responsibilities withered against the onslaught of unchecked capitalism.

The result indeed is class warfare.  Under corpocracy the rich got richer and everyone else got  poorer.  The middle class that drove the economy dried up.  Job stability, benefits,  pensions, healthcare, and true middle class pay have been eroding the past few decades for IBMers … IT workers … and all Americans.

We Can’t Handle The Truth

David Brooks writes about Daniel Kahneman and his book – “Thinking, Fast and Slow” – in Who You Are (full article below).  The research essentially says that we’re still apes. Which explains why religion, guns, nationalism, ignoring climate change, giving corporations rights, and budget cutting in a depression all still reign.

We like to think that we’re in control, that we have free will, and that we’ve conquered evolution, assuming you believe in it.  We proactively lead our lives through that relatively newfangled piece of wetware, the logical neocortex part of our brain.

Yeah, right.  That’s not really thinking.  It’s feeling.  The primitive limbic system that evolved over millions of years is what rules.  This part of our noggin is responsible for emotion, behavior, long-term memory, and obsessing on reality shows.

We think we’re smart.  Warning labels work.  Advertising can be ignored.  Companies will police themselves. But none of that works.  That’s the just the tip of the subconscious iceberg.  The patterns and rhythms of jungle and tribe are our blood music, embedded  in the fabric of human existence and our very thoughts. We’re just clever monkeys.

Reality is not objective.  It’s not subjective.  It’s social.

Truly we can’t handle the truth.  We’re just built that way.  The power of memes is a direct descendent of the power of our genes.

So there is no one truth.  The truthsayers are not the logicians, scientists, and engineers.  They are the writers, preachers, and marketers like me.  We are the storytellers.  And we own you in ways you will never know.

 

David Brooks:

Daniel Kahneman spent part of his childhood in Nazi-occupied Paris. Like the other Jews, he had to wear a Star of David on the outside of his clothing. One evening, when he was about 7 years old, he stayed late at a friend’s house, past the 6 p.m. curfew.

He turned his sweater inside out to hide the star and tried to sneak home. A German SS trooper approached him on the street, picked him up and gave him a long, emotional hug. The soldier displayed a photo of his own son, spoke passionately about how much he missed him and gave Kahneman some money as a sentimental present. The whole time Kahneman was terrified that the SS trooper might notice the yellow star peeking out from inside his sweater.

Kahneman finally made it home, convinced that people are complicated and bizarre. He went on to become one of the world’s most influential psychologists and to win the Nobel in economic science.

Kahneman doesn’t actually tell that childhood story in his forthcoming book. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is an intellectual memoir, not a personal one. The book is, nonetheless, sure to be a major intellectual event (look for an excerpt in The Times Magazine this Sunday) because it superbly encapsulates Kahneman’s research, and the vast tide of work that has been sparked by it.

I’d like to use this column not to summarize the book but to describe why I think Kahneman and his research partner, the late Amos Tversky, will be remembered hundreds of years from now, and how their work helped instigate a cultural shift that is already producing astounding results.

Before Kahneman and Tversky, people who thought about social problems and human behavior tended to assume that we are mostly rational agents. They assumed that people have control over the most important parts of their own thinking. They assumed that people are basically sensible utility-maximizers and that when they depart from reason it’s because some passion like fear or love has distorted their judgment.

Kahneman and Tversky conducted experiments. They proved that actual human behavior often deviates from the old models and that the flaws are not just in the passions but in the machinery of cognition. They demonstrated that people rely on unconscious biases and rules of thumb to navigate the world, for good and ill. Many of these biases have become famous: priming, framing, loss-aversion.

Kahneman reports on some delightful recent illustrations from other researchers. Pro golfers putt more accurately from all distances when putting for par than when putting for birdie because they fear the bogie more than they desire the birdie. Israeli parole boards grant parole to about 35 percent of the prisoners they see, except when they hear a case in the hour just after mealtime. In those cases, they grant parole 65 percent of the time. Shoppers will buy many more cans of soup if you put a sign atop the display that reads “Limit 12 per customer.”

Kahneman and Tversky were not given to broad claims. But the work they and others did led to the reappreciation of several old big ideas:

We are dual process thinkers. We have two interrelated systems running in our heads. One is slow, deliberate and arduous (our conscious reasoning). The other is fast, associative, automatic and supple (our unconscious pattern recognition). There is now a complex debate over the relative strengths and weaknesses of these two systems. In popular terms, think of it as the debate between “Moneyball” (look at the data) and “Blink” (go with your intuition).

We are not blank slates. All humans seem to share similar sets of biases. There is such a thing as universal human nature. The trick is to understand the universals and how tightly or loosely they tie us down.

We are players in a game we don’t understand. Most of our own thinking is below awareness. Fifty years ago, people may have assumed we are captains of our own ships, but, in fact, our behavior is often aroused by context in ways we can’t see. Our biases frequently cause us to want the wrong things. Our perceptions and memories are slippery, especially about our own mental states. Our free will is bounded. We have much less control over ourselves than we thought.

This research yielded a different vision of human nature and a different set of debates. The work of Kahneman and Tversky was a crucial pivot point in the way we see ourselves.

They also figured out ways to navigate around our shortcomings. Kahneman champions the idea of “adversarial collaboration” — when studying something, work with people you disagree with. Tversky had a wise maxim: “Let us take what the terrain gives.” Don’t overreach. Understand what your circumstances are offering.

Many people are exploring the inner wilderness. Kahneman and Tversky are like the Lewis and Clark of the mind.


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