Thursday, January 11, 2018

Shitty Media Men


thecut |  In October, I created a Google spreadsheet called “Shitty Media Men” that collected a range of rumors and allegations of sexual misconduct, much of it violent, by men in magazines and publishing. The anonymous, crowdsourced document was a first attempt at solving what has seemed like an intractable problem: how women can protect ourselves from sexual harassment and assault.

One long-standing partial remedy that women have developed is the whisper network, informal alliances that pass on open secrets and warn women away from serial assaulters. Many of these networks have been invaluable in protecting their members. Still, whisper networks are social alliances, and as such, they’re unreliable. They can be elitist, or just insular. As Jenna Wortham pointed out in The New York Times Magazine, they are also prone to exclude women of color. Fundamentally, a whisper network consists of private conversations, and the document that I created was meant to be private as well. It was active for only a few hours, during which it spread much further and much faster than I ever anticipated, and in the end, the once-private document was made public — first when its existence was revealed in a BuzzFeed article by Doree Shafrir, then when the document itself was posted on Reddit.

A slew of think pieces ensued, with commentators alternately condemning the document as reckless, malicious, or puritanically anti-sex. Many called the document irresponsible, emphasizing that since it was anonymous, false accusations could be added without consequence. Others said that it ignored established channels in favor of what they thought was vigilantism and that they felt uncomfortable that it contained allegations both of violent assaults and inappropriate messages. Still other people just saw it as catty and mean, something like the “Burn Book” from Mean Girls. Because the document circulated among writers and journalists, many of the people assigned to write about it had received it from friends. Some faced the difficult experience of seeing other, male friends named. Many commentators expressed sympathy with the aims of the document — women warning women, trying to help one another — but thought that its technique was too radical. They objected to the anonymity, or to the digital format, or to writing these allegations down at all. Eventually, some media companies conducted investigations into employees who appeared on the spreadsheet; some of those men left their jobs or were fired.

None of this was what I thought was going to happen. In the beginning, I only wanted to create a place for women to share their stories of harassment and assault without being needlessly discredited or judged. The hope was to create an alternate avenue to report this kind of behavior and warn others without fear of retaliation. Too often, for someone looking to report an incident or to make habitual behavior stop, all the available options are bad ones. The police are notoriously inept at handling sexual-assault cases. Human-resources departments, in offices that have them, are tasked not with protecting employees but with shielding the company from liability — meaning that in the frequent occasion that the offender is a member of management and the victim is not, HR’s priorities lie with the accused. When a reporting channel has enforcement power, like an HR department or the police, it also has an obligation to presume innocence. In contrast, the value of the spreadsheet was that it had no enforcement mechanisms: Without legal authority or professional power, it offered an impartial, rather than adversarial, tool to those who used it. It was intended specifically not to inflict consequences, not to be a weapon — and yet, once it became public, many people immediately saw it as exactly that.

Recent months have made clear that no amount of power or money can shield a woman from sexual misconduct. But like me, many of the women who used the spreadsheet are particularly vulnerable: We are young, new to the industry, and not yet influential in our fields. As we have seen time after time, there can be great social and professional consequences for women who come forward. For us, the risks of using any of the established means of reporting were especially high and the chance for justice especially slim.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

But How Will We Pay For It?


truth-out |  One of the theoretical forerunners and bases of MMT is chartalism, an economic theory which argues that money is a creature of the state designed to direct economic activity. The theory has recently been popularized by David Graeber's book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, a wide-ranging work that touches upon issues ranging from gift economies, the linkage between quantification and violence, and the relationship between debt and conceptions of sin. In charting out the history of money, Graeber notes that, despite anthropological evidence to the contrary, economists have long clung to the myth of barter. 

However, money does not emerge from barter-based economic activities, but rather from the sovereign's desire to organize economic activity. The state issues currency and then imposes taxes. Because citizens are forced to use the state's currency to pay their taxes, they can trust that the currency will carry value in day-to-day economic activities. Governments with their own currency and a floating exchange rate (sovereign currency issuers like the United States) do not have to borrow from "bond vigilantes" to spend. They themselves first spend the money into existence and then collect it through taxation to enforce its usage. The state can spend unlimited amounts of money. It is only constrained by biophysical resources, and if the state spends beyond the availability of resources, the result is inflation, which can be mitigated by taxation. 

These simple facts carry radical policy implications. Taxes are not being used to fund spending, but rather to control inflation and redistribute income (and Trump's tax plan is certainly continuing the redistribution of income upward). Thus, we can make the case for progressive taxation from a moral standpoint concerned with social justice: We should tax rich people because their wealth is the product of exploitation and an affront to any truly democratic society, not because our transitional political program depends upon it. Congress can simply authorize the Treasury and the Federal Reserve to spend the money necessary for single-payer health care.

If we apply MMT to Medicare for All, the aforementioned "viability" debate and ungrounded fears about "printing money" fades into the background. Rather, our concerns shift toward examining our available resources and thinking about how to best provision them in such a way to as to advance social justice. This means training doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners. And it also means medical facilities being supplied with the necessary instruments, tools and technologies to provide care and treatment to patients and their communities. 

This carries implications for policymaking beyond Medicare for All. If money belongs to the public, then questions about who and what the public is will arise. By extension, money, financing and investment should be subject to popular control through directly democratic participatory processes.

Money As Tool, Money As Drug: The Biological Psychology of a Strong Incentive


nih.gov |  Why are people interested in money? Specifically, what could be the biological basis for the extraordinary incentive and reinforcing power of money, which seems to be unique to the human species? We identify two ways in which a commodity which is of no biological significance in itself can become a strong motivator. The first is if it is used as a tool, and by a metaphorical extension this is often applied to money: it is used instrumentally, in order to obtain biologically relevant incentives. Second, substances can be strong motivators because they imitate the action of natural incentives but do not produce the fitness gains for which those incentives are instinctively sought. The classic examples of this process are psychoactive drugs, but we argue that the drug concept can also be extended metaphorically to provide an account of money motivation. From a review of theoretical and empirical literature about money, we conclude that (i) there are a number of phenomena that cannot be accounted for by a pure Tool Theory of money motivation; (ii) supplementing Tool Theory with a Drug Theory enables the anomalous phenomena to be explained; and (iii) the human instincts that, according to a Drug Theory, money parasitizes include trading (derived from reciprocal altruism) and object play.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon For The Neoliberal Era


WaPo |  America woke up Monday with a crazy idea in its addled brain: Oprah Winfrey could be the next president of the United States.

The notion has tugged at the imagination for as long as Winfrey has been famous, but her barnstorming speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday electrified much of the 56 percent of the populace that disapproves of her fellow television personality, President Trump. The possibility of a Winfrey campaign, on Monday at least, seemed capable of uniting both ends of the political spectrum.

“I want her to run for president,” Meryl Streep told The Washington Post just after the Globes ceremony. “I don’t think she had any intention [of declaring]. But now she doesn’t have a choice.”
“Oprah. #ImWithHer,” tweeted Bill Kristol, scion of neoconservatism and the original promoter of Sarah Palin, whose tongue-in-cheek declaration gave way to an objective case for her candidacy: “Understands Middle America better than Elizabeth Warren,” he tweeted. “Less touchy-feely than Joe Biden, more pleasant than Andrew Cuomo, more charismatic than John Hickenlooper.”

The question lingering under this surprising groundswell: Are we now at a point where we believe celebrity is a prerequisite for winning (let alone governing)? Jokes about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being so widely likable that he, too, could run for president have recently morphed into something like actual candidate buzz; the wrestler-turned-actor recently said he’s “seriously considering” a run.

“Arguably Donald Trump is the most famous man in the world,” said GOP strategist Rick Wilson, a never-Trump Republican. Under the new rules of political engagement, “maybe you can only beat a celebrity with another celebrity.”

Her chances of winning? “One hundred percent,” said another Republican strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speculate brazenly. “If she runs for the Democratic nomination, I think it’s over.”

Pure Identity Politics (REDUX Originally Posted 8/30/08)

Three and a half years ago, I anticipated and wrote about what's now unfolding in the presidential election. Over the next few weeks, there'll be a lot of mendacious talk about everything on the periphery of what just happened. But let me spell out the truth of the matter very simply and directly here and now.

John McCain's campaign Policy and People-Centric Leadership Challenged DNC Corporate Elites have just dropped an immense turd into the American political punchbowl. (no offense intended to Sarah Palin Oprah Winfrey who is just being ruthlessly exploited for GOP DNC political gain) So how do I know this? Up until a couple days ago, McCain had only ever had one telephone conversation with Palin over the prior 18 months! It's not as if he even knows her or cares to - instead - Palin Oprah is merely a convenient cog in the bottom-scraping GOP DNC political calculus.

The McCain campaign is Corporate Elites and the Deep State are categorically NOT about issues anymore, at all. Instead, it is a desperate and impulsive fin d'siecle crapshoot rooted in pure identity politics. The writing has been on the wall for a minute concerning the GOP DNC endgame, starting with McCain's  attack on Obama's "celebrity". Here now is the gist of what I wrote few years ago, and a couple of very important links that may serve to better illuminate EXACTLY what the GOP strategists Corporate Elites and Deep State are attempting to do with the selection of Palin as McCain's running mate Oprah for Celebrity Clash of the Titans 2020.
First, everyone should read A Guide to the White Trash Planet for Urban Liberals. It is an eye-opening view into the next big job for Americans of good faith. Not only must we Work hard on increasing and enriching the level of interpersonal engagement within our own communities, the next evolutionary push will have to involve education, outreach, and socialization - interpersonal communion - with and among the masses of the poor, white, and pissed. This will not be easy. But it is most definitely necessary.
Not only will this enrich both our respective communities, it will comprise a bulwark against the genuinely evil predations that the backers of the present administration have in store for America. Second, folks need to read The Full Blown Oprah Effect, Reflections on Color, Class, and New Age Racism. This article drives home the necessity of enlarged, renewed, and full engagement on multiple fronts for any genuinely interested in seeing America politically work its way back out of the regressive nosedive engineered by the GOP.
Bottomline - we have all GOT to Work toward being on the same side, or, we will all surely lose in ways and to an extent never previously imagined.

Off My Current Arc, But You Knew Yvette Would Slap The Black Off Oprah Tonite!



visioncircle |  For the past couple weeks I've been indulging a guilty pleasure - no holds barred textual street fighting. It's what invariably happens when I go to visit a sleeply little listserve with an established pecking order and protectionist orthodoxy. Think Vin Diesel's character in Knockaround Guys, and you have a pretty clear picture of what I'm talking about. I'll watch the list flow for a minute, identify the toughest poster(s) - whose self-appointed job it is to enforce aggregate status quo by challenging and discouraging potentially upsetting ecclexia.

Posting something certain to draw a response from the local toughs, I then proceed to share with these hapless rubes (it's always doods too) the hard-earned monstrousness I've amassed over the course of the preceding 2000 textual brawls.

Just like your local divey tavern, listserves exist for socialization, validation, and transaction. Both lurkers and active posters alike are embarked on individual quests for *something*. Whether the urge to socialize, or, the basic shameful human primate propensity for rubbernecking gory altercations, the listserve ecology hosts no innocents - just experience and objective gradients running the gamut from newbie to seasoned regular.

My objective is twofold, first, I enjoy the mayhem. If I ever even attempt to say otherwise, I'm lying like a dog. Second, and more importantly, I long ago discovered the developmental value of friction. Basically, if you put somebody's beliefs and ego to the test, they'll either duck and fold, or, actually step up with their A-game and yield some deep thought you'd otherwise never hear in a thousand years of *civil* conversation. THATis the scarce and precious commodity I'm trawling lists to harvest in the first place.

Ideally, the fight isn't staged simply to wreak devastation. Rather, the goal is to call out the resident champion of an aggregate pov and elicit from that individual the ideative first fruits of the collective he exemplifies. Every Fallujah I've left in my wake is a zero-sum game both literally and figuratively. [and a superb illustration of the absurdity of neocon mentality and policy to boot]

Having temporarily abandoned my afrostocratic haunts in favor of a little good old red-state neocon slumming and brawling - I'll admit I've left a few Fallujah's scattered across the digital countryside. I thought I was embarked on yet another one until yesterday, when a pitched battle finally resulted in pacification of a sizeable enforcer clique and a tentative detente with its champion. Make no mistake, it wasn't "hail and well met" it was straight up ugly and savage until the bell rang and my adversary said "no mas".

After vetting my old school conservative credentials, this individual shared the following gem with me - A Guide to the White Trash Planet for Urban Liberals. It is an eye-opening view into the next big job for Americans of good faith.
Not only must we Work hard on increasing and enriching the level of interpersonal engagement within our own communities, the next evolutionary push will have to involve education, outreach, and socialization - interpersonal communion - with and among the masses of the poor, white, and pissed. This will not be easy. But it is most definitely necessary.

Not only will this enrich both our respective communities, it will comprise a bulwark against the genuinely evil predations that the backers of the present administration have in store for America.

The Full Blown Oprah Effect, Reflections on Color, Class, and New Age Racism really drove home to me the necessity of enlarged, renewed, and full engagement on multiple fronts for any genuinely interested in seeing America politically work its way back out of the regressive nosedive that the neocons have engineered. We have all GOT to Work toward being on the same side, or, we will all surely lose.

"Covert racism may actually be deepened by these civil rights victories and by related partial black upward mobility into the middle and upper classes insofar as those victories and achievements have served to encourage the illusion that racism has disappeared and that the only obstacles left to African-American success and equality are internal to individual blacks and their community – the idea that, in Derrick Bell’s phrase, “the indolence of blacks rather than the injustice of whites explains the socioeconomic gaps separating the races.”

 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Subtitled: I Don't Know - But Here's One Helluva Gish Gallop!!!



babylonsbanksters | “Modern fiat money and reserve banking is indeed a manifestation of the transmutative ‘nothingness’ of the Philosophers’ Stone, for from the creation of credit out of nothing, gold is produced.” By nationalizing that money and credit-creating institution “and wresting it from private, secretive hands, and using it to fund the alchemical physics it was beginning to develop as the ultimate energy source, as the ultimate power to transport mankind, and as the ultimate power for destruction on a doomsday scale, the Nazis indicated that they had understood the nature of the (Philosophers’) Stone. They had seen, and fully understood, the connection between alchemical physics, and alchemical finance. And they were willing to put it to supremely evil uses.

“But that connection between alchemical physics and alchemical finance is, perhaps, a relationship that requires its own exposition….

The Philosophers’ Stone: Alchemy and the Secret Research for Exotic Matter. The reader may have inferred from these quoted remarks that there was much more of the story — both from the standpoint of physics and finance, and from that of history — to tell, and that it would require yet another study or book to do so. If the reader made such inferences, he is correct on both counts: there is much more of the story of the relationship between physics and finance to tell.

The thesis of this book is both simple to state, and difficult to understand, and that is that, since ancient times and with more or less uninterrupted constancy, there has existed an international money power which seeks by a variety of means — including fraud, deception, assassination, and war — to usurp the money- and credit-creating power of the various states it has sought to dominate, and to obfuscate and occult the profound connection between that money-creating power and the deep “alchemical physics” that such power implies.

Accordingly, I do not argue that case comprehensively in this book, since to do so would require an extended series of books, each devoted to a particular historical period, and each burying the reader in a blizzard of footnotes to the extent that the main thesis would itself become obscured. Rather, I assume this model as a given, as an interpretive paradigm by which to view certain events and data. In so doing, that case is indeed argued, but in synoptic form rather than comprehensively. In doing so, I hope to keep before the reader’s attention that deep and profound connection between physics and finance and to show why it is that the private and international money power must always seek to suppress not only certain types of state financial policy, but also certain types of physics, for both indeed spring from a common conceptual root.

Most of my books, as readers familiar with them already know, inhabit a strange region where alternative physics interfaces with history to reveal the latter’s hidden motivations, secrets, and players. This book is no different, save for the fact that I have obviously added a new conceptual player: finance and economics. And along the way, we shall encounter other major conceptual scenery that readers of my books have encountered before: alchemy, astrology, astronomy, torsion, Egypt, Babylon, Nazis, ancient texts and tomes and modern mathematical gurus speaking the arcane language of statistical and topological lore.

In fact, in one of those odd synchronicities that seem to increase in modern life, as this book was being researched and written, decades — if not centuries or even millennia — of corruption and intellectual flaccidity in the financial, banking, and corporate sectors of the world came to an ugly head with the collapse of the housing and derivatives bubble, and the appearance of some of those responsible for the meltdown before the United States House of Representatives, hands extended, asking for a bailout of their malfeasance and irresponsibility at the expense of the American taxpayer, and demanding no oversight to boot, as if they were being forced to pay some hidden blackmailer, and were afraid that oversight might disclose this fact.

But why call it “irresponsibility” and not simply “criminality”? In the answer to that question there lies a tale, and it is a tale I did not originally intend to go into when I conceived the plan for this series of books many years ago, much less the plan for this one. Recent financial events, however, have contrived to place the story I intended to tell after completing The Nazi International and The Philosophers’ Stone into a rather different context. As will become apparent to the reader in the main text, I do believe there is criminality and conspiracy involved in the story of the complex relationship of physics and finance throughout history. And paradoxically, the farther back one pursues this relationship, the closer together physics, finance, and all those other themes enunciated above as the conceptual scenery, draw together, and the more apparent the odor of a long-standing conspiracy becomes.

But in and of itself the contemporary financial meltdown is both a story of conspiracy as well as a case of galloping stupidity and colossal intellectual, political, and economic irresponsibility proportional to the aforesaid stupidity. It is nonetheless a story with its own deep connections to the story of the main text, and it is as good an entry into the subject as any.

So, as a way of entering into the discussion of the themes that preoccupy the main text, one may examine two salient modern examples that arose to challenge the reigning financial and physical assumptions of that money power.

Those examples are Communist China and Nazi Germany.

Economics Which Models Itself After 19th Century Physics Is Overdue For An Update


aeon |  The price theory assumes that there exist fixed and independent curves that describe supply and demand, but the reality is that these forces are coupled and in flux – and the idea that they lead to a stable and optimal equilibrium seems more than a little wobbly.

Even stranger, though, is that in answering these basic questions money hardly seems to be mentioned – despite the fact that one would think money is at the heart of the subject. (Isn’t economics about money? Aren’t prices set by using money?) If you look at those textbooks, you will find that, while money is used as a metric, and there is some discussion of basic monetary plumbing, money is not considered an important subject in itself. And both money and the role of the financial sector are usually completely missing from economic models, nor do they get paid lip service. One reason central banks couldn’t predict the banking crisis was because their models didn’t include banks.

Economists, it seems, think about money less than most people do: as Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, observed in 2001: ‘Most economists hold conversations in which the word “money” hardly appears at all.’ For example, the key question of money-creation by private banks, according to the German economist Richard Werner, has been ‘a virtual taboo for the thousands of researchers of the world’s central banks during the past half century’. And then there is the mass of complex financial derivatives, whose nominal value was estimated in 2010 at $1.2 quadrillion, but which is nowhere to be found in conventional models, even though it was at the root of the crisis.

To sum up, the key tenets of mainstream or neoclassical economics – including such things as ‘utility’ or ‘demand curves’ or ‘rational economic man’ – are just made-up inventions, no more real than the crystalline spheres that Medieval astronomers thought suspended the planets. But real things like money are to a remarkable extent ignored.

In physics, the quantum revolution was born when physicists found that at the subatomic level energy was always exchanged in terms of discrete parcels, which they called quanta, from the Latin for ‘how much’. Perhaps we need to follow the quantum lead, and look at transactions between people. In economics, the equivalent would be exchanges of money – like when you go into a shop, point at something, and ask: How much? Or, if you’re in Italy, Quanto?, which makes the connection a little clearer.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

What Cultural Question/Problem Is Answered By Marijuana?


aeon |  Clearly, the causal motion swings both ways. Cultural questions can popularise certain drugs; but sometimes popular drugs end up creating our culture. From rave culture booming on the back of ecstasy to a culture of hyper-productivity piggybacking on drugs initially meant to help with cognitive and attention deficits, the symbiosis between chemical and culture is evident.
But while drugs can both answer cultural questions and create entirely new cultures, there is no simple explanation for why one happens rather than the other. If rave culture is created by ecstasy, does that mean ecstasy is also ‘answering’ a cultural question; or was ecstasy simply there and rave culture blossomed around it? The line of causality is easily blurred.

A corollary can be found in the human sciences where it is extraordinarily difficult to categorise different types of people because, as soon as one starts ascribing properties to groups, people change and spill out of the parameters to which they were first assigned. The philosopher of science Ian Hacking coined the term for this: ‘the looping effect’. People ‘are moving targets because our investigations interact with them, and change them,’ Hacking wrote in the London Review of Books. ‘And since they are changed, they are not quite the same kind of people as before.’

This holds true for the relationship between drugs and culture as well. ‘Every time a drug is invented that interacts with the brains and minds of users, it changes the very object of the study: the people who are using,’ says Henry Cowles, assistant professor of the history of medicine at Yale. On this reading, the idea that drugs create culture is true, to an extent, but it is likewise true that cultures can shift and leave a vacuum of unresolved desires and questions that drugs are often able to fill. 

Take the example of American housewives addicted to barbiturates and other drugs. The standard and aforementioned causal argument is that they were culturally repressed, had few freedoms, and so sought out the drugs as a way to overcome their anomie: LSD and later antidepressants were ‘answer drugs’ to the strict cultural codes, as well as a means to self-medicate emotional pain. But, Cowles argues, one might just as easily say that ‘these drugs were created with various sub-populations in mind and they end up making available a new kind of housewife or a new kind of working woman, who is medicated in order to enable this kind of lifestyle’. In short, Cowles says: ‘The very image of the depressed housewife emerges only as a result of the possibility of medicating that.’

Such an explanation puts drugs at the centre of the past century of cultural history for a simple reason: if drugs can create and underscore cultural limitations, then drugs and their makers can tailor-make entire socio-cultural demographics (eg, ‘the depressed housewife’ or ‘the hedonistic, cocaine-snorting Wall Street trader’). Crucially, this creation of cultural categories applies to everyone, meaning that even those not using the popularised drugs of a given era are beholden to their cultural effects. The causality is muddy, but what is clear is that it swings back and forth: drugs both ‘answer’ cultural questions and allow for cultures to be created around themselves.

Looking at the culture of today, perhaps the biggest question answered by drugs are issues of focus and productivity – a consequence of the modern ‘attention economy’, as termed by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Alexander Simon.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

President Trump is The Most Pro-life, Pro-religious Liberty, Pro-Israel President in History


DallasObserver |  Robert Jeffress, pastor at First Baptist Dallas, committed himself to Donald Trump and his presidency in 2016, positioning himself as the evangelical face of Trumpism. This year, for better and worse, Jeffress has reaped the consequences of that commitment, repeatedly finding himself at the center of the Trump universe because of his words, decisions or sheer proximity to the president. He has more access to the president and the White House than any other religious leader in the country. 

As the first installment of America: The Trump Years winds down, let's take a look at all the fun Jeffress had in 2017.

RightWingWatch |  Robert Jeffress, a faith adviser to and staunch supporter of President Trump, told Religious Right radio host Janet Mefferd yesterday that Trump’s presidency has exposed a divide among evangelicals between those “who take the Bible seriously and those who don’t,” saying that Trump’s critics among the “evangelical elite” don’t embrace the true values of the faith.

During yesterday’s episode of “Janet Mefferd Live” on American Family Radio, Mefferd spoke with Jeffress about articles that have documented how the “evangelical divide” has intensified under Trump. Jeffress denied that Trump created the schisms in the evangelical community, saying that the “evangelical elite” had already been distancing itself from biblical values.

“Look, poor President Trump gets blamed for everything from the melting of the polar ice caps to now the evangelical crisis. And you know, that word ‘crisis’ means ‘divide.’ And I will admit there is a divide going on among evangelicals. President Trump didn’t cause the divide, but he has exposed it,” Jeffress said. “It’s been a growing divide, Janet, between evangelicals who take the Bible seriously and those who don’t. I call them the ‘evangelical elite’—the ‘Christianity of the day’ crowd.”

Jeffress continued, “And here’s where it comes down to—think about this. President Trump is the most pro-life, pro-religious liberty, pro-Israel president in history. So why do we have this resistance among the evangelical elite while the mass of evangelicals in the pews support him? And what it comes down to is the evangelical elite really don’t embrace these values.”

Narrative Redirection Away From Israel Collusion and Origins of Russiagate


WaPo |  Author Michael Wolff bolstered President Trump's effort to discredit the new book “Fire and Fury” on Friday when he acknowledged in a “Today” show interview that he had been willing to say whatever was “necessary” to gain access at the White House.

Wolff's admission does not directly undermine the veracity of his reporting, but it creates the appearance that he might have approached some members of the president's team under false pretenses, leading sources to believe that when they opened up they were speaking to a sympathetic ear. That's a bad look — one which the White House can use to impugn Wolff's integrity and, perhaps unfairly, cast doubt on whichever elements of his work the president doesn't like.

Here's Wolff's exchange with “Today” show co-host Savannah Guthrie:
GUTHRIE: Your former editor at Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter, said he wasn't surprised you'd written this explosive book; he was surprised they let you in the door at the White House. Are you surprised?
WOLFF: You know, um, no. I'm a nice guy. I go in . . .
GUTHRIE: Did you flatter your way in?
WOLFF: I certainly said what was ever necessary to get the story.
It's easy to find examples of Wolff saying things that would please Trump and his team — a theme being that other journalists are unfair.

On the morning after Trump's election, Wolff wrote in the Hollywood Reporter that “the media turned itself into the opposition and, accordingly, was voted down as the new political reality emerged.” He scolded New Yorker editor David Remnick for calling Trump's win an “American tragedy” and wrote that “awe might have been in order.”

A short time later, Wolff addressed fellow reporters in an interview with Digiday. “Let me send the message: stenographer is what you're supposed to be,” he said.

After Trump's inauguration, Wolff accused the press of waging a campaign to take down the president. “The media's holy grail is, as it's been for much of the campaign, about what will stick,” he wrote in Newsweek. “Of the myriad likely damaging possibilities, which one will be so prima facie damaging (pay no attention to the many instances that many people already thought were, or would be) or so shocking and insulting to the body politic that it will be the end, or at least the beginning of the end, of Trump? Nothing counts but delivering a mortal wound, so everything is delivered as though it is a mortal wound.”

Your Views On Marijuana Legalization?


WaPo |  Jeff Sessions hates marijuana. Hates it, with a passion that has animated almost nothing else in his career. “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” he has said. He even once said about the Ku Klux Klan, “I thought those guys were okay until I learned they smoked pot.”

He says that was a joke, but even so, it still says something about where he’s coming from.

So if you’re wondering why Sessions has endured the humiliation of being demeaned and abused by President Trump and stayed on as attorney general, one big answer is the policy change he announced this week, that he is rescinding an Obama-era directive that instructed federal prosecutors not to prioritize prosecuting businesses like dispensaries in states that had legalized cannabis. Sessions is finally getting the chance to lock up all those hippies, with their pot-smoking and their free love and their wah-wah pedals and everything immoral they represent. He’ll show them.

WaPo |  Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he will rescind a Justice Department memorandum — known as the Cole Memo — that granted protection to state-legal and regulated marijuana companies. In doing so, Sessions has not only brushed aside science, logic and the prevailing public opinion, but he has also contradicted the opinion of the president he serves and his own party’s governing values.

Sessions’s decision empowers U.S. attorneys to begin prosecuting an industry that has complied with state laws and regulations and has, since 2013, been granted an effective waiver from federal intervention. During this time, the legal marijuana industry has become a multibillion-dollar venture, employing tens of thousands of Americans from coast to coast.

This decision to reignite the drug war comes as little surprise. Sessions once said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” He has shown a deep ignorance of the realities of the drug war, which has been ineffective and costly and has disproportionately affected minority communities. And he has committed to numerous claims that have been dispelled by science, such as cannabis’s gateway effect and the idea that marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.


Friday, January 05, 2018

Luxturna Is An Apt Name For An $850,000 Drug...,


technologyreview |  The $850,000 price of a newly approved gene therapy for blindness stunned patient advocates, but the sticker shock could quickly wear off.

Many costly drugs need to be purchased year after year. But gene therapies are given only once, with potentially permanent effects.

Mark Trusheim, who directs MIT’s New Drug Development Paradigms program, says gene therapies are moving medicine from a model of “renting” treatments to one of “buying” long-term health improvements.

“The challenge is like going from being an apartment renter to a condo buyer and being shocked at [the] purchase price,” he says.

Philadelphia-based Spark Therapeutics said yesterday that it planned to charge $425,000 per eye for Luxturna, the first gene therapy for an inherited disease to reach the U.S. market.

David Mitchell, founder and president of the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs, is concerned that the treatment will be out of reach for people with high-deductible health plans and would bankrupt those without insurance.

Purity of Blood?


atlasobscura |  The phrase limpieza, “purity of blood,” came into common use in the sixteenth century. The phrase was understood literally, not metaphorically: Medical belief held that blood was the principal of four humors in the body, because it circulated the other humors. Blood therefore played an essential role in establishing a person’s character.

The most important conflict over limpieza discrimination came in the mid-16th century. The Toledo archbishop, Juan Martínez Silíceo, limpieza’s strongest proponent, recommended imposing purity-of-blood restrictions in his archdiocese.

The most prominent cleric to resist this was Ignacio de Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. Loyola befriended Spanish conversos at the University of Paris, who eventually became some of the founding members of the Jesuits. Diego Lainez, a converso, succeeded Loyola as the order’s superior general.

The prominence of conversos within the Jesuits meant it was inevitable that the order would come into conflict with Archbishop Silíceo. Silíceo banned members of the order from acting as priests without first being personally examined by him. Jesuits could only win Silíceo’s favor by adopting limpieza, and Loyola refused to comply. This significantly impeded the growth of the order in Spain.

But the resonances of Spanish limpieza restrictions went far beyond their effect on the Jesuit order. Iberian initiatives—African race slavery, the discovery of America, the development of plantation agriculture—made limpieza a force in the development of anti-black racism.

Beginning in the 1440s, Spain and Portugal entered the African slave trade, formerly dominated by Islamic countries. The discovery of America and the development of plantation agriculture considerably expanded African slavery. Between 1500 and 1580 Spain shipped approximately 74,000 African people to America; this number increased to approximately 714,000 between 1580 and 1640.

Along with slavery, Spain exported limpieza. In 1552, the Spanish Crown decreed that emigrants to America must furnish proof of limpieza. The Spanish deployed limpieza throughout Spanish America and the Portuguese adopted it in Brazil. In its new environment, limpieza began to mutate, beginning to refer to an absence of black blood as well as an absence of Jewish blood.

In both cases, the idea was that “impure” blood could taint a person’s character. In 1604, historian Fray Prudencio de Sandoval compared the impure natures of blacks and Jews: “Who can deny that in descendants of Jews there persists and endures the evil inclination of their ancient ingratitude and lack of understanding, just as in the Negroes [there persists] the inseparability of their blackness. For if the latter should unite themselves a thousand times with white women, the children are born with the dark color of the father. Similarly, it is not enough for the Jew to be three parts aristocrat or Old Christian, for one Jewish ancestor alone defiles and corrupts him.”

The main target of limpieza in the Americas was black blood. Limpieza was used to discriminate against Africans both to justify race slavery and to enforce the distinctions that a race slave system required.


Thursday, January 04, 2018

Meanwhile, In The Cruel and Cutthroat World of Spy vs. Spy...,



Haaretz |  Washington gave Israel a green light to assassinate Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported on Monday.

TheAmericanConservative |  Speaking at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum, CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently disclosed that he sent a direct communication to Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, the longtime commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force division responsible for Iran’s overseas paramilitary and intelligence activity. “What we were communicating to him in that letter was that we will hold he and Iran accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control,” Pompeo told the audience. “We wanted to make sure he and the leadership in Iran understood that in a way that was crystal clear.”

To some who have operated in the clandestine and murky world of intelligence tradecraft, Pompeo’s maneuver was a surprise. Former CIA director Mike Hayden told Newsweek that he couldn’t recall ever doing such a thing during his tenure, while others labeled Pompeo’s move a too-clever-by-half strategy to signal toughness to Soleimani, who retains enormous power and influence within the Iranian political system. 

Too Late Now...,


Breitbart |  “The President of the United States is a great man,” said Breitbart News’s Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon on Wednesday’s edition of SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Tonight.

Bannon’s comments came in response to Justin from California, a caller-in to Breitbart News Tonight noting President Donald Trump’s recent criticisms of Bannon.

Partial transcript below.
JUSTIN: First of all, I think [Donald Trump] made a huge mistake, Steve, bashing you like he did today on Twitter. That was devastating to me. I hope in the future you can forgive him for that when we come to 2020, because I’m sure he’s going to need your help.
BANNON: The President of the United States is a great man. You know I support him day in and day out, whether going through the country giving the Trump Miracle speech or on the show or on the website, so I don’t you have to worry about that. But I appreciate the kind words.
JUSTIN: Yeah, that just made me sick to my stomach, though.
“[Donald Trump] got sucked in by fake news, or trolled,” said Gayle in Alabama, another caller-in toe Breitbart News Tonight, framing the president as being fooled by cultivated drama via the Hollywood Reporter’s Michael Wolff.

Guardian Gish Gallop of Goo Creampied Thirsty MSM Yesterday....,


Guardian |  Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon has described the Trump Tower meeting between the president’s son and a group of Russians during the 2016 election campaign as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”, according to an explosive new book seen by the Guardian.

Bannon, speaking to author Michael Wolff, warned that the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin will focus on money laundering and predicted: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, reportedly based on more than 200 interviews with the president, his inner circle and players in and around the administration, is one of the most eagerly awaited political books of the year. In it, Wolff lifts the lid on a White House lurching from crisis to crisis amid internecine warfare, with even some of Trump’s closest allies expressing contempt for him.

Bannon, who was chief executive of the Trump campaign in its final three months, then White House chief strategist for seven months before returning to the rightwing Breitbart News, is a central figure in the nasty, cutthroat drama, quoted extensively, often in salty language.

He is particularly scathing about a June 2016 meeting involving Trump’s son Donald Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York. A trusted intermediary had promised documents that would “incriminate” rival Hillary Clinton but instead of alerting the FBI to a potential assault on American democracy by a foreign power, Trump Jr replied in an email: “I love it.”

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

No, Seriously, Why Did Protests Really Erupt in Iran?



NYTimes |  He is known as the Dark Prince or Ayatollah Mike, nicknames he earned as the Central Intelligence Agency officer who oversaw the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the American drone strike campaign that killed thousands of Islamist militants and hundreds of civilians.

Now the official, Michael D’Andrea, has a new job. He is running the C.I.A.’s Iran operations, according to current and former intelligence officials, an appointment that is the first major sign that the Trump administration is invoking the hard line the president took against Iran during his campaign.

Mr. D’Andrea’s new role is one of a number of moves inside the spy agency that signal a more muscular approach to covert operations under the leadership of Mike Pompeo, the conservative Republican and former congressman, the officials said. The agency also recently named a new chief of counterterrorism, who has begun pushing for greater latitude to strike militants.

Iran has been one of the hardest targets for the C.I.A. The agency has extremely limited access to the country — no American embassy is open to provide diplomatic cover — and Iran’s intelligence services have spent nearly four decades trying to counter American espionage and covert operations.

The challenge to start carrying out President Trump’s views falls to Mr. D’Andrea, a chain-smoking convert to Islam, who comes with an outsize reputation and the track record to back it up: Perhaps no single C.I.A. official is more responsible for weakening Al Qaeda.

“He can run a very aggressive program, but very smartly,” said Robert Eatinger, a former C.I.A. lawyer who was deeply involved in the agency’s drone program. The C.I.A. declined to comment on Mr. D’Andrea’s role, saying it does not discuss the identities or work of clandestine officials.

Why Did Protests Erupt In Iran?


aljazeera |  The Islamic Republic of Iran is the platypus of humanity's political evolution.

Episodic Iranian unrest, from the focused, reformist uprising of 2009 (led by middle-class protesters of Tehran) to the current, wildly rejectionist riots (spearheaded by the underclass and the unemployed in the poor neighborhoods of provincial towns) cannot be understood in isolation from that melange of procedural democracy and obscurantist theocracy that was crammed into the constitution of revolutionary Iran, four decades ago.

Deep within Iran's authoritarian system there is a tiny democratic heart, complete with elective, presidential and parliamentary chambers, desperately beating against an unyielding, theocratic exoskeleton. That palpitating democratic heart has prolonged the life of the system - despite massive mismanagement of the domestic and international affairs by the revolutionary elites.

But it has failed to soften the authoritarian carapace. The reform movement has failed in its mission because the constitution grants three quarters of the political power to the office of the "Supreme Leader": an unelected, permanent appointment whereby a "religious jurist" gains enormous powers, including command of the armed forces and foreign policy, veto power over presidential cabinets and parliamentary initiatives, and the world's most formidable Pretorian Guard (IRGC), with military, paramilitary, intelligence, judicial and extrajudicial powers to enforce the will of its master.

The democratically-elected president and parliament (let alone the media and ordinary citizens) have no prayer of checking the powers of the Supreme Leader. As a result, the system has remained opaque, blind to its own flaws, resistant to growth and incapable of adaptation to its evolving internal and external environments.

You Know Better Than To Use Browser Password Managers..., Right?


theverge |  Nearly every web browser now comes with a password manager tool, a lightweight version of the same service offered by plugins like LastPass and 1Password. But according to new research from Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy, those same managers are being exploited as a way to track users from site to site.

The researchers examined two different scripts — AdThink and OnAudience — both of are designed to get identifiable information out of browser-based password managers. The scripts work by injecting invisible login forms in the background of the webpage and scooping up whatever the browsers autofill into the available slots. That information can then be used as a persistent ID to track users from page to page, a potentially valuable tool in targeting advertising.

The plugins focus largely on the usernames, but according to the researchers, there’s no technical measure to stop scripts from collecting passwords the same way. The only robust fix would be to change how password managers work, requiring more explicit approval before submitting information. “It won't be easy to fix, but it's worth doing,” says Arvind Narayanan, a Princeton computer science professor who worked on the project.

NOOOO!!! Morlocks At My Beautiful Time Machine...,


fox4kc | A man has died Tuesday night after being shot in the parking lot of the Independence Center, police say.

Independence Police spokesman John Syme confirmed officers were dispatched to the homicide at 18801 E. 39th St. around 8:30 p.m. Syme said the man's body was found outside a vehicle in the parking lot.

The man's identity has not yet been released, and suspect information was not immediately available, Syme said. Police do not have a suspect in custody yet and are asking anyone with information about the shooting to call police.

Syme said it's too early to determine if the shooting was a targeted incident or not.

This is a developing story. Fox 4 will update as more information is available.

Passah...,


Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Capital Consolidation and Tax "Reform"...,



therealnews |  Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Gregory Wilpert coming to you from Quito, Ecuador. The year 2017 is turning out to be another banner year for the centralization of capital, that is, according to an article in the Financial Times this week, “Global mergers and acquisitions exceeds three trillion dollars for the fourth straight year.” The article goes on to point out the following: Faced with the prospect of Amazon's entry into the pharmacy business, the US's biggest drugstore chain, CVS Health, agreed to acquire health insurer, Aetna for about $69 billion. Encroachment by Facebook and Netflix into sports, media and film production led Rupert Murdoch to sell most of his 21st Century Fox empire to Disney in a $66 billion deal.

The US remained the most active region for mergers and acquisitions with $1.4 trillion in deals. The numbers of US deals struck in 2017 combined climbed above 12,400 for a record figure. The largest deal in 2017 has yet to be resolved as Broadcom pursues a hostile $130 billion bid for rival chip maker, Qualcomm. Joining me to analyze the causes and consequences of this massive centralization of capital in 2017 is Michael Hudson. Michael is a distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. He's author of several books. The most recent among them is J is for Junk Economics. Welcome back, Michael.

MICHAEL HUDSON: Good to be back here.

GREGORY WILPERT: So, what at heart is causing all of this frenetic activity for companies to gobble up one another and thereby creating and ever greater centralization of capital?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, it's part of the neoliberal strategy to inflate the wealth of the 1%, basically by inflating the stock market and the real estate and the bond prices. At the same time, the central banks are pursuing quantitative easing that offer money at almost zero interest rates. You have the tax system, tax giveaways, to the... sector, which are encouraging these mergers and acquisitions by, essentially, dismantling the antitrust legislation that has been in place since the New Deal, and the tax giveaways that make it possible for all of this huge, hundreds of billions of dollar tax giveaways in the Republican tax law of two weeks ago that enables companies that have kept hundreds of billions of their earnings tax-free in offshore banking enclaves and tax avoidance centers.

Since 2004, all this money can now be replaced under the name of the head companies instead of their just-pretend foreign affiliates in these tax avoidance centers. So, the companies are going to be very tax rich. They've anticipated most of this and essentially, you can look at these mergers and acquisitions as part of an arbitrage operation. If you can get money at about 1%, if you're a hedge fund, a bank or a large corporation, if you can borrow at 1%, then you can borrow stocks that are yielding 10% or even more. Or, for that matter, even less and you can make up all the difference between the 1% you pay and the stocks whose dividends pay a higher rate of return, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9%.

What #MeToo Tells Us About The "Liberal" World...,


Counterpunch |  I wrote an Op-Ed for The Washington Post[1] about the Thomas Hill case in which Thomas was accused of accosting Anita Hill with ugly sexist language. I suggested that it would be a boon for corporate feminists who had co-opted the feminist movement. Instead of exposing the hands-on assaults against them by their employers upon whom they depended  for their prosperity, they could blame Black guys for sexism in the workplace. It was Maureen Dowd who pointed to the hypocrisy of some of Hill’s White feminist supporters. When Bill Clinton’s hands-on sexism came to light, she noted that some of those liberal and progressive feminists who condemned Clarence Thomas defended Clinton’s offenses against women. 

Clarence Thomas has been ridiculed for years for pleading that he was subjected to a “hi-tech lynching.” But now that powerful corporate White men, among them predators, who, for decades, have been shielded by corporate feminists, their defenders are insisting upon due process, which is what Thomas was demanding. To cross examine his accusers. Timesman Bret Stephens complains about hi-tech lynchings now that the shoe is on the other foot and outfits like NPR, The New Republic, MSNBC, The New York Times and other media outlets, which have competed for revenue from what could be called “The Black Boogeyman” racket, have uncovered predators among their personnel.  Now that they’re feeling the heat from feminists they’ve come up with something called “a spectrum of behavior.”

In the Post article, I also pointed out that regardless of Thomas’s right-wing views, in the Anita Hill vs. Thomas case, Blacks supported Thomas. White progressives didn’t pay attention to this fact. For them, Blacks are to be interpreted. Not listened too. Maybe they agree with Jeffrey Toobin, who has made a fortune from a slipshod examination of the Simpson case. Toobin says that Blacks can’t deal with reality and shouldn’t be patted on the head,[4] like the reward that a dog receives after retrieving a ball for his owner.

Monday, January 01, 2018

MindSmash Pipes Up Into The Digital Catheter...,


endgadget |  The new replay tools offered in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds are so much more than standard video-capture technology. In fact, it isn't video capture at all -- it's data capture. The 3D replay tools allow players to zoom around the map after a match, tracking their own character, following enemies' movements, slowing down time and setting up cinematic shots of their favorite kills, all within a 1-kilometer radius of their avatar. It's filled with statistics, fresh perspectives and infinite data points to dissect. This isn't just a visual replay; it's a slice of the actual game, perfectly preserved, inviting combatants to play God.

PUBG is an ideal test case. It's a massively popular online game where up to 100 players parachute onto a map, scavenge for supplies, upgrade weapons and attempt to be the last person standing. Even though it technically came out in December, PUBG has been available in early access since March and it's picked up a considerable number of accolades -- and players -- in the process. Just last week, SteamDB reported PUBG hit 3 million concurrent players on PC, vastly outstripping its closest competitor, Dota 2, which has a record of 1.29 million simultaneous players.

Part of PUBG's success stems from developers' relentless focus on making the game fun to watch. Live streaming is now a major part of the video-game world, with sites like Twitch and YouTube Gaming growing in prominence and eSports bursting into the mainstream.

Kim says PUBG creator Brendan Greene and CEO Chang Han Kim built the idea of data-capture into the game from the beginning, and Minkonet's tech is a natural evolution of this focus. Minkonet and PUBG developers connected in late 2016 and started working together on the actual software earlier this year.

"One of their first visions was to have PUBG as not just a great game to play, but a great game to watch," Kim says. "So they were already from the very beginning focused on having PUBG as a great live streaming game; esports was also one of their sort of long-term visions."


Is Ideology The Original Augmented Reality?


nautil.us |  Released in July 2016, Pokémon Go is a location-based, augmented-reality game for mobile devices, typically played on mobile phones; players use the device’s GPS and camera to capture, battle, and train virtual creatures (“Pokémon”) who appear on the screen as if they were in the same real-world location as the player: As players travel the real world, their avatar moves along the game’s map. Different Pokémon species reside in different areas—for example, water-type Pokémon are generally found near water. When a player encounters a Pokémon, AR (Augmented Reality) mode uses the camera and gyroscope on the player’s mobile device to display an image of a Pokémon as though it were in the real world.* This AR mode is what makes Pokémon Go different from other PC games: Instead of taking us out of the real world and drawing us into the artificial virtual space, it combines the two; we look at reality and interact with it through the fantasy frame of the digital screen, and this intermediary frame supplements reality with virtual elements which sustain our desire to participate in the game, push us to look for them in a reality which, without this frame, would leave us indifferent. Sound familiar? Of course it does. What the technology of Pokémon Go externalizes is simply the basic mechanism of ideology—at its most basic, ideology is the primordial version of “augmented reality.”

The first step in this direction of technology imitating ideology was taken a couple of years ago by Pranav Mistry, a member of the Fluid Interfaces Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, who developed a wearable “gestural interface” called “SixthSense.”** The hardware—a small webcam that dangles from one’s neck, a pocket projector, and a mirror, all connected wirelessly to a smartphone in one’s pocket—forms a wearable mobile device. The user begins by handling objects and making gestures; the camera recognizes and tracks the user’s hand gestures and the physical objects using computer vision-based techniques. The software processes the video stream data, reading it as a series of instructions, and retrieves the appropriate information (texts, images, etc.) from the Internet; the device then projects this information onto any physical surface available—all surfaces, walls, and physical objects around the wearer can serve as interfaces. Here are some examples of how it works: In a bookstore, I pick up a book and hold it in front of me; immediately, I see projected onto the book’s cover its reviews and ratings. I can navigate a map displayed on a nearby surface, zoom in, zoom out, or pan across, using intuitive hand movements. I make a sign of @ with my fingers and a virtual PC screen with my email account is projected onto any surface in front of me; I can then write messages by typing on a virtual keyboard. And one could go much further here—just think how such a device could transform sexual interaction. (It suffices to concoct, along these lines, a sexist male dream: Just look at a woman, make the appropriate gesture, and the device will project a description of her relevant characteristics—divorced, easy to seduce, likes jazz and Dostoyevsky, good at fellatio, etc., etc.) In this way, the entire world becomes a “multi-touch surface,” while the whole Internet is constantly mobilized to supply additional data allowing me to orient myself.

Mistry emphasized the physical aspect of this interaction: Until now, the Internet and computers have isolated the user from the surrounding environment; the archetypal Internet user is a geek sitting alone in front of a screen, oblivious to the reality around him. With SixthSense, I remain engaged in physical interaction with objects: The alternative “either physical reality or the virtual screen world” is replaced by a direct interpenetration of the two. The projection of information directly onto the real objects with which I interact creates an almost magical and mystifying effect: Things appear to continuously reveal—or, rather, emanate—their own interpretation. This quasi-animist effect is a crucial component of the IoT: “Internet of things? These are nonliving things that talk to us, although they really shouldn’t talk. A rose, for example, which tells us that it needs water.”1 (Note the irony of this statement. It misses the obvious fact: a rose is alive.) But, of course, this unfortunate rose does not do what it “shouldn’t” do: It is merely connected with measuring apparatuses that let us know that it needs water (or they just pass this message directly to a watering machine). The rose itself knows nothing about it; everything happens in the digital big Other, so the appearance of animism (we communicate with a rose) is a mechanically generated illusion.

Hating These Humans Is The Easiest Thing To Do...,


nautil.us |  Considerable evidence suggests that dividing the world into Us and Them is deeply hard-wired in our brains, with an ancient evolutionary legacy. For starters, we detect Us/Them differences with stunning speed. Stick someone in a “functional MRI”—a brain scanner that indicates activity in various brain regions under particular circumstances. Flash up pictures of faces for 50 milliseconds—a 20th of a second—barely at the level of detection. And remarkably, with even such minimal exposure, the brain processes faces of Thems differently than Us-es.

This has been studied extensively with the inflammatory Us/Them of race. Briefly flash up the face of someone of a different race (compared with a same-race face) and, on average, there is preferential activation of the amygdala, a brain region associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. Moreover, other-race faces cause less activation than do same-race faces in the fusiform cortex, a region specializing in facial recognition; along with that comes less accuracy at remembering other-race faces. Watching a film of a hand being poked with a needle causes an “isomorphic reflex,” where the part of the motor cortex corresponding to your own hand activates, and your hand clenches—unless the hand is of another race, in which case less of this effect is produced.

The brain’s fault lines dividing Us from Them are also shown with the hormone oxytocin. It’s famed for its pro-social effects—oxytocin prompts people to be more trusting, cooperative, and generous. But, crucially, this is how oxytocin influences behavior toward members of your own group. When it comes to outgroup members, it does the opposite.

The automatic, unconscious nature of Us/Them-ing attests to its depth. This can be demonstrated with the fiendishly clever Implicit Association Test. Suppose you’re deeply prejudiced against trolls, consider them inferior to humans. To simplify, this can be revealed with the Implicit Association Test, where subjects look at pictures of humans or trolls, coupled with words with positive or negative connotations. The couplings can support the direction of your biases (e.g., a human face and the word “honest,” a troll face and the word “deceitful”), or can run counter to your biases. And people take slightly longer, a fraction of a second, to process discordant pairings. It’s automatic—you’re not fuming about clannish troll business practices or troll brutality in the Battle of Somewhere in 1523. You’re processing words and pictures, and your anti-troll bias makes you unconsciously pause, stopped by the dissonance linking troll with “lovely,” or human with “malodorous.”

We’re not alone in Us/Them-ing. It’s no news that other primates can make violent Us/Them distinctions; after all, chimps band together and systematically kill the males in a neighboring group. Recent work, adapting the Implicit Association Test to another species, suggests that even other primates have implicit negative associations with Others. Rhesus monkeys would look at pictures either of members of their own group or strangers, coupled with pictures of things with positive or negative connotations. And monkeys would look longer at pairings discordant with their biases (e.g., pictures of members of their own group with pictures of spiders). These monkeys don’t just fight neighbors over resources. They have negative associations about them—“Those guys are like yucky spiders, but us, us, we’re like luscious fruit.”

Thus, the strength of Us/Them-ing is shown by the: speed and minimal sensory stimuli required for the brain to process group differences; tendency to group according to arbitrary differences, and then imbue those differences with supposedly rational power; unconscious automaticity of such processes; and rudiments of it in other primates. As we’ll see now, we tend to think of Us, but not Thems, fairly straightforwardly.