Friday, December 2, 2016

Invitation to another fake academic conference

I got an email this morning, with the subject heading: We cordially invite you to be the Speaker of EPPH 2017.

The speaker? I thought. Finally, the greatness of my work shines through, all the way to China. But, predictably, the organizers of the 9th International Conference on Environmental Pollution and Public Health are merely inviting me to submit a paper or a request to be an invited speaker. The paper, they promise, will be published in that august, though regrettably fake, academic publication: Journal of Geoscience and Environment Protection , another SCIRP bogus academic journal. What are we to conclude? That EPPH certainly fits the profile of a fake academic conference. Beware.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fact free in the kakocracy

This morning, I read about a small study showing the efficacy of psilocybin in treating depression and anxiety in cancer patients, and then I saw this, from James Fallows:
...I was on The Diane Rehm Show with Margaret Sullivan, much-missed former Public Editor of the NYT who is now with the WaPo, and Glenn Thrush of Politico. We were talking about how to deal with the unprecedented phenomenon that is Donald Trump, related to the “Trump’s Lies” item I did two days ago.
You can listen to the whole segment here, but I direct your attention to the part starting at time 14:40. That is when Scottie Nell Hughes, Trump stalwart, joins the show to assert that “this is all a matter of opinion” and “there are no such things as facts.”
You can listen again starting at around time 18:30, when I point out one of the specific, small lies of the Trump campaign—that the NFL had joined him in complaining about debate dates, which the NFL immediately denied—and Hughes says: Well, this is also just a matter of opinion. Hughes mentions at time 21:45 that she is a “classically studied journalist,” an assertion that left Glenn Thrush, Margaret Sullivan, Diane Rehm, and me staring at one another in puzzlement, this not being a normal claim in our field.
It’s worth listening in full. This is the world we are now dealing with.
If indeed we can assert the existence of a world.
Where can I sign up for the psilocybin experiment?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Snyder's Twenty Lessons

 I am reproducing in full historian Timothy Snyder's "twenty lessons" from his study of authoritarian regimes in the 20th century. Snyder is Housum Professor of History at Yale University, and is the author of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. His twenty lessons should be circulated as widely as possible (along with Masha Gessen's rules for survival in an autocracy), read, discussed and reflected upon. If and when, and even before, shit hits the fan, we need already to be protecting people and preserving institutions we value and to be prepared with the steps we are willing to take to resist and refuse.

1. Do not obey in advance.

Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution.

Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics.

When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words.

Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.

When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language.

Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps The Power of the Powerless by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out.

Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth.

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate.

Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics.

Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk.

This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world.

Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state.

The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can.

Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life.

Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries.

Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries.

When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed.

If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can.

If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot.

The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Notes from the Kakocracy: Warren rails against corruption

"Does the Senate work for Big Pharma that hires lobbyists and people who make giant campaign contributions or does the Senate work for the American people who actually sent us here?"

Regrettably, I think we know the answer to that question.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Notes on the Kakocracy

The piles of shit from the Trumpers are growing exponentially---business entanglements all over the world (so our US policies toward Turkey or Argentina will be driven by Trump branded golf courses), unsubstantiated and completely false allegations in insane tweetstorms about illegal voters (designed to pull eyeballs away from the Times story about Trump's business entanglements?), and a series of humiliation games involving cabinet picks.
Competence certainly but also worldview seem largely irrelevant to Trump's personnel deliberations. Loyalty is the only criteria. Conway seemed to state this explicitly in her comments on CNN: "There are concerns that those of us who are loyal have [about Romney]." (emphasis added) This is of a piece with the central role of Trump's children, his son-in-law and the open effort to turbocharge Trump's licensing, management and construction business with the presidency. The entire presidency looks set to be personalized, with the difference between the president's personal and public interests not a matter of conflict but simply an irrelevance.
Conway sounds like she's been binge watching the Godfather. She might help herself by turning off the video and remembering that the last figure to whom there was such absolute loyalty was Bernie Madoff. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving message from Charles Blow

In the New York Times, Charles Blow has a Thanksgiving message for Trump:
You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.
I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity.
I also believe that much of your campaign was an act of psychological projection, as we are now learning that many of the things you slammed Clinton for are things of which you may actually be guilty.
You slammed Clinton for destroying emails, then Newsweek reported last month that your companies “destroyed emails in defiance of court orders.” You slammed Clinton and the Clinton Foundation for paid speeches and conflicts of interest, then it turned out that, as BuzzFeed reported, the Trump Foundation received a $150,000 donation in exchange for your giving a 2015 speech made by video to a conference in Ukraine. You slammed Clinton about conflicts of interest while she was secretary of state, and now your possible conflicts of interest are popping up like mushrooms in a marsh.
You are a fraud and a charlatan. Yes, you will be president, but you will not get any breaks just because one branch of your forked tongue is silver.
I am not easily duped by dopes.
I have not only an ethical and professional duty to call out how obscene your very existence is at the top of American government; I have a moral obligation to do so.
.................................
No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.
Resist and refuse.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

US Navy's most expensive new destroyer breaks down

The symbolism is too obvious for further comment:
The most expensive destroyer ever built for the US navy has suffered an engineering problem in the Panama Canal and had to be towed to port.
US Third Fleet spokesman commander Ryan Perry said a vice-admiral directed the USS Zumwalt to remain at ex-Naval Station Rodman in Panama to address the issues, which arose on Monday.
......................
USNI News, a publication of the US Naval Institute, reported on its website that the ship was in the canal when it lost propulsion.
Crew also saw water getting into bearings that connect electrical motors to driveshafts, the website reported.
..............................
The Zumwalt cost more than $4.4bn and was commissioned in October in Maryland. It also suffered a leak in its propulsion system before it was commissioned. The leak required the ship to remain at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia longer than expected for repairs.
Is it still under warranty?


 I was just reading Andrew Cockburn's new piece in Harper's which starts off with this quote from a long serving Pentagon official, Ivan Selin:
        
          "...we program weapons that don’t work to meet threats that don’t exist.”

 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trump: loser bigly

In our post-truth kakocratic state, it is more worthwhile than ever to repeatedly point to real facts, even if and even though most people shrug them off. Here are some worth pointing to:

Not only did Clinton trounce Trump in the popular vote, that vote represents the bulk of the US economy.
According to the Brookings analysis, the less-than-500 counties that Clinton won nationwide combined to generate 64 percent of America's economic activity in 2015. The more-than-2,600 counties that Trump won combined to generate 36 percent of the country's economic activity last year.
Clinton, in other words, carried nearly two-thirds of the American economy.
........................
This appears to be unprecedented, in the era of modern economic statistics, for a losing presidential candidate. The last candidate to win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College, Democrat Al Gore in 2000, won counties that generated about 54 percent of the country's gross domestic product, the Brookings researchers calculated. That's true even though Gore won more than 100 more counties in 2000 than Clinton did in 2016.
In between those elections, U.S. economic activity has grown increasingly concentrated in large, "superstar" metro areas, such as Silicon Valley and New York.
But it's not the case that the counties Clinton won have grown richer at the expense of the rest of the country -- they represent about the same share of the economy today as they did in 2000. Instead, it appears that, compared to Gore, Clinton was much more successful in winning over the most successful counties in a geographically unbalanced economy.

I doubt this is a sustainable arrangement.