Monday, July 28, 2014

the government rulebook for labelling you a "terrorist"


firstlook |  The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept.

The “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, spells out the government’s secret rules for putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings. The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place entire “categories” of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists. It broadens the authority of government officials to “nominate” people to the watchlists based on what is vaguely described as “fragmentary information.” It also allows for dead people to be watchlisted.

Over the years, the Obama and Bush Administrations have fiercely resisted disclosing the criteria for placing names on the databases—though the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified. In May, Attorney General Eric Holder even invoked the state secrets privilege to prevent watchlisting guidelines from being disclosed in litigation launched by an American who was on the no fly list. In an affidavit, Holder called them a “clear roadmap” to the government’s terrorist-tracking apparatus, adding: “The Watchlisting Guidance, although unclassified, contains national security information that, if disclosed … could cause significant harm to national security.”

Sunday, July 27, 2014

thirsty in the detroit littoral: writing off the future of a large part of humanity...,

ragblog |  What are Obama’s drones except a robotized version of the Phoenix program?

Tom may also be prescient in implying that the current celebrity of the unorthodox ‘warrior thinker’ – whether personified by Kilcullen or the sinister General McMasters – doesn’t necessarily put any new ideas on the empire’s table. But Down from the Hills – and this why I blurbed it – does register with stark honesty a global reality that foreign policy mandarins have generally ignored: the consequences of warehousing a billion poor people in peripheral slums with negligible hope of ever finding employment in the formal world economy.

An agricultural ‘apocalypse’ (and here the term is accurate) has driven hundreds of millions into cities where, apart from the world factory of China and its periphery, capitalism no longer creates jobs or rewards education. Moreover, economic globalization, as it were, has ‘leaked space.’ Without an international red menace incubating in the slums, governments have often abdicated everything except police violence and extortion in their poorest and most rapidly growing urban districts.

Into this “vacuum” of governability, Kilcullen claims, has rushed a motley mob of terrorist militias and super-street gangs who have transformed the despair of the young into a new strategic weapon: suicide bombers. A chief architect of counter-partisan warfare in the Middle East, he now concedes that special-ops can also be a steroid to the very movements it seeks to behead. So ‘smart power’ must now pay attention to underlying causes. Indeed the analysis in his new book drives him part way into the arms of Jeffrey Sachs. (Or, more accurately, into those of Dilma Roussef, Brazil’s ex-1960s-guerrilla president, who extols the military occupation of Rio’s favelas as ‘profound reform.’)

Tom gives all this a deserving yawn: hearts and minds redux. While desperate liberals having been seeking light at the end of Obama’s tunnel, Tom has been thunderous in denouncing this scary administration’s love affair with executive immunity, special ops and universal surveillance.

But I believe if you carefully read Kilcullen and the literature coming out of places like the Naval War College (where they recently had a think-tank discussing the implications of ‘deglobalization’), you’ll come to the recognition that the Pentagon’s killing machines are not the most profound danger ahead. Rather it’s the fact that the military intellectuals are already exploring the consequences of writing off the future of a large part of humanity. They see an absolute darkness on the horizon.
During the high Cold War, of course, there was no social group or acre of sovereign land that wasn’t seen as a valuable ‘stake’ by one side or another. Ideology had to rhetorically address the condition of all humanity, whether by the promises of five-year plans or Alliances for Progress. With the collapse of the USSR, however, the ‘Free World’ became an unnecessary pretense on a planet of free markets while any vision of common humanity was abdicated to NGOs and UN speeches.

What material interest now remains in wooing the poor or helping them adapt to global warming? 

What geopolitical leverage do they possess in a world without a powerful international left?

The ultimate warning of my book Planet of Slums was about the ‘triage of humanity’ that since the 1990s had become the new unspoken framework of international politics. The greatest evil is no longer that capital exploits labor but that it expels it from the circuits of production entirely. To the extent that this surplus humanity poses no realistic threat of reorganizing society on more egalitarian principles, it’s simply a problem whose ultimate management – after the helicopter gunships and Predators – may be through pandemic disease, famine, and unnatural disaster.

In another of my fraternizations with the enemy, I had a beer with an admiral a few years ago in Coronado who wanted to pick my brain about the convergence of urban poverty and natural disaster.
He had commanded a carrier task force in the Gulf and as he put it, “my kids really didn’t like bombing wedding parties in Afghanistan. But morale soared when we provided relief after the 2004 earthquake/tsunami in Indonesia.” He emphasized that only the US Navy could bring the infrastructure of a medium-sized city (in the form of ships supplying power, medicine, supplies, helicopters, etc) to a littoral region devastated by floods or quakes. “No one else – not China, Russia, the UK or the UN – has this capability.”

“But here’s the rub,” he said, “Congress will never authorize a serious expansion of humanitarian missions, especially when we’re likely to see more Katrinas and Superstorm Sandys on our own coasts.” “So at some point,” I completed his thought, “no one would ride to the rescue.” “That’s right,” he said, “no one. And this is the kind of future that some us at Newport [Naval War College] have been trying to understand.”

doing god's work reducing surplus population

wikipedia |  Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan, 1st Baronet, KCB (2 April 1807 – 19 June 1886) was a British civil servant and colonial administrator. As a young man, he worked with the colonial government in Calcutta, India; in the late 1850s and 1860s he served there in senior-level appointments.
A century and a half later, Trevelyan continues to divide opinion. It has been said that
Trevelyan's most enduring mark on history may be the quasi-genocidal anti-Irish racial sentiment [sic] he expressed during his term in the critical position of administrating relief for the millions of Irish peasants suffering under the Irish famine as Assistant Secretary to HM Treasury (1840-1859) under the Whig administration of Lord Russell.[1]
On the other side, the BBC's Historic Figures webpage says that
His most lasting contribution, however, began in the 1850s with the publication of his and Sir Stafford Northcote's report on 'The Organisation of the Permanent Civil Service'. The report led to the transformation of the civil service. Educational standards and competitive admission examinations ensured that a more qualified body of civil servants would become administrators.[2]
During the height of the famine it is suggested that Trevelyan deliberately dragged his feet in disbursing direct government food and monetary aid to the Irish. In a letter to Thomas Spring-Rice, Lord Mounteagle, he described the famine as an "effective mechanism for reducing surplus population" as well as "the judgement of God".[3][4][5]

His detractors complain that Trevelyan never expressed remorse for his comments, even after the full dreadful scope (approximately 1 million lives) of the Irish famine became known, while his defenders claim that other factors than Trevelyan's personal performance and beliefs were more central to the problem.

the biology of ideology


alternet |  You could be forgiven for not having browsed yet through the latest issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences. If you care about politics, though, you'll find a punchline therein that is pretty extraordinary.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences employs a rather unique practice called "Open Peer Commentary": An article of major significance is published, a large number of fellow scholars comment on it, and then the original author responds to all of them. The approach has many virtues, one of which being that it lets you see where a community of scholars and thinkers stand with respect to a controversial or provocative scientific idea. And in the latest issue of the journal, this process reveals the following conclusion: A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology, and even traits like physiology and genetics.

That's a big deal. It challenges everything that we thought we knew about politics—upending the idea that we get our beliefs solely from our upbringing, from our friends and families, from our personal economic interests, and calling into question the notion that in politics, we can really change (most of us, anyway).

The occasion of this revelation is a paper by John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska and his colleagues, arguing that political conservatives have a "negativity bias," meaning that they are physiologically more attuned to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in their environments. (The paper can be read for free here.) In the process, Hibbing et al. marshal a large body of evidence, including their own experiments using eye trackers and other devices to measure the involuntary responses of political partisans to different types of images. One finding? That conservatives respond much more rapidly to threatening and aversive stimuli (for instance, images of "a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it," as one of their papers put it).

In other words, the conservative ideology, and especially one of its major facets—centered on a strong military, tough law enforcement, resistance to immigration, widespread availability of guns—would seem well tailored for an underlying, threat-oriented biology.

The authors go on to speculate that this ultimately reflects an evolutionary imperative. "One possibility," they write, "is that a strong negativity bias was extremely useful in the Pleistocene," when it would have been super-helpful in preventing you from getting killed. (The Pleistocene epoch lasted from roughly 2.5 million years ago until 12,000 years ago.) We had John Hibbing on the Inquiring Minds podcast earlier this year, and he discussed these ideas in depth

mistreatment effects gene expression


sciencedaily |  Children who have been abused or neglected early in life are at risk for developing both emotional and physical health problems. In a new study, scientists have found that maltreatment affects the way genes are activated, which has implications for children's long-term development. Previous studies focused on how a particular child's individual characteristics and genetics interacted with that child's experiences in an effort to understand how health problems emerge. In the new study, researchers were able to measure the degree to which genes were turned "on" or "off" through a biochemical process called methylation. This new technique reveals the ways that nurture changes nature -- that is, how our social experiences can change the underlying biology of our genes.

The study, from researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, appears in the journal Child Development. Nearly 1 million children in the United States are neglected or abused every year.
The researchers found an association between the kind of parenting children had and a particular gene (called the glucocorticoid receptor gene) that's responsible for crucial aspects of social functioning and health. Not all genes are active at all times. DNA methylation is one of several biochemical mechanisms that cells use to control whether genes are turned on or off. The researchers examined DNA methylation in the blood of 56 children ages 11 to 14. Half of the children had been physically abused.

They found that compared to the children who hadn't been maltreated, the maltreated children had increased methylation on several sites of the glucocorticoid receptor gene, also known as NR3C1, echoing the findings of earlier studies of rodents. In this study, the effect occurred on the section of the gene that's critical for nerve growth factor, which is an important part of healthy brain development.

There were no differences in the genes that the children were born with, the study found; instead, the differences were seen in the extent to which the genes had been turned on or off. "This link between early life stress and changes in genes may uncover how early childhood experiences get under the skin and confer lifelong risk," notes Seth D. Pollak, professor of psychology and pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who directed the study.

Previous studies have shown that children who have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect are more likely to develop mood, anxiety, and aggressive disorders, as well as to have problems regulating their emotions. These problems, in turn, can disrupt relationships and affect school performance. Maltreated children are also at risk for chronic health problems such as cardiac disease and cancer. The current study helps explain why these childhood experiences can affect health years later.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

how far should society go to make sure "the least of these" get the best available treatments?


WaPo | Months before Gilead Sciences’ breakthrough hepatitis C treatment hit the market, Oregon Medicaid official Tom Burns started worrying about how the state could afford to cover every enrollee infected with the disease. He figured the cost might even reach $36,000 per patient.

Then the price for the drug was released last December: $84,000 for a 12-week treatment course.

At that price, the state would have to spend $360 million to provide its Medicaid beneficiaries with the drug called Sovaldi, just slightly less than the $377 million the Oregon Medicaid program spent on all prescription drugs for about 600,000 members in 2013. It potentially would be a backbreaker.
Faced with those steep costs, Oregon and several other states are looking to limit who has access to the drug that nearly everyone acknowledges is a revolutionary treatment for the disease affecting more than 3 million Americans.

Expensive specialty drugs aren’t new to health care. But Sovaldi stands out because it is aimed at helping millions of Americans who carry hepatitis C, and a large share of those infected are low-income and qualify for government coverage. Its arrival also coincides with the aggressive expansion of Medicaid and private coverage under the Affordable Care Act, whose purpose was to extend health care to tens of millions Americans who previously couldn’t afford it.

Sovaldi has prompted fears among insurers and state officials that the breakthrough drug, despite its benefits, could explode their budgets. And that has sparked an urgent and highly sensitive debate in Medicaid offices across the country: How far should society go to make sure the poor get the best available treatments?

the christian right's five worst "scientific" claims


salon |  Ask certain vocal members of the Christian right about science, and it won’t take you long to discover that their conception of the discipline is somewhat different from how it’s normally understood. Their version of it isn’t like the kind practiced at universities and in hospitals; it’s a special, watered-down version of science, one that adapts to fit into their biblical view of the world.

In this Christian-right version, scientific evidence is checked against the Bible and if the evidence contradicts – or at least if they believe the evidence contradicts– a single verse in a single chapter, they simply reject the evidence and the science, no questions asked. (Exhibit A: Intelligent Design.) This method of conducting science has led the Christian right to make some incredible — as in, not credible – scientific claims in the past, almost too many to document. But here are five of the most ridiculous examples of biblically informed science.

1. Aliens would go straight to hell, if they existed
You probably saw this insane story for the first time earlier this week. According to Ken Ham, the creationist most famous for losing a debate against Bill Nye the Science Guy about evolution, the space program is a useless waste of money, informed as it is by nefarious secularists who want to use science to undermine religion.

Ham doubts that aliens exist, because they are not mentioned in the Bible, but goes on to say that even if they did exist, they would totally not be worth discovering, because they would not be direct descendants of Adam, and thus would go straight to hell. Ham believes that only hard-left secularists care about finding life on other planets, and that their motivation is to create an illusion that evolution is real and disprove the Biblical accounts of creation. As he puts it:
Secularists are desperate to find life in outer space, as they believe that would provide evidence that life can evolve in different locations and given the supposed right conditions!  The search for extraterrestrial life is really driven by man’s rebellion against God in a desperate attempt to supposedly prove evolution!
Of course, among the things scientists concern themselves with, Ham’s beliefs about the exploration of space probably fall pretty low on the list. But if Ham had his way, and NASA were defunded out of existence, this is just a few of the types of inventions we might be missing out on.

the runner-up religions of america


protojournalist |  Glance at the map above, Second Largest Religious Tradition in Each State 2010, and you will see that Buddhism (orange), Judaism (pink) and Islam (blue) are the runner-up religions across the country.

No surprises there. But can you believe that Hindu (dark orange) is the No. 2 tradition in Arizona and Delaware, and that Baha'i (green) ranks second in South Carolina?

The map — created by the and published recently in — "looks very odd to me," says Hillary Kaell. She is a professor at in Montreal who specializes in North American Christianity. "These numbers, although they look impressive when laid out in the map, represent a very tiny fraction of the population in any of the states listed."

True that. Christianity is the Number One religious tradition across the board. A showed that 77 percent of Americans identify as Christians. But a deeper look into the stories behind the map's data reveal a bit more about a nation in flux.

Faith And Race In South Carolina
Louis E. Venters, an assistant professor of history at and author of the forthcoming book Most Great Reconstruction: The Baha'i Faith and Interracial Community in Jim Crow South Carolina, makes an observation similar to Hillary's. "To put the map in context," he says, "let's acknowledge at the outset that it doesn't take very much to be the second-largest religion in South Carolina. It is a solidly Christian, and particularly Protestant, state, and all the minority religions combined comprise only a tiny fraction of the population."

But, Louis says, "whatever the size of the Baha'i faith in South Carolina — relative to other minority religions — I think its history is quite compelling and worthy of attention in itself."

From as far back as 1910, Louis says, "the Baha'is were virtually unique in Jim Crow South Carolina in attempting to create an interracial religious community — for which they suffered harassment and violence."

By the 1960s, he says, there were local Baha'i organizations in many towns in north Georgia and South Carolina. The tradition spread. "The Louis G. Gregory Baha'i Institute in Georgetown County, founded in 1972 and named for the black Charleston native who first brought the religion to South Carolina," says Louis, "became a cultural and educational hub for the South Carolina movement. And Radio Baha'i WLGI — broadcasting from the same site beginning in 1985 — has brought its teachings and ethos to a large section of the state."

 The story of Louis Gregory and his wife, Louisa, is chronicled by PBS in . In 2003, the Baha'i community designated Louis Gregory's childhood home as a museum.

Louis Venters says, "The Baha'i community today is relatively well-known in South Carolina for its long record of interracialism, strong attention to community service and the education of children and youth of all backgrounds, and contributions to interfaith dialogue."

He adds: "Although the map may have come as a surprise to those who aren't familiar with this history, to me — and I think to most Baha'is in South Carolina — it makes pretty good sense. And if it brings to light one of the South's oldest and most successful experiments in interracial community-building, so much the better."

Friday, July 25, 2014

tossing bd an expensive prr bone: current opinion in neurobiology communication and language issue

sciencedirect |  Communication and language - Edited by Michael Brainard and Tecumseh Fitch
    • The evolution of language from social cognition

      Review Article
    • Pages 5-9
    • Robert M Seyfarth, Dorothy L Cheney
    • Highlights

      • Language and primate communication share many neural mechanisms and social functions.
      • Like humans, primates use vocalizations to facilitate social interactions
      • Call meaning depends on call type, caller ID, kinship, rank, and prior behavior.
      • Primate communication constitutes a discrete, combinatorial, and open-ended system.
      • When language first evolved, many of its distinctive features were already present.

citing drudge, big don says that dogs and chimps have language...,


cbslocal |  Dr. Greg Berns of Emory University wants to prove that a dog really does understand what its owner is saying to them.

“The more I study dogs and the more I study their brains, the more similarities I see to human brains,” Berns told WGCL-TV. “They are intelligent, they are emotional, and they’ve been ignored in terms of research and understanding how they think. So, we are all interested in trying to develop ways to understand how their minds work.”

Berns uses an MRI to test a dog’s brain.

“So, we’ve done experiments where we present odors to the dogs and these are things like the scent of other people in their house, the scent of other dogs in the house, as well as strange people and strange dogs,” Berns said. “And so what we found in that experiment is that the dogs reward processing center, so basically the part of the brain that is kind of the positive anticipation of things responds particularly strongly to the scent of their human.”

Berns used a testing center in Sandy Springs for the evaluation process. People brought their dogs for the testing.

“They need to be diligent with their homework,” Berns told WGCL. “They need to be diligent with their rapport with their dogs and the right rappart.”

Berns put the dogs through a set of training sessions, which included climbing steps, walking up and down narrow pathways, entering and remaining in an enclosure, and loud sounds of various pitches. Fist tap Big Don.

dogs feel jealousy


psychologytoday | While most people accept that domestic dogs and other nonhuman animals (animals) experience basic emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, joy, happiness, grief, and sadness, some doubt whether dogs are cognitively sophisticated enough to display jealousy, guilt, shame, or embarrassment, the so-called "higher" or "more complex" emotions. However, existing data do not support the claim that they don't.

A new study by Christine Harris and Caroline Prouvost working at the University of California in San Diego called "Jealousy in Dogs" published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, shows that dogs experience what we call jealousy in humans. This research is also covered here and here and there also are other reports about jealousy in dogs including stories and some research. The abstract for this study reads as follows:

It is commonly assumed that jealousy is unique to humans, partially because of the complex cognitions often involved in this emotion. However, from a functional perspective, one might expect that an emotion that evolved to protect social bonds from interlopers might exist in other social species, particularly one as cognitively sophisticated as the dog. The current experiment adapted a paradigm from human infant studies to examine jealousy in domestic dogs. We found that dogs exhibited significantly more jealous behaviors (e.g., snapping, getting between the owner and object, pushing/touching the object/owner) when their owners displayed affectionate behaviors towards what appeared to be another dog as compared to nonsocial objects. These results lend support to the hypothesis that jealousy has some ‘‘primordial’’ form that exists in human infants and in at least one other social species besides humans.

The article is free online so a brief summary is as follows. To study jealousy in dogs (n = 36), the researchers used a test that is similar to one that is used to study jealousy in human infants. The dogs were videotaped while their owners ignored them and interacted with a stuffed dog that could bark and wag its tail, a novel object (a jack-o-lantern pail), or when they read a children's book aloud. The owners were unaware of the goal of the study.

The results of this very important and carefully done study showed that dogs displayed jealousy (snapping, getting between the owner and the object) when owners showed affection to the stuffed dog, but not when they showed affection to nonsocial objects. The authors conclude that jealousy occurs in species other than humans and that much more comparative research is needed. It is indeed. Furthermore, I like that they adopted an experimental design that is used on prelinguistic humans from whom inferences also have to be made about what they're feeling. As I noted in an interview I did on this research, we have to draw inferences about what nonhuman animals and prelinguistic youngsters are feeling and there is no reason to assume a priori that when we see similar patterns of behavior there isn't a common underlying emotion.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

how america changed the meaning of war


tomdispatch |  Then came the attack of September 11th. Like the starting gun of a race that no one knew he was to run, this explosion set the pack of nations off in a single direction -- toward the trenches. Although the attack was unaccompanied by any claim of authorship or statement of political goals, the evidence almost immediately pointed to al-Qaeda, the radical Islamist, terrorist network, which, though stateless, was headquartered in Afghanistan and enjoyed the protection of its fundamentalist Islamic government. In a tape that was soon shown around the world, the group’s leader, Osama bin Laden, was seen at dinner with his confederates in Afghanistan, rejoicing in the slaughter.

Historically, nations have responded to terrorist threats and attacks with a combination of police action and political negotiation, while military action has played only a minor role. Voices were raised in the United States calling for a global cooperative effort of this kind to combat al-Qaeda. President Bush opted instead for a policy that the United States alone among nations could have conceivably undertaken: global military action not only against al-Qaeda but against any regime in the world that supported international terrorism.

The president announced to Congress that he would "make no distinction between the terrorists who commit these acts and those who harbor them." By calling the campaign a "war," the administration summoned into action the immense, technically revolutionized, post-Cold War American military machine, which had lacked any clear enemy for over a decade. And by identifying the target as generic "terrorism," rather than as al-Qaeda or any other group or list of groups, the administration licensed military operations anywhere in the world.

In the ensuing months, the Bush administration continued to expand the aims and means of the war. The overthrow of governments -- "regime change" -- was established as a means for advancing the new policies. The president divided regimes into two categories -- those "with us" and those "against us." Vice President Cheney estimated that al-Qaeda was active in 60 countries. The first regime to be targeted was of course al-Qaeda’s host, the government of Afghanistan, which was overthrown in a remarkably swift military operation conducted almost entirely from the air and without American casualties.

Next, the administration proclaimed an additional war goal -- preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In his State of the Union speech in January 2002, the president announced that "the United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons." He went on to name as an "axis of evil" Iraq, Iran, and North Korea -- three regimes seeking to build or already possessing weapons of mass destruction. To stop them, he stated, the Cold War policy of deterrence would not be enough -- "preemptive" military action would be required, and preemption, the administration soon specified, could include the use of nuclear weapons.

Beginning in the summer of 2002, the government intensified its preparations for a war to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and in the fall, the president demanded and received a resolution from the Security Council of the United Nations requiring Iraq to accept the return of U.N. inspectors to search for weapons of mass destruction or facilities for building them. Lists of other candidates for "regime change" began to surface in the press.

somewhere in new mexico before the end of time...,


What if you discovered that everything that you'd ever been taught about the world around you and particularly your country was false? With Environmental problems escalating and climate change now making impacts can societies collapse? What are the alternatives to avoiding collapse? What kind of world can you expect if the ecology collapses due to human stresses.

Here some of the premiere thinkers often referred to as "doomers" talk about climate change and the impacts of an industrial system on earth systems. Is it already too late?

the right to exclude others (property rights) is the foundational american religious principle


thenation |  The austerity agenda as it plays out on the ground in American cities is often so relentless in demanding cuts in public services that it is easy to imagine that it cannot be upended. And that goes double for Detroit, where Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has given his appointed “emergency manager”—rather than local elected officials—control over critical decisions regarding city operations.

But that does not mean that austerity always wins.

Last week, protests by Detroiters and allies from across the country focused local, national and international attention on the Detroit Water and Sewage Department’s program of shutting off water service for thousands of low-income families that have fallen behind in paying bills. On Friday, religious leaders and community activists were arrested after blocking trucks operated by the private contractor that was responsible for the shutoffs. At the same time, a mass march filled the streets of downtown Detroit with protesters arguing that the most vulnerable citizens of a city hard hit by deindustrialization ought not be further harmed by the loss of a basic necessity that the United Nations deems a human right.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

never mind the rhetoric - the property "right" is the might to exclude others...,


theecologist |  Never mind the 'war on terror' rhetoric, writes Nafeez Ahmed. The purpose of Israel's escalating assault on Gaza is to control the Territory's 1.4 trillion cubic feet of gas - and so keep Palestine poor and weak, gain massive export revenues, and avert its own domestic energy crisis.

Israel's defence minister is on record confirming that military plans to uproot Hamas' are about securing control of Gaza's gas reserves

The conquest of Gaza is accelerating. Israel has now launched its ground invasion, bringing the Palestinian death toll to 260, 80% of whom are civilians.

A further 1,500 have been wounded and 1,300 Palestinian homes destroyed. Israel's goal, purportedly, is to "restore quiet" by ending Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.

Last Tuesday, Israeli defence minister and former Israeli Defence Force (IDF) chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon announced that Operation Protective Edge marks the beginning of a protracted assault on Hamas.

The operation "won't end in just a few days", he said, adding that "we are preparing to expand the operation by all means standing at our disposal so as to continue striking Hamas."

The price will be very heavy ... yes, $4 billion!
The following morning, he went on: "We continue with strikes that draw a very heavy price from Hamas. We are destroying weapons, terror infrastructures, command and control systems, Hamas institutions, regime buildings, the houses of terrorists, and killing terrorists of various ranks of command ...

"The campaign against Hamas will expand in the coming days, and the price the organization will pay will be very heavy."

But in 2007, a year before Operation Cast Lead, Ya'alon's concerns focused on the 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas discovered in 2000 off the Gaza coast, valued at $4 billion.

children exposed to religion have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction...,


rawstory |  A study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science determined that children who are not exposed to religious stories are better able to tell that characters in “fantastical stories” are fictional — whereas children raised in a religious environment even “approach unfamiliar, fantastical stories flexibly.”

In “Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds,” Kathleen Corriveau, Eva Chen, and Paul Harris demonstrate that children typically have a “sensitivity to the implausible or magical elements in a narrative,” and can determine whether the characters in the narrative are real or fictional by references to fantastical elements within the narrative, such as “invisible sails” or “a sword that protects you from danger every time.”

However, children raised in households in which religious narratives are frequently encountered do not treat those narratives with the same skepticism. The authors believed that these children would “think of them as akin to fairy tales,” judging “the events described in them as implausible or magical and conclude that the protagonists in such narratives are only pretend.”

And yet, “this prediction is likely to be wrong,” because “with appropriate testimony from adults” in religious households, children “will conceive of the protagonist in such narratives as a real person — even if the narrative includes impossible events.”

The researchers took 66 children between the ages of five and six and asked them questions about stories — some of which were drawn from fairy tales, others from the Old Testament — in order to determine whether the children believed the characters in them were real or fictional. 

“Children with exposure to religion — via church attendance, parochial schooling, or both — judged [characters in religious stories] to be real,” the authors wrote. “By contrast, children with no such exposure judged them to be pretend,” just as they had the characters in fairy tales. But children with exposure to religion judged many characters in fantastical, but not explicitly religious stories, to also be real — the equivalent of being incapable of differentiating between Mark Twain’s character Tom Sawyer and an account of George Washington’s life.

This conclusion contradicts previous studies in which children were said to be “born believers,” i.e. that they possessed “a natural credulity toward extraordinary beings with superhuman powers. Indeed, secular children responded to religious stories in much the same way as they responded to fantastical stories — they judged the protagonist to be pretend.”

The researchers also determined that “religious teaching, especially exposure to miracle stories, leads children to a more generic receptivity toward the impossible, that is, a more wide-ranging acceptance that the impossible can happen in defiance of ordinary causal relations.”

Nassim Taleb: Two Myths About Rivalry, Scarcity, Competition, and Cooperation


asymptosis |  I’d condense my thinking on the subject as follows:

1) People mistake rivalry for scarcity. If one tribe excludes all the others from a water source, forces them to do their will to get water, there’s obviously scarcity, right? Wrong.

Don’t get me started on the sacralization of (largely inherited) “property rights,” ownership — the right to exclude others.

2) They don’t understand that competition’s only virtue is increasing and improving cooperation. Cooperation — non-kin altruism, eusociality, etc. — is the thing that got us to the top of the food chain. Cooperation is what wins the battle against scarcity.
Competition fetishists think that competition is always good because it sometimes improves cooperation, even though it frequently does the exact opposite.

Think: trade wars. Or just…wars.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

how can moral science exist?


richarddawkins |  The solution is not in some remarkable discovery, or genius breakthrough of logical formula – much to the pity of my book sales, and the desires of my publisher – but is rather in thinking around the problem. One need not show morality to be a system of naturally occurring and deducible facts like in physical or social sciences, in order for moral science to be advocated. If one needed to do this, morality could not be shown to be rational at all. Instead one simply needs to show that a rational theory of morality is possible, justifiable and more rationally able than the other moral theories on the table. So not just better than theological accounts, but also less-assumptive than many rights-theorists or utilitarian thinkers have come up with. The theory would then also have to be assumptive only to the degree that science is (i.e., assumptive only about the self-proving worth of rationality).

It would have to use the scientific method to develop a transparent set of social agreements about basic moral principles – whatever we agree those most basic of moral principles to be – instead of on the assumptions of natural moral facts (as there are no such things). To the non-philosopher, this translates as reducing the moral principles we wish our societies to be guided by to the most basic sets they can possibly be – however we wish this to look – and then using reason and science to build consistent moral rules, and make consistent moral decisions based on these most basic of principles. For example, we might look at our current principles about murder/violent crime and then reduce them to a basic principle that suffering and death should be avoided wherever possible. From there we would judge whether our laws were rationally consistent with what we socially agreed.

All be it a very different type of science, moral science can exist in a socially created space like this without contravening the rules of rationality, all the while allowing the most important of humanities problems to be exposed to the fruits of scientific method. Indeed, most areas of politics and morality need not be thought of as subjective at all once moral science is on the table, unless the problem is wholly without reason or evidence on either side. This doesn’t mean opponents of rationality will suddenly drop their beliefs and join us, but it does provide a consistent framework to stop people having to turn to religion or other methods in order to form moral beliefs. We shouldn’t underestimate the secular advantage this would have in future generations.

Moral science is important: it’s more rational than what we currently have, ie, a system where we just slightly amend historically decided ideas when we really have to. But more than this, it’s important because it gives us a chance to rationally judge moral issues – no longer having to allow for dangerous and often irrational subjective differences. What’s more, it allows for the whole method to be scientific in attitude; not allowing for certainty where there is none and helping to do away with as much potential for uncompromising aggression as possible.

the social brain and the myth of empathy


cambridge |  Neuroscience research has created multiple versions of the human brain. The “social brain” is one version and it is the subject of this paper. Most image-based research in the field of social neuroscience is task-driven: the brain is asked to respond to a cognitive (perceptual) stimulus. The tasks are derived from theories, operational models, and back-stories now circulating in social neuroscience. The social brain comes with a distinctive back-story, an evolutionary history organized around three, interconnected themes: mind-reading, empathy, and the emergence of self-consciousness. This paper focuses on how empathy has been incorporated into the social brain and redefined via parallel research streams, employing a shared, imaging technology. The concluding section describes how these developments can be understood as signaling the emergence of a new version of human nature and the unconscious. My argument is not that empathy in the social brain is a myth, but rather that it is served by a myth consonant with the canons of science.

What we've previously noted about this topic.

the neuroethology of friendship


wiley |  Friendship pervades the human social landscape. These bonds are so important that disrupting them leads to health problems, and difficulties forming or maintaining friendships attend neuropsychiatric disorders like autism and depression. Other animals also have friends, suggesting that friendship is not solely a human invention but is instead an evolved trait. A neuroethological approach applies behavioral, neurobiological, and molecular techniques to explain friendship with reference to its underlying mechanisms, development, evolutionary origins, and biological function. Recent studies implicate a shared suite of neural circuits and neuromodulatory pathways in the formation, maintenance, and manipulation of friendships across humans and other animals. Health consequences and reproductive advantages in mammals additionally suggest that friendship has adaptive benefits. We argue that understanding the neuroethology of friendship in humans and other animals brings us closer to knowing fully what it means to be human.

the conscientiousness of kidspeak?


newyorker |  If, for instance, a fourteen-year-old girl says, “So we, like, um, went to the pizza place, but the, uh, you know—the guy?—said, like, no, so we were, like, O.K., so we, uh, decided that we’d go to, like, a coffee shop, but, uh, Colette can’t—she has, like, a gluten thing. You know what I mean? So that’s, like, why we came home, and, um, you know, would you, like, make us eggs?” To a sensitized listener, who recognizes the meaning of the circumlocutions, the nuanced space between language and event, the sentence really means: “So we tried, as it were, to go and enjoy a pizza, but the, so to speak, maĆ®tre d’ of the establishment claimed—a statement that we were in no social position to dispute—that there was, so to speak, ‘no room for us at the inn.’ And then Colette insisted—and far be it for me either to contest or endorse her self-diagnosis—that she could not eat wheat-based food, so, knowing full well that it is likely to be irksome and ill-timed, could you feed us with scrambled eggs?” The point of the “likes”s and other tics is to supply the information that there is a lot more information not being offered, and that the whole thing is held at a certain circumspect remove. It didn’t happen exactly this way, and, of course, one might quibble with a detail here or there, but this is the gist of what happened. Each “like” is a Jamesian “as it were.”

It turns out that three sociolinguists at the University of Texas at Austin have been studying these things systematically. The paper they produced, published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, has the beautiful title “Um … Who Like Says You Know: Filler Word Use as a Function of Age, Gender and Personality.” The study they conducted “aimed to investigate how the frequency of filled pauses and discourse markers used in the English language varies with two basic demographic variables (gender and age) and personality traits.” The researchers explain that, to do this, they “focused on three common discourse markers … (I mean, you know, and like) and two filled pauses (uh and um).”

They recorded and transcribed interviews with the speakers, noted how often the speakers used so-called “discourse markers,” and concluded that these markers are, indeed, used most frequently by women and girls. More important, the study also shows that the use of the discourse markers is particularly common among speakers who score on a personality test as “conscientious”—“people who are more thoughtful and aware of themselves and their surroundings.” Discourse markers, far from being opaque, automatic, or zombie-like, show that the speaker has “a desire to share or rephrase opinions to recipients.” In other words, those “like”s are being used to register that what’s being narrated may not be utterly faithful to each detail—that it may not be, as a fourteen-year-old might say, “literally” true—but that it is essentially true, and, what’s more, that an innate sense of conscientiousness and empathy with the listener forbids the speaker from pretending to a more closely tuned accuracy than she in fact possesses.