Saturday, December 31, 2016

In Victory, Magnanimity..., |  Donald Trump applauded President Putin last night for humiliating the Obama administration by shrugging off the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats.

Mr Putin said that there would be no tit-for-tat measures against the United States — a move framed by the Kremlin as a benevolent new year gesture, contrasting with the last vengeful kick of President Obama.

On Thursday night Mr Obama ordered 35 alleged Russian “intelligence operatives” out of the country as punishment for hacking activities. He also shut down two country estates where Russian diplomats spent their weekends.

“We are not going to create problems for American diplomats,” Mr Putin said in a statement issued by the Kremlin. “We are not going to expel anyone.”

Instead he promised to focus on building new relations with Mr Trump, the incoming US president, ignoring the “provocative” and “irresponsible” politics of the present administration. 

FP |  Various government spokespeople began to paint a picture of sanctions pushed personally by a bitter man. These were Barack Obama’s sanctions, not Donald Trump’s — not even U.S. sanctions. They were the sanctions pushed in a final, futile burst of hatred by a lame-duck president. Even Secretary of State John Kerry was a “good man,” undermined by an emotional president, according to the Foreign Ministry’s Zakharova.

The surprise came around 4 p.m. local time, via a statement was published on the Kremlin’s website. Russia would resist even the minimum expected diplomatic response of retaliatory expulsions, the statement read: “[Russia] will not resort to irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy but will plan our further steps to restore Russian-US relations based on the policies of the Trump Administration.”

Putin even invited the children of U.S. diplomats to his New Year’s party.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Coup: Can It Succeed?

petras-lahaine |  In early December, President Obama issued an order for the CIA to ‘complete its investigation’ on the Russian plot and manipulation of the US Presidential election in six weeks – right up to the very day of Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017! A concoction of pre-cooked ‘findings’ is already oozing out of secret clandestine CIA archives with the President’s approval. Obama’s last-ditch effort will not change the outcome of the election. Clearly this is designed to poison the diplomatic well and present Trump’s incoming administration as dangerous. Trump’s promise to improve relations with Russia will face enormous resistance in this frothy, breathless hysteria of Russophobia.

Ultimately, President Obama is desperate to secure his legacy, which has consisted of disastrous and criminal imperial wars and military confrontations. He wants to force a continuation of his grotesque policies onto the incoming Trump Administration. Will Trump succumb? The legitimacy of his election and his freedom to make policy will depend on overcoming the Clinton-Obama-neo-con-leftist coup with his own bloc of US military and the powerful Wall Street allies, as well as his mass support among the ‘angry’ American electorate. Trump’s success at thwarting the current ‘Russian ploy’ requires his forming counter alliances with Washington plutocrats, many of whom will oppose any diplomatic agreement with Putin. Trump’s appointment of hardline economic plutocrats who are deeply committed to shredding social programs (public education, Medicare, Social Security) could ignite the anger of his mass supporters by savaging their jobs, health care, pensions and their children’s future.

If Trump defeats the avalanching media, CIA and elite-instigated coup (which interestingly lack support from the military and judiciary), he will have to thank, not only his generals and billionaire-buddies, but also his downwardly mobile mass supporters (Hillary Clinton’s detested ‘basket of deplorables’). He embarked on a major series of ‘victory tours’ around the country to thank his supporters among the military, workers, women and small business people and call on them to defend his election to the presidency. He will have to fulfill some of his promises to the masses or face ‘the real fire’, not from Clintonite shills and war-mongers, but from the very people who voted for him.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Worst Error in the History of Science |  Science is one of the most remarkable inventions of humankind. It has been a source of inspiration and understanding, lifted the veil of ignorance and superstition, been a catalyst for social change and economic growth, and saved countless lives. 

Yet, history also shows us that its been a mixed blessing. Some discoveries have done far more harm than good. And there's one mistake you will never read about in those internet lists of the all-time biggest blunders of science. 

The worst error in the history of science was undoubtedly classifying humans into the different races.

Now, there are some big contenders for this dubious honour. Massive blunders like the invention of nuclear weapons, fossil fuels, CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), leaded petrol and DDT. And tenuous theories and dubious discoveries like luminiferous aether, the expanding earth, vitalism, blank slate theory, phrenology, and Piltown Man, to name just a few.

But theory stands out among all of them because it has wreaked untold misery and been used to justify barbaric acts of colonialism, slavery and even genocide. Even today it's still used to explain social inequality, and continues to inspire the rise of the far right across the globe.

Take for example the controversy that surrounded Nicholas Wade's 2014 book A Troublesome Inheritance if you doubt for a moment the resonance race still has for some people.

The human races were invented by like Johann Friedrich Blumenbach back in the eighteenth century in an attempt to categorise new groups of people being encountered and exploited as part of an ever expanding European colonialism.

From the very beginning, the arbitrary and subjective nature of race categories was widely acknowledged. Most of the time races were justified on the grounds of cultural or language differences between groups of people rather than biological ones. 

Their existence was taken as a given right up until the twentieth century when anthropologists were busy writing about races as a biological explanation for differences in psychology, including intelligence, and educational and socioeconomic outcomes between groups of people.

The Burden of Proof Sits on the Party Making the Affirmative Statement

theatlantic |  Jedidiah Carlson was googling a genetics research paper when he stumbled upon the white nationalist forum Stormfront. Carlson is graduate student at the University of Michigan, and he is—to be clear—absolutely not a white nationalist. But one link lead to another and he ended up reading page after page of Stormfront discussions on the reliability of 23andMe ancestry results and whether Neanderthal interbreeding is the reason for the genetic superiority of whites. Obsession with racial purity is easily channeled, apparently, into an obsession with genetics.

Stormfront has been around since the 90s, which means it’s been around for the entirety of the genomic revolution. The major milestones in human genetics—sequencing of the first human genome, genetic confirmation that humans came out of Africa, the first mail-in DNA ancestry tests—they’re all there, refracted through the lens of white nationalism. Sure, the commentators sometimes disagreed with scientific findings or mischaracterized them, but they could also be serious about understanding genetics. “The threads would turn into an informal tutoring session and journal club,” observes Carlson. “Some of the posters have a really profound understanding of everyday concepts in population genetics.”

No Permanent Allies, Only Permanent Interests...,

PCR |   I do not know that Trump will prevail over the vast neoconservative conspiracy. However, it seems clear enough that he is serious about reducing the tensions with Russia that have been building since President Clinton violated the George H. W. Bush administration’s promise that NATO would not expand one inch to the East. Unless Trump were serious, there is no reason for him to announce Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as his choice for Secretary of State. In 2013 Mr. Tillerson was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship.

As Professor Michel Chossudovsky has pointed out, a global corporation such as Exxon has interests different from those of the US military/security complex. The military/security complex needs a powerful threat, such as the former “Soviet threat” which has been transformed into the “Russian threat,” in order to justify its hold on an annual budget of approximately one trillion dollars. In contrast, Exxon wants to be part of the Russian energy business. Therefore, as Secretary of State, Tillerson is motivated to achieve good relations between the US and Russia, whereas for the military/security complex good relations undermine the orchestrated fear on which the military/security budget rests.

Clearly, the military/security complex and the neoconservatives see Trump and Tillerson as threats, which is why the neoconservatives and the armaments tycoons so strongly opposed Trump and why CIA Director John Brennan made wild and unsupported accusations of Russian interference in the US presidential election.

The lines are drawn. The next test will be whether Trump can obtain Senate confirmation of his choice of Tillerson as Secretary of State.

The myth is widespread that President Reagan won the cold war by breaking the Soviet Union financially with an arms race. As one who was involved in Reagan’s effort to end the cold war, I find myself yet again correcting the record.

Reagan never spoke of winning the cold war. He spoke of ending it. Other officials in his government have said the same thing, and Pat Buchanan can verify it.

Reagan wanted to end the Cold War, not win it. He spoke of those “godawful” nuclear weapons. He thought the Soviet economy was in too much difficulty to compete in an arms race. He thought that if he could first cure the stagflation that afflicted the US economy, he could force the Soviets to the negotiating table by going through the motion of launching an arms race. “Star wars” was mainly hype. (Whether or nor the Soviets believed the arms race threat, the American leftwing clearly did and has never got over it.)

Reagan had no intention of dominating the Soviet Union or collapsing it. Unlike Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama, he was not controlled by neoconservatives. Reagan fired and prosecuted the neoconservatives in his administration when they operated behind his back and broke the law.

The Soviet Union did not collapse because of Reagan’s determination to end the Cold War. The Soviet collapse was the work of hardline communists, who believed that Gorbachev was loosening the Communist Party’s hold so quickly that Gorbachev was a threat to the existence of the Soviet Union and placed him under house arrest. It was the hardline communist coup against Gorbachev that led to the rise of Yeltsin. No one expected the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The US military/security complex did not want Reagan to end the Cold War, as the Cold War was the foundation of profit and power for the complex.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Attack on St. Louis Homeless Foreshadows Things to Come

counterpunch |  New Life is the St. Louis “shelter-of-last-resort” because it provides places to stay for those who cannot get a Continuum of Care bed.  It can do this because it is funded 100% by donations and does not rely on writing grants that specify what type of homeless it will accept.

In April 2017 St. Louis will have an election to replace the outgoing Francis Slay.  Democratic Party Alderperson Lyda Krewson is the favorite of the downtown investors to become the new mayor.  She promises to shut her eyes tightly to the plight of those falling into the chasm of homelessness.  When addressing downtown loft dwellers about New Life in early November, she insisted that the city should shut it down and “put a lock on the place.”

In contrast, Green Party mayoral candidate Johnathan McFarland believes that “New Life must be kept open because it is the only shelter in St. Louis which takes in homeless people in truly desperate situations.  It is obviously needed because so many people come there.”

While Trump and the Republicans are more blatant in their rhetoric, the slick wordsmithing of Democratic Party politicians like Francis Slay and Lyda Krewson have equally brutal effects.  As capitalism sinks into a feeding frenzy to extract profits from every acre of native land and urban real estate, it uses whatever politician it finds most useful.  In St. Louis and Standing Rock, its focus is on those who have the least power to resist.

The crystal ball of homelessness in the US reveals a dark cloud.  US urban patterns are distinct:  Its inner cities have been poverty centers while the more well-to-do populate suburbs.  In most other parts of the world, the poor live in suburbs, far away from the services they need for survival, and the well-off populate the urban core.  But increasing numbers of the financially secure are moving into downtown areas and the pocketbooks of financial investors whisper that it’s time to drive out the poor.

Efforts to remove the impoverished and homeless from downtown areas will continue as surely as will efforts to destroy safety nets and environmental gains of the last century.  Protecting the homeless is a core part of defending social security, medicare, medicaid, public schools, child labor laws, parks and indigenous lands.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Duterte for Dummies

ICH |  Who Is President Duterte, Really? Why Does He Swear So Much, Why Does He Insult Everyone, From President Obama To Such Mighty Institutions Like the U.N., the EU, Even the Pope?

“He comes from the South”, explains Ms. Luzviminda Ilagan, a former member of the Congress, and one of the country’s leading feminists:

“He is a Visaya. In Luzon, they speak Tagalog, they are ‘well-behaved’, and they look down at us. Politically, here we say ‘imperialist Manila’. Ironically, Mindanao contributes greatly to Manila’s coffers: there is extensive mining here, there are fruit plantations, rice fields; but very little is shared with us, in terms of the budgets.... And suddenly, here comes a Mayor from Davao, from the South, and he is even speaking the language that they hate. He is angry at the situation in his country, and he is swearing and cursing. It is cultural; after all, he is Visaya! In Manila and abroad, it is all misinterpreted: here you don’t swear at somebody; you just swear, period. Yes, he is different. He tells the truth, and he speaks our language.”

Why should he not be angry? Once the richest country in Asia, the Philippines is now one of the poorest. Its appalling slums are housing millions, and further millions are caught in a vicious cycle of drug addiction and crime. Crime rate is one of the highest on the continent. There is a brutal civil war with both Muslim and Communist rebels.

And for centuries, the West is mistreating and plundering this country with no shame and no mercy. Whenever the people decide to rebel, as it was the case more than a century ago, they are massacred like cattle. The US butchered 1/6 of the population more than a century ago, some 1.5 million men, women and children.

‘Dynasties’ are ruling undemocratically, with an iron fist.

“In the Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, some 74% of the seats are taken by members of local dynasties”, explains Prof. Roland Simbulan. “This is according to serious academic studies”.

Before President Duterte came to power, most of the social indicators were nearing the regional bottom. The country lost its voice, fully collaborating with the West, particularly against China. 

An angry man, a socialist, President Duterte is outraged by the present and the past, but especially by the ruthlessness of Western imperialism.

He talks but above all he acts. He takes one decisive step after another. He pushes reforms further and further, he retreats when an entire project gets endangered. He is steering his ship through terrible storms, through the waters that were never navigated before.

One error and his entire revolution will go to hell. In that case, tens of millions of the poor will remain where they were for decades – in the gutter. One wrong move and his country will never manage to rise from its knees. 

So he swears. So he is moving forward, cursing.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Автономия, разнообразие, Общество

georgiebc |  One of our most overwhelming impulses as humans is to belong to a society. The pain of shunning is the most powerful coercive tool we employ against each other. Shunning can motivate people to take their own lives or the lives of others. Solitary confinement can rapidly destroy mental health. An infant left without human contact can have all of their physical needs met and still grow up with physical and mental damage. The need to belong can be used to overpower principles, deep rooted morals and self-interest. History has repeatedly proven that the majority of people can be coerced to do almost anything to themselves or others by the need for social inclusion. The desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves is frequently expressed as a motivation for action and duty to society a frequent excuse for compliance.

Most people are born with ambition to reach their own full potential in the areas which interest them. Autonomy, the ability to choose ideas and society for ourselves and the freedom to spend our lives in the way that seems best to us is a basic human need. A society which locks people in or out due to location of birth or ethnicity and roles which are presented as the only acceptable paths require rigid conformity which does not suit our wide diversity of characters and abilities. Accepted diversity is not just morally just or strategically wise, it is also necessary for a complete society to fulfill all the roles required or desired. Diversity gives society the benefit of as many viewpoints and potential solutions as possible.

We once had a chance to achieve a balance between autonomy, diversity and society. Many societies of interwoven dependencies worldwide had the potential to evolve and allow both autonomy and society for all. Instead we created a global, sectarian, stratified class system where everyone must strive for the same goals and all but the few setting the goals would fail.

The trade economy has denied the value of any work benefiting those in need of assistance and denied the value of resources in non-western countries. Both caregivers and resource rich continents are depicted as being in a state of perpetual begging for handouts from the wealthy despite the obvious fact that no one needs the wealthy and everyone needs caregivers and resources. The same power that once denied ownership by the commons with the homesteading principle now denies the rights of homesteaders in favour of foreign multinational corporations. Laws are stratified to ensure the powerful have superior versions of everything, including immigration rights at a time when much of the world will need refugee status from drought, pollution, conflict and natural disasters. Even natural life expectancy is unapologetically higher for the chosen strata. The world is being funneled through a eugenics program of a previously unimagined scale.

This callous and deliberate exclusion of most of humanity, even for moral nihilists, is ignorant and ill-judged. Our only hope of a livable future is in a singularity produced not from technology created by a population of self-appointed Übermenschen but from the collaborative creativity and experience of all of the diverse minds in the world. Where very recently a qualified tradesman could, and was expected to, understand everything related to their field, it is now increasingly difficult for one human brain to comprehend the overall workings of any complete system much less the interlocking detail of every system globally. Given the required tools and societal structure, we could create a resilient collaborative network that could act as a real hive mind. We could audit, bridge and develop complex original thought and create solutions with the speed required to solve the urgent problems we face today.

Every revolution in history has simply installed new faces on top of the same paradigm. Societies ruled by the majority create oligarchies of Great Men, those two standard deviations above the mean in every field, just advanced enough to impress and not advanced enough to baffle, always from the tiny demographic group accepted as rulers. The voices and ideas outside the circle of demagogues, the ones that need and drive revolution in every case, sink back into oblivion. It is evident that if we are to stop the endless cycles of revolution, or even survive another cycle, we will have to change the paradigm. The current corporate empire is eager to install the latest messiahs who will promise reform which will retreat to moderation and then back to the status quo or worse. As we can already see, this population is once more leading us past democracy and back to the deeper prison of fascism. This time it is essential that we go deeper and create a genuinely new system, not just new messiahs and new names for old tricks.

Quelle bouffée d’oxygène, putain de merde!

unz |  Now, at this stage of the exposition, I feel I have to make a general point, which is this: just because I am writing about a phenomenon, even inventing a term for it (ARRF) does not mean that I presume to understand it fully. For example, in an earlier essay, I defined the term “High IQ Idiot”, or HIQI. I described the phenomenon and tried to provide some framework of analysis, but I certainly do not claim to fully understand why so many high IQ, highly educated people are so helpless against the propaganda matrix and all of its cartoonish, synthetic narratives. Similarly, I have often wondered how many people really believe — I mean strongly believe — in the various politically correct, ARRF propositions, like same-sex marriage. For example, I have heard the claim that support for gay marriage is now the majority viewpoint, but I don’t know whether to believe that. If one’s source of information on something like that is the mainstream media, that is problematic, given the MSM’s pro-ARRF bias.

I don’t think it is easy to know. You see, a lot of people will proclaim (even loudly) their belief in all sorts of dogmas when they feel it is in their interest to do so, that this is what is expected of them. That is true now just as it was in Medieval Spain or Soviet Russia. That is one way that elites can become pretty disconnected from reality. Surely a lot of rich, powerful people believe themselves to be very witty and funny because everybody always laughs at all of their jokes. They would believe it because they want to believe it and also because nobody ever tells them that they suck.

I’m writing this not long after the 2016 presidential election, and like so many others, I am still trying to absorb the news, make sense of Trump’s win. I have to admit that I had long assumed that a Hillary Clinton presidency was inevitable. That’s what the mainstream media was telling us and I believed them, silly me. So, yeah, they had me conned, but that is of little importance, of course. More importantly, they had themselves conned! Basically, Hillary and the people running her campaign must have believed that they would have an easy victory if they configured the contest as a sort of ARRF referendum. I guess this is because the whole ARRF narrative is so dominant in the mainstream media that it was kind of an echo chamber and they were there believing their own bullshit. Well, Marie Antoinette allegedly said: “Let them eat cake.” That showed how out of touch she was, but that’s already a lot more realistic than “Let them eat feminism and gay rights.”

Hillary’s entire campaign message was very much a sort of progressive, ARRF narrative — that she, Hillary Clinton was going to fulfill historical destiny by becoming the first woman president. Actually, I guess it was part of a larger, triumphant ARRF narrative. She was the logical progression from Obama, the first black president. Not that the order was necessarily that important, I suppose. Had Hillary prevailed in 2008, then they would have had Obama waiting in the wings this time round. I also reasoned that, after Hillary was done and we’d had a black and a woman, we were going to have an openly gay president after that. I felt it was, as the Muslims say: Maktub. (It is written.) Or as the Borg say: “Resistance is futile.” Whatever. It was divine destiny, the next inevitable chapter in the world according to ARRF. Okay, it wasn’t so inevitable after all, but that is how they were trying to present it, and they certainly had me fooled.

Actually, it almost worked! Trump’s margin of victory was really razor thin. I mean, when you lose the popular vote but then eke out a win in the electoral college, that is something very close. If Hillary had got an extra 1% in Florida and Pennsylvania, she would have made it. Trump won by a hair really, but it wasn’t supposed to be close at all. Hillary was supposed to win in a landslide.

When Hillary referred to the core of Trump’s support as coming from a “basket of deplorables”, the deeper meaning was that these people were heretics or infidels, blasphemers against whatever sacred ARRF dogma — a motley crew of racists, sexists, homophobes… the “alt-Right”… All these infidels were standing in the way of progress. (Well, her progress, anyway…)



Not only was Hillary’s candidacy an ARRF candidacy, Trump was very much the anti-ARRF candidate. Time and again, the mainstream media claimed that Trump was committing political suicide by saying whatever politically incorrect thing he said and, in retrospect, it only seemed to make him stronger. But this can be understood. If much of Trump’s appeal was that he was the anti-ARRF candidate, then he was hardly hurting himself by being politically incorrect! (It’s not a bug! It’s a feature!)

So Trump’s victory was, to a large extent anyway, a triumph of anti-ARRF heresy. That is my own way of expressing it, other people will doubtless express the same approximate idea using other terminology. Regardless of the exact language one uses, this paradigm can help explain why there is such a diverse group of people, not just in the U.S.A., but around the world, who take such delight in Trump’s win. Within 24 hours of Trump’s victory, a visibly elated Dieudonné put up a video congratulating Trump.

At 0:19, he says: “Quelle bouffée d’oxygène!” What a mouthful of oxygen! Of course, in English we would say “a breath of fresh air”. (Actually, Dieudo said: “Quelle bouffée d’oxygène, putain de merde!”. But I won’t translate the latter part.) A breath of fresh air, just an expression, but if you think about it a bit, if the victory of Trump, the anti-ARRF candidate is a breath of fresh air, that means that the ARRF candidate, or ARRF itself, is the opposite of that, i.e. there is something suffocating about ARRF. And isn’t there? Isn’t political correctness terribly mentally oppressive? “You can’t say this, you can’t say that…” So when Trump did say this and did say that and won anyway, for many people, there was something very liberating about that.

I think it’s safe to say that, for the most part, people are far happier about Clinton’s defeat than Trump’s victory. The practical consequences of a President Trump remain to be seen. For many people it is more about the symbolism of the event.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

счастливого Рождества | Many Western conservative Christians have been seduced by Kremlin-funded propaganda presenting Putin as a model of bravery and virility. They relish his hostility to homosexuals (though in the interests of public relations this has recently been toned down). You can even find traditionalist Catholic websites praising him as the chief enemy of a Satanic new world order.

An openly pious man, Putin’s own religiosity appears genuine, despite his past as a servant of the anticlerical Soviet state. After a career as a KGB officer based in East Germany, he claims to have converted to Christianity. Several well-informed writers have noted the progressively strong influence of Russian Orthodoxy on his worldview – a malodorous blend of Eastern Christianity, Russian nationalism and conspiracism that he has already put into practice in Ukraine.

For most of Russia’s history, Orthodox Christianity and the Russian nationality were inseparable. To be Russian was to be Orthodox. As strong as the connection was, there still existed those who thought Russia had lost its way, surrendering its Christian morality to nefarious Western concepts like individualism. (For a notable example of this perspective, read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s jarring commencement address at Harvard University in 1978, when he criticised Western culture as godless and materialistic.)

It is all very well to dismiss the Moscow patriarchate as a client or even a puppet of the president, but the fact remains that powerful Russian officials routinely meet with church leaders.

When Putin speaks as if he were the spiritual leader of Russia, is he being entirely insincere? And are those Orthodox who believe him simply seduced by the Kremlin’s world-class propaganda machine?

The answer to these questions cannot be a simple “yes”. In the Russian tradition, religion and politics are intertwined in ways that non-Russians find difficult to understand. And, amazingly, that tradition – which incorporates the concept of “spiritual security” against Western contamination – seems to have survived 70 years of overtly atheist Communism. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Why Those Apprentice Outtakes Haven't Leaked Yet?

theintercept |  nearly half of all programming on broadcasting and cable is unscripted, moving Hollywood away from its labor roots.

Those producers, editors, and writers who transform thousands of hours of footage into something coherent, if not watchable, are typically contract employees who move from job to job, none lasting more than a few months (this makes union organizing extremely difficult). Independent production companies create and sell the shows to the networks, and their profits increase with how much they can exploit their workers. Freelancers get no health care or pension benefits, vacation or sick days, and often no overtime, amid hazardous field conditions. Time sheet falsification and wage theft run rampant.

Perhaps most important, your future career depends on good working relationships with production companies and supervisors. If Mark Burnett threatens to prevent you from working again if you cross him, that’s a credible threat, since employees find their next jobs through recommendations and repeat business. Even though staffers could have leaked material anonymously, the risk of ending their careers loomed larger, because nobody in the industry is looking out for the individual worker, who competes with hundreds of others to land a gig. Blackballing in such an environment is simple.
Unions can protect workers from blackballing threats by raising grievances. They can ensure the fairness of contracts like confidentiality agreements. They can police industries on behalf of workers. Their absence pushes all the power to producers like Burnett, which can collude on wages and threaten workers to bring them to heel.

The lack of bargaining power for nonunion contract workers has become a hallmark of the U.S. economy. New research from Harvard’s Lawrence Katz and Princeton’s Alan Krueger finds that 94 percent of the 10 million jobs created in the Obama era were temporary, part-time, or “gig economy” positions. This hands tremendous power to employers to dictate terms of employment, and to even break the law, without pushback. And blackballing threats are perhaps the quintessential example.
Threats that “you’ll never work in this town again” should not have been an impediment to anonymous leaking of material on Trump that someone may have considered in the public interest. The fact that it was, that people didn’t think their identities would remain hidden and that their career would end, speaks to the climate of fear that grips the unscripted TV industry. And it increasingly characterizes the U.S. workforce, where the boss has disproportionate power and control.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Darwinian Interlude - Metagenomics

TechnologyReview |  Carl Woese published a provocative and illuminating article, “A New Biology for a New Century,” in the June 2004 issue of Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews. His main theme is the obsolescence of reductionist biology as it has been practiced for the last hundred years, and the need for a new biology based on communities and ecosystems rather than on genes and molecules. He also raises another profoundly important question: when did Darwinian evolution begin? By Darwinian evolution he means evolution as Darwin himself understood it, based on the intense competition for survival among noninterbreeding species. He presents evidence that Darwinian evolution did not go back to the beginning of life. In early times, the process that he calls “horizontal gene transfer,” the sharing of genes between unrelated species, was prevalent. It becomes more prevalent the further back you go in time. Carl Woese is the world’s greatest expert in the field of microbial taxonomy. Whatever he writes, even in a speculative vein, is to be taken seriously.

Woese is postulating a golden age of pre-Darwinian life, during which horizontal gene transfer was universal and separate species did not exist. Life was then a community of cells of various kinds, sharing their genetic information so that clever chemical tricks and catalytic processes invented by one creature could be inherited by all of them. Evolution was a communal affair, the whole community advancing in metabolic and reproductive efficiency as the genes of the most efficient cells were shared. But then, one evil day, a cell resembling a primitive bacterium happened to find itself one jump ahead of its neighbors in efficiency. That cell separated itself from the community and refused to share. Its offspring became the first species. With its superior efficiency, it continued to prosper and to evolve separately. Some millions of years later, another cell separated itself from the community and became another species. And so it went on, until all life was divided into species.

Now, after some three billion years, the Darwinian era is over. The epoch of species competition came to an end about 10 thousand years ago when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the biosphere. Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the driving force of change. Cultural evolution is not Darwinian. Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance. Cultural evolution is running a thousand times faster than Darwinian evolution, taking us into a new era of cultural interdependence that we call globalization. And now, in the last 30 years, Homo sapiens has revived the ancient pre-Darwinian practice of horizontal gene transfer, moving genes easily from microbes to plants and animals, blurring the boundaries between species. We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species will no longer exist, and the evolution of life will again be communal.

In the post-Darwinian era, biotechnology will be domesticated. There will be do-it-yourself kits for gardeners, who will use gene transfer to breed new varieties of roses and orchids. Also, biotech games for children, played with real eggs and seeds rather than with images on a screen. Genetic engineering, once it gets into the hands of the general public, will give us an explosion of biodiversity. Designing genomes will be a new art form, as creative as painting or sculpture. Few of the new creations will be masterpieces, but all will bring joy to their creators and diversity to our fauna and flora.

Does Culture Prevent or Drive Human Evolution?

nationalhumanitiescenter |  First, some terminology and background, especially for the nonspecialist.  “Evolution” has different meanings to different scientists;  a population geneticist, for example, views evolution simply as changes in allele frequencies (that is, the frequencies of the variant forms of a gene) over time.  Such changes are usually random, reflecting the fact that not everybody leaves offspring, so by chance some alleles increase in frequency and others decrease in frequency over time.  These random fluctuations, known as genetic drift, occur more rapidly in small populations than in large ones.  Genetic drift results in loss of genetic variation within populations and increases in genetic differences among populations over time, and is countered by migration among populations, which restores genetic variation within populations and decreases genetic differences among populations.  Thus, to a population geneticist, since allele frequencies are always changing because of drift and migration, by definition evolution is always happening, and it therefore makes no sense to say that humans are no longer evolving.

But to most people who are not population geneticists, biological evolution means natural selection, in the Darwinian sense:  increase in the frequency of an inherited trait which enhances the survival and/or reproductive success of individuals with that trait, also referred to as genetic adaptation.  Often, this is expressed as a response to a change in the environment, which in turn leads to a change in those traits that confer enhanced survival/reproduction. Familiar examples of genetic adaptations that resulted in human evolution include bipedality, increased brain size, loss of body hair, and variation in skin pigmentation. To say that humans have stopped evolving, then, is to say that such inherited traits no longer matter when it comes to how humans respond to their  environment.  This is the view that I often hear:  culture acts as a barrier or a buffer between us and the environment, thereby preventing human evolution.

However, if culture is a buffer, it is an imperfect one.  For example, humans are plagued by a variety of infectious diseases, and for every success story (e.g., eradication of smallpox and polio) there are diseases that resist our efforts at finding vaccinations or cures (e.g., malaria and AIDS).  And you can be sure that if our culture is unable (or unwilling) to do what it takes to prevent or cure a disease, then genetic resistance will indeed occur and will increase in frequency.  Some classic examples of natural selection in humans involve genetic variants that increase resistance to malaria, such as sickle-cell anemia.  Genetic variants that increase resistance to AIDS have been identified, and it is a safe bet that such variants will increase in frequency if there is no cure/vaccination for AIDS – but such increase comes at the expense of individuals who do not carry such genetic variants.  Evolution in response to infectious disease is thus an ongoing story in humans.

But there is an alternative view to that of culture as a (leaky) barrier to human evolution, which can be expressed as follows:  humans have been evolving and continue to evolve, not just in spite of culture, but because of culture.  That is, cultural practices have actually caused humans to evolve, and a classic example is lactose tolerance.  The story goes as follows: lactose is the major sugar present in mammalian milk, and most mammals stop making lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose, shortly after weaning because they are never again exposed to lactose in their diet.  This, incidentally, is a nice example of the evolutionary principle of  “use it or lose it”: there is no need to continue making lactase if there is no lactose in the diet.  Some humans are weird, however, in that they retain the ability to digest lactose into adulthood.  It turns out that the frequency of this trait, known as lactose tolerance (or lactase persistence), is highly correlated with milk-drinking populations in Europe and Africa, and was apparently driven to high frequency by natural selection in those populations.  Thus, a human cultural trait – domestication of cattle, thereby providing cow’s milk as a new source of nutrition – resulted in human evolution (namely, an increase in lactose tolerance).

FAIL: Still Can't Just Look in the Mirror

WaPo |  This morning Sari Horwitz has what may be the most comprehensive account yet of what happened behind the scenes as FBI Director James Comey decided to essentially hand the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump. It’s an extraordinary story, one that provides an important lesson that goes beyond this one election: Political events with sweeping consequences are determined by individual human beings and the decisions they make. That may not sound surprising, but it’s a profound truth that we often forget when we look for explanations in broad conditions and trends (which are still important) or theories about dark and complicated conspiracies that don’t exist.

Let’s start with this summary of what happened when the FBI informed the Justice Department that Comey wanted to go public with the news that the bureau was looking into some emails found on a laptop belonging to Huma Abedin, Clinton’s close aide, which would end up happening nine days before Election Day:

One of the points that comes through in Horwitz’s account is that both Comey and Lynch were consumed with fear that they’d be criticized by the Republican outrage machine. Comey worried that if he didn’t immediately go public with the fact that the FBI was looking at these emails, then Republicans would say he was covering up an investigation in order to help Clinton. And Lynch worried that if she ordered Comey to adhere to department policy and not go public, then Republicans would say she was covering up an investigation in order to help Clinton. 

So both of them failed to do their jobs, Comey with an act of commission and Lynch with an act of omission. You can sympathize with the pressure they were under and say that hindsight is always 20/20, but the fact is that they failed, and it was because they didn’t have the courage to do the right thing. The next time you shake your head at the sight of Republicans yelling into cameras or talk radio microphones about how terribly angry they are at whatever they’re supposed to be angry at today, remember how politically useful all that noise can be.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

FAIL: The Peak Oil Movement

thearchdruidreport |  The conviction that politicians, pundits, and the public would be forced by events to acknowledge the truth about peak oil had other consequences that helped hamstring the movement. Outreach to the vast majority that wasn’t yet on board the peak oil bandwagon, for example, got far too little attention or funding. Early on in the movement, several books meant for general audiences—James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency and Richard Heinberg’s The Party’s Over are arguably the best examples—helped lay the foundations for a more effective outreach program, but the organized followup that might have built on those foundations never really happened. Waiting on events took the place of shaping events, and that’s almost always a guarantee of failure.
One particular form of waiting on events that took a particularly steep toll on the movement was its attempts to get funding from wealthy donors. I’ve been told that Post Carbon Institute got itself funded in this way, while as far as I know, ASPO-USA never did. Win or lose, though, begging for scraps at the tables of the rich is a sucker’s game.  In social change as in every other aspect of life, who pays the piper calls the tune, and the rich—who benefit more than anyone else from business as usual—can be counted on to defend their interest by funding only those activities that don’t seriously threaten the continuation of business as usual. Successful movements for social change start by taking effective action with the resources they can muster by themselves, and build their own funding base by attracting people who believe in their mission strongly enough to help pay for it.
There were other reasons why the peak oil movement failed, of course. To its credit, it managed to avoid two of the factors that ran the climate change movement into the ground, as detailed in the essay linked above—it never became a partisan issue, mostly because no political party in the US was willing to touch it with a ten foot pole, and the purity politics that insists that supporters of one cause are only acceptable in its ranks if they also subscribe to a laundry list of other causes never really got a foothold outside of certain limited circles. Piggybacking—the flipside of purity politics, which demands that no movement be allowed to solve one problem without solving every other problem as well—was more of a problem, and so, in a big way, was pandering to the privileged—I long ago lost track of the number of times I heard people in the peak oil scene insist that this or that high-end technology, which was only affordable by the well-to-do, was a meaningful response to the coming of peak oil.
There are doubtless other reasons as well; it’s a feature of all things human that failure is usually overdetermined. At this point, though, I’d like to set that aside for a moment and consider two other points. The first is that the movement didn’t have to fail the way it did. The second is that it could still be revived and gotten back on a more productive track.

FAIL: Elderly Unitarian Academic Social Movement

medium |  The Cultural Evolution Society is now off the ground and ready to soar. We have an ambitious agenda to bring much-needed synthesis to biology, the social sciences, and humanities. 

This is what our founding members called for in a survey they filled out as we set out last fall.It is the rallying cry for birthing the field of cultural evolution with intellectual and cultural diversity that spans the globe. We have taken great care to ensure this diversity is present in the leadership structure of our governing body. 

Cultural evolution is a field that studies the historic development of all social behavior. It takes the tools and frameworks of biological evolution and adapts them to the patterns of cultural change — both for human societies and across the non-human world. It’s researchers study everything from anatomical changes that enable tool use to cooperative behaviors that give rise to the complex organization for social insects.

This kind of work is deeply interdisciplinary. It requires sophisticated practices of social organization in its own right to tackle the hard problems of cultural studies across such a great diversity of situations. How is it that everyday people can get “radicalized” to become terrorists? What are the factors that make technology innovation flourish in regional economies?

Questions like these have historically been approached within the silos of traditional academic fields. Adequately addressing them requires approaches that are integrated and holistic. Our solutions — so far — are not. They are fragmented and piecemeal because the knowledge we use to approach them is fragmented and piecemeal.

Now is the time to navigate the many islands of scientific knowledge and weave them into a constellation of landmarks in the same landscape. This is one of the primary tasks for our newly formed Cultural Evolution Society.

 If a map of knowledge for all the sciences were created, what shape might it take? Would it be like a spider web with linkages in multiple directions for every node? Or perhaps a labyrinth of maze-like pathways leading to lots of dead ends?

We asked this question in a more narrow domain — for the 351 members of our fledgling Cultural Evolution Society who provided information, we gathered data on the other associations and societies they are currently active in. This led to the map above with its distinctive archipelago structure. It is like a vast sea of possibilities populated with branching arms of clustered islands where people already gather.

The field of cultural evolution is uncommonly vast in its meshwork of relationships to other fields. This creates an advantage for the mission identified by our membership last year when we conducted a survey of grand challenges for the field.

The message was loud and clear that the highest priority for our community is to achieve knowledge synthesis across biology, the social sciences, and humanities.

All academic societies should strive to include a diversity of backgrounds and views in their membership and leadership. This goal is an imperative for a society dedicated to the study of cultural evolution. The CES is therefore taking special steps to include four kinds of diversity: 1) Gender; 2) Age; 3) Academic background; and 4) Nationality and Ethnicity.

To make sure that diversity is represented in the leadership in addition to the membership, we formed special committees around bylaws and electoral policy in preparation for our inaugural election — drafting a diversity mandate appropriate to the mission and agenda outlined above.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What Mischief These Two Sissies Up To? |  The Canadian government is also revising its policy for the North. The Liberals said they are replacing the previous government's northern strategy with an "Arctic policy framework." 

Former prime minister Stephen Harper's northern strategy put an emphasis on asserting Canadian sovereignty through the Canadian Rangers and addressing economic concerns through natural resource development.

There will be a specific component of the policy geared toward Inuit people.

Canada and the U.S. also announced they will start a process to identify low-impact shipping corridors. The process will include determining where vessels will not be allowed to sail and gauging what kind of infrastructure and emergency response systems will be needed for northern shipping routes.

WaPo |  President Obama moved to solidify his environmental legacy Tuesday by withdrawing hundreds of millions of acres of federally owned land in the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean from new offshore oil and gas drilling.

Obama used a little-known law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to protect large portions of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic and a string of canyons in the Atlantic stretching from Massachusetts to Virginia. In addition to a five-year moratorium already in place in the Atlantic, removing the canyons from drilling puts much of the eastern seaboard off limits to oil exploration even if companies develop plans to operate around them.

The announcement by the White House late in the afternoon was coordinated with similar steps being taken by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to shield large areas of that nation’s Arctic waters from drilling. Neither measure affects leases already held by oil and gas companies and drilling activity in state waters.

“These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth,” the White House said in a statement. “They reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.

The "Activated Intelligence" Attacks Failed - Now Down To Wet Work?

PCR |  The use of the presstitute media to deny Trump the Republican presidential nomination failed.

The use of the presstitute media to deny Trump victory in the presidential election failed.

The vote recount failed.

The effort to sway the Electoral College failed. 

But the effort continues.

The CIA report on Russia’s alleged interference in the US presidential election ordered by Obama is in process. Faked evidence is a hallmark of CIA operations.

In their determination to seal Trump’s ears against environmental concerns, a group of environmentalists plan to disrupt the inauguration. This in itself is of little consequence, but chaos presents opportunity for assassination. 

Trump himself seems to think he is in danger. According to MSNBC, Trump intends to supplement his Secret Service protection with private security. As there is evidence of CIA complicity in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (film shows Secret Service agents ordered away from JFK’s limo immediately prior to his assassination), Trump, who is clearly seen as a threat by the military/security complex, is not being paranoid. MSNBC implies that Trump’s private security is to suppress protesters, as if government security forces have shown any compunction about suppressing protesters. 

Global Research’s Michel Chossudovsky has explained that Trump’s peaceful approach to Russia aligns him with oligarchs, whose wealth benefits from business deals with Russia, and puts Trump at odds with the military/security oligarchs, who benefit from the one trillion dollar annual military/security budget. The latter group have been in control since President Eisenhower warned us about them and can muster deep state forces against a Trump presidency.