Show Posts

This section allows you to view all posts made by this member. Note that you can only see posts made in areas you currently have access to.

Topics - Surly1

Pages: [1] 2 3 ... 29
Futurology / Is DNA Left on Envelopes Fair Game for Testing?
« on: March 02, 2019, 10:17:38 AM »
Is DNA Left on Envelopes Fair Game for Testing?
The genealogist’s dream of testing old, spit-laced artifacts is coming true—but raising questions about who controls dead people’s DNA.


Last fall, Gilad Japhet, the founder of a DNA-testing company, got up at an industry conference to talk about his grandmother Rosa’s love letters.

Japhet’s company, MyHeritage, sells cheek swabs to people interested in their family history. It now has 2.4 million people in its DNA database, making it the third largest behind 23andMe and AncestryDNA. But Japhet wasn’t satisfied with only testing the living; he wanted to test the dead. Which brings us to the love letters—or really, the envelopes they came in.

The envelopes were sealed by his grandmother, and the stamps on them presumably licked by her. “Maybe our ancestors did not realize it,” Japhet said, a smile growing on his face, “when they were licking those stamps and the envelope flats, they were sealing their precious DNA for you forever.” Then he made the big announcement: MyHeritage would soon begin offering DNA testing on old stamps and envelopes.

He didn’t stop there. If you can test the letters of your grandmother, why not those of historical figures? Japhet is a prodigious collector of autographs, and he revealed that he possessed handwritten letters from Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill. In an intriguing if provocative PR move, he promised that “their DNA is coming to MyHeritage very, very soon.”

In the past year, genealogists have been abuzz about the possibility of getting DNA out of old stamps and envelopes. In addition to MyHeritage, a British company called Living DNA began informally offering the service for $400 to $600 last year, and a small Australian start-up called Totheletter DNA, which specializes in DNA from envelopes and stamps, launched a similarly priced service in July. MyHeritage says its own service should debut later this year. (A spokesperson declined to comment on when Einstein and Churchill’s DNA profiles will be uploaded to the company’s site.)

Among genealogists, demand for this service has been pent up for years. “At every conference I do, every seminar I do, I always get questions about artifact DNA. I think there is enormous potential,” says Blaine Bettinger, a professional genealogist. Getting the DNA of an ancestor can be tremendously helpful for finding new relatives. For example, your great-great-grandmother passes about 6.25 percent of her DNA to you. But she may have plenty of other relatives who only share DNA from the 93.75 percent that you did not inherit. One way to genetically match those relatives is to test her directly.

Ask genealogists, and you will hear a story about a grandmother’s letter or a father’s tissue biopsy or a great-aunt’s hairbrush, full of DNA that could unlock a family mystery. While 23andMe and Ancestry require large vials of saliva for DNA analysis, which are hard to obtain without a person’s cooperation, artifacts are much easier to come by. But extracting DNA from these sources opens up so many new possibilities—some unsavory, some simply uncomfortable. Should you be able to test a parent who refused to play along by digging up an old letter? Or do a secret paternity test on your child, using a cup discarded by the man suspected of having an affair with your wife? Or trace anonymous letters? Or obtain the DNA of celebrities?

Read: When a DNA test shatters your identity

In Vallejo, California, police have also sent envelopes from the Zodiac Killerfor DNA extraction, in hopes of applying the same genetic genealogy tools that caught the Golden State Killer suspect. (Investigators in the Golden State Killer case had the advantage of well-preserved DNA from a rape kit, though.) Criminal-forensics labs have long analyzed DNA from objects, but they rely on a technique that looks at only 20 sites, called short tandem repeats (STR). To find their suspect in the Golden State Killer case, investigators used a technique from commercial at-home DNA tests, called genotyping, which looks at hundreds of thousands of sites in the human genome. Genotyping yields far more details than STR, revealing distant family relationships as well as genetic variants that can affect a person’s health and appearance. That’s a lot of information, potentially hidden in an envelope.

For these reasons, the companies offering DNA services for envelopes are drawing a line: These tests are not for living people. The only reason, after all, to resort to getting a living person’s DNA from a letter is if the person is not cooperating with a cheek swab or vial of spit—in which case they probably are not consenting.

This means saying no to potential customers. Joscelyn McBain, the founder of Totheletter DNA, told me that several people have contacted her about testing anonymous poison-pen letters. She’s sympathetic, but she says, “It just opens up a big can of worms.” To avoid testing living people, Totheletter asks customers to explicitly state that the envelope comes from a dead relative. McBain is not against using DNA and genealogy to find violent criminals like the alleged Golden State Killer—she’s actually interested in working with police in Australia—but she’s uncomfortable with using it to track down just anyone.

Read: Should you take a DNA test?

To limit the possibility for abuse in this, MyHeritage does not plan to test items such as toothbrushes, dentures, and old clothing. Since envelopes are usually postmarked and have a sender’s name written on them, it’s easier to validate that the item is what the customer says it is and not some secretly obtained sample. MyHeritage told me it plans to update its terms and services to prohibit uploading DNA profiles of living people that have been obtained through stamps or envelopes. But DNA from dead people, including dead celebrities like Einstein and Churchill, will be allowed.

The ethics of testing a deceased person’s DNA are more ambiguous, says Bettinger. Dead people usually don’t have privacy rights. Dead celebrities, having been public figures, have even less of an expectation of privacy. But dead people still often have living descendants, who share some portion of their ancestors’ DNA and who do have privacy rights. What if Einstein’s living descendants aren’t thrilled about a company uploading his DNA, just so random people online can find out if they’re distantly related to a genius?

On the other hand, says Bettinger, we don’t ask all our living relatives and future unborn descendants for consent when we ourselves mail in a DNA test—even though it affects them all. The alleged Golden State Killer, for example, was identified through third and fourth cousins who took DNA tests. Right now, any one individual has relatively little control over his or her own genetic privacy.

Living DNA’s terms of service would allow testing envelopes for the DNA only when the target person is deceased and the customer has obtained the envelope legally. Of course, these terms of service rely on the honesty of the customer. A lab technician reviews materials to make sure they are what customers claim they are, but cost might be the most practical deterrence. Living DNA’s co-founder, David Nicholson, brought up the example of paternity tests. They’re available in drugstores for around a hundred dollars, while Living DNA’s service costs $400 to $600. “It’s a very expensive way to do that,” says Nicholson.

Read: What happens when you’re convinced you have bad genes

The cost of testing envelopes for DNA is unlikely to come down soon. 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and MyHeritage are able to offer ordinary ancestry tests for less than $100 because they use standardized vials and swabs. That process is easy to automate with robots. In contrast, every envelope is different. A human hand needs to carefully cut out the envelope flap or stamp, dissolve the glue, and extract the DNA. Nicholson says different types of glue might require different extraction techniques. DNA also degrades over time, so the success rate of testing old letters hovers around 50-50.

So for now, the commercial viability of envelope DNA testing is still uncertain. “At the moment, we’re doing it as a token to help people,” Nicholson says. It’s not really making the company any money. He’s considered offering a two-tiered service, where customers pay a smaller free upfront and only pay for the full genetic analysis after it looks like it will work. McBain has been open about similar challenges for Totheletter. She’s currently refunding customers whose samples are not successful. “We have to improve our results if it’s something we can commercially sustain,” she says. The entrance of MyHeritage, a big player in the consumer DNA industry, will be an important test case.

Genealogists are, by disposition, people who enjoy thinking about ways of the past. It is not lost on them that we have stopped writing letters and licking stamps. “There’s kind of this golden period from the late 1800s to maybe the past decade or so,” Bettinger says. Then he adds, “Maybe DNA testing is picking up that slack.” In other words, now we have a generation of people who are voluntarily testing themselves and sharing their DNA—what more could you ask for?

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to

Surly Newz / For Sale...Doomsday preppers pipe dream
« on: January 29, 2019, 05:13:51 AM »
Comes with your own gold mine.

Doomsday preppers pipe dream: Off-the-grid fortress in the middle of the Nevada desert, three hours away from Las Vegas, goes on sale for $950,000 - and comes with TWO vintage organs
The Hard Luck Castle combines elements of the Wild West with a modern-day castle
Encompassing 40 acres of land and 8,000 square feet of living space in the private Nevada wilderness
The four-story, 22-room, property is self-sustainable and completely off the power grid


PUBLISHED: 01:42 EST, 26 January 2019 | UPDATED: 17:38 EST, 26 January 2019

An huge fortress spread over 8,000-square-feet and set on 40 acres of land in the Nevada desert some three hours drive away from Las Vegas could be yours for $950,000.

The home, which has been nicknamed, the Hard Luck Castle has four-bedrooms and three bathrooms.

The fortress is most unusual with a design that is more akin to a science-fiction film set than a secluded hideaway. 

Its walls along are 16 inches thick and are built around the home in a perfect circle with a spiral staircase allowing residents to access all four floors. 

'It's absolutely amazing,' says listing agent Jake Rasmuson of Bishop Real Estate. 'You have to picture the middle of Nevada...your views are completely uninterrupted. 

This four-story, 22-room, 8,000-square-foot castle for sale for $900,000 in the Nevada desert is the perfect retreat

This four-story, 22-room, 8,000-square-foot castle for sale for $900,000 in the Nevada desert is the perfect retreat


The property is an enormous, privately owned fortress with 16-inch-thick concrete walls and self-sustained energy systems using solar and wind, and with a 4,000-gallon water storage/rain catchment system

The owner has added two enormous, vintage pipe organs which resonate through the halls when played

The owner has added two enormous, vintage pipe organs which resonate through the halls when played


The castle is owned by Randy Johnson, a former builder and craftsman who lived in Southern California and Lake Tahoe

The main house is made up from 22 rooms that include a theater, wine cellar and games room. There is even a pipe organ build in the 1920s that blasts notes throughout the home when played according to SFGate

The former owner was a builder from Southern California who decided to settle down in the tiny town of Gold Point in Esmeralda County.

Just six people live in was is essentially a ghost town. Naturally the home comes with privacy and very few laws for the private land. 

It took $3 million and more than a decade for the homeowner to complete his plan - and now he feels that it is time to move on.

'He built it all himself with help from friends ,' says listing agent. He's a guy who can fix or do anything. He's an amazing craftsman, but he's ready to give up the property. Purchase a boat and start a new chapter in his life.'

The castle is completely self sustaining and off the grid. Power comes from batteries charged by solar and wind energy to power the home theater and Vegas-style slot machine

The castle is completely self sustaining and off the grid. Power comes from batteries charged by solar and wind energy to power the home theater and Vegas-style slot machine

The main home includes two 1920s pipe organs and comes partially furnished with antiques

The main home includes two 1920s pipe organs and comes partially furnished with antiques


The pipes of the organ dominate the decor in the home, while the bathroom looks distinctly ordinary 

Hard Luck Mine Castle is surrounded by nothing but the Nevada desert for miles. The home is located at 6,000 feet atop Gold Mountain 35 miles south of Goldfield, Nevada

Hard Luck Mine Castle is surrounded by nothing but the Nevada desert for miles. The home is located at 6,000 feet atop Gold Mountain 35 miles south of Goldfield, Nevada

The Hard Luck Castle was constructed between 2000 and 2012 with engineering that is designed to last 400 to 500 years, according to the property listing

The Hard Luck Castle was constructed between 2000 and 2012 with engineering that is designed to last 400 to 500 years, according to the property listing

The property also comes with a gold mine, which was closed at the end of WWII but is “still high in gold content”

The property also comes with a gold mine, which was closed at the end of WWII but is 'still high in gold content'

From the outside it is possible to see just how truly remote the property is with nothing in the area for miles around

From the outside it is possible to see just how truly remote the property is with nothing in the area for miles around

The Hard Luck Castle was constructed between 2000 and 2012 with engineering that is designed to last 400 to 500 years according to the listing. 

It's made from steel, concrete, cinder block and glass. More than seven tons of rebar and 24,000 bricks were used to build the castle.

The property is completely off-the-grid with electricity generated using solar and wind power. Water comes from a 4,000 gallon storage tank that collects rainwater. 

In front of the Hard Luck Castle, there is a tall, white compass. Each of the presidents names are listed in descending order

In front of the Hard Luck Castle, there is a tall, white compass. Each of the presidents names are listed in descending order

Although it is miles away from anywhere, interested people can view the home for a $10 fee and receive a guided tour 

Although it is miles away from anywhere, interested people can view the home for a $10 fee and receive a guided tour 

The Hard Luck Mine is a unique property that can provide for an escape, retreat, or remote compound for any individual or group desiring the ultimate in remote privacy and looking to disappear from society

The Hard Luck Mine is a unique property that can provide for an escape, retreat, or remote compound for any individual or group desiring the ultimate in remote privacy and looking to disappear from society

The central living space in the Hard Luck Mine Castle is dominated by the enormous pipes of the organ

The central living space in the Hard Luck Mine Castle is dominated by the enormous pipes of the organ

A 600-square-foot workshop is also included on site allowing for the homeowner to get to grips with their DIY skills

A 600-square-foot workshop is also included on site allowing for the homeowner to get to grips with their DIY skills

Also included in the residence is a 600-square-foot workshop complete with tools. There is even a dormant gold mine close by which, according to legend, still contains gold.

'In a lot of ways, it's a 'doomsday prepper' dream home...extremely self-sustaining and secure.'

Rasmusson told SFGate that he could see 'an astrologist, an artists, a writer, a musician, a poet, someone who really wants peace and quiet and wants two pipe organs in their home' taking up residence in the future. 

Round and round: The four-story and 8,000-square-foot home features an awe-inspiring spiral staircase through the center of the building 

Round and round: The four-story and 8,000-square-foot home features an awe-inspiring spiral staircase through the center of the building 

Accepting offers: Johnston continues to list the home for sale on his website, but says he hasn't received many phone calls from interested buyers lately 

Accepting offers: Johnston continues to list the home for sale on his website, but says he hasn't received many phone calls from interested buyers lately 

The view: Rusty Johnston, 69, named the home Hard Luck Mine Castle, after the 19th century mine on the property 

The view: Rusty Johnston, 69, named the home Hard Luck Mine Castle, after the 19th century mine on the property 

A really interesting article that I found this morning that raises a lot of provocative questions. The comparisons with the rise of the printing press are obvious; with the Spanish conquest less so.

'The goal is to automate us': welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism
Shoshana Zuboff’s new book is a chilling exposé of the business model that underpins the digital world. Observer tech columnist John Naughton explains the importance of Zuboff’s work and asks the author 10 key questions

‘Technology is the puppet, but surveillance capitalism is the puppet master.’ Photograph: Getty Images

We’re living through the most profound transformation in our information environment since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of printing in circa 1439. And the problem with living through a revolution is that it’s impossible to take the long view of what’s happening. Hindsight is the only exact science in this business, and in that long run we’re all dead. Printing shaped and transformed societies over the next four centuries, but nobody in Mainz (Gutenberg’s home town) in, say, 1495 could have known that his technology would (among other things): fuel the Reformation and undermine the authority of the mighty Catholic church; enable the rise of what we now recognise as modern science; create unheard-of professions and industries; change the shape of our brains; and even recalibrate our conceptions of childhood. And yet printing did all this and more.

Why choose 1495? Because we’re about the same distance into our revolution, the one kicked off by digital technology and networking. And although it’s now gradually dawning on us that this really is a big deal and that epochal social and economic changes are under way, we’re as clueless about where it’s heading and what’s driving it as the citizens of Mainz were in 1495.

To Those Who Think We Can Reform Our Way Out of the Climate Crisis
Our only hope is to stop exploiting the earth—and its people.

A resident stands in front of a burning hill in Drafti area, about 23 miles east of Athens, Greece. (AP Photo / Petros Giannakouris)

Ben Ehrenreich

Welcome to the future. It feels like it, doesn’t it? Like we have reached the end of something—of the days when the Arctic was not actually in flames, when the permafrost was not a sodden mush, when the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets were not rushing to join the quickly rising seas. Perhaps we have also, finally, reached the end of the days when we could soothe ourselves with lies, or delusions at least; when we imagined that we were the only masters here, that we could keep taking what we wanted, and that no one would ever have to pay.

We are paying now. Twenty eighteen was the year that temperatures scraped 90 degrees in the Norwegian Arctic; that permafrost in northern Siberia failed to freeze at all; that wildfires burned on the taiga there, as well as above the Arctic Circle in Alaska and Sweden, in the moors of northern England, in Greece, and in California, where they showed no sense of poetic restraint whatsoever and reduced a place called Paradise to ash.

And where there wasn’t fire, there were floods: Hundreds died and millions were evacuated from rising waters in Japan, southern China, and the Indian state of Kerala. Venice flooded too, and Paris, where the Louvre had to close its Department of Islamic Arts, which it had consigned, ahem, to a basement. It was also the year the United Nations’ climate change body warned that, to avoid full-on cataclysm, we, the humans of planet Earth, would have just 12 years (11 now) to cut carbon emissions by 45 percent, and 32 years (31 and counting) to eliminate such emissions altogether.

Still, the weather may be the least of our problems. The fire that razed Paradise displaced 52,000 people overnight, forcing many into the ranks of California’s swelling homeless population and what passes for a safety net these days: free berths on the asphalt in a Walmart parking lot. Millions more of us will become refugees when a mega-storm drowns Miami or Manila, and when the Bay of Bengal rises high enough to swallow Bangladesh. Narendra Modi’s India is ready, and has nearly finished stretching barbed wire across the entire 2,500-mile border with Bangladesh. By conservative estimates, climate change will displace a quarter of a billion people over the next 31 years. Most will not be wealthy, and most will not be white.

We do know, at least, how we got here. It was all that oil and coal that we burned, that we’re still burning. But that “we” is misleading. It isn’t all of us, and never was. As the Swedish scholar Andreas Malm recounts in Fossil Capital, his exhaustive account of the rise of the coal-powered steam engine, coal was initially embraced by a tiny subclass of wealthy Englishmen, the ones who owned the mills. They came to favor steam over hydropower in large part because it allowed them to erect factories in cities and towns—rather than submitting to the dictates of distant rivers and streams—giving them access to what we would now call a flexible workforce: masses of hungry urbanites accustomed to the indignities of factory labor, willing to toil for less, easily replaceable if they refused.

In the process these early industrialists created the illusion fundamental to the functioning of our entire economic system: the possibility of self-sustaining growth. Machines could always move faster, squeezing more work out of fewer hands for greater and greater profits. After the Second World War, the same logic would push the transition from coal to oil: It took far less labor to get oil out of the ground and to transport it across continents, plus coal miners had an alarming tendency to strike.

From its inception, then, the carbon economy has been tied to the basic capitalist mandate to disempower workers, to squeeze the most sweat out of people for the least amount of money. For the last 200-odd years, the exploitation of the planet has been inseparable from the exploitation of living human beings.

This is why, though the alarm bells about anthropogenic warming began tolling more than half a century ago, the carbon habit has proven nearly impossible to break. Since 1990, when international climate negotiations commenced, carbon emissions have jumped by more than 60 percent. Last year, as the fires burned and the floodwaters rose, they leapedby a projected 2.7 percent. It’s almost as if someone’s profiting from our misfortune. And they are: Six of the 10 highest-earning corporations on last year’s FortuneGlobal 500 list made their money extracting or delivering fossil energy; two were automobile manufacturers and one—Walmart, the planet’s richest brand—relied on a system of globalized trade inconceivable without massive consumption of fossil fuels. Even on an individual level, the richest 1 percent have a carbon footprint 2,000 times larger than the poorest inhabitants of Honduras or Mozambique, countries that have contributed next to nothing to global warming and are suffering disproportionately from it. We already know well that the 1 percent do not let go of power willingly.

Nor will our political system likely be much help, even with our survival as a species at stake. Politicians are not often good at thinking in planetary terms. The system in which they function—national governments and international institutions alike—evolved alongside the carbon economy and has for decades functioned mainly to serve it. However enlightened their representatives may appear at climate talks, wealthy countries continue to subsidize fossil-fuel extraction—last year to the tune of $147 billion. In the United States, Trumpian climate denialism and Pelosian tepidity are two faces of the same phenomenon. Congressman Frank Pallone, who chairs the toothless committee that Pelosi resurrected to tackle climate change, announced that he plans to propose nothing more than “some oversight” of Trump’s assaults on preexisting federal programs, and that requiring committee members to reject donations from fossil-fuel industries would be “too limiting.”

Centrists continue to reassure, unshaken in the conviction that no problem exists that cannot be solved with a little technocratic fiddling. Just before he left office, Barack Obama penned an article in Science, contending that climate change “mitigation need not conflict with economic growth.” Wealthy countries, the argument goes, have already managed to reduce emissions without sacrificing growth. “Decoupling” is the magic word here. Imagine a gentle, Gwyneth Paltrowesque divorce between fossil fuels and capital, followed by a fresh romance with greener tech, perhaps a few extra therapy bills for the kids.

But someone always gets hurt in a break-up. The techno-optimist dream holds together only if you hide the fact that much of the progress made by the United States and Europe came at the expense of poorer countries: As corporations off-shored manufacturing jobs over the last few decades, they sent the carbon-intensive industries with them, allowing Western consumers, at the clean end of a very dirty process, to import massive quantities of goods. The only year so far this millennium that global emissions have dropped was 2009. It took a global financial meltdown and more than a year of recession for fossil-fuel consumption to even dip.

For now, the petroligarchy is winning. Thirteen years ago, Hurricane Katrina gave us an early taste of the future they have built for us: a murderous, militarized, racialized response to human vulnerability. Now we are living in it. We know what their world looks like: abundance for the few behind walls and razor wire, precarity and impoverishment for the rest of us; endless prisons for endless streams of migrants, concentration camps by other names.

But there are other futures, other worlds as yet unmade. We have only to choose ours, and to fight like hell for it—fiercely, with forms of solidarity that we have not yet been able to imagine. Solidarity not only with one another but with this planet and the many forms of life it hosts. There is no way out of this but to cease to view the Earth, and its populations, as an endless sink of resources from which wealth can be extracted.

This is not hippie idealism but purest practicality: There is no way to preserve anything approximating the status quo without turning into monsters, or cadavers, and no way to survive that is not radical. In this future we will need to keep our eyes open and learn to calm ourselves only with truths. If other worlds are not yet visible, it is because they are ours to make.

Ben Ehrenreich

Ben Ehrenreich’s most recent book, The Way to the Spring, is based on his reporting from the West Bank.

Surly Newz / Confronting “Alternative Facts”
« on: January 11, 2019, 03:25:32 PM »
A fine essay on why opposing bullshit and "alternative facts" rises to the level of a moral imperative.

Rebecca Gordon: Confronting “Alternative Facts”

Life in the United States of Trump

In one of the Bible stories about the death of Jesus, local collaborators with the Roman Empire haul him before Pontius Pilate, the imperial governor of Palestine. Although the situation is dire for one of them, the two engage in a bit of epistemological banter. Jesus allows that his work is about telling the truth and Pilate responds with his show-stopping query: “What is truth?”

Pilate’s retort is probably not the first example in history of a powerful ruler challenging the very possibility that some things might be true and others lies, but it’s certainly one of the best known. As the tale continues, the Gospel of John proceeds to impose its own political truth on the narrative. It describes an interaction that, according to historians, is almost certainly a piece of fiction: Pilate offers an angry crowd assembled at his front door a choice: he will free either Jesus or a man named Barabbas. The loser will be crucified.

“Now,” John tells us, “Barabbas had taken part in an uprising” against the Romans. When the crowd chooses to save him, John condemns them for preferring such a rebel over the man who told the “truth” -- the revolutionary zealot, that is, over the Messiah.

What, indeed, is truth? As Pilate implies and John’s tale suggests, it seems to depend on who’s telling the story -- and whose story we choose to believe. Could truth, in other words, just be a matter of opinion?

Many of my undergraduate philosophy students adopt this perspective. Over the course of a semester, they encounter a number of philosophers and struggle to understand what each is arguing and what to think when they contradict each other. I do my best to present scholarly assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of these varying approaches, but all too often students find themselves drowning in a pool of epistemological confusion. If a philosophy can be criticized, they wonder, how can it be true? The easiest solution, they often find, is to decide that truth is indeed just a matter of opinion, something that has only become easier now that Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office.

A more difficult route out of the morass would be to trust themselves to evaluate the claims of competing theories of how life works and decide, however tentatively, which seems most convincing. But it’s precisely the skills needed to evaluate such competing claims that many of them lack. Often, they doubt that such skills even exist. In this, they are not unlike President Trump who is frequently astonished to learn things that ought to be part of an ordinary citizen’s knowledge base. (Apparently, until he personally stumbled upon the fact, for example, “nobody knew that health care is complicated.”) Their answer to most questions is some version of “nobody knows” or indeedcan know; truth, in other words, is just a matter of opinion.

This popular belief that nobody really does or can know anything is the perfect soil for an authoritarian leader to take root.

But facts really are, as the popular expression has it, “a thing.” Try telling a former resident of Paradise, California, that truth is just a matter of opinion when it comes, for example, to climate change. Paradise, you probably remember, was the town in Butte County that was incinerated last November by the deadliest wildfire in California history. Or rather the deadliest so far, since there can be no doubt -- if you don’t happen to be the president or his climate-change-denying Republican colleagues and cabinet members or part of the 20% of Americans who still refuse to believe the obvious -- that worse is to come. After all, as the Associated Press reported recently, 15 of California’s 20 “most destructive” wildfires have burned in the last two decades.

For President Trump, whether or not the global climate is changing is not a question to be answered by examining evidence. “People like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers,” he told the Washington Post that very November, adding, “As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it.”

To Trump, what is clearly the worst danger threatening humanity is a matter not of fact, but of belief, and possibly even a complete fiction.

From Credibility Gap to Alternative Facts

Donald Trump is hardly the first American president to have a loose relationship with the truth. Back in the 1960s, when the Vietnam War was raging, what was then dubbed the “credibility gap” opened in the minds of journalists and the public -- a gap between President Lyndon Johnson’s assertions about “progress” in that war and “the facts on the ground.” Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, who co-directed PBS’s 10-part series on that war, argue that “this radical diminution of trust” in the presidency began with Johnson’s, and later President Richard Nixon’s lies to the American public about what was actually going on there.

Those lies included a specious casus belli and legal underpinning for the full-scale American intervention there (supposed North Vietnamese attacks on two U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin). Even the State Department’s official online history now acknowledges that “doubts later emerged as to whether or not the [second] attack... had taken place.” As the war progressed, two administrations rolled out ever more lies about the victory soon to come, especially via post-battle body counts, often presented like sports scores in which the winner was the one with the lower number: Americans, 78; Viet Cong, 475. Miraculously, the U.S. military never appeared to lose a match, which made the public all the more surprised when they lost the war itself. 

In the Vietnam years, at least, such a credibility gap could be acknowledged and an administration forced to confront it. Despite the fact that media outlets now almost routinely tote up Trump’s “untruths” -- his misstatements, false statements, and lies -- by the thousands, his administration has managed to call into question the very existence of any “facts on the ground” whatsoever. This process began in the most literal way on the first day of the Trump era: his inauguration. In January 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted that Trump had drawn “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”

When journalists began comparing photographs of the crowds at Trump’s and Barack Obama’s inaugurations -- the literal facts on the ground -- it became clear that Spicer was lying. (The photos of the Trump inaugural would later be “edited” to fit the president’s desired reality.) Some of us wondered: Would that moment mark the opening of a new credibility gap for the Trump era? And the answer would be: no, it would signal the beginning of something even worse.

In the epistemological universe of the president and his base, a credibility gap is inconceivable, because there are no facts on the ground to begin with. Or rather, we are invited to choose from a range of “alternative facts,” as Trump aide Kellyanne Conway so unforgettably put it. His press secretary can’t lie, no matter what the (unedited) aerial photos of those crowds may show, not when what you might perceive as a lie is simply someone else’s statement of alternative fact.

Trump’s is not the first administration in recent memory to suggest that truth is a matter of what you choose to believe -- or, if you prefer, a matter of faith. In “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” a 2004 New York Times Magazine article, journalist Ron Suskind reported on discussions among various administration insiders about the president’s worldview. An unnamed former aide to Ronald Reagan assured Suskind, for instance, that, for President Bush, truth was in fact absolute. It just wasn’t based on evidence:

“This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about al-Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them... 

"This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts. He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence."

A Bush aide (later identified as key adviser Karl Rove) similarly disparaged evidence-based reality, though in his case by favoring facts created not through faith but power. As he so resonantly explained to those stuck “in what we call the reality-based community":

"That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Everything Is Possible and Nothing Is True

Not surprisingly, among its critics Donald Trump’s presidency has inspiredany number of references to political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s description of the dismantling of truth by authoritarian regimes of the previous century. In her 1951 book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt described the process this way:

"In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.”

Our aspiring authoritarians (and the Russian internet trolls who assist them) understand this strategy well: Was Barack Obama born in the United States? Nobody knows for sure, but many people believe he wasn’t. Did Hillary Clinton run a secret pedophile ring from the basement of a Washington pizzeria? Nobody knows for sure, but some people believe she did. Do the Obamas have a 10-foot wall around their Washington home, suggesting that, according to the president, the entire country just needs a “slightly larger version” of the same on its southernmost border? Nobody knows, and in any case, how can we believe a photo of the house without such a wall offered by the Washington Post? Photos, after all, can easily be faked. Did Russia interfere in the 2016 presidential election? Nobody knows for sure, not even Donald Trump, despite having been shown substantial evidence that it did.

The cumulative effect of a mounting number of claims about which “nobody knows” the truth is a corresponding rise in the belief that nobody can know what is true. All evidence is equally valid (or invalid), so what’s real is as optional as the possible endings in a “choose-your-own-adventure” TV show.

If the world was “ever-changing” and “incomprehensible” to “the masses” in the authoritarian regimes of the twentieth century, how much more incomprehensible is the turbo-charged, Internet-fueled world of 2019? Today’s propaganda can be not only omnipresent but precisely tailored to specific audiences, even if its objectives (and often sources) may not be obvious at first glance.

We are used to thinking of propaganda (a word whose Latin roots mean “towards action”) as intended to move people to think or act in a particular way. And indeed that kind of propaganda has long existed, as with, for example, wartime booksposters, and movies designed to inflame patriotism and hatred of the enemy. But there was a different quality to totalitarian propaganda. Its purpose was not just to create certainty (the enemy is evil incarnate), but a curious kind of doubt. “In fact,” as Russian émigrée and New Yorker writer Masha Gessen has put it, “the purpose of totalitarian propaganda is to take away your ability to perceive reality.”

Eroding the very ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy has been, however instinctively, the mode of the Trumpian moment as well, both the presidential one and that of so many right-wing conspiracy theorists now populating the online world. When everybody lies, anything can indeed be true. And when everybody -- or even a significant chunk of everybody -- believes this, the effect can be profoundly anti-democratic.

Such belief, born of the relentless rush of falsehoods and conspiracy theories, doesn’t just rile people up and make them wonder what in the world is true. It also generates a yearning for a single voice to rise above the crashing waves of claims and counterclaims, a voice that can be trusted.

In a world in which people sense that truth no longer matters, it doesn’t make a difference whether what that voice says is true. What matters is that the voice is strong and confident. What matters is that it is authoritative even in its falsehoods. And if that reminds you of Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines or Brazil’s newly inaugurated hard-right president Jair Bolsonaro, or Donald Trump, it should.

Why Telling the Truth Matters

Most of what we know, we learn not through personal experience, but because of the reports of other trusted human beings. I have never performed the double-slit experiment, but I know that electrons can behave both as particles and waves. I haven’t recorded ocean or air temperatures over the course of a century, yet I know that on average, the Earth’s air, land, and waters are growing dangerously warmer.

It’s because so much of what we know depends on the truthfulness of others that the philosopher Immanuel Kant believed lying was always wrong. His reasoning was that when we lie to another person, we fail to respect her infinitely valuable capacity to encounter the world and think about the moral choices she’ll make in it. By refusing to tell her the truth, we treat her not as a person, but as an instrument -- a tool to get something we want. We treat her like a thing.

I suspect that Kant was right, although one of my other favorite ethicists, Miss Manners (the journalist Judith Martin), argues that certain fictions (“this is delicious!”) are the lubricant without which society’s wheels would freeze in place. Perhaps -- you knew I was going to say this! -- the truth lies somewhere in between.

However, I am certain of one thing: that truth-telling is the bedrock of democracy. When we routinely assume that our fellow citizens and government officials are lying, it becomes impossible to work together to determine how our neighborhoods, our cities, or our country should function. When we abandon the effort to figure out what is true, we cede the field to anti-democratic leaders who derive their “just powers” not “from the consent of the governed” but from the acquiescence of the willingly deceived.

Anyone who has tried to tell the truth consistently knows how difficult it is to do so. The temptations to lie are powerful, in politics as in daily life. As the poet Adrienne Rich wrote in “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying,” when we claim we are lying because we don’t want to cause pain, what we really mean is that we don’t want “to have to deal with the other's pain. The lie is a short-cut through another's personality.”

Similarly, in democratic politics and organizing, the lie is a shortcut through the hard work of listening to other people’s arguments and formulating our own. Suppose your senatorial candidate (like the one for whose election I recently worked) favors raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. It’s tempting to promise potential voters (especially the many voters who don’t know what a senator can and can’t do) that if your candidate wins, their wages will definitely rise. Electing your candidate may indeed make that more likely, but it’s hardly a guarantee.

In the short run, promising that wages will go up wins more elections than saying they might. But in the long run, this kind of shortcut drives people out of the democratic process, because they stop believing that candidates ever keep promises.

Even in a life-or-death campaign (such as the effort to unseat Trump will be, if he’s still around in 2020), we need to build democratic relationships based on telling the truth as well as we know how. Only if we can trust each other to try to be honest can we hope to rebuild something resembling a truly functioning democracy. Otherwise, sooner or later this country will be seduced by the siren song of yet another strong and authoritative voice.

Humans are finite creatures and any truth we lay claim to will of necessity be partial, multi-faceted, and complex. At our best, we see only part of what is there and articulate only part of what we see. The promise of democracy -- when it works -- is the possibility of combining all those partially glimpsed and imperfectly reported realities into a still imperfect, but nevertheless better, whole.

Rebecca Gordon teaches philosophy at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.

Copyright 2019 Rebecca Gordon. First published inTomDispatchand included in Vox Populi with permission.

Economics / The coming reckoning for capitalism
« on: December 31, 2018, 01:05:52 PM »
llustration:Rebecca Zisser/Axios

One of the most important trends likely to drive the 2020 presidential race: A growing disillusion with capitalism as practiced, and a coming struggle over how to recast this pillar of the Western order.

The bottom line: You could hardly challenge a more basic part of who we are as Americans and Westerners. 

Show less

Polling shows a rising number of young Americans prefer socialism to capitalism.

  • Gallupfound this summer: "Americans aged 18 to 29 are as positive about socialism (51%) as they are about capitalism (45%)."
  • That's "a 12-point decline in young adults' positive views of capitalism in just the past two years and a marked shift since 2010, when 68% viewed it positively."

Why it matters: The main messengers of this coming steamroller are nowhere near the fringe. They're mainstream thinkers with ideas like, "We must rethink the purpose of the corporation" and "The crisis of democratic capitalism" (both from Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf).

  • The thinking is captured in a clutch of must-read new books by Paul Collier, Jonathan Tepper and Oren Cass; and a growing body of academic papers in the U.S. and Europe. 
  • What they are mostly doing is connecting the dots of what we all realize by now: Flaws in the system — including forgetting about so much of society — are largely to blame for widespread disaffection with establishment institutions, leaders and answers. 

The evidence of something profoundly amiss is visible in: 

  • Almost four decades of largely flat wages for the vast majority of workers.
  • Four decades of meager productivity gains.
  • An anemic number of new startups, and relatively few IPOs.

If you remember one thing: All that bigness that you see around you — outsized cities, companies and individuals gobbling up most of the economic pie — is not normal.

  • For the economic system to become more inclusive, competitive, and deliver for more people, some or a lot of that bigness may have to be broken up. 

Axios' Felix Salmon notes: The past four decades have seen massive global increases in wealth and income and productivity, thanks almost entirely to capitalism. (Look where South Korea was 40 years ago!)

  • So flattened wages in the U.S. reflects the way the benefits of capitalism wound up getting spread across the globe, rather than being concentrated in the West.
  • This does, of course, explain the disaffection in the West.

What's next: In the U.S., look for this trend to be a primary battleground among Democratic presidential candidates in 2020. Each of the political parties is likely to promise that it can best reformulate the system to deliver for the vast number of Americans.

  • Axios' Dan Primack points out that this could be the dividing line in the Democratic primary: A pretty hardcore group that believes that even Sen. Elizabeth Warren is too capitalist (because she wants to reform, not replace).

Be smart: Innovative Republican candidates will also reach for many of the same issues and solutions, rather than the GOP orthodoxy of old.

Surly Newz / Fake Newz
« on: December 14, 2018, 08:14:50 AM »
Trump’s Lawyers Argue That He Cannot Be Impeached Because He Was Never Actually Elected

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In what they believe is a legal masterstroke, lawyers for Donald J. Trump are now claiming that he cannot be impeached because he was never actually elected.

In a lengthy memo sent to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, the lawyers pushed back vehemently against any allegation that Trump was legally elected President.

“Because Russian interference made the election of Donald J. Trump wholly illegitimate, any attempt to remove him from an office that he does not legally hold is clearly impossible,” the memo asserted.

The memo claimed that the Constitution contains “no provision for removing a person from office when that person was installed there by a foreign power.”

The memo went on to argue that, if a subpoena is sent to the White House, it will be returned to Mueller and stamped “addressee unknown.”

“A person referred to in a subpoena as ‘President’ Donald J. Trump simply does not exist,” the memo claimed.

Minutes after the memo was leaked, the former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani appeared on “Fox & Friends” and proudly announced that he was its author.

“Sometimes I have to just step back and say, ‘Damn it, Rudy, you’re good,’ ” he said, beaming.

Andy Borowitz is the New York Times best-selling author of “The 50 Funniest American Writers,” and a comedian who has written for The New Yorker since 1998. He writes the Borowitz Report, a satirical column on the news, for

Artificial Intelligence May Destroy Humanity by Accident (but It Won’t Apologize)

Lee Camp

Future tense: Film plots involving out-of-control AI have been the stuff of big-screen nightmares for decades, as in this robotic creation from "Terminator Salviation." (By B / Flickr)(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The U.S. military has quietly said it wants 70 unmanned self-driving supply trucks by 2020. And seeing as $21 trillion has gone unaccounted for at the Pentagon over the past 20 years, when the Pentagon wants something, it tends to get that something.

Of course supply trucks in and of themselves don’t sound so bad. Even if the self-driving trucks run over some poor unsuspecting saps, that will still be the least destruction our military has ever manifested. But because I’ve read a thing or two about our military, I’ll assume that by “supply trucks,” they mean “ruthless killing machines.” In fact, it’s now clear the entire “Department of Defense” is just a rebranding of “Department of Ruthless Killing Machines.”

And even if they do mean simple supply trucks, once those unmanned trucks are commuting themselves around the Middle East like a cross between “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Platoon,” how long do you think it will be until some a-hole general blurts, “Why don’t we put a missile or two on those things?”

The answer is 17 minutes. (Fifteen minutes if Trump is still president.)

Plus, these trucks are not the military’s only venture into artificial intelligence. The Navy wants $13.5 million to go toward rapid advances in AI. The Air Force is looking for $87 million to experiment with it. The Army has requested $6.5 million more for it. And the Marine Corps says it needs $7.1 million. (These are just the publicly stated numbers. Much like a vampire, our military does 95 percent of its best work in the dark.)

So this brings up a pressing question that we will see again and again in the coming years: How much do we need to fear artificial intelligence—or is it simply a great technological advancement?

Let me answer that question with a bit of a tangent. Human beings are notoriously unreliable. But there are two things you can always rely on humans for:

1. Humans will advance technology in every way possible.

2. Other humans will strap explosives to that technology.

Think about it: The automobile eventually became the tank. The airplane became the bomber. The printing press became the semi-automatic assault printing press. And so on.

But maybe I’m being paranoid. Maybe artificial intelligence is here to help us. One of the top AI geniuses at Google says the world is currently screwed (climate change, pollution, auto-tune). To save it, he says, “either we need an exponential improvement in human behavior—less selfishness, less short-termism, more collaboration, more generosity—or we need an exponential improvement in technology. … I don’t think we’re going to be getting an exponential improvement in human behavior. … That’s why we need a quantum leap in technology like AI.”

Basically, he’s saying we’re horrible, shitty people who are not going to change, BUT the bots will arrive soon to show us the way!

And there is some truth to this. AI will one day be able to tap into basically the entire internet simultaneously and learn everything that has ever been learned far quicker than troglodytes like us. So it will be incredibly, unimaginably smart, and will always be three moves ahead of us. On top of that, it won’t have the things that get in the way of our mental advancement as a species, such as:

  • hunger
  • fear
  • insecurity
  • superstition
  • religion
  • the drive to stick one’s penis in anything that moves

Artificial intelligence doesn’t have to deal with any of that.

So maybe AI will indeed save us from ourselves. … Orrrr, maybe with its infinite knowledge it will decide the planet would be better off without the ape-like creatures who keep trying to tell it what to do. Tesla CEO Elon Musk had an exciting and upbeat response when he was recently asked about how fast artificial intelligence is advancing.

I tried to convince people to slow down. Slow down AI, to regulate AI. This was futile. I tried for years.”

(If you happen to have a cyanide tablet nearby, now would be the time to chomp down on that.)

Musk believes artificial intelligence is a far greater threat to humanity than nuclear weapons. Keep in mind, in order for AI to do great harm to our dopey species, it doesn’t necessarily have to be out to get us. It could simply come up with “solutions” that humans aren’t really prepared for. Here’s an example from The Atlantic of an AI mistake:

“One algorithm was supposed to figure out how to land a virtual airplane with minimal force. But the AI soon discovered that if it crashed the plane, the program would register a force so large that it would overwhelm its memory and count it as a perfect score. So the AI crashed the plane, over and over again, killing all the virtual people on board.”

That particular bot got a perfect score on landing a plane by killing all the imaginary humans. It kind of reminds me of the time I stopped my younger brother from beating me in “The Legend of Zelda” video game by throwing our television in a creek.

So now, dear reader, you may be thinking, “That’s terrifying—the AI was given an objective and basically just did ANYTHING to get there.” However, is that so different from humans? In our society, we are given the objective of “accumulate wealth and power,” and now we have people like weapons contractors and big oil magnates achieving the objective by promoting and fostering war and death around the world. It’s almost like they don’t care how they achieve the objective.

I’m not saying I know whether AI will save us all or kill us all, but I am saying these are the types of questions that need to be asked, AND SOON, because we won’t be the smartest beings on this planet much longer. (As it is we’re barely holding on to the top spot. A solid 50 percent of us are just glorified butlers to our dogs and cats. One can’t really claim to rule the world when one is carrying another species’ poop.)

Also check out Lee Camp’s new comedy special, which one review called “the new standard for political stand-up comedy.” It’s only available at

This column is based on a monologue Lee Camp wrote and performed on his TV show “Redacted Tonight.”

Surly Newz / Apostle of the Incel Army and the Way Things Used To Be
« on: November 15, 2018, 07:29:30 AM »
Standing up this thread as a much-needed corrective to the incursions of the acolytes of Jordan Peterson and his revanchist, fascist-enabling propaganda. Like some of his disciples, he spins a good tale and gets the rubes nodding and smiling, as he addresses their grievances and absolves them of responsibility for their actions. The problem is that he is utterly, irredeemably wrong. His premises attack the very foundation of the Enlightenment. Like his minions who send him $80,000 a month to be clothed in the raiment of Petersonian wisdom, he finds the enemy everywhere in the notion of human progress. Fuck him.

Jordan Peterson, Custodian of the Patriarchy
He says there’s a crisis in masculinity. Why won’t women — all these wives and witches — just behave?

CreditCreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times

Jordan Peterson, Custodian of the Patriarchy

He says there’s a crisis in masculinity. Why won’t women — all these wives and witches — just behave?

CreditCreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times

TORONTO — Jordan Peterson fills huge lecture halls and tells his audiences there’s no shame in looking backward to a model of how the world should be arranged. Look back to the 1950s, he says — and back even further. He tells his audiences that they are smart. He is bringing them knowledge, yes, but it is knowledge that they already know and feel in their bones. He casts this as ancient wisdom, delivered through religious allegories and fairy tales which contain truth, he says, that modern society has forgotten.

Most of his ideas stem from a gnawing anxiety around gender. “The masculine spirit is under assault,” he told me. “It’s obvious.”

In Mr. Peterson’s world, order is masculine. Chaos is feminine. And if an overdose of femininity is our new poison, Mr. Peterson knows the cure. Hence his new book’s subtitle: “An Antidote to Chaos.”

“We have to rediscover the eternal values and then live them out,” he says.

Mr. Peterson, 55, a University of Toronto psychology professor turned YouTube philosopher turned mystical father figure, has emerged as an influential thought leader. The messages he delivers range from hoary self-help empowerment talk (clean your room, stand up straight) to the more retrograde and political (a society run as a patriarchy makes sense and stems mostly from men’s competence; the notion of white privilege is a farce). He is the stately looking, pedigreed voice for a group of culture warriors who are working diligently to undermine mainstream and liberal efforts to promote equality.

He is also very successful. His book, “12 Rules for Life,” which was published in January, has sold more than 1.1 million copies. Thanks to his YouTube channel, he makes more than $80,000 a month just on donations. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken his online personality tests and self-improvement writing exercises. The media covers him relentlessly.

Security at Mr. Peterson's "12 Rules For Life" tour event. CreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times
Security at Mr. Peterson's "12 Rules For Life" tour event. CreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times

For two days in May, Mr. Peterson gives me a view of his life. He shows me his home, lets me listen in on business calls and a Skype session with a fan, and follow him backstage during a speaking engagement at the Queen Elizabeth Theater. He does not smile. He has a weathered, gaunt face and big furrowed eyebrows. He has written about dogs being closest in behavior to humans, but there is something extremely feline about him. He always wears a suit. “I am a very serious person,” he often says.

Wherever he goes, he speaks in sermons about the inevitability of who we must be. “You know you can say, ‘Well isn’t it unfortunate that chaos is represented by the feminine’ — well, it might be unfortunate, but it doesn’t matter because that is how it’s represented. It’s been represented like that forever. And there are reasons for it. You can’t change it. It’s not possible. This is underneath everything. If you change those basic categories, people wouldn’t be human anymore. They’d be something else. They’d be transhuman or something. We wouldn’t be able to talk to these new creatures.”

Why Men Murder

Mr. Peterson’s home is a carefully curated house of horror. He has filled it with a sprawl of art that covers the walls from floor to ceiling. Most of it is communist propaganda from the Soviet Union (execution scenes, soldiers looking noble) — a constant reminder, he says, of atrocities and oppression. He wants to feel their imprisonment, though he lives here on a quiet residential street in Toronto and is quite free.

“Marxism is resurgent,” Mr. Peterson says, looking ashen and stricken.

I say it seems unnecessarily stressful to live like this. He tells me life is stressful.

He tucks his legs under him as he talks, curled in a dark leather seat. He has been padding around softly in socks. He looks down while he talks and makes fleeting, suspicious eye contact.

He quit his private practice last year and is on an early sabbatical from the University of Toronto. He dragged the school into controversy in 2016 by opposing a Canadian bill that he believed would compel him to use a student’s preferred pronouns.

“I am not going to be a mouthpiece for language that I detest, and that’s that,” he said during a debate at the University of Toronto.

Mr. Peterson, who grew up in Fairview, Canada, a small town in northern Alberta, spent his career teaching psychology at Harvard and then at the University of Toronto, all while running a clinical practice.

The lesson most patients need to hear, he says, is “grow the hell up, accept some responsibility, live an honorable life.”

“We just haven’t talked about that in any compelling way in three generations,” he says. “Probably since the beginning of the ’60s.”

Why did he decide to engage in politics at all? He says a couple years ago he had three clients in his private practice “pushed out of a state of mental health by left-wing bullies in their workplace.” I ask for an example, and he sighs.

He says one patient had to be part of a long email chain over whether the term “flip chart” could be used in the workplace, since the word “flip” is a pejorative for Filipino.

“She had a radical-left boss who was really concerned with equality and equality of outcome and all these things and diversity and inclusivity and all these buzzwords and she was subjected to — she sent me the email chain, 30 emails about whether or not the word flip chart was acceptable,” Mr. Peterson says.

CreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times

So he was radicalized, he says, because the “radical left” wants to eliminate hierarchies, which he says are the natural order of the world. In his book he illustrates this idea with the social behavior of lobsters. He chose lobsters because they have hierarchies and are a very ancient species, and are also invertebrates with serotonin. This lobster hierarchy has become a rallying cry for his fans; they put images of the crustacean on T-shirts and mugs.

The left, he believes, refuses to admit that men might be in charge because they are better at it. “The people who hold that our culture is an oppressive patriarchy, they don’t want to admit that the current hierarchy might be predicated on competence,” he said.

Mr. Peterson illustrates his arguments with copious references to ancient myths — bringing up stories of witches, biblical allegories and ancient traditions. I ask why these old stories should guide us today.

“It makes sense that a witch lives in a swamp. Yeah,” he says. “Why?”

It’s a hard one.

“Right. That’s right. You don’t know. It’s because those things hang together at a very deep level. Right. Yeah. And it makes sense that an old king lives in a desiccated tower.”

But witches don’t exist, and they don’t live in swamps, I say.

“Yeah, they do. They do exist. They just don’t exist the way you think they exist. They certainly exist. You may say well dragons don’t exist. It’s, like, yes they do — the category predator and the category dragon are the same category. It absolutely exists. It’s a superordinate category. It exists absolutely more than anything else. In fact, it really exists. What exists is not obvious. You say, ‘Well, there’s no such thing as witches.’ Yeah, I know what you mean, but that isn’t what you think when you go see a movie about them. You can’t help but fall into these categories. There’s no escape from them.”

Recently, a young man named Alek Minassian drove through Toronto trying to kill people with his van. Ten were killed, and he has been charged with first-degree murder for their deaths, and with attempted murder for 16 people who were injured. Mr. Minassian declared himself to be part of a misogynist group whose members call themselves incels. The term is short for “involuntary celibates,” though the group has evolved into a male supremacist movement made up of people — some celibate, some not — who believe that women should be treated as sexual objects with few rights. Some believe in forced “sexual redistribution,” in which a governing body would intervene in women’s lives to force them into sexual relationships.

Violent attacks are what happens when men do not have partners, Mr. Peterson says, and society needs to work to make sure those men are married.

“He was angry at God because women were rejecting him,” Mr. Peterson says of the Toronto killer. “The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”

Mr. Peterson does not pause when he says this. Enforced monogamy is, to him, simply a rational solution. Otherwise women will all only go for the most high-status men, he explains, and that couldn’t make either gender happy in the end.

“Half the men fail,” he says, meaning that they don’t procreate. “And no one cares about the men who fail.”

I laugh, because it is absurd.

“You’re laughing about them,” he says, giving me a disappointed look. “That’s because you’re female.”

But aside from interventions that would redistribute sex, Mr. Peterson is staunchly against what he calls “equality of outcomes,” or efforts to equalize society. He usually calls them pathological or evil.

He agrees that this is inconsistent. But preventing hordes of single men from violence, he believes, is necessary for the stability of society. Enforced monogamy helps neutralize that.

In situations where there is too much mate choice, “a small percentage of the guys have hyper-access to women, and so they don’t form relationships with women,” he said. “And the women hate that.”

Helping Men Out, One at a Time

Mr. Peterson, John O'Connell and Dave Rubin backstage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto.CreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times
Mr. Peterson, John O'Connell and Dave Rubin backstage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto.CreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times

Mr. Peterson is a celebrity in the men’s rights community, a loose collection of activists who feel men have been subjugated or betrayed by social progress. Some of these supporters pay $200 a month for a 45-minute Skype conversation with Mr. Peterson to discuss their problems. (Mr. Peterson says this service has since been discontinued.)

Before he leads me to his office to sit in on one of these appointments, Mr. Peterson shows me around the third floor of his home, which is filled withcarvings made by Charles Joseph, a Kwakwaka'wakw artist.

Over his bed is a painting celebrating electrification in the Soviet Union. On the wall across from it is a hyper-realistic painting of two nude women with swords. His bedspread is familiar: It’s the same image as his Twitter avatar, a dark geometric design based on a piece of art he made out of foam core in 1985 that he called “The Meaning of Music.” He says it’s “an attempt to portray in image what music means.” He has had it made into a rug as well.

Mr. Peterson’s office has objects scattered and strewn throughout: There is a hat from a gulag, some steampunk masks he thought were cool, stacks of papers and cords, and a Kermit puppet his sister sent him because his fans joke that his voice, high and hoarse, sounds like the Muppet. Mr. Peterson stresses the importance of cleanliness, but honestly his office is a mess.

For the Skype call, he wears a sharp blazer and button-down, but he sits shoeless and cross-legged. He knows where the frame cuts off.

The caller, Trevor Alexander Nestor, is a young white man: bearded, unemployed, at a friend’s house. He later posted the audio on his own Patreon.

“I’m really hoping that somebody is going to recognize my talent,” Mr. Nestor says.

Mr. Nestor says he recently wrote a paper on how testosterone levels and sperm count are dropping. He argues sociocultural transformations are probably making men less virile, and Mr. Peterson nods along.

At one point in the discussion, Mr. Peterson, who had been relatively quiet, becomes heated on the topic of women who find marriage oppressive.

“So I don’t know who these people think marriages are oppressing,” he says. “I read Betty Friedan’s book because I was very curious about it, and it’s so whiny, it’s just enough to drive a modern person mad to listen to these suburban housewives from the late ’50s ensconced in their comfortable secure lives complaining about the fact that they’re bored because they don’t have enough opportunity. It’s like, Jesus get a hobby. For Christ’s sake, you — you — ”

Mr. Nestor says he was an engineering student at the University of California, Berkeley, but decided to transfer after feeling overcome by the liberal dogma when he took theater classes for his humanities requirement.

“They were teaching in classrooms things like Martin Luther King Jr. would have supported violent rebellion, and marriage is an institution that is designed to control the sexuality of women,” he says.

Mr. Peterson has a verbal tic where he makes a sound like m-hmm, a guttural forceful noise to signify agreement barked in two distinct beats; his mouth stays closed.

“I’ve talked to a few young women, and they have told me they do wish that they could be housewives,” Mr. Nestor says. “But what they’ve said to me is that they feel as though if they were to pursue that, other people would look down on them.”

“I’ve had lots of women tell me that,” Mr. Peterson says. “Women will never admit that publicly.” Women are likely to prioritize their children over their work, he says, especially “conscientious and agreeable women.”

When Mr. Peterson talks about good women — the sort a man would want to marry — he often uses these words: conscientious and agreeable.

Mr. Nestor feels anxious, and Mr. Peterson says he should. “My primary focus has been to not be homeless,” Mr. Nestor says.

“You don’t have a future and you don’t have a job and no bloody wonder you’re anxious,” Mr. Peterson says. “That just means you’re sane.”

Male Performance

Lined up for the book tour.CreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times
Lined up for the book tour.CreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times

Jacob Logan, 18, from Alliston, Ontario, was first in line for Mr. Peterson’s talk on Thursday, May 3 at the Queen Elizabeth Theater. He had arrived 12 hours early, wearing a shirt with lobsters stacked upon each other. He also had 100 name tags to hand out on which he had scrawled the name “Bucko.” It’s a nickname Mr. Peterson sometimes uses for his fans.

“Whenever I listen to him, it’s like he’s telling me something I already knew,” Mr. Logan says. “Learning is remembering.”

When Mr. Peterson comes down the line shaking hands, the crowd cheers in a way that is not normal for a book tour. He is wearing a new three-piece suit, shiny and brown with wide lapels with a decorative silver flourish.

It is evocative of imagery from a hundred years ago. That’s the point. His speech too is from another era — stilted, with old-timey phrases, a hypnotic rhythm. It’s a vocal tactic he came to only recently. Videos from a few years ago have him speaking and dressing in a more modern way.

I ask him about the retro clothes and phrases. He calls it his prairie populism.

“That’s what happens when you rescue your father from the belly of the whale,” he says. “You rediscover your tradition.”

Inside among the crowd was Sue Bone, 66, a retired flight attendant from Halifax.

Ms. Bone loved her flight attendant job until she began to find it dehumanizing and corporate. Her friend told her the airlines were now run by “angry gay queens,” she says. She found Mr. Peterson. She feels he understands the danger of these strange new social forces.

“He’s waking us up in the West,” she says.

The People Who Have Found Their Leader

The audience during Mr. Peterson's talk. CreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times
The audience during Mr. Peterson's talk. CreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times

“You’re a divine locus of consciousness,” Mr. Peterson tells the crowd of 1,200 or so people.

He looks down as he walks. He paces. He pleads — he often sounds frustrated, like you’ve just said something absurd and he’s trying to correct you without raising his voice. He speaks for over an hour without any notes. He runs his hands over his face when it’s all too much. He cries often.

“We love you!” a woman screams from the back of the house.

Those with V.I.P. tickets get to shake his hand and take a picture. Many tell him something as they stand, waiting for the flash: “You made me have a religious experience”; “we got back in our faith because of you”; “this is another wedding you can take credit for.”

Mr. Peterson’s response is often, “How’s that working out for you?”

Around midnight, there is still a group outside, lingering and talking.

Lion Arar, 22, a theater student in Montreal, says Mr. Peterson’s discussion of gender brought him back to religion.

“It made sense in a primordial way when he breaks down Adam and Eve, the snake and chaos,” Mr. Arar says. “Eve made Adam self-conscious. Women make men self-conscious because they’re the ultimate judge. I was like, ‘Wow this is really true.’”

The changes in his life include starting to clean his room. “My mom’s been nagging me for years, but I’ve never done it until Dr. Peterson,” he says.

“You organize one shelf, you do that, just incremental challenges,” he says. “That makes you realize, ‘O.K., this is how I grow up.’”

Andrew McVicar, 45, a waiter, says it was good to hear someone finally talk about how hierarchies were O.K. He says current politics are pushing for everyone to be the same, promoting women and minorities into unearned positions.


“It’s forced diversity, it’s saying you must have X percent of A-B-C,” he says. “How about, look at yourself?”

Without notes.CreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times
Without notes.CreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times

Jeffrey Rouillard, 21, from Montreal and also studying theater, says he was drawn to Mr. Peterson after watching a prominent female journalist grill him.

“How many times have I been in a situation where I had been set up to be the bad guy?” Mr. Rouillard asks. “Listening to Dr. Peterson, I got a grasp of myself. It’s things I already knew, but now I know how to process the thought.”

Agreeing, Mr. Arar gave off the same guttural m-hmm that Mr. Peterson does.

The Horror of Women

To Naureen Shameem, who works at the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, which is based in Canada, Mr. Peterson’s philosophies are part of a bigger global backlash to gender equality progress.

“It’s an old story, really,” she said. “In a lot of nationalistic projects, women’s bodies and sexualities become important sites of focus and control.”

“Jordan’s exposed something that’s been festering for a long time,” says Justin Trottier, 35, the co-founder of the men’s rights organizations Canadian Association for Equality and Canadian Centre for Men and Families. “Jordan’s forced people to pay attention.”

Mr. Trottier made headlines when his group called the anti-manspreading subway initiatives sexist. Their musty space hosts events in which men discuss the prejudices they perceive against them. One of their group’s main goals is “waking the police up” to female-perpetrated domestic violence, Mr. Trottier says.

Now, “there’s more acceptance of what we’re trying to do,” he says.

The V.I.P. meet and greet. CreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times
The V.I.P. meet and greet. CreditMark Sommerfeld for The New York Times

There are now regular Jordan Peterson discussion groups. The one in Toronto meets once a week at a restaurant called Hemingway’s and is run by Chris Shepherd, who used to be a professional pickup artist who coached men on how to get laid fast at a club but is now a dating coach.

Mr. Shepherd first encountered Mr. Peterson in a viral video of the professor getting yelled at by campus activists. Watching the stoic professor take on righteous liberal anger touched Mr. Shepherd.

“Campus censorship has been a problem when I was at university too,” he says at Hemingway’s one recent afternoon.

I ask for an example.

“One law professor said something like, ‘You young ladies should get married and start families,’ and he got fired,” Mr. Shepherd says. “The message was just you’ll have a happier life if you get married instead of focusing on your career.”

“Certainly not a firing offense,” he says. Except, for now, it is.

Surly Newz / Watch This Space
« on: November 14, 2018, 06:46:15 AM »
Creating a new thread for speculation, rumor, and innuendo.

Bringign us to the Palmer report. Written and curated by Bill Palmer, it runs from the thinly sourced to outright speculation, bit is always amusing to leftists like me. But I have found Bill's bets cover the spread far more than not.
I read his stuff, smile and go on,. but this little nugget leaped off the page.

Google Joseph Misfud. He was speculated to have been dead. He shou;ld take the greatest care that he doesn't end up that way.

George Papadopoulos’ attorneys decide to quit as Professor Misfud comes forward to testify about Trump-Russia

George Papadopoulos’ attorneys decide to quit as Professor Misfud comes forward to testify about Trump-Russia

|7:30 pm EST November 13, 2018

Palmer Report » Analysis

In the several weeks since George Papadopoulos was sentenced to fourteen days in prison as part of the Trump-Russia scandal, he’s posted one increasingly bizarre conspiracy theory on Twitter after another. He’s tried to paint himself as victim of a setup on the part of the intel community and Professor Joseph Misfud. Now suddenly Papadopoulos’s defense attorneys have decided to quit, just as Misfud is coming forward to cooperate with the Trump-Russia investigation.

The news broke this afternoon that Misfud, who has long been in hiding and was believed by some to perhaps be dead, is now seeking to testify before the Senate about the Trump-Russia scandal. Although the Senate is still under GOP control, the Senate Intel Committee probe into Trump-Russia has largely been run in an honest and bipartisan manner.

The big question is what’s prompted Misfud to suddenly decide that his best bet is to cooperate. It could be that he thinks Special Counsel Robert Mueller is about to get him anyway, or that he thinks his life may be in danger, or something else entirely. But what stands out is that, just as this story about Misfud was breaking, the AP announced that Papadopoulos’ attorneys filed amotionto withdraw from the case. Because the Papadopoulos case is ongoing, they’re not allowed to quit without a reason, and they’ll have to convince the judge that their reasoning is valid. But it’s clear they’ve decided to quit.

So what’s really going on here? Robert Mueller revealed in court filings earlier this year that he blamed George Papadopoulos’ dishonesty for the fact that Professor Misfud was able to flee the United States to begin with. Now Misfud suddenly wants to come back and plead his case, and Papadopoulos’s lawyers suddenly want nothing to do with him. There’s clearly more going on here than meets the eye. Stay tuned.

Source article:
Joseph Mifsud Wants To Testify Before The Senate, A Lawyer Claims
“We are working towards his appearance,” a lawyer closely associated with the Maltese professor wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News.

CDC director warns that Congo’s Ebola outbreak may not be containable

A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a boy who had contact with an Ebola patient in the village of Mangina, in North Kivu province, on Aug. 18. (Olivia Acland/Reuters)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said Monday that the Ebola outbreak in conflict-ridden Congo has become so serious that international public health experts need to consider the possibility that it cannot be brought under control and instead will become entrenched.

If that happened, it would be the first time since the deadly viral disease was first identified in 1976 that an Ebola outbreak led to the persistent presence of the disease. In all previous outbreaks, most of which took place in remote areas, the disease was contained before it spread widely. The current outbreak is entering its fourth month, with nearly 300 cases, including 186 deaths.

If Ebola becomes endemic in substantial areas of North Kivu province, in northeastern Congo, “this will mean that we’ve lost the ability to trace contacts, stop transmission chains and contain the outbreak,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, which hosted the briefing on Capitol Hill that featured the Ebola discussion with Redfield.

In that scenario, there would be a sustained and unpredictable spread of the deadly virus, with major implications for travel and trade, he said, noting that there are 6 million people in North Kivu. By comparison, the entire population of Liberia, one of the hardest-hit countries during the West Africa Ebola epidemic of 2014-2016, is about 4.8 million.

The outbreak is taking place in a part of Congo that is an active war zone. Dozens of armed militias operate in the area, attacking government outposts and civilians, complicating the work of Ebola response teams and putting their security at risk. Violence has escalated in recent weeks, severely hampering the response. The daily rate of new Ebola cases more than doubled in early October. In addition, there is community resistance and deep mistrust of the government.

Some sick people have refused to go to treatment centers, health-care workers are still being infected, and some people are dying of Ebola or spreading the virus to new areas. An estimated 60 to 80 percent of new confirmed cases have no known epidemiological link to prior cases, making it very difficult for responders to track cases and stop transmission. In late August, the United States withdrew some of the CDC’s most seasoned Ebola experts who had been stationed in Beni, the province’s urban epicenter, because of security risks.


“I do think this is one of the challenges we’ll have to see, whether we’re able to contain, control and end the current outbreak with the current security situation, or do we move into the idea that this becomes more of an endemic Ebola outbreak in this region, which we’ve never really confronted,” Redfield said.

If that happens, health-care responders may need to consider vaccinating broader populations instead of the current strategy of vaccinating those who have been in contact with infected people.

When contact tracing begins to fall apart, “then you are entering another phase and losing the hope that you can arrest the outbreak through standard interventions,” J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in an interview. In a new report, Morrison wrote that there is an urgent need for “high-level political attention focused on generating an updated game plan” to improve security, train and deploy community health workers, and win community trust.

“This is going to be a complicated and deeply problematic situation and we need to prepare ourselves for dealing with this long term,” Morrison said.

Redfield, officials from the World Health Organization and other experts say one of the biggest worries is the spread within Congo to places like Butembo, a major trading port and urban area, where the risk of widespread transmission escalates dramatically.

In mid-October, the World Health Organization said that it was “deeply concerned” by the outbreak but that the situation did not yet warrant being declared a global emergency. The U.N. health agency called for response activities to be “intensified.” The WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and a top U.N. official for peacekeeping operations, are in Congo this week to take stock of the response.

Read more:

Drop in adult flu vaccinations may be factor in last season’s record-breaking deaths, illnesses

Paralyzing polio-like illness mainly affecting children confirmed in 22 states, CDC says

How Ebola sped out of control

Economics / The Potempkin Economy
« on: November 03, 2018, 07:29:47 AM »
Behind the latest rosy jobs figures, here’s the ‘true state’ of Americans’ financial lives--
Unemployment is at a 48-year low, so why are only 28% of Americans considered ‘financially healthy’?

Some 42% of Americans have no retirement savings at all.



The finances of Americans may not be as good as they look from the outside.

Despite optimistic metrics like a nine-year-long bullish, if volatile, stock market, higher than expected job and wage growth, and consumer confidence levels nearing record highs, millions of Americans continue to struggle, a study released Thursday from financial consultancy nonprofit the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) found.

Only 28% of Americans are considered “financially healthy,” according to a CFSI survey of more than 5,000 Americans. “Financial health enables family stability, education, and upward mobility, not just for individuals today but across future generations,” the CFSI says. “Many are dealing with an unhealthy amount of debt, irregular income, and sporadic savings habits.”

Some 44% of people said their expenses exceeded their income in the past year and they used credit to make ends meet. Another 42% said they have no retirement savings at all.

Meanwhile, 17% of Americans are “financially vulnerable,” meaning they struggle with nearly all financial aspects of their lives, and 55% are “financially coping,” meaning they struggle with some but not all aspects of their financial lives. The recent volatility in the Dow Jones Industrial DJIA, -0.43% and S&P 500 SPX, -0.63% has not helped Americans feel secure, experts say.

These findings are based on the CFSI Financial Health Score, a framework designed by CFSI to measure financial health more holistically by examining spending, saving, credit, and other indicators. Some 44% of respondents said their expenses exceeded their income in the past year and they used credit to make ends meet. Another 42% said they have no retirement savings at all.

They come on the heels of a previous study from personal-finance site that found only 29% of Americans had 6 months or more of emergency savings and a nearly equal percentage said they had none. Indeed, most Americans would not be able to pay for an emergency expense of $1,000, a separate 2015 study showed.

The median American household currently holds just $11,700 in savings, according to a recent analysis of Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data by personal-finance site Magnify Money. The top 1% of households in the U.S. by income have a median savings of $1.1 million across a variety of saving accounts. The bottom 20% by income have no savings accounts and the second lowest 20% income earners have just $26,450 saved.

What should people do to become more financially fit?

“We need to look beyond the headlines to metrics that will help us better understand the true state of Americans’ financial lives,” the study said.

The CFSI survey shows the broad statistics on the economy, a bull market, and unemployment rates often fail to capture the plight of Americans as individuals, said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst “The news surrounding the markets and the economy is critically important, but it doesn’t speak to the status of everyone,” he said.

‘All of this is a call to action: We need to make savings, both for retirement and for emergencies a higher priority, so that they aren’t the source of financial regret later in life.’
Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst Bankrate

Hamrick advised making two things a priority. “All of this is a call to action,” he said. “We need to make savings, both for retirement and for emergencies a higher priority, so that they aren’t the source of financial regret later in life.”

The study from CFSI pointed to broader cycles of financial struggle. It found Americans who struggled financially growing up were less likely to be financially healthy in the future. The high cost of living in the U.S. is also challenging Americans’ ability to lead financially healthy lives. The ongoing financial stress is having negative impacts on mental and physical health, CFSI researchers said.

Meanwhile, the majority of Americans in a recent survey said their finances have not improved since the 2016 elections. “Given the market growth, consumers would expect to be earning more money, but it’s not really happening,” said Divya Sangam, spokeswoman at personal-finance site ValuePenguin.

Surly Newz / Will QAnon Go Down as the Dumbest Story of the Year?
« on: November 03, 2018, 07:18:37 AM »
Once again, Matt Taibbi shows himself a worthy heir to HST's mantle:
"Someone is making great sport of this, and whoever it is has a sense of humor, if not a conscience."

Will QAnon Go Down as the Dumbest Story of the Year?
The political quackery doesn’t just create an alternate reality using existing conspiracy theories — it ties them all together

A Make America Great Again rally In Pennsylvania in August 2018.  Rick Loomis/Getty Images

Matt Taibbi

Were it a government plot — a dazzling scheme to keep the public stupid — QAnon would be a great achievement in the otherwise relatively undistinguished history of the CIA. Alas, it is not. Like most things these days, if it seems like 4D chess, it’s probably just stupid.

So it is with Q, the anonymous executive-branch staffer who is said to be leaking “breadcrumbs” across the bowels of the Internet, illuminating a vast subterranean effort to expose Donald Trump’s enemies for everything from pedophilia to killing Princess Diana to causing Hurricane Katrina. It’s a thrilling fantasy that takes the rightist paranoia of The Turner Diaries and mixes it with the gore of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer and the doomsday religiosity of Heaven’s Gate.

The QAnon legend assigns every terrible thing in history to a blue-state plot. Liberals killed JFK Jr. to make way for the Clintons, shot Reagan, murdered Seth Rich, organized lots of kid-buggering operations (Pizzagate was just the tip of the iceberg), pulled off the Las Vegas massacre and allied themselves with an array of villains, from Julian Assange to JonBenet Ramsey’s killer. Into this mass rave of evil comes Donald Trump, a fat Christ sent down from right-winger heaven to clean the temples.

In one version of the story, Q is actually JFK, who faked his own death to join Trump’s secret evil-crushing team. The covert cabal has supposedly arrested Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Podesta and the corpse of John McCain, all of whom are said to be wearing ankle bracelets.

Someone is making great sport of this, and whoever it is has a sense of humor, if not a conscience. The goofball graphics of Q’s “drops” make for perfect Internet-age performance art. The “crumbs” are disseminated mainly by meme and tweet, and designed to travel on a spearlike trajectory straight into the brains of the modern media consumer. The secret sauce is the sheer quantity of connections. QAnon doesn’t just borrow from conspiracy theories — it ties all of them together.

It would be hilarious were it less believed. QAnon has already gobbled the front line of not-smart right-wing celebrities, from Roseanne to future president Curt Schilling. Naturally, Trump himself has already taken the step of posing for a photo op with Q movementists, which doesn’t necessarily mean he believes it, but still portends something quite dark.

Q videos at one point cited Trump’s real campaign-trail rhetoric promising to clean out the “failed and corrupt political establishment” as the backdrop for the movement, so QAnon believers may now give him credit for fulfilling real promises, through the secret-but-unrevealed arrests of key conspirators. Because Q says the prez is clandestinely battling a combination of DARPA, Queen Elizabeth II and Draco — reptilian liberals, his failure to deliver on promises ending campaign-finance corruption and taking on Goldman Sachs will be a little less obvious. If you’ve been wondering how election-year political rhetoric could get dumber than 2016’s, Q is a preview.

Surly Newz / Hellfire- This Is What Our Future Looks Like
« on: October 19, 2018, 04:08:16 AM »
Hellfire- This Is What Our Future Looks Like

The worst case scenario plays out the same way everywhere, whether you are in southern California or northern Alberta. A nascent wildfire – driven by extreme heat, high winds, drought conditions and a century of largely successful fire suppression – explodes into a juggernaut and takes over the countryside.

Any houses in the way are simply more fuel. Preheated to 932F by the 100ft flames of the advancing blaze, homes don’t so much catch on fire as explode into flames. In a dense neighborhood, many homes may do this simultaneously. The speed of ignition shocks people – citizens and firefighters alike – but it is only the beginning.

Because the temperatures achievable in an urban wildfire are comparable to those in a crucible, virtually everything is consumed as fuel. What doesn’t burn, melts: steel car chassis warp and bend while lesser metals – aluminum engine blocks, magnesium wheels – will liquify.

In turn, the ferocious heat generates its own wind that can drive sparks and embers hundreds of meters ahead of the fire. Conflagrations of this magnitude are virtually unstoppable. Ordinary house fires often leave structures somewhat intact; things can be salvaged. But no one is prepared for the damage caused by a wildfire when it overruns their town – not the scale of it, nor its capacity to wipe out everything they have worked for.

A burnt truck sits in Lake Keswick Estates in Redding, California. after the Carr Fire

A statue stands where a fire whirl swept through during the Carr Fire in Redding, California

In late July, nearly half of the 92,000 residents of Redding, California, were forced to evacuate. More than 1,600 homes, businesses and other structures burned in the Carr fire, due to sparks thrown by a trailer wheel with a flat tire. But the cause hardly matters; it was 113F that day, and the land was primed for fire.

Seven people were killed, three of them firefighters, but when survivors tell of their escapes, it seems a miracle there weren’t many more. A local dentist, surprised by the flames in the gated community of Stanford Hills, fled for her life through the woods. Disoriented, with no idea where to go, she and her husband followed the animals – deer, rabbits and squirrels – as they fled downhill, toward the Sacramento river. Several of her neighbors were rescued by helicopter.

Any houses in the way are simply more fuel

Another neighbor, a retired homicide detective named Steve Bustillos, was preparing to evacuate when he noted an ominous, breath-like quality to the rising wind. It was the fire drawing oxygen into itself – so powerfully that it made the seals in his house whistle. When Bustillos stepped outside he saw the air rippling, “like when you open an oven door”.

A moment later, the air itself appeared to burst into flames. Trees and houses followed, igniting spontaneously in the superheated air. Bustillos escaped in his pickup, but the fire caught him on Buenaventura boulevard, a kilometre from his home. His pickup was heavy – over three tonnes – but it was moved off the road. After the passenger window blew out and the truck caught fire, Bustillos managed to exit the vehicle and take refuge under a nearby bulldozer.

Somehow, he survived and is recovering well, though he looked for a time as if he had been rolled in red-hot gravel. In the truck were all of his and his wife’s valuables – guns, jewelry, passports and cash. His loaded pistols were firing as the truck burned; nothing was salvageable. Forensic analysis of the scene on Buenaventura, where a bulldozer operator was also killed, concluded that wind speeds were somewhere between 220 and 270km per hour, and that “peak gas temperatures likely exceeded 2552F” – the melting point of steel.

In other words, what Bustillos endured was equivalent to an EF3 tornado, combined with a blast furnace.

Carrie and Steve Bustillos stand near the spot where Steve narrowly survived the fire whirl as he was evacuating his home in the Carr Fire. He abandoned his truck after it caught fire, took cover under a bulldozer and survived with minor injuries.

"We all know someone who lost a home” is not a phrase you used to hear very often, but in the North American west, it has grown much more common over the past decade. The communities where you hear this are growing, too – small cities, entire neighborhoods.

In Redding, many residents returned to ruins and in them there are patterns. The showers often survive, standing alone, a morbid joke now, while washer-dryer sets stare out like blank eyes in a roofless skull. The charred shells of stoves, air conditioners, freezers and refrigerators are warped out of shape, or collapsed. Fire damage has its own palette; it runs from bone-white through taupe to charcoal black, the rest of the spectrum burned away.

Ash covers everything – the memories, the histories, smells, recipes and comforts, reduced now to the barest elements: carbon, stone and steel, all cloaked in smoke and suffused with the acrid reek of burning. This tableau repeated itself more than a thousand times around Redding – a thousand families standing on the sidewalk, wondering where their houses went.

Everyone who loses a home is struck by how much is gone, and also by what remains: a carpet preserved by leaking water from a ruptured water pipe; books, ghost-white with every page intact, until you touch them and they collapse in a cloud of ash.

A home is a kind of memory palace and there is an existential cruelty in the razing of it. To burn them down by the hundreds and thousands, as wildfires are doing now in the western US and Canada, is a brutal affront to the order we live by, to the habitats that give our lives meaning. Their loss shocks the heart like a sudden death. Left behind are juxtapositions so surreal and disorienting that to describe them sounds like the mutterings of an insane person: garbage can puddle; melted guns on a platter; cars bleeding aluminum; pile of tire wire. Is this really where I lived, where I raised my children? Where did their beds go? Their bedrooms?

The photos, the evidence – all of it is gone. In their place, a void, the shadow of a burned tree where the kitchen table was, pools of once-familiar things gone molten, settled now into new forms, rigid and unrecognizable.

Larry and Willie Hartman lost their uninsured home that they built in the Carr Fire, in Redding, Calif. Their home was in the path of the unusual fire whirl, with wind speeds of more than 140mph, that swept through their community. They pledged to rebuild.

A scorched landscape near Keswick Estates in Redding, Calif. Power transmitters like these were torn out of the earth from a powerful fire whirl that swept through the area.

Two miles north of Redding, on a broad, forested slope that feels almost rural save for the steady crackle of high tension wires overhead, Willie Hartman stands ankle-deep in the ruins of her home. Hartman is a slight but sturdy grandmother with white hair and a sad-eyed kindness and, a month on, while her granddaughter plays around her, she is still coming to terms with the fire that has unmade everything as far as the eye can see. Behind her, what used to be a metal porch railing droops like a Dali clock. Spotting a charred skeleton of furniture, she murmurs: “The lawn chair’s in the house.”

So is the mailbox. Nothing is where it should be anymore, or even what it should be because the Hartman family, along with hundreds of others in the thickly wooded hill country north of downtown, were subject to something far more intense than ordinary wildfire.

Hartman’s living room, which no longer exists, once had a picture window of double-paned glass, but it melted. You can see it now outside, a vitrified river flowing downhill toward her daughters’ homes, each of them burned to the foundations, many of their contents borne away on the incinerating wind that spun out of the Carr fire and into their neighborhood shortly before 8pm on 26 July.

Sarah Joseph, 73, lives a kilometre to the north-west, in the Keswick estates neighborhood of modest, mostly single-story homes. Many of the residents here were sure the 30 metre-wide Sacramento river would stop the fire’s advance. Joseph had to gather herself before describing what crossed the river on that 100F evening. “It looked like a tornado,” she said, “but with fire.” It arrived so quickly that she had only minutes to gather up her cat, some photos and a change of clothes before fleeing for her life.

It looked like a tornado but with fireSarah Joseph

There are videos and they are terrifying: surging up out of a cluster of burning neighborhoods is a whirling vortex 300 metres across, seething with smoke and fire. In the annals of firefighting, there is no direct comparable. No one has ever seen anything this big, this explosive, or this destructive rise up out of the forest and enter a town. During its brief existence of approximately 30 minutes, the incendiary cyclone sent jets of flame hundreds of metres into the sky, obliterated everything in its path, and generated such ferocious thermal energy that its smoke plume punched into the stratosphere.

The damage at ground zero, a 300-metre wide, kilometre-long swathe of scoured earth, annihilated homes and blasted forest running just south of the Hartman family compound, is hard to comprehend. There, a pair of 40-metre tall steel transmission towers have been torn from their concrete moorings and hurled to the ground where they still lie, crumpled like dead giraffes.

All the houses nearby are gone, stripped to the foundations. In the surviving branches of blackened trees, where plastic bags would ordinarily flutter, 3-metre pieces of sheet metal have been twisted like silk scarves. A 4-ton shipping container was torn to pieces and hurled across the landscape. The same thing happened to trucks and cars; one was wrapped around a tree.

Most of the grass and topsoil are gone; anything left behind was burned.

Really Hartman, 6, explores areas of her family's property destroyed by the Carr Fire in Redding, Calif. on August 28, 2018.

Larry Hartman, Willie’s husband of 47 years, is a large, congenial man with a hydraulic handshake and a gift for problem-solving. Finding himself with a dozen bear-hunting dogs that needed regular exercise, he devised a mechanical carousel with twelve chain leashes that now lies upside down in a heap of unrelated wreckage. When I asked him what he would have imagined happened here if he hadn’t witnessed it himself, he regards the utter ruination all around him, the spaces where outbuildings and other landmarks of his life no longer are, and says, “A bomb. Like Hiroshima.”

When you compare photos of the hypocenter of that nuclear blast with the excoriated ground just south of the Hartmans’ property, they are hard to tell apart. One of the Hartmans’ daughters, Christel, used to hunt bears with her father and she inherited his formidable handshake. Christel recorded video of their evacuation on her phone, and it shows a fire surging over the hill, which is how many California wildfires arrive, but this fire is higher than the transmission lines.

You can see the towers’ latticed silhouettes ghosting in and out of the flaming wall. War of the Worlds comes to mind. “It made a roaring sound,” said Christel, “like a man.” She demonstrates for me and then says: “Only 10 times that.” Across Quartz Mine Road, a few hundred metres from the Hartman compound, an elderly woman and her two great grandchildren were burned alive in their trailer.

Captain Dusty Gyves, a 20-year veteran with Cal Fire, California’s 130-year-old state firefighting agency, was shocked by what he saw four hundred metres south-west of the Hartmans’. After being lifted into the air, a two-ton pickup truck was subjected to forces so extraordinarily violent that it looked, said Gyves, “like it had been through a car crusher”. And then incinerated.

A firefighter named Jeremy Stoke was inside that truck and there is a memorial to him now on Buenaventura, where he was wrenched from this world. There are flowers, a flag, a nightstick and a humorous portrait of Stoke holding a pistol, along with dozens of ballcaps, T-shirts and shoulder patches representing police and fire departments from all over California. Among the offerings is a handwritten note saying: “Rest easy, brother. We will take it from here.”

Kyle Holtan updates a map while fighting the Herz fire north of Redding on August 30, 2018.

Sarah Joseph said she is moving to Oregon after the Carr Fire destroyed her home in Lake Keswick Estates in Redding, Calif.

What do you call something that behaves like a tornado but is made of fire?

Wildfire scientists bridle at the term “fire tornado”; they prefer “fire whirl”, but “fire whirl” seems inadequate to describe something that built its own weather system seven miles high. In 1978, meteorologist David Goens devised a classification system that placed fire whirls of this magnitude in the “fire storm” category, along with the caveat that: “This is a rare phenomenon and hopefully one that is so unlikely in the forest environment that it can be disregarded.”

This was 40 years ago. So what has changed?

For one, the addition of a new verb to the wildfire lexicon. “Natural fire never did this,” explained Gyves. “It shouldn’t moonscape.” But now it does. It is alarming to consider that this annihilating energy arrived out of thin air, born of fire and fanned by an increasingly common combination of triple-digit heat, single-digit humidity, high fuel loads, dying trees and the battling winds that swirl daily through the mountains and valleys all over California and the greater west.

Natural fire never did this, it shouldn't moonscapeCaptain Dusty Gyves

That this phenomenon may represent something new under the sun has become a subject of earnest debate among fire scientists and meteorologists. The only other event that comes close is a full-blown tornado that occurred in conjunction with the notorious Canberra bushfires of 2003. With the exception of the Hamburg firestorm, ignited when Allied bombers dropped thousands of tons of incendiaries on that German city in 1943, there is no record of a “pyronado” of this magnitude occurring anywhere on earth.

Painfully clear is the fact that there is no way for firefighters to combat these all-consuming fires – with or without a tornado in their midst. Water has little effect on a high intensity wildfire. Among the structures burned near Redding was a fire station. As one Cal Fire representative said of the Carr fire’s ferocious early days: “It shifted from a firefighting effort to a life-saving effort.”

There was a time not so long ago, when a fire like this one, which forced the evacuation of 40,000 people and burned nearly 1,000 sq km across two counties, might have been a monstrous anomaly, but now, says Jonathan Cox, a Cal Fire battalion chief: “The anomalies are becoming more frequent and more deadly.”

Police tape is tied to a tree near where firefighter Jeremy Stoke was killed during a fire whirl in Carr Fire in Redding, Calif. According the the National Weather Service, winds exceeded 143 mph.

A scene from where a fire whirl swept through during the Carr Fire in Redding, Calif. According the the National Weather Service, winds exceeded 143 mph.

Eight of the most destructive wildfires in California’s fire-prone history have occurred in the past three years. But as destructive as others have been – the 2017 Tubbs fire with 44 lives lost and 5,600 structures destroyed; this year’s Mendocino Complex fire, the largest ever – none of them has unleashed the apocalyptic mayhem visited upon the Hartmans and their neighbors.

Once restricted to weapons of mass destruction and exceptionally intense forest fires in remote settings, the tornado-sized firestorm is no longer as unlikely as it was in the 1970s. In 2014, another huge one was observed in dense forest, just 40 miles east of Redding. As the climate changes, fires no longer cool down at night as they once did; instead, they simply grow bigger and more powerful. Meanwhile, human settlement continues to push deeper into the forest where kilotons of unburned energy waits for any spark at all.

But most people traumatized by wildfire aren’t thinking about that. They are thinking about getting their lives back. The Hartmans had no insurance, but Larry is optimistic: “If I have my way,” he says, “there’ll be a new house here in a year.”

Sarah Joseph was insured, but she is finished with Redding, a place she has witnessed growing steadily warmer. “I’ve walked out on everything two or three times in my life,” she said. “I can do it again.” There is a town in Oregon and she is taking her younger brother. That town is as vulnerable to wildfire as Redding; so are most towns now, from Mexico to Alaska, but that is not what concerns her.

“I will not cry,” she says to herself as she gets a grip one more time.

Art & Photography / The Moment
« on: October 16, 2018, 11:59:09 AM »


Diners will appreciate.

Pages: [1] 2 3 ... 29