October 2013 Archives

Lou's Last Station

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Lou Reed, Velvet Underground founder, gone at 71

He changed my mind about a lot of shit when I was 18.

The Velvet Underground & Nico
was my favorite album for 1967.

Thanks, Lou...I really appreciate it.

Why Russell Brand Doesn't Vote

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Civility and Anonymity

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The Psychology of Online Comments

by Maria Konnikova

Several weeks ago, on September 24th, Popular Science announced that it would banish comments from its Web site. The editors argued that Internet comments, particularly anonymous ones, undermine the integrity of science and lead to a culture of aggression and mockery that hinders substantive discourse. "Even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader's perception of a story," wrote the online-content director Suzanne LaBarre, citing a recent study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison as evidence. While it's tempting to blame the Internet, incendiary rhetoric has long been a mainstay of public discourse. Cicero, for one, openly called Mark Antony a "public prostitute," concluding, "but let us say no more of your profligacy and debauchery." What, then, has changed with the advent of online comments?

Internet_dog.jpgAnonymity, for one thing. According to a September Pew poll, a quarter of Internet users have posted comments anonymously. As the age of a user decreases, his reluctance to link a real name with an online remark increases; forty per cent of people in the eighteen-to-twenty-nine-year-old demographic have posted anonymously. One of the most common critiques of online comments cites a disconnect between the commenter's identity and what he is saying, a phenomenon that the psychologist John Suler memorably termed the "online disinhibition effect." The theory is that the moment you shed your identity the usual constraints on your behavior go, too--or, to rearticulate the 1993 Peter Steiner cartoon, on the Internet, nobody knows you're not a dog. When Arthur Santana, a communications professor at the University of Houston, analyzed nine hundred randomly chosen user comments on articles about immigration, half from newspapers that allowed anonymous postings, such as the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle, and half from ones that didn't, including USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, he discovered that anonymity made a perceptible difference: a full fifty-three per cent of anonymous commenters were uncivil, as opposed to twenty-nine per cent of registered, non-anonymous commenters. Anonymity, Santana concluded, encouraged incivility.

On the other hand, anonymity has also been shown to encourage participation; by promoting a greater sense of community identity, users don't have to worry about standing out individually. Anonymity can also boost a certain kind of creative thinking and lead to improvements in problem-solving. In a study that examined student learning, the psychologists Ina Blau and Avner Caspi found that, while face-to-face interactions tended to provide greater satisfaction, in anonymous settings participation and risk-taking flourished.

Anonymous forums can also be remarkably self-regulating: we tend to discount anonymous or pseudonymous comments to a much larger degree than commentary from other, more easily identifiable sources. In a 2012 study of anonymity in computer interactions, researchers found that, while anonymous comments were more likely to be contrarian and extreme than non-anonymous ones, they were also far less likely to change a subject's opinion on an ethical issue, echoing earlier results from the University of Arizona. In fact, as the Stanford computer scientist Michael Bernstein found when he analyzed the /b/ board of 4chan, an online discussion forum that has been referred to as the Internet's "rude, raunchy underbelly" and where over ninety per cent of posts are wholly anonymous, mechanisms spontaneously emerged to monitor user interactions and establish a commenter's status as more or less influential--and credible.

Owing to the conflicting effects of anonymity, and in response to the changing nature of online publishing itself, Internet researchers have begun shifting their focus away from anonymity toward other aspects of the online environment, such as tone and content. The University of Wisconsin-Madison study that Popular Science cited, for instance, was focussed on whether comments themselves, anonymous or otherwise, made people less civil. The authors found that the nastier the comments, the more polarized readers became about the contents of the article, a phenomenon they dubbed the "nasty effect." But the nasty effect isn't new, or unique to the Internet. Psychologists have long worried about the difference between face-to-face communication and more removed ways of talking--the letter, the telegraph, the phone. Without the traditional trappings of personal communication, like non-verbal cues, context, and tone, comments can become overly impersonal and cold.

But a ban on article comments may simply move them to a different venue, such as Twitter or Facebook--from a community centered around a single publication or idea to one without any discernible common identity. Such large group environments, in turn, often produce less than desirable effects, including a diffusion of responsibility: you feel less accountable for your own actions, and become more likely to engage in amoral behavior. In his classic work on the role of groups and media exposure in violence, the social cognitive psychologist Alfred Bandura found that, as personal responsibility becomes more diffused in a group, people tend to dehumanize others and become more aggressive toward them. At the same time, people become more likely to justify their actions in self-absolving ways. Multiple studies have also illustrated that when people don't think they are going to be held immediately accountable for their words they are more likely to fall back on mental shortcuts in their thinking and writing, processing information less thoroughly. They become, as a result, more likely to resort to simplistic evaluations of complicated issues, as the psychologist Philip Tetlock has repeatedly found over several decades of research on accountability.

Removing comments also affects the reading experience itself: it may take away the motivation to engage with a topic more deeply, and to share it with a wider group of readers. In a phenomenon known as shared reality, our experience of something is affected by whether or not we will share it socially. Take away comments entirely, and you take away some of that shared reality, which is why we often want to share or comment in the first place. We want to believe that others will read and react to our ideas.

What the University of Wisconsin-Madison study may ultimately show isn't the negative power of a comment in itself but, rather, the cumulative effect of a lot of positivity or negativity in one place, a conclusion that is far less revolutionary. One of the most important controls of our behavior is the established norms within any given community. For the most part, we act consistently with the space and the situation; a football game is different from a wedding, usually. The same phenomenon may come into play in different online forums, in which the tone of existing comments and the publication itself may set the pace for a majority of subsequent interactions. Anderson, Brossard, and their colleagues' experiment lacks the crucial element of setting, since the researchers created fake comments on a fake post, where the tone was simply either civil or uncivil ("If you don't see the benefits ... you're an idiot").

Would the results have been the same if the uncivil remarks were part of a string of comments on a New York Times article or a Gawker post, where comments can be promoted or demoted by other users? On Gawker, in the process of voting a comment up or down, users can set the tone of the comments, creating a surprisingly civil result. The readership, in other words, spots the dog at the other of the end of the keyboard, and puts him down.

As the psychologists Marco Yzer and Brian Southwell put it, "new communication technologies do not fundamentally alter the theoretical bounds of human interaction; such interaction continues to be governed by basic human tendencies." Whether online, on the phone, by telegraph, or in person, we are governed by the same basic principles. The medium may change, but people do not. The question instead is whether the outliers, the trolls and the flamers, will hold outsized influence--and the answer seems to be that, even protected by the shade of anonymity, a dog will often make himself known with a stray, accidental bark. Then, hopefully, he will be treated accordingly.

Remember the Peace Corps?

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All major government ( or even private ) national scale programs have start up glitches.


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Icelandic weirdness to the max

In the 17th Century, Icelandic mystics believed an endless supply of money could be had by flaying a corpse from the waist down and wearing its skin like pants. They called the skin-slacks nábrók, or "necropants."

If you want to make your own necropants... you have to get permission from a living man to use his skin after his death.

necropants.jpgAfter he has been buried you must dig up his body and flay the skin of the corpse in one piece from the waist down. As soon as you step into the pants they will stick to your own skin.

A coin must be stolen from a poor widow and placed in the scrotum along with the magical sign, nábrókarstafur, written on a piece of paper. Consequently the coin will draw money into the scrotum so it will never be empty, as long as the original coin is not removed.

To ensure salvation the owner has to convince someone else to overtake the pants and step into each leg as soon as he gets out of it. The necropants will thus keep the money-gathering nature for generations.

Alongside the necropants in the photo above there appears a magical "stave." This sigil corresponds specifically to necropants, though similar symbols (each credited with its own, specific magical effect) are preserved in assorted books of Icelandic grimoires dating from the 17th Century onward. Via Strandagaldur:

icelandic.sigil.jpgThe origin of this peculiar Icelandic magic is difficult to ascertain. Some signs seem to be derived from medieval mysticism and renaissance occultism, while others show some relation to runic culture and the old Germanic belief in Thor and Odinn... The purpose of the magic involved tells us something of the concerns of the lower classes that used them to lessen the burden of subsidence [sic.] living in a harsh climate.

I mean, we knew Icelanders were hardcore. But damn.

Oh, and for those wonderings, the meat-pants in the top photo are from Blackmilk.

Why Evolution Is True

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A great lecture by Jerry Coyne.

The Gephart Rule

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This debt ceiling problem was solved back in 1979...but then the Republicans made it a problem again in the 1990's.

Cruz Crux

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Is the only way out to shoot Cruz?

Does the Tortilla caucus rule the GOP?

The New American Center?

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Still scary as hell....


Going Down With The Shit

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The Folly of Empire

Just before World War II, a friend asked Roth, a Jewish intellectual who had fled Nazi Germany for Paris, "Why are you drinking so much?" Roth answered: "Do you think you are going to escape? You too are going to be wiped out."

Chris Hedges

Going-Down-With-the-Shit1-300.jpgThe final days of empire give ample employment and power to the feckless, the insane and the idiotic. These politicians and court propagandists, hired to be the public faces on the sinking ship, mask the real work of the crew, which is systematically robbing the passengers as the vessel goes down. The mandarins of power stand in the wheelhouse barking ridiculous orders and seeing how fast they can gun the engines. They fight like children over the ship's wheel as the vessel heads full speed into a giant ice field. They wander the decks giving pompous speeches. They shout that the SS America is the greatest ship ever built. They insist that it has the most advanced technology and embodies the highest virtues. And then, with abrupt and unexpected fury, down we will go into the frigid waters.

The last days of empire are carnivals of folly. We are in the midst of our own, plunging forward as our leaders court willful economic and environmental self-destruction. Sumer and Rome went down like this. So did the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. Men and women of stunning mediocrity and depravity led the monarchies of Europe and Russia on the eve of World War I. And America has, in its own decline, offered up its share of weaklings, dolts and morons to steer it to destruction. A nation that was still rooted in reality would never glorify charlatans such as Sen. Ted Cruz, House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Newt Gingrich as they pollute the airwaves. If we had any idea what was really happening to us we would have turned in fury against Barack Obama, whose signature legacy will be utter capitulation to the demands of Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry, the military-industrial complex and the security and surveillance state. We would have rallied behind those few, such as Ralph Nader, who denounced a monetary system based on gambling and the endless printing of money and condemned the willful wrecking of the ecosystem. We would have mutinied. We would have turned the ship back.

Morning Verse

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"The Cold Within"

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story's told.

Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.

The next man looking 'cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn't bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.

The black man's face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.

Their logs held tight in death's still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn't die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.

- James Patrick Kinney

Waiting for the Backlash

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Chris Hedges and Robert Scheer Discuss American Fascism

The Radical Christian Right and the War on Government

Chris Hedges

ted-cruz.jpgThere is a desire felt by tens of millions of Americans, lumped into a diffuse and fractious movement known as the Christian right, to destroy the intellectual and scientific rigor of the Enlightenment, radically diminish the role of government to create a theocratic state based on "biblical law," and force a recalcitrant world to bend to the will of an imperial and "Christian" America. Its public face is on display in the House of Representatives. This ideology, which is the driving force behind the shutdown of the government, calls for the eradication of social "deviants," beginning with gay men and lesbians, whose sexual orientation, those in the movement say, is a curse and an illness, contaminating the American family and the country. Once these "deviants" are removed, other "deviants," including Muslims, liberals, feminists, intellectuals, left-wing activists, undocumented workers, poor African-Americans and those dismissed as "nominal Christians"--meaning Christians who do not embrace this peculiar interpretation of the Bible--will also be ruthlessly repressed. The "deviant" government bureaucrats, the "deviant" media, the "deviant" schools and the "deviant" churches, all agents of Satan, will be crushed or radically reformed. The rights of these "deviants" will be annulled. "Christian values" and "family values" will, in the new state, be propagated by all institutions. Education and social welfare will be handed over to the church. Facts and self-criticism will be replaced with relentless indoctrination.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz--whose father is Rafael Cruz, a rabid right-wing Christian preacher and the director of the Purifying Fire International ministry--and legions of the senator's wealthy supporters, some of whom orchestrated the shutdown, are rooted in a radical Christian ideology known as Dominionism or Christian Reconstructionism. This ideology calls on anointed "Christian" leaders to take over the state and make the goals and laws of the nation "biblical." It seeks to reduce government to organizing little more than defense, internal security and the protection of property rights. It fuses with the Christian religion the iconography and language of American imperialism and nationalism, along with the cruelest aspects of corporate capitalism. The intellectual and moral hollowness of the ideology, its flagrant distortion and misuse of the Bible, the contradictions that abound within it--its leaders champion small government and a large military, as if the military is not part of government--and its laughable pseudoscience are impervious to reason and fact. And that is why the movement is dangerous.

Grasshopper Pulls Off 1/2 Mile Hop

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Just wow!

Cash Corruption

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Big Campaign Spending: Government by the 1%

Big donors are a big threat to American democracy. Why we need campaign finance reform


Lawrence Lessig

Here's what we must come to see: America has lost the capacity to govern. On a wide range of critical issues -- from global warming to tax reform, from effective financial regulation to real health-care change, from the deficit to defense spending -- we have lost the capacity to do anything other than suffer through a miserable status quo. If there is a ship of state, its rudder has been lost. We are drifting. We can't change course. And eventually, and with absolute certainty, in waters such as these, a drifting ship will sink.

The cause of this drift is clear, and it is not "polarization." Polarization -- of the political class at least -- is real. In Congress, it is worse than at any time since the Civil War.

But polarization is just a symptom of a more fundamental disease. It is fueled by this more fundamental disease. But it is this disease we must understand -- and cure -- if we're ever to restore this Republic.

That disease is just this: because of the way we fund the campaigns that determine our elections, we give the tiniest fraction of America the power to veto any meaningful policy change. Not just change on the left but also change on the right. Because of the structure of influence that we have allowed to develop, the tiniest fraction of the one percent have the effective power to block reform desired by the 99-plus percent.

Yet by "the tiniest fraction of the one percent" I don't necessarily mean the rich. I mean instead the fraction of Americans who are willing to spend their money to influence congressional campaigns for their own interest. That fraction is different depending upon the reform at issue: a different group rallies to block health-care reform than rallies to block global warming legislation. But the key is that under the system we've allowed to evolve, a tiny number (with resources at least) has the power to block reform they don't like.

A tiny number of Americans -- .26 percent -- give more than $200 to a congressional campaign. .05 percent give the maximum amount to any congressional candidate. .01 percent give more than $10,000 in any election cycle. And .000063 percent -- 196 Americans -- have given more than 80 percent of the individual super-PAC money spent in the presidential elections so far.

These few don't exercise their power directly. None can simply buy a congressman, or dictate the results they want. But because they are the source of the funds that fuel elections, their influence operates as a filter on which policies are likely to survive. It is as if America ran two elections every cycle, one a money election and one a voting election. To get to the second, you need to win the first. But to win the first, you must keep that tiniest fraction of the one percent happy. Just a couple thousand of them banding together is enough to assure that any reform gets stopped.

Some call this plutocracy. Some call it a corrupted aristocracy. I call it unstable. Just as America learned under the Articles of Confederation, where one state had the power to block the resolve of the rest, a nation in which so few have the power to block change is not a nation that can thrive.

Tank Sez It All

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Tank Carson

When the Republicans realized they had shut down the government they CHEERED on the floor! Members of the Press (almost to a man/women) described their apparent "elation" and the word "giddy" was the most heard and reported attribute assigned these cognitively-challenged and spiritually-bankrupt children.

The repeal of the ACA is nothing more then a "pretense"! Their intent all along (and even when running for office) was to shut our government down and even to go so far as to default on our nation's obligations. These people are still fighting the War of Northern Aggression and hate (let me repeat that) hate on some level this country and this Union. They will do more damage to our people, our economy and our way of life then any outside terrorist group could ever dream of achieving!

These so called Republicans are an erratic coalition of coded-racists, Neo-Confederates, Theocrats, Secessionists, anti-intellectuals, homophobes, Misogynist, Xenophobes, Absolutists and those overtly vocal professing Christians who act anything but (using the tenants of their faith selectively, narrowly, without context and then doing so as a weapon to bludgeon to near-death the poor, the sick, women, working people, non-whites and the non-believer)! They are even capable of booing an American soldier serving in a theater-of-war!

Having all the attributes of low-functioning sociopaths... to a man/women they discharge with abandon platitudes like Freedom, America, Family, Patriot, and Values and do so with projectile speed and indiscriminate-dispersal (while having no thought, genuine feeling-invested or understanding of the sacrosanct concepts in question)!

For them the medium in which they swim is Hate Radio, paranoia and conspiracy (and the more fantastic... the more readily transmitted... as though a horrible contagion). These are Reactionaries who rather then being for a someone or something are for reasons of raw unflinching pathological self-interest against everyone... "not them". They live in a world free-of-facts, where history is to be revised (accordingly) and the only voices they hear are their own self-reinforcing feverish rants!

This necrotizing-vestige and fading shadow of what was formerly the establishment Party of Reagan have now made of what was once the call and privilege of Public Service nothing more then a "reductive pursuit" and one intent on serving ever narrowing-interests and the illusion of purity. Never to be sullied by the hard work-of-governance or a need to actually have the capacity of compassion... these craven, puerile, destructive, intellectually-lazy, full-on nihilist "Place Holders" see both compromise and reasonable accommodation as the failings of capitulation and strive only to circumvent good-order, to-impede, slow and if allowed flat-line the progress of the nation.

They reject the very structures of our democracy, its intended healthy-tension, civility, discourse, debate and unity-of-purposes (no loyal opposition here). They brandish mini-constitutions like fetishes and all the while working to undo all that this guiding living-document has allowed us to achieve and the very society which has raised up around it (yes... they will save us by maiming, crippling and killing us)! For them their moral-universe extends no further then their petty concerns will take them... and even to a place where the theft of power by extortion is just another day's work!

If they cannot relitigate a law "already" duly and democratically passed and invalidate the consensus of an election "already" held... they will in affect strap on a Weapon of Mass Economic Destruction... stand in our collective Public Square and detonate! By not relenting to their onerous terms they likewise threaten our irrevocable demise and unknowingly or knowingly their own murder-suicide (every Republican in the House, the Tea Party and the Leadership will without question be held to account as accessories to this historic crime, this self-inflicted Pearl Harbor and even acts of treason)!

Their world is ever shrinking and circumscribed... they would make of a great nation a lesser thing! Their path is a descent downward in allegiance - to region (only), then state, then county, then city, then town, then fiefdom and finally to barricade the gates of their mind and then the door! They are the enemy within! They are the dry rot in the floorboards of our civilization! They are the cancer metastasizing through the body-politic! They are collectively a dangerous unknowing child with a gun now found and they will wound us all terribly!

Money Can't Buy Us a Common Good

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In the past three decades, says Michael Sandel, the US has drifted from a market economy to a market society; it's fair to say that an American's experience of shared civic life depends on how much money they have. (Three key examples: access to education, access to justice, political influence.) In a talk and audience discussion, Sandel asks us to think honestly on this question: In our current democracy, is too much for sale?

Peril of Demagogues

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A demagogue /ˈdɛməɡɒɡ/ or rabble-rouser is a political leader in a democracy who appeals to the emotions, prejudices, and ignorance of the less-educated citizens in order to gain power and promote political motives. Demagogues usually oppose deliberation and advocate immediate, violent action to address a national crisis; they accuse moderate and thoughtful opponents of weakness. Demagogues have appeared in democracies since ancient Athens. They exploit a fundamental weakness in majoritarian democracy: because power is held by the most numerous group of people, one who appeals to the lowest common denominator attitudes of a large enough segment of the population can obtain power from them.

Sound familiar? Of course it does.

Part of what it makes possible media playing the false equivalency game, ie, trying to make the current insanity revolving around the Republican internal civil war doing such damage by placing ideology above national interest as the responsibility of both parties, rather than just the Republicans themselves.

Check out this interview with Carl Bernstein on Lawrence O'Donnell's Last Word:

New Climate Study

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'Uncomfortable' climates to devastate cities within a decade

John Roach

The world is hurtling toward a stark future where the web of life unravels, human cultures are uprooted, and millions of species go extinct, according to a new study. This doomsday scenario isn't far off, either: It may start within a decade in parts of Indonesia, and begin playing out over most of the world -- including cities across the United States -- by mid-century.

What's more, even a serious effort to stabilize spiraling greenhouse gas emissions will only stave off these changes until around 2069, notes the study from the University of Hawaii, Manoa, published online Wednesday in the journal Nature. The authors warn that the time is now to prepare for a world where even the coldest of years will be warmer than the hottest years of the past century and a half.

"We are used to the climate that we live in. With this climate change, what is going to happen is we're going to be moving outside this comfort zone," biologist Camilo Mora, the study's lead author, told NBC News. "It is going to be uncomfortable for us as humans and it will be very uncomfortable for species as well."

Pivot in perspective
The research represents a pivot in the way climate scientists study and parse the pace, magnitude and implications of a warming world, according to experts not involved with the new study. Its focus on climate variability rather than absolute change, for example, shifts attention from the remote Arctic and its polar bears stranded on ice floes to the tropics, where most of humanity resides.

Yes, the climate is warming rapidly in the Arctic and the effects are profound. But climate variability in the northern latitudes is much greater than in the tropics. In the already steamy parts of the globe, warming of even a few degrees can upset the balance of life and cripple agricultural yields, bringing climate change to the doorstep of billions of people.

"The warming in the tropics is not as much but we are rather more quickly going to go outside that recent experience of temperature and that is going to be devastating to species and it is probably going to be devastating to people," Stuart Pimm, a conservation biologist at Duke University, who was not involved with the new study but is familiar with its contents, told NBC News.

Cooch 'n Ellie

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Guranteed Incomes

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$2,800 per mo for every adult in Switzerland?

Switzerland will hold a vote on whether to introduce a basic income for all adults, in a further sign of growing public activism over pay inequality since the financial crisis.

A grassroots committee is calling for all adults in Switzerland to receive an unconditional income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,800) per month from the state, with the aim of providing a financial safety net for the population.

Organizers submitted more than the 100,000 signatures needed to call a referendum on Friday and tipped a truckload of 8 million five-rappen coins outside the parliament building in Berne, one for each person living in Switzerland.

Under Swiss law, citizens can organize popular initiatives that allow the channeling of public anger into direct political action. The country usually holds several referenda a year.

In March, Swiss voters backed some of the world's strictest controls on executive pay, forcing public companies to give shareholders a binding vote on compensation.

A separate proposal to limit monthly executive pay to no more than what the company's lowest-paid staff earn in a year, the so-called 1:12 initiative, faces a popular vote on November 24.

The initiative's organizing committee said the basic income could partly be financed through money from social insurance systems in Switzerland.

The timing of the vote has yet to be announced, pending official guidance from the government.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

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Speaking of the GOP of late:

The truly incompetent can't even recognize their own incompetence

The Boehner Bunglers

By Paul Krugman

The federal government is shut down, we're about to hit the debt ceiling (with disastrous economic consequences), and no resolution is in sight. How did this happen?

The main answer, which only the most pathologically "balanced" reporting can deny, is the radicalization of the Republican Party. As Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein put it last year in their book, "It's Even Worse Than It Looks," the G.O.P. has become "an insurgent outlier -- ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."

But there's one more important piece of the story. Conservative leaders are indeed ideologically extreme, but they're also deeply incompetent. So much so, in fact, that the Dunning-Kruger effect -- the truly incompetent can't even recognize their own incompetence -- reigns supreme.

To see what I'm talking about, consider the report in Sunday's Times about the origins of the current crisis. Early this year, it turns out, some of the usual suspects -- the Koch brothers, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation and others -- plotted strategy in the wake of Republican electoral defeat. Did they talk about rethinking ideas that voters had soundly rejected? No, they talked extortion, insisting that the threat of a shutdown would induce President Obama to abandon health reform.

This was crazy talk. After all, health reform is Mr. Obama's signature domestic achievement. You'd have to be completely clueless to believe that he could be bullied into giving up his entire legacy by a defeated, unpopular G.O.P. -- as opposed to responding, as he has, by making resistance to blackmail an issue of principle. But the possibility that their strategy might backfire doesn't seem to have occurred to the would-be extortionists.

Even more remarkable, in its way, was the response of House Republican leaders, who didn't tell the activists they were being foolish. All they did was urge that the extortion attempt be made over the debt ceiling rather than a government shutdown. And as recently as last week Eric Cantor, the majority leader, was in effect assuring his colleagues that the president will, in fact, give in to blackmail. As far as anyone can tell, Republican leaders are just beginning to suspect that Mr. Obama really means what he has been saying all along.

Many people seem perplexed by the transformation of the G.O.P. into the political equivalent of the Keystone Kops -- the Boehner Bunglers? Republican elders, many of whom have been in denial about their party's radicalization, seem especially startled. But all of this was predictable.

Minority Hostage Report

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Brilliant pith from the NY Times comment section:

mcbride.jpgJohn F. McBride - Seattle

80 members of our House of Representatives are demanding the right to dictate national legislative policy; that the House conform to their ideology; that our Senate bow to their ideology;that Barack Obama disavow Affordable Care, Barack Obama who was elected with his ACA over Mitt Romney who invented it but opposed it when he ran for President.

These 80 members are 18% of our House.

These 80 members are 33% of Republicans in our House.

These 80 members were elected with 12% of total votes electing Representatives.

These 80 members represent 18% of our population.

These 80 members represent districts that have become less diverse.

These 80 member represent districts that are 75% white to the average district that is 63% white. Mitt Romney won by an average 21 points in their districts to average districts where Barack Obama won by 4% more of total votes than Mitt.

Conservative commentator among conservative commentators, Charles Krauthammer, calls them "the suicide caucus."

In the shadow of our war in Iraq and our ongoing war in Afghanistan, wars in which our Congress expected and expects men and women across our nation to lay down their lives in questionable causes, the average members our House and Senate lack the moral and ethical courage to confront, call out, and disparage 80 members of our House who are defying national welfare and will no less brashly than did Southern governors defending racism in the 1960s.

Moderate Republicans have no shame.

On Your Knees, Worm

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And hear the Spaghetti Monster prayer:


"Our pasta, who art in a colander, draining be your noodles. Thy noodle come, Thy sauce be yum, on top some grated Parmesan. Give us this day, our garlic bread, ...and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trample on our lawns. And lead us not into vegetarianism, but deliver us some pizza, for thine is the meatball, the noodle, and the sauce, forever and ever. RAmen."

Africa Comparatively Speaking

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Ya Can't Stop Colbert

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The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

Attack of the Giant Chinese Hornets

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Asian giant hornet queens can exceed 2 inches (5.5 centimeters) in length

By Ed Flanagan

BEIJING - Authorities in northern China are struggling to control a spate of attacks by aggressive hornets that has now killed 42 people and injured at least 1,640.

Residents in the cities of Ankang, Hanzhong and Shangluo in Shaanxi province have been hardest hit, according to local news reports, with 206 people still in hospitals for treatment. Of those, 37 are said to be in critical condition.

The attacks are blamed on a particularly aggressive species of hornet known as the Asian giant hornet or Vespa mandarinia. At nearly two inches long with a two-and-a-half-inch stinger, the Asian giant hornet is the largest in the world and has a reputation as a relentless hunter that stalks its prey -- normally honey bees -- in coordinated attacks.

The Chinese health ministry has ordered local authorities to exterminate the hornet hives in densely populated areas. Local officials have issued fire departments with special protective suits and pesticides and say that hundreds of hives have already been destroyed.

A team of medical experts from Shanghai has also been deployed to oversee and provide treatment to victims.

Health minister Li Bin said in a statement Thursday that he was "paying close attention to the situation."

The unseasonably warm and dry weather in the region this fall - traditionally the normal breeding season for hornets - and continued human encroachment into hornet breeding grounds have been suggested as possible reasons for the recent rash of attacks.

giant.chinese.hornet.jpgFive times the size of a regular honey bee, one Asian giant hornet is capable of killing as many as 40 honey bees per minute. In humans, the venom released by this species of hornet is a potent neurotoxin that can cause violent allergic reactions and extreme bruising around the sting area. State-run media have shown images of bed-ridden victims suffering from multiple stings that look like small stab wounds.

Shaanxi authorities have also urged citizens to wear long-sleeved clothing while outside and not to aggravate the hornets if they encounter them.

BS Dectection Techniques

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Why People Believe Weird Things and 8 Ways to Change Their Minds

Post image for Why People Believe Weird Things and 8 Ways to Change Their Minds

Some people believe all kinds of weird stuff including...

...no, actually, for a very good psychological reason I'm not going to repeat any of it here.
Let's just say that some people believe weird stuff and leave it at that. It turns out that just one of the fascinating reasons that people accept odd ideas is that they keep getting repeated, even if only to debunk them.

So, where does all this misinformation come from, why do people believe it and how can right-thinking people counter it?

(The following is based on an excellent article by Professor Stephan Lewandowsky and colleagues)

Where misinformation comes from

1. Rumours and fiction
People love sensational stories. They like to pass on tales that make the listener very happy, disgusted or afraid: anything that provokes a strong emotional response
Neutral stories, which are probably more likely to be true, but much more boring, therefore get short shrift.
More bizarrely, people have been shown to believe things that they've read in novels that have clearly been totally made up. This is true even when:

  • They are obviously works of fiction,

  • and when they are told the fiction contains misinformation,

  • and when the real facts are relatively well-known.
This may be partly because people's defences tend to be lower when they're consuming popular entertainments.

2. Politicians
We may all be aware that politicians will say anything to get elected, but can we tell the difference between the truth and the lies they've told?
Studies have found that, in fact, people find it very difficult tell the difference. It seems that knowing that politicians lie is no barrier to people believing those lies.

3. The Media
The usual sources of misinformation in the media are oversimplification and the need for providing balance.
The need for balance is an interesting one because the issues themselves aren't always 'balanced'. For example over 95% of climate scientists agree that the Earth is warming due to greenhouse-gas emissions, but you wouldn't know that from many media debates on the issue, which are hobbled by the perceived need to always provide a 'balanced' viewpoint.
4. The Internet
There are a lot of good things to be said about the internet but it's still a source of fantastic amounts of misinformation. Here's a frightening fact:

"A survey of the first 50 Web sites matching the search term "weight loss diets" revealed that only 3 delivered sound dietary advice."

Plus people tend to seek out information that confirms their existing points of view. And this is an exercise that has become much easier now the internet provides such a huge range of viewpoints. No matter what people believe they can find some other people who also believe it to back them up.

Why people believe misinformation
It's pretty clear that lies and misinformation are floating about all over the place. But if we all know that politicians, the media and the internet sometimes lie, then how come some people end up believing it?

The problem is that the way people go about believing things (or not) is fundamentally weird. Few bother actually checking the facts for themselves; the majority use these mental short-cuts:

  • Does it feel right? In other words does the new information square with what I already believe? For example, a Republican is more likely to accept untruths about where President Obama was born because the lie is convenient.

  • Does it make sense? Things that are easy to understand are easier to believe. The mind repels complicated stuff, defending itself by saying: oh, it's probably a lie (see my previous article: 8 Studies Demonstrating the Power of Simplicity).

  • Is the source believable? People who seem authoritative, like those in positions of power, are more likely to be believed. For example, doctors can create havoc by giving bad advice in public because people tend to believe them.

  • Who else believes it? People prefer to go along with the herd. Unfortunately people also have in inbuilt bias towards thinking that most other people agree with them, even if, in reality, they don't (see: Why We All Stink as Intuitive Psychologists: The False Consensus Effect).

But this still doesn't explain why people continue to believe all kinds of weird stuff, even after it's been proven to them that it's false. It turns out that even once misinformation has been completely retracted and those involved have admitted it was lies, the misinformation is difficult to kill.
There are all sorts of reasons but one is based on how memory works: we tend to find it much easier to recall the gist of things rather than the exact details. Usually this is handy because it means we can learn specific things, say that cooking beef makes it easier to digest, and generalise it to the fact that cooking makes many foods more palatable.
The down side of this is that it's easy for people to remember the gist of some piece of misinformation (the moon is made of cheese), but forget that they heard it from a totally unreliable source (a mischievous child).

8 ways to counter misinformation

So, is it possible to kill off misinformation? Lewandowsky and co-authors say yes, but it's hard and you will need help from these 8 psychological techniques:

1. More than the truth

Changing people's minds isn't just about telling them they are wrong; if only it were. To be convinced people need to hear an alternative account that explains why something happened, not just that the misinformation is wrong. Ideally it should also explain the motivations for the lie.

2. Short and sweet
This alternative account, though, shouldn't be too complicated. The shorter it is, the sweeter it will work. Give people too much and they switch off: just a few salient facts will do.

3. Don't repeat the myth

Try to avoid repeating the myth. Remember that people find the gist of things easiest to recall. If you keep repeating the myth, you're shooting yourself in the foot.

4. Here comes some misinformation...

You'll have to repeat the myth once, though, so people know what you're talking about. So tell them beforehand that there is misleading information coming.

5. Facts facts facts

Then, after the myth, keep repeating the facts. Each repetition builds up the rebuttal's strength in people's minds. The power of repetition to influence people is clear, see: The Illusion of Truth

6. Attack the source

What is the source of the misinformation? And what do they know? Nothing! Encouraging people to be a little more sceptical can help.
One of the challenges here is that people tend to believe those who say things that fit in with their worldview. So that's why it's important to...

7. Affirm world-view

You have to keep the audience onside, even if you're telling them things they don't want to hear. You can do this by framing things within the audience's world-view. For example you might say to a 'birther': "Hey, neither of us likes Obama or his politics, but the fact is he was born in Hawaii."
Telling people things they don't want to hear is a balancing act. You've got to go far enough to make the point, but not so far as to put them off.

8. Affirm identity

Another way of avoiding people's natural resistance to facts they find unpleasant is to get them to affirm their identity. So you might indirectly get people to think about things that are important to them like their family, friends and ideals.
Research suggests this helps people deal with inconsistencies between their beliefs and the new information that is conflicting with it.

Mud sticks
Of course all these techniques are already used by opinion-formers and influencers, which is why it's so important to know about them. As Lewandowsky and colleagues conclude:

"Correcting misinformation is cognitively indistinguishable from misinforming people to replace their preexisting correct beliefs. It follows that it is important for the general public to have a basic understanding of misinformation effects... Widespread awareness of the fact that people may "throw mud" because they know it will "stick"...will contribute to a well-informed populace."

American Taliban List

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Tea Party = American Taliban

1) Ideological purity

2) Compromise as weakness

3) A fundamentalist belief in scriptural literalism

4) Denying science

5) Unmoved by facts

6) Undeterred by new information

7) A hostile fear of progress

8) Demonization of education

9) A need to control women's bodies

10) Severe xenophobia

11) Tribal mentality

12) Intolerance of dissent

13) Pathological hatred of the U.S. government


The Insurrectionist Neo-Confederacy

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Bill Nye Sez

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But the best quote from Nye is about his reaction to Missouri Rep. Todd Akin on "legitimate rape":


Minority Rule

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