peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
I don't feel like thinking too hard today, so instead I'll make and defend a simple observation: Today's conservative politicians rely overly-much on visceral topics instead of intellectual arguments in order to attract the undying support of those who hold those emotional trip wires tautly. In other words, modern conservative activists and many of the elected representatives that respond to them have developed a vocabulary of dog-whistle scare tactics to simultaneously frighten their base and thus shore up support by promising to, if elected, curb the scary and icky.

Ooga booga! Scary ahead! )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
When I last mentioned Lewis Powell's now-infamous memorandum, I did so in a fairly limited scope, in explaining the silliness that might be behind the IRS investigation. I also found and quoted excerpts from a book, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class by Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson. I've since read that book, and just in time for Money And Ethics In Politics month! If you want a good run-down on the real story of how money got into politics in such unprecedented amounts, start with Mr. Powell's Memo, then head over to Hacker and Pierson's book.

I'll try to focus on a few salient points. )

X-posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
I recently tripped on yet another rhetorical caltrop in an online discussion thread, a seemingly off-handed observation that sought to quiet the Sturm und Drang of yet another whiner (this whiner being myself); it was the notion that "advertising has . . . been the fuel for art and entertainment for decades, if not centuries." And while yes, this is technically true, there are reasons—some worth considering, others so powerful that not considering them puts people at peril—obviating the seeming simplicity of this observation.

In a nutshell, I am here proposing that there are good reasons to create ad-free multi-media space, and that those reasons have to do with the negative and deforming effect of advertising itself. This has been a hobby horse of mine for some time, and I thought it might be interesting to introduce this concept with those who might not have considered these issues before. So, riders, saddle up! )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
I recently banged out a post commenting on a news source I still (kinda) trust, National Public Radio involving the "hidden" disability benefits story. I called it a "great piece of investigative journalism" without considering the flaws in the story. Worse, I didn't consider what I myself have been noticing for years now, that private forces have infiltrated NPR (and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, NPR's parent organization which is connected to NPR) distorting the once excellent reporting as a result.

I here apologize to all who read that post of mine. I dropped the ball, and I am sorry. In my excitement over hearing former Pacific North West reporter Joffe-Walt, formerly of Tacoma's "public" station KPLU just an hour south and nestled in my parent's alma mater, I neglected to fact check her story. I blew it.

Though her points were often not completely inaccurate, they were presented in a misleading way that led listeners to some damning conclusions. Beyond the cut lie my angry corrections on what I feel is really important here. )

X-posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
Just a bit ago, [ profile] badlydrawnjeff brought up priming, the concept that preparing people can affect perceptions, especially of ambiguous or even non-sense material. Fair enough, that.

I think we should, however, pursue this concept just a bit farther. Consider the following graphic:

Just about everyone who took intro courses in psychology knows this is the chief image used in the famous Asch conformity experiments. In a nutshell, if you want a significant number of people to say that the line in the left-most box is the same length as lines A or B in the right-most box, all you have to do is have four people agree that this is the case. It doesn't matter that C is clearly of equal length; a significant amount of social persuasion will make a significant number of people conform.

The Asch study simply had a single study participant in a study group of 5 to 7 other people, all confederates in on the study, confederates told to give either right or wrong answers. When the single non-confederate was asked to answer which line was the same after the confederates all agreed on the wrong answer, 41% of them would agree with the wrong answer.

41% would say something just about everyone could see wasn't true.

With a little help from our friend technology, the Asch results become clearer, but a tad scarier. )

X-posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (J' Acuse!)
Yet another Rand-ian rant on F#c%Book and my reaction against it has me wondering: What is so darned attractive about the extreme libertarian position currently in vogue?

I once asked my neighbor, a now-retired UW professor of psychology, if there had been any studies linking the rise in autistic spectrum disorders with libertarianism. I figured people who have trouble relating to other people would be drawn to a philosophy that clearly separates "mine" from "ours." She was unaware of any such studies, but was kind to indulge her crazy neighbor's ideas. And yes, I acknowledge that I may be crazy. )

Crazy or not, I don't have the money to promote what I see are logical antidotes to libertarian spew. And thus, no matter how much I may spew myself, I find my voice one of the small and dissenting in a well-funded and over-amplified chorus of crazy.

Yes, it gets me down.

Ah, well.
peristaltor: (Default)
It looks like AdBusters planned to protest Wall Street like an American Arab Spring, but no one really showed up.

Back in July, Adbusters began promoting a move to occupy Wall Street in protest of the rampant corruption, market manipulation and out of control greed that is destroying our nation today.

Adbusters was hoping for a turnout of some 20,000 angry Americans who would occupy Wall Street for months.

Unfortunately, it appears that the number was less than 1/20th of their goal, or less than 1,000 activists, according to AFP.

I do agree about some of their anger. No, I do not support the so-called "free speech zones". As the article noted, "It is not free speech if you have to get permission to speak, plain and simple."

But I do have to question the validity of their entire enterprise. After all, yes, Wall St. did fuck things up on a grand scale, but exactly how many lost lives can be blamed on this enormous cock-up? Allow me to elucidate: I lost my bank, Washington Mutual, in the cluster-fuck; but did I suffer anything other than irritation? Not at all. Even though The Wife and I had quite a bit in that bank to lose, thanks to the FDIC we lost not a penny. Sorry, but the Wall St. shenanigans simply do not compare to the torture squads and corrupt police tactics in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseum.

In reading the article, though. . . . )
peristaltor: (Default)
Take a look at this image:

Just about everyone who took intro courses in psychology knows this is the chief image used in the famous Asch conformity experiments. Long time readers of this LJ know I've mentioned this before. In a nutshell, if you want a significant number of people to say that the line in the left-most box is the same length as lines A or B in the right-most box, all you have to do is have four people agree that this is the case. It doesn't matter that C is clearly of equal length; a significant amount of social persuasion will make a significant number of people conform.

So, why am I rehashing this? Simple. I just read what might be the scariest thing I've read in months, if not years: Software is currently being used to enable one person to put their opinions into up to 50 individual on-line personas at once.

From the link:

According to an embedded MS Word document found in one of the HB Gary emails, it involves creating an army of sockpuppets, with sophisticated "persona management" software that allows a small team of only a few people to appear to be many, while keeping the personas from accidentally cross-contaminating each other. Then, to top it off, the team can actually automate some functions so one persona can appear to be an entire Brooks Brothers riot online.

For everyone not living in a cave cowering under a cot, this little bit of reality completely changes the nature of reality itself. For months now, friends and I have been speculating about how the political/corporate situation in the United States has gotten so completely untenable. Really, who in their right mind would vote for some of the idiots currently wielding power like a revving chainsaw in a roomful of oxy-acetylene filled balloons? What thinking person would allow the mindless brandishing of corporate power from notable groups of business masters? Now that private interests need only pay to buy this software to get fifty people ditto-heading whatever opinion makes the most money or builds support for the right power coalition, these same interests need not hire talking heads to do the same. (I'm not saying they won't hire the Becks, Goldbergs, Limbaughs and the rest of the opinion marionettes; I'm just saying they now have -- and have had for some time -- cheaper alternatives.)

This might also explain the bizarre spam attacks my LJ has been getting lately. Could someone be using this software with, say, a beginner's understanding of the English language? That might explain the content of those wacky replies. (I'm at work now, but will post a few wacky examples when I get some time tomorrow.)

The public sphere has been compromised. Without honest exchanges of opinion, it is impossible to gauge the public zeitgeist on any given issue. We have no protection from infection without outlawing the internet during campaigns; and we all know that ain't gonna happen.
peristaltor: (Default)
Here's a video. You've probably seen it already.

I tripped across it some time ago and dismissed it as, well, wrong. When you base your criticisms on elements that are factually inaccurate, you fail. It's as simple as that. Sadly, last night I caught up a bit with my podcast list and heard [ profile] kmo chatting with Jim Kunstler about the current failings our economy is suffering, and heard once again that video, now spliced as audio into the middle of the podcast. I think Mr. Kunstler understands far better than most why that video is factually inaccurate, but he chose not to address the inconsistencies and instead shared a hearty chuckle.

But understanding the video's failings proves key, for me, to understanding our economy's failings well enough to even attempt thinking about ways to improve things for the future. To the failings! )
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In my last post I made a mistake. I referred to an enhanced sponsorship spot as one dealing with "tax". I was wrong. In my fury sparked by Morning Edition's "news" I conflated the stories on taxes with the actual agency providing NPR with money.

As I noted in the addenda, this morning I got an email from a KUOW employee correcting my misunderstanding:

I think you may be looking for this:

Public Notice, an independent organization dedicated to reducing
government spending. Learn more at The Public Notice dot org;

So The Public Notice doesn't deal with taxes at all. They deal with spending. That's so very different.

What happens when we dive a bit into this agency? What, for example, would we learn from their Mission Statement?

Our goal is to provide Americans with clear, unbiased, and useful information about key economic and fiscal issues. Because America's future should rest in the capable hands of a knowledgeable people.

How laudable. And who are the people behind such a fine mission? From their About page, we learn:

Public Notice is an independent non-profit dedicated to providing facts and insight on the economy and how government policy affects Americans’ financial well-being.

Through education and awareness projects, Public Notice engages Americans on today’s policies, to avoid tomorrow’s problems.

Americans, empowered with the facts, can lead Washington to be better stewards of the nation’s economic and fiscal future.

When I stumble on words like "unbiased" and "independent", I immediately look for the bias and control. I've seen far too many of these non-profits to assume otherwise. They are almost all fronts for some very biased and control-oriented people. So I went to a site on DailyKos that step-by-step shows how to find the funders. Sadly, the instructions outline how to follow the money of a specific type of organization somewhat unlike The Public Notice.

Burrowing into the Press Releases The Public Notice offered, though, I learn that "Gretchen Hamel, Executive Director of Public Notice, said the following:". Now we have a name. Google should provide the rest.

The Overlordess Herself

Talking Points Memo delivers:

A former Bush administration PR specialist has launched a new non-profit designed to raise the alarm about what it sees as "over-spending" in Washington -- but is staying mum on how the group is being funded. . . .

Public Notice's funding source remains obscure. In an interview with TPMmuckraker, Hamel -- who served as the Bush administration's top spokesperson on trade issues, and as press secretary for the House Republican Conference -- said Public Notice had "dozens of donors across the U.S.," but declined to identify them. "We will not be disclosing our donors," she said. "We want to protect the anonymity of our donors," she added, noting that other organizations of all political stripes take a similar stance.

So "dozens of donors" are able to pony up anonymous cash for a slick PR foundation to release press pieces and produce videos all bemoaning the behemoth that has become the federal government . . . and force NPR -- an agency partially funded by the federal government -- to promote this activity.

That September 8 Morning Edition spot might as well have said:

Funding for this public radio programming comes from The Public Notice, an agency that would like to kill and bury public radio.

The Public Notice is, folks, just another right-wing Overton Window shifty agency following Lewis Powell's now infamous script. Had they been truly non-partisan, they would have been formed back when federal spending got truly egregious and out of control . . . under Reagan.

Furthermore, let's face the most obvious problem with The Public Notice's tactics: They completely ignore the alternative to cutting federal spending; raising taxes to levels that can sustain the spending. Funny thing, so did that pair of stories on Morning Edition.

And I have yet to hear about restoring that NPR Planet Money piece where just about everyone asks about taxes in Denmark says they are a good thing. Strange that almost all of it should so conveniently disappear, isn't it? I'll give the national ombudsman a few days to catch up on what is probably a deluge of letters just like mine . . . perhaps generated for the same reasons.
peristaltor: (Default)
NPR, you've done it again.

Just this morning, Morning Edition ran two stories back to back. The first examined Democrats in the electoral cross hairs because the President wants to roll let Bush's tax cut expire only for the richest payers:

A full-blown congressional debate on the expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts is expected this fall, but some lawmakers have already weighed in on the most controversial issue: whether it makes sense, at a time of huge budget deficits, to extend those tax cuts for household income that exceeds $250,000.

Excuse me, "makes sense"? Here we are facing an unprecedented deficit, a crushing and growing debt, and turning down revenue from the only Americans who can afford it doesn't make sense?!? Oh, and just to top off the craptastic reporting with a cherry and a heaping dollop of Fuck You, they follow that bit of pandering treacle by adding up exactly how much in taxes a wealthy couple spends. "Milkove is one of those people who carefully tracks just about every dollar spent, so we're able to get a good picture of how much sales tax they pay in a year." Well, la-de-fucking-da. Then the story leaves the yuppies for a moment to get a quote from one of those think tank flunkies, this one from something called The Tax Foundation:

"People get very frustrated at taxes that are relatively small compared to big taxes," says Gerald Prante, an economist at the Tax Foundation, a Washington-based tax-tracking think tank.

"I mean, if you look at this list," he says, looking at the tax tally that Milkove came up with, "everything is chump change compared to the federal income tax.

I decided after something happened to look into this foundation. Look what I found on their "About Us" page:

The year was 1937, the heart of the Great Depression. During the previous decade, first under Herbert Hoover, then under Franklin Roosevelt, federal spending had climbed 170 percent; over the previous five years internal revenue collections had risen 198 percent.

Concerned about the effect such expansion might have on private sector growth, a small group of business executives gathered in New York City to discuss how they could monitor fiscal activities at all levels of government and convey the information to the general public. They decided to launch an organization which, through research and analysis, could inform and educate Americans using objective, reliable data on government finance.

In the subsequent seven decades, the Tax Foundation has been a national leader in promoting a sense of "tax consciousness" in the public.

(Yeah, I emphasized.)

On the surface, this dissemination of "tax consciousness" seems laudable, right? Who could argue about that? Ah, but let's remember what happens when the news is too one-sided. If the only news about taxes comes from those with a direct financial interest in lower taxes, no one gets the whole story. Furthermore, this kind of foundation is one of those whose funding could fuel itself. The more they prove able to lower taxes through "education," the more they will undoubtedly receive from people who, well, saved when taxes were lowered.

I digress, though. What was it that prompted my trip into Rage Town? After these stories, two of those "enhanced sponsorships" popped up near the 6:30 mark, just before the 5 minute national and local news recaps. One (IIRC) was for Progressive Insurance . . . and the other . . . (drum roll, please) . . . was for The Tax Foundation!!!* Here, they described themselves as a group dedicated to lowering the size of government.

Motherfuckers. No, not you, Tax Foundation. You're only doing what everyone would expect from a scorpion. It's your nature, after all, to lie, lie, lie. I'm looking right at the turtle carrying you across this pond, those Nice Polite Republicans who have hijacked what used to be Public Radio.

Hey, NPR: Somewhere in your reporting, why don't you mention that income taxes today are lower than they have been in eighty years?!? Really. And don't just take my word for it. Look it up. It used to be that the top tax rate was 91%. I remember those times. They were pretty okay. Now, there's debate in raising the top tax to less than half of its historic high, and people can only talk on the radio about how high taxes are? How about a little historical perspective?

For shame. Really, for shame. NPR could report on taxes fairly. Their Planet Money thing noted that most people in Denmark believed taxes are a good thing. Don't bother following the link to the podcast, though. Only the first minute seems to be there. I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose. It seems the entire NPR agency is bent on squelching any data that would support increased taxes, as per apparent marching orders from their supporters like The Tax Foundation and their Koch overlords.

Haven't heard about the Koch brothers, have you? Well, do some reading. That Charles especially has his paws in everything, including NPR and PBS. In fact, quoted in the article is a man who knows the brothers Koch personally, a Bruce Bartlett, an economist . . . who has been featured on Planet Money. More and more, my letter to Adam Davidson reveals not how much he needs to learn about finance and monetary policy, but how much he knows about these topics, but is probably paid to obfuscate them.

I am simultaneously enraged and deflated. Enraged, because of the obvious shenanigans someone is playing at NPR headquarters. Deflated, because I feel I can do nothing about it. I am watching fascism in its literal form, and know that crying out about it, if only to warn others, will do nothing. It's like watching an oncoming train while tied to the tracks.

No, that's not it. More accurately, it's like watching a beautiful house burn, and noting that a group dressed as firefighters are squirting the flames with a hose charged with gasoline. NPR is part of that process, but instead of delivering the propellant through a hose, they are merely part of the gasoline bucket brigade. They don't fuel the fire as much as Fox and others, since they aren't heard by nearly as many and their spin isn't nearly as obvious; but fuel the fire of lies they do.

I can't do this anymore. I can't in good conscious give money to an organization seemingly bent not only on infusing commercial advertising into supposedly public radio, but furthermore does so while being nakedly brazen about the editorial control this advertising has on its news content. This has to stop, but I fear the edifice of our constitutional democracy will burn beyond recognition before it does.

*Oops. It was another group, not The Tax Foundation, but still one whose motives I would question. See addenda after the cut for more details, or this post for even more. Even though I got the name of the organization wrong, I kept the Tax Foundation rant in simply because both organizations, I'm quite sure, exist for the same reason. There are many different subspecies of scorpion.

This is turning out to be an ongoing investigation. Click here for continuing updates! )
peristaltor: (Default)
(T)he great advances of civilization,
in industry or agriculture,
have never come from centralized government.

-- Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom,
published in 1962, five years after
the Soviets launched Sputnik.

When it comes to analysis of current events in the news, I've discovered that one must enter every reading with a critical eye to what the ideologically faithful have altered, caused to be altered, or caused to be omitted altogether. And, oh boy, when it comes to blinders on and fixed, there's one group of professionals out there who are becoming a particularly nasty source of assumptions and pronouncements. I'm talking here, of course, about Uncle Miltie's Minions, the laissez faire economists. )
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Unhappily for us all, we are surrounded by corporate accomplices willing to influence our hearts and minds. I gave you a taste of this in Part II. In at least three of the four examples I provided we find a strong fiduciary incentive to warrant the noted shenanigans, obvious reasons why the participants would go to such misinformation extremes. Toyota wanted to squelch as much of the criticism of its cars as it could. The Canadian recording industry stands to gain millions, perhaps billions, if it can in the future prevent even fair use infringements on its copyrights. Never mind the ideological victory it would prove; dismantling the social safety net might prove an enormous boon to private health care providers simply by impeding government efforts to reduce the current cost of health care (which is, compared to the rest of the world, a tad expensive).

In Part I, I said early on that I wanted to focus primarily on how this swarm swatting, this manipulation of the crowd for fun and/or profit, deflects from our society's ability to make rational decisions regarding the economy. I'll stick to that aspect of society not to simply discount other, perhaps more pressing avenues of public controversy, but because the economy has, as [ profile] bleaknemesis notes, a relatively weak moral component. Struck by Part I of this series, he said two weeks ago in an email:

I am thinking though that the ox situation and your own rent adjustment story may only work under certain conditions to validate the crowd wisdom and that under other conditions a less than wise outcome may occur. For this I am thinking of Nazi Germany or segregationist South US. Now I am aware that I might be  trying to impose our current moral standards on the past which may not be fair. Actually as I was writing this and reading it over it occurred to me that maybe the reason the ox story works as an example for crowd wisdom is that there is no moral component to the weight guessing. Kind of the same with the rent story for the most part.

Mr. Nemesis, from all the reading I've done on this topic, you are absolutely correct on all points. Furthermore, you also mentioned a book I had either never heard of (or, more likely had forgotten about), James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. I got the book from the library, and oh, boy, am I glad I did. Along with Steven Johnson's Emergence (which I've gushed about before), Wisdom proves one of the best synopses of crowd wisdom I've ever read. In fact, in the end notes Surowiecki mentions Emergence and notes how his direction with Wisdom differed from Johnson's:

There are obvious resonances between Johnson's book and my own, although in his model local influence is important and generally beneficial, while I see independence as essential and see influence as, on the whole, inimical to good cognitive judgments. On the other hand, local influence is clearly a good thing when it comes to coordination problems. More to the point, Emergence is only tangentially concerned with decision making, and is more interested in, as the title suggests, self-organization and the emergence of order.

(James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds, Doubleday, 2004, p. 282.)

We should discuss what he means by independence. )
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In Part I of this series, I noted that our stories, the conversations we have with ourselves and use to frame the world around us in a fashion we can understand, are being hijacked. Yes, I said "hijacked," as in forced to go where they would not otherwise go. While this should be no surprise to any longer term readers out there, allow me to explain once again what I mean and provide some recent examples to back my argument.

I first quickly mentioned the Overton Window over three years ago. To review, Overton is a political strategist who during campaigns floods the airwaves and print media with opinions far to the right of the conservative position he supports. This way, people reading and listening are given the mistaken impression that the views being expressed have some how become more mainstream, and adjust their own views accordingly. Overton's media blitzes get people talking about issues; thanks to Source Amnesia and the Repetition Effect (aspects of the Overton Window effect I covered more carefully in The Whispers and the Early Screams), the mean average political opinion shifts closer to the one desired by Overton's team.

To interpret the image, the opinion pieces and bias inserted by Overton's team during an election shifts the actual political center marked by the 0 (as determined by a survey of opinion before the campaigning begins) a couple of points to the right of that center simply by dint of repetition and paying for some to espouse far-right beliefs for the record in ways that fail to question how wide-spread those beliefs really are.

Got that?

Once you're aware that this is happening, it's really quite easy to find examples. All you have to do is follow the Long Green (to use my favorite euphemism for money from the movie Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!). I'll give you just a few examples you might not have heard about for illustration, but which may in the very near future affect us all. Let's start with the media with which we're all familiar, the news. )
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I have for several weeks now been contemplating subjects, as the phrase goes, way above my pay grade, specifically why today's economic woes might be far more severe than even a press known for glorying in maim and gore is willing to investigate. It's been difficult, to say the least. There is so much I simply don't know. Hey, don't believe me? Go back to an old entry, Understanding the Economic Clusterfuck, and read the new prefixed addendum and disclaimer I recently added:

Disclaimer, June 16, 2010: Much of the information you read below is wrong. I wrote this before I read [ profile] ellenbrown's Web of Debt. Therefore, I missed details extremely important to the thrust of this post.

For example, below I state that interest is created through loans. This is incorrect. The money issued at the time the loan is finalized is the money actually created. Money is literally loaned into existence by banks, not printed by the Federal Government as everyone seems to assume.

I'm sure I'll post an update soon. For now, though, I intend to leave the post below intact. It will give me a chance to review what I've learned over the years by showing me what I believed in the past to be true. I apologize for the mis-information.

With that kind of track record, I should just quit while I'm far, far, far behind. Ah, but that's the danger of learning new stuff and wanting to share it. Try as I may to make declarations of firm substance and indisputable truth, I find myself constantly learning something else that's new to me and needing to correct the record. Yes, if I just shut up and said nothing I would say nothing wrong. But if I were that kind of person, I wouldn't be much of a blogger, now would I?

For that reason, I have decided to lay as much as I have on the table and see what newly acquired items of factual interest in the future obviates the table's heap into a steaming pile of poo. Let's start with the reason I think markets work -- Sir Francis Galton. )
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New Scientist posts this snippet:

"Intuiting God's beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber to validate and justify one's own beliefs," writes a team led by Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To many, this seems a quite evident and non-controversial comment. After all, what are the chances that someone with, say, a hatred of any given act be drawn to any religion that fails to condemn or even embraces the act? Ah, but the article gets more interesting when we discover why the researchers were led to this conclusion:

The researchers started by asking volunteers who said they believe in God to give their own views on controversial topics, such as abortion and the death penalty. They also asked what the volunteers thought were the views of God, average Americans and public figures such as Bill Gates. Volunteers' own beliefs corresponded most strongly with those they attributed to God.

Next, the team asked another group of volunteers to undertake tasks designed to soften their existing views, such as preparing speeches on the death penalty in which they had to take the opposite view to their own. They found that this led to shifts in the beliefs attributed to God, but not in those attributed to other people. . . .

"The experiments in which we manipulate people's own beliefs are the most compelling evidence we have to show that people's own beliefs influence what they think God believes more substantially than it influences what they think other people believe," says Epley. (Emphasis mine.)

This smacks of perhaps something related to the Overton Window. By simply being exposed to opinions that vary from their own, this second group shifted not just their own opinion, but the opinion God is likely to take. Perhaps this is a variant on the old canard "Vox Deus, vox populi," or "The voice of the people is the voice of God." I say variant simply because the second group didn't sway from what they felt other people would say on the issue, a point illustrated by further brain scans:

Finally, the team used fMRI to scan the brains of volunteers while they contemplated the beliefs of themselves, God or "average Americans". In all the experiments the volunteers professed beliefs in an Abrahamic God. The majority were Christian.

In the first two cases, similar parts of the brain were active. When asked to contemplate other Americans' beliefs, however, an area of the brain used for inferring other people's mental states was active. This implies that people map God's beliefs onto their own.

So, we store and consider the opinion of others in different place in the brain than the place used to mull our and God's existences. Interesting.

Oh, and before you smug left-leaning folks out there take this as ammo for future dealings with the Faux News crowd, other researchers have been doing great work showing how one's political persuasion influences how credibly one accepts or rejects unsubstantiated claims. Here's one such graph. There are more. Each shows that all of us are susceptible to misinformation, to accepting the unproven. What bad knowledge that happens to be simply depends on the mis-info spreader tying the particular lie to the proper spin, one that resonates well with other preconceptions.

I realize that politics and religion are to many minds separate issues, but I feel both topics have share a "grounding" in the brain, are held by the adherents of those beliefs because they resonate well with preconceptions held by the adherents. Both political and religious beliefs are, after all, the mental models we humans use to frame the world around us. (For a really powerful if somewhat hackneyed take on this, has anyone read Philip K. Dick's The Eye In the Sky?) The old saying "Never discuss politics or religion" in polite company recognizes that both topics prove for most people difficult to discuss dispassionately since the topics carry deeply-held and therefore non-negotiable elements.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this research mentioned in New Scientist replicated in a political context with similar results.
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I'd like to introduce everyone to David Brock, author of Blinded by the Right and The Republican Noise Machine. In Blinded, he introduces himself as a progressive and idealistic young lad who had a rude awakening during his college days in Berkeley. He went to cover Jeane Kirkpatrick's speech to the college, and was deeply disturbed when protesters interrupted her until she was forced to leave the stage:

The scene shook me deeply: Was the harassment of an unpopular speaker the legacy of the Berkeley-campus Free Speech Movement, when students demanded the right to canvass for any and all political causes on the campus's Sproul Plaza? Wasn't free speech a liberal value? How, I wondered, could this thought police call itself liberal?. . . . The few outspoken conservatives on the faculty, and the Reagan regents, raised their voices in support of Kirkpatrick's free speech rights. The liberals seemed to me to be defending censorship.

(David Brock, Blinded by the Right, Three Rivers Press, 2002, p. 4.)

This and other incidents burned in his mind, Brock turned from liberal and progressive issues and became a cheerleader for the Other Side. He rose in prominence, changing the course of American history as he ascended. )
peristaltor: (Default)
I've just heard a pair of interviews on the Skepticality podcast that illustrate for me very clearly what might be happening here in the United States, something that seems to be all but absent elsewhere. We here in the States can't miss it without forgoing any and all media reporting. There's a frenzy of folks up in arms to resist the "socialization" of health care (like we did to fire and police protection generations ago) by (as they confusingly put it) a Nazi President, one who may or may not have been born in Kenya, one who many of those same protesters are sure is either an closet Muslim or (worse) an atheist. Just about all of the most vocal are convinced he is a racist.

I am convinced this is not happening in a vacuum. Phenomena this wide-spread never do. They are helped along by people who know what they are doing, who know exactly what buttons to push and how often. Don't be fooled: This is a power struggle backed by millions of dollars with many more billions of dollars at stake. On that most can agree.

What is less clear is how this is happening.

To illustrate what I feel is happening now, I'd like to mention a few facts about the Columbine High School incident ten years ago, facts I found startling and surprising. Did you know:

-- Bombs were supposed to be the main killing weapons, not guns.

-- Harris and Klebold were not members of the Trench Coat Mafia.

-- Harris and Klebold were not quiet "outcasts" picked on by "jocks."

-- The morning they and so many others died at their hands, the two did not go bowling.

Surprised at any of these revelations? I was. It's amazing to note what happened verses what everyone outside of Littleton thinks happened. )
peristaltor: (Default)
The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that, you're heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.

That's a quote from Wendell Potter interviewed by Bill Moyer. Wendell worked as an executive at Cigna, a big health care insurance company. He was assigned to discredit Michael Moore's Sicko, a movie he said "hit the nail on the head." Why? "They (insurer executives) were afraid that people would believe Michael Moore." Wendell started to see problems in the way his company did business, and has decided to join the push towards national coverage by exposing the industry shenanigans.


One of the books I read as I was trying to make up my mind here was President Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage."

And in the forward, Robert Kennedy said that one of the president's, one of his favorite quotes was a Dante quote that, "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of moral crisis, maintain a neutrality." And when I read that, I said, "Oh, jeez, I-- you know. I'm headed for that hottest place in hell, unless I say something." (Emphasis mine.)

Watch or read the entire interview. Then grab a pitchfork. Grab a torch. Listen for and join the nearest mob.

I hope it's time.
peristaltor: (Default)
I've always wondered why folks have for years been down on Social Security. Everyone who slams the Depression-era social backstop seems to ignore that it only had to exist because the traditional market-based systems failed so dramatically. What gave them the idea that market-based solutions would work after this spectacular fail?

Turns out this has all been an elaborate long-term marketing campaign by the Cato Institute:

In the Summer of 1983, smarting under what they called the "fiasco of the last 18 months", i.e. the Greenspan Commission and subsequent 1983 Reform, the Cato Institute convened a conference in Washington DC and subsequently published the papers in their Fall 1983 Cato Journal under the title Social Security: Continuing Crisis or Real Reform. One of those articles had the intriguing title of Social Security Reform: Achieving a 'Leninist' Strategy. In that article was laid out the long term plan alluded to in my comment quoted above, which plan focused in large part on convincing younger workers that Social Security just wouldn't be there for them. Cato not only accepted that plan it institutionalized it in what was then known as the Project on Social Security Privatization but now known as the Project on Social Security Choice. (Note the domain name: - they have staked a claim to Social Security itself)

(Emphasis from the article.)

It's going to be hard to reverse the active marketing work -- read, propaganda -- done quietly over a quarter decade, but that's the only way to fix SS's funding problems without throwing the program out with the bathwater. Otherwise the bastards win. On the evil propagated by Cato, the author well notes: "Even paranoids have real enemies."

X-Posted to [ profile] the_recession.


peristaltor: (Default)

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