Archive for Popular Culture


The scourge of newsiness

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Via ETC News News Dump.

Via ETC News News Dump.

Eugene Robinson’s piece in the Washington Post looks at the challenge covering Donald Trump presents to the news media:

Trump lies the way other people breathe. We’re used to politicians who stretch the truth, who waffle or dissemble, who emphasize some facts while omitting others. But I can’t think of any other political figure who so brazenly tells lie after lie, spraying audiences with such a fusillade of untruths that it is almost impossible to keep track. Perhaps he hopes the media and the nation will become numb to his constant lying. We must not.

Trouble is, it’s not just Trump. Like Billy Pilgrim, American readers have come unstuck from the truth. Human attention span now is less than that of a goldfish. Our capacity to discern truth from lies is about as keen. The Internet and social media are awash in newsy-looking websites featuring thin, unsourced “reportage” of questionable provenance — newsiness. But it’s easily digestible. As Jeff Goldblum said of his character’s job at People Magazine in The Big Chill, “I don’t write anything longer than what the average person can read during the average dump.” That makes web surfers easy prey for Donald Trumps and disinformation traffickers. When a friend shares a “well-researched” article, prepare for a fusillade of “facts” unsupported by a single link or original source reporting. Goldfish don’t check sources.

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Not a good look

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Social media has largely taken over the family-and-friends propaganda market from email. I’ve mentioned my collection of over 200 specimens of right-wing “pass-it-on” emails. You know the ones: the lies, smears and disinformation we all have received from fathers and T-party uncles, the kind with large, colored type and maybe a gif of praying hands above the exhortation to “pass it on.” But in-box Izvestia pretty much tailed off as Facebook, Reddit, etc. gained market share. Sadly, what with email was overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the right has shifted left with social media. Not a good thing. We should be better than this.

In the misty past before the dawn of the internet (1980?), I was visiting the home of a friend who told me with some alarm that I should never buy any more products from the Procter & Gamble company of Cincinnati, Ohio. Its president, she said, was on the Phil Donahue Show and said the company gave money to the Church of Satan. As proof she told me, you could look on their packaging and see a small crescent moon and stars symbol, a “satanic symbol.”

“When did you see this?” I asked.

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Has America lost its resilience?

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One of Pavlov's dogs, preserved at The Pavlov Museum, Ryazan, Russ

One of Pavlov’s dogs, preserved at The Pavlov Museum, Ryazan, Russia.
By Rklawton via Wikimedia Commons

Frame adversity as a challenge, and you become more flexible and able to deal with it, move on, learn from it, and grow. Focus on it, frame it as a threat, and a potentially traumatic event becomes an enduring problem; you become more inflexible, and more likely to be negatively affected.

That is how people who study psychological resilience see the difference between people who rise above adversity and those who succumb to it. Maria Konnikova wrote about those studies in a February New Yorker article. Coping skills come naturally to some people, but they can also change over time. “The stressors can become so intense that resilience is overwhelmed,” Konnikova writes. “Most people, in short, have a breaking point.”

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Those were the days – Not

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Fugitive Slaves in the Dismal Swamp, Virginia — by David Edward Cronin, 1888. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fugitive Slaves in the Dismal Swamp, Virginia — by David Edward Cronin, 1888. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Not long ago, Derek Thompson explored the origin myth surrounding Thomas Carlyle coining the term “the dismal science” for economics. Thompson writes:

But Carlyle labeled the science “dismal” when writing about slavery in the West Indies. White plantation owners, he said, ought to force black plantation workers to be their servants. Economics, somewhat inconveniently for Carlyle, didn’t offer a hearty defense of slavery. Instead, the rules of supply and demand argued for “letting men alone” rather than thrashing them with whips for not being servile. Carlyle bashed political economy as “a dreary, desolate, and indeed quite abject and distressing [science]; what we might call … the dismal science.”

Today, when we hear the term “the dismal science,” it’s typically in reference to economics’ most depressing outcomes (e.g.: on globalization killing manufacturing jobs: “well, that’s why they call it the dismal science,” etc). In other words, we’ve tended to align ourselves with Carlyle to acknowledge that an inescapable element of economics is human misery.

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It’s good news week

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Great. It’s 5 a.m. and the headlines this morning prompted a novelty song from the mid-1960s to start playing in my head.

Melting of Ice Sheet Could Flood Coastal Cities by 2100

Antarctic ice loss could double expected sea level rise by 2100, study says

Sea levels set to ‘rise far more rapidly than expected’

From the journal Nature:

Choices that the world makes this century could determine the fate of the massive Antarctic ice sheet. A study published online this week in Nature finds that continued growth in greenhouse-gas emissions over the next several decades could trigger an unstoppable collapse of Antarctica’s ice — raising sea levels by more than a metre by 2100 and more than 15 metres by 2500.

“That is literally remapping how the planet looks from space,” says study co-author Rob DeConto, a geoscientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The good news, he says, is that it projects little or no sea-level rise from Antarctic melt if greenhouse-gas emissions are reduced quickly enough to limit the average global temperature rise to about 2 °C.

See? Good news.

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Crisis of confidence

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The loss of confidence in this country for its institutions and distrust among citizens for each other has really reached toxic levels. Enter Donald Trump and supporters who seem bent on making the country great again by burning the place to the ground. But those levels of distrust are present now across party and ideological lines. In this primary season especially, everyone seems hypervigilant for the stab in the back from allies and quick to read the worst intentions into any statements or government actions. Not without some priming.

After Ronald Reagan declared that government is the problem, his fans worked assiduously at proving it. With success. For thirty years or more, Republicans have worked at undermining confidence in American elections by promoting the idea that widespread fraud is at work undetected. Since 1982, the RNC has been under a consent decree prohibiting it from implementing its own voter fraud prevention measures — or voter suppression, if you see them through jaundiced eyes. In 2012, the last time (of which I am aware) that the Republican Party tried to get the 1982 consent decree voided, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit essentially laughed them out of court. Again. So they have turned after years of such rejection to state legislatures to accomplish the same thing through voter ID. Through relentless propagandizing, they convinced a large swath of the country that the threat from the elusive zombie voter is real and justifies such restrictive measures.

On Tuesday, there were some lines at the polls here in North Carolina and other issues with the new voter ID law. It will be worse in November.

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But By A Fascist, He’s No Fascist

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Categories : Popular Culture, Satire
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Ripe for the fleecing

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Smiling Sphincter (3)The New Age movement was in full flower when I arrived in what was then touted as “a New Age Mecca.” It seemed every other person I met was a seeker — seeking ways to monetize their spiritual journey. I theorized that there was actually only $50 in circulation, and it went from massage therapist to jewelry maker to energy healer and back. I marveled at all the “internationally recognized” healers sporting an alphabet soup of certifications for this and that who put up workshop flyers at health food stores around town. Having only university degrees myself, being out of work, and with time on my hands, just for grins I created and posted a few flyers of my own. See the modest example above. The first, actually, was for a transformational trepanation workshop offered by Dr. Berndt Synapse. The collection eventually found its way into an unpublished, faux New Age business magazine I titled Mantra-preneur from Barnum Was Right! productions.

“Let the record reflect: the American people are a bunch of suckers,” author Ben Fountain begins this morning in the Guardian. He looks at Americans’ propensity to fall for hucksters of the political kind. He offers a few not-so-exemplary specimens, writing:

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Trump v. Trump

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Like Jerry Springer without the hair pulling.

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Fluffer Nutter Palin Butter

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