Recent Articles

How the American Media Covered Hitler and Mussolini

| December 14, 2016 | Reply

Smithsonian.com looks back to how the American media covered the rise of Hitler and Mussolini:

How to cover the rise of a political leader who’s left a paper trail of anti-constitutionalism, racism and the encouragement of violence? Does the press take the position that its subject acts outside the norms of society? Or does it take the position that someone who wins a fair election is by definition “normal,” because his leadership reflects the will of the people? These are the questions that confronted the U.S. press after the ascendance of fascist leaders in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.

How does the press cover a rising dictator? Not as a “dictator.”

Dorothy Thompson, who judged Hitler a man of “startling insignificance” in 1928, realized her mistake by mid-decade when she, like Mowrer, began raising the alarm.

“No people ever recognize their dictator in advance,” she reflected in 1935. “He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will.” Applying the lesson to the U.S., she wrote, “When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.”

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Empathy versus compassion: Fully understanding morality

| December 13, 2016 | 1 Reply

This lively podcast, featuring Sam Harris and Paul Bloom, challenges many traditional notions of morality, focusing on the distinction between empathy and compassion. If you give it 10 minutes it will be difficult to turn it off.

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Pseudoinefficacy: We are willing to help one person, but less willing when there are multitudes we cannot help

| December 13, 2016 | 2 Replies

Compelling 2015 research by Paul Slovic and others shows that we are often likely to help a person in need, but we are much less likely to help that person when our attention is simultaneously directed toward other people that we are unable to help. The fact that there are multitudes in need dampens our willingness to help a person we are most assuredly in a position to help.

Here is the summary of the research:

In a great many situations where we are asked to aid persons whose lives are endangered, we are not able to help everyone. What are the emotional and motivational consequences of “not helping all”? In a series of experiments, we demonstrate that negative affect arising from children that could not be helped decreases the warm glow of positive feeling associated with aiding the children who can be helped. This demotivation from the children outside of our reach may be a form of “pseudoinefficacy” that is non-rational. We should not be deterred from helping whomever we can because there are others we are not able to help.

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Chris Hedges describes our Mafia State

| December 5, 2016 | 1 Reply

I wish I didn’t agree with Chris Hedges:

Systems of governance that are seized by a tiny cabal become mafia states. The early years—Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in the United States—are marked by promises that the pillage will benefit everyone. The later years—George W. Bush and Barack Obama—are marked by declarations that things are getting better even though they are getting worse. The final years—Donald Trump—see the lunatic trolls, hedge fund parasites, con artists, conspiracy theorists and criminals drop all pretense and carry out an orgy of looting and corruption.
The rich never have enough. The more they get, the more they want. It is a disease. CEOs demand and receive pay that is 200 times what their workers earn. And even when corporate executives commit massive fraud, such as the billing of hundreds of thousands of Wells Fargo customers for accounts they never opened, they elude punishment and personally profit. Disgraced CEO John Stumpf left Wells Fargo with a pay package that averages nearly $15 million a year. Richard Fuld received nearly half a billion dollars from 1993 to 2007, a time in which he was bankrupting Lehman Brothers.
The list of financial titans, including Trump, who have profited from a rigged financial system and fraud is endless. Many in the 1 percent make money by using lobbyists and bought politicians to write self-serving laws and rules and by forming unassailable monopolies. They push up prices on products or services these monopolies provide. Or they lend money to the 99 percent and charge exorbitant interest. Or they use their control of government and the courts to ship jobs to Mexico or China, where wages can be as low as 22 cents an hour, and leave American workers destitute.

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Carl Sagan Warns of the Dangers of the Lack of Education.

| December 1, 2016 | 1 Reply

Carl Sagan, last interview with Charlie Rose before his death in 1996. He warns of the dangers of lack of education and the potential for tyranny.

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Ideas on how to move forward

| November 10, 2016 | Reply

This article by Jon Schwarz of The Intercept has an ominous beginning, but in the end, it offers some positive suggestions for dealing with the current nightmare. Here’s an excerpt:

The people who run America have constructed a political system that’s like a glitchy killer robot, one even they can’t control anymore. Working as designed it murders African Americans and pregnant women and opioid addicts. The Iraq War was a minor hiccup that caused it to obliterate a country, several thousand Americans, and hundreds of thousands of people all around the world. The housing bubble was a more serious bug that liquidated hundreds of thousands more from the poorer half of the rich world. But with Donald Trump, for perhaps the first time, the robot totally ignored the commands of its creators and now has everyone in its crosshairs. If there’s anything to learn from history, it’s that elites don’t dismantle their beloved killer robots on their own. Either regular people — including you reading this right now — will deactivate this one, or it will never happen at all. Not a single person knows exactly how to pull this off. But one thing’s for sure: Trump’s rise proves that whatever it is we’ve been doing isn’t working.

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Glenn Greenwald asks whether Democrats will seriously deal with their inner corruption?

| November 10, 2016 | Reply

At the Intercept, Glenn Greenwald refers to the election of Donald Trump as turbo-charged version of Brexit.

THE PARALLELS BETWEEN the U.K.’s shocking approval of the Brexit referendum in June and the U.S.’ even more shocking election of Donald Trump as president last night are overwhelming. Elites (outside of populist right-wing circles) aggressively unified across ideological lines in opposition to both. Supporters of Brexit and Trump were continually maligned by the dominant media narrative (validly or otherwise) as primitive, stupid, racist, xenophobic, and irrational. In each case, journalists who spend all day chatting with one another on Twitter and congregating in exclusive social circles in national capitals — constantly re-affirming their own wisdom in an endless feedback loop — were certain of victory. Afterward, the elites whose entitlement to prevail was crushed devoted their energies to blaming everyone they could find except for themselves, while doubling down on their unbridled contempt for those who defied them, steadfastly refusing to examine what drove their insubordination.

The indisputable fact is that prevailing institutions of authority in the West, for decades, have relentlessly and with complete indifference stomped on the economic welfare and social security of hundreds of millions of people. While elite circles gorged themselves on globalism, free trade, Wall Street casino gambling, and endless wars (wars that enriched the perpetrators and sent the poorest and most marginalized to bear all their burdens), they completely ignored the victims of their gluttony, except when those victims piped up a bit too much — when they caused a ruckus — and were then scornfully condemned as troglodytes who were the deserved losers in the glorious, global game of meritocracy.

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Three attitudes that define many of the 1%

| November 7, 2016 | Reply

The article is titled, “The psychology of greed: 3 attitudes that explain the worst behaviors of the 1 percent.” The thesis is that the upper class tend toward narcissism — and their sense of entitlement appears to be growing. The three telltale signs: 1) It’s all about me, me, me. 2) It’s all about lazy-ass people who refuse to work. 3) It’s all about waiting for the free market to work its fairy magic.

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How to Deal With Social Anxiety

| October 23, 2016 | Reply

Eric Barker offer a well researched post on how to deal with social anxiety. Here’s an excerpt:

  1. Mindfulness recommends “noting” troublesome thoughts like fear. Recognize and accept them to let them go.
  2. Neuroscience advocates “labeling.” (Frankly, this is a lot like noting but backed by some PhDs and an fMRI.)
  3. Stoicism has “premeditation.” That’s when you ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and realize it’s not that bad.
  4. Neuroscience also recommends “reappraisal.” This is reinterpreting your feelings with a new story that makes them less scary.

A random bunch of tips? Nope. So what do they all have in common? You gotta use your brain. You gotta think. Some might reply, “I am thinking, I’m thinking about all the awful stuff that could happen if I embarrass myself. In fact, I can’t STOP thinking about it!” But you’re not thinking. You’re reacting. Fight or flight. Like an animal would.

Here’s something Barker’s article that I didn’t appreciate.  Intense mental focus “smothers” anxiety.

When your thinking brain — the prefrontal cortex — is highly engaged, it slams the brakes on feelings. And you can use this trick deliberately. Anything that gets you thinking actively can smother anxiety.

This makes perfect sense, given the limited scope of attention. If you fill your head with challenging problem solving, there simply isn’t room for anxiety.  Barker suggests that one thing to focus your mind on is your fears–face your fears, and it will keep anxiety at bay.  Barker reminds that we are not our thoughts.   Therefore, instead of saying, “I’m feeling anxious,” say say, “There is anxiety.”  Instead, note the existence of scary thoughts.

I’ll keep this advice in mind.

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