August 18, 2018 in 3,417 words

Matt Taibbi: Censorship Does Not End Well

How America learned to stop worrying and put Mark Zuckerberg in charge of everything

Pictured above: Infowars’ Alex Jones and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg


Silicon Valley is changing its mind about censorship.

Two weeks ago, we learned about a new campaign against “inauthentic” content, conducted by Facebook in consultation with Congress and the secretive think tank Atlantic Council — whose board includes an array of ex-CIA and Homeland Security officials — in the name of cracking down on alleged Russian disinformation efforts.­ As part of the bizarre alliance of Internet news distributors and quasi-government censors, the social network zapped 32 accounts and pages, including an ad for a real “No Unite the Right 2” anti-racist counter-rally in D.C. this past weekend.

“This is a real protest in Washington, D.C. It is not George Soros. It is not Russia. It is just us,” said the event’s organizers, a coalition of easily located Americans, in a statement.

Last week, we saw another flurry of censorship news. Facebook apparently suspended VenezuelaAnalysis.com, a site critical of U.S. policy toward Venezuela. (It was reinstated Thursday.) Twitter suspended a pair of libertarians, including @DanielLMcAdams of the Ron Paul Institute and @ScottHortonShow of Antiwar.com, for using the word “bitch” (directed toward a man) in a silly political argument. They, too, were later re-instated.

More significantly: Google’s former head of free expression issues in Asia, Lokman Tsui, blasted the tech giant’s plan to develop a search engine that would help the Chinese government censor content.

First reported by The Intercept, the plan was called “a stupid, stupid move” by Tsui, who added: “I can’t see a way to operate Google search in China without violating widely held international human rights standards.”


Inside the Poisoning of a Russian Double Agent

How a hit on a retired spy named Sergei Skripal became the latest—and most terrifying—front in Vladimir Putin’s war with the West.

1. Forthwith

As a Russian double agent working for the British, he’d been code-named “Forthwith”—quickly—but this afternoon the poison in Sergei Skripal’s system went unhurried, making its way around his body over a period of hours. Skripal was 66, comfortably heavy in retirement, an ex-colonel who’d been cast out of the intelligence services in Russia and now lived in exile in the English city of Salisbury. Neighbors knew the place as “Smalls-bury” and said that nothing too dramatic ever happened here, which would stay true for another couple of hours yet.

This was March 4, 2018, a Sunday of sun-backed clouds, the air crisp and glad the way it gets in southwest England after the lifting of snow. A day earlier Yulia Skripal, Sergei’s 33-year-old daughter, who visited Salisbury regularly, had flown in from Moscow. The poison had gotten into Yulia that morning, too, but father and daughter were still unwitting and felt well enough early on Sunday afternoon to plan an outing. Sergei owned a cherry red BMW and they drove into town for a drink in a riverside pub. Maybe they would have a meal together. An ancient cathedral, south of the city center, chimed the half hour: 1:30 P.M. This poison wanted two hours more.

Salisbury is a city of spires and rusted weather vanes, a place that is particular about time, the dates of things stamped on buildings and everywhere clocks, clocks, on belfries and over bookshops. Across the water from where the Skripals parked their car, a sundial had been engraved with the adage: Time speeds up until it is nothing, therefore use it before it is gone. At the pub, Sergei and Yulia had a quick drink. When father and daughter were together, they sometimes posed for pictures, raising toasts. The pub was a converted mill that had a display of photographs on the wall, one of these a close-up of a pocket watch, its crystal broken, hands frozen at what appeared to be 1:35 P.M.

Next they went to an Italian restaurant to eat. An hour passed. Finally, walking back to their car at around 3:30 P.M., the Skripals began to feel truly unwell and had to put themselves down on a bench, where they drifted in and out of consciousness, slumped over and gesturing strangely. Passersby assumed they were high. At a quarter to four, the cathedral clock sounded again. The Skripals’ pupils had shrunk, and they were sweating. They were foaming at the mouth. An off-duty nurse was the first to attend them, and a small crowd gathered. At 4:15 P.M., an ambulance was called, come quickly, forthwith.


From laboratory in far west, China’s surveillance state spreads quietly


SenseTime surveillance software identifying details about people and vehicles runs as a demonstration at the company’s office in Beijing, China, October 11, 2017.

Filip Liu, a 31-year-old software developer from Beijing, was traveling in the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang when he was pulled to one side by police as he got off a bus.

The officers took Liu’s iPhone, hooked it up to a handheld device that looked like a laptop and told him they were “checking his phone for illegal information”.

Liu’s experience in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital, is not uncommon in a region that has been wracked by separatist violence and a crackdown by security forces.

But such surveillance technologies, tested out in the laboratory of Xinjiang, are now quietly spreading across China.

Government procurement documents collected by Reuters and rare insights from officials show the technology Liu encountered in Xinjiang is encroaching into cities like Shanghai and Beijing.

Police stations in almost every province have sought to buy the data-extraction devices for smartphones since the beginning of 2016, coinciding with a sharp rise in spending on internal security and a crackdown on dissent, the data show.


Halfway to boiling: the city at 50C

It is the temperature at which human cells start to cook, animals suffer and air conditioners overload power grids. Once an urban anomaly, 50C is fast becoming reality.


In a city at 50C, the only people in sight are those who do not have access to air conditioning.

Imagine a city at 50C (122F). The pavements are empty, the parks quiet, entire neighbourhoods appear uninhabited. Nobody with a choice ventures outside during daylight hours. Only at night do the denizens emerge, HG Wells-style, into the streets – though, in temperatures that high, even darkness no longer provides relief. Uncooled air is treated like effluent: to be flushed as quickly as possible.

School playgrounds are silent as pupils shelter inside. In the hottest hours of the day, working outdoors is banned. The only people in sight are those who do not have access to air conditioning, who have no escape from the blanket of heat: the poor, the homeless, undocumented labourers. Society is divided into the cool haves and the hot have-nots.

Those without the option of sheltering indoors can rely only on shade, or perhaps a water-soaked sheet hung in front of a fan. Construction workers, motor-rickshaw drivers and street hawkers cover up head to toe to stay cool. The wealthy, meanwhile, go from one climate-conditioned environment to another: homes, cars, offices, gymnasiums, malls.

Asphalt heats up 10-20C higher than the air. You really could fry an egg on the pavement. A dog’s paws would blister on a short walk, so pets are kept behind closed doors. There are fewer animals overall; many species of mammals and birds have migrated to cooler environments, perhaps at a higher altitude – or perished. Reptiles, unable to regulate their body temperatures or dramatically expand their range, are worst placed to adapt. Even insects suffer.


The 6 Most Epically Pointless Arguments on Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a massive collection of information put together by hardcore information fans (read: nerds). Unfortunately, not all entries are as straightforward as “here is a description of a penis and a picture of an Asian elephant’s penis.” Sometimes editors have disagreements on citations, accuracy, or which type of flopping dong to use as an illustration. Editors accept some of these battles as the natural cost that comes with ensuring only the best penis information emerges from the crucible of academic debate. However, some of the battles fought on Wikipedia are pointless, insane, or both. Actually, it’s almost always both.

6. An Economist Named ‘Guy Standing’ Inspired a Fight Over an Accidental Joke


The Wikipedia page for a 70-year-old British economist doesn’t seem like it’d be a hotspot for controversy. That is, until the internet met… GUY STANDING.

Guy Standing had a short, extremely straightforward Wikipedia entry explaining his (sorry, Guy), barely interesting career as an educator and author. However, his entry also included this photo and caption:

Yep. It’s Guy Standing… sitting. It’s the same joke poor Guy has certainly heard every day of his life, and some people found it in bad taste. Some editors changed the caption, arguing that “Guy Standing sitting” was a pointless, discursive joke. Other editors changed it back, arguing they were just literally describing what was happening and that deliberately avoiding the phrase or changing the pic was needlessly confusing. It seemed a classic battle between the philosophies of “One should never be cute, even on accident” and “Relax. That guy is sitting.”

The comments got heated. One user, from team Relax, said “It’s accurate, though. The photo is of Guy Standing, sitting, so it isn’t really vandalism.” A rival from team Nevercute countered, “It’s still just a pointless joke. There’s no actual reason for it really being there. I suggest changing the picture to him not sitting.” But this argument would not be solved by finding a picture of Guy Standing standing. It would be solved with WAR.

The volunteer Wikipedia editors battled back and forth like this… for three years.


Is the U.S. Knee-Deep in ‘Epidemics,’ or Is That Just Wishful Thinking?

There is something about enormous tragedies that has always mystified humans, sending us scrambling for explanations. Hurricanes, earthquakes and plagues were once explained as God’s wrath, or at least Mother Nature’s; later, they were understood in terms of pressure systems, tectonic plates, bacteria. Some recurring human tragedies still resist easy explanation, but even for them, we reserve one tool for connecting the dots and telling a story: It’s an “epidemic.”

Thus the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade in June, within days of each other, were understood in the context of a growing nationwide problem. “Anthony Bourdain and the ‘Silent Epidemic of Male Suicide,’” read a headline from New York magazine’s Grub Street vertical, while The Chicago Tribune’s editorial board reflected on “Deaths of Despair: An American Epidemic” alongside photos of Spade and Bourdain. Two years earlier, reports of Prince’s fatal overdose took similar titles: “Prince’s Fentanyl Overdose Gives New Urgency to Opioid Epidemic,” read a PBS headline. These “silent” epidemics, always quietly simmering, break through the noise whena celebrity succumbs. But suicides and overdoses are, by any objective measure, flat-out boiling: Researchers believe that, when combined, they’re to blame for the nation’s life expectancy actually dropping over the past two years.

The same public-health framing — the logic of disease and infection — applies to gun violence and school shootings, too. “Mass murder can catch on like an epidemic,” warned an article in The Atlantic in November 2017. This May, a front-page headline in The New York Times even identified a Patient Zero: “An Epidemic of School Massacres Traces Its Roots to Columbine.” Investigating an epidemic traditionally begins by pinpointing a vector — a route through which a disease or virus spreads from person to person, like a mosquito carrying malaria — and a 2016 news release from the American Psychological Association offered one of those, too: “‘Media Contagion’ Is Factor in Mass Shootings, Study Says.”

But this “contagion” is, obviously, only a metaphor — a remarkably popular one. Countless things are now described as epidemics: loneliness, selfies, nostalgia, partisanship, fake news. The further the metaphor extends, the harder it becomes to pin down the vectors involved. What’s the cause of so many suicides and overdoses and a rise in excessive drinking? “A reversal of fortunes” among middle-class white people has led to despair, some researchers say. Others think the alarming drop in life expectancy is at least partly worsened by an obesity epidemic. But there’s also “an epidemic of wellness,” per the subtitle of Barbara Ehrenreich’s searing new book, “Natural Causes.” We’re plagued by everything from drugs to guns to sugary beverages to SoulCycle.


Therapy wars: the revenge of Freud

Cheap and effective, CBT became the dominant form of therapy, consigning Freud to psychology’s dingy basement. But new studies have cast doubt on its supremacy – and shown dramatic results for psychoanalysis. Is it time to get back on the couch?

Dr. David Pollens is a psychoanalyst who sees his patients in a modest ground-floor office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a neighbourhood probably only rivalled by the Upper West Side for the highest concentration of therapists anywhere on the planet. Pollens, who is in his early 60s, with thinning silver hair, sits in a wooden armchair at the head of a couch; his patients lie on the couch, facing away from him, the better to explore their most embarrassing fears or fantasies. Many of them come several times a week, sometimes for years, in keeping with analytic tradition. He has an impressive track record treating anxiety, depression and other disorders in adults and children, through the medium of uncensored and largely unstructured talk.

To visit Pollens, as I did one dark winter’s afternoon late last year, is to plunge immediately into the arcane Freudian language of “resistance” and “neurosis”, “transference” and “counter-transference”. He exudes a sort of warm neutrality; you could easily imagine telling him your most troubling secrets. Like other members of his tribe, Pollens sees himself as an excavator of the catacombs of the unconscious: of the sexual drives that lurk beneath awareness; the hatred we feel for those we claim to love; and the other distasteful truths about ourselves we don’t know, and often don’t wish to know.

But there’s a very well-known narrative when it comes to therapy and the relief of suffering – and it leaves Pollens and his fellow psychoanalysts decisively on the wrong side of history. For a start, Freud (this story goes) has been debunked. Young boys don’t lust after their mothers, or fear their fathers will castrate them; adolescent girls don’t envy their brothers’ penises. No brain scan has ever located the ego, super-ego or id. The practice of charging clients steep fees to ponder their childhoods for years – while characterising any objections to this process as “resistance”, demanding further psychoanalysis – looks to many like a scam. “Arguably no other notable figure in history was so fantastically wrong about nearly every important thing he had to say” than Sigmund Freud, the philosopher Todd Dufresne declared a few years back, summing up the consensus and echoing the Nobel prize-winning scientist Peter Medawar, who in 1975 called psychoanalysis “the most stupendous intellectual confidence trick of the 20th century”. It was, Medawar went on, “a terminal product as well – something akin to a dinosaur or a zeppelin in the history of ideas, a vast structure of radically unsound design and with no posterity.”

A jumble of therapies emerged in Freud’s wake, as therapists struggled to put their endeavours on a sounder empirical footing. But from all these approaches – including humanistic therapy, interpersonal therapy, transpersonal therapy, transactional analysis and so on – it’s generally agreed that one emerged triumphant. Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is a down-to-earth technique focused not on the past but the present; not on mysterious inner drives, but on adjusting the unhelpful thought patterns that cause negative emotions. In contrast to the meandering conversations of psychoanalysis, a typical CBT exercise might involve filling out a flowchart to identify the self-critical “automatic thoughts” that occur whenever you face a setback, like being criticised at work, or rejected after a date.


Do teens use Facebook? It depends on their family’s income

SOCIAL CAPITAL


A useful tool.

Alexus has moved frequently from city to city and state to state in her 16 years. “My friends are in all those places,” she said in a text. “I use Facebook to keep in touch with old friends and family.”

Trend-watchers, analysts, and the media, have said that teenagers have shunned Facebook, in favor of finstas, Snapchat streaks, and YouTube fandoms.

And this is largely true. According to the Pew Research Center, the share of teens who use Facebook fell by 20 percentage points over three years. Now, only about half of US teens use Facebook, compared to nearly two-thirds of adults. Some surveys say it’s even less. But Alexus isn’t alone on Facebook.

Looking more closely at demographics, a clear division emerges: While only one-third of kids from families with higher incomes said they are on Facebook, Pew reported recently, a much larger share of teens from lower-income backgrounds, like Alexus, said that they still use the platform.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

One night in 1992, farmer Jeff Ditzenberger walked into an abandoned house near his farm in Monroe, Wisconsin and lit it on fire. He had no intention of walking out alive. But as the walls caught fire around him, he changed his mind. And he walked out.

The house burned to the ground, and Jeff served nine months in jail for arson. He also got help for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

When Ditzenberger reflected on what drove him to attempt suicide, he said it was in part because he had no one to talk to in his rural farming community about his problems. People he approached either didn’t care or didn’t know how to talk to respond.

Ditzenberger tried talking to a therapist but found it difficult to get an appointment.

“It was the same thing every time I called,” he said. “‘Well, we can get you in in a few weeks. ’Well, I can’t wait a few weeks. I need to get in now.’”

Lack of access to quality mental health care is a problem in rural communities across the U.S. In a 2018 Ball State University survey of rural mental health professionals, 95 percent said they can’t meet the needs in their communities.

In 2015, Ditzenberger started a support group called Talking, Understanding, Growth and Support — or TUGS — to informally get farmers and other rural people together to talk. Ditzenberger hopes it can help overcome what he says is a stigma around talking about mental health among farmers.

It couldn’t come at a better time. Rural counties have the highest rates of suicide in the country, according to a Centers for Disease Control study published in July.

VICE News got a chance to meet Ditzenberger and some of the farmers he who say he’s helped them open up about their mental health struggles.


Bill recaps the top stories of the week, including a new wave of reality show drama in the White House.


In his editorial New Rule, Bill argues that the phony personas people adopt in public are vastly different than the weirdness they crave.

THANKS to HBO and Real Time with Bill Maher for making this program available on YouTube.


どうしても入りたかったまる。Maru wanted to get into the box by all means.


FINALLY . . .

Artist Creates Frightening Depiction Of How Homer Simpson Would Look In Real Life

Miguel Vasquez: 3D artist, cartoon fan, nightmare architect.

We’ve seen “real-life” Homer Simpson creations before, but none this striking or disturbing.

Miguel Vasquez, a 3D computer artist in Ontario, California, loves to make alarmingly lifelike recreations of classic cartoon characters. Last year ― when he made a series of creepy Spongebob Squarepants models we’re still recovering from ― he told HuffPost that he has an obsession “with popular fictional characters turned into somewhat realistic alternative versions.”

His latest is Homer Simpson. Not sure “The Simpsons” would have gone on for 29 seasons if the family was rendered in this way.

Here are some of Vasquez’s other works of nightmare fuel, including Courage the Cowardly Dog, Nigel Thornberry of “The Wild Thornberrys,” and of course SpongeBob Squarepants. See more of Vasquez’s 3D modeling on Instagram and in the dark corners of your bedroom in the middle of the night.


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?