October 27, 2018 in 2,559 words

Stochastic terror and the cycle of hate that pushes unstable Americans to violence

LONE WOLVES

Pictured above: John F. Kennedy in Dallas, in the moments before his assassination.


A 50-year-old man has been arrested in Florida in connection with the explosive devices to this week to George Soros, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, CNN’s New York offices, representative Maxine Waters, and most recently Robert De Niro, Joe Biden, and senator Cory Booker.

Law enforcement and counterterrorism experts say that the selection of targets suggests a politically motivated terror attempt. And one thing ties them all together; each target has also been a prominent object of Donald Trump’s vitriol during his time as president.

Hostile political discourse in the US

“This is beginning to look like some individual who is acting out on behalf of what he is hearing from people who are running for office or elected officials,” John D. Cohen, a counterterrorism coordinator for the Department of Homeland Security, who is now a professor at the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice, said on Oct. 24, before the Biden and De Niro incidents. Information about the suspect is limited, but Florida law enforcement were spotted towing a van covered with pro-Trump stickers.

Trump often invokes Clinton and CNN as enemies during his “Make America Great Again” rallies and praises physically hurting enemies. Trump’s predecessor, Obama, has been a longtime target. The president has belittled Waters and other women of color, referring to Waters as a “Low IQ individual.” In turn, other politicians have echoed his verbal attacks. Crowds at Trump rallies have demonstrated fury towards the press, and Waters and news organizations have fielded death threats.

In the past year, law enforcement officials have been “extraordinarily concerned that—based on the polarization and hostile nature of our political discourse—we would see an increase in people carrying out acts of violence,” Cohen said. In other words, they worry that hateful speech could provoke hateful action.


The harrowing, step-by-step story of a migrant’s journey to Europe

CHASING GREENER PASTURES


At sea.

Nearly every part of the illegal journey a migrant makes from West Africa to Europe across the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean is filled with peril. But even a routine roll call, innocuous as it may seem, can turn into a recurring nightmare.

Andrew (real name withheld), a Nigerian migrant with hopes of reaching Italy, found that out the hard way at Sabratha, a coastal town in northern Libya in February 2016.

As desperate migrants are transported across borders through a vast illegal network, their smugglers carry out roll calls at regular intervals during the long convoluted itinerary to confirm every migrants’ journey has been fully paid up. While most migrants pay “agents”—the shady middlemen who make all the initial travel arrangements—at the start of their journey to arrange the trip all the way to Europe, these agents do not always pay the smugglers the full amount. When migrants duped by agents become stranded along the way, things turn ugly. In Andrew’s case, the agent had paid his way to Libya but not all the way to Europe, as previously agreed.

Having seen similar episodes at previous stops along his journey, Andrew would have known what was coming next. The first lashes of a thick rubber water hose landed on his sore feet and back after his limbs were chained. To frighten him even more—and offer a taste of what was to come—the smugglers began flogging other duped migrants who had been detained for much longer. The message was simple: pay up or this will be your fate.


THE AI COLD WAR THAT COULD DOOM US ALL

In the spring of 2016, an artificial intelligence system called AlphaGo defeated a world champion Go player in a match at the Four Seasons hotel in Seoul. In the US, this momentous news required some unpacking. Most Americans were unfamiliar with Go, an ancient Asian game that involves placing black and white stones on a wooden board. And the technology that had emerged victorious was even more foreign: a form of AI called machine learning, which uses large data sets to train a computer to recognize patterns and make its own strategic choices.

Still, the gist of the story was familiar enough. Computers had already mastered checkers and chess; now they had learned to dominate a still more complex game. Geeks cared, but most people didn’t. In the White House, Terah Lyons, one of Barack Obama’s science and technology policy advisers, remembers her team cheering on the fourth floor of the Eisenhower Executive Building. “We saw it as a win for technology,” she says. “The next day the rest of the White House forgot about it.”

In China, by contrast, 280 million people watched AlphaGo win. There, what really mattered was that a machine owned by a California company, Alphabet, the parent of Google, had conquered a game invented more than 2,500 years ago in Asia. Americans don’t even play Go. And yet they had somehow figured out how to vanquish it? Kai-Fu Lee, a pioneer in the field of AI, remembers being asked to comment on the match by nearly every major television station in the country. Until then, he had been quietly investing in Chinese AI companies. But when he saw the attention, he started broadcasting his venture fund’s artificial intelligence investment strategy. “We said, OK, after this match, the whole country is going to know about AI,” he recalls. “So we went big.”

In Beijing, the machine’s victory cracked the air like a warning shot. That impression was only reinforced when, over the next few months, the Obama administration published a series of reports grappling with the benefits and risks of AI. The papers made a series of recommendations for government action, both to stave off potential job losses from automation and to invest in the development of machine learning. A group of senior policy wonks inside China’s science and technology bureaucracy, who had already been working on their own plan for AI, believed they were seeing signs of a focused, emerging US strategy—and they needed to act fast.


5 Celebrity Halloween Costumes That Are Downright Crazy

We picture celebrities living in their own little world where good cheekbones grow on trees, it rains money, and everybody knows at least one of the Kardashians. Maybe that’s why we get such a kick out of seeing the rich and famous enjoying plebeian activities. It confirms that, status and wealth aside, deep down at the core of our humanity, we are all of us just a bunch of frivolous assholes. And at no time is this more apparent than during the official frivolous asshole holiday that is Halloween. Just look at …

5. Heidi Klum


Seriously, if you don’t know about the German model’s epic outfits, then welcome. It’s 2018, and everything sucks except Heidi Klum’s Halloween costumes.

Referred to as the “Queen of Halloween,” Klum spends hours on makeup, prosthetics, and possibly witchcraft to transform herself into actual cartoon characters each year. She told Parade back in 2013 that she would rather stay home than be caught out in a mediocre Halloween costume, and boy does it show. Here’s her costume from 2011:

The entire costume was airbrushed makeup, and in keeping with the macabre, she was wheeled into her party on an autopsy table. The year before that, she transformed herself into an eight-foot robot on stilts, because “tall” is never tall enough for a supermodel.

In 2013, Klum turned 40. Most of us would simply get drunk and throw an ill-advised punch at a bathroom mirror, but Klum turned the whole thing into a joke at her own expense:

Your move, Mother Nature.

In 2016, she got a couple of probably all-too-willing models together to “clone” herself.

Anyone seen that autopsy table?

But she’s gotten tired of that tack, so last year she outdid herself with a “Thriller” costume that might actually be better than the one in the original video:

Word is she didn’t shave for a year.



SAVING THE WORLD, ONE MEANINGLESS BUZZWORD AT A TIME

How corporations, activists, and politicians turned the language of human rights into meaningless babble.

From the outside, the U.N.’s Palais des Nations in Geneva looks like a dental hospital, stacks of grey stucco connected by skybridges. From inside, it’s more like a hotel lobby. Open spaces, comfy chairs, a museum-silence where your heels echo on the marble. The guts of the building, the reason it’s here, is the meeting rooms: Some square, some circles or ovals, all trimmed in wood paneling as flat as the expressions on the people sitting in them.

This is the U.N. Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights. More than 1,000 people have gathered here with the same purpose: Prevent multinational corporations from violating human rights.

It is a big deal. Representatives of some of the world’s biggest multinationals — Shell, Coca-Cola, Unilever — are here to show off their sustainability projects. Ministers from governments admirable to appalling — Colombia, Kazakhstan, Canada — are here to present their procedures for labor inspections, the progress on their five-year development strategies. Civil society activists, some of them wearing #StopCorporateAbuse armbands, have come to take notes on them both.

You are here because you are one of these people. You’ve been doing this since 2004, when you got an internship at a human rights NGO and rode it into a job, a promotion and, eventually, what Europeans refer to as a “background.” You are here to find out which countries and which companies need the most help, then offer to give it to them.


THE SPOOKIEST MUSIC RELIES ON A LITTLE DITTY MONKS USED TO SING ABOUT THE APOCALYPSE

THE BIG CHILL


What Death sounds like.

Let’s face it. When it comes to creating a creepy Halloween atmosphere, the modern pop canon doesn’t have much to work with. Fortunately, ye olde Europeans liked their music a lot more chilling than “Thriller.” In fact, during the 18th century, it was composers like Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner who truly cracked the code of creepiness. The sonic dread they pioneered involved two key ingredients that horror movies and metal bands still use today: a forbidden sequence of notes known as “Satan in music,” and a spooky little ditty that Gregorian monks sang about the apocalypse.

Diabolus in musica

Back in the Middle Ages, most Western music was written in praise of God—and was therefore supposed to sound pleasant. For composers of the day, that wasn’t a huge constraint. Take a C major scale—i.e. just the white keys on the piano—plunk out any two-note combination, and you’ll find they’re all holy ghost-grade harmonies.

Except one.

Played in sequence or together, the notes F and B clash in a way that feels twitchy, unnatural, and foreboding. (If you don’t have a keyboard handy, think of the first two notes of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” or Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”—or American police sirens.)

It’s this interval that folks in the dark ages and the Renaissance called diablous in musica—literally, ”Satan in music.” Modern music theorists know it as the tritone (as well as a diminished fifth, or an augmented fourth), though it’s also called the devil’s interval or the devil’s triad.


Bill Maher On Mail Bomber: “Is It Okay To Call This One Deplorable?”

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

UPDATE, with New Rules Halloween video The hashtag “#MAGAbomber” came for Cesar Sayoc Jr. nearly as quickly as his arrest today, but Bill Maher reached back a couple years for something a tad more classic.

“Is it okay to call this one deplorable?,” Maher asked during his opening monologue on tonight’s Real Time With Bill Maher. “Or would that hurt Republicans’ feelings?”

Maher would eventually get to his annual gripe about politically correct (or not) Halloween costumes (watch that video bit above, and read about it below), but first he had some laughs to squeeze from that mail bomber – and there were more than might have been thought possible as early as yesterday.

Maher’s deplorable joke was topped by a well-delivered line from tonight’s opening guest on the HBO show, adult film actress and Full Disclosure author Stormy Daniels. “I got the first package,” she said, “and sadly mine went off.”

Let that one sink in.

Daniels had been booked for tonight’s show well before this week’s series of mailed pipe bombs, but Maher found a parallel. Like those targeted by the bomber (Sayoc has been charged with five felonies), Daniels, said Maher, was targeted by Columbus, Ohio, police officers for arrest during a stripping gig last summer on a trumped-up human trafficking charge.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Bill recaps the top stories of the week, including the arrest of a suspected “MAGA Bomber” and Republican hysteria over migrant refugees.

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


The same Republicans who voted to repeal Obamacare in its entirety are now on the campaign trail defending certain elements of the ACA.


Does Donald Trump, the president who has enacted tariffs generously, discussed them in an interview as if he’d never heard of them before.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.


色々な高さを楽しみます。Maru enjoys various height.


FINALLY . . .

What Psychedelic Research Can and Cannot Tell Us about Consciousness

A recent Scientific American blog post misconstrues and oversimplifies the research.

It’s not easy to strike the right balance when taking new scientific findings to a wider audience. In a recent opinion piece, Bernard Kastrup and Edward F. Kelly point out that media reporting can fuel misleading interpretations through oversimplification, sometimes abetted by the scientists themselves. Media misinterpretations can be particularly contagious for research areas likely to pique public interest—such as the exciting new investigations of the brain basis of altered conscious experience induced by psychedelic drugs.

Unfortunately, Kastrup and Kelly fall foul of their own critique by misconstruing and oversimplifying the details of the studies they discuss. This leads them towards an anti-materialistic view of consciousness that has nothing to do with the details of the experimental studies—ours or others.

Take, for example, their discussion of our recent study reporting increased neuronal “signal diversity” in the psychedelic state. In this study, we used “Lempel-Ziv” complexity—a standard algorithm used to compress data files—to measure the diversity of brain signals recorded using magnetoencephalography (MEG). Diversity in this sense is related to, though not entirely equivalent to, “randomness.” The data showed widespread increased neuronal signal diversity for three different psychedelics (LSD, psilocybin and ketamine), when compared to a placebo baseline. This was a striking result since previous studies using this measure had only reported reductions in signal diversity, in global states generally thought to mark “decreases” in consciousness, such as (non-REM) sleep and anesthesia.

Media reporting of this finding led to headlines such as “First evidence found that LSD produces ‘higher’ levels of consciousness” (The Independent, April 19, 2017)—playing on an ambiguity between cultural and scientific interpretations of “higher”—and generating just the kind of confusion that Kastrup and Kelly rightly identify as unhelpful.

Unfortunately, Kastrup and Kelly then depart from the details in misleading ways.


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