Tagged: fear

The psychology of irrational fear

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Last week Sen. Rand Paul, a doctor, laid out the threat of Ebola in America thusly, to CNN: “If someone has Ebola at a cocktail party, they’re contagious and you can catch it from them.”

That statement is, of course, not true, unless the person is symptomatic, in which case he or she would not be up for hummus and chardonnay. But it’s not as untrue as what Georgia Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey, also a medical doctor, wrote to the CDC:

“Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus, and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.”

If Gingrey were to consult a map, he might be relieved to find that West Africa is several thousand miles away from the U.S.-Mexico border. And that, Ebola being what it is, someone in the throes of the hemorrhagic fever would be unlikely to muster the strength to fly to Mexico and then sprint through the South Texas desert…

It’s a big time of the year for fear. Not only is it Halloween, a holiday more recently known for sexy hamburgers but originally famous for its spookiness, but also because the U.S. has had four (now one) cases of Ebola diagnosed on its soil. Maybe it’s the combination of the two that helps explain the abundance of ridiculous statements like the above in recent weeks…

Of course, Ebola is partly a stand-in for our ongoing collective anxieties, ever simmering and child-leash-purchase inducing. In calmer times, we might instead be wringing our hands over gluten, swine flu, or that illegal immigrants are coming here to “steal our jobs.”

A recent survey from Chapman University found that Americans are most afraid of walking alone at night, identity theft, safety on the Internet, becoming the victim of a mass shooting, and having to speak in public.

The study also found that Democrats were most likely to be worried about personal safety, pollution, and man-made disasters. Republicans, meanwhile, had the highest levels of fear about the government, immigrants, and “today’s youth.” It also found that having a low level of education or watching talk- or true-crime TV was associated with harboring the most types of fear. Despite the fact that crime rates have decreased over the past 20 years, most Americans, the survey found, think all types of crime have become more prevalent…

RTFA. A compendium of silliness we get to view every day of our lives in what is reputed to be the leading modern nation on this planet. I’m more certain of the silliness than the leadership part.

Thanks, Mike

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Oppenheimer’s reputation repaired by unredacted security records


Oppenheimer with a socialist who wouldn’t be allowed into the country, today

The release of unredacted transcripts of secret government hearings held in 1954 by the Atomic Energy Commission produced headlines last week as the disclosures reaffirmed the once-questioned loyalty of Los Alamos Manhattan Project mastermind J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Many are asking why it took six decades to release the previously secret sections, other than that the now-restored portions tended to exonerate Oppenheimer. One expert says there was no classified information in the redactions.

All questions of security in the United States are regulated by paranoid idiots.

In a monumental fall from grace, Oppenheimer went from the man who harnessed the power of the atom for the bombs that ended World War II to losing his security clearance after the AEC hearings amid accusations that this chain-smoking American eccentric was a Soviet spy.

The hearings were held against the backdrop of 1950s red-scare America, fueled by factors including the fact that Oppenheimer’s brother and wife had been communists, and his lack of enthusiasm for building the more powerful hydrogen or “Super” bomb.

RTFA. The JOURNAL isn’t quite as much of a PITA as some. They don’t require registration; but, you must answer one or more survey questions which earns them relevant baksheesh I guess.

Cold War hysteria fit perfectly into the reactionary politics of the American establishment post-WW2. Oppenheimer, with a scientist’s objectivity and reliance on observable and verifiable fact did not. Our politicians would rather reject talent than admit their foolishness. Which is why government transparency is a contradiction in terms.

His earnestness about trying to build peace – alienated him from hawkish thugs like Edward Teller who wanted more and bigger bombs every week [and got them] – sealed the deal. No pleas for peace in imperial ideology.

I was lucky enough to meet Dr. Oppenheimer a couple of times. He was just part of the audience at discussions about working to promote peace at forums sponsored by the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.

Bush, government spies, Obama — you have only yourselves to blame for Apple’s spy-proof iPhone

If the government wants to listen in on your phone calls, it can. That’s the crux of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, enacted in 1994: It requires wireless carriers to keep the possibility open of wiretapping their networks. In 2005, the act was expanded to include VoIP and broadband providers.

But Calea has never been expanded from phone networks to phones themselves, and now phone makers—first Apple (AAPL), then Android—are releasing handsets with encryption that makes it impossible for the handset maker to retrieve data from the phone, warrant or no. The government is not happy. “What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law,” FBI director James Comey said last week. But there’s not much he or other branches of law enforcement can do to stop it, absent some help from Congress…

The lawmakers may not be as accommodating as they once were. Revelations about National Security Agency spying have made sanctioned surveillance into a political hot potato: The FBI’s recent push for further technological backdoors in Internet communications seems to have died last year. “Something happened,” recounted Christopher Soghoian of the ACLU at the hacker conference Defcon this summer. “Calea 2, which is the D.C. nickname for this backdoor proposal, for now is dead. It is dead in the water; no politician wants to touch that kind of surveillance for now. So thank you very much, Edward Snowden.”

If the public reaction to Snowden and Operation Prism killed political momentum to expand government power, it also pushed companies such as Apple to develop stronger encryption security in the first place. Assurances that the legal system alone is sufficient to protect privacy seem less credible than they have in the past, and Silicon Valley doesn’t want its reputation to suffer by appearing not to stand up for its users. If government officials are unhappy about this latest turn of events, they have only themselves to blame.

That portion of Congress not entirely consumed with theocracy, bigotry, the John Wayne theory of history – remains governed by cowardice. Fence-sitters and papier mache liberals have always been easy targets for the arrogant superpatriot brigade to tip over like a drunken heifer. Today, maybe not so easy.

Both the nutball Right and please-please-reelect-me Left know their base is pissed off about the NSA, the track record of the last two presidents and their lack of defense on the playing field of constitutional protections for the 98%. Minority caucuses, bona fide peaceniks, the few legitimate progressives in Congress know from decades of assault from every quarter that they haven’t any rights. So, it looks possible for a spell that technology and principles might prevail over political opportunism.

Masturbation has health benefits


Joycelyn Elders – Surgeon General forced to resign by Republican backwardness, Democrat cowardice

Conduct an Internet search for “masturbation,” and you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of slang phrases for the act. This proliferation of slang phrases suggests people want to talk about masturbation, but are uncomfortable about doing so directly. Using comedic terms provides a more socially acceptable way to express themselves.

So before we talk any more about it, let’s normalise it a bit. Masturbation, or touching one’s own genitals for pleasure, is something that babies do from the time they are in the womb. It’s a natural and normal part of healthy sexual development.

According to a nationally representative US sample, 94% of men admit to masturbating, as do 85% of women. But societal perspectives of masturbation still vary greatly, and there’s even some stigma around engaging in the act. Related to this stigma are the many myths about masturbation, myths so ridiculous it’s a wonder anyone believes them.

They include: masturbation causes blindness and insanity; masturbation can make sexual organs fall off; and masturbation causes infertility.

In actual fact, masturbation has many health benefits…And there are plenty of additional benefits from orgasms generally, including reduced stress, reduced blood pressure, increased self-esteem, and reduced pain…

Talking about masturbation also has benefits. Promoting sex-positive views in our own homes and in society, including around masturbation, allows us to teach young people healthy behaviours and attitudes without stigma and shame.

Parents and guardians who feel embarrassed or need extra guidance to do this should seek out sex-positive sources of information, like ones from respected universities.

Or you could be truly stupid and talk to a priest or listen to some politician who worries about offending 14th Century sexual mores a heckuva lot more than supporting educated reason.

The Pope thinks kids are wasting time online — he should think about why

Pope Francis has taken aim at today’s youth by urging them not to waste their time on “futile things” such as “chatting on the internet or with smartphones, watching TV soap operas”.

He argued that the “products of technological progress” are distracting attention away from what is important in life rather than improving us. But even as he made his comments, UK communications regulator Ofcom released its latest figures, giving the opposite message. It celebrated the rise of a “tech-savvy” generation born at the turn of the millennium and now able to navigate the digital world with ease.

So what’s it to be for youth and the internet? Time-wasting and futile? Or the first to benefit from the wonders of the digital age?

This debate has been raging since children first picked up comic books and went to Saturday morning cinema. The media, it has long been said, makes kids stupid, inattentive, violent, passive, disrespectful, grow up too early or stay irresponsible too long. Whatever it is that society worries about in relation to children and young people, it seems that we love to blame it on the latest and most visible technology. Anything rather than looking more closely at the society we have created for them to grow up in.

Fifteen years ago, when children were being criticised for watching too much television (remember those days?), I asked children to describe what happened on a good day when they got home from school and what happened on a boring day. From six year olds to seventeen year olds, the answers were the same: on a good day, they could go out and see their friends; on a boring day they were stuck at home watching television.

And why couldn’t they go out and see their friends every day? Far from reflecting the appeal of television, the answer lies in parental anxieties about children going out. As a 2013 report noted, children are far less able to move around independently than in the past. This is particularly true of primary school children, who are often no longer allowed to walk to school or play unsupervised as they once were. Their developing independence, their time to play, their opportunities to socialise are all vastly curtailed compared with the childhoods of previous generations.

And yet the number of children who have accidents on the road has fallen over the years and there has been little change to the rate of child abductions, which remain very rare.

There is little evidence that children are choosing to stay home with digital technology instead of going out. Indeed, it seems more likely that an increasingly anxious world – fuelled by moral panics about childhood – is making parents keep their kids at home and online. And then, to pile on the irony, the same society that produces, promotes and provides technologies for kids also blames them for spending time with them…

Sonia Livingstone asks useful questions. Questions – in my own experience – not asked often enough. Certainly not asked or answered in conversations with folks in charge of funds for education, funds for recreation, even those in charge of whether or not there will be funds for education or recreation.

Much less what comprises useful education and what roles recreation, sport, fitness and challenge should play in the lives of young people. What to do with communication and a view of the whole world?

California Public Health has declared a Whooping Cough epidemic

California is being hit hard with a whooping cough epidemic, according to the state’s public health department, with 800 cases reported in the past two weeks alone…The agency says that there were 3,458 whooping cough cases reported between January 1 and June 10, well ahead of the number of cases reported for all of 2013.

This is a problem of “epidemic proportions,” the department said. And the number of actual cases may be even higher, because past studies have shown that for every case of whooping cough that is reported, there are 10 more that are not officially counted.

Whooping cough, known to doctors as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that is caused by a bacterium known as Bordetella pertussis…The popular name for the disease comes from the whooping sound an infected person makes when gasping for breath after a coughing fit.

The bacteria spreads through coughing and sneezing. One person can infect up to 15 people nearby, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Typically symptoms appear an average of seven to 10 days after exposure.

Infants and young children are more vulnerable to the disease than other age groups. It can be particularly dangerous for babies. About half of the infants who get whooping cough end up in a hospital. Some cases are fatal.

That’s why the public health department in California is strongly urging people to make sure their vaccinations are up to date, especially if they’re pregnant. State health officials are working closely with schools and local health departments to spread the word.

“Unlike some other vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, neither vaccination nor illness from pertussis offers lifetime immunity,” Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement. “However, vaccination is still the best defense against the potentially fatal diseases.”

Nationally, more than 90% of children get the first three doses of the vaccine, but far fewer get the Tdap booster.

California has historically had higher vaccination rates than other states, but a recent study found large clusters of parents who did not vaccinate their children close to areas with a large number of whooping cough cases during the 2010 California outbreak.

The current outbreak is too new for scientists to know if there is a similar pattern.

We’re back to the usual choice of answers between stupid or ignorant. In states like California or here in New Mexico, we deal with large numbers of immigrants, legal or otherwise, who haven’t anymore understanding of vaccination than they do birth control or reproductive rights. That’s the ignorant portion.

Then, we must confront parents who read on the Internet or heard from equally unqualified sources that vaccination is what causes illness. They aren’t going to look up relevant statistics at the CDC or talk to a for-real doctor. Sorry, but, that’s stupid. That doesn’t even get you up to the 20th Century.

BioEthicists whine about “designer babies” – as more important than the lives of children facing genetic defects

The Food and Drug Administration is weighing a fertility procedure that involves combining the genetic material of three people to make a baby free of certain defects, a therapy that critics say is an ethical minefield and could lead to the creation of designer babies.

The agency has asked a panel of experts to summarize current science to determine whether the approach — which has been performed successfully in monkeys by researchers in Oregon and in people more than a decade ago — is safe enough to be used again in people.

The F.D.A. meeting, on Tuesday and Wednesday, is meant to address the scientific issues around the procedure, not the ethics. Regulators are asking scientists to discuss the risks to the mother and the potential child and how future studies should be structured, among other issues. The meeting is being closely watched. The science of such therapies has advanced significantly in recent years, and many scientists are urging federal regulators to ease requirements for study in humans…

The procedure in question involves mitochondria, the power producers in cells that convert energy into a form that cells can use. Mitochondria with defects that could be passed to a fetus are replaced with healthy mitochondria from another woman. This is done either before or after an egg is fertilized…

The practice raised questions and eventually led the F.D.A. to tell researchers that they could not perform such procedures in humans without getting special permission from the agency. Since then, studies have been confined to animals…

So, for thirteen years, research has been confined to a precursor.

Such genetic methods have been controversial in the United States, where critics and some elected officials wonder how far scientists plan to go in their efforts to engineer humans, and question whether these methods might create other problems.

“Every time we get a little closer to genetic tinkering to promote health — that’s exciting and scary,” said Dr. Alan Copperman, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York…“The most exciting part, scientifically,” he said, “is to be able to prevent or fix an error in the genetic machinery…”

Then, the TIMES lurches into predictable fears ranging from spooky anti-science to repeating truly incompetent suggestions about diet and stress for test monkeys. RTFA if you think they’re saying something Luther Burbank didn’t hear.

Dr. Celia Witten, director of the office of Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapies at the F.D.A., gave few clues to the agency’s thinking.

“We haven’t made any decision about whether clinical trials will be allowed to proceed,” she said.

The conference was brought together in the first place to examine methodology and practical results. The kind of discussion science has been limited to since the days of our most recent King George.

No one ever had to wonder whether or not ethics questions would be evaluated in parallel. Most science simply doesn’t operate without such concerns as part of the process. Then, there are sufficient “bio-ethics” experts building anti-science consultancies, ready to turn them into cash cows at the drop of a teabagger’s silly hat. Questions will be raised whether prompted by real concern – or as PR for quasi-religious hustlers.

The arguments are the same as those advanced over stem cell research. We already lost a number of researchers to other nations during the Bush years. Bureaucrats are becoming accustomed to being second-guessed by 14th-Century moralists. They ain’t about to stick their collective necks out over something as “furrin” as genetic science. Especially since the topic scares the Ignorant Left as much as the Ignorant Right.

Let’s move on folks. Try to catch up with the last couple of decades of the 20th Century before we continue to limit 21st Century medicine – in the United states. Just maybe save the lives of a few kids.

Republican nutballs fear global assistance for the disabled


38 Republicans walked by wheelchair-bound Bob Dole and voted against the treaty

Any suspicion that the political right, after suffering a defeat on the debt ceiling and facing threats from business donors, is losing its clout can be dismissed by the fight over the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The treaty has been ratified by 141 countries. It is backed by the White House, former President George H.W. Bush, the major U.S. disability and veterans advocacy groups, and American businesses.

Senate Republicans, however, already defeated the treaty in 2012, and it now faces an uphill slog to get the two-thirds vote needed for ratification. Right-wing critics, led by former Senator Rick Santorum, the Heritage Foundation and home-schoolers, charge that adopting it would allow global enforcers to dictate the treatment of Americans with disabilities or the permissibility of home schooling, and ease access to abortion.

In reality, the treaty is modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. It states that nations must ensure that people with disabilities get the same rights and are treated with same dignity as all others. It might well pressure other countries to adopt U.S. standards.

The inevitable conflict between ignorance and stupidity – with a dash of paranoia added, not uncommon in today’s American conservatism.

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US banks can accept legal marijuana money – if you believe?

The Obama administration has sought to lessen the fear of prosecution for banks doing business with licensed marijuana companies, further encouraging US states such as Colorado and Washington that are experimenting with legalising the drug.

The Justice and Treasury departments outlined the policy in writing to federal prosecutors and financial institutions nationwide…

The guidance stopped short of promising immunity for banks, but made clear that criminal prosecution for money laundering and other crimes was unlikely if they met a series of conditions…

Currently, processing money from marijuana sales puts federally insured banks at risk of drug racketeering charges, and they therefore refuse to open accounts for marijuana-related businesses, the AP news agency reported.

The guidance was intended to increase the availability of banking services, such as savings and checking accounts, to marijuana shops that typically deal in cash. Forced to deal in cash because of federal policy…

US Attorney General Eric Holder said last month that the administration was planning ways to accommodate marijuana businesses so they would not always be dealing in cash.

“There’s a public safety component to this. Huge amounts of cash, substantial amounts of cash just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited, is something that would worry me just from a law enforcement perspective,” Holder said on January 23…

The American Bankers Association expressed scepticism that the guidance would make much difference…Marijuana sales still violate federal law, so banks are still at risk, said Rob Rowe, a lawyer with the trade group.

“Compliance by a bank will still require extensive resources to monitor any of these businesses, and it’s unlikely the benefits would exceed the costs,”…

I asked my favorite banker about this – and received the same answer given by Rowe. As long as the Feds base their practices on existing law, there’s no one willing to be the test case after being arrested for violating federal banking regulations. Even if the DOJ says go ahead – we won’t bust you.

Why should a bank trust pronouncements from a political body unwilling or unable to change their own regulations?

The likely future of Voter ID laws


 
“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal”

It’s way too early to forecast the fate of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, the federal legislation introduced Thursday in response to the United States Supreme Court’s decision last June in Shelby County v. Holder which struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. This sensible new measure has bipartisan support. But already there are grumblings on the right that the bill either isn’t necessary or that it too boldly protects the rights of minority citizens to be free from…discriminatory voting practices…

But it’s not too early to know that state voter identification laws will have an exalted place of protection in the Congressional response to Shelby County no matter what the final legislation looks like. In an effort to garner bipartisan support, that is to say in an effort to appease Republican lawmakers, the bill’s sponsors specifically exempted state voter ID laws from the litany of discriminatory voting policies and practices that would count under the new “coverage formula” contemplated by Section 4 of the proposed law. It’s like proposing a law to ban football and then exempting the Super Bowl.

The VRAA tells us that it will be left to state and federal judges around the nation to render their own judgment about the constitutionality of voter ID laws. And right on cue, the day after the federal measure was introduced on Capitol Hill, a judge in Pennsylvania did just that. Following a lengthy trial last summer, and six months of agonizing delay, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley on Friday struck down Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law as violative of the constitutional rights of state voters…

The ruling is significant on its own terms, of course; it’s a major victory for voting rights advocates and a setback for vote suppressors in the state and everywhere else. As a matter of politics the import is clear. Pennsylvania is an eternal swing state—although it has swung blue most recently in national contests—and it is still considered a must-win for Democratic candidates for president. By blocking a law that would have erected practical impediments to mostly poor, young, old, and minority voters, Friday’s ruling makes it more likely that those likely Democratic voters will have their votes counted in 2014, at least…

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