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Guest Post - Speaking from power

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.03.17

Nick S. writes: Timothy Burke's latest post makes a fascinating point:

[W]e also should have known we were defending institutions that we believed in against those who for some reason or another are dead set on destroying those institutions. That speaking from the center was not a sin or a crime. One of our great weaknesses at times has been how some of us have adopted an insistence that virtue can only derive from marginality, a view that speaking from power is always a fallen and regrettable position. Because we didn't see our ties to the establishment as virtue and we didn't understand that our forms of power were important for defending what we had already achieved, because we had a reflexive and attachment to the idea that we were in no way powerful, that our share of the status quo could only be found in some future progress, never even partially achieved, we were unready to wake up in the year 2016 and discover that we were not only a part of an ancien regime threatened by a mob, but that we actually wanted to defend that regime rather than rush to join the mob at the barricades. It would have been better if we'd defended it that way long before this moment. But it will help even now if we recognize that this is part of what we're doing: defending a structure of manners, of virtues, of practices, of expectations, of constraints and outcomes, against people who either don't recognize that this structure is important for them or from people who genuinely do not benefit from that structure. That we should not be ashamed to defend our loosely shared habitus, because it really is better for the general welfare than the brutalist, arbitrary, impoverishing alternative that the populist right is pushing forward in many nations.

There are an awful lot of interesting assumptions packed into that paragraph, but I think the central observation is an important one.

As a side note, over the last couple of months, I've spent a lot of time mulling over Burke's posts on politics because I keep feeling like I _almost_ agree with them, and that it's difficult for me to figure out exactly which of his premises I disagree with (and I'm still not sure). I say that to note both that I'm always excited to see a new post from him, and that he's been having a long and interesting response to the Trump phenomenon.

Heebie's take: I suppose Trump is president for this thread. Hmph.

One thing I've been struck by over the past two weeks is that our laundry list of horrors are mostly abstractions for the average joe. That Trump's actions probably aren't that distressing if you're super uninformed, because Trump is super-uninformed, and he's behaving like the id-personified of uninformed-rightwing America. ("Why can't the President just kick the bad guys out? He's the freakin' president! Just order it!" The reasons why not end up sounding procedural and arcane, often times, to an uninformed ear.)


 

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Subsidies

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.03.17

Assume a Clinton presidency for the purposes of this post. I would like a thread in that world for my birthday.

So: I've been kicking around a notion about how we subsidize things like college tuition and housing, and I want to test it out here. I know there are lots of mechanisms for subsidizing both of those categories. But to take two broad categories of subsidization, you have:

1) citizen vouchers or loans. The money goes to the individual, and then the individual competes in the market place. A simplistic understanding of Section 8 vouchers and student loans, let's say.

A second broad category is:

2) subsidizing the university or apartment complex, for keeping their rates low. I've seen measures like "you qualify for X tax breaks if you offer Y% of your apartments at no more than 30% of the take home pay of Z% of the median income. You could certainly imagine a similar rule for colleges "We deem an affordable college to be one which costs no more than T% of a student's guardian's earning or the student's projected future yearly income. You get tax breaks if Y% of your slots are affordable for guardians earning Z% of the median income." The devil is clearly in the details here, with the value of X, Y, Z, and T, but these could be defined responsibly. In the Clinton administration.

My hypothesis is that mechanism (2) is preferable to mechanism (1). That when you give money to the individual, the corporate entity immediately finds reasons to raise its rates to eat up the money. Corporations always have a wish-list - I'm not even claiming conscious greed here, although that certainly will do the trick. More like, a university has a list of facility repairs and salaries and so on, and if they float a slightly higher tuition and still get bites, they're going to keep trying to nudge it upwards. The student loan model facilitates that nudging, as do housing vouchers. So the squeeze is always placed on the individual.

Whereas with mechanism (2), the squeeze is placed on institutions, and individuals are granted breathing room. (As long as there are a meaningful number of slots provided). The inflationary effect is muted because the people setting the wages aren't the same people as the people getting the tax break.

Maybe I'm way off! Is this something that there's an established consensus about?


 

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Dry Needling

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.02.17

At my PT appointment yesterday, I was complaining that despite all the stretching and strengthening and so on, I just can't get my trap muscles to relax. The therapist offered me dry needling. I said okay.

In the treatment of trigger points for persons with myofascial pain syndrome, dry needling is an invasive procedure in which a filiform needle is inserted into the skin and muscle directly at a myofascial trigger point. A myofascial trigger point consists of multiple contraction knots, which are related to the production and maintenance of the pain cycle. Deep dry needling for treating trigger points was first introduced by Czech physician Karel Lewit in 1979.[17] Lewit had noticed that the success of injections into trigger points in relieving pain was apparently unconnected to the analgesic used.[18]
Proper dry needling of a myofascial trigger point will elicit a local twitch response (LTR), which is an involuntary spinal cord reflex in which the muscle fibers in the taut band of muscle contract. The LTR indicates the proper placement of the needle in a trigger point. Dry needling that elicits LTRs improves treatment outcomes,[19] and may work by activating endogenous opioids.[17] The activation of the endogenous opioids is for an analgesic effect using the Gate Control Theory of Pain.[20] Inserting the needle can itself cause considerable pain,[17] although when done by well-trained practitioners that is not a common occurrence.

I got regular acupuncture done once, years ago, and it was painless. This was not exactly. The needles set off tons of tiny zings, and it felt like he was wiggling the needles when they were in place, and now I'm incredibly sore. However, I tentatively think it was effective.


 

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It's Not Just A Travel Ban

Posted by LizardBreath
on 02.02.17

It seems to have been underdiscussed that the State Department has actually revoked broad categories of visas from the affected countries. I have also heard by word of mouth from friends working on this stuff that citizenship interviews for immigrants with green cards are being cancelled.

Also, the 'religious freedom'-anti LGBTQ EO has been leaked, and it's going to be just as bad as you'd think.


 

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Bob:

Posted by LizardBreath
on 02.02.17

Please stop commenting at Unfogged. If you continue to comment, your comments will be deleted.


 

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Reminder: Punching Nazis can be justified on good liberal grounds

Posted by Ben
on 01.31.17

Take it away, John Rawls:

Of course, a society may also contain unreasonable and irrational, and even mad, comprehensive doctrines. In their case the problem is to contain them so that they do not undermine the unity and justice of society. (in the preface to Political Liberalism)

That there are doctrines that reject one or more democratic freedoms is itself a permanent fact of life, or seems so. This gives us the practical task of containing them--like war and disease--so that they do not overturn political justice.(64n19 of the same book)

These convictions clearly imply some relation between political and other values. Thus if it is said that outside the church there is no salvation, and hence a constitutional regime cannot be accepted, we must make some reply. From the point of view of political liberalism, the appropriate reply is that such a doctrine is unreasonable: it proposes to use the public's political power ... forcibly to impose a view affecting constitutional essentials about which many citizens as reasonable persons ... are bound to differ uncompromisingly. (Justice as Fairness, 183)

Rawls apparently nowhere said what he actually meant by containment, but it has been reliably conveyed to me by a participant in a conversation with him that when the point was pressed, he mentioned not fists but firearms.

(The application of this principle to trolls in internet communities is left as an exercise to the reader.)


 

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Witless

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.31.17

Can we just have a thread where we complain about how scared we are? And how exhausting it is to have a so many organizing attempts tugging at your attention? And how it's easy to go down the rabbithole of contemplating how exactly you'd transfer your money out of the country, and where you'd go, if you actually had to leave in a hurry? But really, what if we're all living in a military state in a few months? What if they shut down the internet? Can we just have ourselves a little panic attack for a second? Alternatively, calm me down.


 

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Smash

Posted by Ogged
on 01.31.17

This twitter thread does a nice job of spinning out "it's all about hating liberals."


 

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Guest Post - Uber and the collapse of western civilization and plausible deniability

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.31.17

Spike writes: People in the tech industry have recently been expressing butthurt over the #DeleteUber meme that went viral Saturday night. The meme arose in the wake of Uber's failure to support the work stoppage by New York taxi drivers protesting the anti-Muslim travel ban. Tech industry folks feel that Uber was unfairly maligned, and argue that Uber actually opposed the ban, and that it was not trying to profit by providing scab transportation to JFK during the strike. Which, maybe.

But here's the thing: Uber is not the unwitting victim of poorly-aimed leftist rage here. #DeleteUber took off because Uber has been treading on thin ice with regard to labor practices and anti-regulatory activism for a long time. While urban liberals constitute a huge portion of the company's customer base, the company itself is at the vanguard of illiberal techno-libertarianism, having fought nascent labor organization among its drivers and undermined regulatory governance processes in cities around the world.

It's not surprising that Uber apparently did not have a mechanism in place to honor a work stoppage in the taxi industry, but that is telling as to what its values are. And because Uber had built no reservoir of good will among those on the left, it could not draw upon the benefit of the doubt which would have prevented #DeleteUber from taking off with the virility it did.

It doesn't help that the Uber CEO sits on Trump's proto-fascist panel of business advisors, along with many other tech luminaries. And yet, I haven't heard about any of those luminaries using the cell phone number that Trump famously gave them to call him up to complain about the Muslim ban. Apparently they've got a meeting with him coming up on Friday, and they've promised to make sure they bring it up. But the time to call was on Saturday, and it appears that they failed to do that.

So, maybe Uber unwittingly got hit with the firehose this time. That's fine. Dans ce pays-ci il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un tech company pour encourager les autres.


 

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Widespread Recognition?

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.30.17

To what extent is our new national nightmare flying under the radar of the uninformed majority of citizens? Up until this past weekend, I thought that they'd be satisfied with occasional photo ops and feel like life was business as usual. But now there must be company-wide emails telling greencard holders not to travel, and it must be starting to permeate the collective consciousness that things are seriously, seriously not right? This must be starting to sink in?

I clocked in last Friday as determining that Pence was less destructive than Trump, ie that Trump needs to be impeached as quickly as possible. Before that I was still fretting that Pence could be more efficient at dismantling social programs.


 

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Thinking Fast & Slow - Ch 4-6

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.30.17

Mossy Character writes: [I might discuss some things out of order, but they all appear in these three chapters.]

4: The Associative Machine

System 1 builds up associations, with each idea a node in a complex multidimensional network; 'ideas' can include anything - concepts, memories, words, sense impressions, and physical actions. Upon presentation of any idea in the network, S1 immediately activates a great swathe of associated ideas, like a wave radiating through the network. This activation isn't linear: many things are activated simultaneously, in parallel; most of the ideas activated don't enter conscious awareness. 'Ideas' activated include physical responses, such as an involuntary grimace in response to a stimulus associated with disgust. The associative network is also self-reinforcing, with each recollection strengthening the links.

This activation system is suggested by 'priming' effects. For example, if you see 'the word EAT, you are temporarily more likely to complete the word fragment SO_P as SOUP than as SOAP'. [Along with tiresomely numerous other cases. I'm starting to dislike Kahneman.] Priming can also bleed over into physical responses; subjects may walk more slowly than normal if primed with words related to aging, for instance. [Those words include, in the example given, 'Florida'. This points out how culturally specific these studies can be, and what caution might need to be taken to get replicable results.] This is called the 'ideomotor effect'. Other cases include emotional feedback: holding one's face in a smile or a frown may induce feelings of happiness or unhappiness, respectively. [I've encountered this before, in reference to emotional labor. Stewardesses and nurses, for instance, are trained to smile at people regardless of their actual emotions; if done consistently, this can feed back into improvements of actual mood.]

Priming can have subtle effects, such as subjects acting more selfishly if primed with money. [Again, I wonder about cultural specificity here.] In another case, people were more likely to make voluntary contributions if the environment contained images of watching eyes. Kahneman suggests that the ubiquitous leader portraits in totalitarian societies similarly promote conformity. [As, perhaps, do Catholic crucifixes and icons. ISTR crucifixes having such effects on children in fiction. There was also talk of priming during the election: the constant mention of race in the campaign making everyone more racist just by activation.]

5: Cognitive Ease

Cognitive strain, the effort demanded of the brain, is changed by the ease of processing input (for example, typography, lighting conditions), by emotional state (easier when happier, more difficult when unhappier), and, crucially, by familiarity (it is easier to process an input that has been processed before). Increased strain causes engagement of S2 thinking, leading to greater vigilance and rigor, but is associated with discomfort on account of the greater effort required. Decreased strain allows for increased intuition [presumably fast S1 thinking] and creativity, but also increases the risk of error, as critical S2 thinking is less engaged. Practically, this may mean that physically difficult-to-read sources may be read more critically. [Thanks, shitty university photocopies!]

[Kahneman mentions an analysis of creativity as associative memory, which would be interesting, but just uses this as a lead-in to cognitive ease experiments.]

Repetition of a stimulus reduces the cognitive strain imposed by that stimulus on each subsequent exposure; as the brain is lazy, S1 is inclined to accept as correct anything it recognizes; and S2, being also lazy, is inclined to accept anything that S1 recognizes. Thus the mechanism of the Big Lie: 'A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.'

For practical purposes, reducing cognitive strain on one's audience will make it easier to convince them: hence, good visual design, simpler and clearer writing, familiarity (of concepts, facts, sources, whatever); rhyme rather than prose; citing sources with more rather less pronounceable names. [Some of this is used constantly in second-language teaching: everything should be presented in a comprehensible context, so the student need only grapple with the target language, already being familiar with everything else; so, use familiar vocabulary in presenting new grammar, and vice versa.]

Thinking is tied up with emotional state: as mentioned, exposure alone produces familiarity and thus favorable responses; subjects in a good mood can guess more accurately in some tasks, and unhappy subjects less accurately. Specifically, in word-association tasks happy subjects are able to guess accurately whether or not a problem has a solution long before the solution is actually produced. [This tracks with my experience in writing difficult essays, and what some mathematicians and scientists say: the conclusion emerges in one's mind before the steps which take one there.]

6: Norms, Surprises, and Causes

S1 builds and maintains a model of reality; it is updated continuously, and is used to make projections. Observed deviations from the model are detected very rapidly, and prompt a surprise reaction, which immediately activates S2. S2 remains active until the surprising observation can be satisfactorily [though not necessarily correctly] explained; in Kahneman's example, a diner's startle reaction is surprising, and draws attention until it can be explained by further observation, perhaps by the diner being highly-strung, or by his having tasted repulsive soup

S1 searches for intention, and is liable to find it even when it doesn't exist, for instance assigning personalities to abstract shapes in a cartoon. [Video here. It's great.] It is suggested that this habit of assigning agency is the root of religious beliefs, and the apparent separation of the conscious mind from the body the root of doctrines of immaterial souls

S1 also searches constantly for causation, and is again prone to finding it where it doesn't exist; this is said to be the cause of many biases and errors, especially when it comes to statistical reasoning; Kahneman says S1 has no statistical ability, and this can only be learned and executed by S2.


 

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Not A Lover

Posted by Ogged
on 01.29.17

Since he's, you know, president now, it might be worth reading this long interview with Steve Bannon. He's a mix of radical economic populism (which reads more like anti-American-establishment sentiment) and war-minded Christian chauvinism, with some American social conservatism thrown in as an afterthought. He seriously hates the establishment, and he seriously thinks the "West" needs to fight and win a long, bloody war with Islam. The hits are going to keep coming.


 

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How Wide Is The Rubicon, Anyway?

Posted by Ogged
on 01.29.17

With the NSC shakeup, and Bannon overruling DHS on excluding green-card holders, it's clear that he's effectively running the country. I do have to take a moment to consider: breitbart.com has been put in charge of America. And Bannon personally has a very specific agenda.

"Lenin," he answered, "wanted to destroy the state, and that's my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment."

So I think Kevin is right about this.
Bannon wanted turmoil and condemnation. He wanted this executive order to get as much publicity as possible. He wanted the ACLU involved.

But wrong in the next sentence: "He thinks this will be a PR win."

This isn't about PR. It's about manufacturing crisis after crisis; putting the entire country into a permanent state of crisis.


So it's hard to know the best course of resistance. We joined the O'Hare protests last night, and that felt necessary, but it also felt a bit like I was being played by Steve Bannon. One has to protest, but one is also contributing to the crisis atmosphere Bannon wants. As I said to some friends about the difficulty of answering the question of the acceptability of punching Nazis, that's just a symptom of Nazis in America having passed some invisible acceptability threshold. Similarly, the Catch-22 of protest/crisis is a symptom of there being a Leninist in charge of the nation, and things will have to get worse before they get better. But I'd love to hear suggestions about the best course of action, for private citizens, and for private citizens to suggest to their representatives.


 

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