Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Complex Dynamics of Friendship and Solidarity


The solidarity achieved through friendship makes us resilient to life's challenges. This finding is not restricted to humans but also can be found in other mammalian species.

A recent news story addressing friendship (as represented and measured by neuroscience) reported striking synchrony in perception and attention across friends.

Friends are similarly situated in time space:
Natalie Angier (2018, April 16). You Share Everything With Your Bestie. Even Brain Waves. The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/16/science/friendship-brain-health.html?emc=edit_th_180417&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=329620000417“Our results suggest that friends might be similar in how they pay attention to and process the world around them,” Dr. Parkinson said. “That shared processing could make people click more easily and have the sort of seamless social interaction that can feel so rewarding.”
Friends process the world in similar ways. They share contemporaneity around key issues or modes of physical embodiment (e.g., one of my closest friendships is shared around hiking and swimming - we both love being outside and experiencing the natural world).

The bio-chemical benefits of friendship are clear, as described in the article, and the risks of social isolation demonstrable.  Friendship and solidarity build biological, psychological and societal resilience.

Of course, the major risk from solidarity itself is the tendency for friends to exclude social others whose perceptions are organized by different codes.

How can the codes of friendship and solidarity be opened to divergent ways of being in the world while still upholding key perceptions about what is real and what is right (i.e., with respect to value orientations, such as right and wrong)?


Our codes of solidarity must be inclusive and emergent, but also retain normative components beyond what is coded in law. 

It is a tricky path to navigate and we seem to excel best in our most primal social systems where we are materially co-located in time-space and feedback is immediate and multi-faceted.

The Internet has transformed the complex dynamics of friendship and marginalization in ways that we have not yet even begun to unravel....

I am grateful for my friends, those whose codes for oganizing time-space I share, and those virtual friends whose comments further the conversation, even while I acknowledge that I know them not as their authenticity cannot be measured.





Monday, April 16, 2018

"Seven Nations in Five Years"


As the coalition of the willing launches missiles against Syria, led by the US, I am reminded strongly of a famous whistle-blower's talk about the neoconservative plan to transform the Middle East through regime change.

Former four-star US general Wesley Clark's 2007 memoir, A Time to Lead: For Duty, Honor and Country (Palgrave Macmillan) describes a long-term Defense Department policy for aggressive regime change in the Middle East.

You can see a clip from an interview with Clark here:


Salon has a good review that traces the origins of the aggressive regime change policy to neoconservatives, especially Paul Wolfowitz:
Joe Conason (10.12.2007).“Seven countries in five years”: Wesley Clark’s new memoir casts more light on the Bush administration’s secret strategies for regime change in Iran and elsewhere. Salon, https://www.salon.com/2007/10/12/wesley_clark/

While the Bush White House promotes the possibility of armed conflict with Iran, a tantalizing passage in Wesley Clark's new memoir suggests that another war is part of a long-planned Department of Defense strategy that anticipated "regime change" by force in no fewer than seven Mideast states....

In May 1991, according to Clark, he dropped in for a conversation with Wolfowitz, then the third-ranking civilian in the Pentagon, to congratulate him on the success of the Gulf War. "We screwed up and left Saddam Hussein in power. The president [then George H.W. Bush] believes he'll be overthrown by his own people, but I rather doubt it," he quotes Wolfowitz lamenting. 
"But we did learn one thing that's very important. With the end of the Cold War, we can now use our military with impunity. The Soviets won't come in to block us. And we've got five, maybe 10, years to clean up these old Soviet surrogate regimes like Iraq and Syria before the next superpower emerges to challenge us ... We could have a little more time, but no one really knows."

The push for total regime change in the middle east by neoconservative hawks has been unrelenting for almost 20 years. 

Now its happening full scale. Much of the Middle East is in turmoil with families suffering devastating losses.

How can destroying another nation be a national strategy in the context of 21st century liberal democracy?

There is a very strong contradiction between our ideals and our national policies that Americans need to examine more carefully.

The drive for war is, of course, a drive for annihilation as the world's national states hoard chemical and nuclear weapons, bio-weapons, cyber-security weapons, etc that could kill us all if deployed.

How can a logic of annihilation drive our most powerful organizational actors, nation states?


Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Instruments of Financial Sovereignty



Michael Hudson, a progressive economist with a keen sense of history, argues that today the stock market is primarily gamed by hedge-funds. I recommend watching his video here:
Laura Flanders interviews Michael Hudson (2018, April 4). Monopoly Capitalism at the Breaking Point https://trofire.com/2018/04/04/monopoly-capitalism-at-the-breaking-point/
Is that true?

The growing influence of hedge funds over stock markets was examined approvingly in a 2014 report issued by academics and a Federal Reserve Bank governor that noted approvingly noted their role in promoting “information efficiency of equity prices” except under conditions of financial volatility as examined in relation to the Lehmann collapse of 2007-2008:
Charles Cao, Bing Liang, Andrew W. Lo, Lubomir Petrasek (2014). Hedge Fund Ownership and Stock Market Efficiency. Available https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/wbs/subjects/finance/events/seminars/hf-eff_2014_04_01.pdf

The contribution of hedge funds to price efficiency is greater than the contributions of other types of institutional investors, such as mutual funds or banks. However, stocks held by hedge funds experienced extreme declines in price efficiency during liquidity crises, most notably in the last quarter of 2008, and the declines were most severe in stocks held by hedge funds connected to Lehman Brothers and hedge funds using leverage.
By November of 2015, the hedge fund industry controlled $3.197trillion and institutional (public pension funds) and retail investors (such as Wells Fargo) were piling in, as were wealthy individuals.[i]

By November 2016, the hedge fund industry assets under management reached $3.22 trillion, increasing $70bn year-over-year according to 2017 Preqin Global Hedge Fund Report Sample Pages.[ii]

What is a hedge fund?

According to the online investment encyclopedia, Investopedia, a hedge fund is a pooled fund that aims “to earn active return, or alpha, for their investors.” Hedge funds aren’t accessible to everyone as access is conditional, available only for “accredited investors” because hedge funds are less regulated by the SEC than other funds.[iii]

Hedge funds seek short term gains and are inclined to hold liquid assets and pursue short-selling, options, and derivatives trading.[iv]

Hedge funds are ordinarily structured as limited partnerships with payments of management fees to to managing partners in addition to a percentage of profits.[v]

So, a hedge-fund is an instrument constructed of law by the state that offers capital additional liberties in the pursuit of profit. Hedge funds are only accessible to the very wealthiest individuals, retail investors, and institutional investors who must buy in, paying six-to-seven figures.
[Private equity is another legal instrument created in law that offers capital additional liberties and reduced taxes in the pursuit of profit. Private equity is also an exclusive club structured often as a partnership].

Hedge-funds are instruments that thrive on valitility. They extract value and circulate at speeds limited only by the state of electronics.

Hedge-funds, private equity, and sovereign wealth funds are the new instruments whereby sovereigns control the territory but rather than deploying armies and policing, they deploy electronic value - much of it highly leveraged - to extract value.


They are abstract instruments but their effects in the material world operate to consolidate ownership of value across global society within a ever-narrower slice of the population.

RESOURCES

[i] 2016 Preqin Global Hedge Fund Report Sample Pages. Preqin Alternative Assets, ISBN: 978-1-907012-88-4 http://docs.preqin.com/samples/2016-Preqin-Global-Hedge-Fund-Report-Sample-Pages.pdf

[ii] Preqin Alternative Assets, ISBN: 978-1-907012-98-3 file:///C:/Users/Alex%20Nadesan/Documents/MAJIA/2017-Preqin-Global-Hedge-Fund-Report-Sample-Pages.pdf

[iii] Hedge Fund https://www.investopedia.com/terms/h/hedgefund.asp#ixzz5CfXb5BGw

[iv] (Investopedia What is the difference between a hedge fund and a private equity fund? 2014, December. Investopedia, https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/121614/what-difference-between-hedge-fund-and-private-equity-fund.asp

[v] (Investopedia, what is the difference What is the difference between a hedge fund and a private equity fund? | Investopedia https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/121614/what-difference-between-hedge-fund-and-private-equity-fund.asp#ixzz5CfxlD8i6

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Framing Americans' Years of Living Lost


A very comprehensive analysis of disease incident rates was just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by The US Burden of Disease Collaborators:
The US Burden of Disease Collaborators. The State of US Health, 1990-2016Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Among US States. JAMA. 2018;319(14):1444–1472. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.0158 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2678018?alert=article
Below I review the data collection and results. These are directly quoted:

DATA USED FOR ANALYSIS 


· Systematic analysis of published studies and available data sources providing information on prevalence, incidence, remission, and excess mortality, such as the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, state inpatient databases, the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, National Comorbidity Survey, National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions,National Survey on Drug Use and Health, US Department of Agriculture Continuing Survey of Food Intakes,Marketscan,NationalHealth Interview Survey, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Disease Surveillance Reports.

· Hospital inpatient data were extracted and used for this analysis.

· Outpatient encounter data were available for the United States through aggregate data derived from a database of claims information for US private and public insurance schemes for the years 2000, 2010, and 2012.

RESULTS (YLL: Years of Living Lost ) p. 1447 

US Mortality and YLLs Table 1 lists the 25 leading causes of death and premature mortality from 1990 to 2016. Ischemic heart disease (IHD); cancer of the trachea, bronchus, and lung; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Alzheimer disease and other dementias; and cancer of the colon and rectumwere the 5 leading causes of death.

Despite a 50.7% decline in age-standardized mortality and a 50.4% decline in age-standardized YLLs, IHD remained the leading cause of death and premature mortality. There was an increase in age standardized mortality and in age-standardized YLLs from 1990 for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (13.8% for deaths and 4.6% for YLLs) and for Alzheimer disease and other dementias (11.6% for deaths and 5.5% forYLLs).

There was a decrease in age standardized mortality and in age-standardized YLLs for colon and rectal cancer (29.6% for deaths and 27.9% for YLLs) and for breast cancer (32.6% for deaths and 36.0% forYLLs).

Deaths from endocrine, metabolic, blood, and immune disorders increased by 89.1%, and YLLs increased by 60.3% from 1990 to 2016 (an increase in rank from 37 in2010 to22 in2016).

Other notable findings seen in Table 1 are declines in deaths from self-harm by firearm (13.2%) and physical violence by firearm (28.5%) but an increase in self-harm by other means (16.9%). P. 1447

EXPLANATORY FRAMEWORK


Diet, tobacco use, and high systolic blood pressure were the leading causes of deaths while tobacco use, high body mass index, and diet were the leading risk factors P. 1449

MAJIA'S DISCUSSION

This study is a very useful snapshot of mortality and risk in the US. Risk for death and measured vitality at birth were both very clearly linked to geographical locales. The obvious lesson from the increased risk in places such as West Virginia is that social-welfare programs in states such as California and Minnesota save lives.

But more generally I find one limitation of this otherwise impressive study. That limitation derives from the truncated approach to "environmental" risk adopted in the analysis of results.

Although diet, tobacco use, and high systolic blood pressure (itself a symptom of some underlying conditions) are clearly important lifestyle risk factors, there was no discussion at all of environmental risk factors.

One environmental risk factor that has been very clearly linked to human health is "dirty air":
Emily Underwood (2017, Janaury 26). The Polluted Brain: Evidence Builds that Dirty Air Causes Alzheimers, Dementia. Science Magazine, http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/01/brain-pollution-evidence-builds-dirty-air-causes-alzheimer-s-dementia 
Weisskopf, M. G., Kioumourtzoglou, M.-A., & Roberts, A. L. (2015). Air Pollution and Autism Spectrum Disorders: Causal or Confounded? Current Environmental Health Reports, 2(4), 430–439. http://doi.org/10.1007/s40572-015-0073-9
There is strong evidence that dirty air harms the human brain, especially during early development but also across the lifespan.

The harms acquired from dirty air across the lifespan might drive susceptibility to neurological diseases in later adulthood, even as measures of many common pollutants (albeit not ozone) actually decline (http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-community/environmental-health/article/air-pollution-getting-worse-or-better ).

Why don't the JAMA researchers mention dirty air as a possible explanation for the rise of Alzheimer's disease and pulmonary obstruction?

Why do they only mention individualized, lifestyle factors, such as smoking, when other environmental factors may be as important?

Smoking rates, for example, have gone down substantially in the US so it seems unlikely that increased incidents of pulmonary obstruction and Alzheimers could be explained by that particular lifestyle habit alone:
CDC Trends in Current Cigarette Smoking Among High School Students and Adults, United States, 1965–2014. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/tables/trends/cig_smoking/index.htm

I believe that framing of increased disease incident primarily in relation to individualized lifestyle choices has unfortunate political effects as it marginalizes environmental hazards over which we could execute better control if we were truly motivated to protect and secure life.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Department of Homeland Security Media Monitoring Services


You've probably already read by now the solicitation by the Department of Homeland Security Services for media monitoring, not simply of mainstream journalists but also of bloggers and other social influencers.

You can read the specific statement of work for the proposed media monitoring services at this website here: https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=22aa793f75ce05efd160cfa36d7a8acc&tab=documents&tabmode=form&tabid=d670a11f6fe1ba66358ff1c777dcb3b9&subtab=core&subtabmode=list&=

Here is an excerpt from the document:

1.0  GENERAL

1.1  Background 
NPPD’s mission is to lead the national effort to protect and enhance the resilience of the nation’s physical and cyber infrastructure.  NPPD includes the Office of the Under Secretary (OUS) and five sub-components: the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications (CS&C), the Office of infrastructure Protection (IP), the Federal Protective Service (FPS), the Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM) and the Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis (OCIA), which are headquartered with the National Capital Region (NCR).  Along with NPPD/OUS, Public Affairs is responsible for media communication.

1.2   Scope 
The contractor shall provide NPPD/OUS with traditional and social media monitoring and communications solutions.

1.3  OBJECTIVE
Services shall enable NPPD/OUS to monitor traditional news sources as well as social media, identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event. Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers.

NPPD/OUS has a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach Federal, state, local, tribal and private partners.

2.0    SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS/TASKS 

2.1       Tasks One:  Online & Social Media Monitoring

           Ability to track global online sources for coverage relevant to Washington and the six media hubs:
·        Ability to track > 290,000 global news sources
·        Ability to track online, print, broadcast, cable, radio, trade and industry publications, local sources, national/international outlets, traditional news sources, and social media
·        Ability to track media coverage in > 100 languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Russian. Translation function to instantly translate these articles to English.
·        Ability to create up to 20 searches with each unlimited keywords
·        Unlimited coverage per search (no cap on coverage)
·        Ability to change the searches at keywords at any given time
·        Ability to create unlimited data tracking, statistical breakdown, and graphical analyses on any coverage on an ad-hoc basis


2.2       Task Two:  Media Intelligence and Benchmarking Dashboard Platform

24/7 Access to a password protected, online platform for users to access:

·        Overview of search results in terms of online articles and social media conversations
·        Customized and Interactive Dashboard that provide real-time monitoring, analysis, and benchmark of media coverage.
·        Ability to analyze the media coverage in terms of content, volume, sentiment, geographical spread, top publications, media channels, reach, AVE, top posters, influencers, languages, momentum, circulation.
·        Ability to select time-period of analysis: per day, week, month, and selected dates
·        Ability to build media lists based on beat, location, outlet type/size, and journalist role
·        Automated weekly overview of these dashboards sent via email

2.3       Task Three:  Email Alerts
                       
Daily email alerts with new search results:
·        Ability to customize these email alerts per user

2.4       Task Four:  Access to Mobile app  

24/7 Access to a password protected, mobile app for users to access:
·        Overview of search results in terms of online articles and social media conversations
·        Ability to view coverage written in Arabic, Chinese and Russian. Ability to access English translation of this coverage within the mobile app.
·        Ability to set up push notifications to be alerted of new search results
·       Ability to forward media coverage via email, sms or what’s app

2.5       Task Five:  Media Engagement      

24/7 Access to a password protected, media influencer database, including journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers etc.
·        Ability to browse the database based on location, beat and type of influencer
·        Ability to perform ad-hoc searches on the database based on keywords, concepts, or using Boolean search terms
·        Ability to perform searches in other languages including Arabic, Chinese and Russian, in order to find influencers that publish in these languages.
·        For each influencer found, present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer
·        Ability to create unlimited media lists for specific topics
·        Ability to export the contact details of the media influencers per media list.
·        Ability to send out unlimited press releases via the platform and to monitor the open-rate of the press releases send out.
·        Ability to manage contacts


MAJIA HERE: The aim of total media surveillance is supplemented by an outright push for propaganda creation. 

US H.R.5181 - Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016114th Congress (2015-2016), simultaneously penalizes providers for “fake news” posted on their sites and promotes production and dissemination of government “fact-based” narratives to counter fake news that escapes the newly emerging filtering devices. 

The act aims to "develop a comprehensive strategy to counter foreign disinformation and propaganda and assert leadership in developing a fact-based strategic narrative" AND promoting a free press in countries vulnerable to foreign disinformation, as illustrated in this excerpt from the bill: 
(4) the challenge of countering disinformation extends beyond effective strategic communications and public diplomacy, requiring a whole-of-government approach leveraging all elements of national power; 
(5) the United States Government should develop a comprehensive strategy to counter foreign disinformation and propaganda and assert leadership in developing a fact-based strategic narrative; and 
(6) an important element of this strategy should be to protect and promote a free, healthy, and independent press in countries vulnerable to foreign disinformation. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/5181/text
Welcome to the new world dis/order.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Hole in the Center


Recently an article by Michael Gerson published in the Washington Post, argued "American politics are radicalizing. The damage will last generations." (link here):
Simply put: If the response to Trump is a general radicalization of American politics, the damage will last generations. Somehow, in the midst of so much fanaticism, moderation must find a passion of its own.
Gerson decries so-called radical politicians, such as Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, for being too left of center on issues and accuses the former of antisemitism, as well. Gerson sees the alleged growth of support for the left as a direct response to the radicalization of the right.

While he sees the left and the right as dialectically pitted, resolved only by their synthesis in the "moderate" center, I see each as refractions of similar economic and cultural shocks stemming from the dislocations of neoliberal government. 

I've explored growing dispossession at this blog and in my published academic work.

Many other more important scholars than I have also followed this logic and have reached similar conclusions, as exemplified in Saskia Sassen's recent book on Expulsions published by Harvard University Press (http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674599222  ).

Radicalization is not some sort of pendelum that swings in a trajectory weighted only by its ideological opposition.

Radicalization is rooted in material experiences. People across many sectors of American and British society are experiencing declining expectations in health, social welfare, and economic mobility. Their children and parents are sicker. 

And residents of "first world" nations such as these are typically much better off than the growing number of people around the world who are expelled from their homes and livelihoods by environmental and political catastrophes, most of which are a direct result of human disregard for consequences. Dispossessed people grow everywhere and their plight is painful beyond my capacities to represent.

There is a song whose lyrics describing the run-up to civil war capture my argument for the role of dispossession, alienation, and displacement in fueling the violence of war:

Radicalization of popular opinion signifies a fundamental hole in the center. A black hole in the center.


Monday, April 9, 2018

AI: "An Immortal Dictator"

Hat Tip: Douglas and Jonathan


Elon Musk recently sounded the alarm regarding an "immortal dictator" produced by the convergence of new technologies for rendering visible and controlling dissenting populations:
Peter Holley (2018, April 6). Elon Musk's nightmarish warning: AI could become 'an immortal dictator from which we would never escape.' The Washington Post. Available http://www.stltoday.com/business/local/elon-musk-s-nightmarish-warning-ai-could-become-an-immortal/article_bc9e653a-3576-5552-a876-64d953321d84.html
Among his many warnings about the rise of artificial intelligence, Elon Musk has said that autonomous machines are more dangerous to the world than North Korea and could unleash "weapons of terror." He has compared the adoption of AI to "summoning the devil."   
Now the billionaire inventor and Tesla chief executive - who believes artificial intelligence could help trigger the next world war - has issued another severe warning about how super-intelligent machines could come to dominate the world. Those super computers could become "an immortal dictator from which we would never escape," Musk passionately warns in the new documentary "Do You Trust This Computer?"
Super computers that control us?

I have described on this blog the encroaching war on political and cultural dissent occurring through the deployment of "algorithmic governmentality," a form of rule that operates through autonomous and non-transparent coding schemes, that normalize truth around a hegemonic mean articulated by the mainstream news media.

The mainstream news media and those whom refer to their expertise delimit truth through choices about issues coverage and framing. Accordingly, corporate news cannot be truly said to be "objective" given profit imperatives and ownership structures, the latter of which are highly consolidated, as discussed in this article and concisely represented in a chart:
Rani Molla and Peter Kafka (2018, feb 1). Here’s the chart that explains why CBS and Viacom want to merge. Recode, https://www.recode.net/2018/1/18/16906042/cbs-viacom-merger-media-market-landscape-streaming
Media ownership matters when it comes to the diversity of issues and opinions represented and incorporated in news media story telling, as demonstrated by this article from years past when the media were less concentrated than today:
Dell Champlin &Janet Knoedler (2002). Operating in the Public Interest or in Pursuit of Private Profits? News in the Age of Media Consolidation.Journal of economic issues, 36(2): s 459-468 | Published online: 05 Jan 2016 https://doi.org/10.1080/00213624.2002.11506490
Today, algorithmic governmentality disciplines truth according to the infotainment imperatives of media conglommerates that are motivated first and foremost to maximize the value of their advertising space.

Algorithmic governmentality coupled with ubiquitous surveillance create the conditions of possibility for unprecedented societal control, especially when combined with repressive apparatuses domestically and abroad such as robotic weapons.

I agree with Musk when he posits super computers that control us all. However, Musk's warnings are framed in such a way as to imply that the new algorithmic and robot control technologies are immune from human control.

That is, in my opinion, a fundamental mystification.

What we need to ask is what authorities and for what purposes are developing and deploying these new control technologies?


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