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Five Minutes with David Sarokin and Jay Schulkin

Five Minutes with David Sarokin and Jay Schulkin

Information is power. It drives commerce, protects nations, and forms the backbone of systems that range from health care to high finance. In Missed Information, David Sarokin and Jay Schulkin argue that better information and better access to it improves the quality of our decisions and makes for a more vibrant participatory society. The authors discuss their new book in this post.

How did an environmental scientist and a neuroscientist come together to write this book? 

Our backgrounds and disciplines are important, but the real value of our teaming up on Missed Information stems from a long period of friendship and professional collaboration, much of it spent in conversation over the ideas in our book. We should point out, though that—as an environmental scientist—Sarokin created the Toxics Release Inventory, the first federal law to explicitly use information as an environmental policy tool. Schulkin, as a neuroscientist, focuses daily on how information is processed in biological systems. And as creatures of the Information Age, we’re just fascinated by (and optimistic about) the possibilities of putting better data to better use.

The Migration Crisis in Europe—Making Smart Use of Smartphones

The Migration Crisis in Europe—Making Smart Use of Smartphones

How can technology be used to help the migration crisis in Europe? Joseph Bock, author of The Technology of Nonviolence, shares thoughts from Greece.

I know lots of people wish they could do something to help migrants who are fleeing war, injustice or poverty and flooding into Europe. I had the same feeling. I was surprised about three weeks ago to find an email message asking if I wanted to do just that. Will I go to Greece, supported by the Fulbright Foundation in Greece, to help the Municipality of Athens with this largest flow of displaced human beings since World War II?

I’m now in Athens working with a team assembled by Mayor Giorgos Kaminis to develop a plan on how to respond to this crisis. I’ve been giving some thought to how smartphones, social media and internet-based platforms can be used in this situation. So, in case this might be helpful to people working on these kinds of challenges, here are some ways to consider:

The Working-Class Vote

The Working-Class Vote

As the polls tighten between presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, many are left wondering where the bulwark of Trump’s support comes from. A recent New York Times article entitled “The One Demographic That Is Hurting Hillary Clinton” shows that Trump has a large lead among less-educated white voters and white working-class voters. To a casual observer it may seem strange that the latter group is the main support behind the GOP nominee, given that many of his brand products are made overseas, thus implying that Trump’s businesses are likely benefitting from free trade policies and cheap foreign labor. Yet despite this, Trump’s anti-immigration and anti-free trade message seems to be resonating with this demographic. Why is this? Didier Eribon reflected upon this same apparent contradiction in France in Returning to Reims, published in English translation by Semiotexte.

Making Democracy Fun

Making Democracy Fun

On the eve of a historic election in the United States, revisit Josh Lerner's book reminding us that democracy can be fun.

Everyone loves democracy—except for most of the time, when they hate it. Despite its wide appeal, democracy has a remarkable ability to be fantastically boring, bitterly painful, and utterly pointless. This ability is so incredible that, in mere hours, democracy can transform a thousand passionate activists into a room full of lifeless faces and empty chairs. 

Flint, Federalism, and Environmental Justice in the United States

Flint, Federalism, and Environmental Justice in the United States

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is a tragedy. David Konisky, editor of Failed Promisesdiscusses the effectiveness of the federal government’s environmental justice policies and response.

Three decades of social science research has demonstrated a clear pattern of income and race-based disparities in the distribution of environmental risks in the United States. Poor and minority communities tend to live in closer proximity to various types of noxious facilities and contaminated sites, and more often reside in areas with higher pollution burdens. The unfolding public health crisis in Flint, Michigan is a stark reminder that such disparities—often referred to as violations of environmental justice—are not merely a thing of the past.

Zika: Protecting Health on a Warming Planet

Zika: Protecting Health on a Warming Planet

Zika is here to stay, says Dr. Alan Lockwood, emeritus professor of neurology at the University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY and a senior scientist at Physicians for Social Responsibility, Washington DC. He is the author of The Silent Epidemic and the forthcoming Heat Advisory. Heat Advisory details how climate change is affecting public health, including the increased range of mosquitos carrying the Zika virus, and in this post Dr. Lockwood reflects on the recent discovery of mosquitos carrying the virus found in a small section of Miami.

Hardly a day goes by without another news story about the Zika virus. This is a relatively new virus. It was first identified in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947. Originally confined to tropical areas in Africa and Asia, it spread across the Pacific Ocean reaching epidemic levels in the Americas during the last year. Most infections with the virus are mild and may not be noticed. However, after a large number of children with microcephaly were born to Brazilian mothers who had been infected with the virus the fear of this virus rose dramatically. Although these initial reports were treated with the level of caution that is typical of scientists, there is now little doubt that Zika virus infection may cause microcephalus. The relatively recent detailed publication of the brain pathology associated with Zika-induced microcephaly provided additional convincing evidence for the link. The Zika-infected brain was much smaller than normal, malformed, and contained many focal calcifications, evidence of prior injury by the virus. Current research also suggests that Zika virus may cause Gullian Barré Syndrome in adults. This poorly understood but relatively rare disorder is the result of immunological attacks on nerve cells and may occur after a variety of diseases.

Marina Abramovic’s Spirit Cooking

Marina Abramovic’s Spirit Cooking

Now that the election is over, we're looking back at one of the most bizarre topics that surfaced from the campaign. Days before the election, Wikileaks released a batch of emails containing a note from performance artist Marina Abramovic to Tony Podesta, brother of Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta, and set off a strange chain reaction of accusations that tied Clinton and Podesta to the occult and Satan worshipping from the alt-right. James Westcott, Abramovic's biographer and the author of  When Marina Abramovic Dies writes this post to clear the air.

BREAKING FAKE NEWS Clinton’s campaign manager participates in occult ritual with bizarre Balkan satanist…

Of all the crazy tales fabricated in this election, this one might have been the most insane. Not just for the paranoid conspiracy posited by the alt-right—Clinton’s satanic network—but for the fact that a performance artist, Marina Abramovic, found herself tossed into the hollow core of the nation’s election news cycle. Enduring decades of obscurity in a tiny artworld niche, Abramovic may have been elevated to A-list celebrity after her MoMA performance The Artist Is Present in 2010, but to now show up on the alt-right’s radar is a whole other level of fame.

Net Neutrality and Control of the Internet

Net Neutrality and Control of the Internet

Two days ago a federal appeals court upheld an earlier F.C.C. decision to label broadband technology a utility, maintaining net neutrality. Regulating Code authors Ian Brown and Christopher T. Marsden offer their take on the decision.

On June 14, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals upheld the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) right to regulate Internet Access Providers (IAPs) as common carriers. This confirms the US agency’s power to regulate IAPs to ensure users can access the content, applications, and services they wish without interference from their access provider: what is known as net neutrality. It is part of a wider international regulatory trend to support user rights and prevent interference with Internet traffic. However, as we showed in Regulating Code (2013), this regulatory trend is counteracted by the controlling tendency of the technologies deployed by the national security state and private surveillance partners. Our book was published only months prior to Edward Snowden’s revelations about cooperation between Five Eyes nations (including the USA, Canada and UK) and their corporate partners to conduct mass surveillance, and our warnings that net neutrality cannot be disentangled from privacy, surveillance, copyright enforcement, state censorship, and the role of social media, have come home to roost.

Five Minutes with Michael Milburn and Sheree Conrad

Five Minutes with Michael Milburn and Sheree Conrad

Politicians routinely amplify and misdirect voters’ anger and resentment to win their support. Why do these tactics work? First published in 1996 (as The Politics of Denial), Raised to Rage offers a compelling and novel explanation for political anger and the roots of authoritarian political attitudes. This timely book was recently reprinted with a new introduction that updates the empirical evidence and connects it to the current presidential campaign. In this post, authors Michael Milburn and Sheree Conrad discuss the relationship between childhood punishment and support for authoritarianism and what it means for this political moment.

Based on your research, what have you found to be the relationship between childhood punishment and support for punitive political initiatives and authoritarianism?

In our research, we have found that individuals who report having been physically punished frequently in childhood are significantly higher in authoritarianism and in support for punitive public policies like the death penalty and the use of military force. Our model is “affect displacement,” that emotion from one source, in this case, childhood, can be carried into adulthood and displaced onto adult political attitudes. Political attitudes are complex and have many different influences, including education, income, and the attitudes of one’s parents. In our study published in 2014 in the journal Political Psychology, we controlled for background demographic variables that have been found to influence authoritarianism, and we examined the relationship of childhood experience to authoritarianism, controlling for the political ideology of their parents. The significant impact of childhood punishment remained significant, such that individuals whose parents were liberal, but who also used physical punishment, were significantly higher in authoritarianism than those individuals whose parents were liberal and did not use physical punishment. 

Five Minutes with Jennifer Doyle

Five Minutes with Jennifer Doyle

Our latest Five minutes with the author features Jennifer Doyle, the author of Campus Sex, Campus Security from Semiotext(e)’s Intervention Series.

Five Minutes with Hugh Gusterson

Five Minutes with Hugh Gusterson

Drones are changing the conduct of war. Advocates say that drones are more precise than conventional bombers, allowing warfare with minimal civilian deaths while keeping American pilots out of harm’s way. Critics say that drones are cowardly and that they often kill innocent civilians while terrorizing entire villages on the ground. In Drone: Remote Control Warfare, Hugh Gusterson looks at the paradoxical mix of closeness and distance involved in remote killing: is it easier than killing someone on the physical battlefield if you have to watch onscreen? Hugh Gusterson discusses his new book.

How has the use of military drones altered the way that war is conducted?

Traditional definitions of war assume combatants on either side who can kill one another. In drone warfare, one side is now physically absent from the field of combat. This is why some people have said drone warfare is more like hunting than war.

Further, democratically elected leaders have always been aware of a certain risk in going to war: if too many of their own citizens come home in body bags, the country may turn against them (as happened to Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and George W. Bush). But drone warfare, by sparing us Americans in body bags, offers the possibility of indefinite war without victory, but with very little political cost at home.