Archive for June, 2015

A Cult is about seperation

 

 

 

Communal Abuse and Cults

Communal Abuse and Cults

Communal abuse is a type of abuse that is exerted, in part, by victims (survivors) upon each other in the course of aspiring for something good within a intentional community. Community abuse is almost always masterminded by a leader, and one hallmark of an abusive community is leader-on-member personal abuse. This abusive proclivity comes largely from the psychopathic qualities of the leader, which pre-date and usually explain the formation of the group. However, the availability of a large quantity of ‘de-selfed,’ vulnerable victims is explained by the overall workings of the abusive community. In effect, it perpetuates survivor-on-survivor abuse.

Abusive communities are often called cults. A consensus definition of “cult” has been hard to reach in our society, because there exist separatist or isolationist communities, that, while very different from the mainstream, are not abusive. Attempts have been made to define cults by aspects of high demands, total commitment, or unusual beliefs. High demands and insistence on total commitment can be part of cult technique but also part of excellence, such as in the Navy Seals. Defining cults by the beliefs held has been tricky, because freedom of belief is part of individual integrity. Poorly implemented attempts to define or identify cults in the end helps those communities that are abusive, by sowing doubt.

Better discriminative criteria are needed. This page instead defines communal abuse by the systematic traits that weaken all common members’ cognitive and self-protective functions. These traits have been in evidence in diverse groups, such as Stalin’s Soviet Union, multi-level marketing schemes, some religious sects, ‘utopian’ intentional communities, some non-profits, and some psychotherapy movements.

Abusive communities exist on a spectrum as far as controllingness goes. It seems useful to think in terms of two tiers of such communities: a tier of fervent communities that are formed around a sincere belief but devolve into abusive practices, and manipulated communities, that combine a psychopathic leader and strong conditioning against self-protection. Many communities are manipulated from the beginning, but it is possible for a fervent community to ‘cross-over’ into a manipulated community as the leader functions in an accountability vacuum and moves into more extreme abuse.

Communal abuse has a unclear, perhaps limited overlap with intimate partner violence. Both do entail the misuse of human attachment needs. Also, there is a type of damage in common, that of ‘de-selfing’, so some understanding is perhaps useful for survivors of domestic abuse as well as survivors of communal abuse.

The Fundamental Vulnerability

No belief, simple, profound, or bizarre, by itself, is able to keep a large number of people cohesively together through abusive experiences. Rather such communities misuse normal attachment behavior. With rare exception, people feel insecure because they do not feel unconditionally acceptable. This leads to trying to find and fulfill the conditions of achieving unconditional acceptance. This of course is a contradiction but it is a common situation. Abusive communities promise unconditional acceptance, (often in the form of realizing some perfected state or afterlife outcome in which one is so manifestly good one cannot be rejected). Then life in that community becomes one condition after another. Members are often led to believe they have unconditional acceptance and that what is asked is to be an expression of gratitude but the truth comes out when they fail or try to decline.

It is a myth that members of an abusive community are mentally or emotionally troubled upon joining. Actually such individuals are usually rejected because their sensitivity would lead them to exhibit distress from maltreatment publicly. What is wanted are individuals that are able to hide their suffering from themselves and others.

The First Threshold

The first threshold of abuse in communities seems to be the disallowance of any balance point between the needs of the group and the needs of the individual. This is not to say the individual is encouraged to prioritize the group needs way above his or her own, but rather it is not allowed to even think in these terms. That is, the self doesn’t exist. This is the ultimate negation of the self. This is loss of autonomy. This sets the stage for the exploitation of members.

The Second Threshold

The second threshold of abuse is blind obedience Doing whatever the leadership asks is either held as the highest virtue, or the strongest sign of virtue. This is not reasonable deference in the service of discipline or formation, it is unquestioning obedience. It is not fidelity to a principle or a cause but to a person. Humans generally find it easier to be loyal to a person than to an idea, this is attachment behavior. Abusive communities always identify compliance or surrender as the greatest good.

Obedience becomes a powerful tool for manipulation, because anything, even harmful acts, or acts contrary to putative beliefs, can be made ‘good’ by making them the subject of obedience to the leadership. This is how people trying to be good can be made to do bad things. The reason many countries compile lists of cults is because a large number of very obedient people always poses a potential security risk. This is loss of integrity. This sets the stage for the exploitation of others by the members.

Conditioning

Conditioning is modifying behavior by linking desired responses to events that would not elicit those responses spontaneously. In abusive communities the desired response is always compliance. Conditioning starts by pairing something that normally would elicit compliance, like a gift, with something that would not necessarily elicit compliance like a difficult demand. After a time, a difficult demand tends to bring out compliance by itself. Conditioning decays if not renewed but in a controlled setting renewal becomes part of the routine.

Other Common Elements of Communal Control

  • Special Leader. The rightness of the community is believed to reside not in set beliefs, not in long-established practices, not in durable principles, but in the guidance of the present leadership, which is the only source of truth. Because of this, ideology and rules may change quickly or even reverse. This is a set-up for manipulation.
  • Doctrine of Depravity This is the belief that members instincts, desires, tendencies, feelings, and inclinations, can’t be trusted. If these things agree with the leadership fine, but if they do not, it is evidence of just how much the member needs the community. By definition, any assertion of self-interest becomes wrong, and any boundary, which is a product of self-interest is also wrong. Also, the naturalness or ease of an action (or its opposite) no longer can be used as a criterion of healthiness.
  • Panders to Dependency Needs Every adult has a residual desire to be taken care of by strong and wise parents (but this cannot work for adults). Abusive communities offer, usually unconsciously, the illusion of unconditional parental care by using paternalistic metaphors and protecting members from adult decisions. Dependency that is indulged in this way grows in the members over time making leaving even more unthinkable. Many daily routines in abusive communities, while exhausting, have a ‘pre-school’ quality to them.
  • Communal Living This limits or eliminates non-believing influences, eliminates privacy, and prevents cognitive re-grouping. It is essential for ‘milieu control’ as defined in the next section. It also severs prior relationships with neighborhoods or settings. Travelers are often preferred for recruitment because they have no previous ties to the larger community.
  • Communal Businesses. This extends all the aspects of communal living to work time. Usually members are expected to give up previous jobs, even skilled professions and work only in these businesses.
  • Cloaked Recruitment. Often free classes are offered, or some very low commitment meeting is advertised. The name the group is commonly known by is not used, lest that alert potential recruits. These meeting may be ‘packed’ with group members who are posing as new people, and these confederates evince great enthusiasm to influence potential recruits. As any interest is shown, slightly more committed activities are presented as a way to pursue this interest. Extreme friendliness and ‘love-bombing’ is applied at this stage, so that later if there is hesitancy when more is requested, hurt and betrayal can be simulated to pressure the recruit to stay.
  • Controlled Sex and Romance. A fundamental practice is to prevent members from forming any alliance or loyalty other than to the leader and the group. This extends to sex and romance because that forms a strong bond. Mostly commonly celibacy, (except for the leader) is enforced, even for married couples. Also commonly, the leader will put couples together or separate couples. Less commonly, having sex with anyone that asks is expected. This elimination of selection has the same effect of keeping bonds from forming. Or marital sex may be allowed, but special clothing or routines are required, which eliminates the spontaneity and passion.
  • No Lateral Attachments. Friendship based on feeling are discouraged, even within the group. If people are close, they may be moved around to break it up. Even pets are usually discouraged.
  • Leaving is Taboo. Whatever the ideology, it always includes a doctrine that membership must be lifelong. Because there is no such thing as ‘trying it out for a while’ critical thinking and considerations of whether the experience is agreeable go out the window. It also blocks the natural human response to maltreatment (which is to leave).
  • Devaluing the Outsider This has many functions: 1) Isolates members from opposing ideas, 2) Isolates members from sources of attachment that would compete with the leader or community, 3) mobilizes the survival drive in members which is channeled into cult activities, 4) justifies deceptive practices, 5) provides a target to safely displace anger at oppressive conditions.
  • Children Raised in Common. This is to weaken parent child bonds, which like romantic and sexual relationships, would divide loyalties. Children are indoctrinated into beliefs, that is, neither critical thinking nor comparison is not allowed. The leader may keep all parental authority to her or himself. Because children tend to be natural truth-tellers, there is a rush to get children to adopt an (approved) adult perspective and not “just be kids.”
  • Elimination of Leisure. In an abusive community, there is no time off, not unstructured time, no days off, no vacations, no sabbaticals, and no retirement. There is usually an enormous amount of physical work, and inefficiencies are sometimes maintained on purpose. Other time is usually spent in directed study or groups. This eliminates time to think, to reflect, to observe closely, to form real friendships, or to debate matters. It also forms the core of economic exploitation.
  • Greed This is unique to multi-level marketing (MLM) but it is how such organizations work. Ostensibly MLM is not a controlling situation, in that participants usually do not live together, are free to read what they want etc.. However, in order to advance levels, participants must ‘voluntarily’ invest themselves in the cognitive frame and the activities of the organization. If one stays only at the entry level, one expends more than one gets. Some participants do stay at the periphery because they do not have the skill set to advance, but this is contrary to their objective. The situation is one in which skepticism is penalized monetarily and aggressive gullibility and proselytizing is rewarded. Ingeniously, most of the abuse is self-imposed.
  • Ladders. Everyone is comforted by evidence that he or she is ‘getting somewhere.’ But in adult life, there are very few concrete systems that provide that. Abusive communities both provide different positions of status to obtain, and a closed group in which the status is uniformly recognized. Compliance is either covertly or openly the criteria for promotion, and so an unquestioning attitude is given incentive. It goes without saying that all progress on the ladder can be lost for dissent or leaving.
  • Secrecy. Key parts of what happens in the group are kept secret certainly from the outside, but also from a large portion of the membership. Often what is kept secret are practices or beliefs that actually contradict the more benign information that is used for recruitment.
  • A Security Force This is not always present but when it is, it is used to eliminate dissent. It may even have uniforms and a para-military flavor. It is justified on the basis of security and protection of members. Security always rationalizes and disguises loss of freedom. This force is always somewhat privileged which creates a feeling of being an insider which intensifies loyalty and obedience for the force members. These members can be trusted with ‘secrets’ because secrecy seems justified to security personnel. Sometimes the security force is called a crisis or mental health force.
  • Dissent Labeled as Mental Illness The Soviet Union is famous for locking dissidents up in mental hospitals. Other abusive communities may not have locked hospitals at their disposal but labeling a dissident as ‘crazy’ is still effective at undermining the dissenting message and creating fear of thinking in unorthodox ways. Merely expelling a dissenter lends some credibility or requires an explanation. Also because of the extreme pressure to conform, dissent where it does happen, usually is released only when a member is at her or his wit’s end and is perhaps hysterical or emotionally distressed.
  • Manipulated Aspiration. There is a natural tendency for humans to want to outdo others to prove worthiness. This is just as or even more true inside an abusive community. The leadership often understands that dictating an oppressive practice can cause resistance, even if silent resistance. Instead, the leadership suggests that those members who do X are ‘doing well’ or favored, but indicate it is optional. X is usually something very time consuming (fund-raising 16 hours a day, meditating long hours etc) or is actually impossible so that the seeking of it is all consuming. When members seek to be favored in this way, the motivation is internal (even though it has been manipulated) and so resistance is bypassed. Eventually, the practice becomes a group norm.
  • The Emperor’s Clothes This is a familiar tactic of manipulation where it is suggested that something very fine is happening when in fact nothing is happening. To make it work further, it is suggested that only the refined can appreciate what is happening. Very quickly an insecure group member will say (and often believe) that he or she actually sees it happening. This starts a chain reaction in which almost always everyone goes along or at least keeps silent.
  • Compartmentalization. As the bond of the member to the group becomes stronger and stronger, he or she is incrementally allowed to know secrets. The cognitive and moral dissonance is counter-balanced with feeling special and time invested. This is really a form of grooming. Also no one is allowed to know everything that is going on. This keeps members divided and confused.
  • Involuntary Transgressions or ‘Thought Crime’ Thoughts, desires, and doubts that deviate from the approved agenda are stigmatized as betrayals. Since everyone has these whether they want them or not, this has the effect of keeping everyone feeling guilty. It also keeps conversations superficial because no one wants to share what they are really thinking.
  • Constant Guilt It is hinted if not plainly stated that members are not doing enough, or are doing wrong things. This keeps any of them from feeling they the standing to question or oppose anything.
  • Altered States. These are states of mind that are discontinuous with the one’s usual state of mind. Examples are from meditation, hyperventilation, hypnosis, fasting, restraining bodily functions unnaturally, chanting, prayer, sensory deprivation, sauna or sweat lodge, extended aerobic exercise, or sleep deprivation. All these methods, in modest doses, can have a role in personal growth. In fact most initiates coming out of the mainstream culture are grateful for being shown a more biological, sensory based experience than they were aware of. Altered states do not intrinsically lead to spiritual or emotional development, nor are they themselves evidence of it. They do have the effect of making all information, memory, and history of the ‘usual state’ seem irrelevant or inferior. The role this has in separating the pre-community experience from community experience is obvious. Commonly the altered state is misidentified as actually being or being near some desired special blissful state, and so great harm can arise from over-indulgence or trying to ‘push through.’ This harm can be sickness or death, but also cognitive disorganization or weakening.

Tactics and Traits of a Cult Leader

What is of the greatest interest in understanding manipulated communities is “how he or she does it.” That is, how does a leader that clearly from the outside does not provide good guidance or example manage to attract and retain devoted, even worshipful followers. Some of the traits below make the cult possible, others are made possible by the cult’s existence. There often is no clear distinction to be made between the two. Unlike a legitimate spiritual tradition, many cults fall apart after the leaders death because his or her machinations were necessary to keep it going.

  • Self Promotion Leaders do not hesitate to put themselves forward as able to do great or incredible things. Because lack of humility on this scale is unusual, there is a tendency for many to believe it!
  • Doubtlessness Total lack of doubt is only seen in psychopaths, but for the doubt-ridden it is taken as evidence of knowing the right thing to do. And later, if the facade crumbles, it will be taken as a sign of sincerity!
  • Above Accountability The leader is held out as different from ordinary mortals. Often the leader is said to be picked by God. The leader then has different ‘rules’ (really no rules) and lives very differently than members, often lavishly. This privilege, wealth, and adoration is often the real reason the leader has founded the community. The disparity is usually concealed, but to the extent it is not concealed it is rationalized as necessary for the leader to do his or her ‘special’ work.
  • Claims to Be Goodness. That is, the leader doesn’t only claim to ‘know’ goodness but to be it. Therefore anything the leader does or wants is good, without question. This dovetails with the doctrine of obedience for members.
  • Pressure-Release Skillful manipulators push a target with negative attention, then suddenly become nice. When pressure is suddenly released, the target experiences relief feelings which are pleasant and lead to feelings of gratitude, even if the very same person was the one being abusive.
  • Intermittent Reinforcement This emanates from the pressure release described above but it is a stronger and different effect. Warm supportive treatment is provided unpredictably amongst abusive treatment. The way intermittent reinforcement works is that when the reinforcement doesn’t come, the person learns to keep trying because it will come eventually. In this context it means that abuse becomes a cue to try harder. Abusive leaders are often very skilled in recognizing the breaking point of mistreatment and flipping to warm treatment or rewards.
  • Belief Teasing Most people have a strong need to believe in something meaningful. Adept cult leaders imply that they have something life-altering to believe in, but remain very vague and hazy. This allows members to insert their hopes and dreams, perhaps even unconsciously. It also keeps skepticism and the application of critical thinking at bay.
  • Hides Behind Interpretation Ambiguous passages in ancient texts will be interpreted to fit the leaders desire. but unlike a request from the leader, to refuse is defy a divine or supernatural power.
  • Pseudo-Esotericism Leaders (like everyone else) often know a few things that are arcane. However, unlike everyone else, they use snippets strategically to suggest deep, thorough, or well reflected understanding which just isn’t there. Gaps may be filled in ad hoc by pure invention. Both the unusualness of the subject and deference to the leader prevent any probing
  • New Dawn Leaders will always indicate that they are doing something new that has never been done before. This defeats any comparison, and is a set-up for flipping good and bad.
  • Power Hunger The group channels considerable money to the top, which spends it not for humanitarian work, but to buy advertising or influence to gain secular or practical power. Members are encouraged to work in positions where they access to political powerful people or organizations. Celebrities may be courted and given special treatment to gain social power.
  • An End that Justifies Any Means. Bringing, say, salvation to the entire world, is a promise that if it was credible, renders any damaging action irrelevant because it will be more than made up for. Manipulative leaders justify everything as means to a fantastic end.
  • Excess Often the leader will collect cars, exotic animals, houses or some other items of value in an indiscriminate, over-the-top way. This contrasts with the general poverty of regular members. While it may seem that this would seem to discredit and expose the leader, it usually has the opposite effect, almost as though there is some symbiosis between the two extremes.
  • Spectacles These are meaningless displays with a lot of sensory elements but no real continuity or function. These act as diversions, and as means of making it seem something profound is happening, without the need for any substance. These differ from legitimate spiritual rituals in that, instead of repetition and reflection, the emphasis is on novelty and distraction.
  • Charisma. The leader often makes an unusually strong or magnetic impression in person. This is usually due to inordinate self-confidence, lack of normal inhibitions, and shallowness of emotions that makes ‘putting it on’ easy. It is often taken as evidence of specialness, however.
  • Naturalness. The leader lacks self-consciousness and has nothing to worry about. Disciples on the other hand, are guilt-ridden, tongue-tied, hesitant, and distrustful of their own impulses. By contrast, the leader seems gifted. The leader appears very independent, which appeals to members struggling with dependent tendencies.
  • Transference Cure A person seeking deeper happiness is vulnerable to identifying with an unnaturally positive appearing person who claims to have it all together. The unconscious fantasy many of us have to ourselves ‘have it together’ is fulfilled in the ‘transference’ and targets do actually feel better. Like all dissociative effects however, this will wane over time. It can set up an ‘addictive’ cycle where the target wants to get ‘deeper’ in the program, or closer to the leader, to keep the transference cure working. Most popular self-help gurus function this way, they provide long talks that imply they have deep truths and are experiencing bliss. Only very general truisms and anecdotes are related however, rarely concrete practices or actual actionable principles..
  • Claiming Unusual Powers or Abilities This always has an attraction for those who feel powerless, because it speaks to the illusion that someone special can come to set things right. There is often the hint that if a disciple is deeply devoted, he or she will get a little bit of special power her- or himself. The leader may claim or imply divinity, or the gift of special powers from divinities or aliens.
  • Performs as a Mentalist This is a way to seemingly back up claims of unusual abilities. A mentalist is a type of performer or illusionist that claims unusual mental, intuitive, or ‘channeling’ abilities. The basic technique employed is ‘cold reading’ in which high probability guesses are made and then misses are minimized or rationalized quickly and ‘hits’ are emphasized and pursued. The target ends up volunteering all the real details although the mentalist will act like they had the details in mind already. The technique is made stronger by doing it in front of a group where is thee is even a higher probability that someone in attendance ‘recognizes’ the guess. Channeling or mediumship is another form of cold reading. ‘Hot reading’ is where information about the target already obtained from some source or from observation is presented like it is being suddenly divined on the spot. Mentalism also exploits the Forer Effect to the maximum.
  • Rewriting History Stalin was famous for this. Outside the Soviet Union it was preposterous because previous history was well-documented, but inside, he controlled information. The protagonist of Orwell’ novel 1984 in fact has a job re-writing history. All effective cult leaders do this. It has the function of making opposition from former disciples disappear, and disguises impulsive changes.
  • Glibness A fast, well-spoken explanation seems true even if it is just double-talk
  • Venality The leader bargains and makes deals with those that cannot be seduced or intimidated in a power-savvy way, never standing on principle.
  • Rewards Informers Members are usually starved for attention from the leader and so informing becomes a means of improving station. This eliminates trust or any breathing room to discuss different points of view.
  • Naked Emperor The leader surrounds him- or herself with uncritical believers, and since there is a tendency to change one’s opinion to conform to consensus, members that do not ‘see’ the attribute believe it is their own failing.
  • Scapegoats Leaders take credit for successes but blame failure on others. Members join in condemning the scapegoat because they are happy it is not them.
  • Bribery This is often used just as a rebellious member is wavering, and it is not seen for what it is, but rather taken or described as healing benevolence.
  • Ad Hoc Policy Changes Rules and practices can change suddenly. This allows coercive actions or manipulations to be disguised as actions for the good of the community. The real reason may even be the leader’s boredom. This ‘off-the-cuff’ quality rather than a sign of not knowing what one is doing, is explained as a mark of inspiration.
  • Keeps Inner Circle This holds out the possibility of advancement or favor to common members, and trains and deputizes the elite members in psychopathic practices. Everyone is kept busy trying to please the leader.
  • Encourages Dependency This is done by encouraging all ties to the outside community, as mentioned, but is also done by discouraging education, forbidding personal property, and moving to remote or different locations.
  • Manipulation of VIPs Celebrities or politicians are wooed and shown a very different experience in order to lend credibility to the cult.
  • Narcissism The leader needs ever greater supplies of admiration, and the community becomes increasing organized around practices of adoration.
  • Thrill-Seeking The utter lack of accountability, and unbridled excess can lead to boredom and disinhibition together. This along with psychopathic traits can lead to thrill seeking, both in nominally acceptable ways such as skydiving, but also in sexual abuse.

Cognitive Abuse and Thought Control

Apart from the tactics of leadership, the cultish qualities of an abusive community are evidenced by cognitive abuse, in which the critical thinking and self-determination abilities of members are weakened and manipulated. Cognitive abuse is very different than addressing skepticism or even defending orthodoxy. In a non-abusive community debate or at least questioning is encouraged-in an abusive community debate and questioning is rendered impossible.

Robert Jay Lifton has famously developed the concept of ‘Thought Reform’, in which he describes eight main ways The result is an inability to detect falsity and exploitation, which often persists even after exiting the community. These eight ways are adapted below to emphasize the abusive aspects for the survivor.

  • Milieu Control. This involves both restriction and manipulation of information and communication within the community. All contact with the outside is controlled and monitored. Reading matter, television, radio and internet are restricted. Conversations that question or analyze what is going on are blocked or interrupted. More nefariously, false or distorted information will be given about the outside, with no opportunity for the member to verify.
  • Mystical Manipulation. False origin stories or very selective accounts are given about the leader to demonstrate divine authority, spiritual advancement, or some exceptional talent or insight that sets the leader and/or group apart from humanity, and that allows reinterpretation of historical events, scripture, and other experiences. This is presented like news or spontaneous story telling, but is in fact planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to give the impression that the member has only by luck entered something very special.
  • Demand for Purity. The desire for purity is latent in most people as means of being lovable but of course purity is an abstract concept not an actual natural reality for humans or anything else. Abusive communities exploit this common desire by 1) Painting the outside world as impure (which is easy to do) and 2) Promising purity will be obtained through the group. This promise can’t be kept of course, but this will be blamed on the member, who will redouble his or her futile efforts. To discipline wayward members, their impurity will be referenced, as though it was an actual misdeed. When impurity substitutes for badness, all moral compasses are confused, as for instance, when a leader’s intrusive or violating behavior gets designated as desirable because it is purifying.
  • Confession. Sins, as defined by the group, are confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group. There is no confidentiality; members’ “sins,” “attitudes,” and “faults” are discussed and exploited by the leaders. Since the community or leader will define portions of normal human functioning as wrong, members are never ‘without sin.’
  • Sacred Science. The group’s doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Often the ideology is impractical, illogical, a string of bland truisms. or even gibberish. Members will then fault themselves for failing to understand or not being moved, or they will pretend that they are due to peer pressure. Truth is not to be found outside the group. The leader, as the spokesperson for the truth, is likewise above criticism.
  • Loading the Language. The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought-terminating cliches, which serve to alter members’ thought processes to conform to the group’s way of thinking.
  • Doctrine Over Person. Member’s personal experiences or are subordinated to the sacred science. Any contradictory experiences are denied or interpreted as some failing of perception or understanding.
  • Dispensing of Existence. The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group’s ideology. If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members. Thus, the outside world loses all credibility. In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also.

Janja Lalich has added a unique aspect of cognitive abuse:

  • Bounded Choice It is well understood by now that the choices allowed a member in an abusive community are very limited. However, there is a natural human drive to make some choice and have some sense of autonomy. The effects of long-term limitations in choices is to imbue the choices that are made by a member, however bizarre to an outsider, as legitimate and self-determining. Emotional investment in the choices, including the choice to stay, increases over time. A shaky ‘self’ develops around the options taken, even if all the available options had been bad. It is a well-documented social phenomenon, that the worse people are treated, the more loyal they are, because they have developed reasons ‘of their own’ to stay. This is a concept that applies equally to intimate partner violence.

Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman have added a concept of induced brain dysfunction they call snapping, which is perhaps an element of what is popularly called brainwashing:

  • Snapping is a continuous shut down in normal daily critical thinking and mental reconciliation that seems to occur when the mind is overwhelmed by cognitive dissonance, yet the person is in an intense environment that denies dissonance and the possibility of dissonance. Snapping seems to happen suddenly and Conway and Siegelman speculate on a neuro-chemical basis. There is seen in the person a ‘hollowness’ and a personality change in the sense of considerable subtraction from the previous normal personality. Snapping seems to yield when the affected person is allowed/forced/encouraged to use critical thinking and reasoning.

Also some traditional spiritual practices can be applied in excess to disable cognition:

  • Meditation The benefits of judicious meditation are well documented. but the benefits of meditation assume a non-predatory environment. There is an unmistakable high prevalence of meditation practice–always for very long hours–within abusive communities. Besides autonomic relaxation, meditation trains brainwaves to change (lower in frequency) from a preponderance of beta waves (problem solving) to alpha (relaxation) and beyond to theta (inhibition) and delta (absorption and sleep). This is why mediation can address ‘monkey-mind’ very well. However, not only can ‘pushed’ meditation consume all leisure hours, it is intentionally a practice of suspended reasoning. Perhaps meditation eventually can produce a protective wisdom beyond everyday critical thinking. But at an intermediate stage, together with other manipulations, meditation can aid and abet cognitive abuse and thought control.
  • Chanting Cognitive thought occurs in the format of language even when ‘silent’. What is not well known is that even silent thought activates the larynx (voicebox) in an incipient way. Chanting is a way of tying up the voice box with syllables unrelated to thinking, and so thinking is blocked. As with monks and Gregorian chant, or other traditions, a limited amount of this is an aid to true reflection. An excessive amount leads to cognitive disablement. Some cult members are taught to start chanting whenever an outsider tries to reason with them.

 

Finally, what is often the most conspicuous element has to be considered:

  • Bizarre Beliefs Doctrines such as travel to distant planets and remote centuries are common. Such beliefs may or may not be the impetus for the formation of the group, but always they are convenient for cognitive abuse. This is because such beliefs are so outside the normal contextual knowledge of a new member, and so far outside any usual verification framework, that they short-circuit critical thinking.

Exploitative Strategies

  • Overwork Fundraising, recruitment, and working in community businesses for 12 to 20 hours a day is common. This not only eliminates time to think or associate, but can enrich the leaders.
  • Giving Everything It is very common for a new member to be expected to turn over all assets to the group.
  • Constant Recruitment Often pressure is put on members to bring in new members. Members may be assigned to recruitment duties. This is strong evidence that the main goal of the group is to perpetuate itself and become more powerful.
  • Sexual Mystifying Since normal sexual prerogatives, choices, and experiences are disrupted, along with the blurring of boundaries, members are unable to recognize abuse. This together with blind obedience makes sexual exploitation both common and yet not recognized for what it is.

Benefits Real and Illusory

  • A Place in the World. One never need ‘find’ his or her place because in fact that type of autonomy is not allowed! There is often a false egalitarianism which disguises competition.
  • Routinized Interaction This can be a great boon to the socially awkward because interactions are not to be based on feeling and spontaneity but on custom, rule, or ritual (except for the leaders, which will make them seem all the more special)
  • Experience of Cooperation Cooperating with others on a joint project is a very real source of satisfaction, completely apart from what is accomplished. While in mainstream life adults rarely cooperate, in intentional communities cooperation is the norm. Ex-members tend to still cherish memories of cooperative experience.
  • No Major Decisions. Everything is decided for one. There is neither the burden of deciding, or the dullness of no action.
  • Sense of Completion Searching for final understanding of life is probably misguided, but very human, even for the reasonably happy. Since these communities promise the answer for everything, ‘searchers’ may feel relieved.
  • Answers for all Problems. Because the group will not want any critical thinking or internal wrestling with dilemmas, it will assure members that it has the answer to all problems.
  • An Alternative to Family. Families, healthy and unhealthy, function according to attraction, attachment, and liking of members for each other. Abusive communities ignore and minimize just those aspects of relationship. This can seem a great improvement to people who have been deeply hurt in their families, are reluctant to create any family ties, but who do not want to be alone.
  • To Good to be True is ‘Made True’. Many of us look for a perfect world. It doesn’t exist of course. However, in an abusive community, it is made to seem that it does exist, or is about to come true. This is in stark contrast to outside the group. Keeping this unrealistic hope alive distorts the meaning of problems. Even if corruption or falseness is discerned within the group, it is not seen as evidence of the true nature of the community, but rather just a brief misstep toward the soon to be perfect world.

Retention Strategies

  • Suppressing Outside Criticism: Abusive communities, much more so than abusive individuals, tend to use vigorous legal and social power means to attack and neutralize outside critics. The abusive interpersonal practices are denied, putting the burden of proof on the critic, and the issue is shifted to freedom of thought and religion, making the critic appear narrow-minded and bigoted. These efforts are not about vigorously presenting one side, they are actually about squelching criticism.
  • High Demands This is somewhat counter-intuitive. It seems that placing high-demands on people should accelerate their leaving. But many good people associate high demands with a high quality undertaking. Most people want to belong to something of significance. The longer the time spent in a high demand environment, the more a ‘normal’ life of fewer demands may seem immoral, meaningless, selfish or wasteful. Of course high demands will eventually lead to burnout, but an abusive community usually watches for this and transfers the member to a different ‘compartment’ with different demands that hold some illusory promise of significance.
  • Trauma Bonding Suffering at a low but constant level will release endorphins and adrenaline while at the same time the member places the hardships in a ‘heroic’ framework. This produces a sort of ‘high.’ Normal life seems flat after that. If members were treated better they would be better able to leave. Also doing unusual or difficult things together bonds the member strongly to the group.
  • Shunning Any member leaving immediately loses all friendship and connection. Given that non-community friendships and connections were given up when entering the community, this is doubly devastating
  • Guilt Members are frequently reminded of all they have received (which may have been illusory or unasked for) but will not be reminded of all they have already given. Leaving is always framed as a grave betrayal.
  • Horror Stories. A member that wants to leave will be told about extra-natural calamities that befell others who left the protection of the group or the leader. These are fabricated of course but play on the primitive aspects of guilt. (That is, at least unconsciously, most people feel they should be punished if they are disobedient.)
  • Impoverishment Because members use everything in common, and usually give everything to the group, they are usually penniless, homeless, jobless, and reference-less if they leave.
  • Fear Retaliation and character assassination are common towards those who leave.
  • All or None. In order to leave, members are forced to reject everything about the group, because friendly or partial differences are not acknowledged. This means that members are forced to consider time and resources spent in the group a total mistake, rather than a stage of life. This is very painful, and becomes a strong disincentive to leave.

Crisis in Leaving

  • Purposelessness. All purpose previously was through the group. No other purpose was allowed to develop. A member that has left has a hard time developing a purpose in life because the act of forming a conviction of any sort activates trauma of mind control as described above.
  • Depression. Disillusionment, disappointment, isolation, and lack of self-understanding hit hard upon leaving. Previous comforting rituals are not possible. Depression is common.
  • De-Realization Life consists of choices and consequences, albeit imperfectly linked. But in a manipulated environment, choices are few and consequences are not linked naturally. Subsequently, in an unmanipulated environment, choices may not seem real, and objectives may seem a mystery to pursue.
  • Social De-Skilling. Because of the routinized interactions, the social responses that succeeded in the abusive community do not work as well out in the world. Generally social skills refine as people age, but may be quite primitive, regressed, or maladaptive after a long stint in such a community.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Although a leaving member may have had no conscious anxiety during most of his or her stay, the duplicitous environment will have steadily affected the body, causing a slow motion ‘fight-or-flight’ response. This is difficult to undo, once entrenched.
  • Lack of Validation. The member that has left will have a mix of positive and critical feelings about the group. No validation can come from inside the group, which has to see itself as all good. But no validation usually comes from outside the group, because outsiders, if they are interested at all in the matter, see the group as all bad.
  • Overwhelming Feeling of Loss If many years and opportunities were lost because of being in the community, great sorrow will be felt. In addition engaging in constructive self-directed activity, because it reminds the ex-member of the previous inability to do so, will bring these feelings to the forefront, perhaps paralyzing them.
  • Loneliness. All in-group relationships are severed by leaving, and all out-of-group relationships were severed in joining. The formation of new relationships is hampered by social de-skilling and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Communal Abuse and Cults.

Researchers long ago established a link between having sex and feeling pleased with yourself and the world. In a representative recent study of 1,000 women, for example, the participants ranked sex as No.1 among the activities that made them the happiest. Data from 16,000 American adults on incomes, sexual activity and happiness led economists to conclude in a much-­discussed 2004 study that increasing the frequency of intercourse from once a month to once a week increased happiness to the same extent as having an additional $50,000 in the bank.

But while these and similar studies, which relied on surveys, revealed an association between sex and happiness, they did not show that more sex actually causes greater happiness. Perhaps happier people just happen to have more sex. To establish causation, scientists needed to get couples to have sex more often and then see if that made them happier.

Turns out it may not, according to a new study in the August issue of  The Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

For this study, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and elsewhere recruited 64 adult couples, all married and heterosexual, and asked the volunteers how often they had sex, how enjoyable it was and how happy they were in general, based on standard questionnaires that measure mood and energy. Half the couples, picked randomly, were assigned to go about their lives as usual; the rest were told to double the frequency of sexual relations. If they had sex once a month (the minimum rate for inclusion in the study), make it twice; couples who had sex three times a week (the maximum rate for participants) were to go to six.

The subjects were also tasked with completing a short daily online questionnaire for the experiment’s duration, which was 90 days, about the amount and quality of their sex the previous day and their subsequent moods. Some couples in the experimental group actually did manage to double the rate of intercourse, and on average there was a 40 percent increase.

This did not make them happier. In fact, their well-­being declined, especially in measures of energy and enthusiasm, as did the quality of the sex. Both men and women reported that the additional intercourse wasn’t much fun. The results surprised the researchers — but they probably shouldn’t have, according to George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon, who led the study.

‘‘It seems that if you’re having sex for a reason other than because you like and want sex,’’ he says, you may undermine the quality of that sex and your resulting mood.

The lesson is not simply to avoid participating in academic sex studies. Instead, Dr. Loewenstein says, concentrate on quality rather than quantity if you wish to be happy. Studies associating sexual frequency and happiness may have missed the underlying link between the two, which is the pleasurability of the sex. People who like their couplings probably have more of them, and it is the pleasure of the act, he says, that raises moods, not how often it happens.

This column appeared in The New York Times Magazine on June 28, 2015.

The Joy of (Just the Right Amount of) Sex – The New York Times.

Best Movies To Watch One Time – Amazing Films.

Dick Cheney reemerges: Bloodthirsty veep is back to promote endless war — just in time for 2016

Dick Cheney and his silly advocacy group are back to preach neoconservatism to the converted

Topics: Dick Cheney, 2016 Elections, Liz Cheney, Republicans, Alliance for a Strong America, Neoconservatism, neoconservatives, Iraq war, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Foreign policy, National security,

Dick Cheney reemerges: Bloodthirsty veep is back to promote endless war -- just in time for 2016Dick Cheney (Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Do you remember what the Alliance for a Strong America is? Don’t feel too bad if you don’t, since there’s really no reason for you to have spent any time thinking about the non-profit group or its mission to “advocate for the policies needed to restore American power and pre-eminence.” But if that name does kindle some faint glimmer of recognition, it’s probably from the glut of press coverage that attended its unveiling around about this time last year.

The Alliance for a Strong America, you see, is Dick Cheney’s dark-money advocacy group. It was founded to fight back against the Obama administration’s foreign policy and educate the public on the need for America to demonstrate its exceptional nature through the vigorous application of explosives to foreign lands. Working with his daughter, failed Senate candidate Liz Cheney, the former vice president was going to remind the American public of just how much danger they are constantly in and how the only way to make the world safe is to blow parts of it up.

That, at least, was the plan. But the Alliance for a Strong America doesn’t really seem to have done much since then. Peruse the Alliance’s website and you’ll see that its main function seems to be occasionally linking to articles from conservative publications bashing Obama or praising Cheney (the last update was from March). The group’s YouTube page boasts just four videos: a launch video featuring Dick and Liz, and three clips of their media appearances (it hasn’t been updated since last August). Liz Cheney told the Casper Star-Tribune last year that she and her father intended for the Alliance to be “a center of gravity” on national security issues and “a place where people can come to get information to help them make a case and help make sure people recognize at the end of the day, our security relies on American strength and power around the world.” If that’s happening, then they’re doing a great job of keeping it a secret.

But now Dick and Liz Cheney are back and renewing the urgent mission they put off for a year. The two have a new book coming out in September, and the former VP just gave a big interview to the Wall Street Journal that can be best described as Classic Cheney – hawkishness, straw men in abundance, and the de rigeur 9/11 fearmongering:

Dick Cheney reemerges: Bloodthirsty veep is back to promote endless war — just in time for 2016 – Salon.com.

In 2004, psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote The Paradox of Choice, a compelling manifestothat outlined the paralysis and dissatisfaction one feels when presented with too many choices. A decade later, Aaron Shapiro, the CEO of the global digital design agency Huge, has evolved Schwartz’s observations into a provocative scenario he calls “anticipatory design.”

 

In Shapiro’s vision, not only are there a limited number of choices, but there are none. With 12 offices worldwide from Brooklyn to Bogota, Shapiro oversees one of the most influential creative agencies in the world, providing branding, integrated marketing, and digital strategy services for multinational clients such as Nike, Lexus, Google, Pepsi, and Pfizer.

 

“Choice is overrated,” he opined. In his treatise about the agency’s newly-defined design approach, he wrote:

 

The next big breakthrough in design and technology will be the creation of products, services, and experiences that eliminate the needless choices from our lives and make ones on our behalf, freeing us up for the ones we really care about: Anticipatory design.

 

A radical mindshift

 

Despite its rather old-fashioned name, anticipatory design (not to be confused with Buckminster Fuller’s anticipatory design science) is actually a radical shift in terms of thinking about design. Up to now, the tendency of designers has been to provide customers with as many options as possible—various colors for vacuum cleaners, feature options for calling plans, and a spectrum of detergents for any kind of stain or proclivity.

 

Anticipatory design eliminates all that and presents a singular option. “Flow not friction,” “convenience not choice,” and “efficiency not freedom” are the mantras of anticipatory design.

 

More choice, more problems?(Mario Anzuoni)

 “Flow not friction,” “convenience not choice,” and “efficiency not freedom” are the mantras of anticipatory design. The ultimate aspiration is to liberate us from so-called “decision fatigue,” like the tedium of calling a taxi after a late meeting to get to a concert, for example. With anticipatory design, not only will the car be waiting for you but the driver (if any) will know your destination and the optimal route to take to get you there on time.

 

Anticipatory design gets at something that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg mentioned when he was asked why he wears essentially same uniform-like outfit every day during the company’s town hall last year. He replied, “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve the community.”

 

Ideally, anticipatory design could prevent that paralyzing feeling you get when presented with too many options, like getting dressed in the morning—without requiring you to wear a bland uniform. It could automatically select an outfit for you based on your activities for the day, pulled from your calendar and the weather. It could even make sure your outfit is stylish.

 

HUGE change.(Courtesy of HUGE / Cristina Shin)

 “The more things we decide over the course of a day, the lesser ability we have to make effective decisions.”  The most compelling reason for anticipatory design in today’s attention economy isn’t just convenience: Anticipatory design also seeks to address the quality of our decision-making, decreasing the number of micro decisions we make each day and leaving brain space to focus on the important matters. “The more things we decide over the course of a day,” Shapiro wrote, “the lesser ability we have to make effective decisions.”

 

A system of trust

 

But for anticipatory design to work, an interconnected network of systems and records need to work seamlessly. This means relinquishing personal information—passwords, credit card numbers, activity tracking data, browsing histories, calendars—so the system can make and execute informed decisions on your behalf.

 

In exchange, Shapiro envisions a highly tailored user experienced based on one’s patterns. “The reality is, design is mass market, but with anticipatory design, data can create experiences personal to me—a user experience for one,” he says, describing a convergence of design and data science. “There’s opportunity to connect all these disparate systems and use data to streamline people’s lives. I think that this will be very transformative.”

 

Anticipatory design presents new ethical checkpoints for designers and programmers behind the automation, as well as for consumers. Can we trust a system to safeguard our personal data from hackers and marketers—or does privacy become a moot concern? Will companies (or governments) exploit data to forward their agendas? Does creating a fully automated system actually train us to follow more patterns? And what if we don’t want that same brand of soap auto-delivered every time we run out?

 

Testing in the real world

 

If this all sounds like the stuff of science fiction, Shapiro points out that anticipatory design is already deployed in the real world. Google Now presents local information based on your travel history and location; Nest adjusts the temperature of your home based on previous activity; and Amazon Dash automatically orders supplies be delivered to your house at a push of a button, saving you a trip to the store.

 

Of course the ultimate example in development is the self-driving car:

 

 

 

Will anticipatory design—to its full extent—actually catch on? Huge is determined to find out.

 

Made-to-order coffee, instantly.(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Shapiro tells Quartz that his company is building a coffee shop on the ground level of its Atlanta office as a test lab for anticipatory design. In Huge’s experimental coffee shop, baristas will be alerted via an Apple Watch when a customer drives up to the store and will start making the person’s usual order—so that double-shot, nonfat, extra hot latte with caramel drizzle will be ready to hand over the moment they walk up to the counter. Payment will be made automatically via a credit card saved in the system.

 

Even as we debate how these innovations affect our freedom of choice, design’s role (and limits) in society, and the nature of creativity, the practical conveniences of anticipatory design are undeniably alluring.

And in any case, as Schwartz pointed out as he campaigned for a world with less choices, this hand-wringing is a luxury only available to the privileged. “What enables all this choice is material affluence,” he said (video). “These are peculiar problems of affluent societies. There are many places where the problem is that they have too little choice.”

The next design trend is one that eliminates all choices – Quartz.

The Fasting Mimicking Diet Might Have Good Benefits

Fasting is known to have many benefits on our bodies, even if there have been debates on the issue. Many people are interested in losing weight and they found intermittent fasting might be effective.

However, there are other benefits to fasting apart from weight loss. These include reduced cholesterol, lower blood pressure and fewer risks of premature ageing.

One of the most popular intermittent fasting diets is the 5:2 Fast Diet. This involves eating a certain amount of calories for five days straight and then reduce the calorie intake to 500 calories for women and 600 for men.

There are many variations to this diet. One of them, called the Fast Mimicking Diet, says that you have to eat normally for 25 days a month and then eat 1090 calories in a day. The calories must be distributed into 10 percent protein, 34 percent carbohydrates and 56 percent fat.

Afterwards,  in the following four days, you can only eat 725 calories distributed into 9 percent protein, 47 percent carbohydrates and 44 percent fat.

Some experts say that this diet is more efficient than the first one and the study funded by the National Institute of Aging and published in the journal Cell Metabolism revealed that the participants had lower risk factors for various diseases with no or very little side effects.

Whatever your fasting diet of choice, experts say that your body can draw various benefits from it.
First of all, it can lead to the much desired weight loss. Because fasting does not allow the body to draw its energy from food, it uses the glucose deposits found in muscles and liver and afterwards it starts burning fat as an energy source.

Secondly, burning fat leads to a better preservation of the muscles and better cholesterol levels in our body.

Thirdly, a detoxification process takes place once the toxins found in fat are eliminated from the body. It was also said that the longer people fast, the better it is for our immune cells, because it allows them to regenerate.

“When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged,” said Dr. Valter Longo, from the University of Southern California, L.A., who is the lead author of a study on fasting published in the Cell Stem Cell.

However, there are also experts who argue the efficiency of such diets , saying that they might trigger eating disorders or have people eat less balanced diets afterwards.

At the same time, there are people who should steer clear of fasting. These include children, pregnant women, people who are underweight or people who need to recover from a surgery.

Therefore, if you want to give it a try, make sure you get all your information straight and  have a doctor’s approval.

 

The Fasting Mimicking Diet Might Have Good Benefits.

Coffee lovers may be on to something. Aside from a necessary aid to wake up in the morning, a new study published in theJournal of the National Cancer Institutehas found that drinking coffee could protect you from skin cancer.

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The study surveyed over 447,000 people in the United States over an average of 10 years. Those who drank coffee were associated with a decreased risk of developing melanoma skin cancer. They found those who drank four or more cups of joe a day were 20 percent less likely to develop melanoma.

Melanoma skin cancer is mainly caused by exposure to UV radiation. This can be through natural sunlight or the artificial light used in sunbeds. About 12,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with melanoma each year.

The findings builds on a 2007 study published by Dr. Ernest Abel, which found that risk of non-melanoma skin cancer also fell with increased coffee consumption.

Decaffeinated coffee had no affect on the risk of skin cancer in both studies.

However, before you rush out for another cup of coffee, the study says that additional investigation is needed. It is also worth bearing in mind that whilst caffeine may help against harmful UV rays, the NHS warns against high caffeine intake, as it can cause high blood pressure.

 

Four cups of coffee a day could save you from skin cancer – Telegraph.

 

‘Cure for terminal cancer’ found in game-changing drugs

Immunotherapy, which harnesses the body’s own immune system to destroy deadly tumours, has been hailed as one of the biggest breakthroughs in the treatment of cancer for decades

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X-rays showing a patient's tumor, circled, before, leftm and after immunotherapy

X-rays showing a patient’s tumor, circled, before, leftm and after immunotherapy

Terminally ill cancer patients have been “effectively cured” by a game-changing new class of drugs.

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In one trial, more than half of patients who had just months to live saw deadly tumours shrink or completely disappear.

In recent days, the results of trials of a number of treatments which harness the body’s immune system have been announced at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual conference in Chicago. They show promise in the fight against skin cancer and lung disease.

But results from a slew of trials released last night at the conference showed “spectacular” effects against a multitude of cancers.

Experts said the advances suggest terminally ill patients with common cancers – including lung, bowel, ovarian and womb – could in future be cured by the therapies.

The evidence in favour of the radical drugs is so overwhelming that they could save tens of thousands of lives in the UK within a decade, it is claimed.

‘I had months to live – now my tumours have disappeared’
Beware the hype over ‘miracle’ cancer drugs

Senior cancer doctors said the treatment, known as immunotherapy, could radically change the standard treatment for cancer, sparing some sufferers from some of the toxic effects of chemotherapy.

Roy Herbst , chief of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Centre, described the string of results as “spectacular”.

“I think it’s huge,” he said. “I think we are seeing a paradigm shift in the way oncology is being treated.”

 

“I’m seeing this work in almost every cancer,” added Prof Herbst, who said the results suggested the therapy worked best on the cancers that were hardest to treat.

“The potential for long-term survival, effective cure, is definitely there,” he said.

Peter Johnson, Professor of Medical Oncology, from Cancer Research UK, said the therapies – which work by “re-educating” the immune system – are one of the greatest breakthroughs in cancer treatment in four decades.

“The evidence emerging from clinical trials suggests that we are at the beginning of a whole new era for cancer treatments,” he said.

“Some of the most common types of cancer seem to be treatable with immunotherapy. Overall, cancers of the lung, kidney, bladder, head and neck, and melanoma cause about 50,000 deaths a year, or around one third of cancer deaths.”

In one British-led study, 58 per cent of patients with advanced skin cancer saw their tumours reduce significantly when given a new combination of immunotherapy drugs.

In more than one in 10 cases, those given the drugs, called nivolumab and ipilimumab , the growths were entirely destroyed.

Such patients could expect to live just nine months if given standard treatment. The two-year study of 950 patients has yet to publish survival data but researchers said they were hopeful that half of the patients would end up “living disease-free”.

Lead author Dr James Larkin, consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital, said he was excited about the prospects of the new treatments.

“We’ve seen these drugs working in a wide range of cancers and I think we are at the beginning of a new era of treating cancer,” he said.

 

Iplimumab, the only immunotherapy in use by the NHS, costs around £100,000 for four treatments.

The second drug, nivolumab, is expected to be licensed for use in Europe this summer.

The study found their results, when combined, were three times as good as when iplimumab was given alone. Trials involving a treatment for the most common type of lung cancer doubled the chances of survival for some patients.

Meanwhile trials examining the use of the drugs in womb, liver, head and neck, and bowel cancer showed “remarkable” results, specialists said.

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Experts said the new treatments, which use the body’s immune system to stall the spread of disease, could soon become the mainstream treatment for a wide range of cancers.

“Cancers develop because they manage to hide from the immune system and disguise the danger they pose. Immunotherapy works by making the cancer visible again and alerting the body’s immune system to the danger,” Prof Johnston said. Patients who began some of the earliest trials 10 years ago appeared to have been cured, he added.

Last week, scientists announced that a genetically modifed herpes virus could spark the immune system into action, in another breakthrough in skin-cancer treatment.

‘Cure for terminal cancer’ found in game-changing drugs – Telegraph.

The Thorium Powered Car – EPautos

Here’s another, more recent one: The thorium-turbine powered car.thorium CaddyHeat energy from the thorium – a weakly radioactive element named after the Norse god Thor that is estimated to be 3-4 times more naturally abundant than uranium and which contains 20 million times the energy as an equivalent lump of coal – is used to generate steam, which is then used to power a small turbine, which provides the motive force. The beauty of the system is that – like a nuclear submarine – the fuel lasts almost forever. Well, longer than you will last, probably.How’s 100 years sound?

via The Thorium Powered Car – EPautos.

America’s Seniors Find Middle-Class ‘Sweet Spot’ – The New York Times.

n the morning of August 17, 1971, nine young men in the Palo Alto area received visits from local police officers. While their neighbors looked on, the men were arrested for violating Penal Codes 211 and 459 (armed robbery and burglary), searched, handcuffed, and led into the rear of a waiting police car. The cars took them to a Palo Alto police station, where the men were booked, fingerprinted, moved to a holding cell, and blindfolded. Finally, they were transported to the Stanford County Prison—also known as the Stanford University psychology department.

They were willing participants in the Stanford Prison Experiment, one of the most controversial studies in the history of social psychology. (It’s the subject of a new film of the same name—a drama, not a documentary—starring Billy Crudup, of “Almost Famous,” as the lead investigator, Philip Zimbardo. It opens July 17th.) The study subjects, middle-class college students, had answered a questionnaire about their family backgrounds, physical- and mental-health histories, and social behavior, and had been deemed “normal”; a coin flip divided them into prisoners and guards. According to the lore that’s grown up around the experiment, the guards, with little to no instruction, began humiliating and psychologically abusing the prisoners within twenty-four hours of the study’s start. The prisoners, in turn, became submissive and depersonalized, taking the abuse and saying little in protest. The behavior of all involved was so extreme that the experiment, which was meant to last two weeks, was terminated after six days.

Less than a decade earlier, the Milgram obedience study had shown that ordinary people, if encouraged by an authority figure, were willing to shock their fellow-citizens with what they believed to be painful and potentially lethal levels of electricity. To many, the Stanford experiment underscored those findings, revealing the ease with which regular people, if given too much power, could transform into ruthless oppressors. Today, more than forty-five years later, many look to the study to make sense of events like the behavior of the guards at Abu Ghraib and America’s epidemic of police brutality. The Stanford Prison Experiment is cited as evidence of the atavistic impulses that lurk within us all; it’s said to show that, with a little nudge, we could all become tyrants.

And yet the lessons of the Stanford Prison Experiment aren’t so clear-cut. From the beginning, the study has been haunted by ambiguity. Even as it suggests that ordinary people harbor ugly potentialities, it also testifies to the way our circumstances shape our behavior. Was the study about our individual fallibility, or about broken institutions? Were its findings about prisons, specifically, or about life in general? What did the Stanford Prison Experiment really show?

The appeal of the experiment has a lot to do with its apparently simple setup: prisoners, guards, a fake jail, and some ground rules. But, in reality, the Stanford County Prison was a heavily manipulated environment, and the guards and prisoners acted in ways that were largely predetermined by how their roles were presented. To understand the meaning of the experiment, you have to understand that it wasn’t a blank slate; from the start, its goal was to evoke the experience of working and living in a brutal jail.

From the first, the guards’ priorities were set by Zimbardo. In a presentation to his Stanford colleagues shortly after the study’s conclusion, he described the procedures surrounding each prisoner’s arrival: each man was stripped and searched, “deloused,” and then given a uniform—a numbered gown, which Zimbardo called a “dress,” with a heavy bolted chain near the ankle, loose-fitting rubber sandals, and a cap made from a woman’s nylon stocking. “Real male prisoners don’t wear dresses,” Zimbardo explained, “but real male prisoners, we have learned, do feel humiliated, do feel emasculated, and we thought we could produce the same effects very quickly by putting men in a dress without any underclothes.” The stocking caps were in lieu of shaving the prisoner’s heads. (The guards wore khaki uniforms and were given whistles, nightsticks, and mirrored sunglasses inspired by a prison guard in the movie “Cool Hand Luke.”)

Often, the guards operated without explicit, moment-to-moment instructions. But that didn’t mean that they were fully autonomous: Zimbardo himself took part in the experiment, playing the role of the prison superintendent. (The prison’s “warden” was also a researcher.) /Occasionally, disputes between prisoner and guards got out of hand, violating an explicit injunction against physical force that both prisoners and guards had read prior to enrolling in the study. When the “superintendent” and “warden” overlooked these incidents, the message to the guards was clear: all is well; keep going as you are. The participants knew that an audience was watching, and so a lack of feedback could be read as tacit approval. And the sense of being watched may also have encouraged them to perform. Dave Eshelman, one of the guards, recalled that he “consciously created” his guard persona. “I was in all kinds of drama productions in high school and college. It was something I was very familiar with: to take on another personality before you step out on the stage,” Eshelman said. In fact, he continued, “I was kind of running my own experiment in there, by saying, ‘How far can I push these things and how much abuse will these people take before they say, ‘Knock it off?’ ”

Other, more subtle factors also shaped the experiment. It’s often said that the study participants were ordinary guys—and they were, indeed, determined to be “normal” and healthy by a battery of tests. But they were also a self-selected group who responded to a newspaper advertisement seeking volunteers for “a psychological study of prison life.” In a 2007 study, the psychologists Thomas Carnahan and Sam McFarland asked whether that wording itself may have stacked the odds. They recreated the original ad, and then ran a separate ad omitting the phrase “prison life.” They found that the people who responded to the two ads scored differently on a set of psychological tests. Those who thought that they would be participating in a prison study had significantly higher levels of aggressiveness, authoritarianism, Machiavellianism, narcissism, and social dominance, and they scored lower on measures of empathy and altruism.

Moreover, even within that self-selected sample, behavioral patterns were far from homogeneous. Much of the study’s cachet depends on the idea that the students responded en masse, giving up their individual identities to become submissive “prisoners” and tyrannical “guards.” But, in fact, the participants responded to the prison environment in all sorts of ways. While some guard shifts were especially cruel, others remained humane. Many of the supposedly passive prisoners rebelled. Richard Yacco, a prisoner, remembered “resisting what one guard was telling me to do and being willing to go into solitary confinement. As prisoners, we developed solidarity—we realized that we could join together and do passive resistance and cause some problems.”

What emerges from these details isn’t a perfectly lucid photograph but an ambiguous watercolor. While it’s true that some guards and prisoners behaved in alarming ways, it’s also the case that their environment was designed to encourage—and, in some cases, to require—those behaviors. Zimbardo himself has always been forthcoming about the details and the nature of his prison experiment: he thoroughly explained the setup in his original study and, in an early write-up, in which the experiment was described in broad strokes only, he pointed out that only “about a third of the guards became tyrannical in their arbitrary use of power.” (That’s about four people in total.) So how did the myth of the Stanford Prison Experiment—“Lord of the Flies” in the psych lab—come to diverge so profoundly from the reality?

In part, Zimbardo’s earliest statements about the experiment are to blame. In October, 1971, soon after the study’s completion—and before a single methodologically and analytically rigorous result had been published—Zimbardo was asked to testify before Congress about prison reform. His dramatic testimony, even as it clearly explained how the experiment worked, also allowed listeners to overlook how coercive the environment really was. He described the study as “an attempt to understand just what it means psychologically to be a prisoner or a prison guard.” But he also emphasized that the students in the study had been “the cream of the crop of this generation,” and said that the guards were given no specific instructions, and left free to make “up their own rules for maintaining law, order, and respect.” In explaining the results, he said that the “majority” of participants found themselves “no longer able to clearly differentiate between role-playing and self,” and that, in the six days the study took to unfold, “the experience of imprisonment undid, although temporarily, a lifetime of learning; human values were suspended, self-concepts were challenged, and the ugliest, most base, pathological side of human nature surfaced.” In describing another, related study and its implications for prison life, he said that “the mere act of assigning labels to people, calling some people prisoners and others guards, is sufficient to elicit pathological behavior.”

Zimbardo released video to NBC, which ran a feature on November 26, 1971. An article ran in the Times Magazine in April of 1973. In various ways, these accounts reiterated the claim that relatively small changes in circumstances could turn the best and brightest into monsters or depersonalized serfs. By the time Zimbardo published a formal paper about the study, in a 1973 issue of the International Journal of Criminology and Penology, a streamlined and unequivocal version of events had become entrenched in the national consciousness—so much so that a 1975 methodological critique fell largely on deaf ears.

Forty years later, Zimbardo still doesn’t shy away from popular attention. He served as a consultant on the new film, which follows his original study in detail, relying on direct transcripts from the experimental recordings and taking few dramatic liberties. In many ways, the film is critical of the study: Crudup plays Zimbardo as an overzealous researcher overstepping his bounds, trying to create a very specific outcome among the students he observes. The filmmakers even underscore the flimsiness of the experimental design, inserting characters who point out that Zimbardo is not a disinterested observer. They highlight a real-life conversation in which another psychologist asks Zimbardo whether he has an “independent variable.” In describing the study to his Stanford colleagues shortly after it ended, Zimbardo recalled that conversation: “To my surprise, I got really angry at him,” he said. “The security of my men and the stability of my prison was at stake, and I have to contend with this bleeding-heart, liberal, academic, effete dingdong whose only concern was for a ridiculous thing like an independent variable. The next thing he’d be asking me about was rehabilitation programs, the dummy! It wasn’t until sometime later that I realized how far into the experiment I was at that point.”

In a broad sense, the film reaffirms the opinion of John Mark, one of the guards, who, looking back, has said that Zimbardo’s interpretation of events was too shaped by his expectations to be meaningful: “He wanted to be able to say that college students, people from middle-class backgrounds … will turn on each other just because they’re given a role and given power. Based on my experience, and what I saw and what I felt, I think that was a real stretch.”

If the Stanford Prison Experiment had simulated a less brutal environment, would the prisoners and guards have acted differently? In December, 2001, two psychologists, Stephen Reicher and Alexander Haslam, tried to find out. They worked with the documentaries unit of the BBC to partially recreate Zimbardo’s setup over the course of an eight-day experiment. Their guards also had uniforms, and were given latitude to dole out rewards and punishments; their prisoners were placed in three-person cells that followed the layout of the Stanford County Jail almost exactly. The main difference was that, in this prison, the preset expectations were gone. The guards were asked to come up with rules prior to the prisoners’ arrival, and were told only to make the prison run smoothly. (The BBC Prison Study, as it came to be called, differed from the Stanford experiment in a few other ways, including prisoner dress; for a while, moreover, the prisoners were told that they could become guards through good behavior, although, on the third day, that offer was revoked, and the roles were made permanent.)

Within the first few days of the BBC study, it became clear that the guards weren’t cohering as a group. “Several guards were wary of assuming and exerting their authority,” the researchers wrote. The prisoners, on the other hand, developed a collective identity. In a change from the Stanford study, the psychologists asked each participant to complete a daily survey that measured the degree to which he felt solidarity with his group; it showed that, as the guards grew further apart, the prisoners were growing closer together. On the fourth day, three cellmates decided to test their luck. At lunchtime, one threw his plate down and demanded better food, another asked to smoke, and the third asked for medical attention for a blister on his foot. The guards became disorganized; one even offered the smoker a cigarette. Reicher and Haslam reported that, after the prisoners returned to their cells, they “literally danced with joy.” (“That was fucking sweet,” one prisoner remarked.) Soon, more prisoners began to challenge the guards. They acted out during roll call, complained about the food, and talked back. At the end of the sixth day, the three insubordinate cellmates broke out and occupied the guards’ quarters. “At this point,” the researchers wrote, “the guards’ regime was seen by all to be unworkable and at an end.”

Taken together, these two studies don’t suggest that we all have an innate capacity for tyranny or victimhood. Instead, they suggest that our behavior largely conforms to our preconceived expectations. All else being equal, we act as we think we’re expected to act—especially if that expectation comes from above. Suggest, as the Stanford setup did, that we should behave in stereotypical tough-guard fashion, and we strive to fit that role. Tell us, as the BBC experimenters did, that we shouldn’t give up hope of social mobility, and we act accordingly.

This understanding might seem to diminish the power of the Stanford Prison Experiment. But, in fact, it sharpens and clarifies the study’s meaning. Last weekend brought the tragic news of Kalief Browder’s suicide. At sixteen, Browder was arrested, in the Bronx, for allegedly stealing a backpack; after the arrest, he was imprisoned at Rikers for three years without trial. (Ultimately, the case against him was dismissed.) While at Rikers, Browder was the object of violence from both prisoners and guards, some of which was captured on video. It’s possible to think that prisons are the way they are because human nature tends toward the pathological. But the Stanford Prison Experiment suggests that extreme behavior flows from extreme institutions. Prisons aren’t blank slates. Guards do indeed self-select into their jobs, as Zimbardo’s students self-selected into a study of prison life. Like Zimbardo’s men, they are bombarded with expectations from the first and shaped by preëxisting norms and patterns of behavior. The lesson of Stanford isn’t that any random human being is capable of descending into sadism and tyranny. It’s that certain institutions and environments demand those behaviors—and, perhaps, can change them.

 

The Real Lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment – The New Yorker.

Pregnant California mom sucks venom from son’s leg after snake bite | Fox News.

5 things women hide from their husbands

Couples-Discussing.jpg

After you tie the knot, the “what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine” mentality can begin to shape your life together. However, for most women, there are at least a few things they tend to hide from their guys—even if they’ve got a tight bond. (Because hey, the men hide stuff, too!) We tapped the experts to find out what women commonly stay hush-hush about. Guilty of any of these?

1. Health Concerns
If a woman finds a suspicious mole, a lump in her breast or has an otherwise disconcerting “symptom,” she may often stay mum or downplay her anxieties.

“Women will hide worrisome concerns from their spouse to protect their husband or decrease distress—especially if it feels major,” said psychologist Kristen Carpenter, PhD, Director of Women’s Behavioral Health at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center.

But this gut instinct to stay quiet about worries—as if keeping mum about something means that it doesn’t exist—isn’t the best idea.

“You’re closing yourself off to support and not allowing him to see concerns,” she explained.

So resist the urge and don’t bite your tongue. You deserve a shoulder to lean on, and tag-team support is what marriage is all about.

MORE: 10 Ways to Guarantee You Get Up for That A.M. Workout

2. Trouble in the Relationship
Think: Fighting. Passive-aggressiveness. Disagreeing about where to live; if kids are in the future. If a woman can’t seem to work through relationship issues with her spouse privately, she’ll often schedule a therapy session—and attend alone, according to Jodie Voth, MMFT, a therapist in practice in Canada.

“I cannot tell you how often women come to therapy without their husband’s knowledge,” she said. “Their goal? To decide if the relationship is worth saving or not.”

While doing this individually can be effective, Voth said, but in order to maintain that trust with your man, it’s really better if he’s on the couch right next to you.

“Women hide therapy because it feels risky to involve him,” Voth said. “He now has equal opportunity to influence the fate of the relationship. It’s OK to do personal work in a given session, but he deserves a chance to be involved when it relates to him, too.”

3. Sexual Preferences
Carpenter said she regularly has women in her office who complain that they’re sexually unsatisfied.

“Women don’t talk about sex nearly as much, and very seldom does [any sort of formal] sex ed include talk of pleasure,” she said. “People often just fall into their sexual lives.” So if it’s meh? Ladies just “deal.” Don’t deal!

That’s largely in part, perhaps, because wives generally don’t want to tell their guys about between-the-sheets action they don’t like, Carpenter said. “It’s an emotionally-charged topic, and women are afraid they’ll hurt his feelings,” she added, “which is why I always suggest a conversation about sex outside the bedroom, bringing it up slowly, and telling him something you do like along with what you don’t.”

MORE: What’s Your Sex Number?

4. Personal Successes
Believe it or not, women are less inclined to go home and gab about a promotion at work, a big raise or even an improved marathon time.

“They do not share successes enough,” Carpenter said. “They don’t want to feel there is a race between themselves and their spouse, and think discussing their successes interferes with the male provider role.”

But let’s be real. If you wield more power at work, are the more accomplished athlete or bring home more bacon than him, does it really matter? According to Carpenter, some men do feel threatened.

“Many will say, ‘I want a smart woman, an accomplished woman, but not more so than me,’” she explained. “Unfortunately, that exists. The best is answer is to find the right guy—someone who derives their notions of self-worth from a variety of domains, not just the areas where you’re successful, too.” So don’t sabotage your personal successes on a man’s behalf. Ever!

5. Bank Accounts
“Women may keep secret bank accounts for different reasons, but I’ve found this is something they may have been taught by their mothers,” said Detroit-based clinical therapist Tomanika Witherspoon, LMSW. “For some, it’s a golden rule to always have a stash, just in case the relationship does not work.”

This may give women a sense of security—a nest egg egg to fall back. However, if a husband finds out about secret funds, he may think you’re banking on your marriage to fail.

“There may be a sense of betrayal,” Witherspoon added. “The husband may feel that his wife may be hiding larger secrets.”

Finances are loaded concerns in a marriage, so it’s best to weigh possible outcomes before withholding funds from your partner.

So while you probably don’t have to divulge everything—after all, that’s necessary to maintaining your own sense of self—holding on to certain secrets can impact the trust and support system of your marriage. If there’s an opportunity to open up for the sake of a stronger relationship, why not give it a try?

 

5 things women hide from their husbands | Fox News.

Common in coastal waters: 4

 

Common in coastal waters: 4.

 

Common in coastal waters: 4

 

Common in coastal waters: 4.

 

Report: Digital Health Solutions Expected Save $100B by 2018.

We’re a culture obsessed with parenthood, or “parenting,” as we like to call it.  Countless websites, books, and magazines provide advice for parents aspiring to perfection. And paramount on any good parent’s priority list is making sure our kids are safe and healthy.  So we pay extra for organic milk and banish trans fats from our kitchens.  We deliberate over the safest car seats and sign petitions to ban sodas from school cafeterias.  We talk to our kids early and often about the dangers of smoking, drinking and drugs.

But when it comes to the hazards of sex, our approach falls somewhere between passivity and paralysis.  For whatever reasons – concern about imposing fear and shame, embarrassment about being hypocritical, or not believing that kids are capable of self-control – we can’t bring ourselves to just say “don’t!”  We make sure our kids know about condoms and the Pill, and tell them we’re always there if they want to talk.  Which is the equivalent of shutting our eyes, crossing our fingers, and hoping.  Hoping that our kids won’t get pregnant, or get someone else pregnant.  Hoping that they won’t catch that STD that causes infertility or cancer.  Hoping the chemical bonds that they form and then break won’t break their hearts.

Because here’s the rub.  It is an indisputable fact that having sex means taking risks.  We can reduce the risks of unwanted consequences, but we can’t eliminate them.  We wouldn’t tell our kids that it’s okay to smoke — as long as they smoke low tar cigarettes.  Or that drugs are fine — but only in small doses.  But we tell them – by not telling them otherwise – that risking pregnancy, life-threatening diseases, and emotional devastation is okay.

Here are some cold, hard facts to consider.  Every year there are ten million – ten million! – new cases of sexually transmitted diseases among our sons and daughters who are 15 to 24 years old.  As of 2008, one in four teenagers already had an STD, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  The most commonly transmitted STD is HPV, or human papillomavirus.  We now know that certain types of HPV cause cancers of the head and neck.  Think Michael Douglas.  Others cause cervical cancer.  Another “common STD,” according to the CDC, is chlamydia.  In 2013, there were nearly a million cases among 15- to 24-year olds.  If our daughters are among that million, it could mean they’ll never be able to have kids of their own.

When it comes to the hazards of sex, our approach falls somewhere between passivity and paralysis. For whatever reasons – concern about imposing fear and shame, embarrassment about being hypocritical, or not believing that kids are capable of self-control – we can’t bring ourselves to just say “don’t!”

As for getting pregnant, the CDC reports that nearly half of all pregnancies in this country are unintended.  For women 19 and younger that rises to four out of five.  What’s not to understand here?  Sex makes babies!  According to the Guttmacher Institute, at 2008 rates, one in ten women will have an abortion by the time she is 20 years old.  Even if you’re morally neutral on the subject of abortion, the image of your  daughter crying in her college dorm room as she contemplates the possibility of aborting your grandchild can’t be a pretty one.  And even if you believe abortion is the equivalent of getting a tooth pulled, how could you not worry about the possibility of some psychological fallout.

Then there are the emotional consequences of sexual intimacy.  Studies have linked sexual activity with depression in teenage girls.  We now know about oxytocin, a hormone released in the female brain during sexual activity.  Among other things, it promotes feelings of bonding and trust.  Like it or not, sex comes with emotional strings attached.  Dr. Miriam Grossman is a psychiatrist who worked in the campus counseling center at UCLA.  She recounted the devastating effects of casual sex among her patients in her book, Unprotected.  “Almost daily, I prescribe medication to help students, mostly women, cope with loss and heartbreak.”  Are we willing to live with the prospect of our kids suffering from depression?  Depression that was preventable?

As parents we spend our lives trying to protect our kids.  So here’s a radical thought.  How about urging them to wait till they’re married before having sex?  If we really want what’s best and safest and healthiest for our kids, let’s start a sexual revolution.  Hey, it’s been done before.

Marcia Segelstein has covered family issues for over 20 years
as a producer for CBS News and as a columnist. She has written for “First Things,” “World Magazine,” and “Touchstone.”  She is currently a Senior Editor and columnist for “SALVO” magazine. Her columns can be found at www.salvomag.com.

 

The real truth about sex: What we’re not telling our kids | Fox News.

 

Haunting chalkboard drawings, frozen in time for 100 years, discovered in Oklahoma school – The Washington Post.

 

Teachers and students scribbled the lessons — multiplication tables, pilgrim history, how to be clean —  nearly 100 years ago. And they haven’t been touched since.

 

This week, contractors removing old chalkboards at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City made a startling discovery: Underneath them rested another set of chalkboards, untouched since 1917.

 

“The penmanship blows me away, because you don’t see a lot of that anymore,” Emerson High School Principal Sherry Kishore told the Oklahoman. “Some of the handwriting in some of these rooms is beautiful.”

 

[World War I soldier’s room untouched for almost 100 years]

 

 

The chalkboards being removed to make way for new whiteboards are in four classrooms, according to the Oklahoma City Public School District.

 

A spokeswoman said the district is working with the city to “preserve the ‘chalk’ work of the teachers that has been captured in time.”

 

[WWI graffiti discovered deep underground. ‘All these guys wanted to be remembered.’]

 

A wheel that apparently was used to teach multiplication tables appears on one board. “I have never seen that technique in my life,” Kishore told the Oklahoman.

 

 

The boards carry not just teachers’ work, but also that of students, and every room has a lesson on pilgrims, according to the district.

“Their names are here; I don’t know whether they were students in charge that day that got to do the special chores if they were the ones that had a little extra to do because they were acting up,” Kishore said. “But it’s all kinds of different feelings when you look at this.

 

 

A new report into U.S. consumers’ attitude to the collection of personal data has highlighted the disconnect between commercial claims that web users are happy to trade privacy in exchange for ‘benefits’ like discounts. On the contrary, it asserts that a large majority of web users are not at all happy, but rather feel powerless to stop their data being harvested and used by marketers.

The report authors’ argue it’s this sense of resignation that is resulting in data tradeoffs taking place — rather than consumers performing careful cost-benefit analysis to weigh up the pros and cons of giving up their data (as marketers try to claim). They also found that where consumers were most informed about marketing practices they were also more likely to be resigned to not being able to do anything to prevent their data being harvested.

“Rather than feeling able to make choices, Americans believe it is futile to manage what companies can learn about them. Our study reveals that more than half do not want to lose control over their information but also believe this loss of control has already happened,” the authors write.

Americans believe it is futile to manage what companies can learn about them.

“By misrepresenting the American people and championing the tradeoff argument, marketers give policymakers false justifications for allowing the collection and use of all kinds of consumer data often in ways that the public find objectionable. Moreover, the futility we found, combined with a broad public fear about what companies can do with the data, portends serious difficulties not just for individuals but also — over time — for the institution of consumer commerce.”

“It is not difficult to predict widespread social tensions, and concerns about democratic access to the marketplace, if Americans continue to be resigned to a lack of control over how, when, and what marketers learn about them,” they add.

The report, entitled The Tradeoff Fallacy: How marketers are misrepresenting American consumers and opening them up to exploitation, is authored by three academics from the University of Pennsylvania, and is based on a representative national cell phone and wireline phone survey of more than 1,500 Americans age 18 and older who use the internet or email “at least occasionally”.

Key findings on American consumers include that —

  • 91% disagree (77% of them strongly) that “If companies give me a discount, it is a fair exchange for them to collect information about me without my knowing”
  • 71% disagree (53% of them strongly) that “It’s fair for an online or physical store to monitor what I’m doing online when I’m there, in exchange for letting me use the store’s wireless internet, or Wi-Fi, without charge.”
  • 55% disagree (38% of them strongly) that “It’s okay if a store where I shop uses information it has about me to create a picture of me that improves the services they provide for me.”

The authors go on to note that “only about 4% agree or agree strongly” with all three of the above propositions. And even with a broader definition of “a belief in tradeoffs” they found just a fifth (21%) were comfortably accepting of the idea.  So the survey found very much a minority of consumers are happy with current data tradeoffs.

The report also flags up that large numbers (often a majority) of U.S. consumers are unaware of how their purchase and usage data can be sold on or shared with third parties without their permission or knowledge — in many instances falsely believing they have greater data protection rights than they are in fact afforded by law.

Examples the report notes include —

  • 49% of American adults who use the Internet believe (incorrectly) that by law a supermarket must obtain a person’s permission before selling information about that person’s food purchases to other companies.
  • 69% do not know that a pharmacy does not legally need a person’s permission to sell information about the over-the-counter drugs that person buys.
  • 65% do not know that the statement “When a website has a privacy policy, it means the site will not share my information with other websites and companies without my permission” is false.
  • 55% do not know it is legal for an online store to charge different people different prices at the same time of day.
  • 62% do not know that price-comparison sites like Expedia or Orbitz are not legally required to include the lowest travel prices.

Data-mining in the spotlight

One thing is clear: the great lie about online privacy is unraveling. The obfuscated commercial collection of vast amounts of personal data in exchange for ‘free’ services is gradually being revealed for what it is: a heist of unprecedented scale. Behind the bland, intellectually dishonest facade that claims there’s ‘nothing to see here’ gigantic data-mining apparatus have been manoeuvered into place, atop vast mountains of stolen personal data.

Stolen because it has never been made clear to consumers what is being taken, and how that information is being used. How can you consent to something you don’t know or understand? Informed consent requires transparency and an ability to control what happens. Both of which are systematically undermined by companies whose business models require that vast amounts of personal data be shoveled ceaselessly into their engines.

This is why regulators are increasingly focusing attention on the likes of Google and Facebook. And why companies with different business models, such as hardware maker Apple, are joining the chorus of condemnation. Cloud-based technology companies large and small have exploited and encouraged consumer ignorance, concealing their data-mining algorithms and processes inside proprietary black boxes labeled ‘commercially confidential’. The larger entities spend big on pumping out a steady stream of marketing misdirection — distracting their users with shiny new things, or proffering up hollow reassurances about how they don’t sell your personal data.

Make no mistake: this is equivocation. Google sells access to its surveillance intelligence on who users are via its ad-targeting apparatus — so it doesn’t need to sell actual data. Its intelligence on web users’ habits and routines and likes and dislikes is far more lucrative than handing over the digits of anyone’s phone number. (The company is also moving in the direction of becoming an online marketplace in its own right — by adding a buy button directly to mobile search results. So it’s intending to capture, process and convert more transactions itself — directly choreographing users’ commercial activity.)

These platforms also work to instill a feeling of impotence in users in various subtle ways, burying privacy settings within labyrinthine submenus. And technical information in unreadable terms and conditions. Doing everything they can to fog rather than fess up to the reality of the gigantic tradeoff lurking in the background. Yet slowly, but slowly this sophisticated surveillance apparatus is being dragged into the light.

The privacy costs involved for consumers who pay for ‘free’ services by consenting to invasive surveillance of what they say, where they go, who they know, what they like, what they watch, what they buy, have never been made clear by the companies involved in big data mining. But costs are becoming more apparent, as glimpses of the extent of commercial tracking activities leak out.

And as more questions are asked the discrepancy between the claim that there’s ‘nothing to see here’ vs the reality of sleepless surveillance apparatus peering over your shoulder, logging your pulse rate, reading your messages, noting what you look at, for how long and what you do next — and doing so to optimize the lifting of money out of your wallet — then the true consumer cost of ‘free’ becomes more visible than it has ever been.

The tradeoff lie is unraveling, as the scale and implications of the data heist are starting to be processed. One clear tipping point here is NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden who, two years ago, risked life and liberty to reveal how the U.S. government (and many other governments) were involved in a massive, illegal logging of citizens’ digital communications. The documents he released also showed how commercial technology platforms had been appropriated and drawn into this secretive state surveillance complex. Once governments were implicated, it was only a matter of time before the big Internet platforms, with their mirror data-capturing apparatus, would face questions.

Snowden’s revelations have had various reforming political implications for surveillance in the U.S. and Europe. Tech companies have also been forced to take public stances — either to loudly defend user privacy, or be implicated by silence and inaction.

Another catalyst for increasing privacy concerns is the Internet of Things. A physical network of connected objects blinking and pinging notifications is itself a partial reveal of the extent of the digital surveillance apparatus that has been developed behind commercially closed doors. Modern consumer electronics are hermetically sealed black boxes engineered to conceal complexity. But the complexities of hooking all these ‘smart’ sensornet objects together, and placing so many data-sucking tentacles on display, in increasingly personal places (the home, the body) — starts to make surveillance infrastructure and its implications uncomfortably visible.

Plus this time it’s manifestly personal. It’s in your home and on your person — which adds to a growing feeling of being creeped out and spied upon. And as more and more studies highlight consumer concern about how personal data is being harvested and processed, regulators are also taking notice — and turning up the heat.

One response to growing consumer concerns about personal data came this week with Google launching a centralized dashboard for users to access (some) privacy settings. It’s far from perfect, and contains plentiful misdirection about the company’s motives, but it’s telling that this ad-fueled behemoth feels the need to be more pro-active in its presentation of its attitude and approach to user privacy.

Radical transparency

The Tradeoff report authors include a section at the end with suggestions for improving transparency around marketing processes, calling for “initiatives that will give members of the public the right and ability to learn what companies know about them, how they profile them, and what data lead to what personalized offers” — and for getting consumers “excited about using that right and ability”.

Among their suggestions to boost transparency and corporate openness are —

  • Public interest organizations and government agencies developing clear definitions of transparency that reflect consumer concerns, and then systematically calling out companies regarding how well or badly they are doing based on these values, in order to help consumers ‘vote with their wallets’
  • Activities to “dissect and report on the implications of privacy policies” — perhaps aided by crowdsourced initiatives — so that complex legalize is interpreted and implications explained for a consumer audience, again allowing for good practice to be praised (and vice versa)
  • Advocating for consumers to gain access to the personal profiles companies create on them in order for them to understand how their data is being used

“As long as the algorithms companies implement to analyze and predict the future behaviors of individuals are hidden from public view, the potential for unwanted marketer exploitation of individuals’ data remains high. We therefore ought to consider it an individual’s right to access the profiles and scores companies use to create every personalized message and discount the individual receives,” the report adds.

“Companies will push back that giving out this information will expose trade secrets. We argue there are ways to carry this out while keeping their trade secrets intact.”

They’re not the only ones calling for algorithms to be pulled into view either — back in April the French Senate backed calls for Google to reveal the workings of its search ranking algorithms. In that instance the focus is commercial competition to ensure a level playing field, rather than user privacy per se, but it’s clear that more questions are being asked about the power of proprietary algorithms and the hidden hierarchies they create.

Startups should absolutely see the debunking of the myth that consumers are happy to trade privacy for free services as a fresh opportunity for disruption — to build services that stand out because they aren’t predicated on the assumption that consumers can and should be tricked into handing over data and having their privacy undermined on the sly.

Services that stand upon a futureproofed foundation where operational transparency inculcates user trust — setting these businesses up for bona fide data exchanges, rather than shadowy tradeoffs.

 

The Online Privacy Lie Is Unraveling | TechCrunch.

Canada AM: General anesthesia lowers IQ?

Dr. Andreas Loepke on a study that finds anesthesia may be to blame for lower IQ and language skills in kids who had surgery as a youngster.

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CTVNews.ca Staff

Published Monday, June 8, 2015 12:43PM EDT

General anesthesia may be to blame for lower IQ and language skills in children who underwent

via Anesthesia in children linked to lower IQ scores: study | CTV News.

New McKinney Pool video surfaces: ‘They started it, it was not racial.’

 

 

June 8, 2015 By Christopher Koulouris 0 Comments
New McKinney Pool video

Has the media presented a lopsided presentation of what actually took place at McKinney Pool, Texas on Saturday afternoon?

New damning video evidence has surfaced challenging the notion that Saturday’s McKinney Pool, Texas incident was a racial free for all in which cops, including Corporal Eric Casebolt and the community had purposefully targeted African American teens and other minorities.

Dajerria Becton: Eric Caseblot manhandled me. Was she drinking and smoking weed?

Corporal Eric Casebolt: Was he motivated by institutionalized racism? At the time of the incident, residents at a McKinney subdivision were hosting an end of school party in their private community pool when organizers began noting an influx of attendees who hadn’t been invited or lived in the immediate community.

It has since been revealed many of the attendees had come after an advertisement for the party came to be posted on social media.

Things would eventually come to a head after a number of teens were spotted climbing fences to get in as well as a number of teens drinking booze as well as smoking weed.

It would be when uninvited attendees were asked to leave that havoc would break out after an invited party attendee told black attendees: ‘Go back to ‘Section 8 housing.’

comments-ie. black kids should go back to public housing led to adult women fighting kids pic.twitter.com/5ZNSzZymzs @NewsRevo vid @k1dmars

Reports breitbart: Now, at least one video (below) shows a fight that broke out between a teenage girl and two adults.

Police were called to the scene and attempted to get some of the trespassers to sit down while they investigated. Many of the teens fled and police chased some of them down. This is when the video of the incident with police began. There does not appear to be any video of the initial police contact with the teens.

That said other witnesses would take umbrage with the media coverage, challenging the notion that Saturday’s milieu was rationally motivated.

Posted Benet Embry, a black man on Facebook: ‘Look, I LIVE in this community and this ENTIRE incident is NOT racial at all,’

‘A few THUGS spoiled a COMMUNITY event by fighting, jumping over fences into a PRIVATE pool, harassing and damaging property. Not EVERYTHING is about RACE. WE have other issues that NEED our attention other flights of made up make believe causes.’

Adding: ‘I’ve never seen such irresponsible reporting and miss management of media resources in my life.’

Another McKinney resident, Bryan Gestner, posted on Facebook, since retweeted: ‘This was a Twitter party that turned into a mob event. Jumping pool fence. Assaulting 2 security guards, attacking a mother with three little girls. The video doesn’t show everything.’

He continued saying the kids were drinking and ‘smoking weed’ and they would not listen to any of the adults around the pool.

‘This isn’t about race,’ he continued. ‘This is about outside kids invading our neighborhood and had no respect for authority or the residents here. I have a target on my back now and I have been threatened by these punks that they are gonna shoot up my house when all I did was try to control the mob and actually tended to the girl and the boy that had a bloody lip.’

‘Yall don’t know the whole story,’ Gestner continued.

‘I commend the officer for handling this situation.’

Several people have since taken to writing on the McKinney Police Facebook page the youths antagonized police and that they should have obeyed when officers told them to stay put and keep quiet.

Responding to the incident, McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller said via fox4 he expected police to act professionally and with proper restraint.

‘Having seen the YouTube video, I am disturbed and concerned by the incident and actions depicted in the video.’

Calls to now have Corporal Eric Casebolt fired has since gained momentum on social media.

Read more: http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2015/06/new-mckinney-pool-video-they-started-it-it-was-not-racial/#ixzz3cUh9vJLC

New McKinney Pool video surfaces: ‘They started it, it was not racial.’.

I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me

by Edward Schlosser on June 3, 2015

I’m a professor at a midsize state school. I have been teaching college classes for nine years now. I have won (minor) teaching awards, studied pedagogy extensively, and almost always score highly on my student evaluations. I am not a world-class teacher by any means, but I am conscientious; I attempt to put teaching ahead of research, and I take a healthy emotional stake in the well-being and growth of my students.

Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones.

Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general. The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that’s simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher’s formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best.
What it was like before

In early 2009, I was an adjunct, teaching a freshman-level writing course at a community college. Discussing infographics and data visualization, we watched a flash animation describing how Wall Street’s recklessness had destroyed the economy.
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I was a liberal adjunct professor. My liberal students didn’t scare me at all.

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The video stopped, and I asked whether the students thought it was effective. An older student raised his hand.

“What about Fannie and Freddie?” he asked. “Government kept giving homes to black people, to help out black people, white people didn’t get anything, and then they couldn’t pay for them. What about that?”

I gave a quick response about how most experts would disagree with that assumption, that it was actually an oversimplification, and pretty dishonest, and isn’t it good that someone made the video we just watched to try to clear things up? And, hey, let’s talk about whether that was effective, okay? If you don’t think it was, how could it have been?

The rest of the discussion went on as usual.

The next week, I got called into my director’s office. I was shown an email, sender name redacted, alleging that I “possessed communistical [sic] sympathies and refused to tell more than one side of the story.” The story in question wasn’t described, but I suspect it had do to with whether or not the economic collapse was caused by poor black people.

My director rolled her eyes. She knew the complaint was silly bullshit. I wrote up a short description of the past week’s class work, noting that we had looked at several examples of effective writing in various media and that I always made a good faith effort to include conservative narratives along with the liberal ones.

Along with a carbon-copy form, my description was placed into a file that may or may not have existed. Then … nothing. It disappeared forever; no one cared about it beyond their contractual duties to document student concerns. I never heard another word of it again.

That was the first, and so far only, formal complaint a student has ever filed against me.
Now boat-rocking isn’t just dangerous — it’s suicidal

This isn’t an accident: I have intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted. (I also make sure all my remotely offensive or challenging opinions, such as this article, are expressed either anonymously or pseudonymously). Most of my colleagues who still have jobs have done the same. We’ve seen bad things happen to too many good teachers — adjuncts getting axed because their evaluations dipped below a 3.0, grad students being removed from classes after a single student complaint, and so on.

I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to “offensive” texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students’ ire and sealed his fate. That was enough to get me to comb through my syllabi and cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad, texts ranging from Upton Sinclair to Maureen Tkacik — and I wasn’t the only one who made adjustments, either.

I am frightened sometimes by the thought that a student would complain again like he did in 2009. Only this time it would be a student accusing me not of saying something too ideologically extreme — be it communism or racism or whatever — but of not being sensitive enough toward his feelings, of some simple act of indelicacy that’s considered tantamount to physical assault. As Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis writes, “Emotional discomfort is [now] regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated.” Hurting a student’s feelings, even in the course of instruction that is absolutely appropriate and respectful, can now get a teacher into serious trouble.

(Shawn Rossi)

In 2009, the subject of my student’s complaint was my supposed ideology. I was communistical, the student felt, and everyone knows that communisticism is wrong. That was, at best, a debatable assertion. And as I was allowed to rebut it, the complaint was dismissed with prejudice. I didn’t hesitate to reuse that same video in later semesters, and the student’s complaint had no impact on my performance evaluations.

In 2015, such a complaint would not be delivered in such a fashion. Instead of focusing on the rightness or wrongness (or even acceptability) of the materials we reviewed in class, the complaint would center solely on how my teaching affected the student’s emotional state. As I cannot speak to the emotions of my students, I could not mount a defense about the acceptability of my instruction. And if I responded in any way other than apologizing and changing the materials we reviewed in class, professional consequences would likely follow.

I wrote about this fear on my blog, and while the response was mostly positive, some liberals called me paranoid, or expressed doubt about why any teacher would nix the particular texts I listed. I guarantee you that these people do not work in higher education, or if they do they are at least two decades removed from the job search. The academic job market is brutal. Teachers who are not tenured or tenure-track faculty members have no right to due process before being dismissed, and there’s a mile-long line of applicants eager to take their place. And as writer and academic Freddie DeBoer writes, they don’t even have to be formally fired — they can just not get rehired. In this type of environment, boat-rocking isn’t just dangerous, it’s suicidal, and so teachers limit their lessons to things they know won’t upset anybody.
The real problem: a simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice

This shift in student-teacher dynamic placed many of the traditional goals of higher education — such as having students challenge their beliefs — off limits. While I used to pride myself on getting students to question themselves and engage with difficult concepts and texts, I now hesitate. What if this hurts my evaluations and I don’t get tenure? How many complaints will it take before chairs and administrators begin to worry that I’m not giving our customers — er, students, pardon me — the positive experience they’re paying for? Ten? Half a dozen? Two or three?

This phenomenon has been widely discussed as of late, mostly as a means of deriding political, economic, or cultural forces writers don’t much care for. Commentators on the left and right have recently criticized the sensitivity and paranoia of today’s college students. They worry about the stifling of free speech, the implementation of unenforceable conduct codes, and a general hostility against opinions and viewpoints that could cause students so much as a hint of discomfort.
It’s not just that students refuse to countenance uncomfortable ideas — they refuse to engage them, period.
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I agree with some of these analyses more than others, but they all tend to be too simplistic. The current student-teacher dynamic has been shaped by a large confluence of factors, and perhaps the most important of these is the manner in which cultural studies and social justice writers have comported themselves in popular media. I have a great deal of respect for both of these fields, but their manifestations online, their desire to democratize complex fields of study by making them as digestible as a TGIF sitcom, has led to adoption of a totalizing, simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice. The simplicity and absolutism of this conception has combined with the precarity of academic jobs to create higher ed’s current climate of fear, a heavily policed discourse of semantic sensitivity in which safety and comfort have become the ends and the means of the college experience.

This new understanding of social justice politics resembles what University of Pennsylvania political science professor Adolph Reed Jr. calls a politics of personal testimony, in which the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed. Reed derides this sort of political approach as essentially being a non-politics, a discourse that “is focused much more on taxonomy than politics [which] emphasizes the names by which we should call some strains of inequality [ … ] over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them.” Under such a conception, people become more concerned with signaling goodness, usually through semantics and empty gestures, than with actually working to effect change.

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Herein lies the folly of oversimplified identity politics: while identity concerns obviously warrant analysis, focusing on them too exclusively draws our attention so far inward that none of our analyses can lead to action. Rebecca Reilly Cooper, a political philosopher at the University of Warwick, worries about the effectiveness of a politics in which “particular experiences can never legitimately speak for any one other than ourselves, and personal narrative and testimony are elevated to such a degree that there can be no objective standpoint from which to examine their veracity.” Personal experience and feelings aren’t just a salient touchstone of contemporary identity politics; they are the entirety of these politics. In such an environment, it’s no wonder that students are so prone to elevate minor slights to protestable offenses.

(It’s also why seemingly piddling matters of cultural consumption warrant much more emotional outrage than concerns with larger material implications. Compare the number of web articles surrounding the supposed problematic aspects of the newest Avengers movie with those complaining about, say, the piecemeal dismantling of abortion rights. The former outnumber the latter considerably, and their rhetoric is typically much more impassioned and inflated. I’d discuss this in my classes — if I weren’t too scared to talk about abortion.)

The press for actionability, or even for comprehensive analyses that go beyond personal testimony, is hereby considered redundant, since all we need to do to fix the world’s problems is adjust the feelings attached to them and open up the floor for various identity groups to have their say. All the old, enlightened means of discussion and analysis —from due process to scientific method — are dismissed as being blind to emotional concerns and therefore unfairly skewed toward the interest of straight white males. All that matters is that people are allowed to speak, that their narratives are accepted without question, and that the bad feelings go away.

So it’s not just that students refuse to countenance uncomfortable ideas — they refuse to engage them, period. Engagement is considered unnecessary, as the immediate, emotional reactions of students contain all the analysis and judgment that sensitive issues demand. As Judith Shulevitz wrote in the New York Times, these refusals can shut down discussion in genuinely contentious areas, such as when Oxford canceled an abortion debate. More often, they affect surprisingly minor matters, as when Hampshire College disinvited an Afrobeat band because their lineup had too many white people in it.
When feelings become more important than issues

At the very least, there’s debate to be had in these areas. Ideally, pro-choice students would be comfortable enough in the strength of their arguments to subject them to discussion, and a conversation about a band’s supposed cultural appropriation could take place alongside a performance. But these cancellations and disinvitations are framed in terms of feelings, not issues. The abortion debate was canceled because it would have imperiled the “welfare and safety of our students.” The Afrofunk band’s presence would not have been “safe and healthy.” No one can rebut feelings, and so the only thing left to do is shut down the things that cause distress — no argument, no discussion, just hit the mute button and pretend eliminating discomfort is the same as effecting actual change.

In a New York Magazine piece, Jonathan Chait described the chilling effect this type of discourse has upon classrooms. Chait’s piece generated seismic backlash, and while I disagree with much of his diagnosis, I have to admit he does a decent job of describing the symptoms. He cites an anonymous professor who says that “she and her fellow faculty members are terrified of facing accusations of triggering trauma.” Internet liberals pooh-poohed this comment, likening the professor to one of Tom Friedman’s imaginary cab drivers. But I’ve seen what’s being described here. I’ve lived it. It’s real, and it affects liberal, socially conscious teachers much more than conservative ones.

Oxford University, where a debate on abortion was canceled last year. (Sura Ark/Getty Images)

If we wish to remove this fear, and to adopt a politics that can lead to more substantial change, we need to adjust our discourse. Ideally, we can have a conversation that is conscious of the role of identity issues and confident of the ideas that emanate from the people who embody those identities. It would call out and criticize unfair, arbitrary, or otherwise stifling discursive boundaries, but avoid falling into pettiness or nihilism. It wouldn’t be moderate, necessarily, but it would be deliberate. It would require effort.

In the start of his piece, Chait hypothetically asks if “the offensiveness of an idea [can] be determined objectively, or only by recourse to the identity of the person taking offense.” Here, he’s getting at the concerns addressed by Reed and Reilly-Cooper, the worry that we’ve turned our analysis so completely inward that our judgment of a person’s speech hinges more upon their identity signifiers than on their ideas.

A sensible response to Chait’s question would be that this is a false binary, and that ideas can and should be judged both by the strength of their logic and by the cultural weight afforded to their speaker’s identity. Chait appears to believe only the former, and that’s kind of ridiculous. Of course someone’s social standing affects whether their ideas are considered offensive, or righteous, or even worth listening to. How can you think otherwise?
We destroy ourselves when identity becomes our sole focus

Feminists and anti-racists recognize that identity does matter. This is indisputable. If we subscribe to the belief that ideas can be judged within a vacuum, uninfluenced by the social weight of their proponents, we perpetuate a system in which arbitrary markers like race and gender influence the perceived correctness of ideas. We can’t overcome prejudice by pretending it doesn’t exist. Focusing on identity allows us to interrogate the process through which white males have their opinions taken at face value, while women, people of color, and non-normatively gendered people struggle to have their voices heard.

But we also destroy ourselves when identity becomes our sole focus. Consider a tweet I linked to (which has since been removed. See editor’s note below.), from a critic and artist, in which she writes: “When ppl go off on evo psych, its always some shady colonizer white man theory that ignores nonwhite human history. but ‘science’. Ok … Most ‘scientific thought’ as u know it isnt that scientific but shaped by white patriarchal bias of ppl who claimed authority on it.”

This critic is intelligent. Her voice is important. She realizes, correctly, that evolutionary psychology is flawed, and that science has often been misused to legitimize racist and sexist beliefs. But why draw that out to questioning most “scientific thought”? Can’t we see how distancing that is to people who don’t already agree with us? And tactically, can’t we see how shortsighted it is to be skeptical of a respected manner of inquiry just because it’s associated with white males?

This sort of perspective is not confined to Twitter and the comments sections of liberal blogs. It was born in the more nihilistic corners of academic theory, and its manifestations on social media have severe real-world implications. In another instance, two female professors of library science publicly outed and shamed a male colleague they accused of being creepy at conferences, going so far as to openly celebrate the prospect of ruining his career. I don’t doubt that some men are creepy at conferences — they are. And for all I know, this guy might be an A-level creep. But part of the female professors’ shtick was the strong insistence that harassment victims should never be asked for proof, that an enunciation of an accusation is all it should ever take to secure a guilty verdict. The identity of the victims overrides the identity of the harasser, and that’s all the proof they need.

This is terrifying. No one will ever accept that. And if that becomes a salient part of liberal politics, liberals are going to suffer tremendous electoral defeat.

Debate and discussion would ideally temper this identity-based discourse, make it more usable and less scary to outsiders. Teachers and academics are the best candidates to foster this discussion, but most of us are too scared and economically disempowered to say anything. Right now, there’s nothing much to do other than sit on our hands and wait for the ascension of conservative political backlash — hop into the echo chamber, pile invective upon the next person or company who says something vaguely insensitive, insulate ourselves further and further from any concerns that might resonate outside of our own little corner of Twitter.

Update: After a discussion with a woman whose tweet was quoted in the story, the editors of this piece agreed that some of the conclusions drawn in the article misrepresented her tweet and the article was revised. The woman requested anonymity because she said she was receiving death threats as a result of the story, so her name has been removed. Unfortunately, threats are a horrible reality for many women online and a topic we intend to report on further.

I'm a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me – Vox.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The employees who kept the data systems humming in the vast Walt Disney fantasy fief did not suspect trouble when they were suddenly summoned to meetings with their boss.

While families rode the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and searched for Nemo on clamobiles in the theme parks, these workers monitored computers in industrial buildings nearby, making sure millions of Walt Disney World ticket sales, store purchases and hotel reservations went through without a hitch. Some were performing so well that they thought they had been called in for bonuses.

Instead, about 250 Disney employees were told in late October that they would be laid off. Many of their jobs were transferred to immigrants on temporary visas for highly skilled technical workers, who were brought in by an outsourcing firm based in India. Over the next three months, some Disney employees were required to train their replacements to do the jobs they had lost.

“I just couldn’t believe they could fly people in to sit at our desks and take over our jobs exactly,” said one former worker, an American in his 40s who remains unemployed since his last day at Disney on Jan. 30. “It was so humiliating to train somebody else to take over your job. I still can’t grasp it.”

Disney executives said that the layoffs were part of a reorganization, and that the company opened more positions than it eliminated.

But the layoffs at Disney and at other companies, including the Southern California Edison power utility, are raising new questions about how businesses and outsourcing companies are using the temporary visas, known as H-1B, to place immigrants in technology jobs in the United States. These visas are at the center of a fierce debate in Congress over whether they complement American workers or displace them.

According to federal guidelines, the visas are intended for foreigners with advanced science or computer skills to fill discrete positions when American workers with those skills cannot be found. Their use, the guidelines say, should not “adversely affect the wages and working conditions” of Americans. Because of legal loopholes, however, in practice, companies do not have to recruit American workers first or guarantee that Americans will not be displaced.

Too often, critics say, the visas are being used to bring in immigrants to do the work of Americans for less money, with laid-off American workers having to train their replacements.

“The program has created a highly lucrative business model of bringing in cheaper H-1B workers to substitute for Americans,” said Ronil Hira, a professor of public policy at Howard University who studies visa programs and has testified before Congress about H-1B visas.

A limited number of the visas, 85,000, are granted each year, and they are in high demand. Technology giants like Microsoft, Facebook and Google repeatedly press for increases in the annual quotas, saying there are not enough Americans with the skills they need.

Many American companies use H-1B visas to bring in small numbers of foreigners for openings demanding specialized skills, according to official reports. But for years, most top recipients of the visas have been outsourcing or consulting firms based in India, or their American subsidiaries, which import workers for large contracts to take over entire in-house technology units — and to cut costs. The immigrants are employees of the outsourcing companies.

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In 2013, those firms — including Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services and HCL America, the company hired by Disney — were six of the top 10 companies granted H-1Bs, with each one receiving more than 1,000 visas.

H-1B immigrants work for less than American tech workers, Professor Hira said at a hearing in March of the Senate Judiciary Committee, because of weaknesses in wage regulations. The savings have been 25 percent to 49 percent in recent cases, he told lawmakers.

In a letter in April to top federal authorities in charge of immigration, a bipartisan group of senators called for an investigation of recent “H-1B-driven layoffs,” saying, “Their frequency seems to have increased dramatically in the past year alone.”

Last year, Southern California Edison began 540 technology layoffs while hiring two Indian outsourcing firms for much of the work. Three Americans who had lost jobs told Senate lawmakers that many of those being laid off had to teach immigrants to perform their functions.

In a statement, the utility said the layoffs were “a difficult business decision,” part of a plan “to focus on making significant, strategic changes that can benefit our customers.” It noted that some workers hired by the outsourcing firms were Americans.

Fossil, a fashion watchmaker, said it would lay off more than 100 technology employees in Texas this year, transferring the work to Infosys. The company is planning “knowledge sharing” between the laid-off employees and about 25 new Infosys workers, including immigrants, who will take jobs in Dallas. Fossil is outsourcing tech services “to be more current and nimble” and “reduce costs when possible,” it said in a statement.

Among 350 tech workers laid off in 2013 after a merger at Northeast Utilities, an East Coast power company, many had trained H-1B immigrants to do their jobs, several of those workers reported confidentially to lawmakers. They said that as part of their severance packages, they had to sign agreements not to criticize the company publicly.

In Orlando, Disney executives said the reorganization resulting in the layoffs was meant to allow technology operations to focus on producing more innovations. They said that over all, the company had a net gain of 70 tech jobs.

“Disney has created almost 30,000 new jobs in the U.S. over the past decade,” said Kim Prunty, a Disney spokeswoman, adding that the company expected its contractors to comply with all immigration laws.

The tech workers laid off were a tiny fraction of Disney’s “cast members,” as the entertainment conglomerate calls its theme park workers, who number 74,000 in the Orlando area. Employees who lost jobs were allowed a three-month transition with résumé coaching to help them seek other positions in the company, Disney executives said. Of those laid off, 120 took new jobs at Disney, and about 40 retired or left the company before the end of the transition period, while about 90 did not find new Disney jobs, executives said.
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Excerpts from a contract that technology employees laid off by Disney had to sign.

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Living in a company town, former Disney workers were reluctant to be identified, saying they feared they could jeopardize their chances of finding new jobs with the few other local tech employers. Several workers agreed to interviews, but only on the condition of anonymity.
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Recent Comments
Dr. LZC 3 days ago

Can’t Disney be sued and made to prove at a public hearing why these workers needed to be trained by the people whose jobs they took if…
Walter Nicklin 3 days ago

The abuse of the Visa program is not confined to big companies like Disney. Even traditional summer jobs like lifeguarding are increasingly…
Scott 3 days ago

Disturbing and Disheartening on so many levels and it keeps happening to so many good people I know who work in IT. Yet so many keep voting…

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They said only a handful of those laid off were moved directly by Disney to other company jobs. The rest were left to compete for positions through Disney job websites. Despite the company’s figures, few people they knew had been hired, they said, and then often at a lower pay level. No one was offered retraining, they said. One former worker, a 57-year-old man with more than 10 years at Disney, displayed a list of 18 jobs in the company he had applied for. He had not had more than an initial conversation on any one, he said.

Disney “made the difficult decision to eliminate certain positions, including yours,” as a result of “the transition of your work to a managed service provider,” said a contract presented to employees on the day the layoffs were announced. It offered a “stay bonus” of 10 percent of severance pay if they remained for 90 days. But the bonus was contingent on “the continued satisfactory performance of your job duties.” For many, that involved training a replacement. Young immigrants from India took the seats at their computer stations.

“The first 30 days was all capturing what I did,” said the American in his 40s, who worked 10 years at Disney. “The next 30 days, they worked side by side with me, and the last 30 days, they took over my job completely.” To receive his severance bonus, he said, “I had to make sure they were doing my job correctly.”

In late November, this former employee received his annual performance review, which he provided to The New York Times. His supervisor, who was not aware the man was scheduled for layoff, wrote that because of his superior skills and “outstanding” work, he had saved the company thousands of dollars. The supervisor added that he was looking forward to another highly productive year of having the employee on the team.

The employee got a raise. His severance pay had to be recalculated to include it.

The former Disney employee who is 57 worked in project management and software development. His résumé lists a top-level skill certification and command of seven operating systems, 15 program languages and more than two dozen other applications and media.

“I was forced into early retirement,” he said. The timing was “horrible,” he said, because his wife recently had a medical emergency with expensive bills. Shut out of Disney, he is looking for a new job elsewhere.

Former employees said many immigrants who arrived were younger technicians with limited data skills who did not speak English fluently and had to be instructed in the basics of the work.

HCL America, a branch of a global company based in Noida, India, won a contract with Disney in 2012. In a statement, the company said details of the agreement were confidential. “As a company, we work very closely with the U.S. Department of Labor and strictly adhere to all visa guidelines and requirements to be complied with,” it said.

The chairman of the Walt Disney Company, Robert A. Iger, is a co-chairman with Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, and Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of News Corporation, in the Partnership for a New American Economy, which pushes for an overhaul of immigration laws, including an increase in H-1B visas.

But Disney directly employs fewer than 10 H-1B workers, executives said, and has not been prominent in visa lobbying. Mr. Iger supports the partnership’s broader goals, including increased border security and a pathway to legal status for immigrants here illegally, officials of the organization said.

A version of this article appears in print on June 4, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Pink Slips at Disney. But First, Training Foreign Replacements. .

Pink Slips at Disney. But First, Training Foreign Replacements. – NYTimes.com.

You can’t build a strong professional network if you don’t open up to your colleagues; but doing so is tricky, because revealing the wrong things can have a devastating effect on your career.

Sharing the right aspects of yourself in the right ways is an art form. Disclosures that feel like relationship builders in the moment can wind up as obvious no-nos with hindsight.

The trick is to catch yourself before you cross that line, because once you share something, there is no going back.

TalentSmart has tested more than a million people and found that the upper echelons of top performance are filled with people who are high in emotional intelligence (90% of top performers, to be exact). Emotionally intelligent people are adept at reading others, and this shows them what they should and shouldn’t reveal about themselves at work.

Related: How Successful People Work Less and Get More Done

The following list contains the 12 most common things people reveal that send their careers careening in the wrong direction.
1. That They Hate Their Job

The last thing anyone wants to hear at work is someone complaining about how much they hate their job. Doing so labels you as a negative person, who is not a team player. This brings down the morale of the group. Bosses are quick to catch on to naysayers who drag down morale, and they know that there are always enthusiastic replacements waiting just around the corner.
2. That They Think Someone Is Incompetent

There will always be incompetent people in any workplace, and chances are that everyone knows who they are. If you don’t have the power to help them improve or to fire them, then you have nothing to gain by broadcasting their ineptitude. Announcing your colleague’s incompetence comes across as an insecure attempt to make you look better. Your callousness will inevitably come back to haunt you in the form of your coworkers’ negative opinions of you.
3. How Much Money They Make

Your parents may love to hear all about how much you’re pulling in each month, but in the workplace, this only breeds negativity. It’s impossible to allocate salaries with perfect fairness, and revealing yours gives your coworkers a direct measure of comparison. As soon as everyone knows how much you make, everything you do at work is considered against your income. It’s tempting to swap salary figures with a buddy out of curiosity, but the moment you do, you’ll never see each other the same way again.
4. Their Political and Religious Beliefs

People’s political and religious beliefs are too closely tied to their identities to be discussed without incident at work. Disagreeing with someone else’s views can quickly alter their otherwise strong perception of you. Confronting someone’s core values is one of the most insulting things you can do.

Granted, different people treat politics and religion differently, but asserting your values can alienate some people as quickly as it intrigues others. Even bringing up a hot-button world event without asserting a strong opinion can lead to conflict.

People build their lives around their ideals and beliefs, and giving them your two cents is risky. Be willing to listen to others without inputting anything on your end because all it takes is a disapproving look to start a conflict. Political opinions and religious beliefs are so deeply ingrained in people, that challenging their views is more likely to get you judged than to change their mind.
5. What They Do on Facebook

The last thing your boss wants to see when she logs on to her Facebook account is photos of you taking tequila shots in Tijuana. There are just too many ways you can look inappropriate on Facebook and leave a bad impression. It could be what you’re wearing, who you’re with, what you’re doing, or even your friends’ commentary. These are the little things that can cast a shadow of doubt in your boss’s or colleagues’ minds just when they are about to hand you a big assignment or recommend you for a promotion.

It’s too difficult to try to censure yourself on Facebook for your colleagues. Save yourself the trouble, and don’t friend them there. Let LinkedIn be your professional “social” network, and save Facebook for everybody else.

Related: 10 Truths We Forget Too Easily
6. What They Do in the Bedroom

Whether your sex life is out of this world or lacking entirely, this information has no place at work. Such comments might get a chuckle from some people, but it makes most uncomfortable, and even offended. Crossing this line will instantly give you a bad reputation.
7. What They Think Someone Else Does in the Bedroom

A good 111% of the people you work with do not want to know that you bet they’re tigers in the sack. There’s no more surefire way to creep someone out than to let them know that thoughts of their love life have entered your brain. Anything from speculating on a colleague’s sexual orientation to making a relatively indirect comment like, “Oh, to be a newlywed again,” plants a permanent seed in the brains of all who hear it that casts you in a negative light.

Your thoughts are your own. Think whatever you feel is right about people; just keep it to yourself.
8. That They’re After Somebody Else’s Job

Announcing your ambitions at work when they are in direct conflict with other people’s interests comes across as selfish and indifferent to those you work with and the company as a whole. Great employees want the whole team to succeed, not just themselves. Regardless of your actual motives (some of us really do just work for the money), announcing your selfish goal will not help you get there.
9. How Wild They Used To Be in College

Your past can say a lot about you. Just because you did something outlandish or stupid 20 years ago doesn’t mean that people will believe you’ve developed impeccable judgment since then. Some behavior that might qualify as just another day in the typical fraternity (binge drinking, minor theft, drunk driving, abusing people or farm animals, and so on) shows everyone you work with that, when push comes to shove, you have poor judgment and don’t know where to draw the line. Many presidents have been elected in spite of their past indiscretions, but unless you have a team of handlers and PR types protecting and spinning your image, you should keep your unsavory past to yourself.
10. How Intoxicated They Like to Get

You might think talking about how inebriated you were over the weekend has no effect on how you’re viewed at work. After all, if you’re a good worker, then you’re a good worker, right? Unfortunately not. Sharing this will not get people to think you’re fun. Instead, they will see you as unpredictable, immature, and lacking in good judgment. Too many people have negative views of drugs and alcohol for you to reveal how much you love to indulge in them.
11. An Offensive Joke

If there’s one thing we can learn from celebrities, it’s to be careful about what you say and whom you say it to. Offensive jokes make other people feel terrible, and they make you look terrible. They also happen to be much less funny than clever jokes.

A joke crosses the line anytime you try to gauge its appropriateness based on how close you are with someone. If there is anyone who would be offended by your joke, you are better off not telling it. You never know whom people know or what experiences they’ve had in life that can lead your joke to tread on subjects that they take very seriously.
12. That They Are Job Hunting

When I was a kid, I told my baseball coach I was quitting in two weeks. For the next two weeks, I found myself riding the bench. It got even worse after those two weeks when I decided to stay, and I became “the kid who doesn’t even want to be here.” I was crushed, but it was my own fault; I told him my decision before it was certain.

The same thing happens when you tell people that you’re job hunting. Once you reveal that you’re planning to leave, you suddenly become a waste of everyone’s time. There’s also the chance that your hunt will be unsuccessful, so it’s best to wait until you’ve found a job before you tell anyone. Otherwise, you will end up riding the bench.

A version of this article first appeared on TalentSmart.com.

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