Associate Professor of English, University of Michigan-Flint. I research and teach rhetoric and writing.
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Surveillance in our schools, through commercial apps

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ClassDojo is one of the most popular education apps in the world. Its company estimates it is used by millions of teachers and children across 180 countries. Beneath its friendly exterior lie disturbing implications.
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betajames
24 minutes ago
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Michigan
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The Basis of Politics is Death

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History is the career of a frightened animal who has to deaden himself against life in order to live.

Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil

There are only two possible responses to the inevitability of death: terror, and acceptance. Human activity, including politics, is rooted in this dichotomy.* Understood from the perspective, Death: Terror vs. acceptance of, the news of the world is far easier to grasp.

All human beings are going to die, even the ultrarich, who are getting themselves all plumped up with longevity treatments and squirrelling away property in New Zealand, which consequently promises to be a real hellhole, should the apocalypse come anytime soon. Now that the rich are no longer required to pay taxes, death has become the sole universal human predicament.

Given the total inevitability part, every human being faces only two options:

(a) To resent, fear and attempt to deny the looming end, resulting in deep anxiety followed by a resolve to grab and consume as much and as fast as possible before it comes;

or

(b) To leave the mystery where it is, and consider the billions who came before, and all who will come after, as a spur to leave the world and everything in it in a better condition than the one in which it was found.

It almost goes without saying that the latter position is superior, because the former is doomed. Fight it as frantically as you like—sooner or later a state of acceptance is coming for you. This sounds depressing but in fact it is a point of departure and presents possibilities of hope and productivity and fulfillment that are closed off to the fearful death-deniers.

Death-terror causes people to seize everything they can, as quickly as they can. They’re not going to be there to see the wreckage anyway, so it doesn’t matter how much of a mess they make. That greed is linked to a flight response, a complex sublimation of fear into animal nature: it’s a flight from terror into blinding, blurring sensuality, whether through food, sex, drinking, drugs, the acquisition of power over others, fine threads, massages and mud facials, whatever will drown the panic out in ever-more intense, more exquisite sensations.

Becker says that placing yourself above other people is a way of convincing yourself that you are immortal, that death is literally not coming; there is a psychological moment to that theory that is undeniably compelling, especially with respect to politics, plus his arguments are supremely elegant and sound. But to my mind fear degrades the mind so deeply that even the “immortality project” is commonly kind of sludged out of the way in favor of blindly stuffing your terrified face one way or another, as the current inhabitant of the White House appears to demonstrate every day.

There’s a lot of fiction about voluptuaries, power, fear and sin, from The Picture of Dorian Gray to Vathek to I don’t know, The Sopranos and Game of Thrones. Mortal fear is temporarily alleviated or at least occluded, tamped down by an intense focus on consumption, whether of things or of people. The trouble being that once the consumption is over the terror comes back, owing to the inevitability thing, which is why the very richest and most powerful never have enough and seem the most panicked of all, it is because they are, they are terrified, and their runway of More and More is running out fast.

Extrapolate personal terror and greed into politics and business, and you can see very easily why unchecked power tends irrevocably to corruption and abuse. Few systems are equipped to resist the bedrock human motivation of naked, terrified greed—perhaps because death-terror goes unnamed as the root of it.

If one lives according to “social Darwinist” principles like those of Ayn Rand or modern Republicanism, the goal is for each being to suck up as much pleasure and things and money and feeling as possible before death (and anyone who is sufficiently panicked will believe this). It then follows that the sole meaningful use of power is to grab; it doesn’t matter from where, from whom or at what cost. There will never be enough because the fear goes all the way down and there is no reasoning with it.

Fear-motivated leaders are obsessed with being perceived as strong exactly because they are pissing themselves with fear every second. Their people are slaves who are not allowed to travel freely. Walls, travel bans, restrictions on freedom to marry or reproduce, all are a testament to the fear slicing away at the hearts of those in power. At bottom, what they fear most springs from one central source: it’s not so much that they’re afraid to be poor, or afraid of obscurity, or of aging or irrelevance as that they’re afraid to die.

Too bad for them! They’re going to anyway.

It’s no accident that one of the world’s scaredest men, Jeff Bezos, calls his inamorata “alive girl.”

The scareder they are, the more harm such people try to inflict. The limit being that if they have the power to remove life from others and yet are still alive themselves, then that sublimates their own fear in the baldest way: this one is dead, and I am not. But it may get to where just one or two or five or ten or a hundred deaths isn’t enough. An unchecked tyrant will kill millions if he can, just to slake his own fear for a while.

Whatever! They are still gonna die.

Politicians and monopolists and business titans who are intent on taking for themselves are very easily identified. Most of them do it in broad daylight and make all kinds of excuses about how really they are the good guy. They are not.

Death panic inevitably produces a corrupt and regressive politics, and the philosophical attitude produces tolerant and healthy politics. But we’re suffering globally from a wave of death panic, with walls and shutdowns and racism and rising authoritarianism, all exacerbated by the fear of climate change, droughts, famine, rising seas. This is no accident, it’s the fear of things running out. And maybe they will! But we don’t have to panic or hurt each other; death is inevitable, but fear isn’t.

Renouncing one’s own greed, understanding oneself as one small participant in the infinitely long conga line of history, is reassuring, as is the idea that you can contribute to the well-being of those who will survive you. In fact it’s the only real (by which I mean, lasting) balm for the fear that is the inevitable companion of life.


A rough test of whether a government is inclined to take or give is its citizens’ freedoms of movement and of speech. Sick, fearful societies restrict movement, spy on their citizens and oppress their journalists; the more people are allowed to live, speak and travel unimpeded, as they wish, the healthier the society.

This is all that matters, and only politicians who center their efforts on the well-being of ordinary people, and who have a proven record of this concern, should be considered for any high office. This isn’t a matter of personality or of individualism but of demonstrated actions; not personal character or probity but mere fidelity to the truth that anyone can demonstrate, or not.


Hannes Grasseger’s recent piece in BuzzFeed regarding the late Arthur Finkelstein, one of the weirdest villains the United States has yet produced, delineates this theory in very exact and simple terms.

Though I must say I find the headline here misleading in the extreme. The terrible and fascinating thing about Arthur Finkelstein (American, Jewish, gay, grandfather shot by Nazis, close associate of Ayn Rand, an idiot and, also, evil incarnate) is that he is directly responsible for, and was paid to achieve, the elections of the following cast of death-cult fiends, among others: Nixon, Reagan, Netanyahu, Orbán, Trump.

Finkelstein’s goal was to polarize the electorate as much as possible, to pitch each side against the other. The fuel: fear. “The danger has to be presented as coming from the Left,” a 25-year-old Finkelstein advised Nixon.

Whoever doesn’t attack first will be beaten, he argued. And Finkelstein made things personal. Every campaign needs an enemy to defeat. He developed negative campaigning into a technique he called “rejectionist voting” — to demonize the enemy so much that even the laziest of voters would want to get out and vote, just to reject them.

Good going, Finkelstein, stoke the fear, turn people into unreasoning grabbing animals! Steal from them their dignity, intelligence and courage—their freedom! Great idea. Hey, someone is coming to take yours!! You have to grab it from them first! You have to attack first or you die, well guess what, you are going to die anyway, attacking will not help, so maybe figure out a less panicky view of the world so you can live, instead, for the time we have. And we can, we can do this.

*This is an insanely curt response to Ernest Becker, the greatest sociologist ever (with the possible exception of the Fields sisters), so please read Denial of Death and Escape from Evil for the full scoop.


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betajames
25 minutes ago
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Concern About Global Warming Among Americans Spikes, Report Says

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A home burns during the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., in November 2018. It was one of several fires often discussed in terms of the changing climate. A new survey shows a jump in the number of Americans who are "very worried" about global warming.

The proportion of those polled who say global warming is "personally important" to them jumped from 63 to 72 percent last year.

(Image credit: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

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betajames
27 minutes ago
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How male privilege produces such hapless men

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The internet abounds with tales of male incompetence. What’s up with all these morons?
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betajames
19 hours ago
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Michigan
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The Most Dangerous Climate Feedback Loop is Speeding Up

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Permafrost

Thawing permafrost is an especially dangerous amplifying feedback loop because the global permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does today .

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betajames
1 day ago
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President Trump made 8,158 false or misleading claims in his first two years - The Washington Post

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Two years after taking the oath of office, President Trump has made 8,158 false or misleading claims, according to The Fact Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president.

That includes an astonishing 6,000-plus such claims in the president’s second year.

Put another way: The president averaged nearly 5.9 false or misleading claims a day in his first year in office. But he hit nearly 16.5 a day in his second year, almost triple the pace.

We started this project as part of our coverage of the president’s first 100 days, largely because we could not possibly keep up with the pace and volume of the president’s misstatements. Readers demanded we keep it going for the rest of Trump’s presidency. Our interactive graphic, managed with the help of Leslie Shapiro of The Washington Post graphics department, displays a running list of every false or misleading statement made by Trump. You can also search for specific claims or obtain monthly or daily totals.

In the first 100 days, the president made 492 unsupported claims. He managed to top that number just in the first three weeks of 2019. In October, as he was barnstorming the country in advance of the midterm elections, he made more than 1,200 false or misleading claims.

Not surprisingly, the biggest source of misleading claims is immigration, with a tally that has grown with the addition of 300 immigration claims in the past three weeks, for a total of 1,433.

In the president’s immigration address Saturday, the last day of his second year in office, we counted 12 false or misleading claims, including:

"Heroin alone kills 300 Americans a week, 90 percent of which comes across our southern border.”

  • The 300-a-week number checks out. But while 90 percent of the heroin sold in the United States comes from Mexico, virtually all of it comes through legal points of entry. “A small percentage of all heroin seized by [Customs and Border Protection] along the land border was between Ports of Entry (POEs),” the Drug Enforcement Administration said in a 2018 report. So Trump’s wall would do little to halt drug trafficking. Trump’s repeated claim that the wall would stop drug trafficking is a Bottomless Pinocchio claim.

“Many of these security ideas have been proposed by Democrats themselves, and all of them have been supported by Democrats in the past, including a physical barrier wall or fence.”

  • Trump overstates the supposed Democratic support. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and many Democrats (although not Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California) voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was signed by President George W. Bush and authorized construction of a fence along nearly 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. It passed 283 to 138 in the House, with 64 Democratic votes, and 80 to 19 in the Senate, with 26 Democratic votes. But the fence they voted for is not as substantial as the wall Trump is proposing. Trump himself has called the 2006 fence a “nothing wall.” 

"However, the whole concept of having lengthy trials, for anyone who sets one foot in our country unlawfully, must be changed by Congress. It is unsustainable. It is ridiculous. Few places in the world would even consider such an impossible nightmare.”

  • Trump is routinely astonished by U.S. and international laws on asylum. This is how it works in any country that abides by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees: A refugee enters and makes a petition, and the government makes a ruling after analyzing the facts. It’s also worth keeping in mind that 85 percent of all deportations in the United States are ordered quickly, without a hearing before a judge. 

"If we build a powerful and fully designed see-through steel barrier on our southern border, the crime rate and drug problem in our country would be quickly and greatly reduced. Some say it could be cut in half.”

  • Trump’s statement that a border wall would cut the nation’s crime rate — and “drug problem” — in half is simply laughable. There is no evidence to suggest that is the case. Most undocumented immigrants do not illegally cross the southern border, undocumented immigrants do not commit crimes at a rate higher than U.S. citizens, and drugs flow through the border mostly through legal crossing points. 

"Thousands of children are being exploited by ruthless coyotes and vicious cartels and gangs.”

  • Here’s an example of where the president or his aides appear to have responded to our fact checks. No government statistic tracks children smuggled in by bad actors, “coyotes” or drug gangs, and for this speech, Trump has altered his usual claim that “last month alone, 20,000 minors were smuggled into the United States.” Now the number is fuzzier, and he no longer says “smuggled” but uses a weaker “exploited.” Trump previously referred to Customs and Border Protection’s number for family-unit apprehensions and unaccompanied minors. But we have pointed out that it’s wrong to describe it as a statistic that represents children being smuggled into the country. Trump appears to be acknowledging there are no firm numbers for how many parents might have hired a smuggler, coyote or gang member — though there is no evidence that the figure would be “thousands.” 

Claims about foreign policy (900) and trade (854) rank second and third, followed by claims about the economy (790) and jobs (755). But there’s also a grab-bag category of “miscellaneous” (899), which includes misleading attacks on the media or people the president perceives as enemies.

By our count, there were only 82 days — or about 11 percent of the time — on which we recorded no claims. These were often days when the president golfed.

But there were also 74 days, or about 10 percent of his presidency, in which Trump made more than 30 claims. These were often days when he held campaign-style rallies, riffing without much of a script.

Trump has made many misleading claims about the investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, claiming 192 times a variation of the statement that it was a hoax perpetuated by Democrats. The CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency had announced that they had “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the election, with a clear preference for Trump. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was appointed by Trump’s Justice Department, and the congressional committees investigating the matter have been headed by Republicans.

Trump repeated 127 times the falsehood about securing the biggest tax cut in U.S. history, even though Treasury Department data shows it would rank eighth. And 126 times, he has falsely claimed that the United States has lost money on trade deficits. Countries do not “lose” money on trade deficits. A trade deficit simply means that people in one country are buying more goods from another country than people in the second country are buying from the first country. Trade deficits are also affected by macroeconomic factors, such as currencies, economic growth and savings and investment rates.

Visit our website of Bottomless Pinocchios for highly misleading or false claims that the president has made so often that they have become a form of disinformation.

(Contributors to the database over the past two years include Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Nicole Lewis.)

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acdha
1 day ago
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This is a challenge for reporters: it’s important to call him on it but it just blurs together for most people
Washington, DC
betajames
1 day ago
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