Associate Professor of English, University of Michigan-Flint. I research and teach rhetoric and writing.
4487 stories
·
41 followers

A Scientific American endorsement

1 Share
Scientific American has endorsed Joe Biden for president. An excerpt from the editors’ statement (which, of course, is worth reading in full):
Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people — because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.
And I’ll add: As Scientific American recognizes, the choice of a candidate in this election goes far beyond any idea of “party.” As I see it, it’s really a choice between between democracy and autocracy, between sanity and psychosis, between truth and lies, between life and death.
Read the whole story
betajames
2 days ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

Living in a Conspiracy Nation

4 Comments and 7 Shares

We are in a spectacularly unprecedented moment in our nation’s history. If you do not believe that is the case, perhaps these two recent news reports in completely sober (and even socially conservative) publications will persuade you. Charlotte Alter reports from my home state of Wisconsin for Time magazine:

In more than seven dozen interviews conducted in Wisconsin in early September, from the suburbs around Milwaukee to the scarred streets of Kenosha in the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting, about 1 in 5 voters volunteered ideas that veered into the realm of conspiracy theory, ranging from QAnon to the notion that COVID-19 is a hoax. Two women in Ozaukee County calmly informed me that an evil cabal operates tunnels under the U.S. in order to rape and torture children and drink their blood. A Joe Biden supporter near a Kenosha church told me votes don’t matter, because “the elites” will decide the outcome of the election anyway. A woman on a Kenosha street corner explained that Democrats were planning to bring in U.N. troops before the election to prevent a Trump win.

One in five. 20%. Alter continues:

This matters not just because of what these voters believe but also because of what they don’t. The facts that should anchor a sense of shared reality are meaningless to them; the news developments that might ordinarily inform their vote fall on deaf ears. They will not be swayed by data on coronavirus deaths, they won’t be persuaded by job losses or stock market gains, and they won’t care if Trump called America’s fallen soldiers “losers” or “suckers,” as the Atlantic reported, because they won’t believe it. They are impervious to messaging, advertising or data. They aren’t just infected with conspiracy; they appear to be inoculated against reality.

Democracy relies on an informed and engaged public responding in rational ways to the real-life facts and challenges before us. But a growing number of Americans are untethered from that. “They’re not on the same epistemological grounding, they’re not living in the same worlds,” says Whitney Phillips, a professor at Syracuse who studies online disinformation. “You cannot have a functioning democracy when people are not at the very least occupying the same solar system.”

Alter found conspiracy thinking on the left (Trump created Covid?!) but it was way more batshit crazy on the right:

On a cigarette break outside their small business in Ozaukee County, Tina Arthur and Marcella Frank told me they plan to vote for Trump again because they are deeply alarmed by “the cabal.” They’ve heard “numerous reports” that the COVID-19 tents set up in New York and California were actually for children who had been rescued from underground sex-trafficking tunnels.

Arthur and Frank explained they’re not followers of QAnon. Frank says she spends most of her free time researching child sex trafficking, while Arthur adds that she often finds this information on the Russian-owned search engine Yandex. Frank’s eyes fill with tears as she describes what she’s found: children who are being raped and tortured so that “the cabal” can “extract their blood and drink it.” She says Trump has seized the blood on the black market as part of his fight against the cabal. “I think if Biden wins, the world is over, basically,” adds Arthur. “I would honestly try to leave the country. And if that wasn’t an option, I would probably take my children and sit in the garage and turn my car on and it would be over.”

(At this point, you may want to take a short break, as I did, to either fully absorb this madness or to try to wipe your mind of it completely. Neither worked for me, but I did have a nice little stroll.) Ok, ready for round two? From The Economist, How construction workers in Ohio view the election:

“He’s done a great job, he’s got everyone back to work. I’m pretty much 100% for him,” said Kyle, a 30-year-old electrician. “He shoots his mouth off but at least that shows he’s honest,” said Jason, a pipe-fitter, who said he especially liked Mr Trump’s commitment to reducing the national debt. “He’s done more for our country than the past ten presidents put together,” said an older builder, Jeff, skimming wet concrete on a new road. “He’s made — who is it, China or Japan? — pay our farmers billions of dollars. He got health care done, which the Democrats could never do. He built the wall.”

None of this is true, aside from Trump shooting his mouth off. These lies aren’t as spectacular as the blood-drinking pedophilia, but in some ways they’re even worse because they’re so easily fact-checked (e.g. Trump has increased the national debt) but still believed.

Bonus items that I randomly ran across this morning: 1) A recent local news report on an anti-mask rally in Utah, where some folks assert that Covid-19 is a hoax and that asymptomatic carriers don’t exist (oh, and a woman draws a parallel between George Floyd not being able to breathe and people not being able to breathe with a face mask on). 2) The assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, an actual government official, “accused career government scientists on Sunday of ‘sedition’ in their handling of the pandemic and warned that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election”.

I’ve said this several times before, but I keep coming back to this quote from Hannah Arendt:

If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie — a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days — but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

Fox News, talk radio, and Facebook — aided and abetted by clueless mainstream media outlets who feel the need to cover “both sides” equally — have been pounding away on Americans for decades, feeding them misinformation and hate. Trump ratcheted that rhetoric up, legitimized it with the office of the president, and is reaping the rewards — “with such a people you can then do what you please”.

Tags: 2020 election   Charlotte Alter   Donald Trump   politics
Read the whole story
iridesce
3 days ago
reply
DC
betajames
4 days ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete
4 public comments
cinebot
3 days ago
reply
"If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer."
toronto.
fxer
3 days ago
reply
“I would probably take my children and sit in the garage and turn my car on and it would be over.”

Well that’s basically what Goebbels did. If you find yourself modeling your actions after nazis I’m not sure what else we can do for you.
Bend, Oregon
DMack
4 days ago
reply
this owns
Victoria, BC
mxm23
4 days ago
reply
What's the solution? What's the way out? Or, what's the endgame? Dictatorship? Dystopia?
West Coast

Faculty members struggle with burnout

1 Share

Professors say faculty burnout is always a real threat, but especially now, and that institutions should act before it’s too late.

Read the whole story
betajames
4 days ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

Film Review: Max Richter’s Sleep

1 Share

★★★★☆

In 2015, German-British composer Max Richter released his most ambitious work to date, an eight and a half hour composition designed to be listened to while sleeping. Natalie Johns’ documentary on the piece is an appropriately languorous, dreamy exploration of Richter’s music taken at its own pace and pleasurably in thrall to its subject.

After a career balancing commercial and artistic pressures – the latter subsidising the former – Sleep is Richter’s attempt to resolve both. Written with the knowledge that most of it will not be consciously heard by its audience, Sleep is a highly-conceptual piece but it is also about a fundamentally universal human experience while the music itself is by definition as comforting as a warm blanket.

Less successful, perhaps, is the segment dedicated to Richter’s career and his ambition in composing and performing his music. It feels schematic and odd to frame such a conceptual piece with such a straightforward narrative, especially given that the family story it presents is dully conventional. Richter satisfied assertions that he ‘bet the farm’ on financing the piece are infinitely less interesting than the segment dedicated to the vocal-straining, finger-blistering labour that his musicians provide to execute it.

Johns has structured her film fairly conventionally, overlaying talking-head interviews with footage of its live performances. These segments give us intriguing nuggets of information, for example that Richter worked with neuroscientist David Eagleman so that his music would mimic the brain’s patterns while sleeping. But Sleep the film is at its strongest when it lets Sleep the music speak for itself – the outdoor footage of the performance in Los Angeles’ Grand Park in particular is haunting, moving stuff.

There is an eerie calm to the images of hundreds of people serenely dreaming in the open. Richter’s steeped melodies gently wash away the direct questions that documentaries customarily ask in favour of unconscious contemplation and reflection. Normally, a viewer’s wandering mind would indicate the failure of a documentary to hold the attention; here it is a veritable measure of its success.

Watching the Grand Park footage may be a poor simulacrum of the real thing, but as Richter’s piano laps at the edges of the film and Grace Davidson’s ghostly soprano blankets itself across the park’s immaculate lawn, it’s hard not to feel some soothing approximation of the live experience. Max Richter’s Sleep succeeds best in these moments, when it lets its audience forget the quotidian whys and hows, and drift into the space of its subject between waking and sleeping, where conscious experience meets unconscious sensation.

Max Richter’s Sleep is out now in cinemas and on demand. maxrichtersleep.co.uk

Christopher Machell | @MachellFilm

The post Film Review: Max Richter’s Sleep appeared first on CineVue.

Read the whole story
betajames
4 days ago
reply
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

Twitter, Google promise to limit misinformation spread ahead of election

1 Comment
Twitter, Google promise to limit misinformation spread ahead of election

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

With just over 50 days to go before the 2020 US presidential election, everything is—predictably—hitting the fan. Foreign interference is of course an ever present threat, with known actors both attempting to amplify social discord as well as literally hack campaigns. But good old homegrown deliberate misinformation is also a significant threat to this year's entire electoral process.

Misinformation spreads rapidly thanks to the advent of social media—especially Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Facebook already announced its (weak) plan for combating rampant falsehoods, and this week Twitter and Google both made their plans public as well.

Tweet, tweet...

Twitter's existing policy prohibits users from posting content that includes "false claims on how to participate in civic processes" or "content that could intimidate or suppress participation." In other words, at a very high level you're not allowed to use Twitter to lie about voting or tell people not to vote.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read the whole story
betajames
4 days ago
reply
shine on you crazy diamond
Michigan
Share this story
Delete

After four years of Trump, voters have made up their minds

1 Comment

The 2020 presidential election features a pared-back pool of undecided voters after four years of a highly controversial and media-saturated presidency.

Why it matters: Entrenched views mean there's less reason for campaigns to try to change voters' minds than to convince those already with them to vote — and help educate them about mail-in and early-vote procedures to make sure their votes count.


A wealth of evidence suggests more Americans have made up their minds by this point compared with years past:

  • The conventions had practically no impact on the shape of the race: Biden's national polling lead (+7.5 per FiveThirtyEight's average of polls) is just a half-point smaller than it was a month ago.
  • Just 3% of likely voters said they didn't know who they'd vote for in a recent national Quinnipiac poll. The same percent of registered voters said they were undecided in a Monmouth poll this week.
  • An August poll by the Pew Research Center found that among those who preferred Biden or Trump, just 5% said there was a chance they'd change their minds.
  • Compare that to Pew's poll in August 2016, which found that 8% of Hillary Clinton's supporters said there was a chance they might vote for Trump. Similarly, for those who preferred Trump, 8% said they might vote for Clinton.
  • Even in the swingiest of swing states, most people's minds appear made up. Just 5% of Floridians say they might change their minds, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.

The big picture: Trump's approval rating has held remarkably steady in the low 40s despite his impeachment, a pandemic, a trade war, rule-of-law crises, an endless barrage of damaging reporting and national reckonings on sexual assault, guns, immigration and race.

Between the lines: "There were Republicans who were undecided in 2016 but ultimately rallied to Trump. This year, they're likely on board. And, if not, they jumped ship a while back," John Sides, a political science professor at Vanderbilt who studies political behavior, tells Axios.

  • "Similarly, Biden is a more popular figure than Clinton was. So there are likely fewer Democrats who are undecided this year compared to 2016."

Yes, but: Despite the entrenched opinion, there are reasons the election outcome is still uncertain.

  • While the polls tell a consistent story, we don't know how accurate they will be this year.
  • For the ballots to count, voters in each state need to understand mail-in procedures and deadlines if they don't want to vote in person — and higher rejection rates for improperly cast mail-in ballots mean more potential for uncounted votes.
  • Additionally, the risk of an overwhelmed and under-supported U.S. Postal Service could impact results.
  • U.S. election systems have never dealt with anything close to the level of expected mail-in votes.

The bottom line: These uncertainties mean the truly undecided voters who remain — as few as they may be — could still tip election results.



Read the whole story
betajames
5 days ago
reply
let's just vote already and get on with it
Michigan
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories