As usual, U.S. and world news is mostly bad, so I thought I’d focus on some news emanating from escapist Hollywood. I do have a serious point to make later on.
The latest action movie hit is Luc Besson’s “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson as an ordinary woman who suddenly begins using the full capacity of her brain (this is based on the oft-repeated notion that humans only use 10% of their brains) after she accidentally absorbs some kind of super-drug that Korean drug lords have surgically implanted in her abdomen so they can use her as a drug mule. If that sounds like an idiotic premise, just wait till you either watch the movie or otherwise get the details of the so-called plot.
“Lucy” is the epitome of what’s known as a “high concept” film. The main character’s name is presumably drawn from the name that has been attached to a partial skeleton of a female Australopithecus Afarensis that was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974. “Lucy” could walk upright, but her small skull indicated she didn’t have much brain capacity; scientists argued from this that bipedalism led to larger human brains.
Thus, the Lucy of the film demonstrates the how humans could further evolve if they used the brain’s full potential, get it? The Wall Street Journal loved it; Here’s their review, ‘Lucy’: A Diamond in the Action-Thriller Sky
The problem with the concept is that we humans are already using the full capacity of our brains, and the idea that we only use 10% is complete bullshit. Here’s a brief explanation from brain scientist David Eagleman at NPR: Sorry, Lucy: The Myth Of The Misused Brain Is 100 Percent False. But, like the GOP, Hollywood couldn’t care less about scientific facts.
In case you don’t mind a bunch of spoilers, here’s a hilarious review of the movie by Christopher Orr at The Atlantic: Lucy: The Dumbest Movie Ever Made About Brain Capacity. Here the introduction; you can click the link to read the rest.
Every now and then a movie comes along that’s so beyond-the-pale sloppy, so disastrous in both conceit and execution, that it simply defies conventional analysis. It happened with The Happening. There was something unspeakably wrong with The Words. And Broken City was utterly beyond repair.
So, too, with Lucy, writer/director/producer Luc Besson’s mind-bendingly miscalculated sci-fi vehicle for Scarlett Johansson. In its defense, I can offer only that Johansson is a moderately charismatic presence (despite playing a character who barely qualifies as a character) and that the film clocks in at a mercifully brief 89 minutes. That said, the sheer quantity of inanity that Besson squeezes into his limited screen time beggars that of awful movies of substantially greater length.
Consequently, what follows is not a review but a spoilereview. If you are genuinely considering watching Lucy—and I urgently recommend that you reconsider—you should stop reading now. If, by contrast, you plan to give the movie a pass and would like to have your good judgment ratified (or, alternatively, if you have stumbled out of the theater bewildered and seeking commiseration), read on. Because while Besson has made very, very bad films in the past—most recently, last year’s The Family—this is the first time he has made a film so idiotic that the only way to properly convey its flaws is to enumerate them.
Read on for a complete dissection of the movie’s plot. Whatever happened to intelligent films made for adults? Maybe it has something to do with the growing control of media by just a few giant corporations. And it’s going to get worse.
Did you know that Rupert Murdock is trying to buy Time-Warner? From The New York Times on July 17, A Potential Combination of Two of Hollywood’s Most Successful Studios.
LOS ANGELES — What for years has been a whisper in Hollywood — the possible consolidation of major studios in the face of tough industry economics — has become a starkly real option with the disclosure on Wednesday that Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox made an $80 billion bid to acquire Time Warner Inc.
In the bid, which Time Warner rejected, Mr. Murdoch is said to have made clear that his 20th Century Fox and Time Warner’s Warner Bros., two of Hollywood’s six major studios, would be managed jointly, but kept essentially separate.
But business history and market pressures in both the movie and television industries make it almost inevitable that studio overhead would be cut, back-office operations would be combined, and jobs would be eliminated if a merger happens.
“In size and structure, the studio of the 21st century still looks very similar, if not identical, to the studio of the 20th century,” said Marc Shmuger, a producer who was formerly co-chairman of Universal Pictures. “That has to change,” he added.
Murdoch is worried because Comcast is currently working on (and will likely succeed in) merging with Time-Warner Cable. Harvard professor of intellectual property Susan Crawford explains what’s going on:
Both sides of the negotiating table — programming and distribution — are already highly concentrated. In 1983, 50 companies ran 90 percent of American media; today, just five mega-entities control 90 percent of what we read, watch and listen to. Among the notable properties owned by Murdoch are Fox, as part of Twenty-First Century Fox, and the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, as part of the spun-off News Corp. Time Warner has CNN and HBO. Comcast Corp., now thoroughly vertically integrated, has NBCUniversal….
After the merger, Comcast will be available to 70 percent of American homes. Most of these will have no other choice for high-speed data distribution: anything over 10 Mbps download. That means the programmers — even though they’re giant companies with gigantic quantities of high-value video — won’t have competing distribution outlets to play against one another in negotiations. In order to reach most Americans, they’ll have to deal with Comcast. That means they have to make sure that Comcast needs them more than they need Comcast.
The merged Comcast-Time Warner Cable entity will control 20 of the top 25 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and a vast number of regional sports networks. (Sports is at the heart of this story; Murdoch knows he will need the heft to negotiate for sports rights that Comcast will need.) …. Because there will be so few alternative content buyers, and because Comcast’s control over its data flows is so absolute, if the programmer someday decides to go “over the top” — across the Internet, as Netflix has — its fate will be utterly dependent on Comcast’s good graces.
You’ll note that once Murdoch owns Time-Warner, he’ll be in control of HBO, one of the few remaining producers of quality video content. From Bloomberg Businessweek July 16:
No matter who winds up owning Time Warner (TWX)—Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox (FOXA), Disney (DIS), Amazon (AMZN), or even its current shareholders—it is clear that one of the shiniest jewels in the entertainment company is the 30-year-old cash-printing machine once known as Home Box Office.
A report in Bloomberg News, citing an unnamed source familiar with the bid, put the perceived value of HBO alone at $20 billion as part of Fox’s offer of $75 billion or more for Time Warner. “It’s really now HBO that’s the driver, and I think that’s the Holy Grail that Rupert had his eye on,” Porter Bibb, managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners, said in a radio interview on Bloomberg Surveillance. “It’s a huge money maker with a huge potential. And probably the only Netflix killer that’s in the world right now.” ….
…virtually no other enterprise in Hollywood has been able to crack the code of critical and financial success with the same consistency as HBO, the most-cited darling of those who praise today as television’s golden age. The network’s recent hit, True Detective, pulled in almost 12 million viewers per episode, a feat never before accomplished in its first season by an HBO series. And the ongoing Game of Thrones series, which recently concluded its fourth season, has drawn audiences of 17 million in what has become the biggest show for the network since The Sopranos.
I guess we can kiss all that goodbye once either Murdoch or Comcast buys Time-Warner. Because it’s not about producing a quality product; it’s about making money by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Here’s a deeply disturbing NYT report on what’s going on and what we can expect in the future: When Media Mergers Limit More Than Competition, and a quick digest version from the Sky Valley Chronicle:
By 2012, just six companies — including Fox (then part of News Corporation) and Time Warner — controlled that 90 percent, according to testimony before the House Judiciary Committee examining Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal.
So what does a merger between 21st Century Fox and Time Warner mean for consumers of media in this country?
~ “The situation is already terrible and this would make it worse,” according to Susan Crawford, a visiting professor in intellectual property at Harvard Law School. Coupled with giant cable and Internet distributors, like Comcast and AT&T, “you’ve got two highly concentrated markets that need each other to survive and protect their profits,” Professor Crawford said. “The public interest side of this conversation is hopelessly outgunned.”
~ Such a merger would reduce control of the major Hollywood studios to five owners, from six, and major television producers to four, from five.
~ Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black once wrote in a 1945 antitrust case, “The widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.”
~ Regarding the proposed 21st Century Fox and Time Warner merger, “These so-called horizontal mergers always reduce competition, the only issue being whether it’s enough to warrant blocking the merger or imposing conditions on it,” according to the report.
~ “When you’re dealing with media, you’ve got to look more carefully at the impact than with other commodities,” said Allen P. Grunes, an antitrust lawyer at the firm GeyerGorey, and an author, with Maurice E. Stucke, of “Antitrust and the Marketplace of Ideas.” “It has an impact on democracy and what the public discourse is.”
Here’s a graphic depiction of the situation:
We’ve seen what happened to journalism after media consolidation; now we’re learning what happens when the people who control the news also control the entertainment industry. We end up with endless reality TV shows and mindless high-concept movies. Then what?
So . . . that’s what’s on my mind today. What’s on yours? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread.
As Boston Boomer mentioned in yesterday’s post, the news is just too depressing to even mention. So aside from the stupid immature humorous pictures of both real and made up book titles that I’ve got featured in this morning’s thread, we are going to have a quick look at the “shitty” news…and then get to some interesting fun stuff.
Geez ——> Looks like she is about to toss her own salad….doesn’t it?
(BTW- the pictures come from this website: ebaumsworld.com and most are from this one post: The 19 Worst Children’s Book Titles Ever! – Gallery)
There was some horror in the latest Ebola outbreak in Africa. This is some frightening news, because from what I understand, one person who was infected with the disease managed to escape medical custody in a major city.
Sierra Leone officials appealed for help on Friday to trace the first known resident in the capital with Ebola whose family forcibly removed her from a Freetown hospital after testing positive for the deadly disease.
Radio stations in Freetown, a city of around 1 million inhabitants, broadcast the appeal on Friday to locate a woman who tested positive for the disease that has killed 660 people across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since an outbreak was first identified in February.
“Saudatu Koroma of 25 Old Railway Line, Brima Lane, Wellington,” the announcement said. “She is a positive case and her being out there is a risk to all. We need the public to help us locate her.”
Koroma, 32, a resident of the densely populated Wellington neighborhood, had been admitted to an isolation ward while blood samples were tested for the virus, Health ministry spokesman Sidi Yahya Tunis. The results came back on Thursday.
“The family of the patient stormed the hospital and forcefully removed her and took her away,” Tunis said. “We are searching for her.”
And then there is this distressing story:
Nigerian officials said Saturday that they are screening passengers arriving from foreign countries for symptoms of Ebola, following the death of an infected traveler from Liberia who died after collapsing at the airport in Lagos, Africa’s largest city with a population of 21 million.
Unni Krishnan, the head of disaster response for the international advocacy group Plan International, warned that an Ebola outbreak in Lagos could be disastrous. There is no cure or vaccine for the highly contagious virus.
Across the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, at least 660 people have died from the illness since February, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), placing great strain on the health systems of some of Africa’s poorest countries. Sierra Leone now has the highest number of cases, at 454, surpassing neighboring Guinea, where the outbreak originated.
The pathogen is passed through contact with bodily fluids of infected patients, and has no known cure, although chances of survival improve dramatically with early detection and treatment.
But weak health systems and frequent cross-border travel have hampered efforts to contain the virus in a region which has never before experienced an outbreak.
Lagos state authorities said they had requested the flight’s manifest to contact the other passengers, and began distributing protective clothing to health workers, state health advisor Yewande Adeshina said. Sawyer flew from Liberia’s capital of Monrovia, with a brief flight stopover in nearby Togo. His sister is believed to have died of ebola in the last month, a Liberian official told the Guardian.
Rumours about the virus – which causes a painful fever that degenerates into internal and external bleeding – were met with scepticism from residents in the crowded business district where Sawyer was treated. “I cannot believe it is true,” said trader Segun Kosoko, who said he had seen two traders donning face masks.
Experts have also been alarmed by the disease’s wide geographical spread, from Guinea’s remote interior forest region, where it originated, to densely populated coastal regions.
Ghana has had several unconfirmed scares, while Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown recorded its first confirmed case this week. Authorities there were forced to launch a public appeal after the victim slipped out of hospital. Her family forcibly removed her – as many have done, either fearing they would catch the disease while in quarantine, or doubting its existence.
Radio stations in Freetown, a city of about 1 million people, broadcast the appeal to locate the woman, named as Saudatu Koroma. “She is a positive case and her being out there is a risk to all. We need the public to help us locate her,” the appeal stated.
Also in Liberia, news that an American doctor has become sick: Fort Worth doctor in Africa tests positive for Ebola virus | wfaa.com Dallas – Fort Worth
A Fort Worth doctor working with Ebola patients in Liberia has tested positve for the virus, according to Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief agency.
Dr. Kent Brantly is medical director at the Samaritan’s Purse Ebola Consolidated Case Management Center in Monrovia, Liberia.
The relief group says the 33-year-old physician with a private practice in Fort Worth is undergoing treatement in an isolation center at ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city.
Samaritan’s Purse says Brantly is married and has two children, and that the agency is committed to doing everything possible to assist him.
He has worked with the agency in Liberia since last October. Before that, he was a family practice doctor in Fort Worth, where he finished his residency at John Peter Smith Hospital.
I can’t imagine what his family must be going through.
That is scary as hell…but here is something on par with Gozilla scary: Japanese monkeys’ abnormal blood linked to Fukushima disaster – study | Environment | theguardian.com
Wild monkeys in the Fukushima region of Japan have blood abnormalities linked to the radioactive fall-out from the 2011 nuclear power plant disaster, according to a new scientific study that may help increase the understanding of radiation on human health.
The Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) were found to have low white and red blood cell levels and low haemoglobin, which the researchers say could make them more prone to infectious diseases.
Okay, I know I was exaggerating but still…
The scientists compared 61 monkeys living 70km (44 miles) from the the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant with 31 monkeys from the Shimokita Penisula, over 400km (249 miles) from Fukushima. The Fukushima monkeys had low blood counts and radioactive caesium in their bodies, related to caesium levels in the soils where they lived. No caesium was detected in the Shimokita troop.
Professor Shin-ichi Hayama, at the Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University in Tokyo, told the Guardian that during Japan’s snowy winters the monkeys feed on tree buds and bark, where caesium has been shown to accumulate at high concentrations.
“This first data from non-human primates — the closest taxonomic relatives of humans — should make a notable contribution to future research on the health effects of radiation exposure in humans,” he said. The work, which ruled out disease or malnutrition as a cause of the low blood counts, is published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.
White blood cell counts were lowest for immature monkeys with the highest caesium concentrations, suggesting younger monkeys may be more vulnerable to radioactive contamination. Hayama noted: “Abnormalities such as a decreased blood cell count in people living in contaminated areas have been reported from Chernobyl as a long-term effect of low-dose radiation exposure.” But other blood measures did not correlate with caesium levels, which vary with the seasons.
Now for the easy reads, after the jump…
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really sick of bad news. I’ve completely stopped watching TV and listening to radio news, because I just can’t take any more details of wars, plane crashes, dead children. If it weren’t for writing these morning posts, I wouldn’t have a clue what’s happening. I get all my news from Google, Twitter, and various blogs, including Sky Dancing. So I’m going to quickly link to the major stories topping Google this morning, and then I’ll post some interesting longer reads that I came across around the ‘net.
There’s a 12-hour cease fire in Gaza right now. BBC News has extensive coverage, Gaza conflict: 12-hour truce as deaths top 900.
Residents in Gaza are using a 12-hour humanitarian truce to return to their homes, gather essential supplies and search for those trapped in the rubble.
At least 85 bodies have been pulled from the rubble during the truce, a Palestinian health official says.
That raises the Palestinian death toll to 985 since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on 8 July, the spokesman said. Thirty-nine Israelis have died.
International talks on a longer truce have resumed in Paris.
Israel said it would continue to “locate and neutralise” Hamas tunnels during the pause, which began at 08:00 local time (05:00 GMT).
So far 31 tunnels have been discovered, with about half destroyed, Israeli’s military says.
Lots of details and photos at the BBC link.
From AP via The Boston Globe, Gaza Sides Agree to Lull But Truce Efforts Stall.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel-Hamas fighting looked headed for escalation after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry failed Friday to broker a weeklong truce as a first step toward a broader deal and Israel’s defense minister warned Israel might soon expand its Gaza ground operation ‘‘significantly.’’
Hours after the U.S.-led efforts stalled, the two sides agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire to begin Saturday. However, the temporary lull was unlikely to change the trajectory of the current hostilities amid ominous signs that the Gaza war is spilling over into the West Bank.
In a ‘‘Day of Rage,’’ Palestinians across the territory, which had been relatively calm for years, staged protests against Israel’s Gaza operation and the rising casualty toll there. In the West Bank, at least six Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, hospital officials said.
The latest diplomatic setbacks, after several days of high-level diplomacy in the region, signaled that both sides are digging in and that the fighting in Gaza is likely to drag on.
An op-ed from Al Jazeera, Israel’s war of disproportionate force on Gaza, by Britain Eaken.
The recent killing of four Palestinian children by an Israeli airstrike while they played soccer on a beach in Gaza should call into question Israel’s claim that it’s waging a war of self-defense. Western journalists who saw the attack witnessed firsthand an ugly reality of life in Gaza — Palestinian civilians are too often caught in the crossfire in this tiny, densely populated and besieged coastal strip.
Early Sunday, an Israeli incursion into the Shujayea neighborhood in Gaza killed at least 60 more Palestinians. Most of the injuries being treated at Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital belong to civilians suffering from shrapnel injuries and amputations. More than 100 children have been killed so far and the Palestinian death toll just surpassed 400 with more than 3000 injured.
The UN says more than 70 percent of Palestinian casualties are civilians, a marked increase from previous Israeli assaults.
The toll on civilians has raised United Nations’ concerns of the Israeli use of disproportionate force in Gaza in violation of international humanitarian law. But the use of disproportionate force and the targeting of civilian infrastructure isn’t a new or surprising tactic for Israel. In fact, it’s a primary strategy according to Gabi Siboni, head of the Military and Strategic Affairs program at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel. This strategy has a well-documented history in Gaza.
I have no words.
Yes, there’s still fighting in Libya, and the violence is getting so bad than the U.S. has closed and evacuated its embassy there. NPR reports: U.S. Embassy Compound In Libya Shut Down Amid Fighting.
The U.S. has closed its embassy in Libya and evacuated diplomats amid what is being described as a significant deterioration in security, with rival militant factions battling in the capital, Tripoli.
“Due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out of Libya,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
“Securing our facilities and ensuring the safety of our personnel are top department priorities, and we did not make this decision lightly,” Harf said. “Security has to come first. Regrettably, we had to take this step because the location of our embassy is in very close proximity to intense fighting and ongoing violence between armed Libyan factions.”
In a separate statement, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said: “[All] embassy personnel were relocated, including Marine security guards who were providing security at the embassy during the movement.”
AP via ABC News: US Evacuates Embassy in Libya Amid Clashes.
The United States shut down its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort amid a significant deterioration in security in Tripoli as fighting intensified between rival militias, the State Department said….
The evacuation was accompanied by the release of a new State Department travel warning for Libya urging Americans not to go to the country and recommending that those already there leave immediately. “The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security,” it said. “Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.” ….
“We are committed to supporting the Libyan people during this challenging time, and are currently exploring options for a permanent return to Tripoli as soon as the security situation on the ground improves. In the interim, staff will operate from Washington and other posts in the region,” Harf said. The evacuated staffers will continue to work on Libya issues in Tunis, elsewhere in North Africa and Washington.
Ukraine is still roiling, but it seems to have receded into the background for the moment. Here are a few headlines just to keep you current.
From the WaPo editorial board: If the West doesn’t do more for Ukraine now, it might soon be too late.
From the Are You Kidding Me? File
From the LA Times: White House aide says Republicans might impeach Obama over immigration.
Pesident Obama will propose broad-ranging executive action on immigration reform later this summer that could provoke Republicans into trying to impeach him, a senior White House official said Friday.
While details of the immigration plan are still being worked on, it will mark “an important step in the arc of the presidency” that will shape both the substance and politics of immigration policy for years, White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
That move is certain to “increase the angry reaction from Republicans” who already accuse Obama of exceeding his executive authority, Pfeiffer said, highlighting recent statements by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in which she backed an impeachment move.
“I would not discount the possibility” that Republicans would seek to impeach Obama, he said, adding that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has “opened the door to impeachment” by his plans to sue Obama for allegedly exceeding his executive authority.
Is this just an effort by the White House to put the impeachment question out there so Americans can let the GOP what they think about it? The Hill reports: White House taking impeachment seriously.
Senior White House advisers are taking very seriously the possibility that Republicans in Congress will try to impeach President Obama, especially if he takes executive action to slow deportations.
Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Obama, said Friday that the White House is taking the prospect of impeachment in the GOP-controlled House more seriously than many others in Washington, who see it as unlikely.
Pfeiffer noted that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has a large following among Tea Party conservatives, has called for Obama’s impeachment and a large block of the GOP’s base favors it.
“I saw a poll today that had a huge portion of the Republican Party base saying they supported impeaching the president. A lot of people in this town laugh that off. I would not discount that possibility,” he told reporters Friday at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
Pfeiffer said Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) decision to file a lawsuit against Obama over his use of executive actions increased the chance of impeachment proceedings in the future.
A little reality testing from Sean Sullivan at the WaPo: These two numbers show why impeachment talk is trouble for the GOP.
By about 2-1, Americans say they don’t think President Obama should be impeached and removed from office, according to a new CNN/ORC International poll released Friday.
But a majority of Republicans disagree.
That, in a nutshell, is why talk about impeaching the president is nothing but trouble for the GOP heading toward the November midterms.
Sixty-five percent of Americans say Obama should not be impeached, compared to just 33 percent who say he should. Very one-sided. It’s clear that impeachment is a political loser when it comes to the public as a whole.
The “public as a whole” numbers matter because with most of the consequential primaries behind us, Republican candidates in key Senate races — the battle for the Senate is the main midterm event — have to be concerned about playing to broad statewide audiences.
Some (mostly) longer reads
These aren’t all that cheery either, but they are interesting.
This one from the NYT Sunday Magazine is for Dakinikat: Why Do Americans Stink at Math?
Why do people leave their kids in hot cars? How can you forget you’ve got your kid with you? I just don’t get it, and it makes me furious! There’s a long article about these cases at NBC News, Fatal Mistake: What Everyone Should Know About Hot Car Deaths, by Alex Johnson.
This NYT op-ed isn’t a long read, but it’s a useful one: Why the Border Crisis Is a Myth, by Veronica Escobar.
Remember all that talk about how there was going to be some kind of horrible disaster in 2012? Well it turns out that something awful almost happened. From NASA Science News, Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012. If you don’t want to wade through the whole article, The Boston Globe has a shorter summary, Apparently Earth ‘Just Missed’ a Solar Superstorm in 2012.
Finally, something entertaining and not depressing, This Is What Happens When You Ask Contemporary Artists To Reimagine Maps Of The World. Check it out!
What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread.
Now for the second part, here we go…
And with that…good night!
Tonight we have so many cartoons that there are two cartoon post. Unfortunately, because of the lateness…I guess that part B post will be shortly on the heel of this first one.
Oh, and they are in no particular order, but that should go without saying!
I might be the only syndicated columnist in the country who was raised by the state. So when lawmakers and public pontificators discuss the welfare of unaccompanied minors who’ve been dropped on our proverbial doorstep, I should probably speak up.
I was a ward of the court starting at 13 until I aged out after graduating high school at 17. (In retrospect, I should have been put in foster care much earlier.) My birth parents were not able to take care of me; I was handed over to an entity that would: The Government.
This is an open thread.
I’ve been watching the death of higher education in Louisiana as Sociopathic Governor Jindal continues his war on 99%of humanity in search of higher office. Right wing Donors are the only folks worth subsidizing and saving in Jindal’s sick mind. I was thinking the other day that I was glad that the girls graduated before it’s gotten to this point. Youngest daughter experienced a bit of the issue at the end of her undergrad degree since class offerings were decreasing. I’ve also been thinking about the Duquesne adjunct professor who died last year in abject poverty. I think that I’ve most likely seen my future. Here’s a refresher about her death last August.
On Friday, Aug. 16, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct French professor who’d recently lost her job at Duquesne University at the age of 83, suffered a cardiac arrest on a street corner in Homestead, Pa.* Vojtko collapsed yards from the house where she had lived almost her entire life. She was rushed to the hospital, but she never regained consciousness. Vojtko died on Sunday, Sept. 1.
Two and a half weeks later, Vojtko’s lawyer, Daniel Kovalik, published an op-ed about Vojtko called “Death of an Adjunct” in thePittsburgh Post-Gazette. Kovalik wrote that “unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits, and with a salary of $3,000 to $3,500 per three-credit course.” (In fact, for many years, she’d earned less—only $2,556 per course.) She’d been receiving cancer treatment, he said, and she’d become essentially homeless over the winter because she couldn’t afford to maintain and heat her house. Then, in the spring, she’d been told that her contract wouldn’t be extended after the current semester. A social worker from a local government agency had been tipped off that she might need help taking care of herself, which horrified Vojtko—“For a proud professional like Margaret Mary, this was the last straw,” according to the op-ed.
Her recent life hits way too close to home for me. I’ve noticed the rise of administration in higher education and how they seem to be embracing the same kind of things that are wrecking secondary education. They want standardized testing and proof that the professor is doing their job to the point that I feel like I’m a lowly graduate student with an absentee professor. I spend a lot of time grading things that I’m pretty sure are not contributing to anything but some administrator’s report that justifies their high salary and position. I can also tell that many colleagues just do it arbitrarily and not too well because my students are obviously doing the same old things like recycling other people’s homework and other people’s papers. I remind you that I only teach graduate students and those at the end of their career and those doing an academic degree that should be tougher than something like an MBA. So, all of this leads up to this link from a speech by Noam Chomsky who relates the hiring of faculty to that of the Walmart hiring paradigm. Faculty are basically now mostly temps. Business like workers who live in fear and insecurity. They also like them exhausted.
That’s part of the business model. It’s the same as hiring temps in industry or what they call “associates” at Wal-Mart, employees that aren’t owed benefits. It’s a part of a corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility. When universities become corporatized, as has been happening quite systematically over the last generation as part of the general neoliberal assault on the population, their business model means that what matters is the bottom line. The effective owners are the trustees (or the legislature, in the case of state universities), and they want to keep costs down and make sure that labor is docile and obedient. The way to do that is, essentially, temps. Just as the hiring of temps has gone way up in the neoliberal period, you’re getting the same phenomenon in the universities. The idea is to divide society into two groups. One group is sometimes called the “plutonomy” (a term used by Citibank when they were advising their investors on where to invest their funds), the top sector of wealth, globally but concentrated mostly in places like the United States. The other group, the rest of the population, is a “precariat,” living a precarious existence.
This idea is sometimes made quite overt. So when Alan Greenspan was testifying before Congress in 1997 on the marvels of the economy he was running, he said straight out that one of the bases for its economic success was imposing what he called “greater worker insecurity.” If workers are more insecure, that’s very “healthy” for the society, because if workers are insecure they won’t ask for wages, they won’t go on strike, they won’t call for benefits; they’ll serve the masters gladly and passively. And that’s optimal for corporations’ economic health. At the time, everyone regarded Greenspan’s comment as very reasonable, judging by the lack of reaction and the great acclaim he enjoyed. Well, transfer that to the universities: how do you ensure “greater worker insecurity”? Crucially, by not guaranteeing employment, by keeping people hanging on a limb than can be sawed off at any time, so that they’d better shut up, take tiny salaries, and do their work; and if they get the gift of being allowed to serve under miserable conditions for another year, they should welcome it and not ask for any more. That’s the way you keep societies efficient and healthy from the point of view of the corporations. And as universities move towards a corporate business model, precarity is exactly what is being imposed. And we’ll see more and more of it.
Also part of the business model is making sure you’re as miserable as possible and that your assigned management baby sitter loads you down with so much nonsense that even when you don’t have anything productive to do, you have to pretend you are. Chomsky sums up the goal of all this.
Well how do you indoctrinate the young? There are a number of ways. One way is to burden them with hopelessly heavy tuition debt. Debt is a trap, especially student debt, which is enormous, far larger than credit card debt. It’s a trap for the rest of your life because the laws are designed so that you can’t get out of it. If a business, say, gets in too much debt it can declare bankruptcy, but individuals can almost never be relieved of student debt through bankruptcy. They can even garnish social security if you default. That’s a disciplinary technique. I don’t say that it was consciously introduced for the purpose, but it certainly has that effect. And it’s hard to argue that there’s any economic basis for it. Just take a look around the world: higher education is mostly free. In the countries with the highest education standards, let’s say Finland, which is at the top all the time, higher education is free. And in a rich, successful capitalist country like Germany, it’s free. In Mexico, a poor country, which has pretty decent education standards, considering the economic difficulties they face, it’s free. In fact, look at the United States: if you go back to the 1940s and 50s, higher education was pretty close to free. The GI Bill gave free education to vast numbers of people who would never have been able to go to college. It was very good for them and it was very good for the economy and the society; it was part of the reason for the high economic growth rate. Even in private colleges, education was pretty close to free. Take me: I went to college in 1945 at an Ivy League university, University of Pennsylvania, and tuition was $100. That would be maybe $800 in today’s dollars. And it was very easy to get a scholarship, so you could live at home, work, and go to school and it didn’t cost you anything. Now it’s outrageous. I have grandchildren in college, who have to pay for their tuition and work and it’s almost impossible. For the students that is a disciplinary technique.
And another technique of indoctrination is to cut back faculty-student contact: large classes, temporary teachers who are overburdened, who can barely survive on an adjunct salary. And since you don’t have any job security you can’t build up a career, you can’t move on and get more. These are all techniques of discipline, indoctrination, and control. And it’s very similar to what you’d expect in a factory, where factory workers have to be disciplined, to be obedient; they’re not supposed to play a role in, say, organizing production or determining how the workplace functions—that’s the job of management. This is now carried over to the universities. And I think it shouldn’t surprise anyone who has any experience in private enterprise, in industry; that’s the way they work.
The Corporate apparatchik are the only ones that gain from a workforce that behave and think like sheep. There are so many examples of intellectual laziness these days on the part of so-called professionals that I could spend a weeks worth of posts on it. But, let’s just start with a few recent ones. Ever read BuzzFeed? Well, it seems one editor lifted material from Yahoo. I wonder who taught him that Yahoo is an appropriate source?
Yahoo! Answers, one of the great artifacts of Internet history, is intently studied at viral news website BuzzFeed, where its trove of half-literate questions (and even less literate answers) has supplied material for at least fifty different posts and listicles. One BuzzFeed editor, however, has streamlined this aggregation process to its vanishing point: Simply copying text from Yahoo! Answers and pasting it, without attribution, into his own work.
Two pseudonymous Twitter users pointed out today that BuzzFeed’s Viral Politics editor, Benny Johnson, has periodically lifted text from a variety of sources—Wikipedia, U.S. News & World Report, a random press release—all without credit. The users, @blippoblappo and@crushingbort, supply convincing evidence that Johnson slightly reworded various sentences to make them his own.
I struggle daily with telling students that none of those sites are appropriate sources. But, under the pressure of grading deadlines and having to give them tons of busy work, it sure is tempting just to throw my hands up and pass so that I can spend less time and maybe approach the minimum wage.
The funny thing is that the costs of higher education focused on by the press are cost of tenured faculty. What they don’t seem to understand is that a lot of faculty–especially those in the really low paying subject areas–generally run to administrative jobs for wages. A lot of the money is also going to fancy dorms, student centers, and leather chair laden classrooms for executives so the university can attract the cash cow students. I really don’t think people–like whoever wrote this article in The Economist--actually look at where the money goes. They believe that online education is going to be the norm in the future.
In the meantime, a second generation of MOOC is trying to mirror courses offered at traditional universities. Georgia Institute of Technology and Udacity have joined forces with AT&T, a telecoms firm, to create an online master’s degree in computing for $7,000, to run in parallel with a similar campus-based qualification that costs around $25,000. Mona Mourshead, who runs McKinsey’s education consultancy, sees a turning point. “If employers accept this on equal terms, the MOOC master’s degree will have taken off. Others will surely follow,” she says.
Although some companies have authored online courses (Google, for instance, has made a MOOC on how to interpret data), established universities still create most of them. To encourage them to spare their best academics’ time to put the courses together, online-learning companies must give them a financial incentive. EdX says it is “self-sustaining” but provides no details of its revenues. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last year that edX lets universities use its platform in return for the first $50,000 generated by the course, plus a cut of future revenues. An alternative model that it reportedly offers is to charge $250,000 for “production assistance” in creating a course, plus further fees every term that the course is offered. Coursera reveals only its revenue from certification—around $4m since its launch in 2012—for which it charges students between $30 and $100.
Some have struggled to make a business out of this. Last year Udacity underwent an abrupt “pivot”, declaring that the free model was not working and that from then on it would sell professional online training. Although web-based courses are much cheaper than on-campus ones, they will not retain ambitious students unless they replicate the interaction available in good universities. Making teachers available for digital seminars and increasing the level of interactivity could help. So would more detailed online feedback. Improvements like these raise costs. So a more varied MOOC-ecology might end up with varying price-tiers, ranging from a basic free model to more expensive bespoke ones.
The universities least likely to lose out to online competitors are elite institutions with established reputations and low student-to-tutor ratios. That is good news for the Ivy League, Oxbridge and co, which offer networking opportunities to students alongside a degree. Students at universities just below Ivy League level are more sensitive to the rising cost of degrees, because the return on investment is smaller. Those colleges might profit from expanding the ratio of online learning to classroom teaching, lowering their costs while still offering the prize of a college education conducted partly on campus.
Notice that last suggestion still says that the cost of the professor is the problem not all the supporting infrastructure and bureaucracy.
The problem that I have with all this is the underlying assumption that the private, corporate business model is efficient, effective, and lower cost. The deal is that most of the lower costs come from de-professionalizing almost all employees in the hierarchy and de-emphasizing personal service. Everything is consolidated away from service provision.
Anyway, I doubt I’ll visit this topic again anytime soon, but I did want to offer up the nightmare that’s become a university teaching job. I have to say I get ready to get my social security more and more every day. This is no longer the stuff written about in Wallace Stegner and John Updike books. I’ve started to feel like an overworked and insecure cog in a wheel over which I have no control. Yup, that’s the stench of American Business.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Another missing plane story tops the news right now. This time it’s an Algerian that has disappeared in Mali. According to the Wall Street Journal: Air Algérie Flight Reported Missing With 116 on Board.
Air Algérie lost contact with Flight 5017 after takeoff from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, as the jetliner headed to Algiers with 116 people on board, Algeria’s state news agency and the plane’s operator said Thursday.
French Secretary of Transport Frédéric Cuvillier told reporters the plane disappeared over Northern Mali, where Islamist militants are fighting the Malian government and French forces. Numerous French nationals were probably aboard the missing plane, Mr. Cuvillier said.
Contact with the Boeing Co. BA -0.95%MD-83, carrying 110 passengers and six crew members, was lost at about 1:55 a.m. local time, 50 minutes after the jet had taken off, the Algerian government’s official news agency said in a statement. “Air Algérie launched [an] emergency plan,” the agency added. It gave no other details.
An official at the directorate of Ouagadougou Airport said there had been an incident, “but for the moment we don’t know anything more.” He refused to give his name because he wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters.
Was this plane shot down like Malasian Airlines Flight MH17 in Ukraine?
The flight path of the missing Algerian jet isn’t yet clear but the FAA has warned airlines to be extra vigilant when flying over Mali.
There is no indication the jet was shot down and no confirmation of a crash.
Still, amid questions by airline executives and regulators over whether MH17 should have been flying over eastern Ukraine, the Air Algérie jet’s flight path will be closely scrutinized.
The FAA has banned U.S. carriers of flying over Mali at lower altitudes. The FAA cited “insurgent activity,” including the threat of antiaircraft missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and rockets. Apart from worries about insurgent threats in Mali, the Algerian government has been keeping a close watch on airspace on its eastern border, where violence in Libya has led to flight bans there.
The missing plane was owned by Swiftair, a Spanish charter company. NBC News reports: Air Algerie Jet Chartered by Spain’s Swiftair Vanishes in Africa.
Air Algerie Flight AH5017 vanished about 50 minutes after it left Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, according to the Algerian Press Service. The jet took off at 1:17 a.m. local time (9:17 p.m. ET on Wednesday) bound for Algiers, Algeria.In a statement, Madrid-based Swiftair confirmed it had chartered the missing McDonnell Douglas MD-83. Swiftair said 110 passengers and six crew were aboard the jet. It had been due to land in the Algerian capital at 5:10 a.m. local time (12:10 a.m. ET). The flight was missing for hours before the news was made public….Issa Saly Maiga, the head of Mali’s National Civil Aviation Agency, told Reuters that a search was under way for the missing flight. “We do not know if the plane is Malian territory,” he added. “Aviation authorities are mobilised in all the countries concerned – Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Algeria and even Spain.”
Updates on Malaysian Airlines MH17
“We thought we were going to fight but instead we found dead civilians”“We thought we would have to fight baled out Ukrainian pilots but instead we found dead civilians. All those poor people with baggage that certainly wasn’t military”. We spoke to a militiaman from the Oplot (stronghold) combat unit at midday yesterday on the concrete platforms of Torez railway station. He was standing beside five rail wagons – four refrigerated and the fifth with the refrigeration unit’s diesel geneerators – containing the human remains collected among the sunflower fields in pro-Russian separatist-held Ukraine. His words are revealing because he spoke them quite naturally, without reflecting, after telling us about the international representatives’ recently completed inspection of the bodies and his unit’s orders to stand guard over the wagons. In its innocence and simplicity, the story is significant. In fact, it could provide new evidence for those who blame the pro-Russians for mistakenly launching the fatal missile under the impression that their target was a Ukrainian military aircraft.
A top rebel commander in eastern Ukraine has reportedly said that the armed separatist movement had control of a Buk missile system, which Kiev and western countries say was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane last week.
Alexander Khodakovsky, who leads the Vostok battalion – one of the main rebel formations – said the rebels may have received the Buk from Russia, in the first such admission by a senior separatist.
“That Buk I know about. I heard about it. I think they sent it back. Because I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this tragedy had taken place. They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence,” Khodakovsky told Reuters.
Russian news agencies later said people close to Khodakovsky denied he made the admissions. Khodakovsky himself told Life News, a Russian news agency with links to Moscow’s security services, that he was misquoted and had merely discussed “possible versions” with Reuters. Khodakovsky said the rebels “do not have and have never had” a Buk.
As two further Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down, apparently by missiles fired from within Russia, Khodakovsky appeared to imply that MH17 was indeed downed by a missile from the Buk, assuming the interview with Reuters is confirmed. He blamed Ukrainian authorities, however, for allowing civilian jets to fly over its airspace when the rebels had such capabilities.
Mr Borodai admitted that the rebels had received support from “the whole Russian people” in their fight against the Ukrainian government.
“Volunteers are joining us,” he told the Newsnight programme, describing himself as one of them – “a resident of the city of Moscow”.
“It just so happened that, instead of sitting in a trench with a rifle or a machine gun, I now have the post of prime minister. Well… that’s fate.”
He denied that he was a member of a Russian intelligence agency, as has often been alleged.
However, he admitted to having contact with other members of the secret services in Russia – as, he said, would anyone “who has dealings with the elite of society”.
On the treatment of the bodies,
“We wanted to collect the bodies from the very beginning,” said Mr Borodai.
“But we were under extreme pressure from the OSCE representative, who said to us: ‘I represent 57 countries. Don’t you dare touch the bodies of the dead. Under no circumstances. Or else all the 57 countries of the OSCE will do this and that to you.’”
“So we wait a day. We wait a second day. A third day. Come on! Not a single expert…. Well, to leave the bodies there any longer, in 30C heat, it’s absurd. It’s simply inhuman. It’s a scene from a horror movie.”
However, an OSCE spokesman told the BBC that the organisation had not warned the rebels against moving the bodies.
More obfuscation at the link. Thank goodness the bodies are now being returned to the Netherlands.
Do Dogs Experience Emotions?
There’s a story in The New York Times about research on dogs and emotions with a somewhat cutsie headline and introduction, Inside Man’s Best Friend, Study Says, May Lurk a Green-Eyed Monster. Do dogs experience jealousy?
The answer, according to Christine Harris, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, is that if you are petting another dog, Roscoe is going to show something that Dr. Harris thinks is a form of jealousy, even if not as complex and twisted as the adult human form.
Other scientists agree there is something going on, but not all are convinced it is jealousy. And Roscoe and the rest of his tribe were, without exception, unavailable for comment.
Dr. Harris had been studying human jealousy for years when she took this question on, inspired partly by the antics of her parents’ Border collies. When she petted them, “one would take his head and knock the other’s head away,” she said. It certainly looked like jealousy.
But having studied humans, she was aware of different schools of thought about jealousy. Some scientists argue that jealousy requires complex thinking about self and others, which seems beyond dogs’ abilities. Others think that although our descriptions of jealousy are complex, the emotion itself may not be that complex.
Read more, including reactions from other scientists at the NYT.
Another researcher, Greg Berns of Emory University, has been examining the question of how dogs think and how they relate to humans.
“The more I study dogs and the more I study their brains, the more similarities I see to human brains,” Berns told WGCL-TV. “They are intelligent, they are emotional, and they’ve been ignored in terms of research and understanding how they think. So, we are all interested in trying to develop ways to understand how their minds work.”
Dr. Berns uses an MRI to test a dog’s brain.
“So, we’ve done experiments where we present odors to the dogs and these are things like the scent of other people in their house, the scent of other dogs in the house, as well as strange people and strange dogs,” Berns said. “And so what we found in that experiment is that the dogs reward processing center, so basically the part of the brain that is kind of the positive anticipation of things responds particularly strongly to the scent of their human.” ….
“Currently, we are trying to understand what dogs perceive about the world,” Berns said. “You know, what do they see when they see humans, dogs, other animals, cars, etc. so the idea is, at least in humans and even in certain chimpanzees and monkeys, there are parts of the brain specialized for visual processing of all of these things and so what we are trying to determine is whether a dog has that same kind of specialization.
Here’s Dr. Berns’ home page. He has written a book called How Dogs Love Us.
Anyone who has ever spent time with dogs (or cats for that matter) knows that pets express emotions through body language, facial expressions, and vocalizations; it’s nice to see there are some serious researchers trying to understand their emotions and thinking processes.
A couple more interesting reads . . .
At Talk to Action, the first two-parts of a three-part article on the influence of fundamentalist Catholocism on the Supreme Court by Frank Coccozelli: An Opus Focus on SCOTUS? A brief excerpt:
Beyond the creeping erosion of Roe, there is the disturbing reliance upon traditionalist Catholic teaching on grey area issues, such as a pregnancy endangering the life of the mother. As Justice Ginsburg noted in here dissent:
Today’s decision is alarming. It refuses to take Casey and Stenberg seriously. It tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). It blurs the line, firmly drawn in Casey, between previability and postviability abortions. And, for the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception safeguarding a woman’s health.
Where does this leave a Jewish woman whose life is endangered by a pregnancy? By the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Carhart, the Jewish teaching of saving the mother’s life in such circumstances is not respected. Vatican teaching is completely different. Instead it prohibits any abortion procedure that would be required not only if the choice is between the life of the mother and the fetus, but also where if no procedure is performed, a stillborn would result. That is an extreme teaching that many mainstream Catholics reject outright.
At Pando, Yasha Levine has a fascinating story about the bizarre and twisted interactions between the encryption service TOR and its most prominent employee Jacob Applebaum, the Department of Defense, the CIA, Edward Snowden, and Glenn Greenwald, Hall of Mirrors: Wikileaks volunteer helped build Tor, was funded by the Pentagon. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the Snowden story. Also check out Levine’s earlier article, Almost everyone involved in developing Tor was (or is) funded by the US government.
Also for Snowden junkies, Michael Kelley at Business Insider writes about “An 11-Day Hole In Snowden’s Story About Hong Kong.”
Why doesn’t the mainstream media ask any serious questions about Snowden and his closest supporters?
Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today?