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Scapegoat: How a Television Show Perpetuates Blame in the Dannemora Prison Break

By: Monica Duncan

Showtime is now airing a new series about the 2015 escape from the Dannemora Prison in New York. The show looks sensational. And you already know how I mean that. It looks like the flash of illicit sex and the bang of murderers threatening the public with their renewed freedom. We are supposed to watch until the escapees are killed or captured. (Stay tuned to find out which, if you don’t remember the real-life story from three years ago.)

I have seen firsthand the excitement that the filming of this series has brought to the small North Country city of Plattsburgh (the closest city to Dannemora itself) during my visits there. You see, Plattsburgh is my husband’s hometown. And it looks like Showtime is giving us exactly what they think the viewer wants. They are depicting the story by leading with the most sensationalized aspects of it. That is the point of a flash bang. It distracts.

So I am skeptical about what this series will tell and what it will miss, in part because I know that the Showtime folks did not interview one of the key individuals in the actual story, someone from the inside who is liberally depicted in the show. That person is my husband’s brother, Gene Palmer. Gene was the corrections officer charged with unknowingly passing saw blades in a chunk of hamburger meat through a flawed security system. What he thought was a routine delivery ended up including the very tools that would aid in the prison break of two established killers.

The script for “Escape at Dannemora” was largely derived from Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott’s 154-page report on the matter, and the series has been hawked to the public as a “based-on-a-true-story” drama. Writer Michael Tolkin said in an interview with slashfilm.com that the director, Ben Stiller, “encouraged us to write this as accurate as possible and truthfully as possible.” The people behind this show may have had an agenda in portraying the show as truthful because they wanted it to be taken seriously.

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Democratic Socialism: An Impossible Dream?

An Article in Two Parts, by Craig Collins

Part One: Socialist Mythology vs. Statist Reality

The founders of “scientific socialism,” Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, assumed it was quite possible, even historically inevitable, for working people to democratically govern an industrial society. However, they never went into detail about how this would work. Even today, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many orthodox Marxists persist in believing that vast, complex, globalized, industrial economies can be run by and for the workers who operate the machinery of production. In fact, doctrinaire Marxists still cling to the fantasy that worker-run industrial socialism is not only possible, it is the historically destined, superior replacement for industrial capitalism.

This Marxist conviction is dubious for two reasons. First, history has demonstrated that after many attempts, and despite their best intentions, the leaders of “socialist” revolutions have never succeeded in building an industrial society run by and for working people. Second, the primary underlying reason for this failure flows from the structural requirements of industrial society. Fossil-fueled industrial economies exert a powerful influence over their social and political structures. The extensive, intricate, hierarchical configuration of carbon-powered industrialism appears structurally unsuited and deeply resistant to bottom-up, democratic management.

Socialist Revolutions Without Socialism

As originally intended by Marx and Engels, a socialist society would be run democratically, by the vast majority of working people, on the basis of human need, not profit. In other words, socialism meant economic, social, and political democracy. They believed worker-run socialism would eventually become classless communism, as industry produced enough wealth to satisfy everyone’s basic needs and people became accustomed to contributing their abilities to a commonwealth that encouraged their talents and potentials in return.

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Reverse Discrimination and Employment

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

Let’s think discriminately about discrimination (yes, you read that right). I’ll distinguish two senses of discrimination, and then I’ll raise seven questions about reverse discrimination.

Discrimination 1: to discern/differentiate between things; show a partiality/preference to specific things/people for some (usually) good reason. We discriminate between foods, wines, friends, potential spouses.

Such discrimination is typically not problematic.

But discrimination 2 is problematic: it happens when we differentiate between people unjustly.

Discrimination 2 occurs when, say, we don’t hire a qualified black man simply because he is black. Ditto for women, aboriginals, ethnicities, etc.

Philosopher Louis Pojman clarifies: “Discrimination [sense 1] is essentially a good quality, having reference to our ability to make distinctions. As rational and moral agents we need to make proper distinctions. To be rational is to discriminate between good and bad arguments, and to think morally is to discriminate between reasons based on valid principles and those based on invalid ones. What needs to be distinguished is the difference between rational and moral discrimination [discrimination 1], on the one hand, and irrational and immoral discrimination [discrimination 2], on the other hand.”

Enter reverse discrimination (henceforth RD), sometimes also known as “strong affirmative action.”

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Nationalism and Anti-Nationalism: A Matter of Perception

By: Glen Paul Hammond

The culture of a nation is a multi-layered thing; it is like a many-sided diamond, or a delicate ecosystem with many working parts. Each and every culture has its own particular laws, customs, and social norms. These are parts of what make them distinct from one another and the basis of what is celebrated in their diversity. Nationalism too is a part of this equation, one of the facets of that many-sided diamond; it is, as Andrew Coyne puts it, a means through which individuals can identify themselves as “all members of the same nation.” Nationalism is a unifier that makes democratic self-government possible. At its worst, nationalism is an agent of division, yet, at its best, it is the necessary ingredient that allows for an espousal of diversity in the multicultural projects of liberal democracy.

One of the problems with the term nationalism, however, is that it means different things to different people. This highlights the need to preface any conversation on the topic with a working definition: A quick look at any dictionary will outline its essential features as “loyalty and devotion to a nation….a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” For many, this is distinguished from the strong feelings associated with patriotism, by an implication of an attitude of superiority. It is, perhaps, in this final implication that the current debate between nationalism and globalism is rooted.

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China’s ‘social credit system’: What would Lao Tzu say?

By: Brannon Gerling

Can China’s new ‘social credit system’ ethically enlighten its citizens? How would Lao Tzu (6th c. B.C.E.), the central figure in Taoism—that cherished self-exiled sage sapped by the stultifying monotony of the Zhao dynasty—treat all this ado?

Unlike Confucius’s style of virtue-based ethics which rest heavily on the sharpening of moral character, Lao Tzu’s less earthly Taoist ethics individually and transcendentally induce ethical development and hence resist the groupthink requisite for social engineering. The Chinese people’s best means to contest the regime’s new method of domestic persecution lies in their nexus to Tao. They must, as Tzu says in the Tao teh Ching, “hold fast to the original path in order to control the realm of the present.”

The Basics

Many Westerners referring to China’s new social credit system relate it to the dark-humored Black Mirror episode “Nosedive,” and the characters’ angst caused by the manic ritual of social rating isn’t unrealistic. Some of the penalties for an inadequate score will bear similar resemblance to the show: travel restrictions, throttling of Internet speeds, banning (citizens or their children) from choice schools, employment obstruction, difficulty securing loans, and, of course, public shaming.

Who might comply with the story’s credit system or cathartically screw it like the main character does in a mortifying maid-of-honor speech at her pseudo best friend’s wedding? Who really cares?

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) cares and is designing the system with ideal timing: deep learning is wielding big data to digitize everything from genome editing to reconstructions of human thinking. Perhaps the meek or stalwart will be able to ignore the credit system by living inconspicuous or prudent lives, but they will still be scrutinized. A growing network of 200 million CCTV cameras across the public and private domain will use facial recognition, body scanning, geo-tracking and other surveillance tech to track the massive swathe of addicted gamers and screen timers ushered into the largest digitally organised personality heist in history.

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Orienting Towards Dr. Mike Posner

Journey2Psychology, A Project by: Dr. MIchael Gordon 
Mike Gordon is travelling across the world to converse with influential Psychologists and discover the stories behind their work.
This journey will form the basis of a book from political animal press 
follow Dr. Gordon’s travels in full at Journey2Psychology

Over a career of more than 50 years Dr. Mike Posner of the University of Oregon has been a defining figure in Psychology — most notably for his efforts shepherding in the age of neuroscience for Psychology. In studies on attention, visual orienting, and a host of related cognitive processes, Dr. Posner and his colleagues have illustrated where and how neural circuits operate in the brain.

If I can wax poetically for a moment, one might recollect the parable of the blind men and elephant. Each one of the blind men reached out to touch the elephant and to describe their experience and each felt something different across the features of this large animal. One patted a solid mid-section, rough skinned body and declared the object to be a wall,  one felt a whip-like tail with a frayed end and shouted that the object was a broom, one grasped the thick, long trunk and exclaimed that it was a snake, and still another touched the fan-like ears and informed his peers that it was a peacock, I mean a fan. That last blind man seemed to often confuse fans and peacocks, much to the chagrin of his wife  and the bewilderment of the other blindmen. In any case, each found something important and exclaimed his excitement about this find to his colleagues! They debated and argued over their experiences. They accused each other of falsehoods and of misinterpretations — how could it be a snake when it was a broom? How could it be a broom when it was a wall? Eventually, slowly, and with much hand-wringing, they put their experiences together to construct an animal larger than any had originally thought and with more complexity than any had directly experienced.

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Psychologist on a Journey (or, Why I hit the road)

Journey2Psychology, A Project by: Dr. MIchael Gordon 
Mike Gordon is travelling across the world to converse with influential Psychologists and discover the stories behind their work.
This journey will form the basis of a book from political animal press 
follow Dr. Gordon’s travels in full at Journey2Psychology

My favorite part of Psychology has always been the stories.

My first project in grad school was to study human echolocation. I read these wonderful papers from Karl Dallenbach and colleagues from the 1940’s and 50’s wherein they expressed not just what they did but how it all happened. There was always a bit of a wry nod to others in the field. A little extra something so that their colleagues in the field might share in the fun of how that whole experiment went down.

As Psychology advanced to more recent days those little winks and nods began to disappear from our writings and, were replaced with greater rigor, more detailed analyses, and more advanced theoretical evaluation. Data, replicability, and theoretical significance are, appropriately, the prominent center of how we communicate with each other in Psychology at this time. To learn the stories of the research one needs to speak to the researchers, meet with them at conferences, and have a few laughs over a beer.

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Is Ecosocialism the Antidote to Black Friday?

An Interview with Victor Wallis on WHOWHATWHY

Progressive politicians from Bernie Sanders to new Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have grown increasingly bold in calling for quasi-socialist solutions as the only viable means of addressing a range of intractable, growing problems —  from the health care crisis to climate change.

Others are even more explicit, arguing that capitalism itself is at the root of the matter.

Victor Wallis, a history professor at Berklee School of Music and longtime writer and thinker on the environment, this week’s guest on the WhoWhatWhy podcast, believes that “ecosocialism” is the only answer to the existential dilemma facing America and the world.

Wallis argues that, whether one is passionate about capitalism or is troubled by its extreme manifestations no longer matters. The imperative for ever greater profits, he says, creates more of everything and more demand for everything — and inevitably produces strains the earth can no longer afford.

Maybe not what you want to hear as you contemplate yet another Black Friday spree. But maybe also a good time to hear and debate unconventional ideas.

Listen to the interview or read the transcript on WhoWhatWhy

Victor Wallis is the author of Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism.

President Donald Trump Lashes out at Mother Nature for Being a Woman

Speculation he’ll sign Executive Order renaming it “Father Nature”

Don’t Feed The Animals, A Series of Satirical Musings by: Josh Lorenzo

Washington D.C. – The President, who is no stranger to early morning tweets, continued his critique of Mother Nature today, with a series of comments that has left the meteorological community reeling, and many political figures wondering as to the timing of the remarks.

The United States hasn’t seen this kind of bullying on display by our President in at least an hour and a half.

It’s unclear what led to the social media confrontation, but aides to the President have stated that he has become increasingly annoyed at the fluctuating temperatures that have occurred in recent months.  It is their conclusion that this fluctuation is hampering his ability to deny that climate change is real.  Compounding the issue is the fact that Mother Nature is a woman.

“He hates to lose, especially to powerful women he can’t control” said one aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.  This aide overheard the President state that a man, such as Old Man Winter, wouldn’t change his mind as much as Mother Nature does.

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Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought

By: David Antonini from 1000-Word Philosophy

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), born in Hanover, Germany, was a public intellectual, refugee, and observer of European and American politics. She is especially known for her interpretation of the events that led to the rise of totalitarianism in the twentieth century.

Arendt studied under German philosophers Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers and set out to pursue a path as an academic, writing a dissertation on St. Augustine. However, Hitler, the Nazi regime’s rise to power, and the bloody Holocaust forever changed her life. Being Jewish, Arendt was forced to flee the country, seeking refuge in France and eventually the United States. After living through the outbreak of WWII, Arendt devoted the rest of her life to writing about politics, although less in a traditional philosophical sense and more in the vein of a political observer, interpreting events of the twentieth century.

This essay explains some central insights of her political thought and how she developed these concepts to overcome the loss of politics as public debate in Nazi Germany.

1. Totalitarianism and the Loss of Public Debate

 Arendt understands “politics” as public debate by a community about meaningful aspects of their shared life together. She witnessed the collapse of politics, in this sense, under Nazi totalitarianism. This form of rule seeks to diminish public debate by making it a criminal act to criticize the regime. Arendt sought to understand the rise of this unprecedented form of government, and to defend public debate against threats to its existence.

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