Thomas Friedman | Can You Believe This Is Happening in America? – The New York Times

” . . . What’s going on? Well, in the case of Texas and Mars, the basic answers are simple. Texas is the poster child for what happens when you turn everything into politics — including science, Mother Nature and energy — and try to maximize short-term profits over long-term resilience in an era of extreme weather. The Mars landing is the poster child for letting science guide us and inspire audacious goals and the long-term investments to achieve them.

The Mars mind-set used to be more our norm. The Texas mind-set has replaced it in way too many cases. Going forward, if we want more Mars landings and fewer Texas collapses — what’s happening to people there is truly heartbreaking — we need to take a cold, hard look at what produced each.

The essence of Texas thinking was expressed by Gov. Greg Abbott in the first big interview he gave to explain why the state’s electricity grid failed during a record freeze. He told Fox News’s Sean Hannity: “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America. … Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis. … It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.”

The combined dishonesty and boneheadedness of those few sentences was breathtaking. The truth? Texas radically deregulated its energy market in ways that encouraged every producer to generate the most energy at the least cost with the least resilience — and to ignore the long-term trend toward more extreme weather.” . . . .

How Alvin the Beagle Helped Usher In a Democratic Senate – Shane Goldmacher – The New York Times

“The dog had a lot of work to do.

He was co-starring in a political ad that had to showcase the candidate’s good-natured warmth. But the ad also needed to deflect an onslaught of racialized attacks without engaging them directly, and to convey to white voters in Georgia that the Black pastor who led Ebenezer Baptist Church could represent them, too.

Of course, Alvin the beagle couldn’t have known any of that when he went for a walk with the Rev. Raphael Warnock last fall as a film crew captured their time together in a neighborhood outside Atlanta.

Tugging a puffer-vest-clad Mr. Warnock for an idealized suburban stroll — bright sunshine, picket fencing, an American flag — Alvin would appear in several of Mr. Warnock’s commercials pushing back against his Republican opponent in the recent Georgia Senate runoffs.”

Annalee Newitz | What New Science Techniques Tell Us About Ancient Women Warriors – The New York Times

OMG, an obscure, new contributing Opinion writer at the NYT, Annalee Newitz, was possibly in part responsible for the sacking of the US Capital, by angry, misogynistic, white supremacists. This is a story, that I assure you, everyone else has missed– missed that is, connecting the dots. This story might even get David Lindsay off the hook, for his sin, of allowing women to dance morris with men, in 1977!

Mx. Newitz is a contributing Opinion writer.

Credit…Claire Merchlinsky

“Though it’s remarkable that the United States finally is about to have a female vice president, let’s stop calling it an unprecedented achievement. As some recent archaeological studies suggest, women have been leaders, warriors and hunters for thousands of years. This new scholarship is challenging long-held beliefs about so-called natural gender roles in ancient history, inviting us to reconsider how we think about women’s work today.

In November a group of anthropologists and other researchers published a paper in the academic journal Science Advances about the remains of a 9,000-year-old big-game hunter buried in the Andes. Like other hunters of the period, this person was buried with a specialized tool kit associated with stalking large game, including projectile points, scrapers for tanning hides and a tool that looked like a knife. There was nothing particularly unusual about the body — though the leg bones seemed a little slim for an adult male hunter. But when scientists analyzed the tooth enamel using a method borrowed from forensics that reveals whether a person carries the male or female version of a protein called amelogenin, the hunter turned out to be female.

With that information in hand, the researchers re-examined evidence from 107 other graves in the Americas from roughly the same period. They were startled to discover that out of 26 graves with hunter tools, 10 belonged to women. Bonnie Pitblado, an archaeologist at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, told Science magazine that the findings indicate that “women have always been able to hunt and have in fact hunted.” The new data calls into question an influential dogma in the field of archaeology. Nicknamed “man the hunter,” this is the notion that men and women in ancient societies had strictly defined roles: Men hunted, and women gathered. Now, this theory may be crumbling.”

By David Brooks | 2020 Taught Us How to Fix This – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Illustration by Michael Houtz; photographs by Getty Images

“This is the year that broke the truth. This is the year when millions of Americans — and not just your political opponents — seemed impervious to evidence, willing to believe the most outlandish things if it suited their biases, and eager to develop fervid animosities based on crude stereotypes.

Worse, this was the year that called into question the very processes by which our society supposedly makes progress.

So many of our hopes are based on the idea that the key to change is education. We can teach each other to be more informed and make better decisions. We can study social injustices and change our behavior to fight them.

But this was the year that showed that our models for how we change minds or change behavior are deeply flawed.

It turns out that if you tell someone their facts are wrong, you don’t usually win them over; you just entrench false belief.

One of the most studied examples of this flawed model is racial diversity training. Over the last few decades, most large corporations and other institutions have begun racial diversity programs to combat the bias and racism pervasive in organizational life. The courses teach people about bias, they combat stereotypes and they encourage people to assume the perspectives of others in disadvantaged groups.

These programs are obviously well intended, and they often describe systemic racism accurately, but the bulk of the evidence, though not all of it, suggests they don’t reduce discrimination. Firms that use such courses see no increase in managerial diversity. Sometimes they see an increase — not a decrease — in minority employee turnover.

Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev offered a clear summary of the research in a 2018 essay in Anthropology Now. One meta-analysis of 985 studies of anti-bias interventions found little evidence that these programs reduced bias. Other studies sometimes do find a short-term change in attitudes, but very few find a widespread change in actual behavior.” . .

Brooks goes on to say that what scientists say works, is integrating neighborhoods, schools, teams and organizations. Social psychologist Gordon Allport wrote decades ago about a contact hypothesis.  Only doing things together changes prejudice and minds.

The Constitution of Knowledge | Jonathan Rauch – National Affairs

Jonathan Rauch

Fall 2018

“Long before Donald Trump began his political career, he explained his attitude toward truth with characteristic brazenness. In a 2004 television interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC, he marveled at the Republicans’ successful attacks on the wartime heroism of Senator John Kerry, the Democrats’ presidential candidate. “[I]t’s almost coming out that [George W.] Bush is a war hero and Kerry isn’t,” Trump said, admiringly. “I think that could be the greatest spin I’ve ever seen.” Matthews then asked about Vice President Dick Cheney’s insinuations that Kerry’s election would lead to a devastating attack on the United States. “Well,” replied Trump, “it’s a terrible statement unless he gets away with it.” With that extraordinary declaration, Trump showed himself to be an attentive student of disinformation and its operative principle: Reality is what you can get away with.

Trump’s command of the basic concept of disinformation offers some insight into how he approaches the truth as president. The fact is that President Trump lies not only prolifically and shamelessly, but in a different way than previous presidents and national politicians. They may spin the truth, bend it, or break it, but they pay homage to it and regard it as a boundary. Trump’s approach is entirely different. It was no coincidence that one of his first actions after taking the oath of office was to force his press secretary to tell a preposterous lie about the size of the inaugural crowd. The intention was not to deceive anyone on the particular question of crowd size. The president sought to put the press and public on notice that he intended to bully his staff, bully the media, and bully the truth.

In case anyone missed the point, Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, made it clear a few weeks later when he announced favorable employment statistics. In the Obama years, Trump had been fond of describing monthly jobs reports as “phony” and “totally fiction.” But now? “I talked to the president prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly,” Spicer said. “They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.” The president was not saying that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had improved its methodology. He was asserting that truth and falsehood were subject to his will.

Since then, such lies have only multiplied. Fact checkers say that, if anything, the rate has increased. For the president and his enablers, the lying reflects a strategy, not merely a character flaw or pathology.

America has faced many challenges to its political culture, but this is the first time we have seen a national-level epistemic attack: a systematic attack, emanating from the very highest reaches of power, on our collective ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. “These are truly uncharted waters for the country,” wrote Michael Hayden, former CIA director, in the Washington Post in April. “We have in the past argued over the values to be applied to objective reality, or occasionally over what constituted objective reality, but never the existence or relevance of objective reality itself.” To make the point another way: Trump and his troll armies seek to undermine the constitution of knowledge.”    . . . .

Source: The Constitution of Knowledge | National Affairs

Think You Have ‘Normal’ Blood Pressure? Think Again – By Jane E. Brody – The New York Times

“So you think your blood pressure is normal? Think again.

The latest iteration of an “ideal” blood pressure — a level of 120 millimeters of mercury for systolic pressure, the top number — that Americans are urged to achieve and maintain has been called into question by a long-term multiethnic study of otherwise healthy adults.

The study, published in June in JAMA Cardiology, found that as systolic blood pressure rose above 90 mm, the risk of damage to coronary arteries rose along with it. Systolic blood pressure represents the pressure within arteries when the heart pumps (as opposed to diastolic blood pressure, the lower smaller number, when the heart rests).

The new findings suggest a need to look more carefully at why, despite considerable overall improvements in risk factors for heart disease in recent decades, it remains the nation’s leading killer.

Starting in the 1940s, cardiovascular researchers have unveiled evidence that Americans live in a society that all but guarantees a disproportionately high risk of developing and dying of heart disease. Since my first weeks writing for this newspaper in the early 1960s, I’ve publicized their advice urging people to curb preventable risks to their hearts and blood vessels.”

Opinion | Could the Amazon Save Your Life? – By Mark J. Plotkin – The New York Times

By 

Dr. Plotkin is an ethnobotanist who has spent more than three decades working in the Amazon.

This article is part of the Opinion series The Amazon Has Seen Our Future, about how the people of the region are living through the most extreme versions of our planet’s problems.

“Western medicine is the most successful system of healing ever devised and is becoming more so as technology improves and synthetic medicines proliferate. But Mother Nature has been synthesizing weird and wonderful medicinal chemicals for over three billion years, many of which chemists could not predict or devise in their wildest dreams.

They should go to the Amazon.

Over more than three decades, I’ve worked, collaborated and lived with the forest’s shamans as I learned some of their secrets. In the dreamscape of Amazonia flourishes an abundance of astounding species of plants and animals that have provided society with a pharmacopoeia of medicines of astonishing range, from contraceptives to treatments for high blood pressure and malaria, a dental analgesic and surgical muscle relaxants and chemicals that expand the mind.

The region is so vast and impenetrable that much within it remains undiscovered. No wonder the richness of the landscape and the impressive medicinal knowledge of the Indigenous peoples inspired bewilderment and wonder in early visitors from Europe.

As early as the 1600s, the Dutch physician Willem Piso observed several “very effective” local treatments in Brazil, writing, “These Indigenous people, in spite of their total lack of scientific training, have passed on many noble, secret antidotes and medicines unknown to classic science to the next generation.”

Opinion | Those Biden ‘Gaffes’? Some Key Voters Actually Like Them – The New York Times

By Stephanie Muravchik and 

Ms. Muravchik and Mr. Shields are the authors of the forthcoming “Trump’s Democrats.”

Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

“If Joe Biden is going to rebuild the Democrats’ “blue wall” and win states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and claim the White House, he will need to appeal to the working-class Democratic communities that put Donald Trump over the top in 2016. They include more than 200 counties that supported Barack Obama twice before voting for Mr. Trump.

Many of these places had long records of unbroken support for Democratic presidential candidates, some even stretching back to before the New Deal.

Mr. Biden needs to tune in to their cultural sensibilities if he’s going to bring at least some of these pivotal blue strongholds back into the Democratic fold. He is one of the few Democrats, as a child of working-class Scranton, Pa., capable of doing so.

We spent the past few years hanging out in bars, churches and town council meetings with these voters — whom we call “Trump’s Democrats.” We interviewed nearly 100 people in three formerly blue strongholds that voted for Mr. Trump: Johnston, R.I., a suburb of Providence; Ottumwa, Iowa, a small industrial city and an inspiration for the setting of the Roseanne Barr show; and Elliott County, a tiny Appalachian community in northeastern Kentucky.

Despite their geographic diversity, these places have much in common with one another and with the many Democratic communities that swung for Mr. Trump in critical Midwest battleground states. They are overwhelmingly white and working class. They care about patriotism and serving their country and are especially attached to the places they live, with strong, place-based loyalties.

Their honor culture is common throughout the world and in many American communities that are not dominated by the professional managerial class.

As part of that, they share what we would call a Trumpian political culture.

In the communities we visited, some of their most beloved Democratic politicians have a Trumpian sensibility: They are macho, quick to engage in political conflict and relentless counterpunchers. One is Ottumwa’s Jerry Parker, a former mayor and a current county supervisor. He supported Hillary Clinton during the 2016 primaries; during one local primary meeting, he threatened to take a conflict with a Bernie Sanders supporter “outside.” “

Opinion | Who Can Win America’s Politics of Humiliation? – By Thomas L. Friedman – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Joe Biden at a community meeting in Kenosha, Wis., last week.
Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

About four years ago, without asking anybody, I changed my job description. It used to be “New York Times foreign affairs columnist.” Instead, I started calling myself the “New York Times humiliation and dignity columnist.” I even included it on my business card.

It had become so obvious to me that so much of what I’d been doing since I became a journalist in 1978 was reporting or opining about people, leaders, refugees, terrorists and nation-states acting out on their feelings of humiliation and questing for dignity — the two most powerful human emotions.

I raise this now because the success of Joe Biden’s campaign against Donald Trump may ride on his ability to speak to the sense of humiliation and quest for dignity of many Trump supporters, which Hillary Clinton failed to do.

It has been obvious ever since Trump first ran for president that many of his core supporters actually hate the people who hate Trump, more than they care about Trump or any particular action he takes, no matter how awful.

Opinion | Feeling Hopeless? Embrace It. – by Eric Utne – The New York Times

“. . .  The eco-philosopher Joanna Macy has described what she calls “despair and empowerment work”: “Just as grief work is a process by which bereaved persons unblock their numbed energies by acknowledging and grieving the loss of a loved one, so do we all need to unblock our feelings of despair about our threatened planet and the possible demise of our species. Until we do, our power of creative response will be crippled.”

The hippie back-to-the-land movement, combined with grass roots political organizing, really was the way to go. We need to regroup. We need a hyperlocal Green New Deal. We need to come together in diverse, intimate, place-based communities. And we need to segue now from the techno-industrial market economy to its sequel — much smaller-scale, less energy-intensive, more localized communities that prize food growing, knowledge sharing, inclusiveness and convivial neighborliness. We need to learn from cultures around the world that are still living as stewards of the larger, biotic community. This is the only kind of a society that might survive the rocky climacteric that already is upon us.

Do I have hope now? If hope means the expectation that someone (a new president) or something (geoengineering or some other techno-fix) is going to save us, then no. I’m hopeless, or rather “hope-free.”

Instead I subscribe to Vaclav Havel’s version of hope: “It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”