Digital Breaks, or “Breaks”

Aug 19 2014 @ 8:30pm
by Freddie deBoer

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Exactly a year ago, David Roberts of Grist announced that he was taking an internet break, and would return on Labor Day of 2014. Roberts wrote at the time

I am burnt the fuck out.

I spend each day responding to an incoming torrent of tweets and emails. I file, I bookmark, I link, I forward, I snark and snark and snark. All day long. Then, at night, after my family’s gone to bed and the torrent has finally slowed to a trickle and I can think for more than 30 seconds at a stretch, I try to write longer, more considered pieces.

I enjoy every part of this: I enjoy sharing zingers with Twitter all day; I enjoy writing long, wonky posts at night. But the lifestyle has its drawbacks. I don’t get enough sleep, ever. I don’t have any hobbies. I’m always at work. Other than hanging out with my family, it’s pretty much all I do — stand at a computer, immersing myself in the news cycle, taking the occasional hour out to read long PDFs. I’m never disconnected.

It’s doing things to my brain.

So he elected to take a break from internet life. He’s not the first. Disconnecting from the internet has become a little genre onto its own. The most well-known of these disconnections, and the most emblematic, is that of The Verge‘s Paul Miller. And it’s emblematic precisely because of what Miller says didn’t happen– he didn’t get wiser, he didn’t get healthier. He writes,

One year ago I left the internet. I thought it was making me unproductive. I thought it lacked meaning. I thought it was “corrupting my soul.”

It’s a been a year now since I “surfed the web” or “checked my email” or “liked” anything with a figurative rather than literal thumbs up. I’ve managed to stay disconnected, just like I planned. I’m internet free.

And now I’m supposed to tell you how it solved all my problems. I’m supposed to be enlightened. I’m supposed to be more “real,” now. More perfect.

But instead it’s 8PM and I just woke up. I slept all day, woke with eight voicemails on my phone from friends and coworkers. I went to my coffee shop to consume dinner, the Knicks game, my two newspapers, and a copy of The New Yorker. And now I’m watching Toy Story while I glance occasionally at the blinking cursor in this text document, willing it to write itself, willing it to generate the epiphanies my life has failed to produce.

I didn’t want to meet this Paul at the tail end of my yearlong journey.

This, in my experience, is typical of people who have disconnected: they come back to report that in fact their online selves are more real and more fulfilling, and that really it was their doubts and dissatisfaction with the internet that had been misguided. Some go so far as to say that disconnecting is not actually possible. Miller cites Nathan Jurgensen, who has built a theory of pathology for those who advocate disconnecting. The message is clear: you can take your break, but there is no escape.

Read On

A Better Set Of Lies

Aug 19 2014 @ 8:07pm
by Jonah Shepp

Rosie Gray flags Russia Today’s new ad campaign:

“The campaign will be comprised of several different posters, and we kicked it off with wild postings in the New York City,” RT spokespersongrid-cell-30824-1408370582-5 Anna Belkina said in an email. “Soon it will be extended to Washington, DC, and London.” … The ads feature a picture of Colin Powell with the tagline: “This is what happens when there is no second opinion. Iraq War: No WMDs, 141,802 civilian deaths. Go to RT.com for the second opinion.” Another poster says, “In case they shut us down on TV, go to RT.com for the second opinion.”

Asked whether RT believes it is in danger of being shut down on American television, Belkina provided a statement from RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan: “Alternative voices, however rare, are often met with fear, hostility and bureaucratic obstructionism in the attempt to stifle them — because they are inconvenient to the establishment. We want the viewers to know that no matter what, RT will remain THE place to go to for that second opinion.”

That’s a well-crafted message, and it illustrates one of the many ways in which the massive missteps of the Bush era are coming back to bite us.

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by Dish Staff

Josh Voorhees has suggestions. The feds could step in:

If Holder concludes that there has been a pattern of misconduct by the police—either in the lead-up to Brown’s death or in its aftermath—the president has the ability to force widespread reforms within the department with the help of a law passed in the wake of the Rodney King beating. The provision in question, part of what was officially known as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, is “one of the most significant” pieces of civil rights legislation passed in the latter part of 20th century, and also one of the most “overlooked,” according to Joe Domanick, the associate director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime, and Justice. The law gives the federal government two options: It can either formally pursue a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Ferguson Police Department by alleging a “pattern and practice” of misconduct or the administration and city officials can enter into what is known as a “consent decree” that would mandate a specific set of reforms that would then be overseen by an independent court-appointed monitor. Faced with the possibility of a costly court battle, most cities have historically taken the path of least resistance and signed on the decree’s dotted lines. Ferguson officials probably wouldn’t buck that trend.

According to Samuel Walker, the emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, such an outcome is “the best hope we have” for turning around the troubled department. The reforms that normally accompany a consent decree “really get at the critical issue here, which is the culture of the department,” Walker says. “Day in and day out, what do officers know they have to do and what do they know that they can get away with?”

He notes that this worked for the LAPD after the Rodney King beating. Cincinnati also successfully changed:

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by Freddie deBoer

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border

Continuing the conversation about our culpability in Israel’s actions, this email sums up a lot of reader sentiment:

Your explanation is valid as far as Americans go, since they provide so much financial and more importantly, diplomatic, support to Israel. That’s not true for people in other countries. As just one example, let’s look at the civilian casualties and other atrocities in Syria, which are orders of magnitude greater than those caused by Israel. Did the Latin American countries who recalled their ambassadors from Israel to protest civilian casualties in Gaza similarly recall their ambassadors from Syria? Have there been any mass protest demonstrations at Syrian embassies in Europe? We can look at other recent atrocities and find similar absences of outrage around the world, yet consciences everywhere seem to miraculously awaken when Israel is involved.

I am a supporter of Israel as a country, but not of many of the policies of its government. Many of Israel’s actions in the West Bank are not only immoral and illegal (and illegal under Israeli law, yet they go unpunished), they are also stupid and self-defeating. Far from asking to end to criticisms of Israel, I join in many of them, provided they are based on an informed understanding of the situation. Too often they are not – people see some footage of civilian casualties, read some blog posts, and are suddenly instant experts on the Middle East. I expect people who offer an opinion to know what they are talking about. When I hear mischaracterizations (or disregard) of Hamas’ ultimate aims, ignorance of the chronology and reasons for Israel’s blockade of Gaza, wholesale swallowing of Hamas’ propaganda re civilian vs. military casualty figures, and most infuriating of all, minimization of the threat of invasion/terror tunnels and the effect of thousands of rockets used exclusively against civilian targets in Israel, I don’t see much reason to value their opinions.

Here is the fundamental question we’re considering: is Israel the same as other countries? Or is it different from other countries? The answer from my critics seems to switch depending on which would be more useful for defending Israel at that moment.

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by Dish Staff

Kitty Holland and Ruadhán Mac Cormaic report on the latest abortion controversy in Ireland:

The young woman who was refused an abortion and later had her pregnancy delivered by Caesarean section, has spoken of her attempt to take her own life when she was 16 weeks pregnant. She says she was a victim of rape before she came to Ireland earlier this year and she found out she was pregnant during a medical check soon after. In an interview with The Irish Times she says she immediately expressed her desire to die rather than bear her rapist’s child, when she was eight weeks and four days pregnant. … The section was performed on her earlier this month. She was discharged a week later and is receiving psychiatric care in the community. The baby, whom she has not had contact with, remains in hospital.

Amanda Marcotte blames anti-abortion legislation:

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Face Of The Day

Aug 19 2014 @ 6:16pm

Liberia Battles Spreading Ebola Epidemic

Local residents dress a sick Saah Exco, 10, after bathing him in a back alley of the West Point slum on August 19, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. According to a community organizer, Saah’s mother died of suspected but untested Ebola in West Point before he was brought to the isolation center on the evening of August 13th with his brother Tamba, 6, aunt Ma Hawa, and cousins. His brother died on August 15th. Saah fled the center that same day with several other patients before it was overrun by a mob of slum residents on August 16th. Once out in the neighborhood, Saah was not sheltered, as he was suspected of having Ebola, so he’s been sleeping outside. Residents reportedly began giving him medication, a drip, and oral rehydration liquids today. The whereabouts and condition of his aunt and cousins, who left the facility when it was overrun by the mob, is still unknown at this time. The Ebola virus has killed more than 1,000 people in four African nations, more in Liberia than any other country. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

View Alan Taylor’s heartbreaking gallery of images from the Liberian Ebola crisis here.

Getting Rich Off Debt

Aug 19 2014 @ 5:45pm
by Dish Staff

In an excerpt of his forthcoming book, Bad Paper: Chasing Debt From Wall Street to the Underworld, Jake Halpern (NYT) explores the morally-dubious consumer debt collection business:

[Aaron] Siegel struck out on his own, investing in distressed consumer debt — basically buying up the right to collect unpaid credit-card bills. When debtors stop paying those bills, the banks regard the balances as assets for 180 days. After that, they are of questionable worth. So banks “charge off” the accounts, taking a loss, and other creditors act similarly. These huge, routine sell-offs have created a vast market for unpaid debts — not just credit-card debts but also auto loans, medical loans, gym fees, payday loans, overdue cellphone tabs, old utility bills, delinquent book-club accounts. The scale is breathtaking. From 2006 to 2009, for example, the nation’s top nine debt buyers purchased almost 90 million consumer accounts with more than $140 billion in “face value.” And they bought at a steep discount. On average, they paid just 4.5 cents on the dollar. These debt buyers collect what they can and then sell the remaining accounts to other buyers, and so on. Those who trade in such debt call it “paper.” That was Aaron Siegel’s business.

It turned out to be a good one. Siegel quickly discovered that when he bought the right kind of paper, the profits were astronomical. He obtained one portfolio for $28,527, collected more than $90,000 on it in just six weeks and then sold the remaining uncollected accounts for $31,000. Siegel bought another portfolio of debt for $33,388, collected more than $147,000 on it in four months and sold the remaining accounts for $33,124. Even to a seasoned Wall Street man, the margins were jaw-dropping.

Responding to Halpern’s piece, McArdle offers some advice to those in debt:

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The View From Your Window

Aug 19 2014 @ 5:07pm
by Dish Staff

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Glenford, New York, 7.20 pm

by Freddie deBoer

Lots and lots of great reader responses to my post on peer review. Here’s a sample. Many readers ding me, correctly, for over-generalizing: much of academic peer review is not double-blind.

Interesting post, and thanks for the link to the Rossman piece. I don’t have a great story for you on peer review, but wanted to add that most natural science journals actually use single-blind. This may be changing, for example this article which also provides some support for my assertion.

Another:

I am a senior academic, so I have been on both sides of the peer review process, and I have counseled younger colleagues who have voiced complaints similar to those outlined by deBoer. Although some of the problems mentioned are insoluble, others could be remedied or at least reduced by clearer policies on the part of professional associations within various disciplines and academic journals. These include:

Read On

Mental Health Break

Aug 19 2014 @ 4:20pm
by Dish Staff

Music videos don’t get much better than this: