Disconnection from Reality 4

For years, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement has spread confusion about vaccines.

Its co-founder raised links between vaccines and autism. Its political leader campaigned against a law making vaccines obligatory. Its myriad websites drew traffic with posts by vaccine skeptics, and its party representatives blamed vaccines for tumors and allergies. ...
On Thursday, as school began this past week around Italy, the Five Star Movement and its coalition partner, the League, passed a measure that allows children to stay in school as long as their parents attest that they have been vaccinated, or will be by March. No doctor’s note is required.

Critics consider the decree a dangerous, and purely political, measure that creates chaos in the school system, increases the risk to classmates with autoimmune deficiencies and tempts a public health crisis.

Only a year ago, the number of measles cases in Italy climbed to 5,006 in 2017, from 843 in 2016. Last year, Italy had Europe’s third-highest per capita rate of measles after much-poorer Romania and Greece. Mexico has recommended that its citizens be vaccinated before traveling to Italy.

Italy is perhaps the most acute case of a contagion of another kind spreading in Europe and the West — one in which populist politics, misinformation and psuedo-science on the internet have combined with an anti-establishment mood in which experts are not to be trusted.
But now the populist forces that have fueled that trend hold power.... ...
On Thursday, Five Star senators said they would next seek to undo the vaccine law altogether. ...
The measles vaccine, which over the past 50 years has helped eliminate the disease in the United States, was introduced in Italy in 1976. The percentage of coverage climbed steadily to more than 90 percent in 2003. But the obligation was eased in 1999, Ms. Lorenzin said, because Italy had mistakenly believed it had ingrained the belief in science and vaccines into the culture.

Instead, she said, the opposite happened. She attributed the surge of distrust in vaccines to the fact that the diseases had become so rare as to seem unreal, to the debacle of a since-rejected and retracted report in the scientific journal The Lancet linking vaccines to autism, and to what she called “Doctor Google.” ...
Cases of measles, which can cause blindness, brain inflammation, pneumonia and in some cases death, have been rising. ...
Beppe Grillo, the co-founder of the Five Star Movement, has raised a link between vaccines and autism, suggested that vaccines weaken the immune systems of healthy children, and claimed that the pharmaceutical industry has pushed them for profit. Members of the party in the European Parliament have proposed eliminating some obligatory vaccinations for some public employees and professed a link between leukemia, tumors, allergies and autism to vaccinations. ...
Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant League, Five Star’s coalition partner, apparently wanted to get in on the anti-vaccination action as he built his own populist movement.
- Jason Horowitz, Italy Loosens Vaccine Law Just as Children Return to School, NYT, Sept. 20, 2018

On the face of it, the following report in the Times indicates that after adjusting for inflation, average hourly earnings increased .2 percent during August, suggesting an annual rate of increase of 2.4%.

And wage growth is still slow: after adjusting for inflation, average hourly earnings increased just 0.2 percent in August.
- Linda Qiu, Fact-Checking Trump’s Speech to the United Nations, NYT, Sept. 25, 2018

But later in the same issue of the Times (Sept. 26, 2018 print edition), we read this:

Between August 2017 and August 2018, the most recent available data, average hourly wages increased by 2.9 percent, but after adjusting for inflation, the increase was just 0.2 percent, according to the Labor Department’s flagship survey.
- Binyamin Appelbaum, One Reason for Slow Wage Growth? More Benefits, NYT, Sept. 25, 2018

So the reported .2 percent increase was not in August, but during the past year ending in August. A reader of the Times who reads only the first article may well fail to understand the rate at which earnings are increasing. When such a person, presumably relatively educated and attentive to what is happening in the world, has trouble coming to know such basic facts, what chance is there that ordinary Americans will come to understand the modern economy and be able to come to the right conclusion about what must be done to make America prosper?

The ones who will suffer most will be the British people, who were lied to by the Brexit campaign during the referendum and betrayed and treated like idiots by elements of their press. The shamelessness still knows no bounds: the Daily Express has asked in all seriousness whether the inferno in the tower block was due to the cladding having been designed to meet EU standards. It is a simple matter to discover that the answer to this question is No, but by failing to check it, the newspaper has planted the suspicion that the EU might be to blame for this too. As an aside: a country in which parts of the press are so demonstrably uninterested in truth and exploit a disaster like the fire in Grenfell Tower for their own tasteless ends has a very serious problem.
- The Laughing Stock of Europe, Translated by Paula Kirby from the original article dated 17 June 2017 in Der Bund Switzerland

Brexit is already costing the public purse £500m a week, new research has found – a stark contrast to the £350m “dividend” promised by the Leave campaign.
- Michael Savage and Robin McKie, Brexit costing Britain £500m a week and rising, says report, The Guardian, Sat 29 Sep 2018

The Obama administration estimated that it would cost the electric utility industry an estimated $9.6 billion a year to install that mercury control technology, making it the most expensive clean air regulation ever put forth by the federal government. It found that reducing mercury brings up to $6 million annually in health benefits — a high number, but not as high as the cost to industry. However, it further justified the regulation by citing an additional $80 billion in health benefits from the additional reduction in soot and nitrogen oxide that occur as a side effect of controlling mercury.

The new proposal directs the E.P.A. to no longer take into account those “co-benefits” when considering the economic impact of a regulation.
- Coral Davenport, Trump Administration Prepares a Major Weakening of Mercury Emissions Rules, NYT, Sept. 30, 2018

The EPA’s analysis of mercury reduction benefits is limited to quantifying lost future earnings due to lower IQ. The idea here is that mercury, a neurotoxin, can cause development problems for in utero fetuses. To account for the cost of this risk, EPA places a price on wages lost because of lost IQ points.

But any parent whose child has been exposed to mercury will care about more than the loss of potential earnings — over a lifetime, contact with the pollutant can mean more than smaller paychecks. There are also risks of cognitive and social defects, negative autoimmune effects, genetic effects, and heart attacks that are not quantified.

Even the narrow IQ-related effects EPA looks at are estimated only for a small group of people — children born to families that catch freshwater fish for their own consumption. Excluded are any of the potential risks that come from eating commercially bought fish, which is the vast majority of total consumption.

Some seem to like to pretend that these unquantified risks don’t exist at all. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, in a broadside against the rule, quoted EPA’s finding that “the benefits to society from the mercury reductions in the utility rule max out at $6.1 million, total.” The paper failed to mention all of the benefits that EPA recognized, but was unable to put a dollar figure on.
- Michael A. Livermore, Three cheers for new mercury pollution standards, Grist, Dec 21, 2011

The popularisation of ‘social constructionism’ is widely agreed to be traceable to the publication of The Social Construction of Reality by the sociologists Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann in 1966. In subsequent years, this concept attracted a large number of young, mostly left-leaning academics to the humanities departments of French universities, where social construction became an ideological tool useful to those engaged in the Parisian youth rebellion of 1968. From there, it spread rapidly though humanities departments in Europe and America, and into the social sciences.

The changes in intellectual thinking that this development catalysed reverberate across the West’s academic institutions to this day. What transpired in the late sixties was nothing short of a cultural revolution, riding a wave of academic trends referred to as ‘social constructionism,’ ‘postmodernism,’ and ‘poststructuralism,’ although it never became entirely clear if or how these concepts differ from one another. While foreign to some, social constructionist jargon is now routinely invoked by the young academics who successfully conquered the humanities over the ensuing 40 years.

These developments have not gone unnoticed in other parts of academia, where they have raised both eyebrows and tempers among social constructionism’s growing number of critics. Sceptics maintain that academic study of any kind demands intellectual rigour, consistency, and coherence if it is to produce meaningful intellectual reasoning and valuable conclusions. However, the major tenets of postmodernism/poststructuralism are that objectivity should be abandoned and academic endeavour should not be devoted to the pursuit of ‘truth,’ because objective truths simply do not exist.
- Kåre Fog, Lost Down Social Constructionism’s Epistemic Rabbit-Hole, Quillette, April 6, 2018

Aside from using at least three unedited rally hours this week to level https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/12/us/politics/fact-check-trump-rallies-midterm-campaigns.html" rel="external nofollow">factually inaccurate claims against his enemies, the president also submitted an op-ed attacking the Democrats’ “Medicare for All” proposals in USA Today that was eventually deemed misleading by the news outlet.

He falsely accused Democrats of wanting to turn the United States into Venezuela in interviews on Fox News, wrongly attributing the country’s economic crisis to its health care system.

He repeated the falsehood that United States Steel is opening “seven plants” to a crowd of supporters in Pennsylvania; it has announced none. He cited a nonexistent bill to claim that Democrats supported “open borders” at a rally in Kansas.
- Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman, ‘Donald Trump in Full’: The President’s Very Talkative, Very Televised Week, NYT, Oct. 12, 2018

Both images are the result of digital manipulation, and what, in its most ominous form, is called deep fakes: technology that makes it possible to show people saying things they never said, doing things they never did. ...
But, as always, the same technology that contains the opportunity for good also provides an opening for its opposite. As a result, we find ourselves on the cusp of a new world — one in which it will be impossible, literally, to tell what is real from what is invented.
- Jennifer Finney Boylan, Will Deep-Fake Technology Destroy Democracy?, NYT, Oct. 17, 2018

For decades, critical social scientists and humanists have chipped away at the idea of truth. We’ve deconstructed facts, insisted that knowledge is situated and denied the existence of objectivity. The bedrock claim of critical philosophy, going back to Kant, is simple: We can never have certain knowledge about the world in its entirety. Claiming to know the truth is therefore a kind of assertion of power.

These ideas animate the work of influential thinkers like Nietzsche, Foucault and Derrida, and they’ve become axiomatic for many scholars in literary studies, cultural anthropology and sociology.

From these premises, philosophers and theorists have derived a number of related insights. One is that facts are socially constructed. ...
Call it what you want: relativism, constructivism, deconstruction, postmodernism, critique. The idea is the same: Truth is not found, but made, and making truth means exercising power.
The reductive version is simpler and easier to abuse: Fact is fiction, and anything goes. It’s this version of critical social theory that the populist right has seized on and that Trump has made into a powerful weapon. ...
In his essay “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?” Latour observed that conservatives had begun using methods similar to those of critical theory to muddy debates around issues, like climate change, that required immediate and decisive action. Conservatives were casting doubt on the reality of planetary warming by pointing to “the lack of scientific certainty” around the issue. Latour had made a career questioning “scientific certainty” and worried that his critical “weapons” had been “smuggled” to the other side:

Entire Ph.D. programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always prisoners of language, that we always speak from a particular standpoint, and so on, while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives.
Some liberals have argued that the best way to combat conservative mendacity is to insist on the existence of truth and the reliability of hard facts. But blind faith in objectivity and factual truth alone has not proven to be a promising way forward.

Even if we felt comfortable asserting the existence of something like “truth,” there’s no going back to the days when Americans agreed on matters of fact — when debates about policy were guided by a commitment to truth and reason.
- Casey Williams, Has Trump Stolen Philosophy’s Critical Tools?, NYT, April 17, 2017

He accepts less-than-credible denials from autocratic heads of state about nefarious acts. He disputes the existence of man-made climate change and insists that photographic evidence of the crowd at his inauguration is fake, part of a media plot to harm him.

Over the course of 21 months, President Trump has loudly and repeatedly refused to accept a number of seemingly agreed-upon facts, while insisting on the veracity of a variety of demonstrably false claims that happen to suit his political needs. ...
...Mr. Hayden... quoted a former speechwriter for Mr. Bush, Michael Gerson, about Mr. Trump: “He lives in the eternal now — no history, no consequences.” ...
His long career in the New York real estate world convinced Mr. Trump that all people are prone to shading their views according to their own self-interest. Objectivity is not something he expects of people, and he long ago came to believe that “facts” are really arbitrary. ...
In his interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday night, Mr. Trump repeatedly painted climate science as a matter of political opinion. Scientists who have documented the man-made impact on climate change “have a very big political agenda,” Mr. Trump said, offering no evidence.

Even DNA evidence does not sway Mr. Trump from his beliefs. He maintained that the five young men imprisoned for the Central Park crime were still guilty even after they were exonerated by DNA evidence and a detailed confession from a sixth man. ...
As a citizen and a candidate, Mr. Trump repeatedly tweeted that there was a link between vaccines and autism, a claim scientists have rejected.

“I am being proven right about massive vaccinations — the doctors lied,” Mr. Trump wrote in a 2014 tweet.

And long after Mr. Obama released his long-form birth certificate in 2011, Mr. Trump appeared on Fox News and suggested that the president might not be a citizen.
- Maggie Haberman, A President Who Believes He Is Entitled to His Own Facts, NYT, Oct. 18, 2018

After the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was strangled in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul....
- Ben Hubbard, Khashoggi Double Sent to Create False Trail in Turkey, Surveillance Images Suggest, NYT, Oct. 22, 2018 [As a reader from Quebec commented, the Times presumably does not have any way of knowing Khashoggi was strangled. It seems unlikely he was strangled. It is sad that (unless the Times knows more than is plausible, in which case the Times should make that clear) the Times is so careless about distinguishing a claim by untrustworthy Saudis from fact.]

The mid-1990s were the years of the so-called science wars, a series of heated public debates between “realists,” who held that facts were objective and free-standing, and “social constructionists,” like Latour, who believed that such facts were created by scientific research. To hint at any of the contention and compromise that went on behind the scenes, the realists feared, would give succor to the enemies of progress: creationists, anti‐vaxxers, flat‐earthers and cranks of all stripes. If scientific knowledge was socially produced — and thus partial, fallible, contingent — how could that not weaken its claims on reality? At the height of the conflict, the physicist Alan Sokal, who was under the impression that Latour and his S.T.S. colleagues thought that “the laws of physics are mere social conventions,” invited them to jump out the window of his 21st-floor apartment.
At the time, the science wars struck most people outside the academy, if they noticed them at all, as an overheated scholastic squabble. Lately, however, these debates have begun to look more like a prelude to the post-truth era in which society as a whole is presently condemned to live. The past decade has seen a precipitous rise not just in anti-scientific thinking — last year, only 37 percent of conservative Republicans believed in the occurrence of global warming, down from 50 percent in 2008 — but in all manner of reactionary obscurantism, from online conspiracy theories to the much-discussed death of expertise. The election of Donald Trump, a president who invents the facts to suit his mood and goes after the credibility of anyone who contradicts him, would seem to represent the culmination of this epistemic rot. ...
Those who worried that Latour’s early work was opening a Pandora’s box may feel that their fears have been more than borne out. Indeed, commentators on the left and the right, possibly overstating the reach of French theory, have recently leveled blame for our current state of affairs at “postmodernists” like Latour. By showing that scientific facts are the product of all-too-human procedures, these critics charge, Latour — whether he intended to or not — gave license to a pernicious anything-goes relativism that cynical conservatives were only too happy to appropriate for their own ends. Latour himself has sometimes worried about the same thing. As early as 2004 he publicly expressed the fear that his critical “weapons,” or at least a grotesque caricature of them, were being “smuggled” to the other side, as corporate-funded climate skeptics used arguments about the constructed nature of knowledge to sow doubt around the scientific consensus on climate change. ...
This, in essence, is the premise of Latour’s latest book, “Down to Earth,” an illuminating and counterintuitive analysis of the present post-truth moment, which will be published in the United States next month. What journalists, scientists and other experts fail to grasp, Latour argues, is that “facts remain robust only when they are supported by a common culture, by institutions that can be trusted, by a more or less decent public life, by more or less reliable media.” With the rise of alternative facts, it has become clear that whether or not a statement is believed depends far less on its veracity than on the conditions of its “construction” — that is, who is making it, to whom it’s being addressed and from which institutions it emerges and is made visible. A greater understanding of the circumstances out of which misinformation arises and the communities in which it takes root, Latour contends, will better equip us to combat it.
Philosophers have traditionally recognized a division between facts and values — between, say, scientific knowledge on one hand and human judgments on the other. Latour believes that this is specious.
- Ava Kofman, Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher, Mounts a Defense of Science, NYT, Oct. 25, 2018

As crude pipe bombs were discovered at CNN headquarters and in mailboxes across the country, Mr. Trump’s supporters like the Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh and the conservative writer Ann Coulter asserted that the crime was a frame job by Democrats.
Before pipe bombs and the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings dominated the news, the main story was the migrant caravan — and it was accompanied by wild speculation on talk radio, social media and from opinionated personalities on Fox News. A myth went viral: The thousands of desperate Hondurans making their slow way toward the American border were players in a drama hatched by Democrats and funded by the right’s all-purpose villain, Mr. Soros, a notion Mr. Trump seemed to nod to at a rally in Montana. ...
Mr. Trump’s communications director for 10 days, Anthony Scaramucci, was matter-of-fact when he told Bloomberg TV on Thursday, “Yes, the president is lying, but he’s doing it intentionally to incite certain people, which would include left-leaning journalists and most of the left-leaning politicians.”
- Jim Rutenberg, Trump’s Attacks on the News Media Are Working, NYT, Oct. 28, 2018

President Trump went out of his way on Friday to distance himself from Matthew G. Whitaker, his choice to replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general, saying repeatedly that he did not know Mr. Whitaker and had not spoken to him and emphasizing that the new attorney general was merely “there in an acting position.”

“I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Mr. Trump told reporters.... ...
In addition, the president’s claim that he did not know Mr. Whitaker was called into question by Mr. Trump’s own words from just about a month ago, when he said in a “Fox & Friends” interview: “I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.”

Mr. Whitaker has also visited the Oval Office several times and is said to have an easy chemistry with the president, according to people familiar with the relationship. And the president has regarded Mr. Whitaker as his eyes and ears at the Justice Department.
- Eileen Sullivan and Katie Benner, Trump on Friday: ‘I Don’t Know Matt Whitaker.’ Trump Last Month: ‘I Know Matt Whitaker.’, NYT, Nov. 9, 2018

Supporters of the tax cuts repeatedly claimed the bill would increase economic growth enough to offset the decline in tax receipts. “I'm totally convinced this is a revenue-neutral bill,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, when a preliminary version of the bill was approved in the Senate in December 2017.

Despite a remarkably strong economy, the fiscal health of the United States is deteriorating fast, as revenues have declined sharply. The federal budget deficit — the gap between what the government collects in revenues and what it spends — rose to $779 billion in the 2018 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. That was a 17 percent increase from the prior year.
It’s highly unusual for deficits and borrowing needs to grow this much during periods of prosperity. A broad variety of analysts attribute the widening deficit to the tax cuts (along with increased military and other domestic spending ushered in through a bill Mr. Trump signed earlier this year).

Corporate tax revenues are down one-third from a year ago. Federal revenues as a whole ran $200 billion behind the Congressional Budget Office’s forecast for the 2018 fiscal year — even though economic growth was faster than the C.B.O. expected. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget reports that nominal federal revenues are down by at least 3.6 percent since the tax cuts took effect. ...
The Treasury expects to borrow a total of $1.338 trillion from global investors this calendar year. That would be 145 percent higher than the $546 billion the federal government borrowed last year.
- Jim Tankersley and Matt Phillips, Trump’s Tax Cut Was Supposed to Change Corporate Behavior. Here’s What Happened., NYT, Nov. 12, 2018

Everything is up in the air in the Britain’s tumultuous politics right now, but there is one certainty: There is no limit to the practical, economic and psychological damage these Brexiteers are prepared to inflict on the rest of us in the pursuit of their delusions or their demented desire for power. ...
If they were reasonable people, the pro-Brexit faction would now be shocked into facing reality. But they are not. These are the same politicians who tricked voters out of Europe by promising them that leaving would be all gain and no pain. ...
It was always rubbish, marketed by people deliberately indifferent to facts. The European Union was never going to let us leave the club while retaining all the advantages of belonging, any more than a tennis club allows ex-members to use the facilities for free.
- Jenni Russell, The Men Who Want to Push Britain Off a Cliff, NYT, Nov. 16, 2018

“It feels very lonely out here,” said Jamie McDaniel, a 36-year-old home health care worker in Topeka, Kan. .... ...
“I prefer to be in the dark because of all of the hostility going on,” she said. ...
The ugliness of politics has turned some people off. ...
''“I guess I would have to say that I’m completely confused as to who is lying and who is telling the truth,” Ms. Vetter said. “I just feel helpless.”
“For the last two years it’s been impossible to go to a bar on a Monday night and not have to talk about politics,” he said. “Most Americans are sick of that. I think you can win in 2020 by promising that if you become president, people can go back to talking about football.”
- Sabrina Tavernise, These Americans Are Done With Politics, NYT, Nov. 17, 2018

And what did “Trump” say Democrats would do? Why, that they would “eviscerate” the current Medicare program. Oh, and that they would turn America into Venezuela. Because that’s what has happened to countries that really do have single-payer, like Canada and Denmark.

Why do Republicans think they can get away with such blatant lies? Partly it’s because they expect their Fox-watching followers to believe anything they’re told.

But it’s also because they can still count on enablers in the mainstream news media. After all, why did USA Today approve this piece? Letting Trump express his opinion is one thing; giving him a platform for blatant lies is another. And as fact-checker Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post put it, “Almost every sentence contained a misleading statement or a falsehood.”
- Paul Krugman, Goodbye, Political Spin, Hello Blatant Lies, NYT, Oct. 11, 2018

“Something has gone wrong in the university — especially in certain fields within the humanities,” the three authors of the fake papers wrote in an article in the online journal Areo explaining what they had done. “Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances has become firmly established, if not fully dominant, within these fields.”

Their project quickly drew comparisons to a famous 1996 hoax in which the physicist Alan Sokal got a paper mixing postmodern philosophy with the theory of quantum gravity into a prestigious cultural studies journal.

But while that hoax involved a single article, the new one involved 20 papers, produced every two weeks or so, submitted to various journals over nearly a year.

The authors — Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian — said that four papers had been published; three had been accepted but not yet published; seven were under review and six had been rejected.
- Jennifer Schuessler, Hoaxers Slip Breastaurants and Dog-Park Sex Into Journals, NYT, Oct. 4, 2018

Mr. Trump had begun the day appearing to soften his stance somewhat on the wall. In a series of morning tweets, he falsely stated that substantial sections of the “Great Wall” on the southwestern border that he has long championed have already been completed, and he suggested that his administration could continue construction whether Democrats fund it or not.

That would be illegal, but it suggested that he was looking for a way to keep the government funded past Dec. 21, even if Democrats balk at wall funding.
- Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael Tackett, Trump Vows to Shut Down Government if Border Wall Is Not Funded, NYT, Dec. 11, 2018

In Britain, a 2008 survey found that 20 percent of teenagers thought Churchill was a fictional character but 58 percent thought Sherlock Holmes was real.
- Bret Stephens, An Antidote to Idiocy in ‘Churchill’, NYT, Dec. 14, 2018

In the 80s and early 90s, when it was just talk-radio and the Fox echo chamber, the term "prefabricated thought" was used. We seem to have gotten there, where Americans would much prefer someone else think their opinions and put them on the market, like they're a t-shirt or a pizza; too much trouble to make on their own, but I'll gladly buy one that's nice looking or tasty.
- Gustav Aschenbach, Venice, commenting on Scott Shane and Sheera Frenkel, Russian 2016 Influence Operation Targeted African-Americans on Social Media, NYT, Dec. 17, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions even recently opined that he believes marijuana is really the key gateway to heroin — a view so detached from reality it beggars belief.
- Andrew Sullivan, The Poison We Pick, New York Magazine, February 2018

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump repeated his false claims about the border wall, including that Mexico was already paying for it, as he promised during his campaign, and that much of its construction had already been completed.
The president has puzzled lawmakers and his own aides with his contention that Mexico is financing the wall through the revised Nafta trade pact between Mexico, Canada and the United States, known as the USMCA. The agreement, which has yet to pass Congress, contains no such proviso, and it is designed to lower tariffs, not raise them.

And while Mr. Trump claims that the wall is already being built, the Republican-controlled Congress enacted legislation barring any money from being spent to do so, and no such construction has occurred. The Trump administration has spent less than 10 percent of the other border security funding, for fencing and other measures, that Congress provided over the last year.
- Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael Tackett, Trump Rejects Potential Shutdown Compromise as He Prepares to Meet Congressional Leaders, NYT, Jan. 2, 2019

“I think he is without question the worst president we’ve ever had,” he said. “We’ve had some bad ones, and there’s not even a close second to him.” He added: “He’ll lie. He’ll cheat. You can’t reason with him.” ...
I asked him if he could identify at all with Trump’s dark worldview. “I disagree that Trump is a pessimist,” Reid said.... “I think he’s a person who is oblivious to the real world.”
- Former Senate leader Harry Reid, quoted in Mark Leibovich, Harry Reid Has a Few Words for Washington, NYT, Jan. 2, 2019

John R. Bolton found himself last weekend in a familiar but dangerous spot: cleaning up after his boss announced the withdrawal of 2,000 troops from Syria — a decision that rattled allies and threw America’s Middle East policy into turmoil. ...
Despite being a contemporary of Mr. Trump’s, however, Mr. Bolton is not a member of his inner circle. He does not have the same relationship with Mr. Trump that he had with Mr. Bush. Sometimes, with aides, the president refers to him as “Mike Bolton.”
- Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, Bolton Walked Back Syria Statement. His Disdain for Debate Helped Produce It., NYT, Jan. 7, 2019

As he makes his case for building a border wall, President Trump says that his predecessors have secretly confided in him that they should have done it themselves. The only problem: All of the living presidents say that’s not true.
Former President Jimmy Carter said on Monday that he never had such a conversation with Mr. Trump.... “I have not discussed the border wall with President Trump and do not support him on the issue,” Mr. Carter said in a statement.
Aides to the other living presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — have all likewise denied Mr. Trump’s claim. Former President George Bush, who died in November, was in failing health throughout Mr. Trump’s administration and did not have any discussion with the current president about substantive issues, according to people close to him.
This would not be the first time Mr. Trump has bragged about conversations that never happened. In 2017, he publicly claimed that the head of the Boy Scouts called him to praise a speech as the best ever given to the organization. He also asserted that the president of Mexico had called him to say that Mr. Trump’s enforcement efforts at the border were deterring Central Americans from crossing into Mexico because they knew they could no longer get into the United States.
After both the Boy Scouts leader and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico denied making such calls, the White House acknowledged that they never happened.
- Peter Baker, Trump Says Predecessors Confessed Support for the Border Wall. Not True, They Say., NYT, Jan. 7, 2019

“I haven’t left the White House in months,” Mr. Trump told Jeanine Pirro, the Fox News host who is also a personal friend of the president’s, in a phone-in interview on her show Saturday night. In fact, Mr. Trump traveled to the Texas border earlier in the week.
- Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman, President Trump Rejects Proposal to Temporarily Reopen the Government, NYT, Jan. 14, 2019

Theoretical physicists and philosophers believe that it is more likely than not that what we perceive as reality is in fact an elaborate computer simulation.
- CHAUNCEY DEVEGA, Donald Trump's "inverted totalitarianism": Too bad we didn't heed Sheldon Wolin's warnings, Salon, NOVEMBER 23, 2016

It’s a cliché of Silicon Valley that tech campuses are stocked with infantilizing perks and free food. The conventional wisdom is that these things keep employees from ever leaving the premises. Another reason becomes clear when you visit Facebook: there is absolutely nothing to do within a five-mile radius of campus.
The claim that there is absolutely nothing to do within a five-mile radius of the Facebook campus is plainly false. The heart of downtown Palo Alto is 3 miles away (by road; less as the crow flies). The Stanford Shopping Center is 4.1 miles away (by road). The Palo Alto Golf Course, the Palo Alto Airport, Stanford University, and the Baylands Nature Preserve are all within a 5 mile radius of the Facebook campus. It is simply not true that "there is absolutely nothing to do" in these places. This blatant inaccuracy in a Vanity Fair article is relatively insignificant, but serves as an example of a widespread lack of caring about accuracy, about reporting the truth, much as typos in Trump administration statements, as Michiko Kakutani puts it, are "indicative of the administration's larger carelessness and dysfunction---its cavalier disregard for accuracy, details, and precision." (The Death of Truth, p. 100)

“Vaccine-hesitant” parents are often influenced by a thoroughly debunked, nearly two-decade-old study that erroneously concluded that the M.M.R. vaccine is linked to autism in children. Since then, a small but highly organized and zealous group referred to as the “anti-vaxx” movement has promoted this misguided propaganda and also intimidated and harassed pro-vaccine doctors. Russia has strategically weaponized this doubt, unleashing bots on social media to spread disinformation and promote discord, creating a false equivalency between “both sides” of the debate and “eroding public consensus on vaccination.”

All of this has influenced friends of mine from the Bay Area and Virginia, otherwise highly informed individuals who pride themselves on sniffing out fake news, to remain skeptical about vaccines. Sarah described their mind-set and those of the patients she sees: “The parents don’t trust big pharma. They don’t trust scientific studies, and they think evidence is always changing. They don’t understand how vaccines work. Some will be like ‘I don’t want to overload my kid’s immune system with too many shots at once.’” ...
The World Health Organization listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 global threats of 2019. And it’s important to remember that these parents are not making choices that endanger just themselves or even just their children — they’re putting vulnerable groups at risk. People who can’t receive vaccines depend on herd immunity to protect them from diseases.
- Wajahat Ali, Finding Compassion for ‘Vaccine-Hesitant’ Parents, NYT, March 7, 2019

“The lack of a comprehensive secular education has raised a generation of some parents who do not appreciate modern science and do not have trust in the health system,” said Dov Bleich, a Hasidic father of two who lives in Monsey and emphasized that most rabbis are supportive of vaccines. ...
Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine, said people often do not understand the severity of diseases that have been eradicated by vaccines.

“Vaccines have been a victim of their own success,” Dr. Offit said.

“What upsets me is we haven’t learned from history,” he added. “What history teaches us is that measles is a killer, and vaccines can eliminate this killer, but now because of our ignorance we have to see children suffer.”

Still, opponents of vaccination ardently maintain that diseases like measles are not dangerous. ...
But measles killed 110,000 people globally in 2017, according to the World Health Organization.
- Tyler Pager, ‘Monkey, Rat and Pig DNA’: How Misinformation Is Driving the Measles Outbreak Among Ultra-Orthodox Jews, NYT, April 9, 2019

"No one I know of has said ‘I remember Donald Trump,’" Paul F. Gerken, a 1968 Fordham graduate and president of the Fordham College Alumni Association, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. "Whatever he did at Fordham, he didn’t leave footprints." According to Gwenda Blair’s 2001 biography, The Trumps, Trump’s grades at Fordham were not good enough to qualify him to transfer to Wharton. Blair wrote that Trump got into Wharton as a special favor from a “friendly” admissions officer who knew Trump’s older brother, Freddy. The college’s admissions staff surely knew that Trump’s father was a wealthy real estate developer and a potential donor.

Moreover, Trump has for years exaggerated his academic accomplishments at Penn. On at least two occasions in the 1970s, The New York Times reported that Trump “graduated first in his class” at Wharton in 1968. That’s not true. He didn’t even make the dean’s list, as the Daily Pennsylvanian, the campus newspaper, reported.

Trump has refused to release his grade transcripts from his college days. The fabrication that Trump was first in his class has been repeated in many other articles as well as books about Trump, but he has never bothered to correct it.

“He was not in any kind of leadership. I certainly doubt he was the smartest guy in the class,” Steve Perelman, a classmate of Trump’s at Wharton, told the Daily Pennsylvanian in 2015.To the contrary, the late professor William T. Kelley, who taught marketing at the Wharton School for 31 years, said that “Donald Trump was the dumbest goddam student I ever had.”

Trump’s insecurity about his intelligence and academic accomplishments is also revealed in his efforts to portray himself as an up-by-the-bootstraps self-made entrepreneur. Of course, upon graduating from college, Trump didn’t have to apply for jobs or go through interviews with potential employers who would judge him on his merits. Instead, his father Fred Trump handed young Donald the keys to his real estate empire.

“It has not been easy for me,” Trump said at a town hall meeting on October 26, 2015, acknowledging, “My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars.” An investigation by The Washington Post in March 2016 demolished Trump’s claim that he made it on his own. Not only did Trump’s multi-millionaire father provide Donald with a huge inheritance, and set up big-bucks trust accounts to provide his son with a steady income, Fred was also a silent partner in Trump’s first real estate projects.
- PETER DREIER, Why Trump Keeps Telling the World 'I’m Smart', The American Prospect, JANUARY 9, 2018

Mr. Trump sees potential for a “substantial trade deal.”
President Trump attended a business round table at St. James’s Palace, alongside Prime Minister Theresa May, business leaders from both countries, and his daughter Ivanka Trump.

At the start of the meeting, Mr. Trump praised Mrs. May and said that Britain and the United States would come to an agreement on trade.

Mr. Trump said that Britain is the United States’ biggest trade partner, a fact he then claimed that many people do not know. (China was actually the United States’ largest trading partner in 2018. Britain was No. 7.)

“I think we’ll have a very substantial trade deal,” Mr. Trump said.

- 6:34 / 04.06.2019, THE NEW YORK TIMES, Trump Meets May in London: Live Updates, The World News, 6/4/2019 [Note that the "Mr. Trump said that Britain is the United States’ biggest trade partner...." statement is not on the NY Times Trump Meets Farage and May in London: Live Updates page as of 11:14 AM PST, 6/4/2019. Nor does it appear in other online articles. It does appear in a Brian Stelter tweet, but the link there goes to the NY Times Live Updates page that does not contain the quote. However, in a discussion of the economic relationship between the U.K. and the U.S., Trump apparently said: "We are your largest partner. You’re our largest partner. A lot of people don’t know that. I was surprised. I made that statement yesterday, and a lot of people said, “Gee, I didn’t know that.” But that’s the way it is." - Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister May Before a Business Roundtable ]

Donald Trump’s declaration that “trade wars are good, and easy to win” will surely go down in the history books as a classic utterance — but not in a good way. Instead it will go alongside Dick Cheney’s prediction, on the eve of the Iraq war, that “we will, in fact, be welcomed as liberators.” That is, it will be used to illustrate the arrogance and ignorance that so often drives crucial policy decisions.
- Paul Krugman, Trump Is Losing His Trade Wars, NYT, July 4, 2019

In contrast, the sun is a source of constant energy. It is always releasing photons into space. While these particles don’t have mass, they have momentum. Solar sailing relies on the ever so gentle nudge of photons to push a sail forward, moving whatever is attached to the sail in the desired direction.
- Shannon Stirone, LightSail 2 Unfurls, Next Step Toward Space Travel by Solar Sail, NYT, July 23, 2019

Watson’s big innovation was his realisation that facts were largely irrelevant to selling products. What was important was provoking an emotional response – fear, anger (though not too much anger), love. The first of those was the root of one of his most successful campaigns, the one for Johnson’s baby powder. The campaign was specifically targeted at middle-class white mothers, and the language used was carefully selected. The powder was “pure” and “clean”, while failure to use it “exposed children to the risk of infection”. The idea was to make the women afraid for their children, and afraid to be seen as bad mothers if they failed to use the powder. Naturally the campaign was a huge success.
- Ciaran Conliffe, John B Watson, Dark Psychologist, Science & Tech, Headstuff, updated Apr 23, 2018

For years Mr. Trump has brashly — and baselessly — promoted suspicion as fact and peddled secret plots by powerful interests as a way to broadcast his own version of reality. Those include the lie that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and that millions of votes were illegally cast for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
Hours after Mr. Epstein was found to have hanged himself in his Manhattan jail cell, Mr. Trump retweeted a post from the comedian Terrence Williams linking the Clintons to the death. Mr. Epstein “had information on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead,” wrote Mr. Williams, a Trump supporter. In an accompanying two-minute video, Mr. Williams noted that “for some odd reason, people that have information on the Clintons end up dead.”
- Michael Crowley, Trump Shares Unfounded Fringe Theory About Epstein and Clintons, NYT, Aug. 10, 2019

YouTube’s search and recommendation system appears to have systematically diverted users to far-right and conspiracy channels in Brazil.

A New York Times investigation in Brazil found that, time and again, videos promoted by the site have upended central elements of daily life. ...
YouTube’s recommendation system is engineered to maximize watchtime, among other factors, the company says, but not to favor any political ideology. The system suggests what to watch next, often playing the videos automatically, in a never-ending quest to keep us glued to our screens.

But the emotions that draw people in — like fear, doubt and anger — are often central features of conspiracy theories, and in particular, experts say, of right-wing extremism. ...
Mr. Jordy, his tattooed Niterói protégé, was untroubled to learn that his own YouTube campaign, accusing teachers of spreading communism, had turned their lives upside down.

One of those teachers, Valeria Borges, said she and her colleagues had been overwhelmed with messages of hate, creating a climate of fear.

Mr. Jordy, far from disputing this, said it had been his goal. “I wanted her to feel fear,” he said.

“It’s a culture war we’re fighting,” he explained. “This is what I came into office to do.” ...
The group’s co-founder... said “we have something here that we call the dictatorship of the like.”

Reality, he said, is shaped by whatever message goes most viral.
- Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, How YouTube Radicalized Brazil, NYT, Aug. 11, 2019

The lesson of Gamergate — the one we feel reverberating throughout our politics every day in 2019 — is that there’s a sinister power afforded to those brazen enough to construct their own false realities and foist them on others.
- CHARLIE WARZEL, How an Online Mob Created a Playbook for a Culture War, NYT, AUG. 15, 2019

Peter Navarro, a top trade adviser who has urged the president on in his trade war, dismissed a study from researchers at Harvard, the University of Chicago, the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston that showed that the cost of Mr. Trump’s tariffs had “fallen largely on the U.S.,” not on China and other countries, as the administration has asserted.

“There’s no evidence whatsoever that American consumers are bearing any of this,” Mr. Navarro said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” insisting, despite abundant data to the contrary, that “they’re not hurting anybody here.”
- Maggie Haberman, In Economic Warning Signals, Trump Sees Signs of a Conspiracy, NYT, Aug. 18, 2019

Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.
- Neil Postman, Foreword to Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1985

Simultaneously these people refused utterly to admit the fact of German or Italian intervention at the same time as the Germany and Italian press were openly boasting about the exploits of their’ legionaries’. I have chosen to mention only one point, but in fact the whole of Fascist propaganda about the war was on this level.
This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history.
- George Orwell, Looking Back On The Spanish War, 1943, in England Your England and Other Essays, 1953

You either have to assume that a third of the population has gone mad, or instead see this as a fundamental failure of information. The UK is a failed state because the producers of information have made it fail.

All the information on No Deal outlined above is readily available for anyone who wants to find it . But so is ‘information’ suggesting exactly the opposite: that all these warnings are Project Fear and our lives have been made much worse because of the EU. Only people like those who are reading this are likely to be able to sort out which are the more reliable sources. Many more people will not have the time or inclination to even look.
- Simon Wren-Lewis, Why did the UK become a failed state?, mainly macro, 20 August 2019

In 2014, Peter Pomerantsev, a British journalist born in the Soviet Union, published “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible,” which drew on his years working in Russian television to describe a society in giddy, hysterical flight from enlightenment empiricism. He wrote of how state-controlled Russian broadcasting “became ever more twisted, the need to incite panic and fear ever more urgent; rationality was tuned out, and Kremlin-friendly cults and hatemongers were put on prime time.”

Since 2016, the book has enjoyed a new life among people struggling to make sense of the dual shocks of Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory. ...

Now, he’s written a penetrating follow-up, “This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality,” that is partly an effort to make sense of how the disorienting phenomena he observed in Russia went global.
- Michelle Goldberg, Toxic Nostalgia Breeds Derangement, NYT, Aug. 19, 2019

“The question I was asked most today by fellow World Leaders, who think the USA is doing so well and is stronger than ever before, happens to be, ‘Mr. President, why does the American media hate your Country so much? Why are they rooting for it to fail?’” he [Trump] wrote on Twitter on Sunday. ...

No leader expressed anything like that in public, although it would be impossible to know for sure what was said in private. Mr. Trump likewise insisted that some of the leaders secretly agreed with him behind the scenes that Russia should be welcomed back into the Group of 7, despite their public comments saying the opposite.
At one point on Monday, the president went so far as to mischaracterize his own wife’s involvement in his diplomacy. “The first lady has gotten to know Kim Jong-un and I think she’d agree with me, he is a man with a country that has tremendous potential,” he said, referring to North Korea’s leader.

But Melania Trump has never met Mr. Kim, much less gotten to know him.
- Peter Baker, As Trump Swerves on Trade War, It’s Whiplash for the Rest of the World, NYT, Aug. 26, 2019

Wally Wolf Texas Aug. 27 ...
I don't know how anyone who is mentally competent themselves and keeps up with the news or just listens to him speak for any length of time could ever vote for Trump to be president. It is inconceivable.
- Comment on Peter Baker, As Trump Swerves on Trade War, It’s Whiplash for the Rest of the World, NYT, Aug. 26, 2019

To sever those ties, not in a gradual, methodical untangling but with a sudden blow of the axe, risks calamity.

In August, a series of leaks of the government’s internal assessment showed that officials predict that a series of disasters will befall the country in the first month of a no-deal Brexit. They anticipate “consumer panic” over shortages of fresh food, fuel, and medicine, a risk to the supply of clean water, “possible friction at sea” between British and EU fishing boats, “law and order challenges” in Northern Ireland, and “operational gaps” in national security, hardly unexpected considering UK law enforcement and counterterrorism efforts have for so long relied on cross-channel cooperation. ...
Plenty of Remainers put their hopes in the persuasive power of evidence and warnings that Brexit, and especially a no-deal Brexit, will damage the British economy, reduce British influence abroad, and shrink the horizons of the next generation, as young Britons would lose the right to live and work in continental Europe. That evidence and those warnings have not been in short supply. Besides the leaked government memoranda, the big automobile companies have made clear that they could not continue to make cars profitably in a country wrenched out of the smooth supply lines of the single market. In July Vauxhall, once part of GM, announced that it could shutter production in its plant in Cheshire, just as Ford warned of “catastrophe” if the UK makes a disorderly exit from the EU.

And yet none of that seems to have had much effect. The Brexiters’ ready-made rejoinder, “Project Fear,” lives on, deployed against anyone—central banker, trade union representative, or economist—who dares point out the obvious: Brexit will hurt. On his first day in office, Johnson dismissed those voices as “the doomsters, the gloomsters” who would “lose their shirts” betting against Britain. ...
That Johnson has risen to the top, with the Conservatives currently ahead in the opinion polls, suggests that feeling continues to trump fact, that emotion still outweighs evidence. Perhaps it was always that way in politics, but the presence of a documented liar in Downing Street—a match for his serially dishonest counterpart in the White House—confirms that the phenomenon is particularly sharp today. ...
The same character who had noted the gentle mood in the air on that Olympic night in 2012 notes that “the world was changing now, things were spinning out of control in unpredictable ways.” This, then, is the Britain of 2019—in the grip of a populism that is trampling on the norms and constraints of liberal democracy, that is contemplating a collective act of self-harm without precedent, that is bracing itself for disruption, shortages, even civil unrest unknown in peacetime. This is not the consequence of unavoidable war or an unforeseen natural disaster, but is entirely of the country’s own making. It is “a calm and settled place” no longer.
- Jonathan Freedland, Fools Rush Out, New York Review of Books, 9/26/19

Show php error messages