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Thu Oct 30, 2014 at 06:19 PM PDT

Ebola Vaccine Progress and Issues

by Mokurai

We should have safe and effective Ebola vaccines deployed in Africa in quantity, most likely starting in the Spring of 2015. We might have had them before the current outbreak were it not for Republican funding cuts, but that is now medical waste under the bridge.

The World Health Organization (WHO) had a meeting a week ago, on Oct. 23, on “access and financing” of Ebola vaccines. They discussed current progress and what is needed to make the vaccines happen. Public health organizations, countries, and health non-profits like Doctors Without Borders and the Vaccine Alliance were represented.

There are two candidate vaccines that have passed safety trials and are about to be tested for efficacy. There are also several possible treatments being researched.

Many questions have to be answered ASAP or researched further if we don't have the answers yet: medical questions about the disease and about vaccines and treatments; ethical questions about how to conduct trials during an epidemic, and at some point about mass vaccinations and treatments before production is ramped all the way up; and practical questions about funding, facilities, and organization.

We can examine answers to some of those questions below the Great Orange Virion, and discuss options for the others.

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GOTV (Get Out The Vote) is the greatest nightmare for Republicans today. Democrats of all sorts, cowed in a multitude of different ways over the last 50 years, will learn to believe in themselves, and to vote regularly, in both Presidential and off years, up and down the ticket, and even run for office. When we vote, we win. We have the numbers to flip all of the seemingly Red states of the former Confederacy, even Alabama, in the next few cycles.

Our book for today, which I will use to explain much of this, is Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control, by Peterson, Maier, and Seligman. It explains how helplessness arises in many different situations, how it operates, how it can be created and enforced, and also what can be done about it. Like using GOTV to get people out of the helplessness of "My vote doesn't matter."

When experience with uncontrollable events leads to the expectation that future events will elude control, disruptions in motivation, emotion, and learning may occur. This phenomenon has been called learned helplessness.
The most important result of research on helplessness is that those who have learned not to be helpless cannot be taught to be helpless again. The history of government and religion amply confirms this lesson, while showing how hard it has been to create conditions in which not being helpless can flourish. And yet we see it arise over and over again, and sometimes radically transform societies. But then the forces of reaction react and try their worst to undo it all, over and over again.

We discussed those motives in Grokking Republicans: Authoritarian Followers, Leaders, and Doubles. Now we are going to examine specific techniques, and how to counter them, particularly in the context of voting.

Republicans are in full freakout mode over Democratic GOTV. It is not just that they will lose elections, and that Democratic and Progressive measures will be enacted. They believe that this is an existential threat, because they will no longer be the self-proclaimed aristocracy of America and the world, and they are convinced that Democrats will be just as evil to them as they are to all of those whom they hate and revile and despise. Therefore they must do anything and everything possible to prevent the rest of us from realizing our power, from rising up out of our former helplessness. It is going to be ugly.

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Whatever you think of the question of God or Gods, religion is a real thing, for good or ill. In the quest for More and Better Democrats the question of fewer and less evil religious nutters has a prominent place. But does that mean trying to destroy all religion, or accepting that some religion is beneficial, and working with it?

In The Varieties of Religious Experience psychologist and Pragmatist philosopher William James set out to survey the psychological phenomena of religion as they were known more than a century ago. Both religion and science can agree in principle on the standard set by Jesus.

By their fruits ye shall know them.

Thus James set out to attempt an evaluation of their fruits in a non-dogmatic, non-theological, scientific way, which many of the churches concerned would of course not agree with.

Many of the particular ills of the modern Religious Right, such as the movements known as Fundamentalism, Dominionism, Theonomy and "Creation Science" had not been invented in their current forms in the time of William James, but their seeds had been plainly visible in Southern Baptist support of slavery and then Jim Crow, and denial of evolution. Biblical literalism and running societies on the basis of religious law are both of ancient origin, as are many other ills associated with one or another religion of ancient times.

Does religious theory (theology in theistic religions, or Abhidharma in Buddhism), practice, law, or specific events like radical conversions make people behave better? Sometimes, up to a point, with radically different evaluations according to the radically different criteria applied. I shall explain further below the Orange Cloud of Unknowing.

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No Grokking Republicans book Diary today on the Columbus Day holiday. But on that point, there is this.

John Oliver, Last Week Tonight: Why is this still a thing?

(I tried to embed this video without success. Any help would be appreciated.)

Christopher Columbus is a Right Wing racist imperialist hero, and a con man and all-around villain to many on the Left. The Catholic Church once thought of canonizing him as a saint for creating the opportunity to convert so many Native Americans to Christianity, and at the same time to enslave them, rape them, kill them with European diseases, and steal everything in the Americas, from gold and jewels to every bit of land the Europeans could reach.

As I see it, if it had not been Columbus, it would have been another bringing conquistadors and the Spanish Inquisition to the Americas, and all of the other imperial powers that followed: Portugal, France, the Netherlands, the British, and eventually Germany and Russia. As we learned from Philip Zimbardo last week, it is often the situation and the System, not the character traits of the individuals caught up in the System, that creates the greatest evils in the world.

We resume on the 20th with Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control, by Christopher Peterson, Steven F. Maier and Martin E. P. Seligman. We will apply the experimental results on unlearning helplessness to ongoing GOTV to flip the House and create Democratic majorities in all former Confederate states. Yes, even Alabama.

Then we will finish this series with The Varieties of Religious Experience, to examine the Religious Right, and to emphasize that Evangelical Christians and Muslim extremists do not own the debate, and must not be allowed to frame it for everybody else.

Update: No, it will be religion on the 20th, and helplessness on the 27th. I can't find my copy of Learned Helplessness, and it will take a while to get one on interlibrary loan.

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Wed Oct 08, 2014 at 02:36 PM PDT

XKCD on Marriage Equality

by Mokurai

CC-BY-NC licenseGraph of interracial marriage and same-sex marriage, 1930s to today People often say that same-sex marriage now is like interracial marriage in the 60s. But in terms of public opinion, same-sex marriage now is like interracial marriage in the 90s, when it had already been legal nationwide for 30 years.

People often say that same-sex marriage now is like interracial marriage in the 60s. But in terms of public opinion, same-sex marriage now is like interracial marriage in the 90s, when it had already been legal nationwide for 30 years.

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

This means you're free to copy and share these comics (but not to sell them).

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Warning: Triggers

How did we get to the abuses at Abu Ghraib? Or to torturing prisoners in the US, whether by waterboarding at Guantanamo, or years of aggravated solitary confinement, or horrific executions? Let's try it and see.

Put some bright but otherwise ordinary college students to playing guards and prisoners in a basement fixed up with makeshift cells at Stanford for a few days, choosing randomly who will be which. What could go wrong? Well, it's so horrific you have to cancel the experiment in the middle. Now what happens to real warders and prisoners who do it for years at a time, even for decades? What happens to a society that routinely does that to people?

It's called being tough on crime, or on terrorism. It is a major mental health epidemic in the US, not only among guards and prisoners, but in our religion and politics.

This week we get to look at horrors much worse than the Yale electric shock experiments that I Diaried a month ago, where there were no shocks. In the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) there were no physical assaults, but real people broke down as a result of psychological assaults. More than thirty years later, in The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Philip Zimbardo explained what went wrong, what should have happened, what was learned, and what good came out of it.

Here is another question. How did the advocates for evil, even torture, in our prisons, get that way? Is it something about how they were treated as children? Obviously so, in ways we have only partial knowledge of, but that is only part of the answer. What else is there, and what can we do about that?

I'm glad you asked.

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In this week's break from the science of Republicanthink we are indulging in maximum snark instead. Certainly we need it when we want to understand the John Birch Society, either in its original form in the 1950s, or in its Koch brothers form today, when it is almost exactly the same thing.

We can laugh at them, but actual observation shows that they have almost no sense of humor. You can tell by looking at the Mallard Fillmore strip in the funny papers, which Republicans claim to find hilarious. Or by the racist jokes they tell about the President. Here is Walt Kelly's take.

Mole: Remember, forewarned is forearmed.

Deacon Mushrat: I suppose an octopus is twice as well off? Hee hee?

Mole: What's that?

Deacon: It's a joke…it's funny…eight-armed is twice as good as fore-armed.

Mole: I don't get it…there's nothing funny about this business.

Deacon: I won't laugh at anything even if you say it.

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It is an article of faith in much of the Right that the only way to oppose tyrants and fanatics, whether Nazis, Communists, or ISIS, is with tyranny and fanaticism. Experience shows those willing to learn from it that both sides, indeed multiple sides can be wrong, and that building a just society works better. Science can go further, as we have seen in several areas of study described in the books we have been reading for this series. We know much more than we used to about how such people think and how such movements operate, and also about how to counter them short of war, hot or cold.

It is therefore instructive to go back and look at a seminal work on the subject, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, by Eric Hoffer, from 1951, when the science delving into Hitler and Stalin was in its infancy. (Free PDF) What did Hoffer get right, and what did he get wrong?

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These are the Americans you are most afraid of, because they are not afraid of themselves.

Authoritarianism is something authoritarian followers and authoritarian
leaders cook up between themselves. It happens when the followers submit too
much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do
whatever they want—which often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and
brutal…I'm going to present the case in this book that the greatest threat to American democracy today arises from a militant authoritarianism that has become a cancer upon the nation.
We know a lot, scientifically, about Authoritarian Republicans. Or we would if enough of us were paying attention. Very few of us read about this research, even the non-technical accounts such as Robert Altemeyer gives us in The Authoritarians. Fewer believe it, and fewer act on it.

Robert Altemeyer can explain a lot about Republicans. What he cannot explain is Democrats who do not take this information seriously, who mostly don't want to know about it or believe it if they do hear of it. Neither can I.

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John Dean, of Watergate fame, as much as admits that the title of his book, Conservatives Without Conscience, is wrong. These are not the conservatives of his youth, but authoritarians. Conservatism used to be a theory of government that aimed at the public good. What we have now on the right is the intention of tearing down government so that it cannot help anybody but the rich and powerful, and indeed harms those that the Right judges unworthy and dangerous. It has turned into a War on Everybody, with none of the constraints that we expect in persons with a conscience.

Do Republicans lack conscience? Certainly not all of those who have one have been driven out, because we continue to hear of some of them finally deciding that it is too much, and denouncing the GOP publicly as they depart. I wrote about some such cases in a Diary not long ago, Conservatives With Conscience. So which ones are we talking about, in what ways? John Dean has offered to take us on a guided tour and explain his understanding of what we know scientifically about the matter.

What does it mean to lack conscience? Well you may ask.

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Stanley Milgram's book Obedience to Authority is experiments directed at understanding the problem of the Nazis, starting on page 5 with Adolf Eichmann and the death camps. We can't avoid it. But we are here to apply his work to a much lesser evil—Republicans—and to ourselves.

Nazis in the concentration and death camps, among others, said

I was just following orders.
Adolf Eichmann, architect of the entire Final Solution against Jews, Gypsies, Communists, gays, and many others, claimed
I was never an anti-Semite…My sensitive nature revolted at the sight of corpses and blood…I personally had nothing to do with this. My job was to observe and report on it.
The Nuremburg Tribunal rejected those excuses. American military commanders also rejected the excuse from many Germans that they didn't know what was going on, and forced locals to tour nearby camps.

In the Milgram experiments, large numbers of people who said in advance that they would not harm others if ordered to do so gave up their personal consciences and went ahead and did it, excusing their behavior and ducking responsibility in many different ways. But by no means everybody. What would your excuses be? Or have you actually stood up to authority and made it stick?

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Wed Aug 27, 2014 at 08:00 AM PDT

South African Calls to Boycott Israel

by Mokurai

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu have both called for boycotting Israel.

In arguing whether Israeli policy is comparable to Apartheid, I have always been inclined to take South Africans as the experts, starting with Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of Apartheid.

Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.
In terms of Gandhi's analysis,
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
we are in the transition from ultra-Zionists and their enablers laughing at the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) to fighting against reality itself. Victory, that is, a peaceful two-state solution, is not automatic and will not come right away, but it is inevitable.
Poll

The two-state solution is

23%10 votes
25%11 votes
16%7 votes
0%0 votes
30%13 votes
0%0 votes
2%1 votes
2%1 votes

| 43 votes | Vote | Results

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