When Robots Replace Workers

An article in the Harvard Business Review by William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone suggests: “The “Second Economy” (the term used by economist Brian Arthur to describe the portion of the economy where computers transact business only with other computers) is upon us. It is, quite simply, the virtual economy, and one of its main byproducts is the replacement of workers with intelligent machines powered by sophisticated code. … This is why we will soon be looking at hordes of citizens of zero economic value. Figuring out how to deal with the impacts of this development will be the greatest challenge facing free market economies in this century. … Ultimately, we need a new, individualized, cultural, approach to the meaning of work and the purpose of life. Otherwise, people will find a solution — human beings always do — but it may not be the one for which we began this technological revolution.”

This follows the recent discussion of “Economists Say Newest AI Technology Destroys More Jobs Than It Creates” citing a NY Times article and other previous discussions like Humans Need Not Apply. What is most interesting to me about this HBR article is not the article itself so much as the fact that concerns about the economic implications of robotics, AI, and automation are now making it into the Harvard Business Review. These issues have been otherwise discussed by alternative economists for decades, such as in the Triple Revolution Memorandum from 1964 — even as those projections have been slow to play out, with automation’s initial effect being more to hold down wages and concentrate wealth rather than to displace most workers. However, they may be reaching the point where these effects have become hard to deny despite going against mainstream theory which assumes infinite demand and broad distribution of purchasing power via wages.

As to possible solutions, there is a mention in the HBR article of using government planning by creating public works like infrastructure investments to help address the issue. There is no mention in the article of expanding the “basic income” of Social Security currently only received by older people in the U.S., expanding the gift economy as represented by GNU/Linux, or improving local subsistence production using, say, 3D printing and gardening robots like Dewey of “Silent Running.” So, it seems like the mainstream economics profession is starting to accept the emerging reality of this increasingly urgent issue, but is still struggling to think outside an exchange-oriented box for socioeconomic solutions. A few years ago, I collected dozens of possible good and bad solutions related to this issue. Like Davidow and Malone, I’d agree that the particular mix we end up will be a reflection of our culture. Personally, I feel that if we are heading for a technological “singularity” of some sort, we would be better off improving various aspects of our society first, since our trajectory going out of any singularity may have a lot to do with our trajectory going into it.

We need to talk about death

Why ignoring our darkest fears only makes them worse

It’s a universal human experience. So why do we act like we need to confront it alone?

We need to talk about death: Why ignoring our darkest fears only makes them worse
(Credit: P_Wei via iStock)

“I don’t want to die. It’s so permanent.”

So said my terminally ill grandmother, a kick-ass woman who made life-size oil paintings and drank vermouth on the rocks every afternoon.

This isn’t an anecdote I’d be likely to mention in regular conversation with friends. Talk about ruining everyone’s good time. (“Ick, that’s so morbid,” everyone would think.) But earlier this month, the New York Times released its 100 Notable Books of 2014, and among the notables was not one but two – two! – nonfiction titles about death. This seemingly unremarkable milestone is actually one that we should celebrate with a glass of champagne. Or, better yet, with vermouth.

Right now our approach to death, as a culture, is utterly insane: We just pretend it doesn’t exist. Any mention of mortality in casual conversation is greeted with awkwardness and a subject change. That same taboo even translates into situations where the concept of death is unavoidable: After losing a loved one, the bereaved are granted a few moments of mourning, after which the world around them kicks back into motion, as if nothing at all had changed. For those not personally affected by it, the reality of death stays hidden and ignored.

For me this isn’t an abstract topic. There’s been a lot of death in my life. There was my grandmother’s recent death, which sent my whole crazy family into a tailspin; but also my dad’s sudden death when I was 20. Under such circumstances (that is, the unexpected sort), you quickly discover that no one has any clue whatsoever how to deal with human mortality.

“Get through this and we’ll get through the worst of it,” someone said to me at my dad’s funeral, as if the funeral itself was death’s greatest burden, and not the permanent absence of the only dad I’ll ever have.

Gaffes like that are common. But insensitivity is just a symptom of much deeper issues, first of which is our underlying fear of death, a fear that might only boil to the surface when we’re directly confronted by it, but stays with us even as we try our best to ignore it. It’s a fear that my grandmother summed up perfectly when she was dying — the terror of our own, permanent nonexistence. Which makes sense. After all, it’s our basic biological imperative to survive. But on top of that natural fear of death, there’s another, separate issue: our unwillingness, as a culture, to shine a light on that fear, and talk about it. And as a result, we keep this whole huge part of the human experience cloistered away.



“We’re literally lacking a vocabulary to talk about [death],” said Lennon Flowers, a co-founder of an organization called the Dinner Party, which brings together 20- and 30-somethings who have lost a loved one to discuss “the ways in which it continues to affect our lives.”

That lack of vocabulary is a big problem, and not just for people who directly experience loss. It’s a problem for all of us, because it means we each grapple alone with the natural fear of our own expiry. We deny the fear, we bury it under an endless stream of distractions. And so it festers, making us all the more invested in keeping it buried, for how painful it would be to take it out and look at it after letting it rot for so long.

But why all the self-enforced agony? Maybe it’s because a more honest relationship with death would mean a more honest reckoning with our lives, calling into question the choices we’ve made and the ways we’ve chosen to live. And damn if that isn’t uncomfortable.

Of course, if there’s one thing our culture is great at, it’s giving instruction on how to live. There are the clichés — “live each day to the fullest” and “dance like no one’s watching” — and beyond them an endless stream of messages telling us how to look better, feel better, lose weight, have better sex, get promoted, flip houses, and make a delicious nutritious dinner in 30 minutes flat. But all of it is predicated on the notion that life is long and death is some shadowy thing that comes along when we hit 100. (And definitely not one minute before then!)

To get a sense of how self-defeating each of these goals can be, consider this chestnut given to us by a Native American sage by the name of Crazy Horse:

“Today is a good day to die, for all the things of my life are present.”

No, today is not a good day to die, because most of us feel we haven’t lived our lives yet. We run around from one thing to the next. We have plans to buy a house or a new car or, someday, to pursue our wildest dreams. We rush through the day to get to the evening, and through the week to get to the weekend, but once the weekend comes, we’re already thinking ahead to Monday morning. Our lives are one deferral after another.

Naturally, then, today isn’t a good day to die. How about tomorrow? Probably not. What number of days would we need to be comfortable saying what Crazy Horse said? Probably too big a number to count. We preserve the idea of death as an abstract thing that comes in very old age, rather than a constant possibility for us as fragile humans, because we build our whole lives atop that foundation.

What would we gain from finally opening up about death? How about the golden opportunity to consider what’s really important, not to mention the chance to be less lonely as we grapple with our own mortality, and the promise of being a real friend when someone we love loses someone they love. Plus it would all come back to us tenfold whenwe’re the ones going through a loss or reeling from a terminal diagnosis.

Sounds like a worthy undertaking, doesn’t it?

And that’s where there’s good news. Coming to grips with death is, as we’ve already established, really hard. But we at least have a model for doing so. Let’s consider, for example, the Times notable books I mentioned earlier. One of them, the graphic memoir “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant,” provides an especially honest — and genuinely funny — account of author Roz Chast’s experience watching her parents grow old and die. The other book, Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal,” reveals just how much even our medical establishment struggles with the end of life. Doctors are trained to treat sickness, of course, but often have little or no training in what to do when sickness is no longer treatable.

What both of these books do especially well is provide a vocabulary for articulating just how difficult a subject death can be for everyone — even the strongest and brightest among us. As a universal human experience, it isn’t something we should have to deal with alone. It doesn’t make a person weak or maladjusted just because he or she struggles openly with death. And what Chast and Gawande both demonstrate is that talking about it doesn’t have to be awkward or uncomfortable, because these are anxieties that all of us have in common.

It’s a common refrain that what distinguishes humans from other animals is that humans can understand, on a rational level, the full magnitude of our mortality. But what also distinguishes humans is the richness of our relationships and the depths of our empathy — the ability we have to communicate our experiences and support those around us. Death is a deeply unsettling prospect, no matter who you are. But it doesn’t need to be a burden you face alone.

The following is a list of resources for those looking for an organized platform to discuss the topic of death:

  • Atul Gawande serves as an advisor to the Conversation Project, a site that encourages families to talk openly about end-of-life care — and to choose, in advance, whether they want to be at home or in a hospital bed, on life support or not — in short, to say in unequivocal terms what matters most when the end is near.
  • Vivian Nunez is the 22-year-old founder of a brand-new site called Too Damn Young. Nunez lost her mom when she was 10 and her grandmother – her second mother – 11 years later. “Losing someone you love is an extraordinarily isolating experience,” she said. “This is especially significant when you’re talking about teenagers, or a young adult, who loses someone at a young age, and is forced to face how real mortality is, and then not encouraged to talk about it.” She founded Too Damn Young so that bereaved teenagers will know they’re not alone and so they’ll have a public space to talk about it.
  • The Recollectors is a groundbreaking project by writer Alysia Abbott, that tells the stories of people who lost a parent to AIDS. She’s exploding two big taboos – death and AIDS – in one clean shot.
  • Get Your Shit Together is another great one, a site launched by a young widow who learned the hard way that everyone should take some key steps to get their financial matters in order in case of an untimely death. “I (mostly) have my shit together,” the site’s founder says. “Now it’s your turn.”
  • There’s also Death Cafe, dedicated to “increasing awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.” And Modern Loss, a site that’s received coverage from the New York Times and the Washington Post, shies away from nothing in its quest to tell stories about end of life and living with loss. “Death Cafe and Modern Loss have attracted a loyal following,” said Nicole Bélanger, author of “Grief in the Rearview: Three Motherless Years.” “They offer the safe space we crave to show up as we are, without worrying about having to polish up our grief and make it fit for public consumption.”

Perhaps these communities will start to influence the mainstream, as their emboldened members teach the rest of us that it’s OK, it’s really OK, to talk about death. If that happens, it will be a slow process – culture change always is. “Race and gender and myriad other subjects were forever taboo, but now we’re able to speak truth,” said Flowers of the Dinner Party. “And now we’re seeing that around death and dying.”

If she’s right, it’s the difference between the excruciating loneliness of hiding away our vulnerabilities and, instead, allowing them to connect us and bind us together.

What the decline of McDonald’s really means

Death of a fast-food Goliath: 

McDonald’s is on the decline in America. Here’s why that isn’t automatically good news

Death of a fast-food Goliath: What the decline of McDonald's really means
(Credit: 1000 Words via Shutterstock/Salon)

The reign of the golden arches is ending. McDonald’s reported this week that its already-declining U.S. sales nose-dived in November, down 4.6 percent compared to last year. The company that introduced America to fast food, and has come to stand as its icon, is fading away.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that America’s falling out of love with fast food. It’s just that these days, we call it Chipotle.

There are plenty of reasons ascribed to McDonald’s downfall, but one constantly cited is that the post-”Super Size Me” world just isn’t eager to subject itself to the chain’s version of food any longer. Americans, the narrative goes, are demanding more of their meals. And the spoils are going to a new generation of “fast casual” providers who can provide they’re rising to the challenge.

McDonald’s certainly seems to believe this to be the case. While the company says it plans to pare its offerings down to the essentials, one of the new initiatives it’s spearheading in an attempt to reverse its fortunes is a sleek, touch-screen burger customization system, giving customers a greater degree of control over the options they do have — just like at Chipotle. Crucially, the company also seems to be realizing that there may be a problem with the food itself: building on its recent P.R. campaign aimed at demystifying the origins of McRibs and McNuggets, executives say they’re also considering paring down the list of ingredients in their highly processed offerings. In November, it rejected a new variety of genetically modified potato from its biggest supplier.



None of that, however, holds a candle to the image Chipotle is selling, best encompassed by “The Scarecrow.” The viral video’s success lay in its portrayal of everything it claims its food isn’t: unnatural, inhumanely raised, factory farm meat laden with God-knows-what chemicals and additives. “From the very beginning, Chipotle has used really high-quality fresh ingredients, and prepares all the foods we serve,” company spokesman Chris Arnold boasted to the AFP. ”So from the beginning, we were doing something which is pretty different than what was happening in traditional American fast food.”

Chipotle’s opened itself up to a fair amount of scrutiny from critics who say it’s overselling just how enlightened its “farm to face” fare truly is, however. Most of its food isn’t organic, and the company still uses genetically modified ingredients. While its efforts to source local, humanely raised and antibiotic-free meat are encouraging, it isn’t always able to live up to its own high (and highly advertised) standards. In some cases, customers end up paying premium fare for a product that’s more of the same.

This is a system-wide trend. Promising signs that other fast food giants are beginning to reform their ways — Panera ditching artificial additives, Chick-Fil-A eliminating chickens raised with antibiotics, Burger King removing gestation crates from its pork supply chain and switching over to cage-free eggs, In-N-Out Burger paying its workers a living wage — are laudable, but they shouldn’t be mistaken for what they are: positive P.R.-garnering baby steps toward improvement of a system that requires a total overhaul.

What Mark Bittman calls Improved Fast Food is still, after all, fast food. It still comes laden with fat, sodium and calories, often in excess of what you’ll get from McDonald’s. Even Chipotle continues to pour Coca-Cola. “Natural,” one of the new guard’s go-to adjectives, is a word with plenty of positive connotations but no FDA-enforceable definition; “humanely raised,” as a standard for livestock, is fallible at best. And I hate to break it to friends of Five Guys and Smashburger, but there’s really no such thing as a “better burger“ (or, for that matter, a better beef burrito) from a health perspective, and certainly not if you’re looking for a sustainable meal. Our growing understanding of diet’s contribution to climate change, on the contrary, holds that we’ve got to drastically cut down our consumption of meat, and of beef in particular.

But consumers don’t care how a Big Mac compares to a burrito in terms of fat and calories, according to a lengthy analysis of the company’s downfall in Fortune – they just care that Chipotle’s food is “seen as being natural, unprocessed and sustainable.” McDonald’s failing may not be that it’s so much worse than its competitors — it’s just that it’s so much worse at making itself look better. This is a food provider, after all, that’s still working to convince us that its burgers don’t contain ground-up worms.

That Americans are seeking out fresh, healthy food is unequivocally a good thing, one that’s already brought about some important reforms. But we’re still a long way away from revolution.

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

http://www.salon.com/2014/12/12/why_the_end_of_mcdonalds_doesnt_mean_the_end_of_fast_food/?source=newsletter

 

 

CIA torture and the crimes of the state

http://www.finalcall.com/artman/uploads/3/cia_torture.jpg

10 December 2014

The unclassified executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture, released Tuesday, describes, in extensive detail, horrific crimes that unquestionably violate domestic and international laws.

The review of the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation program” documents the systematic use of sadistic forms of torture, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation (for up to a week at a time), head-banging, sensory deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures, holding detainees in stress positions, confinement in coffin-like boxes, “rectal hydration” and “rectal feeding.” See, “Senate report on CIA interrogation details brutal torture methods.”

The report condemns these practices as illegal, immoral and ineffective, and denounces the CIA for withholding information from Congress and falsely claiming that its brutal interrogation methods helped foil terror attacks, capture and kill Al Qaeda operatives and “save lives.”

However, the most pertinent and obvious questions that arise from the report are not even being raised in the political establishment or the media: Who will be held accountable? Who will be indicted? Who will be prosecuted?

The Intelligence Committee Democrats, led by Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, do not name a single top Bush administration official, limiting their exposé to former high-ranking CIA officials. There are no formal proposals or calls for criminal prosecutions or other actions to hold those responsible for these heinous actions accountable. The report seeks to maintain the absurd fiction that the torture program was an isolated aberration, involving only a handful of operatives.

In fact, the program of CIA torture was planned, implemented and monitored at the highest levels of the state. The cast of criminals includes President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden.

The response to the report by many of these very same criminals leaves no doubt that such methods continue, in one form or another, today, and will be employed on an even broader scale in the future. In advance of the release of the report, Bush gave an interview in which he rejected the Senate committee’s suggestion that he was deceived by the CIA about the scope and nature of the interrogation program and categorically defended it.

Cheney called talk of CIA deception “a crock” and all but accused Feinstein and her allies on the committee of treason. Hayden and a number of other former top CIA officials launched a media campaign in advance of the report’s release calling the report flawed and biased and warning that it would spark anti-American protests and terror attacks around the world. The propaganda campaign against the report continued after its release, with top Republicans and most Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee joining in.

The Obama administration too is culpable, functioning as an accomplice to the crimes described. From his first day in office, Obama worked might and main to shield CIA torturers and Bush administration officials and prevent their prosecution. In 2010, Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, announced that the Justice Department would not prosecute CIA operatives who destroyed videotapes of CIA waterboarding sessions in 2005.

Obama made John Brennan, who oversaw the torture program as a CIA official under Bush, his chief counterterrorism adviser during his first term and elevated him to become CIA director in his second. Brennan and the White House have worked together to attempt to suppress the Senate report, withholding documents from the committee and then sitting on the completed draft of the report for two years. Under Brennan, the CIA spied on Senate staffers preparing the report, violating the constitutional separation of powers, the Fourth Amendment ban on arbitrary searches and seizures, and a number of US laws.

Congress itself, including Feinstein and the rest of the Democratic lawmakers, are also complicit in the torture program and other criminal practices. They were briefed repeatedly about the interrogation program, and if they were misled by the CIA, it is because they wanted to be misled.

Feinstein has for years been an unswerving defender of the US intelligence apparatus. She has categorically defended the National Security Agency spying programs and denounced whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea (Bradley) Manning as criminals and traitors.

The so-called liberal media has played no less an integral part. The Intelligence Committee report includes an entire section that details the manner in which the CIA fed leaks of classified information on its interrogation program to the New York Times and the Washington Post to manipulate public opinion in favor of such methods. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, articles were published and television programs produced aimed at legitimizing torture.

In her speech on the Senate floor Tuesday introducing the Intelligence Committee report, Senator Feinstein presented the torture program as an unfortunate and wrongheaded, if understandable, response to the 9/11 attacks and the need to wage the “war on terror.” This is a lie.

As the WSWS repeatedly warned, the phony war on terror was a criminal conspiracy to justify endless war abroad and a massive attack on democratic rights at home.

The CIA torture program itself was only an extreme expression of a break with bourgeois legality that characterizes every aspect of US policy. The theft of the 2000 election set the stage for the post-9/11 assault on democratic rights and creation of a police state-in-waiting, including Guantanamo Bay, the Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Department, the Northern Command, rendition, indefinite detention, drone assassinations and mass NSA spying.

Within the United States, the police, operating in close collaboration with the military and intelligence agencies, function ever more openly as an instrument of social and political repression. The “war on terror” is being brought home.

The acts described in the Senate report reveal the essence of bourgeois rule in the United States. The response must be not merely shock and horror, but an independent political movement of the working class to put an end to the capitalist system and hold accountable the criminals that preside over it.

Barry Grey

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/12/10/pers-d10.html

Report on Cleveland exposes national epidemic of police killings and abuse

By Thomas Gaist
6 December 2014

Amidst growing anger over the reign of police violence and killings throughout the United States, a new report extensively documents the routine criminal activity of one police department in northern Ohio.

The report, stemming from a joint investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio, finds that the Cleveland Department of Police (CDP) regularly employs unnecessary and lethal force against suspects and innocent civilians.

The investigation into the CDP was released only days after the decision not to indict the police officer who choked Staten Island resident Eric Garner to death in July, and days after a similar decision involving the officer who shot and killed unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. On Thursday night, and again on Friday, protesters gathered in many US cities to denounce these actions.

The report also comes only two weeks after a Cleveland police officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun at the time.

The Obama administration is seeking to contain popular anger over these and many other police killings, and the new Justice Department report is part of this process. The report advances a number of paltry “reforms,” such as a new monitoring body and different training courses that would “make CDP more effective” and “heal the rift” between the CDP and local communities.

No criminal charges are proposed. Instead, the authors urge the CDP to carry out a “cultural shift,” away from an “us-against-them mentality” and toward “community oriented policing principles.”

The report nonetheless documents with striking openness numerous instances of abuse and killings committed by CDP officers.

The CDP engages in “a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution” such as “unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons” and “unnecessary, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force including tasers, chemical spray and fists,” according to the report.

The use of unnecessary and lethal force “is neither isolated, nor sporadic,” the report states.

CDP officers view themselves as part of “an occupying force.” One police district station was found with a mock sign to suggest that the facility is similar to a military outpost (identifying it as a “forward operating base”).

The report gives details of 16 examples of unnecessary use of force by CDP personnel, including:

  • CDP officers used a Taser against a deaf man who was threatening suicide yet who “posed minimal risk to officers and may not have understood officers’ commands”
  • A CDP officer used a Taser against a man who was having seizures and was strapped to a gurney
  • CDP officers fired 137 rounds into a vehicle after a car chase, killing two unarmed individuals inside
  • A CDP officer choked a woman after handcuffing her to a piece of furniture
  • CDP officers severely beat a man after approaching him on suspicion of public urination and discovering that he was carrying a kitchen knife

Cleveland police officers frequently employ force “as punishment for the person’s earlier verbal or physical resistance to an officer’s command” that is “not based on a current threat posed by the person,” the report states.

Officers use “excessive force against persons who are mentally ill or in crisis, including in cases where the officers were called exclusively for a welfare check.” CDP officers frequently take action to escalate rather than de-escalate situations, actively creating conditions to justify use of force, and frequently discharge their weapons “in a manner and in circumstances that place innocent bystanders in danger.”

In addition to constantly using extreme levels of force, the report documents ways in which the police trample on the constitutional rights of the population.

The CDP frequently carries out arrests of individuals “on suspicion of having committed a crime, with no articulation or an inadequate articulation in the CDP’s own records of the basis for the officer’s suspicion,” the report found.

Officers regularly submit reports featuring “canned or boilerplate” language to justify their use of unnecessary violence and other tactics that violate the constitutional rights of Cleveland residents, and the intentionally pro forma reports are accepted as sufficient by supervising officers.

These abuses are carried out with complete impunity, the DOJ investigators found. The CDP has no effective mechanisms in place for holding officers accountable for illegal use of force. On the contrary, the CDP chain of command “endorses” and covers up for excessive use of force, and fails to “objectively investigate use of force incidents.”

CDP does not conduct investigations into the vast majority of deadly force incidents involving its officers. The last CDP internal investigation into a potentially illegal use of deadly force was carried out more than two years ago, in 2012.

While the report is focused on the actions of the police in Cleveland, Ohio, they could just as easily be applied to countless other police departments. Harassment and abuse is a constant feature of life for residents of all races in many impoverished cities and neighborhoods throughout the country.

The political establishment, including the Obama administration, is a willing and active participant in this process. Police forces have been built up systematically, and armed with the most advanced military equipment in programs that were endorsed by the Obama administration earlier this week.

The report gives a partial portrait of a policing system that operates above the law and with complete contempt for basic democratic rights. It is not an exception, but rather reveals the essence of the state apparatus as a whole, developed by the ruling class for the purpose of defending massive levels of social inequality and suppressing growing social unrest.

You should actually blame America for everything you hate about internet culture

November 21

The tastes of American Internet-users are both well-known and much-derided: Cat videos. Personality quizzes. Lists of things that only people from your generation/alma mater/exact geographic area “understand.”

But in France, it turns out, even viral-content fiends are a bit more … sophistiqués.

“In France, articles about cats do not work,” Buzzfeed’s Scott Lamb told Le Figaro, a leading Parisian paper. Instead, he explained, Buzzfeed’s first year in the country has shown it that “the French love sharing news and politics on social networks – in short, pretty serious stuff.”

This is interesting for two reasons: first, as conclusive proof that the French are irredeemable snobs; second, as a crack in the glossy, understudied facade of what we commonly call “Internet culture.”

When the New York Times’s David Pogue tried to define the term in 2009, he ended up with a series of memes: the “Star Wars” kid, the dancing baby, rickrolling, the exploding whale. Likewise, if you look to anyone who claims to cover the Internet culture space — not only Buzzfeed, but Mashable, Gawker and, yeah, yours truly — their coverage frequently plays on what Lamb calls the “cute and positive” theme. They’re boys who work at Target and have swoopy hair, videos of babies acting like “tiny drunk adults,” hamsters eating burritos and birthday cakes.

That is the meaning we’ve assigned to “Internet culture,” itself an ambiguous term: It’s the fluff and the froth of the global Web.

But Lamb’s observations on Buzzfeed’s international growth would actually seem to suggest something different. Cat memes and other frivolities aren’t the work of an Internet culture. They’re the work of an American one.

American audiences love animals and “light content,” Lamb said, but readers in other countries have reacted differently. Germans were skeptical of the site’s feel-good frivolity, he said, and some Australians were outright “hostile.” Meanwhile, in France — land of la mode and le Michelin — critics immediately complained, right at Buzzfeed’s French launch, that the articles were too fluffy and poorly translated. Instead, Buzzfeed quickly found that readers were more likely to share articles about news, politics and regional identity, particularly in relation to the loved/hated Paris, than they were to share the site’s other fare.

A glance at Buzzfeed’s French page would appear to bear that out. Right now, its top stories “Ça fait le buzz” — that’s making the buzz, for you Americaines — are “21 photos that will make you laugh every time” and “26 images that will make you rethink your whole life.” They’re not making much buzz, though. Neither has earned more than 40,000 clicks — a pittance for the reigning king of virality, particularly in comparison to Buzzfeed’s versions on the English site.

All this goes to show that the things we term “Internet culture” are not necessarily born of the Internet, itself — the Internet is everywhere, but the insatiable thirst for cat videos is not. If you want to complain about dumb memes or clickbait or other apparent instances of socially sanctioned vapidity, blame America: We started it, not the Internet.

Appelons un chat un chat.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/11/21/you-should-actually-blame-america-for-everything-you-hate-about-internet-culture/

The pharmaceutical industry has flooded America with antipsychotics.


The Most Popular Drug in America Is an Antipsychotic and No One Really Knows How It Works

Does anyone remember Thorazine? It was an antipsychotic given to mentally ill people, often in institutions, that was so sedating, it gave rise to the term “Thorazine shuffle.” Ads for Thorazine in medical journals, before drugs were advertised directly to patients, showed Aunt Hattie in a hospital gown, zoned out but causing no trouble to herself or anyone else. No wonder Thorazine and related drugs Haldol, Mellaril and Stelazine were called chemical straitjackets.
But Thorazine and similar drugs became close to obsolete in 1993 when a second generation of antipsychotics which included Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Geodon and Abilify came online. Called “atypical” antipsychotics, the drugs seemed to have fewer side effects than their predecessors like dry mouth, constipation and the stigmatizing and permanent facial tics known as TD or tardive dyskinesia. (In actuality, they were similar.) More importantly, the drugs were obscenely expensive: 100 tablets of Seroquel cost as much as $2,000, Zyprexa, $1,680 and Abilify $1,644.
One drug that is a close cousin of Thorazine, Abilify, is currently the top-selling of all prescription drugs in the U.S. marketed as a supplement to antidepressant drugs, reports the Daily Beast. Not only is it amazing that an antipsychotic is outselling all other drugs, no one even knows how it works to relieve depression, writes Jay Michaelson. The standardized United States Product Insert says Abilify’s method of action is “unknown” but it likely “balances” brain’s neurotransmitters. But critics say antipsychotics don’t treat anything at all, but zone people out and produce oblivion. They also say there is a concerning rise in the prescription of antipsychotics for routine complaints like insomnia.
They are right. With new names and prices and despite their unknown methods of action, Pharma marketers have devised ways to market drugs like Abilify to the whole population, not just people with severe mental illness. Only one percent of the population, after all, has schizophrenia and only 2.5 percent has bipolar disorder. Thanks to these marketing ploys, Risperdal was the seventh best-selling drug in the world until it went off patent and Abilify currently rules.
Here are some of the ways Big Pharma made antipsychotics everyday drugs.
Approval Creep
Everyone has heard of “mission creep.” In the pharmaceutical world, approval creep means getting the FDA to approve a drug for one thing and pushing a lot of other drug approvals through on the coattails of the first one. Though the atypical antipsychotics were originally drugs for schizophrenia, soon there was a dazzling array of new uses.
Seroquel was first approved in 1997 for schizophrenia but subsequently approved for bipolar disorder, psychiatric conditions in children and finally as an add-on drug for depression like Abilify. The depression “market” is so huge, Seroquel’s last approval allowed the former schizophrenia drug to make $5.3 billion a year before it went off patent. But before the add-on approval, AstraZeneca, which makes Seroquel, ran a sleazy campaign to convince depressed people they were really “bipolar.” Ads showed an enraged woman screaming into the phone, her face contorted, her teeth clenched. Is this you, asked the ads? Your depression may really be bipolar disorder, warned the ad.
Sometimes the indication creep is under the radar. After heated FDA hearings in 2009 about extending Zyprexa, Seroquel and Geodon uses for kids–Pfizer and AstraZeneca slides showed that kids died in clinical trials–the uses were added by the FDA but never announced. They were slipped into the record right before Christmas, when no news breaks, and recorded as “label changes.” Sneaky.
And there is another “creep” which is also under the radar: “warning creep.” As atypical antipsychotics have gone into wide use in the population, more risks have surfaced. Labels now warn against death-associated risks in the elderly, children and people with depression but you have to really read the fine print. (Atypical antipsychotics are so dangerous in the elderly with dementia, at least 15,000 die in nursing homes from them each year, charged FDA drug reviewer David Graham in congressional testimony.) The Seroquel label now warns against cardiovascular risks, which the FDA denied until the drug was almost off patent.
Dosing Children
Perhaps no drugs but ADHD medications have been so widely used and often abused in children as atypical antipsychotics. Atypical antipsychotics are known to “improve” behavior in problem children across a broad range of diagnoses but at a huge price: A National Institute of Mental Health study of 119 children ages 8 to 19 found Risperdal and Zyprexa caused such obesity a safety panel ordered the children off the drugs.
In only eight weeks, kids on Risperdal gained nine pounds and kids on Zyprexa gained 13 pounds. “Kids at school were making fun of me,” said one study participant who put on 35 pounds while taking Risperdal.
Just like the elderly in state care, poor children on Medicaid are tempting targets for Big Pharma and sleazy operators because they do not make their own medication decisions. In 2008, the state ofTexas charged Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen with defrauding the state of millions with “a sophisticated and fraudulent marketing scheme,” to “secure a spot for the drug, Risperdal, on the state’s Medicaid preferred drug list and on controversial medical protocols that determine which drugs are given to adults and children in state custody.”
Many other states have brought legal action against Big Pharma including compelling drug makers to pay for the extreme side effects that develop with the drugs: massive weight gain, blood sugar changes leading to diabetes and cholesterol problems.
Add-On Conditions
It’s called polypharmacy and it is increasingly popular: Prescribing several drugs, often as a cocktail, that are supposed to do more than the drugs do alone. Big Pharma likes polypharmacy for two obvious reasons: drug sales are tripled or quadrupled—and it’s not possible to know if the drugs are working. The problems with polypharmacy parallel its “benefits.” The person can’t know which, if any, of the drugs are working so they take them all. By the time someone is on four or more psychiatric drugs, there is a good chance they are on a government program and we are paying. There is also a good chance the person is on the drugs for life, because withdrawal reactions make them think there really is something wrong with them and it is hard to quit the drugs.
Into this lucrative merchandising model came the idea of “add-on” medications and “treatment-resistant depression.” When someone’s antidepressant didn’t work, Pharma marketers began floating the idea that it wasn’t that the drugs didn’t work; it wasn’t that the person wasn’t depressed to begin with but had real life, job and family problems—it was “treatment-resistant depression.” The person needed to add a second or third drug to their antidepressant, such as Seroquel or Abilify. Ka-ching.
Lawsuits Don’t Stop Unethical Marketing
Just as Big Pharma has camped out in Medicare and Medicaid, living on our tax dollars while fleeing to England so it doesn’t have to pay taxes, Pharma has also camped out in the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Arguably, no drugs have been as good for Big Pharma as atypical antipsychotics within the military. In 2009, the Pentagon spent $8.6 million on Seroquel and VA spent $125.4 million—almost $30 million more than is spent on a F/A-18 Hornet.
Risperdal was even bigger in the military. Over a period of nine years, VA spent $717 million on its generic, risperidone, to treat PTSD in troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet not only was risperidone not approved for PTSD, it didn’t even work. A 2011 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the drug worked no better than placebo and the money was totally wasted.
In the last few years, the makers of Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa have all settled suits claiming illegal or fraudulent marketing. A year ago, Johnson & Johnson admitted mismarketing Risperdal in a $2.2 billion settlement. But the penalty is nothing compared with the $24.2 billion it made from selling Risperdal between 2003 to 2010 and shareholders didn’t blink. The truth is, there is too much money in hawking atypical antipsychotics to the general population for Pharma to quit.

 

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