Journalist Matt Richtel’s ‘Deadly Wandering’ tells a harrowing story of technology’s dangers

By Wallace Baine, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Matt Richtel

Matt Richtel

On an early Friday morning in September 2006, a young man named Reggie Shaw climbed into his Chevy Tahoe for his long commute to work in Logan, Utah. Somewhere on a highway east of Logan, with the sky just beginning to lighten, Reggie veered over the yellow line and sideswiped a Saturn coming from the opposite direction. The Saturn spun out and was “T-boned” by a Ford pick-up, killing the two men riding in the Saturn.

From that tragic event comes the story at the center of Matt Richtel’s new book “A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention” (Wm. Morrow).
Reggie Shaw, it was later determined, was texting on his flip phone at the time of the accident, which he initially denied. What followed was the seminal legal case that defined the debate about texting and driving.
Richtel, a reporter at the New York Times, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for his reporting on the risks of distracted driving. In his book, he lays out the narrative of the Shaw case, what happened to Reggie and to the families of the victims, and how the events of that morning led lawmakers to look for a proper legal response to what can be a deadly habit.
At the same time, “Deadly Wandering” probes into the neuroscience of distraction, and the deeply seated neuro-chemical appeal of our ubiquitous hand-held devices.
“I didn’t want to write a book just about texting and driving,” said Richtel, who comes to Bookshop Santa Cruz to discuss his book Nov. 5. “What we’re talking about here goes well beyond what happens in the car. Why are we checking our devices all the time? Why can’t we stand idly in line at the grocery store, or at a stoplight, or with our homework, or with the spouse that sitting right across the table, without feeling that itch to look at our device?”
Chapters on what science is learning about how smart-phone and tablet technology are changing our brains are interspersed within the longer story of Reggie Shaw who later went to jail.
“This is not a screed against technology,” said Richtel of his new book. “It’s a wake-up call to be informed about the power of the neuro-chemical power of these things, in the same way we want to be informed about anything that has lots of power over our lives.”

Research suggests that checking in on your smart phone may release a dose of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that regulates the pleasure centers of the brain. “Ninety-six percent of people say that you shouldn’t text and drive, and yet, 30 percent do it anyway,” said Richtel. “The only other disconnect I can find that is that stark is with cigarettes. Every smoker says it’s bad for you, yet they keep doing it. Why do these devices have such a lure over us.”

Today, Shaw is a crusader against texting while driving. “Deadly Wandering” is an often harrowing chronicle of how Shaw got to the point where he could admit his wrongdoing and atone for causing the death of two fathers and husbands.

“The Reggie story is so compelling because we can connect to him easily,” said Richtel. “The battle that happened after his deadly wreck is a metaphor for our own internal battle about how to pay attention, particularly on the roads.”

This is not, however, a morality tale. Instead of talking about the problem of texting while driving as an issue of responsibility and willpower, Richtel asserts that our powerful and appealing technological devises are changing our behaviors on a neurological level.

“People are getting in their cars every single day, people who are not malicious, who are not bad people, and yet they’re winding up in these deadly wrecks. Driving feels boring a lot of the time. And with every passing moment, we are becoming less tolerant of boredom than we’ve ever been. This thing is constantly beckoning us.”

Matt Richtel

http://www.mercurynews.com/entertainment/ci_26823138/journalist-matt-richtels-deadly-wandering-tells-harrowing-story?source=rss

 

The $2 billion Congress

http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2013/05/money.jpg

28 October 2014

While the upcoming midterm election will be the most expensive non-presidential poll in US history, voter turnout is expected to fall to record lows. Public disapproval of both the Democrats and Republicans—both of which are running on right-wing platforms—is at the highest levels ever recorded.

There is an ever-widening chasm separating the political institutions and both parties from the broad mass of the people. At the same time, the dividing line between elected officials and the financial oligarchy that controls economic life is growing ever thinner. With the passage of every election, the government is increasingly not only controlled by, but also composed of, the extremely rich.

Some recently released figures make this clear. The combined net worth of the members of the US Congress hit $2 billion last year, up $150 million from 2012, according to CQ Roll Call ’s annual tally. The median net worth of the members of Congress is over $450,000.

The release of the report follows the announcement earlier this year by the Center for Responsive Politics, using a different method for estimating the average wealth of US lawmakers, that 2012 marked the first time a typical member of Congress was worth over a million dollars.

Enormous wealth knows no party boundaries in US politics. The Democrats, who like to posture as partisans of the “middle class,” were on average richer than their Republican counterparts. Congress’ notable multi-millionaires include:

* California Republican Representative Darrell Issa, the wealthiest US lawmaker, who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa has a net worth of at least $357 million.

* Texas House Republican Michael McCaul, who is second on the list, with a net worth of at least $117 million. McCaul serves as chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Unsurprisingly, his top five campaign donors include the defense contractor Boeing and the airport security device manufacturer OSI Systems.

* Maryland Democratic Representative John Delaney, who placed third. His stated net worth increased over 60 percent between 2012 and 2013, hitting $111 million. He is a member of the House Financial Services Committee. Four of his five biggest donors include financial companies, including Credit Suisse and JPMorgan Chase.

* The House and Senate leaders are all multi-millionaires. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is worth about $2.8 million, while Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is worth $11.97 million. Republican House Speaker John Boehner has a net worth of $2.32 million, and outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor $9 million. Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has a net worth of $29 million, making her the 14th-wealthiest member of Congress.

In comparison, the net worth of a typical US household was $56,335 in 2013, down a massive 36 percent since 2003, according to a study published earlier this year by the Russell Sage Foundation. Based on that figure, a typical member of Congress is 20 times wealthier than a typical American.

In being staffed and run mostly by millionaires, Congress is in the company of almost every other major institution in the US. For example, eight of the nine Supreme Court justices are millionaires (by far), according to a review of their financial disclosures by USA Today .

The growing wealth of those who populate the institutions of the state is an expression of the decay of democratic forms in the US and the ever-more openly oligarchical character of the US political system.

Corruption, bribery, fraud and all manner of insider-dealings: such is the standard operating procedure of government in the United States. With the whole process fueled by unprecedented levels of cash, candidates spend a majority of their time in office fund-raising among the corporate elite and the well-heeled. Increasingly, individual wealth is leveraged into positions of political power.

If politicians are not extremely wealthy going in, they generally find fortune going out—either through extravagant speaking fees paid by corporations or through the “revolving door” between Congress and big business. A case in point is the Clintons. The couple, according to Hillary, were “dirt poor” after leaving the White House, but have since racked up over a hundred million dollars from speaking fees and other sources, putting them squarely in the top 0.01 percent of income earners.

Without glorifying the past, one can note changes in the forms of class rule over the past century of American politics. The two major parties, the Democrats and Republicans, in an earlier period had broader constituencies. The Democrats had the active support of layers of the middle class and large sections of the working class, along with sections of big business. The Republicans counted on support from small businessmen and small farmers as well as most of corporate America.

These parties have largely lost any substantial, active popular base. They have become hollowed out. They are little more than electoral instruments of a tiny financial aristocracy allied to the military-intelligence apparatus. All important decisions are made behind the backs of the population and sold to the people by a mass media whose leading personnel are themselves multi-millionaires.

Over the course of the past 50 years, amid the deindustrialization and financialization of the economy, accompanied by an extraordinary growth of social inequality, any marginal, relative distance between the political apparatus and the corporate-financial elite has vanished. At the same time, the middle class, the traditional social basis of support for parliamentary democracy, has been increasingly broken up. Broad sections have been proletarianized while the upper layers have seen their wealth soar in line with the stock market.

It is a basic tenet of Marxism that the social class that dominates economic life controls the state as well. This historic truth is being expressed ever more openly and nakedly in official politics.

Under these conditions, nostrums such as the belief that change can be realized by voting or writing your congressman are becoming increasingly discredited. Progressive political change cannot come without a direct assault by the working class on the fortunes and property of the ruling class. The task is not to reform, but to overthrow the existing political system and replace it with institutions that are under the democratic control of the working class, together with the reorganization of economic life to meet social needs, not private profit.

Andre Damon

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/28/pers-o28.html

Jian Ghomeshi to #Gamergate: Our culture’s toxic masculinity crisis on display

When do we get to talk seriously about misogyny and violence against women? A list of opportunities we should take

 

Jian Ghomeshi to #Gamergate: Our culture's toxic masculinity crisis on display
Jian Ghomeshi (Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch)

We don’t often get to talk about misogyny, toxic masculinity and male sexual entitlement outside of certain feminist and progressive spaces, whether those spaces are online or offline. In fact, just use the words “toxic masculinity” in a sentence and you’re bound to lose a lot of people straight out of the gate. People, even people who think rape is bad and that mass shootings are terrifying and preventable and that men shouldn’t threaten women with death for critiquing video games, bristle when you direct these conversations back to what seems to connect most of them, if not all of them.

But try to talk about toxic masculinity and you’re likely to get dismissed as a cynical opportunist pushing an agenda. Or a misandrist. (A “creeping” misandrist, even.) I saw that happen a lot over the weekend when women I follow on Twitter tried to talk about the Seattle shooting, in which a 14-year-old boy killed a girl and badly injured four other students, as part of a pattern we’ve seen before. It was a familiar script. When I wrote about Elliot Rodger’s misogyny after he killed six people in Isla Vista, California, I received a lot of angry emails telling me that I was politicizing a tragedy. It seems that, even when a killer leaves hundreds of pages detailing his racist and misogynistic worldview, we aren’t supposed to talk about those things. (We also aren’t supposed to talk about the data we have showing that 98 percent of shooters are men. Or, as the Guardian’s Jessica Valenti pointed out on Monday, research that shows that responses of “explosive anger” are ”two to three times more likely to occur in male teens, and twice as likely in adult men.”)

There is a dangerous and deadly pattern at play, and every day I read something that I file away as part of the growing list opportunities to talk about toxic masculinity, opportunities we should take. Because these aren’t isolated incidents, but the product of something more insidious and more dangerous. Sometimes, I keep actual lists. This week, my list looked like this:



1. Cop stole arrested women’s nude photos as ‘game’: docs

2. Teenage Boy May Have Shot Up His School Because His Girlfriend Broke Up With Him

3. Is GamerGate About Media Ethics or Harassing Women? Harassment, the Data Shows

4. Oklahoma City police officer accused of sex crimes released from jail for second time

5. CBC fires Jian Ghomeshi over sex allegations

Now unless you are of the belief that men are wired to be violent (I am not), then talking about our culture, how boys are raised to view themselves and others around them, seems pretty important. And to talk about this does not mean that all men are rapists or violent killers. And to talk about allegations of rape does not mean we are convicting men in the “court of public opinion.” It just means that there is something going on here, that these stories tell us something, and that the response to these stories reveal something, too. We need to look at and challenge those things.

So maybe we look at the story of cops stealing photos and treating a gross violation like a fun activity or an Oklahoma cop who is alleged to be a serial rapist and we question abuses of power and abuser dynamics in law enforcement. Maybe that can shape some of our thinking about why women don’t always report sexual violence to the cops. And while it may be impossible to know what drove Jaylen Fryberg to kill another student and himself, we have a very familiar set of circumstances that we can talk about instead of running away from them. We can look to the tragedy in Seattle and situate it as part of a larger pattern of violence that has revealed itself again and again and begin thinking about what addressing that violence might actually look like. Whether it’s gun control or healthy masculinity or both of these things.

And maybe then we can think about Gamergate and the harassment that has come to define this “movement” and we can question why so many people seem willing to look past that and lend credibility to serial harassers who have forced women offline and out of their homes. And while we wait to learn more about the allegations against Ghomeshi, we can still think about where our allegiances reflexively go when we learn about high-profile assault cases. Whom we believe and whom we don’t. We can ask questions about how the details included and excluded in reporting on allegations shape our view of those allegations. And we can listen to women who say that they didn’t speak out about harassment or violence they endured because they were scared that doing so would lead to more harassment.

Answers don’t always come easily. But a willingness to sit with and try to answer difficult questions is a minimum standard. Sadly, it’s one we’re failing to meet again and again and again.

Katie McDonough is Salon’s politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/27/jian_ghomeshi_to_gamergate_americas_toxic_masculinity_crisis_on_display/?source=newsletter

The dangerous American myth of corporate spirituality

How invocations of “karma” and Zen are being used to justify deeply unequal systems of power

The dangerous American myth of corporate spirituality
Steve Jobs, Satya Nadalla (Credit: AP/Paul Sakuma/Brendan McDermid/rnl, Kaveryn Kiryl via Shutterstock/Salon)

Recently, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gave some shocking advice to a young businesswoman who was concerned that her male peers were passing her up for promotions: Don’t question the systemic sexism of corporate America, just trust in “good karma” to get you ahead. While his attitude made waves in the blogosphere, in fact it accurately represents a form of spirituality that is becoming popular in the West.

You know what I’m talking about. When I go to yoga, I’m often surrounded by wealthy white women who can afford expensive classes and Lululemon threads. When I scroll through my Facebook feed, I see exclamations of bourgeois spirituality (“Staying at the Waldorf tonight! #gratitude #blessed #100happydays #livelife”). Moreover, my actor friends seem to use karma and positivity as tools to help them achieve commercial success.

We might call this a belief in spiritual meritocracy. The implicit idea here is that our professional and financial growth depends on our spiritual merit, not on the presence or absence of social structures and biases. We are told that if we are grateful enough, if we put enough happy energy into the universe, then we will be rewarded with material wealth and earthly pleasures. (Think “The Secret.”) We are told that we actually can have it all: a rich spiritual life, leading to a rich material life.

Of course, this is just the new-agey equivalent of the same old meritocracy myth that’s been floating around America since at least the 19th century; that in the land of the free, anyone can become rich if they just work hard enough, if they use the right brand of elbow grease.

Unless you are a rich Republican, decades of widening economic inequality should tell you how faulty this story is. While it is true that most successful people work hard, the meritocracy myth works more to justify an existing social hierarchy than to inspire us to make positive social changes.

So, for the same reason we look suspiciously on Horatio Alger-esque theories of social mobility, we ought to also be skeptical of their spiritual version, which says that underserved groups can get ahead not by standing up to power, but by focusing on love and positivity.



It’s times like these when I am reminded of Slavoj Zizek’s summary dismissal of “Western Buddhism.” Zizek cautions that while meditation may seem to come from an edgy counterculture, in fact Americans practice it in a way that is often consistent with consumerist capitalism:

“… although ‘Western Buddhism’ presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement … One is almost tempted to resuscitate the old infamous Marxist cliché of religion as the ‘opium of the people,’ as the imaginary supplement to terrestrial misery. The ‘Western Buddhist’ meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity … ”

In other words, rather than helping yogis become more socially conscious spiritual warriors, Buddhist meditation can get hijacked by the status quo. It only brings us a shallow peace that makes us less likely to question what counts as normal.

For the last seven years I have dedicated myself to a Buddhist meditation practice, and I believe that there is some truth to Zizek’s harsh critique. As I have become more skilled, I have enjoyed moments of sublime bliss. And the more mindfulness I developed, the better I got at daily activities. I got a little better at surfing, playing poker, driving; the truth is, meditation helps me achieve whatever goals I set for myself, whether that’s being kinder to my friends and family, or earning more money.

One problem with a capitalist-inflected Buddhism is that it can lead us to a kind of spiritual cul de sac. I found that my practice was in an uneasy tension with my leftist politics. I found myself attracted to a glamorous Santa Barbara lifestyle that left me feeling unfulfilled and disappointed. I found that it became easy to deal with disturbing images in the news by dismissing the suffering of others as the karmic products of their own poor decisions. (They’re just not being positive enough!)

Yes, I found myself tempted by tales of spiritual meritocracy.

Overall, I am happy that my Facebook friends and yoga moms are finding spiritual enrichment. But I believe that focusing only on the joyful aspects of spirituality can get us into trouble, if we aren’t careful. Every religion can get appropriated by the West’s consumerist ideology, and Buddhism is no exception. When we cultivate gratitude for our material wealth and ignore compassion for those less fortunate, comments like those of Nadella are a natural consequence.

In traditional forms of Buddhism, there are bits and pieces of teachings on karma that capitalism loves to pick up on. Our society emphasizes an interpretation of Eastern spirituality that does not threaten its own internal logic. It’s true, for example, that the Buddha taught that money was a blessing, and that one effect of an ethical way of life would be material prosperity. But it is hard for me to believe the Buddha would say that wealth inequality is solely the result of karmic patterns, and that we should ignore its hidden histories of slavery, colonialism and patriarchy.

The good news is that there may be a spiritual antidote for what Tibetan teacher Trungpa Rinpoche called “spiritual materialism.” And I’m not talking about intermittent bouts of Catholic guilt. I’m suggesting that if we work to complement our gratitude with mercy and compassion for those who are less fortunate, we can move away from the surface-level spirituality that is really just materialism in disguise. And this may be what the world needs more than ever.

There are plenty of opportunities for us to be compassionate. For example, as scientists’ long-term projections of the effects of climate change become more and more dire, somehow American denial of anthropogenic global warming is on the rise. This kind of denial is only possible if it is not met with compassion for those who are already facing the extreme weather of hurricanes like Sandy and Katrina, like the hard-hit women who are struggling to survive after flash floods destroy their communities. Cultivating compassion for those we usually ignore — whether that’s women in the global south who are facing the ugly end of natural disasters, inmates of American prisons, or businesswomen who make 20 percent less than men who do in the same job — is therefore both a spiritual and political imperative.

The point is not that we give up on Western spirituality, as Zizek seems to suggest. The teachings of Eastern religions are becoming more mainstream in America, but this is an opportunity as well as a cautionary tale. As we develop a more conscious lifestyle, let’s ask ourselves if we are deepening our spirituality, or just falling for the myth of spiritual meritocracy. May all beings be free from pain and suffering.

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/26/the_dangerous_american_myth_of_corporate_spirituality/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

 

Assange: Google Is Not What It Seems

When Google Met Wikileaks

In June 2011, Julian Assange received an unusual visitor: the chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, arrived from America at Ellingham Hall, the country house in Norfolk, England where Assange was living under house arrest.

For several hours the besieged leader of the world’s most famous insurgent publishing organization and the billionaire head of the world’s largest information empire locked horns. The two men debated the political problems faced by society, and the technological solutions engendered by the global network—from the Arab Spring to Bitcoin.

They outlined radically opposing perspectives: for Assange, the liberating power of the Internet is based on its freedom and statelessness. For Schmidt, emancipation is at one with U.S. foreign policy objectives and is driven by connecting non-Western countries to Western companies and markets. These differences embodied a tug-of-war over the Internet’s future that has only gathered force subsequently.

In this extract from When Google Met WikiLeaks Assange describes his encounter with Schmidt and how he came to conclude that it was far from an innocent exchange of views.

Eric Schmidt is an influential figure, even among the parade of powerful characters with whom I have had to cross paths since I founded WikiLeaks. In mid-May 2011 I was under house arrest in rural Norfolk, England, about three hours’ drive northeast of London. The crackdown against our work was in full swing and every wasted moment seemed like an eternity. It was hard to get my attention.

But when my colleague Joseph Farrell told me the executive chairman of Google wanted to make an appointment with me, I was listening.

In some ways the higher echelons of Google seemed more distant and obscure to me than the halls of Washington. We had been locking horns with senior U.S. officials for years by that point. The mystique had worn off. But the power centers growing up in Silicon Valley were still opaque and I was suddenly conscious of an opportunity to understand and influence what was becoming the most influential company on earth. Schmidt had taken over as CEO of Google in 2001 and built it into an empire.

I was intrigued that the mountain would come to Muhammad. But it was not until well after Schmidt and his companions had been and gone that I came to understand who had really visited me.

The stated reason for the visit was a book. Schmidt was penning a treatise with Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, an outfit that describes itself as Google’s in-house “think/do tank.”

I knew little else about Cohen at the time. In fact, Cohen had moved to Google from the U.S. State Department in 2010. He had been a fast-talking “Generation Y” ideas man at State under two U.S. administrations, a courtier from the world of policy think tanks and institutes, poached in his early twenties.

He became a senior advisor for Secretaries of State Rice and Clinton. At State, on the Policy Planning Staff, Cohen was soon christened “Condi’s party-starter,” channeling buzzwords from Silicon Valley into U.S. policy circles and producing delightful rhetorical concoctions such as “Public Diplomacy 2.0.” On his Council on Foreign Relations adjunct staff page he listed his expertise as “terrorism; radicalization; impact of connection technologies on 21st century statecraft; Iran.”

It was Cohen who, while he was still at the Department of State, was said to have emailed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to delay scheduled maintenance in order to assist the aborted 2009 uprising in Iran. His documented love affair with Google began the same year when he befriended Eric Schmidt as they together surveyed the post-occupation wreckage of Baghdad. Just months later, Schmidt re-created Cohen’s natural habitat within Google itself by engineering a “think/do tank” based in New York and appointing Cohen as its head. Google Ideas was born.

Later that year two co-wrote a policy piece for the Council on Foreign Relations’ journal Foreign Affairs, praising the reformative potential of Silicon Valley technologies as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Describing what they called “coalitions of the connected,” Schmidt and Cohen claimed that:

Democratic states that have built coalitions of their militaries have the capacity to do the same with their connection technologies.…

They offer a new way to exercise the duty to protect citizens around the world [emphasis added].

Schmidt and Cohen said they wanted to interview me. I agreed. A date was set for June.

Jared Cohen

Executive Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas Olivia Harris/Reuters

* * *

By the time June came around there was already a lot to talk about. That summer WikiLeaks was still grinding through the release of U.S. diplomatic cables, publishing thousands of them every week. When, seven months earlier, we had first started releasing the cables, Hillary Clinton had denounced the publication as “an attack on the international community” that would “tear at the fabric” of government.

It was into this ferment that Google projected itself that June, touching down at a London airport and making the long drive up into East Anglia to Norfolk and Beccles.

Schmidt arrived first, accompanied by his then partner, Lisa Shields. When he introduced her as a vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations—a U.S. foreign-policy think tank with close ties to the State Department—I thought little more of it. Shields herself was straight out of Camelot, having been spotted by John Kennedy Jr.’s side back in the early 1990s.

They sat with me and we exchanged pleasantries. They said they had forgotten their Dictaphone, so we used mine. We made an agreement that I would forward them the recording and in exchange they would forward me the transcript, to be corrected for accuracy and clarity. We began. Schmidt plunged in at the deep end, straightaway quizzing me on the organizational and technological underpinnings of WikiLeaks.

* * *

Some time later Jared Cohen arrived. With him was Scott Malcomson, introduced as the book’s editor. Three months after the meeting Malcomson would enter the State Department as the lead speechwriter and principal advisor to Susan Rice (then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, now national security advisor).

At this point, the delegation was one part Google, three parts U.S. foreign-policy establishment, but I was still none the wiser. Handshakes out of the way, we got down to business.

Schmidt was a good foil. A late-fiftysomething, squint-eyed behind owlish spectacles, managerially dressed—Schmidt’s dour appearance concealed a machinelike analyticity. His questions often skipped to the heart of the matter, betraying a powerful nonverbal structural intelligence.

It was the same intellect that had abstracted software-engineering principles to scale Google into a megacorp, ensuring that the corporate infrastructure always met the rate of growth. This was a person who understood how to build and maintain systems: systems of information and systems of people. My world was new to him, but it was also a world of unfolding human processes, scale and information flows.

For a man of systematic intelligence, Schmidt’s politics—such as I could hear from our discussion—were surprisingly conventional, even banal. He grasped structural relationships quickly, but struggled to verbalize many of them, often shoehorning geopolitical subtleties into Silicon Valley marketese or the ossified State Department micro-language of his companions. He was at his best when he was speaking (perhaps without realizing it) as an engineer, breaking down complexities into their orthogonal components.

I found Cohen a good listener, but a less interesting thinker, possessed of that relentless conviviality that routinely afflicts career generalists and Rhodes Scholars. As you would expect from his foreign-policy background, Cohen had a knowledge of international flash points and conflicts and moved rapidly between them, detailing different scenarios to test my assertions. But it sometimes felt as if he was riffing on orthodoxies in a way that was designed to impress his former colleagues in official Washington.

Malcomson, older, was more pensive, his input thoughtful and generous. Shields was quiet for much of the conversation, taking notes, humoring the bigger egos around the table while she got on with the real work.

As the interviewee, I was expected to do most of the talking. I sought to guide them into my worldview. To their credit, I consider the interview perhaps the best I have given. I was out of my comfort zone and I liked it.

We ate and then took a walk in the grounds, all the while on the record. I asked Eric Schmidt to leak U.S. government information requests to WikiLeaks, and he refused, suddenly nervous, citing the illegality of disclosing Patriot Act requests. And then, as the evening came on, it was done and they were gone, back to the unreal, remote halls of information empire, and I was left to get back to my work.

That was the end of it, or so I thought.

CONTINUED:   http://www.newsweek.com/assange-google-not-what-it-seems-279447?piano_d=1

The Impulse Society

How Our Growing Desperation for Instant Connection Is Ruining Us

Consumer culture does everything in its power to persuade us that adversity has no place in our lives.

The following is an excerpt from Paul Roberts’ new book, The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification (Bloomsbury, 2014). Reprinted here with permission.

The metaphor of the expanding fragile modern self is quite apt. To personalize is, in effect, to reject the world “as is,” and instead to insist on bending it to our preferences, as if mastery and dominance were our only mode. But humans aren’t meant only for mastery. We’re also meant to adapt to something larger. Our large brains are specialized for cooperation and compromise and negotiation—with other individuals, but also with the broader world, which, for most of history, did not cater to our preferences or likes. For all our ancestors’ tremendous skills at modifying and improving their environment, daily survival depended as much on their capacity to conform themselves and their expectations to the world as they found it. Indeed, it was only by enduring adversity and disappointment that we humans gained the strength and knowledge and perspective that are essential to sustainable mastery.

Virtually every traditional culture understood this and regarded adversity as inseparable from, and essential to, the formation of strong, self-sufficient individuals. Yet the modern conception of “character” now leaves little space for discomfort or real adversity. To the contrary, under the Impulse Society, consumer culture does everything in its considerable power to persuade us that adversity and difficulty and even awkwardness have no place in our lives (or belong only in discrete, self-enhancing moments, such as ropes courses or really hard ab workouts). Discomfort, difficulty, anxiety, suffering, depression, rejection, uncertainty, or ambiguity—in the Impulse Society, these aren’t opportunities to mature and toughen or become. Rather, they represent errors and inefficiencies, and thus opportunities to correct—nearly always with more consumption and self-expression.

So rather than having to wait a few days for a package, we have it overnighted. Or we pay for same-day service. Or we pine for the moment when Amazon launches drone delivery and can get us our package in thirty minutes.* And as the system gets faster at gratifying our desires, the possibility that we might actually be more satisfied by waiting and enduring a delay never arises. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, the efficient consumer market abhors delay and adversity, and by extension, it cannot abide the strength of character that delay and adversity and inefficiency generally might produce. To the efficient market, “character” and “virtue” are themselves inefficiencies—impediments to the volume-based, share-price-maximizing economy. Once some new increment of self-expressive, self-gratifying, self-promoting capability is made available, the unstated but overriding assumption of contemporary consumer culture is that this capability can and should be put to use. Which means we now allow the efficient market and the treadmills and the relentless cycles of capital and innovation to determine how, and how far, we will take our self-expression and, by extension, our selves— even when doing so leaves us in a weaker state.

Consider the way our social relationships, and the larger processes of community, are changing under the relentless pressure of our new efficiencies. We know how important community is for individual development. It’s in the context of community that we absorb the social rules and prerequisites for interaction and success. It’s here that we come to understand and, ideally, to internalize, the need for limits and self-control, for patience and persistence and long-term commitments; the pressure of community is one way society persuades us to control our myopia and selfishness. (Or as economists Sam Bowles and Herbert Gintis have put it, community is the vehicle through which “society’s ‘oughts’ become its members’ ‘wants.’ ”) But community’s function isn’t simply to say “no.” It’s in the context of our social relationships where we discover our capacities and strengths. It’s here that we gain our sense of worth as individuals, as citizens and as social producers—active participants who don’t merely consume social goods, but contribute something the community needs.

But community doesn’t simply teach us to be productive citizens. People with strong social connections generally have a much better time. We enjoy better physical and mental health, recover faster from sickness or injury, and are less likely to suffer eating or sleeping disorders. We report being happier and rank our quality of life as higher—and do so even when the community that we’re connected to isn’t particularly well off or educated. Indeed, social connectedness is actually more important than affluence: regular social activities such as volunteering, church attendance, entertaining friends, or joining a club provide us with the same boost to happiness as does a doubling of personal income. As Harvard’s Robert Putnam notes, “The single most common finding from a half century’s research on the correlates of life satisfaction, not only in the United States but around the world, is that happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one’s social connections.”

Unfortunately, for all the importance of social connectedness, we haven’t done a terribly good job of preserving it under the Impulse Society. Under the steady pressure of commercial and technological efficiencies, many of the tight social structures of the past have been eliminated or replaced with entirely new social arrangements. True, many of these new arrangements are clearly superior—even in ostensibly free societies, traditional communities left little room for individual growth or experimentation or happiness. Yet our new arrangements, which invariably seek to give individuals substantially more control over how they connect, exact a price. More and more, social connection becomes just another form of consumption, one we expect to tailor to our personal preferences and schedules—almost as if community was no longer a necessity or an obligation, but a matter of personal style, something to engage as it suits our mood or preference. And while such freedom has its obvious attractions, it clearly has downsides. In gaining so much control over the process of social connection, we may be depriving ourselves of some of the robust give-and-take of traditional interaction that is essential to becoming a functional, fulfilled individual.

Consider our vaunted and increasing capacity to communicate and connect digitally. In theory, our smartphones and social media allow us the opportunity to be more social than at any time in history. And yet, because there are few natural limits to this format—we can, in effect, communicate incessantly, posting every conceivable life event, expressing every thought no matter how incompletely formed or inappropriate or mundane—we may be diluting the value of the connection.

Studies suggest, for example, that the efficiency with which we can respond to an online provocation routinely leads to escalations that can destroy offline relationships. “People seem aware that these kinds of crucial conversations should not take place on social media,” notes Joseph Grenny, whose firm, VitalSmarts, surveys online behavior. “Yet there seems to be a compulsion to resolve emotions right now and via the convenience of these channels.”

Even when our online communications are entirely friendly, the ease with which we can reach out often undermines the very connection we seek to create. Sherry Turkle, a sociologist and clinical psychologist who has spent decades researching digital interactions, argues that because it is now possible to be in virtually constant contact with others, we tend to communicate so excessively that even a momentary lapse can leave us feeling isolated or abandoned. Where people in the pre-digital age did not think it alarming to go hours or days or even weeks without hearing from someone, the digital mind can become uncomfortable and anxious without instant feedback. In her book Alone Together, Turkle describes a social world of collapsing time horizons. College students text their parents daily, and even hourly, over the smallest matters—and feel anxious if they can’t get a quick response. Lovers break up over the failure to reply instantly to a text; friendships sour when posts aren’t “liked” fast enough. Parents call 911 if Junior doesn’t respond immediately to a text or a phone call—a degree of panic that was simply unknown before constant digital contact. Here, too, is a world made increasingly insecure by its own capabilities and its own accelerating efficiencies.

This same efficiency-driven insecurity now lurks just below the surface in nearly all digital interactions. Whatever the relationship (romantic, familial, professional), the very nature of our technology inclines us to a constant state of emotional suspense. Thanks to the casual, abbreviated nature of digital communication, we converse in fragments of thoughts and feelings that can be completed only through more interaction—we are always waiting to know how the story ends. The result, Turkle says, is a communication style, and a relationship style, that allow us to “express emotions while they are being formed” and in which “feelings are not fully experienced until they are communicated.” In other words, what was once primarily an interior process—thoughts were formed and feelings experienced before we expressed them—has now become a process that is external and iterative and public. Identity itself comes to depend on iterative interaction—giving rise to what Turkle calls the “collaborative self.” Meanwhile, our skills as a private, self-contained person vanish. “What is not being cultivated here,” Turkle writes, “is the ability to be alone and reflect on one’s emotions in private.” For all the emphasis on independence and individual freedom under the Impulse Society, we may be losing the capacity to truly be on our own.

In a culture obsessed with individual self-interest, such an incapacity is surely one of the greatest ironies of the Impulse Society. Yet it many ways it was inevitable. Herded along by a consumer culture that is both solicitous and manipulative, one that proposes absolute individual liberty while enforcing absolute material dependence—we rely completely on the machine of the marketplace—it is all too easy to emerge with a self-image, and a sense of self, that are both wildly inflated and fundamentally weak and insecure. Unable to fully experience the satisfactions of genuine independence and individuality, we compensate with more personalized self-expression and gratification, which only push us further from the real relationships that might have helped us to a stable, fulfilling existence.

 

http://www.alternet.org/books/impulse-society-how-our-growing-desperation-instant-connection-ruining-us?akid=12390.265072.bjTHr8&rd=1&src=newsletter1024073&t=9&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

 

Who Gives More of Their Money to Charity?

People Who Make More or Less Than $200k a Year?

Philanthropy and income have an inverse relationship.

Billionaire CEO Nicholas Woodman, news reports trumpeted earlier this month, has set aside $450 million worth of his GoPro software stock to set up a brand-new charitable foundation.

“We wake up every morning grateful for the opportunities life has given us,” Woodman and his wife Jill noted in a joint statement. “We hope to return the favor as best we can.”

Stories about charitable billionaires have long been a media staple. The defenders of our economic order love them — and regularly trot them out to justify America’s ever more top-heavy concentration of income and wealth.

Our charities depend, the argument goes, on the generosity of the rich. The richer the rich, the better off our charitable enterprises will be.

But this defense of inequality, analysts have understood for quite some time, holds precious little water. Low- and middle-income people, the research shows, give a greater share of their incomes to charity than people of decidedly more ample means.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the nation’s top monitor of everything charitable, last week dramatically added to this research.

Between 2006 and 2012, a new Chronicle analysis of IRS tax return data reveals, Americans who make over $200,000 a year decreased the share of their income they devote to charity by 4.6 percent.

Over those same years, a time of recession and limited recovery, these same affluent Americans saw their own incomes increase. For the nation’s top 5 percent of income earners, that increase averaged 9.9 percent.

By contrast, those Americans making less than $100,000 actually increased their giving between 2006 and 2012. The most generous Americans of all? Those making less than $25,000. Amid the hard times of recent years, low-income Americans devoted 16.6 percent more of their meager incomes to charity.

Overall, those making under $100,000 increased their giving by 4.5 percent.

In the half-dozen years this new study covers, the Chronicle of Philanthropy concludes, “poor and middle class Americans dug deeper into their wallets to give to charity, even though they were earning less.”

America’s affluent do still remain, in absolute terms, the nation’s largest givers to charity. In 2012, the Chronicle analysis shows, those earning under $100,000 handed charities $57.3 billion. Americans making over $200,000 gave away $77.5 billion.

But that $77.5 billion pales against at how much more the rich could — rather painlessly — be giving. Between 2006 and 2012, the combined wealth of the Forbes 400 alone increased by $1.04 trillion.

What the rich do give to charity often does people truly in need no good at all. Wealthy people do the bulk of their giving to colleges and cultural institutions, notes Chronicle of Philanthropy editor Stacy Palmer. Food banks and other social service charities “depend more on lower income Americans.”

Low- and middle-income people, adds Palmer, “know people who lost their jobs or are homeless.” They’ve been sacrificing “to help their neighbors.”

America’s increasing economic segregation, meanwhile, has left America’s rich less and less exposed to “neighbors” struggling to get by. That’s opening up, says Vox policy analyst Danielle Kurtzleben, an “empathy gap.”

“After all,” she explains, “if I can’t see you, I’m less likely to help you.”

The more wealth concentrates, the more nonprofits chase after these less-than-empathetic rich for donations. The priorities of these rich, notes Kurtzleben, become the priorities for more and more nonprofits.

The end result? Elite universities get mega-million-dollar donations to build mahogany-appointed students dorms. Art museums get new wings. Hospitals get windfalls to tackle the diseases that spook the high-end set.

Some in that set do seem to sense the growing disconnect between real need and real resources. Last week billionaire hedge fund manager David Einhorn announced a $50 million gift to help Cornell University set students up in “real-world experiences” that address the challenges hard-pressed communities face.

“When you go out beyond the classroom and into the community and find problems and have to deal with people in the real world,” says Einhorn, “you develop skills for empathy.”

True enough — but in a society growing ever more unequal and separate, not enough. In that society — our society — the privileged will continue to go “blind to how people outside their own class are living,” as Danielle Kurtzleben puts it.

We need, in short, much more than Empathy 101. We need more equality.

Labor journalist Sam Pizzigati, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, writes widely about inequality. His latest book is “The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970.”

 

http://www.alternet.org/economy/guess-who-gives-more-their-money-charity-people-who-make-more-or-less-200k-year?akid=12386.265072.PjWDq0&rd=1&src=newsletter1023920&t=15&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

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