Potentially Earth-like planet found in habitable zone of nearest star

By Don Barrett
27 August 2016

A team of 31 astronomers from 13 institutions around the globe have announced the discovery of a planet slightly more massive than Earth orbiting in the habitable zone of the nearest star to our Solar System. The results were published in Nature on 25 August.

The planet, Proxima b, was discovered by ground-based observations using what is known as the radial velocity method. This method takes advantage of the fact that starlight is a composite of a whole spectrum of colors and that the gravitational tug of a planet on a parent star produces distinct fingerprints in the emitted light that can be observed from Earth. Essentially, one can watch how the motion of a star is influenced by an orbiting planet. (See: Earth-sized planet in a star’s habitable zone confirmed)

Proxima Centauri in the sky of the Southern hemisphere. Credit: European Southern Observatory

This method is different from how the Kepler spacecraft discovers exoplanets, which instead looks at periodic drops in the intensity of light coming from a star to infer the existence of a planet, which passes between the star and the observer in its orbit, blocking some of the light. However, the two techniques are complementary. While Kepler indicates roughly an exoplanet’s size, a study of the changing spectrum of a star tells us the lower limit of an exoplanet’s mass.

As a result of this, the astronomers calculated that Proxima b is at least 1.3 times the Earth’s mass, though we have no knowledge yet of its size, its composition or the nature of its atmosphere (if any). Our limited knowledge of solar systems suggests that such a planet would be of rocky composition and retain some sort of atmosphere.

What makes this system most unlike the Earth and Sun is the parent star. Proxima Centauri is a star only 12 percent the mass of the Sun, a “red dwarf”, and this low mass is reflected in vastly different physical characteristics. The star is about 12 percent the Sun’s size, half its temperature and a fraction of its brightness. Despite the fact that it is the nearest star to our Solar System, Proxima Centauri is 100 times too faint to see with the naked eye.

Since Proxima Centauri is so dim, its habitable zone, the orbit where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface, is much closer to the star than the Sun’s. Proxima b, which orbits its star at 5 percent the distance between the Earth and Sun, about 4.6 million miles, falls within that zone. It receives about 60 percent of the radiation that Earth does.

Such a close world would find its rotation locked to its orbit over a timescale short compared to the life of the system—just as Mercury is locked to our Sun and the Moon to the Earth. Depending on the nature of the lock, it could be that only one hemisphere is illuminated, the other remaining in perpetual darkness, just as the Moon shows only one face to the Earth.

A comparison of the Proxima Centauri system to our own Solar System. Credit: European Southern Observatory

Another possibility is that the orbit and rotation are intertwined such that the same face of the planet is aligned to the star during the planet’s closest approach. This would mean that if liquid water exists, it may occur only near the Equator or towards the center of a perpetually sunlit hemisphere.

The close orbit produces another challenge to potential habitability: while the star, even so near, provides less heat than the Sun, it can irradiate the planet’s surface irregularly with ultraviolet and x-ray bursts 400 times that delivered by the Sun to Earth. The impact on the planet’s atmosphere over the long term is unknown.

If human beings set foot on Proxima b, they will find the view of the sky considerably different from that on Earth. Proxima would appear three times the Sun’s size in the sky. The nearby binary components of Alpha Centauri A and B would outshine our own Venus by a factor of 10, and appear to the eye as a barely resolvable star-like pair. Other stars would be invisible from the star-lit side of the planet.

The discovery of Proxima b comes 21 years after the first detection of a planet around another ordinary star. In that time, over 3,500 such planets have been found. Nearly 1 billion stars have now been cataloged, but detection of the smaller, lighter and immensely fainter planets around them represents a considerable technical challenge. This is true for all methods of finding exoplanets.

The nearness of Proxima b means it stands as a sterling target for further inquiry toward an understanding of Earth-like worlds. It has also ignited the imagination of millions of people around the world as they wonder at a planet potentially like Earth that is, with some esoteric but feasible ideas for space travel, not so far away.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/08/27/prox-a27.html

Liberal, Moderate or Conservative? See How Facebook Labels You

You may think you are discreet about your political views. But Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, has come up with its own determination of your political leanings, based on your activity on the site.

And now, it is easy to find out how Facebook has categorized you — as very liberal or very conservative, or somewhere in between.

Try this (it works best on your desktop computer):

Go to facebook.com/ads/preferences on your browser. (You may have to log in to Facebook first.)

That will bring you to a page with your ad preferences. Under the “Interests” header, click the “Lifestyle and Culture” tab.

Then look for a box titled “US Politics.” In parentheses, it will describe how Facebook has categorized you, such as liberal, moderate or conservative.

(If the “US Politics” box does not show up, click the “See more” button under the grid of boxes.)

Facebook makes a deduction about your political views based on the pages that you like — or on your political preference, if you stated one, on your profile page. If you like the page for Hillary Clinton, Facebook might categorize you as a liberal.

Even if you do not like any candidates’ pages, if most of the people who like the same pages that you do — such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream — identify as liberal, then Facebook might classify you as one, too.

Facebook has long been collecting information on its users, but it recently revamped the ad preferences page, making it easier to view.

The information is valuable. Advertisers, including many political campaigns, pay Facebook to show their ads to specific demographic groups. The labels Facebook assigns to its users help campaigns more precisely target a particular audience.

For instance, Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign has paid for its ads to be shown to those who Facebook has labeled politically moderate.

Campaigns can also use the groupings to show different messages to different supporters. They may want to show an ad to their hard-core supporters, for example, that is unlike an ad targeted at people just tuning in to the election.

It is not clear how aggressively Facebook is gathering political information on users outside the United States. The social network has 1.7 billion active users, including about 204 million in the United States.

Political outlook is just one of the attributes Facebook compiles on its users. Many of the others are directly commercial: whether you like television comedy shows, video games or Nascar.

To learn more about how political campaigns are targeting voters on social media, The New York Times is collecting Facebook ads from our readers with a project called AdTrack. You can take part by visiting nytimes.com and searching for “Send us the political ads.”

New Map Reveals Average Penis Size in Every Country

August 21, 2016

Ed Cara
When it comes to top honors though, the U.S. and its neighbors are decidedly in the middle of the pack.

For the men out there who can’t help but wonder how they stack up in the size department down under, wonder no more — thanks to a nifty interactive graphic recently released by Target Map. The map, appearing to use data taken from earlier studies, shows how long the average erected penis is on a country by country scale. If you move the mouse over North America, for instance, you’ll find the average men there has an erect penis size of 14.2 centimeters (5.59 inches).

When it comes to top honors though,  the U.S. and its neighbors are decidedly in the middle of the pack. It’s actually men in Western African countries like Ghana who are the biological winners, with the average length upwards of 16 centimeters. On the flip side, men in Asian countries have the smallest lengths, with the average size ranging from 9.3 centimeters (3.6 inches) to 10.5 centimeters (4.1 inches).

Of course, penis size is hardly the be-all and end-all of a perfectly happy sex life for both men and women. Each gender tends to overestimate how long the average penis is and how important penis size is when evaluating how satisfying a potential relationship could be. When you look in on real-life straight couples, though, the penis size of men rarely accounts for their overall happiness and functioning. Elsewhere, other research has shown that women may prefer longer penises when looking for casual partners but pay much less mind to length when sizing up potential boyfriend material.

None of this is to say penis size is meaningless and not worth caring about, only that it’s probably a lot less important than we think it is. For those of us who remain understandably curious, though, you can check out the map here.

Read More:

Does Penis Size Matter? Why Bigger Male Genitalia Isn’t Always Better In Bed. Read here

The Evolution Of Penis Size: Humans Have Large Penises Due To Upright Posture, Body Temperature. Read here.

http://www.alternet.org/culture/new-map-reveals-what-average-penis-size-every-country?akid=14559.265072.Tk1POW&rd=1&src=newsletter1062375&t=24

Mexico’s Zapatista Movement May Offer Solutions to Neoliberal Threats to Global Food Security

Posted on Aug 21, 2016

By Levi Gahman / The Solutions Journal

    Zapatista women meeting in 1996. (Julian Stallabrass / CC BY 2.0)

The battle for humanity and against neoliberalism was and is ours,

And also that of many others from below.

Against death––We demand life.

Subcomandante Galeano/Marcos

One of the biggest threats to food security the world currently faces is neoliberalism. It’s logic, which has become status quo over the past 70 years and valorizes global ‘free market’ capitalism, is made manifest through economic policies that facilitate privatization, deregulation, and cuts to social spending, as well as a discourse that promotes competition, individualism, and self-commodification. Despite rarely being criticized, or even mentioned, by state officials and mainstream media, neoliberal programs and practices continue to give rise to unprecedented levels of poverty, hunger, and suffering. The consequences of neoliberalism are so acutely visceral that the Zapatistas called the 21st century’s most highly lauded free-trade policy, NAFTA, a ‘death certificate’ for Indigenous people.1 This is because economic liberalization meant that imported commodities (e.g., subsidized corn from the U.S.) would flood Mexican markets, devalue the products of peasant farmers, and lead to widespread food insecurity. As a response, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), primarily Indigenous peasants themselves, led an armed insurrection in Chiapas, Mexico on January 1, 1994—the day NAFTA went into effect.

The Zapatistas, primarily Indigenous Ch’ol, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojolobal, Mam, and Zoque rebels, were rising up against 500 years of colonial oppression. For this piece, I draw from my experiences learning from them, not ‘researching’ them. Importantly, I neither speak for the Zapatistas nor do my words do them justice. In a sense, then, this piece is nothing other than a modest ‘suggestion’ that the Zapatistas may offer us some ideas about solutions to the problems of the food systems we find ourselves in.

The emergence of the EZLN dates back to November 17, 1983, when a small group of politicized university militants arrived in the Lacandon jungle of Chiapas to form a guerrilla army. Their efforts, which were being supported by an intricate network of solidarity organizations with links to Marxist revolutionaries and Catholic liberation theologists in the region, were subsequently transformed by the Indigenous communities they encountered upon arriving. The success of the Zapatista uprising was thus the culmination of nearly 10 years of covert organizing that unfolded under the guidance of Indigenous people within the jungles and highlands of southeastern Mexico. And during the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 1994, thousands of masked insurgents from the EZLN stepped out of the darkness to say ‘¡Ya Basta! ‘ (Enough!) to the repression and misery that colonialism and capitalism had thrust upon them.

The stunning manner in which the Zapatistas presented themselves to the Mexican government, as well as the world, saw them descend upon several towns, cities, prisons, and wealthy landowners. During the revolt, EZLN guerillas liberated political prisoners, stormed military barracks, occupied government offices, set fire to trumped-up files that unfairly criminalized Indigenous people, and announced Zapatista ‘Women’s Revolutionary Law.’ In the rural countryside, Zapatista soldiers also reclaimed dispossessed land by kicking affluent property-owning bosses off plantation-likeencomiendas that had been historically expropriated from impoverished Indigenous farmers. The skirmishes and exchange of bullets between the EZLN and federal army lasted a total of only 12 days, after which a ceasefire was negotiated.

Since that time, and despite an ongoing counter-insurgency being spearheaded by the Mexican government, the Zapatista’s ‘solution’ to the problem of neoliberalism, including the food insecurity and poverty it exacerbates, has been resistance. And for the Zapatistas, resistance is comprised of revitalizing their Indigenous (predominantly Maya) worldviews, recuperating stolen land, emancipating themselves from dependency upon multinational industrial agribusiness, and peacefully living in open defiance of global capitalism. This ‘solution’ has subsequently enabled them to build an autonomous, locally focused food system, which is a direct product of their efforts in participatory democracy, gender equity, and food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty (an intensely debated concept) loosely described means that people are able to exercise autonomy over their food systems while concurrently ensuring that the production/distribution of food is carried out in socially just, culturally safe, and ecologically sustainable ways. For the Zapatistas, food sovereignty involves agro-ecological farming, place-based teaching and learning, developing local cooperatives, and engaging in collective work.

These practices, which are simultaneously informed by their Indigenous customs, struggles for gender justice, and systems of nonhierarchical governance and education, have thereby radically transformed social relations within their communities. And it is these aspects of the Zapatista Insurgency that illustrate how collective (anti-capitalist) resistance offers novel alternatives to the world’s corporate food regime.

Autonomous Education and Decolonization

Here you can buy or sell anything—­except Indigenous dignity.

Subcomandante Marcos/Galeano

The relationship and obligation the Zapatistas have to the land is rooted in their Indigenous perspectives and traditions. And because exercising autonomy over their land, work, education, and food is crucial to the Zapatistas, their methods of teaching and learning are situated in the environmental systems and cultural practices of where they, and their histories, are living. This is evident in the grassroots focus they maintain in their approach to education, as well as how they consider their immediate ecological settings a ‘classroom.’2

Local knowledge of land and growing food is so central among their autonomous municipalities that each Zapatista school often sees promotores de educación (‘education promoters’) and promotores de agro-ecología (‘agro-ecology promoters’) coming from the same community as their students. Zapatista education is therefore emplaced within the geographies where people live. This holistic ‘place-based’ focus results in both children and adults viewing themselves as active participants in, and essential parts of, local food systems.

In order to understand food security, Zapatista students are frequently taught hands-on agro-ecological techniques outside the classroom. This means they learn how to apply sustainable farming techniques while participating in the planting/harvesting of organic crops. This area of experiential and localized education stresses the importance of working the land in order to attain the skills needed to achieve food sovereignty for future generations. It also provides an overview of how transgenic modifications and privatizations of seeds/plants/life are deemed to be overt threats to, and blatant attacks upon, their culture.

This perspective is held because the Zapatistas are ‘People of the Corn,’ a reality passed down from their Maya origin stories.3 And given that their autonomous education is anchored in defending, protecting, and preserving their Indigenous histories, languages, and ancestral territories, the Zapatistas effectively practice decolonization—the re-establishment and repatriation of Indigenous land, life, and realities—in every aspect of their teaching and learning.

In practical terms, the Zapatistas are decolonizing their food system through applied/experiential learning, communal subsistence farming, collectivizing harvests, refusing chemicals, and equitably distributing labor. This approach thereby provides communities the ability to eschew the profit-motives promoted by capitalist conceptions of ‘productivity,’ in favor of foregrounding their local Indigenous notions of knowledge and nature.4

Through their refusal to participate in the commodification and privatization of learning and land, the Zapatistas have created an integrated system of education and food security that functions as a solidarity economy. This means their efforts in both food and knowledge production/distribution are guided by an ethical imperative that takes into consideration the health and well-being of individuals, communities, and ecologies alike.

Given what the Zapatistas have created in rural Chiapas, one is left to wonder how local food systems might look if Indigenous peoples’ perspectives and (anti-capitalist) placed-based education were implemented into our own communities.

Womens Struggle and Gender Equity

Cuando Una Mujer Avanza, No Hay Hombre Que Retrocede

(‘When a Woman Advances, No Man is Left Behind’)

Women do two-thirds of the world’s work, produce roughly 70 percent of its food, and are responsible for over 80 percent of its domestic (socially reproductive) labor. Despite this, they earn only about 10 percent of the world’s income, control less than 10 percent of all its land, own less than one percent of the means of production, and comprise nearly two-thirds of all its part-time and temporary worker positions.5 In disaggregate, the vast majority of these statistics apply to women who are rural, working class/poor, racialized/Indigenous, not ‘formally educated,’ and living in the Global South.6 It thus appears that capitalist exploitation has both a pattern and preferred target. Interestingly, all of these descriptors directly apply to Zapatista women, yet, it seems someone has forgotten to tell them…because they do not seem to care.

One of the most groundbreaking aspects of the Zapatista insurgency has been the strides it has made in destabilizing patriarchy. This social transformation has largely been born out of the indefatigable work ethic and iron will of the Zapatista women. Given their recognition that any struggle against colonialism and capitalism necessitates a struggle against patriarchy, Zapatista women implemented what is known as ‘Women’s Revolutionary Law’ within their communities. The conviction they maintain regarding equality was poignantly captured in a communiqué written by Subcomandante Marcos (now Galeano) released shortly after the 1994 rebellion, which states: “The first EZLN uprising occurred in March of 1993 and was led by the Zapatista women. There were no casualties—and they won.”7

Broadly speaking, Women’s Revolutionary Law solidifies the recognition of women’s rights to self-determination, dignity, and having their voices heard. More specifically, the laws mandate that women be equitably represented in the guerrilla army (i.e., the EZLN), the Juntas de Buen Gobierno (‘Councils of Good Government’), efforts in land recuperation (agro-ecological projects/work outside of the home), and the development of food/artisan/craft cooperatives.8 These laws have restructured everyday life throughout Zapatista territory, as it is now not uncommon to see women involved in the public sphere (work outside the home), in addition to seeing men participate in socially reproductive labor (i.e., ‘women’s work’).

Women’s Revolutionary Law has also merged with the way in which the land and local environment is viewed and tended to. As a result of up-ending rigid patriarchal notions of what type of work women ‘should do’ and ‘could not do,’ as well as undermining regressive ideas that men are less capable of performing emotional labor, household chores, and nurturing children, Zapatista communities now have women exercising more influence over decisions being made surrounding food security and agro-ecological projects.9

In recently attesting to the gender equity the Zapatistas are advancing towards, Peter Rosset, a food justice activist and rural agro-ecological specialist, commented on the impact of Women’s Revolutionary Law by stating:

Yesterday a Zapatista agro-ecology promoter was in my office and he was talking about how the young Indigenous women in Zapatista territory are different from before…

…he said they no longer look at the floor when you talk to them—they look you directly in the eye.10

In light of the emphasis the Zapatistas place on justice via both recognizing women’s struggle, as well as men’s responsibility to perform socially reproductive/emotional labor, one cannot help but further wonder what agricultural production would look like if gender equity was promoted within the global food system.

Final Thoughts

When viewed in its geopolitical context, the Zapatista insurgency has opened up space for a wide range of alternative ways of re-organizing societies, economies, and food systems. Consequently, what the Zapatistas prove through their resistance (i.e., efforts in autonomous education, decolonization, and gender equity) is that a recognition of Indigenous people’s right to self-determination, in conjunction with anti-capitalist collective work and movements toward food sovereignty, can indeed provide viable alternatives to the world’s neoliberal food regime as well as revolutionize the struggle for food security.

 

Acknowledgements

I offer my gratitude to the Zapatistas for accepting me into their school as well as the Mexico Solidarity Network for enabling it. I also thank Schools for Chiapas and the Dorset Chiapas Solidarity for sharing photos, as well as The University of the West Indies Campus Research and Publication Committee (Trinidad and Tobago) for their support.

References

  1. Marcos, S & de Leon, JP. Our Word is Our Weapon (Seven Stories Press, New York, 2002).
  2. Anonymous Zapatista. Personal communication, Fall 2013.
  3. Ross, J. ¡Zapatistas!: Making Another World Possible: Chronicles of Resistance, 2000–2006 (Nation Books, New York, 2006).
  4. Lorenzano, L. Zapatismo: recomposition of labour, radical democracy and revolutionary project in Zapatista! Reinventing Revolution in Mexico (eds Holloway, J & Pelaez, E), Ch. 7, 126-128 (Pluto Press, London, 1998).
  5. Robbins, RH. Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism (Allyn & Bacon, Boston, 2007).
  6. Benería, L, Berik, G & Floro, M. Gender, Development and Globalization: Economics as if All People Mattered (Routledge, Abingdon, 2015).
  7. Marcos, S. The First Uprising: March 1993. La Jornada (January 30, 1994).
  8. Klein, H. Compañeras: Zapatista Womens Stories (Seven Stories Press, New York, 2015).
  9. Marcos, S. Zapatista Women’s Revolutionary Law as it is lived today. Open Democracy [online] (July 2014).https://www.opendemocracy.net/sylvia-marcos/zapatista-women%E2%80%99s-re….

10.  Rosset, P. Zapatista Uprising 20 Years Later. Democracy Now! [online] (January 2014).http://www.democracynow.org/2014/1/3/zapatista_uprising_20_years_later_how.

How the War on Drugs Makes People Eat Other People’s Faces After Stabbing Them to Death

If we don’t want people using bizarre new synthetic drugs, maybe we should rethink drug prohibition.

Photo Credit: Brian A Jackson/shutterstock.com

The news that 19-year-old Florida State University student Austin Harrouff stabbed two strangers to death, and then proceeded to bite chunks of a deceased victim’s face off, seems too bizarre to believe – unless you’ve heard of the drug flakka.

When police arrived, “It was an impossible task to get him off of the victim.” A Taser had no effect, nor did a police dog. It took multiple cops and several minutes of fighting with “every bit of strength” to pry Harrouff, who was a football player and wrestler, from the face-eating bear hug he had on the dead man.

Harrouff was making “animal-like” noises when he was transported to the hospital, and could die of “sustained trauma” from officers or a drug overdose. Toxicology reports will confirm whether flakka was in his system, but Martin County Sheriff William Snyder says he would not be surprised.

“When you see a case like this where someone is biting off pieces of somebody’s face, could it be flakka?” Snyder said. “The answer is it absolutely could be a flakka case.”

Flakka, a synthetic drug similar to bath salts, has taken off in popularity in South Florida over the past few years. It causes delirium and the feeling of superhuman strength, and is known to cause extremely bizarre behavior – including a 17-year-old girl “running down a street naked, covered in blood and screaming, “I am God! I am Satan!”

YouTube videos abound showing people in the midst of dangerous, erratic flakka-induced behavior, and headlines appear regularly of bizarre crimes being committed on flakka.

Homeland Security Investigations in Miami said the area is “ground central” for flakka shipments, which often come from China. There is no known legitimate use for the substance. The DEA has put a temporary ban on flakka, but drug makers can just stick a “not for human consumption” label on it to get around the ban.

There are at least three flakka hospitalizations a day in Broward County, and the rate of overdose deaths and suicides continues to rise. It’s extremely difficult to know how much one is ingesting, and the synthetic drug can have devastating, permanent effects on the body.

Why the hell would anyone want to come near this stuff?

The War on Drugs.

Because psychoactive drugs that humans have used for centuries have been banned by most modern governments, people turn to synthetic attempts at mimicking the high. Just as Spice (synthetic marijuana) has emerged to supposedly mimic cannabis, flakka is sought after to mimic cocaine.

But the difference is, Spice and flakka cause psychotic symptoms, bodily damage and death, whereas cannabis has never caused an overdose and has well-recognized medicinal value. Cocaine sourced from the black market, which is laced with other unknown chemicals, can cause overdose death – but people aren’t stabbing and eating the faces of other people while on cocaine.

Flakka is far more dangerous than cocaine.

Much of the dangers associated with cocaine would diminish if the drug were legalized and people had the freedom to put what they want into their own bodies. In a legal market, this extract of the coca leaf – which has been used for thousands of years by South Americans – would be produced in exact dosages known to the consumer, free from harmful synthetic chemicals.

If people could go to the store and buy a bit of cocaine, as they can buy alcohol, we could expect the demand for flakka to be non-existent.

Prohibition does nothing to curb the supply or the demand of drugs, but it enriches the corporatocracy and gives the State immense power over our personal freedom. It creates void in the demands for drugs and those voids are filled with even more dangerous substances such as flakka.

We should have learned the lesson that prohibition only causes greater harm during the miserable attempt at alcohol prohibition from 1920 to 1933. When government attempted to ban alcohol, its production and distribution shifted to the black market, and people suffered and died.

Reports of blindness and death were common as people attempted to make their own alcohol but failed to realize the dangerous by-products that can be produced. Bootleg alcohol fueled violent criminal gangs exploiting prohibition for financial gain. We are seeing the exact same scenario play out today.

There will always be demand for psychoactive drugs, and there will always be supply to meet this demand. If government attempts to ban substances, making it a little harder for some people to get things like cocaine, they will synthesize some other, more dangerous substance.

So now we have flakka, which emerged as a replacement for bath salts, which had emerged (now banned) as something you could buy at the store for a cocaine-like high.

The government keeps banning things, and people keep getting worse off. Synthetic drugs are killing people, especially our kids.

But government has a novel approach this time – it’s working on banning flakka, and they’re trying to get China to ban certain chemicals and stop their export. As the DEA admits, when they manage to ban one substance, producers will slightly alter the compound to make it a new substance free from the “controlled substances” ban.

There’s a saying about doing something over and over again and expecting different results being the mark of insanity. Prohibition is the perfect demonstration of this, and we are witnessing the physical manifestations in the crazed, murderous behaviors caused by flakka.

http://www.alternet.org/drugs/how-war-drugs-makes-people-eat-other-peoples-faces-stabbing-them-death?akid=14548.265072.0RgUC7&rd=1&src=newsletter1062183&t=20

Smearing Stein: Media as Propaganda

Screen-Shot-2016-08-04-at-4.45.35-PM

Jill Stein, the Green Party’s nominee for president, has been the sudden target of attacks from all corners of online media since the official end of Bernie Sanders’ campaign at the Democratic National Convention. Outlets like the Washington Post, New York Magazine and Gizmodo have assaulted Stein by using out-of-context quotes to assail her, wrongly, for being anti-vaccination and anti-WiFi, which is a code for being “anti-science.” This allows us a unique opportunity to confirm the structural role of the media as hypothesized by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in Manufacturing Consent: that the media is a propaganda arm for the elite and powerful, and is used to condition us to accept the bounds of socio-political discourse as set by the ruling class. It also shows us the desperate need we have for an alternative media culture to counteract mainstream discourse.

The attack on Stein (and not, conveniently, on Gary Johnson), is linked to the need by the elite to de-legitimize A.) critics of neoliberal policies and B.) potential alternatives to the political status-quo. Trump and Clinton have had and will have no discussion about thirty years of neoliberalism and austerity. Sanders gave a voice to those within the Democrats who were willing to question, but since his defeat momentum on the left has shifted to Stein and the Green Party. It is, granted, still early, but the outpouring of support means there is a possibility the left could begin to regroup outside the Democratic Party. Real success for Stein could mean a permanent presence on the national stage for the left, to which a president Clinton or Trump would have to answer and which would be able to build an entirely different ideological discourse in the United States.

What is the role of the media in this scenario, one that explains the current froth about Stein? Although the public is rarely allowed a glimpse behind the curtain, almost all media in the United States is controlled by just a few large corporations. In the era of mass communication, the media has usurped the role formerly played by the Church as a primary source of information and the bounds of discourse. Private corporations are interested in making a profit, and ensuring the economy continues to produce those profits. Marx once opined that “the ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class,” and in an era of (potential) mass political upheaval, the media plays an active role in silencing dissent to those ideas. Indeed, they are linked to the continued profits generated by the political order. Political candidates and parties that challenge and threaten to upend this are typically subject to vigorous criticism if they threaten to shift the political discourse or take power: witness the barrage of negative stories and editorials on leaders like Hugo Chávez or new political parties like Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain.

These attacks on Stein are produced and then echoed by a online media constructed to reach an educated, young segment of the population that has nevertheless begun to consider rejecting Clinton (and Trump) on election day.

Chomsky notes that 20-30% of the populace is highly indoctrinated so as to function as system-managers, and that these tend to correspond to the college-educated. The remaining 70-80% are fed a steady diet of entertainment programming to induce sheer apathy in politics, even though today the propaganda fed to the managerial class often takes the form of info-tainment, and news departments are filled with pundits and not reporters.

This is exactly the function of the skewed negative articles on Stein: the huge bloc of people who rejected Clinton (and Trump) are young and only loosely tethered to party affiliation. Much of the rest of the world has seen a sudden explosion in new left-wing parties winning legislative seats because the young generation has seen job prospects vanish and incomes flatline while the 1% continue to enjoy robust growth in wealth. To take quotes out of context and paint Stein as anti-science to a population segment that is highly educated really means A.) her ideas are beyond the pale and B.) she is no better on these issues than the Republican Party.

These scare tactics do not engage with the Green Party or Stein’s platform. Indeed, it is hard to call the people who wrote them journalists, as proper procedure for writing a story on a presidential candidate whose statements require clarification is to engage them or their media team in extended conversation. This is usually how it works for Clinton or Trump, but apparently not for Jill Stein. It is far easier to conduct a smear campaign when the subject is given no chance to respond.

It is important for concerned activists, citizens and voters to treat with skepticism the propaganda campaign being rolled out against Stein in the next three months. Read full quotations and speeches, doubt sensationalist headlines, and let editorial boards know your displeasure at such tactics. Realize we need to resurrect an independent press, and that a century ago papers like Appeal To Reason were not only openly socialist but able to break with established orthodoxy because they weren’t beholden to investors with a stake in the status quo.

Peter A. LaVenia has a PhD in Political Theory from the University at Albany, SUNY and is a member of the New York State Green Party’s executive committee. He can be reached on Twitter @votelavenia and at his website, unorthodoxmarxist.wordpress.com.

Smearing Stein: Media as Propaganda

The anti-scientific character of “race” as a concept

ethnicity

By Philip Guelpa
3 August 2016

As the capitalist media and political establishment whip themselves into a frenzy to promote a racialist view of police violence and of social inequality more broadly, in order to obscure its class basis and divide workers along supposed racial lines, it is important to emphasize the distinction between race as a social construct and race as a biological category.

An article published earlier this year in the prestigious journal Science, titled “Taking race out of human genetics,” reviews the “century-long debate about the role of race in science” and demonstrates that the concept of race is not only invalid for the purposes of biological and medical research, but that its use has distinctly negative consequences in those fields, let alone in the larger social context.

To illustrate the evolution of the concept in biology, the authors cite the example of Theodosius Dobzansky, considered by many to be the founder of evolutionary genetics, who for years struggled to employ the category of race in his research only to finally conclude that it had no scientific validity.

In recent years, according to the authors, the scientific study of “race” has tended to move away from earlier, overtly racist attempts to define racial distinctions and, in some cases, “prove” the superiority of one group over another (though such efforts have certainly not ended). Rather, it is now largely focused on efforts to identify genetic variation that may have implications for the treatment of diseases, based on the assumption that different racial groups may have varying reactions to medications or differing risk factor for certain diseases. The persistent use of race as an analytical unit, they argue, tends to obscure more than it reveals.

The authors draw a clear distinction between the genetic inheritance of individuals, on the one hand, and a priori “racial” categories, on the other. They describe the latter as “a pattern-based concept that has led scientists and laypersons alike to draw conclusions about hierarchical organization of humans, which connect an individual to a larger preconceived geographically circumscribed or socially constructed group.” After reviewing the evidence, they conclude that, “the use of biological concepts of race in human genetic research…is problematic at best and harmful at worst.”

Contrary to superficial and highly arbitrary distinctions drawn by those with a racialist perspective, they write, “racial assumptions are not the biological guideposts some believe them to be, as commonly defined racial groups are genetically heterogeneous and lack clear-cut genetic boundaries.”

Race-based conceptions can have serious medical consequences, as when certain diseases are thought to occur predominantly or exclusively in a certain “race,” such as sickle cell anemia or thalassemia, another blood disorder. When such diseases occur in a person of the “wrong” race, correct diagnosis can be delayed or missed altogether. This is not only a medical issue, but also indicative of the lack of scientific validity of the concept of race more generally.

As the authors point out, this is not a problem that can be solved by the development of better genetic testing technology to more accurately determine a person’s race. The “problem” is not in the lack of specificity of the assays, but in the fundamental “messiness” of human genetics.

Following the success of the human genome project in the early 2000s, the growing popularity of individual DNA tests to determine ancestry has resulted in many “surprise” discoveries of complicated genetic pedigrees that do not fit into neat racial categories. This complex reality may not be recognized by the person or family due to the shallow depth of memory or intentional “forgetting” of previous racial/ethnic affiliations in order to accommodate current realities.

Equally if not more important, research on the human genome has demonstrated that, despite apparent variability in such visible traits as skin color, modern humans have a remarkable overall genetic similarity (99.9 percent), as compared to many other species, pointing to the comparatively recent appearance of Homo sapiens. Indeed, all modern humans derive primarily from a relatively small population that existed, probably in Africa, about 200,000 years ago (a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms), with subsequent minor admixtures from Neanderthals and, perhaps, other early populations (see “The genetic legacy of the Neanderthals”).

One of the critically important results of the DNA sequencing of increasingly large numbers of people is to reinforce the understanding that a person’s genetic makeup is a hodgepodge of differing inheritances rather than a consistent package that retains a basic identity passed down from generation to generation.

Anthropology and archaeology clearly demonstrate that throughout the course of human evolution and, in particular, since the appearance and spread of modern Homo sapiens at sometime around 200,000 years ago, accelerating even more with the development of agriculture, beginning around the end of the last Ice Age, human populations have more or less constantly been on the move, resulting in an ever-changing mosaic of biology, language, and culture. This “churning,” if you will, makes a mockery of any conception of “racial purity” or, for that matter, unchanging cultural identity.

History abounds with examples of migrations and intermixing of peoples formerly living in disparate locations. These include (to name but a few):

· The dispersal of early agriculturalists from the Near East

· The “Back to Africa” migration

· The Bantu expansion in Africa

· The ancient Greek diaspora throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond

· The invasion of Europe by the Huns

· The Norman Conquest of England

· The Mongol invasion of China, then Central Asia and Russia

· The multiple waves of pre-Columbian immigration from Asia, and perhaps even Europe, into the Western Hemisphere

All these predate the emergence of a globalized world over the past two centuries, characterized by unprecedented mobility, mass immigration and intermarriage, a period during which the world’s human population has expanded from 1 billion to more than 7 billion.

Homo sapiens is a single species. All members of the species (i.e., all living humans), regardless of their apparent racial or ethnic backgrounds, are genetically fully compatible and can produce viable offspring with other members of the species, barring disease or deformity (or prejudice). From this perspective, the genetic variation within the species is, relatively speaking, “noise.” It is not entirely random noise, and much can be learned from detailed research. However, attempts to force that variation into monolithic, a priori categories is simply bad science.

Comprehensive reviews of the scientific invalidity and pernicious effects of racialist views have convincingly refuted the idea of racial differences in intelligence—for example, The Mismeasure of Man (Stephen Jay Gould, 1981, 1996). And yet, justifications of such conceptions, in various forms, continue to be put forth, as in, for example, A Troublesome InheritanceGenes, Race and Human History (Nicholas Wade, 2014).

The explanation of the persistence of race as a category in scientific research is not a problem of science, per se, but the product of larger social forces. It has, in recent years, been influenced by the injection of post-modernist philosophies into the sciences. Such conceptions are promoted by the upper middle class to give a scientific veneer to the continued division and exploitation of the working class. They follow in the tradition of previous racially based prejudice in countries such as England, where the Irish were long considered a separate race by the English ruling class in order to justify keeping Ireland as a colony.

The authors of the Science article seek, as the title states, to take the category of race out of the study of human genetics. They fall short, however, when they identify race as a result of semantics rather than as a social construct. The proposed remedy is for the scientific community to eschew the use of the term “race” and substitute such terms as geographic ancestry or population.

Science exists within an economic, social, and political context. While the interactions between scientific research and its larger context are complex, the idea that the influence of racism and racialist perspectives can be expunged from scientific research by a mere change in terminology is naive. Within science, as in society as a whole, discrimination of any sort can only be eliminated when its root cause—class division—is itself ended.

WSWS