Cult Of The Caveman: Paleofantasies

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian on Paleofantasy by Marlene Zuk and the assumptions of the paleo lifestyle set, noting that it has become a popular diet amongst libertarians:

Charges of hypocrisy, however amusing, are facile. Paleo is an improvement on a diet of processed, sugary junk. It’s not the first diet to banish starches, and it certainly won’t be the last. In fact, by any other name, the Paleo diet would be just that — a diet.
But more substantial problems lurk in the reasoning behind Paleo principles. By assuming that all that was once natural is now good, militant Paleo leans on biological determinism to back up its theories. While it may not advocate for a complete reversion to cave-dwelling, it accepts that we evolved in a certain way to do certain things and not others, and that advances in technology, civilization, and culture can do little to change that. This logic, however seductive, is incomplete. You can’t get an ought from a was. […]
Incomplete or flawed interpretations of our biology have long been used to marginalize women, racial groups, even entire civilizations, and nutrition may well become the next variant in this pattern of discrimination. If rice isn’t “natural,” does that make those entire continents with highly developed cultures who eat it “un-natural”? Doesn’t agriculture, however flawed it may be in certain societies, support billions of people? Let’s not forget that for centuries women were considered ineligible to participate in most professions, sports, and diversions on the basis of their supposed female “nature.” Are modern bread-eaters somehow less human than those carrying out “primal” urges by sprinting, lifting, and eating meat?
These troubling questions are probably not the point of an apparently well-meaning lifestyle program. Many adopters of the Paleo diet do so for no reason other than weight loss, or vanity, or ailments caused by certain foods; others are simply curious about how so-called “ancestral” nutrition will affect them, or how certain types of foods affect their bodies. If their giddy testimonials are to be believed, the Paleo diet can cure everything from diabetes to anxiety attacks, which sounds wonderful. Still, the social and political implications of Paleo reasoning ought to be more closely examined, especially as the lifestyle gains adherents.

Full Story: The New Inquiry: Natural’s Not In It
Previously: Hardwired to Nurture: What the New Testosterone Study Really Says About Men

Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky: State of the World 2013 Highlights

The conversation is slow moving again this year, but that’s actually pretty nice. A few highlights:

  • Jon Lebkowsky: “There’s a real crisis of authority, a question whether we know what we know.”
  • Bruce Sterling: “2012 was all about K-pop and Samsung. Who can’t admire these two mushrooming efflorescences of Korean soft power and Korean hard manufacturing? They’re the New 1980s Japan.”
  • Sterling: “If the War on Terror had a winner, it’s the Qataris. Nobody ever dares to say anything mean about them. Even Israel and the USA are afraid of them, because the USA and Israel both instinctively kowtow to rich guys with TV stations.”
  • Jeff Kramer: “Our parents generation would have bought bigger houses, put down roots and settled in for the long haul, but my lizard brain keeps whispering to stay light and keep the options open.”
  • Sterling: “Americans don’t have state-supported censorship, but they do have a civil cold war, and the factions don’t talk to one another at all. There’s no open debate, there’s no discourse. There’s a little bit of room for debate within the factions but between them, there’s nothing.”
  • Lebkowsky: “I think it was easier for one artist to make a difference when there were fewer people, and fewer of them making art. And, for that matter, fewer rudders to nudge.”
  • Roland Legrand: “Therapists tell me about the increasing damage they see every day, caused by this increasing pressure to perform. The middle class is falling apart under the pressure of globalisation, technology and extreme competition.”
  • Sterling: “I find it disquieting when people want art to make a whole lot of difference. When Vaclav Havel went into politics he stopped being an artist.”

And here’s a longer excerpt from Lebkowsky, on “present shock”:

I find myself taking more breaks from the streams of information by and about my friends, reading more books and fewer activity streams. When I’m surfing online in hyperdrive mode, I feel an anxiety about all that’s happening and how to track it. Every day I get notices about so many events that are happening at once, and for every event I make, I feel I’m missing a dozen others. Is it better not to know?
I suppose I’ve been information-greedy, and greed is destructive.

Full Story: The Well: State of the World 2013: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky

The U.S. Media Ignored Murdoch's Brazen Bid To Hijack The Presidency

Carl Bernstein writes:

Thus in the spring of 2011 – less than 10 weeks before Murdoch’s centrality to the hacking and politician-buying scandal enveloping his British newspapers was definitively revealed – Fox News’ inventor and president, Roger Ailes, dispatched an emissary to Afghanistan to urge Petraeus to turn down President Obama’s expected offer to become CIA director and, instead, run for the Republican nomination for president, with promises of being bankrolled by Murdoch. Ailes himself would resign as president of Fox News and run the campaign, according to the conversation between Petraeus and the emissary, K T McFarland, a Fox News on-air defense “analyst” and former spear carrier for national security principals in three Republican administrations.
All this was revealed in a tape recording of Petraeus’s meeting with McFarland obtained by Bob Woodward, whose account of their discussion, accompanied online by audio of the tape, was published in the Washington Post – distressingly, in its style section, and not on page one, where it belonged – and, under the style logo, online on December 3.
Indeed, almost as dismaying as Ailes’ and Murdoch’s disdain for an independent and truly free and honest press, and as remarkable as the obsequious eagerness of their messenger to convey their extraordinary presidential draft and promise of on-air Fox support to Petraeus, has been the ho-hum response to the story by the American press and the country’s political establishment, whether out of fear of Murdoch, Ailes and Fox – or, perhaps, lack of surprise at Murdoch’s, Ailes’ and Fox’s contempt for decent journalistic values or a transparent electoral process.

Full Story: The Guardian: Why the US media ignored Murdoch’s brazen bid to hijack the presidency
Here’s the Washington Post story Berstein is referring to.
This is part of an ongoing inversion of the relationship between News Corp and the GOP. As a former speech writer for George W. Bush, David Frum, put it: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox.”

From Greenwashing To Workerwashing

David Sirota writes:

Big Industrial Ag pretends to go organic. PC behemoths mimic Apple products. Barack Obama goes to the right of the Republicans on civil liberties. Mitt Romney suddenly portrays himself as a left-leaning moderate on immigration. It seems no matter the arena, the most cliched move in corporate and political combat is to co-opt an opponent’s message, expecting nobody to notice or care.
But as inured as we are to this banality, it’s still shocking to see Corporate America transform the message of organized labor into a sales pitch for … Corporate America. Yes, according to The New York Times last month, that’s what’s happening, as new ads are “tapping into a sense of frustration among workers to sell products.”
One spot for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (read: the casinos) shows a woman climbing onto her desk to demand a vacation. Another for McDonald’s implores us to fight back against employers and “overthrow the working lunch.” Still another for a Coca-Cola subsidiary seizes on the stress of harsh working conditions to create buzz for a branded “Take the Year Off” contest.

Full Story: Tahoe Daily Tribune: Sirota: From greenwashing to workerwashing

Inside The Greasy World Of Internet Marketing

Joseph L. Flatley wrote an in depth article on the greasy business of Internet Marketing:

The term Internet Marketing in this context describes both a particular business model used to sell fraudulent products and services online, and the community or subculture that embraces it. It operates out in the open — with poorly designed websites, tacky infomercials, and outrageous claims designed to scare off the wary and draw in the curious, desperate, and naive. The Internet Marketer positions himself as a marketing “guru” with a product or coaching services guaranteed to generate income.

I’m familiar with this stuff from my brief stint in search engine optimization (SEO), and from a couple friends who went down that particular rabbit hole. But I never realized how deep that rabbit hole goes. Flatley writes:

PushTraffic was what is known as a boiler room. As Dan Thies, an SEO professional and former employee of an Internet Marketing company called StomperNet, explains, Internet Marketers often “sell super-cheap products so they can get the names and phone numbers, and turn people over” to boiler room companies who try to sell the unsuspecting consumer fraudulent goods.

If you’ve seen Glengarry Glen Ross, you’re familiar with the boiler room MO: pressure a lead into spending a heck of a lot of money on something worthless.
Full Story: The Verge: Scamworld: ‘Get rich quick’ schemes mutate into an online monster
It goes deeper still.
Flatley wrote a follow-up on Mitt Romney’s connection to one of these boiler-room operations, though perhaps that’s less interesting now that the election is over: : Mitt Romney goes to Scamworld: Prosper, Inc. and its powerful friends
Mother Jones has covered these connections in more depth. Rick Perlstein’s essay on scams in the conservative political world fits into this as well.
Previously: Beyond Growth – Technoccult interviews Duff McDuffee and Eric Schiller

A Eulogy for #Occupy

Quinn Norton wrote a lengthy piece on her experience as an embedded reporter at Occupy, from the hopeful early days through the aftermath of the evictions:

Because the GA had no way to reject force, over time it fell to force. Proposals won by intimidation; bullies carried the day. What began as a way to let people reform and remake themselves had no mechanism for dealing with them when they didn’t. It had no way to deal with parasites and predators. It became a diseased process, pushing out the weak and quiet it had meant to enfranchise until it finally collapsed when nothing was left but predators trying to rip out each other’s throats.

In other words, it fell to the “tyranny of structurelessness, a long-time problem for leaderless organizations. And the radical exclusivity ended up excluding almost everyone:

As the camps became darker, the women mostly left, and those who remained were grateful to just be left alone. By my count Occupy had dropped from as high as 40 percent women to less then 10 percent, in an atmosphere of sexual violence, bare intimidation and hatred. By then for a certain kind of occupier, anything with breasts was a target in the camps, either for scorn or being too sexy or being insufficiently sexy. It was never the majority, but the majority did nothing to stop it. They had a progressive stack in the GA that purported to let women speak first, but no one talked about the comments, the groping, the rumors of rapes.

One of the failures Norton identifies was the inability for both the GA and the Occupy media to self-critique. This lead to the media groups being propagandists enabling self-deception:

“One of the main reasons I wanted to have the PO separate from the GA, is I wanted, from the very beginning, a means within the process for booting people out. The GA had no such process,” he said.
His original idea was to tell positive stories from the camp. He worked with media teams from Boston, LA, Chicago, and New York, and traveled to other camps to get the stories out. In time, Rothstein came to see that Occupy’s media needed to tell all the stories of what was going on: the wonderful and the terrible. By then it was too late.

Full Story: Wired: A Eulogy for #Occupy
Another recent story on the failure of Occupy, by Thomas Frank, laid the blame mostly on the academic tone of Occupy. He makes a good point but I think overstates the case.
I’m hesitant to call Occupy “over,” what with the Rolling Jubilee and the ongoing occupation of foreclosed homes, but certainly the movement, as it originally existed, is over. But there is much to be learned from how things went down.

Alan Moore On The Subversive History Of Comics

Wired published Alan Moore’s contribution to Occupy Comics, an essay of the history of comics as subversion:

In the derivation of the word cartoon itself we see the art-form’s insurrectionary origins: during the tumults and upheavals of a volatile seventeenth century Italy, it became both expedient and popular to scrawl satirical depictions of political opponents on the sides of cardboard packages, otherwise known as cartons. Soon, these drawings were referred to by the same name as the boxes upon which they’d been emblazoned. As a method of communicating revolutionary ideas in a few crude lampooning strokes, often to an intended audience whose reading skills were limited, the power and effectiveness of the new medium was made immediately apparent.
This may also be the starting point for the receding but still-current attitude that comics and cartoons are best regarded as a province of the lower-class illiterate. However, following the realisation of the form’s immense political utility, it’s only with increasing difficulty that we can find a political event of any scale that has not been commemorated (and, often, most memorably commemorated) by the means of a cartoon.
The eighteenth century, with its more readily available print media, saw the promotion of the scathing cartoon image from its lowly cardboard-box beginnings to the cheap pulp paper mass-production of the broadsheets and the illustrated chapbooks. Consequently this same period would witness the emergence of the form’s first masters, artists who could see the thrilling possibilities in this unruly and untamed new mode of cultural expression. We can see this evidenced in James Gilray’s often-scatological and lacerating barbed caricatures of the dementia-prone King George the Fourth, in William Hogarth’s stark depictions of society’s deprived and shameful lower reaches and even in the sublime illuminated texts of William Blake, in which the visionary’s radical opinions… He’d stood with the firebrands of the Gordon Riots, in a red cap denoting solidarity with the French revolutionaries across the channel, watching Newgate Prison burn…were of necessity concealed beneath a cryptic code of fierce spiritual essences; invented demi-gods with grandiose and punning names that can be viewed as having much in common with the later output of the superhero industry’s presiding genius, the genuinely great Jack Kirby.

Full Story: Wired: Alan Moore’s Essay for the Activist Occupy Comics Anthology

The Long Con: Mail-Order Conservatism

Rick Perlstein takes a look at the various snake oil and get rich quick schemes peddled on right-wing e-mailing lists, and dives into a bit of the history of New Right funding raising:

Following the standard scare-mongering playbook of the fundraising Right, Weyrich launched his appeal with some horrifying eventuality that sounded both entirely specific and hair-raisingly imminent (“all-out assault on our traditional family structure”—or, in the case of a 1976 pitch signed by Senator Jesse Helms, taxpayer-supported “grade school courses that teach our children that cannibalism, wife swapping, and the murder of infants and the elderly are acceptable behavior”; or, to take one from not too long ago, the white-slavery style claim that “babies are being harvested and sold on the black market by Planned Parenthood”). Closer inspection reveals the looming horror to be built on a non-falsifiable foundation (“could become”; “is likely to become”). This conditional prospect, which might prove discouraging to a skeptically minded mark, is all the more useful to reach those inclined to divide the moral universe in two—between the realm of the wicked, populated by secretive, conspiratorial elites, and the realm of the normal, orderly, safe, and sane.
Weyrich’s letter concludes by proposing an entirely specific, real-world remedy: slaying the wicked can easily be hastened for the low, low price of a $5, $10, or $25 contribution from you, the humble citizen-warrior.

Full Story: The Baffler: The Long Con: Mail-order conservatism
There’s much more. Perlstein concludes with some thoughts on what this says about the psychology of modern conservatism:

Lying is an initiation into the conservative elite. In this respect, as in so many others, it’s like multilayer marketing: the ones at the top reap the reward—and then they preen, pleased with themselves for mastering the game. Closing the sale, after all, is mainly a question of riding out the lie: showing that you have the skill and the stones to just brazen it out, and the savvy to ratchet up the stakes higher and higher. Sneering at, or ignoring, your earnest high-minded mandarin gatekeepers—“we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” as one Romney aide put it—is another part of closing the deal. For years now, the story in the mainstream political press has been Romney’s difficulty in convincing conservatives, finally, that he is truly one of them. For these elites, his lying—so dismaying to the opinion-makers at the New York Times, who act like this is something new—is how he has pulled it off once and for all. And at the grassroots, his fluidity with their preferred fables helps them forget why they never trusted the guy in the first place.

How Selecting Voters Randomly Can Lead to Better Elections

Joshua Davis wrote for Wired:

Roughly 2,500 years ago, the citizens of Athens developed a concept of democracy that’s still hailed by the modern world. It was not, however, a democracy in which every citizen had a vote. Aristotle argued that such a practice would lead to an oligarchy, where powerful individuals would unduly influence the masses. Instead the Athenians relied on a simple machine to randomly select citizens for office. It’s an idea whose time has come again.

Full Story: Wired: How Selecting Voters Randomly Can Lead to Better Elections