Category Archives: Culture

Headline of the day: The body count soars


From teleSUR English:

185,000 Killed in Mexico in 9 Years, 70,000 Under Peña Nieto

Since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December 2012, there have been an average of 22,000 deaths per year in Mexico, meaning by April 2016, the total number of homicides in the country will surpass an estimated 70,000.

Radio wingnuts face furious financial flameouts


Right wing talk radio is in a serious meltdown, with its two leading names being toward oblivion as their audiences age to the point advertisers are placing their media buys in other markets and stations are turning towards other formats.

From Clay Bennett of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

From Clay Bennett of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The theocratic Glenn Beck, who left a fat Fox paycheck to launch his own media empire, is fing that the main fuel of The Blaze these days is investor and banker capital.

The Daily Beast reports:

The axe fell once again on Glenn Beck’s crumbling media empire Thursday as employees in the New York and Washington offices of The Blaze, Beck’s multi-media online operation, along with business staffers in Los Angeles and the documentary unit in Columbus, Ohio, were told their jobs are on the chopping block, according to multiple sources who spoke The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity.

Sources estimated that nearly 40 people are being laid off—including about 20 in New York, a dozen in Washington, five in Ohio and two or three working out of the LA office suite of former Blaze CEO Kraig Kitchin—in order to satisfy the requirements of a multimillion-dollar bank loan taken out recently to keep Beck’s revenue-challenged enterprise running.

Ironically, the mass layoffs are occurring shortly after the company hired CNN alumnus Matt Frucci, former executive producer of the cable network’s New Day morning show, to run The Blaze’s television operation in New York—which apparently will no longer exist.

 New York-based radio and television personality Buck Sexton will remain with Beck’s operation, according to an informed source, although at least some of Sexton’s production staff are losing their jobs.
From Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

From Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

And radio’s most famous wingnut, the man who gave us “feminazi,” “gorbasm,” and other bilious neologisms, is also facing tough times, reported Eric Boehlert of Media Matters earlier this month:

For talk radio, there’s probably only one contract that enters that realm of notoriety: Rush Limbaugh’s eight-year, $400-million deal, signed in the summer of 2008 with his longtime radio employer Premiere Radio Networks.

Owned by Clear Channel Communications, which has since changed its name to iHeartRadio, Premiere’s Limbaugh deal instantly dwarfed any payout in AM/FM history. (Only Howard Stern’s contract with Sirius was larger.) The contract, which included a staggering $100 million signing bonus, never panned out as the wheels began to come off Limbaugh’s radio empire.

This year, his contract is up and the timing couldn’t be worse. The talker is facing ratings hurdles, aging demographics, and an advertising community that increasingly views him as toxic, thanks in part to his days-long sexist meltdown over Sandra Fluke in 2012. (He’s also stumbling through the GOP primary season.)

Concurrently, iHeartRadio’s parent company, iHeartMedia, is heading to court, teetering on bankruptcy. The once-dominant radio behemoth is saddled with $20 billion in debt, thanks to a misguided leveraged takeover engineered by Bain Capital in 2008, the same year the radio giant inked its disastrous Limbaugh deal.

Limbaugh’s been plagued of late by those declining numbers, along with dropped stations, and decl9ining interest from other media in covering hsi scurrilous rants.

But there’s still no conspicuous mainstream radio presence from the other end of the political spectrum.

Big Brother’s panopticon chills online searches


It’s no secret that we’ve long suspected that the revelations of NSA’s panopticon powers would result in self-censorship online, and now we have evidence in the form of an academic study published right here in Berkeley.

Chilling Effects: Online Surveillance and Wikipedia Use [PDF] has just appeared online from the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, and it’s well worth a read.

Reuters sums up:

Internet traffic to Wikipedia pages summarizing knowledge about terror groups and their tools plunged nearly 30 percent after revelations of widespread Web monitoring by the U.S. National Security Agency, suggesting that concerns about government snooping are hurting the ordinary pursuit of information.

A forthcoming paper in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal analyzes the fall in traffic, arguing that it provides the most direct evidence to date of a so-called “chilling effect,” or negative impact on legal conduct, from the intelligence practices disclosed by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Author Jonathon Penney, a fellow at the University of Toronto’s interdisciplinary Citizen Lab, examined monthly views of Wikipedia articles on 48 topics identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as subjects that they track on social media, including Al Qaeda, dirty bombs and jihad.

In the 16 months prior to the first major Snowden stories in June 2013, the articles drew a variable but an increasing audience, with a low point of about 2.2 million per month rising to 3.0 million just before disclosures of the NSA’s Internet spying programs. Views of the sensitive pages rapidly fell back to 2.2 million a month in the next two months and later dipped under 2.0 million before stabilizing below 2.5 million 14 months later, Penney found.

Here’s a chart from page 37 of the paper dramatically illustrating the decline:

BLOG Terror

More details from Abhimanyu Ghoshal of The Next Web:

In his paper, ‘Chilling Effects: Online Surveillance and Wikipedia Use’, Penney looked at monthly views on Wikipedia pages for 48 topics that the US Department of Homeland Security said it tracks on social media, including ‘Al Qaeda’, ‘terror’, ‘weapons grade’, ‘Abu Sayyaf’, ‘Iran’, ‘extremism’, ‘Nigeria’ and jihad.

He noted that in the 16 months prior to Snowden’s first big reveal, the articles drew between 2.2 million views per month rising to 3 million. After Snowden went public, those figures fell below 2 million before stabilizing at just under 2.5 million 14 months later.

Penney’s paper highlights the ‘chilling effect’ of the government’s snooping programs, which refers to the discouragement of the legitimate exercise of legal rights by the threat of legal sanction – in this case, to seek information and learn about what’s going on around the world.

And the money quote from page 40 of the study itself:

Skepticism among courts, legal scholars, and empirical researchers has persisted about the nature, extent, and even existence of chilling effects due, in large part, to a lack of empirical substantiation. The results in this case study, however, provide empirical evidence consistent with chilling effects on the activities of Internet users due to government surveillance. And, to be clear, the activity here is not only legal—accessing information on Wikipedia—but arguably desirable for a healthy democratic society. It involves Internets users informing themselves about important topics subject to today’s widespread social, political, moral, and public policy debates. The large, statistically significant, and immediate drop in total views for the Wikipedia articles after June 2013 implies a clear and immediate chilling effect. Moreover, the broad and statistically significant shift in the overall trend in the data (e.g. the shift from the second results excluding outliers) suggests any chilling effects observed may be substantial and long-term, rather than weak, temporary, or ephemeral. This study also bolsters support for the existence of the chilling due to the data upon which it relies. It is among the first studies to demonstrate evidence of such a chilling effect using web traffic data (instead of survey responses or search), and the first to do so in relation both to the potential chilling effects on Wikipedia use, and, more broadly, how such government surveillance and other actions impact how people access and obtain information and knowledge online.

We leave the last word to Glenn Greenwald, writing at The Intercept:

The fear that causes self-censorship is well beyond the realm of theory. Ample evidence demonstrates that it’s real – and rational. A study from PEN America writers found that 1 in 6 writers had curbed their content out of fear of surveillance and showed that writers are “not only overwhelmingly worried about government surveillance, but are engaging in self-censorship as a result.” Scholars in Europe have been accused of being terrorist supporters by virtue of possessing research materials on extremist groups, while British libraries refuse to house any material on the Taliban for fear of being prosecuted for material support for terrorism.

There are also numerous psychological studies demonstrating that people who believe they are being watched engage in behavior far more compliant, conformist and submissive than those who believe they are acting without monitoring. That same realization served centuries ago as the foundation of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon: that behaviors of large groups of people can be effectively controlled through architectural structures that make it possible for them to be watched at any given movement even though they can never know if they are, in fact, being monitored, thus forcing them to act as if they always are being watched. This same self-censorsing, chilling effect of the potential of being surveilled was also the crux of the tyranny about which Orwell warned in 1984:

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You have to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Well, not quite the last word. Undoubtedly, the net beneficiaries of the reluctance of the populace to look deeper into issues of terrorism serves the interests of a government with a vested interest in keeping secret many of its operations and deepest political motives. . .

Children drive neighborhood income segregation


Gentrification, it’s called, and the driving factor seems to be whether or not families have children.

The presence of school age children makes school selection a decisive factor in housing choices, according to new research reported by the American Sociological Association:

Neighborhoods are becoming less diverse and more segregated by income — but only among families with children, a new study has found.

Study author Ann Owens, an assistant professor of sociology at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, examined census data from 100 major U.S. metropolitan areas, from Los Angeles to Boston. She found that, among families with children, neighborhood income segregation is driven by increased income inequality in combination with a previously overlooked factor: school district options.

For families with high income, school districts are a top consideration when deciding where they will live, Owens said. And for those in large cities, they have multiple school districts where they could choose to buy homes.

Income segregation between neighborhoods rose 20 percent from 1990 to 2010, and income segregation between neighborhoods was nearly twice as high among households that have children compared to those without.

For childless families, schools are not a priority for selecting a home, which, Owens said, likely explains the reason that they did not see a rise in the income gap or in neighborhood segregation.

“Income inequality has an effect only half as large among childless folks,” said Owens, whose study will be published online on April 27 and in the June print edition of the American Sociological Review [$36 to read the article — esnl]. “This implies that parents who have children see extra money as a chance to buy a home in a good neighborhood so that their kids may attend a good school.”

She said the increased neighborhood income segregation that her study uncovered is a troubling sign for low-income families. Studies have shown that integrated learning environments are beneficial for children of disadvantaged households, and do no harm to children whose families have higher incomes.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Growing political divergence


From A Wider Ideological Gap Between More and Less Educated Adults [PDF] a fascinating look at polarization from the Pew Research Center, with detailed data on a wide range of issues as well as generational differences:

BLOG Poles

Texas: Try it, if you’re really tired with sanity. . .


From the state that brought you Ted Cruz, the latest theocratic madness.

From Rebecca Watson of Skepchick:

TX State Board of Ed Nominee: Obama Was a Gay Prostitute

From the transcript:

These days, individual Texas school districts don’t have to buy the books the State Board recommends. But many of them don’t really know all their options, so the State Board is still incredibly influential. I mean, obviously, they should be — that’s what Boards of Education should do: exert a strong influence over the quality of the state’s education.

Unfortunately, Texas has continued to be batshit insane. And things are about to get even crazier, thanks to one woman running for an open position on the board: Mary Lou Bruner. She nearly had enough votes in the primary to just win the seat outright, but because she only got 48 and not 50% of the votes, she’ll have to go through the motions of running a campaign. That’s good news, because in the meanwhile the rest of us can point out how fucking terrifying she is in the hopes that Texas wakes up and votes in literally anyone else but her.

First, there’s the evolution question. Obviously, Bruner thinks it’s all a myth. She believes that baby dinosaurs rode on Noah’s ark but after the flood there wasn’t enough vegetation to keep them alive and they couldn’t reproduce enough so they died, and the fossils support this because all dinosaur fossils have been found with the dinosaurs showing great distress, as though they’re trying to keep their heads above water.

You may be thinking, but aren’t all fossilized animals dead, indicating they all went through great distress at some point? Or, if you believe in fossils, why don’t you believe in the fact that the fossil record shows no record of a global flood but does show that dinosaurs lived 60 to 200 million years ago? But you would be a fool to think those things, because Bruner has transcended logic.

She also thinks that Barack Obama was a gay prostitute who sold his body for drug money in his 20s. I’m not joking. She actually believes that. Oh, for the days of birth certificate deniers.

Is this a woman you want anywhere near your children? Much less supervising their education?

Cruzin’ for slaves, Mexican and Canadian

And about Ted Cruz, there’s his super PAC head, who’s clearly as Looney Tunes as Dinosaur Lady.

Consider the latest lunacy reported by Bruce Wilson at Talk to Action:

Does Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz yearn to rule and reign over America like a God-anointed king from Old Testament scripture ? Short of Cruz himself shouting it from the rooftops, who can say for sure ? Still, nothing says “dominionism” quite as forcefully as “biblical” slavery.

Back in 2011, an open letter to Dr. Laura Schlessinger (concerning her radio show statement that, per Leviticus 18:22, homosexuality was an “abomination”) began, “Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law,” then popped the question,

“Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians.  Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?”

For David Barton, Cruz’ super-pac head (and the top evangelical power broker behind Cruz by one media account), this is no joke. It’s a serious question for which Barton’s website offers a serious, bible-based answer – an American may enslave both Mexicans and Canadians, but only if they’re pagans.

America’s childhood obesity epidemic continues


Sadly, not so surprising, given the fast food craze continues and media remain saturated with junk food advertising.

From Duke University:

The alarming increase in U.S. childhood obesity rates that began nearly 30 years ago continues unabated, with the biggest increases in severe obesity, according to a study led by a Duke Clinical Research Institute scientist.

“Despite some other recent reports, we found no indication of a decline in obesity prevalence in the United States in any group of children aged 2 through 19,” said lead author Asheley Skinner, Ph.D., associate professor at Duke. “This is particularly true with severe obesity, which remains high, especially among adolescents.”

Skinner, along with colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University, analyzed data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, a large, ongoing compilation of health information that has spanned decades.

Reporting online April 26 in the journal Obesity [open access], the researchers found that for 2013-2014, 33.4 percent of children between the ages of 2 through 19 were overweight. Among those, 17.4 percent had obesity, which includes a range from the lower end of the designation criteria to the higher end.

These rates were not statistically different than those from the previous reporting period of 2011-2012. Across all categories of obesity, a clear, statistically significant increase continued from 1999 through 2014.

“Most disheartening is the increase in severe obesity,” Skinner said.

The prevalence of severe obesity – correlated to an adult body mass index of 35 or higher – accounted for the sharpest rise from the previous reporting period. Among all overweight youngsters in the 2012-14 reporting period, 6.3 percent had a BMI of at least 35, which was defined as class II obesity. Another 2.4 percent of those had severe obesity, defined as class III, which was consistent with an adult BMI of 40 or more.

For the previous reporting period, 5.9 percent of youngsters had class II obesity, and 2.1 percent of those were at class III levels.

“An estimated 4.5 million children and adolescents have severe obesity and they will require new and intensive efforts to steer them toward a healthier course,” Skinner said. “Studies have repeatedly shown that obesity in childhood is associated with worse health and shortened lifespans as adults.”

Sarah Armstrong, M.D., a pediatrician and director of the Duke Healthy Lifestyles Program who was not involved in the study, said the population-wide findings in the study are consistent with what she sees in her clinical practice. While families are more attuned to the health effects of obesity, she said, reversing the problem is as difficult one-on-one as it is nationally.

“Certainly progress has been made in addressing the issue in our country,” Armstrong said. “But this study highlights that we may need to be more disruptive in our thinking about how we change the environment around children if we really want to see that statistic move on a national scale.”

Skinner said the study has limitations, relying on two-year data that provides a snapshot in time across a wide population. But she said the NHANES database is a broader source than those used in studies that found declines in obesity rates among smaller or segmented populations.

“We don’t want the findings to cause people to become frustrated and disheartened,” Skinner said. “This is really a population health problem that will require changes across the board — food policy, access to health care, school curriculums that include physical education, community and local resources in parks and sidewalks. A lot of things put together can work.”

In addition to Skinner, study authors include Eliana M. Perrin of UNC-CH and Joseph A. Skelton of Wake Forest.

The study received no outside funding.