As the U.S. weakens protections for wilderness, Peru moves to protect ‘one of the last great intact forests’

The New York Times reports:

The remote rain forests in Peru’s northeast corner are vast — so vast that the clouds that form above them can influence rainfall in the western United States. The region contains species, especially unusual fish, that are unlike any found elsewhere on Earth. Scientists studying the area’s fauna and flora may gain insights into evolutionary processes and into the ecological health and geological history of the Amazon.

Now the area has become home to one of the Western Hemisphere’s newest national parks. Yaguas National Park will protect millions of acres of roadless wilderness — and the indigenous people who rely on it — from development and deforestation.

“This is a place where the forest stretches to the horizon,” said Corine Vriesendorp, a conservation ecologist at The Field Museum in Chicago, one of many organizations that worked to win the national park designation, Peru’s highest level of protection. “This is one of the last great intact forests on the globe.”

The designation stands in contrast to moves in the United States that may weaken protections for wilderness. President Trump has made a priority of scaling back national monuments like Bears Ears in Utah, and many advisers to the National Park System recently quit, citing concerns about the administration’s commitment to environmental protections. [Continue reading…]

Just 3% of Americans own more than half the country’s guns

Paul Ratner writes:

Americans are not as gun-obsessed as some would like their countrymen to believe. Linking gun ownership to the identity of being an American has been a successful sales tactic that is more myth than reality. The numbers show that a small, unrepresentative, but disproportionately vocal portion of the American population, aided by self-serving politicians and a powerful lobby organization, has enacted its agenda over the majority of Americans, who do not own guns and would rather see much stronger gun safety regulations.

How many Americans actually own a gun? A 2016 study by Harvard and Northeastern University put the total number of privately-owned firearms in the U.S. at 265 million, with more than half of that – 133 million – being concentrated in the hands of just 3% of Americans, called “super owners,” who have an average of 17 guns each.

For another perspective on this stunning statistic, consider that the Small Arms Survey estimates there to be around 650 million civilian-owned firearms total in the world. In contrast, about 200 million firearms are owned by the armed forces, while 26 million are in law enforcement hands. So we have 3% of Americans owning about 20% of the world’s stockpile of firearms. [Continue reading…]

Music: Matt Bianco ft. Basia — ‘Golden Days’

 

Zeynep Tufekci: We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads

 

How New Zealand became a new Ararat for Silicon Valley’s misanthropic billionaires

Mark O’Connell writes:

Early last summer, just as my interests in the topics of civilisational collapse and Peter Thiel were beginning to converge into a single obsession, I received out of the blue an email from a New Zealand art critic named Anthony Byrt. If I wanted to understand the extreme ideology that underpinned Thiel’s attraction to New Zealand, he insisted, I needed to understand an obscure libertarian manifesto called The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State. It was published in 1997, and in recent years something of a minor cult has grown up around it in the tech world, largely as a result of Thiel’s citing it as the book he is most influenced by. (Other prominent boosters include Netscape founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and Balaji Srinivasan, the entrepreneur best known for advocating Silicon Valley’s complete secession from the US to form its own corporate city-state.)

The Sovereign Individual’s co-authors are James Dale Davidson, a private investor who specialises in advising the rich on how to profit from economic catastrophe, and the late William Rees-Mogg, long-serving editor of the Times. (One other notable aspect of Lord Rees-Mogg’s varied legacy is his own son, the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg – a hastily sketched caricature of an Old Etonian, who is as beloved of Britain’s ultra-reactionary pro-Brexit right as he is loathed by the left.)

I was intrigued by Byrt’s description of the book as a kind of master key to the relationship between New Zealand and the techno-libertarians of Silicon Valley. Reluctant to enrich Davidson or the Rees-Mogg estate any further, I bought a used edition online, the musty pages of which were here and there smeared with the desiccated snot of whatever nose-picking libertarian preceded me.

It presents a bleak vista of a post-democratic future. Amid a thicket of analogies to the medieval collapse of feudal power structures, the book also managed, a decade before the invention of bitcoin, to make some impressively accurate predictions about the advent of online economies and cryptocurrencies. [Continue reading…]

Mass shootings highlight nexus between masculinity and gun violence


Laura Kiesel writes:

The year 2017 brought the deadliest mass shooting in modern history to the United States, which has become home to more gun massacres than any other country in the world. The response offered by many of our political leaders, both Democrat and Republican, has been to focus on the role of mental illness in such shootings. The day after Stephen Paddock took to a hotel room in Las Vegas with 23 firearms and murdered 59 people this past October, President Donald Trump told reporters that Paddock was “sick” and “demented,” even as evidence suggested Paddock did not have a confirmed mental health disorder. Trump was also quick to blame mental illness on the mass shooting at a Texas church in early November, saying at press briefing the following day that it the tragedy was not “a guns situation” but instead “a mental health problem at the highest level.”

But as we begin a new year, it’s time to have a more nuanced discussion about what might really be to blame for the trend of mass shootings in America—as well as the gun violence epidemic more broadly. No, it isn’t mental illness. It’s gender. If we want to stop the problem of mass shootings, we need to fix the problem of toxic masculinity.

If you take time to dig into the research, you’ll find that mental illness doesn’t play the role in mass shootings and other gun violence that many, especially our politicians, seem to think it does. Serious mental illness has been found to be conclusively present in a minority of mass shootings—only 14.8 percent of all of the mass shootings committed in the U.S., defined as a shooting which injures or kills four or more people, between 1966 and 2015. (Another study focusing on different data collections of generalized “mass murder” from 1949 to 2015 attributes 23 percent of those incidents to the mentally ill.) Studies have also found that those with serious mental illness are responsible for just 4 percent of the incidences of interpersonal violence and less than 1 percent of all gun-related homicides annually in the United States. Generally speaking, people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of firearm violence than commit it.

Yet, while most mass shooters in the past 35 years have not been found to have a serious mental illness, nearly all of them do have one thing in common: their sex. Of the 96 mass shootings committed since 1982, all but two were committed by men. (Most of them were white.) [Continue reading…]

As climate change intensifies droughts, Cape Town’s water crisis may signify a new normal

Laura Poppick writes:

Last June, Piotr Wolski began transforming his Cape Town swimming pool into a water storage tank for his home. By September, he had directed all gutters from his roof to flow into the pool and had installed a pump to transport water into the house where he lives with his family of four.

Wolski works as a hydrologist studying regional rainfall patterns at the University of Cape Town, but his retrofit was no research experiment. Rather, he was responding to the worst drought the region has experienced in 100 years. Since 2015, average rainfall has dipped to less than 15 inches per year a historic average of roughly 30 inches pear year. Wolski now runs his toilets, washing machine and shower off the pool, and runs the rest of the house—including washbasins, kitchen sink and a dishwasher—off municipal water. “But if the need arises, I can put everything on the pool water,” he says.

That need may very well arise. As news outlets have reported, South Africa’s second largest city imminently faces so-called Day Zero, when reservoirs will run so low that the city will turn off municipal taps to its 3.74 million residents. That ominous day, currently slated for May 11, could creep up sooner if residents don’t abide by the current water restrictions of 50 liters per day, the city warns. And while this marks one of the most severe water crises any modern city has experienced to date, this scenario could become more commonplace as climate change intensifies droughts in some parts of the world. [Continue reading…]

Music: Jazzanova — ‘Behold These Days’

 

Quinn Norton and how anti-fascists are helping bring fascism to America

How fascism is coming to America: It’s happening when people decide the ideal society is one where everyone thinks the same way. And it’s happening when people who know better, kowtow to the dictates of social media instead of doing the right thing.

I didn’t know the New York Times hired Quinn Norton until I saw news they’d parted ways. Without question, this is a greater loss to the Times and its readers, than it is to Norton — although there’s no doubt it must be a major disruption to her life and that of her family.

The irony of the situation, representative of this perverse cultural moment, is that the people most likely to take satisfaction in this turn of events probably neither read the Times nor previously had heard of Norton.

These would be the folks who take pride in their own ideological purity while failing to see that ideological purity — whatever the ideology — is a really form of fascism.

Anyone who in thought and action marches in lockstep with others and who attaches supreme value to their allegiance to a cause (however noble that cause might appear), has crossed a threshold qualitatively no different from that crossed by every German who once declared: Heil Hilter!

It doesn’t matter what the cause is. The choice of surrendering to some kind of external ideological authority has the same effect irrespective of the ideology: it makes the individual’s conscience and capacity to make independent judgments subordinate to what that individual has designated as a higher authority. It is a form of subservience that corrodes the foundations of an open society.

We are now creating a society where disqualifications seem to carry more weight than qualifications — a guarantee that conformity and mediocrity can run endemic.

In old-fashioned authoritarian states, conformity was imposed through institutionalized brutality, but we are now conjuring a form of grassroots authoritarianism where the oppressors are mostly gleeful volunteers, herded by commercially-driven algorithms.

In order to appreciate Quinn Norton you don’t need to agree with everything she’s written or everything she’s done, but to get a flavor of her sharp mind and keen wit, watch this short talk she gave a few years ago:

 

In explaining why she accepted the job offer from the New York Times, Norton wrote:

Some people want to spend their careers covering events as they break. Others, as beat reporters, and investigators, using stories to hold power accountable. I’d done those things — and they were fun — but I found they weren’t where my heart was. I was happiest when I was writing long explainers and open-ended stories about what people hope for. What I’d wanted, more than anything, wasn’t to hold abusers accountable, but to help the world understand itself well enough to stop the abuse before it started.

Anyone who has the time and interest to hunt down tweets that can be weaponized, probably doesn’t have much interest in or capacity to help the world understand itself. On the contrary, they are participating in a kind of behavior that is shaping our world in a profoundly unreflective way.

Now that the Times has dumped Norton as lead opinion writer on the power, culture and consequences of technology, who’s going to take her place? Someone who writes clickbait for Gizmodo?

No one can write about culture while also being a slave to conformity.

I don’t care what color anyone’s uniform is; the problem is in the uniformity, not the color.

In the conclusion of her essay on John Rabe (which is well worth reading) that (among other reasons) got her branded as a “Nazi sympathizer,” Norton writes:

For me there is only this in the story of John Rabe: there are no clear bad guys or good guys in humanity. There is just an uncomfortable pause, where you can let history crowd in on you. The best you can do is be quiet in the face of the terrible contradictions, and try to figure out what the next right thing is.

Let’s just imagine social media and online journalism if it was drained of sanctimony, hyperbole, and hypocrisy, and instead opened more space for nuance and deliciously long pauses.

Imagine a platform on which quiet reflection won more attention than loud mouths.

What am I imagining? Maybe a world without the internet…

I guess another Carrington Event would do more harm than good, but I’m not altogether sure.

Cosmopsychism explains how the Universe became fine-tuned for life

Philip Goff writes:

In the past 40 or so years, a strange fact about our Universe gradually made itself known to scientists: the laws of physics, and the initial conditions of our Universe, are fine-tuned for the possibility of life. It turns out that, for life to be possible, the numbers in basic physics – for example, the strength of gravity, or the mass of the electron – must have values falling in a certain range. And that range is an incredibly narrow slice of all the possible values those numbers can have. It is therefore incredibly unlikely that a universe like ours would have the kind of numbers compatible with the existence of life. But, against all the odds, our Universe does. [Continue reading…]