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    • The Lack of Belief In Good
      Are humans good, bad or neutral? It’s an old philosophical debate, and not just in the West. Confucius thought they were born neutral, for example, while the later Confucian Mencius felt they were good, noting that everyone who saw a child fall into a well would be horrified. Others, including many Confucians and the Christian church, with original sin, have […]
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A non-political guinea pig discussion

Andy Slavitt talks to Frank Luntz about vaccine refuseniks on his latest episode of In the Bubble. But that’s a left vs right political discussion for the most part.

I want to talk about guinea pigs.

About 10% of the population is still persuadable when it comes to the vaccine. They’re just waiting to see how safe it is. And for the black community or native Americans that don’t trust the medical professionals, with good reason, I get it. I’m more than happy to be a guinea pig for those people. Almost everyone I know has gotten the vaccine and all but one has had zero or mild reactions from it. The one person who had a reaction had tested positive for Covid last year. She’s fine. She was only sick for a day or two. It wasn’t serious and required no treatment.

Who I’m NOT happy to be a guinea pig for is the anti-vaxxer type who insists that the FDA hasn’t gotten enough data and presumed to tell me about how vaccines and the immune system work like they know something about it that the rest of the scientific community doesn’t know. I’m not an epidemiologist or virologist but I studied the structure of the immune system in minute detail under Clarence Schutt at Princeton University as part of their Industrial Associates Program way back when the protein structures were being solved. So, those are my credentials. Don’t f{#%ing tell me I don’t understand and that I should listen to some nonsense that the suburban silly bints are spouting about vaccines. I cannot take it seriously. If that makes me a coastal elitist know it all who doesn’t suffer fools, then I am guilty as charged. Natural selection will take some of those people out and the remaining humans will be able to pass rational survival instincts onto the next generation. So maybe the anti-vaxxers are helping the human species by taking one for the team and taking their stupidity out of the gene pool.

No, I’m not sorry I called them stupid.

The thing that really irritates me about these people is the self-righteous attitude they have and the dismissive way they use conspiracy theories and unverifiable reports to justify their cowardice. Yes, they are cowards. They want us to go into the cellar first to see if it’s safe. It’s ok with them if some of us get ill or die from the vaccine in order to help protect the world. Just don’t ask THEM to do it. Then the vaccines turn out to be safe in the vast majority of cases but they only focus on the reports of Guillan-Barré syndrome or blood clots, which are from a teensy tiny percent of all the billions of doses administered so far. By the way, most serious adverse reactions are coming from the J&J vaccine which is not an mRNA vaccine. It’s an adenovirus vaccine. Totally different technology. So, if you’re really worried about paralysis or blood clots, go with Pfizer or Moderna.

I see the mRNA vaccines as elegant simplicity and I’d be delighted to geek out about. (So far, nobody wants to geek about it or the variant coronavirus structures. 🙁). I was more than happy to convince some of my relatives who are in a fundamentalist religion to get the shots. I didn’t have to go into details but it was my privilege to reassure them that getting an mRNA vaccine would not violate any religious principles.

As a result of the vaccine campaign this year, there are hundreds of millions of us guinea pigs around the world who have gotten the vaccines and the vast majority of us have experienced few if any side effects. In the global experiment against Covid, we, the test animals, are doing just fine.

But there are other guinea pigs in this experiment. They are the unvaccinated control animals. They might be unvaccinated because they live on the wrong continent, or their government is more than capable of creating a robust public health system but hasn’t (I’m talking about you, India). I feel really badly for them. They know what it’s like to live without modern medicine and they have suffered the consequences.

Then there are the unvaccinated guinea pigs who just don’t believe that Covid is a big deal. I’m not sure why they seem to think that the immune system is able to handle this when they probably don’t feel that way about polio or measles. Those vaccines they didn’t have a problem with and even though most of them didn’t live during the decades when public pools needed to be closed during the summer to prevent polio outbreaks, they still don’t see any issues with sucking on that sugar cube when they were kids.

Yep, there are serious diseases that require vaccines and most of us have had vaccinations but for some weird irrational reason they have this idea in their heads that Covid is different in spite of all of the evidence around them that they can see. (I’m assuming they watch the news or know someone directly who has been affected. I know plenty.)

Those people who hold out are also guinea pigs. They are the ones who we will gather statistics on with respect to number of infections, seriousness of illness, rates of hospitalizations and deaths. With increased genetic testing, we’re also going to know who cooked the latest variants in their guinea pig bodies. We’re going to know what states and cities they lived in and a whole lot more about their demographics.

So, it doesn’t really matter whether you get the shots or not. You can’t opt out of this experiment.

Just sayin’.

Do Controversy, Hype, and Hate Drive Eyeballs to the Screen?

This is a fascinating, if unsettling question. Sometimes a book or movie comes out which deals with it, at least tentatively. But none of them seems to have any impact on the issue itself; it is sort of like people interestedly watching the accidents on an unsafe piece of road, and saying, “That’s really awful,” but then not doing anything to fix the road. In this case, it is not that easy to fix, of course, as there are powerful forces which benefit from the way things are right now.

The movie “Quiz Show” portrayed the TV game show scandals of the 1950’s, and showed how TV executives’ desire for higher ratings led them to create popular “big winners,” by feeding them the answers. I recall one of the executives portrayed in the movie arguing, “what does it matter if the results are real or fake, it’s just a show for entertainment.” The dangerous potential seductiveness of that argument is at the heart of the film. People watch these shows to see drama, and have someone to root for in their efforts to win large sums of money, so shouldn’t television provide this for them? Who cares if the games are fair?

Another, darker, movie, was “Nightcrawler,” where a social misfit finds his metier as a crime photographer, searching for the most gruesome and graphic scenes to sell to the news networks, for their opening segments which are intended to capture the viewers and keep them riveted. This man becomes so proud of his skill in this, that he starts tampering with the crime scenes in order to make them even more lurid; or even to actually create them. Life thus becomes something that the TV networks (and before them, the nightly newspaper editions) can mold and exploit for their ends, which they rationalize as a matter of competition and survival.

We all know that this is going on; that in a kind of “capitalism gone wild,” large media entities feel compelled to create bigger stories and angrier controversies, to keep the jaded readers’ and viewers’ interest. We have seen or heard about how the social media is almost entirely composed of this, the need to keep people coming back, to draw their interest every hour.

A new book has come out about Facebook’s role in this. It is called “An Ugly Truth,” by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, reporters for the New York Times. I have not read it, and I only know what I have heard about it; that one of its major themes is how Mark Zuckerberg is entirely committed to expanding Facebook’s audience and reach, above any other value. And that he and his top executives believe that to do that, it is necessary to always ramp up controversy and anger among the subscribers.

In other words, truth or fairness or decency take a distinct back seat to getting readers so upset or contentious, that they cannot pull themselves away, and want to participate with violent emotions. Completely unsurprisingly, the book has a significant focus on Donald Trump, undoubtedly the most divisive political figure in American history, even considering his brief ascent and fall. Trump draws eyeballs, to put it inelegantly, but the way that media executives have been putting it for decades.

According to the new book, Facebook did not limit Trump on its pages, or even ban him, because Zuckerberg felt that it would cost them users, or at least diminish the time they spent at the site. This conclusion is undoubtedly true, which makes it more frightening; that a soulless technocrat who has no regard for the humanity of people, would sacrifice them and the country to his bottom line of endless profits and an ever-increasing consumer base.

We know how the TV media did the same thing, in a somewhat different way. Les Moonves infamously said that “Donald Trump may not be good for America, but he is sure good for CBS.” Yes, indeed. Jeff Zucker of CNN clearly did everything he could get away with, to help Trump be elected. We all remember with anger and despair, how their cameras would fix on Trump’s plane on the runway, as he was ready to go to another rally; cutting away from whatever Hillary was speaking about; then the minute he was ready to speak, putting Hillary into a small upper right box on the screen, and saying, “We will get back to her later,” then never, ever doing so, while slavishly showing every second of Trump’s diatribes, which were purposely made as long as possible, and were termed “press conferences” to make them even longer.

This happened day after day, and it was obvious and blatant, and so very wrong. But of course Zucker now would either falsely deny it, or simply say what the people in the aforementioned movies said, that Trump got big ratings, and so it was his own responsibility to strive for the highest ratings and profits for CNN, by giving more coverage to the people who drove them. Simply business, as the mafia is prone to say.

So they got Trump elected. The only thing they ever talked about with regard to Hillary, was “emails,” which had the dual value to them of damaging her, and also getting more viewers than if they discussed her policy positions. After all, their job is not to bring truth, to cover the news in a fair and in-depth way, so that viewers could be informed, and choose wisely. It is, as they see it, to obtain the highest ratings in a fierce media competition, and thus give the viewers what would cause them to click their station on for the longest period.

The end result was that Zucker and Moonves and Zuckerberg and all the rest of them played a very large part in Trump being elected. The media made Trump, with Mark Burnett of “The Apprentice” being a major factor in that. Very much as in Budd Schulberg’s prophetic script for the 1957 movie “A Face in the Crowd,” the media created a potential President, in the same way that they would sell soap or cars. Both the media and the invented star fed into this unholy symbiotic relationship. And as would have been the case with “Lonesome Rhodes” in that movie, except for a dedicated journalist leaving his mike on after his speech, so that the audience could hear how much he despised them, they got a sociopath authoritarian elected as leader of the free world. And he almost destroyed the country, and he is still trying to do it, and much of the media is still allowing him to–because “he brings in the eyeballs!”

Apparently on Facebook, the subscriber is invited to “vote” on whether a particular story, or maybe even a post, makes them “happy,” or “sad,” or “angry.” And the goal is to present more of what makes them angry, because it was found that when the stories were positive, they spent less time on Facebook. I remember reading about the early days of Facebook, when they engaged in some kind of social psychology experiment, where people were fed made-up stories to see if the stories would alter their moods. At that moment I understood how insidious the people who ran Facebook were. People to them are only pawns to be manipulated.

The goal was not only to manipulate them into spending more time on Facebook, but to perhaps get Mark Zuckerberg elected as President, or maybe Emperor of the World. That is what those rumors of him being interested in running, were about. Learn as much as they could about people’s psychology, in general and as individuals. Mine every bit of data about each person, and use it for profit, by selling it to fascist American politicians, or to Russia, or used in the Zuckerberg presidential campaign, like someone who reads minds knowing just what you want to hear. Facebook can thus be seen as one of the most totalitarian forces in the world today, even though it does not look like one to the casual observer.

Beyond even Facebook, which I think should be dismantled, even though I admit to occasionally going as a nonsubscriber to the pages of my favorite music groups, which are ordinarily not highly frequented, and are just cheerful places which talk about upcoming concerts, or the group’s past history, this poses a profound human question. What is the responsibility of media of any type; whether TV media, or written media, or social media, to provide information as accurate as possible, rather than shape opinion under the guise of telling straight news?

Facebook was beyond despicable in 2016 for running absolutely made-up stories designed to get Trump elected, and Hillary defeated. There are horror stories about how many people talked to acquaintances who had been brainwashed by absolute lies run thousands of times on Facebook, because that company only cared about the money it was bringing in, and because Zuckerberg reveled in his power over people, a power that he wanted, and pathetically was unable to obtain, in his personal pre-Facebook life.

What we have now, is a populace that essentially does not believe anything–because the media gave away its credibility, for eyeballs. This is certainly a time-dishonored theme; surely the Hearst papers were known for yellow journalism, and Hearst himself may have had the battleship USS Maine blown up, to cause the Spanish-American War. Not many citizens were ever credulous enough to believe everything they read; most people found the local newspaper that they agreed with the most, and just bought that. But of course most of the local papers are gone now, and we have the massive conglomerates which control the flow of what they call news. And very few of the type of brave and honest journalists who were doing it the right way a half-century or more ago.

There are still some dedicated and responsible journalists out there, though not that many. There may even be one or two publishers who believe in finding and reporting the truth, as best their staff can discern and source it. But there are far too many who are either desperate for, or addicted to, profits and ratings; and so rather than the news being something to be discovered, it is something malleable to be created and formed by them.

That is what Fox and Newsmax and OANN do: there is little actual external news reported on their networks, it is virtually made up by the people who run their stations, as insidious as any propaganda ever spewed out by any evil totalitarian regime in the history of civilization. And they are somehow proud of it, as if it is some kind of game that they are winning at. They are a contemptible disgrace to any concept of journalism, to the idea of trying to report the actual facts; as opposed to fascist propagandist Kellyanne Conway’s smirking advocating for the creation of “alternative facts.”

So we have assorted villains and crackpots saying that the Covid vaccine is bad for you; or that Trump is going to be reinstalled as president next month; or that the earth’s climate is not becoming dangerously hotter. And then we have most of the major news media taking their default position of saying that any of this is all a matter of debate, that there are always two sides to be presented. Or just covering it without having any editorial view on it, because wouldn’t it be exciting, if Trump could get his forces to do another insurrection, maybe kill many people, gunfire in the streets, just like the days of the gangsters with Tommy Guns, which sent newspapers flying off the racks, and the hands of the newsboys?

Maybe some of the major media does not actually want the ultimate catastrophes, just like someone who cuts holes in freeway barriers for the thrill of it, or just sees the holes, and doesn’t say anything to warn anyone.. They may not want to actually have cars go through them and crash, they just want to make it interesting, while they wait to see how things turn out.

Maybe Howard Beale, “the mad prophet of the airwaves,” in Paddy Chayefsky’s movie script for”Network,” was right, and that everyone should immediately get off Facebook. But I am afraid that there are more soulless entrepreneurs ready to create its replacements, as long as there is the lure of money, power, and control, to motivate them. The only way to stop them is to take those lures away, but how do we do that? If we had a better FCC, and they voted to return to the Fairness Doctrine, that could at least start to turn the tide, at least on the networks.

The social media is an even more difficult challenge, because the supposed egalitarianism of it, turns it into a place where anyone with money and nefarious motives, can inundate it; and the people running it will trade the dissemination of lies and treachery for money and power. There used to be journalists whom you could not buy. They were usually people who grew up loving newspapers and news stories, and had a regard for doing it the best they were able. People like Mark Zuckerberg grew up wanting to be immensely wealthy, and to have more power than any of the people who did not like him, with no interest at all in what was true and what was untrue; and with a sociopath’s blithe unconcern for any of the immense damage the lies would cause to the average citizen, and to the American democracy.

When without knowing a thing about how Facebook was started, I saw the movie “The Social Network,” I thought that the person that Zuckerberg was portrayed as, would simply take the hundreds of millions of dollars and indulge himself. But it turns out that what he really wanted was the power over the lives of other people whom he had contempt for, that he could manipulate like puppets. In a recent interview, the movie’s screenwriter Aaron Sorkin said that he had no idea what Facebook would become, he just did not like the idea of the social media becoming a kind of invented reality, where people spent their time curating their own lives. He said that all the algorithms that they ultimately developed to send out fake news to influence people, is very disturbing. It just shows one that even someone as bright as Sorkin could not extrapolate to that kind of evil, as quirky and amusing as it might have first seemed to a casual observer of the new world of the social media.