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Nederlog

January 2, 2015
Crisis: General Allen, Retractions, Paperbacks, CIA, Murdoch, William Hazlitt
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton















Prev- crisis -Next

Sections
Introduction

1. Obama Envoy John Allen: No 'Short-Term Solutions' for
     Stopping Islamic State

2. The retraction war
3. Pulp’s Big Moment
4. The CIA and Other Government Agencies Have Long Used
     Propaganda Against the American People

5. Watch ‘Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism’
     for Free

6. William Hazlitt


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Friday, January 2, 2015.

This is a
crisis file, and there are 6 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about an interview with an American general; item 2 is about science and retractions; item 3 is about paperbacks (not a real crisis item, but quite important for me); item 4 is about the massive amounts of secret propaganda that the CIA spreads; item 5 is not an article but a film about Rupert Murdoch's career; and item 6 is not a crisis item but is about William Hazlitt, who now has a fine article on the Wikipedia.

Also, I have updated all the year indexes of Nederlog (from 2004 onwards) with a link to 2015, and relinked dutchhome.htm: I may not have done everything related to a painless change from 2014 to 2015, but most things have been done, and the rest will happen the coming days. (One is updating the crisis index.)
1. Obama Envoy John Allen: No 'Short-Term Solutions' for Stopping Islamic State

The first item is an article by Matthias Gebauer and Holger Stark on the international Spiegel site:
This starts as follows:

General John Allen, 61, has served as special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State (IS) under US President Barack Obama since September. He previously served for three years as the deputy commander of the US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In an interview with SPIEGEL, Allen uses the Arabic term "Daesh" when referring to IS in order to prevent having to say the word "state".
I say. Does the general perhaps get a foul taste in the mouth when he says the word "state"? In any case, someone with such propagandistic airs must be a liar.

Here is just one part from the interview:

SPIEGEL: It took more than a decade to halfway stabilize Afghanistan. The situation in Syria seems even worse. When will you be able to say "mission accomplished"?

Allen: I wouldn't put a timeline on it, frankly. This is a difficult moment. The components of instability that we face with Daesh are found widely in the region. It's not just about Daesh, Iraq or Syria. There are broad-based undercurrents of difficulty -- social difficulties, economic difficulties, governance challenges -- that created opportunities for extremism to emerge and the radicalization of populations. So, while we are all interested in dealing with Daesh as the immediate threat, more broadly we're interested in the underlying factors that create these problems. A useful conversation to have is: How can we take action together to eliminate some of these social, ethnic, religious and economic problems that have combined in so many places? There are no short-term solutions. It's going to require concerted action by the community of nations. It's going to require ownership of the problem in the region.

General Allen seems to assume that the U.S. will be fighting in Iraq for another ten or twenty years (he says in the interview his job is safe the next ten years) and unfolds the skeleton of a plan of major American interference in the whole region, that goes far beyond military interference:
How can we take action together to eliminate some of these social, ethnic, religious and economic problems that have combined in so many places? There are no short-term solutions.
This seems just bullshit to me, although I also assume that the U.S. will be trying to implement various military "solutions" to various "social, ethnic, religious and economic problems". But they will not succeed, firstly because this is propaganda; secondly because there is no infinite supply of money; and thirdly because most of the money spent on warring in Iraq should be spend on the "social, ethnic, religious and economic problems" of the United States.

There is considerably more in the interview, but as I said: it seems  all public relations to me, with scarcely an honest word.


2. The retraction war

The second item is an article by Jill Neimark on Aeon:
This starts as follows:
On 5 August 2014, a celebrated Japanese scientist was found dead, hanging by his neck at his workplace, his shoes politely removed and placed on the landing of the stairs. Yoshiki Sasai, 52, was a legendary stem-cell expert, widely regarded as an exceptional scientist, who worked at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe. Seven months before he killed himself, Sasai and colleagues in Japan and Boston announced a stupefying research breakthrough in two papers in Nature. They claimed that ordinary mouse blood cells could be transformed into powerful stem cells – the holy grail of regenerative medicine – by simply bathing them in a mildly acidic solution (called STAP, for stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency).

Almost instantly, the work was called into question.
This then gets further explained, which I leave to your interests, except for the fact that Yoshiki Sasai seems to have failed in litttle else than bad oversight of the scientists who were responsible for the fraud, for that is what it was.
The STAP story is a tale of all that’s troubled in the scientific enterprise today: scientists seeking demigod status and flying too close to the sun with their claims; journals smitten with a potential blockbuster finding, and overlooking vexing questions ahead of publication; retractions on the rise, entering mainstream awareness, and leaving an entire scientific community frightened of the resulting stigma.
Actually, there is more. Thus, for example, the big pharmaceutical companies declared themselves the owners of the data of many experiments, and often refuse to publish these, in full or even in part. This is quite relevant for medicine as a science, for it effectively removes the empirical basis of real science:
It is still not mandatory for every scientist to upload raw data to a hosting site (a common one is Figshare), even though online storage is now essentially infinite and cheap or free. Many journals have policies that data should be deposited and freely available, but most do not enforce those policies. And it’s nearly impossible to investigate suspected fraud without access to the raw data. Wager tells of journal editors complaining that authors had conveniently lost data in ‘lab fires, floods, catastrophic computer crashes, or more bizarrely, attacks by termites’.
Yes, indeed. Besides, it seems to me that much of science has changed since the 1970ies (when I started studying, and saw this starting):

There are many more nominal scientists produced by the universities, but they are, on average, less intelligent than in the hundred years from 1870-1970, when at most 2-5% graduated; they are less educated, because the courses they took were designed to give the average student a good chance to graduate; and also the scientific morality seems to have radically weakened.

The reason I am putting this in terms of "seems" is not so much that I doubt this (I have been a regular attendant of the university for some 25 years, and what I said is certainly true for Holland), but that I have not made a serious study of the issues, simply because doing this well is beyond my powers.

Here is the last quotation, that in fact is relevant to the disease I am now having for the 37th year, and that all these years has gotten very minimal support for real medical research:
Ivan Oransky, the co-founder of Retraction Watch, says: ‘We need to change the unparalleled power of the published paper.’

A single paper published in Nature, Cell, Science or other elite journals can set a scientist’s entire career on secure high ground.
This is relevant for me and for M.E. (the disease I have) because I basically wasted two years, namely from October 2009 till October 2011, spending much attention on the commotions generated by a paper published in Science in October 2009, that indeed was retracted by the end of 2011 (which was in fact rather quickly), and that may have been fraudulent, though probably nobody will be able to establish that with any certainty. [1]

There is a lot more under the last dotted link, and I liked the article, though it is also a bit too journalistic for my tastes.  

3. Pulp’s Big Moment

The third item is an article by Louis Menand on The New Yorker:
In fact, this is a long review of  American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street by Paula Rabinowitz. This is quoted from the beginning:
Then, one day, there was a revolution. On June 19, 1939, a man named Robert de Graff launched Pocket Books. It was the first American mass-market-paperback line, and it transformed the industry.
(...)
Neither the theory nor the practice of mass-market-paperback publishing was original with de Graff. Credit is usually given to an Englishman, Allen Lane, who was the founder of Penguin Books. According to company legend, as Kenneth Davis explains in his indispensable history of the paperback book, “Two-Bit Culture,” Lane had his eureka moment while standing in a railway station in Devon, where he had been spending the weekend with the mystery writer Agatha Christie and her husband. He couldn’t find anything worthwhile to buy to read on the train back to London. And so, in the summer of 1935, he launched Penguin Books, with ten titles, including “The Murder on the Links,” by Agatha Christie. The books sold well right from the start.
The story that follows is mostly about the U.S. but that doesn't matter much, and indeed much of my own reading of English, that seriously started around 1967, would not have been possible without cheap paperbacks, which in my case were, initially at least, mostly Penguins and Pelicans, that I, almost from the start, got even cheaper than they were sold first hand, for I bought most of them second hand (which also requires a place like Amsterdam, that had many bookshops, both first and second hand - but then I was born in Amsterdam, and lived there most of my life). [2]

There is rather a lot in the article that I found interesting, but I will quote just two more bits. The first is about the major change in the distribution of books that came with paperbacks:

The mass-market paperback was therefore designed to be displayed in wire racks that could be conveniently placed in virtually any retail space. People who didn’t have a local bookstore, and even people who would never have ventured into a bookstore, could now browse the racks while filling a prescription or waiting for a train and buy a book on impulse.
I had not realized this, but it is quite clearly true, and it made the way for selling far more books to far more people, even if many of the books were popular trash ("pulp").

And there is this assessment of the influence of paperbacks on the book business:

Paperbacks changed the book business in the same way that 45-r.p.m. vinyl records (“singles”), introduced in 1949, and transistor radios, which went on sale in 1954, changed the music industry, the same way television changed vaudeville, and the same way the Internet changed the news business. They got the product cheaply to millions.
Yes, indeed - and I do owe a lot to paperbacks.

4. The CIA and Other Government Agencies Have Long Used Propaganda Against the American People

The fourth
item today is an article by Washington's Blog on his site:
This is a long article with many links. I quote just two brief bits.

First, there is this on the extent of the propaganda that the CIA - a secret service (!) - furthers (and
propaganda is lying or distorting or deluding people):
An expert on propaganda testified under oath during trial that the CIA now employs THOUSANDS of reporters and OWNS its own media organizations. Whether or not his estimate is accurate, it is clear that many prominent reporters still report to the CIA.
And there is this on the internet:

Of course, the Web has become a huge media platform, and the Pentagon and other government agencies are influencing news on the web as well. Documents released by Snowden show that spies manipulate polls, website popularity and pageview counts, censor videos they don’t like and amplify messages they do.

The CIA and other government agencies also put enormous energy into pushing propaganda through movies, television and video games.

There is a whole lot more under the last dotted link - and in case you ask why I worry: I think propaganda is an evil, and I think states whose secret services use tax money to influence the opinions of the voters in dishonest ways are bad.

5. Watch ‘Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism’ for Free

The next item is not an article but a film, that I found linked by Peter Scheer on Truthdig:
So far, I've only seen the beginning of it - for it is 1 hr 17 min - but that is good.

6. William Hazlitt

Finally, an item that does not belong to the crisis series:

This is the Wikipedia-article on William Hazlitt (1778-1830), that I did not read for several years, and that now is quite good and quite long.

I doubt this will interest many persons, but it is here because I regard William Hazlitt as one of the greatest writers and finest minds I've ever read - which, I am glad to say, is something that these days is admitted - that he had a very find mind, and wrote an exquisite English - by some of the best judges of English literature. (And yes, I have read most of the great philosophers and many of the great writers - but I found very few of Hazlitt's many qualities).

I discovered him in 1983, in the best bookshop I know - the second hand bookshop Tĥe Book Exchange, in Amsterdam, to whom I owe most of my education and most of my books since 1978 - and I immediately thought what I said in the previous paragraph, although at that time, and for many years afterwards, I knew no one who had even heard of him.

In case you are interested in him, the above dotted link is a fine introduction. And if you are interested in Hazlitt's texts: There are many on my site including all of Table Talk, that may be his best book.

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Notes

[1] I did learn quite a few things, both about the current practice of medicine and about the anonymous members of forums, for example, but - judging after the facts - I would have done wise to disregard everything about XMRV and M.E.
until after I had known of at least three independent investigations that confirmed the findings (which, of course, never happened). And here is my - fairly detailed - sum-up after precisely two years.

[2] That I lived in Amsterdam some 30 years after the paperback industry was started are two facts
that influenced my life in major ways, for I very probably would have read a lot less if I hadn't found that books, also English books, are plentifully supplied in Amsterdam.     

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