This fascinating academic debate has huge implications for the future of world peace


Does the arc of history not bend toward justice after all?

A great deal of popular research in recent years has suggested that the world is becoming more peaceful — that it is experiencing fewer devastating wars, and fewer civilians are dying in the conflicts that do break out. That idea is intrinsically appealing, because it suggests that people today are perhaps more civilized, or at least less violent, than in previous generations.

But now a new paper suggests that research could be wrong. It argues that what looked like a decline in war was actually just a statistical blip — a gap between major wars, rather than the end of them.

So which side is right? Can we carry on with our lives, secure in the knowledge that the world is becoming more peaceful? Or do we need to start worrying that we all might die in a fiery nuclear holocaust after all?

Why this is important

When Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature came out in 2011, it made a huge splash. Its argument — that we’re living through the most peaceful era in human history —  was surprising to a lot of people, given the conflicts currently being fought all over the globe, but Pinker’s data seemed extremely persuasive. According to his analysis, the rate of deaths from war has reached an astonishing historical low. His theory is very appealing. Who wouldn’t want to believe that we are living in a safer world, and that the future will likely be even safer?

war deaths

(Joe Posner/Wall Street Journal/Steven Pinker)

A key part of Pinker’s work is the notion of the “long peace” — an idea that Pinker actually borrows from a historian, John Lewis Gaddis. It refers to the fact that in the past 70 years, wars between great powers have basically gone away. Because situations like the Cold War never escalated to direct conflict, we’ve managed to avoid the type of warfare that devastated societies in the early 20th century and, indeed, much of human history.

If the causes of that are, as Pinker suggested in a lecture, “the pacifying forces” of “democracy, trade, and international society,” then we should expect this trend to continue. So long as we continue to maintain the trends of the world we live in, including growing international trade, strengthening of international institutions like the UN, and strong diplomatic ties between democratic states, then we might actually be able to keep making the world a better place.

Enter NYU professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who is best known as the author of The Black Swan, a book on rare events. He thinks all of this is starry-eyed nonsense. In his opinion, proponents of the “war is declining” argument are over-interpreting evidence of a good trend in the same way people used to argue that the stock market could go up forever without crashes. He wrote a stinging critique of Pinker’s work, which Pinker replied to, and then Taleb replied to again.

Taleb’s new paper, co-authored with Delft University’s Pasquale Cirillo, is the latest volley in that ongoing intellectual war. It’s probably the most statistically sophisticated argument to date that war isn’t declining — and that we’re still every bit at risk of a major conflict as we always were.

Article continues:

http://www.vox.com/2015/5/21/8635369/pinker-taleb

TV’s ‎most powerful showrunner talks candidly about the role of race and gender in Hollywood and the conversation that, she says, “pisses me off” – This story first appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.


In early August, Shonda Rhimes read a draft announcement for an event where she was set to appear. It called her “the most powerful black female showrunner in Hollywood.” She crossed out “female” and “black” and sent it back.

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As the mastermind of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and the producer of top-rated newcomer How to Get Away With Murder, all for ABC, she didn’t believe either modifier was necessary — or relevant. “They wouldn’t say that someone is ‘the most powerful white male showrunner in Hollywood,’ ” she contends, her tone turning momentarily stern on this morning in late September. She pauses to gather her thoughts and then continues: “I find race and gender to be terribly important; they’re terribly important to who I am. But there’s something about the need for everybody else to spend time talking about it … that pisses me off.”

See more Shonda Rhimes’ Career in Pictures

For years, Rhimes has kept relatively quiet on such matters, preferring instead to make her statements onscreen, where she has displayed a talent for crafting complex, original characters unconstrained by such singular definitions as “black,” “Asian” or “gay.” But her own race and gender had become an unavoidable part of the conversation a few days before our meeting, when The New York Times ran an essay about Rhimes by TV critic Alessandra Stanley. It began: “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called ‘How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.’ ”

Read more 30 of Shonda Rhimes’ Stars Respond to New York Times’ “Angry Black Woman” Column

Stanley went on to make the tendentious claim that Rhimes modeled black characters on herself, among other tone-deaf assertions, including the description of Murder star Viola Davis as “less classically beautiful” than other well-known black actresses. Social media erupted. Vulture‘s Margaret Lyons called the piece “muddled and racist”; The New Yorker‘s Emily Nussbaum added “incendiary.” Others were less kind. Rhimes herself jumped in almost immediately, wondering to her 700,000 Twitter followers why she’s not labeled “an angry black woman” when her white characters rant, too.

When I join Rhimes, 44, a single mother of three, in her homey office at Hollywood’s Sunset Gower Studios, the furor has settled down and she’s reflecting on the positives that have come out of it. “Some really amazing articles were written that had the conversation that I’ve been trying to have for a very long time, which, coming from me, makes me sound like I’m just, ‘Rrrraw!’ ” she mimics a roar, her painted nails clawing the air. Her inbox has been deluged with notes from concerned friends and colleagues, many of whom called for the piece to be retracted. Rhimes would prefer it remain: “In this world in which we all feel we’re so full of gender equality and we’re a postracial [society] and Obama is president, it’s a very good reminder to see the casual racial bias and odd misogyny from a woman written in a paper that we all think of as being so liberal.”

The irony, of course, is that Stanley intended not to bury Rhimes but to praise her and her growing influence on the TV landscape. And for good reason: Rhimes not only has redefined what is possible for African-American actresses — before her Kerry Washington-led Scandal, a black woman hadn’t headlined a network show since Teresa Graves fronted Get Christie Love! in 1974 — but also has demonstrated how broadcast drama can thrive in a deeply competitive environment. Her shows, distinctive for their hyperarticulate dialogue, hairpin plot twists and steamy love triangles, deliver a consistent and enviable mix of ratings and real-time buzz. Grey’s rounded out the most recent season, the show’s 10th, as the No. 1 drama among that coveted 18-to-49 demographic; and Rhimes’ White House melodrama, Scandal, which is said to generate more than $200,000 for each 30-second ad, isn’t far behind. That success hasn’t translated to a shelf full of Emmys, but critics have grown more admiring with each passing season. Time‘s James Poniewozik recently wrote that Rhimes produces “smart, pulpy shows that emote like pop ballads, look like America and run like hell.”

For fourth-place ABC, Rhimes has become so valuable that the network’s entertainment president, Paul Lee, has entrusted her with the entire Thursday lineup, the most lucrative night of programming on TV. “Shonda has this ability to create television events,” he says, days before her trio of shows collectively debuts to a same-day audience of 37 million. And even at that size, she has managed to maintain an intimacy with her audience — a genuine connection at a mass scale. Adds Lee, “Shows that really pop have strong voices, and there’s no stronger voice in America than Shonda Rhimes.”

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Article continues:

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/shonda-rhimes-opens-up-angry-738715

Levitated Mass: Giant boulder’s journey to Los Angeles 6 September 2014 Last updated at 00:14 BST


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When the massive earth sculpture Levitated Mass made its slow journey through the streets of Los Angeles, thousands and thousands of curious fans came out to watch the spectacle.

The enormous boulder, which weighs 340 tonnes, was carried across Southern California on trucks in the middle of the night at a snail’s pace. Traffic lights were removed to make space and bridges were avoided because the weight of the rock would likely destroy them.

The sculpture is the work of artist Michael Heizer. Filmmaker Doug Pray was there to document the rock’s journey to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Pray’s documentary, Levitated Mass, opens today in Los Angeles.

Produced by the BBC’s Regan Morris and filmed by Jack Garland

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-29087184

I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me – BY MAT HONAN 08.11.14 | 6:30 AM“““““““`


facebook-manipulate

 Getty

There’s this great Andy Warhol quote you’ve probably seen before: “I think everybody should like everybody.” You can buy posters and plates with pictures of Warhol, looking like the cover of a Belle & Sebastian album, with that phrase plastered across his face in Helvetica. But the full quote, taken from a 1963 interview in Art News, is a great description of how we interact on social media today.

Warhol: Someone said that Brecht wanted everybody to think alike. I want everybody to think alike. But Brecht wanted to do it through Communism, in a way. Russia is doing it under government. It’s happening here all by itself without being under a strict government; so if it’s working without trying, why can’t it work without being Communist? Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we’re getting more and more that way.
I think everybody should be a machine. I think everybody should like everybody.
Art News: Is that what Pop Art is all about?
Warhol: Yes. It’s liking things.
Art News: And liking things is like being a machine?
Warhol: Yes, because you do the same thing every time. You do it over and over again.

The like and the favorite are the new metrics of success—very literally. Not only are they ego-feeders for the stuff we put online as individuals, but advertisers track their campaigns on Facebook by how often they are liked. A recent New York Times story on a krill oil ad campaign lays bare how much the like matters to advertisers. Liking is an economic act.

I like everything. Or at least I did, for 48 hours. Literally everything Facebook sent my way, I liked—even if I hated it. I decided to embark on a campaign of conscious liking, to see how it would affect what Facebook showed me. I know this sounds like a stunt (and it was) but it was also genuinely just an open-ended experiment. I wasn’t sure how long I’d keep it up (48 hours was all I could stand) or what I’d learn (possibly nothing.)

See, Facebook uses algorithms to decide what shows up in your feed. It isn’t just a parade of sequential updates from your friends and the things you’ve expressed an interest in. In 2014 the News Feed is a highly-curated presentation, delivered to you by a complicated formula based on the actions you take on the site, and across the web. I wanted to see how my Facebook experience would change if I constantly rewarded the robots making these decisions for me, if I continually said, “good job, robot, I like this.” I also decided I’d only do this on Facebook itself—trying to hit every Like button I came across on the open web would just be too daunting. But even when I kept the experiment to the site itself, the results were dramatic.

There is a very specific form of Facebook messaging, designed to get you to interact. And if you take the bait, you’ll be shown it ad nauseam.

The first thing I liked was Living Social—my friend Jay had liked it before me and it was sitting at the top of my feed. I liked two more updates from friends. So far, so good. But the fourth thing I encountered was something I didn’t really like. I mean, I don’t truly like Living Social either, whatever the hell that is, but who cares. But this fourth thing was something I sort of actively disliked. A bad joke—or at least a dumb one. Oh well. I liked it anyway.

One thing I had to decide right away was what to do about the related items that appear after you’ve liked something. Let’s say you like a story about cows that you see on Modern Farmer. Facebook will immediately present you with four more options to like things below that cow story, “relateds” in Facebook parlance. Probably more stories about cows or agriculture.

Relateds quickly became a problem, because as soon as you like one, Facebook replaces it with another. So as soon as I liked the four relateds below a story, it immediately gave me four more. And then four more. And then four more. And then four more. I quickly realized I’d be stuck in a related loop for eternity if I kept this up. So I settled on a new rule: I would like the first four relateds Facebook shows me, but no more.

Sometimes, liking is counterintuitive. My friend Hillary posted a picture of her toddler Pearl, with bruises on her face. It was titled “Pearl vs. the concrete.” I didn’t like it at all! It was sad. Normally, it would be the kind of News Feed item that would compel me to leave a comment, instead of hitting the little thumbs up button. Oh well. Like. The only time I declined to like something was when a friend posted about the death of a relative. I just had a death in my family last week. It was a bridge I wasn’t going to cross.

But there was still plenty more to like. I liked one of my cousin’s updates, which he had re-shared from Joe Kennedy, and was subsequently beseiged with Kennedys to like (plus a Clinton and a Shriver). I liked Hootsuite. I likedThe New York Times, I liked Coupon Clipinista. I liked something from a friend I haven’t spoken to in 20 years—something about her kid, camp and a snake. I liked Amazon. I liked fucking Kohl’s. I liked Kohl’s for you.

My News Feed took on an entirely new character in a surprisingly short amount of time. After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages.

Likewise, content mills rose to the top. Nearly my entire feed was given over to Upworthy and the Huffington Post. As I went to bed that first night and scrolled through my News Feed, the updates I saw were (in order): Huffington Post, Upworthy, Huffington Post, Upworthy, a Levi’s ad, Space.com, Huffington Post, Upworthy, The Verge, Huffington Post, Space.com, Upworthy, Space.com.

Also, as I went to bed, I remember thinking “Ah, crap. I have to like something about Gaza,” as I hit the Like button on a post with a pro-Israel message.

By the next morning, the items in my News Feed had moved very, very far to the right. I’m offered the chance to like the 2nd Amendment and some sort of anti-immigrant page. I like them both. I like Ted Cruz. I like Rick Perry. The Conservative Tribune comes up again, and again, and again in my News Feed. I get to learn its very particular syntax. Usually it went something like this:

Article continues:

http://www.wired.com/2014/08/i-liked-everything-i-saw-on-facebook-for-two-days-heres-what-it-did-to-me/

US sent Latin American youths to Cuba in covert op to stir unrest – August 4, 2014 3:11AM ET


Investigation by the Associated Press found young people were given little training before secret mission

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An Obama administration program secretly dispatched young Latin Americans to Cuba using the cover of health and civic programs to provoke political change, a clandestine operation that put those foreigners in danger even after a U.S. contractor was hauled away to a Cuban jail.

Beginning as early as October 2009, a project overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development sent Venezuelan, Costa Rican and Peruvian young people to Cuba in hopes of ginning up rebellion. The travelers worked undercover, often posing as tourists, and traveled around the island scouting for people they could turn into political activists.

In one case, the workers formed an HIV-prevention workshop that memos called “the perfect excuse” for the program’s political goals — a gambit that could undermine America’s efforts to improve health globally.

But their efforts were fraught with incompetence and risk, an Associated Press investigation found: Cuban authorities questioned who was bankrolling the travelers. The young workers nearly blew their mission to “identify potential social-change actors.” One said he got a paltry, 30-minute seminar on how to evade Cuban intelligence, and there appeared to be no safety net for the inexperienced workers if they were caught.

“Although there is never total certainty, trust that the authorities will not try to harm you physically, only frighten you,” read a memo obtained by the AP. “Remember that the Cuban government prefers to avoid negative media reports abroad, so a beaten foreigner is not convenient for them.”

In all, nearly a dozen Latin Americans served in the program in Cuba, for pay as low as $5.41 an hour.

The AP found USAID and its contractor, Creative Associates International, continued the program even as U.S. officials privately told their government contractors to consider suspending travel to Cuba after the arrest of contractor Alan Gross, who remains imprisoned after smuggling in sensitive technology.

“We value your safety,” one senior USAID official said in an email. “The guidance applies to ALL travelers to the island, not just American citizens,” another official said.

The revelations of the USAID program come as the White House faces questions about the once-secret “Cuban Twitter” project, known as ZunZuneo. That program, launched by USAID in 2009 and uncovered by the AP in April, established a primitive social media network under the noses of Cuban officials. USAID’s inspector general is investigating that program, which ended in September, 2012.

Article continues:

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/8/4/us-sent-latin-americanyouthstocubatostirunrest.html

20 Sex Myths, Debunked – By Alanna Vagianos Posted: 07/14/2014 2:40 pm EDT Updated: 07/14/2014 2:59 pm EDT


Apparently, big shoes on a guy really only mean one thing: big socks.

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Mental Floss recruited health researcher Dr. Aaron Carroll to debunk some misconceptions about sex and contraception, from the fairly plausible to the downright bizarre.

Carroll, who hosts a YouTube show on health policy and research, breaks the news that the average penis size is not seven inches, as commonly believed. Instead the average penis is somewhere between five and five-and-a-half inches, according to multiple studies. Sorry ladies; you’re welcome dudes.

And for all the ladies who choose to not shave their pubic hair, you are not alone. Actually, you’re in the majority. Carroll says that only 11 percent of women ages 18-68 report removing “all of their pubic hair most of the time.” So maybe “bush is back,” or maybe it just never left.

Sadly, it’s also a myth that sex is great exercise. That one was just too good to be true.

For more, check out Carroll’s book “Don’t Put That In There! And 69 Other Sex Myths Debunked.”

Amusing guide shows Americans and Brits the different words they each use for the same things [7 pics]


While the English language is spoken by people around the world, they don’t all use the same words for everything. To help address this confusion, illustrator Samantha Sanders created guide to help Americans and Britons understand what the other is referring to…

Brits Americans English 1b

The guide is written from an American perspective, but it could just as easily be used by someone from the UK to understand the American versions of their words.

British English is on the left and American English is on the right. Your opinions on which options are better go in the comments below…

(A few words in the “slang” and “insults” categories are PG-13…)

Brits Americans English 2b

Brits Americans English 3

 

Brits Americans English 4

Brits Americans English 5

Brits Americans English 6

Brits Americans English 7

(via Design Taxi)

http://twentytwowords.com/amusing-guide-shows-americans-and-brits-the-different-words-they-each-use-for-the-same-things-7-pics/