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TBR News December 31, 2019

Dec 31 2019

The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. December 31, 2019:“Working in the White House as a junior staffer is an interesting experience.
When I was younger, I worked as a summer-time job in a clinic for people who had moderate to severe mental problems and the current work closely, at times, echos the earlier one.
I am not an intimate of the President but I have encountered him from time to time and I daily see manifestations of his growing psychological problems.
He insults people, uses foul language, is frantic to see his name mentioned on main-line television and pays absolutely no attention to any advice from his staff that runs counter to his strange ideas.
He lies like a rug to everyone, eats like a hog, makes lewd remarks to female staffers and flies into rages if anyone dares to contradict him.
It is becoming more and more evident to even the least intelligent American voter that Trump is vicious, corrupt and amoral. He has stated often that even if he loses the
election in 2020, he will not leave the White House. I have news for Donald but this is not the place to discuss it.
Commentary for December 31 “In San Francisco, we see a microcosm of a growing problem in America today.
We see a small, rich group on one side and a very large, unemployed mass on the other.
The richies, mostly computer geeks from Silicon Valley to the south, are forcing middle to low income people out of their housing to make room for them, and they do not like to have to encounter street people and want them shipped to Kansas.
Fat Donald the Cow Anus agrees…because they have money and Trump would eat a plate full of wormy dog shit if he could get a dollar out of it.
Now, the unwashed are becoming educated, due in part because of sage and non-christian advice from others.
They are squirting rubber douchebags full of brake fluid on the sides of richie cars.
Brake fluid eats off the paint.
They are dropping roofing nails onto the driveways of expensive apartments and condos.
Roofing nails rip tires up, way beyond patching.
And some twisted souls are putting fire starters into dumpsters pressed against apartment house walls or located in underground parking areas.
Little by little, the good word spreads, often via the dark Internet, and it becomes a virtual civil war.
What, one wonders, would happen if some dissatisfied soul were to pour a bottle of molasses into the crankcase of an expensive car?
Or, much worse, the crankcase of a private plane?
Or a motorboat?
The engines would quickly freeze up with use.
Hopefully not over residential areas or out at sea in bad weather.
Ah, some lofty soul has written a book entitled ‘Sabotage’ and it is gaining many viewers.
Who wrote this?
I think a retired FBI agent could be the culprit but perhaps not.
It could be someone from DHS on the other hand.
No, not the latter. To become a DHS agent one must be totally illiterate and at best, married to their own sisters.
In the midst of life, many people will find themselves drowning in peanut butter…or something that looks like it.
I read of an apartment house fire in San Francisco in a newspaper someone sent me.
The building was gutted and aside from the tragic destruction of many expensive vehicles parked in the garage, a number of tenants went to see Jesus looking like they were badly barbecued.
But mourn not, for they and their previously deceased relatives, all wearing stained white gowns, are singing and dancing their way into the tender heart of Jesus, somewhere up in the vicinity of Elon Musk’s Mars peg house.”

Trump aches from his head to his toes
His sphincters have gone where who knows
And his love life has ended
By a paunch so distended
That all he can use is his nose.

The Table of Contents

• This was the decade the US’s self-serving myths fell apart
• Are we on the road to civilisation collapse?
• Escaping the Laboratory: The Rodent Experiments of John B. Calhoun & Their Cultural Influence
• California’s groundbreaking privacy law takes effect in January. What does it do?
• Encyclopedia of American Loons
• The Season of Evil 

This was the decade the US’s self-serving myths fell apart
The country’s beliefs in exceptionalism and meritocracy came up against Donald Trump and his politics of exclusion
December 30, 2019
by Aziz Rana
The Guardian
The 2010s was the decade that forced American politicians and commentators to confront the limits of the country’s own mythology. Political elites in both parties had long shared the same conventional wisdom about the United States, grounded in ideas of exceptionalism and institutional perfection. But with the rise of Donald Trump and the return of a virulent politics of xenophobia and exclusion, it became increasingly difficult, even for many in the political establishment, to reproduce these past homilies. Today the US is truly at a crossroads. Are Americans willing to confront the failures that led to the present, or will the US remain trapped in the same cycles of crisis and popular disaffection?
If you grew up in the US in the late 20th century, you would have imbibed a familiar account of the country. This was the idea that the US, from its founding, had always been committed to principles of universal equality, self-government and personal liberty. For starters, this consensus assumed that those in the US with wealth and power generally deserved it because they were the best and brightest. And such faith in meritocracy meant that even people on the centre left embraced American-style capitalism and the idea that the US constitution – along with the federal judges who presided over it – produced a near-ideal realisation of democracy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became a truism that victory in the cold war had vanquished all ideological competitors – proof that the country had the best and only viable means of running an economy and political system. The US was a beacon on the international stage, justly exercising power as global policeman. America’s principles, coupled with cold war triumphalism, also suggested that the political change was only ever a story of improvement. As Barack Obama declared in 2008, the country was nothing less than “an improbable experiment in democracy”, one steadily being “perfected”, “generation after generation”.
But as the decade began, the country was facing a series of rolling crises that challenged all of these assumptions: failing overseas wars started on false grounds; financial near-collapse; the social blights of mass incarceration and worsening inequality. Each problem was the product of a policymaking approach rooted in the governing mythology. Yet political elites responded by essentially doubling down on the conventional wisdom. The Obama administration’s strategic choices were guided by the same philosophy that had long informed American politics, above all, placing faith in markets and in national security experts (despite the recent and catastrophic failures of both). And, in the end, the policies were simply not up to the challenges of the times.
Moreover, what the centre right and centre left could not make sense of – given their overall vision – was the extent to which the US had succumbed to deep and structural decay; a fact that both Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter activists highlighted. This decay was perhaps epitomised by the profoundly anti-democratic nature of the American constitutional system itself. This system had long been characterised by the proliferation of corporate money and by checks on popular authority – from the Senate and the disproportionate power it gave to small population centres, to gerrymandering in the House of Representatives, and from widespread practices of voter disenfranchisement to an unelected federal judiciary serving for life. And, as politicians faced overwhelming problems, such constraints only reinforced the sense of paralysis. They made it increasingly apparent that, rather than reflecting actual mass sentiment, politics was now controlled by a wealthy and white minority coalition within the Republican party – which enjoyed a veto power that was well beyond its actual public support.
Trump’s victory in 2016, despite losing the popular vote, not only made plain these institutional flaws but also made it almost impossible for establishment politicians to repeat the old truisms. How could you talk about American meritocracy when so much of political and economic power was defined by nepotism, incompetence and sheer impunity? Indeed, a slew of headlines exposed how even at places like Harvard 43% of admitted white students were either “legacies” (related to alumni), recruited athletes or children of targeted donors (the Jared Kushners of the world). Meanwhile, the idea of either the benevolence of American power or the inherent progressive direction of national history – a new “postracial” society – seemed absurd. At a time when the president and the ruling party openly embraced white nationalism and separated children at the border from their parents, it became hard to repeat bromides about the US being “great because it was good.”
As the decade ends, one of the defining features of the 2020 Democratic primary has been the degree to which the old-fashioned rhetoric is being abandoned by centrist candidates, let alone more left-leaning ones. Even the New York Times, with its interactive, online 1619 project on the legacy of slavery, is demythologising the national past. But the problem today is that both Republicans and most Democrats have responded to the collapse of the American myth by peddling a version of nostalgia. Trump’s nostalgia is for a 1950s America, both racially and in terms of national prosperity and prestige. But the centre left also traffics in nostalgia, even if only for a time – any time – before Trump.
Alas, there is no real turning back. Trump’s rise was in many ways the product of fundamental failures within the old consensus, of which Obama himself was a critical part. And for this reason, there is only one path forward for the US – a politics of genuine transformation. This means nothing less than democratic changes to the electoral process, the economy and the political-legal order more broadly. There are clearly incipient moves in this direction, from the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren campaigns to the activists involved with the Movement for Black Lives, the minimum wage campaign Fight for $15, the so-called Moral Mondays movement and the Democratic Socialists of America, to name just a few. The upcoming decade therefore will be shaped by real political struggle. For the sake of the country, one hopes that some version of nostalgia will not win out.
Aziz Rana is a professor of law at Cornell University and the author of The Two Faces of American Freedom

Are we on the road to civilisation collapse?
Studying the demise of historic civilisations can tell us how much risk we face today, says collapse expert Luke Kemp. Worryingly, the signs are worsening.
by Luke Kemp
February 18, 2019
Great civilisations are not murdered. Instead, they take their own lives.
So concluded the historian Arnold Toynbee in his 12-volume magnum opus A Study of History. It was an exploration of the rise and fall of 28 different civilisations.
He was right in some respects: civilisations are often responsible for their own decline. However, their self-destruction is usually assisted.
The Roman Empire, for example, was the victim of many ills including overexpansion, climatic change, environmental degradation and poor leadership. But it was also brought to its knees when Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 and the Vandals in 455.
Collapse is often quick and greatness provides no immunity. The Roman Empire covered 4.4 million sq km (1.9 million sq miles) in 390. Five years later, it had plummeted to 2 million sq km (770,000 sq miles). By 476, the empire’s reach was zero.
Our deep past is marked by recurring failure. As part of my research at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, I am attempting to find out why collapse occurs through a historical autopsy. What can the rise and fall of historic civilisations tell us about our own? What are the forces that precipitate or delay a collapse? And do we see similar patterns today?
The first way to look at past civilisations is to compare their longevity. This can be difficult, because there is no strict definition of civilisation, nor an overarching database of their births and deaths.
I have compared the lifespan of various civilisations, which I define as a society with agriculture, multiple cities, military dominance in its geographical region and a continuous political structure. Given this definition, all empires are civilisations, but not all civilisations are empires. The data is drawn from two studies on the growth and decline of empires (for 3000-600BC and 600BC-600), and an informal, crowd-sourced survey of ancient civilisations
Collapse can be defined as a rapid and enduring loss of population, identity and socio-economic complexity. Public services crumble and disorder ensues as government loses control of its monopoly on violence.
Virtually all past civilisations have faced this fate. Some recovered or transformed, such as the Chinese and Egyptian. Other collapses were permanent, as was the case of Easter Island. Sometimes the cities at the epicentre of collapse are revived, as was the case with Rome. In other cases, such as the Mayan ruins, they are left abandoned as a mausoleum for future tourists.
What can this tell us about the future of global modern civilisation? Are the lessons of agrarian empires applicable to our post-18th Century period of industrial capitalism?
Collapse may be a normal phenomenon for civilisations, regardless of their size and technological stage
I would argue that they are. Societies of the past and present are just complex systems composed of people and technology. The theory of “normal accidents” suggests that complex technological systems regularly give way to failure. So collapse may be a normal phenomenon for civilisations, regardless of their size and stage.
We may be more technologically advanced now. But this gives little ground to believe that we are immune to the threats that undid our ancestors. Our newfound technological abilities even bring new, unprecedented challenges to the mix.
And while our scale may now be global, collapse appears to happen to both sprawling empires and fledgling kingdoms alike. There is no reason to believe that greater size is armour against societal dissolution. Our tightly-coupled, globalised economic system is, if anything, more likely to make crisis spread.
If the fate of previous civilisations can be a roadmap to our future, what does it say? One method is to examine the trends that preceded historic collapses and see how they are unfolding today.
While there is no single accepted theory for why collapses happen, historians, anthropologists and others have proposed various explanations, including:
CLIMATIC CHANGE: When climatic stability changes, the results can be disastrous, resulting in crop failure, starvation and desertification. The collapse of the Anasazi, the Tiwanaku civilisation, the Akkadians, the Mayan, the Roman Empire, and many others have all coincided with abrupt climatic changes, usually droughts.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION: Collapse can occur when societies overshoot the carrying capacity of their environment. This ecological collapse theory, which has been the subject of bestselling books, points to excessive deforestation, water pollution, soil degradation and the loss of biodiversity as precipitating causes.
INEQUALITY AND OLIGARCHY: Wealth and political inequality can be central drivers of social disintegration, as can oligarchy and centralisation of power among leaders. This not only causes social distress, but handicaps a society’s ability to respond to ecological, social and economic problems.
The field of cliodynamics models how factors such as equality and demography correlate with political violence. Statistical analysis of previous societies suggests that this happens in cycles. As population increases, the supply of labour outstrips demand, workers become cheap and society becomes top-heavy. This inequality undermines collective solidarity and political turbulence follows.
COMPLEXITY: Collapse expert and historian Joseph Tainter has proposed that societies eventually collapse under the weight of their own accumulated complexity and bureaucracy. Societies are problem-solving collectives that grow in complexity in order to overcome new issues. However, the returns from complexity eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. After this point, collapse will eventually ensue.
Another measure of increasing complexity is called Energy Return on Investment (EROI). This refers to the ratio between the amount of energy produced by a resource relative to the energy needed to obtain it. Like complexity, EROI appears to have a point of diminishing returns. In his book The Upside of Down, the political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon observed that environmental degradation throughout the Roman Empire led to falling EROI from their staple energy source: crops of wheat and alfalfa. The empire fell alongside their EROI. Tainter also blames it as a chief culprit of collapse, including for the Mayan.
EXTERNAL SHOCKS: In other words, the “four horsemen”: war, natural disasters, famine and plagues. The Aztec Empire, for example, was brought to an end by Spanish invaders. Most early agrarian states were fleeting due to deadly epidemics. The concentration of humans and cattle in walled settlements with poor hygiene made disease outbreaks unavoidable and catastrophic. Sometimes disasters combined, as was the case with the Spanish introducing salmonella to the Americas.
RANDOMNESS/BAD LUCK: Statistical analysis on empires suggests that collapse is random and independent of age. Evolutionary biologist and data scientist Indre Zliobaite and her colleagues have observed a similar pattern in the evolutionary record of species. A common explanation of this apparent randomness is the “Red Queen Effect”: if species are constantly fighting for survival in a changing environment with numerous competitors, extinction is a consistent possibility.
Despite the abundance of books and articles, we don’t have a conclusive explanation as to why civilisations collapse. What we do know is this: the factors highlighted above can all contribute. Collapse is a tipping point phenomena, when compounding stressors overrun societal coping capacity.
We can examine these indicators of danger to see if our chance of collapse is falling or rising. Here are four of those possible metrics, measured over the past few decades:
• Temperature is a clear metric for climate change, GDP is a proxy for complexity and the ecological footprint is an indicator for environmental degradation. Each of these has been trending steeply upwards.
• Inequality is more difficult to calculate. The typical measurement of the Gini Index suggests that inequality has decreased slightly globally (although it is increasing within countries). However, the Gini Index can be misleading as it only measures relative changes in income. In other words, if two individuals earning $1 and $100,000 both doubled their income, the Gini would show no change. But the gap between the two would have jumped from $99,999 to $198,998.
Because of this, I have also depicted the income share of the global top 1%. The 1% have increased in their share of global income from approximately 16% in 1980 to over 20% today. Importantly, wealth inequality is even worse. The share of global wealth from the 1% has swelled from 25-30% in the 1980s to approximately 40% in 2016. The reality is likely to be starker as these numbers do not capture wealth and income siphoned into overseas tax havens.
Studies suggest that the EROI for fossil fuels has been steadily decreasing over time as the easiest to reach and richest reserves are depleted. Unfortunately, most renewable replacements, such as solar, have a markedly lower EROI, largely due to their energy density and the rare earth metals and manufacturing required to produce them.
This has led much of the literature to discuss the possibility of an “energy cliff” as EROI declines to a point where current societal levels of affluence can no longer be maintained. The energy cliff need not be terminal if renewable technologies continue to improve and energy efficiency measures are speedily implemented.
Measures of resilience
The somewhat reassuring news is that collapse metrics are not the entire picture. Societal resilience may be able to delay or prevent collapse.
For example, globally “economic diversity” – a measurement of the diversity and sophistication of country exports ­– is greater today than it was in the 1960s and 1970s, as measured by the Economic Complexity Index (ECI). Nations are, on average, less reliant on single types of exports than they once were. For example, a nation that had diversified beyond only exporting agricultural products would be more likely to weather ecological degradation or the loss of trading partners. The ECI also measures the knowledge-intensity of exports. More skilled populations may have a greater capacity to respond to crises as they arise.
There are some reasons to be optimistic, thanks to our ability to innovate and diversify away from disaster. Yet the world is worsening in areas that have contributed to the collapse of previous societies
Similarly, innovation – as measured by per capita patent applications – is also rising. In theory, a civilisation might be less vulnerable to collapse if new technologies can mitigate against pressures such as climate change.
It’s also possible that “collapse” can happen without violent catastrophe. As Rachel Nuwer wrote on BBC Future in 2017, “in some cases, civilisations simply fade out of existence – becoming the stuff of history not with a bang but a whimper”.
Still, when we look at all these collapse and resilience indicators as a whole, the message is clear that we should not be complacent. There are some reasons to be optimistic, thanks to our ability to innovate and diversify away from disaster. Yet the world is worsening in areas that have contributed to the collapse of previous societies. The climate is changing, the gap between the rich and poor is widening, the world is becoming increasingly complex, and our demands on the environment are outstripping planetary carrying capacity.
The rungless ladder
That’s not all. Worryingly, the world is now deeply interconnected and interdependent. In the past, collapse was confined to regions – it was a temporary setback, and people often could easily return to agrarian or hunter-gatherer lifestyles. For many, it was even a welcome reprieve from the oppression of early states. Moreover, the weapons available during social disorder were rudimentary: swords, arrows and occasionally guns.
Today, societal collapse is a more treacherous prospect. The weapons available to a state, and sometimes even groups, during a breakdown now range from biological agents to nuclear weapons. New instruments of violence, such as lethal autonomous weapons, may be available in the near future. People are increasingly specialised and disconnected from the production of food and basic goods. And a changing climate may irreparably damage our ability to return to simple farming practices.
Think of civilisation as a poorly-built ladder. As you climb, each step that you used falls away. A fall from a height of just a few rungs is fine. Yet the higher you climb, the larger the fall. Eventually, once you reach a sufficient height, any drop from the ladder is fatal.
With the proliferation of nuclear weapons, we may have already reached this point of civilisational “terminal velocity”. Any collapse – any fall from the ladder – risks being permanent. Nuclear war in itself could result in an existential risk: either the extinction of our species, or a permanent catapult back to the Stone Age.
While we are becoming more economically powerful and resilient, our technological capabilities also present unprecedented threats that no civilisation has had to contend with. For example, the climatic changes we face are of a different nature to what undid the Maya or Anazasi. They are global, human-driven, quicker, and more severe.
Assistance in our self-imposed ruin will not come from hostile neighbors, but from our own technological powers. Collapse, in our case, would be a progress trap.
The collapse of our civilisation is not inevitable. History suggests it is likely, but we have the unique advantage of being able to learn from the wreckages of societies past.
We know what needs to be done: emissions can be reduced, inequalities levelled, environmental degradation reversed, innovation unleashed and economies diversified. The policy proposals are there. Only the political will is lacking. We can also invest in recovery. There are already well-developed ideas for improving the ability of food and knowledge systems to be recuperated after catastrophe. Avoiding the creation of dangerous and widely-accessible technologies is also critical. Such steps will lessen the chance of a future collapse becoming irreversible.
We will only march into collapse if we advance blindly. We are only doomed if we are unwilling to listen to the past.
Luke Kemp is a researcher based at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge.

Escaping the Laboratory: The Rodent Experiments of John B. Calhoun & Their Cultural Influence
by Edmund Ramsden & Jon Adams
Department of Economic History London School of Economics
In John B. Calhoun’s early crowding experiments, rats were supplied with everything they needed – except space. The result was a population boom, followed by such severe psychological disruption that the animals died off to extinction. The take-home message was that crowding resulted in pathological behaviour – in rats and by extension in humans. For those pessimistic about Earth’s “carrying capacity,” the macabre spectacle of this “behavioural sink” was a compelling symbol of the problems awaiting overpopulation. Calhoun’s work enjoyed considerable popular success. But cultural influence can run both ways. In this paper, we look at how the cultural impact of Calhoun’s experiments resulted in a simplified, popular version of his work coming to overshadow the more nuanced and positive message he wanted to spread, and how his professional reputation was affected by this popular “success.”

In 1947, John B. Calhoun’s neighbour agreed to let him build a rat enclosure on disused woodland behind his house in Towson, Maryland. Calhoun would later reflect that his neighbour probably expected a few hutches, perhaps a small run. What Calhoun built was quarter acre pen, what he called a “rat city,” and which he seeded with five pregnant females. Calhoun calculated that the habitat was sufficient to accommodate as many as 5000 rats. Instead, the population levelled off at 150, and throughout the two years Calhoun kept watch, never exceeded 200. That the predicated maximum was never reached ought to come as no surprise: 5000 rats would be tight indeed. A quarter acre is little over 1000 square meters, meaning each rat would have to itself an area of only about 2000 square centimetres, roughly the size of an individual laboratory cage. Be that as it may, a population of only 150 seemed surprisingly low. What had happened?
Employed in the Laboratory of Psychology of the National Institute of Mental Health from 1954, Calhoun repeated the experiment in specially constructed “rodent universes” – room-sized pens which could be viewed from the attic above via windows cut through the ceiling. Using a variety of strains of rats and mice, he once more provided his populations with food, bedding, and shelter. With no predators and with exposure to disease kept at a minimum, Calhoun described his experimental universes as “rat utopia,” “mouse paradise.” With all their visible needs met, the animals bred rapidly. The only restriction Calhoun imposed on his population was of space – and as the population grew, this became increasingly problematic. As the pens heaved with animals, one of his assistants described rodent “utopia” as having become “hell” (Marsden 1972).
Dominant males became aggressive, some moving in groups, attacking females and the young. Mating behaviors were disrupted. Some became exclusively homosexual. Others became pansexual and hypersexual, attempting to mount any rat they encountered. Mothers neglected their infants, first failing to construct proper nests, and then carelessly abandoning and even attacking their pups. In certain sections of the pens, infant mortality rose as high as 96%, the dead cannibalized by adults. Subordinate animals withdrew psychologically, surviving in a physical sense but at an immense psychological cost. They were the majority in the late phases of growth, existing as a vacant, huddled mass in the centre of the pens. Unable to breed, the population plummeted and did not recover. The crowded rodents had lost the ability to co-exist harmoniously, even after the population numbers once again fell to low levels. At a certain density, they had ceased to act like rats and mice, and the change was permanent.

California’s groundbreaking privacy law takes effect in January. What does it do?
Landmark law, the ‘most comprehensive’ in the US, gives Californians an arsenal of tools to protect their data online
December 30, 2019
by Kari Paul
The Guardian
Last year, California passed a landmark privacy law that gives consumers more control over their data. The legislation gives residents unprecedented rights to control what information companies collect on them and how it is used.
The California Consumer Privacy Act will go into action 1 January 2020, giving residents of the state a whole new arsenal of tools to protect their data and personal information online – and saddling businesses with a lot more responsibility.
Here is everything you need to know about California’s “groundbreaking” new privacy law.
What is the law?
The California Consumer Privacy Act, passed in 2018, is the “most comprehensive” privacy legislation to be enacted in the United States to date, according to the American Bar Association.
Under the new regulations, California residents will be able to demand companies to disclose what information is collected on them and request a copy of that information.
Companies will be forced to delete consumers’ data upon request and they’ll be prohibited from selling information if the customer instructs them to via a mandatory “do not sell” link on the company’s website.
Consumers will also have the right to “receive equal service and price whether or not they exercise their privacy rights” or in other words, companies won’t be able to treat a user differently because they have requested their data.
When does it go into effect?
The law is effective on 1 January – meaning consumers can submit requests for their data starting on that date. The California attorney general’s office will not take any enforcement action against companies that do not comply until 1 July 2020.
What businesses does it affect?
Businesses will be required to comply with the new regulations if they have an annual gross revenue in excess of $25m, derive 50% or more of their annual revenue from selling consumers’ personal information, or annually buy, receive, sell, or share the personal information of more than 50,000 consumers, households, or devices for commercial purposes.
That means at least 500,000 businesses will be required to comply with the new law, according to the not-for-profit the International Association of Privacy.
Who else does it affect?
Consumers in California will be most directly affected by the new law. However, even people who not live in California may see ripple effects, said Pete Yared, the founder and chief executive officer of data management company InCountry.
“There are similar laws manifesting all over the world so increasingly companies are set up to receive and process these kinds of requests for data,” he said.
I live in California – how can I get my own data?
Consumers can receive a copy of their data by sending “a verifiable consumer request” to a business. The company is then required to comply with the request within 45 days of receipt. In some cases, companies can extend this time period for a maximum of 90 days total.
Consumers may only make a request for information twice a year, and only for a 12-month look-back period.
What happens if a company doesn’t give me my data?
Companies may face fines of $2,500 to $7,500 per violation of the new law, if the violation is deemed intentional. However, the CCPA also grants businesses a 30-day period to address a violation after receipt of a consumer’s request. The law is enforced by the California attorney general.
How does the CCPA compare to other privacy laws?
The California Consumer Privacy Act has often been called “GDPR-lite”, bearing resemblance to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect in May 2018.
GDPR’s scope is broader, affecting all businesses that handle user data, whereas the CCPA applies only to businesses with a gross revenue over $25m, more than 50,000 customers, or whose revenue is 50% or more based on user data.
The CCPA provides more explicit “opt out” options for users who do not want their personal data sold. Under the CCPA, companies must include a “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” link in a clear and conspicuous location on their websites. Under GDPR, by comparison, businesses do not necessarily need the individual’s consent to collect and use data.
The rules also differ in their approaches to the collection of children’s data. Under GDPR, parents must provide consent for the processing of data of children under the age of 16. The CCPA requires businesses obtain consent from parents of children ages 13 and under, while kids older than 13 can provide their own consent.
What’s next?
Although the CCPA is the most extensive privacy law yet to be passed in the US, some advocates say it does not go far enough. Before the comment period on the law closed on 6 December, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, and other privacy advocates filed a request to strengthen the regulation.
The law as it is written does not do enough to address data collection, said Hayley Tsukayama, an EFF legal advocate, and California has few resources to enforce the law in 2020.
“You have the right to go to companies that have your data and ask to have it back, but they don’t have to come to you to ask to have it in the first place”, she said. “This is what we call opt in versus opt out.”
Companies that violate the law will also have the “right to cure”, meaning they can change their violating policies after they have been apprehended.
“We see this as a get out of jail free card,” Tsukayama said.

Encyclopedia of American Loons

Bob Staples

Somewhat obscure, perhaps, but Bob Staples is member of the Villa Rica Church of Christ and a young-earth creationist. He is, we suspect, not the only young-earth creationist in his congregation. What’s more disconcerting is that Staples is also “a college math teacher” – what or what kind of college is not specified, and the fact that Bob is there is itself sufficient reason to choose a different institution for your education – and that, as of 2012, he was, according to one source, (apparently) serving on some “state committee that is working to develop science standards for education”; at least he was pestering the Carroll County Board of Education with letters and protests.
Staples was clear about his goals for those science standards: evolution should not be part of them. It should not, because Staples believes in a literal reading of the Bible, and although he didn’t expect public schools to teach the Bible’s view of creation, they should at least drop the scientific alternative: As Bob sees it, you can’t have it both ways: “You cannot read Genesis 1 and 2 and also agree with evolution. They are contrary to each other. They are contradictory,” said Staples. In his letter to the state science committee, he claims that shools teaching evolution since the 1960s has contributed to what he sees as a decline in American morals. “The crime rate, child abuse, divorce. All of these things rose from a period following the implementation of teaching Darwinian Theory,” Staples said, because correlation proves causation even when there isn’t really a correlation.
He also said that “[e]volution is a theory in crisis [claims about the imminent collapse of the theory of evolution has been a creationist staple for well-neigh a century] and harmful to our progress.” Why is it in crisis? “There is no evidence of evolution [at least Bob hasn’t bothered to look]happening in the past […] Evolution is not a fact, but is taught as a fact in many educational settings,” whereas “[b]elief in creation and a global flood are consistent with the facts of science.” Apparently you have to take his word for it, and not look at the glaring inconsistencies in the creationist flood geology narrative (of course, the problems are not scientific; since Bob has no clue how science actually works he gets to define the word “science” any way he likes.)
Diagnosis: At least he is honest. None of that “teach the controversy” waffling here. Unfortunately he is also a rabidly insane fundie.

Glenn Stanton

Glenn Stanton is a spokesperson for Focus on the Family – indeed, he is director of global family formation studies – and seems to have been heavily involved in the organization’s systematic and deliberate misrepresentation of research to try to support their anti-gay political agenda. How Focus on the Family does science is well illustrated by this commentary, which compares what Stanton claims is a “clear consensus” among anthropologists in support of his favored view on marriage, with what actual anthropologists actually say. “Wait,” you may ask, “Stanton didn’t actually bother to consult anthropologists before he made a sweeping remark about anthropology?” Indeed, he didn’t. That’s how he rolls, and insensitivity to evidence appears to be one of the pinnacles of Focus on the Family’s “research” efforts. (The American Anthropological Association was not impressed with Stanton’s claims.) For other examples of Focus on the Family manipulating data and misrepresenting research, you could look at this, this (also here), this, and this. Seeing a pattern yet?
Here is Stanton saying that it is “very unscientific” to believe same-sex parents can have healthy families, and here is Stanton on Janet Mefferd’s show, trying to poke holes in a study showing that epigenetic influences in the womb are a primary cause of homosexuality. He rejects it primarily because scientists, according to him, are biased because they lack faith – the study was done, after all, by evolutionary scientists and Stanton vehemently rejects evolution – and fundies are not because they have God. He didn’t get his response published in a peer-reviewed journal.
At least Stanton is convinced of the importance of his own work. According to Stanton, same-sex marriage does not only undermine the institution of marriage and therefore civilization, but “deconstructs humanity itself” (no, he doesn’t know what it means, but the appeal to postmodernist rhetoric when it suits him – it is not an isolated occurrence – is telling). Same-sex marriage is ultimately a “pernicious lie of Satan” that imperils society and humanity; Stanton means this in a very scientific way. (Stanton does, apparently, think of himself as a scientist, though he has no relevant education and no published research to his name – of course, he has no idea what science is, so it is for him a more or less an empty label to be tagged onto whatever he wants.)
Stanton argues that Christian right leaders should distance themselves from “extreme rhetoric”. He uses Chuck Colson as an example of someone who apparently avoided extreme rhetoric, which I guess is just another example of the care with which Stanton handles data and evidence.
Diagnosis: I suppose he had everything stacked against him. Being responsible for the research part of Focus on the Family is a poor point of departure if you aim for respectability and actually contributing to knowledge.

Salo Stanley

Now what is this? Salo Stanley is apparently a chiropractor who consistently calls herself “Dr. Stanley”, apparently on the grounds that she received some degree from Life Chiropractic College West. That place received a bit of attention in 2015 when its students gave Andrew Wakefield standing ovations for telling them to oppose Senate Bill SB277, which would limit non-medical vaccine exemptions. Hers is not a degree to be particularly proud of, in other words. But Salo Stanley is so much more than a mere chiropractor. She is “a sound therapist, psychic, medium, musician, artist, researcher, professional speaker and ordained minister of the Universal Life Church in Modesto, California” who “does paranormal research with trans-communication radio devices to contact the Spirit World and provides channeled information to various groups.” She has even had her own cable TV show with Barb Heintzelman called “BS in Fresno” (very apt, though we suspect they thought it was an acronym for “Barb and Salo”), and currently gives “lectures on consciousness, positive thought and spirituality,” including a monthly “Spiritual Potpourri.”
Though she assures us that “she also does spiritual readings over the phone to help you with your spiritual purpose,” Stanley’s main area is sound therapy. “After a crystal therapy treatment in July 1992 Dr. Stanley experienced a spiritual awakening that opened her up to new talents for sound, music and intuitive qualities,” claims her bio, and she ostensibly developed her own brand of sound therapy in response to her experiences. Stanley’s brand of sound therapy, more aptly called “sound healing”, “consists of tuning forks applied to acupuncture points on the body.” As evidence, she offers two quotes: “Every illness is a musical problem and every cure has a musical solution” (attributed “Novalis 16th century” – we haven’t checked whether Novalis really said this, but the fact that Stanley is off with about two centuries on his life sort of suggests that she hasn’t actually read him either) and “[t]he Body is held together by sound. The presence of disease indicates that some sounds have gone out of tune” (attributed to Deepak Chopra – we haven’t double checked this one either but will happily grant that it sounds like Chopra).
How exactly the treatment is supposed to work is somewhat unclear, however, so we’ll just give you Stanley’s full description: “Tuning forks are applied to acupuncture points on the body. Light therapy is above the treatment table and a Infratonic sound therapy machine with alpha waves is placed on the shoulder or belly to give the patient a sense of relaxation. Alpha waves are the first state of meditation/relaxation. It trains the brain to relax/meditate and gain access to a whole new way of living: less anxiety, less stagnation, greater health, fewer accidents, more creativity, clarity, more peak performance, and more happiness.” You are probably supposed to fill in the details yourself, but she suggests that her tuning forks could “maybe even break up some calcium deposits in our psychic center of the Pineal Gland to create and enhance connection to our higher self, intuition, guides and angels.”
She has apparently also produced a CD, “Walking Between Worlds”, but we have somehow failed to tempt ourselves into sampling it. Her website also contains ample information on astrology, earth changes and crystal skulls. Do visit it (but you need to google it yourself).
Diagnosis: It’s all there. We honestly suspect her alma mater would be proud of her. Utter rubbish, of course, but probably harmless.

The Season of Evil
by Gregory Douglas

This is in essence a work of fiction, but the usual disclaimers notwithstanding, many of the horrific incidents related herein are based entirely on factual occurrences.
None of the characters or the events in this telling are invented and at the same time, none are real. And certainly, none of the participants could be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be either noble, self-sacrificing, honest, pure of motive or in any way socially acceptable to anything other than a hungry crocodile, a professional politician or a tax collector.
In fact, the main characters are complex, very often unpleasant, destructive and occasionally, very entertaining.
To those who would say that the majority of humanity has nothing in common with the characters depicted herein, the response is that mirrors only depict the ugly, evil and deformed things that peer into them
There are no heroes here, only different shapes and degrees of villains and if there is a moral to this tale it might well be found in a sentence by Jonathan Swift, a brilliant and misanthropic Irish cleric who wrote in his ‘Gulliver’s Travels,”
“I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most odious race of little pernicious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”
Swift was often unkind in his observations but certainly not inaccurate.

Frienze, Italy
July 2018-August 2019

Chapter 44

It was in Boston that he first became interested in fine art. This interest was vague at first but he found that he genuinely enjoyed wandering around in the weekday half-empty halls of various museums.
His interest in the paintings, sculpture and other objects led him to pay visits to various Boston libraries in search of literature on the subject. He once went as far as Cambridge and spent a great deal of time in one of the Harvard libraries.
An amused librarian told her friend about the cutest boy who apparently got his thrills looking at paintings of nude women. This was not an entirely accurate statement because Claude enjoyed looking at almost any sort of naked body but it did reflect the secret life of the librarian with greater accuracy.
Life with the doctor was entirely predictable until one day Claude returned from a cultural tour to discover medical chaos in the lower reaches of the house.
A distraught doctor told him, weeping, that Mom had apparently had what he called “The Big One” which Claude discovered quickly meant a fatal stroke.
Life after that was chaotic and when the doctor discovered that a distant cousin and his family had inherited a portion of Mom’s estate and wished to move into the mansion, Claude was told, with much regret on the part of his patron and lover, that he would have to leave.
The cousins were young and curious and could not be confined to the first floor. Since the doctor was a very vocal man when engaged in sexual pastimes, it was decided to pass Claude on to a good friend.
This friend proved to be a plump and very fussy stockbroker with political ambitions who was overjoyed at the thought of having a charming young man as a houseguest.
Claude was not as pleased because the stockbroker, unlike the doctor, was not particularly good looking and enjoyed dressing up in costumes, requiring his guest to do the same and ending their bizarre tableaux by having Claude beat him on his ample buttocks with a leather belt.
He was, however, far more generous with money than the doctor and Claude quickly overcame his distaste for sadism.
The stockbroker was a very religious man and after an evening of amateur theatrics, spent most of the early hours of the morning engaged in loud prayer in a back bedroom he had converted into a chapel.
Claude found this highly distasteful, not only because of his enforced earlier attendance at regular Catholic services but also because the life-sized Christ on the seven foot massive cross was entirely naked and had the very muscular build of a professional weight lifter.
His earlier memories of a crucified Jesus were of a thin, sad figure that was carefully draped and he found the enormous statue embarrassing.
The stockbroker had a house full of small, valuable antiques such as gold crucifixes, icons and other ecclesiastical props and it was the first time that Claude had been able to handle and inspect real artifacts.
The stockbroker, whose first name was Rodney, had a distinct preference for muscular young men and Claude had the misfortune to be somewhat on the lean side. It was suggested to Claude that perhaps he might like to attend a health club and make use of the body building equipment, a project that Rodney would be delighted to pay for.

Claude now entered another part of his life.
He found that he was one of those fortunate individuals who needed only to perform the easiest of exercises to achieve an impressively enhanced appearance.
In a very short time, Rodney was both delighted with the results and greatly saddened by the expense of buying Claude a new wardrobe.
The old one was now entirely too small.
The director of the health club was impressed with the results and suggested that perhaps Claude might like to use the pool to obtain a better overall toning of the muscles.
Claude’s swimming had been limited to his escape from the orphanage during the hurricane but he soon discovered that he enjoyed the pool and eventually gave up the machines and weights, spending all of his time learning the techniques of the high dive.
When he finished his daily three hours of workout, he spent the rest of the day, as he had before, in the libraries and museums of the cultural capital of the western world.
The staff at the health club liked him because of his friendly disposition and generally calculated charm but when they asked him if he should not be in school, he replied that he attended a private school that didn’t open for business until noon.
At the stockbroker’s nervous insistence, Claude had given the gym a fake name, birth date and address, an act that saved him from very serious consequences six months into his regimen.
One weekend morning, he noticed a girl executing dives from the low board and spent some time admiring her anatomy. She observed his interest and as she had been spending the same amount of time admiring his, they struck up an awkward but strongly motivated conversation.
This soon led to passionate kisses in a back corridor and those led to clutchings and gropings in a small, unused dressing room set aside, by law, for cripples who fortunately never used the facility.
The stockbroker began to discover that Claude did not whack him with his customary zeal and became greatly concerned that all the exercise was wearing Claude out.
Very soon the young lovers grew tired exploring their anatomies in a dark dressing room that had no lock on the door and she suggested, very warmly as she had her hand down the front of his briefs, that he might like to come to her house that evening for a more comfortable time.
She came from a wealthy family and her parents were now in India learning how to achieve a high degree of consciousness by various painful exercises and a diet consisting entirely of vegetables.
The house was occupied by their nubile and very aroused daughter and an elderly nanny who enjoyed watching television during all of her waking hours. A cook came in during the day, prepared meals and went home at night.
She lived only a few blocks away from Claude’s current owner and when Claude went out that night, filled with a plethora of disconnected erotic thoughts, the stockbroker was told that Claude was practicing for a swim meet to which the patron should come. Some hints were given about squads of handsome young men in tiny swim suits and Rodney relented, his new clown suit still in its box until the next day.
She met Claude by the back door, stuck her tongue in his mouth and her hand down the front of his pants and they ascended the back stairs sideways, their stumbling steps masked by the roar of a television somewhere in the house.
Most of the foreplay had already been accomplished and in the darkness of her vast bedroom, nothing could be heard but the whispering of clothes being removed.
It was Claude’s first experience with a woman and he made a very serious error.
He had no knowledge of the internal plumbing of young girls and did not realize that the first experience could be very painful to them. In this case, he put her loud moans, fierce thrashings and clutchings, and eventual shrieks, down to passion and he made no effort to slow his activities until he was quite ready to do so.
In the end, she was sobbing loudly and when he put on a bedside light, he viewed the scene with horror, thinking that he had fatally injured her, or possibly himself.
If it were death, it certainly was far more enjoyable than lashing fat Rodney with a belt and he was seriously considering a second venture when his partner looked down and noticed the blood.
Her shrieks of fear were enough to compel Claude to dress as quickly as he could and exit the house down the back stairs before the half-deaf nanny was aroused.
Rodney was in the chapel, lashing himself with a carpet beater and Claude spent some time in the shower, removing all dried traces of his encounter and giving up his own prayers that Rodney was too occupied to try to join him.
Having slept very well that night, the next day, Claude got up as usual after Rodney had left for the office, showered again, dressed and headed over to the health club.

The gym was directly across from a large high school and because it was beginning to drizzle, Claude cut across the soccer field to save himself several blocks of walking.
There was a heavy hedge of high shrubbery bordering the road and he pushed through it, almost deciding to give up the effort and take the long route.
Suddenly, he realized that there was only a thin screen between himself and the street and with equal suddenness, he observed two police cars parked directly in front of him and across the street from the gym.
With a great jolt, he saw his partner in last night’s exercises sitting in the back of the car, her face swollen with weeping and through the open window he could hear her being comforted by a female juvenile officer.
He was only five feet away and it took only a few seconds to realize that she was accusing him of breaking into her house and raping her repeatedly with a large, blunt object. To his way of thinking, that was a strange description of his penis but he was very careful not to move a muscle as two uniformed men came across the street and around to the side where the girl was wailing.
He gathered with a terrible clarity that they had been looking for Frank Russo who had not been in that day. Since they now had the address of the teen-aged rapist, they would all drive over to his house for positive identification, a DNA sample and eventual arrest.
Claude did not know what DNA was but when the avengers of the torn hymen drove up in front of a Baptist church in Salem, he hoped they might not bother to look further.
Naturally, he was unable to revisit the gym and with great care, he extricated himself from the bushes and returned quickly from whence he came.
That afternoon, he called the health club and spoke to a very agitated and intensely curious manager. The manager was obviously trying to be casual but sounded as if he had been sniffing helium. Claude told him that his father was being transferred to Miami that very day and he would not be back again.
When the hyper manager tried to get the new address, Claude said his mother was calling him and he had to go.
He spent the rest of the day in a library, researching the subject of rape and DNA.
Claude came to the conclusion that he had not raped his companion although he had gotten what was called her cherry. He also found out about DNA and considering the copious mess he had left behind, had no doubt that if he were ever found, he was off to another institution.
His first experience with a woman had been physically entirely satisfying but emotionally crippling and in the future, he treated women entirely as objects of pleasure and never trusted them again.
He was very careful about his trips outside the house and when Rodney had an unfortunate accident when the giant crucifix had come loose from the wall and crashed down on him, he took what he could find of cash and relics from the house and moved into a small, furnished bachelor apartment ten miles away.
Rodney was found three days later but Claude had vanished from the better districts of Boston.
Disposing of the loot led him into another phase of his developing life.
He was by nature a shrewd and careful person and one day he went into an antique shop, attracted by several pieces in the window.
The owner, a wizened, bald old man named Max, tried to sell him a fake Art Deco statue and they had an interesting conversation that lasted for three hours.
Claude, the owner discovered, had a genuinely incredible knowledge of art, a knowledge that the dealer respected. Also, Claude had in his pocket a very valuable gold and enameled Byzantine pectoral cross of marvelous workmanship.
Since it was evident that the innocent-appearing and well dressed athletic youth was fully aware of its value, Max had no problem giving him far more than the ten dollars he would have offered a furtive minority intent on purchasing his daily ration of drugs.
More than satisfied with the days’ transaction, Claude returned the next day with several other pieces and very quickly established a strong and profitable friendship with his new friend, Max.
Max was one of the biggest art fences in Boston and one day Claude asked him why he was never caught.
“I pay off the cops, kid. Why shit, cops are my best customers. A little grease goes a long way and don’t forget it.”


This is also an e-book, available from Amazon:

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