Feature on the Opioid Crisis

The Empire Files program did a feature on the opioid crisis that focuses on the behavior of criminogenic pharmaceutical corporations. It is particularly notable for noting that big pharmaceutical corporations have targeted and still do target economically ravaged places suffering from significant despair.

Economic despair is at the core of the opioid epidemic. A lot of those people addicted to opioids would have done much better if they had meaningful work to occupy their time and give them a sense of purpose. Unfortunately though, in many sectors the economic system is so dysfunctional that it fails to provide even basic elements of meaningful community work for people.

There’s a disturbing graph that shows utilization of capacity, and it reveals that there are many, many billions of dollars being lost due to capacity such as buildings not being used. It isn’t because there’s a lack of needed work — on the contrary, looking around plenty of places will have a reasonable person saying that there’s a lot that needs to be done. So there’s a lot of work that needs to be done and a lot of capacity (23 percent in the graph) pointlessly sitting idle, and there’s an economic system that isn’t putting them together for productive benefits.

Screenshot-2017-12-5 Capacity Utilization Total Industry

The U.S. government could enact a massive infrastructure project that would create millions of jobs and/or it could provide low interest loans to support worker cooperatives in economically downtrodden communities. There are other solutions too, and they also need significant will to be applied. The point to make here though is that the situation doesn’t have to be that bleak for the communities, and there’s actually a clear enough method to reconstruct what has been mismanaged.

U.S. Airstrikes Killing More Civilians Under the Trump Regime

Airwars-reporting

Periodic reminder that the death of those civilians constitute war crimes and cruel, terrorizing militarism.

According to research from the nonprofit monitoring group Airwars, the first seven months of the Trump administration have already resulted in more civilian deaths than under the entirety of the Obama administration. Airwars reports that under Obama’s leadership, the fight against IS led to approximately 2,300 to 3,400 civilian deaths. Through the first seven months of the Trump administration, they estimate that coalition air strikes have killed between 2,800 and 4,500 civilians.

Researchers also point to another stunning trend – the “frequent killing of entire families in likely coalition airstrikes.” In May, for example, such actions led to the deaths of at least 57 women and 52 children in Iraq and Syria.

The vast increase in civilian deaths is not limited to the anti-IS campaign. In Afghanistan, the U.N. reports a 67 percent increase in civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes in the first six months of 2017 compared to the first half of 2016.

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While urban warfare has increased, Trump’s team has substantially escalated air strikes and bombings. According to CENTCOM data, the military has already used 20 percent more missiles and bombs in combined air operations in 2017 than in all of 2016. One notable airstrike in March, for example, killed 105 Iraqi civilians when U.S. forces dropped a 500-pound bomb in order to take out two snipers in Mosul. In fact, a Human Rights Watch analysis of bomb craters in West Mosul estimates that U.S. coalition forces are routinely using larger and less precise bombs – weighing between 500 and 1,000 pounds – than in prior operations.

Thoughts on Gun Control Entry

Gun control isn’t an issue I focus on much, as I view the issues of gun control, abortion, and parts of religion as the types of topics discussed too often already. They’re issues that much of the corporate mass media focuses on a lot, to keep a lot of people fighting amongst themselves while the corrupt few with concentrated power keep exploiting them.

The support for certain measures of gun control poll at large majority support though, and the highest measure of support is for background checks, at over 85 percent.

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It gets trickier from there, especially considering how threatened some Americans feel by even mentioning gun control. Beyond theoretical considerations, I arrived at my own findings by looking at the statistics on the issue. Australia hasn’t had any mass shootings in the 20 years since its gun reforms, for example. The vast majority of civilian homicides aren’t from gun usage in self defense either, which is an interesting take given that there are at least over 275 million guns in the U.S., or about a gun per person there. As there are also about 33,000 deaths related to guns annually and roughly 15,000 street homicides annually in the U.S., it’s a significant note that only a small fraction of them occur from self defense. It’s also significant to note the several hundred vulnerable children that are killed every year in accidental gun firings.

Even if there were gun control measures such as background checks, bans on the sale of guns for the legitimately mentally ill, Canadian-style gun licensing requirements, and a ban on semiautomatic weapons, it doesn’t seem to me as though it’s really solving the core problem. Much of criminality is really a result of poverty, after all. Gun control laws alone aren’t going to solve the major undercurrent of a mental health problem in the U.S. either, and that’s amidst other recurring problems, such as ongoing racism. There’s also the militarization of police forces, which — considering the amount of people killed or injured by U.S. police — is itself an issue that receives too little attention.

Guns made from 3D printers are also set to become more common, and the mistaken regulatory activity of the U.S. federal government in the last 20 years makes it seem probable that 3D-printed guns won’t be addressed well. The U.S. Congress deregulated Wall Street by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act (which separated decently enough depository banking and investment banking) and the disastrous economic crash happened globally less than a decade later. As it has been largely under plutocratic control since the 1980s, the U.S. Congress has also failed to regulate the pharmaceutical industry and fossil fuels industry. The Congress doesn’t have to operate that terribly, but it will continue to do so until people representing the general public’s interests force it to operate otherwise.

There will be another debate when the next mass shooting happens, as unfortunate as that event will be to hear about. As should be the case now, it would be a beneficial development to have strong organization for positive change and a real discussion on the core problems in society, so that more of these tragedies may be minimized or even eliminated.

Las Vegas Mass Shooting

It’s a horrific tragedy, and a reminder that there’s an undercurrent of a significant major mental health problem in the U.S.

That being said, there isn’t enough attention focused on the 60,000 people dying every year in the U.S. from opioid overdoses, the 400,000 dying every year due to smoking, the 50,000 people dying every year due to air pollution, and the 100,000 dying every year due to medical malpractice. Those are of course among the other fatal statistics, such as the deaths every year by suicide, which is actually the third leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24.

There are still a lot of good lives that can be saved through productive action, and I view that kind of organized activity as the important antidote to despair to remember.

Newly Discovered Kurt Vonnegut Story — Requiem for Zeitgeist

It was published a few days ago in The Nation.

I left a quarter tip beneath my half-filled glass, and moved toward the exit. He caught me roughly by the shoulder. “Omar Zeitgeist was a German, the only man on earth with the know-how of the cosmic bomb,” he whispered. “I was his bodyguard.”

“Cosmic bomb like the H-bomb?” I ventured.

“The cosmic bomb is to the H-bomb what an earthquake is to hiccups,” he said acidly. “Works on the same principle as what holds the universe together, only backwards.”

“Bully for it,” I said.

“Zeitgeist had no laboratory, worked out everything in his head.” My informant tapped his temple significantly and made clucking noises. “Our counterspies knew that he was very close to solving the riddle of the cosmic bomb when the war ended. No twig was left unbent in the search for him that followed Germany’s surrender. Several full regiments of men from good families were assigned to the sole task of finding Zeitgeist. Not a few of these searchers were found floating facedown in the Rhine, the Rhône, the Elbe, the Ruhr, the Aller, the Altmühl, the Unstrut, and other waterways, with bullets in their heads. They were not alone in their quest.”

Study: Video Game Players Have an Advantage in Learning

There could be some value to these results. Video games in moderation may be better than prescription drugs (which too often have negative side effects) at treating learning difficulties, for example.

Neuropsychologists of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum let video gamers compete against non-gamers in a learning competition. During the test, the video gamers performed significantly better and showed an increased brain activity in the brain areas that are relevant for learning. Prof Dr Boris Suchan, Sabrina Schenk and Robert Lech report their findings in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.

The weather prediction task

The research team studied 17 volunteers who — according to their own statement — played action-based games on the computer or a console for more than 15 hours a week. The control group consisted of 17 volunteers who didn’t play video games on a regular basis. Both teams did the so-called weather prediction task, a well-established test to investigate the learning of probabilities. The researchers simultaneously recorded the brain activity of the participants via magnetic resonance imaging.

The participants were shown a combination of three cue cards with different symbols. They should estimate whether the card combination predicted sun or rain and got a feedback if their choice was right or wrong right away. The volunteers gradually learned, on the basis of the feedback, which card combination stands for which weather prediction. The combinations were thereby linked to higher or lower probabilities for sun and rain. After completing the task, the study participants filled out a questionnaire to sample their acquired knowledge about the cue card combinations.

Video gamers better with high uncertainties

The gamers were notably better in combining the cue cards with the weather predictions than the control group. They fared even better with cue card combinations that had a high uncertainty such as a combination that predicted 60 percent rain and 40 percent sunshine.

The analysis of the questionnaire revealed that the gamers had acquired more knowledge about the meaning of the card combinations than the control group. “Our study shows that gamers are better in analysing a situation quickly, to generate new knowledge and to categorise facts — especially in situations with high uncertainties,” says first author Sabrina Schenk.

This kind of learning is linked to an increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that plays a key role in learning and memory. “We think that playing video games trains certain brain regions like the hippocampus,” says Schenk. “That is not only important for young people, but also for older people; this is because changes in the hippocampus can lead to a decrease in memory performance. Maybe we can treat that with video games in the future.”