CWA Notes 2017

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017 12:21 am
flwyd: (Trevor glowing grad macky auditorium)
[personal profile] flwyd
I made it to eight panels at this year's Conference on World Affairs at CU. Back in college, I would skip most of my classes during CWA week and listen to at least 20, but recently I just pop in for a few interesting talks. Some interesting notes:

UCAR Walter Orr Roberts Distinguished Lecture: "Hurricanes, Climate, and Culture: How We Cope with Natural Disasters" with Kerry Emanuel

  • "Hurricane" comes from "Huracan," the Mayan god of wind, storms, and fire and "Hunraken," the Taino/Carib god of evil.
  • Hurricanes are significantly more dangerous along the coast than inlands. The Mayan civilizations "retreated to the coastlines" once they'd exhausted the highlands. (Unlike contemporary Caribbean resorts, most Mayan temples are pretty far into the jungle.)
  • A hurricane does much more damage and kills more people through water (torrential rains, floods, and storm surges) than through wind. Yet private insurance covers wind damage while federal insurance covers flood damage. Private insurance has more money and motivation to model risk and incentivize non-risky behaviors, so not much work has gone into flood modeling and floodplain development isn't disincentivized.
  • The cost of hurricane damage has risen drastically in the last several decades. However, this is mostly due to increased coastal population, not climate change.
  • Cyclone response is a big deal in Bangladesh neé East Pakistan, and the poor response to Cyclone Bola from the government in Pakistan helped inspire them to independence. Emanuel said "Forget about insuring property in Bangladesh, there's not much there to insure. It's about saving lives." He showed a picture of a concrete cyclone evacuation center (like this) and said they're set up in walking distance of many coastal communities as a defense against storm surge and have saved tens(?) of thousands of lives.
  • Several points about Hurricane Katrina and the response:
    • The path and intensity of the storm was very well forecast; the warnings were ignored. Mayor Nagin of New Orleans refused to take calls from the head of the National Hurricane Center until the latter got the call routed through the White House, so Nagin thought he was getting a call from the president.
    • Nagin initially refused to issue evacuation orders and asked city attorneys to look in to his personal liability for suits from businesses that lost revenue due to an evacuation order if a big storm didn't materialize. He issued a mandatory evacuation order the following day.
    • Nagin abandoned his Emergency Operations Center post in faor of the Hyatt hotel, which was more comfortable. The Hyatt later lost power, so the EOC was operating without the mayor as key part of the response. Many NOPD officers abandoned duty and evacuated with their families, so the number of emergency responders was lower than it could've been.
    • Despite not having a mandate for personal safety, there were many acts of heroism performed by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department(!)
    • Nagin is now in federal prison, having been convicted of wire fraud, bribery, and related charges.
    • "Planning and forecasts can't succeed when leadership fails."
  • "Local culture is a critical element in preparing for and reacting to natural disasters." I think this was about local preparedness by emergency responders accounting for the human and physical factors of their region. But it could also apply to the degree to which disaster preparation plays into local culture; earthquake awareness and response is a big part of Japanese culture, for instance.
  • "Uncertainty is not the same thing as ignorance." Some people take uncertainty of climate forecasts as a reason to believe that the climate isn't changing. But if the weather forecast says there's a 70% chance of rain tomorrow, they don't treat that uncertainty as an excuse not to pack an umbrella.
  • The response to Hurricane Sandy was significantly better than the response to Katrina, even though hurricanes are much less common in New England, New York, and New Jersey. (Emanuel didn't mention that a great deal of emergency response training, planning, and practice was redesigned after Katrina, like the development of ICS.)
    • There was about a 5-day lead time on predictions that the storm would hit New York City. Governor Cuomo asked for a "pre-disaster" declaration before the storm hit.
    • NYC Mayor Bloomberg initially announced that he wasn't ordering evacuations because it was "not a tropical storm or hurricane-type surge," which was technically correct (once it's moving along the east coast it's not a tropical storm), but unhelpful. He later did order an evacuation. This is another case (like "uncertainty") where the science meaning of a word and the everyday meaning of the same word are problematically different.
    • The National Hurricane Center issued its first ever snow warning for Sandy, affecting West Virginia.
    • Models suggest that in the current climate, Sandy is a very rare event, with a 250-year return. Warming climate models suggest that a Sandy-like storm in New York could have a 50-year return (that is, they'd occur roughly twice per century).
  • Some insurance policies only pay out if a damaging storm has a name.
  • The global population exposed to cyclone hazards has tripled since 1970. Sea level is also rising. So the incidence of hurricanes with major damage is expected to increase.
  • In the US, the federal and state governments massively subsidize flood risk.
    • The National Flood Insurance Program was created because private insurers shied away from flood insurance because they didn't know how to model it well. (Also, floods tend to generate a large number of claims all at once, which can suddenly bankrupt an insurer.)
    • NFIP premiums don't reflect risks (they aren't higher if you live in a more dangerous area), so there's no insurance-based market signal for this risk. The Biggart–Waters act of 2012 allowed risk reflection; premiums in many places increased by a factor of 10. This of course resulted in many calls to representatives, so Congress repealed that law.
    • Many states also cap premium prices thanks to pressure from wealthy coastal property owners.
    • The FAIR Plan Act of 1968 created an insurer of last resort for homeowners' insurance. The political left emphasizes flood insurance affordability, e.g. for poor folks who live in coastal cities. This inadvertently encourages folks to live in risky places. The political right favors subsidies to wealthy coastal property owners. In Massachusetts, FAIR covers both rich folks on Cape Cod and poor folks in urban Boston, removing a market incentive not to live in a flood danger zone.
    • "Coastal ecologists and free-market conservatives have a shared interest in fixing this."
    • Reference: American Climate Prospectus: Economic Risks in the United States
  • When Hurricane Mitch was expected to hit Central America, disaster planning experts who weren't familiar with the local culture suggested that police go door-to-door to tell people to evacuate. In many areas, when the cops show up at your door and suggest you leave, it's because they want to take your stuff, so a lot of folks got scared and didn't leave (and then got hurt or killed). When doing a retrospective analysis, they realized they should've had the Catholic Church go door-to-door instead.
  • Conclusion: for hurricanes, things get worse independent of climate change. Climate change will still contribute, but population migration and financial incentives to build on the coast are the main problem.
  • From the Q&A…
  • "How do you handle the fact that folks already live there?" It's tough. South Carolina had a rule that a property which received 80% damage became owned by the state (with just compensation). This was unpopular and was repealed. There's an unequal political situation: homeowners affected by the policy are very passionate about it; the rest of us just pay incrementally higher insurance premiums.
  • Are insurance companies getting worried about climate change? Most insurance contracts have a 1-year duration, and at that time scale, climate change won't affect the risk model. Reinsurers, on the other hand, have a long view and a lot of risk modeling expertise and they are very engaged on climate change concern. (I started a blog post about this several years ago that I should revive.)
  • "In our system, it's pricing that's supposed to communicate risk, not scientists proselytizing."
  • "The average latitude of peak intensity for storms has been increasing," that is, big hurricanes have been moving further north and south of the equator. Due to the Hadley cell (and maybe other factors?), hurricanes don't occur at the equator, as this image shows, so Indonesia is remarkably safe. I don't yet understand why the South Atlantic and the west coast of South America don't get any tropical storms.

"The Global Refugee Crisis" with Gabrielle Appleby, Pia Orrenius, Steven Vertovec, and Sofía Villareal-Castañeda

  • From Steven Vertovec, managing director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity:
    • The word "crisis" suggests the situation may be over at some point, but there are a lot of reasons why folks are refugees these days.
    • The 1951 UN definition of "refugee" involves someone personally fleeing persecution. This doesn't fit a lot of folks moving around the world today, and many have been denied refugee status because they're not in direct personal danger, just at a general risk of war, famine, etc. There's international discourse on whether this definition should change. Some folks are saying no, because we might end up with something even more limiting.
    • Europeans sometimes use the phrase "migration crisis" rather than "refugee crisis."
    • The phrase "humanitarian crisis," used by many NGOs, also can shift the discourse
    • Most of the displaced people are still within Africa and the Middle East; they haven't made it to Europe or certainly the Americas. There are a lot of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan, and a lot of folks have moved around the African continent without crossing the Mediterranean.
    • The phrase "crisis" implying an end keeps us from seeing the long-term sustained issues like climate, economic, and political problems.
  • From Gabrielle Appleby, associate Law professor at the University of New South Wales:
    • "The weeping saw of Australia is the way we treat refugees," contrary to the country's otherwise liberal and reasonable image
    • The Australian program of offshore detention centers on South Pacific islands has received widespread international condemnation. The refugees on Nauru and Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) are a very politically toxic topic in Australia. These are the folks that the Obama administration agreed to transfer to the US in exchange for Australia taking refugees that were in America in what Trump called "the worst deal ever."
    • Brexit poster child Nigel Farage has said "Not even the UK could stomach Australian migration policies."
    • "Irregular maritime arrivals" are treated differently than other migrants and asylum seekers. That is, if you come to Australia by boat from Timor or New Guinea, you'll get turned around by the navy. But if you fly from Indonesia to Australia, you can go through the regular refugee process.
    • When the navy turns back boats, the operators of the boats sometimes then sabotage them. The navy then has to rescue bodies from the sea, many of whom don't make it.
    • Though the boats mostly come from Indonesia, the refugees in the boats are typically from the Middle East, Sri Lanka, or Muslims from Myanmar.
    • The offshore detention centers are run by private contractors, which probably helps the Australian government shirk some responsibility for abuses
    • The total number of refugees trying to reach Australia is fairly low: 20,000 was the peak in 2013, the average is in the 500–3,000 range. (Compare to close to 100,000 Syrian refugees in Sweden, whose population is less than a third of Australia's.)
    • The political animus of the refugee issue in Australia can be traced to the 2001 federal election. PM John Howard was facing low chances of reelection. A refugee boat deteriorated and a Norwegian cargo ship picked them up. Following international convention, the ship tried to dock at the nearest port—Christmas Island— to drop them off. Howard sent Australian troops to the port to prevent the refugees from disembarking. This proved to be wildly popular and he managed to get reelected. Since then, political parties have realized they can get votes by acting tough on refugees.
    • The anti-refugee position is part of a long history of racist and anti-immigrant Australian policy. In the first batch of legislation when the colonies federated was an immigration restriction law, allowing the requirement of a dictation test. The person administering the test could pick any of a variety of odd European languages and require the applicant to write in that language, making it easy to exclude anyone who the administer didn't care for.
    • The Australian constitution was and remains racist. It doesn't have a bill of rights. There's also a provision allowing parliament to pass racist laws; the framers wanted the ability to restrict employment of nonwhites. They feared being "swamped" by races who lived close to the continent. (Aboriginal people also suffered severe legal discrimination until the late 1960s.)
    • The white Australia policy was disestablished in the 1960s and some leaders in the '60s and '70s welcomed migrants and refugees, particularly folks fleeing the Vietnam war.
  • From Pia Orrenius, vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, who grew up in Sweden:
    • Sweden has taken in more Syrian refugees per capita than any other EU country. They stopped accepting many refugees because they ran out of housing. Even in southern Sweden, a tent is pretty uncomfortable in December.
    • "When I left Sweden in the '70s, we didn't even fly the flag." Flags and national anthems were suggestive of fascism and other World War II-era ideals that Europeans wanted to avoid. On a recent visit to Sweden, Pia saw a nationalist party rally, but the people didn't seem to know all the words to the national anthem.
    • "When I left, our immigrants were the Finns."
    • Countries which restrict immigrants working negate the proposed economic benefits of migration. They can't contribute economically and they also don't pay taxes.
    • The initial EU process created a lot of problems. Refugees applied for asylum in the first country where they set foot, meaning Greece, Italy, and Spain bore the brunt of the influx. There's also no EU-level border patrol or EU police.
    • The Italians (navy/coast guard) set up a program to save refugees from drowning, but they didn't receive any financial support from the EU.
  • From Sofía Villarereal-Castañeda, literature scholar and writer from Colombia, now living in Buenos Aires:
    • "The sea is not a peaceful place anymore;" she used to connect and recharge by swimming in the ocean.
    • "It's very dangerous that my mind is accustom to the violence" of living in Colombia (e.g. "Thank goodness only four people died in that attack), which is why she chose to leave.
    • I had trouble following her, but she connected the refugee crisis to Greek tragedies with their cycle of revenge, war, and violence. Oedipus's tragedy was that he didn't know anything about himself.
    • "Know myself without a label."
  • From the Q&A:
    • The Australian constitution has insufficient protections for individuals and what protections it has, courts have held that they don't apply equally to aliens.
    • Papua New Guinea does have a bill of rights, and the Manus Island Detention Center was determined to be in violation of those rights and it was ordered to be decommissioned. The contractor opened the doors and allowed refugees to leave the building if they wanted, so they're no longer technicaly detained. However, being a refugee in Papua New Guinea isn't great either—a Papuan guard beat a refugee to death—so many folks are staying in the detention center.
    • Assimilation in Europe: The trickiest cases aren't families, they're young men who come on their own, often minors. "Put a bunch of unassimilated young minors all together in a youth home" can get messy.
    • Germany has very efficiently organized refugees; there's good collaboration between multiple levels of government. It helps that the country also has a budget surplus.
    • The German public's opinion of refugees has gone up as folks have arrived and gotten settled. Most of the anti-immigrant incidents happen in East Germany; West Germany had a lot more folks with a migration background.
    • It's a myth that folks seek entry into countries where they can get the biggest handout. Refugees go where they can get to; they often don't know what welfare is available in any particular country. They often want to go to Germany or Sweden not because of the government support but because they have a family member who's already there, so they'll have the start of a social structure.
    • South Pacific nations (e.g. Kiribati) are proactively engaging with countries to find places their people can seek refuge from sea level rises. New Zealand has reached agreements with some countries; Australia has refused.
    • "Migration rarely has a single cause." Prior to the civil war, Syria suffered a 10-year drought which pushed many people from the country into the cities, creating strain.

Howard Higman Memorial Plenary: The View from Hanoi with Ted Osius, US Ambassador to Vietnam

  • 1 million people turned out to welcome Obama when he visited Ho Chi Minh City. He said it was the warmest welcome in 7 years of international presidential travel.
  • Many Vietnamese leaders went out on a limb to support the TPP and they may feel somewhat betrayed that the US isn't following through. They have, however, proactively reached out to the new administration and signed many bilateral deals.
  • The Vietnamese leaders want to work with the US on peace keeping, climate change, pandemics, and other strategic issues.
  • Americans are very welcome in Vietnam; 92% of Vietnamese consider the US their country's best friend. Impressive, considering we were at war four decades ago.
  • Vietnam is the fastest-growing export market for the US.
  • 30 years ago, half of the population was below the poverty line; it's now just 3%.
  • The most difficult area for engagement is human rights. There are some positive trends and some ongoing worries. There has been progress in openings for religious institutions and freedom of worship.
  • The Internet has been a major force for making inroads. Facebook allows the US ambassador to reach the Vietnamese people directly, bypassing the government (to their chagrin).
  • Reconciliation was a 20 year process. Folks like Senators Kerry and McCain led the normalization process. Many people aren't ready for reconciliation yet, though. Many Vietnamese and US veterans have very terrible memories of the war. When meeting with Vietnamese expat communities in the US, the ambassador receives a lot of pressure not to work closely with the government.
  • Vietnam had the second-highest growth rates over the last 30 years, after China.
  • More than half of the US exports to Vietnam are agricultural products. We also export services, primarily education and financial. We import low-tech stuff including shoes, clthes, textiles, shrimp, and catfish. Some US senator held up Ambassador Osius's confirmation for half a year because he didn't like how much catfish the US imported from Vietnam.
  • Vietnam regularly holds a trade deficit with China and a surplus with the US. "They want to move up the value chain."
  • The government aspires to become an upper middle class country by 2035, so they need more jobs like IT. They also need a more open and aspirational education system.
  • Vietnam was at war with China from 1979 to 1991. Before that they invaded Cambodia to unseat the Khmer Rouge. Prior they were at war with the US after being at war with France. During World War II, they were invaded by Japan and before that war they were at war with the French. And before that, they were in and out of war with China for a thousand year. So the last two and a half decades have been, in some sense, the first peaceful period in the history of Vietnam.
  • What's the relationship between North Korea and Vietnam? The Korean Worker's Party and the Vietnamese Communist Party had ties for a long time. Today, South Korea is the biggest foreign investor in Vietnam. Vietnam now has a bigger interest in the relationship with the South. They also "felt their hospitality had been violated" when the North Koreans assassination of Kim Jong-un's half-brother involved a Vietnamese woman.
  • What's up with free speech? Traditional media is controlled; editors get weekly instructions from the government about what they can't print. The Internet is a free-for-all with lots of government criticism. The government doesn't like this, but hasn't implemented Chinese- or Iranian-style censorship. The communist party leader said "Cadres, you'll see a lot of things on the Internet you don't like. Respond to them with facts." However, bloggers have been arrested for criticizing the government.
  • There are 110 million cell phones in the country. There are only 93 million people.
  • Air pollution: The US government runs two air monitors. Citizens check those on the Internet rather than the official government values because of accuracy (and maybe trust?). The US business community created a "Made in Vietnam" energy plan. It points out that coal comes from China (and Australia and Indonesia), and the Vietnamese often have a frosty relationship with China, so relying on coal is potentially a security issue. The business community is investing in renewables.
  • The Peace Corps will be in Vietnam starting in 2018 with teaching English, but the ambassador expected it will expand rapidly because countries tend to get excited when they see results from the Peace Corps program.
  • There's a lot of investment in development, infrastructure, etc. There isn't a huge investment in the military, but the military owns a lot of companies, so they get a lot of money that way.
  • Human rights challenges: trends are good for religious freedom. The prisoners of conscience situation is "okay." Osius noted that if you focus on individual prisoners' cases, they'll let someone out for a while to get good "and throw somebody else in jail right behind them." The 2013 constitution grants a bunch of freedoms and mentions democracy. The US has provided technical support to synchronize existing laws with the new constitution.
  • "This is all about your success. We're not interested in destabilizing Vietnam. The US supports a strong, prosperous Vietnam that supports the rule of law and human rights."
  • Someone asked about people who work in the foreign service and are worried about instructions from the administration that they think are bad. "I don't always agree with all my instructions." Also, "You really can't freelance as a US diplomat," meaning that if you can't represent the administration's policy for moral reasons, you should resign rather than trying to act on your own. Yet also, "We swore an oath to the US constitution, not to any individual or party.

Chinese Scholars Take on Climate Change with Fang Bu, Ruixia Guo, Yingsha Jiang, and Xiaoyu Xu

  • All four panelists are Chinese climate and atmospheric scientists (or PhD students) who are doing research in Colorado, several at NCAR. All four are women, too.
  • Guo's research is in climate change in dry land regions, i.e. places where precipitation is balanced by evaporation.
  • Dry land currently covers about 41% of the land on the planet. With greenhouse gas increases, dry land is expected to increase 12%, covering over half of the Earth's land.
  • Dry land stores less carbon than wetter regions, leading to a feedback loop of increasing carbon dioxide.
  • Global warming, drying, and population growth all contribute to the dry land expansion.
  • Jiang studies data from the Tibetan Plateau, including the melting of permafrost along the Qinghai–Tibet railway. (Permafrost melt is a big problem for the integrity of the railroad.)
  • Tibet is warming faster than other areas of similar latitudes. (Texas, for instance, is around the same latitude.)
  • Tibet has arid and semi-arid climates. It's getting warmer, wetter, and greener, particularly in the eastern humid region.
  • There's a lot of wind movement of soil. This affects the railroad. (It's unclear from my notes why there's so much loose soil; maybe grazing.)
  • When more than 60% of the vegetation in an area is lost, soil loss becomes nonlinear.
  • Xu studies urban heat islands and also the El Niño influence on the Qinghai–Tibet plateau.
  • The heat island effect raises the temperature of Beijing by 3–4°C, with a stronger effect in winter than summer. This increases energy consumption for air conditioning during the summer. (And with a lot of electricity derived from coal, this further contributes to warming.)
  • (My notes say "Many regulations are implemented," which sounds like a great description of China but I'm not sure which particular regulations Xu was talking about.)
  • Bu studies indoor and outdoor air quality with the goal of improvements in quality of life. She consults with manufacturers seeking to reduce their energy footprint.
  • Iron and steel plant production has been exceeding demand and thus reducing profits. Therefore there is less budget for environmental work. "But that doesn't change the Chinese commitment to climate change."
  • The government hopes to reduce the iron and steel surplus and invest in higher-efficiency production materials.
  • The government requires companies to invest a portion of profits in addressing various environmental issues. There are requirements to decrease the per unit energy cost and to eliminate old (less efficient) equipment.
  • From the Q&A:
  • China is switching from coal to natural gas. Which is still a fossil fuel, but significantly less polluting (both for carbon and general air quality).
  • Someone asked about "Solar radiation management" and mentioned that China has a small program. None of the panelists knew about it. (Apparently it's a scheme for reducing Earth's albedo.)
  • The BYD electric car is popular in China, and many cities will reimburse part of the purchase price of an electric car. Electric bikes are also popular and can help navigate traffic jams.
  • There are limitations on animals in some grassland areas. This helps fight desertification from overgrazing. Inner Mongolia is getting greener from this.
  • Is the Chinese government taking climate change seriously? Yes. Examples: planting trees, switching to natural gas, driving limitations, changes in heating technology ("condensed heating"). Governments had farmers plant trees along the Yangtze rather than crops. There are CO2 level restrictions and companies must pay for permits to emit more. (Note to self: research this and compare to European cap & trade system.) The government has tried to adjust industrial structure, getting rid of outdated industries and closing small coal plants (which don't have adequate equipment to reduce coal pollution.)
  • Does the government advertise for people to use less energy? Yes, there are billboards with slogans like "Have less children, plant more trees." (This may sound better in Mandarin.)
  • Are there rules that you can't have more than one house? Yes, but if you're rich you just pay the fine and get a second house anyway. (I've heard this is the case for rich people avoiding the one-child policy, too.)
  • There aren't a lot of wind farms yet because it's a long way from the Gobi desert to the eastern population centers and there are challenges with storage and transmission over that distance.
  • Himalayan glaciers are shrinking. Dams are being built in upper river regions. It remains to be seen whether reservoirs can supplant glacial loss.

Molly Ivins Memorial Plenary: Laughing Matters: How to Use Humor to Activate and Educate, with Lizz Winstead

Winstead is a standup comedian and TV producer from Minneapolis. She co-founded The Daily Show and Air America Radio. This was structured as an interview with Ron Bostwick rather than a talk plus Q&A.
  • This is your first CWA. Are people treating you well? Yeah, I feel like there's a lot of concerned white people.
  • The first question was about how she started the daily show. It was a somewhat convoluted story involving a blind date that didn't go well, the most amusing quote from this story was "When a guy shows up wearing more than two pieces of sports clothing, they probably won't go down on ya."
  • The date ended at a bar, but rather than sports, the first night of the 1991 Gulf War was on TV. "This was the first time we watched a war unfold from our living rooms and bars." And the media was really into it: "The CNN anchors had been replaced by attractive people. Are they trying to report on the war or sell the war?"
  • This insight led to a desire to do a comedy show that was critical of mainstream news outlets.
  • The Daily Show had a year to get rolling and reach ratings goals. "That never happens."
  • Are you surprised by the success of The Daily Show? "I'm more surprised by the failure of the media, because the two go hand in hand. Cable news became a shit show and we were just the umbrellas."
  • It was really important for the media to be a character in The Daily Show. "If you want to do a show that shits on celebrities, you're not gonna get celebrity guests. So do a show that shits on what our leaders do, and get celebrities as a palate cleanser."
  • In reference to Minnesota Nice: "We're all super nice until we're real passive aggressive." She said somebody from Minneapolis made the news for something horrible (murder or something). A relative lived in his neighborhood, and after the incident she said "There was a death in the family and we brought over a hot dish and they never returned the pan." So that tells you what kind of sketch characters that family was.
  • Apparently some Minnesotans keep several death dishes in the freezer in case a tragedy strikes quickly, they can just heat it up and bring it to the victim.
  • Corporate media doesn't want a call to action for people to do something about the issues. "I felt like an anger fluffer."
  • Air America was still a for-profit station, so she had clashes with management. "I oppose hypocrisy for a living. If that doesn't make you happy, I shouldn't be here."
  • Trying to remember Tim LaHaye's name: "And his wife is a member for Concerned Women for, um… they're actually not very fuckin' concerned." (n.b.: Concerned Women for America)
  • Rachel Maddow asked Tim LaHaye (author of the Left Behind series) if she would still go to hell if she converted. He said yes (I think because she's gay). "So…" she said, "when the rapture comes, can I have your stuff?"
  • The new Air America CEO "Didn't believe that humor plays a role in change." He moved Lizz and Rachel's show to an early morning slot and replaced them with Jerry Springer.
  • Tell me about your current project, the Lady Parts Justice League?
  • "There wouldn't be a Daily Show if there wasn't legal access to abortion for me." She was Catholic and got pregnant at age 16, the first time she had sex.
  • Describing the phenomenon of catholic teenage pregnancies: "If I use birth control and have sex, that's two sins."
  • Funds for the abortion came in part by raiding the pants pockets of her boyfriend's dad.
  • She first went a a pregnancy counseling center (which is sort of the fake news of reproductive choice). They use phrases like "Abortion is against our law," even though it's not against the law, which makes it sound pretty scary. They presented it as "your options are mommy or murder."
  • Lizz was able to get a proper medical abortion because she was 16 and didn't need parental consent.
  • So the Lady Parts Justice League recently created the fantastic I'm Just A Pill video (a spoof, of course, on Schoolhouse Rock) full of information "To teach Neil Gorsuch how reproduction and Plan B works."
  • Just a few weeks after the video's release, four school districts are already using it in their teen pregnancy section.
  • On the origin of the name: A female legislator was thrown off the floor of the Michigan State Senate for using the word "vagina" during a debate on birth control or abortion or something. When she asked the speaker what word she should use instead, he said "Something more acceptable like 'lady parts'."
  • Q&A:
  • How to navigate jokes people tell that may be offensive? Amplify the humor that you like and react to. If it's not cool, ridicule it.
  • How to talk to conservative relatives? After the election there were lots of left-wing articles on the Internet and in press about not getting in an argument or offending conservative family members when you're back home for the holidays. "I didn't see one article in the conservative press that said 'Hey, we won, how about we don't gloat to our liberal family and friends?'"
  • How to talk about climate change? "By the way, who let clean coal be a thing?" Practicality can be useful, for instance "If tap water is catching fire from methane… and cows are drinking fracking dispersant… and cows fart methane… you're gonna have a self-barbecuing cow." You don't want to make people feel dumb; you want them to feel like they're part of the getting screwed that's happening.
  • "Saying Trump is orange tells me he's orange. Saying his administration feels like a bunch of Macy's parade balloons that got loose tells me something about what's going on."
  • "I think Trump thought that Obama was popular because he was president. No, that's not how it works."
  • "You matter. Act like it."
  • Her dad said "Damnit, I raised you kids to have an opinion, and I forgot to tell you it was supposed to be mine."
  • Forbes said that Molly Ivins' pen pierces both the brain and the funny bone.

Politics, Art, and Music in the Book of Revelation, with Elaine Pagels

Dr. Pagels is a Professor of Religion at Princeton and author of The Gnostic Paul, The Gnostic Gospels, and other works on early Christianity. This talk was accompanied by a great slide show of art inspired by the book of Revelations. I certainly can't do it justice with a list of text.
  • Revelations is a book about "visions, dreams, and nightmares."
  • "Many rational people avoid this book," and she did too, until George W. Bush started using Revelations imagery in relation to the Iraq War.
  • The author was St. John of Patmos. (n.b. John the Revelator and John the Evangelist are totally unrelated.) The book was wartime literature. He escaped the Roman occupation of his home Judea. Parallels between Jewish revolutionaries fighting Rome and American revolutionaries.
  • There was a four-year siege of Jerusalem. The final battle was in the temple itself; Romans burned it after desecrating it with a sacrifice to Jupiter. The wailing wall is the remains of the rubble of the Temple. John of Patmos was probably a refugee from this war.
  • John was probably also excited. He was a follower of Jesus of Nazareth and thought he was the messiah, despite being crucified 60 years earlier.
  • John felt Jesus had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. In the 1970s, if someone had said the World Trade Center would fall in a fire from heaven in minutes, people would've thought they were crazy. When it happened 30 years later, they would believe. The New Testament took off because of prophecy fulfillment.
  • John waited for decades for Jesus to return. Jesus had said things would happen within a generation. John waited yet another 30 years. "The kingdom that had come with power was not God's, it was Rome's."
  • Roman art pictured conquered nations as naked women being humiliated and subdued by male soldiers. [Slideshow images of porticoes at the Sebasteion.]
  • John thought Israel's god was going to intervene and destroy the evildoers. He drew on imagery of the ocean and sea monsters that prophets used to depict Israel's enemy.
  • References to Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Psalms, etc. is writing in code: understood by fans of the Hebrew bible, but not clear to Rome.
  • The beast with 7 heads is a clear symbol of the dynasty of Augustus to Domitian. (Domitian was the 11th Roman emperor, so I'm a little confused on this, though the three after Nero were all killed after less than a year in charge.) 666 (the sign of the beast) uses Hebrew number-letter association and may be the name of Domitian. One could also arrive at Nero.
  • The Vesuvius eruption in 79 could be seen all the way to Rome and darkened the skies for days around the Mediterranean. This was seen as a sign that the end times were coming. Revelation has volcanic imagery.
  • The whore of Babylon sits of seven hills. Roman coins had Roma on 7 hills.
  • These are all very specific symbols. Why is Revelation so enduring? Scholar John Collins says "John writes in 'open symbols,' the sort that any child could have in a dream." You can plug any conflict into those symbols.
  • Revelation was used as the basis for art about the crusades, the black death, and the Martin Luther split.
  • Luther didn't like Revelation, since there was no Christ in it. But he realized he could get Cranach to illustrate the book [the only illustrated book in Luther's Bible], depicting the Pope as the whore of Babylon.
  • Luther's first biographer (a Catholic), depicted Luther as a 7-headed beast.
  • Catholics portrayed Elizabeth I as the whore of Babylon. Protestants depicted her as Mary.
  • The North and South in the American Civil War depicted the other side as a 7-headed beast. From the same period, The Battle Hymn of the Republic also uses Revelation imagery. Hobbes's Leviathan is drawn from Revelation as well.
  • The Nazis believed that Hitler was bringing in the thousand year reign of Christ by clearing human pollution, appealing to both Catholics and Lutherans.
  • The name of the initial bombing operation in the 2003 Iraq War was "Shock and awe," calling to mind the 6th angel who poured a bowl of wrath over Babylon (modern-day Iraq). The bombs were shock to the unbelievers but awe to the true believers because they indicated the prophecy was at hand.
  • In Donald Rumsfeld's daily memo to President Bush, he sent a photo and a quote from the Bible. One instance was a tank entering Baghdad paired with Isaiah 26:2—"Let the righteous nation enter."
  • If you think of a conflict as two sides with different interests, negotiation is possible. But if it's good versus evil, you can't negotiate: if they're evil, you can only annihilate them. (Recall Bush's "Axis of Evil" and "If you're not with us, you're against us" phrases.)
  • The Islamic State has the same eschatology, but in reverse. They're good, we're evil, and annihilation is the only option.
  • Revelation is not just about war, it's also a promise of justice. Under the throne are people who were killed but are alive again, and they're asking God how long until he judges their killers. This was picked up by abolitionists and others. The glory of Revelation justice is prominent in African American preaching and gospel music, e.g. "Who's that writin' / John the Revelator."
  • James Hampton constructed "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly," a huge and intricate work now at the Smithsonian.
  • Q&A:
  • Revelation was written by a marginalized person but has become a narrative of those in power. What's up with that? Revelation was the most controversial book in the New Testament in the second and third centuries AD. Many thought it didn't belong. Many loved it who had seen friends tortured by the Romans; they felt justice would prevail. When the Christian movement was no longer persecuted and became the Roman empire, it was a very different story.
  • Eusebius of Caesarea, on the list of recognized books, tentatively added "And, if it really seems appropriate, the Revelation of John, of which we shall discuss the different opinions at a later point. It was the only book on both the recognized books and disputed books list. 4 of 5 canon lists by different bishops from 350 to 390 leave it out.
  • Is there a link between Revelation and climate change? Unknown. The questioner in the audience said that a climate scientist was asked to talk at an Exxon board meeting. He gave a doom and gloom presentation and the inviter said "Thanks, you showed that Revelation will be true."

Net Neutrality: Internet Inequality, with Mike Cordano and Jerry Michalski

  • Michalski is a tech analyst and advocate for the "relationship economy":
    • "Who has used the Internet in the last month? Wow, everyone." :-)
    • "The Internet is an agreement. A series of agreements."
    • "The Internet really benefits when everyone participates; size really matters."
    • "The Internet was ice9 for the entrenched phone companies." It made it so they couldn't price discriminate.
    • It's not good to have multiple tiers of service; just make everything faster.
    • FCC chair Ajit Pai used to work for incumbents whose lunch was eaten; now he's in charge of regulations for the U.S. Internet. ISPs are now not prohibited from selling your data.
    • Network companies and other big players have had pent up frustrations for a while. Also, some governments don't like free communication.
    • "We're currently in the middle of a non-linear war." He recommends the BBC documentary HyperNormalisation by Adam Curtis.
    • Information war is much cheaper than bullets and bombs. People will pick up the narrative that suits them. The goal (of incumbents): "How do we break the internet so it's not as free as it once was."
  • Cordano is the president and COO of Western Digital:
    • Non-discrimination is important for innovation. Today's big players like Google and Facebook would benefit from preferential, but they've evangelized non-discrimination because started small and would have been challenged to pay for tiered access.
    • Big companies that can enhance their economic standing by spending money hampers innovation.
    • Regulation is required. A big issue that's being worked out is whether the FCC or FTC should have jurisdiction.
    • A common carrier environment generally has a single provider (think local phone), but we want competition with multiple ISPs.
    • We need to figure out how folks setting up 5G networks can make a profit. There's an existence theory that continuing the current structure will work.
    • In the early days of telephony, people in Manhattan would have five phones on their desk so they could call people on different networks. AT&T got monopoly power to solve this coordination problem.
    • Farmers could create regional phone coops pretty easily, reusing barbed wire fences as phone lines. It was a party line, so your neighbors could listen in, of course.
    • Old phone companies are trying to get rid of their legacy operations (e.g. land lines). Concern: we gave them so many tax breaks and they didn't fulfill their obligations, so we basically own the infrastructure. You can only protect the past for so long.
  • Q&A
    • Is Internet access a right? Michalski leans to it being a right like having enough water is a right. Compare to the Bolivian water privatization kerfuffle. The Internet seems like a luxury good, but it also provides the ability to communicate, makes access to education easy, etc. A few governments are taking the "Internet access is a right" approach.
    • Seemed like municipal broadband would happen everywhere: it's pretty cheap and something municipalities would be good at. Telcos and cable companies fought a rear-guard action to make it seem difficult. If you're just doing fast Internet (no TV or phone), the gear isn't that expensive. Places that do have municipal broadband like Chattanooga are becoming magnets for tech.
    • Access to the Internet shouldn't be free (i.e. don't pay for it via taxes), but everyone should have access if they wish.
    • Should a surgeon doing remote surgery really have the same packet priority as a teen downloading porn? Yes, because you really can't tell which bit is the important bit, and then you get a politics of who has the important bit.
    • "The Great American Streetcar Conspiracy" is the basis for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Companies conspired to sell light rail and busses to create a car culture, particularly in LA. Documentary reference: "The End of the Line." "Sometimes business will destroy something that's really good because they want to boost another business."
    • "Common carriage" laws were originally about horse-drawn carriages. In exchange for being required to pick up any and all riders, they weren't responsible for what was being carried.
    • If governments establish non-net neutrality policies, "can hackers divide and conquer?" The Internet is just a series of agreements. You can often circumvent the agreements, e.g. VPNs in China, though they're cracking down on that. Hackers could create their own Internet today, but nobody would know about it. Driving something underground is an effective way to kill a network. Keep the platform open and as public as possible.
    • Where does the dark net fit into this. There are plenty of smart people in law enforcement trying to shut them down. Not sure if there's a better way; it's really hard to discriminate between good communications and bad communications. Need to give law enforcement some power without giving them overwhelming power to tap into everything we say. "It's a war between the light and the dark side and it's not always clear who's on which side."
    • Parallels between the 2016 election and reputation management companies who leave fake glowing reviews of businesses.
    • The Memory Hole 2 is a site to keep stuff that's being removed from the Internet.
    • "A lot of things that weren't visible before are now visible. And now people who have a beef with something have an avenue for spreading that."
    • "We're rediscovering relationships and society and trust." We're living in a society that doesn't trust the average person. SO we've imposed a lot of coercive models that don't work, so then we turn the volume to 11. Switch the model: kids are curious and want to learn; there wouldn't be capital S School and capital T Teachers.
    • If you put the skeletons in your closet out front and deal with those, you will be able to build better relationships with the public.
    • Michalski doesn't like the word "consumers." Producers used to have the only access to consumers; now that's changing.
    • Net neutrality is equal access to performance and speed. The inverse is that you can buy a level of access and pay to cut off a competitor.
    • Providing access to disadvantaged communities? Arguments about cost are specious: look up "toaster nets."
    • Netflix is totally contrary to the peering model: everything is going in one direction.
    • Internet founders (e.g. Vint Cerf) regret that they couldn't build in encryption from the beginning. Hardware wasn't good enough and encryption gets outdated (any encryption algorithm instituted in the '80s would've been fairly easy to break today).
    • The "SP" in Sprint stood for Southern Pacific; the railway realized their right of way was a good place to bury communication lines.
    • Where's a good place to advocate? Is writing to the FCC worthwhile, or should we focus on Congress? Cordano: Congress is the place to go; regulators aren't elected. Michalski: "I'm eager to hear that elected officials are listening now, in today's environment." The EFF does good work.
    • "Any IoT device that's three years old or older is probably owned and part of the dark net, particularly when nobody's motivated to make them secure.

Wow, that took a long time. I typed notes on a tablet during the conference, but it would've been hard to interpret. Retranscribing and contextualizing involved a lot more time-consuming typing than I expected.

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