The games heads of state play

People in the west place a lot of significance on the handshake and what it says about power relationships. Political observers of body language have been discussing for some time Donald Trump’s alpha-male dominance tactic of, when shaking hands, pulling the other person sharply towards him so that s/he is off balance and then shaking the hand vigorously and hard. It appears that word has got around abut the Trump maneuver and we saw French President Justin Trudeau and now French president Emmanuel Macron doing counter moves.
[Read more…]

How correlations can sometimes mislead about causation

Suppose you saw data that showed that people tended to commit suicide just after they started taking anti-depressants. What would you conclude?

The alleged suicide of Chris Cornell of the music group Soundgarden came with the news that he suffered from depression and was on anti-depressant medication. I was listening to a radio program Here and Now where they were interviewing Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber of the Columbia Lighthouse Project at Columbia University about other reports that suggested that anti-depressants could trigger suicidal thoughts and, as a result, some physicians were refraining from prescribing these medications for their patients with depression and some people with depression were afraid to take them.
[Read more…]

God is still dead and this effort at resuscitation fails miserably

When I saw an article titled Five rational arguments why God (very probably) exists I felt I had to read it, since I am someone who has argued repeatedly that there is every reason to believe, based on scientific reasoning, that god does not exist, and expand on this in my forthcoming book. So what argument does Robert H. Nelson, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, advance in support of his contention that god exists that he has taken from a book he published in 2015?
[Read more…]

Trump’s budget is what the oligarchs hoped for

The White House budget director Mick Mulvaney is a rabid tea partier and so it should be no surprise that the budget proposals that he unveiled this week consist of everything desired in the fevered dreams of the US oligarchs: massive tax cuts for the wealthy, deep and wide cuts in programs that benefit the poor and middle class, and increases in defense spending.
[Read more…]

Playing into the hands of ISIS

Mehdi Hasan argues that the way we react to the atrocities like the Manchester bombing is exactly the goal of ISIS.

IF YOU WANT to defeat ISIS, listen to former ISIS hostage Nicolas Henin. The group is “heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia … [and] drawn to any examples of ugliness on social media,” the French journalist wrote in November 2015 in the wake of the Paris attacks. “Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned towards finding supporting evidence.”
[Read more…]

Twitter encourages people to jump to wrong conclusions

Twitter is a communication system that is ripe for misunderstanding and even deliberate distortion. The brevity and speed of Twitter messages is supposed to be part of its appeal (though I do not find it that attractive) but with any communication system that limits itself to just 140 characters, one should realize that a lot more is left out than is in the message itself. Unfortunately, this results in people simply assuming what they want to about what is not there and then running with it. This is even more evident when people have strong feelings about the person whose tweet they are responding to.
[Read more…]

This is how heads of state converse?

Ever wondered what phone calls are like between heads of state? The Intercept has obtained the transcript of the phone conversation between Donald Trump and Philippine’s president Rodrigo Duterte. It is quite fascinating to read because it shatters the idea that conversations between heads of state are staid and serious exchanges. While they talked about serious affairs (drugs and North Korea), the tone of the discussion sounded like the low-level chatting of two slightly drunk fraternity guys just shooting the breeze about international affairs.
[Read more…]

The phony ‘Middle East peace process’ gets a new lease of life

Like every new president before him, Barack Obama hoped to make some headway in resolving the bitter dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. But he and his secretary of state John Kerry eventually realized that Israeli intransigence was too strong especially since, thanks to the Israel lobby in the US has a lock on the US congress, they could not use as a bargaining chip the only real leverage they have, the massive amount of aid that the US gives that country. So they essentially gave up.
[Read more…]