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Would Pirates Make Good Politicians? Iceland's About to Find Out
When the rest of the world chooses nationalism, Iceland chooses radical change.
When the rest of the world swings right, Iceland chooses left.
“At a time when millions around the world are looking to populist politicians for solutions to their problems, many Icelandic voters have rallied around a radical, technology-focused left-wing party that champions political transparency, free health care and new measures to protect digital privacy.”
That quote comes from the BBC, and it’s about Iceland’s Pirate Party. The Pirate Party was founded in 2012 by a handful of internet activists. Their goal? To “Restart Iceland” by prioritizing “transparency in governance and the protection and promotion of civil rights” in Iceland’s government, as their site explains. They welcome anyone who wants to help and give potential allies two ways to do that on the front page of their site: “Strengthen” and “Participate.”
The Pirate Party was dismissed by critics as activists with no understanding of government. But they came in third in an October election, earning 10 out of 63 seats in Iceland’s Parliament, and “will continue talks with [the] four other parties represented in parliament, the Left-Greens, Social Democrats, Bright Future and the Reform Party,” according to Reuters.
That means the Pirate Party has a real shot at changing Iceland’s government. Their first steps fall to party leader Birgitta Jonsdottir because after the October election “Iceland’s president asked Jonsdottir to [help] form a new coalition government,” BBC reports. A self-described “anarchist poetician,” Jonsdottir takes that new responsibility seriously: “A lot of marginalized people, people that nobody really cares about, people that feel left behind because the system is not working for them, have actually started to engage and work with us,” she told BBC. Why Iceland’s disenfranchised voted for pirates to government rather than right-wing nationalists like the UK, the US, and Austria is unclear -- but having an option like the pirate party in a country whose government has more than two political parties doing the work could be key.
Leader of the Pirate Party of Iceland Birgitta Jonsdottir, poses for a picture at the party's office in the Icelandic Parliament in Reykjavik, Iceland. Credit: Gwladys Fouche/REUTERS
One thing Jonsdottir and the Pirate Party are working on is giving Iceland’s citizens power to “introduce their own policies to be voted on, as long as they arrange at least one meeting to discuss it,” BBC reports. The party “has also produced a new draft constitution for Iceland incorporating ideas crowdsourced from the population. “To be the robin hood of power, we take the power from the powerful and give it to the people,” Jonsdottir told the BBC.
Another issue the Pirate Party wants to resolve is the lack of security for online information. Where traditional politicians downplay or ignore the safety of our digital data, Jonsdottir is dire: “she is fully aware that technology cannot be rolled back – and that people seem to be very willing to give up their personal data,” the BBC reports. “I totally declare that privacy is dead and gone forever and we will never be able to reclaim it,” she says. “We have to start to look at our realities from that perspective.”
Jonsdottir is right in asserting that “privacy is dead and gone forever.” Here’s why, according to the FBI’s former Futurist-in-Residence, Mark Goodman:
Other items on the Pirate Party’s agenda include embracing Bitcoin as a currency and offering asylum to Edward Snowden. And they’re open to public suggestions for more. “The Icelandic Pirate Party’s adoption of a policy hinges on the ability to root it firmly in the core policies of the party,” they explain on their site. “It must also receive sufficient support in the Pirate Party’s online voting system.” The party does much of its work online, holding policy discussions and constitutional conventions in “in-house meetings, social media and various online groups,” according to the site. Consider it crowdsourcing for government.
This amount of transparency between a political party and the people it’s governing is radically refreshing. But there are potential hiccups to its abilities. “Jonsdottir’s opponents claim her party are political lightweights, arguing that a party formed from a grab-bag of anarchists chasing ideals are not up to tackling problems like rising house prices, student debt and climate change,” BBC reports. Highlighting lack of a experience as the major critique of a new political party is a bit like kicking a horse when it’s down. Yet the Pirate Party is responding to this critique with its biggest asset: its people. “What others call passing the buck, Jonsdottir sees as the best way to represent a diverse population. “Somebody needs to set new standards,” she told the BBC. Setting new standards while a country’s future is uncertain is brave. And both Jonsdottir and the Pirate Party are determined to make it work.
Jonsdottir’s perspective is a hard one for Americans to empathize with. In the wake of a bitter, divisive election where our President-elect will be a man who earned 2.6 million less votes than his competitor, half the country is so pissed off it wants to abolish the electoral college. Yet rebuilding institutions the way Iceland is may be the best way to create a functional government, as Dan Ariely told us here:
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.
- The Indy Autonomous Challenge will task student teams with developing self-driving software for race cars.
- The competition requires cars to complete 20 laps within 25 minutes, meaning cars would need to average about 110 mph.
- The organizers say they hope to advance the field of driverless cars and "inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>Completing the race in 25 minutes means the cars will need to average about 110 miles per hour. So, while the race may end up being a bit slower than a typical Indy 500 competition, in which winners average speeds of over 160 mph, it's still set to be the fastest autonomous race featuring full-size cars.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is no human redundancy there," Matt Peak, managing director for Energy Systems Network, a nonprofit that develops technology for the automation and energy sectors, told the <a href="https://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2020/06/01/Indy-Autonomous-Challenge-Indy-500-Indianapolis-Motor-Speedway-Ansys-Aptiv-self-driving-cars/stories/202005280137" target="_blank">Pittsburgh Post-Gazette</a>. "Either your car makes this happen or smash into the wall you go."</p>
Illustration of the Indy Autonomous Challenge
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>The Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://www.indyautonomouschallenge.com/rules" target="_blank">describes</a> itself as a "past-the-post" competition, which "refers to a binary, objective, measurable performance rather than a subjective evaluation, judgement, or recognition."</p><p>This competition design was inspired by the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge, which tasked teams with developing driverless cars and sending them along a 150-mile route in Southern California for a chance to win $1 million. But that prize went unclaimed, because within a few hours after starting, all the vehicles had suffered some kind of critical failure.</p>
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>One factor that could prevent a similar outcome in the upcoming race is the ability to test-run cars on a virtual racetrack. The simulation software company Ansys Inc. has already developed a model of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on which teams will test their algorithms as part of a series of qualifying rounds.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We can create, with physics, multiple real-life scenarios that are reflective of the real world," Ansys President Ajei Gopal told <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/autonomous-vehicles-to-race-at-indianapolis-motor-speedway-11595237401?mod=e2tw" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a>. "We can use that to train the AI, so it starts to come up to speed."</p><p>Still, the race could reveal that self-driving cars aren't quite ready to race at speeds of over 110 mph. After all, regular self-driving cars already face enough logistical and technical roadblocks, including <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53349313#:~:text=Tesla%20will%20be%20able%20to,no%20driver%20input%2C%20he%20said." target="_blank">crumbling infrastructure, communication issues</a> and the <a href="https://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/would-you-ride-in-a-car-thats-programmed-to-kill-you" target="_self">fateful moral decisions driverless cars will have to make in split seconds</a>.</p>But the Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5da73021d0636f4ec706fa0a/t/5dc0680c41954d4ef41ec2b2/1572890638793/Indy+Autonomous+Challenge+Ruleset+-+v5NOV2019+%282%29.pdf" target="_blank">says</a> its main goal is to advance the industry, by challenging "students around the world to imagine, invent, and prove a new generation of automated vehicle (AV) software and inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.
- A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
- Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
- Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Challenging the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Disorders: Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="41699c8c2cb2aee9271a36646e0bee7d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-8BDC7i8Yyw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This is a far cry from Howard Rusk's 1947 NY Times editorial calling for mental healt</p><p>h disorders to be treated similarly to physical disease (such as diabetes and cancer). This mindset—not attributable to Rusk alone; he was merely relaying the psychiatric currency of the time—has dominated the field for decades: mental anguish is a genetic and/or chemical-deficiency disorder that must be treated pharmacologically.</p><p>Even as psychiatry untethered from DSM categories, the field still used chemistry to validate its existence. Psychotherapy, arguably the most efficient means for managing much of our anxiety and depression, is time- and labor-intensive. Counseling requires an empathetic and wizened ear to guide the patient to do the work. Ingesting a pill to do that work for you is more seductive, and easier. As Davis writes, even though the industry abandoned the DSM, it continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system." </p><p>That language has infiltrated public consciousness. The team at McLean surveyed 279 patients seeking acute treatment for depression. As they note, the causes of psychological distress have constantly shifted over the millennia: humoral imbalance in the ancient world; spiritual possession in medieval times; early childhood experiences around the time of Freud; maladaptive thought patterns dominant in the latter half of last century. While the team found that psychosocial explanations remain popular, biogenetic explanations (such as the chemical imbalance theory) are becoming more prominent. </p><p>Interestingly, the 80 people Davis interviewed for his book predominantly relied on biogenetic explanations. Instead of doctors diagnosing patients, as you might expect, they increasingly serve to confirm what patients come in suspecting. Patients arrive at medical offices confident in their self-diagnoses. They believe a pill is the best course of treatment, largely because they saw an advertisement or listened to a friend. Doctors too often oblige without further curiosity as to the reasons for their distress. </p>
Image: Illustration Forest / Shutterstock<p>While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient. The team at McLean writes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions."</p><p>Davis points out the language used by direct-to-consumer advertising prevalent in America. Doctors, media, and advertising agencies converge around common messages, such as everyday blues is a "real medical condition," everyone is susceptible to clinical depression, and drugs correct underlying somatic conditions that you never consciously control. He continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Your inner life and evaluative stance are of marginal, if any, relevance; counseling or psychotherapy aimed at self-insight would serve little purpose." </p><p>The McLean team discovered a similar phenomenon: patients expect little from psychotherapy and a lot from pills. When depression is treated as the result of an internal and immutable essence instead of environmental conditions, behavioral changes are not expected to make much difference. Chemistry rules the popular imagination.</p>