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Whatever Happened to the Former Love of Ideas? – Positivism vs. the Humanities in the 21st Century: Brain vs. Mind – one should ask…

When I was still in college in the mid-sixties books and ideas were considered very serious things, something to be passionate about; a sort of higher form of existence residing in the Platonic world of the intelligible. Dialogues and debates on ideas were considered a sine qua non of an education worth its salt. And this was true not only for philosophy majors, such as myself, but also for those liberal arts students  who majored in  history or the arts, or literature. Hermeneutics, or the interpretation of fiction, poetry, history and philosophy was not a mere tool useful for analytical procedures but, more importantly, it testified to one’s moral view of the world. Which is to say, ideas mattered. They mattered a lot. They had power over one’s life. They determined one’s intellectual and spiritual destiny. In some strange way one became the books one read.
Those ideas were found not only in the canon of philosophy from Plato to Heidegger, but in great novelists such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Lawrence, Mann, Kafka, Gide, Camus, Orwell, or the poetry of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Coleridge, Eliot. Philosophy and Literature was in fact understood to underpin all great historical epochs.

This leads to the question: which are the great philosophical ideas that still exert great influence and inspire the current artists? I for one would be hard put to answer the question. Obviously there has been a decline in the appreciation for the grand philosophical and aesthetic credos of the past. It began with the unmooring of metaphysics from philosophy by language philosophers. Then came the Annales’ school of historical thinking (Bloch and Febvre come to mind) which asserted that it was not world-historical individuals who shaped events (as Hegel and Emerson believed), but merely economic, social, geographical factors. They, and only they determined events and the fate of nations and people. This was positivism applied to history. There were more subtle forces at work within history, beyond the wars and revolutions instigated by emperors and generals. They could be extrapolated from the available historical data. This led to deconstruction which elevates the social-semiotic conditions of language over the authors who transformed them into literary art. Enter Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, Kristeva who insisted that one had to pay attention to what was previously beyond our notice. One did that by phenomenology which looks at what is in front of our noses.

Warhol brought the Campbell soup, or the obvious, to our attention. The banal, the ordinary, the popular became the focus of aesthetic expression. The interest was not so much in art but in the conceit that anything at all could be art. With this went the expulsion of all those ideas that were formerly part of the humanistic canon to create meaning in verbal, plastic and aural mediums. The task now was to unmask Western civilization’s hidden agenda and its doctrinal attitudes and assumptions about art, sex and race as embedded in linguistic and social codes. For those critics, the Enlightenment has generated ideas about the world that were simply naive about their own implications. Enter Barth with his “Death of the Author” and Foucault with his idea that man is nothing but the invention of the Enlightenment, while Paul de Man at Yale university argued that there is no such thing as the human. All this made for some unruly times in the humanities and produced eventually the end of ideas as still alive in mid twentieth century. There are presently no schools of thought in the humanities. One can indeed still study the tenets of the Frankfurt school and the Prague school and study the works of the neo-Marxists (such as Althusser, Lacan, Deleuze, Lyotard, Marcuse) or the deconstructionist writings of Derrida and de Man but the enthusiasm for ideas and the intellectual energy it generated is gone. It only exists as historical memory. This debunking movement went by the name of post-modern and it was essentially an anti-humanistic stance, even if it arose from within the humanities.

Literature nowadays is often taught without any longer drawing attention to form, imagery, character, metaphor, genre and the relationship between books and society. What has happened is that post-modernism has opened the humanities to the sciences, particularly neuroscience which pretends to explain how we think and express ourselves and affirms that the stuff of consciousness is nothing but a byproduct of the brain’s activity. To understand anything, and indeed everything, all that one needs to do is to map the electrochemical impulses that shoot between our neurons. Reduced to those terms, every academic discipline becomes a neuro-discipline. We are back to phrenology which we thought had been superseded. This includes ethics, aesthetics, theology, literature, you name it. All this leads to the crucial question: if all behavior has an electrochemical component, then in what sense—psychological, legal, moral–is an individual responsible for his actions? If the structures of the brain structures the person, in what sense we can say that there is such a thing as free will? In other words, is a person reducible to his or her physiological components? Is this not sheer reductionism or worse, a literally “mind-less” neuroscience?

What those not trained in philosophy or the humanities fail to perceive is that the focus has subtly changed from the meaning and the interpretation of ideas to the means (the MRI and the brain scan) by which they’re produced. Hence the classical questions that have always intrigued us: What is justice? What is the good life? What is morally valid? What is free will,” have taken a back seat to the biases embedded in our neural circuitry.
Many misguided academic humanists believe that there is no better way for the humanities and liberal arts to save themselves from oblivion than to borrow liberally from the sciences. They claim that the more “scientific” the approach to the arts, the more seriously they are regarded. Several universities now have so called neuroscience centers with specialties in humanities hybrids. The message is this: cognition is literally the tissue that connects all sorts of humanistic endeavors.

And yet there are dissenting voices such as that of Thomas Nagel’s controversial book Mind and Cosmos wherein Nagel has the courage to question the neo-Darwinian belief that consciousness, like any aspect of adaptability, is evolutionary in nature. To the contrary, Nagel affirms that it is highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection. Rather, he believes in a teleological universe with nature predisposed to give rise to consciousness, given that no mechanistic explanation seems commensurate with the miracle of subjective experience and the ability to reason. Bit his, alas, is the voice crying in the desert.
To be sure, other scientists have hypothesized that human life is inevitable and that biochemistry is wired into the universe. Stuart Kauffman, for one, believes that all molecules must sooner or later catalyze themselves in self-sustaining reactions or “autocatalytic networks,” crossing the boundary between inanimate and animate. But the more common view among academic scientists is that evolution has no direction, no goals, no set outcomes; our preferences and bias are due to our oversized brains. There are precious few professors who today continue to defend objective values. The zeal for ideas is fast declining. What deeply concerned intellectuals two or three decades ago is now considered anachronistic. Where are today’s Paul de Man, Edward Said, Harold Bloom, Hilton Kramer, Isahia Berlin, Susan Sontag, Annah Arendt? Nowhere to be found I am afraid. The liberal arts is no longer where the action is. In 2010 only 7.6 of bachelor’s degrees were in the humanities. The ideas that engage us and seem essential today are primarily scientific.

The passionate issues that galvanized intellectuals thirty or forty years ago seem now far removed from our daily lives. Those ideas engendered by the Enlightenment as regards epistemology, government, aesthetics, alas, no longer engage our best minds, except when we speak of the brain or the meaning of consciousness. We seem to have lost the appetite for locating hidden modalities in art and literature as metaphysics too continues to decline in academic worth and estimation. Will somebody arrive on the scene with the transformative power of a Descartes, Vico, Newton, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Kant, Wittengestein, Kuhn or Derrida? As the song goes “the answer my friend is blowing in the wind.”
 
There seems to be at work in the humanities nowadays a troubling skepticism, almost a desperation of not being on the right track, of not being able to go anywhere. That in turn leads many humanists to rely on the old-fashioned methods of hard data and the empirical certainty of scientific research. Yet the questions of art, beauty, ethics, our innate capacity for wonder at existence, persist. The question “why is there something rather than nothing” still fascinates a few traditional philosophers. Perhaps it lies in our very genes and will never be suppressed. But overall, for the moment we have yielded those philosophical questions to biological and cognitive science and we have thereby achieved a certain amount of peace. Intellectuals no longer indignantly reach for their pens to debunk materialism and positivism, but it is a pseudo-peace, it is the peace of the cemetery and quite desperation. It is a peace which has put too much trust (or faith if you will) in the human brain, and in doing so it may have given up on the idea that only the mind, and not the brain, will some day be able to fathom the human condition.
How do I know that the neo-positivists of the 21st century are on the wrong track and just as misguided as those of the 19th and 20th century? It is actually quite simple: whenever I inquire of a neurosurgeon if he believes that ideas exist and cannot be denied as existing, the answer is always a resounding yes. But whenever I follow-up and ask if he has ever seen ideas floating around some place in the brain when he operates on it, or reflected in his brain scanner, a perplexed look seems to appear and there is usually no answer to the question. At best one gets an ambiguous: “give us some more time and eventually we’ll find them.” My reply to that statement is: good luck!

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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New Social Compact

Social Media And Polarization Of Society

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Social Media has witnessed a mushrooming growth that has impacted the discourse of political, cultural and religious systems by providing the equal opportunity of Freedom of expression and sharing opinion or viewpoint  on any issue.

Social Media has played a greater role in rightwing politics that paved the way for populist politicians to reach out to their voters.

Though Social Media has connected the people around the world but at the same time, it is causing division or disintegration and facilitating the social media lobbyists to polarize the communication to such extent that the people support the arguments or opinions or political tirade against the leadership without fact checking .

The world has been rocked by social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube etc because the user statistics of these social networks have already surpassed millions and growing but due to the limited regulatory framework, fake news, cyberbullying, extremism and terrorism has reached the new heights.

The influencers interactions with social Media users have polarized the political and social circles that led to the formation of online echo chambers a tactic of social media recommendations by politicians to influence the users to strengthen their narrative regardless of facts that whether it is right or wrong but it is knit in a manner that echo chambers appear to be normal for the people thus changing the way of thinking and increase the supporters base    .

The Echo chambers post such content that we enjoy a lot while reading while keep us away from the content that may stir a debate or arguments or expression of our disagreement over certain social, economic, religious, cultural or Policy matters. 

The Echo chambers keep ideas flowing on regular basis to the one side –the positive side of the argument while its negative side is deliberately concealed to hide the facts.

This is the big issue that might be discussed and students should be informed and taught at School, College or degree level so that positive and constructive usage of this digital medium could be ensured.

Social media connectivity around the world is undoubtedly amazing but the problems it created for both people and students are very dangerous and need to be addressed and regulated.

 Digital Media especially Social Media for a long time remained unbridled to post any content that may fall in the purview of hatred, racism, bullying, derogatory remarks, Character Assault, rebellion, Anti-state elements instigating people to create chaos using the olive branch of Social Media since it was not monitored given the type of content being circulated and information of people posting such content including their motives behind such content that may have a constant flow of information that is recommended by the users pretending to be professionals, experts and mentors.

Alarmingly, people without fact-checking go on sharing the content and thus creating hype for such an issue that does not have a basis and was the result of the conspiracy to exert pressure on some person or leaders to get some favours.

Sometimes, the active Echo chambers or volcanoes erupt over such issue that may be beneficial for the wider circle of society but finds serious criticism masterminded by the people with the individual approach. They term it detrimental for them since it did not serve their interests though it might have been beneficial for general people.  

It is accepted truth that Humans have an intuitional inclination to communicate with like-minded people or the people with the same choices on Social Media thus the echo chambers get even stronger. The discourse that discourages dissent voices always comes under fire from the thinkers and intellectuals of the nation since it is tantamount to concealing the facts from the people.

The world is coming closer after the recent pandemic that engulfed the entire world , bringing misery and economic crisis. The social Media debates go with  biased and unbiased approaches regarding vaccine . Some optimists termed it great while some pessimists or biased approaches raised questions.

The Echo chambers try to influence their opinions and win support .Similarly, echo chambers of both Democrats and Republicans only canvassed for their candidates but the leaders instigated masses to attack Capitol Hill through social media and emotional speeches using their influence on social media specially twitter .

Some researchers have found that echo chambers influence people to win support but social media influencers have a followers base of millions, may polarize the Public and Politics since influencers share success stories like internet marketers compelling you to buy their products.

The opinion leaders and experts reveal that for the last two decades, the percentage of American people having consistently holding liberal or conservative beliefs—rather than a blend of the two, which is the case for most people—has increased from 10 per cent to over 20. While the beliefs about the other side are becoming more negative creating an alarming situation.

Since 1994, the number of people who see the opposing political party as a threat to “the nation’s well-being or security” has doubled which heralds that how deepening polarization has predictable results raising eyebrows.

The government shutdowns, violent protests, scathing attacks on elected officials, capitol Hill incident –all predict that social Media has been polarizing the Political System and divided the nation each passing day due to echo chambers of both mainstream parties regarding the issues of health, Security, Human Rights, employment and environment.

According to evidence from empirical research conducted on the US politicians indicated that the politicians with extreme following Ideologies attracted a larger public audience than those who were moderate which is the real example of Echo Chambers.

Usually, messages containing extreme thoughts, emotional instigation, patriotism, criticizing the opposition received a warm welcome on Social Media Platforms then those messages reflecting merely information.

The Polarization of issues and political ideology will have serious repercussions in future that should be addressed on a timely bases so that societies could be saved from further isolation and disintegration.

The issues could be resolved through educating the people and creating awareness about the fair and professional use of social Media Channel for advocacy for wining support regarding legislation, issue, policy or employment.

Instead of showing the dark side of the issue, we have to educate people regarding both pros and cons of matters of importance for the general public rather than mislead the people with biased approaches to oppose the initiative Government, Community or Civil society for the benefit of common people.

Social Media network operators are the bigwigs and the most influential .They cannot be controlled but can only  be regulated by framing such laws that  may ensure fair use of this digital platform and being careful so that users may not face any legal issue by discussing some sensitive issues such as Desecration of holy places, religions, personalities, anti-state tirade, rebellion, terrorism, extremism etc. The sensitive issue may stir protests and cause legal proceedings, if the cyber regulatory laws are implemented to discourage the influence of one-sided opinions or campaigns.

We cannot deny the importance of social media platforms as they provide equal opportunity to the people to express and share their thoughts or opinions, but safe and thoughtful use of these platforms will encourage healthy discourse and prove pivotal to promote dialogue to discuss social, economical and cultural issues peacefully without hitting the sentiments of other communities.

 Thus, Echo Chambers will be less powerful to build a narrative that is appealing but the readers will be engaging themselves in the debates that need interaction.

Undoubtedly, social media platforms have changed the political and social approach of the people and enabled face to face digital interaction through video and audio conference calls, the fair use will mitigate its cons manifold.

 The social media network apply the algorithms to connect you with like-minded people but it is up to you that your engagement in communication is either  unbiased or biased.

Social Media should be discussing the positive discourse to explore the political, economic solutions to the problems of people by reflecting the two sides of the coin so that discourse must be constructive and problem-solving.

Honestly speaking the social media has given a voice to marginalized people and Governments are compelled to resolve the issues of people on a priority basis due to trending topics of social media.

Even the populist leaders may face resistance from social media as the Public makes the most of the  freedom of expression and criticizes the role of politicians for their failure to address the issues of the public.

In recent times, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been  creating history in highlighting issues of both public and national interest but at the same time such platforms taken by storm by those influencers who continue to feed the news about their vested interests and create psychosocial hype for any issue that may jolt the power corridors of Government.

The politicians always take to Twitter for their precise viewpoint and policy debate and usually followed by million followers. Even the print and Electronic media i.e News channels take the tweets as policy statement or narrative of some party of the Group.

 The Schools, colleges should chalk out the initiative to create awareness and practice of fair use so that Social platforms should not post single or one-sided opinions or arguments but should welcome both so that positive use could be ensured. This will further the importance of Social Media .

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Solok Literacy Community held a discussion for Indonesia in the future

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As one of the youth mobilizers in Solok and surrounding areas, Solok Literacy Community once again held one of its flagship activities or programs, ‘Ngopi Discussion’. With a proactive discussion format that involves the activeness of the audience on a participatory basis, the discussion that was held on Sunday (11/4) then went interesting and very uplifting.

In his event, Solok Literasi invited an extraordinarily dedicated and accomplished presenter, Al Mukhollis Siagian a cross-continent writer and Yulenri Arif Hidayat as vice chairman of GenBi West Sumatera. Through the theme “Dreaming of a long and steep road to Indonesia gold 2045”, Al Mukhollis began the discussion by explaining the problems faced by the community ranging from global, national, regional to regional levels.

Followed by building a problem map or roadmap that occurs around the community, Arif tried to find equiblirium problems of youth today so that later can be found a joint solution. At the end of the discussion it can be concluded that complex problems around the community have unconsciously turned out to have caught the youths off guard today.

Indonesia gold 2045 itself is a great dream of indonesian youth in productive age in forming a nation and country that is able to compete with other nations. Besides of course can first solve the fundamental problems that exist in the country of Indonesia. Whether it’s about democracy, legal supremacy, emancipation of education, health, poverty to have a vocal point as a maritime country.

After counseling and finding the real problem point, Dinda Kusuma Putri as moderator can conclude that the core solution of the problem is how we jointly build synergistic mutualism by building a network of partnerships and then move smartly to educate every element of society.

Although shortly before the event there was heavy rain but did not discourage the intentions of soliters friends who want to attend the coffee discussion this time. Held in Hikari Cafe where the atmosphere and background of the place is very supportive for the holding of discussion forums. The coffee discussion lasted for 3 hours and ended a joint pledge regarding the integrity of the future movement to be much better.

The discussion of Solok Literacy Community coffee was also attended by various communities in Solok City and its surroundings, including Solok Millennial Creative (SMC), SolokMuda and Solok Student Alliance (AMS). The proliferation of movement of various youth communities in Solok also has a significant impact on the development of intellectual mindsets formed in every young person solok.

Coffee discussion itself is an activity with almost the same format as FGD (Focus Group Discussion) which studies an issue to be reviewed and found a solution together. Coffee discussion activities are identical to the discursus patterns held in coffee shops a la the current trend of young people and then always have a clear outcome after the course of the discussion.

Approximately 7 months since its establishment on September 21, 2020, Solok Literacy Community consists of 61 solok young people consisting of various basic vocational education. Solok Literacy crystallizes its movement through 4 excellent programs, namely coffee discussion; free reading stalls; surgical film; and classes of interests and talents.

Moving as a literacy promoter in Solok and its surroundings, The Solok Literacy Community has a desire to be able to print great narrators who are able to tell how extraordinary the resources owned by Indonesia to the international world. This long-term goal certainly begins with small, structured and systematic movements from now on.

To see the movement of Solok Literacy Community itself in order to educate the public about the importance of early literacy can be seen together on @solok_literasi Instagram account. The presence of Solok Literasi Community is also known to re-encourage other young people in West Sumatra to re-voice useful things and devote themselves to the benefit of the nation and the country.

Solok Literacy Community hopes that in the future it can continue to be consistent in improving the scalability of literacy among the community. In addition, also how the government is also aware and aware of the problems facing young people so that both the government and the organization/ community around it is able to build a synergy of partnerships that benefit the community.

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Athletes knock the legs from under global sports governance

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Sports governance worldwide has had the legs knocked out from under it. Yet, national and international sports administrators are slow in realizing the magnitude of what has hit them.

Tectonic plates underlying sports’ guiding principle that sports and politics are unrelated have shifted, driven by a struggle against racism and a quest for human rights and social justice.

The principle was repeatedly challenged over the last year by athletes as well as businesses forcing national and international sports federations to either support anti-racist protest or at the least refrain from penalizing athletes who use their sport to oppose racism and promote human rights and social justice, acts that are political by definition.

The assault on what is a convenient fiction started in the United States as much a result of the explosion of Black Lives Matter protests on the streets of American cities as the fact that, in contrast to the fan-club relationship in much of the world, US sports clubs and associations see fans as clients, and the client is king.

The assault moved to Europe in the last month with the national soccer teams of Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands wearing T-shirts during 2022 World Cup qualifiers that supported human rights and change. The Europeans were adding their voices to perennial criticism of migrant workers’ rights in Qatar, the host of next year’s World Cup.

Gareth Southgate, manager of the English national team, said the Football Association was discussing with human rights group Amnesty International tackling migrant rights in the Gulf state.

While Qatar is the focus in Europe, greater sensitivity to human rights appears to be moving beyond. Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton told a news conference in Bahrain ahead of this season’s opening Grand Prix that “there are issues all around the world, but I do not think we should be going to these countries and just ignoring what is happening in those places, arriving, having a great time and then leave.”

Mr. Hamilton has been prominent in speaking out against racial injustice and social inequality since the National Football League in the United States endorsed Black Lives Matter and players taking the knee during the playing of the American national anthem in protest against racism.

In a dramatic break with its ban on “any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images” on the pitch, world soccer governing body FIFA said it would not open disciplinary proceedings against the European players. “FIFA believes in the freedom of speech and in the power of football as a force for good,” a spokesperson for the governing body said.

The statement constituted an implicit acknowledgement that standing up for human rights and social justice was inherently political. It raises the question of how FIFA going forward will reconcile its stand on human rights with its statutory ban on political expression.

It makes maintaining the fiction of a separation of politics and sports ever more difficult to defend and opens the door to a debate on how the inseparable relationship that joins sports and politics at the hip like Siamese twins should be regulated.

Signalling that a flood barrier may have collapsed, Major League Baseball this month said it would be moving its 2021 All Star Game out of Atlanta in response to a new Georgia law that threatens to potentially restrict voting access for people of colour.

In a shot across the bow to FIFA and other international sports associations, major Georgia-headquartered companies, including Coca Cola, one of the soccer body’s longest-standing corporate sponsors, alongside Delta Airlines and Home Depot adopted political positions in their condemnation of the Georgia law.

The greater assertiveness of athletes and corporations in speaking out for fundamental rights and against racism and discrimination will make it increasingly difficult for sports associations to uphold the fiction of a separation between politics and sports.

The willingness of FIFA, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and other national and international associations to look the other way when athletes take their support for rights and social justice to the sports arena has let a genie out of the bottle. It has sawed off the legs of the FIFA principle that players’ “equipment must not have any political, religious or personal slogans.”

Already, the US committee has said that it would not sanction American athletes who choose to raise their fists or kneel on the podium at this July’s Tokyo Olympic Games as well as future tournaments.

The decision puts the USOPC at odds with the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) staunch rule against political protest.

The IOC suspended and banned US medallists Tommie Smith and John Carlos after the sprinters raised their fists on the podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics to protest racial inequality in the United States.

Acknowledging the incestuous relationship between sports and politics will ultimately require a charter or code of conduct that regulates the relationship and introduces some form of independent oversight akin to the supervision of banking systems or the regulation of the water sector in Britain, alongside the United States the only country to have privatized water as an asset.

Human rights and social justice have emerged as monkey wrenches that could shatter the myth of a separation of sports and politics. If athletes take their protests to the Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the myth would sustain a significant body blow.

Said a statement by US athletes seeking changes to the USOPC’s rule banning protest at sporting events: “Prohibiting athletes to freely express their views during the Games, particularly those from historically underrepresented and minoritized groups, contributes to the dehumanization of athletes that is at odds with key Olympic and Paralympic values.”

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