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Nederlog

March 7, 2015
Crisis: Warren, Climate Change, Russia, Hackers Etc, Brain Droppings
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton















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Sections
Introduction

1. Robert Reich Says Elizabeth Warren Should Challenge
     Hillary Clinton

2. Climate change: why the Guardian is putting threat to
     Earth front and centre

3. Anti-Putin Politician’s Murder Lays Russian Realities Bare 
4.
Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy
5.
George Carlin: Brain Droppings


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, March 7, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about Robert Reich's statement that he would like to see Elizabeth Warren compete with Hillary Clinton in the primaries; item 2 is about Alan Rusbridger who wants The Guardian to write considerably more on climate change; item 3 is - what seems to me - a decent piece on the present Russia; item 4 is about a recent book about Anonymous; and item 5 is a video of nearly an hour which is the record of a very good talk (or lecture) George Carlin gave in 1999 to the National Press Club in Washington DC: I think it has various things in it that will teach nearly everyone something, besides being a really good talk.

1. Robert Reich Says Elizabeth Warren Should Challenge Hillary Clinton

The first item today is an article by John Nichols on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich says Hillary Clinton should face "a tough primary challenger" and he knows who he would like to see mount a run against the presumed Democratic frontrunner. 

"I wish that challenger would be Elizabeth Warren," Reich explained Friday, in a short statement that has energized supporters of a burgeoning movement to draft the senator from Massachusetts as a populist alternative to Clinton.

I say - well, not very loudly, but OK. Here is some more, that explains some:

Reich has always spoken well of Warren, with whom he shares many positions. They have worked together. And he has spoken about the prospect that she might might challenge Clinton. But this is more than just an expression of ideological sympathy, and more than punditry. This is a former Bill Clinton Cabinet member saying, specifically, that he hopes Warren will run.

Note that Hillary Clinton has not yet said she will run, although few doubt she will. And here is Reich himself:
I’ve been getting lots of calls from reporters wanting to know if Democrats should have a 'plan B' if Hillary’s candidacy implodes. I tell them (1) it’s still way too early (there’s not even a plan A because she hasn’t yet declared, and it’s more than a year and a half before Election Day anyway), (2) if she runs the odds of her imploding are very low; she’s been through all this three times before (once as a candidate and twice as Bill Clinton’s de facto campaign manager) and will be a strong candidate, (3) but it would be good for the Democrats and the country -- and good for her (it will make her an even stronger candidate) – to have a tough primary challenger, and (4) I wish that challenger would be Elizabeth Warren.
OK - although I have a few remarks. I can see why Reich likes Warren. There are two problems, though: First, Warren has repeatedly said she will not run. And second, it seems as if Bernie Sanders has declared he will run - and while I like Warren, I like Sanders better, mostly because he seems to have better overall plans, and he has a whole lot of experience.

But I agree it is early days.

2. Climate change: why the Guardian is putting threat to Earth front and centre

The next item is an article by Alan Rusbridger on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:

Journalism tends to be a rear-view mirror. We prefer to deal with what has happened, not what lies ahead. We favour what is exceptional and in full view over what is ordinary and hidden.

Famously, as a tribe, we are more interested in the man who bites a dog than the other way round. But even when a dog does plant its teeth in a man, there is at least something new to report, even if it is not very remarkable or important.

There may be other extraordinary and significant things happening – but they may be occurring too slowly or invisibly for the impatient tick-tock of the newsroom or to snatch the attention of a harassed reader on the way to work.

What is even more complex: there may be things that have yet to happen – stuff that cannot even be described as news on the grounds that news is stuff that has already happened. If it is not yet news – if it is in the realm of prediction, speculation and uncertainty – it is difficult for a news editor to cope with. Not her job.

Really now? I must say that (1) I don't see much of the "rear-view mirror" and (2) I also do not think this is a good introduction to climate change.

Let me - briefly - explain.

First, the problem for journalism is that they tend to work in the now - today, not tomorrow, nor yesterday - with an eye on tomorrow, based on (supposed) facts established in the past, and also on the ideology of the paper they write for, and perhaps also on their own ideology. This is a problem, because it does limit their attentions, but it is also inevitable.

Second, I have been reading about climate change now, and mostly in the daily press, since the early 1970ies (nearly 45 years (!)), though I agree that in the early days it was less about "climate change" than about - speaking broadly and generally - "environmentalism". But this means that "the climate" has been "in the news" for over 40 years now - sometimes more, sometimes less, but nearly always there in some form.

Indeed, the second point is - a bit later - also made by Rusbridger, who then unfolds his program as follows:
The coming debate is about two things: what governments can do to attempt to regulate, or otherwise stave off, the now predictably terrifying consequences of global warming beyond 2C by the end of the century. And how we can prevent the states and corporations which own the planet’s remaining reserves of coal, gas and oil from ever being allowed to dig most of it up. We need to keep them in the ground.
If that is the program it seems likely to fail:

Governments, so far, have not done much to stop climate change, and one reason is that to do much involves making major economical changes, that are difficult to plan and to implement, and also are all against the short-term profit motive that moves much of the economies; and to "prevent" that the "
remaining reserves of coal, gas and oil" are being dug up is both against the dominant mode of capitalism (if we can make a profit from it, we declare it is good for you), and also against the recent selling out to capitalism and the profit motive by most of the politicians.
 
I will say a little more about this below. Rusbridger also says:
This summer I am stepping down after 20 years of editing the Guardian. Over Christmas I tried to anticipate whether I would have any regrets once I no longer had the leadership of this extraordinary agent of reporting, argument, investigation, questioning and advocacy.

Very few regrets, I thought, except this one: that we had not done justice to this huge, overshadowing, overwhelming issue of how climate change will probably, within the lifetime of our children, cause untold havoc and stress to our species.

So, in the time left to me as editor, I thought I would try to harness the Guardian’s best resources to describe what is happening and what – if we do nothing – is almost certain to occur, a future that one distinguished scientist has termed as “incompatible with any reasonable characterisation of an organised, equitable and civilised global community”.
Well... one regret Rusbridger should have but doesn't seem to have is the enormous decline in the value - the usability and clarity - of the Guardian's website, since he turned it over to Wolfgang Blau and his mates, who turned it back to 1992, made almost everything text, removed nearly all links, destroyed most videos by a crazy half see through format from which all specifics are carefully deleted, and installed gigantic amounts of Javascript.

See
On the  destruction of The Guardian's (formerly) fine website for more, and I regard this as a major change in the editorial policies of The Guardian, which I deeply regret, and do not expect anything good to emerge from. (Incidentally: no other paper made as crazy changes as The Guardian. And indeed now all other papers have better - more readable, clearer, more polite, with many more pictures - sites than The Guardian. It used to be the other way around, though the differences were far less pronounced than they are now.)

Then there is this, which I suppose played a considerable role in Rusbridger's decisions:

We begin on Friday and on Monday with two extracts from the introduction to Naomi Klein’s recent book, This Changes Everything. This has been chosen because it combines sweep, science, politics, economics, urgency and humanity.
To put it in more general terms: Rusbridger made the choice Klein also made, which indeed is "the liberal" choice (and my quotes around "the liberal" indicate that although this does seem the best term, I am aware it has many meanings):

Either you attack or question capitalism (which changed considerably since 1980, and which is responsible for a large part of the climate change) or you attack or question climate change - and the latter is politically more safe.

I think I understand the reasoning, but I disagree with it for two reasons:

First, "climate change" will mostly appeal to the relatively small group of the better educated and well paid in the West, and far less to those who want to increase the chances and incomes of the Indian farmers or the Chinese ordinary men and women; and second, the main motive that moves most men is income, especially income inequalities which put them backward instead of forward.

And indeed I much prefer to attack or question capitalism, firstly because it is due to the capitalist mode of production that climate change happened, secondly because climate change will only cease or lessen if capitalism gets - at least  - tamed, and thirdly because capitalism and income inequalities touch many more people than climate change.

Besides, one may question or attack capitalism from many points of view, and one may hold it is less capitalism itself that is at fault as unregulated capitalism in which everything is reduced to short-term profits and the interests of the richest 1% - or alternatively, one may propose capitalism itself must be replaced
by different modes of production if mankind is to survive beyond 2100 or 2050.

But OK - I think I see the thinking behind Rusbridger's plans. And while he might have made many worse choices, I don't think this is the best choice, politically speaking, at least, although journalistically speaking it may be the most profitable for a paper like The Guardian.

3. Anti-Putin Politician’s Murder Lays Russian Realities Bare 

The next item is an article by Ivo Mijnssen and Philip Casula on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

Boris Nemtsov—a former deputy prime minister of Russia and one of President Vladimir Putin’s leading critics—was shot dead on Feb. 27 just a few hundred feet from the walls of the Kremlin. His murder has shocked the nation and on Sunday prompted one of the largest mass demonstrations in Moscow since Putin regained the country’s presidency in 2012.

Nemtsov was one of Russia’s best-known opposition activists. A physicist by training, he began his political career in 1990, when he was elected to represent the city of Nizhny Novgorod (then called Gorky) in the Supreme Soviet of Russia. Later, President Boris Yeltsin appointed him to be governor of the larger Nizhny Novgorod region, and in 1997 he rose to become deputy prime minister.

Though he was generally well-known because of his various government posts, Nemtsov’s standing in wider public opinion was mixed. He was a respected figure in the opposition—holding together its various liberal and nationalist strands; co-founding the economically liberal Union of Right Forces Party in 1999, which dissolved in 2008; and helping to lead the liberal Republican Party of Russia/People’s Freedom Party since 2012. But he was also heavily associated with the 1990s, a period remembered by most Russians for its chaos, crime and economic decline.

There is considerably more under the last dotted link. The reason I selected it is that this seems reasonably informed and not hysterical.

4. Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy

The next item is an article by Peter Richardson on Truthdig:

This starts as follows - and is a review of the book "Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous" by the anthropologist Gabriella Coleman:

We’ve reached a curious moment in the digital revolution. The surveillance state has harnessed the very technologies that were supposed to liberate us. High-tech corporations have made that surveillance easier and more efficient. A handful of organizations are fighting to protect civil liberties in cyberspace, but especially in the aftermath of 9/11, the federal government has successfully and repeatedly invoked the national security card to weaken protections against illegal searches. Meanwhile, hackers are probing weaknesses in websites and databases and selling their results on the underground market—often to governments, especially ours.

Against this backdrop, Gabriella Coleman’s new book, “Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous,” considers the shadowy world of Anonymous, a loosely defined online community that has targeted corporations and governments guilty of perceived offenses against digital liberty. Originally driven by the desire for laughs (“lulz,” in the online argot), its members have specialized in shutting down websites and revealing embarrassing personal information about their targets. Trained as an anthropologist, Coleman spent years infiltrating and studying the group’s inner circles and customs. 

I say. Then again, it seems this is less interesting than I thought it might have been, judging by the reviewer.

First, there is this (that also gets illustrated by a quote, that basically says nothing for a paragraph, but does so in what may seem to some "good prose"):
Quite aside from shifts in tone, Coleman’s story is difficult to follow. Part of the challenge can be traced to technical complexities, the quirks of online self-representation, and the anarchic tendency to dissolve and reassemble in slightly different configurations. But Coleman’s style also contributes to the mystery. Her first-person narration heightens the story’s immediacy, but the reader must piece together the group’s story from scattered episodes separated by personal and methodological reflections.

Which is to say - it seems to me - that the book is basically about anonymous people Gabriella Coleman has met, and far less about movements, general ideas, or general values (which I agree is more difficult to write).

Also, there is this (from the end):

In her conclusion, Coleman places the Anonymous story alongside the sagas of Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.
(...)
In Laura Poitras’ 2014 documentary, “Citizenfour,” Snowden comes off as principled, purposeful and sober. In contrast, many of Coleman’s subjects seem callow, mischievous or both.
Yes, indeed: You just cannot validly compare a very diverse group of mostly quite anonymous 16 to 20 year olds, with very diverse motivations, with the leader of Wikileaks, with a man who revealed very much about the NSA, and with someone doing thirty years for releasing a lot of information on the the crimes the U.S. commits.

In brief, the book may be useful to some, but it will not be read by me.

5. George Carlin: Brain Droppings

The final item for today is not an article but a video that I had not fully seen till yesterday, and which is the record of a talk George Carlin gave in 1999 to the National Press Club in Washington DC. It takes 56 m 29 s, and I will say a bit more after presenting the link:

I had seen one or two cuts from this (on euphemisms and talking politicians), but I had not seen the full edition, which the above seems to be, that consists of three parts: An introduction by the Larry Litman; the talk by George Carlin; and a fairly long and quite good set of questions + answers by Carlin.

You can skip the introduction (it's over after 5 m 35 s) but I really liked the rest:

The talk is a very good talk on language and its many abuses, that is remarkable for the speed and the humor, while it is not - other than: by implication - critical or offensive, and the questions are mostly quite good and also receive quite good answers by George Carlin (who spoke on a platform where he was wedged in between Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and John McCain, in previous and coming weeks).

And it is here because I guess almost everyone can learn quite a lot from the speech - which is humorous, clear, engaging, and indeed also a very good speech.

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