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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Crisis: Clandestine Tracking, Puerto Rico, Net Neutrality, The Richest, Journalism

Sections                                                     crisis index
Introduction

1. Summary
2.
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from November 25, 2017 
3. About Theorists without Theories
Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Saturday
, November 25, 2017.

1. Summary

This is a
crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last four years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since nearly two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and will continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from November 25, 2017
1. Staggering Variety of Clandestine Trackers Found In Popular
     Android Apps

2. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Trump, Shock Doctrine &
     “Disaster Capitalism” in Puerto Rico

3. FCC Member Begs Public to 'Stop Us' From Killing Net Neutrality
4. Drain the Pockets of Americans Who Make Less Than $500,000 a
     Year

5. Journalism Is Imploding Just When We Need It Most 
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Staggering Variety of Clandestine Trackers Found In Popular Android Apps

This article is by Yael Grauer on The Intercept. It starts as follows:

Researchers at Yale Privacy Lab and French nonprofit Exodus Privacy have documented the proliferation of tracking software on smartphones, finding that weather, flashlight, rideshare, and dating apps, among others, are infested with dozens of different types of trackers collecting vast amounts of information to better target advertising.

Exodus security researchers identified 44 trackers in more than 300 apps
for Google’s Android smartphone operating system. The apps, collectively, have been downloaded billions of times. Yale Privacy Lab, within the university’s law school, is working to replicate the Exodus findings and has already released reports on 25 of the trackers.

Yale Privacy Lab researchers have only been able to analyze Android apps, but believe many of the trackers also exist on iOS, since companies often distribute for both platforms.
When I was 7 I learned that about 10% of the children of my age were sadists. In fact, I neither new the term "sadism" nor the name "De Sade", but I did clearly recognize, as did in fact most of the children in my class, that there was a group of children in the several classes that made up the year who not only disliked spiders (of which there were plenty in the bushes around my school), but who also liked to catch them and pull out their legs: They liked to hurt what they did not like. [2]

I did not like spiders either, but I also saw that humans were veritable mountains compared to spiders, and that the spiders could do nothing against humans, and I saw no reason to torture them for being spiders, with which I also agreed with most of the children of my age.

Except for roughly 10%. And I think now - sixty years later and as a psychologist - that the leaders and owners of Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and quite a few more are very probably
sadists, who indulge their sadism to get themselves as rich as possible. That is: it not only pleases them but also enriches them.

Here is more on these sadists-for-their-very-own-riches, who deserve the name sado-fascists:

The findings underscore the pervasiveness of tracking despite a permissions system on Android that supposedly puts users in control of their own data. They also highlight how a large and varied set of firms are working to enable tracking.

“I think people are used to the idea, whether they should be or not, that Lyft might be tracking them,” said Sean O’Brien, a visiting fellow at Yale Privacy Lab. “And they’re used to the fact that if Lyft is on Android and coming from Google Play, that Google might be tracking them. But I don’t think that they think that their data is being resold or at least redistributed through these other trackers.”

I think myself that Sean O'Brien is far too optimistic:

I know how to program in six languages, but that knowledge is mostly of no use to do much against being spied upon by extremely many electronic spies, in considerable part because they all mostly totally deny or do not comment on their own spying, and in considerable part because the programs they spy with are secret.

Here is more on the very many sadists or sado-fascists who are trying to become billionaires through their own sadistic spying on anyone or who try to get even richer than they are through their sadistic spying on everything they can get, in secret:

Among the Android apps identified by the researchers were, with six or seven trackers each, dating apps Tinder and OkCupid, the Weather Channel app, and Superbright LED Flashlight; the app for digital music service Spotify, which embedded four trackers, including two from Google; ridesharing service Uber, with three trackers; and Skype, Lyft, Accuweather, and Microsoft Outlook.
There are very many more and this was all taken from the beginning of this article, that is strongly recommended.

2. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Trump, Shock Doctrine & “Disaster Capitalism” in Puerto Rico

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:

Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz joins us for an extended interview about how Hurricane Maria had changed Puerto Rico since it struck the island on September 20, Trump’s attacks and her vision for the future. Democracy Now! interviewed Cruz when we visited Puerto Rico last month. She spoke to us in the city’s Roberto Clemente Coliseum, where her entire mayoral staff was living after Hurricane Maria devastated the island on September 20.

Incidentally, September 20 is meanwhile over two months ago, while it seems as if president Trump only gave some paper towels to the people of Puerto Rico, quite probably because many of them are not white.

Here is some by Mayor Cruz:

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: I think September 20th changed the Puerto Rican reality forever. We live in a different San Juan and a different Puerto Rico, not because of what we’re lacking. The majority of the island is still without any power. Only about 40 to 60 percent of the population has water. That doesn’t mean that it’s good water. We still have to boil it or put chlorine in it to be able to drink it. Medical services are really, really bad because of the lack of electricity. The supplies in the supermarkets are not there yet, so people are having a lot of trouble getting the supplies that they need.

I think it is fair to say that hardly any help is coming from the American government for the simple reason that this is a Trumpian government, and Trump both dislikes "brownies" and very strongly likes any underhanded manoeuvre that makes him richer.

Here is Mayor Cruz on the sadism she met from Trump's government and also on the reasons why:

AMY GOODMAN: Disaster capitalism, what does that term mean to you? And do you think that’s happening here, using a crisis to accomplish something that couldn’t be accomplished otherwise?

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: You know, I wish I had never been introduced to that term. Also the shock, shock treatment, right? Using the chaos to strip employees of their bargaining rights, rights that took 40, 50 years for the unions to be able to determine. That is something very important. And it just means taking advantage of people when they are in a life-or-death situation. It is the most—an absolute mistreatment of human rights. It means that the strongest really feed off the weakest, until everything that’s left is the carcass.

I think Mayor Cruz is quite right and this is a recommended article.


3. FCC Member Begs Public to 'Stop Us' From Killing Net Neutrality

This article is by Andrea Germanos on Truthdig and originally on Common Dreams. This starts as follows:

After one commissioner called the FCC’s newly released plan to roll back net neutrality “worse than one could imagine,” a second commissioner is now calling voters to make sure the proposal by Republican Chairman Ajit Pai does not go through.

In a Los Angeles Times op-ed published Thursday—entitled “I’m on the FCC. Please stop us from killing net neutrality“—Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel points to the overwhelming public support for net neutrality and the ongoing questions about validity of anti-net neutrality public comments submitted to FCC, as well as what appear to be tens of thousands of missing comments. “If the idea behind the plan is bad, the process for commenting on it has been even worse,” she writes.

Rosenworcel decries Pai’s plan as “a lousy idea. And it deserves a heated response from the millions of Americans who work and create online every day.”

Yes indeed - and that is diplomatically formulated. Here is some more:

Killing net neutrality, she adds, means

your broadband provider could carve internet access into fast and slow lanes, favoring the traffic of online platforms that have made special payments and consigning all others to a bumpy road. Your provider would have the power to choose which voices online to amplify and which to censor. The move could affect everything online, including the connections we make and the communities we create.

This is not the internet experience we know today. Americans should prevent the plan from becoming the law of the land.

In short, she writes, the American public needs to “Make a ruckus,” including by targeting other members of the FCC.

I agree with Rosenworcel, and indeed the internet I see arising is an internet of and for the rich, who can spy on absolutely anyone absolutely anywhere, all with little objections, for the vast majority of computer users doesn't understand computers, and who also can - if Pai's rules are adopted - dismiss or censor everyone on line that they don't like:

It is the perfect combination of secret policing and spying for the rich with policing and censoring everyone who does not support the rich.

Here is some more:

Her op-ed came a day after Democratic FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn said Pai’s proposal is “worse than one could imagine” and released a fact sheet (pdf) explaining its consequences to the net as we know it, as Common Dreams reported.

As NBC News outlines, the resistance to Pai’s plan is intensifying. “While the topic of net neutrality is certainly one that can be described as ‘wonky,'” the reporting notes, “it’s still something that could affect every person who uses the internet.”

Among those catalyzing the resistance is digital rights advocacy organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The first two links above are well worth reading, though I grant that I don't like the NBC report: They should not have said 'wonkish'; instead, they should have said much more simply and correctly that 99% of those who use computers do not understand much about them.

But this is a recommended article. 


4. Drain the Pockets of Americans Who Make Less Than $500,000 a Year

This article is by David Cay Johnston on AlterNet and originally on DC Report. This starts as follows:

As Americans gather for Thanksgiving, we can only hope that the richest among us have the good graces to give thanks for the bounty they expect to receive in a few days thanks to how Donald Trump and the Republican leaders on Capitol Hill conned millions of voters.

The plutocrats should set aside a moment to thank all the voters suckered by the Trumpian promise to drain the swamp. What Trump really meant was to drain the pockets of Americans who make less than $500,000 a year so the richest of the rich can have more.

Yes indeed: I think that is a fair summary of Trump's real plans (which are neofascistic, in the sense defined on my site). Here is more on why I think so:

As for the official government version of events, businesses would reap 59.2% of the tax savings under the Senate bill. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates corporate income taxes will drop by $837 billion over the next 10 years.

Every dollar of the tax savings would come from either cutting government services or adding to the federal debt.
And here is more on the same subject:

Measured as a percentage of their income, the million-dollar to multi-billion-dollar annual income group will on average see a 3.2% increase in their after-tax income.

Those making $100,000 to $200,000, itself a rarified territory, will see their after-tax income grow by 0.6%, that’s $1,200 for someone at the top end of the group.

The near-poor, making $30,000 to $40,000, will save perhaps 0.2% of their meager incomes. If your family makes $36,500 annually, your tax savings will come to roughly 20-cents every day.

If you make $12 million a year, figure your after-tax income will rise by at least $360,000 annually under either bill. That’s about one grand a day.

Looked at another way, for each $1 the near poor will save, the family making $12 million-a-year will save $5,000.

In a schema:

Yearly Earnings                       Advantage                   Number                             
0 < x < 40,000                    75 euro per year       Up to 95% earn < 100,000
100,000 < x < 200,000          1200 euro per year    These cover abour 3%
x < $ 12 million                   1000 euro per day     These cover less than 0.5 %

That is Trump's tax plain, in outline. I'd say it is pure theft by the very few richest from everybody else. And this is a recommended article.


5. Journalism Is Imploding Just When We Need It Most

This article is by Monika Bauerlein on Mother Jones. Bauerlein is the chief editor of Mother Jones. The article starts as follows:

One of the few bright spots this past year was supposed to be the revival of journalism. And to be sure, it’s been a great time for muckraking, with newsrooms bringing home scoop after scoop on the Trump administration. Subscriptions to everything from the New York Times to Mother Jones are up. And for the first time in decades, trust in news media is rising too: Today, 54 percent of the public have confidence in journalists to tell the truth, while only 36 percent trust the president. 

So: Will Donald Trump, perhaps the most anti-journalism president in modern times, actually end up saving journalism?

As an aside: I earlier reviewed a somewhat similar article by the chief editor of AlterNet, here. And as to the above quotation:

First, I like AlterNet and Mother Jones and several others from non-mainstream news a great lot better than most journalism I read from mainstream news, and I think it is a mistake of Bauerlein not to mention the distinction between mainstream and non- mainstream news.

And second, clearly Trump will not "actually end up saving journalism", while it is at present an open question whether he will end up destroying non-mainstream journalism.

This is about a graph that shows that between 2004 and 2012 the advertising revenues of the U.S. newspapers radically fell, namely from around $ 50 billion around 2004, to $25 billion in 2012, that is, it was halved in 8 years:

As a regional newspaper editor recently told me, “I showed that graph to our newsroom and said: If that line keeps going, there’s no one left working here in 10 years.” Right after that I watched a presentation on news robots—algorithms that can put together credible stories with stunningly little help from humans. It’s not at all hard to imagine newsrooms populated largely by artificial intelligence a few years hence. And it’s not just legacy shops that are imploding. Virtually every news organization in America has seen its audience decline (and in some cases crater) since the record numbers of last winter.

I agree with the "regional newspaper editor" - and that is wholly apart from news generated by news robots.

Here is one of Bauerlein's conclusions:

If this keeps up, Trump’s (and Steve Bannon’s and Kellyanne Conway’s) dream could soon come true: The news landscape will be dominated by cheap, shallow fluff and propaganda of the sort that turns reality-show celebs into presidents. Independent, critical journalism will end up FAILING, not because it’s not doing its job, but because no one will pay to do that job.

I agree and in fact I think that is the most probably future. I much hope that I am mistaken, but success generally comes to the rich few, and not to the non-rich many.


3. Theorists Without a Theory 

This article is not a crisis article, in part because it is about physics, and in part because the crisis in physics in fact dates back to the 1980ies and the rise of string theory, which - I admit - is also the time I mostly stopped following physics, since I agreed then with Richard Feynman who said then that string theories were not real empirical theories.

Peter Woit is a mathematical physicist who agrees. This article starts as follows and is in fact about an essay by George Ellis (that you may find by reading the original):
In his essay, George Ellis does an excellent job of explaining how some highly publicized speculative claims about theories involving a multiverse have “slipped the leash” of experiment, leading this area of theoretical physics to a strange place. One where the question of what is and what is not science has become open to debate. Here I would like to argue that it is important to recognize the extent to which it is not new and subtle issues about the relation of theory and experiment are relevant. What is going on is something much simpler: the theorists do not actually have a theory.
I think one word is missing there before the last term "theory", namely empirical theory. For I believe the string theoreticians do propound - quite complicated - mathematical theories, but these mathematical theories cannot be properly tested.

In fact, here is Woit quoted from the Wikipedia article on
string theory (from 2006):
The possible existence of, say, 10500 consistent different vacuum states for superstring theory probably destroys the hope of using the theory to predict anything. If one picks among this large set just those states whose properties agree with present experimental observations, it is likely there still will be such a large number of these that one can get just about whatever value one wants for the results of any new observation.
That is: string theory is (or may be) quite interesting mathematics, but it is not about physics, for physics is empirical, while string theory can normally not be tested at all in an empirical way.

I agree with this, and indeed agreed with Richard Feynman who said very similar things in the 1980ies.

Here is some more by Woit from the article:
The inability of the multiverse paradigm to make any predictions is sometimes attributed to the measure problem: one cannot put a measure on an infinite set giving equal weight to each element. One problem here is the equal weight assumption, which is a reflection of the lack of an actual theory. A well-defined theory would, in principle, allow one to calculate what probabilistic weight to assign to each possibility in the infinite set, giving a consistent measure. Even before getting to this measure problem though, there is a much more serious problem: one does not even know what space it is that one is supposed to be looking for a measure on. One lacks a viable theory that would describe the set of possible universes—the string vacua in the string theory framework—and is thus unable to even specify the measure problem at hand, much less hope to resolve it.
I agree (but I am neither a physicist nor a mathematician, though I am still somewhat interested in both).

------------------------------
Notes

[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that xs4all.nl is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 1 1/2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

[2] In fact my own understanding of sadism and indeed De Sade is not quite like the mostly psychiatric understanding of sadism: I think it is rather often not sexual in nature, but related to power and self-image, which is also why I define it (in brief) as "
pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others or from causing others pain or misery".

Indeed here is something quoted from my bit on
De Sade:

Also, it should be remarked that there is much more sadism in human beings than  most are willing to admit, especially if the term 'sexual' in the above definition is deleted: Very many people derive much pleasure from being in positions of power and by hurting, denigrating, demeaning or displeasing others using their position. It probably does not arouse most of them sexually, but they wouldn't do it if it did not please them. And this kind of pleasure seems to be one of the strongest motivators of those who desire to be boss: To let others feel they are inferior.

This 'human-all-too-human' desire to hurt, harm, demean and denigrate others is one of the normally unacknowledged forces of history, as is stupidity. It is probably the normal human reaction to personal unhappiness: Make others suffer at least as much as one does oneself.

Sadism as a sexual perversion seems fairly rare (especially in its more extreme forms), but as a perversion of character seems to be fairly common in bureaucrats, many of whom seem to do the boring work they do for the pleasures it brings in  exercising their power over others.

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