April 6, 2018

Crisis: On "Authoritarianism", Cellphones Unsafe, "Christians", Shell & Climate, Facebook


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from April 6, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Friday, April 6, 2018.

1. Summary

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

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) 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 more than 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 I shall continue.

Section 2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from April 6, 2018
1. The Contract With Authoritarianism
2. How the Wireless Industry Convinced the Public Cellphones Are Safe &
     Cherry-Picked Research on Risks

3. Have Christian Nationalists Used Trump to Stage a 'Soft Coup'?
4. Shell Knew, Too: New Docs Show Oil Giant's Scientists Secretly Warned
     About Climate Threat Decades Ago

5. Facebook Admits Data From 'Most' of Its 2 Billion Users Compromised
     by 'Malicious Actors'
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. The Contract With Authoritarianism

This article is by Thomas B. Edsall on The New York Times. This is from near the beginning:
George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at Berkeley, published “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think,” which argued that

Deeply embedded in conservative and liberal politics are two different models of the family. Conservatism is based on a Strict Father model, while liberalism is centered on a Nurturant Parent model. These two models of the family give rise to different moral systems.

Several approaches to contemporary politics echo the insights of Sipple and Lakoff. The crucial word now, however, is authoritarianism.

To start my review, I provided a link to Thomas B. Edsall from which it emerges that he is a journalist, who also studied journalism academically. Also - because my review is going to be fairly critical - I like to add that I have nothing against Edsall (nor much for him: I hardly know anything about him), but that my academic degrees are in psychology and in philosophy, which does make a difference.

Now about the above quotation: It so happens that I do not like George Lakoff and my dislike is again not based on anything personal (though I have read considerably more by him than by Edsall) but on his style of writing (thoroughly academic) and his ideas (misguided, in my opinion, though not intentionally).

And indeed the quotation is fairly typical: We have two enormous - and quite strangely operationalized - concepts, written with Capitals, namely a "Strict Father" model and a "Nurturant Parent" model, both of which go back to early youth, and both of which are taken to explain the political values that people have when adults.

For me, that is not real science: it is a quite strangely dressed academese that pushes Grand Concepts, that are also rarely well or properly defined, to derive plausible sounding explanations of politics without any real proofs other than (i) (quite vague) semantics, for most people believe that the terms these "scientists" introduce (like conservatism or progressivism) have the rough everyday meanings they associate with them, which tends to be a mistake, for the terms in fact have been
operationalized on a few dimensions - which means: are given an interpretation that can be tested by making observations - together with (ii) the "empirically based" conclusions they attach to their statistical results (which are not about the original presumed meanings anymore).

To end the present remarks on real science: The above procedures can be criticized in quite a few ways - and for psychologists see Paul Lutus's "Is Psychology A Science?" - but I limit all criticisms I could make to just one by George Orwell, who contended that he had little use for statistics (on people), precisely because these were based on a few abstractions of a vastly more complex subject, that then were supposed to be "factual", whereas at best they might be approximately true of the abstractions, that were mostly sung loose from their more complicated ordinary meanings.

And while I do not know when I first read it, and I do not have the time right now to find out (it is almost certainly somewhere in Orwell's "Collected Essays and Journalism"), I do know when I first read this, namely between 1978 and 1980.

It seemed then wholly correct, and it still does, which is also one of the main reasons I do not care for most psychology: it is based on false or misleading abstractions from far richer data, but the abstractions are reported as if they are the reality, which in many cases is simply a lie (consciously so or not).

And to end the present remarks about the above quotation: Edsal does give a link to
authoritarianism, which is defined as "The enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom", which is not bad but sounds circular (defining "authoritarianism" in terms of "authority", which is undefined), but OK.
Here is a quote from Federico, Feldman and Weber, followed by an explanation which will clarify my own and George Orwell's skepticism about this kind of pseudoscience:

Three trends — polarization, media change, and the rise of what many people see as threats to the traditional social order — have contributed to a growing divide within American politics. It is a divide between those who place heavy value on social order and cohesion relative to those who value personal autonomy and independence.

The three authors use a long-established authoritarian scale — based on four survey questions about which childhood traits parents would like to see in their offspring — that asks voters to choose between independence or respect for their elders; curiosity or good manners; self-reliance or obedience; and being considerate or well-behaved. Those respondents who choose respect for elders, good manners, obedience and being well-behaved are rated more authoritarian.

Incidentally: Note that a few abstract trends in American politics, are "explained" by "authoritarianism" that then again is reduced to four survey questions that are about childhood traits (that very few people are able to define properly for themselves).

And after that, all of this is inverted to get from the - long passed - childhood traits to present political values (that are again "defined" very vaguely or not at all).

I agree this is how much psychology is done, but I do not think it is real or good science (though almost every academic - with a psychology degree - will insist it is).

Here is more of the same, this time based on "reseach by Johnston and Lavine":

Over the last few decades, party allegiances have become increasingly tied to a core dimension of personality we call “openness.” Citizens high in openness value independence, self-direction, and novelty, while those low in openness value social cohesion, certainty, and security. Individual differences in openness seem to underpin many social and cultural disputes, including debates over the value of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, law and order, and traditional values and social norms.

Johnston notes that personality traits like closed mindedness, along with aversion to change and discomfort with diversity, are linked to authoritarianism:

And here we have the - undoubtedly extremely vaguely "defined" - concept of "openness" that then, as explained above, somehow is linked to "authoritarianism" (as operationalized).

It seems both extremely vague to me, and is definitely not proper science (but again: this is how psychology normally works).

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article, that seems baloney to this psychologist (with top grades on his M.A.):

Hetherington and Weiler argue that the answers to questions about the four childhood traits reveal “how worldview guides a person in navigating the world,” as Hetherington put it in his email:

Not only do the answers to these questions explain preferences about race, immigration, sexual orientation, gender attitudes, the projection of military force, gun control, and just about every “culture war” issue, people’s worldviews also undergird people’s life choices. Because ‘the fixed’ are wary about the dangers around them, they prefer the country over the city. ‘The fluid’ prefer the reverse.

I think the only thing that is true in the above is that one's "worldview guides a person in navigating the world": All the rest is an extremely vague mixture based on on (unstated) operationalizations, with totally unclear and completely unstated probabilities, that in the end reduce everything and anything - "race, immigration, sexual orientation, gender attitudes, the projection of military force, gun control, and just about every “culture war” issue" - to "the fixed" and "the fluid".

If you think that is real science - other than the ordinary academic bullshit - you need a considerably higher IQ than you have.

2. How the Wireless Industry Convinced the Public Cellphones Are Safe & Cherry-Picked Research on Risks

This article is by Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh on Democracy Now! It starts with this introduction:
Ninety-five out of every 100 American adults owns a cellphone today. And worldwide, three out of four adults now have cellphone access. The wireless industry is one of the fastest-growing on Earth, raking in annual sales of $440 billion in 2016. But are cellphones safe? A new investigation by The Nation suggests that’s a question that cellphone giants prefer you don’t ask. We speak with Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation’s environment correspondent and investigative editor. His report, co-authored with Mark Dowie, is headlined “How Big Wireless Made Us Think That Cell Phones Are Safe.”
I say, for I did not know that 95% of all American adults have a cellphone, nor that worldwide the access is 75%. And I grant I also find this rather amazing, because I will only have a cellphone when it becomes forbidden by law not to have one:

I hate the small screens (I do have eye problems, is true), I hate, despise and abhor all propaganda and all advertisements, I hate being followed all the time, I hate being an open book to anyone rich enough (the Silicon Valley billionaires) or powerful enough (the secret services from anywhere), I hate telephones, and there is undoubtedly more.

And now it has turned out (once again, for I did follow the earlier news a bit) that cellphones may give their users cancer and this possibility has been systematically been kept away from cellphone users by cellphone companies:
NERMEEN SHAIKH: (...) But are cellphones safe? Well, a new investigation by The Nation suggests that’s a question that cellphone giants prefer you don’t ask. The article, by journalists Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie, is headlined “How Big Wireless Made Us Think That Cell Phones Are Safe.”

The article notes that cellphones were first marketed to U.S. consumers in the 1980s without any government safety testing. Then, a decade later, one of the industry’s own hand-picked researchers, George Carlo, reportedly told top company officials, including leaders of Apple, AT&T and Motorola, that some industry-commissioned studies raised serious questions about cellphone safety. On October 7th, 1999, Carlo sent letters to industry CEOs urging them to give consumers, quote, “the information they need to make an informed judgment about how much of this unknown risk they wish to assume.” Instead, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association reportedly tried to discredit Carlo’s findings, and had him physically removed from its premises during its annual conference in February 2000.

I say, which I do because I knew a little from this but most was totally unknown to me.

And here is Mark Hertsgaard:

MARK HERTSGAARD: Let me emphasize, Amy, our piece is not saying that cellphones are safe or are not safe. Our piece is an investigative exposť showing you how the cellular industry has worked for 25 years behind the scenes to convince you that cellphones are safe, when, in fact, if you look at the independently funded science, the picture is a lot more mixed than that. And as you mentioned, there’s that smoking gun memo—letter, I should say—from George Carlo in 1999 telling the CEOs of all these big companies, “Look, this stuff is raising serious questions, especially about kids and cancer and genetic damage.”

And I think that’s the real parallel with both Big Oil and Big Tobacco. In each case, these big companies were told privately by their own scientists that there are serious questions about your product, whether it be cigarettes or fossil fuels or cellphones. And in each case, those executives decided not to share that with the public, but rather to keep that information to themselves, while telling the public and telling the press and telling policymakers there’s no problem.

There is a lot of evidence suggesting that we need to be a lot more careful about these cellphones. The World Health Organization has listed them as a possible carcinogen. And just last week, here in the United States, the National Institutes of Health had a major study, peer-reviewed, about cellphone radiation. And the peer-review scientists, who are independent of government, said that there was, quote, “clear evidence,” unquote, that cellphones can cause cancer.

And that is something that you have not read in the American media.
Indeed, and in fact I wholly agree with Hertsgaard (and would refuse a cellphone if it was offered to me for free and was guaranteed to be medically totally harmless, which it is not).

And here is the last bit that I quote from this fine article:
And our piece in The Nation magazine documents how when the World Health Organization was preparing, in the year 2011, to render a judgment on how likely cellphones are to cause cancer, the industry made sure to get a number of its scientists onto the advisory boards that consulted with the WHO on that decision. And that is contrary to the conflict-of-interest rules that the WHO has, but the industry managed to circumvent those. It put money into that process. And at the end of the day, in 2011, the WHO, World Health Organization, called cellphone radiation a “possible” carcinogen.
This means that the cellphone corporations have been trying to trick the public, which - to me, at least - increases the probability that cellphone corporations have things to hide.

And this is a strongly recommended article (that may explain why you will have a brain tumor by the time you are in your forties).

3. Have Christian Nationalists Used Trump to Stage a 'Soft Coup'?

This article is by Chauncy DeVega on AlterNet and originally on Salon. It starts as follows:

By the standards of any of the world's major religions Donald Trump is an ungodly person, an enthusiastic and unrepentant sinner who revels in his misdeeds. Trump is a serial liar and apparent narcissist. He is a greedy, crude and selfish person who does not pay his debts. He has repeatedly cheated on his wives and bragged about it. He has boasted about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it.

Yet white Christian evangelical voters were among his most enthusiastic supporters in the 2016 election. Despite Trump's many failings of character, temperament and policy as president, they remain loyal members of his political cult. Why is this?

First, I say: Yes indeed - Trump is such a person as described. And second, I provide two links
to earlier articles in Nederlog that were devoted to the same or very similar problems:

First to an interview of Chris Hedges - who is a Christian ministers, among other things - by Abby Martin namely this: Is ‘Christianized Fascism’ the Biggest Threat We Face Under Trump?  and next to an article by Chris Hedges: Trump and the Christian Fascists.

Both articles are strongly recommended. Here is more on the importance of the Christians in the present USA:

Much has been written about Donald Trump and the Republican Party's authoritarian efforts to subvert and destroy American democracy, and their alliances with right-wing gangster capitalists such as the Koch brothers. But the enormous role played by evangelicals in Trump's victory -- and in his enduring core of support -- has not received as much attention from the mainstream news media.

In all, it is increasingly clear that with Trump as the figurehead and Vice President Mike Pence as the puppet-master, Christian evangelicals have successfully completed a soft coup in America.

I think that is mostly correct, though I hesitate whether "Christian evangelicals have successfully completed a soft coup in America", simply because it seems to be mostly their political foremen who got more power.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article, which in fact is quoted from Andrew Whitehead:

Generally, Christian nationalists conceptualize politics and society as a realm that must be suffused with Christianity in order for it to flourish, because of the particular relationship the United States has with the Christian God. It is only through thoroughly injecting Christianity into the public sphere that the moral fabric of society will be strengthened and the issues that the country faces will be solved.

Yes, that seems to be correct to me as regards the views many American Christians have. I only observe that they are nonsense in my eyes, and they also seem to be anti-Constitutional.

4. Shell Knew, Too: New Docs Show Oil Giant's Scientists Secretly Warned About Climate Threat Decades Ago

This article is by Jessica Corbett on Common Dreams. This starts as follows:

Royal Dutch Shell's scientists warned the oil giant about the threat that fossil fuel emissions pose to the planet as early as the 1980s, according to a trove of documents obtained by a Dutch journalist and published Thursday at Climate Files.

Environmental advocates say the documents—which bolster an investigative report published last year—demonstrate the "stunning" immorality of oil and gas companies. The records are expected to aid global efforts to hold the industry to account for its contributions to global warming.

I say! I do so because I did not know this, although I grant that I am not amazed at all.

Then again, while I also agree with "the "stunning" immorality of oil and gas companies", I do like to give - once again, and see January 2, 2018 - the opinion of Milton Friedman (in 1962, but this seem to have been THE norm for Friedman: Profit and only profit, of private individuals running private corporation without any responsibility whatsoever to anyone):

"Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundation of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible. This is a fundamentally subversive doctrine. If businessmen do have a social responsibility other than making maximum profits for stockholders, how are they to know what it is? Can self-selected private individuals decide what the social interest is?"
This "norm" - we got no responsibility whatsoever except enlarging our own profits - is one of the reasons I think Friedman was a neofascist, in my sense. And indeed if "self-selected private individuals" cannot "decide what the social interest is?" then no one can. Besides, the rich also are "self-selected private individuals" and they do understand what their "social interests" are: Their own interests and no one else's, precisely as Friedman put it.

Here is more on the opinions of Shell's top men or top scientists, in 1988 (30 years ago this year):

One such document, a confidential 1988 report entitled "The Greenhouse Effect," outlines a comprehensive study of climate science and the projected impact of fossil fuels, and reveals that the company secretly had been commissioning such analyses since at least 1981. The report acknowledges the central role that fossil fuels—especially oil—play in increasing  emissions that drive global warming.

"Although CO2 is emitted to the atmosphere through several natural processes," the report states, "the main cause of increasing CO2 concentrations is considered to be fossil fuel burning."

And here is the conclusion in the article:

This latest confirmation that Shell, for more than three decades, has been privately aware of its products' contributions to the climate crisis but opted to publicly promote skepticism about climate science mirrored similar findings about ExxonMobil in 2015.

Yes indeed - but see Milton Friedman above.

Here is the last bit I quote from this fine article:

Friends of the Earth Netherlands, or Milieudefensie, sent Shell—a Dutch company—a liability letter on Wednesday informing the oil giant that it has eight weeks to bring its policies into compliance with the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, or it will be forced to face off against the environmental group in court.

"Many of us are doing [our] best to put an end to the climate problem," said Milieudefensie director Donald Pols. "In the meantime, Shell continues to invest in new oil and gas sources. Shell, just like the rest of us, should take its responsibility to stop wrecking the climate."

"If we win this case," added Friends of the Earth International chair Karin Nansen, "it has major consequences for other fossil companies, and opens the door for further legal action against other climate polluters."

I wish them - Milieudefensie - luck, although my guess is that the Dutch courts will refuse to give it to them, perhaps because Milton Friedman's arguments to the effect that big corporations have no responsibilities whatsoever, other than making profits. And this article is strongly recommended.

5. Facebook Admits Data From 'Most' of Its 2 Billion Users Compromised by 'Malicious Actors'

This article is (also) by Jessica Corbett on Common Dreams. This starts as follows:
Buried in Facebook's announcement that Cambridge Analytica had improperly gathered data from up to 87 million users—rather than the previously reported 50 million—was the stunning admission that "malicious actors" exploited the social networking site's search features to collection information from "most" of its 2 billion users.
"Until today, people could enter another person's phone number or email address into Facebook search to help find them," Facebook's chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer wrote in a company blog post on Wednesday. "Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we've seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in this way. So we have now disabled this feature."
I say! Well... if Facebook's "chief technology officer" wrote that he believes that "most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped" as Cambridge Analytica did, who am I to say that he is wrong?!

And indeed I agree with the title of the article:

Since Facebook has over 2 billion users that for the greatest part hardly know anything about computing, and since the chief technology officer said that
"most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped", I will assume they have been, though quite possibly not by Cambridge Analytica, and also not to help Stephen Bannon help Donald Trump to win the presidential elections.

Here is some more specific information:

In other words, Facebook leadership believes that over the course of several years, these "malicious actors" utilized the now-disabled search features to collect whatever personal information that most of its users had sometimes unknowlingly set to "public."

Incidentally, in case you are on Facebook and "do not care": I recently reported on one specific quite normal user who asked to see his data: It turned out that Facebook had 600 MB of data on him alone, which means that Facebook's chief technology officer - implicitly - allowed that Facebook may have spread 2 billion * 600 MB = 1200 billion MB of data about its users to God knows whom.

I agree it may be less, and I am willing to agree that - perhaps, possibly - most of these data may not have been used, but meanwhile this is an enormous scandal.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this fine article:

"We didn't take a broad enough view of what our responsibility was and that was a huge mistake. It was my mistake," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

This admission comes as Facebook faces heightened scrutiny over the Cambridge Analytical scandal, which has raised widespread concerns about digital privacy. In what had been called the social media company's "largest-ever data breach," a series of investigative reports last month revealed that Cambridge Analytica —a political consultancy data firm hired by then-candidate Donald Trump and other GOP politicians—exploited Facebook to secretly harvest personal information from millions of Americans.

Yes indeed. And this is a strongly recommended article.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that 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 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 (!!).

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