December 3, 2018

Crisis: On The Crisis, Einstein & God, Insane Leaders, The Rich & The Poor, Facebook, Reich & Oliver


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 3, 2018
B. Two videos by Robert Reich + one by John Oliver

This is a Nederlog of Monday, December 3, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

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 three 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.

2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from December 3, 2018:
1. Global Growth Cools, Leaving Scars of ’08 Unhealed
2. Einstein’s ‘God Letter,’ a Viral Missive From 1954
3. The Perils of CEO Worship - What Happens When the Leader Becomes

How the rich are normalizing narcissism — and destroying civilization
5. Questions We Should Be Asking About Facebook’s Smear Campaign
     Against Its Critics
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. Global Growth Cools, Leaving Scars of ’08 Unhealed

This article is by Peter S. Goodman on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
Only a few months ago, the world’s fortunes appeared increasingly robust. For the first time since the wealth-destroying agony of the global financial crisis, every major economy was growing in unison.

So much for all that.

The global economy is now palpably weakening, even as most countries are still grappling with the damage from that last downturn. Many nations are mired in stagnation or sliding that way. Oil prices are falling and factory orders are diminishing, reflecting slackening demand for goods. Companies are warning of disappointing profits, sending stock markets into a frenetic bout of selling that reinforces the slowdown.

Germany and Japan have both contracted in recent months. China is slowing more than experts anticipated. Even the United States, the world’s largest economy, and oft-trumpeted standout performer, is expected to decelerate next year as the stimulative effects of President Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut wear off, leaving huge public debts.

Well... as regular readers know (see here for what I wrote in Nederlog) I believed in the crisis on September 1, 2008, considerably before the Dutch government did, and I have believed in the crisis ever since.

My reasons are quite elementary and consist mainly of these two (apart from being quite intelligent and having an academic education):

I read every day some 35 publications, and review the most interesting in Nederlog, and I also am - I think - the poorest Dutchman over the last 50 years, for I never even succeeded in reaching the minimum even the poorest get in Holland, mostly because Dutch medics since 40 years (!!!) refused to say I have "a chronic serious disease" (which they now allow me to say since March 2018, but without offering anything for 40 years of systematic discrimination of both my ex - who also has ME/CFS since 40 years - and myself).

And the first paragraph of Goodman sketches what the richest 10% probably did think, but not what the majority of the poor think, for their experiences were like mine, and my experiences have steadily worsened over the past 10 years.

Anyway... it does seem as if Goodman is correct in his other paragraphs, which means for the poor that it will be - yet again - more difficult for them.

Here is more:

None of this amounts to a screaming emergency, or even a pronounced drop in commercial activity. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a think tank run by the world’s most advanced nations, recently concluded that the global economy would expand by 3.5 percent next year, down from 3.7 percent this year.

Yet in declaring that “the global expansion has peaked,” the brains at the O.E.C.D. effectively concluded that the current situation is as good as it gets before the next pause or downturn. If this is indeed the high-water mark of global prosperity, that is likely to come as a shock to the tens of millions of people who have yet to recover from the devastation of the Great Recession.

I do not really believe most of this, and the probable reason is that I have been very poor all of my life, but I will not spell out my disagreements, except for one:

To speak of "the tens of millions of people who have yet to recover from the devastation of the Great Recession" seems to me an underestimate of some 500%, for at least 90% of all the people who are alive are as poor or poorer than I am (and everybody lives now in one global economy).

Here is one lesson:

Though the slowdown appears mild, it also holds the potential to intensify the widespread sense of grievance roiling many societies, contributing to the embrace of populists with autocratic impulses. In an age of lamentation over economic injustice, and with political movements on the march decrying immigrants as threats, weaker growth is likely to spur more conflict. Slower growth is not going to make anyone feel more secure about the prospect of robots replacing human hands, or jobs shifting to lower-wage lands.

“It’s just going to exacerbate the tensions that have led to the socioeconomic and political problems we have seen in the United States and parts of Europe,” said Thomas A. Bernes, an economist at the Center for International Governance Innovation, a Canadian research institution. “Inequality is going to become even more pronounced.”

Yes, that is correct. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

In the United States, the unemployment rate has plunged to 3.7 percent, its lowest level since 1969. Yet so many people have given up looking for work that less than two-thirds of the working age population was employed as of October, according to the Labor Department. That was a lower share than before the 2008 financial crisis.

“We see a lost generation,” said Swati Dhingra, an economist at the London School of Economics. “There was already wage stagnation and productivity stagnation. The trade war has exacerbated all of that.”

Yes - and incidentally: If the - official - unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, while in fact "less than two-thirds of the working age population was employed as of October" this means that the official unemployment rate is less than 1/10th of the real employment rate.

I do not know which of these estimates - 3.7 percent vs. more than 30 percent - is more correct,
but I do know that 3.7 percent must be one of the very many official lies.

2. Einstein’s ‘God Letter,’ a Viral Missive From 1954

This article is by James Barron on The New York Times. It starts as follows (and no, this is not a crisis item):

If it were written now as a series of tweets, they would surely go viral.

Think of it: One of the most famous people in the world is panning religion. “The word God is for me nothing but the expression of and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of venerable but still rather primitive legends,” the message reads. “No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change anything about this.”

That is only 239 characters, including the spaces, periods and commas, well short of the 280-character limit for a tweet. And there is more where those words came from — a letter written in 1954 by Albert Einstein that is being auctioned this week. It provides a glimpse of Einstein’s private thoughts and would probably be inflammatory in today’s polarized social media world.

The page-and-a-half document, in German, became known a decade ago as the “God letter,” a nickname that makes some Einstein experts wince. But while the letter has to do with his Jewish identity and mankind’s search for meaning, Einstein used the word “God” only once in the letter, in the passage quoted above.

I say, which I do mainly because I did not know Einstein wrote this; because it seems to me to be the eminently sensible ideas of anyone who is intelligent; and because I quite agree, indeed not because it was Einstein, but because I did get a completely non-religious education, and was first confronted at age 8 with someone - a boy of 12, who lived in the same street as I did and who was Catholic - who did believe in God, and who argued God's existence, with arguments which struck me as quite pathetic. (For example, we did reach the point where he said God must exist because someone must have created the world, which I met by asking: but who then created God?)

As an aside, I am - once again - amazed at the utterly crippled standard of "communication" that tweets allow: Whoever would want to "communicate" with an instrument that seems designed to have all communications delivered as slogans, and all argumentation made impossible (other than as primitive tweet-after-tweet imitation)?!

Anyway. Back to the article:

Einstein wrote in the letter that he was disenchanted with Judaism, even as he said he was proud to be a Jew. In the letter, Einstein declared:

“For me the unadulterated Jewish religion is, like all other religions, an incarnation of primitive superstition. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and in whose mentality I feel profoundly anchored, still for me does not have any different kind of dignity from all other peoples. As far as my experience goes, they are in fact no better than other human groups, even if they are protected from the worst excesses by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot perceive anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

Yes, of course, I would (and do) say, and also like to remind you that Richard Feynman (who also was supposed to be a Jew, because he had Jewish parents, who raised him in a non-religious way) thought quite similarly. This is from Wikipedia:
[B]y his youth, Feynman described himself as an "avowed atheist". Many years later, in a letter to Tina Levitan, declining a request for information for her book on Jewish Nobel Prize winners, he stated, "To select, for approbation the peculiar elements that come from some supposedly Jewish heredity is to open the door to all kinds of nonsense on racial theory", adding, "at thirteen I was not only converted to other religious views, but I also stopped believing that the Jewish people are in any way 'the chosen people'".
I quite agree. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

The God letter, written the year before Einstein’s death, seems to outline Einstein’s view of formal religion and the idea of a God who plays an active part in everyday life, answering individual prayers. “He did not believe in a God who went around choosing favorite sports teams or people,” Mr. Isaacson said.

But at other times Einstein described himself as “not an atheist,” and the letter does not annul the seemingly spiritual characteristics of his thinking.

“Einstein often uses the word God — ‘God does not play dice with the universe,’” Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, who teaches philosophy and wrote “Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away,” said in an interview. “A lot of physicists do this. It misleads people into thinking they’re theists, they believe in God. It’s a metaphorical way of talking about absolute truth. Einstein used it metaphorically and playfully.”

She said he had been religious when he was a child but “lost his religion and science took over.”

“Every time he was asked if he believe in God, he answered cagily: ‘I believe in Spinoza’s god,’” (...)
Yes, I think Goldstein is more or less correct.

What Einstein meant by believing "in Spinoza's god" is not clear to me, although to quite a few (both Spinozists and anti-Spinozists) this seemed rather materialistic. I do not know, and part of the reason is that I read both Spinoza and George Boole on Spinoza, and it seems to me that Boole was quite right when he wrote, in his "An Investigation of the Laws of Thought" (on p. 216-7 of my edition) that
It is not possible, I think, to rise from the perusal of the arguments of (..) Spinoza without a deep conviction of the futility of all endeavours to establish, entirely a priori, the existence of an Infinite Being, His attributes, and His relation to the universe.
In fact, Boole also showed that Spinoza was - at least - quite confused. I agree, and this is a recommended article.

3. The Perils of CEO Worship - What Happens When the Leader Becomes Demented?

This article is by Roy M. Poses MD on Health Care Renewal. This is from near its beginning:
Even before he was elected, we noted that Donald Trump sometimes was completely incoherent when describing his health policy ideas.  In early 2016 we raised questions about Donald Trump's cognition.  At that time, a conservative columnist labelled as "word salad" Trump's attempts to sketch a position on health care, specifically the "mandate" provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  We found other examples of his utterances on health care policy that could be characterized as gibberish.  This one was short, if not sweet
I want to keep pre-existing conditions. I think we need it. I think it’s a modern age. And I think we have to have it.
How could anyone understand this while listening in real time?
Yes indeed - and in case you don't know, I am a psychologist (among other things) who does believe now for nearly three years (together with what now are thousands of psychologists) that Trump is insane. If you disagree, check the last link, which is not by me.

I still think so, which also means that I agree with Roy M. Poses MD. Here is more by Poses:
We found additional examples of incoherent verbal responses about health care in 2017, and early 2018.  In the last six months, things have only gotten worse.  Examples of verbal incoherence have multiplied, although most were not related to health care. 

In July, 2018, MediaIte reported Trump's incoherent comments at a political rally,
I have broken more Elton John records, he seems to have a lot of records. And I, by the way, I don’t have a musical instrument. I don’t have a guitar or an organ. No organ. Elton has an organ. And lots of other people helping. No we’ve broken a lot of records. We’ve broken virtually every record. Because you know, look I only need this space. They need much more room. For basketball, for hockey and all of the sports, they need a lot of room. We don’t need it. We have people in that space. So we break all of these records. Really we do it without like, the musical instruments. This is the only musical: the mouth. And hopefully the brain attached to the mouth. Right? The brain, more important than the mouth, is the brain. The brain is much more important.
This is just either insane or demented, I would say. And no, I don't know what he is talking about, apart from the fact that it starts so be about Elton John.

Here is more (quite recent):
A November 28, 2018, Vox summary article about Trump's recent interview with the Washington Post provided this quote from Trump about economics,
And I’m not blaming anybody, but I’m just telling you I think that the Fed is way off-base with what they’re doing, number one. Number two, a positive note, we’re doing very well on trade, we’re doing very well — our companies are very strong. Don’t forget we’re still up from when I came in 38 percent or something. You know, it’s a tremendous — it’s not like we’re up — and we’re much stronger. And we’re much more liquid.
And the banks are now much more liquid during my tenure. And I’m not doing – I’m not playing by the same rules as Obama. Obama had zero interest to worry about; we’re paying interest, a lot of interest. He wasn’t paying down — we’re talking about $50 billion lots of different times, paying down and knocking out liquidity. Well, Obama didn’t do that. And just so you understand, I’m playing a normalization economy whereas he’s playing a free economy. It’s easy to make money when you’re paying no interest. It’s easy to make money when you’re not doing any pay-downs, so you can’t — and despite that, the numbers we have are phenomenal numbers. 
The author of the article stated,
I have basically no idea what Trump is talking about here, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t either.
On repeated close reading, I still do not have any idea what Trump meant.  I would add the following questions:  38 percent of what? Who is much more liquid, and how is liquid defined?  Who is paying a lot of interest? What does "paying down and knocking out liquidity" mean? What is a "normalization economy?"  Note that this was coming from someone who claims to be a brilliant business manager.
And - in Trump's own opinion, which he has publicly stated - a genius. But I agree with Poses that the above quoted bit is again utterly confused and not understandable.

There is considerably more in the article, and here are some conclusions (and the quotation is from StatNews):
To summarize the conclusions.
The differences are striking and unmistakable.

Research has shown that changes in speaking style can result from cognitive decline. STAT therefore asked experts in neurolinguistics and cognitive assessment, as well as psychologists and psychiatrists, to compare Trump’s speech from decades ago to that in 2017; they all agreed there had been a deterioration, and some said it could reflect changes in the health of Trump’s brain.
In 2018, Trump's verbal communications at times are even more garbled.  Parts of the passages above suggest the word salad produced by somebody with fluent aphasia versus the nonsensical responses produced by patients suffering from acute delusional states. That Trump is capable of producing this sort of word salad at times, without realizing he is making no sense, suggests the intermittent symptoms seen early in progressive dementia.
I am not a medic, but Poses is, and he may very well be quite correct. This is a recommended article.

4. How the rich are normalizing narcissism — and destroying civilization

This article is by Keith Spencer and Nicole Carlis on AlterNet and originally in Salon. It starts as follows:
It is ironic that, as the gulf between rich and poor reaches record levels, the language of the underclass has become infected with the culture and mores of the rich. Twenty years ago, English began to absorb and normalize verbal markers of wealth, consumption and status, evidenced by the mainstreaming of luxury brands like Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton and their appearance in pop culture and media. Reality TV went from nonexistent in the 1970s to one of the most popular television genres in the 2000s, much of it homed in on the lifestyles and lives of the rich — culminating in a billionaire, reality-TV star president. Social media in the late 2000s and 2010s seems to have exacerbated a cultural normalization of narcissism, an obsession with self-image, and a propensity for conspicuous consumption. Few of us are rich, but we all aspire to appear that way on Instagram.
Actually, I don't aspire to seem rich, and I do not, and never did nor ever will, use Instagram. But that is an aside. What is more important and what I also disagree with is the occurrence of "narcissism" (which is a technical term in psychiatry), although I do agree that the very fast majority of any human population that I know are both lying a lot and bragging a lot.

Finally, there also is a connection here with something not many will think of:

This fascination with the rich and their "
markers of wealth, consumption and status" does seem to upset Karl Marx's idea that the poor would oppose the rich and eventually bring them down, for it seems as if most of the poor admire and emulate the rich, and do nothing or extremely little to bring them down.

In fact, I think Marx's idea was refuted a long time ago (at the latest by WW I, when the poor should have refused to fight, but most did, for nationalistic reasons mainly), but the above seems to me to be an additional reason.

Here is more:
Greenfield’s latest opus, “Generation Wealth,” is an attempt to understand the intricacies of the trickle-down culture of the wealthy. Simultaneously an exhibition, monograph and film, Greenfield’s camera follows not just the wealthy, but many folks who are middle- or working-class and yet who have absorbed the narrative and values of the elite in their quest to be thin, forever beautiful, and image- and luxury-obsessed. The film is unflinching in a way that is occasionally macabre: The on-screen depiction of plastic surgery is a grisly counterpoint to the pristine resorts, lifestyles and houses of the well-heeled. “This movie is neither trickle-down treat nor bacchanal guised as bromide, but rather an interrogation of an era defined by an obsession with wealth,” wrote Eileen G’Sell in Salon’s review.
And this seems interesting and reasonable. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article, which is Greenfield herself, from an interview with which the article ends:

And that really came together for me during the economic crisis. Because from L.A., from middle class to working class, to billionaires in Florida … to the crash in Dubai, to Iceland to Ireland, I was seeing similar consequences from similar behavior.

And the interconnected financial system was one more kind of homogenizing factor. And so that’s what I was really interested in looking at. [Cultural critic] Chris Hedges speaks throughout the movie and at the end he says this comment, which I really love, about how authentic culture is being destroyed by the values of corporate capitalism. And that it’s authentic culture that actually teaches us who we are and where we came from.

And so in a way we lose our identities when we lose that. And I think we see, especially with young people, how identity is so connected to brands and what you have and what you wear and what you buy.

I think that Greenfield may well be right, but I do not know, and one reason for something like skepticism may be that - after all - there is one common factor in what she saw in Florida, Dubai, Iceland and Ireland, namely Greenfield herself. But this article is recommended.

5. Questions We Should Be Asking About Facebook’s Smear Campaign Against Its Critics

This article is by Cindy Cohn on Common Dreams and originally on Deeplinks Blog. It starts as follows:
The New York Times published a blockbuster story about Facebook that exposed how the company used  so-called “smear merchants” to attack organizations critical of the platform. The story was shocking on a number of levels, revealing that Facebook’s hired guns stooped to dog-whistling, anti-Semitic attacks aimed at George Soros (..) and writing stories blasting Facebook’s competitors on a news site they managed. As Techdirt points out, however, while the particulars are different, the basic slimy tactics are familiar. Any organization that runs public campaigns in opposition to large, moneyed corporate interests has seen some version of this “slime your enemies” playbook.

What is different here is that Facebook, the company seeking to undermine its critics, has a powerful role in shaping whether and how news and information is presented to billions of people around the world. Facebook controls the hidden algorithms and other systems that decide what comes up in Instagram and Facebook experiences. And it does so in a way that is almost completely beyond our view, much less our control.
Yes, precisely so - and yes, I despise Facebook, and like to see it destroyed, though unfortunately that seems unlikely.

Here is more:
The ongoing hidden nature of Facebook’s algorithmic decision-making, however, plus the fact that it took a major newspaper exposť to bring this to light, means Facebook probably can’t be trusted to provide the answers users require. Facebook must allow third-party, neutral investigators access to see whether Facebook is misusing its position as our information purveyor to wage its own ugly propaganda war.
Yes, I agree - but I am also quite sure that Facebook will refuse to "allow third-party, neutral investigators access" to its secret code.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
As we’ve said before:

If it were more feasible for users to take their data and move elsewhere, Facebook would need to compete on the strength of its product rather than on the difficulty of starting over. And if the platform were more interoperable, smaller companies could work with the infrastructure Facebook has already created to build innovative new experiences and open up new markets. Users are trapped in a stagnant, sick system. Freeing their data and giving them control are the first steps towards a cure.

Yes, but it very probably will not happen, unfortunately. And this is a recommended article.

B. Two videos by Robert Reich + one by John Oliver

These are two videos by Robert Reich, one from 2018 and one (with a link in the previous one) from 2017. As my regular readers know I don't often provide links to videos. The main reason is mostly that I prefer reading. But these two are good and they also are both short:
The first of the above two is in fact about Trump, and the second is also in effect about Trump.

Also, since there was a recent video by John Oliver:
I want to compare what Reich and Oliver said - if I have sufficient time and energy.

Well... in fact I have little time and little energy, but I do want to make one comparison between Reich and Oliver, namely because they seem to have been speaking about the same, or at least about something similar, which may be referred to as either tyranny (Reich), authoritarianism (Oliver) or neofascism (myself, and some others, lately).

And the comparison I want to make is about the characteristics Reich and Oliver use to characterize what they are talking about:

Reich ("Tyranny")                                                            Oliver ("Authoritarianism")

1. they exaggerate their mandate to govern               A. Projecting Strength
2. turn public against the media                              B. Demonizing Enemies
3. repeatedly LIE to the public                                C. Dismantling Institutions
4. blame economic stresses on immigrants
5. treat all opposition as enemies
6. appoint family. private security. appoint generals.
7. keep personal finances secret

In fact, I think both Reich and Oliver chose from what is presently ongoing in many parts of the world. I like Reich's list a bit better, but in any case, all the ten characteristics can be pointed out in many places where either
tyranny, authoritarianism or neofascism is present or arising.

As Reich sald: "Consider yourself warned."

[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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