December 16, 2018

Crisis: Paris Agreement, Facebook & Privacy, On Corporations, Self-Censorship, On Atheism


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 16, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, December 16, 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 16, 2018:
1. Climate Negotiators Reach an Overtime Deal to Keep Paris Pact Alive
2. Facebook Exposed Users’ Private Photos

3. How to Hold Corporations Accountable
4. Writers Silenced by Surveillance: Self-Censorship in the Age of Big Data
5. Here are the top 10 reasons I don't believe in God
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. Climate Negotiators Reach an Overtime Deal to Keep Paris Pact Alive

This article is by Brad Plumer on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
Diplomats from nearly 200 countries reached a deal on Saturday to keep the Paris climate agreement alive by adopting a detailed set of rules to implement the pact.

The deal, struck after an all-night bargaining session, will ultimately require every country in the world to follow a uniform set of standards for measuring their planet-warming emissions and tracking their climate policies. And it calls on countries to step up their plans to cut emissions ahead of another round of talks in 2020.

It also calls on richer countries to be clearer about the aid they intend to offer to help poorer nations install more clean energy or build resilience against natural disasters. And it builds a process in which countries that are struggling to meet their emissions goals can get help in getting back on track.

The United States agreed to the deal despite President Trump’s vow to abandon the Paris Agreement.
Well... what should I say? ¨will ultimately require¨, ¨calls on¨, ¨calls on¨, ¨builds a process¨ - and that is 60 years (minus two weeks) after (for example) Aldous Huxley´s ¨The Human Situation¨ (that is still available today) and that did outline the situation of the environment and its dangers for human survival quite well - but it wasn´t answered by anything like a decent set of measures for 60 years now.

And for me the Paris Agreement, like the Kyoto Agreement, is basically bullshit by lying or fraudulent or corrupt politicians - and mind you: ¨calling on¨ and ¨ultimately requires¨ are no agreements to anything, except to postpone extremely necessary measures into more talk into the further future.

Also, since I have been following ¨the environment¨ since 1972 (with the publication of ¨The Limits to Growth¨) I have given up on politics-for-the-environment, since such politics in fact seems to come down to politics-for-further-careers-of-politicians.

Anyway... here is some more from the article:
Observers said United States negotiators worked constructively behind the scenes with China on transparency rules. The two countries had long been at odds because China had insisted on different reporting rules for developing countries, while the United States favored consistent emissions-accounting rules and wanted all countries to be subject to the same outside scrutiny.
Well... if you can derive any pleasure from this fact (?), you are welcome to it. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Many of the attendees at this year’s United Nations climate talks — known as COP24, shorthand for their formal name — expressed disappointment at what they saw as half measures to deal with a mounting climate crisis. Greenhouse gas emissions are still rising around the world, and millions of people are facing increased risks from severe droughts, floods and wildfires.

But supporters of the deal reached Saturday said that they hoped the new rules would help build a virtuous cycle of trust and cooperation among countries, at a time when global politics seems increasingly fractured.

I only remark upon ¨[m]any of the attendees (..) expressed disappointment at what they saw as half measures to deal with a mounting climate crisis¨: I agree - except that these were not ¨half measures¨ but mostly only agreements to talk further later on. And this is a recommended article.

2. Facebook Exposed Users’ Private Photos

This article is by Naomi LaChance on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Millions of Facebook users’ private photos may have been exposed due to a bug, the social network announced Friday. For 12 days in September, as many as 6.8 million people’s private photos were accessible to third-party apps.

A bug in Facebook’s photo software authorized as many as 1,500 apps to access photos that users had not shared on their timelines, such as photos posted to Facebook Stories and photos that users uploaded to Facebook and then decided not to post. The social network said it would contact people affected by the bug.

What joyful chances to extend their knowledge of private pornography!! And do you really believe this was ¨a bug¨? You may, but I believe each and every statement from Facebook about Facebook is a mixture of lies and propaganda, and since I have been - more or less - following the news about Facebook for at least seven years now - the first article is On the sham called "Facebook" and I still like it - without ever using it and also without visiting it (other than once) I think I am right, since I have never been able to see any truth in Facebook about Facebook.

Here is more on the latest ¨bug¨:

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine reported that Facebook learned about the bug Sept. 25. The apps had access from Sept. 13 to Sept. 25. Constine wrote:

That it keeps photos you partially uploaded but never posted in the first place is creepy, but the fact that these could be exposed to third-party developers is truly unacceptable. And it seems Facebook is so tired of its failings that it couldn’t put forward even a seemingly heartfelt apology is telling.

Engineers at Facebook discovered another security breach on Sept. 25 as well. As many as 50 million accounts, Facebook announced days later, were completely exposed to attackers.

I am sorry, but I neither believe this was a ¨bug¨ nor that there was a ¨security breach¨ until I have seen the full code - which no one outside Facebook is allowed to see. (My own guess is that these may well be extras thrown in to satisfy the advertisers, but then I have as little evidence for that as for the asserted ¨fact¨ that these were ¨bugs¨ or ¨security breaches¨).

Here is the final bit that I quote from this article:

People are losing trust. At BuzzFeed, Charlie Warzel wrote:

That’s two massive vulnerabilities in a matter of months—in the same year as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which also involved millions of Facebook users. Taken together, screw-ups are mind-boggling in scope, affecting tens of millions of people. They aren’t mere email address or password leaks—though emails were certainly leaked—these are breaches of highly personal information—location histories, search histories, photos. In some cases, the information was improperly shared with political consultants potentially to manipulate voter sentiment.

In April, Facebook said that the data firm Cambridge Analytica accessed the personal information of about 87 million Facebook users. In May, Facebook drew skepticism from privacy advocates when it announced an anti-revenge porn program that required users to submit the nude photos that they did not want disseminated. And in June, Facebook revealed a software bug in which 14 million users may have posted information publicly that they had intended only for smaller groups.

Quite so. Well... if you believe anything Facebook says about Facebook you are one of the apparently billions of ¨dumb fucks¨ who trusted Zuckerberg (and ¨dumb fucks¨ are his words, that may be the only honest words he ever said about Facebook). And this is a recommended article.

3. How to Hold Corporations Accountable

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:

Charles E. Wilson, the CEO of General Motors in the middle part of the last century, reputedly once said that “what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

The idea was that large corporations had a duty not just to their shareholders, but also to their employees, customers, and community. What was good for all of these stakeholders was inseparable from what was good for large corporations like GM.

But in the 1980’s, this shifted. The only goal of large corporations goal became maximizing profits and returns for shareholders.

Corporate profits are now a higher share of the economy than they were for most of the past century, and workers’ share of the total economy is the lowest. 

Corporations are now amassing huge control over our economy and fueling widening economic inequality.

Yes indeed - I completely agree with Reich. But then he is for capitalism, because he wrote a book called ¨Saving Capitalism¨, which I admit I haven´t read. Well... I am not for capitalism,
and I am for socialism, though I am willing to agree that it is possible that humanity may get destroyed by nuclear arms or by the environment before this ever can be tried, and here is one series of arguments for it:

Capitalism started - roughly - around the 1830ies, and it did immediately lessen both the pay of the workers and their certainty of survival or food. This situation in fact continued for the most part for something like 80 years - in which a few capitalists got extremely rich, at the costs of the many laborers they exploited as much as they could, and indeed this was continued after the first World War until the crisis of 1929. (Workers´ wages were extremely small all the time.)

This was fended off to some extent by Roosevelt´s policies, but got terminated only by the second World War (that gave everyobe a job) and then by a widely agreed upon regulation of the economy in 1946, that seems to have been mostly the work of Keynes, and that did give more money and more freedom to the workers, and quickly created a middle class, and that did so by taking considerable powers from the capitalists and also more of their profits than before.

This in turn was terminated by the rises of Thatcher and Reagan in 1979/1980, when the restructuring of capitalism for and by the capitalist started (and see Lewis Powell Jr.) - which now proceeded for forty years, and that seems to have destroyed much of the middle class in the USA by now.

In sum, while capitalism exists now for nearly two centuries, it has been economically somewhat fair to the majority - that is: to the capitalists (say: 1%); to their dedicated servants (say: 9%); and to the rest (90%) - only between 1946 and 1980, and that was by legal measures, that have since 1980 been mostly turned back.

I think that is not a success at all - and I am here not talking about the massive destructions of nature and the environment that go with unlimited profit making by private individuals and corporations.

And so I am for socialism - see here, if you want more of my ideas:
Crisis: On Socialism - and indeed I want to introduce this in the same way as capitalism works: By changing the laws.

Theh again, I agree this may not be possible - but then I also think that the present day capitalism will probably be the death of most or all as well.

Back to the article:

Elizabeth Warren’s proposal, the Accountable Capitalism Act, is a good start at remaking the economic system so it works for all of us.

It recognizes that large corporations, with revenues of $1 billion or more, are so big and powerful they should be held to a higher standard of conduct – chartered by the federal government to serve all their stakeholders, not just their shareholders.

Under Warren’s proposal, workers would elect at least 40 percent of big corporations’ boards of directors. These corporations wouldn’t be able to make political contributions without the approval of 75 percent of their directors and shareholders. And their legal right to exist could be revoked if they engaged in repeated and egregious lawbreaking.

Well... I think I more or less like it without believing it will ever be realized. There are many reasons for my skepticism, but here is one:

Effective action to hold corporations accountable needs to be federal because the states, left to their own devices, have to compete with one another for businesses to locate in their states.  This has led to a race to the bottom for corporate cash.  Two-thirds of big corporations in America are now officially headquartered in Delaware, because Delaware’s corporate laws are weakest.

That is to say: I think that it is very unlikely anyone can tame capitalism without it being forbidden (legally) that the rich earn more than 20 times of what the poor earn. And in case you want to read more about socialism, here is Albert Einstein´s ¨Why socialism?¨ (for he was a socialist as well).

4. Writers Silenced by Surveillance: Self-Censorship in the Age of Big Data

This article is by Nik Williams on openDemocracy. It starts as follows:

We know what censorship looks like: writers being murdered, attacked or imprisoned; TV and radio stations being shut down; the only newspapers parrot the state; journalists lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth to secure a license or permit; government agencies approving which novels, plays and poetry collections can be published; books being banned or burned or the extreme regulation of access to printing materials or presses. All of these damage free expression, but they leave a fingerprint, something visible that can be measured, but what about self-censorship? This leaves no such mark.

When writers self-censor, there is no record, they just stop writing or avoid certain topics and these decisions are lost to time. Without being able to record and document isolated cases the way we can with explicit government censorship, the only thing we can do is identify potential drivers to self-censorship.

Yes indeed. Here is why self-censorship is important (and it also was important, but is more important now):

In 2013, NSA whistle blower, Edward Snowden revealed the extent of government surveillance that enables intelligence agencies to capture the data of internet users around the world. Some of the powers revealed enable agencies to access emails in transit, files held on devices, details that document our relationships and location in real-time and data that could reveal our political opinions, beliefs and routines. Following these revelations, the UK government pushed through the Investigatory Powers Act, an audacious act that modernised, consolidated and expanded digital surveillance powers. This expansion was opposed by civil rights organisations, (including Scottish PEN where I work), technologists, a number of media bodies and major tech companies, but on 29th November 2016, it received royal assent.

Yes indeed - and since I know quite a lot about programming and computers, my own inferences are that (i) absolutely everything that is on any computer (of any kind) that is on the internet can be stolen by almost any of the many secret services there are; (ii) the secret services steal every ones e-mails and ¨know¨ everything everyone publishes on the internet (in the sense of: they probably downloaded it, but it may have been read only by AI); and (iii) the secret services also keep whatever they steal (regardless of promises - and memory is very cheap these days).

In brief, the only way one´s thoughts, values, life, plans, e-mails, interests and friends may not be known by the secret services (nor by Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft and others, all of which can do the same as the secret services) is to have at least two computers: One for personal use and one for the internet - where it also is important that the computer for personal use never gets switched to the internet.

Here is more from the article:

As big data and digital surveillance is interwoven into the fabric of modern society there is growing evidence that the perception of surveillance affects how different communities engage with the internet. Following the Snowden revelations, John Penney at the Oxford Internet Institute analysed traffic to Wikipedia pages on topics designated by the Department of Homeland Security as sensitive and identified “a 20 percent decline in page views on Wikipedia articles related to terrorism, including those that mentioned ‘al Qaeda,’ ‘car bomb’ or ‘Taliban.'”

I think that not only is ¨digital surveillance (..) interwoven into the fabric of modern society¨: I think it has been interwoven from the very start into the design of personal computers, namely from the late 1960ies onwards.

See here if you want to know more: Crisis: Propaganda and Control: Brezezinski 1968

In fact, I would be very little amazed if personal computers were developed as quick as they were precisely because they made it possible for the secret services to spy on absolutely everything anyone did or thought or valued or wrote, although I am willing to agree that there were more reasons.

Here is more from this article:

But it doesn’t end with sourcing information. In a study of Facebook, Elizabeth Stoycheff discovered that when faced with holders of majority opinions and the knowledge of government surveillance, holders of minority viewpoints are more likely to “self-censor their dissenting opinions online”. If holders of minority opinions step away from online platforms like Facebook, these platforms will only reflect the majority opinion, homogenising discourse and giving a false idea of consensus. Read together, these studies document a slow erosion of the eco-system within which free expression flourishes.

Yes. And there also is an underlying reason: I am rather certain that at most 1 in 20 persons have something like individual courage, and I base my conviction on the fact that in Holland in the second World War (as in other countries occupied by the Nazis) at most 1 in 20 persons were in the resistance against Nazism (during the war, that is: after the war 95% of all Dutchmen insisted that they were somehow connected to the resistance).

I am quite certain of this (in so far as one can be certain of things), because my father, my mother, and my father´s father all went into the real resistance (which was mainly by the communists in Holland), and both my father and his father were arrested in August of 1941
and convicted to concentration camp imprisonment, that murdered my grandfather

Also, because the Dutch were on average as courageous as they were, more than 100.000 Dutch Jews were arrested and gassed.

And after the war I found very similar things in the ¨University¨ of Amsterdam, that was from 1971 till 1995 effectively led by a combination of some degenerates from the Dutch ¨social democrats¨ and members of the Dutch communist party, which also destroyed most of the science and most of the standards taught at that ¨University¨ - but hardly anyone cared, because the students were much more interested in getting their degrees than in learning science, and because all of the academics - except 2 that I know of - were corrupted by the money they got.

So no, I am not amazed that self-censorship has considerably increased. Here is more - and note that Nazism has not been introduced in the USA, so far:

In their report, Chilling Effects: NSA Surveillance Drives US Writers to Self-Censor, PEN America found that “one in six writers avoided writing or speaking on a topic they thought would subject them to surveillance”. But is this bigger than the US? Scottish PEN, alongside researchers at the University of Strathclyde authored the report, Scottish Chilling: Impact of Government and Corporate Surveillance on Writers to explore the impact of surveillance on Scotland-based writers, asking the question: Is the perception of surveillance a driver to self-censorship? After surveying 118 writers, including novelists, poets, essayists, journalists, translators, editors and publishers, and interviewing a number of participants we uncovered a disturbing trend of writers avoiding certain topics in their work or research, modifying their work or refusing to use certain online tools. 22% of responders have avoided writing or speaking on a particular topic due to the perception of surveillance and 28% have curtailed or avoided activities on social media. Further to this, 82% said that if they knew that the UK government had collected data about their Internet activity they would feel as though their personal privacy had been violated, something made more likely by the passage of the investigatory Powers Act.

But the above seems to show that in spite of the fact that the USA and Great Britain are not nazistic, from 15% till 28% ¨avoided writing or speaking on a particular topic due to the perception of surveillance¨.

Indeed, perhaps so would I - except for the fact that I have no children and almost no family, because yes: Knowing that everyone gets spied upon in everything he or she does or thinks or writes or values by governmental spies might have stopped me as well because of my children.

Here is the ending of this fine article:

Surveillance is going nowhere – it is embedded into the fabric of the internet. If we ignore the impact it has on writers, we threaten the very foundations of democracy; a vibrant and cacophonous exchange of ideas and beliefs, alongside what it means to be a writer. In the words of one participant: “You can’t exist as a writer if you’re self-censoring.”

Yes, and as I explained above, I think ¨the fabric of the internet¨ has been expressly designed by DARPA so as to enable the government´s spies to spy on everyone. And I agree with the conclusion, and expect myself that at most 1 in 20 will write what they think, and soon most
of these will be arrested, if not now than in the close future with the internet we have, thanks to DARPA and Brzezinski.

5. Here are the top 10 reasons I don't believe in God

This article is by Greta Christina on AlterNet. It starts as follows:

"But just because religion has done some harm -- that doesn't mean it's mistaken! Sure, people have done terrible things in God's name. That doesn't mean God doesn't exist!"

Yup. If you're arguing that -- you're absolutely right. And the question of whether religion is true or not is important. It's not the main point of this book: if you want more thorough arguments for why God doesn't exist, by me or other writers, check out the Resource Guide at the end of this book. But "Does God exist?" is a valid and relevant question. Here are my Top Ten reasons why the answer is a resounding, "No."

I do not know much about Greta Christina but this article - in fact: part of a book - is a decent argument for atheism. It is also quite long and gives 10 reasons. I will quote all 10 reasons, but suppress all of the associated texts - which are rather extensive - for eight of them.

Here is the first - and while I am an atheist all my life, I suppose because both of my parents were atheists, at least to start with, I also suppose that I pay less attention to atheism and also
to religion because I did not have to free myself from any religion:

1: The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.

When you look at the history of what we know about the world, you see a noticeable pattern. Natural explanations of things have been replacing supernatural explanations of them. Like a steamroller. Why the Sun rises and sets. Where thunder and lightning come from. Why people get sick. Why people look like their parents. How the complexity of life came into being. I could go on and on.

All these things were once explained by religion. But as we understood the world better, and learned to observe it more carefully, the explanations based on religion were replaced by ones based on physical cause and effect. Consistently. Thoroughly. Like a steamroller. The number of times that a supernatural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a natural explanation? Thousands upon thousands upon thousands.

Yes, I agree and ¨natural explanations¨, if indeed they are genuine explanations, are mostly scientific explanations.

Here is one more bit:

If I see any solid evidence to support God, or any supernatural explanation of any phenomenon, I'll reconsider my disbelief. Until then, I'll assume that the mind-bogglingly consistent pattern of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones is almost certain to continue.

Oh -- for the sake of brevity, I'm generally going to say "God" in this chapter when I mean "God, or the soul, or metaphysical energy, or any sort of supernatural being or substance." I don't feel like getting into discussions about, "Well, I don't believe in an old man in the clouds with a white beard, but I believe..." It's not just the man in the white beard that I don't believe in. I don't believe in any sort of religion, any sort of soul or spirit or metaphysical guiding force, anything that isn't the physical world and its vast and astonishing manifestations.

Yes, I agree. Here are the next eight reasons that Christina gives - and if you are interested, they all come with a considerable amount of text, which I skip in this review:

2: The inconsistency of world religions.
3: The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.
4: The increasing diminishment of God.
5: The fact that religion runs in families.
6: The physical causes of everything we think of as the soul.
7: The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand
    up to rigorous testing.

8: The slipperiness of religious and spiritual beliefs.
9: The failure of religion to improve or clarify over time.
10: The complete lack of solid evidence for God's existence.

The last bit is from the text under 10:

This is probably the best argument I have against God's existence: There's no evidence for it. No good evidence, anyway. No evidence that doesn't just amount to opinion and tradition and confirmation bias and all the other stuff I've been talking about. No evidence that doesn't fall apart upon close examination.

And in a perfect world, that should have been the only argument I needed. In a perfect world, I shouldn't have had to spend a month and a half collating and summarizing the reasons I don't believe in God, any more than I would have for Zeus or Quetzalcoatl or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. As thousands of atheists before me have pointed out: It is not up to us to prove that God does not exist. It is up to theists to prove that he does.

Yes, I agree, 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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