December 30, 2018

Crisis: Trump's Lies, Mass Extinction, 10 Good Things, Facebook's Secret Censorship, Manipulation


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from December 30, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, December 30, 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 30, 2018:
1. Deciphering the Patterns in Trump’s Falsehoods
2. Mass Extinction 252 Million Years Ago May Be Warning for Today

3. 10 Good Things About 2018

4. Facebook's Secret Censorship Manual Exposed

5. Remember, you’re being manipulated on social media: 4 essential
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. Deciphering the Patterns in Trump’s Falsehoods

This article is by Linda Qiu on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
President Trump has a well-documented problem telling the truth.

Fact checkers have compiled lists of all of Mr. Trump’s falsehoods since he took office (The Washington Post counts over 7,500, and The Toronto Star over 3,900), rounded up his most egregious whoppers in year-end lists and scrutinized his claims in real time with television chyrons.

Here at The New York Times, we have also fact-checked countless campaign rallies, news conferences, interviews and Twitter posts. After nearly two years of assessing the accuracy of Mr. Trump’s statements, we can draw some conclusions not just about the scale of the president’s mendacity, but also about how he uses inaccurate claims to advance his agenda, criticize the news media and celebrate his achievements.
Yes, this is very probably correct. It also is probably one of the last articles of The New York Times that I will review, for the simple reasons that (i) I did not succeed in copying this properly, because (ii) the text of the article itself - some 25 Kb - is embedded in almost 350 Kb of codes (mostly Javascript) of all kinds.

Besides, The New York Times has been strongly reducing the number of articles it shows on line, all without saying anything whatsoever that I saw; I can get few of its pictures (in spite of using a new Firefox), and in any case I do not even want to read articles that consist for 95% of code.

So... it seems to me that The New York Times is preparing for the same sort of neofascism that changed The Guardian a few years ago, and I very strongly dislike it.

Here is the first part of the rest of this article (without links) and quite possibly the last article of The New York Times that I will review:
Repetition and Inflation

Mr. Trump refuses to correct most of his inaccurate claims, instead asserting them over and over again. They become, by sheer force of repetition, “alternative facts” and staples of his campaign rallies and speeches.

Examples abound. He has falsely characterized the December 2017 tax cuts as the “largest” or the “biggest” in American history over 100 times (several others were larger). He has misleadingly said over 90 times that his promised wall along the southern border is being built (construction has not begun on any new section). He has falsely accused Democrats of supporting “open borders” over 60 times (Democratic lawmakers support border security, but not his border wall). And he has lobbed over 250 inaccurate attacks on the investigation into Russian election interference.

Yet Mr. Trump does not rely on repetition alone. He also embellishes talking points to amplify his achievements.
Yes indeed - and every quotation I give is partial, that is, there is more text in the article (but it is up to you whether you want to download an article of some 25 Kb that is embedded in 12 times as much code).

Here is more:
Shifting and Deflecting

In the face of controversy or criticism, Mr. Trump has defended initial falsehoods with additional dubious claims.

This approach is evident in his shifting statements about the payment that Michael D. Cohen, his former lawyer, made to a pornographic film actress to keep her from speaking about their alleged affair. In April, Mr. Trump falsely denied knowing about the payment.

After the F.B.I. raided Mr. Cohen’s office, Mr. Trump acknowledged on Twitter in May that Mr. Cohen received reimbursement for the payment and asserted that it had nothing to do with his presidential campaign. Mr. Cohen would later tell prosecutors that he acted at Mr. Trump’s direction and to influence the election.
Yes again - and as before. Here is some more:
Misleading Vagueness and Fanciful Details

The president is known for being unscripted and loose with language, but he sometimes shows tactical restraint.

After Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court and in the days before the midterm elections, Mr. Trump told rallygoers in Missouri that “the accuser admitted she never met him, she never saw him, he never touched her, talked to her, he had nothing to do with her, she made up the story, it was false accusations.”

The omission of a name and the use of the words “the accuser” may give the misleading impression that Christine Blasey Ford, who testified to Congress that Justice Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, had recanted her account. But in fact, Mr. Trump was referring to another little-known accuser named Judy Munro-Leighton, who recanted her claim of sexual assault.
Yes again - and as before. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article.
Inventing Straw Men

The usual target of this particular strain of falsehoods is the news media, which Mr. Trump suggests purposely underestimates or misinterprets him.

Mr. Trump often lauds strong job growth under his watch and says that the “fake news” would have deemed such numbers “impossible” or “ridiculous” during the 2016 campaign. Yet he neglects to mention that the number of jobs added in the 22 months after his inauguration — 4.2 million — is lower than the 4.8 million jobs added in the 22 months before he took office, undermining the premise of his retrodiction.
As I said, I do NOT want to do download, read or review "articles" that consist of 12 times as much code as text. This is also why I disrecommend you to download it (it is almost 350 Kb), for the only reason I can see for all that code is that The New York Times also wants to find out as much as it can about its readers. More in the new year.

2. Mass Extinction 252 Million Years Ago May Be Warning for Today

This article is by Tim Radford on Truthdig and originally on the Climate News Network. It starts as follows:

Forensic geologists have revisited the scene of one of the world’s great massacres to identify the means of death. The victims of the Permian era die-off found themselves increasingly in hot water, to die of overheating or suffocation.

That is, in a rapidly warming globe, marine animals simply could not gasp fast enough to take in the increasingly limited dissolved oxygen. So they died in their billions.

It happened at the close of the Permian Era 252 million years ago: the planet’s worst single mass extinction event so far, in which up to 90% of marine species perished and 70% of land animals succumbed.

And if the scientists who have reconstructed this epic event are right, then the prime cause of mass death and destruction was a dramatic rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide which raised tropical ocean temperatures by about 10░C [18 F].

Tropical species could move away from the equatorial zones to find cooler waters and a breathing space. Species adapted to cooler waters had nowhere to go.

I review this article mostly because I think climate change is very real, and also because one of the main ways to learn about climate change and its effects is to study the past.

Here is some more:

“Under a business-as-usual emissions scenario, by 2100, warming in the upper ocean will have approached 20% of warming in the late Permian, and by the year 2300 will reach between 35% and 50%. This study highlights the potential for a mass extinction arising from a similar mechanism under anthropogenic climate change.”

Well... yes and no, and mostly no in my opinion because (i) the above paragraph is quite inexact (how much is "20%" etc. in degrees C or F?) and (ii) 80 or 180 years is too long for the rapid changes that are going on now, in my opinion.

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

It is not at all certain that conditions at the close of the Permian Period provide a parallel to the planet today. Most of the land surface then was one huge supercontinent, there were no mammals, grasses or flowering plants, and the forests – and thus the traffic between atmosphere and life – would have been very different.

“But even if it represents an extreme case, the lesson is clear,” writes Lee Kump, an earth scientist at Penn State University in the U.S., in a commentary in Science.

“Continued or accelerated fossil fuel burning presents a risk that must be reversed or mitigated so that we can avoid a fate anything like the end-Permian.”

Again I say yes and no, but mostly no: I think the Permian Period was too different to be much of a help today. But this is a recommended article.

3. 10 Good Things About 2018

This article is by Medea Benjamin on Common Dreams. It starts as follows (and is here because it is the end of the year, and because Common Dreams - one of the two best alternative media - threatens to be shut down because they lack... $29.000):

Yes, you could say I’m trying to put lipstick on a pig. 2018 was a year of whiplash, a never-ending series of assaults on our environment, immigrants, people of color, Muslims, Jews, the poor, international law. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, and here are some rousing points of light from 2018, both domestic and international.

I decided to review this because it is the end of the year, and because I agree both 2018 and 2017 were pretty horrible years (for the non-rich and the - real - left). I will copy all the 10 points and give my own brief comments, but I suppress most of the associated texts:

1. The election of the progressive new members of Congress, particularly women of color such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Deb Haaland, Ayanna Pressley and Sharice Davids.
With these new progressive allies, with Democrats now controlling the House, and with an expanded and invigorated Progressive Caucus, we have a chance to drag centrist Democrats into supporting policies that might not be popular with their big-dollar donors but are wildly popular with the public.

I say: possibly so - but I do not underestimate how easy it is to corrupt persons in Congress. What I do agree about is that the Democrats now have the majority in the House, and that will almost certainly make differences of various kinds.

2. 2018 was a year of awe-inspiring youth activism. (..)

Well... I do not live in the USA but in Holland, so this is difficult for me to check, but all in all I probably am considerably more pessimistic than Benjamin - and perhaps my readers should realize that I lived through the Sixties, which were quite different from the last decades.

3. An historical turning point was reached this year to start breaking up the 75-year U.S.-Saudi alliance. (..)

Possibly so, but at best they are breaking up and have not broken up yet (which I also consider rather unlikely as long as Trump is president).

4. Labor organizing has been on the rise, from teachers to high-tech workers. (..)

Yes, that is true and it is important, but then again labor has been moved back a very great lot in the last thirty years or so.

5. Florida’s restoration of voting rights through Amendment 4, the ballot measure lifting the state’s permanent ban on voting by anyone with a felony conviction, received overwhelming support from nearly 65 percent of voters. It restores voting rights for some 1.4 million people, potentially changing the Florida—and national—electoral landscape, since most formerly incarcerated people vote Democratic and the 2000 president election was determined in Florida by a mere 537 votes (..)

Possibly so, but I agree restoring "voting rights for some 1.4 million people" was important, for Florida, and possibly for the USA.

6. Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline (..)

Well... for the moment (and I am against the Keystone XL pipeline, but not optimistic).

7. Medicare for All has the highest level of public support ever recorded. An August poll found that a whopping 70 percent of Americans, including 85 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans, back the single-payer plan. (..)

This is something, but then again: What about democracy in the USA? Finally, there is this in the article:

8. The election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) in Mexico (..)
9. Ethiopia’s new prime minister, (..)
10. Armenia experienced a dramatic, people power uprising against corrupt, autocratic rulers
,  (..)
All I can say about these "good things" is that I like Obrador, but do not know much about Mexico while I hardly know anything about Ethiopia and Armenia.

4. Facebook's Secret Censorship Manual Exposed

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

After the New York Times on Thursday published an exposÚ of Facebook's global censorship rulebook, journalist Rania Khalek called out the social media giant for taking down a video in which she explains how, "on top of being occupied, colonized territory, Palestine is Israel's personal laboratory for testing, refining, and showcasing methods and weapons of domination and control."

Tweeting out the Times report—and noting that while, according to the newspaper, "moderators were told to hunt down and remove rumors wrongly accusing an Israeli soldier of killing a Palestinian medic," Israeli soldiers did fatally shoot an unarmed 21-year-old female paramedic earlier this year—she announced Friday morning that Facebook had "just removed" her video.

I say - but then I also think this happens many times, and is mostly due to Facebook (and others) being private companies, with private and secret rules, which I think I can assure you are not serving their readers' interests, or providing reasonable information, but are mostly out to increase their own profits and the number of their members, and are doing so using information they nearly all keep completely secret.

Here is more:

After she and other prominent reporters issued public complaints, Khalek announced a couple hours later that Facebook had restored the video. "Still this is a good reminder that at the moment these social media giants have the ability to disappear content as they please," she said in a tweet. "It's creepy and alarming and should be loudly opposed."

Yes indeed - but I do not think much can be done about Facebook as long as it is a private company which is keeping nearly all information it collects a secret.

Here is some background on Khalek's video:

Among those who highlighted Facebook's censorship of Khalek's video on Friday were Ben Norton of The Real News Network—who called it an "excellent, informative video report"—and The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald, who pointed out that the platform has been silencing Palestinian and pro-Palestinian voices for more than a year.

Here is some more:

"In Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, Sheryl Sandberg, and Eric Schmidt we trust to censor and regulate the internet with the most benevolent of motives, devoted as they've been their entire lives to safeguarding the voiceless and protecting the marginalized," Greenwald sarcastically added, referring to Facebook's CEO, Google's CEO, Facebook's COO, and the executive chairman of Alphabet, Google's parent company.

The short and successful fight to restore Khalek's video, however, is just one of countless instances of Facebook taking down content without providing an explanation to the user or the public.

I agree with Greenwald, and totally distrust Zuckerberg and Facebool, Pichai and Google, Sandberg and Facebook, and Schmidt and Alphabet, and in fact think all of them are thieves of the privacies and private information of billions of people: They should be in jail instead of piling up their billions by their almost totally secret activities.

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

The key takeaway from his report, Fisher said on Twitter, is two-fold: Facebook "is intervening into political and social matters the world over," acting "like an unseen branch of government," and "is doing this all on the cheap, shipping disorganized PowerPoint slides to outsourcing companies it can barely control. And it is making many, many mistakes along the way."

Yes, I think all of this is correct and this is a recommended article. 

5. Remember, you’re being manipulated on social media: 4 essential reads

This article is by Jeff Inglis on Salon. It was originally published in The Conversation and is a reprint. This is from near its beginning:

1. Don’t trust social media

When 2018 began, I — like many in the U.S. — was worried about the previous year’s revelations about how Facebook data had been used to influence voters in the 2016 election. I considered deleting my Facebook account, but as part of my job I need to be aware of what’s happening on the platform. So I took the advice of Dartmouth College social media scholars Denise Anthony and Luke Stark:

“Without full information about what happens to their personal data once it’s gathered, we recommend people default to not trusting companies until they’re convinced they should.”

Wowie, but not really. First of all, no one can survey Facebook as a member (with more than 2 billion members), while I also do not see what sort of difference "not trusting companies" means.

Anyway: I do not and have never trusted Facebook, and for that reason almost completely avoided them the last 11 years.

Also, I think it is high time to speak of the a-social media, if you are speaking of the thieves of the privacies of billions of persons.

Here is some more:

2. Checking my own perceptions

To further understand how manipulative and misleading online activity spread, I used the tools created by Filippo Menczer, Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia and their colleagues at the Observatory on Social Media at Indiana University. They want to “help people become aware of [biases in the brain, society and technologies] and protect themselves from outside influences designed to exploit them.”
I fear this is bullshit, and my reasons are mainly that I am a psychologist - who knows how extremely little psychology and psychologists really know. Also, while I think (good) statistics about the social media are important and informative, Inglis is in fact totally uninformative about "the tools" he says he uses.

Then there is this:

3. Bots are powerful

Those bots, I learned from MIT professor Tauhid Zaman, can be dangerous even if there aren’t very many of them. He analyzed Twitter activity, including both people and bots, and measured users’ political opinions. Then he found a way to simulate what the humans’ views would have been if the bots weren’t there.

A small number of very active bots can actually significantly shift public opinion,” he found. The key wasn’t how many Twitter bots there were, but how many posts they made.

Well... yes: bots are powerful. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

4. Engaging with real people

All the free time I gained by spending less time on social media went to good use, for socializing in-person and being by myself — which likely made me feel happier. As Georgetown psychologist Kostadin Kushlev found, “Digital socializing doesn’t add to, but in fact subtracts from, the psychological benefits of nondigital socializing.”

I certainly feel best when socializing face-to-face and, as Kushlev found in his research subjects, focusing on the people who are right in front of me is even more enjoyable than hanging out in person while also messaging others on their phones.

Wowie, again, though not really. I do not think this is an interesting 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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