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Nederlog


  March
3, 2014
Crisis: Labour, satellites, collecting NSA-style, suffering, personal
   "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone.
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton
















Prev- crisis -Next
Sections
Introduction

1. Labour to overhaul spy agency controls in response to
     Snowden files

2. Let's point a satellite at GCHQ and the NSA, and see how
     they feel

3.
NSA robots are 'collecting' your data, too, and they're
     getting away with it

4. Suffering? Well, You Deserve It
5. Personal
About ME/CFS

Introduction:

This is the crisis file of March 3. It's a bit long because I got caught in typing fast, in order to explain things, but it is an ordinary crisis file.

1. Labour to overhaul spy agency controls in response to Snowden files

The first article is by Patrick Wintour in the Guardian:
Actually, I do not think this is very important, but here it is. It starts as follows:

Labour will on Monday propose substantial changes to the oversight of the British intelligence agencies, including the legal framework under which they operate, in response to the revelations emerging from files leaked by Edward Snowden.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, is preparing to argue that the current arrangements are unsustainable for the government, and that it is damaging to trust in the agencies if ministers continue to hide their heads in the sand.

In a speech that represents Labour's most serious intervention since the controversy about the scale of state surveillance broke last summer, she will say: "The oversight and legal frameworks are now out of date. In particular that means we need major reforms to oversight and a thorough review of the legal framework to keep up with changing technology."

There is considerably more in the article. Instead of quoting any of that, I will briefly explain why I do not think this is very important.

This has in part to do with the length of time it took for Labour to articulate any clear point of view; in part with the fact that they are co-responsible for the GCHQ; in part with my very great dislike for anything that has to do with Labour, since Labour was completely falsified and mostly destroyed by the liar Tony Blair; and in part because this seems to me politics-as-usual, that is as reliable as are politicians, and is only meant to win votes.

I think the first two of my reasons are simply facts, and the third, although it has much to do with my great dislike of Blair, can be supported quite well by reading - if you can: very much of it is pure bullshit, and all of it meant to deceive - the new "thinking" that Blair stands for. For this check out these Wikipedia articles:
As William K. Black noted, and is quoted at the end of the Third Way article:
"Third Way is this group that pretends sometimes to be center-left but is actually completely a creation of Wall Street--it's run by Wall Street for Wall Street with this false flag operation as if it were a center-left group. It's nothing of the sort."
Indeed: that seems a lot more just (and holds for the Clintons as it does for Blair).

2.   Let's point a satellite at GCHQ and the NSA, and see how they feel

The next article is by Marina Hyde and is in the Guardian:
I think Ms Hyde is one of the columnists of the Guardian whose topics never interested me, and in fact she starts as follows:
Psssst! Wanna come in on a private satellite with me? They're available, and they cost about $2m a year to run, so it would need an awful lot of us to club together via Kickstarter or some such. George Clooney's got one. He trains it between Sudan and South Sudan, keeping a particular eye on the Hague-wanted president Omar al-Bashir, and uses the footage to draw attention to human rights violations. But in the wake of news that the Optic Nerve programme targeted and retained the webcam images of 1.8m UK internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, I'd like you to consider pointing ours somewhere pointed, such as the NSA or GCHQ. Just their car parks would do.
What can one say to a proposal like that? It is clearly sound and solid common sense ("George Clooney's got one") and also a very sensible plan (addressing the "car parks" of the NSA or GCHQ), once you have the money.

Anyway - I suppose Ms Hyde's level is sufficiently indicated by her first paragraph. Why is she here? Because she was, after 9 months, woken up by possibilities she herself describes ("in her own prose", I think I must interject, which I learned at school) as follows:
But it's one thing for a bunch of people to go public about the personal details whipped off their voicemails, and quite another to reveal that footage of oneself masturbating into chopped liver or apple pie or whatever may have found its way into Allied hands.
I do not myself know anything about Ms Hyde's masturbatory techniques, but the translation is somewhat as follows: The GCHQ has hundreds of thousands of nude pictures that they can very well use to blackmail those pictured, at any time in the future, for any future government. And that indeed is true, to the best of my knowledge.

It so happens that I read all of her article, which is mostly filled with - what I suppose she supposes are truly tantalizing - bits about George Clooney and Sandra Bullock ("
Sandy's always seemed a good egg", Ms Hyde informs you and me, for example), for which reason I also can quote the last paragraph:
As I say, I'm still feeling around on this one. The first things to do are to raise the cash and find the lawyers. But do just re-read the Optic Nerve passage that frets about the sensitivity of spies exposed to explicit material, as opposed to that of the innocents being unwittingly monitored in this way, and say you'll at least have a think about it.
Anyway... she has a point, namely that GCHQ was much more concerned about alerting all of their spies to look at the latest nude bits, which they do by pretending explicitly that those who do not want to see this do not have to, and did not have a single thought about the feelings of those they illicitly photographed in naughty positions, without their knowledge or permission.

And the reason Ms Hyde's enticing prose has been reviewed here is that the latest of Snowden's revelations - rightly - seem to have shocked quite a few.

3.
  NSA robots are 'collecting' your data, too, and they're getting away with it 

The next article is by Bruce Scheier, who is described as "a security technologist", in the Guardian:

He starts as follows:

Increasingly, we are watched not by people but by algorithms. Amazon and Netflix track the books we buy and the movies we stream, and suggest other books and movies based on our habits. Google and Facebook watch what we do and what we say, and show us advertisements based on our behavior. Google even modifies our web search results based on our previous behavior. Smartphone navigation apps watch us as we drive, and update suggested route information based on traffic congestion. And the National Security Agency, of course, monitors our phone calls, emails and locations, then uses that information to try to identify terrorists.

Actually, and while Mr Scheier is no Ms Hyde, I disagree with two points. Firstly, algorithms do not "watch": at best they scan. But OK - I know it is difficult to write clearly about programs. Secondly, and more importantly, I think the jump in the last sentence is quite misleading.

Here is that sentence again:

And the National Security Agency, of course, monitors our phone calls, emails and locations, then uses that information to try to identify terrorists.

I do agree that the NSA monitors "our phone calls, emails and locations" but I have neither seen any real evidence nor do I really think that it "then uses that information to try to identify terrorists": that is merely the pretext, and as William Binney has explained quite a few times now, if you want to identify terrorists there are much better (and cheaper) ways to find them than by scanning all information anyone puts on the internet: By far the most people are not terrorists, and are not in any sense.

But OK, again, although I do believe what Mr Schreier writes is too trustful of the NSA. Then again, he is on to something, namely the extremely false and tricky ways that the NSA uses to describe the very few things it does allow it does, such as that it "collects data":

If the NSA collects - I’m using the everyday definition of the word here – all of the contents of everyone’s e-mail, it doesn’t count it as being collected in NSA terms until someone reads it. And if it collects – I’m sorry, but that’s really the correct word - everyone’s phone records or location information and stores it in an enormous database, that doesn’t count as being collected – NSA definition – until someone looks at it. If the agency uses computers to search those emails for keywords, or correlates that location information for relationships between people, it doesn’t count as collection, either. Only when those computers spit out a particular person has the data – in NSA terms – actually been collected.

If you believe that the NSA means this, you need urgently to see a psychologist: Obviously they collect data, and obviously it does not matter one bit whether they can and do share all the millions of naughty bits they caught from web cameras with all their staff.

Indeed, if you take this serious, you may as well believe Keith Alexander's possible claim that nothing the NSA collects is collected until he and John Brennan and the president have seen it, on the same day also, and only when the wind is westerly.

In fact, Mr Schreier is worried about the same thing that made Ms Hyde worry:

But now that we have an example of a spy agency seeing people naked – there are a surprising number of sexually explicit images in the newly revealed Yahoo image collection – we can more viscerally understand the difference.

I think he and she are right to worry, although I am myself much more worried by the whole idea that a couple of thousand completely anonymous spooks and spies of various governments, or indeed of private agencies paid by these governments, are collecting all of the data of anyone, clearly to be used for their own purposes, and under any future government, and all without telling anyone anything about it, or hardly anymore than the false and tricky ways they themselves use to redefine all they do, as illustrated above.

4.  Suffering? Well, You Deserve It

Finally for today, an article by Chris Hedges on Truth Dig:
In fact, this is three pages that are mosty quotes, that were gathered by Chris Hedges from Avner Offer, who is professor emeritus of the Chichele Professorship in Economic History at the University of Oxford. The article starts as follows:
The morning after my Feb. 20 debate at the Oxford Union, I walked from my hotel along Oxford’s narrow cobblestone streets, past its storied colleges with resplendent lawns and Gothic stone spires, to meet Avner Offer, an economic historian and Chichele Professor Emeritus of Economic History.

Offer, the author of “The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain Since 1950,” for 25 years has explored the cavernous gap between our economic and social reality and our ruling economic ideology. Neoclassical economics, he says, is a “just-world theory,” one that posits that not only do good people get what they deserve but those who suffer deserve to suffer. He says this model is “a warrant for inflicting pain.” If we continue down a path of mounting scarcities, along with economic stagnation or decline, this neoclassical model is ominous. It could be used to justify repression in an effort to sustain a vision that does not correspond to the real world.

My main problem with the article is that it seems to me that Offer has been caught up a bit too much in his own branch of economic theorizing, and he also doesn't seem to see that most economics is not science but ideology. And he doesn't define his terms.

For example, I have been wondering about what is "neoclassical economics". The last link is to the Wikipedia article about it, which also did not really answer my question, but which does state three assumptions that are taken to be fundamental for it:
It was expressed by E. Roy Weintraub that neoclassical economics rests on three assumptions, although certain branches of neoclassical theory may have different approaches:
  1. People have rational preferences between outcomes that can be identified and associated with values.
  2. Individuals maximize utility and firms maximize profits.
  3. People act independently on the basis of full and relevant information.
To which I say: if that is what defines it, it is based on three ideological falsehoods:

First, to say that people have "rational preferences" is neither exact nor precise, whereas the model of rationality that is used is very far from how actual people reason [2], and totally forgets that most men do not have "rational ideas" about most things. Second, to say that people "maximize utility" is to treat people as if they are firms, which they definitely are not - and in fact what is "the maximal utility" of something is nearly always an unsettled problem (when one pricks through invalid assumptions). Third, people very rarely have full and relevant information about anything.

So judged by these three assumptions "neoclassical economy" is mostly ideology rather than science.

Hence, what I will do is select a number quotations and indicate what I think about them. Here goes:
Offer cited a concept from social psychology called the just-world theory. “A just-world theory posits that the world is just. People get what they deserve. If you believe that the world is fair you explain or rationalize away injustice, usually by blaming the victim.
He may be right - but anyone who believes in such a just-world theory (which does not apply to all Offer says it applies to) is pretty blind or crazy: There never was a just human society, nowhere, and one basic reason is that there are very many different men with quite different ideas what about what is just and/or how best obtain it.
Offer quoted the economist Milton Friedman: “The ethical principle that would directly justify the distribution of income in a free market society is, ‘To each according to what he and the instruments he owns produces.’ ”
That is: more to the rich, less to the poor. Also, Friedman abuses the concept of "a free market society" that never existed in the way he uses it.
Economics tells us that everything anyone says should be motivated by strategic self-interest. And when economists use the word ‘strategic’ they mean cheating.”
I have read plenty of economists, but it is only lately that these have - quite  falsely - claimed that "everything should be motivated by strategic self-interest".
It is not, and as people are, it cannot be, first because many of the actual choices people make are motivated by many more things, and second because it very often is totally unclear what would be one's "
strategic self-interest".
“The standard in modern society is that government allocates between 40 to 50 percent of output,” he said. “This anomaly is not explained by economic theory. If people are making democratic choices in their self-interest, why have these large government structures been built up?”
Here Offer has a very sound point, that also is a valid criticism of much of academic economics (that is: the stories academically employed economists write, to convince others they are rightfully employed) viz. that there are enormous structures that are not profit-oriented and that regulate much of the economy, and do so by taxing and by imposing and maintaining legal rules.

Then again, the notion that "
people are making democratic choices in their self-interest" is a wildly ideological notion, that only seems to rationalize or justify the actual choices people make during elections, that are not at all dictated by rational choices or full information or by "utilities".
“Economics, political science and even philosophy, ever since rational choice swept through the American social sciences, have embraced the idea that an individual has no responsibility towards anyone except himself or herself,” he said. “A responsibility to anyone else is optional. The public discourse, for this reason, has become a hall of mirrors. Nothing anymore is what it seems to be.”
This again is a sound point - that also shows how very much in the Western society I live in is determined foremost by ideology rather than real science:
it means that the people who say so or think so have totally abandoned the concept of responsibility, for this is about what one owes to other people, rather than oneself.

And in fact everyone owes almost everything he knows or owes to very many of his contemporaries, and to all of the people who have died, for they each and all contributed to the making or the understanding of the one world we all live in - perhaps often not as we would have liked them to do, but they all made some contribution, and indeed most of these contributions were not at all based on any of the thinking of  "neoclassical" economists or indeed on any economists' prose  (but instead on political or religious ideals of very many kinds).

But yes: I agree that this complete lack of responsibility and this complete lack of accountability have become quite popular and are completely false and completely ideological.

“One of the unresolved issues in social science is how does the system hold together,” he said. “We have the economic model of the invisible hand, the miracle of the market, but we know it is not true, since government allocates up to 50 percent of output and income. We don’t actually rely on the ‘free’ market for our prosperity. Even the market sector is mostly dominated by entities with large market power.”

Yes and no, but mostly yes: We do not live in any situation which is in the least like "a free market", because everything we do is regulated by all sorts of rules, laws and conventions, of many kinds, that very much limit any "market" of being anything like very "free" (for else many more people would try to get rich by using violence on the wealthy, much rather than deception of large classes of the population by propaganda).

Also, no economic model I know - and I know of plenty - is realistic in any real sense, and it is also true that "markets" tend to be dominated by a few of the large corporations, who can more or less do as they please, provided they remain profitable, and who also may destroy many good ideas because they are not profitable for them.

“The free market norm assumes a frictionless exchange which maximizes everyone’s well-being,” he said. “The existence of ... coercive instruments, such as the prisons and the enormous military, makes you think that the theory is not all it is purported to be. There is a gap between what it pretends to be and what it is.”
Offer is right in complaining about the lack of economical explanations for almost anything that is real but is not covered by their convenient but false assumptions, such as the existence of the state, its prisons, and the military: Neither of these is well explained by any economic theory that I am aware of, although indeed most implicitly deny these facts exist "in a free market situation in which we live and prosper".

Indeed, one possible suggestion is that this economical anomaly - of theorizing as if there is no state, no prisons, no military, no religion, no politics, no responsibility, no accountability whatsoever, and we all are individual players who only answer to our own needs and desires, living happily in a free market - at least in part is due to the rather crazy ways in which the sciences are cut up in universities: these things that economists disregard, are - they might say - disregarded because they belong to sociology, or to politics, or even to philosophy.
Offer said that universities, which should be incubators of new and radical ideas, are being stripped of their ability to independently critique the widening gap between reality and the false models of reality that are disseminated by the elites. 
In Holland, at least, this has happened, in the last 45 years, and has been done, very proudly also, in the name of democracy: Anything anyone with an IQ of 115 (maximally: it probably is now closer to 105) cannot understand or finds difficult to read (such as foreign languages, or formulas) has been carefully stripped away, which made many more students fit for "a university degree", because all had to learn less and less, but then also they only needed to study half the time the earlier students had to study, and so it happened.

Also very few cared, and hardly anyone protested. If you want to know more about it, my published columns - twentyfive years old now - will inform you, but you need to take care not to repeat them in any Dutch university: You will be thrown out off them, as I was.

Finally, Offer says:

“The idea of the autonomous scholar is disappearing,” he said. “I am not sure many people even remember it.”
Yes, in Holland I am about the only one, and the reason is as sketched above:

The universities have turned into mere schools or colleges for the slightly more able; the education they give is all on the level that IQs of maximally 115 find easy to read; those who did have to learn 3 or 5 foreign languages and mathematics, and physics, and chemistry, and history, and geography, and at least four more examined subjects, are nearly all dead, and were born in 1950 at the latest; and stupidity and egoism proudly rule everywhere, in the name of the average man, and with his democratic sanction.

 
5. Personal

Again I have to say I did not do much on the ME-section, and indeed also ran again into difficulties with the awful editor I have to use, that transforms an index of 29 Kb in text to one of over 750 Kb of html. I will try to sort this out, but this may take some time.
---------------------------------
Notes
[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, that the governors do not rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.)

[2] In fact, it also involves a redefinition of "rationality", namely along the lines of: what the profit-oriented individual would prefer to do in a market situation, especially if he or she tries to get the maximal amount of money. (But: Most individuals are not profit-oriented in many ways; most of their actual choices are only in part market-oriented; and "
the maximal amount of money" tends to be preferred - by these scientists who do these experiments - because one can calculate with it, rather than that one knows that this is what the individual wants most - e.g. rather than having fun, serving the Lord, or whatever else that is less easily calculable than are market prices expressed in pounds and pences.) O, and I know this because I have read a whole lot of books about "rationality", and indeed also studied it for philosophy and psychology.

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

2. Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT:  
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief[2]
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
9.
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)



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