21, 2014
Crisis: Morozov, Hedges, Washington's Blog, Russell (according to Rée)
  "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

The rise of data and the death of politics
2. The Actor and the Minister 
3. Exclusive: High-Level NSA Whistleblower Says Blackmail
     Is a Huge – Unreported – Part of Mass Surveillance

Bertrand Russell's lofty pacifism

About ME/CFS


This is the Nederlog of July 21. It is a crisis log.

I did not find very much today - and no, I am staying out of the Ukraine: I do not know the language(s) and I do know very much I read about it is pure propaganda (from various sources). I do hope it doesn't get worse, but as long as it is limited to the Ukraine, I will mostly avoid it in Nederlog, if only because of what I said, and because my writing about it will not make any difference.

One reason that not finding much to report on the crisis is pleasant, is that there is a sort of heat wave in Amsterdam, at least for me: The last three days it has been 27 degrees C all day inside the house, where it is - still - cooler than outside, and though this may seem not very high to some, and indeed isn't compared with the (sub-)tropics, it is too hot for me, and always was as well, since my childhood.

I am not built for heat, in brief. But I did find four items, that I will now report. And there may be an update on my M.E. tomorrow, if it is less hot.

1. The rise of data and the death of politics

The first item is an article by Evgeny Morozov on The Guardian:

It may be the heat, but I found this article, that seems written as if it is an essay, indeed rather like the New York Review of Books publishes essays, quite hard to read and impossible to extract. But I could make some sense of it.

First, there is this (after a long introduction, about computers in 1965, that I leave to you: NYRB, again):

Thanks to sensors and internet connectivity, the most banal everyday objects have acquired tremendous power to regulate behaviour. Even public toilets are ripe for sensor-based optimisation: the Safeguard Germ Alarm, a smart soap dispenser developed by Procter & Gamble and used in some public WCs in the Philippines, has sensors monitoring the doors of each stall. Once you leave the stall, the alarm starts ringing – and can only be stopped by a push of the soap-dispensing button.

In this context, Google's latest plan to push its Android operating system on to smart watches, smart cars, smart thermostats and, one suspects, smart everything, looks rather ominous. In the near future, Google will be the middleman standing between you and your fridge, you and your car, you and your rubbish bin, allowing the National Security Agency to satisfy its data addiction in bulk and via a single window.

Yes, I take it the second paragraph does correctly identify the sort of role Google intends for itself.

Incidentally, since Morozov - from another interview - does not seem to be able to code, while I can code, I will outline the techniques that are involved "in Our Digital Age":

Programs: These are basically series of if-then statements, stringed together to settle all conceived possibilities: if A, do B; if not-A, do C.
Sensors: Whatever picks up some data (the A or not-A for the programs), that
these days are very often
Connected: to the internet, that is: to some other computer, usually of a big corporation, as if such a connection, that relays all data, were a self-evident Good Thing, in the interests of all.

This is it - these are the main blocks of the internet, and the only thing that makes this rather humdrum set of notions, each of which can be somehow mistaken in myriads of ways, humanly useful is the enormous speed with which computers can run programs.

Incidentally, here are some generic limitations:

Programs are limited by the options that are conceived as possibilities: There may be many more, and many different options than are considered by the program (in general, there are very many more possibilities) and indeed the program itself may be mistaken or bugged in many ways, some of which are very difficult to find.
Sensors are limited to pick up definite data, and neglect all the rest. Also, they may misrepresent the data, e.g. by digitalizing analogue situations, or by simplifying complex choices to a series of binary alternatives.
Connection "to the internet" is connecting to the computers of a big corpora- tion, or the state, that generally and preferably does not gets its data in an encrypted form (!!), and does with the data it gets what it wants, which is basically to maximize its own profit or else to serve the state's (not: the people's) security.

After these brief explanations, another bit of Morozov, who is reflecting on what he calls "algorithmic regulation", which I translate as: programs written to regulate the masses in some respects (good or bad, wise or unwise, practicable or impracticable):

Such systems, however, are toothless against the real culprits of tax evasion – the super-rich families who profit from various offshoring schemes or simply write outrageous tax exemptions into the law. Algorithmic regulation is perfect for enforcing the austerity agenda while leaving those responsible for the fiscal crisis off the hook. To understand whether such systems are working as expected, we need to modify O'Reilly's question: for whom are they working? If it's just the tax-evading plutocrats, the global financial institutions interested in balanced national budgets and the companies developing income-tracking software, then it's hardly a democratic success.
Put otherwise: Whereas the masses may be regulated, the rich cannot properly be regulated, if only because they have the millions to ensure they are private, and are not monitored everywhere they go by sensors that relay their data to some supercomputer of the big corporations or the government. I think that is basically correct. (Zuckerberg bought a house and the houses surrounding it, to assure his
privacy. He is a billionaire, because he does not respect the privacy of others.)

Then there is this:

The intelligence services embraced solutionism before other government agencies. Thus, they reduced the topic of terrorism from a subject that had some connection to history and foreign policy to an informational problem of identifying emerging terrorist threats via constant surveillance.
Translated: The intelligence services and Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple etc. decided to start spying on their users to get data on their behavior that may help these institutions towards their ends of controlling their users politically or commercially, that is, making them vote, think, and desire as the state or the corporations want them to vote, think and desire, preferably by manipulation, but also by other means if the state is involved.

And there is this:
In shifting the focus of regulation from reining in institutional and corporate malfeasance to perpetual electronic guidance of individuals, algorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics.
Translated: Because they look only at the programs and the sensor data, these institutions have given up on politics and on thinking. I think again that is mostly correct. (This is rather like behavioristic psychology: there human beings are replaced by some of their externally visible behavior. It simplifies a lot!)

And there is this:
The nudging state is enamoured of feedback technology, for its key founding principle is that while we behave irrationally, our irrationality can be corrected – if only the environment acts upon us, nudging us towards the right option.
Translation: The presumption of both data-miners and secret services is that ordinary people are stupid, and are in need of propaganda ("public relations") and marketeering, that they will get from their programs. Also, the underlying presumption is that ordinary people have no privacy, and that all their private data can be stolen from them as a complete matter of course.

Next, there is an interesting bit about a 1967 book by MacBride that almost no one seems to have read, but which was quite clear minded:
MacBride attacked his contemporaries' inability to see how the state would exploit the metadata accrued as everything was being computerised. Instead of "a large scale, up-to-date Austro-Hungarian empire", modern computer systems would produce "a bureaucracy of almost celestial capacity" that can "discern and define relationships in a manner which no human bureaucracy could ever hope to do".
Translation: MacBride warned that computers may enable the state and the corporations to check and control those they are connected to in all ways that can be programmed and sensed by sensors, and that this may lead to a completely docile mostly enslaved population, compared to which the manipulative and repressive capacities of human bureaucracies are as nought.

Finally, there is this:

"Given the resources of modern technology and planning techniques," he warned, "it is really no great trick to transform even a country like ours into a smoothly running corporation where every detail of life is a mechanical function to be taken care of." MacBride's fear is O'Reilly's master plan: the government, he writes, ought to be modelled on the "lean startup" approach of Silicon Valley, which is "using data to constantly revise and tune its approach to the market". It's this very approach that Facebook has recently deployed to maximise user engagement on the site: if showing users more happy stories does the trick, so be it. Algorithmic regulation, whatever its immediate benefits, will give us a political regime where technology corporations and government bureaucrats call all the shots.
Translation: A situation where the state and the big corporations rule the world by ruling the consumers they are connected to is one that is very advantageous for the state and the big corporations, because it will enslave "the consumers": These will be almost fully known, and will be completely manipulated.

In brief...I could get something out of it, but it does require a lot of translation. (Also, what I got out of it should not be blamed on Morozov: He may agree, and he may not, but I do find his style of writing quite obscure.)

2. The Actor and the Minister 

The next item is an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:

This has a subtitle which I reproduce, for it indicates the contents:

Michael Milligan, in his one-actor play “Mercy Killers,” portrays a man struggling with our dysfunctional health care system as his wife is dying of cancer.

The theme appeals to me, because I have now been ill for 36 years, without getting any help but minimal dole (which still is rather a lot better than in the U.S.) and sleeping pills (which I have to pay, in spite of paying nearly 20% of my income in enforced medical insurance, that cost 5 times as much as what it cost up to ten or twelve and more years ago, that also had considerably better service, and was more polite).

Apart from these bits of "help" (and the dole still insists I am not ill, and generally does not answer my mails: effectively I seem to be a sub-human in their eyes, as were my mother and father, both of whom were very grossly disqualified by them, as was I, many times also), I can commit suicide, but then again I do not get any help or any means, and I also cannot buy a gun. (Holland Is A Paradise!)

So yes...I know the theme. Here is the summary of Milligan's play:

Michael Milligan confronted the callousness of our health care system when he cared for a friend with a serious illness. His play “Mercy Killers,” which he has performed nearly 200 times, chronicles the struggle with insurance companies, drug companies and hospitals that profit from medical distress and then discard terminally ill people when they no longer can pay.

It still is a lot worse in the U.S. than it is in Holland, but the Dutch politicians - left, right and center - are quite busy undoing the differences, while awarding themselves and their menials incredibly high incomes, for the Dutch are as corrupt as anyone (and deal illegally at least 20 billions of dollars in illegal drugs each year, thanks to Amsterdam's former mayor Ed van Thijn, who instituted and regulated the practice of illegal drugsdealing with his personal permissions, granted to his drugsdealing friends, without ever saying what percentage he took. 5%? Quite easily, for the ordinary customer pays in the end. But I don't know.)

There is rather a lot about Milligan and some about Ted Burke, that I leave to my readers. I will pick out a few quotes that are more general.

First, there is this, that I did not know about bankruptcies:

And by the end of the play, a for-profit health care system that is responsible for more than 60 percent of all U.S. bankruptcies is no longer just a matter of statistics.

I did not know that "more than 60 percent of all U.S. bankruptcies" is due to the "for-profit health care system". That indeed is a ridiculous and shameful high number.

Next, there is this about art:

To say something meaningful, to present theater that holds up our experiences to scrutiny and examination, often requires stepping outside the mainstream, especially given the reliance on corporations to fund the arts.

Yes, indeed - though I should also say that "stepping outside the mainstream" is no guarantee for making great art. Then again, I do not think any great art is made by or for a corporation, at least not with its managers in control.

Finally, there is this about beauty and truth (once thought to be supreme values in a truly human life):

But those who dedicate their lives to beauty and truth have no place in the corporate state. What does not feed the mania for profit and the cult of the self is superfluous and often ridiculed.

Yes, indeed.

3.  Exclusive: High-Level NSA Whistleblower Says Blackmail Is a Huge – Unreported – Part of Mass Surveillance

The next item is an article by Washington's Blog:

I will quote two pieces. First there is this:

The Associated Press notes:

The stockpiling of sexually explicit images of ordinary people had uncomfortable echoes of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” where the authorities — operating under the aegis of “Big Brother” — fit homes with cameras to monitor the intimate details of people’s home lives.


The collection of nude photographs also raise questions about potential for blackmail. America’s National Security Agency has already acknowledged that half a dozen analysts have been caught trawling databases for inappropriate material on partners or love interests. Other leaked documents have revealed how U.S. and British intelligence discussed leaking embarrassing material online to blacken the reputations of their targets.

FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds alleged under oath that a recently-serving Democratic Congresswoman was secretly videotaped – for blackmail purposes  – during a lesbian affair. There have been allegations of blackmail of gay activities within the U.S. armed forces for years.

Note that much of this (maybe all) is not proof, in any legal or logical sense - but the main problem with proof is that the NSA is almost completely secret, to this day, while the data they steal indeed often may be used to blackmail people - and keep in mind that what will blackmail you does not depend on what you think, but on what "the public" thinks (and gets told).

Again, this is not proof - but how many people have done things they rather would not know "the public" gets to know (produced by Fox News, for example)?
Almost everyone, I am sure.

And second there is this, which I interrupt several times, but which is a continuous quotation:

And even the raw data on American citizens collected by the NSA is shared with Israel.  This likely includes Congress members and other politicians, as well.

Bill Binney – the NSA’s senior technical director and head of the agency’s global digital information gathering program – told Washington’s Blog:

I retained the Israeli reference because it seems true, and also it seems quite odd to me. Next, I think it should have been pointed out that Binney (<- Wikipedia) is not employed by the NSA anymore since 2001 (after more than 30 years with them). I like his evidence, and I think he is reliable, but he is not with the NSA, and has not been for quite a while.

Bulk collection of everything gives law enforcement all the data they need on every citizen in the country.  And, it gives NSA all that info on everyone too.  Makes them akin to a J. Edgar Hoover on super steroids.

Binney explained to us the importance of this story:

Being able to blackmail people is one major aspect of bulk/mass collection that has not been talked about. E.g., they could use this data to blackmail members of governments around the world. But, surely just to get them to do what they wanted them to do. Just like J. Edgar Hoover did.

This is on top of the ability to do world-wide industrial espionage.

Yes. And I think they blackmail people when they can. I have no proof of this, but they steal all the private data they can, and the only reason for them to do this is that they want to control people. And what better means than blackmailing them? For then they also will work with you, and do as they are told, simply because they fear you.

Indeed, Binney tells us that the NSA’s blackmail tactics are the same as those used by the KGB and Stasi:

This is just one of the ways to make controlling people possible.  Standard KGB/Stasi tactics.

(Binney told the Guardian recently: “The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control.”)

Indeed: It is this - total population control - that I have always thought was the end of the NSA, at least from 2001 onwards, and possibly already from 1969 onwards, if I judge it by Brezezinski: At least already then it was stated as aims, and these aims could be realized from 2001 onwards, thanks to the computers most people use, and thanks to their data being unencrypted.

And Binney tells Washington’s Blog that NSA surveillance allows the government to target:

  • “[CIA head] General Petraeus and General Allen and others like [New York State Attorney General] Elliot Spitzer”
  • “Supreme Court Judges, other judges, Senators, Representatives, law firms and lawyers, and just anybody you don’t like … reporters included”

Yes, indeed. (Spitzer was removed by means of publishing information of his going to prostitutes, which does not seem to be that abnormal, but which did create a scandal in the U.S. Well, the same can be done with anyone in power who went to a prostitute, if there is evidence. How many of the secret FISA court judges went to prostitutes, for example? I don't know, but the NSA probably does.)

NSA whistleblower Russell Tice (a key source in the 2005 New York Times report that blew the lid off the Bush administration’s use of warrantless wiretapping), also says:

  • The NSA is spying on and blackmailing its overseers in Washington, as well as Supreme Court judges, generals and others
  • The agency started spying on Barack Obama when he was just a candidate for the Senate

And senior NSA executive Thomas Drake explains to Washington’s Blog that the NSA can use information gathered from mass surveillance to frame anyone it doesn’t like.

In brief: the possibilities of blackmailing nearly everyone definitely exist: the data need to be known, but the NSA does know many things and explicitly tries to collect everything.

Given that, how probable is it the NSA does not blackmail judges, generals, bureaucrats, lawyers and journalists? (You do not need to make a quantitative estimate. But I think it definitely is more probable than not that they do, and indeed it may be happening on a large scale.)

4. Bertrand Russell's lofty pacifism

The next item is an article by Jonathan Rée (<-Wikipedia) who is a former professor of philosophy who is two years older than I am:

I deal with this because initially I was attracted to it because I like Bertrand Russell: He, Charles Sanders Peirce and Frank P. Ramsey probably are the modern philosophers who influenced me most. I do not think either was without failures or fallacies, and I never fully agreed with any of them on almost any subject, but they all had great minds and used them well, and I know few men who are as intelligent or more intelligent.

But then I soon found that this is the sort of article that philosophers very often write: Based on ill digested, halfly known titbits of information they then expand into falsehoods - it seems often because they cannot really stand someone who is considerably more intelligent and more influential than they are.

So, you can read all of this and make up your own mind; I, who read at least 50 of Russell's over 70 books use my knowledge.

First, Jonathan Rée assures his public about Russell that:
In 1903 he set out his vision of transcendent certainty in a little book called Principles of Mathematics, and over the next decade he explored its implications in three vast volumes of Principia Mathematica, written with the help of the logician A.N. Whitehead, and left incomplete in 1913.
No, he did not. I suppose I must congratulate Rée that he does not confuse the Principles and the Principia (which is a very common mistake) but I bought "The Principles of Mathematics", as is the title, including "The", on December 28, 1971, and it is a large, heavy book of 534 large pages. Also, Whitehead was not so much a logician as he was a Cambridge mathematician, who was 10 years older than Russell.

And it is definitely not "
a little book", and my confident guess is that Rée confused this title with a much thinner and 16 years later book, called "Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy", which indeed is just that - an introduction, indeed without any of the Principia Mathematica symbolism.

About this we are told by Rée:

he was able to follow the protracted endgames of the war while getting back into his old routine and writing a breezy book called Mathematical Philosophy.
I suppose he has not read it, which also explains why he misstates the title. (I have read it, and would not call it "breezy", but this is a merely stylistic aside.)

Then there is this:
Russell, with his usual generosity, arranged to meet him in the Hague in December. When Wittgenstein showed him a draft of what would become the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Russell declared it to be a “really great book”, but Wittgenstein was not able to return the compliment (..)
Actually, as any reader of volume II of Russell's autobiography can know Wittgenstein sent him the manuscript of the Tractatus, with the help of Keynes, in June 1919. They only met at Christmas that year, and Russell had meanwhile read the Tractatus, and posed questions about it in his letters to Wittgenstein. (It is true he found it very difficult, and it is also true that it is far from clear.)

As a last quotation, we are told this by Rée:
The peace agenda of Russell and his followers was always based on the assumption that war is simply a euphemism for the madness of state-sponsored mass murder, and that we could prevent it by standing up for moral and political sanity – by committing ourselves to global justice and the relief of poverty, for instance, or social and sexual equality, or common ownership, or world government, or a Lawrentian explosion of creativity and sex. But the paths to war are paved not with malice but with righteous self-certainty. People who choose to participate in military action are more likely to be altruists than egotists: they are prepared to sacrifice their own lives for the sake of something that transcends them, such as their country or their religion, or socialism, secularism or democracy, or a world where peace and tolerance will reign in perpetuity.
No. I do not say that I agree with Russell (who also had different points of view, and was not a pascifist in WW II) but to say that his pascifism "was always based on the assumption that war is simply a euphemism for the madness of state-sponsored mass murder" is to simplify his teachings to mere slogans, and I doubt Russell ever said anything like this, at least in a serious mood. (Clearly, war has many ends.)

Also, I much doubt Russell thought pacifism would result from the things Rée mentions: At best he thought, at various points, that these might contribute to more rational people, which in turn would contribute to more rational policies, and these included pascifism (until 1939).

Then again, what Rée seems to completely miss is that "the paths to war are paved" with propaganda, with lies, and with deceptions, and that those who fight the wars are rarely those wo order or further wars, and normally do so  while being effectively deluded, deceived and propagandized.

But OK - this is the sort of article you get from a British philosopher on one of the recent leading lights of philosophy...

P.S. July 22, 2014: I corrected "1/5" to "5", which clearly was intended: I do pay about five times as much for a worse health insurance than I had until I was in my early fifties. Of course the manager of my insurance, already in 2007, earned $ 500,000 a year. There are advantages!

[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.)

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)

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
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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