7, 2014
Crisis: Risen, Guantánamo, Trolls, GCHQ, Internet, Clegg, Welfare, US doctors, Islam
  "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

James Risen on Why Journalists Must 'Fight Back'
Doctor Calls Guantanamo Force-Feeding Video

3. Does free speech give us the right to anonymously troll

4. UK snooping powers are too weak, says crime agency

5. This awesome dissection of internet hyperbole will make
     you cry and change your life

6. Start telling the hard truth, Nick Clegg – there is no free

7. Cut benefits? Yes, let’s start with our £85bn corporate
     welfare handout

8. $1.1 Billion in Drug, Device Payments to Doctors Not
     Included in New Federal Database

9. Ben Affleck Angrily Defends Islam Against Bill
     Maher/Sam Harris

About ME/CFS


This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, October 7. It is a
crisis log.

There are 9 items and 10 links (which is about the limit of what I can do on one day, but that is an aside).

I think most items are
crisis items (and I like item 1, item 7 and item 8) but item 3 and item 5 are not, or only indirectly so, and concern the usage of language on the internet, where a large part of the attention of the many not-so-very-brights goes to anonymous trolling or to quite incredible hyperbole.

I have no solution (other than trying your best to avoid it) but I did want to say some about it.

Anyway - here goes:

1.  James Risen on Why Journalists Must 'Fight Back'

The first item is an article by Sarah Lazare on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Accepting Colby College's Elijah Parish Lovejoy award for courageous journalism on Sunday, New York Times investigative reporter James Risen had a message for other writers:

"Journalists have no choice but to fight back because if they don’t, they will become irrelevant."

This statement comes from a journalist who has faced his share of fights.

The two-time Pulitzer Prize winning writer is currently facing threat of incarceration for refusing a Department of Justice order to take part in the prosecution of a CIA official who stands accused of revealing classified information about a U.S. bid to sabotage Iran's nuclear program—information that is exposed in his book State of War, which was published in 2006. Risen, who says the right to protect sources is critical to a free press, has repeatedly refused to take part in the prosecution, despite the legal efforts of the Bush and Obama administrations. The Supreme Court in June declined to consider an appeal from Risen, and his case remains unresolved.

I think James Risen is right, and I also think he is one of a minority of journalists who would like to write the truth and do if they have the evidence, also if that is not pleasing to their or to other governments.

The basic problem is that he
is one of a minority - and this is not how it used to be in, say, the 1970ies (Watergate).

The main reasons that it now is different is not that there was in the 1970ies a majority of journalists who were willing to investigate, write and publish unpleasant truths, for this seems anyway something only a minority does (o yes!), but especially that (1) the present government is definitely against a free press if this involves grave - though very probably true - criticism of the government (2) many editors and journalists who were willing to run some risks for publishing inconvenient truths have been removed, dismissed or replaced by conformists and (3) the NSA can and does spy on everyone and likes to do it on journalists and their sources, while the U.S. goverment allows or applauds this.

There is considerably more in the article, but I will quote only one more piece:

"I don’t think any of this would be happening under the Obama administration if Obama didn’t want to do it," Risen said. "I think Obama hates the press. I think he doesn’t like the press and he hates leaks."

Risen said the only reason the public is aware of a host of government abuses, including secret prisons, is because whistle-blowers and courageous journalists have exposed them. "If you’d rather live in a society in which you don’t know anything, then that’s the alternative," he said.

I think both points are quite true and quite important.

2. Doctor Calls Guantanamo Force-Feeding Video ‘Disturbing’

The next item is an article by Dan Froomkin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Attorneys for a longtime hunger-striker at Guantanamo Bay said today that refusing food is his only means of peaceful protest and asked a federal judge to stop his jailers from punishing him by being cruel in their application of force-feeding techniques.

Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s court case is being carefully watched because U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled on Friday that videos of Dhiab’s force-feeding – which involves the repeated insertion and removal of a rubber tube up his nose – should be publicly released.

But the only showing of the videos today was behind closed doors, as the Justice Department continues to wrangle over how and when to release them.

In a short closed session, Sondra Crosby, a Boston University medical professor who examined Dhiab on behalf of his legal team, was shown a few minutes of footage and asked her medical opinion.

Afterwards, all she would say was that the footage was “disturbing.”
There is considerably more in the article, including this from Sondra Crosby:

Lawyers displayed medical records that appeared to show decisions such as depriving Dhiab of a wheelchair, his socks and underwear, being made for disciplinary reasons.

“That’s completely inappropriate and cruel, to take a wheelchair away from someone who is not able to walk,” Crosby said. “It looks like medical care is being withheld as part of disciplinary status and that should never happen.”


3. Does free speech give us the right to anonymously troll strangers?

The next item is an article by Suzanne Moore on The Guardian:

This contains the following (and I am only selecting the parts that may be taken as a general argument, and skip the rest):

Though social media is now so deeply embedded, we still don’t seem to have any shared social definitions of what trolling is. It continues to be seen as somehow trivial, just silly insulting nonsense that should be ignored.

But you can only regard it this way if you have never experienced it. Trolling can be an orchestrated and concerted campaign to intimidate others into silence. and yes.

Firstly - but this is more personal than not - I do think the name "social media", especially when referring to Facebook, which in fact is a dataminer dressed up as a site for people who want a site but don't master html, is far too flattering, and since I am against datamining I would rather call them "asocial media". But as I said, part of that point is probably personal.

Secondly, I am not much interested in "
shared social definitions", not because they are not important (they are), but because most of them are neither true nor factual nor science based, and because "social definitions" are often used to try to make people conform to some standard of what "being properly social" (in that group, at that time) is supposed to mean by the majority (again: for that group, at that time).

Thirdly, trolling seems fairly well defined. Here is the first paragraph of "Troll" on Wikipedia (and I have seen trolls busy ever since I got internet in 1996):
In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtrl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.
This is precise enough for my purposes - and for those who seek more clarity, there also is the metawiki article "What is a troll".

Fourth, I agree with the rest: It is not trivial; I have seen "
orchestrated and concerted campaign to intimidate others into silence"; and indeed you know it best if you (or some friend) has been trolled repeatedly, anonymously, and - as tends to be the case nearly always - quite unreasonably, unfairly and unjustly.

Next, there is this (still keeping to generalities):

The bigger question is whether the democratisation that social media embodies, the sense of giving all a voice, can be consistent with a tolerant and forgiving space. Anonymity is often defended as though everyone was about to overthrow an evil dictatorship, but more typically it has become the “freedom” to call someone on Question Time unshaggable.

Anonymity is the troll’s only real-life friend. It allows a disinhibition online. Combined with the fact that none of the normal feedback mechanisms of everyday life exist – no eye contact, no authority figures, no sense that behaviour is being monitored or reacted to by an actual person with feelings – all of this means people seem to think there is no going too far and there are no consequences.

Yes, indeed. I will below make some points, but first quote the last piece:
But anonymity is not of itself a noble virtue; its power can also be abused. The issue here is one of accountability. Without any sense of mutuality or accountability we create not an alternative to the mainstream media, merely an antisocial media in which the same hierarchies take hold and the same people get shouted down.
Quite so - and that is indeed what is happening on many "social sites":

The impertinent, the rude, the stupid, the ignorant, the cruel or the sadistic in the end set the tone, anonymously, of course, for all (and there are more sadistic and ignorant people than one would think, provided they are anonymous: that is at least one of the lessons I have drawn); where the conversations only are approved if they can be understood by all, and agreed to by most; and where in the end only the stupid and the very patient remain - which probably are the majority, for the moral attitudes of the majority are best caught by saying they are conformistic.

What is my attitude? I have tried it on Phoenix Rising and got so appalled and so much offended
there (especially what was done there against intelligent others)  that I left that site after four months (in May 2010) and have had my fill ever since: I know I am considerably more intelligent than the vast majority; I know my degrees are the best there are in spite of my disease and much opposition;
but I do not want to fight with some anonymous sick uneducated stupid piece of enormous shit that I can't name and shame because he or she is totally anonymous and completely unstoppable in his impolite inanities.

Therefore, since I also believe people have to be allowed to be anonymous sometimes, I simply have withdrawn from any and all lists that are not run by and for truly intelligent people, which means that the only lists I do follow - as a member - are related to programming, where indeed there rarely are fights, and most fights are somewhat sensible and also soon over, and usually the conversations are intelligent and about relevant questions (for programmers, to be sure).

This is not something I favor: Actions for patients with ME could and would be much better without trolls and sadists, but since one cannot even write anything that is considered abnormal by the average without being hunted down by trolls and sadists, I am definitely out:

Those who want to know what I think have to go to my site, and that is that.

4. UK snooping powers are too weak, says crime agency boss

The next item is an article by Vikram Dodd on The Guardian:

This is about the English Edgar Hoover, who is called Keith Bristow and is the head of the English National Crime Agency, that also is known as "Britain's FBI".

My comparison of this august person with the august American person goes deeper than a mere coincidence of functions. Here is the start of the article - which is mere propaganda:

Britons must accept a greater loss of digital freedoms in return for greater safety from serious criminals and terrorists in the internet age, according to the country’s top law enforcement officer.

Keith Bristow, director general of the National Crime Agency, said in an interview with the Guardian that it would be necessary to win public consent for new powers to monitor data about emails and phone calls.

Warning that the biggest threats to public safety are migrating to the internet and that crime fighters are scrambling to keep up, the NCA boss said he accepted he had not done a good enough job explaining to the public why the greater powers were necessary.

“What we have needs to be modernised … we are losing capability and coverage of serious criminals.”

Britons must not accept that their private data are snooped up by the GCHQ and/or the NSA, and Bristow lies about "serious criminals and terrorists", about whose activities he gives no real evidence or information whatsoever.

Also, Britons should get back the privacy they have lost: Their e-mails and phone calls and photographs should not be snooped up and stolen. The only reason to surveil one's e-mail and phone calls is that there is evidence that one may have committed a crime, and some judge has given permission to snoop, for a specific cause (that crime) and no longer than a specific time.

Anything else is giving terroristic powers to the most dangerous persons there are on earth: the secret services of governments (of any kind, though indeed some are more dangerous than others).

But yes, I understand why this British Edgar Hoover wants to know everything about anyone: He wants power, and he doubletalks to get even more than the extreme powers he currently has.

Here is an example of his doubletalk:

He said: “If we seek to operate outside of what the public consent to, that, for me, by definition, is not policing by consent … the consent is expressed through legislation.”

Which means that he says he thinks he has the public's consent if the present Tory majority in parliament agrees to his ideas and desires (which it very probably does).

And of course the British Hoover has the ideas that one would expect:

The NCA boss said Snowden’s leaks, principally to the Guardian, were a betrayal.

Of whom or what he does not deign to say. There is a lot more in the article, and men like Bristow are dangerous but powerful, and like to be even more dangerous and powerful.

5. This awesome dissection of internet hyperbole will make you cry and change your life

The next item is an article by Charley Brooker on The Guardian:

To be sure, the title is satire, but it does adequately reflect many articles on internet. In fact, most of the article is about Kate Bush - or rather, about the enormous hype that many of her fans have written on the internet.

I will not treat that but the following does seem to be true, at least about much on the internet (that I indeed tend to avoid):

We’ve ramped up the hyperbole: it’s amazing; it’s awesome. We focus on the personal impact: it’ll rock your world; it’ll change your life. You’ll be so stuffed full of wonder you’ll split at the seams.

Generally, as a species, we used to avoid these kind of exaggerated emotional outpourings. Still do, in person. But online, people routinely claim to have been reduced to tears by YouTube clips, Facebook posts, newspaper articles, and inspirational gifs.

And that is again "the democratization" of the internet, where nowadays almost everyone has a computer, and can indulge his or her worst instincts anonymously, and often does so.

There is also this:

All this babble about being blown away, overcome, and reduced to a state of stunned amazement used to be the preserve of creepy people in adverts, the kind of grinning fictional gimps who’d burst into song if they enjoyed their fish fingers. At least they were being paid to exaggerate their opinions. We’re just trying to fit in, which is infinitely sadder somehow.

We’re trying to fit in because exaggeration is the official language of the internet, a talking shop so hopelessly overcrowded that only the most strident statements have any impact.

Well... I am not trying to fit in and most intelligent persons I know don't either.

But I agree this is a problem, which in fact comes to this: Only now is it possible to see what the truly ordinary minds - those with IQs maximally at 100, with hardly any education, intelligence, curiosity, refinement, voluntary politeness or relevant knowledge: there are billions of them, and in the West most of them have computers and a Facebook page - think about any topic that has become well-known. It's not pretty, is the most polite qualification.

And I do not know any cure, other than trying to avoid the masses of the dumb and the ignorant as best as one can. But as long as the average IQ is 100, with all the gifts and the talents that come with this, most people will want to know about the Kardashians and sports and TV - and those who are in the minority of being more intelligent just have bad luck and must accept they are in a minority.

6. Start telling the hard truth, Nick Clegg – there is no free lunch

The next item is an article by Polly Toynbee on The Guardian:
This has the following second paragraph, after the first informed the reader that the Liberal Democrats currently draw 7% of the British vote:
Watching the Lib Dems try to writhe out of what they have done is sadly comical. Too late, now, for Nick Clegg to promise red lines on “beating up on the poor” after holding the jackets of the bully boys raining down blow after blow. Add here any epithets you like for this fig-leaf party that has given such useful cover to a Tory government more extreme than any since the war. Heap on the abuse for their needless vote on the NHS act that put everything out to tender. But there’s no need to iterate their sins of commission and omission.
And there is this assessment of the Liberal Democrats:
A Rip Van Winkle asleep since 2010 would listen to the Lib Dems in Glasgow and reckon them a reasonable lot. That’s their tragedy, waiting 80 years for that elusive hung parliament, only to be run down by the train when it finally arrives. Power has dragged them deeper into the bad habits of conventional politics, telling untruths and half-truths, pretending tiny policies have big effects, boasting of things they haven’t done, ducking responsibility for things they have.
Quite so. There is a lot more in the article, but I will quote only one more bit, from the last paragraph:
To the public the Lib Dem promise-breakers traded their principles for red boxes. With dismal polls, battalions of councillors lost, their boosterism rang pretty hollow in a half-full conference where Clegg mugs sell at half price.
Again: quite so. (But I agree I would not know who to vote for in Great Britain: The Tories policies are nearly all quite horrible and mostly serve the rich and only the rich; Labour mostly imitates the Tories; and the Liberal Democrats defended the Tories, until very recently, and are quite incredible "promise-breakers".) 

7. Cut benefits? Yes, let’s start with our £85bn corporate welfare handout

The next item is an article by Aditya Chakrabortty on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

Last week, as the Tory faithful cheered on George Osborne’s new cuts in benefits for the working-age poor, a little story appeared that blew a big hole in the welfare debate. Tucked away in the Guardian last Wednesday, an article revealed that the British government had since 2007 handed Disney almost £170m to make films here. Last year alone the Californian giant took £50m in tax credits. By way of comparison, in April the government will scrap a £347m crisis fund that provides emergency cash for families on the verge of homelessness or starvation.

This is indeed quite like it currently happens in the United States: The rich, especially the banks and their managers, get billions to continue their frauds, while these billions are taken in taxes from the non-rich and the poor, who are discriminated and painted as "welfare-queens" or as people asking for entitlements to eat, which then are denied to them by Congress. (No more foodstamps, said Congress.)

As to that corporate welfare:

Between them, Whitehall, academia and NGOs have churned out enough surveys on social welfare claimants to fill a wing of the Bodleian library. But corporate welfare? The government has itself acknowledged: “There is no definitive source of data about spending on subsidies to businesses in the UK.” The numbers are scattered across government publications and there is not even any agreement on what counts as a corporate handout. Instead, what you get on the issue is silence. A very congenial silence for the CBI and other business lobby groups, who can urge ministers to cut benefits for the poor harder and faster, knowing their members are still getting their bungs.

Next, Aditya Chakrabortty gives the evidence for his claim (in the title) about the £85bn corporate welfare handout (which also seems an underestimate, but let that be).

I will leave that to your interests, but I agree with the title.

8. $1.1 Billion in Drug, Device Payments to Doctors Not Included in New Federal Database

The next item is an article by Charles Ornstein on Pro Publica:
This starts as follows, and is quoted as a follow-up to the earlier items and articles on how well American doctors are paid (if they conform to what Big Pharma wants) which are here (also by Ornstein and two others) and here (by Robert Reich):

The federal government's new database of drug and device industry payments to doctors is even more incomplete than has been reported previously.

In a fact sheet posted online, federal officials disclosed that the database, dubbed Open Payments, is missing more than $1 billion in payments made between August and December 2013. These omissions are in addition to information the government has redacted from the payments it has disclosed, citing inconsistencies.

Open Payments was unveiled last week and included data on 4.4 million payments valued at $3.5 billion. More than half a million doctors and about 1,360 teaching hospitals received at least one payment.

So yes: this does concern "drug and device industry payments to doctors"; these American doctors - more than half a million of them - and some hospitals did get at least $4.5 billion dollars in "industry payments"; and as Charles Ornstein reports in this article, that also is an underestimate.

But remember: all these - rich - doctors have "pure hearts" (copyright: Allen Francis).

9. Ben Affleck Angrily Defends Islam Against Bill Maher/Sam Harris

The last item today is not an article but a video. It is by The Young Turks, and it is quite long, for them at least, for it is 24 m 13 s:
The main reason it is here is because of the following item on Bill Maher's show, with Ben Affleck, Bill Maher and Sam Harris:
This gets commented (in the first of the above two items) and indeed also cited  by Cenk Uygur, who is a smart ex-muslim, who currently rejects all religion (as I do - see the last link - but without any religious upbringing: my parents were communists - and no, that doesn't bother me at all, for they were intelligent, sincere and just, unlike many quasi-leftists I have known, who were leftists mostly because that offered them personal careers).

I think that Uygur and Affleck are mostly right, and Maher and Harris are mostly wrong. You can judge yourself, if so inclined, but you should be aware that Harris - whom I don't like, unlike the others: he never seems to say anything original, and we both have very similar degrees, so I can judge him quite well - is bullshitting (at least) about statistics.
[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)

       home - index - summaries - mail