January 19, 2018

Crisis: Trumpian Decline, FISA Reauthorization *2, Testability, A Fungus


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from January 19, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Friday, January 19, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a
crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last five years:

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 two 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.

Section 2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from January 19, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. Trump Biographer on the President’s Cognitive Decline & Whether He
     Will Be Impeached

2. Senate Passes FISA Reauthorization Act, With Help of Democrats
3. Beyond Falsifiability
4. There’s a White House—and GOP—Fungus Among Us
5. Senate Votes to Give Trump Vast Domestic Spying Powers "No
     President Should Have"

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. Trump Biographer on the President’s Cognitive Decline & Whether He Will Be Impeached

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! This is from the beginning (and there are two other articles with David Cay Johnston on Democracy Now!):

AMY GOODMAN: What about President Trump’s sanity, this issue that has taken hold, people observing? We had Dr. Bandy X. Lee on Democracy Now!, the Yale psychiatrist who is part of the “duty to warn” movement, has been speaking with a lot of congressmembers.


AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you’re one of the few reporters who has followed Donald Trump for decades, well over 30 years. What have you observed about him? And do you think he’ll serve out this term in office?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Just to be clear, just short of 30 years. It’ll be 30 years in May.

Well, in my book, I don’t go into this issue of “Is he sane or not sane?” If you mean “Does he know right from wrong?” of course he does. He is, at times, delusional. He makes stuff up. He’s done it his whole life. You can see him do it on TV all the time.

What I do is rely on, thanks to someone else who found this out, the standard in the Army Field Manual for which military officers you promote. And there’s a set of standards in conduct: Do you have empathy? Do you take responsibility? Do you listen to others? Do you consider options? Remember, Trump always says, “There’s no other choice. We have no other choice.” If Donald Trump had not dodged the draft, and become a military officer in the Vietnam War era, he would never have been promoted above junior lieutenant, by those standards. He lacks all of the basic qualifications that have been worked out by the Army for promoting officers.

I have reviewed some interviews with Dr. Bandy Lee in Nederlog (see e.g. here), but I have not yet had David Cay Johnston in Nederlog.

As to Johnston's statement that "I don’t go into this issue of “Is he sane or not sane?”": This is a bit ambiguous, though indeed Johnston is neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist (while I am a psychologist).

It's a bit ambiguous, because the evidence he does give - which once again was covered by me in Nederlog: See here - does rely (indirectly) on psychiatric evidence. Then again, I agree with Johnston's conclusion.

There is also this on Trump's cognitive qualifications (which are not the same as his psychiatric (dis)qualifications):

As to his cognitive function, you know the test the doctor said he passed? I went and took the test. It’s on the internet. Donald could have looked it up ahead of time. So, I don’t find that at all dispositive. When I first met Donald, he could speak in coherent sentences. When he isn’t reading, when there isn’t a teleprompter or piece of paper, you will often see Donald only speak in adjectives. “It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. It’s a wonderful tax bill. It’s just—it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.” And he doesn’t remember names. He doesn’t see people. Now, we all have cognitive decline. I’m almost as old as Donald. When I was a boy, I would do four—multiply four digits by four digits in my head. I can’t remember a 10-digit phone number now. I have to write it down. That’s the normal rate of decline. Clearly, Donald’s decline is significant. In addition to that, there’s this other basic problem. Donald isn’t very smart. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t listen. It’s been reported that he only spends five hours a day being president, and that includes lunch. And so, if he doesn’t know anything, and he’s presented with all these complex issues, of course he’s going to have to find some way to cope with it. He just makes stuff up, and he talks in adjectives. Word salad.

I do not know whether Johnston is right in saying "That’s the normal rate of decline" (I somewhat doubt it) but the rest of this may very well be correct, and if it is, the conclusion I would draw is the same as above: Trump is definitely not fit to be the president of the USA.

Here is the last bit that I will quote from this interview:

He’s not Richard Nixon. He will say the government is illegitimate, and make trouble.

That’s why if they’re going to impeach him, they need to have a plan to indict him, convict him and send him to prison. And there are so many crimes Donald Trump has committed. Most successful major criminals never get arrested. Donald Trump is a man who’s twice had trials for income tax fraud, civil. He lost them both. He’s confessed to sales tax fraud. He spent years deeply, deeply entangled—

AMY GOODMAN: Three seconds.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: —with a major cocaine trafficker, in ways that make no sense unless they were in business together.

I say. And this is a recommended interview (as are the other two on Democracy Now!).
2. Senate Passes FISA Reauthorization Act, With Help of Democrats

This article is by Emma Niles on Truthdig. This starts as follows:
With the help of 21 Democrats, the U.S. Senate passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 on Thursday, a bill that critics argue expands the government’s ability to spy on digital communications without a warrant.
I did write yesterday about this, but because I think this development is very important I repeat a part of it now, and specifically two assumptions I made yesterday:
ONE: The first assumption is that surveillance + unencrypted computers = the royal road to neofascism: Both all the secret services in the world and the largest corporations - Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft - can now find out (and have been able to find out since 2001) absolutely everything about almost everyone by stealing all their private data:

Their e-mails, their incomes, their taxes, their values, their desires, their knowledge, their family, their friends, their sites, their contacts and anything else can all be fully copied and are fully copied by the secret services and the largest corporations, and indeed also by few others, simply because lots of money are required to find out all about almost everyone.

This has given the secret services - virtually anywhere: not just in the USA - vastly more powers than the KGB ever had in the Soviet Union.

TWO: The second assumption is that politics in the USA (and this is more about the USA than the first assumption about surveillance) has fundamentally changed since 1980 and the coming of the internet:

Politics used to be about what the majority of the people wanted, and put - in the USA - two parties against each other; politics now is about what the rich and the powerful want, and all want more riches and more powers, and those who are neither rich nor powerful have been fundamentally shifted out from positions in which they could influence the leading politicians: The leading politicians now are mostly bought (by lobbyists etc.)
In brief, politics has become mostly totally corrupted.
I take these as given and also refer to item 5 below and continue here with the article:

The legislation, which passed the House last week, focuses specifically on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was initially passed as part of the FISA Amendments Act in 2008. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explains:

Section 702 is supposed to do exactly what its name promises: collection of foreign intelligence from non-Americans located outside the United States. As the law is written, the intelligence community cannot use Section 702 programs to target Americans, who are protected by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. But the law gives the intelligence community space to target foreign intelligence in ways that inherently and intentionally sweep in Americans’ communications.

The EFF expanded upon FISA’s infringement on the 14th Amendment in a series of tweets Thursday, shortly after the Senate vote. Read the full thread here.

Yes indeed - and (in case you missed it) this pertains in fact to the special status Americans did have (at least in law) compared with non-Americans: Any non-American - a Dutchman, a Russian etc. - may be spied on interminably and without any warrant whatsoever, and may copy absolutely everything of their personal privacies, but for Americans this forbidden in law.

Except that not it isn't anymore: Absolutely everyone living absolutely anywhere, also in the USA, has been declared the secret victim and the total inferior of all the spying the American secret services can do now, legally.

Here is the text from this article:

This split in the Democratic Party may be an ominous signal of what’s to come in the November midterm elections, as progressive members of the party did not mince words when voicing their strong opposition to the bill:

Numerous advocacy groups also expressed outrage in response to the Senate vote.

“Congress abdicated its responsibility to ensure that our intelligence agencies respect the Fourth Amendment,” Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said Thursday. “Instead of instituting much needed reforms, lawmakers voted to give the Trump administration broad powers to spy on Americans and foreigners at home and abroad without a warrant. No president should have this power, much less one who has endorsed policies designed to unfairly target critics, immigrants, and minority communities.”

Quite so, and also see item 5 below. This is a strongly recommended article.

3. Beyond Falsifiability

This article is by Peter Woit on his site. It is here in part because I am a philosopher of science, and in part because I think both science and the qualities of the universities have fallen a lot over the last 40 or 50 years (which I can still all recall).

Sean Carroll has a new paper out defending the Multiverse and attacking the naive Popperazi, entitled Beyond Falsifiability: Normal Science in a Multiverse. He also has a Beyond Falsifiability blog post here.

Much of the problem with the paper and blog post is that Carroll is arguing against a straw man, while ignoring the serious arguments about the problems with multiverse research.
In fact, I am neither a physicist nor a mathematician, though I did take considerable trouble to educate myself in them, which also made me read, among quite a few other books and papers, all back in the 1970ies and 1980ies, Richard Feynman's "Lectures on Physics", which I did like a lot.

This doesn't make me a physicist at all, but it does support what I said about the declines of both science and the universities, for I remember Feynman in 1984 (or before) stating what seems to me quite the same argument as Peter Woit gives, that amounted in 1984 (or before) to Feynman's claims that string theory is untestable.

In fact, I think being (un)testable is more correct than speaking of verifications and falsifications (I think, and I am a philosopher of science). And in any case, I agreed with Feynman in 1984 (or before): if you neither can verify nor falsify something, all you have - at that point, at least - is
not science, but speculations about dreams. (It may become science when it can be tested.)

And since it is this year almost 35 years further, I would have been rather astounded to find the same situation still prevails over string theory and fundamental physics, were it not for the additional fact that I have been maintaining since the late 1970ies that the qualities of science, the universities, and also pre-university education have fallen a whole lot since then. [2]

I take the last point for granted (for more, see e.g. here), in fact because I have been protesting about this for more than 40 years now (with little or no success, I admit, but then most modern scientists know very little or nothing of philosophy of science or education).

Also, I have left out Carroll's - extremely vague - argument (which Woit does give) but here is some more on him:
Carroll goes on to refer approvingly to a response to Ellis by Daniel Harlow published as a letter to Inference, but ignores Ellis’s response, which includes:

The process of science—exploring cosmology options, including the possible existence or not of a multiverse—is indeed what should happen. The scientific result is that there is no unique observable output predicted in multiverse proposals. This is because, as is often stated by proponents, anything that can happen does happen in most multiverses. Having reached this point, one has to step back and consider the scientific status of claims for their existence. The process of science must include this evaluation as well.

Ellis here is making the central argument that Carroll refuses to acknowledge: the problem with the multiverse is that it’s an empty idea, predicting nothing. It is functioning not as what we would like from science, a testable explanation, but as an untestable excuse for not being able to predict anything.
Precisely - and I repeat that this is the same argument as I read in on before 1984 by Feynman, and clearly it is as valid then as it is now.

What is or would be rather strange is that this valid argument has not been taken serious for 35 years now, and I can and do explain that by my - strongly verified: see e.g. [2] - assumption that science and the universities got a lot worse in the past 50 years.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
The other actual theory Carroll refers to is the string theory landscape, and there the problem is not that evaluating the theory is “hard”, but that you have no theory. As for bubble collisions, you have plenty of conjectural models (i.e. “string vacua”) which are perfectly well-defined and scientific, but disagree with experiment so are easily evaluated as wrong. While many other conjectural models are very complex and thus technically “hard” to study, that’s not the real problem, and acquiring infinitely powerful computational technique would not help. The real problem is that you don’t have a theory: “M-theory” is a word but not an actual theory. The problem is not that it’s “hard” to figure out what the measure on the space of string vacua is, but that you don’t even know what the space is on which you’re looking for a measure. This is not a “hard” question, it’s simply a question for which you don’t have a theory which gives an answer.
Yes indeed, although I would have said "it’s simply a question for which you don’t have a" testable "theory which gives an answer". And a theory which is not testable may be mathematically quite finicky and smart, but as long as it is not testable it is a mere fantasy.

This is a recommended article.

4. There’s a White House—and GOP—Fungus Among Us

This article is by Michael Winship on Common Dreams. This starts as follows:

Cruelty and recklessness – those are the two sins of which attorney Joseph Welch accused Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954 when, having had enough of the Republican’s redbaiting smears, Welsh famously asked, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

More than sixty years later, we have as president a monumental blockhead for whom decency is non-existent, a King Kong-wannabe who gives a bad name to the rest of us primates. He hurls his gorilla dust in every direction, at one moment name calling and insulting anyone who dares defy him and in the next feeding his ego with unctuous, self-deceptive praise. With rare exception, the Republican Party kowtows to his whims, placing avarice and expediency above principle and patriotism.

The role of the president should be to advance the national discourse, not to encourage its basest Darwinian instincts. But as others have noted, his childish behaviors too often distract from the reality of this presidency’s unique brand of cruelty and recklessness (..)
I say, though I think this is quite justified, after a year of Trump. Here is some more:

When it comes to the aforementioned recklessness, just a glance at the Trump White House foreign policy, or lack thereof, reveals a breathtaking disregard for diplomacy and international cooperation, an agenda seemingly fixed on little more than repudiating anything Barack Obama attempted on the world stage.

As for cruelty, where to start?
In fact, you can check this out - to a small extent - in Winship's article.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article, that outlines the cowardice of many Republicans:
Almost as depressing and infuriating as the president’s racism have been the denials and obsequious lies of Republicans who were at the White House meeting when Trump reportedly made his comments. Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue first claimed they had not been in a position to hear anything, then flatly denied Trump had said the offensive word at all, a backflip of striking cowardice, not only in the moment but indicative overall of the white nationalist paranoia and bigotry fighting to hold back the inevitable but in the meantime consciously wrecking lives.
There is more in the article, that is recommended.

5. Senate Votes to Give Trump Vast Domestic Spying Powers "No President Should Have"

This article is by Jon Queally on Common Dreams. It starts with a subtitle that I'll quote:
"Instead of instituting much needed reforms, lawmakers voted to give the Trump administration broad powers to spy on Americans and foreigners at home and abroad without a warrant."
In fact, I commented on this above and yesterday. And it means the following for me:

(1) The American Senate does not deserve the trust of the American people anymore -
     after 18 years of betrayals of their rights and their Constitution to the secret services.
(2) I give up on both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, as being in majority
     only interested in their own interests and those of their friends, and not in the
     maintaining the rights and the Constitution of the USA.

This doesn't mean I will cease reporting on them; it does mean that I gave up believing in them:

The USA is no longer a democracy, and its representatives are for the most part corrupt and have been bought by the very rich.

The article itself starts as follows:

Defenders of civil liberties and privacy advocates expressed their discontent on Thursday after the U.S. Senate passed a bill that reauthorizes and expands the ability of the goverment to spy on the digital communications without a warrant.

With a final vote of 65-34 vote in favor, the passage of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017—now headed to President Donald Trump's desk for a signature—will extend for six years a provision known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which allows for call the "unconstitutional spying" on emails, text messages, and other digital communications of both Americans and foreign nationals without a warrant.

As I said: This means that 2 out 3 Senators have completely given up to do their Constitutional duties, and this also means I have given up on the Senate (as is).

Here is the last bit I quote from this article:

"Congress abdicated its responsibility to ensure that our intelligence agencies respect the Fourth Amendment," said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the ACLU, in response.

Though the ACLU and its allies had backed a number of amendments to address both privacy and constitutional concerns, all those measures were defeated in both the House and Senate.
Yes indeed. This is a strongly recommended articlel


[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 (!!).

[2] It takes far too long to outline my arguments, but see here. And this is just one bit, that dates back over 50 years now, for it became the Dutch reality in 1965, precisely 100 years after the renewal of the pre-university school system of 1865:

From 1865 till 1965, to enter a Dutch univerity required a HBS or a Gymnasium diploma, that stood for examinations in three to five foreign languages  (English,  French, German, Greek, Latin), mathematics, physics, chemistry, geography history etc. all to a total of 14 or 16 subjects, nearly all of which were examined in writing.

From 1965 onwards, to enter a Dutch univerity required a VWO diploma, that stood for examinations in one foreign language (more were allowed) and a few other examinations, but altogether one had to qualify in 5 or 6 subjects, of which
at most three or four were examined in writing.

That has been the standard since 1965. It should not be considered a miracle that around 2008 most who went for an engineer diploma (that now takes three instead of six years) had to take half a year of additional mathematics (within those three years) to crack them up to the required minimum skills.

Incidentally: hardly any Dutchman discussed these things, in the last 50 years. Apparently, the majority is much rather stupid and uneducated than intelligent and educated.

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