January 27, 2018

Crisis: Amazon, Dutch Spies, Sex and Violence, Facebook & Google, ¨Tribal¨ America


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from January 27, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Saturday, January 27, 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 27, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. Amazon Is a 21st-Century Digital Chain Gang 
2. Dutch Spies Caught Russian Hacker Breaching Obama’s White House
     and Dem Party

3. Rethinking Cultural Attitudes Towards Sex and Violence
4. Not Even Orwell or Huxley Could Have Imagined 'Totalitarian' Threat
     Posed by Facebook and Google

5. Tribal America
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. Amazon Is a 21st-Century Digital Chain Gang

This article is by Marshall Auerbach on AlterNet. It starts as follows:

When Amazon announced plans to locate a $5 billion, 50,000-employee complex as its second headquarters somewhere in North America, state governments and municipalities fell over themselves offering billions of dollars in tax abatements and corporate subsidies to secure the prize. It might behoove the remaining 20 cities that have made the final cut to heed the warning from Virgil’s Aeneid: “I fear the Greeks, even when they are bearing gifts.” Especially when the gifts come in the form of a modern-day digital chain gang.

Amazon likes to see itself as a cutting-edge, 21st-century growth company, always working to expedite delivery to its customers, whether by means of a drone, or eliminating queueing and bagging at its newly acquired Whole Foods stores with a new smartphone app. Beneath this high-tech sheen, however, the online retailer and tech giant engages in labor practices that provoke comparisons to a 19th-century sweatshop. The company routinely pays wages barely above the poverty line, while using intrusive surveillance systems to monitor the workforce, fence them in with elaborate rules, set target times for their warehouse journeys, and then measure whether targets were met. All of this information is made available to management in real time, and if Amazon’s “employee-athletes” fall behind schedule, they receive a Big Brother-like text message pushing them to reach their targets or suffer the consequences. Failure to do so is met with a “three strikes and release” discipline system—being a euphemism for getting sacked.  

In essence, you’ve got a $550-billion-plus global conglomerate with virtually unchecked market power and no sign that its legally advantageous position will be challenged anytime soon via vigorous anti-trust enforcement—and certainly no encouragement of unionization to combat its abusive and intrusive work practices. Companies like Amazon have been aided and abetted by a sequence of "pro-business" governments that for decades introduced harsh industrial relations legislation to reduce the trade unions’ ability to achieve wage gains for their members, while lavishing billions in tax cuts and subsidies, which deprives the region of vitally needed revenue for the provision of essential public services.
Yes indeed: quite so. There is considerably more in the article - the above are the first three paragraphs - and it is recommended.

2. Dutch Spies Caught Russian Hacker Breaching Obama’s White House and Dem Party

This article is by Steven Rosenfeld on AlterNet. I am Dutch (unfortunately), which is one reason to review this article. It starts as follows:

Dutch spies alerted their American counterparts as early as 2014 about Russian hacking into State Department and White House computers and subsequent Russian hacking of the Democratic Party in the 2016 election, according to a series of reports in Dutch media.

The joint investigation by de Volkskrant newspaper and Nieuwsuur ("News Hour"), a current-affairs television program, describe how Dutch intelligence experts accessed the Russian hackers' computers and cameras in hallways at a university in Moscow. The Dutch spies watched a team of Russian hackers infiltrate the State Department, the White House and the Democratic Party to pilfer emails and electronic documents, including 2016 campaign emails later published by Wikileaks.

As I just said, I happen to be Dutch and live in Holland since nearly 40 years (before that I lived in Norway, where I should have stayed: my whole life would have been quite different, and very probably a great lot better).

But I am Dutch, and I know that the Dutch excel in precisely one thing: Lying. And about the above opening paragraphs I have two remarks:

First, there is no evidence that indeed these were ¨Dutch intelligence experts¨. They very well may have been, but I distrust any message from what is effectively the Dutch NSA. And I certainly want to see evidence.

And secondly: If this happened around four years ago, why does the non-secret service part of the world have to wait between three and four years before hearing anything whatsoever?!

I am merely asking. Here is more about what is supposed to have happened:

“In the summer of 2015, Dutch intelligence services were the first to alert their American counterparts about the cyber-intrusion of the Democratic National Committee by Cozy Bear, a hacking group believed to be tied to the Russian government,” Nieuwsuur’s report began. “Intelligence hackers from Dutch AIVD (General Intelligence and Security Service) had penetrated the Cozy Bear computer servers as well as a security camera at the entrance of their working space, located in a university building adjacent to the Red Square in Moscow.”

“Over the course of a few months, they saw how the Russians penetrated several U.S. institutions, including the State Department, the White House, and the DNC. On all these occasions, the Dutch alerted the U.S. intelligence services, Dutch TV program Nieuwsuur and de Volkskrant, a prominent newspaper in the Netherlands, jointly report on Thursday,” Nieuwsuur said. “This account is based on interviews with a dozen political, diplomatic and intelligence sources in the Netherlands and the U.S. with direct knowledge of the matter. None of them wanted to speak on the record, given the classified details of the matter.”

Incidentally, note that the first paragraph states that the Dutch secret service spies are doing precisely the same as they claim the Russian secret service spies do (and I am quite willing to believe both are spying on each other, but not that the one´s spies are heroes and the other´s spies are crooks).

As to the second paragraph, note that the Dutch secret service spies alerted the U.S. secret service spies about Russian hacking, it seems in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 - but the Dutch secret service (paid from the Dutch taxes) did not saying anything whatsoever in all these four years to the Dutch or any other paper or media service.

Also, even now, after four years of secret spying (that non-secret service members have to take on trust) absolutely no political figure, no secret services figure, no political figure and no diplomatic figure is willing to be named - which again means that the secret services presumably know everything, whereas the complete population knows nothing.

Here is some more (again presented without any evidence):

The journalists also offered new details about what information and communication channels were accessed across the U.S. executive branch and Democratic Party. The report also describes battles fought in cyberspace between Russian hackers and western counter-espionage technologists, with attacks, countermoves and continued assaults.

And there is this:

The FBI investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election was taken over by former FBI director Robert Mueller in 2017. The information provided by the Dutch intelligence agencies to the U.S. spy agencies was the basis for top federal officials to state with confidence in late 2016 that Russia was behind the hacking.

The Dutch report raises new questions about incompetence at the Democratic National Committee, which needless to say, did not heed warnings about Russian hacking, even though a Democratic administration had been successfully attacked.

I say, which I do because being Dutch, I completely distrust the Dutch secret services, at least as regards any news about them that does not come with convincing evidence. This is the case here: I do not say the news is false, but I do regard it as mostly unproven.

Second, why was this news - supposing it to be realistic - not made public by the end of 2016? The question is quite relevant, because I have seen a lot of journalism in which the Russians were accused of spying on the USA (which I have no doubt they do: the question is about the specifics of the spying, and notably also about the Democratic National Committee).

Anyway... here is the end of the article:

In the meantime, it appears that a leading Dutch TV program and newspaper have filled in many blanks about what happened in the election. Their reports raise new questions about why the federal government and the Democratic Party lost the opening rounds in this century’s early cyber-wars.

Well... I agree with this formulation and stress ¨appears¨: All of this may be true, but I have not seen the least bit of evidence. And what I am curious about are the ideas of the VIPS.

We will probably hear more about this in the next few days, and meanwhile this article is recommended.

3. Rethinking Cultural Attitudes Towards Sex and Violence

This article is by Lawrence Davidson (a historian) on Consortiumnews.

But I do skip the first five paragraphs, which are about Freud´s ideas (between 1910 and 1930), which are complete nonsense - and also great moral/ethical rot -  in my psychologist´s and philosopher´s eyes, and I also start with saying that the title of the present article seems to be nonsense: ¨Cultural Attitudes¨ are produced by many millions or many tens of millions of human beings interacting, and not by what someone may write in this or that that journal.

After Freud, the article opens as follows - o, and as I also noticed above, the article is not by a psychologist nor by a philosopher, but by a historian, which I do add because the information in this article is up to date to about 1920:
If one does not like Freud’s ideas, the whole issue of the activation and control of aggression and sex can be looked at in terms of brain function. In other words, our brains have evolved to promote survival and reproduction – originally in the pre-state, pre-tribal primate bands of distant prehistory. These tasks involve multiple parts of the cortex and amygdala, thalamus and hypothalamus, and so forth. There is one area of the brain that is particularly important in keeping instinct from running amok – the prefrontal cortex. Slow to mature (it is not fully on-line until one’s mid-twenties) it is this part of the brain that exercises “executive function.” It encourages you “to do the right, though perhaps harder, thing.”
I do dislike Freud´s ideas, and in fact think them total metaphysical rot and bullshit almost completely without any proof or evidence - and I am a psychologist and a philosopher (academically also: I did get the - excellent - degrees). Freud was a fraud, and if a historian disagrees, too bad for his ignorance.

Here is more, and this is OK:

The common definition of sexual harassment is as follows: “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student).” The legal definition in the U.S. pertains chiefly to the workplace, where the unwelcome approach has the connotation of blackmail – something like, “Do this with me or you won’t get promoted.” There are also a myriad number of state and local laws that cover a wide range of situations. Many of these have been on the books only since the 1960s and, unfortunately, are not uniformly enforced.

I do not quite agree with the definition of ¨sexual harassment¨, among other things because
I believe it also frequently happens by other persons than those ¨
in authority toward a subordinate¨, but then again the misdemeanors of persons in authority often are serious, and precisely because they are in authority they also tend to be seriously underreported.

Indeed here is evidence:

It is hard to get exact numbers unless you start adding up the results of hundreds of surveys and polls that address the whole range of harassment-related situations. And these only give you the approximate numbers of reported incidents. Time magazine had a series of particularly scandalous cases at Cornell and Harvard Universities in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and came up with an estimate that “as many as 18 million American females were harassed sexually while at work in 1979 and 1980.”

If this estimate is anywhere near accurate, the problem of sexual harassment has to be huge. We know it can’t be just a U.S. problem. It has to be a worldwide phenomenon.

Yes, I agree with the second paragraph and am quite willing to accept what was said in the first paragraph - which comes down to (if somewhat sketchily summarized as): In the USA around 1980 (?!) there were some 3 million American females who were harassed sexually - and I agree that is a ¨huge¨ problem.

There is also another factor involved, that I have mentioned before in Nederlog, namely that some sexual harassers - Harvey Weinstein is one prominent example - do not seem to be moved so much by a need for sex (which people as rich as he is can easily satisfy by renting prostitutes) as by a desire to cause others (who are pretty defenseless) pain and misery:

There is a strong component of sadism involved in some, though indeed not in all, reports I have read about ¨sexual harassment¨.

Then there is this by the historian that wrote this article:

If in nothing else, Freud was correct in seeing that culture is, albeit imperfectly, our only plausible line of defense. It takes on this role by serving as a guide for the prefrontal cortex – a guide to the “right, though harder, thing to do.” The problem is that, to date, patriarchal cultures have not defined the protection of the subordinate gender as a necessarily “right” thing. They are more interested in directing male aggression into pathways compatible with patriarchal power structures. In other words, the guide is corrupt.

No, I am sorry: Davidson is here mixing up what he kept apart at the beginning of this article, namely the nonsensical and false metaphysics of Freud (fraudulence that he could sell successfully in the 1920ies as ¨psychiatry¨) and the - possibly true and at any rate non-metaphysical - theories about sexuality from others (which there also were, if far less prominent than Freud´s theories, certainly until well into the 1960ies).

Also, the problem is not ¨that, to date, patriarchal cultures have not defined the protection of the subordinate gender as a necessarily “right” thing¨; the problems are diverse abuses of the law - for this manner of abuse is legally forbidden, but indeed circling around it, especially by rich figures of authority, was quite easy.

Here is the end of the article:

Now that the sexual harassment genie seems to have escaped the bottle, we can see the problem more clearly. It’s time to pursue serious culture renovation – to take on those primitive instincts and thoughtfully develop better, non-doctrinaire cultural ways to manage them. One thing is for sure, they are not going to go away on their own.

As I have said already, I do not believe in the conscious attempts to ¨develop better (..) cultural ways to manage them¨, but I would appreciate it if more harassing males, especially the rich and evidently sadistic ones, would be prosecuted and punished by the law.

4. Not Even Orwell or Huxley Could Have Imagined 'Totalitarian' Threat Posed by
Facebook and Google

This article is by Jake Johnson on Common Dreams. I have abbreviated the long title a little, and the article starts as follows:
In addition to warning that U.S. President Donald Trump represents an immense "danger" to civilization, billionaire George Soros used the spotlight of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday to urge the international community to take seriously the threats posed by Facebook and Google, which he said could ultimately spawn "a web of totalitarian control" if they are not reined in.

Particularly alarming, Soros said, is the prospect of Facebook and Google—which he scathingly deemed a "menace" to society—teaming up with "authoritarian states" to "bring together nascent systems of corporate surveillance with an already developed system of state-sponsored surveillance."

Such "unholy marriages" could result in a strain of authoritarianism "the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined," the billionaire investor cautioned.

Yes indeed: I quite agree with George Soros (who seems to be one of the few decent billionaires: he did e.g. donate $18 billion dollars to the Open Society Foundations).

Here is some more on Soros´s ideas:

Soros went on to compare the tech giants' impact on the internet—and social media in particular—to the effects of fossil fuel giants on the environment.

"Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment," Soros said, warning that the days of internet monopolies like Facebook and Google "are numbered."

"They claim they are merely distributing information," Soros added of the tech giants that are frequently denounced by critics of corporate power for abusing their market dominance. "But the fact that they are near-monopoly distributors makes them public utilities and should subject them to more stringent regulations, aimed at preserving competition, innovation, and fair and open universal access."

Yes, again I completely agree - and at least Facebook is not ¨merely distributing information¨: Firstly, it steals your privacies, and secondly it distributes advertisements to members who may be abled thereby to save a few cents themselves.

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

If tech companies are permitted to retain overwhelming control over information, "far-reaching adverse consequences on the functioning of democracy" could result, Soros concluded.

"The power to shape people's attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies," Soros said. "It takes a real effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called 'the freedom of mind.' There is a possibility that once lost, people who grow up in the digital age will have difficulty in regaining it."

Below is a short clip of Soros's speech. Read his full remarks here.

Yes indeed - and I expect full neofascism in the West, if the present political, economical and financial developments that have been going on since 1980 (by Reagan and Thatcher) are continued:

All power will be in the hands of the very, very few, who will abuse it, as e.g. Amazon does, to make themselves as rich as possible, by making almost everybody else as poor as possible (for that is the lesson of some 2500 years of human history).

5. Tribal America

This article is by John Atcheson on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Increasingly, pundits, politicians, and columnists are attributing America’s ills to tribalism. Google “tribal politics” and you’ll get pages of articles detailing how tribalism is turning us against one another or showing just how divided we are, most of them written within the last year.  It’s become the go-to explanation for what’s wrong with us as a country.

Problem is, it really doesn’t explain much.
I agree with the second paragraph and indeed also wonder what ¨tribalism¨ means for in fact I hardly saw it used before. Well... there is the Wikipedia, and this is from the item on tribalism, that is written in a truly execrable style:
Tribalism is the state of being organized in or an advocate for a tribe or tribes. In terms of conformity, tribalism may also refer in popular cultural terms to a way of thinking or behaving in which people are loyal to their own tribe or social group.
Ontologically, tribalism is oriented around the valences of analogy, genealogy and mythology.
If this is what ¨tribalism¨ means, there is no tribalism in the West, since there are no tribes in the West, where there also were no tribes since the year 1000 AD (at the latest).

And since I am a philosopher and psychologist who has been reading and thinking for over 50 years now, I think ¨tribalism¨ as applied to the West is simply euphemistic bullshit.

Finally, although I am a philosopher, I do not know what the second paragraph even could possibly mean (but I suspect it is total trash).

Then again, there is something in it which does make sense to me, that I isolate from the abpve as follows:
In terms of conformity (..) [this refers to] ¨a way of thinking or behaving in which people are loyal to their own (..) social group.
For I clearly agree there are groups, and in fact I define them as follows, with the following characteristics:
Group in society: Human society is composed of groups i.e. collections of people that know each other personally, and that play roles in that society.

Indeed, "society" is an abstract, theoretical term, and such society as humans know in their own experience is made up of face-groups.
Also, it is noteworthy that there is little human awareness about their own mammalian and apish nature, although there is both amusing and bitter evidence about this gathered by e.g. Stanley Milgram and Desmond Morris. Some relevant points are

In fact - as the discerning reader will see - my definition of ¨group¨ (which incidentally stresses an aspect that is often missed, namely that real groups are face groups) is mostly defined in terms of various kinds of conformism, for at least the first five points in the above definition do refer to various aspects of conformism.

Here is some more by Atcheson on tribalism:

The standard answer to the question of modern tribalism is that we all move around in media bubbles of our own choosing which reinforce our biases, prejudices, and beliefs.  This, in turn, is attributed to technology – the rise of cable news shows and the advent of the Internet and social media, both of which enable the formation of salons of the ignorant – and it’s always the “others” who comprise the stupid.

And while there’s some truth to this, our fractured media landscape is as much a result of tribalism as it is a cause of it.  The reality is, the reason the Internet and new media tilted toward tribalism is that the oligarchy in America launched a coup in the 70’s, designed to convince Americans that government was the cause of all that ailed us; the free market the solution.  They did this so they could eliminate any constraints on their wholesale theft of our wealth and our freedoms.

No, tribalism in the West is just bullshit. What is true is very much rather this:

the rise of cable news shows and the advent of the Internet and social media, both of which enable the formation of salons of the ignorant – and it’s always the “others” who comprise the stupid.

But this is not tribalism (which also presupposes a culture and beliefs) but it is the formation of strata [2] of ¨the ignorant¨ and ¨the stupid¨, that form themselves or are formed on the internet.

Incidentally, I have two academic degrees; I had an IQ over 150 when I was 28; and while I think that neither of this is proof that I am more intelligent than most (the average IQ is 100; half of mankind has an IQ that is less than 100), it is strong evidence that I am, indeed because all three criterions are formulated in terms of intelligence, and intelligence - like length, beauty and strength - are quite unequally spread over all the human individuals there are.

Finally, I am - to my considerable knowledge - the only one who consistently has complained about the very widespread lacks of knowledge and intelligence of the many, and I think this enormous lack in speaking of the facts happens because the majorities are stupid and are ignorant but do not wish to see this discussed.

Here is more - and this is also much better, and indeed much more realistic, than the tribal nonsense the article started with:

To this end, they launched a well-funded campaign designed to convert the people’s belief in a commonweal – a “we the people” -- into a host of “thems,” each intent on taking the other’s money, rights, freedoms etc. It was a classic divide and conquer strategy intended to distract us, to set us against each other, and split up any group with a critical mass capable of confronting the coup.

As the oligarchs were launching a rhetorical campaign designed to foster this fracturing of the people – featuring the likes of Ronnie “government is the problem” Reagan -- they also sought to eviscerate any regulations designed to assure that media ownership was diverse, and that news was fair, accurate, and truthful.
Yes indeed. I would have formulated this a bit differently, but this corresponds to what happened on the internet.

Here is some more, with the same remarks, that mentions i.a. the very important deregulations (which were popular because they were associated with ¨freedom¨, while few saw that the only freedoms that were served were the freedoms of the rich to further exploit and lie to the non-rich by ¨deregulating¨ the laws that protected the many):

With deregulation, the barriers and costs of entry into the news market, together with the long tail economics of niche marketing, created an ever-increasing demand for news shows targeted at specific audiences. The result was a fractured media that operated 24-7, with a huge appetite for stories and an addiction to sensationalism, controversy, and all too often, conspiracy.

Prior to the coup, an individual media market had to have diversity in ownership; owners had to present opposing viewpoints; and there were consequences and accountability built into the system.  Thus, the kind of misinforming media monocultures that operate today could not exist.

And indeed they could not exist by law. What the deregulations did was to destroy the laws that protected everyone from the depradations of the rich.

This article ends as follows:

But tribalism is a symptom.  The real problem is there’s been a coup, and America is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of corporations and the ultra-rich.

The lesson from Virginia – a southern state – is that progressive candidates can and will win elections because they will get the new progressive silent majority back into the voting booths.  All we need is a political Party that truly embraces progressive values.

Sadly, with ten months to go until the mid-term elections, no such Party exists.

Forget about tribalism, but the rest is mostly correct, and Atcheson is also right that ¨no such Party exists¨, for Hillary and Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and in fact nearly all of te leaders of the Democratic Party have changed the Democratic Party into another party of, for and by the rich, at least as far as its leadership is concerned.

And this is a recommended article.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

[2] I use ¨strata¨ here because I have defined ¨groups¨ (as I use the term preferably) as face groups, and also because these strata on the internet tend to be composed of people who never met personally.

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