October 20, 2018

Rigged  Economy,  Recycling Plastic,  Lying Facebook, On The APA, On The Free Press


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from October 20, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, October 20, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

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.

2. Crisis Files

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

A. Selections from October 20, 2018:
1. The American Economy Is Rigged
2. The Complex and Frustrating Reality of Recycling Plastic
3. Lawsuit: Facebook Used Faulty Data to Convince Publishers to Go All In
     on Video

4. Psyched at The American Psychological Association
5. Here's What Thomas Jefferson Would Have to Say About Trump's
     Attacks on the Free Press

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. The American Economy Is Rigged

This article is by Joseph Stiglitz on Scientific American. This is from near its beginning:

The notion of the American Dream—that, unlike old Europe, we are a land of opportunity—is part of our essence. Yet the numbers say otherwise. The life prospects of a young American depend more on the income and education of his or her parents than in almost any other advanced country. When poor-boy-makes- good anecdotes get passed around in the media, that is precisely because such stories are so rare.

Things appear to be getting worse, partly as a result of forces, such as technology and globalization, that seem beyond our control, but most disturbingly because of those within our command. It is not the laws of nature that have led to this dire situation: it is the laws of humankind. Markets do not exist in a vacuum: they are shaped by rules and regulations, which can be designed to favor one group over another. President Donald Trump was right in saying that the system is rigged—by those in the inherited plutocracy of which he himself is a member. And he is making it much, much worse.
Yes, quite so. Also, this is quoted from a fairly long article in the Scientific American, while I will quote only from the beginning.

Here is more:
America has long outdone others in its level of inequality, but in the past 40 years it has reached new heights. Whereas the income share of the top 0.1 percent has more than quadrupled and that of the top 1 percent has almost doubled, that of the bottom 90 percent has declined. Wages at the bottom, adjusted for inflation, are about the same as they were some 60 years ago! In fact, for those with a high school education or less, incomes have fallen over recent decades. Males have been particularly hard hit, as the U.S. has moved away from manufacturing industries into an economy based on services.
Again quite so - and here is part of a graphic that quite clearly explains this:

                         Clicking on the graphic will lead you to the article

Here is more on what happens since the mid-1970s (according to Stiglitz):

Since the mid-1970s the rules of the economic game have been rewritten, both globally and nationally, in ways that advantage the rich and disadvantage the rest. And they have been rewritten further in this perverse direction in the U.S. than in other developed countries—even though the rules in the U.S. were already less favorable to workers. From this perspective, increasing inequality is a matter of choice: a consequence of our policies, laws and regulations.

In the U.S., the market power of large corporations, which was greater than in most other advanced countries to begin with, has increased even more than elsewhere. On the other hand, the market power of workers, which started out less than in most other advanced countries, has fallen further than elsewhere. This is not only because of the shift to a service-sector economy—it is because of the rigged rules of the game, rules set in a political system that is itself rigged through gerrymandering, voter suppression and the influence of money. A vicious spiral has formed: economic inequality translates into political inequality, which leads to rules that favor the wealthy, which in turn reinforces economic inequality.
Quite so, again. Here is the last bit that I quote:
Rigged rules also explain why the impact of globalization may have been worse in the U.S. A concerted attack on unions has almost halved the fraction of unionized workers in the nation, to about 11 percent. (In Scandinavia, it is roughly 70 percent.) Weaker unions provide workers less protection against the efforts of firms to drive down wages or worsen working conditions.
Yes indeed. I agree with all of this, and do so since a long time, and have written so in Nederlog, but one reason to quote this is that Stiglitz is a really prominent economist, whle Scientific American is a really prominent science monthly. There is considerably more in this article, that is recommended.

2. The Complex and Frustrating Reality of Recycling Plastic

This article is by Mary Mazzoni on Truthout. It starts as follows:
Global consumers now use a million plastic bottles every minute, 91 percent of which are not recycled. Our growing consumption of single-use plastic is evident in the form of ever-expanding landfills, as well as pollution on our sidewalks, along roadways and in natural ecosystems. Plastic that is littered or blown out of waste bins makes its way into storm drains, streams and rivers. Ultimately, up to 8 million metric tons of it enter the world’s oceans every year.

Scientists aren’t sure how long it takes for plastic to fully biodegrade—estimates range from 450 years to never, National Geographic reported in its June issue, which is devoted to the mounting plastic pollution problem. But we know enough to know that the staggering 9.2 billion metric tons of plastic produced since the 1950s isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. At this rate, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

This is from the beginning of a quite long and quite good article on plastics, and again I will be quoting only from its beginning because the article is too long to properly excerpt.

Here is more:

Many now consider ocean plastic pollution an existential threat on par with climate change, but it seems like it should be an easy one to fix. Plastic is recyclable, after all, so why can’t we just recycle it? It turns out it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Around two-thirds of the plastic that enters the ocean from rivers is carried by only 20 waterways—the majority of which are on the Asian continent, where access to waste collection and recycling is often limited. Even in countries with established waste management infrastructure, the picture remains bleak: Less than 10 percent of the plastic used in the United States is recycled, according to the most recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data.
Quite so, and here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

To make matters worse, fluctuating demand for recycled material and consumer confusion about what is recyclable make it harder for US collection programs to remain economical. If nothing changes, municipal recycling programs across the country may be forced to scale back or even shut down—hastening our collision course with a new paradigm defined by toxic seas.

This grim reality begs the question: How can developing markets—which now produce roughly half of the world’s plastic—hope to establish effective recycling infrastructures if countries like the US are still unable to get it right? What’s holding us back from recycling more plastic, and what can we do to save our oceans before it’s too late?

And this is folllowed by a whole lot more. This article is strongly recommended.

3. Lawsuit: Facebook Used Faulty Data to Convince Publishers to Go All In on Video

This article is by Ilana Novick on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

In 2016 and 2017, media companies were convinced video content was the wave of the future. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told BuzzFeed News, “We’re entering this new golden age of video.” Facebook’s vice president for Europe, Nicola Mendelsohn, concurred, telling a panel at a Fortune conference in 2016: “We’re seeing a massive increase, as I’ve said, on both pictures and video. So I think, yeah, if I was having a bet, I would say: Video, video, video.”

Companies acted accordingly. Barely two years after hiring multiple writers and editors to focus on long-form written content, MTV News laid off many of those much-heralded staffers, saying that while it was proud of its long-form content, the company was “shifting resources into short-form video content more in line with young people’s media consumption habits.”
I say.

Well... I do not own a TV since 1970, and have seen less TV than almost anybody else who lives in Europe or the United States. Moreover, my reasons to avoid TV are not religious nor moral, but are mostly intellectual: I did see TV regularly from 1963 till 1970, but found almost all programs solidly boring, whereas it was quite clear to me that I had learned hardly anything from TV in 7 years of regular viewing. This is why I decided to stop watching TV, for I wanted to do science much rather than be amused (and that is still the case, nearly 50 years later).

And videos - such as I can see on Youtube, at least - are very much like TV. Besides, the stress on video strongly corresponds to a major trend I first saw in Dutch high school and then in a Dutch university: Everything that relates to the intellect - schools, universities, reading habits, intellectual interests, science - has been dumbed down in major ways since 1965 (in Holland).

Indeed ¨the new generation¨ seems to read much less than my generation, and to view more videos (on TV and elsewhere, like Youtube), which means that - in my opinion, which can be well-founded but I shall skip that here and now - that the average is less intelligent than my generation.

And one may ask a quite relevant question about this whole development of less schooling and less education: To what extent was this done on purpose?

I shall not answer my question here, but move on to Facebook, that now is faced by a lawsuit:

A new lawsuit filed this week by a group of advertisers in California, however, claims that Facebook knew for years that its data on video was faulty, and, as Laura Hazard Owen reports in NiemanLab, “[the lawsuit] argues that Facebook had known about the discrepancy for at least a year—and behaved fraudulently by failing to disclose it.”

Owen reports that the signs were there even before the layoffs, and quotes a Wall Street Journal piece from 2016 that said Facebook “vastly overestimated average viewing time for video ads on its platform for two years by as much as 60 to 80 percent.”

I think this was intentional on Facebook´s part, although the reasons for this intention may be diverse.

Here is more on the suit against Facebook:

“The suit alleges,” Owens goes on to explain, “that there was a long lag between the time that the engineers realized the metrics were faulty and the time that Facebook corrected them, due to understaffing on the engineering team,” and, as the suit itself notes:

Even once Facebook decided to correct the false metrics, it chose not to do so immediately. Instead, Facebook chose to continue disseminating false metrics for several more months while it developed and deployed a ‘no PR’ strategy designed to ‘obfuscate the fact that we screwed up the math.’ All the while, Facebook continued to reap the benefits from the inflated numbers.

And here is more by Laura Owen:

What does seem clear now is that Facebook’s executives’ statements about video should not have been a factor in news publishers’ decisions to lay off their editorial staffs. But it’s hard not to conclude that publishers heard that rhapsodizing about the future and assumed that Facebook knew better than they did, that Facebook’s data must be more accurate than their own data was, that Facebook was perceiving something that they could not. That their own eyes were wrong.

Read Owen’s analysis, including excerpts from the court documents, here.

This is a recommended article.
4. Psyched at The American Psychological Association

This article is by Michael Brenner on Consortium News. This starts as follows:
A convention of professional specialists is always revelatory – if not always intellectually edifying. This is especially true of academic disciplines in the Liberal Arts. It is a species of social institution that bears its American birthmark. Now spread throughout the developed world, it was born in the United States and evolved into its present form in the post-war decades.

Those were years of earnest endeavor, an optimistic belief in collective uplift, and abundance of just about everything. The distinguishing features inherited from that era are still evident, however qualified by rampant self-promotion, commercialization and sheer size.
I was reminded of all this by attending a few sessions of the American Psychological Association meetings in San Francisco in August. It had been years since I last was at one of these shindigs. My experience had been mainly with the American Political Science Association, but the differences are insignificant. Indeed, the subject matter within the social sciences increasingly overlaps.
I review this article because I am a psychologist with an extremely good degree who does not believe psychology is a real science. Again, I shall not try here and now to make the last statement credible, but I can refer you to one who does: See Psychology and Neuroscience by Paul Lutus. (And I do not agree with everything in it, but leave this also out of consideration.)

And I do not know to what extent Michael Brenner agrees with me, but he is not a psychologist but a political scientist.

First, here is more about the APA (the American Psychological Association) and this is in fact a bit of recent history:
Regrettably, I missed the main event which occurred on the eve of the convention as the APA was roiled once again by the aftershocks from the scandal that arose over the organization’s direct participation in counseling the CIA and the Pentagon on interrogation techniques. Those included techniques employed at Guantanamo and the ‘black sites’ scattered around the globe. Some members had gotten their hands very dirty. The association’s Executive Council had cashed some rather large government checks, cast a veil over these dubious dealings, and met accusations with a barrage of lies – for more than a decade. Skullduggery became the order of the times.

Rebellious members eventually mounted a protest that set off something approximating a civil war. It seemingly was settled in favor of the insurgents when an impartial investigation was reluctantly agreed by the defendants. Chicago attorney David H. Hoffman was named to conduct the review. On July 2, 2015, a 542-page report was issued. Its conclusions were that the old leadership did indeed sin, that it had violated the APA’s own guidelines (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct), that it had been systematically deceitful, and had engaged in a cover-up.
Quite so. Also, in 2018 the APA tried to turn this back, but lost again to a majority of ¨rebellious members¨, that is, people who take torture seriously and do not like to participate in it.

Here is Brenner´s judgement on the social sciences (that include psychology):
American professional associations, including academic ones, are extremely permeable to whatever is going on in the popular culture. Their elite self-image of superiority notwithstanding, they are susceptible to high profile doings out there in the world where the masses play. Their disciplines, at the same time, place high value on theory, on modeling, on quantitative analysis – but in ways that are largely disengaged from the real world of experience. Hence, the social science disciplines are divided in an unhealthy way. The same holds for economics and – to somewhat lesser extent – political science.

The academic disciplines of the social sciences are undisciplined. Scholars are free to write with only selective reference to what has been said about their topic of interest by others in the past. In addition, empirical ‘data’ is screened. It’s like conversation and public discussion – the stress is on affirmation rather than communication and building collective understanding.
These traits are powerfully reinforced by a reward system that pays near zero attention to these shortcomings, values quantity of publication and grants over quality, and encourages self-promotion. From the vantage point of the hard sciences, this looks like parody. To a considerable extent it is.
I agree, and this is a recommended article.

5. Here's What Thomas Jefferson Would Have to Say About Trump's Attacks on the Free Press

This article is by Jill Darling and others on AlterNet and originally on The Conversation. It starts as follows:

“No government ought to be without censors and where the press is free no one ever will,” wrote Thomas Jefferson to George Washington.

It is a powerful description of press freedom and the crucial role of the press in a democracy.

Here Jefferson sees the press as “censors” in the ancient Roman sense: They guard against the abuse of public authority. And according to a recent USC Dornsife/LA Times Poll, today’s Americans agree with this Jeffersonian ideal.

Overwhelmingly, Americans reject government restrictions on the press. At the same time and in ways that reflect our nation’s fragmentation, they are divided about the sincerity and the impact, even the potentially dangerous impact, of President Trump’s assault on the press.

I say, for I did not know this. In fact, this is a positive article, so to speak, which happens to be a rare event in Nederlog these days.

Here is more, for the above quotation was based on research:

The poll was conducted by USC Dornsife’s Center for Economic and Social Research and the Center for the Political Future between Aug. 11 and Sept. 24, 2018, among a national sample of 5,045 adults.

First, the survey elicited a response that will gratify the news media. We asked survey respondents to choose between two statements:

“News organizations should have the freedom to publish or broadcast any stories they choose, except in very limited cases on topics such as national security” and “Government officials should have broad authority to limit the information that news organizations publish or broadcast.”

A mega-majority of respondents – 85 percent – chose the first statement, including 81 percent of those who describe themselves as tending to agree with Republicans.

The view that government should exercise authority over the news media commanded minimal assent – just 15 percent. And that 15 percent was dominated by groups who form Trump’s core support: primarily white, male, less educated and living in rural or suburban locations.

I say, once more, for I think that is a quite positive result, and 85 percent is higher than I expected.

Here is more, for there were other questions in the research:

President Trump’s characterization of the media as “enemies of the people” is at war with that conception – and the research shows that the Trump assault is having a corrosive effect. 

We were interested in finding out to what extent the public assumes the president himself believes that parts of the press are enemies of the people. Or did they think the president is merely expressing frustration about his own press coverage – in essence, blowing off steam.

Overall, the public split 55 percent to 45 percent, with the majority thinking the president was just venting.

This is less positive and also less precisely stated, but I report it. Here is a last result:

In a separate question in our poll, the public also divided between 44 percent who believe Trump’s remarks are harmless and 56 percent who believe Trump’s remarks are dangerous with a potential to incite violence.

I agree with the 56 percent, as would Thomas Jefferson have done - but I think 56 percent is quite low, unfortunately. Anyway, 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 (!!).
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