February 19, 2019

Crisis: Electronic Images, Population Growth, Failing Capitalism, On Psychiatry, Digital Gangsters

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous, than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
  -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from February 19, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, February 19, 2019.

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 three 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:

. Selections from February 19, 2019:
1. Worshipping the Electronic Image
2. What to Do About Massive Population Growth

3. How a failing capitalist system is allowing Amazon to cripple America

4. A psychiatrist makes the case for invoking the 25th Amendment

5. UK Lawmakers Call Out Facebook Execs as 'Digital Gangsters'
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. Worshipping the Electronic Image

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Donald Trump, like much of the American public, is entranced by electronic images. He interprets reality through the distortions of digital media. His decisions, opinions, political positions, prejudices and sense of self are reflected back to him on screens. He views himself and the world around him as a vast television show with himself as the star. His primary concerns as president are his ratings, his popularity and his image. He is a creature—maybe the poster child—of the modern, post-literate culture, a culture that critics such as Marshall McLuhan, Daniel Boorstin, James W. Carey and Neil Postman warned us about.

Quite possibly so, as far as Trump is concerned, at least, and I also did read McLuhan and Postman, but should add I disagreed with both. Also, on a personal note, I like to add three relevant remarks:

First, next year I am living 50 years by myself (or with a woman), and then I also do not have a TV for 50 years. The reason I gave up on TV 50 years ago are still the same as they were then: I hardly ever learned anything from TV (but a lot from books); I thought nearly all programs boring and uninteresting; and I hate propaganda and advertisements.

Second, it is now 41 years ago that I heard the first postmodernistic philosopher (the late fascist and terrorist, professor Brands, in fact a historian), who was invited to open he academic year 1978/1979 in the "University" of Amsterdam, where he told the sick lie, literally but in Dutch

"Everybody knows that truth does not exist"

My ex and myself heard him do the public academic opening, and I was so much sickened by this postmodernistic bullshit (that I did not even know was called postmodernism in 1978) that I was enticed (in spite of the illness that struck both my ex and myself in January 1979) to design a student party that opposed it.

Doing that taught me that (i) I was "a fascist" (or "a dirty fascist") and "a terrorist" according to the student party I opposed, the ASVA, that was from the 1970ies till 1984 ruled by com- munists, and that (ii) around 5% of all the students and staff in the "University" of Amsterdam agreed with our rationalistic pro-science approach to universities, and 95% of the students agreed with the ASVA, perhaps not because they were communists or postmodernists (as the ASVA was from 1985 till 1995), but because they liked the easiest possible way towards their degrees.

Third, the last time the average IQ was measured in the "University" of Amsterdam was - to the best of my knowledge - in 1984, when the average IQ was 115 (which was from 1865 till 1965 about 10 points too low for a university education).

I said that both my ex and myself fell ill in January 1979, and we still are, and have ME/CFS. We did both succeed in getting our M.A.-degrees in psychology, and these degrees were both very good, and were made with hardly hearing any lectures, but I must add that both our IQs were above 140 (which I understand is very offensive to nearly all Dutchmen with a lower IQ, i.e. at least 99 out of a 100).

Anyway... these are quite relevant personal remarks. Here is more by Chris Hedges (and Neil Postman):

“It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse,” Postman points out. “It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails.” Americans, because television stages their world, “no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other.” Trump is what is produced when a society severs itself from print, when it pushes art, ethics, classics, philosophy, history and the humanities to the margins of the universities and culture, when its members spend hours sitting inert in front of a screen. Information, ideas and epistemology are, as Postman writes, given form today by electronic images.

In one sense, I cannot verify Postman's thesis because I saw extremely little TV the last 50 years, but I must add that (anyway) I don't believe it, although I agree that "art, ethics, classics, philosophy, history and the humanities" have been pushed more and more aside.

But I disagree because Postman speaks as if (bolding added) "television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse" and I know (in Holland at least) it is not, that is, for the more intelligent and better educated part of the adults (which I agree are always in the minority - and I start counting at an IQ of 125, if I am supposed to say someone is intelligent).

Here is some more on Trump's talents and those who believe him:

More ominous than the president’s impoverished vocabulary is that he cannot string together sentences that make sense. This replicates not only the shoddy vocabulary of television, but more importantly the incoherence of television. Trump is able to communicate with tens of millions of Americans, also raised in front of screens, because they too have been linguistically and intellectually mutated by digital images. They lack the ability to detect lies or think rationally. They are part of our post-truth culture.

Yes, but the current president is quite dumb and is also - in my psychologist's opinions, and also see below - not sane (but you may disagree, especially if you are a postmodernist or not a psychologist).

Also, while I probably agree with Hedges that many Americans are both quite stupid and quite ignorant, I again do not think that their stupidity and ignorance are produced by TV, or as Hedges says, because "they too have been linguistically and intellectually mutated by digital images".

In part the stupidity is native (half of all adults have an IQ below 100), and in considerable part the ignorance is produced by the very bad education system (which in Holland has been broken down since 1965, which makes it necessary to teach 18-year old students of physics at present the algebra that I learned at age 12, in 1962).

Here is more on electronic images:

Electronic images are our modern-day idols. We worship the power and fame they impart. We yearn to become idolized celebrities. We measure our lives against the fantasies these images disseminate. If something does not appear on a screen or is proclaimed on a screen its authenticity is questioned. We fervently build miniature social media platforms where we daily update our “life the movie,” confusing self-presentation with genuine communication and friendship.

None of the above holds for me, although I am probably satisfied that the above may describe a sizable part of those with IQs below 100 (which is half of all adults).

And there is this on TV in the USA:

The fixation on electronic images by Trump means he and millions of other American adults—who, according to a 2018 report by the Nielsen company, on average watch four hours, 46 minutes of TV each day and spend “over 11 hours per day listening to, watching, reading or generally interacting with media”—have severed themselves from complex thought. They have been infantilized. Television, including the news, reduces all reality to a childish, cartoonish simplicity.

I say. Well... you must be crazy (in my opinion) to watch 4 hours and 45 minutes of TV every day, besides spending “over 11 hours per day listening to, watching, reading or generally interacting with media”: I see no TV at all on almost any day, and the only thing I "interact" with that "produces electronic images" is the screen of my computer, that also is mostly off for around 18 hours in each 24 hours.

Here is more on academic institutions:

Academic institutions, which should be the repositories of culture and literacy, are transforming themselves, often with corporate money, into adjuncts of the digital age, expanding departments that deal with technology, engineering and computer science—the largest major at universities such as Princeton and Harvard—while diminishing the disciplines that deal with art, philosophy, ethics, history and politics. These disciplines, rooted in print, are the only antidotes to cultural death.

I wrote the ""University" of Amsterdam" in part because I quite agree that this institution has ceased to be a real university in the early 1970ies, and never can regain its status as a real university without massive changes in all education in Holland (which is most unlikely without a revolution).

Also, I am quite willing to suppose that a similar development as happened in Holland happened elsewhere, which is to say that most university studies are very much less worth than they were before 1965.

Here is Hedges' conclusion:

In short, the more we turn off our screens and return to the world of print, the more we seek out the transformative power of art and culture, the more we re-establish genuine relationships, conducted face-to-face rather than through a screen, the more we use knowledge to understand and put the world around us in context, the more we will be able to protect ourselves from the digital dystopia.

I more or less agree with this, but then I think this is possible only for a small group of anyway intellectually gifted with something like a decent education (which gets more and more rare, indeed).

Also, I think the present article is interesting but mostly mistaken: I think what Hedges describes is quite possibly true of the unintelligent half (or two thirds) of the population, but it is not quite true of the remaining part (which is a minority). And in any case, this article is recommended.

2. What to Do About Massive Population Growth

This article is by Fiona Ehlers, Bartholomäus Grill, Laura Höflinger and Samiha Shafy on Spiegel International. It has a supertitle, "Four Billions More". This article is also too long to excerpt properly. This is from not far from its beginning:

Africa is in in the midst of a population explosion that will necessarily lead to a massive wave of migration toward Europe, writes Stephen Smith, an Africa studies professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, in his soon-to-be-released book "The Scramble for Europe: Young Africa on Its Way to the Old Continent."

Smith, a former Africa correspondent, predicts that as a result of the massive wave of migration, between 150 and 200 million people of African heritage will live in Europe by 2050. He warns of a "stampede" and a "flood" that will reach across the globe, a scenario that plays right into the hands of right-wing populists and their xenophobic message.
But Smith does correctly depict a development that Western donor countries and aid organizations have long been playing down: In the next 30 years, the population of the African continent will more than double, from 1.2 billion people today to 2.5 billion. The result will be a population of which 50 percent will be younger than 30 years old and won't have much of a future to look forward to if the continent's economic outlook doesn't change drastically. The threat of conflict over scarce resources, land, food, water and work is very real.

Well... first of all, I think this is a bad article (which seems to be a rather common fate of journalism produced by three, four or more journalists). And second, while I grant that Smith's population numbers may be correct, I don't think his projections are correct at all.

Here is some more:

The UN believes that population growth will slow by the end of this century and will come to a stop at around 11 billion people, which is welcome news, on one hand. On the other, though, that is 4 billion more people than currently live on the planet -- 4 billion people who will live predominantly in Africa and Asia, in three-dozen countries that are poorly prepared for what is coming because they are already overwhelmed with the situation as it currently stands.

In fact, "4 billion people" more is more than 50% of the present population - and nearly all of them will be born in the 21st century. I happen to think that 7 billion is far too many, and my reasons are - especially, though not only - that a sizable part of the present 7 billion are not well fed.

Here is more:

In a few years, India will take over from China as the world's most populous country. By the middle of the century, it will be home to more than 1.6 billion people, though precise projections vary. It is an almost frightening number, but it doesn't have to be, because India is a country that is doing many things right.

Within 40 years, the birth rate in India has plunged by more than 50 percent to 2.2 children per woman. Assuming the trend continues, the population will continue growing until 2050 -- and will then cease.

One of the reasons I think this is a really bad article are phrases like 1.6 billion (merely in India) "is an almost frightening number, but it doesn't have to be, because India is a country that is doing many things right" - for saying that it "is doing many things right" is about the only sort of "argument" in this article that supports that 11 billion people will be able to survive by 2100.

Here is the ending, which is sick in my opinion:

When looked at through that lens, the many young men and women in Africa are not a millstone around the continent's neck, but its hope for the future. They may even be able to disprove the pessimists, assuming they are able to overcome the huge hurdles to development in their countries: terrible governance, the power of tradition and the predominance of the old, male guard.

You see: There are high hopes for Africa precisely because it has "many young men and women" for this provides hope, according to Spiegel International, for (bolding added) "[t]hey may even be able to disprove the pessimists" - and if not, they will die by "terrible governance, the power of tradition and the predominance of the old". (But hey, they are black, so presumably this doesn't matter much.)

3. How a failing capitalist system is allowing Amazon to cripple America

This article is by Paul Buchheit on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Capitalism is failing in America, and Amazon is both the cause and beneficiary of much of the breakdown. Jeff Bezos said, "We've had three big ideas at Amazon that we've stuck with for 18 years, and they're the reason we're successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient." He might have added three capitalist practices familiar to his company: (1) Pay no taxes; (2) Drive competitors out of business; and (3) Exploit workers.
In 2018, according to its own SEC filings, Amazon claimed a refund on its $11 billion in U.S. profits. It did the same on nearly $6 billion in profits in 2017. The company has reportedly positioned itself to avoid even more future taxes with unspecified tax credits. 

In the most extreme form of capitalism taxes do not exist. This is
"anarcho-capitalism." Among all corporations, Amazon may be the leading advocate of this philosophy. They haven't paid federal income tax for the past two years.

Yes, I quite agree with the above. Here is some more:

In a summary of "The Myth of Capitalism," by Jonathan Tepper and Denise Hearn, it is argued that "an increase in market concentration across the United States has resulted in a system that is not true capitalism, since freedom is being restricted... Amazon is crushing retailers.. It can determine what products can and cannot sell on its platform, and it competes with any customer that encounters success." Columbia University and UN economist Howard Steven Friedman adds, "Monopolies are one example of capitalism failing. Monopolies have virtually no competition and can dictate prices to their customers unless they are restricted by regulators."

Well... no, I mostly disagree:

First, to characterize or define capitalism as "not restricting freedom" is utter and total bullshit for anybody who knows anything about capitalism (especially - in the West - in the second half of th 19th century).

Second, I also do not think that "Monopolies are one example of capitalism failing": For me, it seems rather as if this is one important signature that capitalism is not failing.

Third, I would like to have a - good, clear - definition of something important that is supposed to be failing, like capitalism, but this is wholly missing.

Here is more on Amazon:

Amazon warehouse workers make about $13 per hour. That's not a living wage for a U.S. family of four, and not even for a single person in many areas of the country. So the employees of this super-rich company turn to food stamps, letting U.S. taxpayers take care of them. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, one in ten Amazon workers were recently on SNAP. In Arizona, one in three.

This is correct, and it is a big shame. Here is some more on capitalism (still not defined):

Capitalism has failed workers, and it has caused a surge in inequality that gets worse with each passing year. In Capital in the 21st Century, Thomas Piketty showed that for 40 years, from 1970 to 2010, labor's share of national income (wages and salaries) has declined. Stanford research reveals that "the declining labor share at the economy level is driven by the growth of large firms." Like Amazon.

This is more or less correct. Here is the last bit from this article, on Amazon's chief, Bezos:

According to The Atlantic, "Bezos has argued that there is not enough philanthropic need on earth for him to spend his billions on." If that truly reflects the man's attitude, it shows an incomprehensible ignorance or disdain on his part.

If this is what Bezos thinks, he thinks that the billions of human beings who presently are starving or do not get enough of (the right) foods ought to starve, for "there is not enough philanthropic need on earth for him to spend his billions on". All I say about this is that I am not amazed at all.

4. A psychiatrist makes the case for invoking the 25th Amendment

This article is by Tana Ganeva on AlterNet and originally on Raw Story. This is from near its beginning:

Psychiatrist Dee Mosbacher, M.D., Ph.D., has previously advocated for the use of the 25th Amendment in response to the President’s erratic behavior. She co-authored a chapter in “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President—Updated with New Essays.”

Raw Story spoke with her about why she thinks the president is not fit for office and whether the 25th Amendment is a viable option.

I say, which I do mainly because the last time I reviewed an article by Tana Ganeva it was about another psychiatrist who deplores - correctly, in my psychologist's opinion - that Donald Trump became president because (these psychiatrists think) Trump is not sane.

The last link is to an article I wrote in 2016, that is quite good, and that includes a part co-written by Dee Mosbacher.

Then again, while I am a psychologist who thinks these psychiatrists are correct in their diagnosis (which is based on observational terms rather than psychoanalytic or psychiatric terms), I am also a psychologist who denies that psychiatry is a science (as do the majority of the Dutch psychologists who were educated in my time).

Also, while I agree the situation could be a lot better (with a far more scientific psychiatry) I also insist that - in the case of Donald Trump, at least - this is less of a problem.

Anyway, here is some more:

Tana Ganeva: Do you think that the 25th Amendment should be invoked?

Dee Mosbacher: As a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of chronic mental illness, I have been calling for a thorough neuropsychiatric evaluation of Donald Trump since November, 2016. He has shown numerous signs of mental impairment that warrant an immediate evaluation. This evaluation should include a thorough assessment of his capacity to perform the duties of office. Such an evaluation could take place if a neuropsychiatric consultation were requested after the 25th Amendment was invoked. Invoking the 25th Amendment is a political decision that must be undertaken by the vice president, the Cabinet, and/or Congress.

I agree a "neuropsychiatric evaluation" of any (future) president probably is quite sensible, quite like a medical evaluation.

Here is more on Donald Trump:

Tana Ganeva: What actions by President Donald Trump make you think this step is appropriate?

Dee Mosbacher: He is impulsive, belligerent, grandiose, careless, hypersensitive to slights and criticism, and seems unable to distinguish fantasy from reality. These dangerous signs have become more apparent with every passing week of his presidency.

I agree (and see Trump is not sane, because that is considerably more specific).

Here is more, in fact on psychiatry:

Tana Ganeva: What are the next steps going forward?

Dee Mosbacher: If the 25th Amendment is invoked by the appropriate governmental officials, I hope that they will simultaneously create an independent, nonpartisan panel of mental health and medical experts to evaluate Mr. Trump’s capability to fulfill the responsibilities of the presidency. Such a panel should consist of three neuropsychiatrists (one clinical, one academic, and one military), one clinical psychologist, one neurologist, and two internists. The experts should serve six-year terms, with a provision that one member per year will rotate off and be replaced (Abrams 1999).

No, I disagree: That panel would consists of 3 psychiatrists, 1 psychologist, 1 neurologist and 2 internists, and that is far too many psychiatrists (which, once again, is not a real science - and if you want to disagree check out DSM-5: Question 1 of "The six most essential questions in psychiatric diagnosis"

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

The evaluations should be strictly confidential unless the panel determines that the mental health or medical condition of the president or vice-president renders her/him incapable of fulfilling the duties of office. All American military personnel must pass a fitness for duty exam before they serve. We should expect nothing less of our commander in chief.

This may be reasonable - but whether he is declared to be medically fit or unfit (and medicine includes psychiatry) should not be due to a majority of psychiatrists and psychologists.

5. UK Lawmakers Call Out Facebook Execs as 'Digital Gangsters'

This article is by Jessica Corbett on Common Dreams. I abbreviated the title. It starts as follows:

As U.K. lawmakers called for strict regulations "to curb the worst excesses of surveillance capitalism" following the release a damning report that details an investigation of Facebook, New Zealand's Labour Party announced Monday it is pursuing tax reforms to require multinational tech giants "to pay their fair share."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed the decision in a press conference following a cabinet meeting on Monday, telling reporters that "our current tax system is not fair in the way it treats individual tax payers, and how it treats multinationals."

"Highly digitalized companies, such as those offering social media networks, trading platforms, and online advertising, currently earn a significant income from New Zealand consumers without being liable for income tax. That is not fair, and we are determined to do something about it," Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in a statement.

I quite agree. Here is some more - and note that Mark Zuckerberg and others are, completely correctly, in my opinion, called (bolding added) "digital gangsters" - and this opinion was based on 1 1/2 years of research of Facebook, and is by the British "Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee":

The news out of New Zealand came as the U.K. Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee put out a report outlining the results of an 18-month probe of "disinformation and fake news" on Facebook—which found that the company "intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws," as Tory MP and committee chairman Damian Collins summarized in a statement.

Calling out Facebook and its executives for behaving as "digital gangsters," the report, as the Guardian outlined:

  • Accuses Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's co-founder and chief executive, of contempt for Parliament in refusing three separate demands for him to give evidence, instead sending junior employees unable to answer the committee's questions;
  • Warns British electoral law is unfit for purpose and vulnerable to interference by hostile foreign actors, including agents of the Russian government attempting to discredit democracy; and
  • Calls on the British government to establish an independent investigation into "foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation, and the sharing of data in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 EU referendum, and the 2017 general election."
I think I agree with most of the above, and certainly with the first point. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

"We need a radical shift in the balance of power between the platforms and the people," he concluded, calling for stricter regulations and reforms to existing rules that are outdated in the current digital era.

The U.K. Labour Party concurred. "Labour agrees with the committee's ultimate conclusion—the era of self-regulation for tech companies must end immediately," said Deputy Leader Tom Watson. "We need new independent regulation with a tough powers and sanctions regime to curb the worst excesses of surveillance capitalism and the forces trying to use technology to subvert our democracy."

Yes, I agree, although I think I should add that there was already a need for "new independent regulation with a tough powers and sanctions regime" since 15 years at least. 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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