Saturday, October 20, 2018

#DeleteFacebook

Well, I rarely use it, so deleting my account won't affect me much either way. I guess I'd lose a few connections to people that are valuable. Maybe I could message my important contacts, get their cellphone numbers, and then delete the monstrosity.

I hadn't really thought of it until now, and that sounds pretty good actually, heh.

In any case, Jacob Weisberg reviews two books that I've promoted here, Siva Vaidhyanathan's, Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy, and Jaron Lanier's, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.

At the New York Review, "The Autocracy App":


Facebook is a company that has lost control—not of its business, which has suffered remarkably little from its series of unfortunate events since the 2016 election, but of its consequences. Its old slogan, “Move fast and break things,” was changed a few years ago to the less memorable “Move fast with stable infra.” Around the world, however, Facebook continues to break many things indeed.

In Myanmar, hatred whipped up on Facebook Messenger has driven ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. In India, false child abduction rumors on Facebook’s WhatsApp service have incited mobs to lynch innocent victims. In the Philippines, Turkey, and other receding democracies, gangs of “patriotic trolls” use Facebook to spread disinformation and terrorize opponents. And in the United States, the platform’s advertising tools remain conduits for subterranean propaganda.

Mark Zuckerberg now spends much of his time apologizing for data breaches, privacy violations, and the manipulation of Facebook users by Russian spies. This is not how it was supposed to be. A decade ago, Zuckerberg and the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, championed Facebook as an agent of free expression, protest, and positive political change. To drive progress, Zuckerberg always argued, societies would have to get over their hang-ups about privacy, which he described as a dated concept and no longer the social norm. “If people share more, the world will become more open and connected,” he wrote in a 2010 Washington Post Op-Ed. This view served Facebook’s business model, which is based on users passively delivering personal data. That data is used to target advertising to them based on their interests, habits, and so forth. To increase its revenue, more than 98 percent of which comes from advertising, Facebook needs more users to spend more time on its site and surrender more information about themselves.

The import of a business model driven by addiction and surveillance became clearer in March, when The Observer of London and The New York Times jointly revealed that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had obtained information about 50 million Facebook users in order to develop psychological profiles. That number has since risen to 87 million. Yet Zuckerberg and his company’s leadership seem incapable of imagining that their relentless pursuit of “openness and connection” has been socially destructive. With each apology, Zuckerberg’s blundering seems less like naiveté and more like malignant obliviousness. In an interview in July, he contended that sites denying the Holocaust didn’t contravene the company’s policies against hate speech because Holocaust denial might amount to good faith error. “There are things that different people get wrong,” he said. “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.” He had to apologize, again.

It’s not just external critics who see something fundamentally amiss at the company. People central to Facebook’s history have lately been expressing remorse over their contributions and warning others to keep their children away from it. Sean Parker, the company’s first president, acknowledged last year that Facebook was designed to cultivate addiction. He explained that the “like” button and other features had been created in response to the question, “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” Chamath Palihapitiya, a crucial figure in driving Facebook’s growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” over his involvement in developing “tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” Roger McNamee, an early investor and mentor to Zuckerberg, has become a full-time crusader for restraining a platform that he calls “tailor-made for abuse by bad actors.”

Perhaps even more damning are the recent actions of Brian Acton and Jan Koum, the founders of WhatsApp. Facebook bought their five-year-old company for $22 billion in 2014, when it had only fifty-five employees. Acton resigned in September 2017. Koum, the only Facebook executive other than Zuckerberg and Sandberg to sit on the company’s board, quit at the end of April. By leaving before November 2018, the WhatsApp founders walked away from $1.3 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal. When he announced his departure, Koum said that he was “taking some time off to do things I enjoy outside of technology, such as collecting rare air-cooled Porsches, working on my cars and playing ultimate Frisbee.”

However badly he felt about neglecting his Porsches, Koum was thoroughly fed up with Facebook. He and Acton are strong advocates of user privacy. One of the goals of WhatsApp, they said, was “knowing as little about you as possible.” They also didn’t want advertising on WhatsApp, which was supported by a 99-cent annual fee when Facebook bought it. From the start, the pair found themselves in conflict with Zuckerberg and Sandberg over Facebook’s business model of mining user data to power targeted advertising. (In late September, the cofounders of Instagram also announced their departure from Facebook, reportedly over issues of autonomy.)

At the time of the acquisition of WhatsApp, Zuckerberg had assured Acton and Koum that he wouldn’t share its user data with other applications. Facebook told the European Commission, which approved the merger, that it had no way to match Facebook profiles with WhatsApp user IDs. Then, simply by matching phone numbers, it did just that. Pooling the data let Facebook recommend that WhatsApp users’ contacts become their Facebook friends. It also allowed it to monetize WhatsApp users by enabling advertisers to target them on Facebook. In 2017 the European Commission fined Facebook $122 million for its “misleading” statements about the takeover.

Acton has been less discreet than Koum about his feelings. Upon leaving Facebook, he donated $50 million to the Signal Foundation, which he now chairs. That organization supports Signal, a fully encrypted messaging app that competes with WhatsApp. Following the Cambridge Analytica revelations, he tweeted, “It is time. #deletefacebook.”

The growing consensus is that Facebook’s power needs checking. Fewer agree on what its greatest harms are—and still fewer on what to do about them. When Mark Zuckerberg was summoned by Congress in April, the toughest questioning came from House Republicans convinced that Facebook was censoring conservatives, in particular two African-American sisters in North Carolina who make pro-Trump videos under the name “Diamond and Silk.” Facebook’s policy team charged the two with promulgating content “unsafe to the community” and indicated that it would restrict it. Facebook subsequently said the complaint was sent in error but has never explained how that happened, or how it decides that some opinions are “unsafe.”

Democrats were naturally more incensed about the twin issues of Russian interference in the 2016 election and the abuse of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica in its work for Trump’s presidential campaign.
Keep reading.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Out in Paper: Ron Chernow, Grant

Now in paperback, at Amazon, Ron Chernow, Grant.



Democrats Have Shifted to the Extreme Left

Following-up from yesterday, "The Democrats' Left Turn."

At IBD, "It's Official: Democrats Are the Extremists Today":


Everyone knows that the country is more politically polarized than ever, but most don't know why. Data from the highly respected Pew Research Center provides a definitive answer. It's because Democrats have moved sharply to the extreme left.

The Pew report — titled "The Partisan Divide on Political Values Grows Even Wider" — is the latest in a decades-long series of surveys it has conducted to gauge people's views on various key issues, including the size of government, immigration, corporate profits, race relations. The authors of the report note the "divisions between Republicans and Democrats on fundamental political values ... reached record levels during Barack Obama's presidency. In Donald Trump's first year as president, these gaps have grown even larger."

Given the way politics gets reported these days, it's easy to conclude that the widening gap is the result of Republicans become more extreme in their views. That is, after all, a mantra among Democrats and the press. The GOP is the party of racist, sexist, xenophobic, right-wing extremists, we hear over and over again, while Democrats are but humble centrists.

The Pew data, however, make it clear that the shift toward the extreme has happened among Democrats, not Republicans.

This can be seen in dramatic fashion when you look at where the center of each party was in 1994, and where it is today. Pew used a 10-item scale of political values to determine ideological purity among those who claim affiliation with the two parties. The results show that while the Republican center moved only slightly to the right over the past 23 years, the center of Democratic part shifted far to the left. (See the nearby chart.)

Take a look at specific value questions Pew asks and you can see why.

Pew asks, for example, whether poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return. In 1994, 63% of Republicans agreed with this sentiment, as did 44% of Democrats.

This year, 65% of Republicans agreed — a 2-point increase — while just 18% of Democrats did — a 26-point drop.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Democrats used to believe that most people who want to get ahead can do so if they work hard. Today, just 45% of Democrats believe this. Among Republicans, the change was negligible — it went from 73% in 1994 to 77% today.

How about the question of whether racial discrimination is the "main reason many black people can't get ahead these days"?

In 1994, just 39% of Democrats and 26% of Republicans felt this way. That was 14 years before the U.S. elected a black president.

Now, after eight years of Obama in the White House, 64% of Democrats say racism is the main reason blacks can't get ahead, while 14% of Republicans do.

Claudia Lion Photos

At Drunken Stepfather, "Claudia Lion Invisible of the Day."

Russia's GRU Military Intelligence Service is Putin's Personal Political Instrument

At Der Spiegel, "Doing Putin's Dirty Work: The Rise of Russia's GRU Military Intelligence Service":
Russia's GRU military intelligence service has become a political instrument for President Putin -- in the poison attack in Salisbury, hacking against the West and even in dealing with his country's doping scandal. Lately, though, the secret service can't seem to stay out of the headlines.

Each autumn, Russia's GRU secret service celebrates its birthday. Falling on Nov. 5, the festival is officially called the Day of the Military Intelligence Agent and commemorates the founding of the Soviet military intelligence service in 1918. At the GRU headquarters, a modern, functional building located in northwest Moscow, the defense minister gives an inspiring speech, followed by medals for deserving employees.

This year, though -- on the GRU's 100th birthday -- the mood is far from cheerful. Instead of a party atmosphere at headquarters, the Defense Ministry held a crisis meeting instead. And it was apparently open season on the GRU. "Complete incompetence" and "unbridled sloppiness" were a couple of the accusations leveled at the agency, one journalist learned, and a jokester apparently even asked why GRU agents abroad "don't just put on budenovkas?" Budenovka is the name of the striking pointed caps adorned with the Soviet star that members of the Red Army began wearing in 1918.

At the moment, Russia's military intelligence service is having trouble staying out of the headlines. That in itself is a sign of crisis, given that spies generally prefer to keep themselves out of the news. Until recently, only a handful of people abroad even knew what the abbreviation GRU stood for: Main Intelligence Directorate. For most people, Russian intelligence was synonymous with the domestic FSB intelligence agency once headed by Vladimir Putin.

Leaving Tracks Everywhere

That, though, has recently changed, with new details about the GRU emerging on a regular basis in recent weeks. Whether it's the poison attack on ex-double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, Britain, or a cyberattack in The Hague, the exposing of coup plans in the Balkans or the hacking of anti-doping agencies, of the U.S. presidential campaign, of the German federal parliament's computer network or of the Malaysian public prosecutor's office investigating the shooting down of an airplane over Ukraine, the GRU has been leaving its tracks everywhere. The series of blunders is surprising. But so too is the fact that this intelligence service has become so ubiquitous. Is it still even a military secret service or has it morphed into something bigger? And if so, how did GRU get there?

Andrei Soldatov also finds himself asking such questions recently. The Moscow-based journalist has spent years reporting on the world of the Russian secret services. Now, he no longer even understands it himself. He sounds a bit like a music critic who has been forced to listen to a jackhammer instead of a string quintet.

Until recently, the GRU had been regarded as professional, if not particularly squeamish. But the latest news -- such as the March 4 attack in which ex-agent Skripal was supposed to be killed in Salisbury using a neurotoxin -- has cast the agency in a different light. Two men suspected by the British in the incident claimed on Russian television that they had been nothing more than harmless tourists. The performance was ridiculously implausible, and it didn't take long for it to be refuted. The investigative journalism platform Bellingcat recently revealed that both are high-ranking GRU officers and recipients of Russia's highest government award, the "Hero of the Russian Confederation." The site identified the men traveling under the aliases Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov as Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin.

Another clumsy operation also ensued in The Hague only one month after Salisbury. Four GRU employees attracted the attention of Dutch intelligence agents when they tried to hack the computer network of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons from a parking lot. The four had entered the country with diplomatic passports and had been picked up at the airport by an embassy employee. Their computer still carried traces of an attack on an anti-doping conference. Soldatov describes the story as "a nightmare," adding that it is far more bizarre than the action in Salisbury. How, he asks himself, can a secret service act in such a dumb way? And what is going on in the heads of military officers who are sent to attack sports organizations rather than military targets?

To answer these questions, one has to look at the GRU's past. Since the dismantling of the Soviet Union's once all-purpose KGB, Russia has been home to a broad palette of intelligence agencies. The KGB's First Chief Directorate became the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation. The agency is regarded as chic and elegant, and it is located "in the forest," as its shielded headquarters are referred to in agent jargon. The KGB's Ninth Chief Directorate became the Federal Protective Service (FSO), which is responsible for providing protection to Putin and the Kremlin. The agency is feared primarily because proximity to Putin is synonymous with power in the country. The rest of the KGB became the Federal Security Service (FSB), the domestic intelligence agency. It's the best-known agency and it also took over KGB headquarters at Lubyanka Square. Unfortunately, it also adopted some of the Soviet secret polices' methods.

What makes the GRU so special is the fact that it is the only intelligence agency that has nothing to do with the former KGB and its legacy. It was and still is subordinate to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. It even possesses what amounts to its own army. The GRU's Spetsnaz brigades are elite troops trained for action in enemy territory. They also serve to attract new agents. Those who prove themselves in the GRU's Spetsnaz military service stand good chances of advancement within the apparatus.

This is why typical GRU agents differ from their civilian counterparts in the SWR foreign intelligence service. Broadly speaking, they typically aren't sharp analysts with good manners, but social climbers who lack finesse. Though they know how to bury an explosive device and feel more comfortable under enemy fire than in a provincial part of England. At first glance, the two Salisbury suspects, GRU officers Chepiga and Mishkin, seem to fit that mold. Both of them have traveled an impressive path from remote villages on Russia's fringe to the officers' clubs in the capital.

Diminished Influence

While KGB colleagues had to watch the monument to their idol Felix Dzerzhinsky, who founded the Soviet secret police, being dismantled on Lubyanka Square in 1991 and their authority later divided, the GRU didn't have to reform at all. The organization still doesn't even have its own press office. But the agency suffered all the more after Putin entered the Kremlin in 2000. Under Putin, the GRU lost influence relative to FSB, which became ever more powerful. And the radical Russian military reform beginning in 2008 struck the agency right at its core. Then-Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov initially stripped the GRU of the Spetsnaz brigades, the very thing that distinguished it from the other secret services. "The idea was to get rid of the Soviet legacy," says military expert Alexander Golts. "Serdyukov didn't foresee at that time that a new Cold War would break out."

It's perhaps no coincidence that GRU also had its power symbolically curbed at the time. The traditional abbreviation was shortened to GU -- from the "Main Intelligence Directorate" to the "Main Directorate" of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, even though the old designation has been retained in everyday usage. Meanwhile, the bat in the organization's original coat of arms, which some GRU veterans proudly wear as tatoos, was replaced by a carnation.

"They don't like Putin at the GRU," says Sergei Kanev, a prominent investigative journalist in Moscow. Kanev's reporting helped shed light on GRU activities in Salisbury. He helped expose supposed tourist Ruslan Boshirov as GRU Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga and also discovered that officials at the Defense Ministry are furious at the GRU right now. "There were angry people at the weekend meeting," he says, adding that he learned about the atmosphere there from a reliable source. If Kanev's source can be believed, then President Putin already summoned GRU head Colonel General Igor Korobov to a meeting back in mid-September for a dressing down. Korobov is said to have collapsed at home afterward...
Still more.

Amber Lee's Offshore Winds and Warm Weather Forecast

Boy, it's freakin' hot out today, man. These are major Santa Ana conditions, and wonderful surfing weather.

If you're local, head down to the beach --- you can't beat this!

Here's the fabulous figured Ms. Amber, for CBS News 2 Los Angeles:



Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Democrats' Left Turn

From Thomas Edsall, at NYT, "The Democrats' Left Turn Is Not an Illusion":

Over the past 18 years, the Democratic electorate has moved steadily to the left, as liberals have displaced moderates. Self-identified liberals of all races and ethnicities now command a majority in the party, raising the possibility that views once confined mainly to the party elite have spread into the rank and file.

From 2001 to 2018, the share of Democratic voters who describe themselves as liberal has grown from 30 to 50 percent, according to data provided by Lydia Saad, a senior editor at the Gallup Poll.

The percentage of Democrats who say they are moderate has fallen from 44 to 35; the percentage of self-identified conservative Democrats has gone from 25 to 13 percent.

Well-educated whites, especially white women, are pushing the party decisively leftward. According to Gallup, the share of white Democrats calling themselves liberal on social issues has grown since 2001 from 39 to 61 percent. Because of this growth, white liberals are now roughly 40 percent of all Democratic voters.

While a substantial percentage of Democratic minorities identify as liberals, those percentages have not been growing at anywhere near the rate that they have for white Democrats, so blacks and Hispanics have not contributed significantly to the rising percentage of self-identified Democratic liberals. Over the past 17 years, for example, the percentage of black Democrats who identify themselves as liberals grew by a modest three percentage points, according to both Gallup and the Pew Research Center.

In fact, white liberals are well to the left of the black electorate on some racial issues.

Take the issue of discrimination as a factor holding back African-American advancement. White liberals are to the left of black Democrats, placing a much stronger emphasis than African-Americans on the role of discrimination and much less emphasis on the importance of individual effort.

Among white liberals, according to Pew survey data collected in 2017, 79.2 percent agreed that “racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days.” 18.8 percent agreed that “blacks who can’t get ahead in this country are mostly responsible for their own condition,” a 60.4 point difference, according to a detailed analysis of the Pew data provided the Times by Zach Goldberg, a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgia State University.

Among blacks, 59.9 percent identified discrimination as the main deterrent to upward mobility for African-Americans, and 32.0 percent said blacks were responsible for their condition — in other words, blacks are more conservative than white liberals on this issue.

The dominant role of well-educated, relatively upscale white Democrats in moving the party to the left reflects the declining role of the working class in shaping the party’s ideology...
Still more.

I hate the use of "liberal" to describe these ghouls. They're leftists. Radical leftists, in fact.

When I teach ideology in my American government classes, I indicate that today's Democrat Party is a leftist party with a hardcore radical fringe. Think tech sector progressives, Hollywood leftists, and coastal elites. These idiots are not only driving the leftward tilt, they're destroying the country. Vote these people out. Put them down, hard. You life may depend on it.


Demi Rose Stuns With Giant Plunging Bikini Cleavage

At Fleshbot, "Fresh Links."

The Republican #WalkAway Movement.

This is really well done.

From Troy Worden, at American Greatness:



'Wrong Way'

Sublime, from Tuesday morning's drive-time, at 93.1 Jack FM.

Times Like These
Foo Fighters
7:01am

Wanted Dead Or Alive
Bon Jovi
6:49am

Vacation
The Go-Go's
6:46am

Black Hole Sun
Soundgarden
6:43am

I Would Die 4 U
Prince
6:37am

You Make Lovin' Fun
Fleetwood Mac
6:33am

Tell Me Baby
Red Hot Chili Peppers
6:22am

Personal Jesus
Depeche Mode
6:19am

Bohemian Rhapsody
Queen
6:13am

People Are Strange
Various Artists
6:09am

Wrong Way
Sublime
6:07am


Who Is Karl Marx?

Here's Paul Kengor, for Prager University:



And flashback, "Bicentennial of Birth of Karl Marx, the Man Whose Ideas Killed Untold Millions."