Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 31.1.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Cataluña
  • So, the problem of what to do yesterday in the Catalan parliament was solved by simply kicking the can down the road by postponing the much-awaited event. This show will run and run. As if we didn't know.
Spain
  • The Spanish government seems to have finally realised that, if you don't impose heavy social security taxes on would-be entreprenurs from day one, you get a lot more entrepreneurs. And a lot fewer people operating under the radar and paying no SS taxes whatsoever. Better late than never, of course.
  • Rather to my surprise, I've established that the lyrics of Spain's dirgeful Eurovision entry doesn't contain the word corazón (heart). I had thought this was a legal obligation for all songs here.
  • I got an 8 page PDF of gobbledygook from my bank yesterday. It stems from the new EU 'clarification' regulations described by Don Quijones as overly complex and counterproductive. But it all makes work for the working man. Especially the bureaucrats, of course.
The EU
  • 'The Project' has undoubtedly been a huge economic success for Germany. Far more so than for, say, the UK. Or even France, its initial partner/driver. This is in large part because of an euro exchange rate which was guaranteed to help German exports from the very outset of the currency. Things, in fact, have gone so well that now Germany is going so far as to greatly understate the true size of its current account surplus in order to deflect mounting global criticism. What you might call a VW approach to the national accounts. Nice to read that this exposé has come from German economists. 
The USA
  • What a surprise – Fart's State of the Nation address was replete with superlatives. And a fake fact or two.
  • Fart's administration has imposed a 30% tax on solar panels, because they come from China. Some folk fear this will cost as many as 23,000 jobs as demand falls. Whether these will be offset by jobs in other energy sectors is an open question.
Social Media
  • Things have turned very sour – and dangerous – for the writer of Article 1 below. He was an early enthusiast and (profitable) investor but now thinks strict regulations need to be imposed on the sans-morals, tax-avoiding corporate giants. Some phrases to tempt you:-
- undermining democracy
- fostering psychological addiction.
- brain hacking.
- corrosive effect
- the challenge of extracting the world from the jaws of internet platform monopolies

Anyone disagree?

Nutters Corner
  • See Article 2 below for a caustic view on those lovely people, the US evangelicals. Fart's main electoral base, of course.
Galicia/Pontevedra
  • When I was young - a few years ago – we used to get our exam papers back to see where we'd gone wrong. Why do I mention this? Because my neighbour told me last night that – notwithstanding my superb teaching – her son had failed his English re-sit. And this despite his telling his mother it'd had been the easiest exam he'd ever sat, and the first one for which he'd understood the questions and not had to just guess at the answers. I said I would check the latter on his paper but she told me this wasn't allowed, possibly because the teacher would be exposed as someone who didn't understand the subject he was teaching. So now we're down to go to the school together to confront the man and to demand evidence of (alleged) errors. I won't be surprised to find he doesn't actually speak English.
  • When I used to visit my grandparents at their pub, my (alcoholic) gran's favourite tipple was whisky-and-American/Canada Dry, or whisky-and-ginger ale. And when I worked as a barman, aged 17, one of the drinks I used to serve was pink gin, a combination of gin and angostura bitters. The question again arises: Why on earth do I mention these facts? Well, it's because I now read that the wheel, as it does, has turned and that whisky-and-ginger and (pre-prepared) pink gin are now the fashionable drinks here in Pontevedra. And quite possibly in the rest of Spain.
Finally
  • Yesterday I sat next to a pretty young woman who had a large stainless steel ring through her nose. As if this didn't render her ugly enough, she then took out what looked like a reefer and started smoking it. But that's just my curmudgeonish opinion, of course. Her boyfriend seemed taken enough. Possibly because, as you'd expect, her laughter quotient rapidly rose.
Today's Cartoon

















THE ARTICLES

1. Why not regulate social media like tobacco or alcohol? Roger McNamee*

Facebook, Google and others can foster addiction – and can be used to undermine democracy

We were warned. The venture capitalist and Netscape founder Marc Andreessen wrote a widely read essay in 2011 titled “Why Software Is Eating the World”. But we didn’t take Andreessen seriously; we thought it was only a metaphor. Now we face the challenge of extracting the world from the jaws of internet platform monopolies.

I used to be a technology optimist. During a 35-year career investing in the best and brightest of Silicon Valley, I was lucky enough to be part of the personal computer, mobile communications, internet and social networking industries. Among the highlights of my career were early investments in Google and Amazon, and being a mentor to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg from 2006 to 2010.

Each new wave of technology increased productivity and access to knowledge. Each new platform was easier to use and more convenient. Technology powered globalisation and economic growth. For decades, it made the world a better place. We assumed it always would.

Then came 2016, when the internet revealed two dark sides. One is related to individual users. Smartphones with LTE mobile infrastructure created the first content-delivery platform that was available every waking moment, transforming the technology industry and the lives of 2 billion users. With little or no regulatory supervision in most of the world, companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Alibaba and Tencent used techniques common in propaganda and casino gambling, such as constant notifications and variable rewards, to foster psychological addiction.

The other dark side is geopolitical. In the United States, western Europe and Asia, internet platforms, especially Facebook, enable the powerful to inflict harm on the powerless in politics, foreign policy and commerce. Elections across Europe and in the US have repeatedly demonstrated that automated social networks can be exploited to undermine democracy.

The Brexit referendum and the US presidential election in 2016 also revealed that Facebook provides significant relative advantages to negative messages over positive ones. Authoritarian governments can use Facebook to promote public support for repressive policies, as may be occurring now in Myanmar, Cambodia, the Philippines and elsewhere. In some cases, Facebook actually provides support to such governments, as it does to all large clients.

I am confident that the founders of Facebook, Google and other major internet platforms did not intend to cause harm when they adopted their business models. They were young entrepreneurs, hungry for success. They spent years building huge audiences by reorganising the online world around a set of applications that were more personalised, convenient and easier to use than their predecessors. And they made no attempt to monetise their efforts until long after users were hooked. The advertising business models they chose were leveraged by personalisation, which enabled advertisers to target their messages with unprecedented precision.

But then came the smartphone, which transformed all media and effectively put Facebook, Google and a handful of others in control of the information flow to users. The filters that give users “what they want” had the effect of polarizing populations and eroding the legitimacy of fundamental democratic institutions (most notably, the free press). And the automation that made internet platforms so profitable left them vulnerable to manipulation by malign actors everywhere – and not just authoritarian governments hostile to democracy.

As Andreessen warned us, these companies, with their global ambition and reach, are eating the world economy. In the process, they are adopting versions of Facebook’s corporate philosophy – “move fast and break things” – without regard for the impact on people, institutions, and democracy. A large minority of citizens in the developed world inhabits filter bubbles created by these platforms – digital false realities in which existing beliefs become more rigid and extreme.

In the US, approximately one-third of the adult population has become impervious to new ideas, including demonstrable facts. Such people are easy to manipulate, a concept that former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris calls “brain hacking”.

Western democracies are unprepared to deal with this threat. The US has no effective regulatory framework for internet platforms, and lacks the political will to create one. The European Union has both a regulatory framework and the necessary political will, but neither is adequate to the challenge. The EU’s recent judgment against Google – a record $2.7bn fine for anti-competitive behaviour – was well conceived, but undersized. Google appealed, and its investors shrugged. It may be a good start, but it was clearly insufficient.

We are at a critical juncture. Awareness of the risks posed by internet platforms is growing from a small base, but the convenience of the products and psychological addiction to them are such that it may take a generation to effect change from the user side, as it did with anti-smoking campaigns. Recognition of the corrosive effect of platform monopolies on competition and innovation is greater in Europe than in the US, but no one has found an effective regulatory strategy. Awareness that the platforms can be manipulated to undermine democracy is also growing, but western governments have yet to devise a defence against it.

The challenges posed by internet platform monopolies require new approaches beyond antitrust enforcement. We must recognise and address these challenges as a threat to public health. One possibility is to treat social media in a manner analogous to tobacco and alcohol, combining education and regulation.

With the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, the threat from internet platform monopolies should be a top concern for attendees. For the sake of restoring balance to our lives and hope to our politics, it is time to disrupt the disrupters.

•Roger McNamee is a co-founder of Elevation Partners and an early investor in Facebook, Google, and Amazon

2.  Under Trump, Evangelicals Have Become “Instigators of Evil”, says Frank Schaeffer: 

Hearing Frank Schaeffer talk about the deplorable nature of the Religious Right is always a treat since he and his father are as responsible as anyone for helping create it. He has an insider’s perspective on what’s going on in evangelical Christendom, and he held nothing back this morning on AM Joy.

Schaeffer called out evangelical Christians’ racism, how they’re not bothered by Donald Trump‘s bigotry, and Tony Perkins‘ recent claims that religious people like him were “kicked around by Barack Obama” and now they’re backing Donald Trump because “there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”: Tony Perkins has forgotten his own theology and instead replaced it with a theology of revenge on people he disagrees with politically.And that is what is going on here. It’s revenge of White America, it is revenge of evangelical right-wingers. And who they want to punch in the mouth is not just Black Americans, people, to put it in the President of the United States’ words, who live in “shithole” countries, but anybody who disagrees with them.

So they’re willing, apparently, to put up with anything when it comes to moral degradation to see those ends achieved. And I’m glad he put it in terms of revenge. At least there, he misspoke from his point of view, but told the truth.

Schaeffer went on to point out how the Religious Right used to be okay with abortion and the culture wars, too, before they threw their lot in with the Republican Party. Their allegiance to Trump allows us to witness their own demise in real time: Evangelicals switched from being people who advocated for traditional morality to the chief American defenders of, not only relativistic morality, but all that used to be considered sacred being trash. They’re defending a man who has trashed fidelity in his own life and with the words he speaks nationally. They have trashed truth-telling and have embraced this idea of everything being “fake news” that they disagree with. They have even trashed common decency.

So, what we’re now watching, as kind of an appendage of the Trump presidency is one of the greatest downfalls of a religious order, if you want to put it that way, we’ve ever known. It’s only comparable with the first breaking news of the vast international phenomena of child abuse inside the Roman Catholic Church, but at that time, the leaders themselves, at least, were saying “Yes, this is bad” and pretending not to go along. Now the evangelicals have gone to the next step. They have become the instigators of evil themselves.  

1 comment:

Perry said...

From yesterday.

If a nation's GDP is slashed by half from 2008 & it subsequently grows by 3.4% between 2015 & 2017, that's not very good. The permanently lost tax revenues caused by emigration of young people & increased social payments to those who remain out of work, denude a nation's capital reserves (if it had any to start with). Therefore, expressing the truth of the situation is not what is happening here. It's mushroom management time, by a bitter & twisted government.