Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain 12.4.18

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.

Spain v Cataluña
  • Here's an interview with the admirable John Carlin.
  • More of those aggrieved far-right reactions to the setback inflicted by the German court:-
- We are alone in Europe.
- They treat us as if we were not a comparable democracy.
- How can a court reach a decision in days, when it would take at least weeks in Spain?
- Germany will pay for this slight.
Life in Spain
  • I've been known to accuse Spaniards of being profligate with water. So I wasn't surprised to read that: Spain has suffered a severe drought that has contributed to a 60% shrinking of the surface area of the Buendia dam over the last five years. This has hit hydropower generation and pushed up electricity prices, but the agricultural knock-on effects are limited by the relatively small – 3% – contribution of farming to the nation’s GDP. More here.
The UK
  • Richard North of EuReferendum – a long-standing eurosceptic – has been aghast for a while at what he sees – rightly – as the incompetence of the British government in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. He's introduced a new label – BRINO Brexit in name only - and says this is coming close to reality by the day. Hard to disagree. Possibly makes reader Sierra a tad happier.
Social Media
  • Zuckerberg's grilling was an utter sham, says this Guardian columnist. And his excuses are wearing thin. Too bloody true.
  • Lenox Napier has reminded his readers of something I've noted here a few times - There's a lot of empty village here in Galicia. And they can be picked up for a song. Spanish report here.
  • In Pontevedra city there are several places where semi-feral cats hang out, happy to be fed by their human neighbours. At one such spot yesterday evening, I counted 13 members of what must be a single large family. Whose members probably go at it like, well, rabbits. Which I've read leads to all sorts of infirmities and early deaths. Nature, like humans, can be cruel. Anyway, for the record, most of the cats are jet black, but 2 or 3 are ginger and 1 is pure (but dirty) white. They don't seem to do much but loll around. But maybe genetic factors are at work.
  • I was astonished to read yesterday that, for Galicia as a whole, there are 1,700 no-shows a day at the region's public hospitals. Allegedly, it's the young who do this most often. And it's the specialists who suffer most of all from this. 9% of patients don't turn up. Possibly fed up of waiting for months. Or dead.
  • The non-availability of my car for more than 3 weeks might have been a blessing. Someone was robbed this week at an 'ambush' on a roundabout I pass through at least twice a day. It was formed by branches that might well have come from the nearby gypsy permanent encampment. I anticipate no arrests.
  • Yesterday I got the book mailed to me 3 weeks ago from the UK. On the envelope is written in large letters: International Priority. Which got me wondering . .

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 12.4.18


Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook apologies can't save Silicon Valley from regulation;  Rob Crilly

It had been billed as Mark Zuckerberg versus Congress. A knock-down contest between senators with an arsenal of questions about how Facebook could let its platform be hijacked to subvert American democracy and allow user data to be scraped for profit, pitted against a youthful billionaire with an awkward mannerand a history of shirking responsibility.

In the event, Mr Zuckerberg swapped his famous grey T-shirt for a smart suit when he appeared in front of the joint Senate committee on Tuesday. Yet he may as well have dressed in sack cloth and ashes. He was contrite and senators were happy to let him be.

It served the purposes of both sides.

Every time Mr Zuckerberg took the blame for the way Cambridge Analytica - election strategists who worked for the Trump campaign – accessed data or the way Russian bots propagated fake news, it let everyone else off the hook.

“It was my mistake, and I'm sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I'm responsible for what happens here,” he said, admitting the company had not paid enough attention to user privacy.

Never mind that no-one else in the room had the imagination to see the looming power of Facebook and its challenge to American democracy, much less develop any safeguards. Here was a representative of Silicon Valley willing to take the hit.

All Mr Zuckerberg had to do was to make sure he didn’t take the fall.

That meant promising to do better in future in order to head of the threat of sweeping regulation that might get in the way of world domination. When asked what sort of regulation might be acceptable, he offered a vague suggestion about codifying terms of use. And that was about it.

It was delivered in familiar style. Over and over again he took his audience back to the Harvard dorm room where he dreamed up Facebook, explaining he had no inkling of how big his germ of an idea would grow, nor any of the Artificial Intelligence tools he now needs to police it.

The origin story has long been Facebook’s strategy when dealing with criticism. Trust us, it runs. While we may have screwed up, although we may have dropped the ball in protecting users, it continues, we did it all from simple beginnings and with the very best of intentions.

Mr Zuckerberg made the same case on Tuesday, arguing that his failing was to expect the best of people only to be exploited by trolls and bots.

“We need to take a more proactive role and a broader view of our responsibilities,” is how he put it. “It's not enough to just build tools. We need to make sure they're used for good.”

His problem is that such arguments fall apart under the sort of scrutiny supplied by Ted Cruz. The conservative senator grilled Mr Zuckerberg on just what gave a 33-year-old with a knack for coding the right to define the moral good for Facebook’s two billion users. (Mr Cruz did it from the Right, asking why two dozen Catholic group pages had been taken down from the site, but the question could just as easily be asked from the Left, of, say, Apple which famously banned an app from sharing information about death tolls from US drone strikes).

Therein, lies the real issue. If Facebook is no longer a neutral platform or a simple tool for connecting people but a profit-driven company with a view of how society should be ordered, is it a tech company or a media company?

Is Mr Zuckerberg a coder or a publisher?

The answer matters. Platforms are not generally legally responsible for the content they host. No-one is prosecuting Fedex for the way the Austin bomber sent his parcel bombs or suing BT for libellous statements made on the phone.

Mr Zuckerberg’s testimony now puts him in a different camp. As if his idea of tools for good were not enough, he went further in response to another line of questioning, admitting: “I agree that we’re responsible for the content.”

He tried to row it back, insisting later that Facebook was a tech company rather than a media company. He knows that a whole army of lawyers is ready to pounce and that politicians may not know how to regulate a Facebook but do know how to regulate a publisher.

But Mr Zuckerberg and his ilk in Silicon Valley have had it both ways for too long. They may have begun as libertarian idealists on a mission to connect the world but their vast profits and publishing power means their lofty intentions should not protect them from greater regulation.

Just as Mr Zuckerberg is no longer the geek in a dorm room but a chief executive worth $60 billion, his testimony simply confirmed that Facebook is too important to police itself.

His apologies and excuses are wearing thin.


Maria said...

Have the tolls disappear? Or even reduce them? Without intending any disrespect, believing that that will happen in this country with this government and the vultures that make up the construction industry, is similar to still believing in the tooth fairy. For lack of time, I am forced to use the AP-9 from time to time, otherwise they wouldn't see hair nor hide of me. But that is exactly our Achilles' heel, and their benefit. There is no other way to traipse from north to south in a timely fashion.

What I wouldn't give to have a government with a backbone and wrest all those private highways from the vultures!

Sierra said...

BRINO - maybe happier, until I just completed my 2017 tax return:

UK earnings in sterling up 6.3% over two years
Spanish income in euros down 10.6% over the same period

Only consolation is less local tax to pay

Sierra said...

Putting the Galician "no-shows" in context:

"There were eight million missed hospital outpatient appointments in 2016/17 at an average cost of £120 each, according to NHS England figures."

Colin Davies said...

I was being super-mega ironic, Maria. Tho' I did say the other say that hope is free . . .

Alfred B. Mittington said...

'the incompetence in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory'... Is this a joke, or a minor confusion?


Colin Davies said...

Is that a seruous question???

It's a phrase coined several years ago, which would be familiar to educated Brits. And even educated Americans, Australians and other Anglos.

Possibly even to some, say, Dutchmen.

Anonymous said...

Spain, so backward and undemocratic. In the meantime, in the UK, where the media is a well tuned propaganda machine, the lier of a prime minister dutifully joins in the big bully (as your loyal poodle does) to bomb a sovereign country, not giving a toss about the international community approval (that is, the approval of those not bullied to follow the criminal bully).

Spain's franco is not that far away, Charles's override of the English parliament is a few centuries ago, that's how far the English democratic culture has gone since. What a joke.

But anyway, the parliament, given the chance, would also vote for the attack, so what the hell ...

By the way, good times for the weapons industry, plenty of jobs, since most of the missiles have been downed by those evil Syrians and most evil Russians. Have you heard of a place called Syria? In the meantime, I have too the proves of a chemical attack: a picture of my neighbour washing his car (Saturday afternoon, of course) with a WATER HOSE. I will fucking bomb him to teach him a lesson or two about democracy!!

Colin Davies said...

What is it exactly that you would like us to appreciate about the UK?

Say, your 3 main points. In brief.