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Archive for August 5th, 2021

Why some of the smartest people can be so very stupid

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Sacha Golobis, reader in philosophy at King’s College London, writes in Psyche:

A few years before he died in exile from Nazism, the Austrian novelist Robert Musil delivered a lecture in Vienna, ‘On Stupidity’ (1937). At its heart was the idea that stupidity was not mere ‘dumbness’, not a brute lack of processing power. Dumbness, for Musil, was ‘straightforward’, indeed almost ‘honourable’. Stupidity was something very different and much more dangerous: dangerous precisely because some of the smartest people, the least dumb, were often the most stupid.

Musil’s lecture bequeaths us an important set of questions. What exactly is stupidity? How does it relate to morality: can you be morally good and stupid, for example? How does it relate to vice: is stupidity a kind of prejudice, perhaps? And why is it so domain-specific: why are people often stupid in one area and insightful in another? Musil’s own answer, which centred around pretentiousness, is too focused on the dilettantism of interwar Vienna to serve us now. But his questions, and his intuition about stupidity’s danger, are as relevant as ever.

Stupidity is a very specific cognitive failing. Crudely put, it occurs when you don’t have the right conceptual tools for the job. The result is an inability to make sense of what is happening and a resulting tendency to force phenomena into crude, distorting pigeonholes.

This is easiest to introduce with a tragic case. British high command during the First World War frequently understood trench warfare using concepts and strategies from the cavalry battles of their youth. As one of Field Marshal Douglas Haig’s subordinates later remarked, they thought of the trenches as ‘mobile operations at the halt’: ie, as fluid battle lines with the simple caveat that nothing in fact budged for years. Unsurprisingly, this did not serve them well in formulating a strategy: they were hampered, beyond the shortage of material resources, by a kind of ‘conceptual obsolescence’, a failure to update their cognitive tools to fit the task in hand.

Stupidity will often arise in cases like this, when an outdated conceptual framework is forced into service, mangling the user’s grip on some new phenomenon. It is important to distinguish this from mere error. We make mistakes for all kinds of reasons. Stupidity is rather one specific and stubborn cause of error. Historically, philosophers have worried a great deal about the irrationality of not taking the available means to my goals: Tom wants to get fit, yet his running shoes are quietly gathering dust. The stock solution to Tom’s quandary is simple willpower. Stupidity is very different from this. It is rather a lack of the necessary means, a lack of the necessary intellectual equipment. Combatting it will typically require not brute willpower but the construction of a new way of seeing our self and our world.

Such stupidity is perfectly compatible with intelligence: Haig was by any standard a smart man. Indeed, in at least some cases, intelligence actively abets stupidity by allowing pernicious rationalisation: when Harry Houdini, the great illusionist, took Arthur Conan Doyle, the inventor of Sherlock Holmes, through the tricks underlying the seances in which Conan Doyle devoutly believed, the author’s reaction was to concoct a ludicrously elaborate counter-explanation as to why it was precisely the true mediums who would appear to be frauds.

While I have introduced it via ‘conceptual obsolescence’, stupidity is also compatible with a kind of misguided innovation. Consider a country that excitedly imports new conceptual tools not from a past time but from a very different place. Global debates over social justice, for example, are now dominated by a set of ideas and terms taken from the United States, a nation marked by an incredibly specific historical and cultural trajectory. Simply transferring that framework to other countries, such as those in which class is less starkly racialised (for example, states reliant on exploiting white migrant labour from eastern Europe), or in which it is racialised in much more complex ways (for example, states such as South Africa) is conceptually and socially risky.

Stupidity has two features that make it particularly dangerous when compared with other vices. First,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2021 at 6:15 pm

Facebook shuttered a crucial tool for oversight. Lawmakers say it just made their jobs harder

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Facebook is a rogue corporation and bad actor and the government should take action to regulate strictly its algorithms, to require transparency in how it uses data, and to limit what it can do with data. Christiana Lima reports in the Washington Post:

At a high-stakes hearing just after the 2020 election, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) grilled Mark Zuckerberg about data that showed Facebook mislabeled tens of thousands of political ads. The information came from a tool developed by researchers at New York University, which for over a year has been one of the preeminent tools for shining light on the notoriously opaque tech giant.

Facebook had just threatened to shut off the project, now called the Ad Observatory, and Klobuchar was bewildered. “Why would you not support this project?” she asked Zuckerberg.

Her frustration grew this week after Facebook cut off the researchers’ access to ad data, essentially killing the tool, which journalists and academics have widely used to track Facebook’s lucrative and powerful digital advertising business. 

The project’s researchers have regularly briefed staffers and lawmakers in the House and Senate and officials at agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission, said one of the project members, Laura Edelson.

“The NYU team provided valuable data about advertising on Facebook — data that Facebook has consistently refused to provide,” said Jonathan Mayer, an assistant professor at Princeton who previously served as a tech and policy adviser to then-Sen. Kamala D. Harris.

The social networking giant announced in a blog post Tuesday that it had disabled the researchers’ accounts, saying it took the step to “protect people’s privacy” and to comply with a settlement it struck with the FTC over allegations that it violated users’ privacy.

The decision marks a setback for policymakers who have relied on the data to scrutinize the tech giant’s practices, including during the 2020 campaign, when the project helped shed light on shadowy ad campaigns and spending by key figures. 

The move drew swift rebukes from lawmakers, free speech advocates and other researchers, who said restricting researchers’ access to the data could hamstring efforts to bring transparency and accountability to Facebook.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) told The Technology 202 that “time and again” independent researchers have led the way in “illuminating the ways in which online advertising has become a key vector for online scams, political misinformation and voter suppression campaigns by a wide range of bad actors.”

He added: “In all of these cases, independent researchers were identifying misuse of these platforms well ahead of the platforms themselves — driving the policy discussion and public debate.”

Lawmakers have fiercely defended the value of the project’s data, which has been referenced in congressional letters, hearings and lawmakers’ public remarks.

During the run-up to the 2020 elections, leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to Zuckerberg objecting to the company’s earlier attempt to shutter the program, calling the data “crucial for holding both advertisers and Facebook accountable.” In his own written questioning of Zuckerberg after the election, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the project “enables accountability.”

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), who chairs the Energy Committee and is leading an investigation into misinformation across social media platforms, took strong exception to Facebook’s decision on Wednesday.

“These are the actions of a company that clearly has something to hide about how dangerous misinformation and disinformation is spreading on its platform,” he told The Technology 202.

And the censure has been bipartisan.

“America was born on research and innovation, and Silicon Valley in particular benefitted from such efforts,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). “Its extremely concerning that Facebook is seeking to censor and block those who try to learn more about their practices.”

Edelson, one of the project’s lead researchers, said Facebook’s decision has not only kneecapped her team’s ability to hold the company accountable, but also its ability to share findings with officials in Washington.

“It’s just gotten a lot harder for me to make data available to the public and to lawmakers and regulators, and that was something I regularly did,” said Edelson, a PhD candidate at NYU, calling it “a blow to oversight.”

Her frequent consultations included working with Klobuchar on her legislation to set standards around political ad disclosures online, which Facebook has backed.

“As we face threats to our democracy, we need more transparency from online platforms, not less,” Klobuchar said in a statement, adding that she was “deeply troubled by the news.

Edelson said Facebook’s decision to shut the researchers down came swiftly after they notified the company that they were looking into the disinformation that precipitated the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

She said they had planned a “case study” that, among other things, would look into how calls for violence by partisan media may have stoked outrage on Facebook ahead of the riot.

But when they went to pull up the data, they found something odd: “We noticed that there was a lot of content that was missing.” Edelson said she then contacted Facebook.

“They said, “Yeah, it’s a bug. Do you have any more examples?’ And I sent him some more examples. And that was a lot of contact I had with them,” she said.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement that the company “gave NYU ample time to come into compliance with our terms, and outlined that we would take an enforcement action if they failed to come into compliance.”

He added, “Any insinuation that this was an abrupt removal of access or retaliation does not comport with reality.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have themselves been probing the role of Facebook and other social media sites in the Jan. 6 riot. Now they’ll have one less key tool in their bag. . .

Continue reading. Facebook routinely operates in bad faith, making quasi-apologies for their actions and false promises to reform. Action must be taken in recognition that they operate in bad faith.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2021 at 11:36 am

We see the disaster and don’t seem to care: Two headlines contrasted

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Headline in the Washington Post:

A critical ocean system may be heading for collapse due to climate change, study finds

Headline in The Intercept:

Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Includes $25 Billion in Potential New Subsidies for Fossil Fuels

From the Post report:

Human-caused warming has led to an “almost complete loss of stability” in the system that drives Atlantic Ocean currents, a new study has found — raising the worrying prospect that this critical aquatic “conveyor belt” could be close to collapse.

In recent years, scientists have warned about a weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which transports warm, salty water from the tropics to northern Europe and then sends colder water back south along the ocean floor. Researchers who study ancient climate change have also uncovered evidence that the AMOC can turn off abruptly, causing wild temperature swings and other dramatic shifts in global weather systems.

Scientists haven’t directly observed the AMOC slowing down. But the new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Nature Climate Change, draws on more than a century of ocean temperature and salinity data to show significant changes in eight indirect measures of the circulation’s strength.

These indicators suggest that the AMOC is running out of steam, making it more susceptible to disruptions that might knock it out of equilibrium, said study author Niklas Boers, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

If the circulation shuts down, it could bring extreme cold to Europe and parts of North America, raise sea levels along the U.S. East Coast and disrupt seasonal monsoons that provide water to much of the world.

“This is an increase in understanding … of how close to a tipping point the AMOC might already be,” said Levke Caesar, a climate physicist at Maynooth University who was not involved in the study.

Boers’s analysis doesn’t suggest exactly when the switch might happen. But “the mere possibility that the AMOC tipping point is close should be motivation enough for us to take countermeasures,” Caesar said. “The consequences of a collapse would likely be far-reaching.” . . .

Continue reading.

From The Intercept report:

THE SENATE’S NEW bipartisan infrastructure bill is being sold as a down payment on addressing the climate crisis. But environmental advocates and academics are warning the proposed spending bill is full of new fossil fuel industry subsidies masked as climate solutions. The latest draft bill would make fossil fuel companies eligible for at least $25 billion in new subsidies, according to an analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law.

“This is billions upon billions of dollars in additional fossil fuel industry subsidies in addition to the $15 billion that we already hand out to this industry to support and fund this industry,” said Jim Walsh, Food and Water Watch’s senior policy analyst. Scientists say that to meet the goals of the international Paris climate accord, the U.S would need to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 — and be well on the way there by 2030. With subsidies that keep fossil fuel industries going, Walsh said, “We will never be able to meet the Paris agreement if we fund these kind of programs.”

Just as concerning is the new economy the subsidies could entrench, said Walsh, through the creation of new fossil fuel infrastructure. “This would support the development of four petrochemical hubs that would create profit incentives for greenhouse gas emission production and would be focused on finding new ways of integrating fossil fuels into our economy for transportation, energy, petrochemical development, and plastics.”

In short, he added, “This deal envisions a world where we will use fossil fuels into perpetuity.” . . .

Continue reading. The report includes more disturbing news.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2021 at 11:22 am

Kremlin papers appear to show Putin’s plot to put Trump in White House

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Luke Harding, Julian Borger, and Dan Sabbagh report in the Guardian:

Vladimir Putin personally authorised a secret spy agency operation to support a “mentally unstable” Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election during a closed session of Russia’s national security council, according to what are assessed to be leaked Kremlin documents.

The key meeting took place on 22 January 2016, the papers suggest, with the Russian president, his spy chiefs and senior ministers all present.

They agreed a Trump White House would help secure Moscow’s strategic objectives, among them “social turmoil” in the US and a weakening of the American president’s negotiating position.

Russia’s three spy agencies were ordered to find practical ways to support Trump, in a decree appearing to bear Putin’s signature.

By this point Trump was the frontrunner in the Republican party’s nomination race. A report prepared by Putin’s expert department recommended Moscow use “all possible force” to ensure a Trump victory.

Western intelligence agencies are understood to have been aware of the documents for some months and to have carefully examined them. The papers, seen by the Guardian, seem to represent a serious and highly unusual leak from within the Kremlin.

The Guardian has shown the documents to independent experts who say they appear to be genuine. Incidental details come across as accurate. The overall tone and thrust is said to be consistent with Kremlin security thinking.

The Kremlin responded dismissively. Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the idea that Russian leaders had met and agreed to support Trump in at the meeting in early 2016 was “a great pulp fiction” when contacted by the Guardian on Thursday morning.

The report – “No 32-04 \ vd” – is classified as secret. It says Trump is the “most promising candidate” from the Kremlin’s point of view. The word in Russian is perspektivny.

There is a brief psychological assessment of Trump, who is described as an “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex”.

There is also apparent confirmation that the Kremlin possesses kompromat, or potentially compromising material, on the future president, collected – the document says – from Trump’s earlier “non-official visits to Russian Federation territory”.

The paper refers to “certain events” that happened during Trump’s trips to Moscow. Security council members are invited to find details in appendix five, at paragraph five, the document states. It is unclear what the appendix contains.

“It is acutely necessary to use all possible force to facilitate his [Trump’s] election to the post of US president,” the paper says.

This would help bring about Russia’s favoured “theoretical political scenario”. A Trump win “will definitely lead to the destabilisation of the US’s sociopolitical system” and see hidden discontent burst into the open, it predicts.

The Kremlin summit

There is no doubt that the meeting in January 2016 took place – and that it was convened inside the Kremlin.

An official photo of the occasion shows Putin at the head of the table, seated beneath a Russian Federation flag and a two-headed golden eagle. Russia’s then prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, attended, together with the veteran foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

Also present were Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister in charge of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency; Mikhail Fradkov, the then chief of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service; and Alexander Bortnikov, the boss of the FSB spy agency.Nikolai Patrushev, the FSB’s former director, attended too as security council secretary.

According to a press release, the discussion covered the economy and Moldova.

The document seen by the Guardian suggests the security council’s real, covert purpose was to discuss the confidential proposals drawn up by the president’s analytical service in response to US sanctions against Moscow. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

I would say that Putin got an enormous bang for his buck.

Umair Haque has an interesting column on the Guardian report. He comments:

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2021 at 8:32 am

Klar Seifen FTW

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I have used only one of Klar Seifen’s shaving soaps, their Rassierseife Klassik, but I would like to try others. It’s a terrific soap, easy producing a very fine lather (today assisted by WSP’s Monarch), and the small tub lasts a long time, since the soap is harder than the typical artisan soap.

RazoRock’s Mamba is an excellent razor, very comfortable and also very efficient, and I easily got a totally smooth result with not even the threat of a nick. I had the Black Mamba, machined from aircraft aluminum alloy, and when the design was offered in stainless steel, I jumped at the chance.

Kalar Seifen Klassik aftershave has a wonderful fresh fragrance, light and lovely. I added my usual squirt of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel, so the splash got a balm-like upgrade.

A great start to a sunny morning.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2021 at 8:12 am

Posted in Shaving

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