Later On

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Archive for the ‘Election’ Category

How Silicon Valley enabled the forces that put Donald Trump in the White House

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Jason Tanz writes in Wired:

TWO YEARS AGO, journalist Anand Giridharadas took the stage at the TED Conference and told the attendant techno-solutionists that they were, in fact, part of the problem. Literally, that’s what he said. Here, I’ll quote him directly:

“If you live near a Whole Foods, if no one in your family serves in the military, if you’re paid by the year, not the hour, if most people you know finished college, if no one you know uses meth, if you married once and remain married, if you’re not one of 65 million Americans with a criminal record — if any or all of these things describe you, then accept the possibility that actually, you may not know what’s going on and you may be part of the problem.”

Seen from today, as Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president, Giridharadas’ message joins “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S.” as one of the great unheeded warnings of the 21st century. That socioeconomic despair was profitably channeled to elect a president who—beyond his politics—represents a threat to most of the values the technocracy holds dear: transparency; multiculturalism; expertise; social progress. And, in the greatest of ironies, he used the tools and language of the technocracy to do it.

At least since the 1960s, the computer—and, beyond that, the Internet–has been a symbol and tool of personal liberation. Stewart Brand called the computer revolution “the real legacy of the sixties”–—an outgrowth of the “counterculture’s scorn for centralized authority.” The ideology was codified by WIRED alum Steven Levy in his 1984 book Hackers, in which he summarized the Hacker Ethic:

  1. Access to computers should be unlimited and total.
  2. All information should be free.
  3. Mistrust authority—promote decentralization.
  4. You can create art and beauty on a computer.
  5. Computers can change your life for the better.

These precepts inspired a worldview that saw institutions and middlemen as malign forces that mostly constrained human potential, and that placed unlimited faith in unshackled individuals to improve the world and their own lives. For much of the past three decades, that philosophy has borne out. It has become an unspoken truism of corporate and civic life.

But Trump’s inauguration provides a damning counterargument, an example of how each of those ideas can be exploited to advance the very values they were created to oppose. Universal access to computers created a greater audience for Trump’s culture-jamming Twitter feed. An outpouring of free information sowed confusion and created cover for half- and untruths. Trump used anti-authoritarian rhetoric to sow mistrust of the very institutions that might have provided a firewall against his own authoritarian tendencies. Democratizing the tools of creative production created not just ennobling art but a million shitposts and Pepe memes.

In the wake of the election, some despairing technologists have wondered how to improve the products and systems that led to this result. “There are things we were optimizing for that had unintended consequences,” says Justin Kan, a venture capitalist at Y Combinator and co-founder of Twitch. In designing to maximize engagement, social networks inadvertently created hives of bias-confirmation and tribalism.

Or consider the effect innovation in computing has had on employment. “Thirty or 40 years ago, you could have a good, steady paying job without a college education,” says Ben Parr, cofounder of Octane AI and author of Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention. “There aren’t as many of those jobs any more, and a large part of that is because tech has changed the world over the last 40 years, and Silicon Valley played a big part in that.”

No doubt. But it might be time to ask even bigger questions. Questions like: Is technology always an ennobling force? Questions like: Does allowing humanity untrammeled access to one another always result in a better world? Questions like: Are individuals capable of processing all the information that they once relied on institutions to process for them? Questions like: After people free themselves from their social and cultural shackles, then what?

If it’s any consolation,Trump-era Americans will not be the first to ask themselves these questions. During the Second World War, psychologist Erich Fromm asked in Escape From Freedom why, despite an overarching trend toward greater personal freedom, large chunks of the western world had embraced authoritarianism. It was tempting, he argued, to consider this an aberration, the fault of a few madmen who “gained power over the vast apparatus of the state through nothing but cunning and trickery,” and who rendered their constituents “the will-less object of betrayal and terror.” But Fromm argued against this attempt to shift blame. There was something inherent in humanity that feared true freedom, that preferred to be dominated. In other words, Fromm thought this was a feature of human nature, not a bug.

o explain this tendency, Fromm distinguished between two kinds of freedom: negative freedom, casting off the shackles of social, political, and cultural restrictions; and positive freedom, finding a truer expression of self and identity. When the former occurs without the latter, he wrote, “the newly won freedom appears as a curse; [mankind] is free from the sweet bondage of paradise, but he is not free to govern himself, to realize his individuality.”

This distinction might sound familiar to students of the Iraq War and the Arab Spring—when dictators, toppled in the name of “freedom,” gave way to chaos, power vacuums and warlordism. It also might help explain Trump’s ascendance. In casting off many of the middlemen, sclerotic corporations, and bureaucracies that throttled human accomplishment, people have achieved negative freedom. But without the tools or power to forge a more meaningful society—a positive freedom—some have plunged back into the comforts of authoritarianism and domination.

This is the world the tech industry now faces, a world—at least in part—of its own creation. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2017 at 9:17 pm

Design and content considerations for fake news: What makes a meme succeed?

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Quite an interesting article by Scott Shane in the NY Times, giving the nuts and bolts of constructing a fake news story to make it succeed as a meme.

It was early fall, and Donald J. Trump, behind in the polls, seemed to be preparing a rationale in case a winner like him somehow managed to lose. “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest,” the Republican nominee told a riled-up crowd in Columbus, Ohio. He was hearing “more and more” about evidence of rigging, he added, leaving the details to his supporters’ imagination.

A few weeks later, Cameron Harris, a new college graduate with a fervent interest in Maryland Republican politics and a need for cash, sat down at the kitchen table in his apartment to fill in the details Mr. Trump had left out. In a dubious cyberart just coming into its prime, this bogus story would be his masterpiece.

Mr. Harris started by crafting the headline: “BREAKING: ‘Tens of thousands’ of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse.” It made sense, he figured, to locate this shocking discovery in the very city and state where Mr. Trump had highlighted his “rigged” meme.

“I had a theory when I sat down to write it,” recalled Mr. Harris, a 23-year-old former college quarterback and fraternity leader. “Given the severe distrust of the media among Trump supporters, anything that parroted Trump’s talking points people would click. Trump was saying ‘rigged election, rigged election.’ People were predisposed to believe Hillary Clinton could not win except by cheating.”

In a raucous election year defined by made-up stories, Mr. Harris was a home-grown, self-taught practitioner, a boutique operator with no ties to Russian spy agencies or Macedonian fabrication factories. As Mr. Trump takes office this week, the beneficiary of at least a modest electoral boost from a flood of fakery, Mr. Harris and his ersatz-news website, ChristianTimesNewspaper.com, make for an illuminating tale.

Contacted by a reporter who had discovered an electronic clue that revealed his secret authorship of ChristianTimesNewspaper.com, he was wary at first, chagrined to be unmasked.

“This topic is rather sensitive,” Mr. Harris said, noting that he was trying to build a political consulting business and needed to protect his reputation. But eventually he agreed to tell the story of his foray into fake news, a very part-time gig that he calculated paid him about $1,000 an hour in web advertising revenue. He seemed to regard his experience with a combination of guilt about having spread falsehoods and pride at doing it so skillfully. . .

Continue reading, and there’s lots more—I didn’t even get to the good part.

You may recall a previous post, in which a fake-news publisher observed:

When did you notice that fake news does best with Trump supporters?

Well, this isn’t just a Trump-supporter problem. This is a right-wing issue. Sarah Palin’s famous blasting of the lamestream media is kind of record and testament to the rise of these kinds of people. The post-fact era is what I would refer to it as. This isn’t something that started with Trump. This is something that’s been in the works for a while. His whole campaign was this thing of discrediting mainstream media sources, which is one of those dog whistles to his supporters. When we were coming up with headlines it’s always kind of about the red meat. Trump really got into the red meat. He knew who his base was. He knew how to feed them a constant diet of this red meat.

We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.

I think that is in effect saying that the liberal arts work.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2017 at 3:06 pm

Some of what is at stake in the replacement [sic] of Obamacare/the Affordable Care Act

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Jason Kottke blogs:

I posted earlier about Atul Gawande’s piece in the New Yorker on the importance of incremental care in medicine. One of the things that the Affordable Care Act did was to make it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to people with “preexisting conditions”, which makes it difficult for those people to receive the type of incremental care Gawande touts. And who has these preexisting conditions? An estimated 27% of US adults under 65, including Gawande’s own son:

In the next few months, the worry is whether Walker and others like him will be able to have health-care coverage of any kind. His heart condition makes him, essentially, uninsurable. Until he’s twenty-six, he can stay on our family policy. But after that? In the work he’s done in his field, he’s had the status of a freelancer. Without the Affordable Care Act’s protections requiring all insurers to provide coverage to people regardless of their health history and at the same price as others their age, he’d be unable to find health insurance. Republican replacement plans threaten to weaken or drop these requirements, and leave no meaningful solution for people like him. And data indicate that twenty-seven per cent of adults under sixty-five are like him, with past health conditions that make them uninsurable without the protections.

That’s 52 million people, potentially ineligible for health insurance. And that’s not counting children. Spurred on by Gawande, people have been sharing their preexisting conditions stories on Twitter with the hashtag #the27Percent.

The 27% figure comes from a recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation:

A new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that 52 million adults under 65 — or 27 percent of that population — have pre-existing health conditions that would likely make them uninsurable if they applied for health coverage under medical underwriting practices that existed in most states before insurance regulation changes made by the Affordable Care Act.

In eleven states, at least three in ten non-elderly adults would have a declinable condition, according to the analysis: West Virginia (36%), Mississippi (34%), Kentucky (33%), Alabama (33%), Arkansas (32%), Tennessee (32%), Oklahoma (31%), Louisiana (30%), Missouri (30%), Indiana (30%) and Kansas (30%).

36% uninsurable in West Virginia! You’ll note that all 11 of those states voted for Trump in the recent election and in West Virginia, Trump carried the day with 68.7% of the vote, the highest percentage of any state. The states whose people need the ACA’s protection the most voted most heavily against their own interest.

Oh and one last thing. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2017 at 1:17 pm

Evidence of Bizarre Trump-Russia Ties Continues to Ooze Out

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In Mother Jones Kevin Drum writes:

So what’s new on the Trump-Russia front? First up, the Independent tells us that the former MI6 agent behind the now-famous dossier alleging close ties between Russia and the Trump team was dismayed that his findings didn’t generate more action during the presidential campaign:

Mr Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

….By late July and early August MI6 was also receiving information about Mr Trump. By September, information to the FBI began to grow in volume: Mr Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. But there seemed to be little progress in a proper inquiry into Mr Trump. The Bureau, instead, seemed to be devoting their resources in the pursuit of Hillary Clinton’s email transgressions.

The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city.

In related news, BuzzFeed says Israel is extremely interested in the possibility of Trump-Russia ties:

“You can trust me that many intelligence agencies are trying to evaluate the extent to which Trump might have ties, or a weakness of some type, to Russia,” one of the intelligence officers said….The officer said part of Israel’s interest in the dossier — and in other intelligence on Trump’s ties to Russia — stems from concern that secrets Israel shares with the Unites States might be fed to Russia.

Earlier this week, Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported that Israeli intelligence officials were questioning whether to continue sharing intelligence with the incoming Trump administration. The report said that during a recent meeting with US intelligence officials, Israel was told that the Russians had “leverages of pressure” to use against Trump. BuzzFeed News could not independently confirm that a meeting had taken place.

Other reports suggest that British intelligence is thinking along the same lines as Israel. And the Daily Beast reports that a group dedicated to hacking the NSA and releasing its prize malware has suddenly gone out of business a few days before Trump’s inauguration:

The Shadow Brokers emerged in August with the announcement that they’d stolen the hacking tools used by a sophisticated computer-intrusion operation known as the Equation Group, and were putting them up for sale to the highest bidder. It was a remarkable claim, because the Equation Group is generally understood to be part of the NSA’s elite Tailored Access Operations program.

….It soon emerged that the Shadow Brokers really had the goods….Virtually nobody, though, believed the Shadow Brokers’ claim that they were mere hackers trying to sell the exploits for a quick fortune.

The more persuasive theory, supported by no less than Edward Snowden, is that the Shadow Brokers are one of the same Russian government hacking groups now accused of targeting the U.S. election….Under this theory, the Shadow Brokers were part of a tit-for-tat in the intelligence world. The group emerged just as the U.S. began confronting Russia over its election hacking, and then seemed to release its secrets in time with the public thrusts and parries between the two countries….Now, with a new, friendlier administration coming in, Vladimir Putin may be pressing the reset button.

The more I read about this stuff, the harder I find it to believe. It just seems wildly ridiculous, the kind of thing that would barely pass muster on a TV potboiler, let alone in real life. The truth is that I’d probably dismiss it entirely if it weren’t for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2017 at 12:05 pm

Trump’s attack on John Lewis is the essence of narcissism

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Michael Gerson has a very strong column in the Washington Post. It begins:

Who is John Lewis that Donald Trump should be mindful of him?

Lewis, by one definition, is a 76-year-old liberal politician with a disturbing habit of hyperbole. He questioned the validity of George W. Bush’s presidential win. He once compared John McCain to George Wallace. Now he questions the legitimacy of Trump’s presidential victory.

By another definition, Lewis was a consequential student leader of the civil rights movement. He led sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters; was one of the original Freedom Riders who integrated buses; experienced the hospitality of places such as Mississippi’s Parchman Penitentiary; and carried away the memento of a skull fracture from Selma.

It must be said that the whole business of questioning a president’s right to hold office is pernicious. It puts a hard stop on all civility and cooperation. The worst instance, of course, was the claim that Barack Obama was Kenyan-born and disqualified to be president — an argument based on partisan, conspiratorial and quasi-racist lies enthusiastically spread by Trump. When the president-elect calls out Lewis on this topic, it is a display of hypocrisy so large that it is visible from space.

A conservative friend tells me I’m too concerned about Trump’s “manners.” Probably. (Though it strikes me as odd for any conservative to dismiss the gestures of mutual respect that make democracy and human society possible.)

The problem, however, runs deeper. Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter. He will lead a nation that accommodated a cruel exception to its founding creed; that bled and nearly died to recover its ideals; and that was only fully redeemed by the courage and moral clarity of the very people it had oppressed. People like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. People like John Lewis.

There are a lot of debunkers at work in American society. They point out that the priest is really a balding, middle-aged man with sweat stains at his armpits. They see the judge as an old woman who has the remnants of lunch caught between her teeth. They see John Lewis as just another career politician. But the priest holds the body of Christ, the judge embodies the rule of law, and Lewis once carried the full weight of America’s promise across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Were John Lewis to call me every name in the book, I would still honor him.

Trump often justifies his attacks as counterpunching. Even a glancing blow seems to merit a nuclear response. But this is the exact opposite of the ethical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, and of the principled nonviolence of the civil rights movement. In these systems of thought, the true victory comes in absorbing a blow with dignity, even with love. It is substance of King’s message. It is the essence of a cruciform faith.

This is not always easy to translate into politics. But . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2017 at 11:54 am

Scottish Sunday Herald TV guide description of the inauguration

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Via The Eldest:

image1

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2017 at 10:27 am

Kevin Drum looks at what Friday the 13th has wrought this time

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His post begins:

One of the benefits of being sick—oh, bollocks. There are no benefits to being sick. However, with a couple of short interludes, I slept until about 1:30 in the afternoon today, which is 4:30 for you elitist East Coasters. That means I missed the whole day. So when I finally felt well enough to reach over to the table for my tablet, I was able to take in the entire glorious panorama of 2017’s first Friday the 13th all at once. I shall now present it to you approximately as I experienced it. . .

Read the whole thing. It’s really excellent: a USA-type snapshot of one day’s events. (I’m referring to the John Dos Passos trilogy, highly recommended.)

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2017 at 8:56 pm

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