Archives for category: Frames of mind
Fake news

“Federal lawmakers on Wednesday released samples of 3,000 Facebook ads purchased by Russian operatives during the 2016 presidential campaign. The ads conveyed the wide range of influence Russian-linked groups tried to enact on Americans…”

Let’s zoom out in order to gain some perspective over all this.

Fake news are defined by Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries as “false reports of events, written and read on websites“.

The way I see it, “fake news” have a lot in common with counterfeit currency.
In more ways than one!

First of all, most money in current use is ‘fiat money’.
We are dealing with either printed pieces of paper or otherwise useless pieces of metal.
We ‘trust’ them for trading purposes simply because we are convinced that the institution which stand behind them – Central Banks, free(ish) markets and law enforcement, will do what they are meant to do. We trust that the Central Banks will not print too many of those pieces of paper, that the free(ish) markets will set a reasonable price to everything and that the police will manage to weed out (most of) those who try to circulate fake money.
Not even a return to ‘real’ money – a.k.a. gold,  wouldn’t insulate us from crooks. Gold coins can be, and had been, tampered with in so many ways. Human greed is a very powerful motivator but not necessarily a good mentor.

Which brings us to the reason for why fake money came to be.
Simply because some ‘industrious’ people ‘make’ them and some other, equally greedy, people knowingly distribute them.

In conclusion, we wouldn’t have to deal with fake money if money wasn’t essential for an efficient free market and we would have a lot less of it if greed were not such a widespread attitude. And no, a cash-less economy would not solve the problem. A printing press is no longer essential for faking money. Hacking skills have become  a good enough substitute.

Let’s translate this rationale to (fake) news.

We need to know what’s going on around us so we’ve developed an equivalent to the financial system. The mass media.
Which has a more or less equivalent set of ‘guardians’.
The ‘printers’ are responsible for the equivalence between their ‘product’ and the reality it represents while the market (readers, that is) is responsible for ‘setting the price’.

Of course, there are also differences.
‘Law enforcement’ has indeed a role to play in the news industry but its scope is a lot narrower than in the first case. And rightfully so. The ‘information’ market needs to be a lot more ‘flexible’ than the one dealing in ‘economic goods’. There’s a lot to discuss on this subject, I’ll leave it here.
There’s also no Central Bank to ‘tug at the sleeves’ of those who ‘jump the shark’.

As a consequence of these two differences, the ‘counterfeiters’ have an easier life and the consumers/victims a far greater responsibility for what’s going on. Simply because the consumers/potential victims cannot rely on any third party to do their job. To sniff out the ‘bad thing’.

But what if ‘it’s the thief who plays the victim’?
That very much depends on who the ‘thief’ is!

Let’s go back in time for a short while.
First to the American Revolutionary War. During which the British attempted to crash the American economy by injecting in it enough counterfeit money to cause hyperinflation. “No economy, no more war.” The British did manage to produce and distribute a huge amount of fake money yet the outcome was not the intended one. “Even when at one point the amount of counterfeit currency in circulation may have exceed the amount of legitimate currency, the economy hung on by its eye teeth and never fully collapsed.”
One and a half centuries later, the British had found themselves at the receiving end of the same game. “…during World War II the Nazis almost destroyed the credibility of the British pound sterling by producing near-perfect forgeries, The Telegraph reports. By the end of the war the forgeries were so rife that Bank of England notes would not be accepted by any neutral country on the Continent “except at a very large discount…”.
Hitler was even less successful than the British had been but the inflicted injuries were huge nonetheless.
Now, would Hitler have attempted this on his own, without the British establishing a precedent?
We’ll never know… Sufficient to say that the US has also used fake money, obviously fake this time. For propaganda reasons and not as an attempt to ‘crash the economies’ of the countries they were fighting.

To close the circle, we must ask ourselves how successful would Putin’s trolls have been if Trump wouldn’t have beaten so hard the ‘birther’ drum…

Seriously now, propaganda is a very efficient weapon. Maybe more efficient than guns.
But, and in total contrast with a gun, propaganda is useless against really determined people.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me” is true. But only as long as those being called names are in the right state of mind. As soon as they start feeling hurt, all hell comes loose.

If you think of it, Trump’s birther campaign, fake as it was – he had admitted that much, eventually, was a very successful ‘fake news campaign’. It had established Donald Trump as  shrewd  media manipulator.
Unfortunately, it had an even worse outcome. It had very much helped those who wanted the American public split into warring parties.

And who are now pushing these parties further and further apart.

PS. While researching for this post, I found out that “fake news” has been declared ‘word of the year’ for 2017. A fitting development… last year’s ‘champion’ was “post truth”…
What next? Doublethink?

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Yeah, right…

boogeyman

Like each time after you’ve just finished eating it, the Boogey Person will come out of nowhere and rip it out of your stomach!

We were discussing ‘worst possible scenarios’ on Facebook and somebody mentioned ‘climate change’.
I must add here that the exchange was ‘framed’ by ‘skin in the game‘, a concept used by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his rather don-quixotic quest for more responsible decision makers.

OK, the whole domain of climate change is riddled with epistemological holes.
Linear models are used to approximate processes we barely know anything about.
‘Starting points’ have been, again and again, been proven wrong.
I could go on for hours.

I’ll make a small parenthesis here and inform you that according to a fresh study things might be far worse than we’ve reckoned. This paper, published by Nature.com, suggests that Earth’s oceans used to be far cooler than we’ve previously thought they were.

In this context, one of the participants made the following remark:
the burden (of proof) should fall on those calling for changes, for the rather obvious reason that we could suggest changes all day long. Only a few can be implemented.

Hard to argue with that, right?

But which changes are we talking about here?

A change in our manner of interacting with Mother Nature?
Costly, indeed, financial wise, but nowadays technologically possible.

Or about the changes we’ve already – unwittingly, most of them, imposed upon our ‘spaceship’?

We’ve dramatically changed the ‘use of land’. Agriculture and transport – yes, roads and railways have a huge impact – have changed the very nature of what’s going on on a considerable portion of the Earth’s surface.
We’ve dramatically changed the composition of the atmosphere. And I’m not talking about CO2 yet. CFCs, pesticides, NOx and SOx gases, etc., etc….
And, last but not least, we’ve reversed a trend which had been going on for hundreds of millions of years. Photosynthesis used to transform atmospheric CO2 into organic matter, some of which has been steadily accumulated as coal and crude oil.

So, about which changes should we worry first?

Or, in SITG terms, whose skin should bear the brunt of change?

Ours or our children’s?

“Between 1970 and 2010, the number of administrators in health care grew more than 3000%, while the number of physicians grew about 200%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During that same 40 years, U.S. health-care spending rose 2300%. Doctors’ fees account for only 8 cents of the health care dollar. Where do you think the other 92 cents are going?”  (Marni Jameson Carey, Focus on Health Coverage Misses the Point, Forbes.com, Oct 24, 2017)

A few years ago I was arguing that profit was overrated.
It seems that Forbes, a magazine which cannot be accused of any socialist tendencies, has reached a somewhat similar conclusion.

Even more interesting is the solution proposed by Forbes to the health care problem.

A return to the free market!

Free from what? Who says the American health care market is not free?
Well, click on the quote above and see what Forbes has to say about this…

But what happened? How did we get here?

Well, the free market described by Adam Smith was an environment where people used to fulfill their needs by selling their wares.
The butcher sold meat and bought everything else he needed, the brewer sold beer and bought everything else he needed, the baker… and so on!
OK, there  was a certain kind of competition which kept the things in check. The butchers competed against other butchers, the brewers…
And because of this competition, all traders – those who wanted to survive, anyway – streamlined their operations and became more and more efficient. Hence profitable.

I mentioned the link between the survival of a commercial enterprise and its ability to generate profit.
Apparently, it doesn’t make much sense to elaborate on this. Bear with me, please.

The whole point of the free market is the division of labor. Besides its freedom, of course.
Each of us does what he knows better and then we trade our respective wares. This way all of us fare better than if each of us would have had to produce everything each of us needs to survive.
In this scenario, competition – between ‘bakers’, for example – is actually a tool which makes it so that the market, as a whole, doesn’t waste resources. When the less efficient bakers are ‘encouraged’ to find something else to do, the entire market is better off. And so on.
In this sense, profit is only one indicator – and a very good one – of how able to survive is a certain commercial venture. But not the only goal of the entrepreneur who started/runs the enterprise. What he wants is to make an as good as possible living by doing what he knows best, in close collaboration with the other participants to the free market.

Adam Smith had written his books some two and a half centuries ago.
And the free market had served us well, for a while.
Just look at what we’ve accomplished in these two and a half centuries.

But, just as Forbes points out, things are no longer going in the right direction.

Why?

Simply because the market is no longer free!

Not only because some of the participants have become ‘heavy’ enough to crush all competition. This is only the lesser part of the problem.
The really big one, and so well hidden that it’s almost invisible, is that too many of us have become obsessed with the same thing. Money!

Life-of-modern-people

Profit has become THE absolute goal of everything we do. Too many of those who participate in the free market no longer want to collaborate with the others but simply want to get rich. By any (legal) means.

Some say this is a good thing.
They invoke Adam Smith’s words as a justification for their beliefs.

I beg to differ.

The simple existence of our current obsession has profoundly altered the very nature of the market. Which is no longer free.

Because WE are no longer free. When too many of us are obsessively concentrated on the same thing, they will necessarily disregard all other options. And the rest have no other option but to follow.

This is not freedom!

Mesmerized people can not be described, by outside observers, as being free.
Regardless of how they consider themselves.

 

The current “Me too” campaign – long overdue, should be an eye opener.

Pointing out the perpetrators is a good start and we have a long way to go.

If we want to significantly reduce sexual harassment we need to examine ourselves, men and women, in a mirror.

How many times, as men and women, have we heard other men bragging about their sexual exploits, and said nothing?
How many times have we learned about other men using their rank/position to sexually impose themselves upon women, our colleagues, and did nothing?

And these were the easy ones…

Who raised and educated the present generation of sexual predators? Their mothers and fathers? Their teachers and neighbors? Who had put together the ‘sex sells’ culture which currently permeates everything?
How many women had voted for the ‘American Pussy Grabber’, despite the fact that he had proudly bragged about the whole thing? Why so many women, including ‘his’ wife, agreed that receiving oral sex in the Oval Office was something completely different from ‘having sex with that woman’?
How many women, including actresses, have used their charms to snare their bosses/business partners? And got away with it?
Why is it that in most countries the legislation which punishes the ‘working girls’ does not incriminate their clients?

trump on corker

 

corker on WH

OK, let me wrap my head around this.

So Corker doesn’t have enough guts to run for re-election without Trump’s blessing but has enough to openly tweet his mind about what’s going on in the White House?!?
A reality show run by the supposedly most powerful man on Earth?
Who’s about to transform the “Great” America into the biggest laughing stock of the world?

Am I the only one wondering whether any of these can be described as “adult” behavior?

There’s a glimmer of hope though.

401K is way bigger than 65K. And big enough to rise above 65K+57K+62K… I know, adding this numbers up doesn’t make much sense – there is a strong possibility that many individual readers may have liked more than one of these tweets, but still…

For some people the fog may have started to rise.

The fog generated by the fake news manipulated by the ‘Great Deal Maker’, that is.
Compare the comments which accompany those tweets.

 

 

past future byron prophecy

OK, I’m willing to admit that the past gives us a strong indication about what may happen in the future. Hence it might be a very good prophet!

The best?… that would depend on how each of us interprets the notion.
The notion of prophecy, of course.

And since the best( ?!?, 😉 ) way to understand an action is to figure out the motivation behind it…

Let me start with the beginning.

What is a prophecy?

In fact there are two kinds of prophecies. Of promises, actually.
‘Don’t do that or you’ll have to face the consequences’ and ‘if you’ll do such and such, your reward will be this’.

Only very few of the prophets have been using such a clear language. Most of them have preferred to use a much more convoluted manner of expression.
Quite understandably.

First of all, because these were ‘second hand’ promises.
They were not uttered directly by the promising agent but by a more or less ‘self appointed press secretary’. Who had no sure way of knowing whether he had at least a working understanding of the message he was supposed to deliver to his peers, whether they were going/able to understand/accept the message in it’s entirety nor whether they were going/able/willing to abide to all its intricacies.

Secondly, and this is applicable specially to the ‘don’t do it’ kind of prophecy, let’s examine what may happen if/when people do heed to a professed  prophecy.

I’ll consider the ‘positive’ case first.

If people do ‘the right thing’, and the reward promptly arrives, they think/feel ‘it is rightfully theirs’, no question asked. The prophet is seldom remembered. And in the rare cases when people do remember they’ve been foretold, the extended thanks rise very rarely above ‘lip service’ level.

If people think they have done ‘the right thing’ but are unaware they have ‘trespassed’, one way or another, they expect ‘their’ reward. Which, usually in this situation, never comes.
Who’s more likely to shoulder the blame? Remember that the people are not aware of not having fulfilled their bidding!
The prophet?
You nailed it!

And there’s a strong possibility that he might get nailed himself!

Let’s examine the ‘negative’ case now.
The one where the prophecy is ‘don’t do that, or else!’

People might choose to heed to the warning. Hence no punishment. Again, the prophet is usually forgotten along the way. Mainly because the bad things he kept speaking about never came through/true. Or even worse, he may be laughed at. But he’s happy. He has helped his people avoid experiencing a bad thing.
Or people might choose to ignore the warning. Hence experience the punishment.
Or, even worse, the people might try to ‘do the right thing’ and fail. For what ever reason. Who would be the most likely to be held responsible by the masses, or blamed by the politicians? For making an incomplete,  or mistaken, prophecy…
An even stranger situation develops when the ‘judge’ decides to give ‘his’ people another chance. And postpones the (well deserved?!?) punishment. Is it possible that the people might decide to ignore altogether the prophecy, completely misinterpreting both the prophecy and the misericordia displayed by the judge?
Quite annoying for the prophet, right?

Boring?
You might consider that I didn’t consider all possibilities… for instance that when the reward comes without (in spite?) all demands having (not) been fulfilled. The prophet becomes a laughing stock, right?

Anyway, the whole thing was intentionally meant to be somewhat boring.
This way your attention wasn’t mesmerized and you had a fighting chance to figure out my real point.

Go back up and glance at Byron. He looks back but his body faces the future.

We are the ones called to presently transform the past into the future.
Glancing back tells us where we come from and what we have at our disposal.
Yet we have only one option. To go forward.
To survive and, maybe, to prosper.

Yes, we have a lot of carry-on luggage.
But it’s up to us to use that luggage as a resource or to trundle it along as a burden.

Another prophecy…

do as the Romans do.

According to UrbanDictionary.com, “it has become shortened so often, some people don’t get it anymore. It’s an analogy making use of the strict rule of the ancient Roman empire”

Wikipedia mentions that it’s “a proverb attributed to Saint Ambrose”, meaning “that it is advisable to follow the conventions of the area in which you are residing or visiting.”

OK, seems sensible to follow the rules, specially when their are enforced vigorously. Furthermore, why rock the boat – specially when visiting a place? Or shortly after you’ve just moved in?

How about after becoming familiar with the local mores?

 

fall of Rome

 

Could there be anything more behind these words?

The proverb dates from an era when Rome was the center of the world. Of the Mediterranean world, anyway…
Could it also mean ‘do as the Romans do and you’ll share into the benefits enjoyed by the rest of them’? In line with ‘don’t rock the boat, lest the others will throw you out’?

In other words, the proverb suggests that ‘herding is good for you’.

Which is true. Most of the time, anyway.

Specially when you know when to bail out…

In this context I must remind you that mighty Rome ended up being sacked by a succession of rogue thieves… some of them hired by the emperors to guard the borders because the Roman citizens had became too ‘adept’ at ‘panem et circenses’ to bother anymore with bearing arms…

It seems that not all things done by the Romans were actually worth doing.

How about exercising our brains instead of sheepishly following the herd?
No need to insult the others, ‘rock the boat’ or anything else dramatic.
Just honestly give them the reasons for your dissent.
If they are wise – and you are right, of course, they’ll come your way.

If not… you should either follow the rules… or change the herd.

 

Farfetched?

Somebody was asking the other day on Facebook “how can you prove that a table doesn’t exist?”
The answer, ‘walk through the place where that table is supposed to stand’ is so obvious that it hurts.

So, was that table real or not?

You see, a table may exist in two kind of places. In a store/room/backyard and in the imagination/memory of the guys who designed/made/owned it. It can remain ‘in storage’ long after it was forgotten by everybody and/or can be remembered long after it was destroyed.
A tree, on the other hand, can exist – and die, without anybody ever noticing it. Or could have been lovingly planted and taken care of by somebody. Who might die even before the tree ever reaching maturity…

But how can any of us determine whether a table, or a tree, is real or not?

By attempting to walk through it, and hurting ourselves, we only determine that there’s something there. Not at all that we’d hurt ourselves by hitting a tree or a table…

OK, there’s yet another possibility.

reality figment

Dr. Pierce – who, by the way, was produced by the imagination of a screen-writer, reminds us that neurologically there’s no way of telling apart a dream/nightmare/vision from a ‘legitimate’ perception.

So.
Then it would be possible for whatever each of us perceives on a daily bases to be nothing but some-kind of an elaborate multidimensional movie. Or prank. Played on each of us by some extremely bored ‘arcade operator’. Or by a lab-technician performing some kind of an experiment… In this scenario all other people each of us has ever met would be nothing but characters imagined by the guy who had written the script/devised the experiment…
A slightly different scenario would be that our planet (the whole world?) is a theater, we are the spectators and most of what we perceive is the movie which is played on (for?) us. In this variation we are free to speak amongst us (discuss the movie?) and this would be the explanation for why our perceptions are coordinated so well. After all, all English speakers use the same word for table/tree and most of us are able to differentiate between a table and a chair. Or between a tree and a weed…

Or we could take a completely different road!
There’s a guy, Humberto Maturana, who has reached the conclusion that most humans are not simply aware but also aware of their own awareness. And that this is what really makes us human.
In fact, his ideas make a lot of sense. A dog is aware. If house trained, it will not pee inside and most of them are able to differentiate between their owners and some strangers. But it takes a fully functional human being to step outside of themselves and examine their actions/status.

Without this very self awareness, none of us would be considering ‘reality’. We’d simply walk around the table/tree or directly through the clear space and never waste a second considering whether the table/tree is real.

Or what reality really is.

In this scenario, reality is more like a table than like a tree.
It resembles a tree in the sense that it existed long before any of us ever thought about it and it is like a table in the sense that in order to consider it we need to imagine it first.

Reality exists.
In both scenarios and along both roads. It doesn’t matter whether in the first one we are fed fake sensations and led to believe whatever the screen writer wants us to believe. In order to do that, the screen writer has to exist in the first place. We also have to exist, otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone to watch the movie!
OK, maybe what we perceive has nothing to do (very little?) to the real reality. But that doesn’t mean that a certain reality doesn’t exist at all. Even in the first scenario.

Coming back to the second road, we cannot pretend that OUR reality exists outside us.
Yes, there is a reality – THE reality, which lurks somewhere outside our reach.
What we’re able learn from it, and all we’ll ever be able to learn, is what we’ll be able to imagine first.

Think of it. What do we do when we come across something new?
First we try to classify it among our memories. In fact we try to remember whether we already have a word for it. One imagined by one of our ancestors.
If not, we imagine one ourselves.
And only then we can proclaim that the new thing has been discovered. That it has become ‘real’.

 

Seven years ago somebody was elected to the Senate of the United States.

Despite

“Candidate’s Words on Vietnam Service Differ From History”

Six years later, another guy became POTUS despite the newspaper who published the article above having mounted quite a vigorous campaign against him.

The really interesting thing is that the second guy uses the information published in the newspaper seven years ago to smear the first guy while constantly accusing the same newspaper of being a relentless purveyor of fake news…

trump blumenthal

Now, which is stranger?

That two guys had managed to muster enough public support to get elected into public office, despite their shoddy relationships with the truth?

Or that newspapers continue to bother themselves?

“Fabrications have long been a part of American politics. Politicians lie to puff themselves up, to burnish their résumés and to cover up misdeeds, including sexual affairs. (See: Bill Clinton.) Sometimes they cite false information for what they believe are justifiable policy reasons. (See: Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam.)

But President Trump, historians and consultants in both political parties agree, appears to have taken what the writer Hannah Arendt once called “the conflict between truth and politics” to an entirely new level.

From his days peddling the false notion that former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, to his inflated claims about how many people attended his inaugural, to his description just last week of receiving two phone calls — one from the president of Mexico and another from the head of the Boy Scouts — that never happened, Mr. Trump is trafficking in hyperbole, distortion and fabrication on practically a daily basis.”

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