Who’s the sucker?

Or, in the case of facebook, if you can’t tell what the product is – it’s you:

Facebook is the prime online, global incubator of racist, quasi-fascist propaganda, conspiracy theories, state-run psyops and agit-prop operations, even in at least one case actual state-backed programs of population transfer and arguable genocide. But to really understand the problem with Facebook we need to understand the structural roots of that problem, how much of it is baked into the core architecture of the site and its very business model. Indeed much of it is inherent in the core strategies of the post-2000, second wave Internet tech companies that now dominate our information space and economy.

Facebook is an ingenious engine for information and ideational manipulation. Good old fashioned advertising does that to a degree. But Facebook is much more powerful, adaptive and efficient. That’s what all the algorithms do. That’s why it makes so much money. This is the error with people who say the fact that people do bad things with Facebook is no different from people doing bad things with phones. Facebook isn’t just a ‘dumb’ communications system. It’s not really a platform in the original sense of the word. (The analogy for that is web hosting.) Facebook is designed to do specific things. It’s an engine to understand people’s minds and then manipulate their thinking. Those tools are refined for revenue making but can be used for many other purposes. That makes it ripe for misuse and bad acting.

As Josh says, fB is in the middle of another round of bad publicity and they deserve every bit of it. Obviously also another meaning of being green, but we CAN learn, get older and [a bit] wiser.

And speaking of TPM and green, find some good media you trust and pay for it. Support it. Help it exist. TPM is a good one that I’ve read for many years now. But don’t believe me, go check it out for yourself. Hit ’em up.

Image via.

Record melt of Greenland ice sheets in 2019

Alaska, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, ANWR, the Narrows from Schrader to Peters Lake.

After a two-year slowing period through 2018, Greenland’s ice sheet lost a record amount of mass last year, according to a study published on Thursday:

That loss of 532 gigatons of ice – equivalent to about 66 tons of ice for each person on Earth – was 15% more than the previous record in 2012.

Greenland’s ice melt is of particular concern, as the ancient ice sheet holds enough water to raise sea levels by at least 20 feet (6 meters) if it were to melt away entirely.

The study adds to evidence that Greenland’s icy bulk is melting more quickly than anticipated amid climate warming. Another study last week indicated the island was no longer getting enough annual snowfall to replace ice lost to melting and calving at the glaciers’ edges.

“We are likely on the path of accelerated sea level rise,” Sasgen told Reuters. “More melting of the ice sheet is not compensated by periods when we have extreme snowfall.”

The study, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, used data collected by satellites to the gravitational force of the ice mass, which scientists can use to calculate how much snow and ice is locked within.

Other research has shown the melting is being helped by water pooling atop the ice and at meltwater streaming between the ice sheet and the bedrock beneath.

These studies are helping scientists refine their projections of how climate change will impact the Arctic, and how quickly. Sasgen compared the sobering process to getting difficult news from a doctor.

“It’s always depressing to see a new record,” Sasgen said.

But the studies offer insight into “where the problem is, and you also know to some extent what the treatment is,” Sasgen added.

Emphasis added, good grief. We know what we need to do, and if we reduce CO2 to limit global warming, then all these other concerns including sea level rise and ocean acidification can also be reduced.

But of course,

the Department of Interior approved plans to open ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for leases to drill for oil

Event though, “At current and foreseeable oil prices, the industry’s appetite to drill in ANWR will be exceptionally low and quite possibly will be zero.” So we know what we need to do. Vote – by mail, carrier pigeon, with your honey, whatever it takes.

Image: Via Getty Images.

Never having to say you’re sorry

bull's eye view photo

For Wall Street, that’s what it means apparently. Torn over whether a Biden win brings joy or misery. Really.

Those with the rosier outlook point to Biden’s mostly pro-business inner circle, his significant campaign contributions from the financial industry and his longtime support of credit card companies located in his home state of Delaware. Plus, a Biden victory would likely be driven by U.S. voters seeking change because they believe the country is a mess. Wall Street thinks it has a strong argument to make that reining in lenders would be a fatal mistake when unemployment is sky-high and the economy remains ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

The enthusiasm, however, is tempered by fears over how much sway Biden will give progressives and their firebrand leaders, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. That’s especially true when it comes to picking appointees to run the powerful agencies that police banks and securities firms, jobs that the activists are mobilizing to fill with industry critics. At a minimum, progressives want to ensure that the days are long over when Democrats appointed officials like Robert Rubin, Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, who is a key Biden adviser.

The stakes for Wall Street couldn’t be higher. Centrist regulators would be less likely to overturn rule rollbacks approved under Trump that have saved financial firms tens of billions of dollars. Progressive agency heads, on the other hand, could pursue what the C-suite calls the “shame and investigation agenda.” Policies like taxes on trading, curbs on executive pay and even breaking up behemoth banks would be back on the table.

To wonder whether ‘Wall Street’ has some understanding of our current morass, much less the words ‘joy’ or ‘ misery,’ is to weep. Of course they do. Always check the business press if you’re wondering at all about the soul of a consumer society. Mantra for post-2016 world: it’s always worse than you think.

Image: Replica golden calf. Subtlety is NOT their strong point.

Patience or patients

The good news wrapped in the bad: COVID-19 seems to mutate slowly enough that a vaccine could be available by yearend or early 2021.

Opening schools for in-person instruction, at every level, would seem best AFTER that time. Do we have the ability/courage/wisdom to wait it out? Only complete answers accepted. Show your work.

Image: Plants listening to Puccini in Barcelona, via the Guardian.

Powering Down

Necessarily ambitious climate targets to meet the Paris Agreement goals earlier must actually be designed to surpass them. As we’ve said often these efforts are results of broad collective action, by governments:

The centerpiece of Leonore Gewessler’s plan is a radical revamp of Austria’s public transportation networks, giving residents nationwide access to buses, trains and subways for a flat yearly fee that works out at 3 euros ($3.38) a day, encouraging citizens to leave their cars at home. Austria’s minister for climate, energy and transportation policy, is drafting new laws that’ll redistribute billions of euros toward more ecologically-friendly activities in the euro area’s sixth biggest economy.

“That’s the project that is very dear to my heart,” said Gewessler in her first interview in her ministry since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Road traffic remains a “key concern” for Austria to meet its goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2040—a decade earlier than the target set by the European Union.

Note when this is happening – now. Even and especially during the pandemic. The localities we’ve heard about where streets have been restricted to pedestrian-only traffic requires another couple of steps to complete the process. Paired with (cheap!) alternative transportation options, this will seem like another thing we just had to do. (Narrator: Because. It. Is.)

Image via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

[Night on] Earth Day

Let’s just take a look back at this little episode, shall we? Yes, we shall:

A massive deepwater oil spill is nearly as likely today as it was in 2010, experts warn, 10 years after the disastrous explosion of BP’s rig in the Gulf of Mexico that caused an environmental catastrophe.

The blowout killed 11 workers and spewed 4m barrels of petroleum into the ocean for 87 days before it could be capped, devastating marine life and polluting 1,300 miles of shoreline. Thousands were put out of work in oil, fisheries and tourism.

But experts say an incident of similar scale could happen again and has been made more likely by the Trump administration’s decision to loosen Obama-era safety rules. Those standards had grown from an independent commission’s damning findings of corporate and regulatory failures leading up to the spill.

Frances Ulmer, who served on the commission and is a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said the government and industry have not made sufficient changes to prevent or respond to another mammoth spill.

Sufficient changes. Just what might those those be? It isn’t me walking to work (I do), or building a solar charging station for the car (we are). Those things are those things and they make my life better as they ease some pollution in my local community. But they’re not going to save anything – only collective action will do that. Governments working together to re-assert control that has been systematically ceded to corporations for the purpose of pillage and profit. Reigning in the unaccountable and including the costs of externalities in the price of everything we can buy are the things that will begin make a difference. The reduced economic activity of the past six weeks should give us a little hint of what is required if we had to cram for the test. If we [all] decided to start studying a little everyday, it would mean different political leaders, building codes, transportation alternatives, land development regulations, and prices than the ones we have today. How many of these are possible in the near term?

There’s an election in November.

Image: A man lays oil-absorbent boom as oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill impacts Cat Island in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, in 2010.
Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

Also possible without needing a pandemic

NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) pollution monitoring satellites have detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China. There is evidence that the change is at least partly related to the economic slowdown following the outbreak of coronavirus.

At the end of 2019, medical professionals in Wuhan, China, were treating dozens of pneumonia cases that had an unknown source. Days later, researchers confirmed the illnesses were caused by a new coronavirus (COVID-19). By January 23, 2020, Chinese authorities had shut down transportation going into and out of Wuhan, as well as local businesses, in order to reduce the spread of the disease. It was the first of several quarantines set up in the country and around the world.

The maps on this page show concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities. The maps above show NO2 values across China from January 1-20, 2020 (before the quarantine) and February 10-25 (during the quarantine). The data were collected by the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on ESA’s Sentinel-5 satellite. A related sensor, the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite, has been making similar measurements.

“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” said Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Liu recalls seeing a drop in NO2 over several countries during the economic recession that began in 2008, but the decrease was gradual. Scientists also observed a significant reduction around Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, but the effect was mostly localized around that city, and pollution levels rose again once the Olympics ended.

It doesn’t take a disaster or even an emergency – beyond the one we have already created with the usual emissions levels. Reductions are possible. Disasters and loss are not mandatory, though we do make them inevitable to some extent by doing nothing. Still, these dramatic images should be instructional about what’s possible. It would be interesting to know the near-term implications of these reductions. You know, science.

Faceback

Take the [please!] newest, most naive form of sharing personal news and information, let it be a for-profit business and just for kicks, make it the most profitable non-product the world has ever known. What would you get?

On the one hand, the company wants to curtail the spread of disinformation across its site. At the same time, it wants to avoid alienating the groups and candidates who depend on its platform for fund-raising and organizing. So in trying to find a way to please everyone on the issue, Facebook has managed to please no one.

The social network has now become an outlier in how freely it lets political candidates and elected officials advertise on its platform. While Mr. Zuckerberg declared last month that Facebook would not police political ads, Twitter said it would ban all such ads because of their negative impact on civic discourse. On Wednesday, Google said it would no longer allow political ads to be directed to specific audiences based on people’s public voter records or political affiliations.

Part of our own vulnerability rests within an inability to understand simple words like ‘sharing’, and reluctance to engage with non-simple contracts like the many we would rather click agree to and just get back to posting our favorite stuff. More on all of this soon, but we’re really staring into the abyss here without noting the swirl. We hear the sound, but not its signal; can do steps but are not invited to the dance.

Thumbs up!

11 to 7 on the Paradigm Shift

There are great amounts of quality disparagements of business schools in general (intentional or not), and MBA programs in particular. The singular ethos, such as it exists, or lack of concern beyond profiteering for anything involving people, environments, good governance or even public safety opens a very wide field in which quite little is possible other than the growing of predator industries and the election of frauds.

But the hedge-fund guys and girls have largely gotten a pass for a long while now, though that just will not suffice and they refuse to have their lack of acumen for or understanding of the industries they destroy not properly respected for precisely what it is:

To me, this and so many other closings of quality publications leads to a broader question of whether journalistic outlets can even exist under this current age of capitalism. In short, I think the answer is basically no. Journalism can exist in a capitalist system of course, but only when the people who own these outlets have some higher purposes, at least in part, whether it is some belief in the truth or at least a willingness to accept relatively moderate profits instead of instant gold. But we now live in an era of venture capitalist schemes, where rank idiots stumble into massive wealth and believe that they are rich because they are smarter than everyone else. When this happens, as it did in the initial Gilded Age, these morons run roughshod over the world around them.

Just so. The jump comes from a ledge of dangerous combination: You make a great deal of money – however quickly – and also systematically evade any education that would have given you access to some self-awareness that might save you and others something a little more important than two points below prime. The serial misunderstanding of terms will be the subtext of the best work of many future historians and not-a-few extradition treaties. CRaP, for example, is a re-purposed acronym that should be far more useful that it is.

The Real Eschew

Given the vicissitudes of the news cycle over the last four months, this is a pretty solid distribution of issues over the last four debates. As long as Health Care stays in the top three or four, voters might be able to stay focused on the ridiculous costs of living, and even of dying, quite frankly.

And Democrats can actually do several things at once, as long as one of those things is holding criminals accountable for crimes.

Bonus Fun Fact: subpoena means “Under Penalty.”