Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Liberdade de expressão e censura social/privada (I)

A Litany of the Ways In Which Facebook Corrupts the Spirit of Free Speech, por Robert Sharp:

Inciting violence and hate is what Britain First group appear to have been doing, so the Facebook decision to ban their page feels righteous. Good riddance? Nothing to see here? Move along?

Not quite. This development is still problematic and draws our attention to the unexpected role that social media plays in our politics. We have been discussing these problems for years without, in my opinion, coming any closer to solving them.

It is important to remember that this is not an example of state censorship. Facebook is a private company, and it is entitled to set its own terms of use and to enforce them as it sees fit. The Britain First Facebook page has no protection under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights or the First Amendment to the United States constitution.

And that is the first problem, because no-one else’s Facebook page has such a protection either. Vast swathes of political discourse take place on Mark Zuckerberg’s platform. We treat it like a public square, but it is not. At any moment, the messages we post, and the networks we have built can be taken away from us.

Whatever mechanise that has been used to shut down the far right will be used to censor other groups. Campaigners will note the demise of the Britain First page and seek to have other pages similarly banned. Islamist groups and the Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists will be at immediate risk, but other kinds of political discussion will soon be targeted. Any legitimate political cause that contains militant elements, such as pro-Palestine or pro-Kurdish groups, could easily find their Facebook privileges are revoked when those who are ideologically opposed start gaming the complaint features.

This is privatised censorship. Individuals and interest groups can and will enlist the help of a billionaire to shut up people with whom they disagree. (...)

Our response to this cannot be “well, you can always go elsewhere”. Where exactly? MySpace? Friends Reunited? Independent websites (such as this blog) do not have the same networking opportunities and potential for ‘virality’ that the leading social media platforms offer. Social media is where our discourse happens now and all other content is filtered through these platforms. They are private spaces where we conduct very public politics. Denial of access to these spaces presents a huge barrier to expression for anyone thus suppressed. A single American company should not be the final arbiter on what organisations get to participate in British politics. We may think they have made the right call in banning Britain First… but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. (...) 

Another problem, most relevant internationally, is that social media platforms present a single point of failure. Recent history is littered with examples of governments seeking to block access to social media. Iran did so during the ‘Green Revolution’ protests of 2009 and Egypt did so during the ‘Arab Spring’ protests of 2011. During the London riots that same year, British members of Parliament
expressed support for the idea that the government might take social media services entirely off-line during times that suited them. I wrote a commentary on this idea at the time.


The counter to this threat is to distribute the network. Use different platforms or use technologies that do not require a centralised server like RSS or Mastodon. By spreading out we are harder to stop. We have known that this is important for nearly a decade, but everyone, including yrstrly, seems wedded to the corporate silos.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Protecionismo, direita e esquerda

Free Trade Shouldn’t Be a Litmus Test for Conservatism, por Paul Gottfried (The American Conservative):

According to a recent analysis in the New York Times, President Trump’s “isolationist” trade policy is “at odds with longstanding conservative orthodoxy about the benefits of free and open markets.” The reader is further told that the president is under pressure from his working-class base, which is obstreperously demanding that protectionist taxes be placed on imported steel and aluminum.

I say not so fast.

The Times presents the GOP base’s supposed impatience with free trade as a departure from almost sacred Republican beliefs, and free trade itself as a permanent conservative characteristic. Their evidence is that large corporations favor free trade while labor unions have generally been more protectionist.

But both assertions represent gross oversimplifications. Those who present free trade as a “conservative” position are skimming over whole chapters of the past.They conveniently overlook (or are totally ignorant of) the fact that well into the 20th century, American statesmen who could hardly be characterized as leftists—like Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, and William Howard Taft—were outspoken advocates of tariffs. (...)

In Europe, such non-leftists as Louis XIV, Frederick the Great, and Otto von Bismarck favored tariffs to protect the agricultural and commercial products of their countrymen.(...) England practiced free trade in the 19th century principally because it was the most advanced industrial nation with the largest supply of credit. When these conditions changed before the First World War, the English government reverted to protectionism. This change in England’s fortunes and views about trade provided the theme of a famous book, The Strange Death of Liberal England, by George Dangerfield, which was published in 1935. Not surprisingly, it was the Tories who were accused of giving the death blow to English free trade.

It is not often mentioned—but should be, for the sake of accuracy—that the major advocates of free trade in the 19th century were radicals like John Bright, Richard Cobden, and James and John Stuart Mill. Such free traders believed in extending the suffrage to women, and in various mechanisms for breaking down national barriers. Although the goals of these radicals have become mainstream positions by now, in the 19th century they certainly were not.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

O novo modelo económico do Labour

The new economics of Labour, por Hilary Wainwright (introdução) e John McDonnell:

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell can usually barely breathe a word about nationalisation without setting off a media frenzy – so it’s strange that his most interesting comments yet on the subject passed with so little comment.

Speaking in London about the Labour Party’s new economics, McDonnell said: ‘We should not try to recreate the nationalised industries of the past… we cannot be nostalgic for a model whose management was often too distant, too bureaucratic.’ Instead, he said, a new kind of public ownership would be based on the principle that ‘nobody knows better how to run these industries than those who spend their lives with them’.

Maybe the media's silence on this profoundly democratic vision of public ownership is not so surprising : for it directly contradicts the attempt to warm up Cold War scares of a secretly pro-Soviet Labour leader whose public ownership plans are the first step towards imposing a Soviet style command economy onto the unsuspecting British people.

Now that the Czech spy stories have fallen flat – as false – we can discuss Labour's new democratic thinking more productively and maybe some of the media will pay attention; for this new thinking about public ownership opens up a rich seam of new economic thinking: beyond both neoliberalism and the post-war settlement. While neoliberalism says the market knows best, the Fabian-inspired model of the 1945 welfare state – while it has considerable merits – left workers with no role in the management of the newly nationalised industries. Beatrice Webb, a leading Fabian, declared her lack of faith in the ‘average sensual man’ (who can ‘describe his grievances’ but not ‘prescribe his remedies’) and wanted public industries to be run by ‘the professional expert’. In practice, this often meant the same old bosses from the private firms being brought back to run the public version, along with an few ex-generals or two.

Underlying Labour’s New Politics is a new and very different understanding of knowledge – even of what counts as knowledge – in public administration, and hence of whose knowledge matters. For industries to be run by ‘those who spend their lives with them’ means recognising the knowledge drawn from practical experience, which is often tacit rather than codified: an understanding of expertise that opens decision-making to wider popular participation, beyond the private boss or the state bureaucrat. As McDonnell put it, we need to ‘learn from the everyday experiences of those who know how to run railway stations, utilities and postal services, and what’s needed by their users’.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Uma solução para o assédio sexual?

Ou, pelo menos, para provar que há assédio.

Harassment: A Keyhole Solution, por Bryan Caplan:

Over the last year, resentment of unwanted job-related sexual attention (better known as "sexual harassment") has gone from high to extreme.  It's easy to grasp why people would see such harassment as a problem.  The standard remedy, though, is to punish virtually all job-related sexual attention, wanted or not.  In practice, workplaces now discourage employees from dating each other - and heavily discourage mixed-status romance.

What explains the ubiquity of these broader policies?  Simple: It's hard to know in advance if sexual attention is unwanted.  (To quote Merlin in Excalibur, "Looking at the cake is like looking at the future, until you've tasted it what do you really know? And then, of course, it's too late.")  Especially if the person making an unwanted advance outranks you, you may be uncomfortable bluntly refusing.  The surest way to abolish unwanted attention is to abolish attention itself.

Unfortunately, the abolition of attention causes massive collateral damage.  People spend tons of time getting to know their co-workers.  As a result, many promising matches are discovered on the job.  Furthermore, humans find high status attractive.  As a result, attention from higher-status co-workers is often appealing.  Ban workplace romance, and you deprive many people of the partner of their dreams. (...)

What can be done?  Before I answer, let's back up.  In speed dating, a standard practice is to give every participant a list of names.  Men check off all the women they're interested in dating.  Women check off all the men they're interested in dating.  Once the results are in, organizers inform individuals about all cases of mutual interest.  The rest go in the trash.

Thus, if Jack checks Sally and Jane, Tom checks Jane, Sally checks Tom, and Jane checks Jack, Jack and Jane are informed that they have a match.  But Sally never finds out that Jack liked her - and Tom never finds out that Sally liked him.  This doesn't just spare Jack and Sally the humiliation of being rejected.  It also spares Sally and Tom the awkwardness of having to reject.  Jack and Jane, in contrast, both get to enjoy each others' wanted attention.

So what's my keyhole solution for harassment?  Firms should adopt the speed dating paradigm.  Let everyone secretly record their feelings, if any, for their co-workers.  If the feelings are unrequited, no one ever finds out.  If the feelings are mutual, however, both parties receive official confirmation.  And unless they edit their recorded preferences, they waive their right to complain about (or sue over) unwanted attention from whoever they explicitly approved.

How is this better than the status quo?  Simple: It retains standard rules against unwanted attention, but gives people a safe way to take a chance on love.  Indeed, my proposal even shields everyone from the knowledge that someone has unrequited feelings for them.  Don't want to know how anyone feels about you?  Then check zero boxes, and you're safe.

The most obvious objection is that people could change their minds.  But I've already got that covered: If you decide you no longer welcome someone's attention, you edit your preferences - and they get a polite email informing them of your wishes.  Worried that they won't listen?  Then don't check them in the first place.

Couldn't an aggressive harasser pressure someone to consent?  Of course.  But that's also true in the current system.  The key difference: Under my proposal, pressuring someone to consent would be unambiguous evidence of unwanted attention.  The status quo, in contrast, affords everyone some plausible deniability.
Algumas observações:

- Isso é basicamente imitar muitas apps (para smartphones e redes sociais) que funcionam assim (isto não é uma crítica, é apenas uma constatação).

- Suspeito que muitas empresas têm regras contra relacionamentos entre chefes e subordinados, não tanto ou apenas com medo de assédio ou coação implícita, mas sobretudo com medo de favoritismo (ou mesmo de simples suspeitas de favoritismo, que são suficientes para criar mau ambiente).

- Essa divisão "digital" entre interessado/não-interessado não corresponde totalmente à realidade, em que há uma vasta gama de situações intermédias (compare-se  "tomar um café depois do serviço" /"jantar fora e ir ao cinema"/ "caso de uma noite"/"amizade colorida"/"relação aberta"/"compromisso sério"/etc.)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Desemprego tecnológico, mito ou realidade?

Technological Unemployment: Much More Than You Wanted to Know, por Scott Alexander.

Um artigo sobre se há (ou pode haver) mesmo muito desemprego por causa da tecnologia.

Ainda que um pouco paralela ao tema central, gostei especialmente desta parte:

Prime age non-working men are mostly on disability. But some are also in school (despite having to be above 25 to be included as “prime age”), retired (despite having to be below 55), or homemakers (remember, these are all men). Again, only about 1% (out of the total of 12%) say they can’t find work.

If we were very optimistic, we could paint a rosy picture of what’s going on here. The increase in disability represents improving social safety net that allows disabled people to be better supported. It’s great that more people are financially secure enough to retire early. It’s great that more people are pursuing a graduate education that has them in school after age 25. It’s great that gender stereotypes are decreasing and more men feel comfortable as homemakers, perhaps supported by a working spouse. (...)

In 1970, educated and uneducated men were about equally likely to be PAMLFNPers. The rate for educated men didn’t change. The rate for uneducated men shot up.

And I won’t show you graphs, but there are similar trends for poor people, ex-convicts, blue collar workers, and minorities. These are not the sort of people who are likely to be able to retire early, pursue graduate school, or defy gender norms. But they are the sort of people who might have trouble finding work. This is pretty suspicious. (...)

Labor force nonparticipation is increasing primarily in poor and lower-middle-class people without a lot of good options, just as their remaining options get much worse. Surely this suggests something worse is going on.

The easiest place for this to happen is disability. It doesn’t require disability fraud, per se. It just requires some people on the threshold of disability who are motivated by marginal cost/benefit analysis.

Suppose that you have bad back pain. You work in the auto factory, like your father and his father before him. Your back pain flares up pretty often, but you know your foreman pretty well and he gives you an easy shift until it passes, and the union makes sure that nobody gives you any grief about it. You like your company and your coworkers and you want to make them happy. Also, if you didn’t work, you would starve to death.

Now suppose that your factory closes, and the only job available is being a home health aide. This involves a lot of bending over and puts you in constant almost-unbearable pain. And it’s run by a giant faceless corporation which always seems to be trying to screw you over. Also, you live in West Virginia and are very manly, and changing diapers in nursing homes seems like undignified women’s work. Also, the pay is half what you’re used to. Also, the government just passed a new law making disability benefits much more generous and easier to get. So… (...)

Let’s say you’re our West Virginia factory worker again, only now you can’t get on disability. Now what?

Maybe you choose to retire. And maybe you’re 53 years old and this isn’t the most reasonable financial plan, but you own your house, you get food stamps, and you can do odd jobs around your friends’ farm to make some extra money.

Or maybe you choose to go to that ridiculous Coal Miner To Coder school that got profiled on NPR a little while ago, in the hopes that you can have a pathway to a new career, or just so that you have something to do.

Or maybe you choose to stay at home with your kids, while your wife does the home health aide thing, and if anybody asks, you’re a “stay-at-home dad”.

And then when economists look at the statistics, they say “Oh, look, there’s no problem here, it’s just a combination of retirees, students, homemakers, and the disabled.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Guerra Turquia-Síria?

Turkey fired at Syrian pro-regime forces as they entered Tuesday (February 20) the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, Syrian state media said.

The shelling marks a major escalation in the month-old assault Turkey and allied rebels are waging on Afrin. 

"Turkish regime forces targeted the locations of popular forces with artillery fire as they arrived to the Afrin region," state news agency SANA reported. 

Turkey said they it fired "warning shots" at Syria pro-regime forces in Afrin. (...)

In a statement on Tuesday, YPG spokesman Nuri Mahmud said the Kurdish forces had called on the Damascus government to help fend off Turkey's assault. 

"The Syrian government responded to the invitation, answered the call of duty and sent military units today, February 20, to take up positions on the borders, and participate in defending the territorial unity of Syria and its borders," the statement said.

Monday, February 19, 2018


How is the world ruled?, por Branko Milanovic.

O tema do artigo é mais amplo, mas interessei-me sobretudo por esta parte:
Proposition 2. The world is ruled on merit.

This is the view that many people hold about their own involvements and that of institutions they work for. (...)

But is it true? Here I could ply the readers with numerous examples, but I will choose the one that, like the Belgrade story, sticks in my mind.

It happened that the offer that I got involved a study of how heating and transportation subsidies in a Central Asian country affected its income distribution. It was easy to do and I promptly came back with the conclusion that they were pro-poor and should be kept.

But this was not the policy of the World Bank. The year was 1994 or 1995 and everybody believed in Fukuyama and Larry Summers. So the decision or rather the diffuse feeling (because you do not need a formal decision on matters like these to know what the “correct” answer is) was made before the report was even started that the subsidies should be eliminated. The leader of the group, not the most brilliant person, was smart enough to know what the desired conclusion was and that his/her career would be helped if the empirical analysis supported it.

So when it did not, he/she totally ignored it, and after several endless meetings where I was supposed to be somehow convinced that the data must surely be wrong, that part of the report was either not included or totally ignored. (I cannot remember what happened.) Because I was not brave or stubborn enough, I gave up a (hopeless) struggle after a couple of attempts and went back to my numbers and equations.

I was outside that particular hierarchy; so I was relatively free. But I then thought: let’s suppose that I was hierarchically under the project leader and that I was courageous enough to stick to my guns. What would have happened? My arguments would have been ignored; I would not have been demoted or fired. But in my next annual review, I would have been given the lowest possible grade, salary increase would be nil, my promotion prospect would be zero, and the explanation would never address the substantive issue: it would be that I was not collegial, failed to work in a team spirit etc. It could be even that I would have been asked to attend “team building” seminars like the Soviet dissidents were sent to psychiatric asylums.

The problem would never even be mentioned to have consisted in a disagreement on substance. Rather it would have been treated as some maladjustment problem on my part; perhaps I was harassed when young or had a difficult childhood. Because, of course, the institution is not closed to different viewpoints and welcomes diverse opinions and “vibrant” or “robust” (these are the preferred terms) dialogue.

This is how the weeding out of undesirable views would have proceeded.

É cada vez mais díficil aprender a programar?

Learning to program is getting harder, por Allen Downey:

The fundamental problem is that the barrier between using a computer and programming a computer is getting higher.

When I got a Commodore 64 (in 1982, I think) this barrier was non-existent.  When you turned on the computer, it loaded and ran a software development environment (SDE).  In order to do anything, you had to type at least one line of code, even if all it did was another program (...)

Since then, three changes have made it incrementally harder for users to become programmers

1) Computer retailers stopped installing development environments by default.  As a result, anyone learning to program has to start by installing an SDE -- and that's a bigger barrier than you might expect. (...)

2) User interfaces shifted from command-line interfaces (CLIs) to graphical user interfaces (GUIs).  GUIs are generally easier to use, but they hide information from users about what's really happening.  When users really don't need to know, hiding information can be a good thing.  The problem is that GUIs hide a lot of information programmers need to know.

3) Cloud computing has taken information hiding to a whole new level.  People using web applications often have only a vague idea of where their data is stored and what applications they can use to access it.  Many users, especially on mobile devices, don't distinguish between operating systems, applications, web browsers, and web applications. 
Via Slashdot e Marginal Revolution.