A brief introduction: on my views concerning politics and religion

In contact with readers, I find that I have to explain myself rather often. So, for future reference: a short summary. It may not be my most elegant prose but it serves its purpose.

As I become more serious with writing and hope to further build my ‘brand’, it pays to concisely lay out my views for future reference.

For one, I am an atheist, which does not mean that I condemn or consider myself superior to religious people. I simply find that religion is a necessity of the past, when explanations of the world were not as abundant as they are now, furthermore, religion used to be an extremely powerful tool in the centralization of government as well as the subsequent suppression of its people. Although it’s wonderful that some manage to see only the good things in religion, I fail to see why anyone would be a good person solely with the help of a supernatural being or a set of non-referenced ancient scripture.

I thus reject religion on the premises that it has no scientific base and that, in the twenty-first century, it brings on balance more bad than it does good. With bad I mean totalitarian Islamic states in the Middle-East (theocracies), terrorism, the Israel-Palestine conflict, I could go on. Besides these conflicts, what most bothers me is that a lack of progressiveness when it comes to equal rights for people of different gender, sexuality and race can be largely blamed on religious dogmas.

As for a further evaluation of my political views: I already noted that I am a social liberal or a centrist in that I stand on the center-right fiscally and the left socially. Economically, I believe that a free market is essential to the prosperity of any country. This does not mean that I support the type of control that financial institutions such as Wall Street have. These large financial institutions simply buy their way into the White House, furthermore, they seem to have forgotten Adam Smith’s idea that capitalism only works if the chiefs in some noticeable way give back to the masses that they employ. Socially, I don’t support religious values and the ancient dogmas they find their roots in, therefore, I see absolutely no reason to preemptively condemn someone because of their qualities or appearance. This does not mean that everyone should be tarred with the same brush – that would make diversity simply more of the same. I simply belief that everyone deserves equal rights from the get-go and has every right to embrace their own ethnicity and accompanying culture.

Due to its Manichean nature, I spare myself a partisan preference in US politics, as with the one-axis left-right spectrum, the two-party system as currently prevails in the States simply makes for a polarized and hyper-partisan political landscape where people’s opinions aren’t valued for their content but merely their fit within the party manifesto.

Nevertheless, I don’t support Donald Trump; both for his political ideology as well as his haughty, thin-skinned and unpredictable nature that I find especially terrifying on a global scale. Despite the alt-right’s embrace of atheism, I absolutely despise its values.

There you have it, feel free to comment and rebut.

Bannon possibly ousted as chief strategist

According to the New York Times, who cite two administration officials, Trump has decided to remove Bannon from his powerful position. Considering Trump’s loyalty seems to last only a short time, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Considering that Bannon is, despite my mild praise yesterday, the chief engineer of his alt-right base and therefore a valuable asset in maintaining his most consistent following, it is.

Whether this is a noticable change remains to be seen, Bannon’s influence in the White House seemed close to none in recent weeks. The chief strategist even refuted Trump’s statements concerning North Korea in an interview last Wednesday.

Nonetheless, quite interesting.

Bannon, ever controversial

A short comment on Steve Bannon’s interview with Robert Kuttner from The American Prospect.

steve_bannon

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, called Robert Kuttner from the American Prospect on Wednesday. Contrary to Scaramucci’s call with Ryan Lizza from the New Yorker, Bannon refrained from hateful incentives and vile insults. More so, the chief strategist bared his views on North Korea, China and Charlottesville in what appeared to be a more or less reasonable and substantive call, regardless of his seemingly weak position within the White House.

Contrary to his boss, Bannon seems well-informed and contradicted Trump’s ‘fire and fury’, noting that “there’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats]” and that his focus was fully on “the economic war with China”. Again, he goes against his boss, whose priorities are less with his campaign promises but concern more with the century-old mantra’s of the big-business Republican branch, which is, ironically, the swampy center of the Republican party.

Kuttner has long criticized trade with China and he explained the call by noting that Bannon wants to build a sort of coalition of “trade hawks” with people from both the left and the right. Again, whether you agree or don’t, respect Bannon or don’t, it’s refreshing to see that Bannon seems more free from dogmatic and partisan shackles, venturing to bring people from both the left and the right together in their mutual adversity towards globalism.

Charlottesville, “a bunch of losers”

Bannon was already a kind of chief strategist during the campaign. His Breitbart brought white nationalism, anti-immigration and at times neo-nazism to the mainstream and rallied them for Trump. Speculating whether Trump would have been in the White House if Breitbart and Steve Bannon weren’t there to help him is frivolous. Nonetheless, the alt-right is most consistent in its defense of Trump and Breitbart seems to play a helping hand in that. The aforementioned aside, Bannon did rightly condemn the protests in Charlottesville:

“Ethno-nationalism—it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”

The former seems like an effort to please both sides, especially considering that in the same interview he wished that Democrats would keep talking about racism, Bannon would then have clear water before him to propose his program of economic nationalism. All in all, it’s quite promising to see that Trump’s chief strategist has a more nuanced and less reactionary view with regard to North Korea. What’s even more promising is that Bannon is willing to invite to the White House a writer for the American Prospect, an unmistakably leftist magazines that is consistent in its disdain for the Trump administration.

Fine reasoning overshadowed by ill-informed foolishness

Damore’s Google memo could have been much more.

The combined quarterly revenues of the five largest technology firms clocked in at 142 billion dollars. Of these five companies – Alphabet (Google’s mother-firm), Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft – three have their headquarter in Silicon Valley, Microsoft and Amazon find their head-bureaus elsewhere, nonetheless, both employ swaths of employees in the vibrant area. Furthermore, we find Twitter, LinkedIn, Netflix, Tesla Motors, eBay, Intel, Hewlett Packard, the list goes on. Besides geographically referring to the southern part of the Bay Area, Silicon Valley has become a metonymy for the tech industry as a whole. James Damore’s controversial memo, although first circulated via Google’s internal mailing lists only, has to do with the metonymical tenor of Silicon Valley, it has to do with the ever-growing technology sector by and large.

The technology industry is one of exceptional entrepreneurship, innovation and, evidently, growth. Despite its admirable results and profits, or ethical questions about its implications on privacy and freedom, talk of sexism is its most timely problem. And rightly so, women are often paid less, find themselves in top positions less often and, according to surveys, have to put up with unwanted sexual advances. With Silicon Valley seemingly synonymous with ‘cosmopolitan liberal’, sexism is oddly out of place. CEO’s wholeheartedly condemn sexism with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, as well as his boss, Alphabet CEO Larry Page, for example, openly – albeit rather frivolously up until now – speaking against it.

“Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”

James Damore was a Google employee who felt that his more offbeat and unorthodox opinions were suppressed by unwritten and written rules. I can only sympathize with Damore at this point; as an engineering student I agree with him that a hyper-biased and charged atmosphere at universities and larger technology firms might discourage some from being able to fully express their opinion. That would certainly explain why his pamphlet has caused such a stir.

Too bad that’s where the good points come to and end. As with anything that I deem remotely interesting for its daring boldness there is a substantial ‘but’. The pamphlet is reasonable and supremely sharp in its call for debate and “honest discussion”. The second part, however, falls flat on its phase in its fallacies and, sadly, negates the apropos first half. Damore starts to argue that underrepresentation of women is not a result of discrimination. On the contrary. Damore argues that innate differences make women fare worse in the industry. The alt-right – ever embracing of ill-informed foolishness – swiftly embraced his argument that congenital personality traits make women less suitable for a job in Silicon Valley.

Before I fall prey to expected criticism: however insignificant, personality differences between the sexes might indeed be present (nature v. nurture is an entirely different debate), it would be frivolous to argue that the two sexes are indistinguishable. However, to argue, as Damore does, that women are “more interested in people than things” or “look for more work-life balance” rather than “status” is utterly backward.

I am well aware of figures (such as Rebel media’s Gavin McInnes) who have consistently made the point that, by innate difference, women prefer spending time with their kids but have strayed away from ‘nature’s ideal’ because of feminism. McInnes backs these claims up by noting that women are, on average, less happy than they were a hundred years prior. His statistics are correct, his induction is short-sighted. Contrary to McInnes and hard-right publications, I don’t consider myself a credible expert without truly diving into the subject, therefore, I will leave comment to this article, which explains the differences in a most factual and well-referenced manner. Nonetheless, as per scholarly ideals, research is and should be available on the internet, some links can be found below for the interested reader.

Damore’s pamphlet could have been one for the history books. It wasn’t, to my dismay. Sharp arguments in favor of debate and openness are overshadowed by the poorly substantiated second half. My hope is that the media manages to pick up on this first section and shines a light on the fact that Damore also wrote that “honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots”. Honest discussion is, as I hope we can all agree upon, a fundamental necessity in any workplace.

Some interesting links concerning Damore:

Some interesting links concerning congenital differences between the two sexes:

For a typical example of sensational media coverage: CNBC did not even mention Silicon Valley’s ‘ideological echo chamber’, it went for a more ominous ’10 shocking quotes from the viral Google manifesto’.

Quora discussion; liberalism and Marxism

Had quite an interesting conversation with somebody on Quora a few days ago. I commented on an answer to ‘Why don’t proponents of social democracy ever use Southern or Eastern European countries as an example for the US?’ after which the writer answered, the subject changed quickly and as such our conversation became much more about the world economy as a whole than it was about the pro-Russia, anti-EU governments that prevail in Eastern Europe.

The writer first wrote the following (Note that is an excerpt of his answer):

Calling it “austerity” (for you, not for them), the G20 is not only the cause of the 2008 meltdown, but now it offers the solution. Goodbye healthcare, goodbye pensions, goodbye social services.

And so, when you see mass demonstrations in the streets of some of these southern European cities, you’ll know why.

ADDENDUM: 1 in 5 children living in the G20 now lives in poverty.

My reply:

For one, I’d like to stress that your assertion that the G20 was established in response to the economic crisis is simply a fallacy. It was founded in 1999, where its principles entailed the involvement of less developed countries – such as India and Brazil for example. It was then re-energized as a result of the horrid effects of the economic crisis when Bush called for a leader summit.

Second, your answer does not answer the question, nor do I agree with your second assumption that mass demonstrations in the Southern countries are a result of capitalist deprivation. These mass demonstrations are – as far as they could be considered ‘mass’ demonstrations – a reaction to a failing, corrupt government that can’t control its bank as well as ever-growing migrant inflow from Northern Africa.

And third, your last sentence makes absolutely zero sense considering my first point, namely that the Group was founded with developing countries in mind.

At the time of writing, I was under the assumption that the user meant recent demonstrations in Italy, however, the demonstrations that he referred to took place in 2012, a direct reaction to further cuts as the eurozone seemed destined to enter another recession, as the user kindly pointed out:

They were MASS demonstrations and regardless of the cause of their discontent, the solution was to punish THEM in the guise of “austerity”. They know their government is corrupt. They don’t need G20 to jump on them with a second pair of feet. As for 3rd point, consider the nature of the G20 and how it operates, not what its charter might have said 18 years ago. Any way you spin it, the pain is not being suffered by the world’s giant corporations now is it?

The discussion now quickly became one of great importance as we got onto the subject of globalism and its humanitarian consequences. I followed up:

I’d like to get back on you concerning those demonstrations. If you are referring to anti-austerity demonstrations in Italy, it would be mostly frivolous to blame capitalism, or the G20, for that matter. Southern European financial crises are mostly a result of political instability. With the level of behind-closed-doors state intervention in financial institutions, political instability leads to further economic turmoil.

Getting back on my third point; you note that we must consider how the G20 operates now. I’d agree with you that – whether you support that or not – the core of the G20 is the absolute epitome of neo-liberalism and free-trade. However, to argue that 1 in 5 of the members state children lives in poverty as a result of its current way of acting would imply that poverty rates have only worsened in its member nations, which definitely isn’t the case.

And finally, I agree with you on the last point. Multi-national conglomerates do not feel such pains and its important to note that neo-liberalism has not only had good effects on our lives, because for a large group it hasn’t. Blaming capitalism or the G20 seems – again – frivolous, mainly because globalism has brought such wealth as well as cooperation on climate change and defense, that a large majority has benefited. What I mean to say is that on a netto basis, neo-liberalism has been a win for most of us. It’s incredibly important, however, to acknowledge and try to solve – by means of regulation or less political influence – problems for people who haven’t been as well off.

He quickly responded:

I see your point but I find these “gains” are not to be regarded as substantive as they appear. If you consider that much of this alleged rise in GDP for member nations is actually based on DEBT, that’s somewhat startling to contemplate. In other words, the economy is driven by people spending all right—but spending money they don’t have. Using the U.S. as an example, “real” wages haven’t increased for decades. The average American might say: “But look, I have a house, two nice cars and my kids are in college”.

Yes, but the house is mortgaged for 30 years, the cars for 72 months, and the kids owe $150K apiece in student loans.

It’s not good right now. I am quite concerned that the biggest players within the G20 do not realize that if you take out all your winnings in a poker game, the game stops.

Regarding demonstrations, I think the bottom line, the base cause, is economic—however one wishes to frame it. I tend to be somewhat Marxist in my views (couldn’t you guess—LOL!) and I do see things as a class struggle in those cases.

Corruption in Greece is just awful. They are among the worst.

From his response, the discussion was not only about the faults of neo-liberalism and globalism, it took on the much broader subjects of capitalism and Marxism. However, as I note in my answer below, his proposition that a debt-based economy is only rich in the minds of GDP-figures is rather benighted.

First of all, yes, corruption in Greece is awful, just as corruption in many other Southern European countries is awful. This is part – if not the biggest part – of the problem. In a country where banks and governments go hand in hand – which is quit logical considering Europe’s long tradition of state-meddling in financial institutions – economical stability goes hand in hand with political stability. It adds up; think about Italy’s history of countless different governments and coalitions or Greece’s aforementioned levels of corruption.

Your second point is a very interesting one. Although I may not be as well-versed in the subject as you might be, we both look at this in different ways, I guess. Loans are easy and cheap, for people as well as corporations. Let me also note that if people are able to pay off their loans, no problems arise, the money is not somehow gone or ‘taken out’, as you assert. The essence is that debt is absolutely no problem, provided that the economy grows, which it not always does.

Possible solutions include changes to the tax code, although huge tax code changes are out of the question for most if not all developed countries.Safe to say, it seems that a Keynesian style monetary policy is a temporary solution to this growth-based economy problem, and sometimes a temporary solution is more than sufficient.

After all, it was agreed upon that the economy as it is now is unstable and not as future- and fool-proof as some bureaucrats might hope. However much our views differed or however little we actually agreed upon, it’s delightful to find someone who is open to opposing views, quite a rarity in between the dogmatic, pseudo-intellectual, keyboard-warrior crowd that I usually find on Quora.

Twitter transparency reports

Some interesting stats.

Twitter has recently (March 21, I only found out a short while ago) posted their latest transparency reports, covering the latter half of 2016, a telling time of deepening divisiveness in politics. As a result, politically motivated hateful speech has run rampant and the figures regarding governmental removal of tweets promise to be interesting. Furthermore, following the U.S. election and preceding an interesting European election season, pressure has been building on companies that hold lots of user accounts – such as Twitter and Facebook – to counter hate speech with European officials brawling that in case these companies do not forcefully remove content, penalization follows.

Effects of this growing distrust shows as Twitter is especially happy to show that their spam filters have blocked 376,890 terrorist-linked accounts. More interesting seems to be that governmental inquires have increased by seven percent.

Front-runner – not a good thing – in terms of absolute numbers is once again Turkey, whose growing authoritarian regime issued 3,076 removal requests over the past six months (note that the vote for the Turkish referendum was on the 16th of April, full data for that period is not available yet, although it promises an even stricter cut-down on tweets). 72.5% Of Turkish requests were issued by the government itself, the other 27.5% were issued by court order. Comparing to France and Germany, we see that 0% of all requests were issued by court order, exemplifying increasing politicization of the judiciary branch, common steps toward an authoritarian crack-down.

Coming back to France and Germany, we note that they have both issued a high number of removal requests relative to the rest of the European Union, with 1,334 and 236 requests respectively (France’s numbers are more than twice as high as Russia’s). France’s numbers can initially be seen as a result of dreadful terrorist attacks over the past few years, note, however, that only 21% of the request were complied with, meaning that not all were deemed to conflict with Twitter’s agreements – which terrorist-linked tweets do. However, when put in relative context – with regard to the number of inhabitants – the stats show a rather equal removal of tweets over the European Union, fairly little.

Only a short evaluation, but some very interesting data indeed, check it out

NBC could have considered a different format on Alex Jones

Megyn Kelly’s one-on-one prime-time interview with Alex Jones appears flawed from the beginning. Which is to say that NBC’s goal is noble, its execution is badly thought out at best.

Since the beginning of the Internet and eventually mass-adaption of this new technology, every info needs a ‘-tainment’, causing shiny capitalized headlines to leave objectivity and truth in the dust. Reporters have to be opinionated and their role as an interviewer has adapted into a new role as debater, rebutting arguments for the pleasure of the viewer. Polarization of the media landscape is frankly inevitable as outlets can only entertain when taking a firm stance and causing controversy. In this Fox News vs. MSNBC feud, one reporter, having stood on both sides of the aisle, hopes to transcends such standards.

Megyn Kelly has been teasing her controversial interview with Alex Jones, which airs upcoming Sunday, for two days now. The interview seems flawed from the beginning, judging from Kelly’s less than impressive track-record as a sloppy interviewer displaying little force when it comes down to complex problems – and, I may be mistaken, but her most recent teaser appears to confirm my suspicions.

Alex Jones, hard-right conspiracy theorist and Trump-lover, best known for dismissing the Sandy Hook shooting as a hoax (although he later nuanced his statements) and recently for receiving temporary press access to the White House, has been rightfully criticized and dismissed by people on both sides of the aisle. His follower base has however been steadfastly growing, further upping his website to the mainstream.

It seems only logical that many have taken to social media to decry Jones’ appearance on NBC as free prime-time coverage, himself being a true craftsman of verbal twisting and tuning, dodging questions and plain lying. Kelly and NBC have tirelessly rebutted these comments noting that it is her job as an objective journalist to cover a person to whom the President promised not to “disappoint”.

Jones’ prominence in the political landscape is not be misunderstood. On the other hands, this interview sends the message that theorists and haters such as Jones are worthy of receiving prime time television in the confusing 2017 of alternative facts.

All in all, NBC should now air the interview. Not doing so would result in immediate backlash from Alex Jones and his base. However, I would have advised against the format beforehand. Instead of a one-on-one, one-hour interview, in which a man as disconnected from reality as Alex Jones can’t possibly be persuaded to engage in a rational dialogue, NBC may opt for a profile of Alex Jones, rebutting what is false and explaining his increasing popularity among so many and their most important representative, the President.

NOTE: Been having a very interesting discussion on Reddit here!