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  1. The company’s operation in Michigan reveals how it’s dominated the industry by going into economically depressed areas with lax water laws.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2018-04-10)
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  2. nailing the evil ways of oligarchs hardly demolishes left-wing arguments in favor of an unconditional, universal basic income which, so far, is the only policy being mooted as a way of universally guaranteeing the most basic right of all: the right to material existence. Moreover, basic income, while not a universal panacea, is one way of strengthening vulnerable members of society in their struggle against the oligarchs.

    Then again, the respected Marxist economist Michael Roberts has a different take in his recent blog (which we’ll cite at length to cover all the points):

    But what to do, as jobs are lost to robots? Some liberal economists talk of a ‘robot tax’. But all this would do is slow down automation – hardly a progressive move in reducing toil. The idea of universal basic income (UBI) continues to gain traction among economists, both leftist and mainstream. I have discussed the merits and demerits of UBI before. UBI is advocated by many neoliberal economic strategists as a way of replacing the ‘welfare state’ of free health, education and decent pensions with a basic income. And it is being proposed to keep wages down for those in work. Any decent level of basic income would be just too costly for capitalism to afford. And even if UBI were won by workers in struggle, it would still not solve the issue of who owns the robots and the means of production in general.

    A more exciting alternative, in my view, is the idea of Universal Basic Services i.e. what are called public goods and services, free at the point of use. A super-abundant society is by definition one where our needs are met without toil and exploitation ie a socialist society. But the transition to such a society can start with devoting socially necessary labour to the production of basic social needs like education, health, housing, transport and basic foodstuffs and equipment.

    Roberts’ text provides a good starting point for getting to the nitty-gritty of some key aspects of the debate about basic income.

    1) A basic income can be financed in several different ways. The difference between left- and right-wing proposals is easily ascertained by asking who gains and who loses. A left-wing proposal would entail progressive tax reform which brings about a major redistribution from the richest citizens to the rest of society. Hence, in a financing proposal resulting from an extensive study which is detailed in the final chapter of our book Against Charity, we specify that, with our version of basic income, the richest 20% would lose and the other 80% would gain. This would mean a redistribution of income which, in Gini Index terms, would become one of the most egalitarian in the world (about 0.25).

    2) Any basic income that contemplates dismantling the welfare state is a right-wing ploy. The fact that Milton Friedman—who, in fact, rather than basic income, favored a negative income tax (NIT) which is similar to basic income in some ways but also significantly different in others—and other more recent right-wing economists are ostensibly basic income supporters has led some left-wing critics to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Friedman wanted the NIT as a sop when he was aiming to dismantle public social services in the United States but it’s pretty reductionist to conclude from this that all basic income supporters want to do away with welfare. Far from it,

    Poverty is viewed as a personal aberration. The norm is having a job and earning a respectable living, which flies in the face of today’s reality that having a job is no guarantee against poverty, as the burgeoning numbers of working poor testify.
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  3. By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to "normalize" them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs. The shocking truth is that many of those diagnoses are wrong, and that most of those boys are being drugged for no good reason—simply for being boys. It's time we recognize this as a crisis.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-04-10)
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  4. Le aree particolarmente interessate dalla formazione di grandi voragini si concentrano nella porzione orientale di Roma. I municipi più colpiti sono: il Municipio V, il Municipio VII, il Municipio II (quartieri Tuscolano, Prenestino, Tiburtino) ma anche il centro storico con le aree dell'Aventino del Palatino e dell'Esquilino. Nella porzione occidentale di Roma il municipio che conta più voragini è il XII seguito dall'XI (quartieri Portuense e Gianicolense).

    La causa principale della formazione delle voragini a Roma è, spiega il dossier, "la presenza di numerose cavità sotterranee di origine antropica scavate dall'uomo a vario titolo ma principalmente per l'estrazione dei materiali da costruzione. Tali vuoti costituiscono in molti casi una intricata rete di gallerie". Sono stati sinora censiti e mappati 32 kmq di gallerie sotterranee che giacciono sotto il tessuto urbano. Le cavità si concentrano per lo più nella parte orientale della città.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-04-09)
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  5. The situation in the country is so severe that an estimated 700,000 Rohingya refugees are thought to have fled to neighboring Bangladesh following a Myanmar government crackdown that began in August. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has labeled the actions as ethnic cleansing, as has the UN.

    Tensions inflamed, Facebook has been a primary outlet for racial hatred from high-profile individuals inside Myanmar. One of them, monk Ashin Wirathu who is barred from public speaking due to past history, moved online to Facebook where he quickly found an audience. Though he had his Facebook account shuttered, he has vowed to open new ones in order to continue to amplifly his voice via the social network.

    Beyond visible figures, the platform has been ripe for anti-Muslim and anti-Rohinga memes and false new stories to go viral. UN investigators last month said Facebook has “turned into a beast” and played a key role in spreading hate.
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  6. Gaining cross agency access to the “rules” of government is critical to seamless and integrated services. This includes the eligibility criteria or calculations for benefits or entitlements across different agencies for a single life event - the financial assistance eligibility tool for SmartStart (external site link) powered by a digital rules engine, is a good example of this.

    Right now, these rules are largely kept in legislation, but also in operational policy and practice. So, to get an all of government view of the rules for cross agency service delivery, we identified machine consumable(1) legislation as an area to explore, as a possible reusable component. We did a short 3 week discovery on the notion of “better rules” starting with the idea of machine consumable rules, which also explored the connection between policy, legislation and implementation, and how they could work more closely together for better public outcomes. You can read more about what we did, what we learnt, and our recommendations for taking these ideas further in the full Better Rules for Government Discovery Report.

    ‘Machine consumable’ for the purpose of this work means having particular types of rules available in a code or code-like form that software can understand and interact with, such as a calculation, the eligibility criteria for a benefit or automated financial reporting obligations for compliance.

    The traditional models of creating, managing, using and improving the rules of government were developed for use in a non-digital environment, and can result in a mismatch between policy intent and implementation. New digital technologies and the effective use of government data present opportunities to better deliver to people’s needs. To fully realise these opportunities, however, policy and rules need to be developed in a manner that recognises the context of impacted people and systems, and enables digital service delivery where appropriate.

    Making government rules machine consumable so they can be used by service delivery systems is fast becoming a key component in the digital transformation of governments, particularly as we seek to integrate service delivery, automate information exchange and some decision making, while also ensuring government transparency, responsiveness and accountability.

    It is difficult to produce machine consumable rules if the policy and legislation has not been developed with this output in mind.
    An effective way of developing such policy and legislation is for multidisciplinary teams of policy analysts, legislative drafters, service designers and software developers to co-design the policy and legislation, taking a user-centric approach that focuses on how the service could most effectively be delivered. In this case ‘user’ can mean people and technology systems as the end users of machine consumable rules.
    Co-designing rules with policy and service design increases the chances of the policy being implemented effectively and as intended, and can reduce the time it takes to deliver on the policy intent.
    Machine consumable legislation that is co-developed:
    enables legislation, business rules, and service delivery software to be developed in parallel, ensuring consistency of application, and significantly speeding up the service delivery to people
    increases the opportunities to automate and integrate service delivery (including through the use of artificial intelligence).
    Common frameworks, reference points and data points (like concept and decision models and ontologies(2)) will assist multi-disciplinary teams to co-design policy and legislation and, once developed, can be used as blueprints for the development of human and machine consumable rules without the need for further translation of the intent and logic (which, in turn, reduces the time and resources required and the chances of errors).
    Not all legislation is suitable for machine consumption, but a multi-disciplinary approach will assist in making better rules.
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  7. The difference in January was that there is a new player in the market: Tesla. The company’s big battery, officially known as the Hornsdale Power Reserve, bid into the market to ensure that prices stayed reasonable, as predicted last year.

    Rather than jumping up to prices of around $11,500 and $14,000/MW, the bidding of the Tesla big battery – and, in a major new development, the adjoining Hornsdale windfarm – helped (after an initial spike) to keep them at around $270/MW.

    This saved several million dollars in FCAS charges, which are paid by other generators and big energy users, in a single day.

    And that’s not the only impact. According to state government’s advisor, Frontier Economics, the average price of FCAS fell by around 75% in December from the same month the previous year. Market players are delighted, and consumers should be too, because they will ultimately benefit.

    Ed McManus, the CEO of Meridian Australia and Powershop Australia, which operates the Mt Millar windfarm in South Australia, says the Tesla big battery is already having a “phenomenal” impact.

    “If you look at FCAS … the costs traditionally in South Australia have been high …. and our costs in the last couple of years have gone from low five-figures annually to low six-figures annually. It’s a hell of a jump,” McManus said in this week’s RenewEconomy’s Energy Insiders podcast.

    “That plays into the thinking of new players looking to come in to South Australia to challenge the incumbents. FCAS charges are on their minds.

    “It’s a little early to tell, but it looks like from preliminary data that the Tesla big battery is having an impact on FCAS costs, bringing them down … that is a very, very significant development for generation investment and generation competition in South Australia,” McManus said.
    South Australia turns on Tesla's 100MW battery: 'History in the making'
    Read more

    There is no doubt that the actions of the Tesla big battery in the FCAS market will please the state government, which signed a contract with Tesla to address just this issue. And it may be able to repeat the dose with the newly announced 250MW “virtual power plant”, also to be built by Tesla.

    If it can keep a lid on FCAS prices like it did in January, then it will likely pay back the cost of the battery in a single year from this service alone, let alone the value of its trading in the wholesale market, and the value of its emergency backup capabilities.

    It’s just another string in the bow of the Tesla big battery, following its devastatingly fast response to trips of major coal-fired generators (it was in the market again on Saturday night after Vales Point in New South Wales tripped), its ability to go to capacity from a standing start in milliseconds, and its smoothing of wind output and trading in the wholesale market.

    These graphs below explain what has been happening in the FCAS market in the past year, and what happened on 14 January.
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  8. Blockchain systems do not magically make the data in them accurate or the people entering the data trustworthy, they merely enable you to audit whether it has been tampered with. A person who sprayed pesticides on a mango can still enter onto a blockchain system that the mangoes were organic. A corrupt government can create a blockchain system to count the votes and just allocate an extra million addresses to their cronies. An investment fund whose charter is written in software can still misallocate funds.

    How then, is trust created?

    In the case of buying an e-book, even if you’re buying it with a smart contract, instead of auditing the software you’ll rely on one of four things, each of them characteristics of the “old way”: either the author of the smart contract is someone you know of and trust, the seller of the e-book has a reputation to uphold, you or friends of yours have bought e-books from this seller in the past successfully, or you’re just willing to hope that this person will deal fairly. In each case, even if the transaction is effectuated via a smart contract, in practice you’re relying on trust of a counterparty or middleman, not your self-protective right to audit the software, each man an island unto himself. The contract still works, but the fact that the promise is written in auditable software rather than government-enforced English makes it less transparent, not more transparent.

    The same for the vote counting. Before blockchain can even get involved, you need to trust that voter registration is done fairly, that ballots are given only to eligible voters, that the votes are made anonymously rather than bought or intimidated, that the vote displayed by the balloting system is the same as the vote recorded, and that no extra votes are given to the political cronies to cast. Blockchain makes none of these problems easier and many of them harder—but more importantly, solving them in a blockchain context requires a set of awkward workarounds that undermine the core premise. So we know the entries are valid, let’s allow only trusted nonprofits to make entries—and you’re back at the good old “classic” ledger. In fact, if you look at any blockchain solution, inevitably you’ll find an awkward workaround to re-create trusted parties in a trustless world.
    A crypto-medieval system

    Yet absent these “old way” factors—supposing you actually attempted to rely on blockchain’s self-interest/self-protection to build a real system—you’d be in a real mess.
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  9. These users have invested time and money in building their social networks on Facebook, yet they have no means to port the connectivity elsewhere. Whenever a serious competitor to Facebook has arisen, the company has quickly copied it (Snapchat) or purchased it (WhatsApp, Instagram), often at a mind-boggling price that only a behemoth with massive cash reserves could afford. Nor do people have any means to completely stop being tracked by Facebook. The surveillance follows them not just on the platform, but elsewhere on the internet—some of them apparently can’t even text their friends without Facebook trying to snoop in on the conversation. Facebook doesn’t just collect data itself; it has purchased external data from data brokers; it creates “shadow profiles” of nonusers and is now attempting to match offline data to its online profiles.

    Again, this isn’t a community; this is a regime of one-sided, highly profitable surveillance, carried out on a scale that has made Facebook one of the largest companies in the world by market capitalization.

    There is no other way to interpret Facebook’s privacy invading moves over the years—even if it’s time to simplify! finally!―as anything other than decisions driven by a combination of self-serving impulses: namely, profit motives, the structural incentives inherent to the company’s business model, and the one-sided ideology of its founders and some executives. All these are forces over which the users themselves have little input, aside from the regular opportunity to grouse through repeated scandals.

    And even the ideology—a vague philosophy that purports to prize openness and connectivity with little to say about privacy and other values—is one that does not seem to apply to people who run Facebook or work for it. Zuckerberg buys houses surrounding his and tapes over his computer’s camera to preserve his own privacy, and company employees went up in arms when a controversial internal memo that made an argument for growth at all costs was recently leaked to the press—a nonconsensual, surprising, and uncomfortable disclosure of the kind that Facebook has routinely imposed upon its billions of users over the years.

    This isn’t to say Facebook doesn’t provide real value to its users, even as it locks them in through network effects and by crushing, buying, and copying its competition. I wrote a whole book in which I document, among other things, how useful Facebook has been to anticensorship efforts around the world. It doesn’t even mean that Facebook executives ...
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  10. I asked Douglas, the University of Kent professor, whether conspiracy theories about climate change will proliferate as evidence of it becomes more and more difficult to ignore.

    “People will strongly hold onto their beliefs even in the face of contradictory evidence, so it’s difficult to imagine conspiracy theorizing decreasing,” Douglas wrote to me. “But I’m not sure if it would increase.”

    Lewandowsky, the University of Bristol professor, says that there’s evidence of a way to “inoculate” against conspiracy theories, and that’s instilling a sense of control.

    “For example, even just saying: ‘We’ve already started to tackle the problem, but we need to increase our efforts even more.’ That is a more empowering message than, ‘It’s so big, it’s horrendous, and we haven’t even started solving it.’ If I tell you that, that’s very demotivating! That’s a tough ask!

    “I think if people know what to do about climate change, and they feel they can do this without hurting too much, chances are they’re less skeptical, less in denial of the problem.”

    To get back to Wolf: As Sarah Ditum pointed out in The New Statesman in 2014, The Beauty Myth was actually exposing a conspiracy — the patriarchy! — but that was one turned out to be real. And it’s yielded a healthy movement of women (and some men) who work to counteract the damaging forces of sexist advertising and media.

    I felt a fair amount of guilt even writing this article. Our ecosystems are certainly changing, which elicits a real, documented sense of loss. And I get the sense, poring through endless documentations of cloud-streaked sky in the chemtrail community, that the people obsessed with the patterns of clouds are mourning a change they do not control. I don’t want to ridicule anyone who fears the same things I do — that the world is changing, and I can’t control it, and it only seems to be getting worse. I do wish they were better informed, a desire that will surely bring the fires of the cloud-seeding truther community down upon the inbox.

    More than anything, I hope that a young woman like a teen me, who sees Naomi Wolf as a source of truth and authority, will not find herself waist-deep in the climate conspiracy theory internet and think: “Wow, there’s really nothing I can do about this.”
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