View from the Edge

Peter Riva of Gila has offered his many years of columns for this online newspaper. His writings have been published in East Coast newspapers, and he decided to share them with the Beat and you, our readers.

January 26, 2018 – I get asked, "How can the paper afford you…" Good question since they don't (and shouldn't) pay anything (including a free paper.) Ah, you wonder, thinking of the hours and research, then why's he doing it? Let's put this in today's jargon: I get the benefit of cross-platforming, expanding reach and viral media response, expanding my platform. I should. I don't.

So what the heck is this week's article about? Social media, outreach using viral media platforms. Really, this article is supposed to make you think how pernicious such outreach business is. Countless millions of people tweet (I don't), post articles, make comments on Facebook (like this, sad that), Spotify, Pinterest, etc., feeling they are reaching out, expanding their footprint on the world, connecting with someone, anybody, somewhere. Some do it to sell homemade jams, some do it to launch a movie career, some do it to spin the world in their favor (they think). Yes, some do it for nefarious purpose (Russian hacking of social media) and some do it purely out of ego to feel important or to cover lies. And everyone who goes on social media, anywhere in the world, is actually, simply, doing the bidding and feeding the financial machine of the likes of Google, Yahoo (Verizon), Apple, Twitter and a host of other social data-gathering companies.

What is Google's or Apple's core business? Gathering data about you and everyone you know. They know every step you take (literally footstep) – what, you thought they made phones and phone operating systems to help you? That's the tradeoff. They know where you are every moment your phone is on, what you are doing, where you are going, what you are looking at, calling, scrolling, playing, listening to, searching for, buying and feeling. Yes, feeling. There are patterns in your behavior. Their AI computer systems know what music you have or listen to. If you are listening to the Beatles, you're feeling nostalgic compared to listening to Imagine Dragons. If you binge watch a comedy clip on YouTube, you could be feeling depressed, especially if instead of the regular coffee at Starbucks you buy the one with extra caramel. When you search roses and text a recent date asking if you can come over, AI knows, sometimes before you do, what you are hoping for.

You think Google, Bing, Facebook, Twitter and all are free? Nope. Besides tracking you so they can target you for sales (which they get a commission on), targeting you for political ads (which they get a commission for), they can complete your and millions of other people's preferences – either by locale or region – or by country or political affiliation – and then go a-marketing with advertising and business "outreach" platforms. Google advertising execs can come into a pizza store in a little village and target as small an audience as 3,000 locals. And when that proves effective, they can convince you to "go online with your product" expanding the market area in lock-step with your company expansion capabilities. Sounds great, right? Remember, they are also collecting all your success data, using that as their (intellectual) property and building their database for their expansion.

Expansion for what end? If it was only advertising and advertising platforms (which it naively appears to be), it seems justifiable. Kind of like good market research and polling, surely Google, Facebook, Twitter and Bing have a right to that business, no? Yet Facebook, for example, is one of the world's fastest-growing companies that makes absolutely nothing and offers a free service. Ten minutes after you sign up on Facebook, they are peddling your data, images' interpretation, location, contacts and background to people selling or promoting something. They give you Facebook for your friends so they can collect and own all your data for sale.

How does this matter to you? And why? It's free, right? So what if they get something out of me looking at cute dog tricks? There is a downside, as we saw in the last election. The Russian intervention, especially on Facebook and Twitter, was that they were given pathways for their propaganda. Gone are the days of dropping leaflets from a passing airplane. Russia sought, and got, the pathway for the anti-Hillary type people whom they fed ridiculous lies to. They seek, and still get, pathways to the "deep state" believers where they peddle "#releasethememo" tweets. And, yes, make no mistake, they sought and got the pathways to the "right are evil" believers feeding them nonsense as well.
This year, as a nation, we're facing two crises (hopefully only two) in which viral media will have a tenfold greater impact than the last election. Yes, tenfold. The last two years of data accumulation is packaged and ready to go.

First are the investigations already underway at the FBI and special prosecutor. When their findings are made public, 90 percent of what you heard or read pundits posting online will be proved false or deliberately misleading: 90 percent. Second are the November elections. If anyone thinks that gerrymandering is the only problem facing our electoral system this year, you are not paying attention to the might, access to private information (person-by-person, not just regional polling) and targeting persuasion that political parties will have access to.

You want to "buy" a local election? Go to Google and Facebook first. They can construct an "advertising" platform – person by person access - to ensure likely voters will be swayed for you and also, importantly, will inundate non-likely voters with apathy and disinformation to keep them from being likely voters for your opposition. Remember, traditional media depend on the revenue stream from campaigning. Now, you can be sure, new viral media companies will gobble up the cash – and all the while you'll have no proof of too many TV ads, too many radio spots to evaluate that there's too much money in politics. It'll all be hidden from view. It'll appear free, your TV viewing won't be spoiled, so what if Facebook has a few more political messages, that Twitter will prioritize messages they want you to read and react to?

Madison Avenue pioneered the media blitz techniques in the '50s. It's a whole new – almost untraceable – world now and, more than ever, you need to know what's going to happen. Why? Because it is coming, like a tsunami, and when it is over, unless you are forewarned, you'll again say, "I had no idea!"

Good News and Not So Good

Technology drives the world. No point in pretending otherwise. Ever since NASA and DARPA developed the printed circuit, the microchip, the LCD screen, and a host of other inventions that rule our daily lives… those same aviation development teams are continually writing your future whether you like it or not. So, seeing what they have in store for 2018 and beyond may help you plan your future and the future of your children with a little more certainty.


Here's a word you may not be familiar with: Habituate. It literally means to make you become used to, to acclimatize you, to condition you. In the Second World War the families seeking shelter hundreds of feet underground in the subway (tube) tunnels were at first terrified. The thump, thump, thump of bombs exploding overhead caused fear and confusion. But after a few nights, seeing that they were safe so deep in the earth, people relaxed their fears of imminent danger, brewed cups of tea, napped and children played. The real destruction was never lost on them, never forgotten, but they had become accustomed to the relative safety, they had become habituated to their new conditional safety abode. But they never forgot.

Punishment or Encouragement — Which One Works Best?

As a parent, if you actually care about your kids, you soon learn that you cannot punish to teach them anything. Yes, punishment can show them what NOT to do, but punishment can never show them what TO DO. If your child is not doing well at school, punishing them for a "D" makes them hate learning. If you take the time to sit with them, encourage their learning, then what can result is the self-pride that comes with a better grade. Learning can't be taught with punishment. Ask any teacher worth his or her salt, learning is taught by enthusing kids, making them proud of what they learn, opening their minds, not closing it with fear or hatred for being punished.

A non-funded mandate to go to the moon undertaken with a flourish of a worthless pen notwithstanding, the actual science and governmental programs already underway around the world are likely to see moon landings within the year. What? You didn't know? Of course not, because the news you get is filtered down to marketing platforms meant not to fill your head, leaving room for medical remedies you must desperately want to pester your doctor about.

Next week (yes, Dec. 28) the Indian Research Organization will launch the TeamIndus Satellite Launch Vehicle atop their PSLV rocket from Sriharikota (check your geography knowledge). After the first, second, and third stage separation (a technological feat previously only the USA had), the rocket will speed on to the moon where the fourth stage will separate and a lander will make a Moon de-orbit and hopefully land unscathed on Mare Imbrium near the polar top of the Moon. There, the IndianTeam Indus lander will conduct soil and other spectra-analysis experiments, giving improved scientific ability a chance to claim new knowledge from the moon to Indian scientists.

In these times, it has become clear we need to look out for each other. Charity is up (thankfully), food programs are expanding, neighbors are helping neighbors. In our household, at least six working days a month are devoted to just helping neighbors. Me? Other than time, one thing I can do is share information – information the mainstream, advertising-managed media may not be giving you.

"The people of South Sudan have simply suffered far too much for far too long and we must not take their resilience against incredible odds for granted," Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told the Security Council. More than 2,000,000 people have fled South Sudan as refugees over the past four years of conflict, 7,000,000 displaced people inside the country – that is almost two-thirds of the remaining population – still need humanitarian assistance, he said, adding that as the end of 2017 approaches, 1,250,000 people are just one step away from famine, almost doubling from a year earlier.

In the USA, we have a two party system. No, we don't. We have Libertarians, Conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, Peace & Freedom, Independence, Tea Party, Socialist, Christian Liberty, Citizens Party, Communist, Constitution, and another 40 or so. It is generally accepted that Congress is a two-party governing body, but tell that to the Tea Party or the Freedom Caucus. The system may be two-party, but the individual members are clearly not in any sort of agreement or moral positions.

American citizens all have a right to vote. No, not everybody does. With the cost of proof of identity running at $300 (original birth certificate or a $600 Citizenship Certificate proving you're American – note in some states neither a US passport nor a driver's license is accepted) – many poor or paperless people can't register to vote. And the more poor or unpapered people are, the more likely the more conservative candidates will win.

All political advertising is held to the same standard as product advertising. No, it is not. If you sell Tide detergent, you cannot claim that Tide gets your clothes whiter than any other detergent, nor can you pretend that Humera does not have side effects. Those disclaimers are, in effect, truth in advertising. Political ads have no such constraints, no rule for any standard of truth whatsoever.

In any discussion or argument, pointing out other transgressions to offset or obfuscate the issue being discussed is considered fair and honest. No, it's not. The new standard by politicians and their promoters is to distract from the real issue by resorting, over and over, to, "What about…" and changing the subject, equating two unrelated events. One man has 12 accusers of sexual predatory events, especially with underage girls and the new deviant defense is to point to another person, decades ago, who was found guilty of an extra-marital affair with a young, but adult, woman. Of course, this has the added benefit of lessening the public perception of the horror factor of the victims. This was the same tactic used by the Catholic Church in defending their position of the pedophile priests – point at others' wrongdoing, nothing to see here…

A mistake in the press highlights a bias of all reporters. No, it doesn't. Everyone makes mistakes, does that mean that everyone always makes mistakes? Does that mean everyone can never be trusted? Follow the old rule: you can fool all the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. The media and reporters need to be checked and double checked, but it is impossible they are wrong all of the time, impossible they are the absolutism of "fake."

Everything you say should only be directed at people who believe in you and should be repeated often to win new supporters simply by repetition of the same false message. No, it doesn't work all the time. For a while, yes, but in the end, even supporters will begin to see the fallacies, will begin to evaluate previously accepted "truths" and if those are found to have been chirping idiocy, opinions and loyalty will be reversed.

What works? American people, ideals, and basic honesty. Slowly, they are coming back.

The computer age is enabling workers to mask deficiencies (like spelling) and odd work times behind productivity and work-load achievements; work set and achieved at a blistering pace – and big business knows this. Sitting at home, an over-65er who can't sleep anyway and tomorrow's young work force, both can catch up on paperwork, statistics, sales, whatever, and transmit the results over the Internet. Up to today, the measure of the output of a worker (productivity) was set against piecework standards or office overhead. Soon pay will be linked to company profit. Working flexi-time, old pay standards no longer apply and the only measure of output from a worker will be his or her success in getting paid for a set amount of work (piecework) or corporate financial gain from sales/profit contracts.

Ten years ago the idea was that you could get on-line, take on an e-task and earn extra e-dollars. Like migrant workers standing on a street corner waiting for day work, you too could pick jobs off an Internet site and, task completed, earn e-credits good toward your holiday, mortgage, car payment, whatever. Somehow it has not quite worked out that way.