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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.

February, 9, 2018

First, what's a Tomahawk? A Tomahawk is a subsonic cruise missile. Long range capability plus all-weather deployment make it a Navy favorite. You've seen them being fired from destroyers, submarines, and other vessels towards Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Hard to detect, with ground-following capability, they can sneak past defenses and pack a huge explosive punch.

February 2, 2018 – Unless you are a news junkie, you probably don’t know (but need to) what’s happening around the world. The US military knows and is making plans, as always:

  • Afghanistan: Civil War, Terrorism. Reduction of NATO forces in 2014 resulted in resurgence of the Taliban (what we used to call the Mujahedeen). 14,000 more troops now arriving plus increased US airstrikes.
  • The Artic: Rising sea temperatures are melting ice, so new sea routes being opened, causing conflict (negotiation) between Canada, Russia, the US and northern European Nations.
  • Armenia & Azerbaijan: Simply, they are fighting each other over border control.
  • Balkans: 20 years after the Bosnian War, remain “culturally and administratively divided.”
  • Baltic States, Eastern Poland: Russia want them back. NATO is ramping up protection with long-range surface-to-air missile banks and short range ballistic missiles. Fly-by aircraft incursions are frequent.
  • Bangladesh: Terrorism and political instability caused by Rohingya refugees.
  • Burundi: Social and political unrest with violence continues.
  • China: New arms deliveries now make China a direct strategic competitor to Russia and the USA. South Sea incursions (islands) continue. Strength in Middle East and Africa grows.
  • Columbia (along with Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile): Cocaine trafficking violence and gang activity increase (and exported).
  • Democratic Republic of Congo: The UN has 22,000 peacekeepers there, 20% of the population moves frequently to avoid violence.
  • Ukraine: Conflict continues. Russia wants to stop Ukraine becoming a NATO partner.
  • Egypt: Islamic Insurgency in the Sinai continue as well as to the west of the Nile.
  • Europe: The migrant crisis continues – 100,000 from Libya and Syria in 2017 – and anti-migrant violence and political unrest continues.
  • Greece and Turkey: renewed arguments over sovereignty of islands.
  • India: Border skirmishes with Kashmir and China, plus insurgency of Maoists in the north.
  • Iran: Expanding Shiite influence, arms, conflict exported throughout the Middle East.
  • Iraq: Islamic State is still being pursued plus Kurds dispute (with fighting) over oil fields in the north.
  • Israel: Tension with Hezbollah growing and soon to explode.
  • Lebanon: Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shiite) factions still battling.
  • Japan & South Korea: Tensions over N. Korea continue, both sides also blaming China.
  • Libya: Islamic militants and some Islamic State factions still battling it out.
  • Macedonia: ethnic-Macedonian Orthodox and minority Muslims increasing violence.
  • Mali: Al-Qaeda activity in the Islamic Maghreb actively facing off against French troops.
  • Mexico: Mexican cartels cause bloody conflict between gangs on US border.
  • Myanmar: Transition from military to democracy ongoing but suffering setbacks (Rohingya Muslim pogroms).
  • Nigeria: Boko Haram (jihadist militia) being pushed back with 5,000+ US-backed forces.
  • North Korea: More sanctions from the US to follow as a terrorist state declaration is again made.
  • Philippines: Anti-Islamic militant battles rage on (especially in Marawi)
  • Qatar: Air, land, and sea routes cut off as they supported terrorism.
  • Saudi Arabia: New ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, trying to clean house, dozens of ministers and senior royals arrested. Instability threatened.
  • Somalia: Al-Shabaab with 9,000 fighters continues to thwart peace.
  • South Sudan: 50,000 civilians have been killed since Dec. 2015. War continues.
  • Syria: A stand-off is in place, US-backed freedom fighters vs. Soviet backed Bashir Al-Assad’s forces.
  • Thailand: Military regime holding power – tensions (civil unrest) remain high.
  • Turkey: A standoff with the West and NATO brewing, Turkey now turning to Russia for defense systems.
  • Venezuela: Unrest, inflation, and widespread food shortages cause unrest and violence.
  • Yemen: Significant civilian deaths. Iran-backed vs. Saudi Arabia-backed forces in bloody conflict and causing famine, widespread disease.
  • Zimbabwe: Military control in full force in 2018. Many ex-Ministers disappeared.

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.

Habituate

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.