Wednesday, January 11, 2017

No, It Is Real News

Trump is calling the story about the intelligence dossier on him "fake news," and that is interesting. It's incredible, actually.

The story is not that he hired prostitutes to urinate for him and is probably being blackmailed by the Russians -- that information is not verified. "Women Pee for Trump in Hotel Room" is not a headline in any newspaper. It might be true but journalists are not sure, so they are not publishing that as a news story.

The story is that top people in the government, both in Congress and the intelligence community, think the dossier is worrisome enough, it looks real enough, to brief the President of the United States -- the real President who is in office now -- as well as the President-elect and top members of Congress about it.

Take something like "Obama is the founder of ISIS," or "Hillary is a crook, lock her up." Those are lies. Obama is not the founder of ISIS, and Hillary has never been charged with breaking any law, even though every minute of her life has been dragged out in investigations and questioned.

Compare that to "Intelligence officials briefed the President and Congressional leaders about possible blackmail, sex tapes, and treason." This is a true statement. "Trump hired prositutes to pee for him" might not be true, I don't know. "Trump is being blackmailed by the Russians," again, I don't know, I don't think anybody is saying these things are true. In fact, every source I have seen has been very careful to say the statements are "unverified." Journalists have had this dossier since October at least, and they let it go right through the election with almost no mention -- certainly no mention of what the dossier said. David Corn had a story in October about some intelligence, and Harry Reid asked the FBI in a public statement to release "explosive information about close ties and co-ordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government - a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Mr Trump praises at every opportunity." But he didn't say anything about golden showers or blackmail -- he had seen this report by that time and still didn't spill its contents, even though American voters needed to know there was serious evidence that their Presidential candidate is a traitor.

The thing is, we don't know if Trump hired ladies to urinate in a hotel room for him, or whether the Russians actually have dirt on him, but we do know that the allegations looked like the real thing to people in the intelligence business who know what the real thing looks like. And that is news. It is not fake news, even if the story reports what was in the dossier, this is not Elvis Has Alien Twin, this is an actual document that has people in the top of government very worried.

In time, America is not going to react well when they find out that the FBI kept this secret while they went out to the TV cameras to say that Anthony Wiener has email they haven't seen yet, that might be connected to Hillary. If it turns out we elected a traitor and the insiders knew and helped sabotage his opponent, it will not be good.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Slimeball

Here is the image of treason.


When cheaters win, they get to referee the rest of the game.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Speed, Computers, Security, Nobody Knows What's Going On, Get on with your life

Asked about sanctions against Russia for interfering with the US Presidential election, here is what President-elect Donald J. Trump said (with Don King standing beside him holding an American flag):
I think we ought to get on with our lives, I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what's going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure we have the kind, the security we need.
And that is how it's going to be.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Tiniest-Handed Authoritarian of the Year

Trump has been going around doing rallies (which is weird in itself), and there is a point he brings up every time. He is Time magazine's Person of the Year this year, whatever. But here's the thing he complains about. He says they should call him "Man of the Year." His crowds go wild over this. He has brought it up at three different events so far.

We know why they don't call it "Man of the Year." It isn't Man of the Year because there is an upheaval going on, gender roles in our society are changing. Women are people now, they are working and participating in the economy, they are engaging in intellectual dialogue, they fight in wars. A hundred years ago they couldn't vote, and now the goal, among people who have thought about it, is equality. And the way ahead is hard but the goal seems reachable, besides being practical and good. To reach this goal some things have to change, some doors have to be unlocked.

Trump and his basket of deplorables call this "political correctness," they hate it that Time considers women to be equal to men, but Time can call it whatever they want. Nobody is forcing anybody to stop saying "Man," it just isn't part of the phrase "Person of the Year," which Time magazine owns. If Trump wants to be Man of the Year then he can buy Time and change the title. Nobody's stopping him. In the meantime, the people who currently own the magazine call it something different.

It's not political correctness, not somebody saying you can't say something because you might offend somebody. The NFL has a Man of the Year and nobody cares. Time has a Person of the Year because there are great women who sometimes deserve the award. And anyway, since 1986, that is, in the past thirty years, Angela Merkel last year was the only woman who has won the award. So political correctness is not really doing spectacularly well in this particular domain.

The rallying-point is that Trump and his followers do not want this kind of social change. He has made a point of dehumanizing women, especially when he was running against one; it is not even an undercurrent, it is what he stands for, with his shady modeling agencies and beauty pageants and his three wives and what's up with him and his daughter, for crying out loud?

There are two other alternatives for Time, right? They could have Man of the Year and Woman of the Year, and if they wanted to be progressive about it the Woman would be some scientist or powerful politician, but just as likely it would be a woman who is attractive, acts or sings, dresses fashionably, and makes moderately provocative social statements.

The other thing Time could do is just forget the Woman of the Year. Award a Man of the Year and that's all. How do you like the sound of that? I don't remember people complaining, but that's what they did up until 1999.

And that's what Trump wants to go back to, what his followers want. They believe America was great back then, when the concept of a Woman of the Year was not even a thought you had. You didn't miss it back then, you didn't go hey wait a minute, what about the women? It just didn't exist, there was no such thing, and that's how it was. If there was a great woman they called them Man of the Year, no problem. A couple of women got the Man of the Year award, and I suppose that was a little awkward but it was not a big deal and it didn't happen very often.

This "great again" concept is terrible, going backwards to ugliness. Hopefully we get through this phase of history without losing too much ground.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Revelation of Russian Hackers

The Post came out the other day with a story about a secret CIA report saying that Russia pulled strings to help Trump win the election. People have been saying this all along, so it wasn't really news -- it's weird, go back and google it and you will see talk about Russian hackers going back well before the election. The new breaking story was just the emails, nothing to do with fake news which was the more interesting propaganda development, to my mind.

Honestly I have a real problem with "news" about "secret reports" -- if it's secret then why is it on the front page of The Post? Somebody in the government committed a crime by giving secret information to a reporter, and that is how we, the public, find out about things. If a government employee gives out information because of their conscience they are charged with a crime, if they do it for political reasons, no problem. So now we find out that before the election the President and Congress knew the Russians had given Hillary's emails to Wikileaks in order to get Trump elected. But because of backroom deal-making between the parties the Director of the FBI -- who had also been briefed by the CIA about this -- was able to pull Hillary down from her lead without any interference by the people who knew what was going on.

Apparently the Russians had gotten into both the Democratic and Republican inside-baseball email systems and gave the Democrats' information to Wikileaks. That means they saved the Republicans' emails, which can be used for blackmail later -- watch the word kompromat enter the English vocabulary. Trump now has called the CIA big fat liars and is busy carrying on a beauty pageant to find the very worst person for each cabinet position. And yeah, that's our country at the moment.

The funny thing is that the Repubicans "won" the election and are not inclined to question exactly how that happened. Hillary has washed off her makeup and is done with it all, Trump is gloating and tweeting up in his golden tower, and a doomed populace is hoping that enough electors will switch sides, or that we can have the election again, or something. But the winners are now running the show and they -- of course -- don't want do-overs.

It's funny that the one system that was not breached is Hillary's private email server, which the Republicans and the media kept the public focused on.

The asymmetry of this year's election campaign was bizarre but nobody really commented on it. On one hand we read every detail of Hillary Clinton's life, we had her financial records and a million emails between her people. It was actually amazing that there was not any scandal in all that, the DNC was unfair to Bernie but you knew that already. Oh, and "pizza" means "molesting children." The FBI had to go so far as to drag Anthony Weiner into it, to poison the atmosphere surrounding Hillary after nothing came out of her staff's emails. On the other side, there was nothing, total information blackout, and people were fine with that. Donald Trump did not even release his tax records so nobody knows if he has money, who he owes, what businesses he is involved in. And the Russians are hanging onto his emails, which we don't get to see. So instead of talking about the unfairness of one side being totally exposed to the public while the other operates in darkness, we obsessed over the details of the Democrats' emails, which were public. On one hand we had a candidate we knew everything about, warts and all, and on the other side... a pig in a poke. Which we elected President.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Comet Ping Pong Craziness

I play music and sometimes I like to go out and see what's new and happening. I don't get out very often, but a few weeks ago my wife went out of town to help her sister move, I had a Friday night to myself, and I went out to hear some music in Chevy Chase.

I went to a place called Comet Ping Ping, on Connecticut Avenue, in Northwest. I overestimated the drive and got there early, went in, hung around for a few minutes. It's a family place, pizza and beer and ping pong tables. Some college age ladies were playing ping pong, switching ends running around the table each time somebody hit the ball, laughing. The band was setting up in the back, behind a curtain. I hung out on the street for a while, wandered into Politics and Prose, stuck my head in at Jake's Americana where my band had played once, eyeballed the Sri Lankan restaurant for future reference. I sat on a bench and watched people walk by.

The bands ... varied in quality. The first was a polyrhythmic duo, drums and synthesizer, and I might like to hear them again. I wasn't sure if they were doing what they did on purpose or just didn't know how to count the meter, but I read some interviews with them and yeah, they know what they're doing. It sounds fresh and spontaneous but it is also disciplined.The second band had a bunch of electric guitars playing mostly in unison and the effect is pretty cool, a wall of sound. Cool for the first twenty minutes or so. The last guy played electric guitar through some digital processing equipment and, well, I'm open to anything but I would call that "noise." It was just a roar and I left after it didn't get any better. The night was just what I had hoped, I had a beer and heard some music. The crowd was enthusiastic, attentive, I think it is good to hang out with young people sometimes.

Wikileaks put email online, where a person found a handkerchief in the kitchen and asked if the person who probably lost it wanted to come by and pick it up, or should they mail it to them. This led some conspiracy theorists to connect random dots, to put together a theory, if I get this right, that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta have some kind of human trafficking ring of child molesters that uses Comet Ping Pong as their headquarters.

A few years ago I talked to Comet Ping Pong about our band playing there. It was kind of charming, the manager explained that they would book us, but they could only pay us in pizzas. We declined, but at least they were honest about it. Bands play there basically for free, hoping to build up an audience.

But now Comet Ping Pong is getting calls, death threats. Sunday a guy drove up from North Carolina with an automatic rifle and fired it inside the place. He was "self-investigating" the child molesters. He thought there were kidnapped children being held in a basement or back room somewhere, and he was going to rescue them. The Post quoted a friend of his this morning saying, literally, "He is not a nut." Wait, what? What does it take any more?

Last week I scrolled through one of the web sites about this, before it was big news. These people are serious. They really do believe that Hillary Clinton is running a human trafficking operation out of Comet Ping Pong, and they have left a lot of clues, sort of like "Paul is dead." The people who believe this theory call newspapers like the Washington Post "fake news" and believe every rumor online about the Clintons being Satanists or criminals or pedophiles. I have some complaints about The Post but I know the difference between reality and fantasy.

And by the way, this is not "fake news." This was not published on a site that looked like a legitimate news site. This rumor oozed out of a festering boil of public discussion on Reddit. The discussion there got so nasty that Reddit finally kicked them out, and that's saying a lot. This story was not planted in the media, it emerged and spread through forums and discussion groups and social media, one person to another.

Yesterday on Twitter the looney-toons decided that this guy with the gun had been sent there as a "false flag" operation, to make it look like the nutty ones had done something nutty, when of course they are the ones who see behind the façade and know what's really going on. They are sure this is all part of the cover-up of Hillary's child sex ring.

This story has been linked to Trump's pick for national security advisor. But Mike Flynn did not tweet about Comet Ping Pong, he accused Hillary of being a pedophile in another context. His son, though, who is always by his side, does claim that this story is "true until proven false." So the story that Comet Ping Pong is headquarters for a Hillary/Podesta pedophile ring has tentacles right into the Trump White House.

I have talked before about mental illness and guns. There can be mental illness where you feel bad, or you say impulsive things, you might talk to yourself, your thoughts are fuzzy or disordered, that's all understandably mentally ill. But what do you call it when an entire community decides to divorce itself from facts? Is that illness or ideology? Or maybe it is just irresponsibility and abdication of decency.

It reminds me of a time when people believed the world was dominated by mythical beings. Aphrodite would put love in your heart, Hermes put thoughts in your head. In the absence of scientific knowledge, that is a good enough way to see it, you can understand what's going on in terms of invisible cosmic forces. I think it is halfway between a dream-world and modern consciousness, logic and causality don't really hold but things sort of fit together in a fable or myth. Things happen that you can't see, and that's why the visible world is as it is. And still in the twenty first century people feel they can mythologize someone, for instance Hillary Clinton, they can attribute any kind of evil to her, and it "makes sense" to them. In fact it makes more sense to those people than real things that you can see. Because someone could be manipulating reality like a stage-prop, but nobody can manipulate "the truth."

I really don't know how you confront this. Once a person has let go of the string, once their balloon has soared away from ground, you can't reason with them. You can't even empathize with them, once they have determined that you are earthbound. It's scary.

Friday, December 02, 2016

The Reappearance of the Swastika

In yesterday's Washington Post the big headline on Page One was "Trump nominees map out plans for tax revamp, trade." Because it's an election year, see, and the new guy is coming in and there will be parades and balls and transitional stuff. It happens every time we get a new President, cabinet members, policies. Nothing to see here.

Back in the Metro section on page B-6, after the PG County Councilman who crashed his car drunk, after Alexandria Confederate symbols to stay for now, after rail-car reliability is a priority, after the obit for the guy who invented the Big Mac, was a story from Montgomery County: Swastika found in high school restroom.
The incident is the second at Quince Orchard since October, when a caustic substance was used on the football field to create the image of a swastika, according to Montgomery County police. An investigation is still underway, police said.
My own reaction was a little surprising to me. The question came into my mind -- why is this in the newspaper?

Of course the swastika was a despised symbol when I was young, after World War II. My father was one of the lucky ones, he was brought back from the brink of death after he was shot down fighting Nazis; he was later able to walk with a cane. We had to help him put his socks on as kids, that was something we learned when we were big enough. Lots of dads had scars. We didn't like Nazis and swastikas back then. We still sang "Whistle while you work, Hitler is a jerk..." years after the war. But, you know, things change, now people walk around with telephones in their pocket, TV is in color and some of the new screens almost look real, I haven't seen a typewriter in ages.

My father's generation is just about gone, and a new one has taken over. Of course swastikas used to be a bad thing. But nowadays Nazis, the KKK, swastikas, untruths, racial and religious prejudice and violence are as American as pussy-grabbing.

So a kid scrawled a swastika in the bathroom, he was just expressing his patriotism. He supports our newly-elected President. Why is it in the paper, again?

I wonder how long the newspapers will bother to carry this kind of story at all. The Post quotes some old-fashioned grown-ups sputtering about "hate-based acts" and "will not be tolerated." Then the paper does a smart thing and saves space by listing off a lot of incidents in one article, so they don't have to keep running dog-bites-man over and over again, month after month. October thirtieth, November tenth, November eleventh, November fourteenth... "Our schools must continue to be safe places for students to learn," some lib said. Someone else was quoted in the lamestream Post saying, "They’ve lost their shame."

It'll be in a Saturday Night Live skit next, and then on South Park, or maybe South Park will have swastika-scrawlers first. Comedians will joke about swastika graffiti, at first in self-righteous tones but pretty soon they will be joke-admitting that they also sometimes scrawl swastikas and the crowd will laugh sympathetically, remembering the last fence or wall they scrawled swastikas on. Eventually people will forget that the swastika was once considered a negative symbol, or they will forget why, the news stories will have long disappeared, the jokes won't be edgy or funny anymore, and the transition will be complete.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Your First Fake-News Detection Algorithm

There were two kind of interesting "fake news" stories this past week, illustrating the depth of the problem. One was easy, the Internet spread the rumor that CNN had broadcast a half hour of porn instead of Anthony Bourdain. Even the first reports said that only one person in Boston had seen it. Bourdain's pretty good, I figured more than one person would have tuned in and seen the porn if it was real, and when I first saw this story I concluded it was wrong. But it did get retweeted and forwarded thousands of times. Actually, my spidey-sense says that someone was doing an experiment, creating "fake fake news" to see how far it could go.

The second incident is harder to label. This time it's fake news about fake news. And here's the problem, it comes from a "reputable" source -- the Washington Post. They put out a story on Thursday that started like this:
The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation. Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say
Reading the story in one of the world's most legitimate sources, you would sip your coffee and say to your spouse, "Look what those Russians are doing." Most of us don't look up and go, "Huh, hon, it doesn't seem to say who these 'independent researchers' are."

Journalist Glenn Greenwald jumped all over this one (after Fortune noted the BS) with a story headlined, "
Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist From a New, Hidden, and Very Shady Group
:
In casting the group behind this website as “experts,” the Post described PropOrNot simply as “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.” Not one individual at the organization is named. The executive director is quoted, but only on the condition of anonymity, which the Post said it was providing the group “to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.”

In other words, the individuals behind this newly created group are publicly branding journalists and news outlets as tools of Russian propaganda – even calling on the FBI to investigate them for espionage – while cowardly hiding their own identities. The group promoted by the Post thus embodies the toxic essence of Joseph McCarthy but without the courage to attach their names to their blacklist. Echoing the Wisconsin Senator, the group refers to its lengthy collection of sites spouting Russian propaganda as “The List.”
Greenwald contacted the journalist, Craig Timberg, to ask him about the story, and got the response: "I’m sorry, I can’t comment about stories I’ve written for the Post."

If you are thinking about what kind of algorithm would be able to remove fake news from a "trending" feed or message stream, you would think that one of the major factors would be something like reputation of the publisher. The Washington Post says that this undocumented story about unnamed experts anonymously judging news sources as Russian propaganda was one of the most widely circulated political news articles on social media in the days after it came out -- and why not? It's The Post. Must be true. If it came from something like deplorablepatriots-dot-com your algorithm might reject it on reputation grounds, but The Post's name carries the story forward. You can read that story and never even wonder why they don't give any names (there are lots and lots of things wrong with this story -- go read Greenwald's takedown).

The CNN-porn story had no weight of reputation behind it. Somebody called "Solikearose" tweeted “Did anyone else with RCN in Boston see the hardcore porn that was broadcast by CNN by mistake?” BuzzFeed seems to have actually talked with the person, who swears she saw it, but nobody else did. As they write:
But soon enough, the story had gone viral, along with the notion that it was a widespread problem affecting “viewers in Boston.”

Dozens of news outlets including Variety, the New York Post, and Esquire ran with it. Their stories were shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter.

Some reports suggested that as many as 300,000 RCN subscribers may have been affected by the “epic blunder,” despite only a single person having complained about the problem.
CNN apologized and blamed RCN. the local Boston service provider, but then a little later tweeted, "Despite media reports to the contrary, RCN assures us that there was no interruption of CNN’s programming in the Boston area last night."

We don't know if that one person was hallucinating or pranking the world, or if her neighbor's cable signal leaked into hers or what, but she was the only one who saw any porn on CNN. The question then is why so many people picked up this story and re-posted it.

"Truth" is an impossible criterion. You can't tell by looking at a statement whether it is true or not. If you have ever been in a situation that was reported in the news, you will realize that most news has some fakery in it. It may be something left out, or an adjective that simplifies the interpretation while calling attention from more important aspects of the story, and often the details are simply inaccurate. Scientific findings are evaluated by peer review, which is really just some people saying the research looks okay to them -- science is an evolving body of successive approximations to truth. Knowledge itself is an evolving consensual schema, where what somebody "knew" a hundred years ago might have turned out to be absolutely false, just like what we know now. So your fake-news algorithm cannot evaluate truth directly, it has to look at source reputation, internal consistency and logical structure, it needs to compare details to reputable external sources.

For instance, the widely publicized "FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead" story supposedly happened in a town that doesn't exist, quoted a Chief of Police who did not exist. The address given for the news publisher was a tree in a parking lot next to a vacant bank building. Your fake-news algorithm should pick up some of those things.

A fake-news detection algorithm might be tougher to develop than one that passes a Turing test. It would have to be able to recognize intent, inconsistency, shady sources, facts that do not appear to have widespread support, including new facts that are true and old facts that are not. This strains the capabilities of artificial intelligence but I bet something good will come out of learning to solve this problem.

In the meantime, these are things people should be doing for ourselves. We should be reading critically. We should look up sources and citations when we encounter them, at least before we forward the message on to others. Snopes.com is a great resource for catching "urban legends." Google a fact, see if it is an echo-chamber artifact or something that real news sources are carrying.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Three Million Illegal Voters?


The President-elect of the United States tweeted this today:



Snopes.com, the go-to site for debunking "urban legends" and now fake news, is the very most reliable place to find out what is true and what is not on the Internet. They evaluated the statement. Here is their assessment:



Snopes found plenty of web sites saying that three million undocumented aliens had voted.
We scoured at least a dozen such articles for evidence to support the claim, but found none. All of them pointed back to the same source: a pair of tweets by someone named Gregg Phillips, whose Twitter profile identifies him as the founder of VoteStand ("America's first online fraud reporting app").
They show two tweets from a guy, and sure enough, one says, "Completed analysis of database of 180 million voter registrations. Number of non-citizen votes exceeds 3 million. Consulting legal team." The other one says, "We have verified more than three million votes cast by non-citizens. We are joining .@TrueTheVote to initiate legal action. #unrigged".

Snopes figures out that this guy worked on a Newt Gingrich PAC and has been quoted on Breitbart in the past. They exchanged messages with him and he refused to tell them where his numbers came from. By law, Obamacare sites offer voter registration services, and Snopes guesses that this character somehow made an estimate based on the number of people who signed up for insurance on the exchanges.

They conclude:
Based on these past statements, it seems likely that Phillips' case that three million non-citizens voted in the past election is related to his claim that "illegals" are registering to vote via Obamacare. In the absence of supporting data, however, he has really made no case at all. The "three million non-citizens" figure may just as well have been plucked out of thin air.
This is our future President we are talking about here. He has been declining the daily official security briefings, has only attended two of them so far, and he is getting his information from Some Guy On The Internet.

This is going to be bad.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Man outside Texan mosque

Nothing to add. Just needed this today. From Reddit.