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.




Friday, November 25, 2016

Trump Interviews The Worst People

Donald Trump is interviewing people for cabinet positions, and it mostly appears that he is doing it as a joke, or is literally asking, who are the very worst people we can find for these jobs?

It almost made sense to offer Ben Carson the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services, since he is a doctor, but then Carson's spokesman said, "Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he's never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency." Okay, he thinks he's qualified to be President but not to run an agency. And now Trump is considering him for Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary, and he's thinking of accepting that. So now he is qualified to run an agency. I think the logic is, the agency has the word "urban" in it, and Carson is black. I don't think either one of them knows that HUD actually does.

Trump has actually found the very worst person in the world to interview for Education Secretary. Betsy Prince DeVos is the sister of Erik Prince, founder of the notorious private military contractor Blackwater USA (now Xe), and wife of Dick DeVos, son of the co-founder of Amway, which is described as a "legal pyramid scheme."

The New York Times summarizes her qualifications succinctly:
For nearly 30 years, as a philanthropist, activist and Republican fund-raiser, she has pushed to give families taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to attend private and parochial schools, pressed to expand publicly funded but privately run charter schools, and tried to strip teacher unions of their influence. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Pick, Has Steered Money From Public Schools
She didn't go to public school and she didn't send her kids to public school, which, by the way, she would prefer you called "government school."

The NYT:
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, called Ms. DeVos “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee” since the secretary of education was elevated to the cabinet level four decades ago.
The voucher idea goes back to 1953, when Georgia governor Herman Talmadge, fearing that schools would be forced to integrate by court order, proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would let the General Assembly privatize the schools. Then if public schools were required to desegregate, school buildings would be closed and students would receive grants to attend private, segregated schools. The issue has moved forward through the years, contributing to the alliance between Dominionist Christians and free-market conservatives, with the Heritage Foundation, the Scaife Foundation, and even the Family Research Council jumping into it. Vouchers for private schools advance a number of rightwing goals -- remember the role that lack of education played in last month's election. Dumb is good for the Republican party.

This is the worst person you could imagine for Education Secretary.

The world is watching in horror as Trump parades the basket of deplorables through Trump Towers for interviews. In the campaign he laughably said, "I'll get the best people" but he is talking to the worst people, he is declining the daily security briefings, he failed to impress the New York Times in a meeting, he is not even trying to hide the nepotism and corruption that is making the federal government a branch of Trump Industries.

In the meantime, a few electors are vowing to switch their votes in the electoral college, and Jill Stein has raised millions of dollars to recount ballots in states where computer experts say the results of electronic voting look suspicious. Nobody really expects these things to work out, but at least there is a shred of hope.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Post-truth

The Oxford Dictionary chooses a "Word of the Year" every year, and this year it's "post-truth." When I first heard this I thought there must be something better. Post-truth isn't a word you hear very often, it isn't like some hipster slang that comes in and takes over the conversation. It's not cool new technology. You can argue that hyphenated words are not actually words.

But it's growing on me.

We have seen post-truth here in the comments at Vigilance blog for a long time. We have had right-wing trolls who quote things from reputable sources, but change a few words to give it the opposite meaning. This has been going on a long time, they will edit things so that they mean the exact opposite of what the original writer said. You wouldn't know if you didn't Google for the quote, find its source, and read the original yourself, and mostly people don't bother to do that. So if they say some scientist says something, most people who read the comments think that's what the scientist said. Even in our little microcosm we have learned that people will do that. They seem to consider it a valid form of argument.

And as we combed through the day-to-day events of the culture wars, you could see the same thing happening all around. Conservatives would take news stories and twist them to say whatever they wanted them to say. Some of it is just plain head-scratching incredible.

Did you ever look at Conservapedia? This is the conservative version of Wikipedia. They call themselves a "Wiki encyclopaedia with articles written from a Christian fundamentalist viewpoint." So for instance, it has an entry called "Obama's Religion." It starts like this:
Public opinion polls show that despite liberal denial, one in five Americans recognizes that Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim.[2][3] While campaigning for president in 2008, Obama made a self-serving claim to be a Christian in an interview he gave to Christianity Today magazine.[4] Of course, what politicians claim while campaigning for an election, and what the truth is, are often two different things.

Real historians look at all the evidence, not merely what a politician campaigning for office says. The following is a list of evidence indicating that Obama is a Muslim...
Then it goes into a bulleted list of "clues" that Obama is a Muslim.

Everything at Conservapedia is like that. There is no pretense, everything is just pure fiction.

We have always heard terms like "postmodernism" and "deconstruction," terms having to do with literature and the reader's relationship to a text. Outside the literary community these kinds of terms are usually used wrong, and nobody really believes that a text means whatever meaning you assign to it. In ordinary life people believe that words do refer to something, and that sentences have meaning that is grounded in the real world. It may be an illusion but we don't care, if we say something to somebody we try to tell the truth and hope the other person understands it as we mean it.

Actually I have attended and given talks at conferences on semiotics, I have read Peirce, I am cool with the complexity of linking symbols to grounded realities. These are not concepts that are beyond my understanding, but I would have thought that postmodern deconstruction would have come into our society through some drum-circle, hummus-nibbling intellectuals. Guys with man-buns and beards, women with hairy legs, distorting the truth in creative ways for their own ironic amusement. But no, it hasn't worked that way.

It turns out conservatism is a term that refers to a community of people who have divorced semantic reference from physical reality. Conservatism is a bundle of beliefs that are internally consistent to some extent within their self-referential semantic system, but the beliefs do not point out to the real world that all of us can observe. Utterances only point to each other. So, for instance, no one who looks at the facts would conclude that Obama is a Muslim. He isn't a Muslim in the real world, if you still believe in that. But because that would be bad -- because some terrorists are Muslim and so all Muslims are terrorists, and also they are weird and speak a different language and dress different from us -- and because Obama does not accept the conservative world-view and so is an enemy, it is consistent with conservative beliefs for him to be a Muslim. It really doesn't matter if he worships Allah or not, I mean really, they don't care if he reads the Koran or prays five times a day to Mecca. If he doesn't do those things then he might be a "secret" Muslim or a hypocrite or some other bad thing. It does not disprove the statement, it only requires some other made-up details to be provided to make it all fit together. And so a system, a schema, is created. If something doesn't fit it is because the person -- Obama in this case -- is lying or being a hypocrite. If there is a gap in the logic then facts can be invented to fill it. That is where fake news comes in, it provides details that support fictional belief systems.

I would have thought this kind of "postmodern" talk was for people who go to art galleries or something. You know, paintings of white on a white background, where you stand there and ponder your existence and it is really just stupid. Music that is silence, or random noise. Things that make you go aaahhh, if you don't have a life. It never occurred to me that the guy down the street in the gimme cap, with the decal on his F-150 of Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes peeing on a Chevy logo, would be the one who was deconstructing texts. But that's how it's turned out. That is conservatism for you.

So we are post-truth. It turns out there is a cognitive thrill when an imagined fact fits into place with existing beliefs, there is a shot of cognitive consonance that feels nearly as good as discovering real facts. And for some people, that consonance buzz is just as satisfying at the buzz of figuring out something for real. And it turns out that if you keep filling in with imagined facts, eventually the schema gets overloaded with falsehoods, and at some point it just doesn't matter any more. Obama is a Muslim, Hillary killed Vince Foster, the thrill of a newly constructed fact clicking into place is good enough. Post-truth.

In this past election cycle we had something called "fact-checking." Did we ever have that before? Before the election, Daniel Dale at Politico said "What we’re experiencing from Trump is a daily avalanche of wrongness." He began trying to tally up Trump's lies -- "or as close to a daily tally as I can produce while also sleeping occasionally."
The fewest inaccuracies I’ve heard in any day is four. The most is 25. (Twenty-five!) That doesn’t include the first two debates, at which I counted 34 and 33, respectively. Over the course of 33 days, I counted a total of 253 (including some that repeat). Confessions of a Trump Fact-Checker
Nobody cared. Trump could say anything and it didn't matter. I mean, it really didn't matter. Lying is not bad, it is good, Trump's lies are an emblem of conservatism, they are how conservatives recognize that he is one of them for real -- it's not "small government" or Christian ethics or lower taxes or traditional values, obviously. Telling the truth is something wimpy that liberals worry about. It doesn't matter if a fact is "true" or not, as long as it is inspiring, or as long as it fits in with the other untrue facts.

I would say that the recent campaign, and now the upcoming presidency, are about post-truth. Reality TV has replaced reality. This is what people like about Donald Trump, he is not a slave to mere facts. If he doesn't like the world as it is he makes up a different one. Before the election, David Remnick, in the New Yorker wrote:
Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President, does not so much struggle with the truth as strangle it altogether. He lies to avoid. He lies to inflame. He lies to promote and to preen. Sometimes he seems to lie just for the hell of it. He traffics in conspiracy theories that he cannot possibly believe and in grotesque promises that he cannot possibly fulfill. When found out, he changes the subject—or lies larger. Introducing a New Series: Trump and the Truth
Everybody knew this. Some of us thought of this tendency to lie as deplorable, but a good proportion of the US voting population loved Trump's post-truth reality. It liberated them from the dreary constraints of the real world. And now we are in for four years of it. Will truth survive conservatism? I guess we are going to do the experiment.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

WSJ: Liquidate

The Wall Street Journal has a clear and thoughtful piece about the inevitable Trump conflicts of interest. His business dealings are entangled with governments and financial institutions everywhere in the world. He is trying to get his family into the federal government even while they are running his business under a so-called "blind trust" that is not blind at all. He is promoting his business from a federal dot-gov website, holding press conferences and meetings at the hotels he owns -- there is too much already to list. It is scandal from bottom to top.

Here's WSJ's advice to him:
Mr. Trump’s best option is to liquidate his stake in the company. Richard Painter and Norman Eisen, ethics lawyers for George W. Bush and President Obama, respectively, have laid out a plan, which involves a leveraged buyout or an initial public offering.

Mr. Trump could put the cash proceeds in a true blind trust. The Trump children can keep the assets in their name, and he can transfer more to them as long as he pays a hefty gift tax. Finally, Mr. Trump should stipulate that he and his children will have no communication about family business matters. The Trump Family Political Business: The left is already teeing this up as a daily target. Answer: liquidate.
Interestingly, and, actually, oddly, the President is the one person in government who is not bound by conflict-of-interest regulations. James Madison said it would be "vain" to suppose that leaders could always separate their self-concern from the national interest. I think that even with the wonderful skepticism of the authors of the Constitution, there was an assumption that the top office in the land would be held by a person of such high character that it wouldn't really be an issue. Give them the latitude to wheel and deal if they need to, certainly he or she will have the country's interests foremost in their decisions.

Yesterday Trump paid twenty five million dollars to settle a fraud case. He has been accused of sexual harassment by more than a dozen women, and was being sued for raping a thirteen-year-old girl but citing numerous threats and the certainty that her identity would become public she dropped the case. Trump has been sued an estimated 3,500 times and currently has approximately 75 outstanding suits against him. Pristine character? No, not this time. This guy is a trainwreck.

I love how the headline warns that "the left" is teeing this up as a daily target. The Wall Street Journal is so accustomed to defending Republicans from "the left" that I don't think they realize that this unethical man is everybody's nightmare. He is not a conservative and "the left" was divided in opposing him -- which helped him win. Most voters in the country voted against him. Not even the fake-news readers who voted for him agreed to let him mix his private business with the federal government for his own gain and our country's loss. I would think any citizen would question this every day. We have elected a con man and he is going to run his con as long as he can get away with it.
The political damage to a new Administration could be extensive. If Mr. Trump doesn’t liquidate, he will be accused of a pecuniary motive any time he takes a policy position. For example, the House and Senate are eager to consider tax reform—and one sticking point will be the treatment of real estate, which will be of great interest to the Trump family business. Ditto for repealing the Dodd-Frank financial law, interest rates and so much more.

The conflicts span the globe, including a loan from the Bank of China and likely dealings with sovereign-wealth funds. Along the way Mr. Trump could expose himself to charges, however unfair, that he is violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits public officials from accepting gifts or payment from foreign governments.

Mixing money and politics could undermine his pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington. If a backlash allows Democrats to retake the House in 2018, Mr. Trump and his business colleagues would field subpoenas from the House Oversight Committee. Ranking minority member Elijah Cummings this week expressed his enthusiasm for such a project, and answering daily questions about this can’t be how Mr. Trump wants to spend his political capital.
The President is legally bound in two ways. He is subject to normal bribery laws, and he is bound by a provision in the Constitution known as the emoluments clause, which prohibits U.S. officials from taking money from foreign sources without the consent of Congress. He can make money off them, but if he commits an official act in exchange for a financial reward from another person or company, he can be prosecuted or impeached. The prosecution would have to prove quid pro quo... good luck with that.

I sympathize this much: I am sure that Trump never expected to win this election. But he ran, and he won, and he has a choice. He can be President of the United States or he can be a private businessman. He can't be both. No, he can't give the business to his kids and then bring them in to meet with heads of state and political insiders. Remember "pay for play" face time, when Clinton Foundation donors, often heads of state themselves, met with the Secretary of State? Woo, big scandal.
Here is Ivanka Trump, an executor of the "blind trust," sitting in a meeting with her father and the Prime Minister of Japan. Unfair!

Look, nobody is surprised by this -- well, yes, we are all still surprised that he won. But America elected an unethical person President, and he is continuing to be unethical. That is not surprising.

And here is the bottom line: he is not bound by law to practice good ethics in this job. He is bound by reputation, by the reaction of his colleagues in government and the response of the citizens he represents. He is bound by political constraints, but only if he cares about having a good name, and he does not. Our Constitution did not anticipate someone like him, who just doesn't care. And so he can give the company to his kids on paper and then bring those same kids in to meet with foreign leaders and business connections, legally. If we accept this as normal then he will do it. It is not normal. It is not ethical. It is not good for the country. The people have to keep their eye on the ball. You can accept this or you can fight it. Your choice.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

That Liberal Bias

The "fake news" controversy is amazing. Here's the problem: Twitter and Google and especially Facebook get flooded with viral fake news. These are sometimes plausible-sounding narratives that look and sound like real news stories, but they are pure fictional bull-oney. There was enough of it this year that it might have been a factor in the election.

Some form of this has been around for a long time, BTW. You didn't really think Brad Pitt and Cher had secretly married and adopted an alien baby, did you?

Why would somebody post fake news, you ask? They post fake news because it fits their world-view, especially their political world-view. It is absolutely plausible to someone that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian who has personally called for the assassination of twenty-three innocent beautiful women in jealous rages. And so totally fictional stories get circulated widely, they go viral and become a part of the background of our thinking. We see it and realize rationally that Hillary probably isn't a murderous jealous lesbian, and so we move on but the garbage leaves a residue, a smell, and that can add up to political points in the long run.

And I would say that the smell was what caused her to lose the election. The most investigated person ever, in history, never charged with anything -- how could she be "a criminal," or even "corrupt?" You say it over and over and people accept it. Wouldn't one of those Republican committees have found something, if there was a crime or corruption? Her big scandal, an email server -- it didn't matter how trivial it was. Nobody could tell you what she had done wrong, but it smelled like she had done something after decades of false accusations. That's why she lost, if you ask me. Even if you know it's wrong, the smell gets to you.

For a long time, people have been calling on Facebook and Twitter and Google, but mostly Facebook, to clean up their act. At least don't put fake news into the "trending" box. How hard could it be?

Well it is harder than you'd think. I think you can imagine the outcry if Facebook suddenly "banned" or de-emphasized the story about Hillary's murderous lesbian rages. That would be anti-conservative censorship!

Facebook used to have human beings manage the trending list, but it became a little scandalous when they actually used -- gasp -- human judgment to add or remove stories. For instance, the Charlie Hebdo attack and the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 did not trend immediately on Facebook, so employees added them. The company was accused though of "manipulating" the news, biasing what Facebook users would see. To fix this, they developed an algorithm for selecting trending topics. They had developed a program to identify and remove fake news, but never implemented it.

According to C-NET:
The software update would have been used in "downgrading and removing" fake news stories from people's Facebook feeds, according to Gizmodo. The update was apparently shelved because it would have disproportionately blocked out supposed stories from right-wing news sites, and Facebook didn't want to give the impression it was politically biased.

So by trying not to be politically biased, did Facebook actually end up favoring the Republican nominee?
I know what you're thinking right now: "Reality has a liberal bias." It's like shooting fish in a barrel.
So why would Facebook even be worried that it looked biased? That reportedly stems from a controversy earlier this year, in which Facebook was accused of encouraging its human staffers to hide conservative news from its "trending stories" feature. After that, Facebook did a review of all its products to make sure there wasn't any appearance of political bias, according to Gizmodo.

"They absolutely have the tools to shut down fake news," one source told Gizmodo.

That bogus news includes a story that claimed an FBI agent associated with the Hillary Clinton email leaks was found dead in a murder suicide (didn't happened). Another fake story said the Pope endorsed Trump (again, nope).
I think we have been consistent here at the Vigilance blog. We're not against people with conservative values, not against Christians or straight people or Republicans. We are opposed to people who decline to use facts and logic to draw conclusions. The fake news situation is exactly what we have been talking about. These are stories that someone would post because it supports their side and makes the other side look bad, even though there is no truth to it.

That is deplorable.

I am not at all impressed by someone who has strong beliefs and has to call on made-up evidence to support them. I can hardly imagine the mind that justifies that.
The denial comes after Zuckerberg last week defended Facebook and its role in the election. He said it took a "profound lack of empathy" to think someone would choose how to vote based on fake news. Over the weekend, he posted a lengthy note on his Facebook page, reiterating that fake news is just a small part of Facebook content. He did say, though, that Facebook still has work to do.

"We have made progress, and we will continue to work on this to improve further," he said.
By "profound lack of empathy," I thnk he is saying that people who rely on logic and facts tend to think that people who prefer fake news are stupid. Is "lack of empathy" really the best term for that?

This story is not going away. A group of Facebook employees have formed a secret task force to address the issue and the outcome is really going to be interesting.

Oh, and Crooks & Liars has an unbelievable story. It turns out that half of the "fake news sites to watch out for" stories are actually fake themselves. C&L discovered that they and Think Progress and Raw Story are on some of the lists. Clickbait fake news providing fake lists of fake news sites. Sad! Use your judgment, people, it is easy to google around and see if a story holds up.

And even more from the HuffPo UK:
Facebook is vouching for the ‘authenticity’ of pages which have distributed false and misleading news to millions of users on its platform, The Huffington Post UK has found.

The firm’s official verification of six pages analysed by HuffPost UK shows the extent of the problem facing the company, as it battles accusations that false news on its network contributed to Donald Trump’s stunning US election victory.
And remember as we are hurled into The Near Future, the mainstream media do the same thing. During the Iraq war, I'd say there was a fake news story every other day in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the cable networks. Cyanide in the Euphrates River, Saddam throwing people into a plastic shredder, WMD launchers discovered, aluminum tubes for refining uranium, it seemed like every day there was fake news tossed into America's driveways. It will be like that now, too, and it is up to us to be vigilant and watch for it, and to speak out against it when we see it.

Maybe "fake news" will lead to a populist epistemological epiphany, where the people have to decide, communally, what is truth, what is knowledge. It has to be something everybody can accept, so nobody loses the revenue from misdirected mouse-clicks. The cool question is, how do you write a computer algorithm that reliably distinguishes valid or true text from text that is false and misleading and propagandistic? This might be the place where AI becomes smarter than people.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

RMHS Protest Gets Rough

Students from Richard Montgomery High School protested today. Unfortunately the news is going to be that a kid in a Trump hat got beaten up.

WTOP:
WASHINGTON – A march of students in Rockville, Maryland, protesting the election of Donald Trump to the presidency turned violent on Wednesday morning as a teenager wearing a Trump hat was beaten.

Hundreds of students from Richard Montgomery High School were marching near the Rockville courthouse on Maryland Avenue in a protest that began at about 10 a.m. when a 15-year-old boy wearing one of the Trump campaign’s “Make American Great Again” hats was “beaten down, to be honest,” by about four students.

The student was taken away in an ambulance. WTOP’s Nick Iannelli reports that he wasn’t seriously hurt. No one has been arrested yet, but police officers are talking with witnesses.

There’s a large police presence around the protest, but there were no further problems. The students returned to the school’s football field at about 11:30 a.m. Trump supporter, 15, beaten during Rockville protest
What you will see now is everyone, whether they support or oppose Trump, and including me, decrying the violence.

For instance, County Councilman George Leventhal:


Also this sort of thing:

Let's keep in mind the contrast between this and incidents where attendees at Trump rallies were roughed up while the crowd cheered and the candidate offered to pay legal fees for those charged with assault.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Montgomery County Schools See Hate Surge

Our children will have four years to learn to emulate their new role model, the president-elect of the United States, and his role model advisors.

MCPS found it necessary to post this message today on their web site:

Statement on Hate-Related Vandalism at Montgomery County Public Schools


November 15, 2016
The following is a Statement on Hate-Related Vandalism at Montgomery County Public Schools from Superintendent Jack R. Smith:

"In recent weeks, Montgomery County Public Schools has seen a surge in hate-related vandalism in our schools and on school property. This trend is disturbing and unacceptable. These actions are a violation of school policy, a violation of the law, and simply wrong. Students engaged in this behavior will be disciplined to the fullest extent possible in accordance with MCPS policy.

The MCPS Department of School Safety and Security is working closely with the Montgomery County Police Department to investigate these acts of vandalism and to ensure that our schools remain safe places to learn.

Let me be perfectly clear—MCPS respects the right to free speech that is codified in the Student Code of Conduct—but does not and will not tolerate hate-based speech or behavior in our school communities.

MCPS is a diverse community that is built on a foundation of respect for all. This means respecting the rich diversity of our 159,000 students and 23,000 employees. Our differences in backgrounds, races, faiths, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, political preferences and gender identities are an opportunity to celebrate and learn, not discriminate and denigrate.

MCPS is a safe and welcoming place for all students and staff and we will take all appropriate steps to ensure it remains that way."

MCPS Students Hit the Streets

I have made a few people not-happy by suggesting, as we led up to this election, that maybe it would be smart to put an age limit on voting. After forty-five or so, I think you ought to stay out of it. The young people are the ones who have to live with the consequences of an election like this-- why should baby boomers decide how the world is going to be, when it's the young people who will be living in it? My opinion is not a popular one with my peers.

Happily, the young people of Montgomery County are speaking up for themselves, even if they can't vote. Monday, students left a bunch of Silver Spring area high schools, converged near Wheaton Mall, and then headed up to Victory Plaza. I think they will be charged with unexcused absences at their schools, otherwise I don't think MCPS is going to make a big deal out of it.

This is the way you learn about democracy, by taking part in it. Voting is one thing, that is the mechanism that makes it function, but voting is not the only way you can influence your own future. Here is Channel 9's take on it.
SILVER SPRING, MD. (WUSA9) - Students walked out of class Monday at five Silver Spring high schools to protest president-elect Donald Trump.

The walkout started around 10 a.m. and involved students from Montgomery Blair, Northwood, Wheaton, John F. Kennedy and Albert Einstein High Schools.

Sky9 captured video of students holding signs and walking from school to University Blvd in Wheaton. They blocked traffic on University Blvd, went to Westfield Wheaton Mall, continued south on Georgia Ave towards downtown Silver Spring and ended at Veteran's Plaza. Hundreds of students walk out of Md. high schools to protest Trump

(This is not Channel 9's video but it is pretty good.)


Note that young adults preferred Clinton over Trump nationally by a 55%-37% margin, while voters 65 and older preferred Trump over Clinton 53%-45%. This outcome isn't what these teenagers wanted, but they are the ones who will have to live with the consequences.

While we're in the numbers, Montgomery County voters gave 82,985 votes for Trump and Pence, and 309,761 for Clinton and Kaine. That is, about one vote in five went to Trump here, nearly eighty percent for Clinton. So no, this is not what we wanted.
School officials said the walkout was organized by students. They said no teachers were involved and they continued teaching as students walked out.

Up to 500 students participated in the protest. Some were heard chanting "we reject the president-elect."

It doesn’t matter how old you are... your voice could be heard,” one student said. “We decided to cut time from school to make sure our voices are heard. They are hearing us.”

“It is amazing that we could get all these people together, we have all different races, all different schools, ages... us and the silent majority that can’t vote, we found a way to express ourselves,” a Blair High School student said.
That's a good point, the "silent majority that can't vote." They inherit the future that we put in place for them.
Bystanders were also seen shouting out words of encouragement.

“Even though it was mostly high schoolers that were walking, we had a lot of cheering and honking from adults all over,” a student said. “People that were working, stepping out of their houses to raise their fists.”

At one point, Pastor Jeffery O. Thames joined the protest.

“We want the children to realize what their political power is and how to utilize their voices,” Thames said.

According to Montgomery County Public Schools, most of the students will be disciplined unless they have an excused absence from their parents.
Hear that, Mom? Johnny had a cough and didn't feel good.
"We offered the students a safe space to protest at school in the stadium, but once the students walk off it changes the dynamic," Director of Public Information with MCPS, Derek Turner said.

Police, worried about the safety of the students, advised them to stay out of the roadways. Students said they appreciated the police presence and were happy the police gave them an outlet to express themselves.
In some of the video you see the police cars pulling up ahead of the group, blocking traffic and making sure they were safe. Pretty nice, the police protecting the rights of the people.