Facebook has become a scourge on the world

People are starting to wake up to the fact that as Facebook made changes to monetize social interactions, they have royally screwed up and instead incentivized lies. The NY Times reports on the fake news sites that have been blossoming all over the place. It’s crystal clear what drives them: money.

Jobless and with graduation looming, a computer science student at the premier university in the nation of Georgia decided early this year that money could be made from America’s voracious appetite for passionately partisan political news. He set up a website, posted gushing stories about Hillary Clinton and waited for ad sales to soar.

“I don’t know why, but it did not work,” said the student, Beqa Latsabidze, 22, who was savvy enough to change course when he realized what did drive traffic: laudatory stories about Donald J. Trump that mixed real — and completely fake — news in a stew of anti-Clinton fervor.

More than 6,000 miles away in Vancouver, a Canadian who runs a satirical website, John Egan, had made a similar observation. Mr. Egan’s site, The Burrard Street Journal, offers sendups of the news, not fake news, and he is not trying to fool anyone. But he, too, discovered that writing about Mr. Trump was a “gold mine.” His traffic soared and his work, notably a story that President Obama would move to Canada if Mr. Trump won, was plundered by Mr. Latsabidze and other internet entrepreneurs for their own websites.

“It’s all Trump,” Mr. Egan said by telephone. “People go nuts for it.”

These guys have discovered that peddling bullshit to the gullible is profitable. There are no checks on them at all; in particular, they seem to be completely unhindered by scruples. We have a name for such people: con artists.

NPR also has a story on fake news sites. This phony is painfully disingenuous.

And as the stories spread, Coler makes money from the ads on his websites. He wouldn’t give exact figures, but he says stories about other fake-news proprietors making between $10,000 and $30,000 a month apply to him. Coler fits into a pattern of other faux news sites that make good money, especially by targeting Trump supporters.

However, Coler insists this is not about money. It’s about showing how easily fake news spreads. And fake news spread wide and far before the election. When I pointed out to Coler that the money gave him a lot of incentive to keep doing it regardless of the impact, he admitted that was “correct.”

Oh, he’s so altruistic — he’s just trying to do good and expose the fake news industry, while profiting mightily from it and not doing a goddamn thing to expose it at all. He did nothing to point out the fraudulence of his stories or to reveal the extent of their spread, waiting instead for a conventional news source to call attention to what he’d been doing.

Another thing in that NYT story, another false excuse I’ve lost patience for. It’s “satire”.

“I don’t call it fake news; I call it satire,” he said. He avoids sex and violence because they violate Facebook rules, he said, but he sees nothing wrong otherwise with providing readers with what they want.

NO IT’S NOT. Here’s a basic dictionary definition of satire.

the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

Note the key phrase up there: you’re supposed to use it to “expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices”. Cheerleading for the alt-right or Donald Trump doesn’t count; like that Coler asshole, it only counts as satire if you’re using it to rebuke ideas you find disagreeable. They aren’t. They’re using lies to promote views they agree with or find profitable.

And how can lies be profitable? Blame Facebook. Here’s the story of a fellow who got banned from Facebook for criticizing the alt-right.

As I noted the last time this happened, unfortunately this is the risk you take when you sign on to Facebook and other social media sites. You don’t control the platform. Hell, you can’t even talk to the those who run the platform. And the size of it makes any attempt at real-time moderation by the platform managers a complete joke. Neither Facebook nor Twitter has made any real effort to prevent harassment, bullying, or any of the other more unfortunate aspects of social media. And Facebook has made no effort whatsoever to prevent abuse of their system and they’ve made it impossible for the victims to do anything about it. They are in fact complicit and they are very likely to become more so in the future.

My ban from the platform is the result of Facebook’s lousy architecture, which lets bullies and harassers abuse Facebook’s automated system – a system that was supposedly put in place to make Facebook safer – and I have absolutely no recourse for protest or appeal.

Let’s be honest here. Facebook and Twitter have no motivation to clean up their act: that they are paying out ad revenue to neo-Nazi propaganda is a consequence of the fact that that crap is popular. Rejecting bullying or fascism does not make them money, while providing an outlet for them does.

And now I’m torn. I feel like I should shut down my facebook account, but a) I use it for the good stuff it provides as a social medium to keep in touch with my scattered family, and b) if all the liberals leave, it will become an even worse playground for trolls and scum. What are you all going to do?

I’m still not on the Professor Watch List

I was feeling neglected, so then I looked on the list for my fellow Minnesota liberal radicals. I was disappointed again.

There’s only one Minnesota professor on the list, Wayne Bendickson. He must be some kind of screaming fanatic if he’s so much more dangerous than me.

Wayne Bendickson is a Professor in Native American Studies at the University of Minnesota. Bendickson requires all of his students to pick a topic from a list, that includes ‘why Native American mascots should be banned from sports,’ and explain in the assignment why it is important. A counter-argument is not allowed and free thought is rejected.

They cite a source that says he required his students to take controversial stances on Native Americans issues. I don’t see anything “controversial” about having students explain why the Washington Redskins are demeaning and insulting to people — and to ask students to take a position that they disagree with (and shame on them if they do) and consider the reasoning behind it is perfectly fair.

And again, I have to take exception to the misuse of “free thought” again. It does not mean “anything goes, say all the stupid stuff you want”. It means to think outside the box of convention. Demanding that students question the standard public dogma is free thought!

Oh, and here’s the official U of M listing for Bendickson.

Sisoka Duta, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, is a Dakota Language Teaching Specialist at the University of Minnesota. His undergraduate work focused on Dakota language, culture and history. Following graduation, he worked with two fluent Dakota/Lakota speakers for four years to improve his language skills. Prior to his current position, he taught Dakota language for three years at the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Sisoka Duta is a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton nation of South Dakota but was raised in the Twin Cities. He did not grow up speaking Dakota so he recognizes the need to acknowledge the first speakers of the language and to continue improving his own skills, so he can pass these on to his students. He sees himself as student of Dakota language and lifeways not a cultural or spiritual leader. He teaches Beginning Dakota 1121 & 1122 and Intermediate Dakota 3123 & 3124.

Why would a student taking a Dakota language class be at all interested in defending racist sports team? That suggests a great deal of contempt for a class they’re taking.

We may have to expand the War on Christmas

Shocking news:

Parents, though, are being urged to re-consider the ethics of the great Santa Claus lie. In an article published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, two psychologists have raised the spectre of children’s moral compass being permanently thrown off-kilter by what is normally considered a magical part of the Christmas tradition.

The darker reality, the authors suggest, is that lying to children, even about something fun and frivolous, could undermine their trust in their parents and leave them open to “abject disappointment” when they eventually discover that magic is not real.

My first thought: does this also apply to parents who lie to their children about gods and prayers? They make it sound so dire.

Kathy McKay, a clinical psychologist at the University of New England, Australia and co-author, said: “The Santa myth is such an involved lie, such a long-lasting one, between parents and children, that if a relationship is vulnerable, this may be the final straw. If parents can lie so convincingly and over such a long time, what else can they lie about?”

Levelling with your children so close to the big event may put a bit of a dampener on festivities, but parents must sometimes take the long view, according to McKay. “There is potential for children to be harmed in these lies,” she said.

Exactly what atheists have been saying all along. Jesus. Heaven. Hell. Blood redemption. Resurrections. All harmful lies. Stop lying to your kids now!

Those open, shameless Norwegians

These videos are very nicely done, but entirely NSFW — they are intended for children in Norway, though, which is impressive. The narrator is simultaneously enthusiastic and not at all salacious, a tough line to draw.

I’d have shown these to my kids, if I’d had them available back in the middle ages.

Here, learn about the vagina:

And for balance, here’s the penis:

Goodbye, American education

American education has deep problems. Funding for the public school system is patchy and inconsistent, relying on local property taxes which leads to gross inequities; higher education has suffered from declining support for decades. And now Donald Trump has appointed Betsy DeVos to be his secretary of education.

Why?

The sole reason is that DeVos is a corrupt billionaire, just like him; she made her money off of the Amway empire, which is a repellent, criminal pyramid scheme, a colossal con that has escaped most of the weight of legal retribution by being filthy rich and cozying up to the right wing.

In 1980, the DeVos family contributed heavily to the election of Ronald Reagan, and DeVos, Sr., was named the finance chair of the Republican National Committee. Two years later, he was removed, after calling the brutal 1982 recession a “cleansing process,” and insisting that anyone who was unemployed simply didn’t want to work. That same year, DeVos and his Amway co-founder, Jay Van Andel, were charged with criminal tax fraud in Canada. Eventually, Amway pleaded guilty and paid fines of twenty-five million dollars, and the criminal charges against DeVos and his partner were dropped. Despite these incidents, the DeVos clan remained a major political force. “There’s not a Republican president or presidential candidate in the last fifty years who hasn’t known the DeVoses,” Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, told Mother Jones, in 2014.

The marriage of Dick DeVos to Betsy Prince only increased the family’s wealth and power. Her father, Edgar Prince, had made a fortune in auto-parts manufacturing, selling his company for $1.35 billion in cash, in 1996. Her brother Erik founded Blackwater, the private military company that the government infamously contracted to work in Afghanistan and Iraq, where its mercenaries killed more than a dozen civilians in 2007.

The whole damn family ought to be in prison, but instead, they’ve been embraced by the Trump regime.

But wait, that says nothing about her ability to run the US educational system. What are her education qualifications?

She doesn’t have any. She’s had no training in education, she did not attend public school, her kids didn’t attend public schools, she’s been a crusader for vouchers. Vouchers don’t work!

The longest running voucher program in the country is the 20-year-old Milwaukee School Choice Program. Standardized testing shows that the voucher students in private schools perform below the level of Milwaukee’s public school students, and even when socioeconomic status is factored in, the voucher students still score at or below the level of the students who remain in Milwaukee’s public schools. Cleveland’s voucher program has produced similar results. Private schools in the voucher program range from excellent to very poor. In some, less than 20 percent of students reach basic proficiency levels in math and reading.

Vouchers are simply a means to an end: the demolition of the public school system. The DeVoses can afford the best private schools, and if you can’t, you deserve to be uneducated.

We thought Trump would be bad. We had no idea how awful electing an incompetent sould be, because it’s clear that the first thing he’s doing is appointing more incompetents solely on the basis of ideological fanaticism.

There’s hope for American journalism yet

What’s this? Principles? Taking a stand? I am thankful for Charles Blow. He doesn’t hold back at all in his criticism of Donald Trump’s recent meeting with the NY Times.

The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: Never.

You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.

I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity.

Here are our next few years: one long and consistent struggle.

No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.

I know this in my bones, and for that I am thankful.

Not doing something can be just as political as doing something

You know all those distressing satellite photos of retreating glaciers and open water in the arctic? Or how about those terrible photos of the ravaged landscapes around the Canadian oil sands? Worry no more. They’re going to be gone.

Oh, we’ll still be wrecking the environment, but you won’t see pictures of it now. Donald Trump has a new vision for NASA, and it involves turning a blind eye earthward.

Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said.

Nasa’s Earth science division is set to be stripped of funding in favor of exploration of deep space, with the president-elect having set a goal during the campaign to explore the entire solar system by the end of the century.

This is far more political than maintaining the earth science program, which provides immediately useful information and unambiguous returns on investment. You know why he’s cutting these programs.

This would mean the elimination of Nasa’s world-renowned research into temperature, ice, clouds and other climate phenomena. Nasa’s network of satellites provide a wealth of information on climate change, with the Earth science division’s budget set to grow to $2bn next year. By comparison, space exploration has been scaled back somewhat, with a proposed budget of $2.8bn in 2017.

Revealing reality is now political, especially when your views have nothing to do with reality.

Although…maybe it’s psychological. Looking at ourselves and our own planet is too much like introspection, and we know the Donald doesn’t do that self-awareness thing.

History sheds some light on bathroom battles

Take the long view — the opponents of transgender/unisex bathrooms are all wrong. The history of ancient bathrooms shows that they’ve been unsegregated for ages and that separate bathrooms are a recent invention.

The evidence is ambiguous but one of the interesting features of most ancient and medieval bathrooms is that they generally do not appear to have been segregated by gender. Even though women were prohibited from participating in or entering many kinds of all-male spaces in the ancient world, the latrine wasn’t one of them.

In fact gender-segregated bathrooms were an innovation of the Victorian era, when they struck a blow for women’s rights. Up until the introduction of segregation in the nineteenth century, men had exclusive access to public restrooms. The result was that women were effectively tethered to their homes. While urinating over gutters or into “urinettes” (a small portable device that was used under long skirts and discretely emptied) were options, they were hardly preferred. Gender-segregated bathrooms, therefore, were actually a positive step. The 1887 Massachusetts law that mandated that workplaces provided bathrooms for female employees made it possible for women to hold down jobs without “holding it.”

Now I wonder, though, how the history of clothing was affected by this practice. In ancient Rome a woman would hitch up her stola and tunica intima to use the latrine, so there was still some privacy hidden behind folds of cloth. I’m more disgusted by the fact that they all would have shared the same sponge-on-a-stick for wiping themselves afterwards, which is why I’m bring my own roll of toilet paper when the physicists get around to inventing that time machine.

I’m also thinking that only providing bathrooms for men was the kind of sneaky exclusionary trick that was also done by not having pockets on women’s clothing.