The Swamp

I decided to put all of my “controversial” writings (ie. politics) on this blog from now on. I’ve been fairly idle with political commentary for years but I was inspired to start up again, as you might guess, by the election of Donald Trump. There was such an incredible explosion of fear, outrage, and yes, gloating, that I just had to start writing again. My feelings about politics in a nutshell is that everyone is wrong about everything.

Where Do I Sign Up?

I had perhaps a slightly different reaction when I read this tweet:

Where do I sign up to get an $18,000 stipend and a $55,000 waived tuition, and then a Masters degree at the end of it??

This guy is talking about it like it was a hardship and I’m sitting here thinking, wow, how is that not a literal gift from the heavens?

Granted, $18,000 for a college kid to live on is not much, particularly in any kind of city, or if you have dependents. And I’m sure there are strings attached in there somewhere. But for me, in my current life situation, an $18,000/year stipend sounds like a pretty good deal.

Republican and Democratic Propaganda

Today is one of those days when I’m not entirely sure if Russian propaganda on Twitter is worse than Republican and Democratic propaganda on Twitter.

The speed at which Republican operatives adopted the Democratic playbook used against Roy Moore Roy Moore Democratic playbook to use against Al Franken has been staggering.

Erick Erickson retweeted this:

I don’t really have any comment on the accusation, the apology, or the counter-accusations, except there is definitely not a moral equivalence between the Al Franken accusation and the Roy Moore accusation.

It occurs to me that in 20-30 years, every elected official will have a trove of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. material just waiting to get them thrown out of government.

UPDATE:

I didn’t really need confirmation, but the “news” in the tweet from @Faisal_Hagi above is fake, according to research from Snopes.

Behind The Tweet: First PvP Zone

I saw someone mention on Twitter that Texas starts allowing people to carry swords today:

Typical dumb Americans. Psssst: It was already legal to carry a sword in a lot of states already. Check your local laws. You might be surprised.

I’ve always thought it would be better for personal safety to open carry a small sword than a gun. 🙂 Unfortunately I don’t have the personality to handle all the stares and police questions.

Cynical About Celebrities

Today we learned of sexual misconduct allegations against Louis C. K. This was apparently not news to people in the industry. I made a cynical remark on Twitter but I feel like I should explain it a bit more.

“The cynical viewpoint: So another celebrity career ruined aka. millionaire gets to retire early”

One message we’re seeing from this year’s string of allegations against men in Hollywood is, “Women (and men) are stepping forward and telling their stories more and more.” That’s great.

But another shadowy message I’m seeing, sort of between the lines is, “Don’t get caught until you’ve already made your millions of dollars.” Louis C. K. might never work again. But … he’ll be fine. He’s a millionaire (I assume). He doesn’t *have* to work again.

My point being: What is the benefit of calling out and condemning people who have already gotten away with their misdeeds? I can understand calling it out, for the benefit of women who might be in similar positions now. But to line up and celebrate his fall as if some great justice has been done strikes me as … toothless.

And again, I mentioned this before: Sure, he’s a creep. But is it illegal to be a creep? No. *Should* it be illegal to be a creep? *Definitely* not.

Curious Thing about Northam and Gun Control

So I’m watching Morning Joe, and they keep saying that the two things people said they cared about most in the election were Healthcare and Gun Control.

One thing I specifically noticed on Northam’s web site related to gun control.

When you look at the Issues menu, it lists Gun Safety somewhat prominently.

The Gun Safety page is a laundry list of things Northam has done to make the NRA crazy. Voted against conceal-carry, voted for expanded background checks, supports mental health checks, supports banning assault rifles, the whole tamale.

This is very unusual for Virginia. Nobody in Virginia runs against the 2nd Amendment, Republican or Democrat. I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to vote for this guy after I read that page. I’m not a fan of mass shootings, but this is a laundry list of “feel good” solutions that aren’t going to do anything except erode 2nd Amendment rights.

But check this out.

I looked at Northam’s Policy menu. This is where he lays out what he’s actually going to do if he’s elected.

There’s nary a word about guns there.

Pretty shrewd. He’s tricked people into thinking he’s going to do something about guns when he actually isn’t going to. (That would be the job of the Virginia Legislature anyway, and good luck getting any gun control through there.)

At least, I hope so. Maybe I should go buy a bunch of guns just in case.

Election Returns Live Blog

I’m just going to paste some relevant tweets in here as I see them. I voted around 9:30 am this morning, for the record.

Saw variations of this tweet a lot throughout the day, on all of my timelines:

(My response: Hi, welcome to every election ever.)

This is the exact opposite of what I concluded from that first tweet:

This is not relevant to the election but it is culturally relevant and puts the day in context:

Is technology even on the list?

Oops:

Neat:

These are the people that didn’t know my district existed:

Huh? I’m in a “bellweather county” I guess.

Well this is a bit premature. Probably should screenshot it in case it gets deleted. 🙂

Oh yeah, I saw this on Morning Joe:

Given polls showed a close race I’m not sure “huge upset” would be applicable here, but still. (Normally I wouldn’t put baseless speculation here but it was retweeted by a somewhat trusted [Republican] source.)

Just for the record, with 10 minutes to go before the polls close, I honestly don’t know who is going to win, nor do I particularly care. Both candidates are roughly the same on issues that might affect me.

I have heard anecdotally throughout the year that polls have been close, and also that polls have shown Northam running away with it. Recently I have heard that Gillespie has “pulled even” and polls are pretty close. I don’t really know if any of that is true and don’t have any facts or figures at hand.

Polls closed in Virginia. (New Jersey doesn’t close until 8.)

Well now this interrupted the election coverage:

Note to self: A post full of tweet links is really hard on a browser.

I’m no expert but with Northam leading 51-48 with 35% reporting, I’m thinking Northam is going to win this one handily.

Results at 7:53

Okay way too many tweets flying by to keep track of them now. Seems pretty clear that Northam is going to win at 8 pm. Will paste in the rest of the results later.

UPDATE

Richmond Times Dispatch story.

American Chemical Services Lawsuit Against Sci-Hub

I saw this tweet today, which got my attention:

“Federal judge censoring the Internet” is quite a claim, and deserves a second look.

So first thing’s first, we apply the Universal Internet Rule to this tweet, sort of a Reverse Scientific Method of Reading The Internet: We assume the tweeter is lying through their teeth because they are in the tank for some special interest or another, and try to prove otherwise. This must be done before retweeting, commenting, or even having a single thought one way or another about the issue.

Follow me on my journey to put this tweet into some context.

The Source

Mr. McLaughlin, the tweeter, is a Random Internet Dude, otherwise known as a completely untrustworthy source. We can confirm this fact because his bio says, “Information Studies PhD student.”

I will now expose my general anti-school bias, which grows worse every year. I never, ever, ever trust PhDs, ever, for any reason. I used to work for one. They want you to think it’s *incredibly hard* to get a PhD, so you must therefore be an *incredibly smart* person to get one, so you must *trust* what they say, because they *know.*

In fact, that’s complete nonsense. I would characterize it more as *incredibly tedious* to get a PhD, so the only qualification required is an extraordinary level of dedication to mundane drudgery in one narrow topic field. Not critical or dynamic thinking, which I would put forth as a much better measure of a person’s trustworthiness.

Not to mention that you can simply buy a PhD or any other degree, really, if you have enough money. One might even argue that “going to college” is, in a sense, buying a degree. Today, at least.

But the quality of higher education in this world is beyond the scope of this post.

The point is, the person is a student. A PhD student at that. Clearly, he’s aspiring to become someone who can simply say “I have a PhD” so he can circumvent any challenge to his authority. He put it in his bio even before he has one!

(I mean, why *else* would you get a PhD? I have thought about getting a PhD in Computer Science, and I can tell you the only reason I want one is *not* to learn anything about computer science, but so I can say, “I have a PhD in Computer Science” and people will hire me without bothering to ask me a bunch of questions about computers.) (The main reason I don’t, by the way, is that I don’t think the cost of obtaining a PhD in money and time, at my advanced age, would ever be returned later.)

So there’s a big strike against believing what this guy says on Twitter.

The Case

I had never heard of this case before. At least, I don’t think I had. I hear about “the government is killing the Internet” cases now and then from various sources, but I don’t usually do deep dives on them. (I don’t worry about that topic much, because in my personal opinion, we citizens have had a free ride with the nation-state-less, lawless Internet for far too long, and governments *will* crack down on it eventually, and there is no stopping it, unless you nerds are willing to start shooting at law enforcement agents over it.)

I read the document attached to that tweet. It’s a legal document, so it’s rather opaque. The gist of it, from what I can interpret, is this:

It’s a court order that states the defendant Sci-Hub is prohibited from a) displaying any copyrighted works that belongs to the plaintiff American Chemical Society (ACS), b) using any trademarks belonging to ACS, c) saying anything bad about ACS. It further orders that anyone “in active concert or participation” with Sci-Hub (search engines, domain name registrars, etc.) cease providing access to Sci-Hub sites that violate the first three points.

Is that “censorship?” If anyone is getting censored by that court order it’s ACS themselves, the defendant. That doesn’t make sense. It sounds a lot more like a court order to stop people from pirating something that belongs to ACS. The pirated material is apparently accessed by going through an Internet Service Provider named Sci-Hub.

American Chemical Society

What the heck is ACS? I’ve never heard of them. Their web site, which I am able to access apparently because no part of my Internet access chain goes through Sci-Hub, says their mission is, “To advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people.” So, no help there. I assume it’s a big corporation that makes money for its shareholders by doing stuff involving chemistry. Maybe they make plant food, maybe they make vaccines, maybe they make chemical weapons, probably some variation of all of the above.

On the surface it doesn’t seem like it would be a target of piracy. I always assume pirates would be ripping off software, music, or videos. Not … chemicals? I don’t really see how you could upload a chemical to the Internet for people to download. I suppose it’s possible somebody ripped off some extremely valuable chemical formulas and posted them to a Sci-Hub-hosted site, but I can’t say I’ve seen a huge market for that among the general pirate community. I mean, it’s not like you can go to Pirate Bay and click on the “chemical formulas” section of the web site to browse the latest zero-days.

So I need to read more about this case and what it’s all about before I can render any further judgments.

The Research

Google searches brought me first to the press release from American Chemical Society themselves. Obviously this is probably not the most fair-minded assessment of the situation, but we get a few more details. Sci-Hub is apparently a “a self-proclaimed web pirate organization that steals and then illegally reproduces and disseminates copyrighted scientific research articles on the internet.” I don’t know if that’s true, but we’ll find out in a bit. Regardless, we were correct in guessing this to be more of a piracy case than a censorship case. So Mr. PhD student has lost quite a bit of credibility in my eyes now.

After just reading this press release, I’m inclined to say, “Good job, courts!” Obviously pirating copyrighted material is illegal, and if you get caught, you should be punished. Obviously scientific research papers are copyrightable material. This seems like a no-brainer to me. As a person whose entire life and livelihood is based around creating and selling intellectual property, I don’t see a problem with this.

There is a contingent of people on the Internet who believe “information wants to be free” or some Utopian nonsense like that. I can only assume Mr. PhD is part of that group based on his reading of the case as pro-censorship. I can understand the free information concept from a certain idealistic point of view–information benefits everyone in the human race so it should be shared as much as possible for the good of the species–but unfortunately we live in reality and people have to make a living.

Sci-Hub

I’ve pretty much made up my mind already at this point, but in fairness, let’s see if we can find out if Sci-Hub is the den of evil that ACS thinks they are.

Yes. Yes, they are.

Okay maybe not “evil” but clearly “illegal.”

Google search (actually Yahoo search since I’m using Vivaldi browser and I haven’t changed the default search engine, to throw them a few cents for their efforts on the browser) came up with two top results: scihub.org and a Wikipedia entry. I’m not going to link the site so you can click on it, just in case search engines decide to blacklist me. But I screengrabbed the scihub.org page so you can see it.

Everything about those pages screams “pirate site” to me.

It turns out that might not even be the real site, though. According to the Wikipedia entry for Sci-Hub, they’ve been shut down many times and their domain name changes. Nothing says “reputable” like repeatedly getting shut down and moving someplace else.

In 2015 academic publisher Elsevier filed a legal complaint in New York City against Sci-Hub alleging copyright infringement by Sci-Hub, and the subsequent lawsuit led to a loss of the original sci-hub.org domain. Following the first domain loss, Sci-Hub has cycled through a number of domains, some of which have been blocked in certain countries. Sci-Hub has been controversial, lauded by parts of the scientific and academic communities and condemned by a number of publishers.

These guys are basically the Pirate Bay of scientific research. Depending on your views about Pirate Bay (Wikipedia article), you might see that as a good thing or a bad thing.

Intelligent people can debate over the pros and cons of making scientific research freely available. I can certainly see how big corporations can and will leverage their position to make buckets of money from their proprietary research, making it impossible for smaller scientific groups to compete. I can understand how that could be a problem.

But the bottom line is that it is clearly, obviously, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt illegal to redistribute copyrighted work, based on currently-accepted intellectual property laws around the world. It is *certainly* illegal or at best violating terms of service to do it in the way Sci-Hub does it. From Wikipedia:

The site bypasses publishers’ paywalls using a collection of credentials (user IDs and passwords) belonging to educational institutions which have purchased access to the journals. In April 2016, Elbakyan told Science that many anonymous academics from around the world donate their credentials voluntarily, while publishers have claimed that Sci-Hub relies on credentials obtained by phishing. Elbakyan claims that although she cannot guarantee that none of the credentials have been phished, she has never been involved in phishing herself.

Not cool. As a computer scientist, I can tell you–that’s not cool.

Texas Shooting

I don’t have anything to say about this, just noting it for posterity.

Everything that I’ve previously written about mass shootings applies here as well. It’s very easy to tell the, ahem, racial identity of a mass shooter by watching the tone of Left Twitter versus Right Twitter following a shooting. There is a period of hushed silence before the identify of the shooter is determined, then there is an explosion from one side or the other.

One bitterly sardonic remark, though: Given how much The Left makes fun of religion on a daily basis, it strikes me as odd that they suddenly care a whit about what happens to people in a church.

OMG ROFL @TwitterGov

OMG ROFL

I mean, what can you even say about the sheer vastness of blatant incompetence shown by the Twitter organization here? It’s pretty funny, at least until you really think about the consequences.

Clearly, any disgruntled Twitter employee can go in and deactivate anyone’s account at will. We all knew they could probably do that (along with Facebook and Google), but who cares if they deactivate somebody’s ex-girlfriend’s account out of spite. Now it’s right there in black and white for everyone to see that *they deactivated the account of the President of the United States.* Not only can Twitter not prevent foreign governments from spreading propaganda to us, they can’t even stop *their own employees* from spraying political propaganda all over everyone’s timelines.

If we thought the chances of government regulation of social media were high before (and we did, because it’s the only thing Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on–see the Halloween testimony), they have just gone up a thousand-fold.

P. S. I don’t *like* that it’s come to this, but big social media sites really need government regulation right now. They are completely out of control.

P. P. S. Don’t worry, there will always be smaller, more secure social media clones rampant on the web so you can still conduct your libertarian super secret chit-chats out of sight from the prying eyes of the government if you want. They just won’t be commercially successful.

Pizza? Really?

People fight for their lives every day in some corners of the world, and kids on the Internet the last few days are like, “I’m putting my foot down for justice and taking a stand against racism! No more Papa John’s pizza!”

I had literally no idea what fresh insanity had come over my Twitter feed. It turns out Papa John’s had a bad quarter and lost a bunch of money, and Mr. John blamed the down turn on the recent NFL protests.

Kids today have apparently conflated a sensible, obvious market cause-and-effect with racism and now Papa John is a Nazi. Or something like that. I don’t even know anymore.

Full disclosure: Papa John’s is my favorite fast food pizza, even though it is basically more of a laxative than anything else at this point. But I would be crushed to have to avoid it because of some dumb political pressure.

Anyway, if it makes you feel any better, I do try to avoid getting Papa John’s anymore because of the aforementioned laxative effect. And they’re expensive. And pizza isn’t really very good for people of my advanced age anyway.