The Swamp

This blog contains all of my “controversial” writings. I was inspired to start writing about politics and current events again, as you might guess, by the election of Donald Trump in 2016. There was such an incredible explosion of fear, outrage, and yes, gloating, that I just had to say something. I try very hard not to deliberately offend people but of necessity these are going to be the “hot button” topics that make people mad. Please note that I have disabled comments for most of these posts because I simply don’t have the time or energy to debate this stuff.

Shutdown Optics Wars

It occurred to me that this shutdown is the Republicans’ best and probably only strategy for winning elections in 2018. Prior to the shutdown, there were only two accomplishments Republicans could campaign on: Neil Gorsuch and passing the Tax Bill, neither of which are particularly great for capturing undecided voters, even if there wasn’t a truckload of negative baggage attached to each of them.

Of course, they could also campaign on “Look how great Trump is!” Um. Yeah. Probably not a great strategy for most areas of the country.

Anyway, the shutdown gives Republicans the opportunity to add to the equation: “OMG Look What Those Awful Democrats Did! Even Trump Wouldn’t Do Anything That Bad!” Look for them to find and highlight stories of military families who can’t pay for groceries, or something like that. A message of “the other guy is really awful” is far more effective for getting people on your side than a message of “hey look we are doing great.” Especially when you aren’t doing great.

And at the risk being crass, it would be fantastic for Republicans if something bad happened during the shutdown which the government could not respond to. (There is no doubt in my mind that both Republicans and Democrats are strategizing behind closed doors about that.) If anything does happen, Republicans will capitalize on it hardcore and probably “win” the shutdown optics.

(By the way, I expect Democrats to counter the starving troops optics by giving out food to the troops, or something like that. “The Republicans won’t let the government function, so we’ll do it for them! We are the party that helps the troops!”)

Thanks to the American people being so generally uninterested and uninformed about their government, these incredibly obvious attempts to shape public opinion actually work.

 

Largely News-Free

I’m still here but nothing much to say about current events. I’m just not interested right now. I don’t care a whit if the government shuts down or not. I don’t care a whit about the president saying curse words in private meetings. DACA and Dreamers are issues that I typically don’t think about and have little or no personal stake in.

Watching the “hole versus house” followup war of narratives is more interesting to me: That is, the president’s team trying, successfully I might add, to shape the controversy as the “course language” he did or didn’t use and focusing on that, which completely derailed the more substantive policy discussion. The “why” he said it was completely lost amid the deluge of “what” he said, and that was a win for Team Trump. It’s yet another lesson in how easy it is to manipulate the mainstream media and drive the news cycle (see also: Trump wins election).

Those are my super controversial remarks for the day.

That Swatting Incident

I’ve been largely ignoring the news here at the end of the year, so I don’t have much to say about whatever new controversy is going on right now. Or the other new one. I mean, let’s be honest, there has to be a new one literally every single day to keep driving traffic, right?

But I did see one horrifying gaming-related news story that struck a nerve:

Call of Duty gaming community points to ‘swatting’ in deadly Wichita police shooting

Family says son killed by police in ‘swatting’ was unarmed, didn’t play video games

Police release ‘swatting’ call, video of man being shot to death as a result of hoax

LAPD arrests man on suspicion of making deadly swatting call to Wichita police

I tweeted about the incident saying something to the effect that I hoped the perpetrator(s) of the hoax were caught and given the same restraint that had been given to the innocent person who died. Meaning, indirectly, that I hoped someone “accidentally” shot those gamer(s) to rid the world of their DNA and save taxpayer dollars on a trial. It’s a terribly vindictive thing to say and completely circumvents the whole “innocent until proven guilty” ideal of America that I should hold up as a shining beacon of our values, but hey, it made me mad.

Because it (yet again) paints the gaming community in a horrible light. Nobody ever talks about the ways in which gaming communities legitimately help people, our community is only seen by the outside world in stories about “gaming addiction” and “swatting.” Let me just state categorically that this kid and swatting does not in any way represent the gaming world that I know and support. His world is basically a bunch of listless street punks with the means and technology to frequent an online game instead of an inner city back alley.

It also upsets me because I don’t fully understand how police can simply take a 911 caller’s word that a deadly hostage situation is underway, no questions asked. I’m so cynical I guess that I automatically assume any communication from an anonymous, unverifiable source should by default be treated as a deception, be it over telephone, fax, email, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever. In today’s world of technology you have literally no idea who is on the other end of a communication channel unless you a) actually know the other person and recognize their face/voice/handwriting, or b) physically see and touch an authentic identification, preferably more than one. Literally anyone from around the entire world can place a phone call to any other person anywhere in the entire world and make it appear that it comes from literally anyone they want in the entire world. That is not an exaggeration for effect. That is a literal fact. The same has been true of email since its inception. Most Internet communication channels have this problem. For example, if you get a friend request on Facebook, unless you can physically ask the person if it was really them, you have no way of knowing with absolute certainty it’s really them. Even if you do trust that the initial friending is legit, that friend’s account could be compromised at any time without either party knowing it. I mean, how often have you heard of people just giving their Facebook password away to someone else? I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard it a lot. (One or more times is considered “a lot.”)

I got into a bit of a Twitter debate about where to place the blame for this poor guy’s death. To me, it was very obvious that 100% of the blame lay on the kid who made the 911 call. The officer who fired the shot should still be investigated and I completely support that, but if there are any criminal charges filed I very much hope they go against the kid and not that officer. Initial reports (see above) seem to indicate the officer acted appropriately. This was the equivalent of two kids fighting over a game of dice in a back alley, one of them pulling a gun, and accidentally shooting an innocent bystander who just happens to walk by at the time. In that case, the criminal is clearly the kid who pulled the gun and shot the bystander. The circumstances are more vague in this case, but the criminal is still clearly the kid who called 911, because he was effectively committing a crime using the police as his weapon, and he should be prosecuted for (at least) manslaughter here. It may well have been “accidental” but it’s still a crime.

Some people on Twitter seem to think that rampant unchecked police brutality is responsible for this guy’s death, many more than just the one person I was talking with on Twitter. Especially from overseas, there is a perception, reinforced by popular media, that the U.S. is a lawless warzone where anyone can be gunned down on the street at any time, and us poor citizens cower in fear for our lives every day. If that’s the only thing you know about the U.S., I can understand the sentiment of outrage against the police here.

Maybe there are people who cower in fear every day of their lives, and there are certainly places and circumstances where that is justified, but for myself, I’ve never been anywhere near a violent crime in my entire life, and have never felt fearful for my personal safety because of gun violence or police violence.

At first I had questions about how an officer could shoot an unarmed person, but now that more details have been released about the incident, it makes a lot more sense to me. I don’t condone what that officer did, and I hope he gets a lot of support/training/debriefing/whatever about this and learns from it, but based on the fake information from the 911 call, and the behavior of the man outside his house, it is not surprising that he was shot.

I know innately to treat police with a healthy respect, because they have loaded weapons and the legal authority to use them. This is something I’ve known for as long as I can remember. The idea of just walking outside to see what is going on with a lot of flashing lights and sirens near my house strikes me as roughly equivalent to dropping a toaster in your bath to see what will happen. If it had been me, especially now that I’m aware of this incident of swatting, I’d have gotten down on the floor and put my hands over my head, shouting very loudly that I was unarmed and cooperating, until everybody put their guns away. (I’d probably try to record everything on my phone too if I could safely do so–video/audio evidence is much more damning than verbal witness testimony in today’s world.) At the very least I sure wouldn’t just go wandering around outside where anyone, friend or foe, could take a shot at me.

So what can we learn from this terrible incident? (I will not call it a “tragedy” because tragedies are unavoidable.)

  1. For one, it probably is a good idea to make a plan for what to do if you see a large police force show up outside your house for no apparent reason. Start by being afraid, not curious.
  2. If you’re involved with the criminal underworld of online gaming and betting, you might want to take some steps to keep your real-world identity private. Then, after that, you should stop being involved with that underworld and go do something productive with your life. Who thinks betting $2 on Call of Duty is a winning strategy for succeeding in life?
  3. Teach your kids and anyone you can find that online multiplayer games are *not* safe spaces. *I* know this because of twenty years of experience. In the early days, they *were* relatively safe spaces. The worst you could expect was someone trying to get you to press ALT-F4 in a game. But those crazy naive days ended when the 1990s ended. I know how exhilarating it can be to feel like you’ve found a “home” in an online world, and there may indeed be like-minded people in those spaces, but these days, there are just as likely to be more predators in those spaces as friends. Why wouldn’t there be? In most cases, there is nothing stopping predatory behavior except community standards. There are very few laws that govern these online spaces.

And this is my last point, which is another thing that frustrates me about this swatting incident: I don’t know about other countries, but U.S. laws need to move faster to catch up with technology. The amount of criminal or even just shady activity that can be done using technology today is staggering, and our laws are still focused on dealing with those two street punks fighting over a dice game in a back alley.

It is not an exaggeration now to say that our entire system of democracy is at risk because of how much unchecked lawless behavior can be conducted on the Internet. I am not one of those who believes Trump “colluded” with Russia (pending further information, of course–and yes I completely trust Mueller’s investigation and whatever his findings might be), but there can be no doubt that the inherent anonymity of the Internet, combined with most people’s generally trusting nature and the belief that we still live in a pre-Internet world where we only need to worry about our immediate physical neighbors, has created a social engineering platform of a massive scale that has never before been seen in history. (Trump himself takes advantage of it daily!)

P.S. Is there any way this kid can atone for what he’s done here? He can start by owning up to what he did, plead guilty, and serve whatever jail time is required. That is the absolute minimum bar to get over before he can begin to rebuild his credibility as a human being. Then he will need to pay for the expenses incurred by the locality for calling out a SWAT team, pay for any funeral expenses for the guy who died, and pay for any legal fees incurred by the police officer who fired the shot (if any). Then he will need to spend a big chunk of the rest of his life using his experience as a platform to educate others in the gaming world and fight to prevent this situation from ever happening again. Only after I see all of those things would I even consider treating him with any respect.

P.P.S. I would also like to see some GoFundMe efforts from the Call of Duty gambling community to help defray some of the above costs incurred, too. Because they are not completely blameless here, either.

Behind the Tweet: We Must Wipe Them Out

There is a never-ending supply of crazy retweeted in my timelines, and it all comes from the left. Every single day I could pick something like this to highlight.

I mean, really? What world does someone have to live in to think it’s okay to nakedly advocate for a One Party Rule and “wiping out” the opposition in the United States of America? The mind boggles at the sheer impulsiveness, and the complete ignorance of history and future consequences.

I sometimes wonder why Russia bothers trying to divide our country… American activists are doing just fine without them.

Tax Bill

Here is my standard disclaimer: I don’t know anything about economics and I don’t want to know anything about economics because it’s not science. I similarly don’t want to study the intricacies of homeopathy or astrology. In blunt terms, I couldn’t care less about taxes and this entire bill is about as interesting to me as paint drying.

So here’s my opinion on this tax reform/tax cut/tax scam bill.

Get ready. You might want to brace yourself. It will be a tremendous surprise when I reveal my centrist opinion on this tax bill.

It’s both good and bad at the same time.

There will be people who benefit from it, and people who are hurt by it. It will depend on where you live, and what your job is, and your general life situation, and there is probably no way to figure it out beforehand.

It will obviously benefit the rich. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t or won’t benefit the middle class. (The poor will probably not get any benefit and probably never will because nobody ever does anything about the poor.)

I completely understand and support cutting the corporate tax rate to be more competitive with the world. That seems like a no-brainer to me.

Removing the Individual Mandate? I don’t know enough to say whether it’s a good idea or not. For myself, obviously I don’t want to pay a penalty for not having health insurance. But I understand the reason for it from a broader perspective (because if nobody buys health insurance, there is no way to keep premiums low).

The Republican strategy here seems very risky to me. They are basically gambling that this will help America, seemingly without much interest in finding out whether it actually will help America beforehand. They are gambling that their messaging (“you were really helped by this bill whether you know it or not!”) will be able to overcome the opposition messaging (“this bill just bankrupted your children”).

Most of politics these days seems to be more of a branding exercise than anything related to actual governance. More of a Coke versus Pepsi thing than anything else, if you know what I mean. Ie. The Republican brand is better than the Democratic brand, or vice versa. It doesn’t matter a whit whether Republicans are in charge or Democrats are in charge, if both sides wall themselves off from the other side (as they have been doing since Clinton) when crafting their legislation, the country will continue down a dark path. The “losing” side is always going to rebel against the “winning” side. Both sides are supposed to feel like they won.

Behind the Tweet: Scalzi versus Trump

I had an interesting thought the other day.

There is almost no difference between a tweet from John Scalzi and a tweet from Donald Trump. The only difference is that Scalzi’s have better grammar. But the intent? Identical.

It’s like that Family Guy episode where it turned out that Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore were really both characters played by Fred Savage.

Live Blog: FCC Meeting

Since I’m just sitting here watching C-SPAN3, I thought I would write some thoughts about what I’m seeing.

10:30 AM – Meeting begins.

10:46 AM – These witnesses for the Blue Alerts are heart-breaking. I’m not sure I agree that Blue Alerts are a good idea (but I don’t know the full story of it), but I hope this passes for their sake.

10:55 AM – Oh I guess the Blue Alerts are being adopted. Sounds like this is something that began in the Obama administration. Jessica Rosenworcel delivered a harsh rebuke of the cost-benefit analysis.

11:00 AM – Even Ajit, the (alleged) Dark Lord of the Sith, is having trouble getting through this.

11:01 AM – Oh, it did have a vote. And it passed unanimously.

11:02 AM – Next up, item two: Proposal to Strengthen the Rural Health Care Support Mechanism.

11:14 AM – Without the emotional component, I am having trouble paying attention to this second agenda item.

11:15 AM – I get the feeling that O’Rielly (R) will not be voting for this one.

11:19 AM – I’m not following all of this but it sounds like Carr (R) won’t be voting for this one either. Annnnd right when I type that he says the item has his support.

11:20 AM – Oh now I’m tracking what this item is about. Bandwidth to rural hospitals doing “telemedicine.” Rosenworcel supports it.

11:23 AM – I updated my graphic above with annotations showing who appointed each commissioner and their party affiliation, according to C-SPAN3.

11:24 AM – Well dern the second item passed unanimously, too. I am not very good at reading these commissioners, apparently. Next up, item three: Proposed Public Notice Regarding Twilight Towers.

11:32 AM – I have no idea what a “twilight tower” is so I’m a bit lost on this one. No, I wasn’t paying attention when they explained in detail what a twilight tower was and why this is important. There are over 4,000 of them, though.

11:35 AM – It’s something about cell towers that are sitting around and can’t be upgraded/utilized because of government bureaucracy. They keep mentioning historical preservation so are they on historical grounds?

11:39 AM – Oh it sounds like the twilight towers are on Native American territory?

11:42 AM – Item three vote passed unanimously. Next the hard one: Proposal to Restore Internet Freedom.

11:47 AM – I am not sure what this Wireline Competition Bureau is.

11:49 AM – Clyburn (D) is fired up about this.

12:00 AM – Clyburn’s remarks are pretty much the same as everything you see retweeted about net neutrality. All the bad things that could happen, partisan rhetoric, etc. I wonder if there will be a transcript of this somewhere.

12:20 PM – O’Rielly’s (R) comments are pretty much reading from the proposal. Interesting that he addresses the fake public comments. Basically says what I said, that the public comments don’t matter that much. 🙂 And he’s voting yes, not surprisingly.

12:30 PM – Carr’s (R) comments were as expected. He’s voting yes, of course.

12:37 PM – Rosenworcel’s (D) comments are eloquent and expected. The argument against still boils down to “they might do bad things.” She’s more persuasive than anybody else I’ve seen, though. She’s voting no, of course.

12:38 PM – She’s talking about the fake comments now too. She doesn’t like it. I agree with her when she says, “it needs to be addressed.”

12:40 PM – I don’t know who this woman is but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear about her running for some elected office in the future.

12:49 PM – They are evacuating the room on the advice of security!

12:52 PM – Prior to the stoppage, Ajit was rattling off the standard talking points. I don’t really understand why they have to go through with a meeting when literally everyone simply reads from their prepared remarks. Why can’t they just submit their remarks to a clerk and just put it all on a web site or something?

1:00 PM – This stupid meeting is really cutting into my day. Twitter says they are being let back into the room.

1:02 PM – They’re back. Ajit’s talking again. My cynical self wonders if that was just a little political theater to make it look like “the left” is a radical threat to the Internet.

1:10 PM – I have to reiterate this. The argument for rolling back these regulations is strong. The argument against rolling them back is weak. And I say that as someone who completely supports the idea of Net Neutrality. But I think people conflate the Utopian ideal of a “free Internet” with the more nuts-and-bolts rules and regulations of Internet connectivity. I think what we are seeing here is not an attempt to kill the Internet for some nefarious purposes, but a healthy debate on the best way to maintain the Internet. Reasonable people can disagree on the best way to do that right now. I can see merits and problems in both sides here. The solution will never be complete until Congress gets involved and starts making laws. Ajit’s still talking by the way.

1:12 PM – And the vote is in: 3 to 2 to favor of adopting the new regulations. No surprise whatsoever.

1:14 PM – I don’t really care about the rest of this meeting. 🙂

UPDATE

All of the meeting documents can be found on the FCC’s meeting page. I would have preferred one continuous transcript instead of 50 different links, but it’s better than nothing.

Behind The Tweet: Fake Comments

Surprisingly few post-election tweets yesterday, but today is the FCC’s vote on “net neutrality,” and this appeared this morning:

You just identified them yesterday, huh? I could have told you most of the comments were fake a long time ago. In fact, I think I did write that in one of my previous blog posts on net neutrality (it was to that same AG guy). Because obviously, when you open up “public comment” in the form of electronic submissions (Internet, texts, faxes, phone calls), you are just asking for a botnet assault. Only in-person comments from someone with a valid identification, and maybe even two forms of photo identification these days, can really be trusted. A handwritten letter is probably genuine, but could also be fake, given that you could pay someone on Fiver two cents an hour to sit around writing thousands of letters, gather them up, then drive around the country mailing them from various post offices with fake return addresses. It’s not like anyone is going to double-check that the sender actually sent the letter. I mean, it would be a lot of work, obviously, but people do crazy things to try to force their opinions down everyone’s throat. The point is that almost every form of communication is gameable by Russians, anarchists, hackers, or activists these days.

And besides, let’s say we delay the vote, what is the plan to stop all the fake comments in the next public comment period? Or is the plan to spam the FCC with favorable fake comments? What’s the point of that?

There is also the minor issue that nobody has any clue what “net neutrality” really means, except for what their favorite activist has told them, which may or may not be accurate, because your favorite activist probably isn’t a network engineer.

This FCC vote is obviously going to pass–today, tomorrow, or two years from now, because this is a Republican administration and 3 of the 5 members of the FCC board are Republicans. I mean, maybe it won’t, just to give myself some wiggle room, but seriously, it will. I skimmed over the draft and it makes some solid arguments that are going to take more than just “oh but we really, really think net neutrality is good” to refute.

The correct course of action for a permanent net neutrality solution is for Congress to get off its butt, learn what an “Internet” is, and pass some laws.

No, I’m not optimistic about that either.

Patreon Kerfuffle, Part Two

Just to followup, Patreon changed their mind. They will not change their fees as planned. (They still intend to address the “problem” though, so they will need to change something eventually.)

But the damage was already done. Patreon destroyed their reputation with small creators overnight and I am seeing tweet after tweet today indicating they won’t be back. Perhaps a year from now people will forget, but right now, they are still angry (and rightly so).

And while I will say the above apology is a very good one as apologies go, I personally don’t believe a word of it. I have learned over the past ten-plus years to deride all altruistic statements from any software business which maintains users as commodities, which is basically all of them.

Small creators won’t be back because they were never in it for the money anyway–I think they saw it more as a social support system. A lot of small creators pledged to each other, in fact, which is counter-productive from a business perspective. But I think they viewed $1 pledges in the same way they might view a “like” on Facebook or Twitter. Something that doesn’t really cost anything, but is still more than just empty words.

Behind the Tweet: Number of Senators

Bracing for a lot of tweets like this today:

Soooooo. Yeah. There’s this thing, you know, called a Constitution? It describes this thing, you know, called a Senate? But wait for it, there’s this other thing, you know, called, like, a House of Representatives! They represent people in a way you might like. Perhaps you should read up on it.

Suggesting that the Senate also be apportioned by population is literally advocating mob rule. Maybe you like the mob this morning, but you might not like it twenty or thirty years from now when your kids and grandkids start voting. Smart people already figured this out.

I apologize for the sarcasm, I know I’m not facilitating a constructive dialog here, but this guy has a blue verified checkmark next to his name and claims to be a political scientist and a contributor for news outlet Vox, and that tweet got 6,894 likes. He even claims to be a professor! This is exactly what I was talking about in my other post about how fame creates too much power. He has no idea what he’s talking about–or worse, does know and wants to subvert the country–and he’s an “influencer.” He deserves to be taken down a peg.