Monday, April 17, 2017

Facebook censorship is both arbitrary and capricious

 Facebook Censors don't owe you an explanation

Despite insisting it is not a media company and is not in the business of making editorial judgments, Facebook is all too happy to censor user-generated content. Facebook censors operate under a cloak of anonymity, with no accountability to users.

Facebook Auto Censorship

Have you ever tried to post a comment and got a message saying, "Unable to post comment - try again?" 
Facebook - unable to post comment error

Or  "An error occurred. Please Try again in a few minutes"?

Facebook - an error occured - try again
And no matter how long you wait, you keep getting the same error?  

Have you ever had a Facebook post rejected because of an "unsafe link"?

Facebook - blocked link
The link could be a web page or an image that Facebook decides is "unsafe."  

Have you ever had a Facebook post rejected because Facebook decided your comment "seems irrelevant or inappropriate"?
Facebook - comment block

The primary way Facebook flags and takes down content is via automated algorithms. As with any automated system examining content, there will always be false positives; innocent text or images that trigger the censor. The problem is that Facebook censors too much innocent content and makes it impossible to reach a human in order to appeal their decision. 

So if you see, "If you think you are seeing this by mistake, please let us know" keep in mind that no matter what you write, no human will read it and reconsider. It's just a way to make YOU feel better about their censorship. 

Facebook Censorship by Trolls 

Have you ever been notified by Facebook that one of your posts has been removed?  
Facebook - We removed something you posted

Have you ever been notified by Facebook that you have been "Blocked From Posting?" 

Facebook - Temporary ban

Then chances are your post "triggered" somebody who decided to retaliate by reporting you for violating "Facebook Community Standards"

With more than 1.7 billion people using the social network every month, Facebook can't monitor everything that passes through its site. The company does have teams of people around the globe devoted to policing Facebook, but those teams largely rely on its community of users to call out questionable behavior. 

Facebook employees are completely overwhelmed by complaints from users, their guidelines for making determinations are murky at best and they have very little time in which to evaluate the validity of individual complaints. As a result, their default response is almost always to remove comments and suspend the commenters. 

When users are suspended or have their content removed, there is often little explanation and they're left to figure out the reason why for themselves.

And the reporting system is ripe for abuse by cyber bullies. Not only can they maneuver you into posting a keyword they can then report you for, or go searching through your posts to find something innocuous that contains a keyword out of context, but they can gang up on their victims, reporting innocent comments often enough until the system sides with the reporter or a human reviewer makes an assumption in their favor. 

Even mentioning someone else’s name in a post means that, if the comment is reported it can be viewed as violating community standards. Which is particularly ironic, since clicking on a "Reply" link below someone's comment causes the system to print their name on the reply before your answer. Other folks routinely use the individual’s name out of courtesy when replying. The name recognition is automated to the point that the person doing the reporting of abuse need only have an account with the same name or partial name as the name mentioned in the comment in order to report it as some kind of "personal attack" for purposes of silencing an opponent.

Facebook's policies enable bullies to target other users for harassment by falsely reporting their photos, their posts, or their account with impunity. The victim gets punished, and the abuser walks away consequence-free.

As often as not, one of the victim's so-called "friends" is the one doing the reporting and there is no way for the victim to discover who this person is in order to unfriend them and stop the harassment, nor is there any recourse for them. If they attempt to contact Facebook about the issue, they are ignored and sometimes even banned. They are simply helpless and at the mercy of a severely flawed system.

The entire system is so unpredictable and inconsistent, it’s difficult to determine how to censor yourself when you are being targeted by cyber bullies. The temporary bans just keep getting longer and longer, with no way to defend yourself against the onslaught until you stop posting completely or are permanently banned.

Facebook - Permanent Ban

Facebook trolls delight in reporting people they do not like for trumped-up violations that often result in removal of individual posts or entire accounts. This is a very common practice, especially in political circles. If someone doesn't like you, or the comments you post, they can report you for spam or some other reason and tell their friends to do the same. The automatic systems will take your content down and send you a warning. If the complaints about you continue, Facebook will block you from posting and eventually they will disable your account. How long that takes and how many complaints it takes seems to vary quite a bit.

There is no channel of communication a victim of this cyber bullying can use to defend themselves. Targets have to wait out their bans and then retreat from the places where they were being victimized. In this manner, more than any other, Facebook fails to defend its users against cyber bullying. 

Two days after suggesting that the United States reallocate portions of its military budget towards healthcare and education, God instantly felt the wrath of Facebook. The post received such a massive, vitriolic response, algorithms automatically banned God for 30 days. 

Facebook - trolls censor God account

"God" had no option but to wait it out. The "God" account frequently draws the ire of Facebook users who either view the profile as blasphemous to their religion or disparaging of their country because God often criticizes American imperialism. This suspension over what amounts to an uncomfortable truth delivered as satire is an example of Facebook's increasingly oppressive censorship.
False DMCA Claims

Because Facebook does not validate the identity of anyone submitting a DMCA takedown notice, nor does it check to see if the report was sent from a legitimate email address, anyone with an ax to grind can fill out a form with a bogus copyright complaint to get a Facebook page removed.

It's no wonder why Facebook is so quick to censor content some find objectionable and to remove potentially copyrighted material. It costs money to evaluate complaints. It's much easier and cheaper to ban first and ignore the victim's response, satisfying the complainer and at the same time giving a time out to someone others have identified as a trouble-maker.

The chilling effect these unfair actions have on free speech and debate can be very frustrating, but it can also be devastating for people who rely on Facebook to promote their business or to interact with their customers. 

Spock - Live long and don't be an asshat!

Ode to Reporting Asshats:

Here I sit in front of my screen
Looking for posts that I find mean
Oh my, is that a pic of a tit?
I must hurry up and report that shit
It's not my fault that I'm a desperate loner
Or that sexy pics give me a boner
In my ass, I carry a big stick
That turns me into a whiny, little prick
I'll always be here, watching your page
Acting like 12 instead of my age
I act like a friendly, happy fan
But I'm really hoping to get you a ban

I usually go by the name of troll
But also answer to the name asshole

Saturday, April 1, 2017

EERE - The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Wapo article about EERE

Sounds bad, but I'm not sure these cuts are all that terrible. And despite the headline, the proof that they "helped make solar power affordable" is non-existent. American-made solar panels generally cost from 80¢ to $1 per watt (W) – about 10-30¢ more per watt than imported panels. And where do most of the panels installed in the US come from? China, of course.

So, the prices on installed systems have come down because of innovations in manufacturing made by China and resulting competition from China. We are already way behind.

Beyond that, any innovations that might arise from US government-sponsored research will go directly to US manufacturers. Will they ever pass the savings on to consumers without the competition from China forcing them to do so? Not likely.

So, what have we been getting for our investment so far? I don't see anything practical -- and I looked. 

While taxpayer-funded researchers are trying to make solar more affordable, many states run by Republicans and business interests are doing everything they can to make it less affordable. They protect the power companies (and those who supply the fuels they use to generate power) through eliminating or sharply reducing net-metering payments for electricity generated. 

Some states will soon require you to sell all electricity generated by your panels to the power company for next to nothing and then buy all your power at a premium from them. That's called "buy all; sell all" and many other states will adopt it after the first few get away with it. Florida, looking ahead to the impact of future improvements in battery storage technology is already requiring a connection to the grid to make a house "habitable" even if you have enough storage capacity so that you don't need a connection to the grid. In other words, Republicans are busy making solar much less affordable for homeowners by dramatically increasing, if not completely eliminating the pay-back time.

Why invest a lot in alternative energy research, when Republicans are already busy screwing Americans out of the benefits of existing technology and eliminating the EPA? If they could charge us for the air we need to breathe, they would. Fix the politics first, and the rest will follow.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The "Trump Rally"

The Trump Rally

The above image currently making the rounds on Right-wing web sites is a lie because the market has been going up consistently since 2009. Trump hasn't caused a rebound, so the arrow shouldn't be going down before it goes up. However it is true that there has been a Trump bounce. 

Any new president can cause a stock market rally by announcing sharp increases in military and infrastructure spending, tax cuts, cuts to entitlements, reducing regulation of business and cutting health and safety regulations. That's like eating a candy bar for breakfast and thinking you'll be fine till lunchtime.

Republicans like to point to former President Reagan's economic policies to prove that "supply-side" economics, aka "trickle down" economics works. Reagan cut taxes and increased government spending by 2.5% a year. These actions caused the Federal debt to almost triple. It grew from $997 billion in 1981 to $2.85 trillion in 1989. And most of the new spending went to defense, so it amounted to a jobs program for highly-paid defense contractors and manufacturers

Trickle-down economics

Trickle-down supply-side economics has always favored corporations and wealthy individuals, while doing almost nothing to create jobs or raise blue-collar workers’ incomes. Trump's economic plans are no different. According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, almost half of the benefits from Trump’s proposed tax cuts would go to the top 1% of income earners. 

A Stock Market Rally on Life Support

Stock valuations have climbed to high levels because the Trump rally has been fueled by expectations of tax cuts and other stimulus, not fundamental improvements in corporate profits. The market’s price-to-earnings ratio hasn’t been this high since the dot-com-bubble. The S&P 500 has gone more than 100 consecutive days without a 1% decline, the longest streak since 1995, according to Goldman Sachs. The S&P is also 9 percent higher than its 200-day average, often a signal that a correction is ahead.

To keep his rally going, Trump will have to deliver on his promises. But paying for the promised tax cuts, plus increases in defense and infrastructure spending would have to be approved by Tea Party Republicans and they are in no mood to negotiate with free-spending Republicans.

The U.S. is expected to exceed the debt limit on March 16. If the ceiling isn’t raised, it could trigger a default and a global crisis. Government funding also expires on April 28, which means Republicans will have to agree on some kind of measure to avoid a shutdown. Such an agreement would also have to be blessed by more conservative Republicans who are adamantly against further increases in the national debt for any reason.

“Wall Street is totally misreading Washington,” David Stockman, former O.M.B. director under Ronald Reagan, has said. “It's pricing in a fantasy about a Trump stimulus that simply isn't going to happen. There will be no tax cut, there will be no 15 or 20 dollar a share reduction in the corporate rate.” 

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the average post-World War II expansion cycle lasts less than five years. It's been 7 years without an official recession and we are overdue for the next downturn, the first signs of which should be a rally killer, and the longer we have to wait for it the worse it'll be.

Life cycle of a stock market rally
The life-cycle of a stock market bubble

Restrictions on trade by the Trump administration could trigger other countries to retaliate and lead to lower profits for U.S. companies that depend on customers and suppliers around the world. Trump's protectionist policies could even result in China replacing the U.S. as the main trading partner for other nations.

Perhaps the most glaring risk that markets have discounted is Trump’s own unpredictability. He is a walking embodiment of unacceptable risk, and not just in economics. His inability to control his Twitter rants and his frequent policy shifts are unnerving investors. There’s nothing Wall Street hates worse than uncertainty — and Trump is nothing if not unpredictable. 

The current irrational exuberance in the stock market has been fueled by the mistaken belief that Trump will implement only the “good” part of his campaign promises (tax cuts, deregulation, infrastructure building), while refraining from pursuing the “bad” promises (trade wars, import tariffs, unraveling multilateral agreements). This wishful thinking will soon collide with reality and the markets will take a deep dive. As always, those who can least afford it will be the ones who suffer the most; and ironically many of those same folks voted for Trump.

Trump supporters cartoon

Friday, March 3, 2017


Carryn Owens

President Trump paid tribute to Ryan Owens, the SEAL killed during a mission in Yemen in his first address to a joint session of Congress, singling out Owens’s widow, Carryn.

Pointing to the grieving widow, Trump repeated the lie that, "Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies."

Trump first State of Union
Then Trump gave two more applause lines resulting in three standing ovations for the widow. It was so very sad to watch her face as she was used as a prop for such an unseemly display.

Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the operation "a failure" because the terrorists were allegedly tipped off in advance. “When you lose a $75 million airplane and, more importantly, American lives are lost and wounded, I don’t believe that you can call it a success,”

In addition to the death of Ryan Owens, six other U.S. service members were wounded. And at least 25 civilians were killed, including nine children under the age of 13, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. One of them was the 8-year-old daughter of U.S.-born al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

According to NBC News, senior officials are saying that they don’t know of any so-called “actionable intelligence” gathered by the raid. Others have questioned why al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was even targeted by the raid.

US military sources told Reuters that the fledgling Trump administration executed the raid "without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations."

A day after the raid, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, admitted that the president was not in the situation room as the raid progressed. 

The White House has repeatedly insisted that the raid was a success. On February 8, Spicer told reporters the raid was, “absolutely a success, and I think anyone who would suggest it’s not a success does disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens”.

In other words, if you question the results of the raid you are disrespecting a hero's sacrifice. However, if this mission was such a great success, Trump would be taking full credit for it. Instead he has repeatedly attempted to shift the blame to others.

In a Feb. 28 interview with Fox and Friends, Trump attempted to avoid all responsibility by claiming that the operation was previously approved by Obama and blessed by his generals. 

"Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here," Trump said. "This was something that was, you know, just they wanted to do. And they came to see me and they explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected. My generals are the most respected that we've had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan." 

Ryan Owens' father, who served in the military himself, called for a full investigation into the circumstances that led to his son’s death. "Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn't even barely a week into his administration?” he said. “Why?

Ryan and Bill Owens

The answer is obvious. Trump wanted to let the world know that there was a new sheriff in town. Instead, he proved himself to be a bumbling "Barney Fife" who can't be trusted with a loaded weapon.

Donald Trump as Barney Fife

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My Life With JoAnn

JoAnn and Ken
I have been married for 33 years. This is the story of how I met the love of my life, and my life with her.

JoAnn was born in 1953 in Rockford, IL to Joe and Eleanor Fisher. She was the second of five daughters. She graduated from Virginia Polytechnic with degrees in English and History. She worked for the Carter Administration answering correspondence and voted for Nixon over George McGovern in the 1972 election -- a vote I will never let her forget. When I first met her, she was working as an editor for Time-Life Books in Alexandria, VA. 

I grew up about 15 miles away in Maryland and couldn't wait to get out of there. After my discharge from the Army, I went to work for the Naval Oceanographic Office traveling on Navy oceanographic ships as an electronics technician. My home base at that time was in Silver Spring, MD and it was during this period that I was first introduced to Beth and her circle of friends in Virginia -- and that included JoAnn

The first time I saw San Diego was aboard one of those oceanographic ships and I really fell in love with it, so I moved there in 1975.  It was a struggle at first but eventually I got a job working for Diebold, an alarm company that serviced banks.

In 1978, JoAnn was planning a trip to California and Beth suggested that she consider a side trip to San Diego and to call me to see if I'd show her around.

JoAnn called while in San Francisco and asked me if there was anything worth traveling to San Diego to see. I said, “Well, I’m here.” And with that, JoAnn was intrigued.

I picked her up at the airport and was immediately smitten with her beauty, her big blue eyes and her dazzling smile. She was very smart, vivacious, sweet, and a little mischievous which made her instantly lovable.

First I drove her to the Point Loma lighthouse to show her a view of all of San Diego. Then we ate lunch at Margaritas Restaurant in Ocean Beach

That evening we went to Mom’s Saloon in Pacific Beach. I almost got in a fight with an ex-roommate that I ran into there because he had previously cheated me out of some money. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

Later that evening, JoAnn propositioned me on the dance floor, “I haven’t been with anyone in a long time, but tonight I want to be with you.” We were getting along very well indeed, but that certainly caught me by surprise.

The next day we drove to Ensenada where we ate lobster and had a little too much to drink. While driving back, we went through Tijuana, and I drove the wrong way down a one-way street. We only realized it was one way after a guy ran out in the street waving his arms at us. Somehow we made it back to San Diego without getting pulled over.

JoAnn and Ken at Chargers game
That Sunday, we went to a Chargers football game after "tailgating" with friends in the parking lot. A couple of days later, it was time for JoAnn to go home. I hated to see her go, but after her trip we kept in regular contact via mail and phone. 

During a regular visit back East for Christmas, my mother expected me to stay with her, as I had always done, but I chose to stay with JoAnn instead. My mother didn’t take it very well, and actually wondered that JoAnn might be a gold digger, which is particularly ironic, given how things ultimately worked out.

JoAnn and Ken
In 1979, JoAnn left her job, her friends, her family, and a red 1968 Mustang in Virginia and moved to San Diego to live with me. That took a lot of courage, not to mention -- love for me.

Our first home together was a 2 bedroom duplex that I had been renting from an FBI agent. I didn't know he was an FBI agent or I wouldn't ever have rented the place, but it turned out that he was a good landlord. An interesting side note is that he became the first gay FBI agent to be identified as such in the history of the FBI -- but that's only if you don't count J Edgar Hoover and his "wife" Clyde Tolson.

Our neighbors on the other side of the duplex became a problem shortly after JoAnn moved in. I had a good relationship with them before JoAnn arrived, but it turned out that that was only because I was almost never there. The neighbors were soon complaining about us "slamming the front door" and not oiling our closet doors because they could hear them squeak, and my favorite question from them; "Do you know how many times you turn on that light switch that's on the common wall?" Wow.

Things slowly escalated to the point where the asshat next door would scream obscenities at us through his window when he would see us out front of the house. It eventually got so bad that he was threatening to have me killed. That ended after I recorded him making one of his threats and played back the tape for him. 

I had been going to Jr College full time and working full time as an electronics technician before JoAnn moved in. After I got my Associate's degree in Business Admin, JoAnn offered to support me while I got a Bachelor's degree from UCSD in communications, with an emphasis on video production

JoAnn and Ken

I was able to get my degree in only 18 months. I ASSumed that with my experience as an electronics technician and the degree from UCSD, I'd have no problem getting a job working for a TV station or video production house. Well, it didn't work out that way because there were a tiny number of actual jobs and way too many recent graduates chasing after those jobs.

JoAnn supported me through long periods of unemployment, while I was practically begging for any job doing anything and still being turned down. I was actually less employable after getting my degree than before, and that was very disheartening.

Eventually I got a job at an audio/visual staging company, where I was moving heavy equipment around, setting up for conferences in hotels. The company's culture was such that no one ever asked for help in lifting heavy things. It was like an admission of weakness. One day I was lifting a large TV monitor by myself when I lost my grip momentarily.  The monitor was about to hit the floor when I saved it from damage, but I had also damaged the tendons in my shoulder in doing so.

My shoulder wouldn't stop hurting after that and I ended up on Workman's Comp. That experience turned into an unrelenting nightmare and put me into a deep depression. Fortunately, JoAnn was always there for me through the emotional roller coaster of dealing with the insurance company, medical treatments, job retraining, etc.  
JoAnn and Ken

While on disability I decided to start a desktop publishing business. It was brand new and I was already trying to learn all I could about computers. I was able to make use of JoAnn's extensive contacts in the publishing business to generate business for myself, and JoAnn supported me through the ups and downs of self-employment.   

In 1984, we wanted to buy a house on a VA loan but the VA wouldn’t count both incomes unless we were married. JoAnn wanted a traditional wedding, but the planning and seeing to everyone's expectations got completely out of hand. 

Instead, we got married on St Patrick’s Day at the “Little Chapel” on 5th Avenue. JoAnn had a friend visiting and while we were on the way home after dropping him off at the airport I suggested we forget all the planning for now and just get married so we could buy that house. She agreed to it only if we would also not tell anyone about it, so that we could have a traditional marriage ceremony later. For a variety of reasons, that never happened and after a while it seemed redundant anyway.
JoAnn and Ken wedding day
In 1991, JoAnn got laid-off and then got pregnant. She had been pregnant before and had 2 miscarriages. This time it took and that may have been because JoAnn was living a relatively stress-free life at the time, doing freelance work as an editor. My desktop publishing business was in a slump, and I was working a temporary job as a phone support tech for a software company.

Because we didn’t have health insurance, JoAnn called around to various pregnancy counseling operations asking for help with expenses. None offered any help beyond counseling as to why she should keep the baby. Eventually we were able to arrange a pre-payment plan with the hospital and Kelly was born in February 1992 via a c-section. 
JoAnn and Ken with baby Kelly

Six months later, JoAnn was offered a great job in publishing by someone who had employed her previously and wanted her to come to their new company. It was a fantastic opportunity but we still had a little baby at home, so we decided that JoAnn would take the job and I would stay home with Kelly while also continuing my efforts to earn decent money via self-employment

I decided to become a network engineer and studied on my own to pass all the tests required for certification. I then solicited small businesses -- mostly printing companies -- because I had experience with the same software they were using for creating graphics and page layouts. JoAnn paid for my training materials, the equipment I needed, and supported me while I got my business going. And once again, I tapped her business contacts whenever possible.
 JoAnn and Kelly
When JoAnn started working on the "Uncle John's Bathroom Readers" series, she told me that they were paying $100 a finished page to freelance writers for anything that was subsequently published. I did so well at it that some people within JoAnn's company noticed how much money I was making and wondered why. After that, I did not report to JoAnn and none of my work was ever approved or edited by her.

In spite of the extra layers of supervision to prevent the appearance of "nepotism" everything I ever turned in was published. That came to an abrupt end when one of JoAnn's employees went after me because JoAnn had disciplined her. After a little whining from her about how she was uncomfortable editing my work, I was unceremoniously dumped by the same bosses who had previously valued my contributions

I had been studying how to be a webmaster and already had a couple of web sites, so I focused my efforts on making money via the internet. As always, my self-employment income has had it's ups and downs and JoAnn has put up with it for many years, mostly without complaint.

No story about my life with JoAnn would be complete without noting the many times she has bailed me out or otherwise put up with dumb things I've done; like getting a felony conviction for growing pot in the back yard, and the time I got sued by Time-Warner for copyright infringement. I could go on...oh yes, there is soooo much more. But you get the idea. Meanwhile, JoAnn has been a saint.

And JoAnn has been a great success in her career.  She began as an editor and rose to the top of her profession to become an editorial director with the biggest book distributor in the country. She has published many successful books and also wrote quite a few books. If you search her name on Amazon, you can see all of the books she has written. 

JoAnn has been a great mother to Kelly and wonderful wife to me. We've had some rough spots over the years, but we never intentionally did anything hurtful to each other. It's that concern for each others feelings, born out of a deep love and mutual respect that has seen us through all the difficult times we've faced.

One of my favorite things about JoAnn is her childlike appreciation of Christmas and Disneyland. Every year when Christmas comes around she gets all excited and loves doing the decorations. At Disneyland the delight in her eyes is like a little girl watching the "It's a Small World" automatons for the first time. 

Now that we are growing old together we are dealing with some of life's changes and challenges, but ... we'll always have *, each other.
* Rick: "We'll always have Paris. We didn't have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night." 

Unlike Rick and Ilsa, we have never lost it and we never will.
  "Here's looking at you, kid"

My Life With JoAnn collage