Current Affairs

The Houston Texans signing of Josh Johnson

The signing of Josh Johnson makes no football sense for the Houston Texans. Johnson last participated in the NFL as a player in 2013. He has not played in an NFL game since 2011.
One thing I learned a long time ago in IT is that if a project or an action makes no sense…that is because there is another reason for it, you just haven’t worked it out yet.
In the case of the signing of Josh Johnson, I see two separate messages being sent by the Houston Texans:

1. We are not racist
Johnson is African-American. His signing allows the Texans to claim that they have no animus against African-American players.

2. We will not sign Colin Kaepernick under any circumstances
The signing of a player who last played in the NFL in 2013, and who last played in a real game in 2011, sends the message that the Texans wold rather sign anybody else to play quarterback than Kaepernick. They would probably sign Vince Young before they signed Kaepernick.

In the context of the collusion complaint by Kaeernick, today’s events prove nothing. One team making a decision has nothing to do with collusion. IMHO, the signing of Johnson acts as a “f**k you” to Kaepernick, and makes the Texans ownership look like assholes. But then I don’t think that a billionaire NFL owner is likely to care what folks like me think. Those kinds of business leaders tend to only respect power and money.


The supposed Roger Goodell – Colin Kaepernick meeting

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apparently asked for a 1:1 meeting with Colin Kaepernick. It seems that he requested the meeting as long ago as October 31st, which is after Kaepernick and his legal team had announced that they were filing a collusion complaint against the NFL.
Although the initial leak claimed that Kaepernick had not formally responded to the invitation, it seems that he did in fact respond. In alignment with the policy of the NFLPA, Kaepernick said that he would attend the meeting on two conditions: (1) the subjects did not include his grievance claim for collusion, and (2) a mediator was present at the meeting. (2) has been part of the NFLPA policy on meetings with the Commissioner for a while. Quite simply, the NFLPA does not trust Goodell to act in the best interests of the players. The trust has been eroded by three consecutive issues: the new CBA is less favorable to the players in terms of revenue distribution, the players believe that the Commissioner has been abusing his powers to levy discipline, and now the Commissioner has been weaselling over the anthem protests.
The NFL apparently rejected the proposal for a mediator to be present, and so the meeting, in common with several other proposed meetings, is not going to happen in its originally proposed form. The NFLPA insists on a mediator being part of the process; the NFL is declining to have one involved.
What is also clear is that until quite recently Roger Goodell’s position as Commissioner was far from secure. His contract expires in 2019, and negotiations to give him a new 5 year contract had become bogged down, with several NFL owners (including Jerry Jones) said to be lobbying for additional performance clauses in the contract. However, it seems that Jones may now have removed himself from that process, which will allow a new contract to be finalized.
The deterioration in the relationship between the players and the NFL owners over the anthem protests is a visible result of a more fundamental tension that Goodell is stuck with; namely that 70+% of the players in the NFL are black, but over 70% of the audience and fans are white, and the NFL owners are (with one exception) older white men, some of them very politically conservative.
The bigger demographic issue that the NFL must also be aware of is that the average age of NFL supporters is steadily increasing. The current NFL does not have much appeal to younger people. The games are too long, the game is seen as violent, and the NFL has been seen as negligent in its tolerance of CTE and bad behavior at all levels as long as teams win games and are perceived as successful.
Right now, the relationship between the NFLPA and the commissioner is a fragile one, but Goodell is smart enough to realize that in 3 years’s time he will be leading a re-negotiation of the CBA, and he will need a much better relationship by then if that negotiation is to be a win:win. This will be especially true if NFL viewing figures continue to decline, meaning that there will be a lot less money to go around. The players felt that the owners screwed them over financially in the last CBA, so they will be taking a hard line on that issue, and the discipline process will also be on the table. This negotiation will be fractious. The NFLPA ought to be preparing for a lock-out.


Clues for why a Twitter user is a sockpuppet or bot

Now that I have been reading and absorbing data and clues on social media for the behavior of bots and sockpuppet accounts, it is getting easier for me to spot them.
While reviewing tweets about the affair in DC where a government contractor fired Juli Briskman for flipping the bird at Donald Trump from her road bike as his motorcade passed her, I came across a Twitter user named Therese tweeting a fairly standard slam against ms Briskman.
Using the hover button reveals the first clue:

251k tweets? That’s a lot of tweets…so I surfed over to her Twitter profile.
Clue #2 – only a Twitter member since October 2015, just over 2 years, and the account has tweeted 251k times? Quick math says an average of well over 300 Tweets a day. That’s a lot of tweets…

So then I ran “Therese” through analytics. The results for the tweet pattern are…not normal, at least not for a personally-operated account.

Note the two short periods of intense Tweeting (upwards of 30 tweets in a single hour), with a big separation. This is not a human tweeting randonly during the day.
So are there any further clues as to how “Therese” is generating some of those tweets? Well, yes, there are. Here is a snapshot of two recent tweets.

Note the “%s” characters at the end of the tweets. Those are string terminators used in Java and older version of Python.
Most probably, a lot of the activity on this account is automated, with the account’s controlling software (probably Python) running keyword searches for tweets, and copying those tweets into a table for re-tweeting. I suspect there is a bug in the code for copying tweets or embedding them in a posting script, which occasionally causes duplication of string terminators, thus leaving a second string terminator at the end of the re-posted Tweet.
Another interesting factoid: these tweets can be found, exactly the same, in other tweets by other Twitter users, even with the same %s spurious terminator. Other bots are propagating the same defective Tweet string.


The sketchy histories and lives of real people in the Trump orbit

A we move into the first Cryber-war (yes, that is what I am calling it), one interesting trend is the emergence of shadowy characters who appear to have fragmented pasts and confusing present activities. Just like in World War II, when people changed identities and moved between countries to survive or work for the war powers, there are people out there whose life details are some combination of sketchy, contradictory and confusing, even though they seem to be real people, unlike the increasing number of online personas that are definitely not linked to real people.
One such person is Joseph Mifsud, a man of Maltese ancestry who apparently worked with George Papadopoulos.
Extensive research using online sources reveals a lot about Mifsud, but a lot of it makes no sense. He appears to have been working in a variety of roles, some of them with now-defunct organizations, or organizations that became defunct while he was involved. His past is sketchy to say the least, and his present is even more sketchy.
The Observer has now done some investigation of its own, concluding that Mifsud’s activities are those of what is often described as a “cut-out” , a person involved in a legitimate-looking occupation or business that requires (conveniently) a lot of international travel, whose role is to act as an intermediary between ostensibly opposed organizations who are in fact secretly collaborating. The use of a cut-out in this manner allows the secretly collaborating parties to plausibly deny that they have any direct relationship.
If Mifsud’s cover (as now seems likely) is blown, he suffers the “Mission Impossible” fate of all cut-outs, with all of the involved parties suddenly claiming to have no knowledge of him or his activities.


Anatomy of a Russian-operated propaganda Twitter account

Twitter user Conspirador Norteno, back in August of this year, was busy analyzing the network of accounts on Twitter with random 6 or 8 digit suffixes in their handles. We have all known for a long time that these suffixes almost always indicate a Twitter account that was generated by a repetitive software algorithm.
One of the accounts that Conspirador looked at in more detail was the account which, at the time, was shown in Twitter under the name of David Jones, with a handle of DavidJo52951945. I was familiar with this account, since, every time I did a Twitter search on “Brexit”, there would be “David Jones”, busy warbling away supporting Brexit. He seemed to have all the time in the world to slag off Remainers and extol the virtues of the UK leaving the EU. Since it seemed to me to be a professional troll account, often repetitively posting content copied from elsewhere, and rarely responding, I concluded that David Jones (whoever he might be) was a professional troll, so I never followed the account.
So, Conspirador began digging into the activity of the supposed Mr. Jones. Totally bog-standard little Englander Union Jack masthead on the account. According to the account Mr Jones lives in the very nice Southern England town of Southampton. But, notice that he listed his location as “Southampton, Isle Of Wight”. Those of us from the UK know well that the Isle of Wight is a separate island south of Southampton. But, no matter, maybe Mr Jones was one of those fortunate souls who had a weekend home in the Isle of Wight, and a weekday pied a terre in Southampton.
However…in addition to being a man of property, Mr Jones seemed to keep odd waking hours. Like…Moscow waking hours.

Thanks to the non-deletion of tweets, we can analyze Mr Jones’ tweeting going back a few years. And this is where it gets interesting. Over a period of 4 years the focus of the Tweeting changes from Ukraine and the UKIP, suddenly ramping up to become highly concentrated on Brexit at the beginning of 2016. The focus on Brexit remains to this day. Along the way, Mr Jones also gave his wisdom on the US election and “migrants”, which, as followers of indirect speech well know, is a dog-whistle among nativists for immigration.

In 2016 Mr Jones was tweeting all of the standard accusations around Brexit and the US election.

Then in 2017 Mr Jones (who, we must remember is pretending to be British) was tweeting more standard accusations about the alt-left related to the US political scene.

As Conspirador points out, Mr Jones was at all times tweeting views and messages that would have perfectly aligned with the interests of Russia. And doing this from Southampton, all while keeping, er, Moscow work hours…

Of course, it did not take long before “David Jones” blocked Conspirador, and also changed the handle on the account to remove the 8 random number suffix.

Fast forward to the present day. When you search for this account on Twitter using the newly-modified handle, this is what you get:

This is the hallmark of an abandoned account. Whoever was running the account, realizing that it had been totally compromised and revealed as a human-managed propaganda account, has essentially all but disabled it.

There are a LOT of these accounts out there in the TwitterVerse.


FFS – Sunday 5th November 2017

As the number of NFL figures being asked to provide evidence for the discovery phase of Colin Kaepernick’s collusion complaint against the NFL slowly expands, the amount of bullshit noise being generated by opponents of Kaepernick is slowly increasing.
There are some standard themes to the bullshit noise. So, let’s put some of this bullshit down in the sewerage system where it belongs.

1. Colin Kaepernick terminated his contract with the 49ers therefore he has no basis for a complaint
Yes, he did opt out of his contract. However, the 49ers were going to terminate his contract anyway. This is not speculation or a matter for debate. This has been publicly confirmed by 49ers General Manager John Lynch.
In any case, this is not relevant to a collusion complaint. The basis of the complaint is that Kaepernick, an available free agent, was denied employment by collusion between multiple NFL teams. How he came to be a free agent is irrelevant to the complaint.

2. Colin Kaepernick is a mediocre player not deserving of a position on a team
It is difficult to assign the label “mediocre player” to a quarterback who played in a Superbowl and almost led his team to a victory. Statistically, Kepernick is better than dozens of other quarterbacks who currently have contracts with NFL teams. Sorry, this is nonsense. The facts show otherwise.

3. NFL owners do not have to turn over their phones and records for discovery, this is a fishing expedition

If a court agrees with an application from a plaintiff that you have to turn over objects and records of events as part of discovery, this is not an optional request. Failure to comply can (and usually will) lead to an application by the plaintiffs for a contempt order against you. Ultimately you may have to decide whether you hand over the requested information, or go to jail.
Now…you can argue in a motion that the discovery request is impermissibly broad. However, you have to convince a court that this is the case, and courts are usually fairly deferential to discovery requests as long as they are not obviously outside of the scope of the initial or amended complaint.
So, absent a ruling against the discovery request, refusing to comply is not really an option.

4. If the collusion complaint succeeds, the Collective Bargaining Agreement will be terminated
For Colin Kaepernick’s collusion complaint to succeed, the arbitrator only has to decide that two or more teams colluded to deny him employment.
Now…the CBA does have a clause covering the impact of collusion being proved. However, the current CBA states that the termination of the CBA can only occur if 14 or more teams are found to have colluded against 1 or more players. So, unless the arbitrator rules that collusion took place involving 14 or more teams, the NFLPA cannot terminate the CBA based on a victory by Kaepernick.
Given that the Kaepernick complaint only covers a maximum of 10 teams, this makes a termination of the CBA due to this complaint look pretty unlikely.

4. The NFL owners are independent businesses, they can decide who they hire and fire
Sure they can. However, under the terms of US anti-trust law, NFL teams are not supposed to collaborate or collude on any matter other than broadcasting rights. That is not the NFL’s own rules, it is US anti-trust law.
Any finding that any two or more teams in the NFL collaborated to ensure they did not employ Colin Kaepernick is not only a violation of the CBA, but, far more seriously, it could result in a formal complaint to the DOJ that the NFL teams in question are in violation of anti-trust law.
The judicial remedies for anti-trust violations are almost unlimited. A judge could just shut the NFL down – literally. That is one of the reasons why the NFL teams are so nervous about the deposition and discovery process. It is not just about the collusion complaint. Any evidence that emerges of more general collusion risks igniting a public discussion and debate about the NFL’s behavior with respect to anti-trust law. Nobody in the NFL wants that to happen.

5. The players are obliged to stand for the anthem
Nope. The players’ contractual obligations to the NFL are defined in their individual contracts, however, those contracts are written to comply with the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). A copy of the CBA can be found here.. It is not difficult to read it.
There are no current rules within contracts or the CBA obliging players to stand for the National Anthem. Therefore, at this time, the players cannot be forced to stand. If a team tries to discipline any player, or terminate their contract for not standing, the player and the NFLPA would file a grievance against the team, and they would win it.
The other thing to realize is that forcing anybody to stand for the anthem or to salute the US flag has, on multiple occasions, been ruled by SCOTUS as a violation of people’s constitutional rights. This is not a subject for debate. There are multiple SCOTUS rulings covering this area. This is why, when asked about whether players should stand for the anthem, Roger Goodell has been stating “players should stand for the anthem”, not “players shall/will stand for the anthem”. He, more than most people, knows that not only does the NFL not currently have the right to force players to stand, it will never have the right, unless several SCOTUS rulings are overturned.

6. The anthem controversy is causing fans to stop watching the NFL
This is an interesting one…but no, once again this is not factually based. The NFL has been losing viewers for 3 years, going back to 2015, before Colin Kaepernick started kneeling. There are some fundamental underlying demographic and trend reasons for this, which have nothing to do with the anthem protest. Now, is there a bigger decline in 2017? Well, if there is, there is no reliable data on the underlying causes. Anybody can claim to be boycotting the NFL because they hate Colin Kaepernick, but in terms of statistically valid information, claims prove nothing. The facts, folks, the facts. This is also a reason why everybody should be skeptical of the Pappa John’s Pizza CEO blaming the NFL protests for a down-turn in the corporation’s stock price. Pappa Johns was suffering way before the anthem protest. This is nothing more than bullshit scapegoating.

I left out other far more subjective arguments, like the whole “he’s a distraction” line of argument. That, for me, is hopeless bullshit, given the willingness of the NFL to not only tolerate but embrace contentious, outspoken and badly-behaved players in the past, as long as they were perceived as successful by the teams employing them. Colin Kaepernick does not have a criminal record or a list of civil complaints against him. In all legal respects, he has been a model player. So, no, the “distraction” argument is below bullshit.


Saturday round-up – 4th November 2017

I was going to start with a For Fishs’ Sake section, but the world is far too target-rich an environment at present. The general level of blathering stupidity on display at present makes me think that the demise of the social media world will occur because enough people realize that it is full of morons and simply go back to the more rewarding approach of actually, you know, meeting people face to face. The whole issue of media and social media platform credibility eroding may be a consequence, rather than a cause. UseNet Deterioration Syndrome is with us big-time.

1. The scandal of sports subsidies for football is not in the NFL

Gregg Easterbrook points out that, contrary to Donald Trump’s huffing and puffing, the bigger scandal in sports tax breaks is the fact that donations to college football programs are tax-deductible. Well that, plus the reality that graduation rates at some college football programs are scandalously low. (You mean Donald didn’t know what he was talking about? I’m shocked, I tell you! Shocked!)

2. The Colin Kaepernick grievance
Some quick notes:
– Anybody who thinks that the NFL is not worried about discovery for this case has not been paying attention. The NFL’s new generation owners like Jerry Jones, Daniel Snyder and Bob McNair are buccaneers, and buccaneers tend to regard the law as something inconvenient, to be skirted if at all possible. Given that the NFL is not a single corporation, but 32 ships supposedly sailing in close formation (but not via a process of collusion, no sir), with no Admiral in any chain of command, there is a good chance that one or more owners has indeed said or done something that will, at the least, look bad, and possibly it will be something not connected to the Colin Kaepernick mess. I remain convinced that the owners are more worried about evidence of collusion on other matters surfacing, which would then open them to anti-trust violation charges. It doesn’t matter how you look at the collusion grievance, there is no upside in it whatsoever for the NFL. By collectively denying Kaepernick employment (and whether that is collusion still has to be argued or proved), the NFL has kept the whole issue in foreground instead of it fading into background. That was not smart.
– Saying that Colin Kaepernick and the other NFL players should stand for the anthem because people in other countries have to stand is not an argument worth the air or bytes on which it is carried. The countries that people are quoting as enforcing that rule are all totalitarian dictatorships or banana republics. That’s not really what you want here, is it? (At this point i fear hearing that answer from some of the keyboard warriors)

3. Who Rigged Brexit on social media?
This question has been argued over for months, and the current consensus is that Russia was the main culprit.
Remember the Dan Rather document scandal in 2001? Rather incorrectly passed off forged documents as the real thing, which essentially cost him his job and became part of the 15+ years’ duration series of mis-steps that has eroded large media credibility in the USA to a dangerously low level.
If Russia was not the main player behind the Brexit social media scams, then a lot of media commentators and outlets will find themselves in the same bad place as Dan Rather.
Mike Hind, who has been studying the social media misinformation machines for a while, believes that most of the money and support came not from Russia but from the USA. He believes that the efforts were funded by plutocrats and businessmen from various parts of the world (but the money and support was channeled through the USA) who are seeking to impose government by plutocrats for plutocrats, and corner more wealth for themselves.
A failed media focus on Russia will simply further erode media credibility, which will allow plutocrat-funded media channels to continue to fill the gap with their own propaganda.

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