Monthly Archive: May 2020

Twitter, your moderation is utterly useless

Eegads Twitter.

You put me in reduced functionality for 12 hours yesterday because I informed Bill De Blasio that he is behaving like a fascism-enabling asshole, standing around doing nothing while the NYPD tases, throws down and arrests media representatives.

Now you put me in reduced functionality for another 24 hours because I just called an idiot an idiot?

We have fascists on Twitter threatening to kill people with whom they disagree. We have the POTUS tweeting the words of a fascist who thinks that the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.

And you put my account in restriction because I called an idiot an idiot?

Knock this shit off. Your platform is teetering on the brink of implosion because, like all cynical money-grubbers, you are demonstrating that you know the price of everything and the value of nothing. You would rather act as juvenile scolds powered by stupid algorithms than address the matter of firing fascists off the platform, which you have every right to do.

Your values stink. Your actions are pathetic and mediocre, with no sound ethical or logical basis.

 

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Book projects – what the hell have I been up to?

Since I keep telling people I am a writer, it is logical that the next question I get is “Graham, what are you working on, and where is it?”

There is a single impediment that gets in the way of rapid progress. My day job. That takes up a LOT of time. It is a reasonably well-paid job, and it is secure in the short-term. This is good. I cannot complain on that score.

When I remove the time for the day job, It leaves me with a limited amount of time to devote to writing. I have too many things i would like to do, and there are not enough hours in the day.

Until recently, I was working on fiction projects, but Covid has nuked my creativity in that area. So I have turned back to non-fiction.

I have the core Corporate Realist book project in work, which is probably going to be a single volume drawn from Diaries of a Corporate Realist, which is going to be at least 2 volumes. Corporate Realist deals with a zone that never gets discussed in any real detail; that zone between front line and leadership, where misunderstandings, mis-communications and mutual disrespect abound. It is a zone poorly explored in management writings, which almost exclusively focus on how to be a better leader. This overvalues leadership,leading to the phenomenon of manifestly incompetent CEOs and such like being paid ludicrous amounts of money for mediocre work.

Also in work is a book that will discuss the many ways in which we reveal our thoughts, values and approaches to interaction to others, without realizing how. It builds to some extent from work done by Steven Pinker and others on indirect speech, but it is updated for the era we found ourselves in.

A medium-term project deals with accountability, why it has disappeared from societies,and why that is a Very Bad Thing.

One day, when I get rid of this day job, all of these projects will come to fruition. I will be self-publishing via WhiteCat Publishing.

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Social Media truths and why I am leaving Facebook

I will be deleting my Facebook account in a week’s time.

I have not been active on Facebook proper since April 2018. I still use Messenger occasionally for communication with a few friends, but I have posted to tell them that if they want to stay in contact, they will need to arrange different communication channels. This will be a wheat-from-chaff process. If they want to stay in contact they will let me know, if they don’t, then they won’t, and nothing more needs to be said.

My decision is the inevitable result of the deterioration of mass-market social media platforms into sinkholes of lies, bullshit, misinformation, and the credulous repetition of nonsense, wrapped up in juvenile rationalizations such as “I’m entitled to my opinion”. Well yes, you are entitled to your own opinion, but as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, you’re not entitled to your own set of facts.

SIDE NOTE – 6 weeks ago, I went back on NextDoor, to see if there was any way in which I could assist local people who might be having challenges with Covid, and provide useful information about local events and stores. I left the platform again 3 weeks ago, after a passive-aggressive commenter started trying to tone-police my comments. Life is too short etc. etc. Literally. At age 64,I am not going to spend any significant time dealing with juveniles who want to whine about “tone” instead of engaging in substantive discussion. And, as I probably say too often, you don’t get to a la carte me on social media. You want less commentary about politics and society? Well then you probably need to go follow somebody else.

Facebook and Twitter are also the inevitable result of the idea that everything on the internet should be free. There is a saying that if something on the internet is free, then YOU are the product. This is true for all major-reach social media platforms. If you’re not paying for their use, somebody else is, and the only value-adds that a platform like Facebook can offer to third parties to offset the cost of the platform are (a) size and reach (to sell advertising) and (b) Your Data.

By using Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, InstaGram etc. users are giving over information about themselves and their activities, and in return, they get to use a platform whose entire economic model is based on size and engagement. The giveaway about what “engagement” for a mass market social media platform really means came over 10 years ago, when it became known that you could buy Twitter followers for so much per 1000. Then came the Fake Engagement farms – ranks of connected smart phones programmed to repetitively click on sites and pages to make it seem like they were popular. Again, you could buy engagement. Think of it as the 1960s through 1970s fake record sales tactic, transferred to the online world. In the world where any click is a good click, the inevitable result is the generation of fake traffic. Think about the websites that you see who have clickbait sections at the bottom of their home pages, pointing to scandal-mongering websites or articles. Those exist solely to generate click-throughs so that the site can gain some desperately needed revenue.

Today we have a POTUS in the USA with over 70% of his followers on Twitter who are, as measured by analysis tools, fake accounts. He is not alone however, the level of fake traffic on the major platforms is scandalous. However, because volume of traffic is a key part of the business model, even fake traffic works for Twitter or Facebook.

Fake traffic is one of the two reasons why no major market social media platform gives a damn about content moderation, despite their blustering BS to the contrary. Eliminating spurious, dangerous or false content would blow a hole below the waterline of their business model, since it would probably halve their traffic overnight. It would also probably eliminate their Section 230 protection here in the USA, which makes them more or less immune for any content posted on the platform, since they can plausibly claim to be a common carrier (like the telephone companies, who are not responsible if a gang of terrorists, for example, happen to use the phone system to plot a terrorist outrage).

I made a decision 2 years ago to leave Facebook because of the above reasons, which collectively led to a poor signal to noise ratio.

I have moved most of my social media activity to counter.social. This is a social media platform where i pay a monthly fee of $5 to offset the cost of the platform. It is a small platform, there are currently tens of thousands of users, not billions. However, we have no trolls or bots on counter.social. They are eliminated via some very smart software to detect automated bot account creation and attacks, and also via a strict policy forbidding memberships from some countries that are notorious for generating spurious traffic.

Every time one of the major social networks does something fuckbogglingly stupid, we get a burst of new arrivals at counter.social. Most of them end up staying.

Counter.social has threaded commenting and chat, video conferencing, file sharing, and it even has streaming movies. Best of all, however, is that when I read a posting, I do not have to keep asking myself “is this even from a real person”? I end up doing this a lot on my less-frequent trips to other social media sites.

Anybody who balks at $5 a month for a social media site needs to seriously reconsider their attitude to social media and buying in general. Rule 1 of capitalism is that you don’t get something for nothing. Being on free social media platforms is costing you. I believe the cost is falling not just on us as individual consumers (WE are the product on mass market free platforms), but on society as a whole.There is a proliferation of un-verified information sources, generating total bullshit, allowed to do so by the absence of useful content moderation on those platforms. The proliferation of conspiracy-mongering web pages on such topics as the Flat Earth, 5G,and Qanon tells me that those platforms are no longer a positive benefit to wider society. Total nonsense is being normalized in front of our eyes.

After mid-June 2020,I also intend to shrink my overall internet footprint. Old emails will be abolished, old platform memberships, dumped, and I will focus down on:

  1. counter.social
  2. Instagram, which i use for images and nothing else
  3. this website (which will be revised and re-launched in the Fall of 2020) and this blog
  4. WhiteCat Publishing, which is my book publication website (see separate posting about that activity)

I am also transitioning all of my email to Protonmail, which is a secure email system with optional 2 factor authentication, and is another paid service which does not sell my data to any third party.

We are entering a new era in Western society. I am proactively reacting to illegal surveillance and information gathering by progressively more fascistic governments, by retreating from compromised platforms, shrinking my footprint and focussing on what I can personally control.

 

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Briefs – Sunday 31st May 2020

  1. Riots

The appearance of angry demonstrations in many US cities is no surprise to me. The peaceful protests from several years ago against entrenched and endemic racism were contemptuously dismissed at the time (see Kaepernick, Colin). So now the disaffected have moved beyond peaceful and passive demonstrations.

There is a lot of evidence that agents provocateurs are operating within demonstrations. This is SOP for fascists, it is one of the standard tactics from their playbook, going back to Germany in the 1930s.

Media members are being caught in the crossfire all over the place, but when you have a supine, non-inquiring media that insists on perpetuating a clearly false “both sides”narrative, and which refuses to take the correct action when confronted by a President who routinely dismisses them as enemies of the people, this is the logical end result. The media becomes a target for law enforcement, just like the demonstrators. The media, in a broader sense, have been demonstrating so far in 2020 that they have learned nothing from 2016. As Jay Rosen keeps pointing out, they are using a broken playbook for dealing with Donald Trump.

2. Covid-19

The Dallas County Covid-19 new cases trend is now upwards,following a decline in the number of new cases for over a week. I predicted this, but it is not good to see. I have not looked at the trend in other counties. I still worry about rural counties, which have limited to non-existent medical treatment capacity for people who become very ill. And many of those rural folks, here in Texas, are not going to be insured against medical costs.

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Covid – the danger point

With a number of US states (including my own state of Texas) starting to re-open, we are at what will probably be seen, looking back, at a point of inflection.

The states opening up are desperate to re-start many economic activities that almost ceased during initial lockdown, since many of the activities most affected are ones that employ a LOT of people.

The fundamental issue, which the political leaders, in their usual fashion, have avoided discussing where possible, is that increasing activities relying on personal interaction is bound to lead to an increase in Covid contagion, unless a significant percentage of the population has already been infected by the virus. My blunt question would be whether they have actually performed any mathematical analysis about how many extra deaths they are prepared to accept. That would be regarded as a taboo subjects, but that really is one fundamental question.

The other fundamental question is: how far down the contagion path is the region of the USA that a governor controls?

The problem is that nobody knows the general level of infection in any local population anywhere in the USA. This is because testing has been a severely constrained resource, only used for individuals who are regarded as highly essential or important, or people who are suspected of having contracted Covid-19. So the population for testing, instead of being random, is highly pre-selected, making it useless for any statistically valid estimation of overall infection rates.

Absent useful information on overall infection rates, opening up high-social interactions within the economy is an uninformed gamble, not a sensible, measured decision. Everybody needs to realize this.

We will know by the end of next week whether the decision in Texas was a wise one.

Personally, I would rather be accused of being cautious rather than excoriated after the fact for being reckless.

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The danger of the answer formulation “No, but…”

I underwent an epiphany a few years ago about how to respond to a question about what you and your organization can do to meet a request.

Many many times, you will be asked “Can you do/deliver X?” when “X” represents a solution or capability which you either do not possess, or which you possess, but incompletely or in a different form.

An instinctively honest person will often react to that sort of a question by saying to themselves “hmmm, we do not really do or deliver X”, but maybe we could if we can figure out how to”. So then they will formulate an answer that goes like this:

“No, but <insert explanation of what we can do here>”

This is, in truth and semantic terms, a perfectly correct answer.

The problem is that the people listening to the answer on the other side of the table are going to hear the big bad word NO first.

One thing we know about communications, is that if a falsehood is uttered, and then subsequently corrected by the person who uttered the falsehood, many people will not even notice that the falsehood was corrected. They may see it, or hear about it, but they tend to remember the original falsehood long after it has been corrected or debunked. This is the origin of the famous quote “a lie can be half way around the world while the truth is still putting its pants on”. While the origin of the quote is in dispute, the truth of the quote is fairly well-known. As a species, we are vulnerable to “first thing heard on a topic” preferential memory.

So, returning to our person who was asked “can you do X?” and who replied honestly and truthfully “No, but we can do <something else that they hope will be equivalent to X”. There is a good chance that the people on the other side of the table heard the response as “NO…” and then tuned out all or part of the rest of the response.

There is one situation that modifies this dynamic, where the question is a bad-faith question i.e. one designed to elicit the answer No. I have been in meetings where questions like this were asked, and we knew in advance that the question was a rhetorical trap, laid in the certain knowledge that we would have to respond No.  A scenario like this probably requires advance preparation to determine how the entire team on your side should respond. Sometimes the appropriate response is to refuse to even engage on the question, on the grounds that it is a transparent rhetorical bad-faith tactic. I have seen leaders respond “I am not answering that question because you and I know this is BS” in an attempt to put the other team on the defensive. Other responses may be required.

Leaving bad-faith rhetorical traps out of the discussion…here is what people need to do instead of “No…but…”.

The answer formulation needs to be re-sequenced to something like this:

“<restatement of understanding of question>+ <statement of your current capability> + <statement of suggested solution that you can deliver or statement of willingness to explore a deliverable solution>”

Restating the understanding of the question has no downside. Sometimes the statement by the questioner was poorly or incorrectly formulated (I have seen this from leaders at all levels), and re-stating it results in a qualification or change. Best case, the people on the other side of the table will nod vigorously “Yes”, and you improved your credibility by showing that you understand what they are requesting.

Stating your capability and then explaining how you think you can meet the requirement shows you are answering in constructive good faith to meet the requirement.

And…the word NO is no longer present in your response. The positive psychological impact of the absence of No cannot be over-estimated.

NOTE – This is especially true for cultures where No is a very bad word, for social standing reasons.

 

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Bill is bored, tired and puzzled

Bill pulls the ring off another Miller Lite and pours it into his sole remaining beer glass.

Next to him, mutt stirs, looks at him with one eye open, then settles back down again.

Bill is bored. He also weights 15 pounds more than he did 2 months ago. He is pissed off because the baseball season is not starting, so he cannot watch the Pirates. His parents were born in Pittsburgh, and family loyalty, you know how that is.

Bill is also fed up, because the bar is closed. Those damn social distancing rules. Who the hell does that stupid damn governor think he is anyway? Screwing over honest working people like himself to allow all of those suburban folk to behave like scared wimps. Did the United States win World War I and World War II after helping all of those wimp countries, so that those people can cower in their expensive houses?

Bill takes a big gulp of his beer. As he does so, his back speaks to him once more, and not in a good way. Bill was told over a year ago that he had herniated disks in his lumbar spine once again. Haha, your spine is made of wood now, said barman Dave. More like a set of carving knives, said Bill. Some days getting up from this sofa is a struggle. This is one of those days.

Bill spoke to his son last month. It was an odd conversation. His son and his daughter in law are hiding out in New York, unable to go out because of the damn virus. Bill doesn’t understand all of those big city folk. New York was supposed to be all brave and resilient (that’s the word that barman Dave uses when he is being snarky about somebody for being a wimp). Now they are all either hiding indoors or supposedly dying like flies.

Something does not add up. This is not America. This country is supposed to be great. Those New Yorkers are clearly wimps. Tucker said so. Bill remembers that his son was not pleased when he told him he intended to go shopping without a mask. Something about him catching Coronavirus, or as barman Dave calls it, Chinese Flu. Dave thinks it is an invention of the Democrats working with the Chinese, and Bill agrees. It was the usual conversation with his son, who seems to have gone totally liberal.

Bill idly flips to another news channel. More guff about Covid this Covid that. Everybody seems scared of this. He rang barman Dave the other day to ask when the bar was re-opening, and was amazed when Dave said “possibly never”. Apparently the owner is out of state, because his mother is in the hospital with Covid.

Bill wants to be in the bar now, instead of here. This is no fun. At the bar he can shoot the breeze, talk with Dave, who seems to be able to sum up the people who are not patriots with a single word or short sentence. Bill thinks Dave should run for political office. We need more plain-talking folks like Dave and Donald Trump.

Bill doesn’t understand what has happened to Donald. He does seem to be talking in circles a lot these days. But those silly women asking him damn-fool questions. Why don’t those bitches just shut the fuck up and go visit a kitchen, or something. Donald is clearly upset by the Chinese Flu. He is showing he cares about us. They should give him a break and back off. Sheesh.

Bill moves to get up to go get another beer. His knee says “Hello Bill, I am still here and I think you need to know that”. Bill curses under his breath as his knee objects to the walk. This damn body is falling to pieces. Some days he can barely move. He hobbles to the kitchen with mutt following. Bill looks down at mutt. Mutt is everything a dog should be. Faithful, obedient, knows his place, and barks up a storm whenever strangers approach the house. Mutt looks out for others. What happened to that? All Bill was hearing at the bar before it closed was the story about the developers now building townhouses on the site of the furniture factory. Great. More of those damn yuppies with their Priuses and cats. Goddam it. Cats. Horrible creatures. You can’t get them to do anything. Use ’em for target practice. That’s what Bill and his buddies used to do in high school.

Bill opens the fridge door. Hmm. Not much there apart from the beer. He will have to go shop tomorrow. The only good thing is that he was able to put gas in the car for almost no money last week. The bad thing is that everybody in the supermarket will look like they are about to go rob a bank. Those damn masks.

Bill takes another can of Miller and walks back into the living room. Just in time. Sean is on talking about disloyal Democrats. Geez, those guys are scum. Still taking their orders from that bitch Hillary and Hussein Obama. It is time for a clear-out. They released a lot of prisoners from jails. Time to put the real criminals away.

Bill’s son was talking about how they cannot visit Europe this year. Based on what he is seeing, who would want to visit Europe anyway. Bill does not understand why people want to leave the United States. The rest of the world definitely is a shithole. Especially China. Those guys are trying to screw us over. Cheap goods, now this damn virus. Donald should just nuke them. Time for a clean-out.

Bill tries to get comfortable on the sofa, but his back keeps talking to him. Mutt curls up next to him.

Bill puts his hand on mutt’s back. Warm, soft, fluffy. Bill remembers the time when life was good, when the furniture factory paid good money, before he wrecked his back, when his wife was still being nice to him. What happened to all of that?

He takes another big gulp.

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