Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Gee thanks, Facebook

Does anyone understand this Cambridge Analytica / Facebook thing?  I think I've figured it out, and if it's what I think, it pegs my Stink-O-Meter!

It seems a few years ago Facebook began prohibiting companies from secretly mining information from Facebook users for commercial purposes.  They would, however, allow member mining for academic purposes.  That's when the geeks and financial backers of what became Cambridge Analytica combined efforts with a British academic who had a waiver to mine Facebook accounts and began their covert invasion of our privacy.

They offered an app to Facebook users whereby they could get a personality profile of themselves, and the offer was accepted by 270,000+/- people.  What they didn't realize was that Cam Anal (appropriate acronym) also gained access to all their friends, and their friend's friends, and their friend's friend's friends, etc.  They could then see how many "likes" and "angry" responses they left on which stories, and over time establish a profile of them all.  For example, if someone consistently "liked" stories on gun control or immigration reform, they were deemed liberal.  "Liked" views on ICE roundups or our terrible trade deficits were deemed conservative.

Eventually Cam Anal *snicker* developed a very good idea of what 40-50 MILLION Americans thought about various issues.  They were able to micro-analyze individual towns and even precincts. 

Here's where it gets sticky:  The major financial backer for all this was the ultra-conservative Mercer family, the same Mercer's who funded Breitbart and Steve Bannon.  They even made Bannon a VP at Cam Anal.  (Steve Bannon eventually became a senior advisor to Donald Trump.)  Cam Anal then began marketing themselves to like-minded conservative candidates such as Ted Cruz and later, Donald Trump.  Then they kicked it up a notch by trying to influence voters by putting out bogus news stories (aka Fake News) to Facebook users that were read and "liked" and "shared" by their friends, over and over.

I remember seeing one from a veteran who told of how Donald Trump's Tower Air once sent a plane to pick up stranded soldiers in the Mideast after the Gulf War, and how he will always be grateful to Trump for his kind gesture.  Knowing something about the airline biz, my BS meter shot up.  I checked it out and found it was totally false.  Trump never had an interest in Tower Air at all.  He did own the short-lived Trump Shuttle, but they never transported soldiers home from overseas.  (You can read about it for yourself here.)

By using tricks like this they were able to identify disgruntled / undecided voters in key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio in particular, and flip (some of) these historically Democratic voters to Donald Trump in the general election.  Cam Anal determined what they wanted to hear, and then put out fake news stories to pull them in.

The plot thickens:  enter the conspiracy theorists. Remember a few months ago when Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 individuals and several companies in Russia for interfering in our 2016 election?  They were accused of planting fake stories on a micro-level, much of it aimed at the same voters in PA, MI, and OH that Cam Anal / Trump were also targeting.  How did they know which micro-level voters to target unless they were receiving guidance from Cam Anal / Trump?  If that connection can be made by Mueller, that's the collusion smoking gun he's been looking for.

Evidence suggests Facebook knew of this privacy violation several years earlier and did nothing about it.  Cam Anal says they deleted all this illegally obtained information long ago, but now a whistle blower, one of the original founders of the company, says not true.  He says that personal info WAS the company.  Without that, they would have nothing to offer to potential customers.

Gee thanks, Facebook!


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Сделаем Америку снова великой

I'll admit, I'm old school, and in most cases I don't apologize for it.  Especially when it comes to my intense wariness concerning all things Russia.  I'm not paranoid....I don't see a Rooskie behind every tree....but my memory is still vivid enough to remember stories of Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe on a desk back in 1956 before a gathering of Western ambassadors and telling them "We will bury you!"

Back then Russia was the Soviet Union, and their enforcers were their KGB.  They were to the Soviet Union what the Gestapo was to Nazi Germany.  Think secret police.  Nasty, evil people they were.  When the Soviet Union disintegrated and collapsed in 1991, Vladimir Putin was a proud member of that nefarious group.  For nearly 20 years now he has been the supreme authority in Russia.  The name may have changed, the flag may have changed, but Russia is just as untrustworthy today as it was back in the old Soviet days.  There's no daylight between Putin the KGB agent and Putin, the President of Russia.

Vladimir Putin desperately wants to see his Russia back on par with the United States as a world superpower.  He knows that won't happen, though, as his Russia only has an economy roughly equal to California's.  They're living hand-to-mouth.  His only hope is to saw the legs out from under the US, and the European Union, and NATO.  If he can't stand 6'4 like us, he wants us to be 5'7 like him.

Vladimir Putin is a bully, he gets what he wants, and he will do whatever it takes, legal or not, to get it.   Many psychologists say that bad boy, gang leader image is how Donald Trump sees himself, too.  They say he feels a certain kinship with Putin.  Others say it's more complicated, and commercial, than that.  They say Trump has depended on Russian money for years to keep his Trump Organization afloat.

 Vladimir Putin has been patiently cultivating Donald Trump for years.

Regardless, I can't forgive Donald Trump for not standing up to Russian evil.  With this President, I'm a one-issue citizen.  My displeasure with him is not about his foreign policy, or his economic policy, or his cabinet choices, or even his private life.  Some I agree with, some I don't.  But overriding EVERYTHING is America's security, and on this, our Commander-In-Chief has failed us.  Unless he can somehow find the courage to step up and go toe-to-toe with Vladimir Putin, I will continue to be critical of him.  Why any red-blooded American would cover for him baffles me.


Monday, March 12, 2018

And the poll says......

Have you ever been part of a Gallup Poll or maybe a Quinnipiac University Poll?  (Is that a real school?  Do they play football?  What conference are they in?)  According to the above poll of pollsters (haha!) they're in the believable category.  Political party polls and news media polls, not so much.

I'm always hearing about how the American people are in favor of or against blah blah blah, but if you look at how Americans say they feel about contemporary issues, and then look at how Congress is representing us with their votes, you'll see a definite disconnect. 

We say we want immigration reform, and our politicians nod and agree, and then passively do nothing, or worse, the exact opposite.

We say we don't want trade tariffs, and our politicians nod and agree, and then just sit on their thumbs.

We have opinions on various gun control measures, ditto.

We tell them how we feel about taxes, and health care, and they tippy toe around them and do nothing.

Here's a typical day for a Washington politician:  They meet for breakfast with a lobbyist who says his client wants X, then meets with a trade group from "back home" who says they do not want X.  He poses for pictures with his constituents, passes out ceremonial Congressional paper weights, thanks them for their opinion, promises to keep in touch, then goes out and votes for X, which is slyly buried in a bill promising to end puppy mills, 'cause, you know, everyone wants to end puppy mills, right?

Then two months later he's the speaker at an event back home, and they treat him as if he was royalty!  People are scared to speak up and hold his feet to the fire, or throw him in the fire, because....I have no idea why.

What's the point of public opinion polls if our public servants (wow....there's an oxymoron!) pay us no attention?


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Maybe they can re-name the "Lincoln Bedroom" the "Stormy Daniels Bedroom"

Will somebody please explain to me why we're spending so much time examining the Donald Trump / Stormy Daniels hanky-panky episode?  I mean, if this was the Ronald Reagan / Stormy Daniels hanky-panky episode, or the Jimmah Carter / Stormy Daniels hanky-panky episode, that would be newsworthy.  So he notched another conquest on his bed's headboard.  *yawn*  I doubt it will be his last.  Why are we so shocked when he does sleazy things?   We're talking about Donald John Trump here, who's not exactly known as a pillar of decency and virtue. 

The big takeaway for me is how shallow the Evangelical Right is.  What's important to them is now firmly ensconced in Politics 101:  If you want to get the Faithful's vote, just say "I'm pro-life".  Say it over and over and over, and you'll get the Evangelical Right's vote.  They are one-issue voters.  Yes, it's definitely an important issue, but they're willing to overlook everything else if you'll just say you're against abortion.  Lie, cheat, steal....they don't care.  Grab p___y....they don't care.  Boink porn stars....they don't care.  They still love their Donald Trump, and will happily pass out mulligans to him like they were candy on Halloween.

And for the not-quite-so-pious, just pass out free stuff.  Works every time.  In the 1920's Herbert Hoover campaigned on "a chicken in every pot".  The people evidently liked free chicken as they elected him President.  By 2016 people were wise to the 'ol chicken trick, but they definitely liked them some tax cut!  Mmmmmm!

I think we're about out of political slight-of-hand tricks and hanky-panky distractions.  Now it's time to produce results.  If the economy stays hot, generating lots of new permanent jobs and stock market wealth, if he can squeeze the nukes out of North Korea, if he finally wakes up and de-fangs Vladimir Putin, then President Trump can still have a worthwhile legacy, and maybe even his own "library" some day (sans books, of course).  Maybe he's finally settling into his groove.  *sorry Stormy*


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

First self-driving cars, now burger-flipping robots...is this how it all ends?

We all knew it would eventually happen.  We've heard about it for years.  Now it's here!

A burger chain in California, CaliBurger (original, huh?), is rolling out (pun intended) 50 burger-flipping robots at 50 of its restaurants.  Named Flippy (duh!), the robots cost $60K each, plus $12K per year in maintenance.  They can cook/flip 12 patties simultaneously, are never sick, and require no benefits, but so far have not be able to master the fine art of assembling two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun* like Bubba Joe can.   

Right now there are experiments being done on having the person you talk to via the cheap, tinny speaker in the drive-thru lane be that of a low-wage Indian worker back in Mumbai.  He/she takes your order, types it in, and it shows up an instant later back in the restaurant's kitchen (true).  Then Flippy does his thing, Bubba Joe still (for now) assembles it, and Bertha Mae still (for now) takes your money.  Only she can't make change for a $10 bill...nobody can in 2018...but that's OK 'cause the cash register can.  Will it be long you think until they're made redundant, too?

Robots aren't new, but their proliferation is gaining momentum. Where they were once confined to high-valued-added applications such as auto assembly, we're now on the cusp of seeing them in mundane places like burger joints. 

Due to their aging and shrinking population, the Japanese have been working for years to perfect personal service robots to take over chores older people can no longer do for themselves.  They can bring food and drink, meds, clean the house (think Roomba vacuums) and probably even call 911 if they sense something is wrong with their elderly hoomans.

What's this going to do to high-tech advanced countries who currently have a large number of poorly educated people who can do little more than flip burgers and push a broom? And how long will it be until robots can sit on the porch and whittle, or go to the corner diner and drink a cup of...ahh...whatever and replay the 1982 Rose Bowl game like the old-timers do now?  Where will this bad dream end?

Until then, I wonder if Flippy can handle a burger, no onions?  :)


*It was a rather catchy McDonald's slogan back in the '80's.

Friday, March 2, 2018

We might be on to something here

When discussing gun control these days it's almost like The Irresistible Force vs The Immovable Object.  It seems like we're in permanent gridlock....no one is budging.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I own guns, enjoy shooting guns, and legally carry a gun.  I'm a threat to NO ONE, unless they threaten me or a loved one.  Then I feel I have the right to defend myself.

There are also people who own guns, enjoy shooting guns, and ILLEGALLY carry a gun, and they're a threat to EVERYBODY.  I've said and written many times that these are the people we need to agree to disarm.  And then we all smile, nod, say "great idea"....and do nothing.  Except California.

I can't believe I'm giving a thumbs up to a gun law originating in California, but I am.  I just saw a piece on TV about a program in CA that is cracking down on "armed prohibited persons".  Specifically, the California Dept of Justice has a task force that cross-references five databases to find people who legally purchased guns but are prohibited by law from doing so.  That's apparently how lax our current background check system is.  These "prohibited persons" include felons, individuals with a history of violence, those who have a restraining order against them, those with severe mental illness, and wanted persons.

How could we all not agree on that?  Seems to me these are the exact kind of people we need to disarm!  The anti-gun controllers, however, seem to have their panties in a wad.

I can understand how the sight of law enforcement knocking on doors and then entering to confiscate guns could be frightening to Second Amendment supporters, which includes me.  (Before the knock on the door the violators are notified by mail that they need to disarm and come clean.)  And I can understand how they might be scared of a database that identifies who has guns and who doesn't.  But we need to somehow balance that against the fact that 10,000 people have been hauled in for possessing 18,000 guns that they are already prohibited by law to have. 

These people have already demonstrated they are either mentally ill or are a menace to society.  It seems to me we need to find a way to reassure us law abiding gun owners that WE have nothing to fear, and then go after "armed prohibited persons" everywhere with a vengeance.  They are the problem, not us.


Monday, February 26, 2018

If it was easy, everybody could do it

Remember after 9-11 when we began to find out all the bits and pieces of information that we had that should have made us aware that an attack was imminent?  It was only after we had the 9-11 hearings that we connected all the dots.  Of course we did.  Monday morning quarterbacking is always so easy.  Truth is, we are a REACTIONARY society.  Something happens, we react to it.  Seldom can we predict the who / what / when / where of a future event.

What we learned is that our intelligence gatherers were "siloed", meaning each had considerable information, but they couldn't share it with anyone outside their own cylindrical silo.  The FBI couldn't share with the CIA because the CIA was forbidden from investigating Americans, and the CIA couldn't talk to the FBI because the FBI could only do internal investigations.  And Customs had their rules, as did ATF, and the FAA, etc.  The debrief determined that we needed a central clearinghouse where a small group could see ALL the info collected by ALL the intelligence gatherers and hopefully connect the dots the next time before the dots exploded.

I think that's where we are now concerning gun violence in America.  Local police were called out to the Florida school shooter's house many, many times, but this info never made it to the FBI.  Likewise the shooter's mental health was reviewed and it was determined that he was depressed, but not dangerous.  Tips to the FBI in one state were never transmitted to the FBI in Florida, nor to the local police there.  None of this was passed on to the NICS database (the firearms background check system that OK's gun purchasers).  On and on.  The same thing happened regarding the Sandy Hook massacre, the Las Vegas shooting, and the San Bernadino shooting. The signals were all there, but there was no place, no one who could connect all the dots.

That's a problem in our current Information Age.  We have the ability to eavesdrop on conversations on the other side of the world, and we do, but then the question is what to DO with all the information we've collected? 

Then we have the issue of "individual liberties" guaranteed us by our Constitution.  It's not illegal to be a little wacko.  It's not illegal to own a gun, or many guns.  A welfare check by the cops isn't grounds to arrest anyone, nor to involuntarily commit anyone for mental evaluation.  It's only AFTER a wacko gun owner flips out and kills that authorities can DO anything.  We should change that, you say?  Great....except where is that thin line that keeps over zealous authorities from becoming self-proclaimed judges and juries, too?

My point is, while looking at gun proliferation, and at violence on TV and in video games, and at over-stressed single parents, and at under-manned police departments and over-burdened courts, and the untreated mentally ill, etc are all important, wrapping up all those factors into a single actionable, legal, authorization to DO something is going to be darn near impossible.  Try to connect the dots, sure, but understand this is going to make the 9-11 mandate look like a simple childs game of cops and robbers.