In August, the comment section of this blog was hit with 13,000 spam messages, which was at the low end of its normal 25k-35k range. At least this is what Akismet tells me. The number of actual comments is usually in 30-50/month range, I think.
In September, my comment sectionss got 186,998 spams. This has driven up my hosting costs rather spectacularly.
My host, MediaTemple.net — very reasonably priced, a little geeky to use, which is not a bad thing — pointed this out to me. I started checking my WordPress plugins and only then found out that my Akismet API key was no longer valid. I have no idea why it stopped being valid, or when that happened, but I’m hoping it was at the beginning of September. I have reenlisted in Akismet.
Being a dolt, I don’t know if using a comment spam filter like Akismet will reduce the hits on my site, or whether it will simply lower the number of bogus comments I have to manually wade through. I will check tomorrow.
I am also willing to accept ideas today.
(I have temporarily closed comments on posts older than 14 days. Sorry. But it’s not like I get a lot of those.)
The amazing thing is that the same network that connects our machines also connects us. This enables a seamless conversation: “if you can get at the data, you can get at people talking about the data”if you can get at the data, you can get at people talking about the data.
Not only does the same network connect the data and the people making sense of the data, but layers of interoperability have grown on top of it. Increasingly the data is accessible in ways that make it easier and easier for humans to mash it up. And, of course, the sense that humans make of those mashups gets expressed in ways that are interoperable for humans: in language, with links.
That we take this awesomeness for granted makes that awesomeness awesome.
The good news is that the New Republic seems to be making an effort to include articles about race that are not by white liberals — not that I have anything general against white liberals since I am one . The even better news is that that article credits the Internet with enabling a flowering of African American intellectual thought, rather than the magazine once again (and again and again and again) thinking it’s being oh-so-daring by criticizing the Net as the source of all that is dumb and crass.
Along with [Ta-Nehisi] Coates, a cohort of what I would like to call the “black digital intelligentsia” has emerged. They wrestle with ideas, stake out political territory, and lead, very much in the same way that my generation did, only without needing, or necessarily wanting, a home in the Ivy League—and by making their name online.
He describes how “the Net enables these voices to be heard”the Net enables these voices to be heard, and how it helps them to form and pursue their ideas through community and social engagement. (It’s a great example of what some of us would describe as the networking of knowledge.)
And, in a generous way that embodies the best of the Net, Dyson in this article is using his position as a well-established voice to give a boost to the upcoming cohort—one that notably includes many women.
We should be grateful that Facebook has renamed its Internet access service from Internet.org to Free Basics by Facebook. The idea is that if you’re in the developing world, you’ll get access to the “Internet” which is really access to Facebook and all that it permits.
Calling that arrangement “Internet.org” was as Orwellian as marketing gets, like advertising Snickers as a “lunch bar.” No no no. A Snickers bar may be delicious, and may even give you enough of a burst of energy that for the final fifteen seconds of your Powerpoint presentation at the weekly status meeting you have an overbearing confidence that alienates your boss’s boss who happens to have dropped by, dooming your long-term prospects at that company, but it is not lunch. It lacks all the essential properties of lunch, even if you may at some point eat one because you forgot your lunch and your wallet and have no friends who will share with you.
The Facebook service is to the Internet as Snickers is to lunch: a poor replacement that lacks all of the essential elements that make a lunch a lunch and the Internet the Internet.
The new name has the advantage of sounding like an hypoallergenic mascara that’s hired Christie Brinkley as its spokesmodel.
A close relative recently gushed about the Windows 10 ad with the montage of adorable toddlers, especially the boy (?) pressing his face up against a window. My reaction was visceral, guttural, and not for polite company. Until then I hadn’t realized how much I hate that ad.
It wasn’t obvious to me why.
A big part of it is, of course, its exploitation of the parenting part of our lizard brains. What makes it worse is that the ad is soooo good at it. Those are some lovable damn children! I get the heart feels when they call out Fatima by name. I get the same involuntary happiness reflex in the second version of the ad when it ends on the feminine pronoun: “We just have to make sure that she has what she needs.” (That’s approximate; I can’t find the second ad online.)
I don’t like being manipulated, even when it’s towards things I believe in. When it’s in a movie or a book, I just feel cheated. When it’s in persuasive discourse, I feel abused. That’s true when a President argues for a policy by recounting a moving anecdote about someone he met (“I met a woman in Iowa recently who told me…”), and it’s true when a company plays on my instincts to get me to buy a product that I wouldn’t have bought if I’d been addressed rationally.
Almost all ads do this sort of manipulation. The Windows 10 ad does it particularly well. That’s why I particularly hate it.
But that’s not the only reason.
It is an ad totally without substance. Well, that’s not quite true. It’s full of misleading substance. It consists of a list of functionality that Windows 10 does not have. No passwords? Every screen is to be touched? Someday Windows 10 may have this sort of functionality, but by then it will be Windows 30 or so. “Why are you running a Windows 30 ad to sell Windows 10? ” But The glory of Windows 30 is not much of an inducement to buy Windows 10. So, why are you running a Windows 30 ad to sell Windows 10? Is there nothing in it worth the free upgrade?
But of course this isn’t really an ad about Windows 10. It’s an advertisement for the Windows brand. And the argument it presents is Microsoft’s dream that Windows will be as dominant an operating system twenty years from now as it was twenty years ago.“It’s going to come from all of us, not from Microsoft, Google, the Pope or even Elon Musk” The tagline might as well be “Windows: It’s going to become inevitable again. Deal with it.”
And here’s the last bit of bile I need to drain from my gall bladder. The future is not going to bright because Windows is going to be its operating system. If the future of tech is going to remain bright it will because we — all of us — have secured control of our operating systems and are building great things for one another. It’s going to come from all of us, not from Microsoft, Google, the Pope or even Elon Musk (hallowed be his name).
So take your hands off our babies’ future, Microsoft!
To judge by the plaints of educators and employers the pressing danger of the republic is inaccuracy: the school-boy does not know how to add, nor the biological assistant to dissect, nor the graduate student in history to tell a story truly. We know that the daily press has little regard for truth, because every evening paper is constantly convicting every morning rival of falsehood. Public speakers make up their anecdotes and distil wrong deductions into the minds of their hearers; the records of Congress are full of speeches that were never spoken, and omit much of the raciness of actual debate.
That’s the opening paragraph of “Imagination in History” by Albert Bushnell Hart, published in 1910. Replace “every evening newspaper” with “every news medium” and to bring this paragraph up to date we’d only have to drop the assumption that there’s actual debate in Congress.
A source of consolation or a reason to despair?
Since Hart’s article’s point is that this complaint goes back centuries when it comes to the study of history. E.g.,
“The Middle Ages much enjoyed fabricating the ancients.”
“The eighteenth century is the golden age of imaginary historians…”
“Of the multitude of forgeries in the nineteenth century the palm goes to the French artist in vellum, Lucas, who fairly carried on a jobbing trade in spurious letters. Among the 27,000…”
I was cleaning up my office now that the transit of Venus has moved it into the House of Mercury, which only happens ever 17 years, and I came across this button:
(That’s me now, not nine years ago. Not that there’s any difference at all. None!, I tell you, just a tad too insistently.)
Yes, that’s an official button issued to the about thirty-five bloggers who were given press credentials for the Democratic National Convention of 2004, the one at which the Democrats insured their victory over the vastly unpopular, war-starting George W by nominating John Kerry instead of Howard Dean.
This was the first time bloggers had been given press credentials for a national political convention, and it was quite a thrill. Here’s a list of the bloggers from the Wall Street Journal.
And here’s a post of mine with some photos. They’re heavy on correspondents from The Daily Show because they were doing a piece about those durn bloggers. I declined to be interviewed because I am a coward.
No, it is not. (Of course, talking about the illegal sharing of music as “piracy” is ridiculous, as would be obvious to anyone who’s ever met an actual, non-arrrrr pirate. Which I have not.)
Is turning a page in a magazine without reading the ad piracy? Is going to pee during a commercial piracy? Is keeping your eyes on the road instead of looking at the billboards piracy? Is it piracy when a TV show blurs the name of a product on the tee shirt of a passerby?
There’s only one difference between those acts of non-piracy and what happens when you run an ad blocker such as AdBlock Plus in your browser. When you turn the page on a magazine ad or fix yourself a big bowl of Soylent during a TV commercial, the magazine publishers and the TV station don’t know about it. That’s the only relevant difference. Whether the provider of the ad knows about it or not is not relevant to whether it’s piracy.
It is, of course, relevant to whether the Web page gets paid for the ad. So the suggestion that we turn our ad blockers off to support the content that we appreciate — which on particular pages I in fact do — amounts to urging readers to conspire with websites to pretend that we’re reading the ads, wink wink, so that the website can get its cut…for delivering no value to the advertisers.
A business model based on a conspiracy to maintain a delusion is itself delusional.
In fact, as Doc Searls points out, it’s a delusion based on a falsehood: the belief that we are always shopping. We’re not, even though advertisers would like us to be always-on “consumers.”
And, by the way, here’s a related delusion: The idea that popup ads that obscure the content we’ve come to see are worth the ill-will they generate. That delusion depends upon ignoring the scientifically calculated FYR: the ratio of the Fuck You’s muttered by the recipients of these attentional muggings versus their intentional click-throughs.
I’d tell you what my personal FYR is, but you can’t divide by zero.
I was talking with someone the other day who who was telling me about her response to the “trolley” problem that professors in a surprising number of different fields like to pose. (It was first posed by the philosopher Philippa Foot in 1967.) In essence: you’re standing next to a switch. A trolley is barreling down the tracks. Weirdly, there are five people tied up at the end of the tracks. You can pull the switch to put the trolley onto a new track but — what a coincidence! — there’s a man on that track also. What do you do?
This woman said she’d throw herself in front of the trolley. Creative and noble, but …
…Even assuming that that would stop the trolley and that it wouldn’t overturn the trolley which happens to be full of the most adorable babies who would all have grown up to be Nobel Prize winners , it only affects decisions if morality is the adherence to principles or is the outcome of personal virtues, or some such. Whether you or the solitary man on the track dies is of no interest to the utilitarian calculus, unless you throw in some more information, such as you are a reprobate who only has two weeks to live anyway, and the man on the tracks is an adorable baby whom we know will grow up to be the greatest Nobel Prize winner of them all.
But the real problem is that the woman I was speaking with violated the Rule of Hypotheticals: The person who makes the hypothetical gets to define the hypothetical.
Hypotheticals in moral reasoning often are intended to confound us. The trolley case challenges our intuition: Of course the rational action would be to sacrifice the one for the many, but if we vividly put ourselves in the position of the person at the switch, we may find it hard to imagine ourselves taking an action that we know will kill someone. Variations of this try to make it even harder for us to imagine ourselves taking that step: Suppose we could push someone in front of the trolley to save the many? Suppose the person we pushed were young and healthy, in a wheel chair, fat? (Fat? Yup, the person has to have sufficient mass to stop the trolley, but, really, the Hypothesizer could just have specified that even a thin person would stop this particular trolley and avoided any implication that the weight of the person has something to do with her/his value.)
So, we construct hypotheticals, making them as weird as we need, in order to show that a moral principle or guideline is unreliable. In the classic case, we first convince our students that utilitarianism makes sense. Then we give them a hypothetical in which it’s pretty clear that utilitarianism leads to an unjust outcome. The canonical example is a sheriff who hangs an innocent man because it’s the only way to reassure a terrified town that a killer has been caught; the sherif knows the real killer drowned but can’t prove it for some unlikely hypothetical reason. (And thus was rule utilitarianism born.)
I am very sympathetic to the idea that moral reasoning is premised on moral empathy: to be moral requires recognizing that we share a world with people to whom that world matters differently but equality. But I have problems with morality-by-extreme-hypothesis.
These hypotheses are extreme on purpose. They want to clarify our thinking, so they remove all extraneous context and they remove every possible escape from the dilemma. For example, we’re asked to imagine that a terrorist has planted a dirty bomb in NYC and the only way to get the information out of him (inevitably a him because that’s more “neutral”) is to torture him. “But how do we know that he has the information?” “A reliable informant.” “How do we know the informant’s reliable?” ” That’s part of the hypothetical.” Oooookay, but life doesn’t work that way.
Because hypotheticals are usually weird — if they weren’t we would’t need them — it’s hard to know that we can trust our reactions to them, and it’s hard to know if the right action in that case generalizes to all cases.
I suppose these hypotheses can disprove that any particular moral theory is sufficient for all cases. But once we give up on that idea, the question becomes: What’s the right thing to do? What’s the right theory — or theories — to apply in this non-hypothetical case?
Ultimately, I believe that as sentient creatures we have the obligation to do right, but there isn’t a right thing to do. Why would we think that there is? The people affected, and even those who merely observe, are right to carry on their arguments and to make their positions and their plights clear. We should and will never stop. But there can be no resolution because every aspect of our existence as individuals and as groups is in play and has its own interests. So we do the best we can. But the notion that there is a single right answer to any sufficiently complex moral question strikes me as wishful thinking. There is no single action that is all right because the world is not the same to any one of us.
That’s the real problem I have with these sorts of hypotheticals. Their virtue is clarity and simplicity, which means they miss the essential reality of our lives as moral creatures.
So, my answer to the trolley question is: Pull the switch. Sacrifice the one for the many. Then grieve for the rest of your life because its never enough just to be right.